Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 35

Chapter 35

I was soon near out of money and at my wit's end, but my will was unconquered. In this plight I ran upon Fogarty, the policeman who had been the good angel of my one hopeftil day in journalism. His manner invited my confidence.

'What luck?'said he.

'Bad luck'I answered. 'Only ten dollars in my pocket and nothing to do.

He swung his stick thoughtfully.

'If I was you,'said he, 'I d take anything honest. Upon me wurred, I d ruther pound rocks than lay idle.

'So would I.

'Wud ye?'said he with animation, as he took my measure from head to foot.

'I ll do anything that's honest.

'Ah ha!'said he, rubbing his sandy chin whiskers. 'Don't seem like ye d been used if hard wurruk.

'But I can do it,'I said.

He looked at me sternly and beckoned with his head.

'Come along,'said he.

He took me to a gang of Irishmen working in the street near by.

'Boss McCormick!'he shouted.

A hearty voice answered, 'Aye, aye, Counsellor,'and McCormick came out of the crowd, using his shovel for a staff.

'A happy day if ye!'said Fogarty.

'Same if youse an'manny o'thim,'said McCormick.

'Ye ll gi'me one if ye do me a favour,'said Fogarty.

'An'what?'said the other.

'A job for this lad. Wull ye do it?

'I wall,'said McCormick, and he did.

I went to work early the next morning, with nothing on but my underclothing and trousers, save a pair of gloves, that excited the ridicule of my fellows. With this livery and the righteous determination of earning two dollars a day, I began the inelegant task of 'pounding rocks no merry occupation, I assure you, for a hot summer's day on Manhattan Island.

We were paving Park Place and we had to break stone and lay them and shovel dirt and dig with a pick and crowbar.

My face and neck were burned crimson when we quit work at five, and I went home with a feeling of having been run over by the cars. I had a strong sense of soul and body, the latter dominated by a mighty appetite. McClingan viewed me at first with suspicion in which there was a faint flavour of envy. He invited me at once to his room, and was amazed at seeing it was no lark. I told him franldy what! was doing and why and where.

'I would not mind the loaning of a few dollars,'he said, 'as a matter o'personal obligement I would be most happy to do it - most happy, Brower, indeed I would.

I thanked him cordially, but declined the favour, for at home they had always taught me the danger of borrowing, and I was bound to have it out with ill luck on my own resources.

'Greeley is back,'said he, 'and I shall see him tomorrow. I will put him in mind o'you.

I went away sore in the morning, but with no drooping spirit. In the middle of the afternoon I straightened up a moment to ease my back and look about me.

There at the edge of the gang stood the great Horace Greeley and Waxy McClingan. The latter beckoned me as he caught my eye. Iwent aside to greet them. Mr Greeley gave me his hand.

'Do you mean to tell me that you d rather work than beg or borrow?'said he.

'That's about it,'I answered.

'And ain't ashamed of it?

'Ashamed! Why?'said I, not quite sure of his meaning. It had never occurred to me that one had any cause to be ashamed of working.

He turned to McClingan and laughed.

'I guess you ll do for the Tribune,'he said. 'Come and see me at twelve tomorrow.

And then they went away.

ff1 had been a knight of the garter I could not have been treated with more distinguished courtesy by those hard-handed men the rest of the day. I bade them goodbye at night and got my order for four dollars. One Pat Devlin, a great-hearted Irishman, who had shared my confidence and some of my doughnuts on the curb at luncheon time, I remember best of all.

'Ye ll niver fergit the toime we wurruked together under Boss McCormick,'said he.

And to this day, whenever I meet the good man, now bent and grey, he says always, 'Good-day if ye, Mr Brower. D'ye mind the toime we pounded the rock under Boss McCormick?

Mr Greeley gave me a place at once on the local staff and invited me to dine with him at his home that evening. Meanwhile he sent me to the headquarters of the Republican Central Campaign Committee, on Broadway, opposite the New York Hotel. Lincoln had been nominated in May, and the great political fight of i86o was shaking the city with its thunders.

I turned in my copy at the city desk in good season, and, although the great editor had not yet left his room, I took a car at once to keep my appointment. A servant showed me to a seat in the big back parlour of Mr Greeley's home, where I spent a lonely hour before I heard his heavy footsteps in the hail. He immediately rushed upstairs, two steps at a time, and, in a moment, I heard his high voice greeting the babies. He came down shortly with one of them clinging to his hand.

'Thunder!'said he, 'I had forgotten all about you. Let's go right in to dinner.

He sat at the head of the table and I next to him. I remember how, wearied by the day's burden, he sat, lounging heavily, in careless attitudes. He stirred his dinner into a hash of eggs, potatoes, squash and parsnips, and ate it leisurely with a spoon, his head braced often with his left forearm, its elbow resting on the table. It was a sort of letting go, after the immense activity of the day, and a casual observer would have thought he affected the uncouth, which was not true of him.

He asked me to tell him all about my father and his farm. At length I saw an absent look in his eye, and stopped talking, because I thought he had ceased to listen.

'Very well! very well!'said he.

I looked up at him, not knowing what he meant.

'Go on! Tell me all about it," 'he added.

'I like the country best,'said he, when I had finished, 'because there I see more truth in things. Here the lie has many forms - unique, varied, ingenious. The rouge and powder on the lady's cheek - they are lies, both of them; the baronial and ducal crests are lies and the fools who use them are liars; the people who soak themselves in rum have nothing but lies in their heads; the multitude who live by their wits and the lack of them in others - they are all liars; the many who imagine a vain thing and pretend to be what they are not'liars everyone of them. It is bound to be so in the great cities, and it is a mark of decay. The skirts of Elegabalus, the wigs and rouge pots of Madame Pompadour, the crucifix of Machiavelli and the innocent smile of Fernando Wood stand for something horribly and vastly false in the people about them. For truth you ve got to get back into the woods. You can find men there a good deal as God made them' genuine, strong and simple. When those men cease to come here you ll see grass growing in Broadway.

I made no answer and the great commoner stirred his coffee a moment in silence.

'Vanity is the curse of cities,'he continued, 'and Flattery is its handmaiden. Vanity, flattery and Deceit are the three disgraces. I like a man to be what he is - out and out. If he's ashamed of himself it won't be long before his friends ll be ashamed of him. There's the trouble with this town. Many a fellow is pretending to be what he isn t. A man cannot be strong unless he is genuine.

One of his children - a little girl - came and stood close to him as he spoke. He put his big arm around her and that gentle, permanent smile of his broadened as he kissed her and patted her red cheek.

'Anything new in the South?'Mrs Greeley enquired.

'Worse and worse every day,'he said. 'Serious trouble comingl The Charleston dinner yesterday was a feast of treason and a flow of criminal rhetoric. The Union was the chief dish. Everybody slashed it with his knife and jabbed it with his fork. It was slaughtered, roasted, made into mincemeat and devoured. One orator spoke of "rolling back the tide of fanaticism that finds its root in the conscience of the people." Their metaphors are as bad as their morals.

He laughed heartily at this example of fervid eloquence, and then we rose from the table. He had to go to the office that evening, and I came away soon after dinner. I had nothing to do and went home reflecting upon all the great man had said.

I began shortly to see the truth of what he had told me - men licking the hand of riches with the tongue of flattery men so stricken with the itch of vanity that they grovelled for the touch of praise; men even who would do perjury for applause. I do not say that most of the men I saw were of that ilk, but enough to show the tendency of life in a great town.

1 was filled with wonder at first by meeting so many who had been everywhere and seen everything, who had mastered all sciences and all philosophies and endured many perils on land and sea. I had met liars before - it was no Eden there in the north country - and some of them had attained a good degree of efficiency, but they lacked the candour and finish of the metropolitan school. I confess they were all too much for me at first. They borrowed my cash, they shared my confidence, they taxed my credulity, and I saw the truth at last.

'Tom's breaking down,'said a co4abourer on the staff one day. 'How is that?'I enquired.

'Served me a mean irick.

'Indeed!

'Deceived me,'said he sorrowfully.

'Lied, I suppose?

'No. He told the truth, as God's my witness.

Tom had been absolutely reliable up to that time.