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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 21. Bradley And Cargill Call On Ida
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A Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 21. Bradley And Cargill Call On Ida Post by :jorgemv Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :3197

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A Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 21. Bradley And Cargill Call On Ida


Bradley had come to like Cargill very much. He was very thoughtful in his haphazard way, but not at all like Radbourn. Bradley compared every man he met with Radbourn and Judge Brown, and every woman suffered comparison with Ida Wilbur.

He went down to meet Cargill on the night of the promised call. He found him seated on the small of his back, his hands in his pockets. His absurd little hat (that seemed to partake of his every mood) was rolled into a point in front, and pulled down aggressively over his eyes. He was particularly violent, and paid no attention whatever to Bradley.

"No, sir; I am not a prohibitionist. My position is just this: If we vote prohibition in Iowa, the government has no business to license men to sell contrary to our regulations."

"That's state's rights!" burst in the other man who was trembling with rage and excitement.

Cargill slowly rose, transfixing him with a glare. "Go way, now; I won't waste any more time on you," he said, walking off with Bradley. "Let me see, we were going to the club to-night." He looked down at his boots. "Yes, they are shined; that puts a dress suit on me." As he walked along, he referred to Miss Wilbur. "She is a great woman, but she is abnormal from my point of view."

"Why so?" inquired Bradley.

"Well, look at the life she leads. On the road constantly, living at hotels. A woman can't hold herself up against such things."

"It depends upon the woman," was Bradley's succinct protest against sweeping generalizations.

It was crisp and clear, and the sound of their feet rang out in the still air as if they trod on glass at every step. They talked very little. Bradley wanted to tell Cargill that he had already met Miss Wilbur, but he could not see his way clear to make the explanation. Cargill was unwontedly silent.

The Norwegian girl ushered them into a pretty little parlor, where a beautiful fire of coal was burning in an open grate. While they stood warming their stiffened hands at the cheerful blaze, Ida entered.

"Mr. Cargill, this is an unexpected pleasure."

"I wonder how sincere you are in that. This is my friend Mr. Talcott."

Ida moved toward Bradley with her hand cordially extended. "I think we have met before," she said.

"I call him my friend," said Cargill, "because he has not known me long enough to become my enemy."

"That is very good, Mr. Cargill. Sit down, won't you? Please give me your coats." She moved about in that pleasant bustle of reception so natural to women.

Cargill slid down into a chair in his disjointed fashion. "We came to attend the intellectual sit-down."

"Why, that doesn't meet to-night! It meets every other Friday, and this is the other Friday."

"Oh, is it? So much the better; we will see you alone."

Ida turned gravely to Bradley. "Mr. Cargill is not often in this mood. I generally draw him off into a fight on Mr. Howell's, Thackeray or Scott."

"She prefers me in armor," Cargill explained, "and on horseback. My intellectual bowleggedness, so to say, and my moral squint are less obtrusive at an altitude."

Ida laughed appreciatively. "Your extraordinary choice of figures would distinguish you among the symbolists of Paris," she replied.

This all seemed very brilliant and droll to Bradley, and he sat with unwavering eyes fixed upon Ida, who appeared to him in a new light, more softly alluring than ever--that of the hostess. She was dressed in some loose, rich-colored robe, which had the effect of drapery.

"When did you get back?" Cargill inquired, a little more humanly.

"Yesterday, and I am just in the midst of the luxury of feeling at home, with no journeys to make to-morrow. I have a friend I would like to introduce to you," she said, rising and going out. She returned in a few moments with a tall young lady in street dress, whom she introduced as Miss Cassiday.

In a short time Cargill had involved Miss Cassiday in a discussion of the decline of literature, which left Ida free to talk with Bradley. It was the most beautiful evening in his life. He talked as never before. He told her of his reading, and of his plans. He told her of his election to the legislature.

"Ah, that is good!" she said; "then we have one more champion of women in our State House."

"Yes, I will do what I can," he said.

"I will be here to hear you. I am one of the committee in charge of the bill."

The firelight fell upon her face, flushing its pallor into a beauty that exalted the young farmer out of his fear and reticence. They talked upon high things. He told her how he had studied the social question, since hearing her speak in Iowa City. He called to her mind great passages in the books she had sent him, and quoted paragraphs which touched upon the fundamental questions at issue. He spoke of his hopes of advancement.

"I want to succeed," he said, "in order that I may teach the new doctrine of rights. I want to carry into the party I have joined the real democracy. I believe a new era has come in our party."

"I am afraid not," she said, looking at the fire. "I begin to believe that we must wait till a new party rises out of the needs of people, just as the old Free-soil Party rose to free the slaves. Don't deceive yourself about your party in this State. It is after the offices, just the same as the party you have left. They juggle with the tariffs and the license question, because it helps them. They will drop any question and any man when they think they are going to lose by retaining him. They will drop you if you get too radical. I warn you!" she said, looking up at him and smiling with a touch of bitterness in her smile; "I am dangerous. My counsel does not keep men in office. I belong to the minority. I am very dangerous."

"I'm not afraid," he said, thrilling with the intensity of his own voice. "I will trust human reason. I'm not afraid of you--I mean you can't harm me by giving me new thoughts, and that's what you've done ever since that day I heard you first at the picnic. You've helped me to get where I am."

"I have?" she asked, in surprise. His eyes fell before hers. "It will be strange if I have helped any one to political success."

Bradley was silent. How could he tell her what she had become to him? How could he tell her that she was woven into the innermost mesh of his intellectual fibre.

"You've taught me to think," he said, at last. "You gave me my first ambition to do something."

"I am very glad," she replied, simply. "Sometimes I get discouraged. I speak and people applaud, and I go away, and that seems to be all there is to it. I never hear a word afterwards; but once in a while, some one comes to me or writes to me, as you have done, and that gives me courage to go on; otherwise I'd think people came to hear me simply to be amused."

She was looking straight into the fire; and the light, streaming up along her dress, transfigured her into something alien and unapproachable. The easy flex of her untrammelled waist was magnificent. She had the effect of a statue, draped and flooded with color.

Cargill's penetrating voice cut through that sacred pause like the rasp of a saw file. He had been listening to his companion till he was full of rebellion. He was a bad listener.

"But what is success? Why, my dear young woman"--

"Don't patronize us, please," Ida interposed. "I speak for poor Miss Cassiday, because she's too timid to rebel. Nothing angers me more than that tone. Call us comrades or friends, but don't say 'My dear young woman!'" She was smiling, but she was more than half in sober earnest.

Cargill bowed low, and proceeded with scowling brow and eyes half-closed and fixed obliquely upon Ida. "Dear comrades in life-battle, what is success? You remember the two lords in Lilliput who could leap the pack thread half its width higher?"

"Don't drag Swift into our discussion," Ida cried. "Mr. Cargill's a sort of American Swift," turning to Bradley. "Don't let him spoil your splendid optimism. There is a kind of pessimism which is really optimism; that is to say, people who believe the imperfect and unjust can be improved upon. They are called pessimists because they dare to tell the truth about the present; but the pessimism of Mr. Cargill, I'm afraid, is the pessimism of personal failure."

There was a terrible truth in this, and it drove straight into Cargill's heart. Bradley was pleased to see Ida dominate a man who was accustomed to master every one who came into his presence. There was a look on her face which meant battle. She did not change her attitude of graceful repose, but her face grew stern and accusing. Cargill looked at her, wearing the same inscrutable expression of scowling attention; but a slow flush, rising to his face, showed that he had been struck hard.

There was a moment's pause full of intense interest to Bradley. The combatants were dealing with each other oblivious of every one else.

"I admire you, friend Cargill," Ida went on, "but your attitude is not right. Your influence upon young people is not good. You are always crying out against things, but you never try to help. What are you doing to help things?"

"Crying out against them," he replied, curtly.

Ida dropped her glance. "Yes, that's so; I'll admit that it has that effect, or it would if you didn't talk of the hopelessness of trying to do anything. Don't feel alarmed," she said, turning to the others, "Mr. Cargill and I understand each other very well. We've known each other so long that we can afford to talk plain."

"This is the first time she ever let into me so directly," Cargill explained. "Understand we generally fight on literature, or music, or the woman question. This really is the first encounter on my personal influence. I'm going home to stanch my wounds." He rose, with a return to his usual manner.

Ida made no effort to detain them. "Come and see me again, Mr. Talcott, and don't let Mr. Cargill spoil you."

After leaving the house, the two men walked on a block in silence, facing the wind, their overcoats drawn up about their ears.

"There's a woman I like," Cargill said, when they turned a corner and were shielded from the bitter wind. "She can forget her sex occasionally and become an intellect. Most women are morbid on their sex. They can't seem to escape it, as a man does part of the time. They can't rise, as this woman does, into the sexless region of affairs and of thought."

Bradley lacked the courage to ask him to speak lower, and he went on. "She's had suitors enough and flattery enough to turn her into a simpering fashion-plate; but you can not spoil brains. What the women want is not votes; it's brains, and less morbid emotions."

"She's a free woman?" said Bradley.

"Free! Yes, they'd all be free if they had her brains."

"I don't know about that; conditions might still"--

"They'd make their own conditions."

"That's true. It all comes back to a question of human thinking, doesn't it?"

This seemed a good point to leave off the discussion, and they walked on mainly in silence, though two or three times during the walk Cargill broke out in admiration. "I never saw a woman grow as that woman has. That's the kind of a woman a man would never get tired of. I've never married," he went on, with a sort of confession, "because I knew perfectly well I'd get sick of my choice, but"--

He did not finish--it was hardly necessary; perhaps he felt he had gone too far. They said good-night at the door of the Windom, and Bradley went on up the avenue, his brain whirling with his new ideas and emotions.

Ida had rushed away again into the far distance. It was utter foolishness to think she could care for him. She was surrounded with brilliant and wealthy men, while he was a poor young lawyer in a little country town. He looked back upon the picture of himself sitting by her side, there in the light of the fire, with deepening bewilderment. He remembered the strange look upon her face as she rebuked Cargill. He wondered if she did not care for him.

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