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- The Hermit And The Wild Woman - 38/38 -


_my_feelings have affected it? Fleetwood hasn't betrayed the State. There isn't a scar on his public record--he is still the best man for the place. My business is to appoint the best man I can find, and I can't find any one as good as Fleetwood."

"But--but--your wife?" Shackwell stammered.

The Governor looked up with surprise. Shackwell could almost have sworn that he had indeed forgotten the private issue.

"My wife is ready to face the consequences," he said.

Shackwell returned to his former attitude of incredulity.

"But Fleetwood? Fleetwood has no right to sacrifice--"

"To sacrifice my wife to the State? Oh, let us beware of big words. Fleetwood was inclined to use them at first, but I managed to restore his sense of proportion. I showed him that our private lives are only a few feet square anyhow, and that really, to breathe freely, one must get out of them into the open." He paused and broke out with sudden violence, "My God, Hadley, didn't you see that Fleetwood had to obey me?"

"Yes--I see that," said Shackwell, with reviving obstinacy. "But if you've reached such a height and pulled him up to your side it seems to me that from that standpoint you ought to get an even clearer view of the madness of your position. You say you have decided to sacrifice your own feelings and your wife's--though I'm not so sure of your right to dispose of _her_voice in the matter; but what if you sacrifice the party and the State as well, in this transcendental attempt to distinguish between private and public honor? You'll have to answer that before you can get me to carry this letter."

The Governor did not blanch under the attack.

"I think the letter will answer you," he said calmly.

"The letter?"

"Yes. It's something more than a notification of Fleetwood's reappointment." Mornway paused and looked steadily at his friend. "You're afraid of an investigation--an impeachment? Well, the letter anticipates that."

"How, in heaven's name?"

"By a plain statement of the facts. My wife has told me that she did borrow of Fleetwood. He speculated for her and made a considerable sum, out of which she repaid his loan. The 'Spy's' accusation is true. If it can be proved that my wife induced me to appoint Fleetwood, it may be argued that she sold him the appointment. But it can't be proved, and the 'Spy' won't waste its breath in trying to, because my statement will take the sting out of its innuendoes. I propose to anticipate its attack by setting forth the facts in its columns, and asking the public to decide between us. On one side is the private fact that my wife, without my knowledge, borrowed money from Fleetwood just before I appointed him to an important post; on the other side is his public record and mine. I want people to see both sides and judge between them, not in the red glare of a newspaper denunciation, but in the plain daylight of common-sense. Charges against the private morality of a public man are usually made in such a blare of headlines and cloud of mud-throwing that the voice he lifts up in his defence can not make itself heard. In this case I want the public to hear what I have to say before the yelping begins. My letter will take the wind out of the 'Spy's' sails, and if the verdict goes against me, the case will have been decided on its own merits, and not at the dictation of the writers of scare heads. Even if I don't gain my end, it will be a good thing, for once, for the public to consider dispassionately how far a private calamity should be allowed to affect a career of public usefulness, and the next man who goes through what I am undergoing may have cause to thank me if no one else does."

Shackwell sat silent for a moment, with the ring of the last words in his ears.

Suddenly he rose and held out his hand. "Give me the letter," he said.

The Governor caught him up with a kindling eye. "It's all right, then? You see, and you'll take it?"

Shackwell met his glance with one of melancholy interrogation. "I think I see a magnificent suicide, but it's the kind of way I shouldn't mind dying myself."

He pulled himself silently into his coat and put the letter into one of its pockets, but as he was turning to the door the Governor called after him cheerfully: "By the way, Hadley, aren't you and Mrs. Shackwell giving a big dinner to-morrow?"

Shackwell paused with a start. "I believe we are--why?"

"Because, if there is room for two more, my wife and I would like to be invited."

Shackwell nodded his assent and turned away without answering. As he came out of the lobby into the clear sunset radiance he saw a victoria drive up the long sweep to the Capitol and pause before the central portion. He descended the steps, and Mrs. Mornway leaned from her furs to greet him.

"I have called for my husband," she said, smiling. "He promised to get away in time for a little turn in the Park before dinner."


The Hermit And The Wild Woman - 38/38

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