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- The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig - 10/47 -


"Delighted," said Arkwright. And he did not realize that the deep- hidden source of his enthusiasm was a belief that Josh Craig would make an ass of himself.

CHAPTER V

ALMOST HOOKED

In human affairs, great and small, there are always many reasons for every action; then, snugly tucked away underneath all these reasons that might be and ought to be and pretend to be but aren't, hides the real reason, the real moving cause of action. By tacit agreement among human beings there is an unwritten law against the exposing of this real reason, whose naked and ugly face would put in sorry countenance professions of patriotism or philanthropy or altruism or virtue of whatever kind. Stillwater, the Attorney-General and Craig's chief, had a dozen reasons for letting him appear alone for the Administration--that is, for the people--in that important case. Each of these reasons--except one --shed a pure, white light upon Stillwater's public spirit and private generosity. That one was the reason supposed by Mrs. Stillwater to be real. "Since you don't seem able to get rid of Josh Craig, Pa," said she, in the seclusion of the marital couch, "we might as well marry him to Jessie"--Jessie being their homeliest daughter.

"Very well," said "Pa" Stillwater. "I'll give him a chance."

Still, we have not got the real reason for Josh's getting what Stillwater had publicly called "the opportunity of a lifetime." The really real reason was that Stillwater wished, and calculated, to kill a whole flock of birds with one stone.

Whenever the people begin to clamor for justice upon their exploiters, the politicians, who make themselves valuable to the exploiters by cozening the people into giving them office, begin by denying that the people want anything; when the clamor grows so loud that this pretense is no longer tenable, they hasten to say, "The people are right, and something must be done. Unfortunately, there is no way of legally doing anything at present, and we must be patient until a way is discovered." Way after way is suggested, only to be dismissed as "dangerous" or "impractical" or "unconstitutional." The years pass; the clamor persists, becomes imperious. The politicians pass a law that has been carefully made unconstitutional. This gives the exploiters several years more of license. Finally, public sentiment compels the right kind of law; it is passed. Then come the obstacles to enforcement. More years of delay; louder clamor. A Stillwater is put in charge of the enforcement of the law; a case is made, a trial is had, and the evidence is so incomplete or the people's lawyers so poorly matched against the lawyers of the exploiters that the case fails, and the administration is able to say, "You see, WE'VE done our best, but the rascals have escaped!" The case against certain Western railway thieves had reached the stage at which the only way the exploiters could be protected from justice was by having a mock trial; and Stillwater had put Craig forward as the conductor of this furious sham battle, had armed him with a poor gun, loaded with blanks. "We'll lose the case," calculated Stillwater; "we'll save our friends, and get rid of Craig, whom everybody will blame --the damned, bumptious, sophomoric blow-hard!"

What excuse did Stillwater make to himself for himself in this course of seeming treachery and assassination? For, being a man of the highest principles, he would not deliberately plan an assassination as an assassination. Why, his excuse was that the popular clamor against the men "who had built up the Western country" was wicked, that he was serving his country in denying the mob "the blood of our best citizens," that Josh Craig was a demagogue who richly deserved to be hoist by his own petar. He laughed with patriotic glee as he thought how "Josh, the joke" would make a fool of himself with silly, sophomoric arguments, would with his rude tactlessness get upon the nerves of the finicky old Justices of the Supreme Court!

As Craig had boasted right and left of the "tear" he was going to make, and had urged everybody he talked with to come and hear him, the small courtroom was uncomfortably full, and not a few of the smiling, whispering spectators confidently expected that they were about to enjoy that rare, delicious treat--a conceited braggart publicly exposed and overwhelmed by himself. Among these spectators was Josh's best friend, Arkwright, seated beside Margaret Severence, and masking his satisfaction over the impending catastrophe with an expression of funereal somberness. He could not quite conceal from himself all these hopes that had such an uncomfortable aspect of ungenerousness. So he reasoned with himself that they really sprang from a sincere desire for his friend's ultimate good. "Josh needs to have his comb cut," thought he. "It's sure to be done, and he can bear it better now than later. The lesson will teach him a few things he must learn. I only hope he'll be able to profit by it."

When Josh appeared, Grant and the others with firmly-fixed opinions of the character of the impending entertainment were not a little disquieted. Joshua Craig, who stepped into the arena, looked absolutely different from the Josh they knew. How had he divested himself of that familiar swaggering, bustling braggadocio? Where had he got this look of the strong man about to run a race, this handsome face on which sat real dignity and real power? Never was there a better court manner; the Justices, who had been anticipating an opportunity to demonstrate, at his expense, the exceeding dignity of the Supreme Court, could only admire and approve. As for his speech, it was a straightway argument; not a superfluous or a sophomoric word, not an attempt at rhetoric. His argument--There is the logic that is potent but answerable; there is the logic that is unanswerable, that gives no opportunity to any sane mind, however prejudiced by association with dispensers of luxurious hospitality, of vintage wines and dollar cigars, however enamored of fog-fighting and hair- splitting, to refuse the unqualified assent of conviction absolute. That was the kind of argument Josh Craig made. And the faces of the opposing lawyers, the questions the Justices asked him plainly showed that he had won.

After the first ten minutes, when the idea that Craig could be or ever had been laughable became itself absurd, Arkwright glanced uneasily, jealously at Margaret. The face beneath the brim of her beautiful white and pale pink hat was cold, conventional, was the face of a mere listener. Grant, reassured, resumed his absorbed attention, was soon completely swept away by his friend's exhibition of power, could hardly wait until he and Margaret were out of the courtroom before exploding in enthusiasm. "Isn't he a wonder?" he cried. "Why, I shouldn't have believed it possible for a man of his age to make such a speech. He's a great lawyer as well as a great orator. It was a dull subject, yet I was fascinated. Weren't you?"

"It was interesting--at times," said Margaret.

"At times! Oh, you women!"

At this scorn Margaret eyed his elegant attire, his face with its expression of an intelligence concentrated upon the petty and the paltry. Her eyes suggested a secret amusement so genuine that she could not venture to reveal it in a gibe. She merely said: "I confess I was more interested in him than in what he said."

"Of course! Of course!" said Grant, all unconscious of her derision. "Women have no interest in serious things and no mind for logic."

She decided that it not only was prudent but also was more enjoyable to keep to herself her amusement at his airs of masculine superiority. Said she, her manner ingenuous: "It doesn't strike me as astonishing that a man should make a sensible speech."

Grant laughed as if she had said something much cleverer than she could possibly realize. "That's a fact," admitted he. "It was simply supreme common-sense. What a world for twaddle it is when common-sense makes us sit up and stare.... But it's none the less true that you're prejudiced against him."

"Why do you say that?"

"If you appreciated him you'd be as enthusiastic as I." There was in his tone a faint hint of his unconscious satisfaction in her failure to appreciate Craig.

"You can go very far astray," said she, "you, with your masculine logic."

But Grant had guessed aright. Margaret had not listened attentively to the speech because it interested her less than the man himself. She had concentrated wholly upon him. Thus, alone of all the audience, she had seen that Craig was playing a carefully- rehearsed part, and, himself quite unmoved, was watching and profiting by every hint in the countenance of his audience, the old Justices. It was an admirable piece of acting; it was the performance of a genius at the mummer's art. But the power of the mummer lies in the illusion he creates; if he does not create illusion, as Craig did not for Margaret, he becomes mere pantomimist and mouther. She had never given a moment's thought to public life as a career; she made no allowances for the fact that a man's public appearances, no matter how sincere he is, must always be carefully rehearsed if he is to use his powers with unerring effect; she was simply like a child for the first time at the theater, and, chancing to get a glimpse behind the scenes, disgusted and angry with the players because their performance is not spontaneous. If she had stopped to reason about the matter she would have been less uncompromising. But in the shock of disillusionment she felt only that the man was working upon his audience like a sleight-of-hand performer; and the longer she observed, and the stronger his spell over the others, the deeper became her contempt for the "charlatan." He seemed to her like one telling a lie--as that one seems, while telling it, to the hearer who is not deceived. "I've been thinking him rough but genuine," said she to herself. "He's merely rough." She had forgiven, had disregarded his rude almost coarse manners, setting them down to indifference, the impatience of the large with the little, a revolt from the (on the whole preferable) extreme opposite of the mincing, patterned manners of which Margaret herself was a-weary. "But he isn't indifferent at all," she now felt. "He's simply posing. His rudenesses are deliberate where they are not sheer ignorance. His manner in court showed that he knows how, in the main."


The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig - 10/47

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