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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 23. On To Washington
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A Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 23. On To Washington Post by :jorgemv Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :1435

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A Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 23. On To Washington

CHAPTER XXIII. ON TO WASHINGTON

In the west (as in rural America anywhere), the three types of great men in the peoples' eyes are the soldier, the politician and the minister. The whole people appear to revere the great soldier, the men admire the successful politician, and the women bow down before the noted preacher.

These classes of hero-worshipers melt into each other, of course, but broadly they may be said to separately exist. In colonial days the minister came first, the soldier second, the politician last. Since the revolution the soldier has been the first figure in the triumvirate, and in these later times the politician and his organ of voice the newspaper have placed the preacher last.

And there is something wholesome in such an atmosphere, the atmosphere of the West, at least by contrast. The worship of political success, low as it may seem, is less deplorable than the worship of wealth, which is already weakening the hold of the middle-class Eastern man upon the American idea. In the West mere wealth does not carry assurance of respect, much less can it demand subservience.

Bradley never dreamed of getting rich, but under Radbourn and the Judge he had developed a growing love for the orator's dominion. He hungered to lead men. Notwithstanding his fits of disgust and bitterness he loved to be a part of the political life of his time. It had a powerful fascination for him. The deference which his old friends and neighbors paid him as things due a rising young man, pleased him.

He looked now to Washington, and it fired his imagination to think of sitting in the hall where the mighty legislators of generations now dead had voiced their epoch-marking thoughts. It amazed the Judge to see how the wings of his young eagle expanded. The transformation from a farmer's hired man to a national representative appealed to him as characteristically American, and he urged Bradley to do his best.

The election which the young orator expected to be another moment of great interest really came as a matter-of-fact ending to a long and triumphant canvass. He had held victory in his hand until she was tamed. The election simply confirmed the universal prophecy. He was elected, and while the Democrats went wild with joy, Bradley slept quietly in his bed at home--while the brass band played itself quiescent under his window.

Now he fixed his eyes on Washington as an actuality. It was a long time before his term began, and at the advice of Judge Brown and others he packed his trunk in January to go on and look around a little in the usual way of new members. He went alone, the Judge couldn't spare the time.

The ride from Chicago to Washington was an epic to him. It was his next great departure, his entrance into another widening circle of thinking. He had never seen a mountain before; and the wild, plunging ride among the Alleghany Mountains was magnificent. He sat for hours at a time looking out of the window, while the train, drawn by its two tremendous engines, crawled toward the summit. He saw the river drop deeper and deeper, and get whiter and wilder; and then came the wooded level of the summit, and then began the descent.

While the reeling train alternately flung him to the window and against the seat, he gazed out at the wheeling peaks, the snow-laden pines, and the mighty gorges, through which the icy river ran, green as grass in its quiet eddies. On every side were wild hillsides meshed with fallen trees, and each new vista contained its distant peak. It was the realization of his imagination of the Alleghanies.

As the train swooped round its curves, dropping lower and lower, the valley broadened out, and the great mountains moved away into ampler distances. The river ran in a wide and sinuous band to the east and the south. He realized it to be the Potomac, whose very name is history. He began to look ahead to seeing Harper's Ferry, and in the nearing distance was Washington!

He had the Western man's intensity of feeling for Washington. To him it was the centre of American life, because he supposed the laws were made there. The Western man knows Boston as the centre of art, which he affects to despise, and New York appeals to him as the home of the millionaire, of the money-lender; but in Washington he recognizes the great nerve centre of national life. It is the political ganglion of the body politic. It appeals to the romantic in him as well. It is historical; it is the city that makes history.

Slowly the night fell. After leaving Harper's Ferry the outside world vanished, and when the brakeman called "Washington," it was nearly eight o'clock of a damp, chilly night. He was so eager to see the Capitol, which the kindly fat man behind him had assured him was but a few steps away from the station, that he took his valise in his hand, and started directly for the dome, which a darkey with a push-cart, pointed out to him with oppressive courtesy.

There was an all-pervasive, impalpable, blue-gray mist in the air, cold and translucent; and when he came to the foot of the grounds, and faced the western front of the Capitol building, he drew a deep breath of delight. It thrilled him. There it loomed in the misty, winter night, the mightiest building on the continent, blue-white, sharply outlined, massive as a mountain, yet seemingly as light as a winter cloud. Weighing myriads of tons, it seemed quite as insubstantial as the mist which transfigured it. Against the cold-white of its marble, and out of the gray-white enveloping mist, bloomed the warm light of lamps, like vast lilies with hearts of fire and halos of faint light.

He stood for a long time looking upon it, musing upon its historic associations. Around him he heard the grinding wheels, the click of the horses' hoofs upon the asphalt pavement, and heard the shouts of drivers. Somewhere near him water was falling with a musical sound in a subterranean sluiceway. At last he came to himself with a start, and found his arm aching with the fatigue of his heavy valise. He struck off down the avenue. It seemed to swarm with colored people. They were selling papers, calling with musical, bell-like voices--

"Evenin' Sty-ah!" "Evenin' Sty-ah!"

Horse cars tinkled along, and a peculiar form of elongated 'bus, with the word "Carette" painted upon it, rolled along noiselessly over the asphalt pavement. An old man in business dress, with rather aristocratic side-whiskers, came toward him, walking briskly through the crowd, an open hand-bag swung around his neck; and as he walked he chanted a peculiar cry--

"Doc-tor Ferguson's, selly-brated, double X, Philadelphia cough-drops, for coughs _and colds, sore throat or hoarseness; five _cents a package."

Innumerable signs invited him to "meals at 15 and 25 cts." "Rolls and French drip coffee, 10 cts." "Oysters in every style," etc.

The oyster saloons were, in general, very attractive to him, as a Western man, but specifically he did not like the looks of the places in which they were served. He came at last to a place which seemed clean and free from a bar, and ventured to call for a twenty-five cent stew.

After eating this, he again took his way to the street, and walked along, looking for a moderate-priced hotel. He did not think of going to a hotel that charged more than seventy-five cents for a room. He came at length to quite a decent-looking place, which advertised rooms for fifty cents and upwards. He registered under the clerk's calm misprision, and the brown and wonderfully freckled colored boy showed him to his room.

It was all quite familiar to him--this hotel to which a man of moderate means is forced to go in the city. The dingy walls and threadbare carpet got geometrically shabbier at each succeeding flight of stairs, until at length the boy ushered him into a little room at the head of the stairway. It was unwarmed and had no lock on the door; but the bed was clean, and, as he soon found, very comfortable.

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