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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 27. Bradley's Long-Cherished Hope Vanishes
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A Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 27. Bradley's Long-Cherished Hope Vanishes Post by :jorgemv Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :1178

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A Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 27. Bradley's Long-Cherished Hope Vanishes

CHAPTER XXVII. BRADLEY'S LONG-CHERISHED HOPE VANISHES

It had been snowing all the afternoon, and the shrubbery hung heavy and silent with heaped, clinging, feathery snow, dazzling white by contrast with the dark sustaining branches, and the yellow lamps flamed warmly amid the all-surrounding steely blue and glistening white. The damp pavements, where the snow had melted, were banded with gold and crimson from the reflected light of the lamps and the warning glare of car and carriage lights.

As Bradley breathed the pure air and walked soundlessly along the narrow paths and looked across the unflecked, untrodden snow up to the vast and silent dome, he shuddered in wordless delight. He hungered to share it with Ida. It was like fairy-land--so far removed from daylight reality; and yet the sound of sleigh-bells, the occasional shouts of coasters, and the laughter of girls added a familiar human quality to it all, and added an ache to the mysterious shuddering delight of it all. It was so evanescent; it would decay so quickly. The wind, the morning sun, would destroy it.

He walked up to the lonely esplanade, and saw the city's lights shine below him like rubies and amethysts, and saw far beyond the snow-heaped highlands, above which Jupiter hung poised, serene and lone, the king of the western sky.

How far away all this seemed from the brazen declamation, the monotonous reiterations of the reading-clerk, and from the sharp clank of the speaker's gavel! His ear wearied, his heart sick of the whole life of the farcical legislature, with its flood of corrupt bills, got back serenity and youth and repose in the presence of the snows, the silences, and the stars.

Again the impulse seized him to write to Ida and show her his whole soul; to dare and end once for all his ache of suspense. He went back to his room, and seized pen and paper. Everything he wrote seemed too formal or too presumptuous. At last he finished a short letter--

Dear Miss Wilbur:--

I do not know how to begin to say what I want to say. I am afraid of losing you out of my life by not writing, and I'm afraid if I write, I will lose you. It is impossible for me to say what you've done for me. I never would have been anything more than a poor farmer, only for you. I don't want to apologize to you for telling you how much you are to me. I want to appeal to you to give me a chance to work for you; that's all. I want you to give me some hope, if you can.

I know I am asking a great deal even in that. I realize how unreasonable it is. You've only seen me a few times; and yet I'm not going to apologize for it. I must have it over with; I can't go on in this way. Won't you write to me and tell me that I can look forward to the future with hope? Yours sincerely,

BRADLEY TALCOTT.


For the next ten days he was of little service to his country except the day he made his speech on the tariff question. It was his first set speech, and he had twenty minutes yielded to him by the gentleman from Missouri, who had charge of the bill. He had the close attention of the House, not only for his thoughts, which were fresh and direct, but also for the natural manner in which he spoke. He had lost a good deal of his "oratory," but had gained a powerful, flexible and colloquial style which made most of the orators around him seem absurd. The fine shadings of emotion and of thought in his voice struck upon the ear wearied with rancous yells and monotonous brazen declamations, with a cool and restful effect. At the close, the members crowded about to congratulate him upon his efforts, and for the moment he felt quite satisfied with himself.

It gave him a shock to see Ida's fateful letter lying upon the hat-rack in his boarding-house, where it had been pawed over by the whole household. He hastened to his room, and dropped into a chair with that familiar terrible numbness in his limbs, and with his heart beating so hard it shortened his breathing. He was like a man breathless with running. When his eyes fell on the writing, his hands ceased to shake, and his quick breathing fell away into a long, shuddering inspiration. He read the first page twice without moving a muscle. Then he turned the page, and finished it. It was not long, and it was very direct.


Dear Mr. Talcott:--

Your letter has moved me deeply, very deeply. I would have prevented its being written if I could. It is the greatest tribute--save one--that has ever come to me; and yet I wish I had not read it. I'm not free to make you any promise. I'm not free to correspond with you any more--now. I've been trying to find a way to tell you so indirectly, but your letter makes it necessary for me to do so directly.

The rest of the letter was an attempt to soften the blow, but it fell upon him very hard.

The possibility which he had always feared had become a fact, the hope which he had kept in the obscure processes of his thought and which had filled a vital place in his action, dropped out and left him purposeless. This hope of somehow, someway having her near to him had been the mainspring of his action and it could not be withdrawn without leaving him disabled.

He returned to the letter again, and again studying each word, each mark. He saw in it her acceptance of some other--probably Birdsell.

Then he saw that she had withdrawn the privilege--the blessed privilege--of writing to her. She was determined to go out of his life completely. At times as he imagined this strongly, his throat swelled till he could hardly breathe. He would have cried if nature had not denied him that relief.

He saw how baseless his hope had been, and he exonerated her from all blame. She had been kind and helpful till he spoiled it all by a fool's presumption. He had always exaggerated her social position and her attainments, but in the depths of his self-abasement and despair every kindness she had done him and every letter she had written took on a new significance. On every one he saw her warnings. Every meeting he had ever had with her he now went over and over with the strange pleasure one takes in bruising an aching limb.

She had never been other than reserved, impersonal in his presence. She had shown him again and again that her intimate life was not for him to know. He remembered now the peculiar look of perfect understanding which flashed between Birdsell and Ida, which troubled him at the time, but which his cursed egotism had brushed away as of no significance.

His speech lay there on the table, it was waste paper now. He had no one left to address it to. His utter loneliness came back to him. His mind went back over the line of his life till it came again into the little opening in the Wisconsin woods where the pines wept or snarled ceaselessly--till his mother died in the moan and the snarl and shadow of them. His heart went out to her as never before since Ida came into his life.

The gloom and reticence of those dark-green forests had wrought him into the reticent, serious man he was. He was not gloomy naturally, he was strong and hopeful, but this was one of those moments which appall a man, even a young man--or more properly, especially a young man.

He did not go down to dinner, but sat in his room till late; then when hunger compelled, he went out to a vast cafe, where he could be more alone. It seemed that night as if all incentive to live were gone; but he went to the session next day in a mechanical sort of a way, and each day thereafter in the same way, though he took no interest in the proceedings.

Clancy had his suspicions and had to verify them.

"Talcott, you're off y'r feed. Girl gone back on yeh?"

Bradley refused to reply and Clancy took delight in spreading the story among his gang. They respected Bradley's physique too much to push him unduly, however.

Nature slowly reasserted itself, and as the weeks went by he regained his interest in the work; but the sparkle, the allurement of life, was gone, and he went about with more of the purely mechanical in his actions.

He read now every available bit of news relating to the farmers' rising in the West, in the hope that Ida's work would be mentioned in it. The papers were getting savage in their attack upon the movement in Kansas. It was said to mean repudiation; that it was a movement of the shiftless and unscrupulous citizens which destroyed the credit of the State and disturbed social conditions wantonly. The West seemed on the point of upheaval, and Kansas seemed to be the centre of the feeling of unrest.

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