“What kid’s-size proposition?”
“This little two-by-twice grammar school that tries to pass itself off for a college. And you ain’t even boss of it at that! You got a gang of mossbacks sitting on your head who don’t get a live idea among ’em wunst a year. Why, the archangel Gabriel wouldn’t have a show with a lot of corpses like them! Of course it ain’t my business to give advice to a man like you, and I’m probably offendin’ you sayin’ this, but someway you don’t seem to see what’s so plain to everybody else. It’s your modesty keeps you blind, I guess. But here’s what I don’t see: why don’t you come out of this little hole in the ground and get in line?”
“You’re dead and buried here. Now you mention the Evening Windbag that nobody pays no more attention to than kids yelling in the street. How about having a paper of your own some day, to express your own ideas and get things done, big things, the way you want ’em?”
“You mean the Post?”
“Well, the editor of the Post certainly would be in line, whereas the president of Blaines Grammar School certainly ain’t.”
“What do you mean by in line, Plonny?”
Mr. Neal invested his cigar with an enigmatic significance. “I might mean one thing and I might mean another. I s’pose you never give a thought to poltix, did you?”
“Well, in a general way I have thought of it sometimes.”
“Think of it some more,” said Mr. Neal, from the door. “I see a kind of shake-up comin’. People say I’ve got infloonce in poltix, and sort of help to run things. Of course it ain’t so. I’ve got no more infloonce than what my ballot gives me, and my takin’ an intelligent public interest in what’s goin’ on. But it looks to an amatoor like the people are gettin’ tired of this ring-rule they been givin’ us, and ‘re goin’ to rise in their majesty pretty soon, and fill the offices with young progressive men who never heeled f’r the organization.”
He went away, leaving the young president of Blaines vastly cheered. Certainly no language could have made Neal’s meaning any plainer. He had come to tell West that, if he would only consent to get in line, he, great Neal, desired to put him in high office—doubtless the Mayoralty, which in all human probability meant the Governorship four years later.
West sat long in rapt meditation. He marveled at himself for having ever accepted his present position. Its limitations were so narrow and so palpable, its possibilities were so restricted, its complacent provincialism so glaring, that the imaginative glories with which he had once enwrapped it seemed now simply grotesque. As long as he remained, he was an entombed nonentity. Beyond the college walls, out of the reach of the contemptible bigotry of the trustees of this world, the people were calling for him. He could be the new type of public servant, the clean, strong, fearless, idolized young Moses, predestined to lead a tired people into the promised land of political purity. Once more a white meadow of eager faces rolled out before the eye of his mind; and this time, from the buntinged hustings, he did not extol learning with classic periods, but excoriated political dishonesty in red-hot phrases which jerked the throngs to their feet, frenzied with ardor....