Read CHAPTER XX of A Gentleman from Mississippi, free online book, by Thomas A. Wise, on ReadCentral.com.

THE CALL TO ARMS

Both Randolph, and Carolina were deeply affected by their father’s words.

The daughter attempted to take on herself the blame for her brother’s action.

“I was the older one. I might have stopped him if I had wished, and should bear the burden.”

“No, no, father,” exclaimed the youth, his inborn self-reliance prompting him to shoulder the consequences of his own mistakes. “I, and I alone, am responsible for what I did. I did not realize that it was wrong. I will not hide behind Carolina.”

Carolina Langdon bore herself better than was to have been expected under the strain of the painful interview. She saw more clearly now how she had erred. She was undergoing an inward revolution that would make it impossible for her ever again to veer so far from the line of duty to her father, her family and to herself.

When Randolph had finished Carolina took up her own defense, and eloquently she pleaded the defense of many a woman who yearns for what she has not got, for what may be beyond her reach the defense of the woman who chafes under the limitations of worldly position, of sex and of opportunity. It was the defense of an ambitious woman.

“Perhaps I ought to have been a man of the Langdon family,” she exclaimed. “Father, oh, can’t you understand that I couldn’t doze my life away down on those plantations? You don’t know what ambition is. I had to have the world. I had to have money. If I had been a man I would have tried big financial enterprises. I should have liked to fight for a fortune. You wouldn’t have condemned me then. You might have said my methods were bold, but if I succeeded I would have been a great man. But just because I am a woman you think I must sit home with my knitting. No, father, the world does move. Women must have an equal chance with men, but I wish I had been a man!”

“Even then I hope you would have been a gentleman,” rebuked her father sternly. “Women should have an equal chance, Carolina. They should have an equal chance for the same virtues as men, not for the same vices.”

“But an equal chance,” returned the girl fervidly. “There, father, you have admitted what I have tried to prove. The woman with the spirit of a man, the spirit that cries to a woman. ‘Advance,’ ‘Accomplish,’ ’Be something,’ ‘Strike for yourself,’ cannot sit idly by while all the world moves on. If it is true that I have chosen the wrong means, the wrong way, to better my lot I did it through ignorance, and that ignorance is the fault of the times in which I live, of the system that guides the era in which I live.

“I am what the world calls ‘educated,’ but the world, the world of men, knows better. It laughs at me. It has cheated me because I am a woman. The world of men has fenced me in and hobbled me with convention, with precedent, with fictitious sentiment. If I pursue the business of men as they themselves would pursue it I am called an ungrateful daughter. If I should adopt the morals of men I would be called a fallen woman. If I adopted the religion of men I would have no religion at all. Turn what way I will ”

“But not every woman feels the way you do, my daughter,” broke in the Senator.

“No, you are right, because their spirit has been crushed by generations, by centuries of forced subserviency to men. They tell us we should be thankful that we do not live in China, where women are physical slaves to men. In our country they are forced to be mental and social slaves to men. Is one very much worse than the other?”

“Then, dear,” and her father’s tone was very gentle, “if you want an equal chance want to be equal to a man you must take your medicine with Randolph, like a man.”

“What are you going to do, sir?” she asked, afraid.

“I’m going to spoil all your little scheme, dear,” he returned, smiling sadly. “I’m going, I fear, to make you lose all your money. I’d like to make it easy for you, but I can’t. You’ve got to take your medicine, children, and when it’s all over back there in Mississippi I shall be able, I hope, to patch up your broken lives, and together we will work out your mistakes. I can’t think of that now. The honor of the Langdons calls. This is the time for the fight, and any one who fights against me must take the consequences.”

He walked over and touched the bell.

“Thomas,” he said to the servant who responded, “take that letter at once to Senator Peabody, in the library.”

“What is it, sir?” asked Randolph.

“It’s the call to arms,” responded his father grimly.

Senator Peabody read the letter to which Haines had signed Langdon’s name and jumped up from his chair in the library in astonishment. Without a word to the startled Stevens he rushed to confront Langdon.

“What’s the meaning of this?” he shouted as he burst in on the junior Senator from Mississippi.

“Of what?” asked the Southerner, with a blandness that added fuel to Peabody’s irritation.

“Don’t trifle with me, sir!” cried “the boss of the Senate.” “This letter. You sent it. Explain it! I’m in no mood to joke.”

Langdon looked at him calmly.

“I think the letter is quite plain, Senator,” he said. “You can read.” Then he turned to his daughter. “This discussion cannot possibly interest you, my dear. Will you go to the drawing-room to receive our guests?”

Carolina obeyed. She seemed to be discovering new qualities in this father whom she had considered to be too old-fashioned for his time.

“Now, Senator, go ahead, and, Randolph, you bring Stevens.”

“You’re switching to Gulf City?” demanded Peabody.

“I’m considering Gulf City,” agreed Langdon.

Peabody brought down his fist on the table.

“It’s too late to consider anything, Langdon,” he cried. “We’re committed to Altacoola, and Altacoola it is. I don’t care what you heard of Gulf City. Now, I’d like to settle this thing in a friendly manner, Langdon. I like always for every member of the Senate to have his share of the power and the patronage. We’ve been glad to put you forward in this naval base matter. We appreciate the straightforwardness, the honesty of your character. You look well. You’re the kind of politician the public thinks it wants nowadays, but you’ve been in the Senate long enough to know that bills have to pass, and you know you can’t get through anything without my friends, and I tell you now I’ll throttle any Gulf City plan you bring up.”

“Then if you are as sure of that you can’t object to my being for Gulf City?” asked Langdon.

“Are you financially interested in Gulf City?” demanded Peabody.

“Senator Peabody!” exclaimed Langdon.

“Don’t flare up, Langdon,” retorted Peabody. “That sort of thing has happened in the Senate. There are often perfectly legitimate profits to be made in some regular commercial venture by a man who has inside information as to what’s doing up on Capitol Hill.”

“Senator Peabody,” asked Langdon, “why are you so strong for Altacoola?”

The Pennsylvanian hesitated.

“Its natural advantages,” he said at last.

The Southerner shook his head.

“Oh, that’s all? Well, if natural advantages are going to settle it, and not influence, go ahead and vote, and I’ll just bring in a minority report for Gulf City.”

“The boss of the Senate” was in a corner now.

“Confound it, Langdon, if you will have it, I am interested in Altacoola.”

Langdon nodded.

“That’s all I wanted to know,” he said.

“Now you see why it’s got to be Altacoola,” persisted the boss.

“I don’t mind telling you, then, Senator Peabody,” answered Langdon calmly, “that my being for Gulf City was a bluff. I’ve been trying to draw you out. Gulf City is a mud bank and no more fitted to be a naval base than Keokuk, Ia. Altacoola it’s got to be, for the good of the country and the honor of Mississippi.

“And one thing more, Senator. I’d just like to add that not a single man connected with that committee is going to make a cent out of the deal. You get that straight?”