Marching with the crowd—not leading the van as one time he had imagined he would. Was that failure? Despite the heartiness of his brigadier classmate’s greeting, Harkness could not down that inner question — not until it was answered by those who had eyes to see.
JOSEPH LISTER RUTLEDGE
HARKNESS’S first impression was of a strange stillness. Always before there had been a steady rumble that throbbed through the building like a beating heart. But that heart was quiet now, and only a distant growl from without broke the oppressive silence.
He looked at the heavy figure seated at the desk with an uneasy sensation that the heart was stilled there, too.
“It’s none of my business, Cornish,” he s' id, his own words breaking in on that soundless room with a sense of relief. “This is your problem, of course. But—” he hesitated.
The heavy figure moved slightly. “But,” he said, with a sneer, “you’re afraid it will upset business, and that
yours will suffer with the rest. That’s why you are generously interfering in my problem, isn’t it?”
Harkness colored slightly at the cool insolence behind the words.
“Not business, but people,” he said.
The other laughed, harshly.
“I know a good many of your people,” Harkness continued, “I know how much hardship it will mean. I came to urge—”
He stopped, suddenly.
“What do you intend to do?” he asked.
“Bring in strike breakers—run this mill, and call in the militia to protect it.” The words were coldly impersonal, as though there could be no connection between that seated figure and the muttering crowd without.
“There is still time for compromise,” Harkness suggested. “It will save you money, and these people suffering.”
“Compromise be damned!” growled the seated figure. “They asked for it. Now let them take their medicine.”
Harknessshook his head.
There was a restrained impatience in the gesture, but nothing of it showed in his voice.
“But there are some things you would be ready to concede? Write them down, will you?”
Cornish demurred, but Harkness insisted. “Those things that you are willing to concede,” he urged.
Cornish scowled; but he drew a sheet of paper from a drawer and began to write. He finished and handed the memorandum across the table. “That’s everything, ” he said.
“As a matter of fact, it is more than I should agree to.” Harkness read the items slowly, and handed it back. “Sign it,” he ordered.
Cornish jerked the paper toward him and signed it, with an angry flourish. “A devil of a lot of good it will do,” he said. “You know that, know what they’re asking.”
“It’s something to talk over.”
“Talk over, nothing. That’s an ultimatum, not a basis of argument. I won’t talk it over.” There was a perverse, unreasoning stubbornness in his voice.
“Then call in your militia,” Harkness retorted, quietly; “the sooner the better.”
They sat silent while the roar outside grew in volume.
“What have you in mind?” Cornish asked, in a quieter voice.
“I’m going out to talk to them.”
“You’re hungry for argument, aren’t you?” Cornish grinned sourly. “Well, go to it; only don’t be surprised if you get a brick that was addressed to me.”
Harkness nodded, absently. “I’ll let you know,” he said.
He turned and went down the stairs to the office entrance.
“You can’t go ouVthat way, sir.” The janitor caught his arm. “The back way, sir. I’ll show you.”
Harkness smiled, reassuringly. “This way will be all right,” he said. “You can lock the door again when I’m out.”
The man obeyed, reluctantly, and Harkness moved out on the steps, smiling unconsciously as he heard the bolt shoot fast behind him.
At his appearance the murmur of discontent broke into a roar. A stone smashed against the door behind and rebounded, striking him on the shoulder. “That’s Cornish’s brick,” he reflected, a faint smile crossing his face. He stood looking down at them, the smile still on his face.
“Get him! Ride him out of town on a rail!” There was an indecisive move, as though to follow this advice.
Harkness saw them coming, indecision still on their faces. He knew that, while they might halt for a moment, other waves of passion-swept faces would come to engulf him. But he did not turn. Instead he went down the steps toward that threatening crowd; the ranks dividing to let him pass.
Their faces were mainly strange. Heavy sodden faces, off seourings of gutters, agitators from other sections; men who hoped for violence.
Suddenly, two men barred his way. They were strangers to him, and they faced him with open and unmistakable hostility.
“What do you want?” one of them demanded in surly tones.
“I want to talk to whoever is running things here.” “This ain’t time for talking,” the other man retorted. “Better beat it while yer skin’s whole. We ain’t fondlin’ anyone that comes from that mill.”
Harkness faced him squarely. “When I’ve met your leaders.”
“What business is this of yours, Mr. Harkness?” There was open antagonism in the voice; but at least it was familiar— the foreman of the mill—a steady, quiet man. Harkness turned on him, swiftly.
“This is your town and mine,” he said. “Anything that makes for its happiness is my business as well as yours. We want to settle this matter. That’s why I’m here.” “Cornish has our terms,” a voice snarled at him. “Perhaps he’s weakening,” another voice broke in, with a hint of eagerness.
“Not weakening,” Harkness explained, “but ready to concede something. I have it in writing. I want the same from you. You don’t expect to get all that you asked. What is the least you will take, and go back to work?” There was a rumble of anger from the outsiders, but a soberer element took command. “That’s reasonable,” someone said. “It won’t do any harm, anyway, to talk it over.”
TT WAS late that night when Harkness made his way *home. The interminable hours of discussion were behind; unreasonableness giving place, by slow degrees, to reason—little concessions on both sides—until agreement had come, as final as it was unexpected.
He was thinking of that, as he passed along the sleeping street. The elation of the moment had left him, and in its place had come an immense, an overpowering weariness.
“Hilda will be asleep,” he thought, as he entered the house; treading softly so that he might not waken her.
But, at the sound of his footsteps in the hall, she came to meet him. She was wearing a soft-colored house dress. Her hair was loosened, and fell into errant curls about her face, so that the greying strands at the temple were hidden. She looked strangely young to him. Only her eyes were deep and anxious.
“it’s all settled,” he said. “I’m sorry you waited. It must be very late.”
“I couldn’t have slept. I was frightened for you.” “Talk doesn’t hurt,” he laughed, “and that’s all there was, just talk. They settled because they were too dog tired to quarrel any more.”
She came and sat beside him. “I don’t believe that,” she said, with a little friendly pressure on his arm. “I know you made them. And I want to hear all about it.” He gave her the bare details. But she was not satisfied with that; put question after question. He answered them readily enough—they were always about himself— what he had done and said. Her eyes were on him, filled with affection and pride. He found himself flushing a little under her gaze, and laughed in sudden embarrassment.
1 “Hilda,” he protested, “I believe you are trying to trick me out like a Lancelot. You’re trying to twist little
things to make them seem big and important. I do believe you are trying to make your steady old husband into a hero.”
“Doesn’t every woman?” she asked.
He laughed light-heartedly. “I don’t know,” he said. “Do they?”
“They do,” she said, her eyes bright with excitement.* “They must have something to take pride in, or starve for it. If they can’t find it, they’ll make believe. But this ■—this is real, isn’t it?”
He took her hand and held it. “It means a lot,” he said, “a lot to this town—and to me. It’s a big moment for me, too.” And then, with a happy laugh: “Don’t make me too heroic. I can’t live up to it.”
FRIENDLY faces greeted Harkness as he walked to the office. There were words of congratulation, too, that touched him. “It’s my big moment,” he thought again, not without a little smile of pride.
A boy, seated on a tall stool, looked up as he entered. “I didn’t expect you down so early, sir, after yesterday,” he said. “You must be pretty tired.”
Harkness stopped. It was on that same stool that he himself had sat when he came to take a junior’s place in the business that was now his own.
He caught the boy’s eyes upon him in curious enquiry. “It was a little exciting for me, Jim,” he said, with a slow laugh, “exciting to be mixed up in big affairs—just once in my life. There’s the day’s work, Jim.” He laid a kindly hand on the boy’s shoulder. “It’s not too bad fun—the day’s work. And perhaps it’s just as well that the big moments don’t come often to all of us. Someone has to do the common things, don’t they?”
He passed on into his own office, seated himself at his desk, and, with a sigh, turned his attention to the accumulated work.
Men drifted in and out of that office. Some to talk over the previous day’s happenings, some to consult with him—some of his own men with problems of the business.
His works foreman was standing there now. They had discussed the installation of a new machine. The matter had been decided but the man still lingered. “I hear that you settled the trouble at the Cornish works.”
Harkness laughed. “I’ll be believing that before long,” he said.
“It wouldn’t have hurt us,” the foreman continued, “if they had been out for a while. We could have done with the business that would have come our way, but I guess it would have been pretty hard on the town.”
“We can get along without anything that will hurt the town,” Harkness said.
He was silent for a moment, with a frown of thought on his face. “There’s always more or less trouble there,” he said. “We don’t have that trouble, why?”
The foreman shifted his feet awkwardly. “I remember, when my youngster was sick, a year or so ago, you sent him a whole pail of roses.”
“Pshaw, George! I’m just proud of my roses,” Harkness said, with an embarrassed laugh.
The foreman nodded. “Yes, just your pride,” he said, “but they did a sick kid a lot of good. I hear Cornish has the finest garden in this part of the country,” he said, with apparent irrelevance, “but no one knows it. There’s
a wall shoulder high about it. Walls are trouble breeders. I guess that’s why.”
NOON found the pile of work only slightly diminished.
Harkness pushed it aside in an ordered array and left the office. He was whistling softly as he made his way along the street, and there was a springiness in his walk that told of muscles well under control. He mounted the post office steps two at a time and, circling the line at the wicket, with a friendly nod here and there went to his own box. There was an odd assortment of letters, mostly business letters, interspersed with a few tardy bills. At the bottom lay a large envelope. He opened it with an odd sense of wonder, and read: “Class of 1905.” He stood with the card in his hand, looking at it as though it were a message from some distant land that he had once known.
“Oh, Dave,” someone called from the little group at the other end of the post office, “come here, will you?”
He put the card, slowly, away. Before his eyes was a tall youth, aloof, and pressing forward in a crowd of marchers. They took the faces of the group that was calling him. For a moment he flushed awkwardly. Dave Harkness, that was the tall youth. He almost expected them to see him in his young, aspiring enthusiasm. He felt sorry for that youth, exposed to their friendly laughter.
“Oh, Harkness. Here a minute, will you?”
The framed postal guide reflected, dimly, a solid, rather heavy man graying a little at the temples, his clothing bulging with useful pockets, his trousers a little baggy. He looked at it with a half-wistful smile. “Coming,” he called.
“We were talking about the new water-works. Council’s about ready to go ahead with it. Someone’s got to look after it and see that it’s done right. The vote falls on you Dave.”
“But I’m not on the council.”
“That doesn’t matter. Most of the council’s here. Matter of fact, Dave, you’re the only one that can look after it, like it should be done.”
He was about to refuse, but they wouldn’t listen to him. “You’ve never refused to help,” they protested, “and the people are trusting you to look after it for them.” A faint flush crept into his face, at their words. It was a good little town. It had been kind to him. It had given him friendship, and understanding, and work and sympathy. It wasn’t, perhaps, just what the tall young man had expected. There was a sense of pity in him for that young man—not at the head of the procession—not leading the others—just one of them.
‘ ‘You’ll do it, won’t you, Dave?”
He nodded. “It’s been good to me,” he thought.
HE WAS out again in the sunshinë;
making his way in long, swinging strides. Half automatically he returned the greetings of the people he passed. His mind had gone back twenty years— to the old days and the old crowd.
Dick Elder, somewhere out there in France. Dick had been small town too— a small town doctor. Dick had had his hour. His mind ranged back over their four years together; the meeting with Hilda, Dick’s sister. Perhaps his marriage had helped to hold them together al those years, until Dick went to France. With the rest of the crowd it was different. Sam Brent was a Brigadier— something for a man who had gone over as a mud-lark. Dig Louden, big and boisterous and irrepressible—out of one trouble and into another—head of one of the biggest plants in the country now. Kernie Sargeant’s name was known anywhere that men spoke of surgery. Salter had just finished work on a new bridge. There had been a picture of it in the city papers and of Salter, and, in the story with it, a mention of the old class, and of the success of so many of its members; mentioning them by name. Harkness’ name had not been among them. Of course, there were scores of others in the class who were not mentioned, either, but they hadn’t belonged to the crowd. Barton the owner of a great newspaper; Briggs with a big church and a bigger reputation as an orator. Yes—they had all been mentioned. “And I,” he reflected somewhat bitterly, “can be a nursemaid to a small town water works. Every man to his own measure.”
He stopped at his own gateway, surveying the new sun porch with a certain pride. Yes, he was proud of it. It was his; a generous, kindly, homey place. Not the palace of his dreams. “That palace would look funny here,” he said, aloud, laughing a little ruefully at his own words. But the ruefulness left his face as he entered.
“Oh, Hilda,” he called. “Is dinner ready?”
She came to meet him, lookin and cool, and with that uncir. rse
of youthfulness about her. ± ell me about the morning,” she said.
“Bright and sunshiny,” he explained, “and it’s a wilful waste, when Providence sends golf weather, to spend it other ways.”
“That’s not what I meant,” she said, severely. “What did they say?”
“Didn’t they send a deputation with the keys of the city? No? Well, perhaps the key’s lost, most things are in the town clerk’s office, that’s the sort of an office it is. Oh, yes, I’m to be a sort of Simon Legree over the people who are putting in the new water works. There’s no pay goes with the post, so it must be an honor. And the kids have elected me president of their new team. It’s to be baseball now, but rugby later. It was the rugby that turned the scale in my favor. Lady, I’m in the way of being a great man.”
“You were on your college team, weren’t you?”
“One day,” he admitted, “when Loudon was laid out.”
Her face grew anxious. “I’m glad you’re not playing, anyway. It’s a dreadful game. He broke something, I suppose.” Harkness nodded. “Training rules— canned salmon—” he explained. “No, I wasn’t just quite good enough to make the team.” He stopped and flushed a little, as though the words had conjured up an unpleasant thought. Then his face cleared, “By golly!” he exploded, “some of these kids will make it. By the way, I almost forgot the letters.”
He sorted out one or two for her, and then, with just a shade of hesitation, he took the large envelope from his breast pocket and showed it to her.
She took it and read the few words, with a flush of evident pleasure. “It will be splendid,” she cried; and the words were a final seal on his lips.
TT WAS late that night when he left the A office. There had been many interruptions, but he had pushed through his work. He was tired but satisfied. Things were in pretty good shape after all. Times
were hard, but they were getting their share. He struck out on his homeward way with a buoyant stride.
Hilda came down the path to meet him, just as he had always dreamed she would come, only his dreams had shown a wider, more spacious path.
She locked her arm in his, with an affectionate gesture. “I’ve been going over the things you will need to wear,” she said. “I’ve sent your grey suit to be pressed. I suppose you will need your dress things, too. I got them out of the trunk. I do hope they won’t be too small for you.”
“I don’t know that I was thinking of going—much,” he said, slowly.
She turned one swift glance on him, but she made no comment. “Come and see the Madame Herriot,” she said. “It has two new buds.”
She returned to the subject a little later in the evening. “Of course you’re going, dear,” she said. “It will be a rest and a new interest.”
“I seem to be interested enough here,” he expostulated.
“It will do you good,” she persisted.
“I was thinking of the old crowd,” he said. He was feeling around for some words that would make her see. “I suppose that notice brought them to mind. They’ve made quite a place for themselves. It’s twenty years, Hilda, and I’ve hardly seen any of them. They’ve gone a long way and—•”
She looked up, waiting for him to continue. When he didn’t, she came and sat on the arm of his chair.
“It set me thinking, too,” she said, “funny, disjointed thoughts. Do you remember the night you left college—? You were very wise and grand, Dave. Do you remember, you said; ‘Just two years.’ ”
He nodded in an embarrassed silence.
“In two years,” she laughed, “you were going to give me wealth and position, and everything my heart desired.”
“I meant it,” he said, a little dully.
“Why, of course, dear,” she laughed. “And the funniest part of it was that I believed it all. I was to have horses and carriages, and a great house, and great powerful friends.”
Did I really talk all that bosh?”
“Horses and carriages and jewels,” she laughed, “and we were to travel all over the world. Oh, I can see your sober face now.”
“I was very young,” he said.
She sobered for a moment. “You were very dear and romantic,” she answered. “But, all the same, it is rather nice to remember.”
“And you have a tin car, and a house with a new sun-porch, and a garden, and a husband who has to play nursemaid to the town’s new waterworks.” His tone was as light as hers, but there was just a hint of bitterness in his laugh.
Her quick ear caught it. “Is that what you mean?” she asked, a little breathlessly, “that you’ve failed?”
He nodded, without looking at her.
“Do you think I care?” she said, almost fiercely. “I would have liked to have had money, oceans of it, so that I would never have to think of it. I would have liked to live in a big city; to have good music and good plays—to be able to have all the pretty things, even the ones that wouldn’t suit me a bit, just to look at, and to know I had them. To be able to travel like—■ like Belle Cornish. Every woman would. But do you think it was that? If I had to choose it all myself, again, I would choose —just a tin car—and a house with a new sun-porch—and a garden—and a husband who could go and play nursemaid to the town’s new waterworks.”
His ready laugh broke the tension of the moment. “Lucky for you, old girl,” he said, as he caught her in his arms and kissed her.
And after all he did go. It was a business matter that called him to the city at the time, something that he could not well avoid. It settled all objections.
Hilda went with him to the train, and stood watching it pull out with a little, set smile on her face. “If they hurt him,” she breathed, “I’ll never forgive them, never!”
HARKNESS dragged his reluctant feet over the once familiar paths. There were changes that made him feel like a trespasser. The impulse to turn back, even then, caught him and made him waver. After all, this belonged to the tall, aspiring youth, and those who had come after him—the place for youth and wide dreams—not for realities.
The old college hall did bring a thrill to him, that he had not thought possible. It was his too—anyone has a right to memories.
“Dave, you old moss-back,” a throaty voice sounded behind him.
Harkness turned to the khaki-clad figure and, with just a shade of hesitation, he held out his hand.
“I would hardly have recognized you, Sam, in all your glory.”
“My working clothes,” Brent explained airily, but with a certain satisfied air.
They talked, heartily, of old times. Then Brent rambled off into more recent days. What had Dave been doing with himself? He evinced a careful interest, and answered questions in turn. Then, somehow, without wilful intent on either part, the conversation languished. They floundered painfully for a while, trying to find some point of contact. Then Salter appeared, and Brent hailed him with every evidence of relief. For a moment they seemed on the point of breaking through the curtain of restraint that hung about them, but the moment passed. Briggs, Sargeant, Barton, joined the group, and with each new arrival, the flame of common friendship leaped up again, but found no mutual interest to feed upon.
From the end of the hall came the notes of a piano. Heavy voices in close harmony, were struggling with a half-forgotten tune. It rose and died, and Louden turned from the piano and came toward them.
“What I want to know, Dave, is how you keep your figure,” he demanded. “Mine left me years ago, and in the place of it, I get this.” He patted his abundant waist with whimsical commiseration.
“What are you doing here, anyway?” Barton interposed. “Thought you were mixed up in another of your incessant strikes.”
“I am. Came here thinking it would be a pleasant relief from deputations. Now I’m going back to get cheered up.”
“Dave’s doctor friend told me Dave had something to do with a strike at the Cornish plant,” Sargeant interposed
“Did he now.” Louden surveyed , ness with a new interest. But he w dragged off to the piano again, and the topic dropped.
It was perhaps an hour later that Dave felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. “We’ll be moving, young fellow,” Louden’s voice was hoarse from much singing. “I have to get back—meeting with the men to-morrow—not that it will do any good ; but I have to be there for the looks of the thing. I want to hear about that strike of yours. I rather fancy myself on strikes.”
“It wasn’t my strike,” Harkness protested, with a laugh, “just a strike in my town.”
“From the little I’ve heard of your town,” Louden retorted, dryly “it amounts to the same thing. Anyway, you’re coming with me, and there’s no use struggling.”
“It’s a fifty mile drive,” Louden explained, drowning any protest, “but after the diet of old-time apple sauce that you have been having, it will do you good.”
The big car, with its uniformed chauffeur, moved out through the city’s traffic, and Louden lay back, apparently slumbering peacefully.
It was not until they had cleared the city, and were rolling along the open road, that he suddenly exploded into speech. “I’ve had three strikes in the works in the eight years I have been in charge. Now why the devil—” He broke off, suddenly. “Tell me about your strike,” he said.
“It wasn’t anything, really, just an experiment in understanding. It was this way—” Once started, he talked
readily enough, while Louden lay back, apparently sleeping, though a swift question now and then showed that his mind was awake and active. He nodded, without comment, as Harkness stopped speaking.
Through Harkness’ mind there ran a hazy memory of something his own works foreman had said. “You build walls around yourselves.” He repeated the words.
“You have to, if you are going to get
on,” Louden roused himself to argument “You have to keep your own together— keep others from encroaching. You have to get what you can out of life, and keep it the best you can. Haven’t you found that?”
“Well, you see, compared to you fellows, I live in a pretty small way. I don’t know that I have so much that anyone would grudge it to me. I’m just one of the crowd.” He laughed a little wryly. “I haven’t got on.”
Louden turned in his seat, so that he could see the other’s face. “You didn’t enjoy yourself much, to-night, did you?” he asked.
“Why, yes,” Harkness answered, slowly. “It was good to see the old crowd again. Only—” a silence fell between them.
“Only?” Louden echoed.
“I don’t just know, Dig. I’ve lost something. I’m not envying you, you know. I’m happier, I think, as I am, just plodding along with the crowd. Yes, I’ve had a pretty interesting and happy life. But I’ve been with the crowd so long, that I don’t feel quite at home anywhere else. It’s just that, I think. You all have something in common. I had to go back twenty years to find it; and I couldn’t just do it.”
They passed in through a heavy stone gateway, and drew up before a great house.
“Walls, you see,” Louden grinned.
Harkness flushed. “I didn’t mean that kind of walls.”
“I know you didn’t. I’m fat, but the fat isn’t quite over my grey matter, yet.”
They entered, and Harkness was presented to a large, placid woman, who accepted him, without comment, and with few words. The impression that she made on Harkness was of something vastly, ornately expensive.
She disappeared, and they sat talking far into the night. When Louden finally showed him to his room, he knew all about the tall young man who had not marched away from the crowd. Harkness had told of his life, with a laugh, and a whimsical touch of humor that had kept Louden eagerly interested. He had sat there smilingly appreciative of that sharply etched picture of Bmall town life. But, underneath the smile, his face was sober, and they parted with a handshake that made Dave’s fingers tingle.
' r’fn met him in the morning with a p ¡s hand. “About this strike,” he
said. Le spoke with a certain diffidence. “They’ve settled themselves in the past. I have followed that policy. This, time, too, I was going to let them go to—well no use specifying. You know where. It’s been a hell for them in the past. I’ve rather counted on that.” He stopped. “If you think your system is any good —in my case,” he continued, suddenly, “here’s what I would concede. We’re to meet at two. I leave it to you, whether it’s worth trying or not.”
THEY faced one another across the width of the long table. There was a puzzled expression on Louden’s face. “It worked,” he said in evident surprise. “This morning I had a strike on my hands, and now I haven’t, and I don’t rightly know why.”
“Don’t tell me I came to my senses,” he stormed, drowning Harkness’ words. “You brought the damned walls about my ears, that’s what it is. I don’t know that I shouldn’t hold it against you; but I don’t. At least I’m going to be magnanimous. I’m going to buy a dinner for you and the gang. We’ll celebrate the dawn of peace.”
He waved aside an objection from Harkness and touched a desk bell.
“Miss Smith,” he said, “will you wire —” he scribbled some names on a scratch pad—“wire these men—tell them to meet me for dinner to-night—at the Mount Albert—eight o’clock. Put ‘imperative’ in it somewnere.”
“Now, my lad,” he turned to Harkness "we’ll pouch a sandwich and be on our way.”
THERE was an air of puzzlement on the faces of the diners. Barton voiced the feeling. “It’s a good dinner, Dig,” he said, “and as it’s the first you’ve bought me, I’ll naturally keep the remembrance as a memento—”
“Unless your blasted rag leaves my business alone,” Louden growled, “it will be novel enough to be a memento for your grandchildren.”
“They’ll doubtless treasure it,” Barton grinned. “But what I am eager to know is, why?”
“I had to cancel an important meeting,” Briggs interjected, “I’m afraid that I wouldn’t have been here, but that you said it was ‘imperative!’ ”
“It’s a mouthful, that word,” Louden nodded at Dave, “but it’s a go-getter.” He rose ponderously to his feet. “We were driving home last night, Dave and I —talking about you chaps—Dave was speaking pretty highly of you. Tell ’em, Davie,” he said, subsiding again into his chair.
Harkness shook his head. “They know,” he said, “no use my telling them. Why I’m all swollen up with pride at just knowing you all. The old gang came through, just as we knew it would. That’s all. I’m proud to be able to yell for the team.”
“Knowing Dig, as I do,” Barton complained, “I have a feeling that he has cast Dave for the part of the gift-bearing Greek—‘Timeo Danaos—’ you remember that tripe—and that he’s trailing along somewhere with a knife in his boot.” “But the old crowd has made a showing,” Briggs protested.
“Right for you,” Louden smiled at him, blandly, “and not the least of them is the Reverend J. Edmund Briggs. I was listening to him awhilt ago. He was speaking on sympathy—and I don’t mind admitting that he had my old heart wedged in the centre of my nineteen inch collar. Then, in the middle of it, a girl in the choir fainted—mind you he was talking of sympathy—making quite a case for it, as I was telling you. He tried to go on—I’ll give him credit for that— But there was a bit of excitement; and I suppose it was a good little piece in the address that he didn’t want anyone to miss. Anyway, he stopped and frowned a bit, then, instead of going on he said: ‘We will have to bear with this disturbance, good people.’ And of course the good people bore it and stayed on, just as I did. But I fancy what they remembered of that service was just that. It was with me.”
Briggs flushed, darkly. “That’s hardly fair, Louden. I—”
“Of course it isn’t,” Louden interposed. “But just a moment. Barton here, published a story about a young girl who ran off with a married man. She was brought back, promptly, and no great harm done, until that story appeared. That finished her. It didn’t, that I know of, help anyone else. That right, Barton?”
“I didn’t know you were on the moral lay,” Barton growled. “But let me tell you something that you apparently don’t know. We have to print the news—news like that—so that men like you can have it with your bacon and eggs. If we don’t, someone else will, and where will that leave ua? Incidentally, what about your own little white soul?”
“Me? I’m lined right up with the rest of you. I’ll pick out something you all know. I could think of others, but this will do. I’ve pretty well smashed my business three times. I managed to pull it through, and got off without it costing me much; but the poor devils who work for me didn’t. I’m not naturally hardhearted, any more than Barton. It wasn’t that. It was just being cocksure that I could get away with it. It was clever manoeuvring for me, as it turned out; and hell for the rest of them.”
“And there’s Sargeant. I heard of a sick man in this town. He was very sick, and his people wanted Sargeant to help them. But Kernie wouldn’t go unless the attending doctor called him in; and the ether doctor didn’t like Sargeant, and wouldn’t call him. So Sargeant let the poor chap die.”
“I didn’t,” Sargeant protested, hotly. “His people think you did.”
“See here. I don’t like Siddons. I don’t pretend I do. But he’s a good surgeon. I don’t know that I could have done anything he didn’t. Besides, you know nothing of medical etiquette.”
“Sorry,” Louden said, “if I hurt your feelings, Kernie, or anyone’s feelings. I
was just drifting around to the old days. Remember how we left college twenty years ago. It’s just that, I mean. We thought, as all the young fools think, that we were going to revolutionize the world. I wasn’t going to tyrannize over people just because I had the power. Briggs wasn’t going to travesty sympathy, even in a small way; and Barton would have let the other fellow publish that story. Oh, they’re not just callousness, or meanness, the things I’ve mentioned. If you looked behind for a cause, you might find something pretty decent. It’s just that we’re so wrapped up in what we’re doing. We want to make the very most of it. We’re impatient of any interruptions. We disregard anything that might turn us aside, not knowingly perhaps, but we do disregard it.
“Long ago, we were confident of success; but it was only part of the game, then. We weren’t thinking so much about profiting by the result. I don’t just mean profiting in money—in self-satisfaction, prestige—whatever you like. Well, as Dave says, we’ve succeeded.”
He was silent for a moment while they watched him, curiously.
When he spoke again his voice had lost a certain rasping quality. “I heard of a young fellow,” he said, “who went out of college into a little business; only it didn’t look so little to him. He dreamed, just as all we young fools dreamed. He could look up from his tall stool and see a picture of himself, marching at the head of a great crowd of people.”
Harkness shrank where he sat, and a hot flush mounted to his face. But they weren’t looking at him. Their eyes were for Louden who stood there with his heavy face alight.
“He seemed to think,” Harkness heard the slow words, “that some day he would be so far ahead of that crowd that he would march right out of the picture. But he never did. He stayed with the crowd. And, if you could talk to that crowd, as I have talked to some of them, you would know how much this staying meant. If they knew of that picture—if they knew that he had not stepped out of it, as he had once hoped to do, they would thank God for it, as few men would have cause to thank God for us. If Sargeant, or I, or any of us, were to peg out to-morrow, there would be a little stir, and a notice in Barton’s sheet, and somebody would step into our place; and a week from now, no one would know the difference. But take this man away and his place is empty.”
Louden’s voice rose suddenly, tense and vibrant. “I ask you to rise and drink to that man, whom you know as Dave Harkness. Dave said he was proud of us and our little successes. Let it go at that —little successes—but his way is achievement.”
Suddenly they understood. They were on their feet. Their voices rose in a roar, that died down and rose again and again.
And Dave Harkness sat there looking straight before him, his face tense. He felt a tear splash on his hand. Then it wasn’t that they had slipped away from him on the march—“achievement,” that’s what they had said.
HILDA had met him at the station on his return, and as they drove home she probed at him with a continuous stream of excited questions.
As they entered the house the telephone rang, and he went to answer it.
He came back a moment later. “I’m sorry, dear,” he said, with a laugh. “But some of those questions will have to wait. Something’s gone wrong at the intake. They say we’re not getting the head of water we’re entitled to—want me to rush down and see what can be done about it.” She gave a little petulant shake of her head.
“I just can’t help wishing that they could get along without you—sometimes.”
He stooped and kissed her. There was happiness in his voice, but there was something deeper, too.
“No, dear,” he said, “don’t wish that.”