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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Candidate: A Political Romance - Chapter 1. The Nominee
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The Candidate: A Political Romance - Chapter 1. The Nominee Post by :lingstar Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph A. Altsheler Date :May 2012 Read :3356

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The Candidate: A Political Romance - Chapter 1. The Nominee


The huge convention-hall still rang with the thunders of applause, and most of the delegates were on their feet shouting or waving their hats, when Harley slipped from his desk and made his way quietly to the little side-door leading from the stage. It was all over now but the noise; after a long and desperate fight Grayson, a young lawyer, with little more than a local reputation, had been nominated by his party for the Presidency of the United States, and Harley, alert, eager, and fond of dramatic effects, intended to be the first who should tell him the surprising fact.

He paused a moment, with his hand on the door, and, looking out upon the hall with its multitude of hot, excited faces, ran quickly over the events of the last three or four days. Ten thousand people had sat there, hour after hour, waiting for the result, and now the result had come. The rival parties had entered their conventions, full of doubt and apprehension. There was a singular dearth of great men; the old ones were all dead or disabled, and the new ones had not appeared; the nation was conscious, too, of a new feeling, and all were bound to recognize it; the sense of dependency upon the Old World in certain matters which applied to the mental state rather than anything material was almost gone; the democracy had grown more democratic and the republic was more republican; within the nation itself the West was taking a greater prominence, and the East did not begrudge it. It was felt by everybody in either party that it would be wiser to nominate a Western man, and, the first having done so, the second, as all knew it must, now followed the good example.

Moreover, both conventions had nominated "dark horses," but the second nominee was the "darker" of the two. James Madison Grayson, affectionately called Jimmy Grayson by his neighbors and admirers, was quite young, without a gray hair in his head, tall, powerfully built, smooth-shaven, and with honest eyes that gazed straight into yours. He was known as a brave man, with fine oratorical powers and a winning personality, but he had come to the convention merely as a delegate, and without any thought of securing the nomination for himself. Not a single vote had been instructed for him, but in that lay his opportunity. All the conspicuous candidates were weak; good men in themselves, a solid political objection could be raised against every one of them, and for a while the voting was scattered and desultory. Then Grayson began to attract attention; as a delegate he had spoken two or three times, always briefly, but with grace and to the point, and the people were glad both to see him and to hear him.

At last a far-sighted old man from the same state knew that the moment had come when the convention, staggering about in the dark, could be led easily along any road that seemed the path of light. He mentioned the name of Grayson, putting it forward mildly as a suggestion that he would withdraw at the first opposition, but his very mildness warded off attack. Received rather lightly at first, the suggestion soon made a strong appeal to the delegates. Nothing could be urged against Grayson; he was quite young, it was true, but youth was needed to make a great campaign--the odds were heavily in favor of the other party. Nor were there lacking those who, expecting defeat, said that a young man could bear it better than an old one, and a beating now might train him for a victory four years hence.

Grayson himself was surprised when he heard the report, nor could he ever be convinced that he would be nominated; he regarded the whole thing as absurd, a few votes, no more, might be cast for him, but, as was fit and decent, he withdrew from the hall. All those whose names were before the convention were expected to remain at home or elsewhere in the city, and Jimmy Grayson and his wife stayed quietly in their rooms at the hotel.

Harley had believed this evening that the nomination of Grayson was at hand. It was an intuitive sense, a sort of premonition that the battalions were closing in for the final conflict, and he did not doubt the result. He had just returned from a war on the other side of the world, where he had been present as the correspondent of a great New York journal on many battle-fields, and he often noticed this strained, breathless feeling that the moment had come, just before the combat was joined. Now this convention-hall was none the less a battle-field though the weapons were ballots, not bullets, and Harley believed in his intuition. At midnight the flood-tide swept in, bearing Grayson on its crest, and, when they saw that he was the man, everybody flocked to him, making the nomination unanimous by a rising vote.

Harley now stood a moment at the door, listening to the cheers as they swelled again, then he stepped out and ran swiftly down the street. A fat policeman, taking him for a fleeing pickpocket, shouted to him to stop, but he flitted by and was gone.

It was only two or three blocks to the hotel, where Mr. Grayson sat quietly in his room, and Harley was running swiftly, but in the minute or two that elapsed much passed through his mind. After his long stay abroad he had returned with a renewed sense, not alone of the power and might of his own country, but also of its goodness; it was here, and here alone, that all careers were open to all; nowhere else in the world could a relatively obscure young lawyer have been put forward, and peacefully, too, for the headship of ninety million people. It was this thought that thrilled him, and it was why he wished to be the first who should tell the young lawyer of it. He had made the acquaintance of Jimmy Grayson the day before; the two had talked for a while about public questions, and each had felt that it was the beginning of a friendship, so he had no hesitation now in making himself an unannounced herald.

He ran into the hotel, darted up the stairway--Jimmy Grayson's rooms were on the first floor--and knocked at the door of the nominee. A light shone from the transom, and he heard a quick, strong step approaching. Then the door was thrown open by Mr. Grayson himself, and Mrs. Grayson, who stood in the centre of the room, looked with inquiry at the correspondent.

"Why, Mr. Harley, I'm glad to see you," said Mr. Grayson, with a welcoming tone in his voice. "Come in, but I warn you that you cannot interview me any further I'm not worth it; I've told you all I know."

Harley said nothing, but stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. He saw that they yet knew nothing--there had been no messenger, no telephone call, and the news was his to tell. He bowed to Mrs. Grayson, and then he felt a moment of embarrassment, but his long experience and natural poise came quickly to his aid.

"I do want to interview you, Mr. Grayson," he said, quietly; "and it is upon a subject to which we did not allude in our former talk."

Mr. Grayson glanced at his wife, and her look, replying to his, indicated the same puzzling state. Both knew that the chief correspondent of one of the greatest journals in the world would not leave a Presidential convention in the hour of birth to secure an irrelevant interview.

"If I can serve you, Mr. Harley, I shall be glad to do so," said Jimmy Grayson, somewhat dryly; "but I really do not see how I can."

"I am quite sure that you can," said Harley, with emphasis.

He listened a moment, but he did not hear any step in the hall nor the jingling of any telephone bell. Both Mr. and Mrs. Grayson waited expectantly, curious to see what he had in mind.

"If you were to be nominated for the Presidency, I should like to tell the _Gazette what your programme would be--that is, what sort of a campaign you would conduct," said Harley, deliberately.

Mr. Grayson laughed and glanced again at his wife.

"It is a wise rule for a man in public life never to answer hypothetical questions; of that I am sure, Mr. Harley," he said.

"I am sure of it, too," said Harley.

Jimmy Grayson bit his lip. It seemed to him that the correspondent would make a jest, and the hour was unfitting.

"I shall answer your question when I am nominated," he said.

"Then you will answer it now," said Harley.

A sudden flush passed over Mr. Grayson's face and left it white. Mrs. Grayson trembled and glanced again at her husband, still in a puzzled state.

"Your meaning is not clear, Mr. Harley," he said.

"It should be. When I left the convention-hall, two minutes ago, they had just made the nomination unanimous. I wished to be the first to tell the news, and I have had my wish."

The eyes of the nominee looked straight into those of Harley, but the correspondent did not flinch. It was obvious that he was telling the truth.

"The notifying committee will be here in a few minutes," he said. "Ah, I hear their step on the stair now."

The tread of men walking quickly and the sound of voices raised in eagerness came to the room. The powerful figure of Jimmy Grayson trembled slightly, then grew rigid.

"I did not dream of it," he said, as if to himself; "nor have I now sought to take it from others."

"Nor have you done so," said Harley, boldly; "because it belonged to no man."

Mrs. Grayson stepped forward, as if in fear that her husband was about to be taken from her, because at that moment the volume of the voices and the trampling increased and paused at her door. Then the crowd poured into the room and hailed the victor.

Harley slipped to one side, and no one in the committee knew that the nominee had been notified already, but the correspondent never ceased to watch Jimmy Grayson. He saw how the nature of the man rose to the great responsibility that had been put upon him, how he nerved himself for his mighty task. He stood among them all, cool, dignified, and ready. Harley was proud that this was one of his countrymen, and when his last despatch was filed that night he wired to his editor in New York: "Please send me on the campaign with Grayson. I think it is going to be a great one." And back came the answer: "Stay with him until it is all over, election night."

The eyes of Harley, like those of so many of his countrymen, had always been turned eastward. To him New York was the ultimate expression of America, and beyond the great city lay the influence of Europe, of that Old World to which belonged the most of art and literature. The books that he read were written chiefly by Europeans, and the remainder by the men of New England and New York. He had never put it into so many words, even mentally, but he had a definite impression that the great world of affairs was composed of central and western Europe and a half-dozen Northern coast states of the American Union; beyond this centre of light lay a shadow land, growing darker as the distance from the central rays increased, inhabited by people, worthy no doubt, but merely forming a chorus for those who had the speaking parts.

The course of Harley's life confirmed him in this opinion, which perhaps was due more to literature than to anything else. With his eyes fixed on New York, the desire to go there followed, and when he succeeded, early, and became the correspondent of a great journal, he was soon immersed in the affairs of that world which seemed the world of action to him; and, being so much occupied thus, he forgot the regions which apparently lay in the shadow, including the greater portion of his own country.

Hence the two great Presidential conventions, in each of which Western influences were paramount, and in each of which a Western man was chosen, created upon him a new and surprising impression. He found himself in the presence of unexpected forces; he became aware that there was another way of looking at things, and this powerful sensation was deepened by the personality of Mr. Grayson, in whom he saw intuitively that there was something fresh, original, and strong; he seemed less hackneyed and more joyous than the types that he found in the old states of the Union or the Old World, and, because of this, the interest of Harley, whose mind had a singularly keen and inquiring quality, was aroused; the regions that apparently lay in the shadow might have enough light, after all, and, seeing before him a campaign not less exciting than a war, he resolved to stay in it until the last battle was fought.

He took out the telegram from his editor and read it over again with keen satisfaction. "Out of one war and into another," he murmured. The conventions had been held early; it was now only the first week in June, and the election would be in the first week of November; before him lay five months of stress and perhaps storm, but he thought of it only with pleasure.

Harley always travelled light, carrying only two valises, and an hour sufficed for his packing. Then, like the old campaigner that he was, he slept soundly, and early the next morning he went again to the hotel at which the Graysons were staying. He felt a little hesitation in sending up a card so soon, knowing what swarms of people Mr. Grayson had been compelled to receive and how badly he must stand in need of rest, but there was no help for it.

While he sat in the huge lobby waiting the return of the boy, the hum of many voices about him rose almost to a roar, varied by the rustling of many newspapers. The place was filled with men, talking over the thrilling events of the night before, the nomination and the nominee, while every newspaper bore upon its front page a great picture of the new candidate.

The boy came back with a message that Mr. Grayson would see him; and Harley, a minute later, was knocking at the door, which the candidate himself opened. This man, who was his own usher, was the nominee of a great party, he might become the President of the United States--of ninety million people, of what was in nearly every material sense the first power in the world; and yet Harley, when in Europe, seeking information from the youngest and least _attache of a legation, had been compelled to go through an infinite amount of form and flummery. The contrast was lasting.

"Come in," said Mr. Grayson, courteously, and Harley at once acted upon the invitation. Mrs. Grayson, at the same moment, came from the inner room, quiet and self-contained, and Harley bowed with respect.

"I dare say there is nothing you wish to ask me which a lady should not hear," said Mr. Grayson, with a slight smile. "Mrs. Grayson is my chief political adviser."

"It is no secret," replied Harley, also smiling. "I have merely come to tell you that the _Gazette_, my paper, has instructed me to keep watch over you from now until election night, and to describe at once and at great length for its readers every one of your wicked deeds. So I am here to tell you that I wish to go along with you. You are public property, you know, and you can't escape."

"I know that," said Jimmy Grayson, heartily; "and I do not seek to escape. I am glad the representative of the _Gazette is to be you. I do not know what course your paper will take, but I am sure that we shall be friends."

"The _Gazette is independent; its editor is likely to attack you for some things and to praise you for others. But I am here to tell the news."

"Then we are comrades for a long journey," said Jimmy Grayson.

Thus it was settled simply and easily by the two who were most concerned, and Harley throughout the little interview was struck by the difference between this man and many other famous men with whom in the course of business he had held journalistic dealings. Here was a lack of conventionality, and an even stronger note of simplicity and freshness. The candidate, with his new honors, still held himself as one of the people, it never occurred to him that he might assume a pose and the public would accept it; he was democracy personified, and he was such because he was unconscious of it. His perfect freedom of manner, which Harley had not liked at first, now became more attractive.

"We leave at eleven o'clock for my home," said Mr. Grayson, "and arrive there to-morrow morning. I have some preparations to make, but I shall begin the campaign a day or two later."

"I intend to go with you to your town," said Harley. "You know the compact; I cannot let you out of my sight."

Mrs. Grayson, a grave, quiet woman, spoke for the first time.

"You shall come along, not merely as a sentinel, but as one of our little party, if you will, on one condition," she said.

"What is that?"

"On condition that you come to our house and take dinner with us to-morrow."

Harley gave her a grateful look. He felt that the candidate's wife approved of him, and he liked the approval of those who evidently knew how to think. And it would be far pleasanter to travel with Jimmy Grayson as a friend than as one suspected.

"I am honored, Mrs. Grayson," he said, "and I shall be happy to come."

Then he left them, and when he passed into the hall he saw that the burden of greatness was being thrust already upon the Grayson family, as callers of various types and with various requests were seeking their rooms. But he hurried back to his own hotel, and as it was some distance away he took the street-car. There he was confronted by long rows of newspapers which hid the faces of men, and whenever a front page was turned towards him the open countenance of Mr. Grayson looked out at him with smiling eyes. Everybody was reading the account of the convention, and now and then they discussed it; they spoke of the candidate familiarly; he was "Jimmy" Grayson to them--rarely did they call him Mr. Grayson; but there was no disrespect or disesteem in their use of the diminutive "Jimmy." They merely regarded him as one of themselves, and their position in the matter differed in no wise from that of Mr. Grayson; it was a matter of course with both. To Harley, fresh from other lands, it seemed in the first breath singular, and yet in the second he liked it; the easy give-and-take promoted the smoothness of life, and men might assume false values, but they were not able to keep them. His thoughts returned for a moment to the least little _attache whose manner was more important than that of a Presidential nominee.

Harley, with his two valises, was at the station somewhat ahead of time, as he wished to see Mr. and Mrs. Grayson arrive, curious to know in what sort of state or lack of it they would come.

Mr. Grayson's intention of going at once to his home was not published in the press, and there was only the ordinary crowd at the station, some coming, some leaving, but all bearing upon their faces the marks of haste and impatience. As the people hurried to and fro, the sound of many tongues arose. There was nearly every accent of Europe, but the American rose over and enveloped all. Many writers from other lands, seeking only the bad, had pronounced the Babel coarse, vulgar, and sordid; but Harley, seeking the good, saw in it men and women toiling to better their condition in the world, and that fact he knew was not bad.

Through the station windows he saw the tall buildings rise floor on floor, and there was a clang of car-bells that never ceased. In the fresh morning air it was inspiriting, and Harley felt himself a part of the crowd. He was no hermit. Life and activity and the spectacle of people filled with hope always pleased him.

An ordinary cab arrived, and Mr. and Mrs. Grayson, alighting from it, bought their tickets at the window, just like anybody else, and then sought inconspicuous seats in the corner of the waiting-room, as their train would not be ready for five minutes. In the hastening crowd they were not noticed at first, but even in the dusk of the corner the smoothly shaven face and massive features of Mr. Grayson were soon noticed. His picture had been staring at them all from the front page of the newspapers, and here was the reality, too like to be overlooked. There was a sudden delay in the crowd; the two streams, one flowing outward and the other inward, wavered, then stopped and began to stare at the candidate, not intrusively, but with a kindly curiosity that it considered legitimate. Harley had quietly joined the Graysons, and they gave him a sincere welcome. The people unfamiliar with his face began to speculate audibly on his identity.

The crowd in the station, reinforced from many side-doors, thickened, and Mr. and Mrs. Grayson, under the gaze of so many eyes, became uneasy and shy. Harley, who had been made a member of their party, found himself sharing this awkward feeling, and he was glad to hear the announcement that the train was ready.

The three abreast moved towards the gate, and the crowd opened a way just wide enough, down which they marched, still under the human battery of a thousand eyes. To Harley, although little of this gaze was meant for him, the sensation was indescribable. It was something to be an object of so much curiosity, but the thrill was more than offset by the weight that it put upon one's ease of manner.

He saw many of the people--it was a curious manifestation--reach out and touch the candidate's sleeve lightly as he passed. But Mr. Grayson, if he knew it, took no notice and marched straight ahead, all expression discharged from his face. Harley saw that this was the disguise eminent public men must assume upon occasions, and he was willing that they should keep the task.

When the great iron gate leading to his train was closed behind him, Harley felt a mighty sense of relief. It seemed to him that he had run a gantlet not much inferior to that through which the Indians put the captive backwoodsmen, and the dark-red walls of the car rose before him a fortress of safety.

It was an ordinary Pullman, and Mr. and Mrs. Grayson had not secured the drawing-room, but the usual berths like Harley's, and he joined them in their seats. He felt now a certain pleasure in the situation. The pressure of circumstances was making him, in a sense and for the time being, a member of their family. He was glad that the other correspondents would wait to join the candidate at his home, as it gave him a greater chance to establish those personal relations needful on a long campaign that must be made together.

The whistle blew, the train moved, and they passed through miles of city, and then through suburbs growing thinner until they melted away into the clean, green prairie, and Harley, opening the window, was glad to breathe the unvexed air that came across a thousand miles of the West. He leaned back in his seat and luxuriously watched the quietly rolling country, tender with the breath of spring, as it spun past. That mighty West of which he had thought so little seemed to reach out with its arms and invite him, and he was glad to go.

Presently he was aware of an unusual movement of people down the aisles of the car, accompanied by a certain slowing of the pace when they passed the seats in which the Graysons and he sat. They were coming from the other cars, too, and now and then the aisle would choke up a little, but in a moment the shifting figures would relieve it, and the endless procession of faces moved on.

The Graysons, following Harley's example, were gazing out of the window at the cheerful country, but the correspondent knew that Mr. Grayson was fully conscious of this human stream, and that he himself was the cause of it. Yet he lost none of his good temper even when some, venturing further, asked if he were not the nominee, adding that it was a pride to them to meet him and speak to him. In fact, the change from silence to conversation was a relief to Mr. Grayson, varying the monotony of that fixed gaze to which he had been subjected so long, and it was now that Harley saw him in a most favorable guise. His consciousness of a great talent did not interfere with a perfect democracy; it did not cause him to assume an air that said to these people, "I am better than you, keep your distance," but he gave the impression of ability solely through his simplicity of manner and the ease with which he adapted himself to the caliber of the person who spoke to him.

Thus the train swung westward hour after hour, and the procession through the car never ceased. The manner of the candidate did not change; however weary he may have grown, he was always affable, but not gushing, and Harley, watching keenly, judged that the impression he made was always favorable. He strove, too, to interpret this manner and to read the mind behind it. Was Mr. Grayson really great or merely a man of ready speech and pleasing address? Harley was willing to admit that the latter were qualities in themselves not far from great, but on the main contention he reserved his judgment. He was still divided in his opinions, sometimes approving the complete democracy of the candidate and sometimes condemning. He had been born in the South, in a border state, and he grew up there amid many of the forms and formalities of the old school, and the associations of youth are not easily lost. Nor had a subsequent residence in the East brushed them away. This world of the West was still, in many respects, new to him.

He ate luncheon in the dining-car with the Graysons, and he noticed the bubbling joy of the black waiter who served them, and who showed two rows of white teeth in a perpetual smile. Harley appreciated him so much that he doubled his tip, but, as they were still watched by many eyes in the dining-car, he felt a certain nervousness in handling his knife and fork, as if the penalty of greatness, even by association, were too heavy for him. Once his eyes caught those of Mrs. Grayson, and a faint, whimsical smile passed over her face, a smile so infectious, despite its faintness, that Harley was compelled to reply in like fashion. It told him that she understood his constraint, and that she, too, felt it, but Harley doubted whether it was in like degree, as he believed that in the main women are better fitted than men to endure such ordeals. Mr. Grayson himself apparently took no notice.

Harley returned to their car with the Graysons, but in the afternoon he detached himself somewhat, and came in touch with the fluctuating crowd that passed down the aisle--it was always a part of his duty, as well as his inclination, to know the thoughts and feelings of outsiders, because it was outsiders who made the world, and it was from them, too, that the insiders came.

Harley found here that the chief motive as yet was curiosity; the campaign had not entered upon its sharp and positive state, and the personality of Mr. Grayson and of his opponent still remained to be defined clearly.

The train sped westward through the granary of the world, cutting in an almost direct line across the mighty valley of the Mississippi, and they were still hundreds of miles away from the Grayson home. In going west both parties had gone very far west, and the two candidates not only lived beyond the Mississippi, but beyond the Missouri as well.

The prairies were in their tenderest green, and the young grass bent lightly before a gentle west wind. In a sky of silky blue little clouds floated and trailed off here and there into patches of white like drifting snow, and Harley unconsciously fell to watching them and wondering where they went.

The sun, a huge red ball, sank in the prairie, twilight fell, the ordeal of the dining-car was repeated, and not long afterwards Harley sought his bed in the swaying berth. The next morning they were in the home town, and there were a band and a reception committee, and Harley slipped quietly away to his hotel, being reminded first by the Graysons that he was to take dinner with them.

He spent most of the day wandering about the town, gathering hitherto unnoticed facts about the early life of Mr. James Grayson, which in the afternoon he despatched eastward. Then he prepared for dinner, but here he was confronted by a serious problem--should one so far west wear evening clothes or not? But he decided at last in the affirmative, feeling that it would be the safe course, and, hiding the formality of his raiment under a light overcoat, he went forth into the street. Five minutes' walk took him to the house of Mr. Grayson, which stood in the outskirts, a red brick structure two stories in height, plain and comfortable, with a well-shaded lawn about it. It was now quite dark, but lights shone from several windows, and Harley, without hesitation, rang the bell.

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