Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 29

Chapter 29

I came down Broadway that afternoon aboard a big white omnibus, that drifted slowly in a tide of many vehicles. Those days there were a goodly show of trees on either side of that thoroughfare - elms, with here and there a willow, a sumach or a mountain ash. The walks were thronged with handsome people - dandies with high hats and flaunting necknes and swinging canes - beautiful women, each covering a broad circumference of the pavement, with a cone of crinoline that swayed over dainty feet. From Grace Church down it was much of the same thing we see now, with a more ragged sky line. Many of the great buildings, of white and red sandstone, had then appeared, but the street was largely in the possession of small shops - oyster houses, bookstores and the like. Not until I neared the sacred temple of the Tribune did I feel a proper sense of my own littleness. There was the fountain of all that wisdom which had been read aloud and heard with reverence in our household since a time I could but dimly remember. There sat the prophet who had given us so much - his genial views of life and government, his hopes, his fears, his mighty wrath at the prospering of cruelty and injustice.

'I would like to see Mr Horace Greeley,' I said, rather timidly, at the counter.

'Walk right up those stairs and turn to the left,' said a clerk, as he opened a gate for me.

Ascending, I met a big man coming down, hurriedly, and with heavy steps. We stood dodging each other a moment with that unfortunate co-ordination of purpose men sometimes encounter when passing each other. Suddeniy the big man stopped in the middle of the stairway and held both of his hands above his head.

'In God's name! young man,' said he, 'take your choice.'

He spoke in a high, squeaky voice that cut me with the sharpness of its irritation. I went on past him and entered an open door near the top of the stairway.

'Is Mr Horace Greeley in?' I enquired of a young man who sat reading papers.

'Back soon,' said he, without looking up. 'Take a chair.'

In a little while I heard the same heavy feet ascending the stairway two steps at a time. Then the man I had met came hurriedly into the room.

'This is Mr Greeley,' said the yo'mg man who was reading.

The great editor turned and looked at me through gold-rimmed spectacles. I gave him my letter out of a trembling hand. He removed it from the envelope and held it close to his big, kindly, smooth-shaven face. There was a fringe of silky, silver hair, streaked with yellow, about the lower part of his head from temple to temple. It also encircled his throat from under his collar. His cheeks were fall and fair as a lady's, with rosy spots in them and a few freckles about his nose. He laughed as he finished reading the letter.

'Are you Dave Brower's boy?' he asked in a drawling falsetto, looking at me out of grey eyes and smiling with good humour.

'By adoption,' I answered.'

'He was an almighty good rassler,' he said, deliberately, as he looked again at the letter.'

'What do you want to do?' he asked abruptly.'

'Want to work on the Tribune,' I answered.'

'Good Lord! he said. 'I can't hire everybody.'

I tried to think of some argument, but what with looking at the great man before me, and answering his questions and maintaining a decent show of dignity, I had enough to do.

'Do you read the Tribune? he asked.'

'Read it ever since I can remember.'

'What do you think of the administration?

'Lot of dough faces! I answered, smiling, as I saw he recognised his own phrase. He sat a moment tapping the desk with his penholder.'

'There's so many liars here in New York,' he said, 'there ought to be room for an honest man. How are the crops?'

'Fair, I answered. 'Big crop of boys every year.'

'And now you re trying to find a market, he remarked.'

'Want to have you try them,' I answered.

'Well,' said he, very seriously, turning to his desk that came up to his chin as he sat beside it, 'go and write me an article about rats.'

'Would you advise-,' I started to say, when he interrupted me.

'The man that gives advice is a bigger fool than the man that takes it,' he fleered impatiently. 'Go and do your best!'

Before he had given me this injunction he had dipped his pen and begun to write hurriedly. If I had known him longer I should have known that, while he had been talking to me, that tireless mind of his had summoned him to its service. I went out, in high spirits, and sat down a moment on one of the benches in the little park near by, to think it all over. He was going to measure my judgement, my skill as a writer- my resources. 'Rats,' I said to myself thoughtfully. 1 had read much about them. They infested the ships, they overran the wharves, they traversed the sewers. An inspiration came to me. I started for the waterfront, asking my way every block or two. Near the East River I met a policeman - a big, husky, good-hearted Irishman.

'Can you tell me,' I said, 'who can give me information about rats?'

'Rats?' he repeated. 'What d' ye wan't' know about thim?'

'Everything,'I said. 'They ve just given me a job on the New York Tribune,'I added proudly.

He smiled good-naturedly. He had looked through me at a glance.

'Just say "Tribune",' he said. 'Ye don't have t say "New York Tribune" here. Come along wi me.'

He took me to a dozen or more of the dock masters.

'Give 'im a lift, my hearty,'he said to the first of them. 'He's a green.'

I have never forgotten the kindness of that Irishman, whom I came to know well in good time. Remembering that day and others I always greeted him with a hearty 'God bless the Irish!' every time I passed him, and he would answer, 'Amen, an' save yer riverince.'

He did not leave me until I was on my way home loaded with fact and fable and good dialect with a savour of the sea in it.

Hope and Uncle Eb were sitting together in his room when I returned.

'Guess I've got a job,'I said, trying to be very cool about it..

'A job! said Hope eagerly, as she rose. 'Where?

'With Mr Horace Greeley,'I answered, my voice betraying my excitement.

'Jerusalem! said Uncle Eb. 'Is it possible? '

'That's grand! said Hope. 'Tell us about it.'

Then I told them of my interview with the great editor and of what I had done since.

'Ye done wonderful!' said Uncle Eb and Hope showed quite as much pleasure in her own sweet way.

I was for going to my room and beginning to write at once, but Hope said it was time to be getting ready for dinner.

When we came down at half-past six we were presented to our host and the guests of the evening - handsome men and women in full dress - and young Mr Livingstone was among them. I felt rather cheap in my frock coat, although I had thought it grand enough for anybody on the day of my graduation. Dinner announced, the gentlemen rose and offered escort to the ladies, and Hope and Mrs Fuller relieved our embarrassment by conducting us to our seats - women are so deft in those little difficulties. The dinner was not more formal than that of every evening in the Fuller home - for its master was a rich man of some refinement of taste - and not at all comparable to the splendid hospitality one may see every day at the table of a modem millionaire. But it did seem very wonderful to us, then, with its fine-mannered servants, its flowers, its abundant silver. Hope had written much to her mother of the details of deportment at John Fuller's table, and Elizabeth had delicately imparted to us the things we ought to know. We behaved well, I have since been told, although we got credit for poorer appetites than we possessed. Unde Eb took no chances and refused everything that had a look of mystery and a suggestion of peril, dropping a droll remark, betimes, that sent a ripple of amusement around the table.

John Trumbull sat opposite me, and even then I felt a curious interest in him - a big, full bearded man, quite six feet tall, his skin and eyes dark, his hair iron-grey, his voice deep like David s. I could not get over the impression that I had seen him before - a feeling I have had often, facing men I could never possibly have met. No word came out of his firm mouth unless he were addressed, and then all in hearing listened to the little he had to say: it was never more than some very simple remark. In his face and form and voice there was abundant heraldry of rugged power and ox-like vitality. I have seen a bronze head of Daniel Webster which, with a full blonde beard and an ample covering of grey hair would have given one a fairly perfect idea of the look of John Trumbull. Imagine it on a tall, and powerful body and let it speak with a voice that has in it the deep and musical vibration one may hear in the looing of an ox and you shall see, as perfectly as my feeble words can hdp you to do, this remarkable man who, must, hereafter, play before you his part - compared to which mine is as the prattle of a child - in this drama of God's truth.

'You have not heard,'said Mrs Fuller addressing me, 'how Mr Trumbull saved Hope's life.'

'Saved Hope's life!'I exclaimed.

'Saved her life,'she repeated, 'there isn t a doubt of it. We never sent word of it for fear it would give you all needless worry. It was a day of last winter - fell crossing Broadway, a dangerous place' he pulled her aside just in time - the horse's feet were raised above her - she would have been crushed in a moment He lifted her in his arms and carried her to the sidewalk not a bit the worse for it.

'Seems as if it were fate,'said Hope. 'I had seen him so often and wondered who he was. I recall a night when I had to come home alone from rehearsal. I was horribly afraid. I remember passing him under a street lamp. If he had spoken to me, then, I should have dropped with fear and he would have had to carry me home that time.

'It's an odd thing a girl like you should ever have to walk home alone,'said Mr Fuller. 'Doesn't speak well for our friend Livingstone or Burnham there or Dobbs.

'Mrs Fuller doesn't give us half a chance,'said Livingstone, 'she guards her day and night. It's like the monks and the Holy Grail.

'Hope is independent of the young men,'said Mrs Fuller as we rose from the table. 'If I cannot go with her myself, in the carriase, I always send a maid or a manservant to walk home with her. But Mr Fuller and I were out of town that night and the young men missed their great opportunity.

'Had a differ nt way o'sparkin'years ago,'said Unde Eb. 'Didn t never hey if please anybody but the girl then. If ye liked a girl ye went an'sot up with her an'gin her a smack an'tol'her right out plain an'square what ye wanted. An'thet settled it one way er t other. An'her mother she step'in the next room with the door half-open an'never paid no 'tention. Recollec'one col'night when I was sparkin'the mother hollered out o'bed, "Lucy, hey ye got anythin 'round ye?" an'she hollered back, "Yis, mother," an'she hed too but 'twan't nothin'but my arm.'

They laughed merrily, over the quaint reminiscence of my old friend and the quainter way he had of telling it. The rude dialect of the backwoodsman might have seemed oddly out of place, there, but for the quiet, unassuming manner and the fine old face of Uncle Eb in which the dullest eye might see the soul of a gentleman.

'What became of Lucy?'Mr Fuller enquired, laughingly. 'You never married her.'

'Lucy died,'he answered soberly; 'thet was long, long ago.'

Then he went away with John Trumbull to the smoking-room where I found them, talking earnestly in a corner, when it was time to go to the church with Hope.