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- Youth Challenges - 60/62 -
Dulac was on his way to Bonbright's office, too. He had started before Hilda, and arrived before she did. If he had been asked why he was going, it is doubtful if he could have told. He was going because he had to go ... with fresh, burning hatred of Bonbright in his heart. Bonbright was always the obstacle he encountered. Bonbright upset every calculation, brought his every plan to nothing. He believed it was Bonbright who had broken the first strike, that strike upon which he had pinned such high hopes and which meant so much to labor. It had been labor's entering wedge into the automobile world. Then Bonbright had married the girl he loved. Some men can hate sufficiently for that cause alone ... Ruth had loved him, but she had married Bonbright. He had gone to take her away, had seen her yielding to him--and Bonbright had come. Again he had intervened. And now, better equipped than for the first strike, with chances of success multiplied, Bonbright had intervened again--with his plan.
Dulac did not consider the plan; did not perceive virtues in it, not the intent that was behind it. He did not see that labor was getting without effort benefits that no strike could bring. He did not see the happiness that it brought to thousands ... All he saw was that it had killed the new strike before birth. He regarded it as sharp practice, as a scheme for his undoing. The thing he fought for was the principle of unionization. Nothing else mattered; not money, not comforts, not benefits multiplied could weigh against it ... He was true to his creed, honest in its prosecution, sincere in his beliefs and in his efforts to uplift the conditions of his fellow men. He was a fanatic, let it be admitted, but a fanatic who suffered and labored for his cause. He was stigmatized as a demagogue, and many of the attributes of the demagogue adhered to him. But he was not a demagogue, for he sought nothing for himself ... His great shortcoming was singleness of vision. He fixed his eyes upon one height and was unable to see surrounding peaks.
So he was going to see the man who had come between him and every object he had striven for ... And he did not know why. He followed impulse, as he was prone to follow impulse. Restraints were not for him; he was a thinker, he believed, and after his fashion he WAS a thinker. ... But his mind was equipped with no stabilizer.
The impulse to see Bonbright was conceived in hatred and born in bitterness. It was such an impulse as might, in its turn, breed children capable of causing a calloused world to pause an instant on its way and gasp with horror.
He brushed aside the boy who asked his business with Mr. Foote, and flung open Bonbright's door. On the threshold he stood speechless, tense with hatred, eyes that smoldered with jealousy, with rage, burning in hollows dug by weariness and labor and privation. He closed the door behind him slowly.
Bonbright looked up and nodded. Dulac did not reply, but stared, crouching a little, his lips drawn a trifle back so that a glint of white showed between.
"You wanted to see me?" said Bonbright.
"Yes," said Dulac. The word was spoken so low, so tensely, that it hardly reached Bonbright's ears. That was all. He said no more, but stood, haggard and menacing.
Bonbright eyed him, saw his drawn face, saw the hatred in his eyes. Neither spoke, but eye held eye. Bonbright's hand moved toward a button on his desk, but did not touch it. Somehow he was not surprised, not startled, not afraid--yet he knew there was danger. A word, a movement, might unleash the passions that seethed within Dulac. ...
Dulac stepped one step toward Bonbright, and paused. The movement was catlike, graceful. It had not been willed by Dulac. He had been drawn that step as iron is drawn to magnet. His eyes did not leave Bonbright's. Bonbright's eyes did not leave Dulac's.
It seemed minutes before Dulac made another forward movement, slowly, not lifting his foot, but sliding it along the rug to its new position. ... Then immovability. ... Then another feline approach. Step after step, with that tense pause between--and silence!
It seemed to Bonbright that Dulac had been in the room for hours, had taken hours to cross it to his desk. Now only the desk separated them, and Dulac bent forward, rested his clenched fists on the desk, and held Bonbright's eyes with the fire of his own. ... His body moved now, bending from the waist. Not jerkily, not pausing, but slowly, slowly, as if he were being forced downward by a giant hand. ... His face approached Bonbright's face. And still no word, no sound.
Now his right hand moved, lifted. He supported his weight on his left arm. The right moved toward Bonbright, opening as it moved. There was something inexorable about its movement, something that seemed to say it did not move by Dulac's will, but that it had been ordained so to move since the beginning of time. ... It approached and opened, fingers bent clawlike.
Bonbright remained motionless. It seemed to him that all the conflict of the ages had centered itself in this man and himself; as if they were the chosen champions, and the struggle had been left to them ... He was ready. He did not seek to avoid it, because it seemed inevitable. There could never be peace between him and Dulac, and, strangely enough, the thought was present in his brain that the thing was symbolical. He was the champion of his class, Dulac the champion of HIS class--between which there could never be peace and agreement so long as the classes existed. He wondered if himself and Dulac had been appointed to abolish each other ... In those vibrating seconds Bonbright saw and comprehended much.
The hand still approached.
Bonbright saw a change in the fire of Dulac's eyes, a sudden upleaping blaze, and braced himself for the surge of resistance, the shock of combat.
The door opened unheeded by either, and Hilda stood in the opening.
"I've found her ..." she said.
Dulac uttered a gulping gasp and closed his eyes, that had been unwinking, closed his eyes a moment, and with their closing the tenseness went out of him and he sagged downward so that his body rested on the desk. Bonbright shoved himself back and leaped to his feet.
"Hilda ..." he said, and his voice was tired; the voice of a man who has undergone the ultimate strain.
"I've found her. She's ill--terribly ill. You must go to her."
Dulac raised himself and looked at her.
"You've found--HER?" he said.
"We must go to her," said Bonbright. He was not speaking to Hilda, but to Dulac. It seemed natural, inevitable, that Dulac should go with him. Dulac was IN this, a part of it. Ruth and Dulac and he were the three actors in this thing, and it was their lives that pivoted about it.
They went down to the car silently, Dulac breathing deeply, like a man who had labored to weariness. In silence they drove to Mrs. Moody's boarding house, and in silence they climbed the stairs to Ruth's little room. Mrs. Moody hovered about behind them, and the mercenary sheltered her body behind the kitchen door, her head through the narrow opening, looking as if she were ready to pop it back at the least startling movement.
The three entered softly. Ruth seemed to be sleeping, for her eyes were closed and she was very still. Bonbright stood at one side of her bed, Dulac stood across from him, but they were unconscious of each other. Both were looking downward upon Ruth. She opened her eyes, saw Bonbright standing over her; shut them again and moved her head impatiently. Again she opened her eyes, and looked from Bonbright to Dulac. Her lips parted, her eyes widened ... She pointed a trembling finger at Dulac.
"Not you ..." she whispered. "Not you ... HIM." She moved her finger until it indicated Bonbright.
"I don't--believe you're--really there ... either of you," she said, "but I--like to have--YOU here. ... You're my husband. ... I LOVE my husband," she said, and nodded her head.
"BONBRIGHT!" whispered Hilda.
He did not need the admonition, but was on his knees beside her, drawing her to him. He could not speak. Ruth sighed as she felt his touch. "You're REAL," she whispered. "Is he real, too?"
"We're all real, dear," said Hilda.
"Ask HIM--please to go away, then," Ruth said, pointing to Dulac. "I don't want to--hurt him ... but he knows I--don't want him. ..."
"Ruth!" Dulac's utterance was a groan.
"YOU know--don't you, Hilda? ... I told you--a long time ago ... I never loved--HIM at all. Isn't that--queer? ... I thought I did--but- -I didn't know ... It was something else ... You won't feel too bad ... will you?"
Ruth looked up at Dulac. "I think you--better--go," she said, gently. He looked at Ruth, looked at Bonbright. Then he turned and, stumbling a little as he went, fumbling, to open the door, he obeyed. They listened in silence to the slow descent of his footsteps; to the opening and closing of the door, as Dulac passed out into the street.
"Poor--man!" said Ruth.
"Bonbright," said Hilda, "do you believe me now?"
He nodded. Hilda moved toward the door. "If you want her--cure her ... Nobody else can. You've got the only medicine." And she left them alone.
"I--loved you all the time, but ... I didn't know ... I was going ... to tell you ... and then HE died. Hilda knows. You'll ... believe me, won't you?"
"Yes," was all he could say.
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