The Ancient Grudge/Chapter 26
WIDENING THE BREACH
Floyd arrived in Avalon at an early hour in the morning; and while he sat at breakfast he read the newspaper account of the mass meeting held the night before by his locked-out workmen. Tustin had presided and had urged steadfastness and fortitude under persecution; the report of his speech was mainly an abstract, but there was this much quoted: "To some it may seem that the only weapon left to us is force,—but it is a weapon that we must not be the first to employ. We welcome the assurance given us that it is not the company's intention to import strike-breakers and non-union men; but we must not deceive ourselves as to the purpose of this assurance. That purpose is plain—to cause weakening and dissension amongst us, to invite treason, and to draw from the support of the cause those who may be afraid. Now there is one way and only one to meet treason from within; nobody is more opposed to violence than I am, but intimidation is the only way to deal with traitors." Floyd inferred that the conciliatory policy which he had ordered was viewed with more alarm by the union leaders than one of aggressive action might have been.
Stewart Lee had also addressed the meeting. His speech was not given in full, but it was apparently in the nature of a dedication of himself to the cause. It may have been due to the reporter's translation of the substance of Stewart's remarks into his own easy vocabulary, but Floyd gathered no more vivid impression than could be conveyed by such phrases as, "The necessity for a campaign of education," "The workingmen's most precious possession is their right to organize," "The awakening of the public conscience and the suppression of individual rapacity." There seemed also to have been an allusion to the reluctance with which the speaker had felt himself impelled to raise this protest against the course of one who had long been his close friend. According to the report, the delivery of the speech had been "impassioned," and the audience had responded with "tremendous applause,"—especially when Stewart had pledged himself to contribute, by speaking, writing, and raising money, all that was in his power to the maintenance of the principles for which the workingmen stood.
Consultations which Floyd held that morning with Gregg and with other officials of the company confirmed him in the opinion that the first attempt on the part of any of the men to return to work would provoke an outbreak. Gregg reported that the constabulary of New Rome were in the hands of the union leaders, and that it would be difficult to supply adequate police protection for those who might indicate a desire to accept the company's terms. The sheriff of the county could not be called on for aid until the local resources had been proved inadequate. "We have information," said Gregg, "that Tustin and others of the leaders, for all they profess to deprecate violence, are passing round the word that the first men who weaken are to be run out of town. Every trolley car that comes in from Avalon is watched and anybody who gets off and can't or won't give an account of himself is sent back across the river. The railroad station is patrolled by a guard. I don't believe that Tustin really thinks we mean to run in an army of non-union men, but by using such tactics he keeps alive a feeling of suspicion and animosity against us—and probably he's got the men to think that the only reason strike-breakers haven't been brought in is that all this picketing and patrolling has made them afraid to come."
"That's all right," Floyd said. "They'll soon weary of that. They won't hold out indefinitely against a waiting game."
Gregg shook his head. "Things won't go on quietly indefinitely," was his comment.
"Has there been any annoyance of Farrell—or Tibbs?"
"None that I have heard of—yet. Well, they may let the old man alone. But I'll bet they've got it in for Farrell."
"Oh, I think it's talk," Floyd said. "Nothing but talk."
He knew that his radiant confidence was insincere; he comforted himself by reflecting that a newly engaged and entirely happy man ought to put a radiant face on all matters. There was, however, a similar lurking insincerity even in his consciousness of happiness; now that he was away from Marion he found himself remembering the unpleasant little sensation given him by her boast of ultimate control over his emotions. Worst of all, he seemed to remember this quite as vividly as he did the more agreeable feelings with which she had inspired him. One memory seemed to set itself against the other and balance it. He felt as if he were merely wearing the mask of the successful lover. He upbraided himself for letting this trivial thing qualify his delight in winning so nice a girl; it was contemptible. He could of course look upon his successful wooing cheerfully, as a comfortable solution of life; Marion would always be a most satisfactory companion. But he had entered into the engagement with far more enthusiasm than this; he could not understand why it should so soon have faded.
In the course of the morning he telephoned to Lydia and asked if she was to be at home that afternoon; finding that she was, he said that he would come in to see her, as he had something to communicate. When he arrived at her house, he guessed that she had anxiously been awaiting him; for no sooner had he entered the hall than her foot was on the stair, and in another moment she came into view; he saw at once the apprehension in her face, he heard it in her voice as she spoke from the stairs,—
"Oh, Floyd! It's something about Stewart!"
"There's where you're wrong," he laughed. "Not a word about Stewart. Now can you guess?"
But she had been so agitated by all her forebodings that great as was her relief she could not immediately turn to any other subject; so she did not heed his question; she gave him her hand and said, "Oh, I'm so troubled about Stewart, Floyd; I was sure it was about Stewart when you telephoned that you had something to tell me. He is so sincere in all that he's doing—and saying; it's all a conviction—almost a religion with him—and he—he's let go—I'm afraid he's lost his grip on other things—" Her eyes were bright with tears. "And I remember—the day I pushed him down with an oar, Floyd;—and now I don't dare to say anything—lest—he's trying to—to find himself, just as he was that day—and if I interfered, I might only push him down again. And this time—something tells me—it would be fatal; not even you could bring him back to me."
"Stewart has sudden enthusiasms that have to go through him like a fever," Floyd said lightly. "This is a little more violent than most, but you must n't think it's going to finish him."
"It is n't the enthusiasm that I mind." She seated herself in a low chair and leaned forward, resting her chin on her hands. "It's—it's his opposition to you.—The rest of it—his wanting to improve the condition of workingmen—he's earnest and sincere in that, I know; that's really become with him a great purpose. But—it's his starting in against you—and—and, I'm afraid, getting embittered because at once all his old friends have turned against him—my father, for instance; he's always admired Stewart tremendously, but now he's quite out of patience with him; and I think Stewart's found it so with others. And when he's embittered, he may go farther in some ways than he would really intend to go. Yet he is so sincere about the whole subject of workingmen's rights, so eager to improve their condition, that he may be on the verge of accomplishing something splendid, something worth while—and though it grieves me very much to know that he's attacking you, Floyd, I—I can't discourage him."
"Don't try," Floyd answered. "Why, he's got one idea of how to improve our workmen's condition, and I've got another. The question will settle itself, some day—and then he and I can forget we've ever differed."
"You can forget," she said. "It is one of the splendid things about you, Floyd,—that you can forget."
"And so can you," he declared. "I believe you've forgotten now that I came to tell you something very interesting and important."
"I had," she admitted. "I've got so self-centred, worrying about Stewart. What is it, Floyd?"
"I'm engaged to be married," he said. "To a friend of yours—Marion Clark. Now what do you think of me?"
He looked down at her with a gay smile; she rose from the low chair and came towards him holding out both hands. "Oh, Floyd!"—she said, and then as he took her hands, her voice broke, her eyes grew soft with tears. "I'm so glad, so very, very glad! I've hoped you might—this long time! There's no one so fine as Marion—unless it's you!"
Smiling at him through her tears, she was the great peril to his happiness. He tried not to think of her, he tried to think of Marion as he answered,—
"You know her better than any one else does. We wanted you—and Stewart—to hear it first. Just as I was the first to hear about you and Stewart—years ago."
"Thank you, Floyd. Stewart will be so pleased.—Ah, I don't believe you know yet all that Marion is—so clear- sighted, so brave, so true!—If she were here and you were away, I think I should be saying that to her about you, Floyd."
The soft emotion in Lydia's voice, the gentle, affectionate appeal in her gray eyes were strangely alluring to Floyd; she leaned upon the back of a chair and looked up at him, and in that attitude all that was trustful, loving, and dependent in her nature seemed to shine forth; the eager, mobile face, the flexible, relaxed figure, the slender hands, all had a suggestion that awoke in Floyd a tender sympathy; she was a woman who as time went on would cling more and more caressingly about the man she loved, become more and more a cherished and essential part of his life. Marion appeared in his thoughts as a contrast to this, a firm, erect figure, resolute, uncompromising, independent,—clear-sighted, true, and brave. In all these virtues there was not the appeal to the imagination and sympathy that Lydia could make unconsciously by leaning on a chair and having her unselfish interest in her eyes.
Floyd went away challenging angrily in his heart the sentimental spirit that could so drag him from the path of loyalty. He was glad that Marion was soon to return to Avalon; reinforced by her presence, he felt he could more successfully cope with the unregenerate inclinations of his heart.
The morning after he had seen Lydia, his office boy brought him Stewart's card. "Ask him to come in," said Floyd; and when a moment later Stewart entered, he rose from his desk and held out his hand.
"Lydia told me—I came to offer my congratulations," Stewart said, and though he grasped Floyd's hand warmly enough, there was constraint in his voice and a slight evasiveness in his eyes. "She's a bully girl—and it's what I've been urging you to do for years. I'm awfully glad, Floyd,—and I'll have to write and tell her you're not such a bad fellow really—"
"As you've been telling other people I am?" Floyd could not resist saying, with a good-humored smile.
Stewart flushed, but he would not allow Floyd even a temporally advantage. "Fortunately, relations between man and wife need n't be inferred from those between employer and employee," he retorted. "Anyway, I think I can write to her and find something to say. And I hope you're willing to accept my congratulations and good wishes, Floyd—and to believe them sincere?"
Floyd laughed. "Of course, Stewart. Thank you for coming in to tell me."
You must acknowledge it was rather magnanimous," replied Stewart, "when you left me to hear of it through Lydia. I really think that I'm the one you should have told.—Especially as you were the person that I took into my confidence when Lydia and I were first engaged."
Floyd was too amazed at this display of sensitiveness to attempt any reply.
"You must n't be too suspicious of your friends," continued Stewart. "Just because a sense of public duty and responsibility sometimes prompts them to come out against you, you should n't think that they've ceased to be your friends. Of course I'm not jealous of Lydia because you chose to tell her. Only I think I was entitled to hear such a thing from your own lips."
"It did n't occur to me that you'd feel there was any slight," Floyd answered, still at a loss as to how to meet this unexpected reproof. "Oh, hang it all, Stewart, let's get back to the main issue. The point is, you were good enough to come in and congratulate me, and I *m mighty glad to have your congratulations and thank you the best I know how. There—shake hands."
With a laugh and still holding his friend's hand, he helped Stewart to get gracefully out of the room.
The next day was the first of October, and the sealed plans submitted in competition for the Rebecca Halket Hospitals were brought into Floyd's private office. The two other judges arrived,—Dr. Edwards and the New York architect; the plans were opened, and the committee went into session. Day after day they sat, patiently scrutinizing and weighing every detail. For more than a week Floyd was able to give almost uninterrupted attention to this task. No problems arose at New Rome to demand his special care. The daily reports from Gregg showed that the town, though idle, was orderly, and that the incessant patrolling and picketing of the union men was on the whole of a peaceable nature. Stewart seemed to be the most active agent for the enemy, and even he was using somewhat less intemperate language than that in which he had first assailed Floyd. How much this modification was due to the quiet influence of Lydia or to the correction of the more astute union leaders, Floyd could not guess; at any rate in the newspaper reports of the speeches which Stewart was making nightly to men of various trades there was no personal attack; the economic and humanitarian aspects of the struggle were those with which the advocate dealt. Besides putting forth these efforts, Stewart conducted a column in the Evening Telegram inviting subscriptions to a fund, under the heading, "For Families of Men Locked Out of Employment." He announced in this column that, although there was no immediate need of aid, winter was approaching, and in the event of a protracted struggle, which now seemed only too probable in view of the obstinacy and relentlessness of the management, suffering was to be expected. He felt that steps to relieve this could not be taken too early, and he called on every one who sympathized with brave fighters for liberty to give even the smallest assistance. He himself headed the list of contributions to the fund with one thousand dollars. In comparison with this amount the other subscriptions that he was able to publish looked ludicrously—or pathetically—small. Stewart had not been successful in enlisting the interest of any of his wealthy friends in his charitable purpose. When he had approached two or three men in whose liberality of view he had had reason to believe, he had been bluntly rebuffed. Stung by this treatment and by the coldness of his fellow members at the club, who indeed made him feel that his presence there was unwelcome, he challenged any one to meet him in public or semi-public debate on the question of the lock-out; no one heeded the challenge. It angered Stewart to feel that because the people whom he most wished to reach perversely declined to listen, his educational work was unproductive. He had hoped that he could create at least an impression and rouse some sentiment among the persons of his acquaintance; instead of that he found that the only persons who would listen to him at all were tradespeople and artisans with whom he had no acquaintance and who were already in sympathy with his opinions. In such circumstances he felt he was not making much headway with the propaganda. Nevertheless his support seemed valued by Tustin and the others; he was admitted to the counsels of the leaders,—or thought that he was,—and he was kept contented and zealous by the belief that he was preparing a future for himself politically.
Floyd, although unaware of Stewart's ultimate aspirations, kept himself informed of his friend's activity and wondered at it, with more sadness than bitterness. A talk that he had with Bob Dunbar gave him some light on the reasons which were determining Stewart's course.
"I think," said Dunbar, "if Stewart had been able to feel that he stood a chance of winning this competition, he'd never have run amuck this way. He worked over that; he really did; it was the thing which was to determine his career as architect. It was make or break with him. And at the last I imagine he felt that he'd worked on the plans to no purpose and did n't really have the stuff in him, so he threw it all over and rushed into this business, partly with an hysterical belief in it and partly with a dramatic impulse to make the ruin more complete."
"I shouldn't wonder," said Floyd sympathetically. "It's too bad. Perhaps after this affair is settled we can straighten things out with him and get him started right again. Good heavens, I talk like a prig, saying 'we'! I guess it can be left to Lydia safely enough."
"I don't know." Dunbar shook his head. "Lydia's almost too gentle, too affectionate with him. And he takes the bit in his teeth. If you don't mind my saying so, Floyd,"—he laughed,—"Stewart ought to have somebody like your girl to manage him. Marion would deal with his nonsense. I tell you, Floyd, you're a lucky fellow. If ever there was a girl made to help a man and manage him right and get the best out of him, Marion's the one. The only kick I have to make is that you did n't leave her for somebody who needed her more."
"Don't you think I need to have the nonsense taken out of me?" laughed Floyd.
Dunbar's appreciation of Marion gave him something of a chill. It seemed to emphasize her least attractive qualities as her most characteristic. But it was very soon after this that she returned to Avalon, and that Floyd had an opportunity to discover with shame how unkind and unsympathetic had been his apprehensions. He found her far more lovable than he had been supposing her—even if he did not wholly love her. She was really very sweet and gentle, she took an immediate interest in his problems—an interest which was intelligent and not obnoxious, and which was enlivened with a humorous light. Floyd found her, as he had always hitherto found her, a pleasant, happy companion; yet when he was away from her he was indifferent, sensible mainly of the flaws. He knew that in her calm, serene way she was determined to have his whole love, and the knowledge made him perversely stubborn about yielding it—or rather his earnest volition seemed to be swept backward by a stronger current of antipathy. The desire of his nature was for a woman of a confiding cosiness, not for one of a large and generous spaciousness. He could not rid himself of a whimsical notion that living with Marion would be like living in a house containing only a series of vast, beautiful ball-rooms. For all her interest in his affairs, she made him feel that he was an insignificant and unornamental figure. She seemed to him to have a much larger grasp and outlook than he had attained, and to be quite independent of him; his protective instinct found nothing in her for its encouragement; she was too well able to conduct her own life. He felt vaguely that she dwarfed his spirit, that her character furnished no objective for the display and development of such little virtues as he was modestly aware he possessed—a patient wish to help, a desire to use his uncouth powers in the service of some one whose charm was reinforced by an appealing dependence. He could not think of Marion as "nestling"—he hated the word, but he confessed a fondness for the idea. Yet in the maze of subtlety and obscurity which bewildered his inclinations, it never occurred to him that a return to his unpledged state would make him happier, even if it could be accomplished without any cause for self-reproach. He accepted his engagement as an advance to a more satisfactory life, he would accept his marriage as an advance beyond that,—and yet he knew that the path he was traveling could never lead him to the complete fulfillment of the possibilities that he dimly apprehended in his soul.
His unsuspected sensitiveness was touched in a conversation which he had with Marion on the subject of their wedding. They had decided to be married before Christmas; but when there seemed no prospect of an early settlement at New Rome, Floyd said to her that he feared they might have to postpone the wedding indefinitely—perhaps till spring.
"For, you see, I can't be away for more than a day or two at a time while matters are in this state," he said. "Some of those fellows would like nothing better than to get me off on a honeymoon."
"Oh," she answered, "if it's necessary, Floyd, I can wait"
It occurred to him that here had been an opportunity for her to show an affectionate dependence and devotion; it might have been conveyed in the utterance of those very words. But she spoke them merely as the agents of an obvious, common-sense opinion, one so obvious that there was no necessity of connecting with it reluctance or regret.
The mills had been idle for three weeks when Hugh Farrell called on Floyd with a proposal for reopening them.
"There's enough men ready to break away from the Affiliated and go in with me," he said confidently. "Enough to start a couple of mills anyhow. There's a good many more that would be willing but are scared. I'm reckoning only on those that won't be scared—that will have the nerve to walk in first—right past the pickets. I've been feeling around some."
"I think it would be better for you," said Floyd, "to lie low and do nothing for the present. Is n't your situation—and Letty's—pretty uncomfortable? How are you being treated?"
"Oh," said Hugh, "a good many folks don't give us much chance to forget that we 're unpopular. But that's all right. That's because the Affiliated's got every one so terrorized. If once we can break in on them—why, the very fellows that are noisiest against me will be the first to desert. I'm not bothering on my own account. What I want is to get busy."
"Well," said Floyd, "you'd better feel round among the men a little longer. I'll think it over."
He consulted Gregg, who was of the opinion that a number of men would be glad to return to work, but doubted if many of them would dare to be the first. A few days later Farrell came to him again.
"It's all right," Farrell said confidently. "Just say the word, and any morning I'll march in a gang big enough to start two mills—and maybe more. Just let us have one day of work, and the next day you'll have 'em all coming back."
"I'll try it—on one condition," Floyd replied. "That is this: if when you go down to the works you find yourelves forcibly opposed—your entrance, I mean—you give it up, without a fight. I'd rather have this deadlock go on indefinitely than have it end in violence."
Farrell gave his promise and named the day on which he and his men would be ready to enter the mills.
"Very well; the gates will be opened for you at six o'clock in the morning," Floyd replied.
"But don't give it out," Farrell cautioned him. "We've got to work this on the quiet. Only the right fellows are to know—the fellows that can be trusted."
"Yes, of course. And remember—if there's the least sign of trouble, you're to draw out; I want that understood."
Farrell gave his promise.
Two days before the attempt to reopen the works was to be made, the committee on the Rebecca Halket Hospital competition announced the award. Bennett & Durant of Avalon had won the prize. The newspapers all published elaborate descriptions and reproductions of the successful plans. Stewart read the announcement at breakfast and broke out into a furious invective that appalled Lydia.
"Stewart!" she exclaimed entreatingly. "I'm sorry for your disappointment, dear, but—Stewart!"
He continued without heeding her. Then suddenly she spoke to him in a tone that he had never before heard her use. "Stewart! You say such things to me about Floyd!"
But he was so carried away by wrath and mortification that he ignored the unfamiliar warning in her voice.
"That and more too!" he cried. "Ignorance—chicanery—fair competition, indeed! Bennett & Durant! And that—that"—he struck the picture in the newspaper furiously with his hand—"that wins! See the plans—read the description! No architect, no intelligent, unbiased layman could pass that! The architect on that committee stood alone—the others! God knows what prompted the others!"
"Stewart!" His wife's voice rang sharply on his ears. She rose from her place and stood with angry spots flushing her cheeks, with eyes darting an unaccustomed, scathing light. "I will not hear such things from you. I will not stay in the room where they are said."
As she went out of the door he said viciously,—
"Yes, it needs only you to turn against me."
Then she stopped in the doorway and looked at him in silent scorn. The look did him no good; and he did not follow her up the stairs. Instead, he went downtown, possessed by a furious impulse to visit his office and rend and burn all the notes, drawings, and books which related in any way to the work he had done for the competition. He was rushing past the Halket Building when he came face to face with Floyd, who was about to enter.
The meeting turned Stewart from his purpose.
"I should like to have a few words with you," he said.
"Come up," Floyd answered.
When they entered the outer office of the Halket Company, Floyd signed to the clerk who was sitting there to withdraw. Then he offered Stewart a chair; but Stewart ignored it and stood some distance away from Floyd in the middle of the room.
"I see you have announced your award," he observed.
"Yes. I'm sorry the plans we chose turned out not to be yours."
"You wished to give the buildings to an Avalon architect—and you did not wish to give them to me. With those two conditions, it was easy to pick the winner."
"Stewart, if you mean to insinuate—"
"Insinuate!" Stewart laughed mirthlessly. "It is needless subtlety to insinuate when a fact is so palpable. With architects of the standing and ability of those from New York and Philadelphia and Boston to choose from, how else is the selection of Bennett & Durant—and on such plans!—to be explained?"
"I am under no necessity of explaining it," Floyd said, and though he spoke quietly, an unpleasant sternness had settled on his face. "Better drop the subject, Stewart—or, as has happened before, we may both of us say things that we shall regret."
"When you refer to such past experiences of regret," Stewart replied, "your conscience has the advantage of mine." The two men had stood, since the beginning of their colloquy, several feet apart, uncompromising, motionless, neither of them making any step which might be interpreted as a plea for a more confidential relation. Now, however, Stewart walked slowly up to Floyd and stretching out his arm, pointed his long forefinger threateningly in Floyd's face. "Shall I reconstruct your mental processes for you so that you can view them in all their nakedness with an impartial eye?" he asked; and Floyd folded his arms and gazed impassively beyond the menacing forefinger at Stewart's collar, as if nothing else interested him. "To begin with; you refused to look at my plans; why? Because you wished to appear to the world too lofty and incorruptible to be reached by personal influence and friendship, and because you were of too small a mind to risk this reputation by giving recognition to the best work when it was done by a friend. And also it was perhaps pleasanter for you to keep me from ever working out the penalty for the mistakes I made in the one building which you once permitted me. Perhaps you recall these motives?"
He paused for a reply, but no expression crossed Floyd's impassive face. Stewart dropped his accusing finger and drew a step nearer.
"Next, to demonstrate your chaste and incorruptible spirit, you announced that there would be a competition, open only to the best—the best and Bennett! The committee of judges was of your appointing. You probably knew that you could on any question control a two-thirds vote in the committee. Your placing yourself on that committee was a subtle indication of the purpose that appealed to your love of power,—a purpose not to let go, to keep a supervision of the work in your own hands, even up to the end. With that purpose in mind, you felt it essential that the work should be given to a local man,—not to one of the celebrated outsiders, whom you knew you could not handle. Do I read your mental processes correctly?"
Floyd made no motion and no answer.
"There were two local men entered in this competition—Bennett and myself. You may at one time have entertained a generous impulse to grant your old friend the award, if his drawings seemed to merit it. You may have been the more inclined toward this since it would have enabled you again to show me your power—your power, first to bestow, and afterwards perhaps to interfere. For you knew that I was always sensible of my one great obligation, and it always pleased you to see that I kept it in mind. But something happened which destroyed your benevolent, friendly impulse. It was this: I had the presumption to follow duty rather than discretion; when your treatment of your workingmen became a public scandal, I had to be a witness for the truth; and I knew then that I was sacrificing my own interests. You after that eliminated me from consideration. Bennett alone remained. You gave him the prize. The same impartial, disinterested spirit which had conceived the competition dominated it."
Stewart's tone had grown more venomous as he proceeded; and he delivered the last sentences of his tirade with an insulting, sneering emphasis. When it became quite clear that he had finished, Floyd raised his eyes and let them rest on Stewart's face. There was an inexorable, unpitying gravity in his gaze, and his voice was stern as he said,—
"Your hypothesis presupposes that before the committee made the award I had resorted to the improper act of secretly identifying each set of plans."
"The result presupposes that," Stewart answered jauntily. "The selection of the one utterly incompetent architect among all the competitors."
"You assume," continued Floyd, "that in making the award I was guilty not only of impropriety, but also of dishonesty."
"I assume nothing in dispute of the facts," Stewart replied.
The outer door of the office opened suddenly; the two men turned their heads and saw Hugh Farrell.
"Please go into that room, Mr. Farrell." Floyd pointed to a door. "I will see you in a few moments." He waited until Farrell had disappeared. "And now, sir, this door for you." He walked abruptly to that by which Farrell had entered and flung it open. "I will do you the courtesy to hold it for you myself, instead of calling the office boy."
"And not one word in denial!" cried Stewart triumphantly as he passed out.
Going down in the elevator he was still quivering with the excitement of the meeting. But he was joyous, exultant; he felt that he had issued triumphant from the field. The dignified yet scathing irony, the unassailable logic of his denunciation gave him in the retrospect a gradually increasing satisfaction. As he thought of the silence and impotence of his ungifted victim, he began to feel an easy, almost a forgiving contempt. Then as he was walking up the street he recalled Hugh Farrell's entrance, and began to speculate on its significance. Whatever the purpose of Farrell's visit, it was undoubtedly not undertaken in the interests of the union. Stewart determined to go at once to New Rome and inform Tustin of this suspicious conference; the executive committee of the Affiliated should be kept on its guard.
He found Tustin, Caskey, Ryan, and McGraw in the room over a shoe-store which was the headquarters of the committee. They were all smoking pipes and sitting round a table on which were spread sheets of type-written names. They gave him a friendly welcome; Tustin reached out one foot and jerked a chair toward him as an invitation to sit down.
"I have a bit of news for you, which may or may not be of some account," said Stewart; and he told what he had seen.
Tustin exhibited his faint, confident smile.
"Can you guess what that visit might be about?" he asked, turning to the others; and they all laughed, to Stewart's bewilderment.
"We've been keeping tabs on Farrell," Tustin explained. "If you had n't told us this, we'd mighty soon have heard. Well, there will be something doing before long—when it comes to an employer picking out one of his men and putting up a plot on the rest of us." He paused for a moment, and then he asked, "Say, did it ever occur to you, Mr. Lee, to inquire into the cause of this special favoring of Farrell?"
"I suppose it's been because he has always tried to make trouble for the union," Stewart answered.
"No, it's more than that. Did it ever occur to you why Mr. Halket should once have interested himself to get you to build Farrell a house?"
"No. I never thought about it particularly."
"And then never lifted a finger to get you to do the same by me and half a dozen others? You never thought of that? Well, now, I'll tell you; it may amuse you to hear. It was because Mrs. Farrell before she was married—I will say I've heard nothing against her since—was Mr. Halket's girl."
"His girl!" Stewart exclaimed.
"Yes. You know." Tustin laughed. "He used to board at her house when he was in the mills. Any of the fellows can tell you,—except Shelton; he always said there was nothing in it, but he has a soft spot anyhow. I lived next door; and my wife always had her suspicions. He and Farrell had some kind of understanding about it, so that they did n't interfere. My wife told me how they managed, but I've forgotten the particulars. When it came time for Mr. Halket to leave the works, then it was arranged for Farrell and the girl to get married. Mr. Halket of course has been interested ever since and done things for 'em; that was part of the trade. He got you to fix 'em up a better house than the rest of us could have; he pretty near furnished the house for 'em; this trying to shove Farrell ahead that we've split on is only another part of it."
"Good Lord!" Stewart exclaimed, and there was sincere regret as well as stupefaction in his voice. With all his readiness to think evil of Floyd, he had never suspected him of this particular depravity, he had always thought him to be what he had been in college—the man of the purest and most blameless life. Stewart was cynical enough about the virtue of most men; yet even now, when his friendship for Floyd had ceased, there remained a sensitiveness that was touched painfully by Tustin's recital. The type of stainless boyhood, for which in his heart Stewart had always had a yearning admiration, the type which had always seemed to him summed up in Floyd, was smirched; that which he had heard seemed to reach back and defile even the innocent years. The regret in his voice had been not for Floyd's fall, but for the loss of an ideal with which in spite of enmity and distrust he had till now associated Floyd unconsciously.
"It seems as if it could hardly be true," Stewart said, after a long pause.
Caskey hammered his pipe against the edge of the table. "It's true, all right," he remarked.
"My wife told me enough," observed Tustin. "Living next door—and knowing 'em all; she gets things straight."
"My God!" cried Stewart, with a sadden passion. "My God!" He struck the table violently with his fist and rose from his chair, and the others looked at him, amazed by the outburst.
He had forgotten the loss of an ideal; he was remembering that with such a motive Floyd had prevailed on him to build the house for Farrell and then had suffered him to pay the excess.