Two days later the papers chronicled without comment his opposition to Rann’s bill. He was aware that Rann possessed no uncertain influence with the editors of the “Morning Standard,” and he was surprised at the apparent indifference displayed by the curt announcement. Did Rann’s resentment hang fire? Or was the press prepared to uphold the governor?
On the morning of the same day a member of the legislature with whom he was slightly acquainted came in to congratulate him upon his stand. His name was Saunders, and he was a man of some ability, whom Nicholas had always regarded as a partisan of Webb.
“I’ve been fighting that bill this whole session,” he said emphatically, “and I’d given up all hope of defeating it when you had the pluck to knock it over. You’ve made enemies, Governor, but you’ve made friends, and I’m one of them. Give me the man who dares!” He held out his hand as he rose, and Nicholas responded with a hearty grip. Before the legislature closed he found that Saunders spoke the truth—he had made friends as well as enemies. The inborn Anglo-Saxon love of “the man who dares” was with him—a regard for daring for its own heroic sake. The hour was his, and he braved his shifting popularity as he would brave its final outcome.
One afternoon in early May, Dudley Webb came out upon his front steps and paused to light a cigar before descending to the street. A spring of happy promise was unfolding, for overhead the poplars bloomed against an enchanted sky. In the shadow of the church across the way, children were romping, their ecstatic trebles floating like bird-song on the air.
With the cigar between his teeth, Dudley heaved a sudden reminiscent sigh—the sigh of a man who possesses an excellent digestion and a complacent conscience. Things had gone well with him of late—the fact that a trivial domestic interest darkened for the moment his serene horizon proved it to be the solitary cloud of a clear day. The cloud in question had gathered in the shape of no less a person than Mrs. Jane Dudley Webb. She had been on a visit to Richmond, and he had seen her only two hours before safely started on her homeward journey. The truth was that Mrs. Webb and Eugenia had asserted for the past two days an implacable hostility, and Dudley’s genial efforts at pacification had resulted merely in diverting a share of the unpleasantness upon his own head. It was a lamentable fact that Eugenia, who was amiable to the point of weakness where members of the Battle family were concerned, found it impossible to harmonise with the elder Mrs. Webb. They had disagreed upon such important subjects as Miss Chris’s housekeeping and Dudley’s moral welfare, until Eugenia, after an inglorious defeat, had relapsed into silence—a silence broken only upon Dudley’s return from the station, when she had unbosomed herself of the declaration that she “couldn’t stand his mother, and it was as much as she could do to stand him.” Dudley had met this alarming outburst with its logical retort, “Hadn’t you better see a doctor, Eugie?” whereupon Eugenia had protested that “if she wasn’t fit for an asylum, he needn’t thank Mrs. Webb,” and had dissolved in tears.