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The Contralto

Rev. Charles Maloy, C. M.
St. Joseph's Parish, Emmitsburg, Md.

Chapter 5 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 1

For a generation the "Fourth Estate" had been represented in and around Emmitsburg by the family, who gave to the waiting world their scant views of men and things through the medium of the "Chronicle." Advances in journalism had come without affecting the make-up of the paper, most of its copy being "boilerplate" bought in the city by the pound and "edited with a handsaw." Home affairs provided scarce half a column, consisting in general of announcement of the arrival of increases in the various families, or notices calling attention to sales advertised in other portions of the paper. Pride of editorship could not bring bread and butter to the mouths of the rising young Troxels, hence when Mr. Galt, from Washington, made an offer for the plant, the proprietor willingly accepted.

West Main Street taken from Presbyterian Church Steeple ~ 1900

The face of the Chronicle changed from the very first day of the new ownership. No more stereo-typed stuff appeared, while home news occupied a full page. A contest for a piano which was awarded to the most popular young woman, said popularity being based upon the number of new subscribers, caused the circulation to increase enormously. The largest business building in the village was now dedicated to the publishing office of the paper, being fitted up with modern machinery in place of the old hand-presses. The editorial room being the best equipped in the county, the editor was justly proud of it.

Into this was ushered the Professor when he called in response to Mr. Higbee's invitation. The editor received him warmly and was soon in medias res on the matter of Emmitsburg reform. The first point of his animadversion was the attitude of the institutions towards the people. He was for emulating other newspapermen who by exposition and criticism had been able to bring about much needed changes. The power of the press should be brought to bear on the "Barons," a healthy public opinion created and the people taught their rights.

"Look at Flynn's position in the matter of the baseball game; that shows how they view any effort to elevate the townsfolk out of the slough of absolute dependence into which a century of systematic pauperism has plunged them."

"Featina lente, which being interpreted means: 'Keep your shirt on.' Is it good business for you to antagonize them openly?"

"Business be hanged!" exclaimed Galt, falling under the spell of Harry's lack of conventionality, "do you suppose for one moment that I have buried myself at this water-tank for business reasons? I'm here because I must be here."

"At a water-tank?" with a lift of the eyebrows. "Precisely."

"Me too, Mr. Galt, shake," and their hands met in friendly clasp, their eyes in a steady stare of companionship for a moment, then both laughed. The Editor said, "Well, to business, what is your programme?"

"Had we only ourselves to think of," mused Harry aloud, "it would be a glorious fight. To think of two reformed souses or not yet reformed, taking up the cudgels for this oppressed people would be a new sensation indeed, a sort of moral compensation, a bringing of good out of evil. But we must make haste slowly. What should we do were the 'Barons' to dump them all on our hands? We have no work to put them at, there would be a lot of misery before we got things straightened out. 'The lethargy of the ages,' to quote the Rector, 'has sapped the life of these poor devils and rendered them unfit for a fight.' They would curse us, and crawl back to lick the hands that scourge them."

"You seem to have sized up the situation pretty thoroughly for a newcomer," said Galt with admiration.

"An amateur sociologist could size up the situation in a day, it's the remedy that puzzles me. One thing I am certain of and that is we must educate these people, teach them that twelve dollars per month is not charity, not even justice; until they know they have souls to develop in this world as well as to save for the hereafter, we can hope to do little."

"Exactly, but how shall we go about it? For the furtherance of the cause I suggest that you become, from this day forth, assistant editor of the Emmitsburg Chronicle."

The compact agreed upon, the Professor was assigned a desk in the sanctum in a corner which overlooked the street. He was to produce a column of copy each week looking to the social uplift of the village, but according to his preconceived plan he would not touch directly upon home conditions until he had led up to them by the consideration of general economic principles As he was about to leave the office, Mr. Higbee entered:

"Don't go, Professor," said the foreman after greetings, "I merely wanted to know if Galt wished us to run this Glass story as a feature."

"Have you heard this?" asked the Editor, proceeding to read the copy. At its finish he was surprised to find no reflection of his mirth on the Professor's countenance; rather there was a look of pain.

"Don't you approve of running that?"

"Does my approval or disapproval affect the running?"

"It certainly does."

"Then don't run it; the first element in social uplift is self respect. Do we increase John Glass's self respect by running that stuff? That's not humor, that's wit. Humor is love; wit is hatred. If we are going to help Emmitsburg we must love it and everything in it. We must teach its people to laugh with one another not at one another."

That afternoon the Professor assumed his duties, contributing a column entitled, "Love and Humor, Wit and Hatred," which being read at the college caused the "gents" to wonder from whom Galt had been stealing. A fight had been precipitated with the W. M. Railroad and this subject too was put into his hands to be dealt with, without restraint except as entailed by the libel law, a very lax instrument in our courts.

When all the day's copy had been sent to the printers the two editors sat back puffing "Missouri meerschaums," an ever present luxury in a sanctum. From a cloud of smoke, the Professor asked, "Were you hitting the high places long before pulling up at this water-tank?"

"A matter of twenty years, I should judge," slowly answered the Editor-in-chief.

"Great Scott! it didn't take me a year to land."

"I have seen the game both ways from the ace, have been up and down the White Way several times in my day, and doubt I should have quit yet were it not for the madame and the children."

"I hadn't got fairly started when they flagged me with nerve specialists and oculists driving me to the tall timbers. I know they are right for I have no more license to fool with it than a powder man with matches. When I touch it, it's a drink a minute and raise the ante every time until the chandelier is the limit."

"It takes about a week for it to reach that stage with me, but when it does the police station or some jag retreat' is the only place that will hold me. The last one ended at the baths on the Hill in New York. I was taking it as fast as they could bring it, until flagged by the manager, then I sent bell-hops out to get it by the quart. One morning I went to the café in my bathrobe; on the way I took a feather duster from a maid, stuck the handle down my back, walked in and announced myself as the Lord High Duke of Kakiak. On recovery I deemed it time to make a break from the evils of a great city, hence I am here."

"My case was different," confessed the Professor. "All through college I was fairly good, never going too far in dissipation, and eventually adopting a profession traditionally adverse to fast living. A year ago I found myself the victim of insomnia, began the use of stimulants as a soporific, and last summer saw the gates ajar. When I was convalescent it was concluded the backwoods were the only safe place for me to spend the current year. The funny part has seldom come my way," he ended with a sigh.

"It's remarkable," Galt took up, "how we Americans take to it so viciously. My theory is that we are invalids in the matter, and need all the help we can get from outside; the women, the good women I mean, are the greatest source of confidence in this fight."

"No doubt you are right," admitted the Professor.

Conversation ceased, the two friends each busied himself in recalling the many occasions where his weakness had resulted in catastrophes for himself and those dear to him. The clanking of the press, the chug of the newly installed gasoline engine came distinctly to their ears. Both were sufficiently enlightened to enjoy the luxury of quiet thought. As the fire in his pipe burned low the Professor stood up, knocked out the ashes on the heel of his shoe, stretched himself, and prepared to depart.

Early Western Maryland train as it passes through Graceham, Md.

At the door he said, "Next I shall deliver a broadside against the Western Maryland. on the question of delayed mails. They will not pay any attention to us for a while, but by keeping it up we shall have them sending us transportation over the system."

"Which we send back with the most virtuous indignation. That is one thing you and I don't need just at present, we are like Lincoln in that we can't go."

"What was that one?" asked Harry his hand on the knob, "I never heard it."

"Lincoln had an old colored servant, Sam, who was attached to his master for many years, putting up with the mistress patiently. At last the breaking point was reached, Sam felt he must go. Mr.

Lincoln endeavored to dissuade him but the old fellow was immovable in his determination. He was paid off, given an extra bank note, and as he left the President exclaimed, 'Lucky Sam! you can go'"

"Se non e vero, e ben trovato," said the Professor as he walked out into the street.

A box of candy was in his judgment a fitting offering for a young lady suffering from an injured ankle, so he entered Peter's store to make the purchase. The notables all greeted him with a word or a nod and Doc Forman addressed him personally:

"Professor, we were just talking of this town in winter; it's the dodgastedest hole you ever saw. The place is so quiet the roosters crow at nine o'clock because they think it's midnight."

"Rather pleasant for nervous people I should think. I presume the inhabitants are healthy and long-lived."

"Long-lived!" echoed the dentist with a sneer, "they don't live they only exist."

"Better off at that than city folks," avowed Dr. Brawner, "who keep late hours and dissipate, wear themselves out and must come here to build up."

"You are right, Doctor," agreed the Professor, "still I should think a little dissipation might help your business."

"I got plenty of work at the college and academy, I ain't looking for any more."

"I hope it is not dissipation that causes ill-health at those institutions," from Harry brought quite an uproar at the physician's expense, to which that worthy answered with a grunt, at the same time rolling his unlighted cigar around in his lips.

"Dog my buttons!" exclaimed Uncle Bennett, "some people seem to think temperance is the whole law and the prophets. I want to know where the Bible says anything against a drink?" glowering across at Whitmore.

It was a challenge the Deacon was all too willing to accept but at that moment Harry attracted the grocer's attention to the candy case, and the object of his purchase drew the undivided gaze of the assembly. World renowned sweets were not in Peter's stock and the Professor had to be content with the store-keeper's assurance, the box he selected was the best to be had in town. As he left, the demon of argument threw a new bone of contention amongst the disputants which found its first note in Whitmore's drawl, "I wonder who that candy's for?"

"Not for himself, I'll bet a cookie," asserted Dr. Brawner.

"Why ain't it?" quizzed Bennett crabbidly.

"Fellows that drink don't eat candy, alcohol hasn't much affinity for sweet things," retorted the Doctor professionally.

"Who in 'ell has proved he drinks?" Forman wanted to know.

"Well that's what they say at the college. "

"He came out of Jim's yesterday with a package under his arm what looked suspicious," chimed in the Deacon.

"And it was a pint of whiskey," assented Peter from behind the counter, and Uncle Bennett flashed him a look of infinite scorn.

"What did I say?" shouted the Doctor.

"Yes, it was a pint of whiskey," continued the Grocer imperturbably, "and he took it down to John Glass's house and give young Johnny a great big drink and some medicine and put him asleep. He went down again at night and give him another drink and a quiet talking to, and then threw the remains of the liquor out in the back yard. And young Johnny has took the pledge and I know all about it for Mrs. Blass was in here this morning and told me. He also give Jim a little lecture about selling to minors and Jim says he's all right."

There was an immediate adjournment of the meeting, Dr. Brawner just realizing that he was due at the academy, while the others guessed it was nigh supper time.

Bennett stood on the curb talking to Dr. Forman as Mrs. Beck pushed her perambulator up towards them. The lady's face bore the expression of a moral Atlas as though weighted down with the burden of a sinful world. As she approached, the old man said in a voice which she must hear, "That candy's for Marion Tyson."

"I don't see how you can let things go on," she wailed, stopping before them.

"And I don't see what things are going on madame," from Uncle Bennett.

"Why, that Professor fellow carrying flowers and candy to Marion Tyson, and singing songs with her and that old fool Halm who ought to be taking care of his sick wife. You're her uncle and with her father away, it's your business to interfere."

"As for carrying flowers and candy," broke in the dentist, "I just want to tell you, Mrs. Beck, I am going to invite him to my house, introduce him to my wife, then tell her to turn on her ankle so she will receive flowers, too."

"Me and Judy is going to have him to dinner," declared Bennett having had time to swallow his indignation.

"Well, mark my words, you people will regret it. Joe told me the ladies at the academy were inquiring about him," with which cryptic remark the custodian of morality pushed away. The two men looked at each other and winked, when Mrs. Beck was out of ear-shot, Forman whistled, then exclaimed, "Something diddin', by Gad! something diddin'!"

In the meantime Marion having demonstrated to her visitor that she could walk the length of the porch without much pain, they settled down to conversation. He had sent her a package of books for which she thanked him, remarking he had won the heart of Bob, the messenger.

"Bob is a good youngster," he said; "his freckled face, red hair, and laughing eyes won me the very first night of my arrival when I did not care whether school kept or not. I was the victim of the Indigo Demons for my first weeks hereabouts." Seeing the personal trend of this he quickly switched, "I often wonder what future there is for that chap."

"For whom, Bob?" asked the girl. "He has the same future before him as all the young men who grow up in this town—as soon as he realizes he has a soul, he will go elsewhere that he may save it."

The Professor coughed in an effort to hide his surprise at hearing an echo of the very words he had used shortly before in talking to Galt. Coming as they did from the young woman before him, they were slightly disconcerting. He was anxious to hear more so in an inquiring tone he observed:

"The people seem very contented with existing conditions, are they not fairly well treated by those on whom they depend?"

For a moment the girl's eyes flashed fires of indignation, then she looked away, speaking softly yet intensely, "Were you to say that in the hearing of a certain prominent man I fear he would place you on the honor role of his Ananias club. Pardon me, Professor, for saying it, but you have not lived here for six weeks—a man of your intelligence—without observing the intolerable grind under which the poor people of this village are crushed."

"By George! this is interesting," thought Harry, and the better to enjoy a sociological discussion with such a delightful companion, took his cigarette case from his pocket and asked permission to smoke. It was granted with solemn courtesy, the girl reaching for the silver bauble to examine it.

"That was a present from a woman," handing it back.

"Yes; but has no one ever tried to ameliorate the lot of the working class here?"

"It has been tried but without success, the Academy conducts a department of economics and study of settlement work, but when one practical pupil wished to put her knowledge to use here, she was unceremoniously sat upon," smiling at her own indulgence in slang.

"'Tis the old story told centuries ago in the parable of the beam and mote."

"The sad part of it is that the young people who are dependent must leave town as soon as they are grown up. It is not so hard on the boys, but the girls are the victims of the first adventurer who comes into their lives."

"To what do you attribute this weakness in the girls?" he asked, already taken aback by the knowledge of his beautiful informant, and desirous of sounding the depths of her study.

"They never know what money looks like until they leave here and as soon as it is flashed before them they fail ready victims to its lures." "Is your theory borne out by facts?"

"Should you live here long enough, you will have ample proof."

He did not press the subject further, fearing to intrude on delicacy, but contented himself with expressing wonder at the intimacy of her acquaintance with local conditions, to which Miss Tyson made answer:

"One must think of something. Social life does not make great demands on our time, the pace is not fast and furious in Emmitsburg. Vinny Siebold and I are too advanced to find our self-expression in working tidies and splashers, so we discuss the problems of life," with a tinge of sarcasm in her tone.

"It must be decidedly interesting, I would give a great deal to be a devout listener at these symposiums."

"Do you mind me being personal?" she asked seriously.

"Not in the least if I am to be the subject of your observations. I am the most interesting personality of my acquaintance," smiling at her.

"That's just it, you make a joke of everything. Did anyone ever tell you that you are the quint-essence of sarcasm?"

"I have been indicted before a number of female grand juries on that charge, therefore must I plead guilty."

"It isn't anything to boast of, it does not fit in well with other of your qualities."

"I am really quite aware of the fact, Miss Tyson, have made heroic efforts to overcome the defect, but apparently have failed."

"In your processes of self analysis what have you found to be the root?"

"I remain satisfied with laying it to the remote cause, egoism, which I make the scapegoat of all my shortcomings."

The clock in the church tower clanged out six and the Professor took his leave promising to call again to hear the young lady's diagnosis of his malady. Sauntering towards the rectory, he cudgeled his brain to find the motive of her plain speaking, while Marion at table smiled to herself at the thought that he was not as deep as she had first imagined.

Chapter 6

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