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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 32. Conclusion
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A Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 32. Conclusion Post by :Jeff_Carter Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :687

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A Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 32. Conclusion


One winter evening Ida and Bradley came out of their apartments on Capitol Hill and struck into one of the winding walks which led downward toward the city. It was the fourth week of the "short session" of Bradley's term of office, and the tenth week since their marriage. He still treated Ida with a certain timidity, and his adoration had been increased rather than diminished by his daily association with her. She seemed not to regret her compact with him, and though hardly more demonstrative than he, she let him know how deeply she trusted and loved him.

He was transformed by her influence. His life had regained direction and certainty. No rebuff of the Speaker, no insult of a member, angered him. He was always in his seat, ready, whenever opportunity offered, to do battle against wrong knowing that Ida was watching him. Between times he went with her about the city, and his quiet and dignified attentions were a source of the keenest pleasure to her, he was so unobtrusively serene and gentle in all things. They went often to the theatre. They walked a great deal, and they were already marked figures about the Hill, they were both so tall and strong and handsome.

They always passed through the Capitol grounds on their way down town, for it gave them a little thrill of delight to pass the clumps of trees. On this evening the grounds were specially beautiful. A heavy fall of damp snow covered every twig and grass-blade. They walked slowly down the winding path till they reached the open lawn just before the western gate.

"Wait a moment, Bradley," said Ida. They turned to look back. The untracked, unstained snow swept in undulating breadth to the deep shadow of the great building, which rose against the sky as cold, as seamless, as if it were cut from solid ice. The yellow flare of lamps about its base only added to its austere majesty. It was at its best, and Ida and Bradley looked up at it in silence, hearing the jingle of bells, the soft voices of the negro drivers, the laughter of children coasting on the mall, and the muffled roll of the "carettes."

"It is beautiful to-night," said Ida softly. "The building is like a cloud."

"Yes, but I can't think of it without its antithesis, the home of the workingman and the hut of the poor negro," Bradley replied.

They moved on again in silence. Darky newsboys, shivering with cold, met them at every corner, holding out to them in their stiffened little claws their "Styah papahs."

The avenue swarmed with sight-seers, mainly of the West and South. Every hotel door was like the vent to a hive--black with comers and goers. The old man with the cough medicine met them again. They could repeat his singsong cry now, and with a little impulse of fun-making Ida joined in with him: "_Doc-ter Fergusson's double-ex selly-brated, Philadelphia cough drops, for coughs or colds, sore throat or hoarseness; five cents a package._"

They soon struck into the gayer streams of people making their way towards the theatre; and when they took their seats in the crowded balcony, poverty was lost sight of.

"There! who says this is not a bright and gay world?" said Ida. "No poor, no aged, no infirm, no cold or hungry people here."

"This is the bright side of the moon," replied Bradley gravely. They looked around, and studied the people with a mental comparison with other throngs they had seen on the far prairies of Kansas and Iowa. There were girls with eyes full of liquid light, with dainty bonnets nestling on their soft hair; their faces were like petals of flowers; the curves of their chins were more beautiful than chalices of lilies; their dresses, soft, shapely, of exquisite tones and texture, draped their perfect bodies. Their slender fingers held gold-and-pearl opera glasses. The young men who sat beside them wore the latest fashions in clothing cut from the finest fabrics. Heavy men of brutal bulk slouched beside their dainty daughters, the purple blotches on their bloated and lumpy faces showing how politics or business had debauched and undermined them. Everywhere was the rustle of drapery and soft, musical speech. All that was lacking in "the round up" at Chiquita was here--shining, fragrant, and rustling.

* * * * *

The curtain rose upon the fair in Nottinghamshire; and with the sweet imaginative music as solvent and setting, the gay lads and lassies of far romance sang and danced under the trees in garments upon which the rain had never fallen, and unflecked with dust. Knights in splendid dress of silver and green, with jewelled swords and gay sashes, came and went, while the merry peasant youths circled and sang task-free and sin-free.

The scene changed to Sherwood Forest; and there, in the land of Robin Hood, where snow never falls, where rains never slant through the shuddering leaves, the jocund foresters met to sing and drink October ale. There came Little John and Will Scarlet and Alan-a-Dale in glittering garments, with smooth, fair brows and tuneful voices, to circle and sing. Fadeless and untarnished was each magnificent cloak and doublet, slashed with green or purple; straight and fair and supple was every back and limb. No marks of toil anywhere, no lines of care, no hopeless hunger, no threatening task; nothing to do but to sing and dance and drink after the hunt among the delightfully dry and commodious forest wilds--a glorious, free life! A beautiful, child-like, dream-like, pagan-like life!

As they looked, and while the music, tuneful, soft, and persuasive, called to them, a shadow fell upon Ida. That world of care-free, changeless youth, that world of love and comradeship, threw into painful relief the actual world from which she came. It brought up with terrible force the low cottage in the moaning pine forest of Wisconsin, or the equally lonely cabin on the Kansas plain.

When the curtain fell, they rose and went sombrely out. When they reached the street, Ida pressed Bradley's arm.

"Oh, it was beautiful, _painfully beautiful! Do you know what I mean?"

"Yes," replied Bradley simply.

"O Bradley! if we only could discover a land like that, to which all the poor could go at once and be happy--a land of song and plenty, with no greed and no grinding need!"

"Yes," Bradley sighed, "But I am afraid you and I will never again taste anything sweet. There will always be a dash of bitter in it."

"Yes, we were born to feel others' cares. The worst of it is, we could have that land in America if we only would. Our forefathers thought it was coming, but instead of it"--She did not finish, and they walked on in deep thought.

"Yes," said Bradley, "we could have it; but the way is long and weary, and thousands and millions of us must die on the road, I am afraid."

As they walked on, Bradley could hear the occasional deep-sighing breath of the heart-burdened woman beside him. Again they passed by the cold and stately palace of the Government, lifting its dome against the glittering sky. The moon had swung high into the air, giving a whiter tinge to the blue, and dimming the brilliancy of the stars, but the crusted snow sparkled like a cloth of diamonds, and each flake-burdened branch took on unearthly charm. It was very still and peaceful and remote, as if no city were near. They stood in silence until Ida shivered with cold; then without a word Bradley touched her arm, and they walked on.

When they entered their room, Ida sat down in a chair by the fire without removing her things; and when Bradley came in from the hall she still sat there, her eyes shaded by her hat, her chin resting on her palm, her gloves in her lap. He knew her too well to interrupt her, and took a seat near her, waiting for her to speak.

At last she turned abruptly, and said, "Bradley, I'm going home."

It made him catch his breath. "Oh, no, I can't let you do that, Ida."

"Yes, I must go; I can't stay here. That play to-night has wakened my sleeping conscience. I must go back to the West."

"But, Ida, you've only been here four weeks; I don't see why"--

"Because my work calls me. I am cursed. I can't enjoy this life any more, because I can't forget those poor souls on the lonely farms grinding out their lives in gloomy toil; I must go back and help them. I feel like a thief, to be living in this beautiful room and hearing these plays and concerts, when _they are shut out from them."

Bradley experienced a sudden impulse of rebellion. "But we have done our best, haven't we?"

"Yes, but we must continue to do our best right along; the battle is only half won yet, and I've enlisted to the end. Besides," she said, looking up at him with a faint smile, "I've got to go right into your district and pave the way for your re-election. If you expect to do your part here, I must do my part in electing you." She looked old and care-worn. "You know how much good it does the poor wives and mothers to meet me and to hear me. Now, we mustn't be selfish, dear. We must not forget that neither of us was born to idleness. I have been very happy here with you, but there is something of John the Baptist in me: I must go forth and utter the word--the word of the Lord."

They fell into silence again, and Bradley, facing the fire, felt a burning pain in his staring eyes. Her presence had been so inexpressibly sweet and helpful he could not bear to let her go. And yet he understood her feeling. Slowly through years of thought he had grown, till now he was level with her altruistic conception of life. When he spoke again it was in his apparently passionless way.

"All right, Ida. We enlisted for the whole war." He was able to smile a little as he looked up at her. "My congressional career will soon end, anyhow."

She rose and came to him and put her arm about his neck. "As a matter of fact, you'll work better without me, Bradley, and your public career must not end for many years. You must keep your place for my sake as well as for the sake of the wronged--and also for the sake of--of our children, Bradley." Her voice grew tremulous toward the end, and a look of singular beauty came into her face.

Bradley looked up at her with a questioning, eager light in his eyes, then his long left arm encircled her like a shield and drew her to his knee.

"All that I am I owe to you. _Now_, nothing can defeat me!"

Hamlin Garland's Novel: Spoil of Office: A Story of the Modern West

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