In the millennium an educational genius will write a book to be given to every young man on the date of his disillusion. This work will have the flavor of Montaigne’s essays and Samuel Butler’s notebooks—and a little of Tolstoi and Marcus Aurelius. It will be neither cheerful nor pleasant but will contain numerous passages of striking humor. Since first-class minds never believe anything very strongly until they’ve experienced it, its value will be purely relative . . . all people over thirty will refer to it as “depressing.”
This prelude belongs to the story of a young man who lived, as you and I do, before the book.
The generation which numbered Bryan Dalyrimple drifted out of adolescence to a mighty fan-fare of trumpets. Bryan played the star in an affair which included a Lewis gun and a nine-day romp behind the retreating German lines, so luck triumphant or sentiment rampant awarded him a row of medals and on his arrival in the States he was told that he was second in importance only to General Pershing and Sergeant York. This was a lot of fun. The governor of his State, a stray congressman, and a citizens’ committee gave him enormous smiles and “By God, Sirs” on the dock at Hoboken; there were newspaper reporters and photographers who said “would you mind” and “if you could just”; and back in his home town there were old ladies, the rims of whose eyes grew red as they talked to him, and girls who hadn’t remembered him so well since his father’s business went blah! in nineteen-twelve.
But when the shouting died he realized that for a month he had been the house guest of the mayor, that he had only fourteen dollars in the world and that “the name that will live forever in the annals and legends of this State” was already living there very quietly and obscurely.
One morning he lay late in bed and just outside his door he heard the up-stairs maid talking to the cook. The up-stairs maid said that Mrs. Hawkins, the mayor’s wife, had been trying for a week to hint Dalyrimple out of the house. He left at eleven o’clock in intolerable confusion, asking that his trunk be sent to Mrs. Beebe’s boarding-house.
Dalyrimple was twenty-three and he had never worked. His father had given him two years at the State University and passed away about the time of his son’s nine-day romp, leaving behind him some mid-Victorian furniture and a thin packet of folded paper that turned out to be grocery bills. Young Dalyrimple had very keen gray eyes, a mind that delighted the army psychological examiners, a trick of having read it—whatever it was—some time before, and a cool hand in a hot situation. But these things did not save him a final, unresigned sigh when he realized that he had to go to work—right away.
It was early afternoon when he walked into the office of Theron G. Macy, who owned the largest wholesale grocery house in town. Plump, prosperous, wearing a pleasant but quite unhumorous smile, Theron G. Macy greeted him warmly.
“Well—how do, Bryan? What’s on your mind?”
To Dalyrimple, straining with his admission, his own words, when they came, sounded like an Arab beggar’s whine for alms.
“Why—this question of a job.” (“This question of a job” seemed somehow more clothed than just “a job.”)
“A job?” An almost imperceptible breeze blew across Mr. Macy’s expression.
“You see, Mr. Macy,” continued Dalyrimple, “I feel I’m wasting time. I want to get started at something. I had several chances about a month ago but they all seem to have—gone——”
“Let’s see,” interrupted Mr. Macy. “What were they?”
“Well, just at the first the governor said something about a vacancy on his staff. I was sort of counting on that for a while, but I hear he’s given it to Allen Gregg, you know, son of G. P. Gregg. He sort of forgot what he said to me—just talking, I guess.”
“You ought to push those things.”
“Then there was that engineering expedition, but they decided they’d have to have a man who knew hydraulics, so they couldn’t use me unless I paid my own way.”
“You had just a year at the university?”
“Two. But I didn’t take any science or mathematics. Well, the day the battalion paraded, Mr. Peter Jordan said something about a vacancy in his store. I went around there to-day and I found he meant a sort of floor-walker—and then you said something one day”—he paused and waited for the older man to take him up, but noting only a minute wince continued—”about a position, so I thought I’d come and see you.”
“There was a position,” confessed Mr. Macy reluctantly, “but since then we’ve filled it.” He cleared his throat again. “You’ve waited quite a while.”
“Yes, I suppose I did. Everybody told me there was no hurry—and I’d had these various offers.”
Mr. Macy delivered a paragraph on present-day opportunities which Dalyrimple’s mind completely skipped.
“Have you had any business experience?”
“I worked on a ranch two summers as a rider.”
“Oh, well,” Mr. Macy disparaged this neatly, and then continued: “What do you think you’re worth?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, Bryan, I tell you, I’m willing to strain a point and give you a chance.”
“Your salary won’t be much. You’ll start by learning the stock. Then you’ll come in the office for a while. Then you’ll go on the road. When could you begin?”
“How about tomorrow?”
“All right. Report to Mr. Hanson in the stock-room. He’ll start you off.”
He continued to regard Dalyrimple steadily until the latter, realizing that the interview was over, rose awkwardly.
“Well, Mr. Macy, I’m certainly much obliged.”
“That’s all right. Glad to help you, Bryan.”
After an irresolute moment, Dalyrimple found himself in the hall. His forehead was covered with perspiration, and the room had not been hot.
“Why the devil did I thank the son of a gun?” he muttered.
Next morning Mr. Hanson informed him coldly of the necessity of punching the time-clock at seven every morning, and delivered him for instruction into the hands of a fellow worker, one Charley Moore.
Charley was twenty-six, with that faint musk of weakness hanging about him that is often mistaken for the scent of evil. It took no psychological examiner to decide that he had drifted into indulgence and laziness as casually as he had drifted into life, and was to drift out. He was pale and his clothes stank of smoke; he enjoyed burlesque shows, billiards, and Robert Service, and was always looking back upon his last intrigue or forward to his next one. In his youth his taste had run to loud ties, but now it seemed to have faded, like his vitality, and was expressed in pale-lilac four-in-hands and indeterminate gray collars. Charley was listlessly struggling that losing struggle against mental, moral, and physical anæmia that takes place ceaselessly on the lower fringe of the middle classes.
The first morning he stretched himself on a row of cereal cartons and carefully went over the limitations of the Theron G. Macy Company.
“It’s a piker organization. My Gosh! Lookit what they give me. I’m quittin’ in a coupla months. Hell! Me stay with this bunch!”
The Charley Moores are always going to change jobs next month. They do, once or twice in their careers, after which they sit around comparing their last job with the present one, to the infinite disparagement of the latter.
“What do you get?” asked Dalyrimple curiously.
“Me? I get sixty.” This rather defiantly.
“Did you start at sixty?”
“Me? No, I started at thirty-five. He told me he’d put me on the road after I learned the stock. That’s what he tells ’em all.”
“How long’ve you been here?” asked Dalyrimple with a sinking sensation.
“Me? Four years. My last year, too, you bet your boots.”
Dalyrimple rather resented the presence of the store detective as he resented the time-clock, and he came into contact with him almost immediately through the rule against smoking. This rule was a thorn in his side. He was accustomed to his three or four cigarettes in a morning, and after three days without it he followed Charley Moore by a circuitous route up a flight of back stairs to a little balcony where they indulged in peace. But this was not for long. One day in his second week the detective met him in a nook of the stairs, on his descent, and told him sternly that next time he’d be reported to Mr. Macy. Dalyrimple felt like an errant schoolboy.
Unpleasant facts came to his knowledge. There were “cave-dwellers” in the basement who had worked there for ten or fifteen years at sixty dollars a month, rolling barrels and carrying boxes through damp, cement-walled corridors, lost in that echoing half-darkness between seven and five-thirty and, like himself, compelled several times a month to work until nine at night.
At the end of a month he stood in line and received forty dollars. He pawned a cigarette-case and a pair of field-glasses and managed to live—to eat, sleep, and smoke. It was, however, a narrow scrape; as the ways and means of economy were a closed book to him and the second month brought no increase, he voiced his alarm.
“If you’ve got a drag with old Macy, maybe he’ll raise you,” was Charley’s disheartening reply. “But he didn’t raise me till I’d been here nearly two years.”
“I’ve got to live,” said Dalyrimple simply. “I could get more pay as a laborer on the railroad but, Golly, I want to feel I’m where there’s a chance to get ahead.”
Charles shook his head sceptically and Mr. Macy’s answer next day was equally unsatisfactory.
Dalyrimple had gone to the office just before closing time.
“Mr. Macy, I’d like to speak to you.”
“Why—yes.” The unhumorous smile appeared. The voice was faintly resentful.
“I want to speak to you in regard to more salary.”
Mr. Macy nodded.
“Well,” he said doubtfully, “I don’t know exactly what you’re doing. I’ll speak to Mr. Hanson.”
He knew exactly what Dalyrimple was doing, and Dalyrimple knew he knew.
“I’m in the stock-room—and, sir, while I’m here I’d like to ask you how much longer I’ll have to stay there.”
“Why—I’m not sure exactly. Of course it takes some time to learn the stock.”
“You told me two months when I started.”
“Yes. Well, I’ll speak to Mr. Hanson.”
Dalyrimple paused irresolute.
“Thank you, sir.”
Two days later he again appeared in the office with the result of a count that had been asked for by Mr. Hesse, the bookkeeper. Mr. Hesse was engaged and Dalyrimple, waiting, began idly fingering in a ledger on the stenographer’s desk.
Half unconsciously he turned a page—he caught sight of his name —it was a salary list:
His eyes stopped—
So Tom Everett, Macy’s weak-chinned nephew, had started at sixty —and in three weeks he had been out of the packing-room and into the office.
So that was it! He was to sit and see man after man pushed over him: sons, cousins, sons of friends, irrespective of their capabilities, while he was cast for a pawn, with “going on the road” dangled before his eyes—put off with the stock remark: “I’ll see; I’ll look into it.” At forty, perhaps, he would be a bookkeeper like old Hesse, tired, listless Hesse with a dull routine for his stint and a dull background of boarding-house conversation.
This was a moment when a genii should have pressed into his hand the book for disillusioned young men. But the book has not been written.
A great protest swelling into revolt surged up in him. Ideas half forgotten, chaoticly perceived and assimilated, filled his mind. Get on—that was the rule of life—and that was all. How he did it, didn’t matter—but to be Hesse or Charley Moore.
“I won’t!” he cried aloud.
The bookkeeper and the stenographers looked up in surprise.
For a second Dalyrimple stared—then walked up to the desk.
“Here’s that data,” he said brusquely. “I can’t wait any longer.”
Mr. Hesse’s face expressed surprise.
It didn’t matter what he did—just so he got out of this rut. In a dream he stepped from the elevator into the stock-room, and walking to an unused aisle, sat down on a box, covering his face with his hands.
His brain was whirring with the frightful jar of discovering a platitude for himself.
“I’ve got to get out of this,” he said aloud and then repeated, “I’ve got to get out”—and he didn’t mean only out of Macy’s wholesale house.
When he left at five-thirty it was pouring rain, but he struck off in the opposite direction from his boarding-house, feeling, in the first cool moisture that oozed soggily through his old suit, an odd exultation and freshness. He wanted a world that was like walking through rain, even though he could not see far ahead of him, but fate had put him in the world of Mr. Macy’s fetid storerooms and corridors. At first merely the overwhelming need of change took him, then half-plans began to formulate in his imagination.
“I’ll go East—to a big city—meet people—bigger people—people who’ll help me. Interesting work somewhere. My God, there must be.”
With sickening truth it occurred to him that his facility for meeting people was limited. Of all places it was here in his own town that he should be known, was known—famous—before the water of oblivion had rolled over him.
You had to cut corners, that was all. Pull—relationship—wealthy marriages——
For several miles the continued reiteration of this preoccupied him and then he perceived that the rain had become thicker and more opaque in the heavy gray of twilight and that the houses were falling away. The district of full blocks, then of big houses, then of scattering little ones, passed and great sweeps of misty country opened out on both sides. It was hard walking here. The sidewalk had given place to a dirt road, streaked with furious brown rivulets that splashed and squashed around his shoes.
Cutting corners—the words began to fall apart, forming curious phrasings—little illuminated pieces of themselves. They resolved into sentences, each of which had a strangely familiar ring.
Cutting corners meant rejecting the old childhood principles that success came from faithfulness to duty, that evil was necessarily punished or virtue necessarily rewarded—that honest poverty was happier than corrupt riches.
It meant being hard.
This phrase appealed to him and he repeated it over and over. It had to do somehow with Mr. Macy and Charley Moore—the attitudes, the methods of each of them.
He stopped and felt his clothes. He was drenched to the skin. He looked about him and, selecting a place in the fence where a tree sheltered it, perched himself there.
In my credulous years—he thought—they told me that evil was a sort of dirty hue, just as definite as a soiled collar, but it seems to me that evil is only a manner of hard luck, or heredity-and-environment, or “being found out.” It hides in the vacillations of dubs like Charley Moore as certainly as it does in the intolerance of Macy, and if it ever gets much more tangible it becomes merely an arbitrary label to paste on the unpleasant things in other people’s lives.
In fact—he concluded—it isn’t worth worrying over what’s evil and what isn’t. Good and evil aren’t any standard to me—and they can be a devil of a bad hindrance when I want something. When I want something bad enough, common sense tells me to go and take it—and not get caught.
And then suddenly Dalyrimple knew what he wanted first. He wanted fifteen dollars to pay his overdue board bill.
With a furious energy he jumped from the fence, whipped off his coat, and from its black lining cut with his knife a piece about five inches square. He made two holes near its edge and then fixed it on his face, pulling his hat down to hold it in place. It flapped grotesquely and then dampened and clung clung to his forehead and cheeks.
Now . . . The twilight had merged to dripping dusk . . . black as pitch. He began to walk quickly back toward town, not waiting to remove the mask but watching the road with difficulty through the jagged eye-holes. He was not conscious of any nervousness . . . the only tension was caused by a desire to do the thing as soon as possible.
He reached the first sidewalk, continued on until he saw a hedge far from any lamp-post, and turned in behind it. Within a minute he heard several series of footsteps—he waited—it was a woman and he held his breath until she passed . . . and then a man, a laborer. The next passer, he felt, would be what he wanted . . . the laborer’s footfalls died far up the drenched street . . . other steps grew nears grew suddenly louder.
Dalyrimple braced himself.
“Put up your hands!”
The man stopped, uttered an absurd little grunt, and thrust pudgy arms skyward.
Dalyrimple went through the waistcoat.
“Now, you shrimp,” he said, setting his hand suggestively to his own hip pocket, “you run, and stamp—loud! If I hear your feet stop I’ll put a shot after you!”
Then he stood there in sudden uncontrollable laughter as audibly frightened footsteps scurried away into the night.
After a moment he thrust the roll of bills into his pocket, snatched off his mask, and running quickly across the street, darted down an alley.
Yet, however Dalyrimple justified himself intellectually, he had many bad moments in the weeks immediately following his decision. The tremendous pressure of sentiment and inherited ambition kept raising riot with his attitude. He felt morally lonely.
The noon after his first venture he ate in a little lunch-room with Charley Moore and, watching him unspread the paper, waited for a remark about the hold-up of the day before. But either the hold-up was not mentioned or Charley wasn’t interested. He turned listlessly to the sporting sheet, read Doctor Crane’s crop of seasoned bromides, took in an editorial on ambition with his mouth slightly ajar, and then skipped to Mutt and Jeff.
Poor Charley—with his faint aura of evil and his mind that refused to focus, playing a lifeless solitaire with cast-off mischief.
Yet Charley belonged on the other side of the fence. In him could be stirred up all the flamings and denunciations of righteousness; he would weep at a stage heroine’s lost virtue, he could become lofty and contemptuous at the idea of dishonor.
On my side, thought Dalyrimple, there aren’t any resting-places; a man who’s a strong criminal is after the weak criminals as well, so it’s all guerilla warfare over here.
What will it all do to me? he thought with a persistent weariness. Will it take the color out of life with the honor? Will it scatter my courage and dull my mind?—despiritualize me completely—does it mean eventual barrenness, eventual remorse, failure?
With a great surge of anger, he would fling his mind upon the barrier—and stand there with the flashing bayonet of his pride. Other men who broke the laws of justice and charity lied to all the world. He at any rate would not lie to himself. He was more than Byronic now: not the spiritual rebel, Don Juan; not the philosophical rebel, Faust; but a new psychological rebel of his own century—defying the sentimental a priori forms of his own mind——
Happiness was what he wanted—a slowly rising scale of gratifications of the normal appetites—and he had a strong conviction that the materials, if not the inspiration of happiness, could be bought with money.
The night came that drew him out upon his second venture, and as he walked the dark street he felt in himself a great resemblance to a cat—a certain supple, swinging litheness. His muscles were rippling smoothly and sleekly under his spare, healthy flesh—he had an absurd desire to bound along the street, to run dodging among trees, to turn “cart-wheels” over soft grass.
It was not crisp, but in the air lay a faint suggestion of acerbity, inspirational rather than chilling.
“The moon is down—I have not heard the clock!”
He laughed in delight at the line which an early memory had endowed with a hushed awesome beauty.
He passed a man and then another a quarter of mile afterward.
He was on Philmore Street now and it was very dark. He blessed the city council for not having put in new lamp-posts as a recent budget had recommended. Here was the red-brick Sterner residence which marked the beginning of the avenue; here was the Jordon house, the Eisenhaurs’, the Dents’, the Markhams’, the Frasers’; the Hawkins’, where he had been a guest; the Willoughbys’, the Everett’s, colonial and ornate; the little cottage where lived the Watts old maids between the imposing fronts of the Macys’ and the Krupstadts’; the Craigs—
Ah . . . there! He paused, wavered violently—far up the street was a blot, a man walking, possibly a policeman. After an eternal second be found himself following the vague, ragged shadow of a lamp-post across a lawn, running bent very low. Then he was standing tense, without breath or need of it, in the shadow of his limestone prey.
Interminably he listened—a mile off a cat howled, a hundred yards away another took up the hymn in a demoniacal snarl, and he felt his heart dip and swoop, acting as shock-absorber for his mind. There were other sounds; the faintest fragment of song far away; strident, gossiping laughter from a back porch diagonally across the alley; and crickets, crickets singing in the patched, patterned, moonlit grass of the yard. Within the house there seemed to lie an ominous silence. He was glad he did not know who lived here.
His slight shiver hardened to steel; the steel softened and his nerves became pliable as leather; gripping his hands he gratefully found them supple, and taking out knife and pliers he went to work on the screen.
So sure was he that he was unobserved that, from the dining-room where in a minute he found himself, he leaned out and carefully pulled the screen up into position, balancing it so it would neither fall by chance nor be a serious obstacle to a sudden exit.
Then he put the open knife in his coat pocket, took out his pocket-flash, and tiptoed around the room.
There was nothing here he could use—the dining-room had never been included in his plans for the town was too small to permit disposing of silver.
As a matter of fact his plans were of the vaguest. He had found that with a mind like his, lucrative in intelligence, intuition, and lightning decision, it was best to have but the skeleton of a campaign. The machine-gun episode had taught him that. And he was afraid that a method preconceived would give him two points of view in a crisis—and two points of view meant wavering.
He stumbled slightly on a chair, held his breath, listened, went on, found the hall, found the stairs, started up; the seventh stair creaked at his step, the ninth, the fourteenth. He was counting them automatically. At the third creak he paused again for over a minute—and in that minute he felt more alone than he had ever felt before. Between the lines on patrol, even when alone, he had had behind him the moral support of half a billion people; now he was alone, pitted against that same moral pressure—a bandit. He had never felt this fear, yet he had never felt this exultation.
The stairs came to an end, a doorway approached; he went in and listened to regular breathing. His feet were economical of steps and his body swayed sometimes at stretching as he felt over the bureau, pocketing all articles which held promise—he could not have enumerated them ten seconds afterward. He felt on a chair for possible trousers, found soft garments, women’s lingerie. The corners of his mouth smiled mechanically.
Another room . . . the same breathing, enlivened by one ghastly snort that sent his heart again on its tour of his breast. Round object—watch; chain; roll of bills; stick-pins; two rings—he remembered that he had got rings from the other bureau. He started out winced as a faint glow flashed in front of him, facing him. God!—it was the glow of his own wrist-watch on his outstretched arm.
Down the stairs. He skipped two crumbing steps but found another. He was all right now, practically safe; as he neared the bottom he felt a slight boredom. He reached the dining-room —considered the silver—again decided against it.
Back in his room at the boarding-house he examined the additions to his personal property:
Sixty-five dollars in bills.
A platinum ring with three medium diamonds, worth, probably, about seven hundred dollars. Diamonds were going up.
A cheap gold-plated ring with the initials O. S. and the date inside—’03—probably a class-ring from school. Worth a few dollars. Unsalable.
A red-cloth case containing a set of false teeth.
A silver watch.
A gold chain worth more than the watch.
An empty ring-box.
A little ivory Chinese god—probably a desk ornament.
A dollar and sixty-two cents in small change.
He put the money under his pillow and the other things in the toe of an infantry boot, stuffing a stocking in on top of them. Then for two hours his mind raced like a high-power engine here and there through his life, past and future, through fear and laughter. With a vague, inopportune wish that he were married, he fell into a deep sleep about half past five.
Though the newspaper account of the burglary failed to mention the false teeth, they worried him considerably. The picture of a human waking in the cool dawn and groping for them in vain, of a soft, toothless breakfast, of a strange, hollow, lisping voice calling the police station, of weary, dispirited visits to the dentist, roused a great fatherly pity in him.
Trying to ascertain whether they belonged to a man or a woman, he took them carefully out of the case and held them up near his mouth. He moved his own jaws experimentally; he measured with his fingers; but he failed to decide: they might belong either to a large-mouthed woman or a small-mouthed man.
On a warm impulse he wrapped them in brown paper from the bottom of his army trunk, and printed false teeth on the package in clumsy pencil letters. Then, the next night, he walked down Philmore Street, and shied the package onto the lawn so that it would be near the door. Next day the paper announced that the police had a clew—they knew that the burglar was in town. However, they didn’t mention what the clew was.
At the end of a month “Burglar Bill of the Silver District was the nurse-girl’s standby for frightening children. Five burglaries were attributed to him, but though Dalyrimple had only committed three, he considered that majority had it and appropriated the title to himself. He had once been seen—”a large bloated creature with the meanest face you ever laid eyes on.” Mrs. Henry Coleman, awaking at two o’clock at the beam of an electric torch flashed in her eye, could not have been expected to recognize Bryan Dalyrimple at whom she had waved flags last Fourth of July, and whom she had described as “not at all the daredevil type, do you think?”
When Dalyrimple kept his imagination at white heat he managed to glorify his own attitude, his emancipation from petty scruples and remorses—but let him once allow his thought to rove unarmored, great unexpected horrors and depressions would overtake him. Then for reassurance he had to go back to think out the whole thing over again. He found that it was on the whole better to give up considering himself as a rebel. It was more consoling to think of every one else as a fool.
His attitude toward Mr. Macy underwent a change. He no longer felt a dim animosity and inferiority in his presence. As his fourth month in the store ended he found himself regarding his employer in a manner that was almost fraternal. He had a vague but very assured conviction that Mr. Macy’s innermost soul would have abetted and approved. He no longer worried about his future. He had the intention of accumulating several thousand dollars and then clearing out—going east, back to France, down to South America. Half a dozen times in the last two months he had been about to stop work, but a fear of attracting attention to his being in funds prevented him. So he worked on, no longer in listlessness, but with contemptuous amusement.
Then with astounding suddenness something happened that changed his plans and put an end to his burglaries.
Mr. Macy sent for him one afternoon and with a great show of jovial mystery asked him if he had an engagement that night. If he hadn’t, would he please call on Mr. Alfred J. Fraser at eight o’clock. Dalyrimple’s wonder was mingled with uncertainty. He debated with himself whether it were not his cue to take the first train out of town. But an hour’s consideration decided him that his fears were unfounded and at eight o’clock he arrived at the big Fraser house in Philmore Avenue.
Mr. Fraser was commonly supposed to be the biggest political influence in the city. His brother was Senator Fraser, his son-in-law was Congressman Demming, and his influence, though not wielded in such a way as to make him an objectionable boss, was strong nevertheless.
He had a great, huge face, deep-set eyes, and a barn-door of an upper lip, the melange approaching a worthy climax in a long professional jaw.
During his conversation with Dalyrimple his expression kept starting toward a smile, reached a cheerful optimism, and then receded back to imperturbability.
“How do you do, sir?” he laid, holding out his hand. “Sit down. I suppose you’re wondering why I wanted you. Sit down.”
Dalyrimple sat down.
“Mr. Dalyrimple, how old are you?”
“You’re young. But that doesn’t mean you’re foolish. Mr. Dalyrimple, what I’ve got to say won’t take long. I’m going to make you a proposition. To begin at the beginning, I’ve been watching you ever since last Fourth of July when you made that speech in response to the loving-cup.”
Dalyrimple murmured disparagingly, but Fraser waved him to silence.
“It was a speech I’ve remembered. It was a brainy speech, straight from the shoulder, and it got to everybody in that crowd. I know. I’ve watched crowds for years.” He cleared his throat as if tempted to digress on his knowledge of crowds—then continued. “But, Mr. Dalyrimple, I’ve seen too many young men who promised brilliantly go to pieces, fail through want of steadiness, too many high-power ideas, and not enough willingness to work. So I waited. I wanted to see what you’d do. I wanted to see if you’d go to work, and if you’d stick to what you started.”
Dalyrimple felt a glow settle over him.
“So,” continued Fraser, “when Theron Macy told me you’d started down at his place, I kept watching you, and I followed your record through him. The first month I was afraid for awhile. He told me you were getting restless, too good for your job, hinting around for a raise——”
“——But he said after that you evidently made up your mind to shut up and stick to it. That’s the stuff I like in a young man! That’s the stuff that wins out. And don’t think I don’t understand. I know how much harder it was for you after all that silly flattery a lot of old women had been giving you. I know what a fight it must have been——”
Dalyrimple’s face was burning brightly. It felt young and strangely ingenuous.
“Dalyrimple, you’ve got brains and you’ve got the stuff in you— and that’s what I want. I’m going to put you into the State Senate.”
“The State Senate. We want a young man who has got brains, but is solid and not a loafer. And when I say State Senate I don’t stop there. We’re up against it here, Dalyrimple. We’ve got to get some young men into politics—you know the old blood that’s been running on the party ticket year in and year out.”
Dalyrimple licked his lips.
“You’ll run me for the State Senate?”
“I’ll put you in the State Senate.”
Mr. Fraser’s expression had now reached the point nearest a smile and Dalyrimple in a happy frivolity felt himself urging it mentally on—but it stopped, locked, and slid from him. The barn-door and the jaw were separated by a line strait as a nail. Dalyrimple remembered with an effort that it was a mouth, and talked to it.
“But I’m through,” he said. “My notoriety’s dead. People are fed up with me.”
“Those things,” answered Mr. Fraser, “are mechanical. Linotype is a resuscitator of reputations. Wait till you see the herald, beginning next week—that is if you’re with us—that is,” and his voice hardened slightly, “if you haven’t got too many ideas yourself about how things ought to be run.”
“No,” said Dalyrimple, looking him frankly in the eye. “You’ll have to give me a lot of advice at first.”
“Very well. I’ll take care of your reputation then. Just keep yourself on the right side of the fence.”
Dalyrimple started at this repetition of a phrase he had thought of so much lately. There was a sudden ring at the door-bell.
“That’s Macy now,” observed Fraser, rising. “I’ll go let him in. The servants have gone to bed.”
He left Dalyrimple there in a dream. The world was opening up suddenly— The State Senate, the United States Senate—so life was this after all—cutting corners—common sense, that was the rule. No more foolish risks now unless necessity called—but it was being hard that counted— Never to let remorse or self-reproach lose him a night’s sleep—let his life be a sword of courage—there was no payment—all that was drivel—drivel.
He sprang to his feet with clinched hands in a sort of triumph.
“Well, Bryan,” said Mr. Macy stepping through the portières.
The two older men smiled their half-smiles at him.
“Well Bryan,” said Mr. Macy again.
Dalyrimple smiled also.
“How do, Mr. Macy?”
He wondered if some telepathy between them had made this new appreciation possible—some invisible realization. . . .
Mr. Macy held out his hand.
“I’m glad we’re to be associated in this scheme—I’ve been for you all along—especially lately. I’m glad we’re to be on the same side of the fence.”
“I want to thank you, sir,” said Dalyrimple simply. He felt a whimsical moisture gathering back of his eyes.