The American Claimant Part 5

"Then wait till he sends for his son's remains. If you do that, you will never have to give him the last and sharpest pain a parent can know-- I mean, the certainty that his son is dead. For he will never send."

"Why won't he?"

"Because to send--and find out the truth--would rob him of the one precious thing left him, the uncertainty, the dim hope that maybe, after all, his boy escaped, and he will see him again some day."

"Why Polly, he'll know by the papers that he was burnt up."

"He won't let himself believe the papers; he'll argue against anything and everything that proves his son is dead; and he will keep that up and live on it, and on nothing else till he dies. But if the remains should actually come, and be put before that poor old dim-hoping soul--"

"Oh, my G.o.d, they never shall! Polly, you've saved me from a crime, and I'll bless you for it always. Now we know what to do. We'll place them reverently away, and he shall never know."

CHAPTER X.

The young Lord Berkeley, with the fresh air of freedom in his nostrils, was feeling invincibly strong for his new career; and yet--and yet--if the fight should prove a very hard one at first, very discouraging, very taxing on untoughened moral sinews, he might in some weak moment want to retreat. Not likely, of course, but possibly that might happen. And so on the whole it might be pardonable caution to burn his bridges behind him. Oh, without doubt. He must not stop with advertising for the owner of that money, but must put it where he could not borrow from it himself, meantime, under stress of circ.u.mstances. So he went down town, and put in his advertis.e.m.e.nt, then went to a bank and handed in the $500 for deposit.

"What name?"

He hesitated and colored a little; he had forgotten to make a selection. He now brought out the first one that suggested itself: "Howard Tracy."

When he was gone the clerks, marveling, said: "The cowboy blushed."

The first step was accomplished. The money was still under his command and at his disposal, but the next step would dispose of that difficulty. He went to another bank and drew upon the first bank for the 500 by check. The money was collected and deposited a second time to the credit of Howard Tracy. He was asked to leave a few samples of his signature, which he did. Then he went away, once more proud and of perfect courage, saying: "No help for me now, for henceforth I couldn't draw that money without identification, and that is become legally impossible. No resources to fall back on. It is work or starve from now to the end. I am ready--and not afraid!"

Then he sent this cablegram to his father: "Escaped unhurt from burning hotel. Have taken fict.i.tious name. Goodbye."

During the, evening while he was wandering about in one of the outlying districts of the city, he came across a small brick church, with a bill posted there with these words printed on it: "MECHANICS' CLUB DEBATE. ALL INVITED." He saw people, apparently mainly of the working cla.s.s, entering the place, and he followed and took his seat. It was a humble little church, quite bare as to ornamentation. It had painted pews without cushions, and no pulpit, properly speaking, but it had a platform. On the platform sat the chairman, and by his side sat a man who held a ma.n.u.script in his hand and had the waiting look of one who is going to perform the princ.i.p.al part. The church was soon filled with a quiet and orderly congregation of decently dressed and modest people. This is what the chairman said: "The essayist for this evening is an old member of our club whom you all know, Mr. Parker, a.s.sistant editor of the Daily Democrat. The subject of his essay is the American Press, and he will use as his text a couple of paragraphs taken from Mr. Matthew Arnold's new book. He asks me to read these texts for him. The first is as follows: "'Goethe says somewhere that "the thrill of awe," that is to say, REVERENCE, is the best thing humanity has."

"Mr. Arnold's other paragraph is as follows: "'I should say that if one were searching for the best means to efface and kill in a whole nation the discipline of respect, one could not do better than take the American newspapers."

Mr. Parker rose and bowed, and was received with warm applause. He then began to read in a good round resonant voice, with clear enunciation and careful attention to his pauses and emphases. His points were received with approval as he went on.

The essayist took the position that the most important function of a public journal in any country was the propagating of national feeling and pride in the national name--the keeping the people "in love with their country and its inst.i.tutions, and shielded from the allurements of alien and inimical systems." He sketched the manner in which the reverent Turkish or Russian journalist fulfilled this function--the one a.s.sisted by the prevalent "discipline of respect" for the bastinado, the other for Siberia. Continuing, he said: The chief function of an English journal is that of all other journals the world over: it must keep the public eye fixed admiringly upon certain things, and keep it diligently diverted from certain others. For instance, it must keep the public eye fixed admiringly upon the glories of England, a processional splendor stretching its receding line down the hazy vistas of time, with the mellowed lights of a thousand years glinting from its banners; and it must keep it diligently diverted from the fact that all these glories were for the enrichment and aggrandizement of the petted and privileged few, at cost of the blood and sweat and poverty of the unconsidered ma.s.ses who achieved them but might not enter in and partake of them. It must keep the public eye fixed in loving and awful reverence upon the throne as a sacred thing, and diligently divert it from the fact that no throne was ever set up by the unhampered vote of a majority of any nation; and that hence no throne exists that has a right to exist, and no symbol of it, flying from any flagstaff, is righteously ent.i.tled to wear any device but the skull and crossbones of that kindred industry which differs from royalty only business-wise--merely as retail differs from wholesale. It must keep the citizen's eye fixed in reverent docility upon that curious invention of machine politics, an Established Church, and upon that bald contradiction of common justice, a hereditary n.o.bility; and diligently divert it from the fact that the one d.a.m.ns him if he doesn't wear its collar, and robs him under the gentle name of taxation whether he wears it or not, and the other gets all the honors while he does all the work.

The essayist thought that Mr. Arnold, with his trained eye and intelligent observation, ought to have perceived that the very quality which he so regretfully missed from our press--respectfulness, reverence --was exactly the thing which would make our press useless to us if it had it--rob it of the very thing which differentiates it from all other journalism in the world and makes it distinctively and preciously American, its frank and cheerful irreverence being by all odds the most valuable of all its qualities. "For its mission--overlooked by Mr. Arnold--is to stand guard over a nation's liberties, not its humbugs and shams." He thought that if during fifty years the inst.i.tutions of the old world could be exposed to the fire of a flouting and scoffing press like ours, "monarchy and its attendant crimes would disappear from Christendom." Monarchists might doubt this; then "why not persuade the Czar to give it a trial in Russia?" Concluding, he said: Well, the charge is, that our press has but little of that old world quality, reverence. Let us be candidly grateful that it is so. With its limited reverence it at least reveres the things which this nation reveres, as a rule, and that is sufficient: what other people revere is fairly and properly matter of light importance to us. Our press does not reverence kings, it does not reverence so called n.o.bilities, it does not reverence established ecclesiastical slaveries, it does not reverence laws which rob a younger son to fatten an elder one, it does not reverence any fraud or sham or infamy, howsoever old or rotten or holy, which sets one citizen above his neighbor by accident of birth: it does not reverence any law or custom, howsoever old or decayed or sacred, which shuts against the best man in the land the best place in the land and the divine right to prove property and go up and occupy it. In the sense of the poet Goethe--that meek idolater of provincial three carat royalty and n.o.bility--our press is certainly bankrupt in the "thrill of awe"--otherwise reverence; reverence for nickel plate and brummagem. Let us sincerely hope that this fact will remain a fact forever: for to my mind a discriminating irreverence is the creator and protector of human liberty--even as the other thing is the creator, nurse, and steadfast protector of all forms of human slavery, bodily and mental.

Tracy said to himself, almost shouted to himself, "I'm glad I came to this country. I was right. I was right to seek out a land where such healthy principles and theories are in men's hearty and minds. Think of the innumerable slaveries imposed by misplaced reverence! How well he brought that out, and how true it is. There's manifestly prodigious force in reverence. If you can get a man to reverence your ideals, he's your slave. Oh, yes, in all the ages the peoples of Europe have been diligently taught to avoid reasoning about the shams of monarchy and n.o.bility, been taught to avoid examining them, been taught to reverence them; and now, as a natural result, to reverence them is second nature. In order to shock them it is sufficient to inject a thought of the opposite kind into their dull minds. For ages, any expression of so- called irreverence from their lips has been sin and crime. The sham and swindle of all this is apparent the moment one reflects that he is himself the only legitimately qualified judge of what is ent.i.tled to reverence and what is not. Come, I hadn't thought of that before, but it is true, absolutely true. What right has Goethe, what right has Arnold, what right has any dictionary, to define the word Irreverence for me? What their ideals are is nothing to me. So long as I reverence my own ideals my whole duty is done, and I commit no profanation if I laugh at theirs. I may scoff at other people's ideals as much as I want to. It is my right and my privilege. No man has any right to deny it."

Tracy was expecting to hear the essay debated, but this did not happen. The chairman said, by way of explanation: "I would say, for the information of the strangers present here, that in accordance with our custom the subject of this meeting will be debated at the next meeting of the club. This is in order to enable our members to prepare what they may wish to say upon the subject with pen and paper, for we are mainly mechanics and unaccustomed to speaking. We are obliged to write down what we desire to say."

Many brief papers were now read, and several offhand speeches made in discussion of the essay read at the last meeting of the club, which had been a laudation, by some visiting professor, of college culture, and the grand results flowing from it to the nation. One of the papers was read by a man approaching middle age, who said he hadn't had a college education, that he had got his education in a printing office, and had graduated from there into the patent office, where he had been a clerk now for a great many years. Then he continued to this effect: The essayist contrasted the America of to-day with the America of bygone times, and certainly the result is the exhibition of a mighty progress. But I think he a little overrated the college-culture share in the production of that result. It can no doubt be easily shown that the colleges have contributed the intellectual part of this progress, and that that part is vast; but that the material progress has been immeasurably vaster, I think you will concede. Now I have been looking over a list of inventors--the creators of this amazing material development--and I find that they were not college-bred men. Of course there are exceptions--like Professor Henry of Princeton, the inventor of Mr. Morse's system of telegraphy--but these exceptions are few. It is not overstatement to say that the imagination-stunning material development of this century, the only century worth living in since time itself was invented, is the creation of men not college-bred. We think we see what these inventors have done: no, we see only the visible vast frontage of their work; behind it is their far vaster work, and it is invisible to the careless glance. They have reconstructed this nation-- made it over, that is--and metaphorically speaking, have multiplied its numbers almost beyond the power of figures to express. I will explain what I mean. What const.i.tutes the population of a land? Merely the numberable packages of meat and bones in it called by courtesy men and women? Shall a million ounces of bra.s.s and a million ounces of gold be held to be of the same value? Take a truer standard: the measure of a man's contributing capacity to his time and his people--the work he can do--and then number the population of this country to-day, as multiplied by what a man can now do, more than his grandfather could do. By this standard of measurement, this nation, two or three generations ago, consisted of mere cripples, paralytics, dead men, as compared with the men of to-day. In 1840 our population was 17,000,000. By way of rude but striking ill.u.s.tration, let us consider, for argument's sake, that four of these millions consisted of aged people, little children, and other incapables, and that the remaining 13,000,000 were divided and employed as follows: 2,000,000 as ginners of cotton. 6,000,000 (women) as stocking-knitters. 2,000,000 (women) as thread-spinners. 500,000 as screw makers. 400,000 as reapers, binders, etc. 1,000,000 as corn sh.e.l.lers. 40,000 as weavers. 1,000 as st.i.tchers of shoe soles.

Now the deductions which I am going to append to these figures may sound extravagant, but they are not. I take them from Miscellaneous Doc.u.ments No. 50, second session 45th Congress, and they are official and trustworthy. To-day, the work of those 2,000,000 cotton-ginners is done by 2,000 men; that of the 6,000,000 stocking-knitters is done by 3,000 boys; that of the 2,000,000 thread-spinners is done by 1,000 girls; that of the 500,000 screw makers is done by 500 girls; that of the 400,000 reapers, binders, etc., is done by 4,000 boys; that of the 1,000,000 corn shelters is done by 7,500 men; that of the 40,000 weavers is done by 1,200 men; and that of the 1,000 st.i.tchers of shoe soles is done by 6 men. To bunch the figures, 17,900 persons to-day do the above-work, whereas fifty years ago it would have taken thirteen millions of persons to do it. Now then, how many of that ignorant race--our fathers and grandfathers--with their ignorant methods, would it take to do our work to-day? It would take forty thousand millions--a hundred times the swarming population of China--twenty times the present population of the globe. You look around you and you see a nation of sixty millions-- apparently; but secreted in their hands and brains, and invisible to your eyes, is the true population of this Republic, and it numbers forty billions! It is the stupendous creation of those humble unlettered, un-college-bred inventors--all honor to their name.

"How grand that is!" said Tracy, as he wended homeward. "What a civilization it is, and what prodigious results these are! and brought about almost wholly by common men; not by Oxford-trained aristocrats, but men who stand shoulder to shoulder in the humble ranks of life and earn the bread that they eat. Again, I'm glad I came. I have found a country at last where one may start fair, and breast to breast with his fellow man, rise by his own efforts, and be something in the world and be proud of that something; not be something created by an ancestor three hundred years ago."

CHAPTER XI.

During the first few days he kept the fact diligently before his mind that he was in a land where there was "work and bread for all." In fact, for convenience' sake he fitted it to a little tune and hummed it to himself; but as time wore on the fact itself began to take on a doubtful look, and next the tune got fatigued and presently ran down and stopped. His first effort was to get an upper clerkship in one of the departments, where his Oxford education could come into play and do him service. But he stood no chance whatever. There, competency was no recommendation; political backing, without competency, was worth six of it. He was glaringly English, and that was necessarily against him in the political centre of a nation where both parties prayed for the Irish cause on the house-top and blasphemed it in the cellar. By his dress he was a cowboy; that won him respect--when his back was not turned--but it couldn't get a clerkship for him. But he had said, in a rash moment, that he would wear those clothes till the owner or the owner's friends caught sight of them and asked for that money, and his conscience would not let him retire from that engagement now.

At the end of a week things were beginning to wear rather a startling look. He had hunted everywhere for work, descending gradually the scale of quality, until apparently he had sued for all the various kinds of work a man without a special calling might hope to be able to do, except ditching and the other coa.r.s.e manual sorts--and had got neither work nor the promise of it.

He was mechanically turning over the leaves of his diary, meanwhile, and now his eye fell upon the first record made after he was burnt out: "I myself did not doubt my stamina before, n.o.body could doubt it now, if they could see how I am housed, and realise that I feel absolutely no disgust with these quarters, but am as serenely content with them as any dog would be in a similar kennel. Terms, twenty-five dollars a week. I said I would start at the bottom. I have kept my word."

A shudder went quaking through him, and he exclaimed: "What have I been thinking of! This the bottom! Mooning along a whole week, and these terrific expenses climbing and climbing all the time! I must end this folly straightway."

He settled up at once and went forth to find less sumptuous lodgings. He had to wander far and seek with diligence, but he succeeded. They made him pay in advance--four dollars and a half; this secured both bed and food for a week. The good-natured, hardworked landlady took him up three flights of narrow, uncarpeted stairs and delivered him into his room. There were two double-bedsteads in it, and one single one. He would be allowed to sleep alone in one of the double beds until some new boarder should come, but he wouldn't be charged extra.

So he would presently be required to sleep with some stranger! The thought of it made him sick. Mrs. Marsh, the landlady, was very friendly and hoped he would like her house--they all liked it, she said.

"And they're a very nice set of boys. They carry on a good deal, but that's their fun. You see, this room opens right into this back one, and sometimes they're all in one and sometimes in the other; and hot nights they all sleep on the roof when it don't rain. They get out there the minute it's hot enough. The season's so early that they've already had a night or two up there. If you'd like to go up and pick out a place, you can. You'll find chalk in the side of the chimney where there's a brick wanting. You just take the chalk and--but of course you've done it before."

"Oh, no, I haven't."

"Why, of course you haven't--what am I thinking of? Plenty of room on the Plains without chalking, I'll be bound. Well, you just chalk out a place the size of a blanket anywhere on the tin that ain't already marked off, you know, and that's your property. You and your bed-mate take turnabout carrying up the blanket and pillows and fetching them down again; or one carries them up and the other fetches them down, you fix it the way you like, you know. You'll like the boys, they're everlasting sociable--except the printer. He's the one that sleeps in that single bed--the strangest creature; why, I don't believe you could get that man to sleep with another man, not if the house was afire. Mind you, I'm not just talking, I know. The boys tried him, to see. They took his bed out one night, and so when he got home about three in the morning--he was on a morning paper then, but he's on an evening one now--there wasn't any place for him but with the iron-moulder; and if you'll believe me, he just set up the rest of the night--he did, honest. They say he's cracked, but it ain't so, he's English--they're awful particular. You won't mind my saying that. You--you're English?"

"Yes."

"I thought so. I could tell it by the way you misp.r.o.nounce the words that's got a's in them, you know; such as saying loff when you mean laff --but you'll get over that. He's a right down good fellow, and a little sociable with the photographer's boy and the caulker and the blacksmith that work in the navy yard, but not so much with the others. The fact is, though it's private, and the others don't know it, he's a kind of an aristocrat, his father being a doctor, and you know what style that is-- in England, I mean, because in this country a doctor ain't so very much, even if he's that. But over there of course it's different. So this chap had a falling out with his father, and was pretty high strung, and just cut for this country, and the first he knew he had to get to work or starve. Well, he'd been to college, you see, and so he judged he was all right--did you say anything?"

"No--I only sighed."

"And there's where he was mistaken. Why, he mighty near starved. And I reckon he would have starved sure enough, if some jour' printer or other hadn't took pity on him and got him a place as apprentice. So he learnt the trade, and then he was all right--but it was a close call. Once he thought he had got to haul in his pride and holler for his father and-- why, you're sighing again. Is anything the matter with you?--does my clatter--"

"Oh, dear--no. Pray go on--I like it."

"Yes, you see, he's been over here ten years; he's twenty-eight, now, and he ain't pretty well satisfied in his mind, because he can't get reconciled to being a mechanic and a.s.sociating with mechanics, he being, as he says to me, a gentleman, which is a pretty plain letting-on that the boys ain't, but of course I know enough not to let that cat out of the bag."

"Why--would there be any harm in it?"

"Harm in it? They'd lick him, wouldn't they? Wouldn't you? Of course you would. Don't you ever let a man say you ain't a gentleman in this country. But laws, what am I thinking about? I reckon a body would think twice before he said a cowboy wasn't a gentleman."

A trim, active, slender and very pretty girl of about eighteen walked into the room now, in the most satisfied and unembarra.s.sed way. She was cheaply but smartly and gracefully dressed, and the mother's quick glance at the stranger's face as he rose, was of the kind which inquires what effect has been produced, and expects to find indications of surprise and admiration.

"This is my daughter Hattie--we call her Puss. It's the new boarder, Puss." This without rising.

The young Englishman made the awkward bow common to his nationality and time of life in circ.u.mstances of delicacy and difficulty, and these were of that sort; for, being taken by surprise, his natural, lifelong self sprang to the front, and that self of course would not know just how to act when introduced to a chambermaid, or to the heiress of a mechanics' boarding house. His other self--the self which recognized the equality of all men--would have managed the thing better, if it hadn't been caught off guard and robbed of its chance. The young girl paid no attention to the bow, but put out her hand frankly and gave the stranger a friendly shake and said: "How do you do?"

Then she marched to the one washstand in the room, tilted her head this way and that before the wreck of a cheap mirror that hung above it, dampened her fingers with her tongue, perfected the circle of a little lock of hair that was pasted against her forehead, then began to busy herself with the slops.

"Well, I must be going--it's getting towards supper time. Make yourself at home, Mr. Tracy, you'll hear the bell when it's ready."

The landlady took her tranquil departure, without commanding either of the young people to vacate the room. The young man wondered a little that a mother who seemed so honest and respectable should be so thoughtless, and was reaching for his hat, intending to disembarra.s.s the girl of his presence; but she said: "Where are you going?"

"Well--nowhere in particular, but as I am only in the way here--"

"Why, who said you were in the way? Sit down--I'll move you when you are in the way."

She was making the beds, now. He sat down and watched her deft and diligent performance.

"What gave you that notion? Do you reckon I need a whole room just to make up a bed or two in?"

"Well no, it wasn't that, exactly. We are away up here in an empty house, and your mother being gone--"

The girl interrupted him with an amused laugh, and said: "n.o.body to protect me? Bless you, I don't need it. I'm not afraid. I might be if I was alone, because I do hate ghosts, and I don't deny it. Not that I believe in them, for I don't. I'm only just afraid of them."

"How can you be afraid of them if you don't believe in them?"

"Oh, I don't know the how of it--that's too many for me; I only know it's so. It's the same with Maggie Lee."

"Who is that?"

"One of the boarders; young lady that works in the factry."

"She works in a factory?"

"Yes. Shoe factory."

"In a shoe factory; and you call her a young lady?"

"Why, she's only twenty-two; what should you call her?"

"I wasn't thinking of her age, I was thinking of the t.i.tle. The fact is, I came away from England to get away from artificial forms--for artificial forms suit artificial people only--and here you've got them too. I'm sorry. I hoped you had only men and women; everybody equal; no differences in rank."

The girl stopped with a pillow in her teeth and the case spread open below it, contemplating him from under her brows with a slightly puzzled expression. She released the pillow and said: "Why, they are all equal. Where's any difference in rank?"

"If you call a factory girl a young lady, what do you call the President's wife?"

"Call her an old one."

"Oh, you make age the only distinction?"

"There ain't any other to make as far as I can see."

"Then all women are ladies?"

"Certainly they are. All the respectable ones."

"Well, that puts a better face on it. Certainly there is no harm in a t.i.tle when it is given to everybody. It is only an offense and a wrong when it is restricted to a favored few. But Miss--er--"

"Hattie."

"Miss Hattie, be frank; confess that that t.i.tle isn't accorded by everybody to everybody. The rich American doesn't call her cook a lady-- isn't that so?"

"Yes, it's so. What of it?"

He was surprised and a little disappointed, to see that his admirable shot had produced no perceptible effect.

"What of it?" he said. "Why this: equality is not conceded here, after all, and the Americans are no better off than the English. In fact there's no difference."

"Now what an idea. There's nothing in a t.i.tle except what is put into it--you've said that yourself. Suppose the t.i.tle is 'clean,' instead of 'lady.' You get that?"

"I believe so. Instead of speaking of a woman as a lady, you subst.i.tute clean and say she's a clean person."

"That's it. In England the swell folks don't speak of the working people as gentlemen and ladies?"

"Oh, no."

"And the working people don't call themselves gentlemen and ladies?"

"Certainly not."

"So if you used the other word there wouldn't be any change. The swell people wouldn't call anybody but themselves 'clean,' and those others would drop sort of meekly into their way of talking and they wouldn't call themselves clean. We don't do that way here. Everybody calls himself a lady or gentleman, and thinks he is, and don't care what anybody else thinks him, so long as he don't say it out loud. You think there's no difference. You knuckle down and we don't. Ain't that a difference?"

"It is a difference I hadn't thought of; I admit that. Still--calling one's self a lady doesn't--er--"

"I wouldn't go on if I were you."

Howard Tracy turned his head to see who it might be that had introduced this remark. It was a short man about forty years old, with sandy hair, no beard, and a pleasant face badly freckled but alive and intelligent, and he wore slop-shop clothing which was neat but showed wear. He had come from the front room beyond the hall, where he had left his hat, and he had a chipped and cracked white wash-bowl in his hand. The girl came and took the bowl.

"I'll get it for you. You go right ahead and give it to him, Mr. Barrow. He's the new boarder--Mr. Tracy--and I'd just got to where it was getting too deep for me."

"Much obliged if you will, Hattie. I was coming to borrow of the boys." He sat down at his ease on an old trunk, and said, "I've been listening and got interested; and as I was saying, I wouldn't go on, if I were you. You see where you are coming to, don't you? Calling yourself a lady doesn't elect you; that is what you were going to say; and you saw that if you said it you were going to run right up against another difference that you hadn't thought of: to-wit, Whose right is it to do the electing? Over there, twenty thousand people in a million elect themselves gentlemen and ladies, and the nine hundred and eighty thousand accept that decree and swallow the affront which it puts upon them. Why, if they didn't accept it, it wouldn't be an election, it would be a dead letter and have no force at all. Over here the twenty thousand would-be exclusives come up to the polls and vote themselves to be ladies and gentlemen. But the thing doesn't stop there. The nine hundred and eighty thousand come and vote themselves to be ladies and gentlemen too, and that elects the whole nation. Since the whole million vote themselves ladies and gentlemen, there is no question about that election. It does make absolute equality, and there is no fiction about it; while over yonder the inequality, (by decree of the infinitely feeble, and consent of the infinitely strong,) is also absolute--as real and absolute as our equality."

Tracy had shrunk promptly into his English sh.e.l.l when this speech began, notwithstanding he had now been in severe training several weeks for contact and intercourse with the common herd on the common herd's terms; but he lost no time in pulling himself out again, and so by the time the speech was finished his valves were open once more, and he was forcing himself to accept without resentment the common herd's frank fashion of dropping sociably into other people's conversations unembarra.s.sed and uninvited. The process was not very difficult this time, for the man's smile and voice and manner were persuasive and winning. Tracy would even have liked him on the spot, but for the fact--fact which he was not really aware of--that the equality of men was not yet a reality to him, it was only a theory; the mind perceived, but the man failed to feel it. It was Hattie's ghost over again, merely turned around. Theoretically Barrow was his equal, but it was distinctly distasteful to see him exhibit it. He presently said: "I hope in all sincerity that what you have said is true, as regards the Americans, for doubts have crept into my mind several times. It seemed that the equality must be ungenuine where the sign-names of castes were still in vogue; but those sign-names have certainly lost their offence and are wholly neutralized, nullified and harmless if they are the undisputed property of every individual in the nation. I think I realize that caste does not exist and cannot exist except by common consent of the ma.s.ses outside of its limits. I thought caste created itself and perpetuated itself; but it seems quite true that it only creates itself, and is perpetuated by the people whom it despises, and who can dissolve it at any time by a.s.suming its mere sign-names themselves."

"It's what I think. There isn't any power on earth that can prevent England's thirty millions from electing themselves dukes and d.u.c.h.esses to-morrow and calling themselves so. And within six months all the former dukes and d.u.c.h.esses would have retired from the business. I wish they'd try that. Royalty itself couldn't survive such a process. A handful of frowners against thirty million laughers in a state of irruption. Why, it's Herculaneum against Vesuvius; it would take another eighteen centuries to find that Herculaneum after the cataclysm. What's a Colonel in our South? He's a n.o.body; because they're all colonels down there. No, Tracy" (shudder from Tracy) "n.o.body in England would call you a gentleman and you wouldn't call yourself one; and I tell you it's a state of things that makes a man put himself into most unbecoming att.i.tudes sometimes--the broad and general recognition and acceptance of caste as caste does, I mean. Makes him do it unconsciously--being bred in him, you see, and never thought over and reasoned out. You couldn't conceive of the Matterhorn being flattered by the notice of one of your comely little English hills, could you?"

"Why, no."

"Well, then, let a man in his right mind try to conceive of Darwin feeling flattered by the notice of a princess. It's so grotesque that it--well, it paralyzes the imagination. Yet that Memnon was flattered by the notice of that statuette; he says so--says so himself. The system that can make a G.o.d disown his G.o.dship and profane it--oh, well, it's all wrong, it's all wrong and ought to be abolished, I should say."

The mention of Darwin brought on a literary discussion, and this topic roused such enthusiasm in Barrow that he took off his coat and made himself the more free and comfortable for it, and detained him so long that he was still at it when the noisy proprietors of the room came shouting and skylarking in and began to romp, scuffle, wash, and otherwise entertain themselves. He lingered yet a little longer to offer the hospitalities of his room and his book shelf to Tracy and ask him a personal question or two: "What is your trade?"

"They--well, they call me a cowboy, but that is a fancy. I'm not that. I haven't any trade."

"What do you work at for your living?"

Receive SMS and Send Text Online for free >>

« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»