The vision splendid, p.1
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       The Vision Splendid, p.1

           William MacLeod Raine
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The Vision Splendid

  Produced by Mary Starr


  By William MacLeod Raine


  Of all the remote streams of influence that pour both before and afterbirth into the channel of our being, what an insignificant few--andthese only the more obvious--are traceable at all. We swim in a sea ofenvironment and heredity, are tossed hither and thither by we know notwhat cross currents of Fate, are tugged at by a thousand eddies of whichwe never dream. The sum of it all makes Life, of which we know so littleand guess so much, into which we dive so surely in those buoyant daysbefore time and tide have shaken confidence in our power to snatchsuccess and happiness from its mysterious depths.--From the Note Book ofa Dreamer.


  Part 1

  The air was mellow with the warmth of the young spring sun. Locustswhirred in rhapsody. Bluebirds throbbed their love songs joyously. Thedrone of insects, the shimmer of hear, were in the atmosphere. One couldalmost see green things grow. To confine youth within four walls on sucha day was an outrage against human nature.

  A lean, wiry boy, hatchet-faced, stared with dreamy eyes out of thewindow of his prison. By raising himself in his seat while the teacherwas not looking he could catch a silvery gleam of the river through thegreat firs. His thoughts were far afield. They were not concerned withthe capitals of the States he was supposed to be learning, but had faredforth to the reborn earth, to the stir and movement of creeping things.The call of nature awakening from its long winter sleep drummed in hisheart. He could sympathize with the bluebottle buzzing against the sunnywindowpane in its efforts to reach the free world outside.

  Recess! With the sound of the gong his heart leaped, but he kept hisplace in the line with perfect decorum. It would never do to be calledback now for a momentary indiscretion. From the school yard he slippedthe back way and dived into a bank of great ferns. In the heart of thishe lay until the bell had called his classmates back to work. Cautiouslyhe crept from his hiding place and ran down to the river.

  Flinging himself on Big Rock, with his chin over the edge, he lookedinto the deep holes under the bank where the trout lay close to thestrings of shiny moss, their noses to the current, motionless save forthe fanning tails.

  Idly he enjoyed himself for a happy hour, letting thoughts happen asthey would. Not till the school bell rang for dismissal did he draghimself back with a sigh to the workaday world that called. He had alawn to mow and a back yard to clean up for Mr. Rawson.

  With his cap stuck on the back of his head and his hands in the pocketsof his patched trousers, the boy went whistling townward on his barefootway. At Adams Street he met the schoolchildren bound for home. A dozenboys from his own room closed in on him with shouts of joyous malice.

  "Played hookey! Played hookey! Jeff Farnum played hookey!" they shrilledat him.

  Ned Merrill assumed leadership of the young Apaches. "You're goin' tocatch it. Old Webber was down askin' for you. Wasn't he, Tom? Wasn't he,Dick?"

  Tom and Dick lied cheerfully to increase Jeff's dread. They addedgraphic details to help the story.

  The victim looked around with stoicism. He remembered the philosophy ofthe optimist that a licking does not last long.

  "Don't care if he was down," the boy bluffed.

  "Huh! Mr. Don't Care! Mr. Don't Care!" shrieked Merrill gleefully.

  They made a circle around Jeff and mocked him. Once or twice a boldertormentor snatched at his cap or pushed a neighbor against him. Then,with the inconstancy of youth, they suddenly deserted him for morediverting game.

  A forlorn little Italian girl was trying to slip past on the other sideof the street. Someone caught sight of her and with a whoop the Apacheswere upon her pell-mell. She began to run, but they hemmed her in. Onetugged at her braided hair. Another flipped mud at her dress from theend of a stick. Merrill snatched her slate and made off with it.

  Jeff cut swiftly across the street. Merrill was coming directly towardhim, his head turned to the girl. Triumphant whoops broke from histhroat. He bumped into Jeff, stumbled, and went down in the mud.

  Young Merrill was up in an instant, clamorous for battle. His hands andclothes were plastered with filth.

  "I'm goin' to lick the stuffin' out of you," he bellowed.

  Jeff said nothing. He was very white. His fingers worked nervously.

  "Yah! Yah! He's scared," the mob jeered.

  Jeff was. In that circle of hostile faces he found no sympathy. He hadto stand up to the bully of the class, a boy who could have given himfifteen pounds. Looking around for help, he saw that none was at hand.The thin legs of the rescued Italian girl were flashing down the street.On the steps of the big house of P. C. Frome a six-year-old little onewas standing with her nurse. Nobody else was in sight except his cousin,James, and the Apaches.

  "You're goin' to get the maulin' of your life," Ned Merrill promised ashe slipped out of his coat. "Webber'll lick you if he finds out you beenfightin'," James Farnum prophesied cheerfully to his cousin. He intendedto do his duty in the way of protest and then watch the fight.

  Ned worked his wiry little foe to the fence and pummeled him. Jeffducked and backed out of danger. Keeping to the defensive, he was beingbadly punished. Once he slipped in the mud and went down, but he was upagain before his slower antagonist could close with him. Blood streamedfrom his nose. His lip was gashed. Under the buffeting he was gettinghis head began to sing.

  "Punch him good, Ned," one of the champion's friends advised.

  "You bet he is," another chortled.

  Their jeers had an unexpected effect. Jeff's fears were blotted out byhis desperate need. Some spark of the fighting edge, inherited fromhis father, was fanned to a flame in the heart of the bruised littlewarrior. Like a tiger cat he leaped for Ned's throat, twisted his slimlegs round the sturdy ones of his enemy, and went down with him in aheap.

  Jeff landed on the bottom, but like an eel he squirmed to the top beforethe other had time to get set. The champion's patrician head was thumpeddown into the mud and a knobby little fist played a painful tattoo onhis mouth and cheek.

  "Take him off! Take him off!" Merrill shrieked after he had tried invain to roll away the incubus clamped like a vise to his body.

  His henchmen ran forward to obey. An unexpected intervention stoppedthem. A one-armed little man who had drifted down the street in time tosee part of the fracas pushed forward.

  "I reckon not just yet. Goliath's had a turn. Now David gets his."

  "Lemme up," sobbed Goliath furiously.

  "Say you're whopped." Jeff's fist emphasized the suggestion.

  "Doggone you!"

  This kind of one-sided warfare did not suit Jeff. He made as if to getup, but his backer stopped him.

  "Hold on, son. You're not through yet. When you do a job do itthorough." To the former champion he spoke. "Had plenty yet?"

  "I--I'll have him skinned," came from the tearful champion with a burstof profanity.

  "That ain't the point. Have you had enough so you'll be good? Or do youneed some more?"

  "I'm goin' to tell Webber."

  "Needs just a leetle more, son," the one-armed man told Jeff, draggingat his goatee.

  But young Farnum had made up his mind. With a little twist of his bodyhe got to his feet.

  Merrill rose, tearful and sullen. "I--I'll fix you for this," he gulped,and went sobbing toward the schoolhouse.

  "Better duck," James whispered to his cousin.

  Jeff shook his head.

  The little man looked at the boy sharply. The eyes under his shaggybrows were like gimlets.

  "Come up to the school with me. I'll see your teacher, son."

  Jeff walked beside him. He knew by the sound of the voice that hisre
scuer was a Southerner and his heart warmed to him. He wanted greatlyto ask a question. Presently it plumped out.

  "Was it in the war, sir?"

  "I reckon I don't catch your meaning."

  "That you lost your arm?" The boy added quickly, "My father was asoldier under General Early."

  The steel-gray eyes shot at him again. "I was under Early myself."

  "My father was a captain--Captain Farnum," the young warrior announcedproudly.

  "Not Phil Farnum!"

  "Yes, sir. Did you know him?" Jeff trembled with eagerness. His deadsoldier-father was the idol of his heart.

  "Did I?" He swung Jeff round and looked at him. "You're like him, in away, and, by Gad! you fight like him. What's your name?"

  "Jefferson Davis Farnum."

  "Shake hands, Jefferson Davis Farnum, you dashed little rebel. My nameis Lucius Chunn. I was a lieutenant in your father's company before Iwas promoted to one of my own."

  Jeff forgot his troubles instantly. "I wish I'd been alive to go withfather to the war," he cried.

  Captain Chunn was delighted. "You doggoned little rebel!"

  "I didn't know we used that word in the South' sir."

  Chunn tugged at his goatee and laughed. "We're not in the South, David."

  The former Confederate asked questions to piece out his patchworkinformation. He knew that Philip Farnum had come out of the war witha constitution weakened by the hardships of the service. Rumors haddrifted to him that the taste for liquor acquired in camp as an antidotefor sickness had grown upon his comrade and finally overcome him. FromJeff he learned that after his father's death the widow had sold hermortgaged place and moved to the Pacific Coast. She had invested thefew hundreds left her in some river-bottom lots at Verden and had laterdiscovered that an unscrupulous real estate dealer had unloaded upon herworthless property. The patched and threadbare clothes of the boy toldhim that from a worldly point of view the affairs of the Farnums were atebb tide.

  "Did... did you know father very well?" Jeff asked tremulously.

  Chunn looked down at the thin dark face of the boy walking beside himand was moved to lay a hand on his shoulder. He understood the ache inthat little heart to hear about the father who was a hero to him. Jeffwas of no importance in the alien world about him. The Captain guessedfrom the little scene he had witnessed that the lad trod a friendless,stormy path. He divined, too, that the hungry soul was fed from withinby dreams and memories.

  So Lucius Chunn talked. He told about the slender, soldierly officer ingray who had given himself so freely to serve his men, of the time hehad caught pneumonia by lending his blanket to a sick boy, of the day hehad led the charge at Battle Creek and received the wound which painedhim so greatly to the hour of his death. And Jeff drank his words inlike a charmed thing. He visualized it all, the bitter nights in camp,the long wet marches, the trumpet call to battle. It was this last thathis imagination seized upon most eagerly. He saw the silent massingof troops, the stealthy advance through the woods; and he heard theblood-curdling rebel yell as the line swept forward from cover like atidal wave, with his father at its head.

  Captain Chunn was puzzled at the coldness with which Mr. Webber listenedto his explanation of what had taken place. The school principal fellback doggedly upon one fact. It would not have happened if Jeff had notbeen playing truant. Therefore he was to blame for what had occurred.

  Nothing would be done, of course, without a thorough investigation.

  The Captain was not satisfied, but he did not quite see what more hecould do.

  "The boy is a son of an old comrade of mine. We were in the wartogether. So of course I have to stand by Jeff," he pleaded with asmile.

  "You were in the rebel army?" The words slipped out before theschoolmaster could stop them.

  "In the Confederate army," Chunn corrected quietly.

  Webber flushed at the rebuke. "That is what I meant to say."

  "I leave to-morrow for Alaska. It would be pleasant to know before I gothat Jeff is out of his trouble."

  "I'm afraid Jeff always will be in trouble. He is a most insubordinateboy," the principal answered coldly.

  "Are you sure you quite understand him?"

  "He is not difficult to understand." Webber, resenting the interferenceof the Southerner as an intrusion, disposed of the matter in a sentence."I'll look into this matter carefully, Mr. Chunn."

  Webber called immediately at the office of Edward B. Merrill, presidentof the tramway company and of the First National Bank. It happened thatthe vice-president of the bank was a school director; also that thefunds of the district were kept in the First National. The schoolteacherdid not admit that he had come to ingratiate himself with the powersthat ruled his future, but he was naturally pleased to come in directtouch with such a man as Merrill.

  The financier was urbane and spent nearly half an hour of his valuabletime with the principal. When the latter rose to go they shook hands.The two understood each other thoroughly.

  "You may depend upon me to do my duty, Mr. Merrill, painful though sucha course may be to me."

  "I am very glad to have met you, Mr. Webber. It is a source ofsatisfaction to me that our educational system is in the care of men ofyour stamp. I leave this matter with confidence entirely in your hands.Do what you think best."

  His confidence was justified. After school opened next morning Jeff wascalled up and publicly thrashed for playing truant. As a prelude to thecorporal punishment the principal delivered a lecture. He alluded tothe details of the fight gravely, with selective discrimination, givingyoung Farnum to understand that he had reached the end of his rope. Ifany more such brutal affairs were reported to him he would be punishedseverely.

  The boy took the flogging in silence. He had learned to set his teethand take punishment without whimpering. From the hardest whipping Webberhad ever given he went to his seat with a white, set face that staredstraight in front of him. Young as he was, he knew it had not been fairand his outraged soul cried out at the injustice of it. The principalhad seized upon the truancy as an excuse to let him escape from aninvestigation of the cause of the fight. Ned Merrill got off because hisfather was a rich man and powerful in the city. He, Jeff, was whippedbecause he was an outcast and had dared lift his hand against one of hisbetters.

  And there was no redress. It was simply the way of the world.

  Jeff and his mother were down that afternoon to see their new friendoff in the _City of Skook._ Captain Chunn found a chance to draw the boyaside for a question.

  "Is it all right with Mr. Webber? What did he do?"

  "Oh, he gave me a jawing," the boy answered.

  The little man nodded. "I reckoned that was what he would do. Be agood boy, Jeff. I never knew a man more honorable than your father. Runstraight, son."

  "Yes, sir," the lad promised, a lump in his throat.

  It was more than ten years before he saw Captain Chunn again.

  Part 2

  As an urchin Jeff had taken things as they came without understandingcauses. Thoughts had come to him in flashes, without any orderlysequence, often illogically. As a gangling boy he still took for grantedthe hard knocks of a world he did not attempt to synthesize.

  Even his mother looked upon him as "queer." She worried plaintivelybecause he was so careless about his clothes and because his fondnessfor the outdoors sometimes led him to play truant. Constantly she setbefore him as a model his cousin, James, who was a good-looking boy,polite, always well dressed, with a shrewd idea of how to get alongeasily.

  "Why can't you be like Cousin James? He isn't always in trouble," shewould urge in her tired way.

  It was quite true that the younger cousin was more of a general favoritethan harum-scarum Jeff, but the mother might as well have asked her boyto be like Socrates. It was not that he could not learn or that he didnot want to study. He simply did not fit into the school groove. Itsroutine of work and discipline, its tendency to stifle individuality, torun all children through the same h
opper like grist through a mill, puta clamp upon his spirits and his imagination. Even thus early he was arebel.

  Jeff scrambled up through the grades in haphazard fashion until hereached the seventh. Here his teacher made a discovery. She was a fadedlittle woman of fifty, but she had that loving insight to which allchildren respond. Under her guidance for one year the boy blossomed. Hisodd literary fancy for Don Quixote, for Scott's poems and romancesshe encouraged, quietly eliminating the dime novels he had readindiscriminately with these. She broke through the shell of his shynessto find out that his diffidence was not sulkiness nor his independenceimpudence.

  The boy was a dreamer. He lived largely in a world of his own, whereQuentin Durward and Philip Farnum and Robert E. Lee were enshrined asheroes. From it he would emerge all hot for action, for adventure. Intohis games then he would throw a poetic imagination that transfiguredthem. Outwardly he lived merely in that boys' world made to his hand.He adopted its shibboleths, fought when he must, went through the annualroutine of marbles, tops, kites, hop scotch, and baseball. From hisfellows he guarded jealously the knowledge of even the existence of hissecret world of fancy.

  His progress through the grades and the high school was intermittent.Often he had to stop for months at a time to earn money for theirliving. In turn he was newsboy, bootblack, and messenger boy. He drove adelivery wagon for a grocer, ushered at a theater, was even a copyholderin the proofroom of a newspaper. Hard work kept him thin, but he waslike a lath for toughness.

  Seven weeks after he was graduated from the high school his motherdied. The day of the funeral a real estate dealer called to offer three,hundred dollars for the lots in the river bottom bought some yearsearlier by Mrs. Farnum.

  Jeff put the man off. It was too late now to do his mother any good. Shehad had to struggle to the last for the bread she ate. He wondered whythe good things in life were so unevenly distributed.

  Twice during the next week Jeff was approached with offers for his lots.The boy was no fool.

  He found out that the land was wanted by a new railroad pushing intoVerden. Within three days he had sold direct to the agent of the companyfor nine hundred dollars. With what he could earn on the side and in hissummers he thought that sum would take him through college.

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