Henry Sydnor Harrison.

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had, of course, been successfully "answered" by the loyal leaders and
party press. But the bare statement of the annual expenditures, as
compared with the annual expenditures of ten years ago, necessarily
stood, and in cold type it looked bad. Therefore the legislature met now
for an "economy session." The public was given to understand that every
penny would have to give a strict account of itself before it would
receive a pass from the treasury, and that public institutions, asking
for increased support, could consider themselves lucky if they did not
find their appropriations scaled down by a fourth or so.

The _Post's_ tax reform scheme went through with a bang. Out of loose
odds and ends of vague discontent, Queed had succeeded in creating a
body of public sentiment that became invincible. Moreover, this scheme
cost nothing. On the contrary, by a rearrangement of items and a
stricter system of assessment, it promised, as the _Post_ frequently
remarked, to put hundreds of thousands into the treasury. But the
reformatory was a horse of a totally different color. Here was a
proposal, for a mere supposititious moral gain, evanescent as air, to
take a hundred thousand dollars of hard money out of the crib, and
saddle the State with an annual obligation, to boot. An excellent thing
in itself, but a most unreasonable request of an economy session, said
the organization leaders. In fact, this hundred thousand dollars
happened to be precisely the hundred thousand dollars they needed to
lubricate "the organization," and discharge, by some choice new
positions, a few honorable obligations incurred during the campaign.

Now it was written in the recesses of the assistant editor's being,
those parts of him which he never thought of mentioning to anybody, that
the reformatory bill must pass. Various feelings had gradually stiffened
an early general approval into a rock-ribbed resolve. It was on a
closely allied theme that he had first won his editorial spurs - the
theme of Klinker's "blaggards," who made reformatories necessary. That
was one thing: a kind of professional sentiment which the sternest
scientist need not be ashamed to acknowledge. And then, beyond that, his
many talks with Klinker had invested the campaign for the reformatory
with a warmth of meaning which was without precedent in his experience.
This was, in fact, his first personal contact with the suffering and sin
of the world, his first grapple with a social problem in the raw. Two
years before, when he had offered to write an article on this topic for
the Assistant Secretary of Charities, his interest in a reformatory had
been only the scientific interest which the trained sociologist feels in
all the enginery of social reform. But now this institution had become
indissolubly connected in Queed's mind with the case of Eva Bernheimer,
whom Buck Klinker knew, Eva Bernheimer who was "in trouble" at sixteen,
and had now "dropped out." A reformatory had become in his thought a
living instrument to catch the Eva Bernheimers of this world, and
effectually prevent them from dropping out.

And apart from all this, here was the first chance he had ever had to do
a service for Sharlee Weyland.

However, the bill stuck obstinately in committee. Now the session was
more than half over, February was nearly gone, and there it still stuck.
And when it finally came out, it was evidently going to be a toss of a
coin whether it would be passed by half a dozen votes, or beaten by an
equal number. But there was not the slightest doubt that the great
majority of the voters, so far as they were interested in it at all,
wanted it passed, and the tireless _Post_ was prodding the committee
every other day, observing that now was the time, etc., and demanding in
a hundred forceful ways, how about it?

With cheerfulness and confidence had West intrusted these important
matters to his young assistant. Not only was Queed an acknowledged
authority on both taxation and penological science, but he had enjoyed
the advantage of writing articles on both themes under Colonel Cowles's
personal direction. The Colonel's bones were dust, his pen was rust, his
soul was with the saints, we trust; but his gallant spirit went marching
on. He towered out of memory a demigod, and what he said and did in his
lifetime had become as the law of the Medes and Persians now.

But there was never any dispute about the division of editorial honors
on the _Post_, anyway. The two young men, in fact, were so different in
every way that their relations were a model of mutual satisfaction.
Never once did Queed's popular chief seek to ride over his valued
helper, or deny him his full share of opportunity in the department. If
anything, indeed, he leaned quite the other way. For West lacked the
plodder's faculty for indefatigable application. Like some rare and
splendid bird, if he was kept too closely in captivity, his spirit
sickened and died.

It is time to admit frankly that West, upon closer contact with
newspaper work, had been somewhat disillusioned, and who that knows,
will be surprised at that? To begin with, he had been used to much
freedom, and his new duties were extremely confining. They began soon
after breakfast, and no man could say at what hour they would end. The
night work, in especial, he abhorred. It interfered with much more
amusing things that had hitherto beguiled his evenings, and it also
conflicted with sleep, of which he required a good deal. There was, too,
a great amount of necessary but most irksome drudgery connected with his
editorial labors. Because the _Post_ was a leader of public thought in
the State, and as such enjoyed a national standing, West found it
necessary to read a vast number of papers, to keep up with what was
going on. He was also forced to write many perfunctory articles on
subjects which did not interest him in the least, and about which, to
tell the truth, he knew very little. There were also a great many
letters either to be answered, or to be prepared for publication in the
People's Forum column, and these letters were commonly written by dull
asses who had no idea what they were talking about. Prosy people were
always coming in with requests or complaints, usually the latter. First
and last there was a quantity of grinding detail which, like the
embittered old fogeyism of the Blaines College trustees, had not
appeared on his rosy prospect in the Maytime preceding.

With everything else favorable, West would cheerfully have accepted
these things, as being inextricably embedded in the nature of the work.
But unfortunately, everything else was not favorable. Deeper than the
grind of the routine detail, was the constant opposition and adverse
criticism to which his newspaper, like every other one, was incessantly
subjected. It has long been a trite observation that no reader of any
newspaper is so humble as not to be outspokenly confident that he could
run that paper a great deal better than those who actually are running
it. Every upstanding man who pays a cent for a daily journal considers
that he buys the right to abuse it, nay incurs the manly duty of abusing
it. Every editor knows that the highest praise he can expect is silence.
If his readers are pleased with his remarks, they nobly refrain from
comment. But if they disagree with one jot or tittle of his high-speed
dissertations, he must be prepared to have quarts of ink squirted at him
forthwith.

Now this was exactly the reverse of Editor West's preferences. He liked
criticism of him to be silent, and praise of him to be shouted in the
market-place. For all his good-humor and poise, the steady fire of
hostile criticism fretted him intensely. He did not like to run through
his exchanges and find his esteemed contemporaries combatting his
positions, sometimes bitterly or contemptuously, and always, so it
seemed to him, unreasonably and unfairly. He did not like to have
friends stop him on the street to ask why in the name of so-and-so he
had said such-and-such; or, more trying still, have them pass him with
an icy nod, simply because he, in some defense of truth and exploitation
of the uplift, had fearlessly trod upon their precious little toes. He
did not like to have his telephone ring with an angry protest, or to get
a curt letter from a railroad president (supposedly a good friend of the
paper's) desiring to know by return mail whether the clipping therewith
inclosed represented the _Post's_ attitude toward the railroads. A
steady procession of things like these wears on the nerves of a
sensitive man, and West, for all his confident exterior, was a sensitive
man. A heavy offset in the form of large and constant public eulogies
was needed to balance these annoyances, and such an offset was not
forthcoming.

West was older now, a little less ready in his enthusiasms, a shade less
pleased with the world, a thought less sure of the eternal merits of the
life of uplift. In fact he was thirty-three years old, and he had
moments, now and then, when he wondered if he were going forward as
rapidly and surely as he had a right to expect. This was the third
position he had had since he left college, and it was his general
expectation to graduate into a fourth before a great while. Semple
frequently urged him to return to the brokerage business; he had made an
unquestioned success there at any rate. As to Blaines College, he could
not be so confident. The college had opened this year with an increased
enrollment of twenty-five; and though West privately felt certain that
his successor was only reaping where he himself had sown, you could not
be certain that the low world would so see it. As for the _Post_, it was
a mere stop-gap, a momentary halting-place where he preened for a far
higher flight. There were many times that winter when West wondered if
Plonny Neal, whom he rarely or never saw, could possibly have failed to
notice how prominently he was in line.

But these doubts and dissatisfactions left little mark upon the handsome
face and buoyant manner. Changes in West, if there were any, were of the
slightest. Certainly his best friends, like those two charming young
women, Miss Weyland and Miss Avery, found him as delightful as ever.

In these days, West's mother desired him to marry. After the cunning
habit of women, she put the thought before him daily, under many an
alluring guise, by a thousand engaging approaches. West himself warmed
to the idea. He had drunk freely of the pleasures of single blessedness,
under the most favorable conditions; was now becoming somewhat jaded
with them; and looked with approval upon the prospect of a little nest,
or indeed one not so little, duly equipped with the usual faithful
helpmeet who should share his sorrows, joys, etc. The nest he could
feather decently enough himself; the sole problem, a critical one in its
way, was to decide upon the helpmeet. West was neither college boy nor
sailor. His heart was no harem of beautiful faces. Long since, he had
faced the knowledge that there were but two girls in the world for him.
Since, however, the church and the law allowed him but one, he must more
drastically monogamize his heart and this he found enormously difficult.
It was the poet's triangle with the two dear charmers over again.

One blowy night in late February, West passed by the brown stone palace
which Miss Avery's open-handed papa, from Mauch Chunk, occupied on a
three years' lease with privilege of buying; and repaired to the more
modest establishment where dwelt Miss Weyland and her mother. The
reformatory issue was then at the touch. The bill had come out of
committee with a six-and-six vote; rumor had it that it would be called
up in the House within the week; and it now appeared as though a push of
a feather's weight might settle its fate either way. Sharlee and West
spoke first of this. She was eagerly interested, and praised him warmly
for the interest and valuable help of the _Post_. Her confidence was
unshaken that the bill would go through, though by a narrow margin.

"The opposition is of the deadliest sort," she admitted, "because it is
silent. It is silent because it knows that its only argument - all this
economy talk - is utterly insincere. But Mr. Dayne knows where the
opposition is - and the way he goes after it! Never believe any more that
ministers can't lobby!"

"Probably the root of the whole matter," offered West, easing himself
back into his chair, "is that the machine fellows want this particular
hundred thousand dollars in their business."

"Isn't it horrid that men can be so utterly selfish? You don't think
they will really venture to do that?"

"I honestly don't know. You see I have turned it all over to Queed, and
I confess I haven't studied it with anything like the care he has."

Sharlee, who was never too engrossed in mere subjects to notice people's
tones, said at once: "Oh, I am sure they won't dare do it," and
immediately changed the subject. "You are going to the German, of
course?"

"Oh, surely, unless the office pinches me."

"You mustn't let it pinch you - the last of the year, heigho! Did you
hear about Robert Byrd and Miss - no, I won't give you her name - and the
visiting girl?"

"Never a word."

"She's a thoroughly nice girl, but - well, not pretty, I should say, and
I don't think she has had much fun here. Beverley and Robert Byrd were
here the other night. Why _will_ they hunt in pairs, do you know? I told
Beverley that he positively must take this girl to the German. He
quarreled and complained a good deal at first, but finally yielded like
a dear boy. Then he seemed to enter in the nicest way into the spirit of
our altruistic design. He said that after he had asked the girl, it
would be very nice if Robert should ask her too. He would be refused, of
course, but the girl would have the pleasant feeling of getting a rush,
and Robert would boost his standing as a philanthropist, all without
cost to anybody. Robert was good-natured, and fell in with the plan.
Three days later he telephoned me, simply furious. He had asked the
girl - you know he hasn't been to a German for five years - and she
accepted at once with tears of gratitude."

"But how - ?"

"Of course Beverley never asked her. He simply trapped Robert, which he
would rather do than anything else in the world."

West shouted. "Speaking of Germans," he said presently, "I am making up
my list for next year - the early bird, you know. How many will you give
me?"

"Six."

"Will you kindly sign up the papers to-night?"

"No - my mother won't let me. I might sign up for one if you want me
to."

"What possible use has your mother for the other five that is better
than giving them all to me?"

"Perhaps she doesn't want to spoil other men for me."

West leaned forward, interest fully awakened on his charming face, and
Sharlee watched him, pleased with herself.

It had occurred to her, in fact, that Mr. West was tired; and this was
the solemn truth. He was a man of large responsibilities, with a day's
work behind him and a night's work ahead of him. His personal conception
of the way to occupy the precious interval did not include the
conscientious talking of shop. Jaded and brain-fagged, what he desired
was to be amused, beguiled, soothed, fascinated, even flattered a bit,
mayhap. Sharlee's theory of hospitality was that a guest was entitled to
any type of conversation he had a mind to. Having dismissed her own
troubles, she now proceeded to make herself as agreeable as she knew
how; and he has read these pages to little purpose who does not know
that that was very agreeable indeed.

West, at least, appeared to think so. He lingered, charmed, until
quarter past eleven o'clock, at which hour Mrs. Weyland, in the room
above, began to let the tongs and poker fall about with unmistakable
significance; and went out into the starlit night radiant with the
certainty that his heart, after long wandering, had found its true mate
at last.




XXIV

_Sharlee's Parlor on Another Evening; how One Caller outsat Two,
and why; also, how Sharlee looked in her Mirror for a Long Time,
and why._


On the very night after West made his happy discovery, namely on the
evening of February 24, at about twenty minutes of nine, Sharlee
Weyland's door-bell rang, and Mr. Queed was shown into her parlor.

His advent was a complete surprise to Sharlee. For these nine months,
her suggestion that he should call upon her had lain utterly neglected.
Since the Reunion she had seen him but four times, twice on the street,
and once at each of their offices, when the business of the reformatory
had happened to draw them together. The last of these meetings, which
had been the briefest, was already six weeks old. In all of her
acquaintance with him, extending now over two years and a half, this was
the first time that he had ever sought her out with intentions that
were, presumably, deliberately social.

The event, Sharlee felt in greeting him, could not have happened, more
unfortunately. Queed found the parlor occupied, and the lady's attention
engaged, by two young men before him. One of them was Beverley Byrd, who
saluted him somewhat moodily. The other was a Mr. Miller - no relation to
Miss Miller of Mrs. Paynter's, though a faint something in his
_ensemble_ lent plausibility to that conjecture - a newcomer to the city
who, having been introduced to Miss Weyland somewhere, had taken the
liberty of calling without invitation or permission. It was impossible
for Sharlee to be rude to anybody under her own roof, but it is equally
impossible to describe her manner to Mr. Miller as exactly cordial. He
himself was a cordial man, mustached and anecdotal, who assumed rather
more confidence than he actually felt. Beverley Byrd, who did not always
hunt in pairs, had taken an unwonted dislike to him at sight. He did not
consider him a suitable person to be calling on Sharlee, and he had been
doing his best, with considerable deftness and success, to deter him
from feeling too much at home.

Byrd wore a beautiful dinner jacket. So did Mr. Miller, with a gray tie,
and a gray, brass-buttoned vest, to boot. Queed wore his day clothes of
blue, which were not so new as they were the day Sharlee first saw them,
on the rustic bridge near the little cemetery. He had, of course, taken
it for granted that he would find Miss Weyland alone. Nevertheless, he
did not appear disconcerted by the sudden discovery of his mistake, or
even by Mr. Miller's glorious waistcoat; he was as grave as ever, but
showed no signs of embarrassment. Sharlee caught herself observing him
closely, as he shook hands with the two men and selected a chair for
himself; she concluded that constant contact with the graces of Charles
Gardiner West had not been without its effect upon him. He appeared
decidedly more at his ease than Mr. Miller, for instance, and he had
another valuable possession which that personage lacked, namely, the
face of a gentleman.

But it was too evident that he felt little sense of responsibility for
the maintenance of the conversation. He sat back in a chair of
exceptionable comfortableness, and allowed Beverley Byrd to discourse
with him; a privilege which Byrd exercised fitfully, for his heart was
in the talk that Sharlee was dutifully supporting with Mr. Miller. Into
this talk he resolutely declined to be drawn, but his ear was alert for
opportunities - which came not infrequently - to thrust in a polished oar
to the discomfiture of the intruder.

Not that he would necessarily care to do it, but the runner could read
Mr. Miller, without a glass, at one hundred paces' distance. He was of
the climber type, a self-made man in the earlier and less inspiring
stages of the making. Culture had a dangerous fascination for him. He
adored to talk of books; a rash worship, it seemed, since his but bowing
acquaintance with them trapped him frequently into mistaken identities
over which Sharlee with difficulty kept a straight face, while Byrd
palpably rejoiced.

"You know _Thanatopsis_, of course," he would ask, with a rapt and
glowing eye - "Lord Byron's beautiful poem on the philosophy of life? Now
that is my idea of what poetry ought to be, Miss Weyland...."

And Beverley Byrd, breaking his remark to Queed off short in the middle,
would turn to Sharlee with a face of studious calm and say: -

"Will you ever forget, Sharlee, the first time you read the other
_Thanatopsis_ - the one by William Cullen Bryant? Don't you remember how
it looked - with the picture of Bryant - in the old Fifth Reader?"

Mr. Miller proved that he could turn brick-red, but he learned nothing
from experience.

In time, the talk between the two young men, which had begun so
desultorily, warmed up. Byrd had read something besides the Fifth
Reader, and Queed had discovered before to-night that he had ideas to
express. Their conversation progressed with waxing interest, from the
President's message to the causes of the fall of Rome, and thence by
wholly logical transitions to the French Revolution and Woman's
Suffrage. Byrd gradually became so absorbed that he almost, but not
quite, neglected to keep Mr. Miller in his place. As for Queed, he spoke
in defense of the "revolt of woman" for five minutes without
interruption, and his masterly sentences finally drew the silence and
attention of Mr. Miller himself.

"Who is that fellow?" he asked in an undertone. "I didn't catch his
name."

Sharlee told him.

"He's got a fine face," observed Mr. Miller. "I've made quite a study of
faces, and I never saw one just like his - so absolutely on one note, if
you know what I mean."

"What note is that?" asked Sharlee, interested by him for the only time
so long as they both did live.

"Well, it's not always easy to put a name to it, but I'd call it ...
_honesty_. - _If_ you know what I mean."

Mr. Miller stayed until half-past ten. The door had hardly shut upon him
when Byrd, too, rose.

"Oh, don't go, Beverley!" protested Sharlee. "I've hardly spoken to
you."

"Duty calls," said Byrd. "I'm going to walk home with Mr. Miller."

"Beverley - don't! You were quite horrid enough while he was here."

"But you spoiled it all by being so unnecessarily agreeable! It is my
business, as your friend and well-wisher, to see that he doesn't carry
away too jolly a memory of his visit. Take lunch downtown with me
to-morrow, won't you, Mr. Queed - at the Business Men's Club? I want to
finish our talk about the Catholic nations, and why they're decadent."

Queed said that he would, and Byrd hurried away to overtake Mr. Miller.
Or, perhaps that gentleman was only a pretext, and the young man's
experienced eye had read that any attempt to outsit the learned
assistant editor was foredoomed to failure.

"I'm so glad you stayed," said Sharlee, as Queed reseated himself. "I
shouldn't have liked not to exchange a word with you on your first visit
here."

"Oh! This is not my first visit, you may remember."

"Your first voluntary visit, perhaps I should have said."

He let his eyes run over the room, and she could see that he was
thinking, half-unconsciously, of the last time when he and she had sat
here.

"I had no idea of going," he said absently, "till I had the opportunity
of speaking to you."

A brief silence followed, which clearly did not embarrass him, at any
rate. Sharlee, feeling the necessity of breaking it, still puzzling
herself with speculations as to what had put it into his head to come,
said at random: -

"Oh, do tell me - how is old Père Goriot?"

"Père Goriot? I never heard of him."

"Oh, forgive me! It is a name we used to have, long ago, for Professor
Nicolovius."

A shadow crossed his brow. "He is extremely well, I believe."

"You are still glad that you ran off with him to live _tête-à-tête_ in a
bridal cottage?"

"Oh, I suppose so. Yes, certainly!"

His frank face betrayed that the topic was unwelcome to him. For he
hated all secrets, and this secret, from this girl, was particularly
obnoxious to him. And beyond all that part of it, how could he analyze
for anybody his periods of strong revolt against his association with
Henry G. Surface, followed by longer and stranger periods when, quite
apart from the fact that his word was given and regrets were vain, his
consciousness embraced it as having a certain positive value?

He rose restlessly, and in rising his eye fell upon the little clock on
the mantel.

"Good heavens!" broke from him. "I had no idea it was so late! I must go
directly. Directly."

"Oh, no, you mustn't think of it. Your visit to me has just begun - all



Online LibraryHenry Sydnor HarrisonQueed → online text (page 23 of 33)