A Poor Wise Man by Mary Roberts Rinehart - HTML preview
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Willy Cameron was free that evening. Although he had not slept at all the night before, he felt singularly awake and active. The Committee had made temporary quarters of his small back room at the pharmacy, and there had sat in rather depressed conclave during a part of the afternoon. Pink Denslow had come in late, and had remained, silent and haggard, through the debate.
There was nothing to do but to start again in an attempt to get files and card indexes. Greater secrecy was to be preserved and enjoined, the location of the office to be known only to a small inner circle, and careful policing of it and of the building which housed it to be established. As a further safeguard, two duplicate files would be kept in other places. The Committee groaned over its own underestimate of the knowledge of the radicals.
The two buildings chosen for destruction were, respectively, the bank building where their file was kept, and the club, where nine-tenths of the officers of the Committee were members. The significance of the double outrage was unquestionable.
When the meeting broke up Pink remained behind. He found it rather difficult to broach the matter in his mind. It was always hard for him to talk about Lily Cardew, and lately he had had a growing conviction that Willy Cameron found it equally difficult. He wondered if Cameron, too, was in love with Lily. There had been a queer look in his face on those rare occasions when Pink had mentioned her, a sort of exaltation, and an odd difficulty afterwards in getting back to the subject in hand.
Pink had developed an enormous affection and admiration for Willy Cameron, a strange, loyal, half wistful, totally unselfish devotion. It had steadied him, when the loss of Li1y might have made him reckless, and had taken the form in recent weeks of finding innumerable business opportunities, which Willy Cameron cheerfully refused to take.
"I'll stay here until this other thing is settled," was Willy's invariable answer. "I have a certain amount of time here, and the fellows can drop in to see me without causing suspicion. In an office it would be different. And besides, I can't throw Mr. Davis down. His wife is in bad shape."
So, that afternoon, Pink waited until the Committee had dispersed, and then said, with some difficulty:
"I saw her, Cameron. She has promised to leave."
"This afternoon. I wanted to take her away, but she had some things to do."
"Then she hadn't known before?”
"No. She thought it was just talk. And they'd kept the papers from her. She hadn't heard about last night. Well, that's all. I thought you'd want to know."
Pink started out, but Willy Cameron called him back.
"Have any of your people any influence with the Cardews?"
"No one has any influence with the Cardews, if you mean the Cardew men. Why?"
"Because Cardew has got to get out of the mayoralty campaign. That's all."
"That's a-plenty," said Pink, grinning.
"Why don't you go and tell him so?”
"I'm thinking of it. He hasn't a chance in the world, but he'll defeat Hendricks by splitting the vote, and let the other side in. And you know what that means."
"I know it," Pink observed, "but Mr. Cardew doesn't, and he won't after you've told him. They've put a lot of money in, and once a Cardew has invested in a thing he holds on like death. Especially the old man. Wouldn't wonder he was the fellow who pounded the daylights out of Akers last night," he added.
Willy Cameron, having carefully filled his pipe, closed the door into the shop, and opened a window.
"Akers?" he inquired.
"Noon edition has it," Pink said. "Claims to have been attacked in his rooms by two masked men. Probably wouldn't have told it, but the doctor talked. Looks as though he could wallop six masked men, doesn't he?"
"Yes," said Willy Cameron, reflectively.
"Yes; he does, rather."
He felt more hopeful than he had for days. Lily on her way home, clear once more of the poisonous atmosphere of Doyle and his associates; Akers temporarily out of the way, perhaps for long enough to let the normal influences of her home life show him to her in a real perspective; and a rather unholy but very human joy that he had given Akers a part of what was coming to him - all united to cheer him. He saw Lily going home, and a great wave of tenderness flooded him. If only they would be tactful and careful, if only they would be understanding and kind. If they would only be normal and every-day, and accept her as though she had never been away. These people were so hedged about with conventions and restrictions, they put so much emphasis on the letter and so little on the spirit. If only - God, if only they wouldn't patronize her!
His mother would have known how to receive her. He felt, that afternoon, a real homesickness for his mother. He saw her, ample and comfortable and sane, so busy with the comforts of the body that she seemed to ignore the soul, and yet bringing healing with her every matter-of-fact movement.
If only Lily could have gone back to her, instead of to that great house, full of curious eyes and whispering voices.
He saw Mr. Hendricks that evening on his way home to supper. Mr. Hendricks had lost flesh and some of his buoyancy, but he was persistently optimistic.
"Up to last night I'd have said we were done, son," he observed.
"But this bomb business has settled them. The labor vote'll split on it, sure as whooping cough."
"They've bought a half-page in all the morning papers, disclaiming all responsibility and calling on all citizens to help them in protecting private property."
"Have they, now," said Hendricks, with grudging admiration.
"Can you beat that? Where do they get the money, anyhow? If I lost my watch these days I'd have to do some high-finance before I'd be able to advertise for it."
"All right, see Cardew," were his parting words. "But he doesn't want this election any more than I want my right leg. He'll stick. You can talk, Cameron, I'll say it. But you can't pry him off with kind words, any more than you can a porous plaster."
Behind Mr. Hendricks' colloquialisms there was something sturdy and fine. His very vernacular made him popular; his honesty was beyond suspicion. If he belonged to the old school in politics, he had most of its virtues and few of its vices. He would take care of his friends, undoubtedly, but he was careful in his choice of friends. He would make the city a good place to live in. Like Willy Cameron, he saw it, not a center of trade so much as a vast settlement of homes. Business supported the city in his mind, not the city business.
Nevertheless the situation was serious, and it was with a sense of a desperate remedy for a desperate disease that Willy Cameron, after a careful toilet, rang the bell of the Cardew house that night. He had no hope of seeing Lily, but the mere thought that they were under one roof gave him a sense of nearness and of comfort in her safety.
Dinner was recently over, and he found both the Cardews, father and son, in the library smoking. He had arrived at a bad moment, for the bomb outrage, coming on top of Lily's refusal to come home under the given conditions, had roused Anthony to a cold rage, and left Howard with a feeling of helplessness.
Anthony Cardew nodded to him grimly, but Howard shook hands and offered him a chair.
"I heard you speak some time ago, Mr. Cameron," he said.
"You made me wish I could have had your support."
"I came to talk about that. I am sorry to have to come in the evening, but I am not free at any other time."
"When we go into politics," said old Anthony in his jibing voice, "the ordinary amenities have to go. When you are elected, Howard, I shall live somewhere else."
Willy Cameron smiled.
"I don't think you will be put to that inconvenience, Mr. Cardew."
"What's that?" Old Anthony's voice was incredulous. Here, in his own house, this whipper-snapper -
"I am sure Mr. Howard Cardew realizes he cannot be elected."
The small ragged vein on Anthony's forehead was the storm signal for the family. Howard glanced at him, and said urbanely:
"Will you have a cigar, Mr. Cameron? Or a liqueur?"
"Nothing, thank you. If I can have a few minutes' talk with you - "
"If you mean that as a request for me to go out, I will remind you that I am heavily interested in this matter myself," said old Anthony. "I have put in a great deal of money. If you people are going to drop out, I want to hear it. You've played the devil with us already, with your independent candidate who can't talk English."
Willy Cameron kept his temper.
"No," he said, slowly. "It wasn't a question of Mr. Hendricks withdrawing. It was a question of Mr. Cardew getting out."
Sheer astonishment held old Anthony speechless.
"It's like this," Willy Cameron said. "Your son knows it. Even if we drop out he won't get it. Justly or unjustly - and I mean that - nobody with the name of Cardew can be elected to any high office in this city. There's no reflection on anybody in my saying that. I am telling you a fact."
Howard had listened attentively and without anger. "For a long time, Mr. Cameron," he said, "I have been urging men of - of position in the city, to go into politics. We have needed to get away from the professional politician. I went in, without much hope of election, to - well, you can say to blaze a trail. It is not being elected that counts with me, so much as to show my willingness to serve."
Old Anthony recovered his voice.
"The Cardews made this town, sir," he barked. "Willingness to serve, piffle! We need a business man to run the city, and by God, we'll get it!"
"You'll get an anarchist," said Willy Cameron, slightly flushed.
"If you want my opinion, young man, this is a trick, a political trick. And how do we know that your Vigilance Committee isn't a trick, too? You try to tell us that there is an organized movement here to do heaven knows what, and by sheer terror you build up a machine which appeals to the public imagination. You don't say anything about votes, but you see that they vote for your man. Isn't that true?"
"Yes. If they can keep an anarchist out of office. Akers is an anarchist. He calls himself something else, but that's what it amounts to. And those bombs last night were not imaginary."
The introduction of Louis Akers' name had a sobering effect on Anthony Cardew. After all, more than anything else, he wanted Akers defeated. The discussion slowly lost its acrimony, and ended, oddly enough, in Willy Cameron and Anthony Cardew virtually uniting against Howard. What Willy Cameron told about Jim Doyle fed the old man's hatred of his daughter's husband, and there was something very convincing about Cameron himself. Something of fearlessness and honesty that began, slowly, to dispose Anthony in his favor.
It was Howard who held out.
"If I quit now it will look as though I didn't want to take a licking," he said, quietly obstinate. "Grant your point, that I'm defeated. All right, I'll be defeated - but I won't quit."
And Anthony Cardew, confronted by that very quality of obstinacy which had been his own weapon for so many years, retired in high dudgeon to his upper rooms. He was living in a strange new world, a reasonable soul on an unreasonable earth, an earth where a man's last sanctuary, his club, was blown up about him, and a man's family apparently lived only to thwart him.
With Anthony gone, Howard dropped the discussion with the air of a man who has made a final stand.
"What you have said about Mr. Doyle interests me greatly," he observed, "because - you probably do not know this - my sister married him some years ago. It was a most unhappy affair."
"I do know it. For that reason I am glad that Miss Lily has come home."
"Has come home? She has not come home, Mr. Cameron. There was a condition we felt forced to make, and she refused to agree to it. Perhaps we were wrong. I - "
Willy Cameron got up.
"Was that to-day?" he asked. "No.”
"But she was coming home to-day. She was to leave there this afternoon."
"How do you know that?”
"Denslow saw her there this afternoon. She agreed to leave at once. He had told her of the bombs, and of other things. She hadn't understood before, and she was horrified. It is just possible Doyle wouldn't let her go."
"But - that's ridiculous. She can't be a prisoner in my sister's house."
"Will you telephone and find out if she is there?" Howard went to the telephone at once. It seemed to Willy Cameron that he stood there for uncounted years, and as though, through all that eternity of waiting, he knew what the answer would be. And that he knew, too, what that answer meant, where she had gone, what she had done. If only she had come to him. If only she had come to him. He would have saved her from herself. He -
"She is not there," Howard Cardew said, in a voice from which all life had gone. "She left this afternoon, at four o'clock. Of course she has friends. Or she may have gone to a hotel. We had managed to make it practically impossible for her to come home."
Willy Cameron glanced at his watch. He had discounted the worst before it came, and unlike the older man, was ready for action. It was he who took hold of the situation.
"Order a car, Mr. Cardew, and go to the hotels," he said.
"And if you will drop me downtown - I'll tell you where - I'll follow up something that has just occurred to me."