Read CHAPTER XXVIII. - SPRING CONVENTIONS. of A Spoil of Office A Story of the Modern West , free online book, by Hamlin Garland, on

The session wore along monotonously ­at least to those who like Bradley took no interest in the bitter partisan wrangling ­and suddenly it came upon him that spring was near.  There came a couple of sunny days after three days of warm rain and the grass grew suddenly green.  A robin hunting worms on the lawn laughed out audaciously one morning as Bradley went across the path.  There seemed to be a mysterious awakening thrill in every plant and animal.  The distant hills grew soft in outline.

A few days and the Spirea Japonica flamed out in yellow, the quince in the hedges showed its rose-colored tips of bursting blooms and on the red buds grew wonderful garnet-colored fists soon to open into beautiful palms of flowers.  The gardeners got out with rakes and wheel-barrows and lazily plodded to and fro upon the beautiful seamless green of the lawns, or spaded about the flowers beds in the countless little parks of the city.

A few days later and the old white mule and darkey driver came out upon the springing grass with the purring mower, and it made Bradley’s blood leap with recollections of the haying field.  The air began to grow sweet with the odor of flowers.  The sky took on a warm look.  The building took on a deeper blue in its shadows and the north windows became violet at noon.  Bradley longed for the country, but the orange-colored mud of the suburbs kept him confined to the sidewalks.

On Easter Sunday the girls came out in their delicious dresses, looking dainty and sweet as the lilies each church displayed.  New hats, new grasses and springing plants announced that spring had come.  The “leaves of absence” indicated spring in the House.

As June came on, the question of re-election began to trouble some of the members.  They began to get “leave of absence on important business,” and to go home to fix up their political fences.  There was no sign of adjournment.  It was the policy of the Republicans to keep the Democrats out of the field.

The profane Clancy was one of the first to go.  He came to Bradley one day, “Say, Talcott, I wish you’d ask for indefinite leave for me, my fences are in a hell of a fix and besides I want to see my wife.  I’m no earthly use here ­though you needn’t state that in your request.”

“What’ll I say?”

“Oh, important business ­or sickness ­the baby’s cutting a tooth ­just as you like.  It all goes.”

“I guess I’ll try important business.  The other is too much worn.”

“All right.  It does beat hell the amount of sickness there is on pension bill nights and on convention week.”

Clancy was a type of legislator whose idea of legislation was to have a good time and look out for re-election.  Bradley, however, did not worry particularly about his re-election until he received a letter from the Judge asking him to come home and attend the convention.

“It’s just as well to be on the ground,” the Judge wrote; “there is a good deal of opposition developing in the north-west part of the district.  Larson wants the nomination for the Legislature, and he is trying to swing the Scandinavians for Fishbein.  They are making a good deal of your attitude on the pension bill, and that interview on the oleo business where you go back on your legislative vote is being circulated to do you harm.”

This letter alarmed Bradley, and at once showed him what a fight the Judge was making.  Suddenly he woke to the fact that defeat would be unwelcome.  Congress had come at last to have a subtle fascination, and he loved the city and its noble buildings, its theatres, and its libraries.  Since that fatal letter from Ida he had been forced to go more often to the theatres and concerts.  They seemed now like necessities to him, and the thought of going back to private life was not at all pleasant.  He therefore got leave of absence, and took the train for Rock River.

He did not see so much of the outside world on this return trip.  His trouble came back upon him, mixed, too, with something sweet which lay in the fact of a return to the West.  He caught a thrill of this as the train dipped and swung round a peak on the west slope of the Alleghanies, and for a single instant the sea of sun-illumined swells and peaks of foliage broke upon the eyes and then was lost, and the train dropped down into the rising darkness of the valley.

It came to him again the next afternoon as he rode away over the wide, low swells of the prairies between Chicago and the Mississippi.  It was a beautiful showery June day.  A day of alternate warm rain and brilliant sunshine, and the rushing engine plunged into trailing clouds of rain only to burst forth into sunshine again with exultant shrieks of untamed energy, and listening to it one might have fancied it a living thing with capability to snuff the glorious west wind, and eyes to reflect the cool green swells of pasture.

It was a magnificent thing to step off the Chicago sleeper into the broad morning at Rock River.  Soaring streamers of red and flame-color arched the eastern sky like the dome of a mighty pagoda.  Birds were singing in the cool, sweet hush; roosters were crowing; the air was full of the scent of fresh leaves and succulent, springing grain.  Bradley abandoned himself to the spring, and his walk up the quiet street was a keen delight.  The town seemed wofully small and shabby and lifeless; but it had trees and birds and earth-smell to compensate for other things.

There was no one at the station to receive him, not even a ’bus.  The station agent said: 

“Guess the Judge didn’t know you was comin’ or he’d been down here with a band-wagon.”

Mrs. Brown was in the kitchen bent above a pan of sizzling meat.  A Norwegian girl with vivid blue eyes and pink and white complexion was setting the table with great precision.  She smiled broadly as Bradley put his finger to his lips and crept toward Mrs. Brown, who gave a great start as she felt the clasp of his arm.

“Gracious sakes alive!  Bradley Talcott!”

“Did I scare yeh?” he inquired, smiling.  “Where’s the Judge?”

She looked at him fondly as he held her a moment in his arms.

“He’s out by the well ­I think he’s at work at something, for I’ve heard him swearing and groaning out there.”

Bradley found the Judge weeding a bed of onions.  He had a couple of folded newspapers under his knees and was in his shirt-sleeves.  He looked like a felon condemned for life to hard manual labor.

“Judge, how are you?” called Bradley.

The Judge looked up with a scowling brow.  “Hello, Brad.”  He wiped his hand on his thigh and rose with a groan to shake hands.  “I’m slavin’ again.  Mrs. Brown insists on my working on the garden.  How’s Congress?”

“Piratical as ever.  Nothing doing that ought to be done.  How’s everything here?”

The Judge put on his coat; “I guess I’ll quit for this time,” he said, referring to the onions.  “Let’s wash up for breakfast.”

They washed at the kitchen sink as usual.  Mrs. Brown watched Bradley with maternal pleasure as he hung his coat on a nail and went about in his shirt-sleeves scrubbing his face and combing his hair.

“It’s good to see you around again, Bradley.”

“Well, it seems good to me.  Seems like old times to sit down here to your cooking with the kitchen door open and the chickens singing.”

“We’re all right in this county,” said the Judge, referring back to politics; “but as I wrote you, it aint all clear sailing.  We’ve got work to do.  I’ve called the Convention at Cedarville, in order to keep some useful people in the field.  We’ll take dinner with old Jake Schlimgen ­he’s a power with the Germans.”

Bradley avoided political talk as much as possible, but when on the street there seemed nothing else to talk about.  Councill and Ridings assured him he was all right in the eastern part of the county, and under their flattery he grew quite cheerful.  Their simple, honest admiration did him good.

On the day named, Bradley and the Judge drove off up the road in a one-horse buggy.  The Judge talked spasmodically; Bradley was silent, looking about him with half-shut eyes.  The wheat had clothed the brown fields; crows were flying through the soft mist that dimmed the light of the sun, but did not intercept its heat.  Each hill and tree glimmered across the waves of warm air, and seemed to pulse as if alive.  Blackbirds and robins and sparrows everywhere gave voice to the ecstasy which the men felt, but could not express.

The Judge roused up, slapping the horse with the reins.  “It’s going to be a fight; but Fishbein will be left on the first ballot by twenty-five votes.”

Cedarville was wide-awake ­feverishly so.  The street was lined with knots of gesticulating politicians.  As he alighted Bradley’s friends swarmed about him with “three cheers for the Hon. Brad Talcott.”  He shook hands all round with unfeigned pleasure.

“Hurrah, boys, let’s all go over to the Palace Hotel and have some dinner,” said the Judge at last.

The rest whooped with delight.  “That’s the cooky, Judge.”

They swarmed in upon Jake like the locusts into Egypt.  They washed (some of them) in the wash-room, out of tin basins, laughing and talking in hearty clamor over the water and the comb.  Others flung their nondescript wind-worn hats upon the floor, brushed their hair with their fingers and went into the dining-room as if going into a farm-kitchen in threshing time.

The girls were in a flutter of haste, and giggled and bumped against each other trying to serve the dinner to order ­

“Quick as the Lord’ll let yeh.”

Bradley’s constituents were mostly farmers, clean-eyed and hearty.  They all felt sure of success and jeered the opposition good-naturedly.

When the Judge and Bradley rode home that night, they were silent for another cause.  They had been defeated on the tenth ballot, and bitter things had been said by both sides.

It was again beautiful around them, but they did not notice it.  The low sun flung its level red rays of light across the flaming green of the springing grain, and lighted every western window-pane into burning squares of crimson.  The train carrying the successful Waterville crowd passed them, and they waved their hats in return to their opponents’ salute.

The Judge was as badly defeated as Bradley.  He took it very hard.  It seemed to give the lie to all his prophecies of Democratic progress.  It seemed to him a defeat of Jeffersonian principle.  He consoled himself by saying ­

“Those fellows don’t represent the people.  The thing to do is to bolt the convention”; and then he went on planning an independent campaign.

Bradley maintained gloomy silence.  The comment of his friends hurt him more than his defeat.  Their tone of pity cut him, and left him raw to the gibes of his opponents.  The fact that an honorable, honest man could have enemies in his own party was borne in upon him with merciless force.  What had he done that men should yell in hell-like ferocity of glee over his defeat?

This defeat cut closer into the Judge’s life than anything that had come to him since the death of his son.  If Bradley had not been so blind in his selfish suffering he would have seen how the Judge had aged and saddened since the morning.

But the old man’s vital nature would not rest under defeat.  He almost forced Bradley to issue a card to the public announcing his independent candidacy for Congress.  Bradley had no heart in it, however.  The energy of youth seemed gone out of him.

The Judge gathered his forces together for battle, but Bradley fled away from Rock River to escape the comments of his friends as well as his enemies.  He was too raw to invite strokes of the lash.  He dreaded the meeting with his colleagues at Washington, but there was a little more reserve in their comment and there were fewer who took a vital interest in his affairs.

He met Radbourn a few days after his return.

“Well,” Radbourn said, “I see by the papers that your defeat in the convention was due to your advocacy of ‘cranky notions.’  I told you the advocacy of hérésies was dangerous; I have no comfort for you.  You had your choice before you.  You can be a hypocrite and knuckle down to every monopoly or special act, or you can be an individual and ­go out of office.”

“I’ll go out of office, I guess, whether I want to or not,” was his bitter reply.  He suffered severely for a few days with the commiseration of friends and the thinly-veiled ridicule of his political enemies, but each man was too much occupied to hold Bradley’s defeat long in mind.  He soon sank back into quiet, if not into repose.

As the hot weather came on, the city became almost as quiet as Rock River itself.  Save taking care of the few tourists who drifted through, there was very little doing.  The cars ground along ever more thinly until they might be called occasional.  The trees put forth their abundance of leaf, and under them the city seemed to sleep.  Congress had settled down into a dull and drowsy succession of daily adjournments and filibustering.  The speaker ruled remorselessly, “counting the hats in the cloak-room to make up his quorum,” his critics said.

Nothing was doing, but vast accumulations of appropriations were piling up, waiting the hurried action of the last few days of the session.  The senators dawdled in and out dressed in the thinnest clothing; the House looked sparse and ineffectual.

Bradley grew depressed, and at last he became positively ill.  He was depressed by the incessant relentless attacks made upon him through the Waterville Patriot, and by his apparently hopeless outlook.  The Patriot published some of his radical utterances much garbled, of course, and called him “an anarchist and a socialist, a fit leader for the repudiating gang of alleged farmers in Kansas.”

Radbourn became alarmed for him, and advised him to get indefinite leave of absence and go home.  “Go back into the haying-field; that’s what you need; they won’t miss you here.  Go home and go out of politics, and stay out till the revolution comes; then go out and chalk death on your enemies’ door.”

The advice to go home was so obviously sound that Bradley took it at once.  It seemed as if the atmosphere of the city would destroy him.  As a matter of fact it was inactivity that was killing him.  He found it so hard to exercise ­except by walking, and that did not rest his over-active mind.