Read CHAPTER XI. - STUDYING WITH THE JUDGE. of A Spoil of Office A Story of the Modern West , free online book, by Hamlin Garland, on

After this campaign Bradley went back to his studies at the seminary and to his work in Brown’s office.  Milton did not go back.  Deering made him his assistant in the treasurer’s office, and he confided to Bradley his approaching marriage with Eileen.

In talking about Milton’s affairs to Bradley, Mr. Jennings said sadly:  “Well, that leaves me alone.  He’ll never come back to the farm.  When he was at school I didn’t miss him so much, because he was always coming back on a Saturday, but now ­well, it’s no use making a fuss over it, I s’pose, but it’s going to be lonesome work for us out there.”

“Mebbe he’ll come back after his term of office is up.”

Mr. Jennings shook his head.  “No, town life and office’ll spoil ’im ­and then he’ll get married.  You’ll never go back on the farm.  Nobody ever does that gets away from it and learns how to get a livin’ anywhere else.”

This melancholy sat strangely upon Mr. Jennings, who usually took things as they came with smiling resignation.  It affected Bradley deeply to see him so gloomy.

Bradley found a quiet and comfortable home with Judge Brown and his odd old wife, who manifested her growing regard for him by little touches of adornment in his room, and by infrequent confidences.  As for the Judge, he took an immense delight in the young fellow, he made such a capital listener.  Between Bradley and the grocery he really found opportunity to tell all his old stories and philosophize upon every conceivable subject.  He talked a deal of politics, quoting Jefferson and Jackson.  He criticised members of Congress, and told what he would have done in their places.  He criticised, also, the grange movement, from what he considered to be a lofty plane.

“They profess to have for a motto ’equal rights to all and special privileges to none,’ and then they go off into class legislation.  It’s easy to talk that principle, but it means business when you stand by it.  I haint got the sand to stand by that principle myself.  It goes too deep for me, but it’s something you young politicians ought to study on.  One o’ these days that principle will get life into it, and when it does things will tumble.  The Democratic party used to be a party that meant that, and if it ever succeeds again it must head that way.  That’s the reason I want to get you young fellows into it.”

These talks didn’t mean as much to Bradley as they should have done.  He was usually at work at something and only half listened while the Judge wandered on, his heels in the air, his cheek full of tobacco.  Old Colonel Peavy dropped in occasionally, and Dr. Carver, and then the air was full of good, old-time Democratic phrases.  At such times the Judge even went so far as to quote Calhoun.

“As a matter of fact, Calhoun was on the right track.  If he hadn’t got his States’ Rights doctrine mixed up with slavery, he’d ‘a’ been all right.  What he really stood for was local government as opposed to centralized government.  We’re just comin’ around back to a part of Calhoun’s position.”

This statement of the Judge stuck in Bradley’s mind; months afterward it kept coming up and becoming more significant each time that he talked upon it.

He thought less often of Miss Wilbur now, and he could hear her name mentioned without flushing.  She had become a vaguer but no less massive power in his life.  That beautiful place in his soul where she was he had a strange reverence for.  He loved to have it there.  It was an inspiration to him, and yet he did not distinctly look forward to ever seeing her, much less to meeting her.

Indefinite as this feeling was, it saved him from the mistake of marrying Nettie.  Poor girl!  She was in the grasp of her first great passion, and was as helpless as a broken-winged bird in the current of a river.  She was feverishly happy and unaccountably sad by turns.  The commands of her father not to see Bradley only roused her antagonism, and her mother’s timid entreaties made no impression upon her.  Not even Bradley’s unresponsiveness seemed to have a decided discouraging effect.

Her classmates laughed at her, as they did at three or four other pairs in the school who proclaimed their devouring love for each other by walking to and from the chapel with locked arms, or who sat side by side in their classes with clasped hands, indifferent to any rude jest, reprimand from the teacher, or slyly-flung eraser.  The principal gave it up in despair, calling it a “sort of measles which they’ll outgrow.”

It was really pitiful to the comprehending observer.  There was so much that was pain mixed with this pleasure.  There were so many keen and benumbing disappointments, like that of waiting about the door of the office for Bradley to come down, and then to see him appear in company with some client of Judge Brown.  Not that the client made so much difference, but the cold glance of Bradley’s eyes did.  At such times she turned away with quivering lip and choking throat.

She had lost much of her pertness and brightness.  She talked very little at home, and it was only when with Bradley that she seemed at all like her old bird-like self.  Then she chattered away in a wild delight, if he happened to be in a responsive mood, or feverishly and with a forced quality of gayety if he were cold and unresponsive.

Bradley knew he ought to decide one way or the other, and often he promised himself that he would refuse to walk or ride with her, but the next time she came he weakly relented at sight of her eager face.  It took so little to make her happy, that the temptation was very great to yield, and so their lives went along.  He took her to the parties and sleigh-rides with the young people, but on his return he refused to enter the house.  He met her at the gate, and left her there upon his return.

The colonel had met him shortly after the election, and had threatened to whip him for his charges against him as an office-holder.  He concluded not to try it, however, and contented himself by saying, “Don’t you never darken my door again, young man.”

But in general Bradley’s life moved on uneventfully.  He applied himself studiously to his work in the office.  He was getting hold of some common law, and a great deal of common sense, for the Judge was strong on both these points.

“Young man,” said the Judge one day, after Bradley had returned from a sleigh-ride with Nettie, “I see that the woman-question is before you.  Now don’t make a mistake.  Be sure you are right.  In nine cases out of ten, back out and you’ll be right.”

Bradley remained silent over by the rickety red-hot stove, warming his stiffened fingers.  The Judge went on in a speculative way: 

“I believe I notice a tendency in the times that makes it harder for a married man to succeed than it used to be.  I think, on the whole, my advice would be to keep out of it altogether.  More men fail on that account, I observe, than upon any other.  You see it’s so infernally hard to tell what kind of a woman your girl is going to turn out.”

“You needn’t worry about me,” said Bradley a little sullenly.

“That’s what Mrs. Brown said.  I just thought I’d say a word or two, anyway.  If I’ve gone too far, you may kick my dog over there.”

Bradley looked at the sleeping dog, and back at the meditative Judge, and smiled.  He sat down at his work and said no more upon the subject.