Susan Glaspell 1876 - 1948
Susan Keating Glaspell (July 1, 1876 – July 27, 1948) was an American Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, actress, director, novelist, biographer, and journalist. With her husband George Cram Cook, she founded the Provincetown Players, the first modern American theater company. During the Great Depression she served in the Works Progress Administration as Midwest Bureau Director of the Federal Theater Project.
A best-selling author in her own time, Glaspell's novels fell out of print after her death, during which time she was remembered primarily for discovering Eugene O'Neil and for Trifles (1916), a one-act play frequently cited as one of the greatest works of American theater.Critical reassessment has led to renewed interest in her career, and she is today recognized as a pioneering feminist writer and America's first important modern female playwright.
A prolific writer, Glaspell is known to have published nine novels, fourteen plays, and over fifty short stories. Often set in her native Iowa, these semi-autobiographical tales frequently address contemporary issues, such as gender, ethics, and dissent, while featuring deep, sympathetic characters who make principled stands.
FOR LOVE OF THE HILLS
"Sure you're done with it ?"
"Oh, yes," replied the girl, the suggestion of a smile on her face, and in her voice the suggestion of a tear. "Yes; I was just going."
But she did not go. She turned instead to the end of the alcove and sat down before a table placed by the window. Leaning her elbows upon it she looked about her through a blur of tears.
Seen through her own eyes of longing, it seemed that almost all of the people whom she could see standing before the files of the daily papers were homesick. The reading-room had been a strange study to her during those weeks spent in fruitless search for the work she wanted to do, and it had likewise proved a strange comfort. When tired and disconsolate and utterly sick at heart there was always one thing she could do, she could go down to the library and look at the paper from home. It was not that she wanted the actual news of Denver. She did not care in any vital way what the city officials were doing, what buildings were going up, or who was leaving town. She was only indifferently interested in the fires and the murders. She wanted the comforting companionship of that paper from home.
It seemed there were many to whom the papers offered that same sympathy, companionship, whatever it might be. More than anything else it perhaps gave to them the searchers, drifters a sense of anchorage.
She would not soon forget the day she herself had stumbled in there and found the home paper. Chicago had given her nothing but rebuffs that day, and in desperation, just because she must go somewhere, and did not want to go back to her boarding-place, she had hunted out the city library. It was when walking listlessly about in the big reading-room it had occurred to her that perhaps she could find the paper from home; and after that when things were their worst, when her throat grew tight and her eyes dim, she could always comfort herself by saying:
"After a while I'll run down and look at the paper."
But to-night it had failed her. It was not the paper from home to-night; it was just a newspaper. It did not inspire the belief that things would be better to-morrow, that it must all come right soon. It left her as she had come heavy with the consciousness that in her purse was eleven dollars, and that that was every cent she had in the whole world.
It was hard to hold back the tears as she dwelt upon the fact that it was very little she had asked of Chicago. She had asked only a chance to do the work for which she was trained, in order that she might go to the art classes at night. She had read in the papers of that mighty young city of the Middle West--the heart of the continent of its brawn and its brain and its grit. She had supposed that Chicago, of all places, would appreciate what she wanted to do. The day she drew her hard-earned one hundred dollars from the bank in Denver how the sun had shone that day in Denver, how clear the sky had been, and how bracing the air ! she had quite taken it for granted that her future was assured. And now, after tasting for three weeks the cruelty of indifference, she looked back to those visions with a hard little smile.
She rose to go, and in so doing her eyes fell upon the queer little woman to whom she had yielded her place before the Denver paper. Submerged as she had been in her own desolation she had given no heed to the small figure which came slipping along beside her beyond the bare thought that she was queer-looking. But as her eyes rested upon her now there was something about the woman which held her.
She was a strange little figure. An old-fashioned shawl was pinned tightly about her shoulders, and she was wearing a queer, rusty little bonnet.
Her hair was rolled up in a small knot at the back of her head. She did not look as though she belonged in Chicago. And then, as the girl stood there looking at her, she saw the thin shoulders quiver, and after a minute the head that was wearing the rusty bonnet went down into the folds of the Denver paper.
The girl's own eyes filled, and she turned to go. It seemed she could scarcely bear her own unhappiness that day, without coming close to the heartache of another. But when she reached the end of the alcove she glanced back, and the sight of that shabby, bent figure, all alone before the Denver paper, was not to be withstood.
"I am from Colorado, too," she said softly, laying a hand upon the bent shoulders.
The woman looked up at that and took the girl's hand in both of her thin, trembling ones. It was a wan and a troubled face she lifted, and there was something about the eyes which would not seem to have been left there by tears alone.
"And do you have a pining for the mountains ?" she whispered, with a timid eagerness. "Do you have a feeling that you want to see the sun go down behind them tonight and that you want to see the darkness come stealing up to the tops ?"
The girl half turned away, but she pressed the woman's hand tightly in hers. "I know what you mean," she murmured.
"I wanted to see it so bad," continued the woman, tremulously, "that something just drove me here to this paper. I knowed it was here because my nephew's wife brought me here one day and we come across it. We took this paper at home for more 'an twenty years. That's why I come. 'Twas the closest I could get."
"I know what you mean," said the girl again, unsteadily.
"And it's the closest I will ever get !" sobbed the woman.
"Oh, don't say that," protested the girl, brushing away her own tears, and trying to smile; "you'll go back home some day."
The woman shook her head. "And if I should," she said, "even if I should, 'twill be too late."
"But it couldn't be too late," insisted the girl. "The mountains, you know, will be there forever."
"The mountains will be there forever," repeated the woman, musingly; "yes, but not for me to see." There was a pause. "You see," she said it quietly - "I'm going blind."
The girl took a quick step backward, then stretched out two impulsive hands. "Oh, no, no you're not ! Why the doctors, you know, they do everything now."
The woman shook her head. "That's what I thought when I come here. That's why I come. But I saw the biggest doctor of them all today they all say he's the best there is and he said right out 'twas no use to do anything. He said 'twas hopeless."
Her voice broke on that word. "You see," she hurried on, "I wouldn't care so much, seems like I wouldn't care 't all, if I could get there first! If I could see the sun go down behind them just one night ! If I could see the black shadows come slippin' over 'em just once ! And then, if just one morning, just once ! I could get up and see the sunlight come a streamin', oh, you know how it looks ! You know what 'tis I want to see !"
"Yes; but why can't you ? Why not ? You won't go your eyesight will last until you get back home, won't it ?"
"But I can't go back home; not now."
"Why not ?" demanded the girl. "Why can't you go home ?"
"Why, there ain't no money, my dear," she explained, patiently. "It's a long way off, Colorado is, and there ain't no money. Now, George, George is my brother-in-law, he got me the money to come; but you see it took it all to come here, and to pay them doctors with. And George, he ain't rich, and it pinched him hard for me to come, he says I'll have to wait until he gets money laid up again, and well he can't tell just when 't will be. He'll send it soon as he gets it," she hastened to add.
"But what are you going to do in the meantime ? It would cost less to get you home than to keep you here."
"No, I stay with my nephew here. He's willin' I should stay with him till I get my money to go home."
"Yes, but this nephew, can't he get you the money ? Doesn't he know," she insisted, heatedly, "what it means to you ?"
"He's got five children, and not much laid up. And then, he never seen the mountains. He doesn't know what I mean when I try to tell him about gettin' there in time. Why, he says there's many a one living back in the mountains would like to be livin' here. He don't understand my nephew don't," she added, apologetically.
"Well, someone ought to understand !" broke from the girl. "I understand ! But..." she did her best to make it a laugh"eleven dollars is every cent I've got in the world !"
"Don't !" implored the woman, as the girl gave up trying to control the tears. "Now, don't you be botherin'. I didn't mean to make you feel so bad. My nephew says I ain't reasonable, and maybe I ain't."
The girl raised her head. "But you are reasonable. I tell you, you are reasonable !"
"I must be going back," said the woman, uncertainly. "I'm just making you feel bad, and it won't do no good. And then they may be stirred up about me. Emma's my nephew's wife left me at the doctor's office 'cause she had some trading to do, and she was to come back there for me. And then, as I was sittin' there, the pinin' came over me so strong it seemed I just must get up and start ! And"she smiled wanly "this was far as I got."
"Come over and sit down by this table," said the girl, impulsively, "and tell me a little about your home back in the mountains. Wouldn't you like to ?"
The woman nodded gratefully. "Seems most like getting back to them to find someone that knows about them," she said, after they had drawn their chairs up to the table and were sitting there side by side.
The girl put her rounded hand over on the thin, withered one. "Tell me about it," she said again.
"Maybe it wouldn't be much interesting to you, my dear. It's just a common life mine is. You see, William and I . William was my husband, we went to Georgetown before it really was any town at all. Years and years before the railroad went through, we was there. Was you ever there ?" she asked wistfully.
"Oh, very often," replied the girl. "I love every inch of that country !"
A tear stole down the woman's face. "It's most like being home to find someone that knows about it," she whispered.
"Yes, William and I went there when 'twas all new country," she went on, after a pause. "We worked hard, and we laid up a little money. Then, three years ago, William took sick. He was sick for a year, and we had to live up most of what we'd saved. That's why I ain't got none now. It ain't that William didn't provide."
The girl nodded.
"We seen some hard days. But we was always harmonious, William and I was. And William had a great fondness for the mountains. The night before he died he made them take him over by the window and he looked out and watched the darkness come stealin' over the daylight you know how it does in them mountains. 'Mother,' he said to me - his voice was that low I could no more 'an hear what he said: 'I'll never see another sun go down, but I'm thankful I seen this one.'"
She was crying outright now, and the girl did not try to stop her.
"And that's the reason I love the mountains," she whispered at last. "It ain't just that they're grand and wonderful to look at. It ain't just the things them tourists sees to talk about. But the mountains has always been like a comfortin' friend to me. John and Sarah is buried there John and Sarah is my two children that died of fever. And then William is there like I just told you. And the mountains was a comfort to me in all those times of trouble. They're like an old friend. Seems like they're the best friend I've got on earth."
"I know what you mean," said the girl, brokenly. "I know all about it."
"And you don't think I'm just notional," she asked wistfully, "in pinin' to get back while, whilst I can look at them ?"
The girl held the old hand tightly in hers with a clasp more responsive than words.
"It ain't but I'd know they was there. I could feel they was there all right, but" her voice sank with the horror of it. "I'm 'fraid I might forget just how they look !"
"Oh, but you won't," the girl assured her. "You'll remember just how they look."
"I'm scared of it. I'm scared there might be something I'd forget. And so I just torment myself thinkin'. 'Now do I remember this ? Can I see just how that looks ?' That's the way I got to thinkin' up in the doctor's office, when he told me there was nothing to do, and I was so worked up it seemed I must get up and start !"
"You must try not to worry about it," murmured the girl. "You'll remember."
"Well, maybe so. Maybe I will. But that's why I want just one more look. If I could look once more I'd remember it forever. You see I'd look to remember it, and I would. And do you know seems like I wouldn't mind going blind so much then ? When I'd sit facin' them I'd just say to myself: 'Now I know just how they look. I'm seeing them just as if I had my eyes !' The doctor says my sight'll just kind of slip away, and when I look my last look, when it gets dimmer and dimmer to me, I want the last thing I see to be them mountains where William and me worked and was so happy ! Seems like I can't bear it to have my sight slip away here in Chicago, where there's nothing I want to look at ! And then to have a little left--to have just a little left ! and to know I could see if I was there to look and to know that when I get there 'twill be Oh, I'll be rebellious-like here, and I'd be contented there ! I don't want to be complainin', I don't want to !but when I've only got a little left I want it , oh, I want it for them things I want to see !"
"You will see them," insisted the girl passionately. "I'm not going to believe the world can be so hideous as that !"
"Well, maybe so," said the woman, rising. "But I don't know where 'twill come from," she added doubtfully.
She took her back to the doctor's office and left her in the care of the stolid Emma. "Seems most like I'd been back home," she said in parting; and the girl promised to come and see her and talk with her about the mountains. The woman thought that talking about them would help her to remember just how they looked.
And then the girl returned to the library. She did not know why she did so. In truth she scarcely knew she was going there until she found herself sitting before that same secluded table at which she and the woman had sat a little while before. For a long time she sat there with her head in her hands, tears falling upon a pad of yellow paper on the table before her.
Finally she dried her eyes, opened her purse, and counted her money. It seemed that out of her great desire, out of her great new need, there must be more than she had thought. But there was not, and she folded her hands upon the two five-dollar bills and the one silver dollar and looked hopelessly about the big room.
She had forgotten her own disappointments, her own loneliness. She was oblivious to everything in the world now save what seemed the absolute necessity of getting the woman back to the mountains while she had eyes to see them.
But what could she do ? Again she counted the money. She could make herself, some way or other, get along without one of the five-dollar bills, but five dollars would not take one very close to the mountains. It was at that moment that she saw a man standing before the Denver paper, and noticed that another man was waiting to take his place. The one who was reading had a dinner pail in his hand. The clothes of the other told that he, too, was of the world's workers. It was clear to the girl that the man at the file was reading the paper from home; and the man who was ready to take his place looked as if waiting for something less impersonal than the news of the day.
The idea came upon her with such suddenness, so full born, that it made her gasp. They the people who came to read the Denver paper, the people who loved the mountains and were far from them, the people who were themselves homesick and full of longing were the people to understand.
It took her but a minute to act. She put the silver dollar and one five-dollar bill back in her purse. She clutched the other bill in her left hand, picked up a pencil, and began to write. She headed the petition: "To all who know and love the mountains," and she told the story with the simpleness of one speaking from the heart, and the directness of one who speaks to those sure to understand. "And so I found her here by the Denver paper," she said, after she had stated the tragic facts, "because it was the closest she could come to the mountains. Her heart is not breaking because she is going blind. It is breaking because she may never again look with seeing eyes upon those great hills which rise up about her home. We must do it for her simply because we would wish that, under like circumstances, someone would do it for us. She belongs to us because we understand.
"If you can only give fifty cents, please do not hold it back because it seems but little. Fifty cents will take her twenty miles nearer home twenty miles closer to the things upon which she longs that her last seeing glance may fall."
After she had written it she rose, and, the five-dollar bill in one hand, the sheets of yellow paper in the other, walked down the long room to the desk at which one of the librarians sat. The girl's cheeks were very red, her eyes shining as she poured out the story. They mingled their tears, for the girl at the desk was herself young and far from home, and then they walked back to the Denver paper and pinned the sheets of yellow paper just above the file. At the bottom of the petition the librarian wrote: "Leave your money at the desk in this room. It will be properly attended to." The girl from Colorado then turned over her five-dollar bill and passed out into the gathering night.
Her heart was brimming with joy. "I can get a cheaper boarding place," she told herself, as she joined the home-going crowds, "and until something else turns up I'll just look around and see if I can't get a place in a store."
* * * * *
One by one they had gathered around while the woman was telling the story. "And so, if you don't mind," she said, in conclusion, "I'd like to have you put in a little piece that I got to Denver safe, so's they can see it. They was all so worked up about when I'd get here. Would that cost much ?" she asked timidly.
"Not a cent," said the city editor, his voice gruff with the attempt to keep it steady.
"You might say, if it wouldn't take too much room, that I was much pleased with the prospect of getting home before sundown to-night."
"You needn't worry but what we'll say it all," he assured her. "We'll say a great deal more than you have any idea of."
"I'm very thankful to you," she said, as she rose to go.
They sat there for a moment in silence. "When one considers," someone began, "that they were people who were pushed too close even to subscribe to a daily paper"
"When one considers," said the city editor, "that the girl who started it had just eleven dollars to her name" And then he, too, stopped abruptly and there was another long moment of silence.
After that he looked around at the reporters. "Well, it's too bad you can't all have it, when it's so big a chance, but I guess it falls logically to Raymond. And in writing it, just remember, Raymond, that the biggest stories are not written about wars, or about politics, or even murders. The biggest stories are written about the things which draw human beings closer together. And the chance to write them doesn't come every day, or every year, or every lifetime. And I'll tell you, boys, all of you, when it seems sometimes that the milk of human kindness has all turned sour, just think back to the little story you heard this afternoon."
* * * * *
Slowly the sun slipped down behind the mountains; slowly the long purple shadows deepened to black; and with the coming of the night there settled over the everlasting hills, and over the soul of one who had returned to them, that satisfying calm that men call peace.
THE LAST SIXTY MINUTES
"Nine...ten..." The old clock paused as if in dramatic appreciation of the situation, and then slowly, weightily, it gave the final stroke, "Eleven !"
The Governor swung his chair half-way round and looked the timepiece full in the face. Already the seconds had begun ticking off the last hour of his official life. On the stroke of twelve another man would be Governor of the State. He sat there watching the movement of the minute hand.
The sound of voices, some jovial, some argumentative, was borne to him through the open transom. People were beginning to gather in the corridors, and he could hear the usual disputes about tickets of admission to the inaugural.
His secretary came in just then with some letters. "Could you see Whitefield now ?" he asked. "He's waiting out here for you."
The old man looked up wearily. "Oh, put him off, Charlie. Tell him you can talk to him about whatever it is he wants to know."
The secretary had his hand on the knob, when the Governor added, "And, Charlie, keep everybody out, if you can. I'm...I've got a few private matters to go over."
The younger man nodded and opened the door. He half closed it behind him, and then turned to say, "Except Francis. You'll want to see him if he comes in, won't you ?"
He frowned and moved impatiently as he answered, curtly:
Francis ! Of course it never occurred to any of them that he could close the door on Francis. He drummed nervously on his desk, then suddenly reached down and, opening one of the drawers, tossed back a few things and drew out a newspaper. He unfolded this and spread it out on the desk. Running across the page was the big black line, "Real Governors of Some Western States," and just below, the first of the series, and played up as the most glaring example of nominal and real in governorship, was a sketch of Harvey Francis.
He sat there looking at it, knowing full well that it would not contribute to his peace of mind. It did not make for placidity of spirit to be told at the end of things that he had, as a matter of fact, never been anybody at all. And the bitterest part of it was that, looking back on it now, getting it from the viewpoint of one stepping from it, he could see just how true was the statement: "Harvey Francis has been the real Governor of the State; John Morrison his mouthpiece and figurehead."
He walked to the window and looked out over the January landscape. It may have been the snowy hills, as well as the thoughts weighing him down, that carried him back across the years to one snowy afternoon when he stood up in a little red schoolhouse and delivered an oration on "The Responsibilities of Statesmanship." He smiled as the title came back to him, and yet, what had become of the spirit of that seventeen-year-old boy ? He had meant it all then; he could remember the thrill with which he stood there that afternoon long before and poured out his sentiments regarding the sacredness of public trusts. What was it had kept him, when his chance came, from working out in his life the things he had so fervently poured into his schoolboy oration ?
Someone was tapping at the door. It was an easy, confident tap, and there was a good deal of reflex action in the Governor's "Come in."
"Indulging in a little meditation ?"
The Governor frowned at the way Francis said it, and the latter went on, easily: "Just came from a row with Dorman. Everybody is holding him up for tickets, and he, poor young fool looks as though he wanted to jump in the river. Takes things tremendously to heart Dorman does."
He lighted a cigar, smiling quietly over that youthful quality of Dorman's. "Well," he went on, leaning back in his chair and looking about the room, "I thought I'd look in on you for a minute. You see I'll not have the entree to the Governor's office by afternoon." He laughed, the easy, good-humoured laugh of one too sophisticated to spend emotion uselessly.
It was he who fell into meditation then, and the Governor sat looking at him; a paragraph from the newspaper came back to him: "Harvey Francis is the most dangerous type of boss politician. His is not the crude and vulgar method that asks a man what his vote is worth. He deals gently and tenderly with consciences. He knows how to get a man without fatally injuring that man's self-respect."
The Governor's own experience bore out the summary. When elected to office as State Senator he had cherished old-fashioned ideas of serving his constituents and doing his duty. But the very first week Francis had asked one of those little favours of him, and, wishing to show his appreciation of support given him in his election, he had granted it. Then various courtesies were shown him; he was let in on a "deal," and almost before he realised it, it seemed definitely understood that he was a "Francis man."
Francis roused himself and murmured: "Fools ! amateurs."
"Leyman ?" ventured the Governor.
"Leyman and all of his crowd !"
"And yet," the Governor could not resist, "in another hour this same fool will be Governor of the State. The fool seems to have won."
Francis rose, impatiently. "For the moment. It won't be lasting. In any profession, fools and amateurs may win single victories. They can't keep it up. They don't know how. Oh, no," he insisted, cheerfully, "Leyman will never be re-elected. Fact is, I'm counting on this contract business we've saved up for him getting in good work." He was moving toward the door. "Well," he concluded, with a curious little laugh, "see you upstairs."
The Governor looked at the clock. It pointed now to twenty-five minutes past eleven. The last hour was going fast. In a very short time he must join the party in the anteroom of the House. But weariness had come over him. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.
He was close upon seventy, and to-day looked even older than his years. It was not a vicious face, but it was not a strong one. People who wanted to say nice things of the Governor called him pleasant or genial or kindly. Even the men in the appointive offices did not venture to say he had much force.
He felt it to-day as he never had before. He had left no mark; he had done nothing, stood for nothing. Never once had his personality made itself felt. He had signed the documents; Harvey Francis had always "suggested" the term was that man's own, the course to be pursued. And the "suggestions" had ever dictated the policy that would throw the most of influence or money to that splendidly organised machine that Francis controlled.
With an effort he shook himself free from his cheerless retrospect. There was a thing or two he wanted to get from his desk, and his time was growing very short. He found what he wanted, and then, just as he was about to close the drawer, his eye fell on a large yellow envelope.
He closed the drawer; but only to reopen it, take out the envelope and remove the documents it contained; and then one by one he spread them out before him on the desk.
He sat there looking down at them, wondering whether a man had ever stepped into office with as many pitfalls laid for him. During the last month they had been busy about the old State-house setting traps for the new Governor. The "machine" was especially jubilant over those contracts the Governor now had spread out before him. The convict labour question was being fought out in the State just then organised labour demanding its repeal; country taxpayers insisting that it be maintained. Under the system the penitentiary had become self-supporting. In November the contracts had come up for renewal; but on the request of Harvey Francis the matter had been put off from time to time, and still remained open. Just the week before, Francis had put it to the Governor something like this:
"Don't sign those contracts. We can give some reason for holding them off, and save them up for Leyman. Then we can see that the question is agitated, and whatever he does about it is going to prove a bad thing for him. If he doesn't sign, he's in bad with the country fellows, the men who elected him. Don't you see ? At the end of his administration the penitentiary, under you self-sustaining, will have cost them a pretty penny. We've got him right square !"
The clock was close to twenty minutes of twelve, and he concluded that he would go out and join some of his friends he could hear in the other room. It would never do for him to go upstairs with a long, serious face. He had had his day, and now Leyman was to have his, and if the new Governor did better than the old one, then so much the better for the State. As for the contracts, Leyman surely must understand that there was a good deal of rough sailing on political waters.
But it was not easy to leave the room. Walking to the window he again stood there looking out across the snow, and once more he went back now at the end of things to that day in the little red schoolhouse which stood out as the beginning.
He was called back from that dreaming by the sight of three men coming up the hill. He smiled faintly in anticipation of the things Francis and the rest of them would say about the new Governor's arriving on foot. Leyman had requested that the inaugural parade be done away with but one would suppose he would at least dignify the occasion by arriving in a carriage. Francis would see that the opposing papers handled it as a grand-stand play to the country constituents.
And then, forgetful of Francis, and of the approaching ceremony, the old man stood there by the window watching the young man who was coming up to take his place. How firmly the new Governor walked! With what confidence he looked ahead at the State-house. The Governor not considering the inconsistency therein felt a thrill of real pride in thought of the State's possessing a man like that.
Standing though he did for the things pitted against him, down in his heart John Morrison had all along cherished a strong admiration for that young man who, as District Attorney of the State's metropolis, had aroused the whole country by his fearlessness and unquestionable sincerity. Many a day he had sat in that same office reading what the young District Attorney was doing in the city close by the fight he was making almost single-handed against corruption, how he was striking in the high places fast and hard as in the low, the opposition, threats, and time after time there had been that same secret thrill at thought of there being a man like that. And when the people of the State, convinced that here was one man who would serve them, began urging the District Attorney for chief executive, Governor Morrison, linked with the opposing forces, doing all he could to bring about Leyman's defeat, never lost that secret feeling for the young man, who, unbacked by any organisation, struck blow after blow at the machine that had so long dominated the State, winning in the end that almost incomprehensible victory.
The new Governor had passed from sight, and a moment later his voice came to the ear of the lonely man in the executive office. Some friends had stopped him just outside the Governor's door with a laughing "Here's hoping you'll do as much for us in the new office as you did in the old," and the new Governor replied, buoyantly: "Oh, but I'm going to do a great deal more !"
The man within the office smiled a little wistfully and with a sigh sat down before his desk. The clock now pointed to thirteen minutes of twelve; they would be asking for him upstairs. There were some scraps of paper on his desk and he threw them into the waste-basket, murmuring: "I can at least give him a clean desk."
He pushed his chair back sharply. A clean desk ! The phrase opened to deeper meanings.... Why not clean it up in earnest ? Why not give him a square deal, a real chance ? Why not sign the contracts ?
Again he looked at the clock not yet ten minutes of twelve. For ten minutes more he was Governor of the State! Ten minutes of real governorship ! Might it not make up a little, both to his own soul and to the world, for the years he had weakly served as another man's puppet ? The consciousness that he could do it, that it was not within the power of any man to stop him, was intoxicating. Why not break the chains now at the last, and just before the end taste the joy of freedom ?
He took up his pen and reached for the inkwell. With trembling, excited fingers he unfolded the contracts. He dipped his pen into the ink; he even brought it down on the paper; and then the tension broke. He sank back in his chair, a frightened, broken old man.
"Oh, no," he whispered; "no, not now. It's " his head went lower and lower until at last it rested on the desk "too late."
When he raised his head and grew more steady, it was only to see the soundness of his conclusion. He had not the right now in the final hour to buy for himself a little of glory. It would only be a form of self-indulgence. They would call it, and perhaps rightly, hush money to his conscience. They would say he went back on them only when he was through with them. Oh, no, there would be no more strength in it than in the average deathbed repentance. He would at least step out with consistency.
He folded the contracts and put them back into the envelope. The minute hand now pointed to seven minutes to twelve. Some one was tapping at the door, and the secretary appeared to say they were waiting for him upstairs. He replied that he would be there in a minute, hoping that his voice did not sound as strange to the other man as it had to himself.
Slowly he walked to the door leading into the corridor. This, then, was indeed the end; this the final stepping down from office ! After years of what they called public service, he was leaving it all now with a sense of defeat and humiliation. A lump was in the old man's throat; his eyes were blurred. "But you, Frank Leyman," he whispered passionately, turning as if for comfort to the other man, "it will be different with you! They'll not get you, not you !"
It lifted him then as a great wave this passionate exultation that here was one man whom corruption could not claim as her own. Here was one human soul not to be had for a price ! There flitted before him again a picture of that seventeen-year-old boy in the little red schoolhouse, and close upon it came the picture of this other young man against whom all powers of corruption had been turned in vain. With the one it had been the emotional luxury of a sentiment, a thing from life's actualities apart; with the other it was a force that dominated all things else, a force over which circumstances and design could not prevail. "I know all about it," he was saying. "I know about it all ! I know how easy it is to fall ! I know how fine it is to stand !"
His sense of disappointment in his own empty, besmirched career was almost submerged then as he projected himself on into the career of this other man who within the hour would come there in his stead. How glorious was his opportunity, how limitless his possibilities, and how great to his own soul the satisfaction the years would bring of having done his best !
It had all changed now. That passionate longing to vindicate himself, add one thing honourable and fine to his own record, had altogether left him, and with the new mood came new insight and what had been an impulse centred to a purpose.
It pointed to three minutes to twelve as he walked over to his desk, unfolded the contracts, and one by one affixed his signature. In a dim way he was conscious of how the interpretation of his first motive would be put upon it, how they would call him traitor and coward; but that mattered little. The very fact that the man for whom he was doing it would never see it as it was brought him no pang. And when he had carefully blotted the papers, affixed the seal and put them away, there was in his heart the clean, sweet joy of a child because he had been able to do this for a man in whom he believed.
The band was playing the opening strains as he closed the door behind him and started upstairs.
Senator Harrison concluded his argument and sat down. There was no applause, but he had expected none. Senator Dorman was already saying "Mr. President ?" and there was a stir in the crowded galleries, and an anticipatory moving of chairs among the Senators. In the press gallery the reporters bunched together their scattered papers and inspected their pencil-points with earnestness. Dorman was the best speaker of the Senate, and he was on the popular side of it. It would be the great speech of the session, and the prospect was cheering after a deluge of railroad and insurance bills.
"I want to tell you," he began, "why I have worked for this resolution recommending the pardon of Alfred Williams. It is one of the great laws of the universe that every living thing be given a chance. In the case before us that law has been violated. This does not resolve itself into a question of second chances. The boy of whom we are speaking has never had his first."
Senator Harrison swung his chair half-way around and looked out at the green things which were again coming into their own on the State-house grounds. He knew, in substance, what Senator Dorman would say without hearing it, and he was a little tired of the whole affair. He hoped that one way or other they would finish it up that night, and go ahead with something else. He had done what he could, and now the responsibility was with the rest of them. He thought they were shouldering a great deal to advocate the pardon in the face of the united opposition of Johnson County, where the crime had been committed. It seemed a community should be the best judge of its own crimes, and that was what he, as the Senator from Johnson, had tried to impress upon them.
He knew that his argument against the boy had been a strong one. He rather liked the attitude in which he stood. It seemed as if he were the incarnation of outraged justice attempting to hold its own at the floodgates of emotion. He liked to think he was looking far beyond the present and the specific and acting as guardian of the future and the whole. In summing it up that night the reporters would tell in highly wrought fashion of the moving appeal made by Senator Dorman, and then they would speak dispassionately of the logical argument of the leader of the opposition. There was more satisfaction to self in logic than in mere eloquence. He was even a little proud of his unpopularity. It seemed sacrificial.
He wondered why it was Senator Dorman had thrown himself into it so whole-heartedly. All during the session the Senator from Maxwell had neglected personal interests in behalf of this boy, who was nothing to him in the world. He supposed it was as a sociological and psychological experiment. Senator Dorman had promised the Governor to assume guardianship of the boy if he were let out. The Senator from Johnson inferred that as a student of social science his eloquent colleague wanted to see what he could make of him. To suppose the interest merely personal and sympathetic would seem discreditable.
"I need not dwell upon the story," the Senator from Maxwell was saying, "for you all are familiar with it already. It is said to have been the most awful crime ever committed in the State. I grant you that it was, and then I ask you to look for a minute into the conditions leading up to it.
"When the boy was born, his mother was instituting divorce proceedings against his father. She obtained the divorce, and remarried when Alfred was three months old. From the time he was a mere baby she taught him to hate his father. Everything that went wrong with him she told him was his father's fault. His first vivid impression was that his father was responsible for all the wrong of the universe.
"For seven years that went on, and then his mother died. His stepfather did not want him. He was going to Missouri, and the boy would be a useless expense and a bother. He made no attempt to find a home for him; he did not even explain he merely went away and left him. At the age of seven the boy was turned out on the world, after having been taught one thing to hate his father. He stayed a few days in the barren house, and then new tenants came and closed the doors against him. It may have occurred to him as a little strange that he had been sent into a world where there was no place for him.
"When he asked the neighbours for shelter, they told him to go to his own father and not bother strangers. He said he did not know where his father was. They told him, and he started to walk--a distance of fifty miles. I ask you to bear in mind, gentlemen, that he was only seven years of age. It is the age when the average boy is beginning the third reader, and when he is shooting marbles and spinning tops.
"When he reached his father's house he was told at once that he was not wanted there. The man had remarried, there were other children, and he had no place for Alfred. He turned him away; but the neighbours protested, and he was compelled to take him back. For four years he lived in this home, to which he had come unbidden, and where he was never made welcome.
"The whole family rebelled against him. The father satisfied his resentment against the boy's dead mother by beating her son, by encouraging his wife to abuse him, and inspiring the other children to despise him. It seems impossible such conditions should exist. The only proof of their possibility lies in the fact of their existence.
"I need not go into the details of the crime. He had been beaten by his father that evening after a quarrel with his stepmother about spilling the milk. He went, as usual, to his bed in the barn; but the hay was suffocating, his head ached, and he could not sleep. He arose in the middle of the night, went to the house, and killed both his father and stepmother.
"I shall not pretend to say what thoughts surged through the boy's brain as he lay there in the stifling hay with the hot blood pounding against his temples. I shall not pretend to say whether he was sane or insane as he walked to the house for the perpetration of the awful crime. I do not even affirm it would not have happened had there been some human being there to lay a cooling hand on his hot forehead, and say a few soothing, loving words to take the sting from the loneliness, and ease the suffering. I ask you to consider only one thing: he was eleven years old at the time, and he had no friend in all the world. He knew nothing of sympathy; he knew only injustice."
Senator Harrison was still looking out at the budding things on the State-house grounds, but in a vague way he was following the story. He knew when the Senator from Maxwell completed the recital of facts and entered upon his plea. He was conscious that it was stronger than he had anticipated more logic and less empty exhortation. He was telling of the boy's life in reformatory and penitentiary since the commission of the crime, of how he had expanded under kindness, of his mental attainments, the letters he could write, the books he had read, the hopes he cherished. In the twelve years he had spent there he had been known to do no unkind nor mean thing; he responded to affection craved it. It was not the record of a degenerate, the Senator from Maxwell was saying.
A great many things were passing through the mind of the Senator from Johnson. He was trying to think who it was that wrote that book, "Put Yourself in His Place." He had read it once, and it bothered him to forget names. Then he was wondering why it was the philosophers had not more to say about the incongruity of people who had never had any trouble of their own sitting in judgment upon people who had known nothing but trouble. He was thinking also that abstract rules did not always fit smoothly over concrete cases, and that it was hard to make life a matter of rules, anyway.
Next he was wondering how it would have been with the boy Alfred Williams if he had been born in Charles Harrison's place; and then he was working it out the other way and wondering how it would have been with Charles Harrison had he been born in Alfred Williams's place. He wondered whether the idea of murder would have grown in Alfred Williams's heart had he been born to the things to which Charles Harrison was born, and whether it would have come within the range of possibility for Charles Harrison to murder his father if he had been born to Alfred Williams's lot. Putting it that way, it was hard to estimate how much of it was the boy himself, and how much the place the world had prepared for him. And if it was the place prepared for him more than the boy, why was the fault not more with the preparers of the place than with the occupant of it ? The whole thing was very confusing.
"This page," the Senator from Maxwell was saying, lifting the little fellow to the desk, "is just eleven years of age, and he is within three pounds of Alfred Williams's weight when he committed the murder. I ask you, gentlemen, if this little fellow should be guilty of a like crime to-night, to what extent would you, in reading of it in the morning, charge him with the moral discernment which is the first condition of moral responsibility ? If Alfred Williams's story were this boy's story, would you deplore that there had been no one to check the childish passion, or would you say it was the inborn instinct of the murderer ? And suppose again this were Alfred Williams at the age of eleven, would you not be willing to look into the future and say if he spent twelve years in penitentiary and reformatory, in which time he developed the qualities of useful and honourable citizenship, that the ends of justice would then have been met, and the time at hand for the world to begin the payment of her debt ?"
Senator Harrison's eyes were fixed upon the page standing on the opposite desk. Eleven was a younger age than he had supposed. As he looked back upon it and recalled himself when eleven years of age his irresponsibility, his dependence he was unwilling to say what would have happened if the world had turned upon him as it had upon Alfred Williams. At eleven his greatest grievance was that the boys at school called him "yellow-top." He remembered throwing a rock at one of them for doing it. He wondered if it was criminal instinct prompted the throwing of the rock. He wondered how high the percentage of children's crimes would go were it not for countermanding influences. It seemed the great difference between Alfred Williams and a number of other children of eleven had been the absence of the countermanding influence.
There came to him of a sudden a new and moving thought. Alfred Williams had been cheated of his boyhood. The chances were he had never gone swimming, nor to a ball game, or maybe never to a circus. It might even be that he had never owned a dog. The Senator from Maxwell was right when he said the boy had never been given his chance, had been defrauded of that which has been a boy's heritage since the world itself was young.
And the later years how were they making it up to him? He recalled what to him was the most awful thing he had ever heard about the State penitentiary: they never saw the sun rise down there, and they never saw it set. They saw it at its meridian, when it climbed above the stockade, but as it rose into the day, and as it sank into the night, it was denied them. And there, at the penitentiary, they could not even look up at the stars. It had been years since Alfred Williams raised his face to God's heaven and knew he was part of it all. The voices of the night could not penetrate the little cell in the heart of the mammoth stone building where he spent his evenings over those masterpieces with which, they said, he was more familiar than the average member of the Senate. When he read those things Victor Hugo said of the vastness of the night, he could only look around at the walls that enclosed him and try to reach back over the twelve years for some satisfying conception of what night really was.
The Senator from Johnson shuddered: they had taken from a living creature the things of life, and all because in the crucial hour there had been no one to say a staying word. Man had cheated him of the things that were man's, and then shut him away from the world that was God's. They had made for him a life barren of compensations.
There swept over the Senator a great feeling of self-pity. As representative of Johnson County, it was he who must deny this boy the whole great world without, the people who wanted to help him, and what the Senator from Maxwell called "his chance." If Johnson County carried the day, there would be something unpleasant for him to consider all the remainder of his life. As he grew to be an older man he would think of it more and more what the boy would have done for himself in the world if the Senator from Johnson had not been more logical and more powerful than the Senator from Maxwell.
Senator Dorman was nearing the end of his argument. "In spite of the undying prejudice of the people of Johnson County," he was saying, "I can stand before you today and say that after an unsparing investigation of this case I do not believe I am asking you to do anything in violation of justice when I beg of you to give this boy his chance."
It was going to a vote at once, and the Senator from Johnson County looked out at the budding things and wondered whether the boy down at the penitentiary knew the Senate was considering his case that afternoon. It was without vanity he wondered whether what he had been trained to think of as an all-wise providence would not have preferred that Johnson County be represented that session by a less able man.
A great hush fell over the Chamber, for ayes and noes followed almost in alternation. After a long minute of waiting the secretary called, in a tense voice:
"Ayes, 30; Noes, 32."
The Senator from Johnson had proven too faithful a servant of his constituents. The boy in the penitentiary was denied his chance.
The usual things happened: some women in the galleries, who had boys at home, cried aloud; the reporters were fighting for occupancy of the telephone booths, and most of the Senators began the perusal of the previous day's Journal with elaborate interest. Senator Dorman indulged in none of these feints. A full look at his face just then told how much of his soul had gone into the fight for the boy's chance, and the look about his eyes was a little hard on the theory of psychological experiment.
Senator Harrison was looking out at the budding trees, but his face too had grown strange, and he seemed to be looking miles beyond and years ahead. It seemed that he himself was surrendering the voices of the night, and the comings and goings of the sun. He would never look at them, feel them, again without remembering he was keeping one of his fellow creatures away from them. He wondered at his own presumption in denying any living thing participation in the universe. And all the while there were before him visions of the boy who sat in the cramped cell with the volume of a favourite poet before him, trying to think how it would seem to be out under the stars.
The stillness in the Senate-Chamber was breaking; they were going ahead with something else. It seemed to the Senator from Johnson that sun, moon, and stars were wailing out protest for the boy who wanted to know them better. And yet it was not sun, moon, and stars so much as the unused swimming hole and the uncaught fish, the unattended ball game, the never-seen circus, and, above all, the unowned dog, that brought Senator Harrison to his feet.
They looked at him in astonishment, their faces seeming to say it would have been in better taste for him to have remained seated just then.
"Mr. President," he said, pulling at his collar and looking straight ahead, "I rise to move a reconsideration."
There was a gasp, a moment of supreme quiet, and then a mighty burst of applause. To men of all parties and factions there came a single thought. Johnson was the leading county of its Congressional district. There was an election that fall, and Harrison was in the race. Those eight words meant to a surety he would not go to Washington, for the Senator from Maxwell had chosen the right word when he referred to the prejudice of Johnson County on the Williams case as "undying." The world throbs with such things at the moment of their doing, even though condemning them later, and the part of the world then packed within the Senate-Chamber shared the universal disposition.
The noise astonished Senator Harrison, and he looked around with something like resentment. When the tumult at last subsided, and he saw that he was expected to make a speech, he grew very red, and grasped his chair desperately.
The reporters were back in their places, leaning nervously forward. This was Senator Harrison's chance to say something worth putting into a panel by itself with black lines around it--and they were sure he would do it.
But he did not. He stood there like a schoolboy who had forgotten his piece growing more and more red. "I...I think," he finally jerked out, "that some of us have been mistaken. I'm in favour now of giving him his chance."
They waited for him to proceed, but after a helpless look around the Chamber he sat down. The president of the Senate waited several minutes for him to rise again, but he at last turned his chair around and looked out at the green things on the State-house grounds, and there was nothing to do but go ahead with the second calling of the roll. This time it stood 50 to 12 in favour of the boy.
A motion to adjourn immediately followed no one wanted to do anything more that afternoon. They all wanted to say things to the Senator from Johnson; but his face had grown cold, and as they were usually afraid of him, anyhow, they kept away. All but Senator Dorman it meant too much with him. "Do you mind my telling you," he said, tensely, "that it was as fine a thing as I have ever known a man to do ?"
The Senator from Johnson moved impatiently. "You think it 'fine,'" he asked, almost resentfully, "to be a coward ?"
"Coward ?" cried the other man. "Well, that's scarcely the word. It was--heroic !"
"Oh no," said Senator Harrison, and he spoke wearily, "it was a clear case of cowardice. You see," he laughed, "I was afraid it might haunt me when I am seventy."
Senator Dorman started eagerly to speak, but the other man stopped him and passed on. He was seeing it as his constituency would see it, and it humiliated him. They would say he had not the courage of his convictions, that he was afraid of the unpopularity, that his judgment had fallen victim to the eloquence of the Senator from Maxwell.
But when he left the building and came out into the softness of the April afternoon it began to seem different. After all, it was not he alone who leaned to the softer side. There were the trees they were permitted another chance to bud; there were the birds--they were allowed another chance to sing; there was the earth to it was given another chance to yield. There stole over him a tranquil sense of unison with Life.