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"ONLY AN OLD JOKE"
On the train going home, I was nearer to castle-building than at any time since my boyhood castles collapsed under the rude blows of practical life.
My paths have not always been straight and open, said I to myself; like all others who have won in the conditions of this world of man still thrall to the brute, I have had to use the code of the jungle. In climbing I have had to stoop, at times to crawl. But, now that I have reached the top, I shall stand erect. I shall show that the sordidness of the struggle has not unfitted me to use the victory. True, there are the many and heavy political debts I've had to contract in getting Burbank the presidency; and as we must have a second term to round out our work, we shall be compelled to make some further compromises. We must still deal with men on the terms which human nature exacts. But in the main we can and we will do what is just and right, what helps to realize the dreams of the men and women who founded our country--the men and women like my father and mother.
And my mother's grave, beside my father's and among the graves of my sisters and my grandparents, rose before me. And I recalled the pledge I had made there, in the boyish beginnings of my manhood and my career. "My chance and Burbank's," said I, "comes just in time. We are now at the age where reputation is fixed; and our children are growing up and will soon begin to judge us and be judged from us."
Years of patient sowing, thought I, and at last the harvest! And what a harvest it will be! For under the teachings of experience I have sown not starlight and moonshine, but seeds.
The next morning I could not rise; it was six weeks before I was able to leave my bed. During that savage illness I met each and every one of the reckless drafts I had been drawing against my reserve vitality. Four times the doctors gave me up; once even Frances lost hope. When I was getting well she confessed to me how she had warned God that He need never expect to hear from her again if her prayer for me were not answered--and I saw she rather suspected that her threat was not unassociated with my recovery.
Eight weeks out of touch with affairs, and they the crucial eight weeks of all my years of thought and action! At last the harvest, indeed; and I was reaping what I had sown.
In the second week of January I revolted against the doctors and nurses and had my political secretary, Wheelock, telephone for Woodruff--the legislature had elected him to the Senate three days before. When he had sat with me long enough to realize that I could bear bad news, he said: "Goodrich and Burbank have formed a combination against you."
"How do you know?" said I, showing no surprise, and feeling none.
"Because"--he laughed--"I was in it. At least, they thought so until they had let me be safely elected. As nearly as I can make it out, they began to plot about ten days after you fell sick. At first they had it on the slate to do me up, too. But--the day after Christmas--Burbank sent for me--"
"Wait a minute," I interrupted. And I began to think. It was on Christmas day that Burbank telephoned for the first time in nearly three weeks, inquiring about my condition. I remembered their telling me how minute his questionings were. And I had thought his solicitude was proof of his friendship! Instead, he had been inquiring to make sure about the reports in the papers that I was certain to recover, in order that he might shift the factors in his plot accordingly. "When did you say Burbank sent for you?" I asked.
"On Christmas day," Woodruff replied.
I laughed; he looked at me inquiringly. "Nothing," said I. "Only an old joke--as old as human nature. Go on."
"Christmas day," he continued; "I didn't get to him until next morning. I can't figure out just why they invited me into their combine."
But I could figure it out, easily. If I had died, my power would have disintegrated and Woodruff would have been of no use to them. When they were sure I was going to live, they had to have him because he might be able to assassinate me, certainly could so cripple me that I would--as they reasoned--be helpless under their assaults. But it wasn't necessary to tell Woodruff this, I thought.
"Well," said I, "and what happened?"
"Burbank gave me a dose of his 'great and gracious way'--you ought to see the 'side' he puts on now!--and turned me over to Goodrich. He had been mighty careful not to give himself away any further than that. Then Goodrich talked to me for three solid hours, showing me it was my duty to the party as well as to myself to join him and Burbank in eliminating the one disturber of harmony--that meant you."
"And didn't they tell you they'd destroy you if you didn't?"
"Oh, that of course," he answered indifferently.
"Well, what did you do?"
"Played with 'em till I was elected. Then I dropped Goodrich a line. 'You can go to hell,' I wrote. 'I travel only with men'."
"Very imprudent," was my comment.
"Yes," he admitted, "but I had to do something to get the dirt off my hands."
"So Burbank has gone over to Goodrich!" I went on presently, as much to myself as to him.
"I always knew he was one of those chaps you have to keep scared to keep straight," said Woodruff. "They think your politeness indicates fear and your friendship fright. Besides, he's got a delusion that his popularity carried the West for him and that you and I did him only damage." Woodruff interrupted himself to laugh. "A friend of mine," he resumed, "was on the train with Scarborough when he went East to the meeting of Congress last month. He tells me it was like a President-elect on the way to be inaugurated. The people turned out at every cross-roads, even beyond the Alleghanies. And Burbank knows it. If he wasn't clean daft about himself he'd realize that if it hadn't been for you--well, I'd hate to say how badly he'd have got left. But then, if it hadn't been for you, he'd never have been governor. He was a dead one, and you hauled him out of the tomb."
True enough. But what did it matter now?
"He's going to get a horrible jolt before many months," Woodruff went on. "I can see you after him."
"You forget. He's President," I answered. "He's beyond our reach."
"Not when he wants a renomination," insisted Woodruff.
"He can get that without us--if," I said. "You must remember we've made him a fetish with our rank and file. And he's something of a fetish with the country, now that he's President. No, we can't destroy him--can't even injure him. He'll have to do that himself, if it's done. Besides--"
I did not finish. I did not care to confess that since Frances and I saw Granby swinging from that tree in my grounds I had neither heart nor stomach for the relentless side of the game. Indeed, whether from calculation or from sentimentality or from both--or, from a certain sympathy and fellow feeling for all kinds of weakness--I have never pursued those who have played me false, except when exemplary punishment was imperative.
"Well--" Woodruff looked bitterly disappointed. "I guess you're right." He brightened. "I forgot Goodrich for a minute. Burbank'll do himself up through that--I'd have to be in a saloon to feel free to use the language that describes him."
"I fear he will," I said. And it was not a hypocrisy--for I did not, and could not, feel anger toward him. Had I not cut this staff deliberately because it was crooked? What more natural than that it should give way under me as soon as I leaned upon it?
"Your sickness certainly couldn't have come at an unluckier time," Woodruff observed just before he left.
"I'm not sure of that," was my reply. "It would have been useless to have found him out sooner. And if he had hidden himself until later, he might have done us some serious mischief."
As he was the President-elect, to go to him uninvited would have been infringement of his dignity as well as of my pride. A few days later I wrote him, thanking him for his messages and inquiries during my illness and saying that I was once more taking part in affairs. He did not reply by calling me up on the telephone, as he would have done in the cordial, intimate years preceding his grandeur. Instead he sent a telegram of congratulation, following it with a note. He urged me to go South, as I had planned, and to stay until I was fully restored. "I shall deny myself the pleasure of seeing you until you return." That sentence put off our meeting indefinitely--I could see him smiling at its adroitness as he wrote it.
But he made his state of mind even clearer. His custom had been to begin his notes "Dear Harvey," or "Dear Sayler," and to end them "James" or "Burbank." This note began "My dear Senator"; it ended, "Yours sincerely, James E. Burbank." As I stared at these phrases my blood steamed in my brain. Had he spat in my face my fury would have been less, far less. "So!" I thought in the first gush of anger, "you feel that you have been using me, that you have no further use for me. You have decided to take the advice of those idiotic independent newspapers and 'wash your hands of the corruptionist who almost defeated you'."
To make war upon him was in wisdom impossible--even had I wished. And when anger flowed away and pity and contempt succeeded, I really did not wish to war upon him. But there was Goodrich--the real corruptionist, the wrecker of my plans and hopes, the menace to the future of the party. I sent for Woodruff and together we mapped out a campaign against the senior senator from New Jersey in all the newspapers we could control or influence. I gave him a free hand to use--with his unfailing discretion, of course--all the facts we had accumulated to Goodrich's discredit. I put at his disposal a hundred thousand dollars. As every available dollar of the party funds had been used in the campaign, I advanced this money from my own pocket.
And I went cheerfully away to Palm Beach, there to watch at my ease the rain of shot and shell upon my enemy.
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