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After Samuel had left Dr. Vince, a great wave of desolation swept over him. He was alone again, and all the world was against him!
For a moment he had an impulse to turn back. After all, he was only a boy; and who was he, to set himself up against the wise and great? But then like a stab, came again the thought which drove him always--the thought of the people, suffering and starving! Truly it was better to die than to live in a world in which there was so much misery and oppression! That was the truth, he would rather die than let these things go on unopposed. And so there could be no turning back-there was nothing for him save to do what he could.
Where should he begin? He thought of Mr. Hickman--a most unpromising person to work with. Samuel had been afraid of him from the first time he had seen him.
Then he thought of Mr. Wygant; should he begin with him? This brought to his mind something which had been driven away by the rush of events. Miss Gladys! How would she take these things? And what would she think when she learned about her father's wickedness?
A new idea came to Samuel. Why should he not take Miss Gladys into his confidence? She would be the one to help him. She had helped him with Sophie; and she had promised to help with Master Albert. And surely it was her right to know about matters which concerned her family so nearly. She would know what was best, so far as concerned her own father; he would take her advice as to how to approach him.
He went to the house and asked for Sophie.
"Tell Miss Gladys that I want to see her," he said; "and that it's something very, very important."
So Sophie went away, and returning, took him upstairs.
"Samuel," said his divinity, "it isn't safe for you to come to see me in the afternoons."
"Yes, Miss Gladys," said he. "But this is something very serious. It's got nothing to do with myself."
"What is it?" she asked.
"It's your father, Miss Gladys."
"Yes, Miss Gladys. It's a long story. I shall have to begin at the beginning."
So he told the story of his coming to the church, and of the fervor which had seized upon him, and how he had set to work to bring converts into the fold; and how he had met a wicked man who had resisted his faith, and of all the dreadful things which this man had said. When he came to what Charlie Swift had told about her own father, Samuel was disposed to expurgate the story; but Miss Gladys would have it all, and seemed even to be disappointed that he had not more details to give her.
"And Hickman!" she exclaimed gleefully. "I always knew he was an old scamp! I'll wager you haven't found out the hundredth part about him, Samuel!"
Samuel went on to tell about the revelation at Callahan's.
"And you took that to Dr. Vince!" she cried amazed.
"Yes," said he.
"And what did he say?"
"He wouldn't have anything to do with it. And so it's all left to me."
"And what are you going to do now?"
"I don't know, Miss Gladys. For one thing, I think I shall have to see your father."
"See my father!" gasped the girl.
"Yes, Miss Gladys."
"But what for?"
"To try to get him to see how wicked these things are."
The other was staring at him with wide-open, startled eyes. "Do you mean," she cried, "that you want to go to my father and talk to him about what he's doing in politics?"
"Why, yes, Miss Gladys--what else can I do?"
And Miss Gladys took out her handkerchief, and leaned down upon the table, hiding her face. She was overcome with some emotion, the nature of which was not apparent.
The boy was naturally alarmed. "Miss Gladys!" he cried. "You aren't angry with me?"
She answered, in a muffled voice, "No, Samuel--no!"
Then she looked up, her face somewhat red. "Go and see him, Samuel!" she said.
"You don't mind?" he cried anxiously.
"No, not in the least," she said. "Go right ahead and see what you can do. He's a very bad, worldly man; and if you can soften his heart, it will be the best thing for all of us."
"And it won't make any difference in our relationship?" he asked.
"In our relationship?" she repeated; and then, "Not in the least. But mind, of course, don't say anything about that to him. Don't give him any idea that you know me!"
"Of course not, Miss Gladys."
"Tell him that you come from the church. And give it to him good and hard, Samuel--for I'm sure he's done everything you told me, and lots that is worse."
"Miss Gladys!" gasped the other.
"And mind, Samuel!" she added. "Come and tell me about it afterwards. Perhaps I can advise you what to do next."
There was a pause, while the two looked at each other. And then in a sudden burst of emotion Miss Gladys exclaimed, "Oh, Samuel, you are an angel!"
And she broke into a peal of laughter; and swiftly, like a bird upon the wing, she leaned toward him, and touched his cheek with her lips. And then, like a flash, she was gone; and Samuel was left alone with his bewilderment.
Samuel set out forthwith for Mr. Wygant's office. But just before he came to the bridge Mr. Wygant's automobile flashed past him; and so he turned and went back to the house.
This time he went to the front door. "I am Samuel Prescott, from St. Matthew's Church," he said to the butler. "And I want to see Mr. Wygant upon important business."
Mr. Wygant sat in a great armchair by one of the windows in his library. About him was the most elaborate collection of books that Samuel had yet seen; and in the luxurious room was an atmosphere of profound and age-long calm. Mr. Wygant himself was tall and stately, with an indescribable air of exclusiveness and reserve.
Samuel clenched his hands and rushed at once to the attack. "I am Samuel Prescott, the sexton's boy at the church," he said; "and I have to talk to you about something very, VERY serious."
"Well?" said Mr. Wygant.
Then Samuel told yet again how he had been led into evil ways, and how he had been converted by Dr. Vince. He told the story in detail, so that the other might comprehend his fervor. Then he told of the converts he had made, and how at last he had encountered Charlie Swift. "And this man would not come into the church," he wound up, "because of the wicked people who are in it."
The other had been listening with perplexed interest. "Who are these people?" he asked.
"Yourself for one," said Samuel.
Mr. Wygant started. "Myself!" he exclaimed. "What have I done?"
"For one thing," replied Samuel, "you work little children in your mill, and you named the State senator to beat the child-labor bill. And for another, you make speeches and pose as a political reformer, while you are paying money to Slattery, so that he will give you franchises."
There was a silence, while Mr. Wygant got back his breath. "Young man," he cried at last, "this is a most incredible piece of impertinence!"
And suddenly the boy started toward him, stretching out his arms. "Mr. Wygant!" he cried. "You are going to be angry with me! But I beg you not to harden your heart! I have come here for your own good! I came because I couldn't bear to know that such things are done by a member of St. Matthew's Church!"
For a moment or two Mr. Wygant sat staring. "Let me ask you one thing," he said. "Does Dr. Vince know about this?"
"I went to Dr. Vince about it first," replied Samuel. "And he wouldn't do anything about it. He said that if I came to you, I must make it clear that he did not approve of it. I have come of my own free will, sir."
There was another pause. "You are going to be angry with me!" cried Samuel, again.
"No," said the other, "I will not be angry--because you are nothing but a child, and you don't know what you are doing."
"Oh!" said Samuel.
"You are very much in need of a little knowledge of life," added the other.
"But, Mr. Wygant," exclaimed the boy, "the things I have said are true!"
"They are true--after a fashion," was the reply.
"And they are very wrong things!"
"They seem so to you. That is because you know so little about such matters."
"You are corrupting the government of your country, Mr. Wygant!"
"The government of my country, as you call it, consisting of a number of blackmailing politicians, who exist to prey upon the business I represent."
There was a pause. "You see, young man," said Mr. Wygant, "I have many responsibilities upon my shoulders--many interests looking to me for protection. And it is as if I were surrounded by a pack of wolves."
"But meantime," cried Samuel, "what is becoming of free government?"
"I do not know," the other replied. "I sometimes think that unless the people reform, free government will soon come to an end."
"But what are the people to do, sir?"
"They are to elect honest men, with whom one can do business--instead of the peasant saloon keepers and blatherskite labor leaders whom they choose at present."
Samuel thought for a moment. "Men with whom one can do business," he said--"but what kind of business do you want to do?"
"How do you mean?" asked the other.
"You went to those politicians and got a franchise that will let you tax the people whatever you please for ninety-nine years. And do you think that was good business for the people?"
There was no reply to this.
"And how much of the property you are protecting was made in such ways as that, sir?"
A frown had come upon Mr. Wygant's forehead. But no one could gaze into Samuel's agonized face and remain angry.
"Young man," said he. "I can only tell you again that you do not know the world. If I should step out, would things be any different? The franchises would go to some other crowd--that is all. It is the competition of capital."
"The competition of capital," reflected the boy. "In other words, there is a scramble for money, and you get what you can!"
"You may put it that way, sir."
"And you think that your responsibility ends when you've got a share for your crowd!"
"Yes--I suppose that is it."
There was a pause. "I see perfectly," said Samuel, in a low voice. "There's only one thing I can't understand."
"What is that?"
"Why you should belong to the church, sir? What has this money scramble to do with the teaching of Jesus?"
And then Samuel saw that he had overstepped the mark. "Really, young man," said Mr. Wygant, "I cannot see what is to be gained by pursuing this conversation."
"But, sir, you are degrading the church!"
"The subject must be dropped!" said Mr. Wygant sternly. "You are presuming upon my good nature. You are forgetting your place."
"I have been reminded of my place before," said Samuel, in a suppressed voice. "But I do not know what my place is."
"That is quite evident," responded the other. "It is your place to do your work, and be respectful to your superiors, and keep your opinions to yourself."
"I see that you will get angry with me," said the boy, "I can't make you understand--I am only trying to find the truth. I want to do what's right, Mr. Wygant!"
"I suppose you do," began the other--
"I want to understand, sir--just what is it that makes another person my superior?"
"People who are older than you, and who are wiser--"
"But is it age and wisdom, Mr. Wygant? I worked for Master Albert Lockman, and he's hardly any older than I. And yet he was my superior!"
"Yes," admitted the other--
"And in spite of the wicked life that he's leading, sir!"
"Yes, Mr. Wygant--he's drinking, and going with bad women. And yet he is my superior."
"Ahem!" said Mr. Wygant.
"Isn't it simply that he has got a lot of money?" pursued Samuel relentlessly.
Mr. Wygant did not reply.
"And isn't my 'place' simply the fact that I haven't any money at all?"
Again there was no reply.
"And yet, I see the truth, and I have to speak it! And how can I get to a 'place' where I may?"
"Really," said Mr. Wygant coldly, "you will have to solve that problem for yourself."
"Apparently, I should have to take part in the scramble for money--if it's only money that counts."
"Young man," said the other, "I feel sorry for you--you will get some hard knocks from the world before you get through. You will have to learn to take life as you find it. Perhaps many of us would make it different, if we could have our way. But you will find that life is a hard battle. It is a struggle for existence, and the people who survive are the ones who are best fitted--"
And suddenly Samuel raised his hand. "I thank you, Mr. Wygant," he said gravely, "but I have been all through that part of it before."
"What do you mean?" asked the other.
"I couldn't explain," said he. "You wouldn't understand me. I see that you are another of the followers of Herbert Spencer. And that's all right--only WHY do you belong to the church? Why do you pretend to follow Jesus---"
And suddenly Mr. Wygant rose to his feet. "This is quite too much," he said. "I must ask you to leave my house."
"But, sir!" cried Samuel.
"Not another word!" exclaimed the other. "Please leave the house!"
And so the conversation came to an end.
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