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Samuel meantime was walking down the broad macadam avenue debating his problem. The first glow of excitement was over, and he was finding difficulties. The theory still held; but in the carrying out of it there were complications.
For one thing, it would be so hard to spread this doctrine. For if one tried to teach it by words, he seemed a hypocrite, as the professor had said; and on the other hand, if one simply practiced it, who would ever know? Suppose, for instance, that he starved to death during the next few days? That would be only one person removed, and apparently there were millions of the superfluous.
The truth was that Samuel, in discussing the theory, had applied it only to himself. But now he pictured himself going home to tell Mrs. Stedman that she must give up her futile effort, and take herself and her three children out of the way of the progress of the race. And he realized that he could never do it--he was not equal to the task. Doubtless, it was because he was one of the unfit. It would need some one who did not know them, some one who could approach the matter from the purely scientific standpoint.
Then there was another difficulty graver yet. Did not this doctrine really point to suicide? Would it not be the simplest solution of his problem if he were to climb down to the river, and tie a stone about his neck, and jump in? Samuel wished that he had thought to ask the professor about this. For the idea frightened him; he had a distinct impression of having been taught that it was a dreadful sin to take one's own life.
The trouble seemed to lie in the dull and unromantic nature of the life about him. If only there had been some way to die nobly and heroically for the good of others. If only there was a war, for instance, and a call for men to perish on the ramparts! Or a terrible pestilence, so that one could be a nurse! But there was nothing at all but this low starving to death--and while other people lived in plenty. Samuel thought of the chance of finding some work which involved grave peril to life or limb; but apparently even the danger posts were filled. The world did not need him, either in life or death!
So there was nothing for it but the starving. Having eaten nothing that day, Samuel was ready to begin at once; he tightened his belt and set his teeth for the grapple with the gaunt wolf of hunger.
And so he strode on down the road, pining for a chance to sacrifice himself--and at the very hour that the greatest peril of his life was bearing down upon him.
He had passed "Fairview," the great mansion with the stately gates and the white pillars. He had passed beyond its vast grounds, and had got out into the open country. He was walking blindly--it made no great difference where he went. And then suddenly behind him there was a clatter of hoofs; and he turned, and up the road he saw a cloud of dust, and in the midst of it a horse galloping furiously. Samuel stared; there was some kind of a vehicle behind it, and there was a person in the vehicle. A single glance was enough for him to realize-- it was a runaway!
To Samuel the thing came as a miracle--it was an answer to his prayer. And it found him ready. The chance was offered him, and he would not fail--not he! He did not falter for a second. He knew just what he had to do, and he was ready--resolute, and alert, and tense.
He moved into the center of the road. The horse came on, galloping at top speed; it was a blooded horse, swift and frantic with fear, and terrible to see. Samuel spread out his arms; and then in a flash the creature was upon him.
It swerved to pass him; and the boy wheeled, leaped swiftly, and flung himself at the bridle.
He caught it; his arms were wrenched, but he hung on, and jerked himself up. The horse flung him to one side; but with a swift clutch, Samuel caught him by the nostrils with one hand, and gripped fast. Then he drew himself up close and hung grimly, his eyes shut, with a grasp like death.
And he was still hanging there when the run-away stopped, and the occupant leaped from the vehicle and rushed to help him. "My God!" he cried, "but that was nerve!"
He was a young fellow, white as a sheet and trembling in every muscle. "How did you do it?" he panted.
"I just held on," said Samuel.
"God, but I'm thankful to you!" exclaimed the other. "You've saved my life!"
Samuel still clung to the horse, which was quivering with nervousness.
"He'd never have got away from me, but one rein broke. See here!"--And he held up the end.
"What started him?" asked Samuel.
"Nothing," said the other--"a piece of paper, likely. He's a fool-- always was." And he shook his fist in the horse's face, exclaiming, "By God, I'll tame you before I finish with you!"
"Look out!" said Samuel. "You'll start him again! "And again he clutched the horse, which started to plunge.
"I've got him now," said the other. "He'll quiet down."
"Hold fast," Samuel continued; and then he put his hand to his forehead, and swayed slightly. "I--I'll have to sit down a moment, I'm afraid. I feel sort of dizzy."
"Are you hurt?" cried the stranger anxiously.
"No," he said--"no, but I haven't had anything to eat to-day, and I'm a little weak."
"Nothing to eat!" cried the other. "What's the matter?"
"Why, I've been out of a job."
"Out of a job? Good heavens, man, have you been starving?"
"Well," said Samuel with a wan smile, "I had begun to."
He sat down by the roadside, and the other stared at him. "Do you live in Lockmanville?" he asked.
"No, I just came here. I left my home in the country to go to New York, and I was robbed and lost all my money. And I haven't been able to find anything to do, and I'd just about given up and got ready to die."
"My God!" cried the other in dismay.
"Oh, it's all right," said Samuel. "I didn't mind."
The stranger gazed at him in perplexity. And Samuel returned the gaze, being curious to see who it was he had rescued. It was a youth not more than a year or two older than himself. The color had now come back into his face, and Samuel thought that he was the most beautiful human being he had ever seen. He had a frank, open face, and laughing eyes, and golden hair like a girl's. He wore outing costume, a silk shirt and light flannels--things which Samuel had learned to associate with the possession of wealth and ease. Also, his horse was a thoroughbred; and with a rubber-tired runabout and a silver-mounted harness, the expensiveness of the rig was evident. Samuel was glad of this, because it meant that he had rescued some one of consequence-- some one of the successful and fit people.
"Just as soon as you're able, come hold the horse," said the stranger, "and then I'll fix this rein, and take you back and get you something to eat."
"Oh, no!" said Samuel. "Don't bother. That's all right."
"Hell, man!" cried the other. "Don't you suppose I'm going to do anything for you?"
"Well, I hadn't thought--" began Samuel.
"Cut it out!" exclaimed the other. "I'll set you up, and find you a job, and you can have a decent start."
Find him a job! Samuel's heart gave a great throb. For a moment he hardly knew how to take this--how it would fit into his new philosophy. But surely it was all right for him to take a job. Yes, he had earned it. Even if some one else had to be turned out--even so, he had proven his fitness. He had won in the struggle. He had a place among the successful, and he could help Sophie and her mother.
He got up with eagerness, and held the horse. "Do you think you can manage him?" he asked.
"Oh, yes," said the other. "I'll chance it, anyhow."
And he leaped into the runabout and took the reins. "Now," he said; and Samuel got in, and they sped away, back toward town.
"Don't say anything about this accident, please," said the young man suddenly.
"I won't," said Samuel.
"My friends are always teasing me because I drive horses," he explained.
"Why not?" asked the other.
"Well, everybody drives motors nowadays. But my father stood by horses, and I learned to be fond of them."
"We never had but one horse on the farm," observed Samuel. "But I was fond of him."
"What is your name?" inquired the stranger; and Samuel told him. Also he told him where he had come from and what had happened to him. He took particular pains to tell about the jail, because he did not want to deceive anyone. But his companion merely called it "an infernal outrage."
"Where were you going now?" he asked.
"I'd just left Professor Stewart's," replied Samuel.
"What! Old Stew? How do you come to know him?"
"He was at the court. And he said he'd get me a job, and then he found he couldn't. Do you know him?"
"Oh, yes, I had him at college, you know."
"Oh, do you go to the college?"
"I used to--till my father died. Then I quit. I hate study."
Samuel was startled. "I suppose you don't need to," he said after a pause.
"No," said the other. "My father thought the world of Old Stew," he added; "but he used to bore the life out of me. How'd you find him?"
"Well," answered Samuel, "you see, I haven't had any of your advantages. I found what he told me very wonderful."
"What did he tell you?"
"Well, he explained to me how it was I was out of a job. There are too many people in the world, it seems, and I was one of the unfit. I had failed in the struggle for existence, and so I had to be exterminated, he said."
"The devil he did!" exclaimed the stranger.
Samuel wished that the young man would not use so many improper words; but he presumed that was one of the privileges of the successful. "I was very grateful to him," he went on, "because, you see, I hadn't understood what it meant. But when I realized it was for the good of the race, then I didn't mind any more."
His companion stole a glance at him out of the corner of his eye. "Gee!" he said.
"I had quite an argument with him. I wanted him to see that he ought to teach the people. There are thousands of people starving here in Lockmanville; and would you want to starve without knowing the reason?"
"No," said the other, "I don't think I should." And again he looked at his companion.
But the conversation was interrupted there. For some time they had been passing the place with the ten-foot iron railing; and now they came to the great stone entrance with the name "Fairview" carved upon it. To Samuel's surprise they turned in.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"Home," said the other.
And Samuel started. "Do you live here?" he gasped.
"Yes," was the reply.
Samuel stared at the familiar driveway with the stately elms, and the lawns with the peacocks and lyre birds. "This is one of the places where I asked for work," he said. "They ordered me out."
"The deuce they did!" exclaimed the other. "Well, they won't order you out now."
There was a pause. "You haven't told me your name," put in Samuel suddenly.
"I thought you'd guess," said the other with a laugh.
"How could I?"
"Why--don't you know what place this is?"
"No," said Samuel. "What?"
And his companion replied, "It's the Lockman place."
Samuel caught his breath and clutched at the seat.
"The Lockman place!" he panted; and then again, "The Lockman place!"
He stared ahead at the great building, with the broad porticos and the snow-white columns. He could hardly credit his ears.
"I'm the old man's son," added the stranger genially. "Albert's my name. They call me Bertie."
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