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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 19. Cargill Takes Bradley In Hand
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A Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 19. Cargill Takes Bradley In Hand Post by :jorgemv Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :2267

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A Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 19. Cargill Takes Bradley In Hand


Cargill was not at the table the next morning, but he came in later, and greeted Bradley brusquely, as he flung his rag of a hat on the floor.

"Well, legislator, what is on the tapis this morning? Anything I can do for you?"

"No, I guess not. I am going to look up a new boarding-house."

"What's the matter with this?"

"Too rich for my blood."

"Just repeat that, please."

"Can't stand the expense."

Cargill poured the cream on his oatmeal before he replied: "But, dear sir, nothing is too good for a representative. Young man, you don't seem to know how to farm yourself out."

All day Saturday the Windom rotunda was crowded with men. The speakerships, the house offices, were being contested for here; the real battle was being fought here, and under Cargill's cynical comment the scene assumed great significance to Bradley's uninitiated eyes. They took seats on the balcony which ran around the "bear pit," as he called it. Around them, flitting to and fro, were dozens of bright, rather self-sufficient young women.

"This is one of the most dangerous and demoralizing features of each legislature," he said to Bradley. "These girls come down here from every part of the State to cajole and flatter their way into a State House office. You see them down there buttonholing every man they can get an introduction to, and some of them don't even wait for an introduction. They'd be after you if you were a Republican."

Bradley looked out upon it all with a growing shadow in his eyes. He suddenly saw terrible results of this unwomanly struggle for office. He saw back of it also the need for employment which really forced these girls into such a contest.

"They soon learn," Cargill was saying, "where their strength lies. The pretty ones and the bold ones succeed where the plain and timid ones fail. It has its abuses. Good God, how could it be otherwise! It's a part of our legislative rottenness. Legal labor pays so little, and vice and corruption pay so well. Now see those two girls button-holing that leprous old goat Bergheim! If it don't mean ruin to them both, it will be because they're as knowing as he is. Every year this thing goes on. What the friends and parents of these girls are thinking of, I'll be damned if I know."

Bradley was dumb with the horror of it all. He had such an instinctive reverence for women that this scene produced in him a profound, almost despairing sorrow. He sat there after Cargill left him, and gazed upon it all with stern eyes. There was no more tragical thing to him than the woman who could willingly allure men for pay. It made him shudder to see those bright, pretty girls go down among those men, whose hard, peculiar, savage stare he knew almost as well as a woman.

They did not know that he was a legislator, and he escaped their importunities; but he overheard several of them, as they came up with some member--sometimes a married man--and took seats on the balcony near him.

"But you had no business to promise Miss Jones! How could you when I was living?"

"But I didn't know you then!"

"Well, then, now you've seen me, you can tell Miss Jones your contract don't go," laughed the girl.

"Oh, that wouldn't do, she'd kick."

"Let'er kick. She aint got any people who are constituents. My people are your constituents."

Bradley walked away sick at heart. As he passed a settee near the stairway, he saw another girl with a childish face looking up at a hard-featured young man, and saying with eager, wistful voice, her hands clasped, "Oh, I _hope you can help me. I need it so much."

Her sweet face haunted him because of its suggested helplessness and its danger. His heart swelled with an indefinable and bitter rebellion. Everywhere was a scramble for office--everywhere a pouring into the city from the farms and villages. Why was it? Was he not a part of the movement as well as these girls? Did it not all spring from the barrenness and vacuity of rural life?

Bradley went to church, for the reason that he had nothing better to do, and, in order to get as much out of it as possible, went to the largest sanctuary in the city. The hotels were thronged by men who took little thought of the day. The rotunda echoed with roaring laughter and the tramp of feet. Every new member was being introduced and manipulated, but Bradley shrank from declaring himself. His name, B. Talcott, conveyed no information to those who saw it on the register, and so he sat aside from the crowd all day, untouched by the male lobbyist or the girl office seekers.

He went next day, according to promise, to call at Cargill's office, which was on the fifth floor of a large six-story building on the main street. There were two ornamental ground-glass doors opening from the end of a narrow hall. One was marked, "Bergen & Cargill, Commission Merchants, Private," and Bradley entered. A man seated at a low table was operating a telegraphic machine. He was in his shirt sleeves, and wore blue checked over-sleeves, and carried a handkerchief under his chin to keep his collar from getting soiled. He sat near two desks which separated the private room from the larger room, in which were seated several men looking at one side of the wall, which was a blackboard checked off in small squares by red lines. Columns of figures in chalk were there displayed.

Cargill did not seem to be about, and the busy operator did not see the visitor. A brisk young man of Scandinavian type was walking about in the larger office with a piece of chalk in his hand. He came to the desk and looked inquiringly at Bradley, who started to speak, but the sonorous voice of the operator interrupted him.

"Three eighths bid on wheat," he called, and handed a little slip of paper to the brisk young man with the flaxen mustache.

"Wheat, three eighths," he repeated in a resonant tone, and proceeded to put the figures in a small square under the section marked "Wheat" on the blackboard. When he came back, Bradley asked for Cargill.

"He'll be in soon; take a seat."

"Three eighths bid. They still hammer the market, as they sold short," shouted the operator.

Bergen repeated the telegram to the crowd. "Of course they'll do that," said one of the smokers, a young man with an assumption of great wisdom on all matters relating to wheat. He looked prematurely knowing, and spit with a manly air.

As Bradley took a seat at the desk, Bergen was calling into the telephone in a high, sonorous, monotonous voice, "Wheat opened at ninety-three, three quarters; sold as high as ninety-four; is now ninety-three and three eighths. Corn opened at forty-two; is now forty-one and seven eighths. Bradstreet's decrease on both coasts the past week, two and a quarter millions. Cables very strong."

Cargill came in a little later, and greeted Bradley with a nod while crossing the room to look at the blackboard.

"Draw up a chair," he said, and they took a seat at the table, while the business of the office went on. "You'll be interested in knowing something about this business," he said to Bradley. "It's as legitimate as buying or selling real estate on a commission; but so far as the popular impression goes, there is no difference between this and a bucket-shop."

"It's all very new to me," said Bradley. "I don't know the difference between this and the bucket-shop."

"Ninety-three and seven eighths bid on wheat," called Bergen from a slip, as he walked back and chalked the latest intelligence upon the board.

"Well, there is a difference. In this case, we simply buy and sell on commission. These are real purchases and sales. The order for wheat is transmitted to Chicago and registered, and has its effect upon the market; whereas in a bucket-shop the sale does not go out of the office, and, if there is a loss to the customer, the proprietor gains it. In other words, we buy and sell for others, with no personal interest in the sale; the bucket-shop is a pure gambling establishment, where men bet on what other men are going to do. But that ain't what I had you call to talk over. I want you to meet Bergen. Chris, come over here," he called. "I want to introduce the Honorable Talcott of Rock River. He's started in, like yourself, to reform politics.

"The reason why I wanted you to meet Bergen," Cargill went on, "is because he is a sincerer lover of literature than myself, and like yourself, I imagine, believes thoroughly in the classics. He's translating Ibsen for the Square Table Club. His idea of amusement ain't mine, I needn't say."

"New York still hammers away on the market. Partridge quietly buying to cover on the decline."

"Excuse me a moment," said Bergen, returning to business.

Cargill took an easy position. "I don't know why I have sized you up as literary in general effect, but I have. That's one reason why I took to you. It's so damned unusual to find a politician that has a single idea above votes. And then I'm literary myself," he said, his face a mask of impenetrable gravity. "I wrote up the sheep industry of Iowa for the Agricultural Encyclopaedia. That puts me in the front rank of Des Moines literary aspirants.

"Towns like this," he said, going off on a speculative side track, "have a two-per-cent. population who are inordinately literary. They recognize my genius. The other ninety-eight per cent. don't care a continental damn for Shakespeare or anybody else, barring Mary Jane Holmes, of course, and the five-cent story papers. But literary Des Moines _is literary. They stand by Shakespeare and Homer, I can tell you, and they recognize genius when they see it. By the way, Bergen," he said, calling his brother-in-law to him again, "we must make this young man acquainted with our one literary girl."

"Wheat is ninety-four bid. New York strong." It was impossible to hold Bergen's attention, however, with a sharp bulge on the market, and Cargill was forced to turn to Bradley again.

"There is a girl in this town who has the literary quality. True, she has recognized my ability, which prejudices me in her favor, of course. In turn I presented her with my report on the sheep industry."

Bradley laughed, but Cargill proceeded as if there were nothing funny in the situation--

"And she read it, actually, and quoted it in one of her great speeches. It made the reporter bug out his eyes. He said he had observed of late quite a vein of poetry running through Miss Wilbur's speeches, which lifted them out of the common rut."

Bradley lost sight of the humor in this speech at the sound of Ida's name, and his face flushed. He had not heard her name spoken by a third person in months, and had never dared to say it out loud himself.

Cargill went on: "She's an infernal heretic and suffragist and all that, but she's a power. Her name is Wilbur--Ida Wilbur. Used to lecture for the Grange or something of that kind. Is still lecturing, I believe, but the Grange has snuffed out."

Six or eight men came into the larger room talking loudly and excitedly about the market, and Cargill's attention was drawn off by the resonant reports of the Chicago market.

"The market shows great elasticity. Western advices contribute to the Bull feeling."

"Do you know Miss Wilbur?" Bradley asked when Cargill came back, being afraid Cargill might forget the topic of conversation.

"Yes, I meet her occasionally. I meet her at the Square Table Club, where we fight on literature. They call it the Square Table Club, because they disagree with the opinions of the most of us real literary people of the town."

Bradley managed to say, in a comparatively firm tone of voice, that he had heard of Miss Wilbur as a Grange lecturer, and that he would like to know more about her.

"Well, I'll introduce you. She aint very easy to understand. She is one of these infernal advanced women. Now, I like thinkers, but what right has a woman to think? To think is our manly prerogative. I'm free to admit that we don't exercise it to much better advantage than we do our prerogative to vote; but then, damn it, how could we stand wives that think?"

Bradley had given up trying to understand when Cargill was joking and when he was in earnest. He knew this was either merciless sarcasm or the most pig-headed bigotry. Anyhow he did not care to say anything for fear of drawing him off into a discussion of an impersonal subject, just when he seemed likely to tell something about Ida's early life.

It was a singular place to receive this information. He sat there with his elbow on the desk, leaning his head on his palm, studying Cargill's face as he talked. Over at the other end of the room, the operator was feeding himself on a pickle with his left hand, and receiving the telegrams from the far-off, roaring, tumultuous wheat exchange, every repeated message being a sort of distant echo of the ocean of cries and the tumult of feet in the city. They were as much alone and talking in private as if they were in Cargill's own room at the hotel. Cargill talked on, unmindful of the telephone, the telegraphic ticking, and the brisk, business-like action of his partner.

"Yes, I have known her ever since she was a girl. Her father was a queer old seed of a farmer, just out of town here, cranky on religion--a Universalist, I believe. Had the largest library of his town; I don't know but the largest private library outside of a city in the State. His house was literally walled with books. How he got 'em I don't know. It was currently believed that he was full of information, but I never heard of any one who was able to get very much out of him. His wife had been a beauty; that was her dowry to her daughter.

"The girl went to school here at sixteen. I was a student then, six or seven years older than she, and I remember there were about six of us who used to stand around the schoolhouse door to carry her books for her; but she just walked past us all without a turn of the head. She didn't seem to know what ailed us. She was one of these girls born all brains, some way. I never saw her face flushed in my life, and her big eyes always made me shiver when she turned them on me."

"Wheat falls to ninety-three and a fourth. There is a break in the market. New York is still hammering," called the operator, his mouth full of pie.

Cargill was distinctly talking to himself, almost as much as to Bradley. The hardness had gone out of his eyes, and his voice had a touch of unconscious sadness in it.

"Does Miss Wilbur live here?" Bradley asked, to start him off again.

"Yes, she went into the Grange when she was eighteen, just after she graduated from our university here. Had a good deal of your enthusiasm, I should judge. Expected to revolutionize things some way. I don't take very much interest in her public work, but I thoroughly appreciate her literary perception." He had got back to his usual humor.

"Chris, when does the club meet next?"

"Friday night, I believe."

"All right. I'll take you up, and introduce you into the charmed circle. They pride themselves on being modern up there, though I don't see much glory in being modern."

Bradley stood for a moment at the door, looking at this strange scene. It appealed to him with its strangeness, and its suggestion of the great battles on the street which he had read of in the papers. The telegraph machine clicked out every important movement in Chicago and New York. The manager called up his customers, and bawled into the telephone the condition of the market and the significant gossip of the far-off exchange halls. It was so strange, and yet so familiar, that he went away with his head full of those cabalistic sentences--

"New York still hammering away. Partridge quietly buying to cover on the decline."

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