The Lion and the Unicorn by Richard Harding Davis
The Man with One Talent
The mass-meeting in the Madison Square Garden which was to help set Cuba free was finished, and the people were pushing their way out of the overheated building into the snow and sleet of the streets. They had been greatly stirred and the spell of the last speaker still hung so heavily upon them that as they pressed down the long corridor they were still speaking loudly in his praise.
A young man moved eagerly amongst them, and pushed his way to wherever a voice was raised above the rest. He strained forward, listening openly, as though he tried to judge the effect of the meeting by the verdict of those about him.
But the words he overheard seemed to clash with what he wished them to be, and the eager look on his face changed to one of doubt and of grave disappointment. When he had reached the sidewalk he stopped and stood looking back alternately into the lighted hall and at the hurrying crowds which were dispersing rapidly. He made a movement as though he would recall them, as though he felt they were still unconvinced, as though there was much still left unsaid.
A fat stranger halted at his elbow to light his cigar, and glancing up nodded his head approvingly.
"Fine speaker, Senator Stanton, ain't he?" he said.
The young man answered eagerly. "Yes," he assented, "he is a great orator, but how could he help but speak well with such a subject?"
"Oh, you ought to have heard him last November at Tammany Hall," the fat stranger answered. "He wasn't quite up to himself to- night. He wasn't so interested. Those Cubans are foreigners, you see, but you ought to heard him last St. Patrick's day on Home Rule for Ireland. Then he was talking! That speech made him a United States senator, I guess. I don't just see how he expects to win out on this Cuba game. The Cubans haven't got no votes."
The young man opened his eyes in some bewilderment.
"He speaks for the good of Cuba, for the sake of humanity," he ventured.
"What?" inquired the fat stranger. "Oh, yes, of course. Well, I must be getting on. Good-night, sir."
The stranger moved on his way, but the young man still lingered uncertainly in the snow-swept corridor shivering violently with the cold and stamping his feet for greater comfort. His face was burned to a deep red, which seemed to have come from some long exposure to a tropical sun, but which held no sign of health. His cheeks were hollow and his eyes were lighted with the fire of fever and from time to time he was shaken by violent bursts of coughing which caused him to reach toward one of the pillars for support.
As the last of the lights went out in the Garden, the speaker of the evening and three of his friends came laughing and talking down the long corridor. Senator Stanton was a conspicuous figure at any time, and even in those places where his portraits had not penetrated he was at once recognized as a personage. Something in his erect carriage and an unusual grace of movement, and the power and success in his face, made men turn to look at him. He had been told that he resembled the early portraits of Henry Clay, and he had never quite forgotten the coincidence.
The senator was wrapping the collar of his fur coat around his throat and puffing contentedly at a fresh cigar, and as he passed, the night watchman and the ushers bowed to the great man and stood looking after him with the half-humorous, half-envious deference that the American voter pays to the successful politician. At the sidewalk, the policemen hurried to open the door of his carriage and in their eagerness made a double line, through which he passed nodding to them gravely. The young man who had stood so long in waiting pushed his way through the line to his side.
"Senator Stanton," he began timidly, "might I speak to you a moment? My name is Arkwright; I am just back from Cuba, and I want to thank you for your speech. I am an American, and I thank God that I am since you are too, sir. No one has said anything since the war began that compares with what you said to- night. You put it nobly, and I know, for I've been there for three years, only I can't make other people understand it, and I am thankful that some one can. You'll forgive my stopping you, sir, but I wanted to thank you. I feel it very much."
Senator Stanton's friends had already seated themselves in his carriage and were looking out of the door and smiling with mock patience. But the senator made no move to follow them. Though they were his admirers they were sometimes skeptical, and he was not sorry that they should hear this uninvited tribute. So he made a pretence of buttoning his long coat about him, and nodded encouragingly to Arkwright to continue. "I'm glad you liked it, sir," he said with the pleasant, gracious smile that had won him a friend wherever it had won him a vote. "It is very satisfactory to know from one who is well informed on the subject that what I have said is correct. The situation there is truly terrible. You have just returned, you say? Where were you--in Havana?"
"No, in the other provinces, sir," Arkwright answered. "I have been all over the island, I am a civil engineer. The truth has not been half told about Cuba, I assure you, sir. It is massacre there, not war. It is partly so through ignorance, but nevertheless it is massacre. And what makes it worse is, that it is the massacre of the innocents. That is what I liked best of what you said in that great speech, the part about the women and children."
He reached out his hands detainingly, and then drew back as though in apology for having already kept the great man so long waiting in the cold. "I wish I could tell you some of the terrible things I have seen," he began again, eagerly as Stanton made no movement to depart. "They are much worse than those you instanced to-night, and you could make so much better use of them than any one else. I have seen starving women nursing dead babies, and sometimes starving babies sucking their dead mother's breasts; I have seen men cut down in the open roads and while digging in the fields--and two hundred women imprisoned in one room without food and eaten with small-pox, and huts burned while the people in them slept--"
The young man had been speaking impetuously, but he stopped as suddenly, for the senator was not listening to him. He had lowered his eyes and was looking with a glance of mingled fascination and disgust at Arkwright's hands. In his earnestness the young man had stretched them out, and as they showed behind the line of his ragged sleeves the others could see, even in the blurred light and falling snow, that the wrists of each hand were gashed and cut in dark-brown lines like the skin of a mulatto, and in places were a raw red, where the fresh skin had but just closed over. The young man paused and stood shivering, still holding his hands out rigidly before him.
The senator raised his eyes slowly and drew away.
"What is that?" he said in a low voice, pointing with a gloved finger at the black lines on the wrists.
A sergeant in the group of policemen who had closed around the speakers answered him promptly from his profound fund of professional knowledge.
"That's handcuffs, senator," he said importantly, and glanced at Stanton as though to signify that at a word from him he would take this suspicious character into custody. The young man pulled the frayed cuffs of his shirt over his wrists and tucked his hands, which the cold had frozen into an ashy blue, under his armpits to warm them.
"No, they don't use handcuffs in the field," he said in the same low, eager tone; "they use ropes and leather thongs; they fastened me behind a horse and when he stumbled going down the trail it jerked me forward and the cords would tighten and tear the flesh. But they have had a long time to heal now. I have been eight months in prison."
The young men at the carriage window had ceased smiling and were listening intently. One of them stepped out and stood beside the carriage door looking down at the shivering figure before him with a close and curious scrutiny.
"Eight months in prison!" echoed the police sergeant with a note of triumph; "what did I tell you?"
"Hold your tongue!" said the young man at the carriage door. There was silence for a moment, while the men looked at the senator, as though waiting for him to speak.
"Where were you in prison, Mr. Arkwright?" he asked.
"First in the calaboose at Santa Clara for two months, and then in Cabanas. The Cubans who were taken when I was, were shot by the fusillade on different days during this last month. Two of them, the Ezetas, were father and son, and the Volunteer band played all the time the execution was going on, so that the other prisoners might not hear them cry 'Cuba Libre' when the order came to fire. But we heard them."
The senator shivered slightly and pulled his fur collar up farther around his face. "I'd like to talk with you," he said, "if you have nothing to do to-morrow. I'd like to go into this thing thoroughly. Congress must be made to take some action."
The young man clasped his hands eagerly. "Ah, Mr. Stanton, if you would," he cried, "if you would only give me an hour! I could tell you so much that you could use. And you can believe what I say, sir--it is not necessary to lie--God knows the truth is bad enough. I can give you names and dates for everything I say. Or I can do better than that, sir. I can take you there yourself--in three months I can show you all you need to see, without danger to you in any way. And they would not know me, now that I have grown a beard, and I am a skeleton to what I was.
I can speak the language well, and I know just what you should see, and then you could come back as one speaking with authority and not have to say, 'I have read,' or 'have been told,' but you can say, 'These are the things I have seen'--and you could free Cuba."
The senator coughed and put the question aside for the moment with a wave of the hand that held his cigar. "We will talk of that to-morrow also. Come to lunch with me at one. My apartments are in the Berkeley on Fifth Avenue. But aren't you afraid to go back there?" he asked curiously. "I should think you'd had enough of it. And you've got a touch of fever, haven't you?" He leaned forward and peered into the other's eyes.
"It is only the prison fever," the young man answered; "food and this cold will drive that out of me. And I must go back. There is so much to do there," he added. "Ah, if I could tell them, as you can tell them, what I feel here." He struck his chest sharply with his hand, and on the instant fell into a fit of coughing so violent that the young man at the carriage door caught him around the waist, and one of the policemen supported him from the other side.
"You need a doctor," said the senator kindly. "I'll ask mine to have a look at you. Don't forget, then, at one o'clock to- morrow. We will go into this thing thoroughly." He shook Arkwright warmly by the hand and stooping stepped into the carriage. The young man who had stood at the door followed him and crowded back luxuriously against the cushions. The footman swung himself up beside the driver, and said "Uptown Delmonico's," as he wrapped the fur rug around his legs, and with a salute from the policemen and a scraping of hoofs on the slippery asphalt the great man was gone.
"That poor fellow needs a doctor," he said as the carriage rolled up the avenue, "and he needs an overcoat, and he needs food. He needs about almost everything, by the looks of him."
But the voice of the young man in the corner of the carriage objected drowsily--
"On the contrary," he said, "it seemed to me that he had the one thing needful."
By one o'clock of the day following, Senator Stanton, having read the reports of his speech in the morning papers, punctuated with "Cheers," "Tremendous enthusiasm" and more "Cheers," was still in a willing frame of mind toward Cuba and her self-appointed envoy, young Mr. Arkwright.
Over night he had had doubts but that the young man's enthusiasm would bore him on the morrow, but Mr. Arkwright, when he appeared, developed, on the contrary, a practical turn of mind which rendered his suggestions both flattering and feasible. He was still terribly in earnest, but he was clever enough or serious enough to see that the motives which appealed to him might not have sufficient force to move a successful statesman into action. So he placed before the senator only those arguments and reasons which he guessed were the best adapted to secure his interest and his help. His proposal as he set it forth was simplicity itself.
"Here is a map of the island," he said; "on it I have marked the places you can visit in safety, and where you will meet the people you ought to see. If you leave New York at midnight you can reach Tampa on the second day. From Tampa we cross in another day to Havana. There you can visit the Americans imprisoned in Morro and Cabanas, and in the streets you can see the starving pacificos. From Havana I shall take you by rail to Jucaro, Matanzas, Santa Clara and Cienfuegos. You will not be able to see the insurgents in the fields--it is not necessary that you should--but you can visit one of the sugar plantations and some of the insurgent chiefs will run the forts by night and come in to talk with you. I will show you burning fields and houses, and starving men and women by the thousands, and men and women dying of fevers. You can see Cuban prisoners shot by a firing squad and you can note how these rebels meet death. You can see all this in three weeks and be back in New York in a month, as any one can see it who wishes to learn the truth. Why, English members of Parliament go all the way to India and British Columbia to inform themselves about those countries, they travel thousands of miles, but only one member of either of our houses of Congress has taken the trouble to cross these eighty miles of water that lie between us and Cuba. You can either go quietly and incognito, as it were, or you can advertise the fact of your going, which would be better. And from the moment you start the interest in your visit will grow and increase until there will be no topic discussed in any of our papers except yourself, and what you are doing and what you mean to do.
"By the time you return the people will be waiting, ready and eager to hear whatever you may have to say. Your word will be the last word for them. It is not as though you were some demagogue seeking notoriety, or a hotel piazza correspondent at Key West or Jacksonville. You are the only statesman we have, the only orator Americans will listen to, and I tell you that when you come before them and bring home to them as only you can the horrors of this war, you will be the only man in this country. You will be the Patrick Henry of Cuba; you can go down to history as the man who added the most beautiful island in the seas to the territory of the United States, who saved thousands of innocent children and women, and who dared to do what no other politician has dared to do--to go and see for himself and to come back and speak the truth. It only means a month out of your life, a month's trouble and discomfort, but with no risk. What is a month out of a lifetime, when that month means immortality to you and life to thousands? In a month you would make a half dozen after-dinner speeches and cause your friends to laugh and applaud. Why not wring their hearts instead, and hold this thing up before them as it is, and shake it in their faces? Show it to them in all its horror--bleeding, diseased and naked, an offence to our humanity, and to our prated love of liberty, and to our God."
The young man threw himself eagerly forward and beat the map with his open palm. But the senator sat apparently unmoved gazing thoughtfully into the open fire, and shook his head.
While the luncheon was in progress the young gentleman who the night before had left the carriage and stood at Arkwright's side, had entered the room and was listening intently. He had invited himself to some fresh coffee, and had then relapsed into an attentive silence, following what the others said with an amused and interested countenance. Stanton had introduced him as Mr. Livingstone, and appeared to take it for granted that Arkwright would know who he was. He seemed to regard him with a certain deference which Arkwright judged was due to some fixed position the young man held, either of social or of political value.
"I do not know," said Stanton with consideration, "that I am prepared to advocate the annexation of the island. It is a serious problem."
"I am not urging that," Arkwright interrupted anxiously; "the Cubans themselves do not agree as to that, and in any event it is an afterthought. Our object now should be to prevent further bloodshed. If you see a man beating a boy to death, you first save the boy's life and decide afterward where he is to go to school. If there were any one else, senator," Arkwright continued earnestly, "I would not trouble you. But we all know your strength in this country. You are independent and fearless, and men of both parties listen to you. Surely, God has given you this great gift of oratory, if you will forgive my speaking so, to use only in a great cause. A grand organ in a cathedral is placed there to lift men's thoughts to high resolves and purposes, not to make people dance. A street organ can do that. Now, here is a cause worthy of your great talents, worthy of a Daniel Webster, of a Henry Clay."
The senator frowned at the fire and shook his head doubtfully.
"If they knew what I was down there for," he asked, "wouldn't they put me in prison too?"
Arkwright laughed incredulously.
"Certainly not," he said; "you would go there as a private citizen, as a tourist to look on and observe. Spain is not seeking complications of that sort. She has troubles enough without imprisoning United States senators."
"Yes; but these fevers now," persisted Stanton, "they're no respecter of persons, I imagine. A United States senator is not above smallpox or cholera."
Arkwright shook his head impatiently and sighed.
"It is difficult to make it clear to one who has not been there," he said. "These people and soldiers are dying of fever because they are forced to live like pigs, and they are already sick with starvation. A healthy man like yourself would be in no more danger than you would be in walking through the wards of a New York hospital."
Senator Stanton turned in his armchair, and held up his hand impressively.
"If I were to tell them the things you have told me," he said warningly, "if I were to say I have seen such things--American property in flames, American interests ruined, and that five times as many women and children have died of fever and starvation in three months in Cuba as the Sultan has massacred in Armenia in three years--it would mean war with Spain."
"Well?" said Arkwright.
Stanton shrugged his shoulders and sank back again in his chair.
"It would either mean war," Arkwright went on, "or it might mean the sending of the Red Cross army to Cuba. It went to Constantinople, five thousand miles away, to help the Armenian Christians--why has it waited three years to go eighty miles to feed and clothe the Cuban women and children? It is like sending help to a hungry peasant in Russia while a man dies on your doorstep."
"Well," said the senator, rising, "I will let you know to-morrow.
If it is the right thing to do, and if I can do it, of course it must be done. We start from Tampa, you say? I know the presidents of all of those roads and they'll probably give me a private car for the trip down. Shall we take any newspaper men with us, or shall I wait until I get back and be interviewed? What do you think?"
"I would wait until my return," Arkwright answered, his eyes glowing with the hope the senator's words had inspired, "and then speak to a mass-meeting here and in Boston and in Chicago. Three speeches will be enough. Before you have finished your last one the American warships will be in the harbor of Havana."
"Ah, youth, youth!" said the senator, smiling gravely, "it is no light responsibility to urge a country into war."
"It is no light responsibility," Arkwright answered, "to know you have the chance to save the lives of thousands of little children and helpless women and to let the chance pass."
"Quite so, that is quite true," said the senator. "Well, good- morning. I shall let you know to-morrow."
Young Livingstone went down in the elevator with Arkwright, and when they had reached the sidewalk stood regarding him for a moment in silence.
"You mustn't count too much on Stanton, you know," he said kindly; "he has a way of disappointing people."
"Ah, he can never disappoint me," Arkwright answered confidently, "no matter how much I expected. Besides, I have already heard him speak."
"I don't mean that, I don't mean he is disappointing as a speaker. Stanton is a great orator, I think. Most of those Southerners are, and he's the only real orator I ever heard. But what I mean is, that he doesn't go into things impulsively; he first considers himself, and then he considers every other side of the question before he commits himself to it. Before he launches out on a popular wave he tries to find out where it is going to land him. He likes the sort of popular wave that carries him along with it where every one can see him; he doesn't fancy being hurled up on the beach with his mouth full of sand."
"You are saying that he is selfish, self-seeking?" Arkwright demanded with a challenge in his voice. "I thought you were his friend."
"Yes, he is selfish, and yes, I am his friend," the young man answered, smiling; "at least, he seems willing to be mine. I am saying nothing against him that I have not said to him. If you'll come back with me up the elevator I'll tell him he's a self-seeker and selfish, and with no thought above his own interests. He won't mind. He'd say I cannot comprehend his motives. Why, you've only to look at his record. When the Venezuelan message came out he attacked the President and declared he was trying to make political capital and to drag us into war, and that what we wanted was arbitration; but when the President brought out the Arbitration Treaty he attacked that too in the Senate and destroyed it. Why? Not because he had convictions, but because the President had refused a foreign appointment to a friend of his in the South. He has been a free silver man for the last ten years, he comes from a free silver state, and the members of the legislature that elected him were all for silver, but this last election his Wall Street friends got hold of him and worked on his feelings, and he repudiated his party, his state, and his constituents and came out for gold."
"Well, but surely," Arkwright objected, "that took courage? To own that for ten years you had been wrong, and to come out for the right at the last."
Livingstone stared and shrugged his shoulders. "It's all a question of motives," he said indifferently. "I don't want to shatter your idol; I only want to save you from counting too much on him."
When Arkwright called on the morrow Senator Stanton was not at home, and the day following he was busy, and could give him only a brief interview. There were previous engagements and other difficulties in the way of his going which he had not foreseen, he said, and he feared he should have to postpone his visit to Cuba indefinitely. He asked if Mr. Arkwright would be so kind as to call again within a week; he would then be better able to give him a definite answer.
Arkwright left the apartment with a sensation of such keen disappointment that it turned him ill and dizzy. He felt that the great purpose of his life was being played with and put aside. But he had not selfish resentment on his own account; he was only the more determined to persevere. He considered new arguments and framed new appeals; and one moment blamed himself bitterly for having foolishly discouraged the statesman by too vivid pictures of the horrors he might encounter, and the next, questioned if he had not been too practical and so failed because he had not made the terrible need of immediate help his sole argument. Every hour wasted in delay meant, as he knew, the sacrifice of many lives, and there were other, more sordid and more practical, reasons for speedy action. For his supply of money was running low and there was now barely enough remaining to carry him through the month of travel he had planned to take at Stanton's side. What would happen to him when that momentous trip was over was of no consequence. He would have done the work as far as his small share in it lay, he would have set in motion a great power that was to move Congress and the people of the United States to action. If he could but do that, what became of him counted for nothing.
But at the end of the week his fears and misgivings were scattered gloriously and a single line from the senator set his heart leaping and brought him to his knees in gratitude and thanksgiving. On returning one afternoon to the mean lodging into which he had moved to save his money, he found a telegram from Stanton and he tore it open trembling between hope and fear.
"Have arranged to leave for Tampa with you Monday, at midnight" it read. "Call for me at ten o'clock same evening.--Stanton."
Arkwright read the message three times. There was a heavy, suffocating pressure at his heart as though it had ceased beating. He sank back limply upon the edge of his bed and clutching the piece of paper in his two hands spoke the words aloud triumphantly as though to assure himself that they were true. Then a flood of unspeakable relief, of happiness and gratitude, swept over him, and he turned and slipped to the floor, burying his face in the pillow, and wept out his thanks upon his knees.
A man so deeply immersed in public affairs as was Stanton and with such a multiplicity of personal interests, could not prepare to absent himself for a month without his intention becoming known, and on the day when he was to start for Tampa the morning newspapers proclaimed the fact that he was about to visit Cuba. They gave to his mission all the importance and display that Arkwright had foretold. Some of the newspapers stated that he was going as a special commissioner of the President to study and report; others that he was acting in behalf of the Cuban legation in Washington and had plenipotentiary powers. Opposition organs suggested that he was acting in the interests of the sugar trust, and his own particular organ declared that it was his intention to free Cuba at the risk of his own freedom, safety, and even life.
The Spanish minister in Washington sent a cable for publication to Madrid, stating that a distinguished American statesman was about to visit Cuba, to investigate, and, later, to deny the truth of the disgraceful libels published concerning the Spanish officials on the island by the papers of the United States. At the same time he cabled in cipher to the captain- general in Havana to see that the distinguished statesman was closely spied upon from the moment of his arrival until his departure, and to place on the "suspect" list all Americans and Cubans who ventured to give him any information.
The afternoon papers enlarged on the importance of the visit and on the good that would surely come of it. They told that Senator Stanton had refused to be interviewed or to disclose the object of his journey. But it was enough, they said, that some one in authority was at last to seek out the truth, and added that no one would be listened to with greater respect than would the Southern senator. On this all the editorial writers were agreed.
The day passed drearily for Arkwright. Early in the morning he packed his valise and paid his landlord, and for the remainder of the day walked the streets or sat in the hotel corridor waiting impatiently for each fresh edition of the papers. In them he read the signs of the great upheaval of popular feeling that was to restore peace and health and plenty to the island for which he had given his last three years of energy and life.
He was trembling with excitement, as well as with the cold, when at ten o'clock precisely he stood at Senator Stanton's door. He had forgotten to eat his dinner, and the warmth of the dimly lit hall and the odor of rich food which was wafted from an inner room touched his senses with tantalizing comfort.
"The senator says you are to come this way, sir," the servant directed. He took Arkwright's valise from his hand and parted the heavy curtains that hid the dining-room, and Arkwright stepped in between them and then stopped in some embarrassment. He found himself in the presence of a number of gentlemen seated at a long dinner-table, who turned their heads as he entered and peered at him through the smoke that floated in light layers above the white cloth. The dinner had been served, but the senator's guests still sat with their chairs pushed back from a table lighted by candles under yellow shades, and covered with beautiful flowers and with bottles of varied sizes in stands of quaint and intricate design. Senator Stanton's tall figure showed dimly through the smoke, and his deep voice hailed Arkwright cheerily from the farther end of the room. "This way, Mr. Arkwright," he said. "I have a chair waiting for you here." He grasped Arkwright's hand warmly and pulled him into the vacant place at his side. An elderly gentleman on Arkwright's other side moved to make more room for him and shoved a liqueur glass toward him with a friendly nod and pointed at an open box of cigars. He was a fine-looking man, and Arkwright noticed that he was regarding him with a glance of the keenest interest. All of those at the table were men of twice Arkwright's age, except Livingstone, whom he recognized and who nodded to him pleasantly and at the same time gave an order to a servant, pointing at Arkwright as he did so. Some of the gentlemen wore their business suits, and one opposite Arkwright was still in his overcoat, and held his hat in his hand. These latter seemed to have arrived after the dinner had begun, for they formed a second line back of those who had places at the table; they all seemed to know one another and were talking with much vivacity and interest.
Stanton did not attempt to introduce Arkwright to his guests individually, but said: "Gentlemen, this is Mr. Arkwright, of whom I have been telling you, the young gentleman who has done such magnificent work for the cause of Cuba." Those who caught Arkwright's eye nodded to him, and others raised their glasses at him, but with a smile that he could not understand. It was as though they all knew something concerning him of which he was ignorant. He noted that the faces of some were strangely familiar, and he decided that he must have seen their portraits in the public prints. After he had introduced Arkwright, the senator drew his chair slightly away from him and turned in what seemed embarrassment to the man on his other side. The elderly gentleman next to Arkwright filled his glass, a servant placed a small cup of coffee at his elbow, and he lit a cigar and looked about him.
"You must find this weather very trying after the tropics," his neighbor said.
Arkwright assented cordially. The brandy was flowing through his veins and warming him; he forgot that he was hungry, and the kind, interested glances of those about him set him at his ease. It was a propitious start, he thought, a pleasant leave-taking for the senator and himself, full of good will and good wishes.
He turned toward Stanton and waited until he had ceased speaking.
"The papers have begun well, haven't they?" he asked, eagerly.
He had spoken in a low voice, almost in a whisper, but those about the table seemed to have heard him, for there was silence instantly and when he glanced up he saw the eyes of all turned upon him and he noticed on their faces the same smile he had seen there when he entered.
"Yes," Stanton answered constrainedly. "Yes, I--" he lowered his voice, but the silence still continued. Stanton had his eyes fixed on the table, but now he frowned and half rose from his chair.
"I want to speak with you, Arkwright," he said. "Suppose we go into the next room. I'll be back in a moment," he added, nodding to the others.
But the man on his right removed his cigar from his lips and said in an undertone, "No, sit down, stay where you are;" and the elderly gentleman at Arkwright's side laid his hand detainingly on his arm. "Oh, you won't take Mr. Arkwright away from us, Stanton?" he asked, smiling.
Stanton shrugged his shoulders and sat down again, and there was a moment's pause. It was broken by the man in the overcoat, who laughed.
"He's paying you a compliment, Mr. Arkwright," he said. He pointed with his cigar to the gentleman at Arkwright's side.
"I don't understand," Arkwright answered doubtfully.
"It's a compliment to your eloquence--he's afraid to leave you alone with the senator. Livingstone's been telling us that you are a better talker than Stanton." Arkwright turned a troubled countenance toward the men about the table, and then toward Livingstone, but that young man had his eyes fixed gravely on the glasses before him and did not raise them.
Arkwright felt a sudden, unreasonable fear of the circle of strong-featured, serene and confident men about him. They seemed to be making him the subject of a jest, to be enjoying something among themselves of which he was in ignorance, but which concerned him closely. He turned a white face toward Stanton.
"You don't mean," he began piteously, "that--that you are not going? Is that it--tell me--is that what you wanted to say?"
Stanton shifted in his chair and muttered some words between his lips, then turned toward Arkwright and spoke quite clearly and distinctly.
"I am very sorry, Mr. Arkwright," he said, "but I am afraid I'll have to disappoint you. Reasons I cannot now explain have arisen which make my going impossible--quite impossible," he added firmly--"not only now, but later," he went on quickly, as Arkwright was about to interrupt him.
Arkwright made no second attempt to speak. He felt the muscles of his face working and the tears coming to his eyes, and to hide his weakness he twisted in his chair and sat staring ahead of him with his back turned to the table. He heard Livingstone's voice break the silence with some hurried question, and immediately his embarrassment was hidden in a murmur of answers and the moving of glasses as the men shifted in their chairs and the laughter and talk went on as briskly as before. Arkwright saw a sideboard before him and a servant arranging some silver on one of the shelves. He watched the man do this with a concentrated interest as though the dull, numbed feeling in his brain caught at the trifle in order to put off, as long as possible, the consideration of the truth.
And then beyond the sideboard and the tapestry on the wall above it, he saw the sun shining down upon the island of Cuba, he saw the royal palms waving and bending, the dusty columns of Spanish infantry crawling along the white roads and leaving blazing huts and smoking cane-fields in their wake; he saw skeletons of men and women seeking for food among the refuse of the street; he heard the order given to the firing squad, the splash of the bullets as they scattered the plaster on the prison wall, and he saw a kneeling figure pitch forward on its face, with a useless bandage tied across its sightless eyes.
Senator Stanton brought him back with a sharp shake of the shoulder. He had also turned his back on the others, and was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. He spoke rapidly, and in a voice only slightly raised above a whisper.
"I am more than sorry, Arkwright," he said earnestly. "You mustn't blame me altogether. I have had a hard time of it this afternoon. I wanted to go. I really wanted to go. The thing appealed to me, it touched me, it seemed as if I owed it to myself to do it. But they were too many for me," he added with a backward toss of his head toward the men around his table.
"If the papers had not told on me I could have got well away," he went on in an eager tone, "but as soon as they read of it, they came here straight from their offices. You know who they are, don't you?" he asked, and even in his earnestness there was an added touch of importance in his tone as he spoke the name of his party's leader, of men who stood prominently in Wall Street and who were at the head of great trusts.
"You see how it is," he said with a shrug of his shoulders. "They have enormous interests at stake. They said I would drag them into war, that I would disturb values, that the business interests of the country would suffer. I'm under obligations to most of them, they have advised me in financial matters, and they threatened--they threatened to make it unpleasant for me." His voice hardened and he drew in his breath quickly, and laughed. "You wouldn't understand if I were to tell you. It's rather involved. And after all, they may be right, agitation may be bad for the country. And your party leader after all is your party leader, isn't he, and if he says 'no' what are you to do? My sympathies are just as keen for these poor women and children as ever, but as these men say, 'charity begins at home,' and we mustn't do anything to bring on war prices again, or to send stocks tumbling about our heads, must we?" He leaned back in his chair again and sighed. "Sympathy is an expensive luxury, I find," he added.
Arkwright rose stiffly and pushed Stanton away from him with his hand. He moved like a man coming out of a dream.
"Don't talk to me like that," he said in a low voice. The noise about the table ended on the instant, but Arkwright did not notice that it had ceased. "You know I don't understand that," he went on; "what does it matter to me!" He put his hand up to the side of his face and held it there, looking down at Stanton. He had the dull, heavy look in his eyes of a man who has just come through an operation under some heavy drug. "'Wall Street,' 'trusts,' 'party leaders,'" he repeated, "what are they to me? The words don't reach me, they have lost their meaning, it is a language I have forgotten, thank God!" he added. He turned and moved his eyes around the table, scanning the faces of the men before him.
"Yes, you are twelve to one," he said at last, still speaking dully and in a low voice, as though he were talking to himself. "You have won a noble victory, gentlemen. I congratulate you. But I do not blame you, we are all selfish and self-seeking. I thought I was working only for Cuba, but I was working for myself, just as you are. I wanted to feel that it was I who had helped to bring relief to that plague-spot, that it was through my efforts the help had come. Yes, if he had done as I asked, I suppose I would have taken the credit."
He swayed slightly, and to steady himself caught at the back of his chair. But at the same moment his eyes glowed fiercely and he held himself erect again. He pointed with his finger at the circle of great men who sat looking up at him in curious silence.
"You are like a ring of gamblers around a gaming table," he cried wildly, "who see nothing but the green cloth and the wheel and the piles of money before them, who forget in watching the money rise and fall, that outside the sun is shining, that human beings are sick and suffering, that men are giving their lives for an idea, for a sentiment, for a flag. You are the money- changers in the temple of this great republic and the day will come, I pray to God, when you will be scourged and driven out with whips. Do you think you can form combines and deals that will cheat you into heaven? Can your 'trusts' save your souls-- is 'Wall Street' the strait and narrow road to salvation?"
The men about the table leaned back and stared at Arkwright in as great amazement as though he had violently attempted an assault upon their pockets, or had suddenly gone mad in their presence. Some of them frowned, and others appeared not to have heard, and others smiled grimly and waited for him to continue as though they were spectators at a play.
The political leader broke the silence with a low aside to Stanton. "Does the gentleman belong to the Salvation Army?" he asked.
Arkwright whirled about and turned upon him fiercely.
"Old gods give way to new gods," he cried. "Here is your brother. I am speaking for him. Do you ever think of him? How dare you sneer at me?" he cried. "You can crack your whip over that man's head and turn him from what in his heart and conscience he knows is right; you can crack your whip over the men who call themselves free-born American citizens and who have made you their boss--sneer at them if you like, but you have no collar on my neck. If you are a leader, why don't you lead your people to what is good and noble? Why do you stop this man in the work God sent him here to do? You would make a party hack of him, a political prostitute, something lower than the woman who walks the streets. She sells her body--this man is selling his soul."
He turned, trembling and quivering, and shook his finger above the upturned face of the senator.
"What have you done with your talents, Stanton?" he cried. "What have you done with your talents?"
The man in the overcoat struck the table before him with his fist so that the glasses rang.
"By God," he laughed, "I call him a better speaker than Stanton! Livingstone's right, he is better than Stanton--but he lacks Stanton's knack of making himself popular," he added. He looked around the table inviting approbation with a smile, but no one noticed him, nor spoke to break the silence.
Arkwright heard the words dully and felt that he was being mocked. He covered his face with his hands and stood breathing brokenly; his body was still trembling with an excitement he could not master.
Stanton rose from his chair and shook him by the shoulder. "Are you mad, Arkwright?" he cried. "You have no right to insult my guests or me. Be calm--control yourself."
"What does it matter what I say?" Arkwright went on desperately. "I am mad. Yes, that is it, I am mad. They have won and I have lost, and it drove me beside myself. I counted on you. I knew that no one else could let my people go. But I'll not trouble you again. I wish you good-night, sir, and good-bye. If I have been unjust, you must forget it."
He turned sharply, but Stanton placed a detaining hand on his shoulder. "Wait," he commanded querulously; "where are you going? Will you, still--?"
Arkwright bowed his head. "Yes," he answered. "I have but just time now to catch our train--my train, I mean."
He looked up at Stanton and taking his hand in both of his, drew the man toward him. All the wildness and intolerance in his manner had passed, and as he raised his eyes they were full of a firm resolve.
"Come," he said simply; "there is yet time. Leave these people behind you. What can you answer when they ask what have you done with your talents?"
"Good God, Arkwright," the senator exclaimed angrily, pulling his hand away; "don't talk like a hymn-book, and don't make another scene. What you ask is impossible. Tell me what I can do to help you in any other way, and--"
"Come," repeated the young man firmly.
"The world may judge you by what you do to-night."
Stanton looked at the boy for a brief moment with a strained and eager scrutiny, and then turned away abruptly and shook his head in silence, and Arkwright passed around the table and on out of the room.
A month later, as the Southern senator was passing through the reading-room of the Union Club, Livingstone beckoned to him, and handing him an afternoon paper pointed at a paragraph in silence.
The paragraph was dated Sagua la Grande, and read:
"The body of Henry Arkwright, an American civil engineer, was brought into Sagua to-day by a Spanish column. It was found lying in a road three miles beyond the line of forts. Arkwright was surprised by a guerilla force while attempting to make his way to the insurgent camp, and on resisting was shot. The body has been handed over to the American consul for interment. It is badly mutilated."
Stanton lowered the paper and stood staring out of the window at the falling snow and the cheery lights and bustling energy of the avenue.
"Poor fellow," he said, "he wanted so much to help them. And he didn't accomplish anything, did he?"
Livingstone stared at the older man and laughed shortly.
"Well, I don't know," he said. "He died. Some of us only live."