Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 42

Chapter 42

For every man he knew and loved Mr Greeley had a kindness that filled him to the fingertips. When I returned he smote me on the breast - an unfailing mark of his favour - and doubled my salary.

'If he ever smites you on the breast,'McClingan had once said to me,

'turn the other side, for, man, your fortune is made.

And there was some truth in the warning.

He was writing when I came in. A woman sat beside him talking. An immense ham lay on the marble top of the steam radiator; a basket of eggs sat on the floor near Mr Greeley's desk All sorts of merchandise were sent to the Tribune those days, for notice, and sold at auction, to members of the staff, by Mr Dana.

'Yes, yes, Madame, go on, I hear you,'said the great editor, as his pen flew across the white page.

She asked him then for a loan of money. He continued writing but, presently, his left hand dove into his trousers pocket coming up full of bills.

'Take what you want,'said he, holding it toward her, 'and please go for I am very busy.'Whereupon she helped herself liberally and went away.

Seeing me, Mr Greeley came and shook my hand warmly and praised me fer a good soldier.

'Going down town,'he said in a moment, drawing on his big white overcoat, 'walk along with me - won't you?

We crossed the park, he leading me with long strides. As we walked he told how he had been suffering from brain fever. Passing St Paul's churchyard he brushed the iron pickets with his hand as if to try the feel of them. Many turned to stare at him curiously. He asked me, soon, if I would care to do a certain thing for the Tribune, stopping, to look in at a shop window, as I answered him. I waited while he did his errand at a Broadway shop; then we came back to the office. The publisher was in Mr Greeley's room.

'Where's my ham, Dave?'said the editor as he looked at the slab of marble where the ham had lain.

'Don't know for sure,'said the publisher, 'it's probably up at the house of the - editor by this time.

'What did you go 'n give it to him for?'drawled Mr Greeley in a tone of irreparable injury. 'I wanted that ham for myself.

'I didn t give it to him,'said the publisher. 'He came and helped himself. Said he supposed it was sent in for notice.

'The infernal thief!'Mr Greeley piped with a violent gesture. 'I ll swear! if I didn t keep my shirt buttoned tight they d have that, too.

The ham was a serious obstacle in the way of my business and it went over until evening. But that and like incidents made me to know the man as I have never seen him pictured - a boy grown old and grey, pushing the power of manhood with the ardours of youth.

I resumed work on the Tribune that week. My first assignment was a mass meeting in a big temporary structure - then called a wigwam - over in Brooklyn. My political life began that day and all by an odd chance. The wigwam was crowded to the doors. The audience bad been waiting half an hour for the speaker. The chairman had been doing his best to kill time but had run out of ammunition. He had sat down to wait, an awkward silence had begun. The crowd was stamping and whistling and clapping with impatience. As I walked down the centre aisle, to the reporter s table, they seemed to mistake me for the speaker. Instantly a great uproar began. It grew louder every step I took. I began to wonder and then to fear the truth. As I neared the stage the chairman came forward beckoning to me. I went to the ffight of steps leading up to that higher level of distinguished citizens and halted, not knowing just what to do. He came and leaned over and whispered down at me. I remember he was red in the face and damp with perspiration.

'What is your name?'he enquired.

'Brower,'said I in a whisper.

A look of relief came into his face and I am sure a look of anxiety came into mine. He had taken the centre of the stage before I could stop him.

'Lathes and gentlemen,'said he, 'I am glad to inform you that General Brower has at last arrived.

I remembered then there was a General Brower in the army who was also a power in politics.

In the storm of applause that followed this announcement, I beckoned him to the edge of the platform again. I was nearer a condition of mental panic than I have ever known since that day.

'I am not General Brower,'I whispered.

'What!'said he in amazement.

'I am not General Brower,'I said.

'Great heavens!'he whispered, covering his mouth with his band and looking very thoughtful. 'You ll have to make a speech, anyway - there's no escape.

I could see no way out of it and, after a moment's hesitation, ascended the platform took off my overcoat and made a speech.

Fortunately the issue was one with which I had been long familiar. I told them how I had been trapped. The story put the audience in good humour and they helped me along with very generous applause. And so began my career in politics which has brought me more honour than I deserved although I know it has not been wholly without value to my country. It enabled me to repay in part the kindness of my former chief at a time when he was sadly in need of friends. I remember meeting him in Washington a day of that exciting campaign of 72. I was then in Congress.

'I thank you for what you have done, Brower,'said he, 'but I tell you I am licked. I shall not carry a single state. I am going to be slaughtered.

He had read his fate and better than he knew. In politics he was a great prophet.