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Chapter 7

VII.

March met Fulkerson on the steps of the office next morning, when he arrived rather later than his wont. Fulkerson did not show any of the signs of suffering from the last night's pleasure which painted themselves in March's face. He flirted his hand gayly in the air, and said, "How's your poor head?" and broke into a knowing laugh. "You don't seem to have got up with the lark this morning. The old gentleman is in there with Conrad, as bright as a biscuit; he's beat you down. Well, we did have a good time, didn't we? And old Lindau and the colonel, didn't they have a good time? I don't suppose they ever had a chance before to give their theories quite so much air. Oh, my! how they did ride over us! I'm just going down to see Beaton about the cover of the Christmas number. I think we ought to try it in three or four colors, if we are going to observe the day at all." He was off before March could pull himself together to ask what Dryfoos wanted at the office at that hour of the morning; he always came in the afternoon on his way up-town.

The fact of his presence renewed the sinister misgivings with which March had parted from him the night before, but Fulkerson's cheerfulness seemed to gainsay them; afterward March did not know whether to attribute this mood to the slipperiness that he was aware of at times in Fulkerson, or to a cynical amusement he might have felt at leaving him alone to the old man, who mounted to his room shortly after March had reached it.

A sort of dumb anger showed itself in his face; his jaw was set so firmly that he did not seem able at once to open it. He asked, without the ceremonies of greeting, "What does that one-armed Dutchman do on this book?"

"What does he do?" March echoed, as people are apt to do with a question that is mandatory and offensive.

"Yes, sir, what does he do? Does he write for it?"

"I suppose you mean Lindau," said March. He saw no reason for refusing to answer Dryfoos's demand, and he decided to ignore its terms. "No, he doesn't write for it in the usual way. He translates for it; he examines the foreign magazines, and draws my attention to anything he thinks of interest. But I told you about this before—"

"I know what you told me, well enough. And I know what he is. He is a red-mouthed labor agitator. He's one of those foreigners that come here from places where they've never had a decent meal's victuals in their lives, and as soon as they get their stomachs full, they begin to make trouble between our people and their hands. There's where the strikes come from, and the unions and the secret societies. They come here and break our Sabbath, and teach their atheism. They ought to be hung! Let 'em go back if they don't like it over here. They want to ruin the country."

March could not help smiling a little at the words, which came fast enough now in the hoarse staccato of Dryfoos's passion. "I don't know whom you mean by they, generally speaking; but I had the impression that poor old Lindau had once done his best to save the country. I don't always like his way of talking, but I know that he is one of the truest and kindest souls in the world; and he is no more an atheist than I am. He is my friend, and I can't allow him to be misunderstood."

"I don't care what he is," Dryfoos broke out, "I won't have him round. He can't have any more work from this office. I want you to stop it. I want you to turn him off."

March was standing at his desk, as he had risen to receive Dryfoos when he entered. He now sat down, and began to open his letters.

"Do you hear?" the old man roared at him. "I want you to turn him off."

"Excuse me, Mr. Dryfoos," said March, succeeding in an effort to speak calmly, "I don't know you, in such a matter as this. My arrangements as editor of 'Every Other Week' were made with Mr. Fulkerson. I have always listened to any suggestion he has had to make."

"I don't care for Mr. Fulkerson? He has nothing to do with it," retorted

Dryfoos; but he seemed a little daunted by March's position.

"He has everything to do with it as far as I am concerned," March answered, with a steadiness that he did not feel. "I know that you are the owner of the periodical, but I can't receive any suggestion from you, for the reason that I have given. Nobody but Mr. Fulkerson has any right to talk with me about its management."

Dryfoos glared at him for a moment, and demanded, threateningly: "Then you say you won't turn that old loafer off? You say that I have got to keep on paying my money out to buy beer for a man that would cut my throat if he got the chance?"

"I say nothing at all, Mr. Dryfoos," March answered. The blood came into his face, and he added: "But I will say that if you speak again of Mr. Lindau in those terms, one of us must leave this room. I will not hear you."

Dryfoos looked at him with astonishment; then he struck his hat down on his head, and stamped out of the room and down the stairs; and a vague pity came into March's heart that was not altogether for himself. He might be the greater sufferer in the end, but he was sorry to have got the better of that old man for the moment; and he felt ashamed of the anger into which Dryfoos's anger had surprised him. He knew he could not say too much in defence of Lindau's generosity and unselfishness, and he had not attempted to defend him as a political economist. He could not have taken any ground in relation to Dryfoos but that which he held, and he felt satisfied that he was right in refusing to receive instructions or commands from him. Yet somehow he was not satisfied with the whole affair, and not merely because his present triumph threatened his final advantage, but because he felt that in his heat he had hardly done justice to Dryfoos's rights in the matter; it did not quite console him to reflect that Dryfoos had himself made it impossible. He was tempted to go home and tell his wife what had happened, and begin his preparations for the future at once. But he resisted this weakness and kept mechanically about his work, opening the letters and the manuscripts before him with that curious double action of the mind common in men of vivid imaginations. It was a relief when Conrad Dryfoos, having apparently waited to make sure that his father would not return, came up from the counting-room and looked in on March with a troubled face.

"Mr. March," he began, "I hope father hasn't been saying anything to you that you can't overlook. I know he was very much excited, and when he is excited he is apt to say things that he is sorry for."

The apologetic attitude taken for Dryfoos, so different from any attitude the peremptory old man would have conceivably taken for himself, made March smile. "Oh no. I fancy the boot is on the other leg. I suspect I've said some things your father can't overlook, Conrad." He called the young man by his Christian name partly to distinguish him from his father, partly from the infection of Fulkerson's habit, and partly from a kindness for him that seemed naturally to express itself in that way.

"I know he didn't sleep last night, after you all went away," Conrad pursued, "and of course that made him more irritable; and he was tried a good deal by some of the things that Mr. Lindau said."

"I was tried a good deal myself," said March. "Lindau ought never to have been there."

"No." Conrad seemed only partially to assent.

"I told Mr. Fulkerson so. I warned him that Lindau would be apt to break out in some way. It wasn't just to him, and it wasn't just to your father, to ask him."

"Mr. Fulkerson had a good motive," Conrad gently urged. "He did it because he hurt his feelings that day about the pension."

"Yes, but it was a mistake. He knew that Lindau was inflexible about his principles, as he calls them, and that one of his first principles is to denounce the rich in season and out of season. I don't remember just what he said last night; and I really thought I'd kept him from breaking out in the most offensive way. But your father seems very much incensed."

"Yes, I know," said Conrad.

"Of course, I don't agree with Lindau. I think there are as many good, kind, just people among the rich as there are among the poor, and that they are as generous and helpful. But Lindau has got hold of one of those partial truths that hurt worse than the whole truth, and—"

"Partial truth!" the young man interrupted. "Didn't the Saviour himself say, 'How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God?'"

"Why, bless my soul!" cried March. "Do you agree with Lindau?"

"I agree with the Lord Jesus Christ," said the young man, solemnly, and a strange light of fanaticism, of exaltation, came into his wide blue eyes. "And I believe He meant the kingdom of heaven upon this earth, as well as in the skies."

March threw himself back in his chair and looked at him with a kind of stupefaction, in which his eye wandered to the doorway, where he saw Fulkerson standing, it seemed to him a long time, before he heard him saying: "Hello, hello! What's the row? Conrad pitching into you on old Lindau's account, too?"

The young man turned, and, after a glance at Fulkerson's light, smiling face, went out, as if in his present mood he could not bear the contact of that persiflant spirit.

March felt himself getting provisionally very angry again. "Excuse me, Fulkerson, but did you know when you went out what Mr. Dryfoos wanted to see me for?"

"Well, no, I didn't exactly," said Fulkerson, taking his usual seat on a chair and looking over the back of it at March. "I saw he was on his car about something, and I thought I'd better not monkey with him much. I supposed he was going to bring you to book about old Lindau, somehow." Fulkerson broke into a laugh.

March remained serious. "Mr. Dryfoos," he said, willing to let the simple statement have its own weight with Fulkerson, and nothing more, "came in here and ordered me to discharge Lindau from his employment on the magazine—to turn him off, as he put it."

"Did he?" asked Fulkerson, with unbroken cheerfulness. "The old man is business, every time. Well, I suppose you can easily get somebody else to do Lindau's work for you. This town is just running over with half-starved linguists. What did you say?"

"What did I say?" March echoed. "Look here, Fulkerson; you may regard this as a joke, but I don't. I'm not used to being spoken to as if I were the foreman of a shop, and told to discharge a sensitive and cultivated man like Lindau, as if he were a drunken mechanic; and if that's your idea of me—"

"Oh, hello, now, March! You mustn't mind the old man's way. He don't mean anything by it—he don't know any better, if you come to that."

"Then I know better," said March. "I refused to receive any instructions from Mr. Dryfoos, whom I don't know in my relations with 'Every Other Week,' and I referred him to you."

"You did?" Fulkerson whistled. "He owns the thing!"

"I don't care who owns the thing," said March. "My negotiations were with you alone from the beginning, and I leave this matter with you. What do you wish done about Lindau?"

"Oh, better let the old fool drop," said Fulkerson. "He'll light on his feet somehow, and it will save a lot of rumpus."

"And if I decline to let him drop?"

"Oh, come, now, March; don't do that," Fulkerson began.

"If I decline to let him drop," March repeated, "what will you do?"

"I'll be dogged if I know what I'll do," said Fulkerson. "I hope you won't take that stand. If the old man went so far as to speak to you about it, his mind is made up, and we might as well knock under first as last."

"And do you mean to say that you would not stand by me in what I considered my duty-in a matter of principle?"

"Why, of course, March," said Fulkerson, coaxingly, "I mean to do the right thing. But Dryfoos owns the magazine—"

"He doesn't own me," said March, rising. "He has made the little mistake of speaking to me as if he did; and when"—March put on his hat and took his overcoat down from its nail—"when you bring me his apologies, or come to say that, having failed to make him understand they were necessary, you are prepared to stand by me, I will come back to this desk. Otherwise my resignation is at your service."

He started toward the door, and Fulkerson intercepted him. "Ah, now, look here, March! Don't do that! Hang it all, don't you see where it leaves me? Now, you just sit down a minute and talk it over. I can make you see—I can show you—Why, confound the old Dutch beer-buzzer! Twenty of him wouldn't be worth the trouble he's makin'. Let him go, and the old man 'll come round in time."

"I don't think we've understood each other exactly, Mr. Fulkerson," said March, very haughtily. "Perhaps we never can; but I'll leave you to think it out."

He pushed on, and Fulkerson stood aside to let him pass, with a dazed look and a mechanical movement. There was something comic in his rueful bewilderment to March, who was tempted to smile, but he said to himself that he had as much reason to be unhappy as Fulkerson, and he did not smile. His indignation kept him hot in his purpose to suffer any consequence rather than submit to the dictation of a man like Dryfoos; he felt keenly the degradation of his connection with him, and all his resentment of Fulkerson's original uncandor returned; at the same time his heart ached with foreboding. It was not merely the work in which he had constantly grown happier that he saw taken from him; but he felt the misery of the man who stakes the security and plenty and peace of home upon some cast, and knows that losing will sweep from him most that most men find sweet and pleasant in life. He faced the fact, which no good man can front without terror, that he was risking the support of his family, and for a point of pride, of honor, which perhaps he had no right to consider in view of the possible adversity. He realized, as every hireling must, no matter how skillfully or gracefully the tie is contrived for his wearing, that he belongs to another, whose will is his law. His indignation was shot with abject impulses to go back and tell Fulkerson that it was all right, and that he gave up. To end the anguish of his struggle he quickened his steps, so that he found he was reaching home almost at a run.

William Dean Howells