Elder Conklin and Other Stories
Part 4 out of 4
"No; I wasn't well yesterday, but I'm better now, though I shall keep
indoors for a day or two. A chill, I suppose."
Receiving no answer, he found relief in complete boldness.
"You see my prediction as to the result of the election has been
"You might even say _pars magna fui_."
The retort slipped out. The impudent challenge had to be met. The
Professor did not realize how contemptuously he spoke.
The womanish weakness in Hutchings sprang to hurried attack.
"At any rate you've no cause for reproach. I resigned chiefly to shield
you. I told you long ago that I didn't want particularly to be Mayor,
and the assault upon your position in the University decided me. There
was no way to save your place except by giving Gulmore the victory he
wanted. You're engaged to May, and May is fond of you: I'm not rich, and
a post of three thousand dollars a year is not often to be found by a
young man. What would you do if you were dismissed? I had to--sacrifice
myself. Not that it matters much, but I've got myself into a fuss with
the party, injured myself all round on your account, and then you talk
as if you had some reason to be offended. That's hardly right,
Professor." The lawyer was satisfied with his case; his concluding
phrase built a bridge for a magnanimous reconciliation.
"You wish me to believe that you resigned at the last moment without
telling me of your intention in order to further my interests?" Mr.
Hutchings was disagreeably shocked by the disdainful, incredulous
question; Roberts was harder to blind than he had supposed; his
indignation became more than half sincere.
"I didn't make up my mind till the last minute--I couldn't. It wasn't
easy for me to leave the party I've fought with for ten years. And the
consequences don't seem likely to be pleasant to me. But that doesn't
signify. This discussion is useless. If you'll take my advice you'll
think of answering the charge that will be brought against you in the
Faculty meeting, instead of trying to get up a groundless accusation
against me." The menace in the words was not due solely to excitement
and ill-temper. Mr. Hutchings had been at pains to consider all his
relations with the Professor. He had hoped to deceive him, at least for
the moment, and gain time--postpone a painful decision. He had begun to
wish that the engagement between Roberts and May might be broken off. In
six months or a year he would have to declare himself on Gulmore's side;
the fact would establish his complicity, and he had feared what he now
knew, that Roberts would be the severest of critics--an impossible son-
in-law. Besides, in the East, as the daughter of a Member of Congress,
May might command a high position--with her looks she could marry any
one--while Roberts would be dismissed or compelled to resign his post. A
young man without a career who would play censor upon him in his own
house was not to be thought of. The engagement must be terminated. May
could be brought to understand....
The Professor did not at once grasp the situation in so far as he
himself was concerned. But he divined the cause of the lawyer's
irritability, and refrained from pushing the argument further. The
discussion could, indeed, serve no purpose, save to embitter the
quarrel. He therefore answered quietly:
"I didn't come here to dispute with you. I came to see May. Is she in?"
"No, I think not. I believe she went out some time ago."
"In that case I'll go home. Perhaps you'll tell her I called. Good day."
As the Professor left the house his depression of the morning returned
upon him. He was dissatisfied with himself. He had intended to show no
anger, no resentment, and, nevertheless, his temper had run away with
him. He recognized that he had made a grave mistake, for he was
beginning to foresee the consequences of it. Trained to severe thinking,
but unaccustomed to analyze motives, the full comprehension of
Hutchings' attitude and its probable effects upon his happiness only
came to him gradually, but it came at length so completely that he could
remember the very words of the foregoing conversation, and recall the
tones of the voices. He could rebuild the puzzle; his understanding of
it, therefore, must be the true one. The irrationality of the defence
was a final proof that the lawyer had played him false. "Hutchings sold
himself--most likely for place. He didn't fear a quarrel with me--that
was evident; perhaps he wishes to get rid of me--evident, too. He
believes that I shall be dismissed, or else he wouldn't have laid stress
upon the importance of my keeping my position. When I spoke of May he
was curt. And the explanation? He has wronged me. The old French proverb
holds true, 'The offender seldom forgives.' He'll probably go on to harm
me further, for I remind him of his vileness. This, then, is life, not
as I imagined it, but as it is, and such creatures as Hutchings are
human beings. Well, after all, it is better to know the truth than to
cheat oneself with a mirage. I shall appreciate large natures with noble
and generous impulses better, now that I know how rare they are."
In his room he found May awaiting him. Across his surprise and joy there
came an intense admiration of her, a heart-pang of passionate gratitude.
As she moved towards him her incommunicable grace of person and manner
completed the charm. The radiant gladness of the eyes; the outstretched
hands; the graceful form, outlined in silver-grey; the diadem of honey-
coloured hair; something delicate yet courageous, proud yet tender in
her womanhood remained with him ever afterwards.
"Ah, May!" The word seemed to bring joy and tingling life to his half-
numbed heart. He seized her hands and drew her to him, and kissed her on
the hair, and brows, and eyes with an abandonment of his whole nature,
such as she had never before known in him. All her shyness, her
uneasiness vanished in the happiness of finding that she had so pleased
him, and mingled with this joy was a new delightful sense of her own
power. When released from his embrace she questioned him by a look. His
emotion astonished her.
"My love," he said, kissing her hands, "how good of you to come to me,
how sweet and brave you are to wait for me here! I was growing weak with
fear lest I should lose you, too, in the general wreck. And you came and
sat here for me patiently--Darling!"
There was a mingling of self-surrender and ruffled pride in her smiling
"Lose me? What do you mean? I waited for you last night, sir, and all
this weary morning, till I could wait no longer; I had to find you. I
would have stayed at home till you came; I meant to, but father startled
me: he said he was afraid you'd lose your place as Professor in spite of
all he had done for you. 'Twas good of him, wasn't it, to give up running
for Mayor, so as not to embitter Gulmore against you? I was quite proud of
him. But you won't lose your post, will you? Has anything serious
He paused to think, but he could not see any way to avoid telling her
the truth. Disappointments had so huddled upon him, the insight he had
won into human nature was so desolating that his heart ached for
sympathy and affection. He loved her; she was to be his wife; how could
he help winning her to his side? Besides, her words voiced his own
fears--her father had already begun to try to part them. She must know
all and judge. But how? Should he give her "The Tribune" to read? No--it
"Come and sit down, May, and I'll tell you what happened yesterday. You
shall judge for yourself whether I was right or wrong."
He told her, point by point, what had occurred. May listened in silence
till he stopped.
"But why did he resign? What could he gain by that?"
While she was speaking a thought crimsoned her cheeks; she had found the
key to the enigma. Three nights before her father had talked of
Washington and the East with a sort of exultation. At the time she had
not paid much attention to this, though it had struck her as very
different from his habit. Now the peculiarity of it confirmed her
suspicion. In some way or other his action in resigning was connected
with his inexplicable high spirits. A wave of indignation swept over
her. Not that she felt the disgust which had sickened the Professor when
he first heard of the traitorism. He had condemned Mr. Hutchings on the
grounds of public morality; May's anger was aroused because her father
had sought to deceive _her_; had tried by lying suggestion to take
credit to himself, whereas--
"I wouldn't have believed it," she murmured, with the passionate revolt
of youth against mean deceit. "I can never forgive him or trust him
"Don't let us talk of it any more, dear. I wouldn't have told you only I
was afraid that he would try to separate us. Now I know you are on my
side I wouldn't have you judge him harshly."
"On your side," she repeated, with a certain exaltation of manner. "On
your side always in spite of everything. I feel for you more intensely
than for myself." In a lower voice and with hesitating speech she added:
"Did he--did he tell you that he resigned on your account?"
"And you're not angry?"
"No." He smiled slightly. "I understand men better now than I did
yesterday. That's all."
"Oh, but you ought to be mad. I am. How can you--"
"Let us talk, dear, of what concerns us more. Have you heard anything?
From what your father said I half fear that the meeting to-morrow may go
against me. Has no one called?"
"Professor Krazinski. I saw his card on the table when I came in. You
think it's a bad sign that he's the only one?"
"I'm afraid so. It may be merely anxiety, but I'm growing suspicious of
every one now. I catch myself attributing low motives to men without
reason. That electioneering has infected me. I hate myself for it, but I
can't help it; I loathe the self-seeking and the vileness. I'd rather
not know men at all than see them as they've shown themselves lately. I
want to get away and rinse my mouth out and forget all about it--away
somewhere with you, my sweet love."
"But you mustn't let them condemn you without an effort." While speaking
she put her hand on his shoulder and moved close to him. "It might
injure us later. And you know you can persuade them if you like. No one
can listen to you without being won over. And I want you to keep your
post; you love teaching and you're the best teacher in the world, ah--"
He put his arms round her, and she bowed her head on his neck, that he
might not see the gathering tears.
"You're right, dear. I spoke hastily. I'll do my best. It won't be as
bad as we think. My colleagues are men of some education and position.
They're not like the crowd of ignorant voters and greedy place-hunters;
they'll listen to reason, and"--half bitterly--"they've no motive to do
me wrong. Besides, Krazinski has called, and I scarcely know him;
perhaps the others didn't think of coming. It was kind of him, wasn't
it? I'm very grateful to him. He must be a good fellow."
"What has he done so wonderful? Oh, my!"--and she turned her face up to
his with half-laughing deprecation--"I'm afraid I'm deteriorating too. I
can't hear you praise any one now without feeling horribly jealous. Yes,
he must be good. But don't be too grateful to him, or--I must be going
now, and, oh! what a long time it'll be until to-morrow! I shall have
grown old before--to-morrow."
"Sweetheart! You'll come here and wait for me in the afternoon, won't
you? I shall want to see you so much."
"Yes, if you like; but I intended to go up to the University--mayn't I?
It'll seem ages--aeons--waiting here by myself."
"The meeting will not last long, and I'll come to you as soon as it's
over. Darling, you don't know how much you have helped me. You have given
me courage and hope," and he folded her in his arms.
* * * * *
Mr. Gulmore liked to spend his evenings with his wife and daughter. It
amused him to hear what they had been doing during the day. Their gossip
had its value; sentimental or spiteful, it threw quaint sidelights upon
character. On the evening before the Faculty meeting Ida was bending
over a book, while Mr. Gulmore smoked, and watched her. His daughter was
somewhat of a puzzle to him still, and when occasion offered he studied
her. "Where does she get her bitterness from? I'm not bitter, an' I had
difficulties, was poor an' ignorant, had to succeed or go under, while
she has had everythin' she wanted. It's a pity she ain't kinder...."
Presently Mrs. Gulmore put away her work and left the room. Taking up
the thread of a conversation that had been broken off by his wife's
presence, Mr. Gulmore began:
"I don't say Roberts'll win, Ida. The bettin''s the other way; but I'm
not sure, for I don't know the crowd. He may come out on top, though I
hev noticed that young men who run into their first fight and get badly
whipped ain't likely to fight desperate the second time.--Grit's half
"I wish I could be there to _see_ him beaten!" Ida had tried to
turn her wounded pride into dislike, and was succeeding. "I hate to feel
he's in the same town with us--the coward!"
At this moment Mrs. Gulmore re-entered the room.
"To think of it! Sal left the gas-stove flarin'. I made her get up and
come downstairs to put it out. That'll learn her! Of all the careless,
shiftless creatures, these coloured people are the worst. Come, Ida,
it's long after nine, and I'm tired. You can read in your bedroom if you
After the usual "good night" and kisses, Ida went upstairs. While Mrs.
Gulmore busied herself putting "things straight," Mr. Gulmore sat
"She takes after her mother in everythin', but she has more pride. It's
that makes her bitter. She's jest like her--only prettier. The same
peaky nose, pointed chin, little thin ears set close to her head, fine
hair--the Yankee school-marm. First-rate managin' women; the best wives
in the world to keep a house an' help a man on. But they hain't got
sensuality enough to be properly affectionate."
* * * * *
On the following afternoon Roberts stopped before the door of his house
and looked back towards the University. There on the crest of the hill
stood the huge building of bluish-grey stone with the round tower of the
observatory in the middle--like a mallet with a stubby handle in the
While gazing thus a shrill voice reached him, the eager treble of a
"Great Scandal!" he heard--and then "Scandal in the University! Full
Report! Only five cents! Five cents for the 'Herald's' Special!"
He hastened to the gate and beckoned to the little figure in the
distance. His thoughts were whirling. What did it mean? Could the
"Herald" have issued a special edition with the report of the meeting?
Impossible! there wasn't time for that. Yet, he had walked leisurely
with Krazinski, and newspapers did wonders sometimes. Wonders! 'twould
be a breach of confidence. There was an honourable understanding that no
one should divulge what took place in a Faculty meeting. "Honourable"
and Gulmore--the two words wouldn't go together. Could it be?
A glance at the contents-bill brought a flush to his face. He gave a
quarter for the sheet, and as the boy fumbled for change he said, taking
hold of the bill:
"I want this too; you can keep the rest of the money," and hurried into
May met him at the door of the sitting-room, but did not speak, while he
opened out the paper, and in silence showed her the six columns,
containing a verbatim report of the meeting.
"What do you think of that?" he asked, and without waiting for an answer
he spread the contents-bill upon the table.
"This is better," he went on, bitterly. "Read this!" And she read:
RUCTIONS IN LEARNING'S HOME.
THE PRESIDENT'S FLANK ATTACK.
FOURS TO A PAIR.
THE PAGAN RETIRES AND THE POLE.
"Oh, the brutes! How could they?" May exclaimed. "But what does it
"You have it all there," he said, touching the bill; "all in two or
three lines of cheerful insult, as is our American fashion. In spite of
the opinion of every leading lawyer in the State, sixteen--fanatics, to
give them the benefit of the doubt, voted that a disbelief in Christian
dogma was the same thing as 'open immorality.' The Father of Lies made
"Did no one vote for you?"
"Two, Krazinski and some one else, I think 'twas little Black, and two
papers were blank. But fancy the President speaking against me, though
he has a casting-vote. All he could say was that the parents were the
only proper judges of what a student should be taught. Let us grant
that; I may have been mistaken, wrong, if you like; but my fault was not
'open immorality,' as specified in the Statute. They lied against me,
May sympathized too keenly with his indignation to think of trying to
allay it; she couldn't help asking, "What did you do after the voting?"
"What could I do? I had had enough of such opponents. I told them that
if they dismissed me I'd take the case into the courts, where at the
worst their reading of the words 'open immorality' would be put upon
record, and my character freed from stain. But, if they chose to rescind
their vote I said I was willing to resign."
"They accepted that?"
"Krazinski forced them to. He told them some home-truths. They dared not
face the law courts lest it should come out that the professorships were
the rewards of sectarian bigotry. He went right through the list, and
ended by resigning his position.
"Then Campbell got up and regretted his speech. It was uncalled-for and
--you know the sort of thing. My colleagues, he said, would have
preferred to retain my services if I had yielded to the opinion of the
parents. Under the circumstances there was no course open but to accept
my resignation. They would not enter the vote upon the minutes; they
would even write me a letter expressing regret at losing me, etc. So the
"Coming down the hill I tried to persuade Krazinski not to resign on my
account. But the dear old fellow was obstinate; he had long intended to
retire. He was very kind. He thinks I shall find another place easily.
"Now, May, you have heard the whole tale, what is your opinion? Are you
disappointed with me? You might well be. I'm disappointed with myself.
Somehow or other I've not got hate enough in me to be a good fighter."
"Disappointed? How little you know me! It's my life now to be with you.
Whatever you say or do is right to me. I think it's all for the best; I
wouldn't have you stay here after what has passed."
May meant all she said, and more. At the bottom of her heart she was not
sorry that he was going to leave Tecumseh. If she thereby lost the
pleasure of appearing as his wife before the companions of her youth, on
the other hand, he would belong to her more completely, now that he was
cut off from all other sympathy and no longer likely to meet Miss
Gulmore. Moreover, her determination to follow him in single-hearted
devotion seemed to throw the limelight of romance upon her disagreement
with her father, which had been much more acute than she had given
Roberts to suppose. She had loved her father, and if he had appealed to
her affection he could have so moved her that she would have shown
Roberts a hesitation which, in his troubled and depressed condition,
might have brought about a coldness between them, if not a rupture of
their relations. But Hutchings, feeling that he was in the wrong, had
contented himself with depreciating Roberts by sneer and innuendo, and
so had aroused her generous partisanship. The proceedings of the Faculty
naturally increased her sympathy with her lover, and her enthusiastic
support did much to revive his confidence in himself. When they parted
in the evening he had already begun to think of the preparations to be
made for his journey Eastwards.
* * * * *
A few weeks later a little knot of friends stood together one morning on
the down-platform of the Tecumseh station, waiting for the train to come
in. Professor Roberts was the centre of the group, and by his side stood
dainty May Hutchings, the violet eyes intense with courage that held the
sweet lips to a smile. Around them were some ten or a dozen students and
Krazinski, all in the highest spirits. They were talking about Roberts'
new appointment at Yale, which he attributed to Krazinski's influence.
Presently they became aware of an unwonted stir at the entrance-door
behind them. As they turned in wonder they saw that the negro hands had
formed a lane through which, heralded by the obsequious station-master,
Mr. Gulmore, with his daughter on his arm, was coming towards them.
Heedless of their astonishment, the Boss walked on till he stood in
front of Roberts.
"Professor, we've heard of your good fortune, and are come to
congratulate you. Ida here always thought a pile of your knowledge an'
teachin', an' I guess she was right. Our little difference needn't count
now. You challenged me to a sort of wrastle an' you were thrown; but I
bear no malice, an' I'm glad to offer you my hand an' to wish you--
Roberts shook hands without hesitation. He was simply surprised, and had
no inkling of the reason which had led Gulmore to come to the station
and to bring Ida. Had he been told that this was the father's plan for
protecting his daughter against the possibility of indiscreet gossip he
would have been still more astonished. "Nor do I bear malice," he
rejoined, with a smile; "though the wrestling can hardly be considered
fair when twenty pull one man down."
"'Twas my crowd against yours," replied the Boss indifferently. "But I'm
kinder sorry that you're leavin' the town. I'd never have left a place
where I was beaten. No, sir; I'd have taken root right there an' waited.
Influence comes with time, an' you had youth on your side."
"That may be your philosophy, Mr. Gulmore," said Roberts lightly, as the
other paused, "but it's not mine. I'm satisfied with one or two falls;
they've taught me that the majority is with you."
Gulmore's seriousness relaxed still further; he saw his opponent's
ingenuousness, and took his statement as a tribute to his own power.
"My philosophy," he began, as if the word pleased him, "my philosophy--I
guess I ken give you that in a few words. When I was a boy in Vermont I
was reckoned smart at figgerin'. But one day an old farmer caught me.
'See here, boy,' he said, 'I live seventeen miles out of town, and when
in late fall the roads are bad and I drive in with a cartload of
potatoes, the shakin' sends all the big potatoes to the top and all the
little ones to the bottom. That's good for me that wants to sell, but
why is it? How does it come?'
"Well, I didn't know the reason then, an' I told him so. But I took the
fact right there for my philosophy. Ef the road was long enough and
rough enough I was sure to come to the top."
"I understand," said Roberts laughingly. "But I've heard farmers here
say that the biggest potatoes are not the best; they are generally
hollow at the--in the middle, I mean."
"That's weak," retorted Gulmore with renewed seriousness. "I shouldn't
hev thought you'd hev missed the point like that. When I was a boy I
skipped away from the meanin' out of conceit. I thought I'd climb high
because I was big, and meant gettin' up more'n a little un could. But
before I was a man I understood the reason. It isn't that the big
potatoes want partic'lar to come to the top; it is that the little
potatoes are _de_termined to get to the bottom.
"You may now be havin' a boost up, Professor, I hope you are; but you've
gone underneath once, an' that looks bad."
"The analogy seems perfect," replied Roberts thoughtfully. "But, by your
own showing, the big men owe their position to the number of their
inferiors. And at the bottom lie the very smallest, helpless and
bruised, supporting their fortunate brethren. A sad state of things at
the best, Mr. Gulmore; but unbearable if the favoured ones forget their
debt to those beneath them."
"Sad or not," said the Boss, "it represents the facts, an' it's well to
take account of them; but I guess we must be goin', your time'll soon be
up. We wish you success, Professor."
SEPTEMBER, 1892 AND 1893.
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