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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Call Of The Cumberlands - Chapter XVII
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The Call Of The Cumberlands - Chapter XVII Post by :Anthony_Ellis Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Neville Buck Date :March 2011 Read :1629

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The Call Of The Cumberlands - Chapter XVII

"I have come, not to quarrel with you, but to try to dissuade you."
The Honorable Mr. Wickliffe bit savagely at his cigar, and gave a
despairing spread to his well-manicured hands. "You stand in danger of
becoming the most cordially hated man in New York--hated by the most
powerful combinations in New York."

Wilfred Horton leaned back in a swivel chair, and put his feet up on
his desk. For a while, he seemed interested in his own silk socks.

"It's very kind of you to warn me," he said, quietly.

The Honorable Mr. Wickliffe rose in exasperation, and paced the floor.
The smoke from his black cigar went before him in vicious puffs.
Finally, he stopped, and leaned glaring on the table.

"Your family has always been conservative. When you succeeded to the
fortune, you showed no symptoms of this mania. In God's name, what has
changed you?"

"I hope I have grown up," explained the young man, with an unruffled
smile. "One can't wear swaddling clothes forever, you know."

The attorney for an instant softened his manner as he looked into the
straight-gazing, unafraid eyes of his client.

"I've known you from your babyhood. I advised your father before you
were born. You have, by the chance of birth, come into the control of
great wealth. The world of finance is of delicate balance. Squabbles in
certain directorates may throw the Street into panic. Suddenly, you
emerge from decent quiet, and run amuck in the china-shop, bellowing
and tossing your horns. You make war on those whose interests are your
own. You seem bent on hari-kari. You have toys enough to amuse you. Why
couldn't you stay put?"

"They weren't the right things. They were, as you say, toys." The
smile faded and Horton's chin set itself for a moment, as he added:

"If you don't think I'm going to stay put--watch me."

"Why do you have to make war--to be chronically insurgent?"

"Because"--the young man, who had waked up, spoke slowly--"I am
reading a certain writing on the wall. The time is not far off when,
unless we regulate a number of matters from within, we shall be
regulated from without. Then, instead of giving the financial body a
little griping in its gold-lined tummy, which is only the salutary
effect of purging, a surgical operation will be required. It will be
something like one they performed on the body politic of France not so
long ago. Old Dr. Guillotine officiated. It was quite a successful
operation, though the patient failed to rally."

"Take for instance this newspaper war you've inaugurated on the
police," grumbled the corporation lawyer. "It's less dangerous to the
public than these financial crusades, but decidedly more so for
yourself. You are regarded as a dangerous agitator, a marplot! I tell
you, Wilfred, aside from all other considerations the thing is perilous
to yourself. You are riding for a fall. These men whom you are whipping
out of public life will turn on you."

"So I hear. Here's a letter I got this morning--unsigned. That is, I
thought it was here. Well, no matter. It warns me that I have less than
three months to live unless I call off my dogs."

The Honorable Mr. Wickliffe's face mirrored alarm.

"Let me have it," he demanded. "You shouldn't treat such matters
lightly. Men are assassinated in New York. I'll refer it to the police."

Horton laughed.

"That would be in the nature of referring back, wouldn't it? I fancy
it came from some one not so remote from police sympathy."

"What are you going to do about it?"

"I'm going to stay put. If I can convict certain corrupt members of
the department, I'm going to nail brass-buttoned hides all over the
front of the city hall."

"Have you had any other threats?"

"No, not exactly, but I've had more touching recognition than that.
I've been asked to resign from several very good clubs."

The attorney groaned.

"You will be a Pariah. So will your allies."

It is said that the new convert is ever the most extreme fanatic.
Wilfred Horton had promised to put on his working clothes, and he had
done it with reckless disregard for consequences. At first, he was
simply obeying Adrienne's orders; but soon he found himself playing the
game for the game's sake. Men at the clubs and women whom he took into
dinner chaffed him over his sudden disposition to try his wings. He was
a man riding a hobby, they said. In time, it began to dawn that he,
with others, whom he had drawn to his standards, meant serious war on
certain complacent evils in the world of finance and politics. Sleeping
dogs of custom began to stir and growl. Political overlords, assailed
as unfaithful servants, showed their teeth. From some hidden, but
unfailing, source terribly sure and direct evidence of guilt was being
gathered. For Wilfred Horton, who was demanding a day of reckoning and
spending great sums of money to get it, there was a prospect of things
doing.

Adrienne Lescott was in Europe. Soon, she would return, and Horton
meant to show that he had not buried his talent.

* * * * *

For eight months Samson's life had run in the steady ascent of gradual
climbing, but, in the four months from the first of August to the first
of December, the pace of his existence suddenly quickened. He left off
drawing from plaster casts, and went into a life class. His shyness
secretly haunted him. The nudity of the woman posing on the model
throne, the sense of his own almost as naked ignorance, and the dread
of the criticism to come, were all keen embarrassments upon him.

In this period, Samson had his first acquaintanceship with women,
except those he had known from childhood--and his first
acquaintanceship with the men who were not of his own art world. Of the
women, he saw several sorts. There were the aproned and frowsy
students, of uncertain age, who seemed to have no life except that
which existed under studio skylights. There were, also, a few younger
girls, who took their art life with less painful solemnity; and, of
course, the models in the "partially draped" and the "altogether."

Tony Collasso was an Italian illustrator, who lodged and painted in
studio-apartments in Washington Square, South. He had studied in the
Julian School and the Beaux Arts, and wore a shock of dark curls, a
Satanic black mustache, and an expression of Byronic melancholy. The
melancholy, he explained to Samson, sprang from the necessity of
commercializing his divine gift. His companions were various, numbering
among them a group of those pygmy celebrities of whom one has never
heard until by chance he meets them, and of whom their intimates speak
as of immortals.

To Collasso's studio, Samson was called one night by telephone. He had
sometimes gone there before to sit for an hour, chiefly as a listener,
while the man from Sorrento bewailed fate with his coterie, and
denounced all forms of government, over insipid Chianti. Sometimes, an
equally melancholy friend in soiled linen and frayed clothes took up
his violin, and, as he improvised, the noisy group would fall silent.
At such moments, Samson would ride out on the waves of melody, and see
again the velvet softness of the mountain night, with stars hanging
intimately close, and hear the ripple of Misery and a voice for which
he longed.

But, to-night, he entered the door to find himself in the midst of a
gay and boisterous party. The room was already thickly fogged with
smoke, and a dozen men and women, singing snatches of current airs,
were interesting themselves over a chafing dish. The studio of Tony
Collasso was of fair size, and adorned with many unframed paintings,
chiefly his own, and a few good tapestries and bits of bric-a-brac
variously jettisoned from the sea of life in which he had drifted. The
crowd itself was typical. A few very minor writers and artists, a model
or two, and several women who had thinking parts in current Broadway
productions.

At eleven o'clock the guests of honor arrived in a taxicab. They were
Mr. William Farbish and Miss Winifred Starr. Having come, as they
explained, direct from the theater where Miss Starr danced in the first
row, they were in evening dress. Samson mentally acknowledged, though,
with instinctive disfavor for the pair, that both were, in a way,
handsome. Collasso drew him aside to whisper importantly:

"Make yourself agreeable to Farbish. He is received in the most
exclusive society, and is a connoisseur of art. He is a connoisseur in
all things," added the Italian, with a meaning glance at the girl.
"Farbish has lived everywhere," he ran on, "and, if he takes a fancy to
you, he will put you up at the best clubs. I think I shall sell him a
landscape."

The girl was talking rapidly and loudly. She had at once taken the
center of the room, and her laughter rang in free and egotistical peals
above the other voices.

"Come," said the host, "I shall present you."

The boy shook hands, gazing with his usual directness into the show
-girl's large and deeply-penciled eyes. Farbish, standing at one side
with his hands in his pockets, looked on with an air of slightly bored
detachment.

His dress, his mannerisms, his bearing, were all those of the man who
has overstudied his part. They were too perfect, too obviously
rehearsed through years of social climbing, but that was a defect
Samson was not yet prepared to recognize.

Some one had naively complimented Miss Starr on the leopard-skin cloak
she had just thrown from her shapely shoulders, and she turned promptly
and vivaciously to the flatterer.

"It is nice, isn't it?" she prattled. "It may look a little up-stage
for a girl who hasn't got a line to read in the piece, but these days
one must get the spot-light, or be a dead one. It reminds me of a
little run-in I had with Graddy--he's our stage-director, you know."
She paused, awaiting the invitation to proceed, and, having received
it, went gaily forward. "I was ten minutes late, one day, for
rehearsal, and Graddy came up with that sarcastic manner of his, and
said: 'Miss Starr, I don't doubt you are a perfectly nice girl, and all
that, but it rather gets my goat to figure out how, on a salary of
fifteen dollars a week, you come to rehearsals in a million dollars'
worth of clothes, riding in a limousine--_and ten minutes late!'"
She broke off with the eager little expression of awaiting applause,
and, having been satisfied, she added: "I was afraid that wasn't going
to get a laugh, after all."

She glanced inquiringly at Samson, who had not smiled, and who stood
looking puzzled.

"A penny for your thoughts, Mr. South, from down South," she challenged.

"I guess I'm sort of like Mr. Graddy," said the boy, slowly. "I was
just wondering how you do do it."

He spoke with perfect seriousness, and, after a moment, the girl broke
into a prolonged peal of laughter.

"Oh, you are delicious!" she exclaimed. "If I could do the
_ingenue like that, believe me, I'd make some hit." She came
over, and, laying a hand on each of the boy's shoulders, kissed him
lightly on the cheek. "That's for a droll boy!" she said. "That's the
best line I've heard pulled lately."

Farbish was smiling in quiet amusement. He tapped the mountaineer on
the shoulder.

"I've heard George Lescott speak of you," he said, genially. "I've
rather a fancy for being among the discoverers of men of talent. We
must see more of each other."

Samson left the party early, and with a sense of disgust. It was, at
the time of his departure, waxing more furious in its merriment. It
seemed to him that nowhere among these people was a note of sincerity,
and his thoughts went back to the parting at the stile, and the girl
whose artlessness and courage were honest.

Several days later, Samson was alone in Lescott's studio. It was
nearing twilight, and he had laid aside a volume of De Maupassant,
whose simple power had beguiled him. The door opened, and he saw the
figure of a woman on the threshold. The boy rose somewhat shyly from
his seat, and stood looking at her. She was as richly dressed as Miss
Starr had been, but there was the same difference as between the colors
of the sunset sky and the exaggerated daubs of Collasso's landscape.
She stood lithely straight, and her furs fell back from a throat as
smooth and slenderly rounded as Sally's. Her cheeks were bright with
the soft glow of perfect health, and her lips parted over teeth that
were as sound and strong as they were decorative. This girl did not
have to speak to give the boy the conviction that she was some one whom
he must like. She stood at the door a moment, and then came forward
with her hand outstretched.

"This is Mr. South, isn't it?" she asked, with a frank friendliness in
her voice.

"Yes, ma'am, that's my name."

"I'm Adrienne Lescott," said the girl. "I thought I'd find my brother
here. I stopped by to drive him up-town."

Samson had hesitatingly taken the gloved hand, and its grasp was firm
and strong despite its ridiculous smallness.

"I reckon he'll be back presently." The boy was in doubt as to the
proper procedure. This was Lescott's studio, and he was not certain
whether or not it lay in his province to invite Lescott's sister to
take possession of it. Possibly, he ought to withdraw. His ideas of
social usages were very vague.

"Then, I think I'll wait," announced the girl. She threw off her fur
coat, and took a seat before the open grate. The chair was large, and
swallowed her up.

Samson wanted to look at her, and was afraid that this would be
impolite. He realized that he had seen no real ladies, except on the
street, and now he had the opportunity. She was beautiful, and there
was something about her willowy grace of attitude that made the soft
and clinging lines of her gown fall about her in charming drapery
effects. Her small pumps and silk-stockinged ankles as she held them
out toward the fire made him say to himself:

"I reckon she never went barefoot in her life."

"I'm glad of this chance to meet you, Mr. South," said the girl with a
smile that found its way to the boy's heart. After all, there was
sincerity in "foreign" women. "George talks of you so much that I feel
as if I'd known you all the while. Don't you think I might claim
friendship with George's friends?"

Samson had no answer. He wished to say something equally cordial, but
the old instinct against effusiveness tied his tongue.

"I owe right smart to George Lescott," he told her, gravely.

"That's not answering my question," she laughed. "Do you consent to
being friends with me?"

"Miss--" began the boy. Then, realizing that in New York this form of
address is hardly complete, he hastened to add: "Miss Lescott, I've
been here over nine months now, and I'm just beginning to realize what
a rube I am. I haven't no--" Again, he broke off, and laughed at
himself. "I mean, I haven't any idea of proper manners, and so I'm, as
we would say down home, 'plumb skeered' of ladies."

As he accused himself, Samson was looking at her with unblinking
directness; and she met his glance with eyes that twinkled.

"Mr. South," she said, "I know all about manners, and you know all
about a hundred real things that I want to know. Suppose we begin
teaching each other?"

Samson's face lighted with the revolutionizing effect that a smile can
bring only to features customarily solemn.

"Miss Lescott," he said, "let's call that a trade--but you're gettin'
all the worst of it. To start with, you might give me a lesson right
now in how a feller ought to act, when he's talkin' to a lady--how I
ought to act with you!"

Her laugh made the situation as easy as an old shoe.

Ten minutes later, Lescott entered.

"Well," he said, with a smile, "shall I Introduce you people, or have
you already done it for yourselves?"

"Oh," Adrienne assured him, "Mr. South and I are old friends." As she
left the room, she turned and added: "The second lesson had better be at
my house. If I telephone you some day when we can have the school-room
to ourselves, will you come up?"

Samson grinned, and forgot to be bashful as he replied:

"I'll come a-kitin'!"

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The girl stepped forward, and held the weapon finger on trigger, closeto her cousin's chest."Ye lies, Tam'rack," she said, in a very low and steady voice--a voicethat could not be mistaken, a voice relentlessly resolute and purposeful."Ye lies like ye always lies. Yore heart's black an' dirty. Ye're amurderer an' a coward. Samson's a-comin' back ter me.... I'm a-goin'ter be Samson's wife." The tensity of her earnestness might have told asubtler psychologist than Tamarack that she was endeavoring to convinceherself. "He hain't never run away. He's hyar in this room right now."The mountaineer started, and cast an apprehensive glance about him.
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