Many visitors to the State-house made the mistake of looking upon the Governor as the most important personage in the building. They would walk up and down the corridors, hoping for a glimpse of some of the leading officials, when all the while Freckles McGrath, the real character of the Capitol, and by all odds the most illustrious person in it, was at once accessible and affable.
Freckles McGrath was the elevator boy. In the official register his name had gone down as William, but that was a mere concession to the constituents to whom the official register was sent out. In the newspapers–and he appeared with frequency in the newspapers–he was always “Freckles,” and every one from the Governor down gave him that title, the appropriateness of which was stamped a hundred fold upon his shrewd, jolly Irish face.
Like every one else on the State pay-roll, Freckles was keyed high during this first week of the new session. It was a reform Legislature, and so imbued was it with the idea of reforming that there was grave danger of its forcing reformation upon everything in sight. It happened that the Governor was of the same faction of the party as that dominant in the Legislature; reform breathed through every nook and crevice of the great building.
But high above all else in importance towered the Kelley Bill. From the very opening of the session there was scarcely a day when some of Freckles’ passengers did not in hushed whispers mention the Kelley Bill. From what he could pick up about the building, and what he read in the newspapers, Freckles put together a few ideas as to what the Kelley Bill really was. It was a great reform measure, and it was going to show the railroads that they did not own the State. The railroads were going to have to pay more taxes, and they were making an awful fuss about it; but if the Kelley Bill could be put through it would be a great victory for reform, and would make the Governor “solid” in the State.
Freckles McGrath was strong for reform. That was partly because the snatches of speeches he heard in the Legislature were more thrilling when for reform than when against it; it was partly because he adored the Governor, and in no small part because he despised Mr. Ludlow.
Mr. Ludlow was a lobbyist. Some of the members of the Legislature were Mr. Ludlow’s property–or at least so Freckles inferred from conversation overheard at his post. There had been a great deal of talk that session about Mr. Ludlow’s methods.
Freckles himself was no snob. Although he had heard Mr. Ludlow called disgraceful, and although he firmly believed he was disgraceful, he did not consider that any reason for not speaking to him. And so when Mr. Ludlow got in all alone one morning, and the occasion seemed to demand recognition of some sort, Freckles had chirped: “Good-morning!”
But the man, possibly deep in something else, simply knit together his brows and gave no sign of having heard. After that, Henry Ludlow, lobbyist, and Freckles McGrath, elevator boy, were enemies.
A little before noon, one day near the end of the session, a member of the Senate and a member of the House rode down together in the elevator.
“There’s no use waiting any longer,” the Senator was saying as they got in. “We’re as strong now as we’re going to be. It’s a matter of Stacy’s vote, and that’s a matter of who sees him last.”
Freckles widened out his ears and gauged the elevator for very slow running. Stacy had been written up in the papers as a wabbler on the Kelley Bill.
“He’s all right now,” pursued the Senator, “but there’s every chance that Ludlow will see him before he casts his vote this afternoon, and then–oh, I don’t know!” and with a weary little flourish of his hands the Senator stepped off.
Freckles McGrath sat wrapped in deep thought. The Kelley Bill was coming up in the Senate that afternoon. If Senator Stacy voted for it, it would pass. If he voted against it, it would fail. He would vote for it if he didn’t see Mr. Ludlow; he wouldn’t vote for it if he did. That was the situation, and the Governor’s whole future, Freckles felt, was at stake.
The bell rang sharply, and he was vaguely conscious then that it had been ringing before. In the next half-hour he was very busy taking down the members of the Legislature. Strangely enough, Senator Stacy and the Governor went down the same trip, and Freckles beamed with approbation when, he saw them walk out of the building together.
Stacy was one of the first of the senators to return. Freckles sized him up keenly as he stepped into the elevator, and decided that he was still firm. But there was a look about Senator Stacy’s mouth which suggested that there was no use in being too sure of him. Freckles considered the advisability of bursting forth and telling him how much better it would be to stick with the reform fellows; but just as the boy got his courage screwed up to speaking point, Senator Stacy got off.
About ten minutes later Freckles had the elevator on the ground floor, and was sitting there reading a paper, when he heard a step that made him prick up his ears. The next minute Mr. Ludlow turned the corner. He was immaculately dressed, as usual, and his iron-grey moustache seemed to stand out just a little more pompously than ever. There was a sneering look in his eyes as he stepped into the car. It seemed to be saying: “They thought they could beat me, did they? Oh, they’re easy, they are!”
Freckles McGrath slammed the door of the cage and started the car up. He did not know what he was going to do, but he had an idea that he did not want any other passenger. When half way between the basement and the first floor, he stopped the elevator. He must have time to think. If he took that man up to the Senate Chamber, he would simply strike the death-blow to reform! And so he knelt and pretended to be fixing something, and he thought fast and hard.
“Something broke?” asked an anxious voice.
Freckles looked around into Mr. Ludlow’s face, and he saw that the eminent lobbyist was nervous.
“Yes,” he said calmly. “It’s acting queer. Something’s all out of whack.”
“Well, drop it to the basement and let me out,” said Mr. Ludlow sharply.
“Can’t drop it,” responded Freckles. “She’s stuck.”
Mr. Ludlow came and looked things over, but his knowledge did not extend to the mechanism of elevators.
“Better call someone to come and take us out,” he said nervously.
Freckles straightened himself up. A glitter had come into his small grey eyes, and red spots were burning in his freckled cheeks.
“I think she’ll run now,” he said.
And she did run. Never in all its history had that State-house elevator run as it ran then. It rushed past the first and second floors like a thing let loose, with an utter abandonment that caused the blood to forsake the eminent lobbyist’s face.
“Stop it, boy!” he cried in alarm.
“Can’t!” responded Freckles, his voice thick with terror. “Running away!” he gasped.
“Will it–fall?” whispered the lobbyist.
“I–I think so!” blubbered Freckles.
The central portion of the State-house was very high. Above that part of the building which was in use there was a long stretch leading to the tower. The shaft had been built clear up, though practically unused. Past floors used for store-rooms, past floors used for nothing at all, they went–the man’s face white, the boy wailing out incoherent supplications. And then, within ten feet of the top of the shaft, and within a foot of the top floor of the building, the elevator came to a rickety stop. It wabbled back and forth; it did strange and terrible things.
“She’s falling!” panted Freckles. “Climb!”
And Henry Ludlow climbed. He got the door open, and he clambered up. No sooner had the man’s feet touched the solid floor than Freckles reached up and slammed the door of the cage. Why he did that he was not sure at the time. Later he felt that something had warned him not to give his prisoner’s voice a full sweep down the shaft.
Henry Ludlow was far from dull. As he saw the quick but even descent of the car, he knew that he had been tricked. He would have been more than human had there not burst from him furious and threatening words. But what was the use? The car was going down–down–down, and there he was, perhaps hundreds of feet above any one else in the building–alone, tricked, beaten!
Of course he tried the door at the head of the winding stairway, knowing full well that it would be locked. They always kept it locked; he had heard one of the janitors asking for the keys to take a party up just a few days before. Perhaps he could get out on top of the building and make signals of distress. But the door leading outside was locked also. There he was–helpless. And below–well, below they were passing the Kelley Bill!
He rattled the grating of the elevator shaft. He made strange, loud noises, knowing all the while he could not make himself heard. And then at last, alone in the State-house attic, Henry Ludlow, eminent lobbyist, sat down on a box and nursed his fury.
Below, Freckles McGrath, the youngest champion of reform in the building, was putting on a bold front. He laughed and he talked and he whistled. He took people up and down with as much nonchalance as if he did not know that up at the top of that shaft angry eyes were straining themselves for a glimpse of the car, and terrible curses were descending, literally, upon his stubby red head.
It was a great afternoon at the State-house. Every one thronged to the doors of the Senate Chamber, where they were putting through the Kelley Bill. The speeches made in behalf of the measure were brief. The great thing now was not to make speeches; it was to reach “S” on roll-call before a man with iron-grey hair and an iron-grey moustache could come in and say something to the fair-haired member with the weak mouth who sat near the rear of the chamber.
Freckles was called away just as it went to a vote. When he came back Senator Kelley was standing out in the corridor, and a great crowd of men were standing around slapping him on the back. The Governor himself was standing on the steps of the Senate Chamber; his eyes were bright, and he was smiling.
Freckles turned his car back to the basement. He wanted to be all alone for a minute, to dwell in solitude upon the fact that it was he, Freckles McGrath, who had won this great victory for reform. It was he, Freckles McGrath, who had assured the Governor’s future. Why, perhaps he had that afternoon made for himself a name which would be handed down in the histories!
Freckles was a kind little boy, and he knew that an elegant gentleman could not find the attic any too pleasant a place in which to spend the afternoon, go he decided to go up and get Mr. Ludlow. It took courage; but he had won his victory and this was no time for faltering.
There was something gruesome about the long ascent. He thought of stories he had read of lonely turrets in which men were beheaded, and otherwise made away with. It seemed he would never come to the top, and when at last he did it was to find two of the most awful-looking eyes he had ever seen–eyes that looked as though furies were going to escape from them–peering down upon him.
The sight of that car, moving smoothly and securely up to the top, and the sight of that audacious little boy with the freckled face and the bat-like eyes, that little boy who had played his game so well, who had wrought such havoc, was too much for Henry Ludlow’s self-control. Words such as he had never used before, such as he would not have supposed himself capable of using, burst from him. But Freckles stood calmly gazing up at the infuriated lobbyist, and just as Mr. Ludlow was saying, “I’ll beat your head open, you little brat!” he calmly reversed the handle and sent the car skimming smoothly to realms below. He was followed by an angry yell, and then by a loud request to return, but he heeded them not, and for some time longer the car made its usual rounds between the basement and the legislative chambers.
In just an hour Freckles tried it again. He sent the car to within three feet of the attic floor, and then peered through the grating, his face tied in a knot of interrogation. The eminent lobbyist stood there gulping down wrath and pride, knowing well enough what was expected of him.
“Oh–all right,” he muttered at last, and with that much of an understanding Freckles sent the car up, opened the door, and Henry Ludlow stepped in.
No word was spoken between them until the light from the floor upon which the Senate Chamber was situated came in view. Then Freckles turned with a polite inquiry as to where the gentleman wished to get off.
“You may take me down to the office of the Governor,” said Mr. Ludlow stonily, meaningly.
“Sure,” said Freckles cheerfully. “Guess you’ll find the Governor in his office now. He’s been in the Senate most of the afternoon, watching ’em pass that Kelley Bill.”
Mr. Ludlow’s lips drew in tightly. He squared his shoulders, and his silence was tremendous.
In just fifteen minutes Freckles was sent for from the executive office.
“I demand his discharge!” Mr. Ludlow was saying as the elevator boy entered.
“It happens you’re not running this building,” the Governor returned with a good deal of acidity. “Though of course,” he added with dignity, “the matter will be carefully investigated.”
The Governor was one great chuckle inside, and his heart was full of admiration and gratitude; but would Freckles be equal to bluffing it through? Would the boy have the finesse, the nice subtlety, the real master hand, the situation demanded? If not, then–imp of salvation though he was–in the interest of reform, Freckles would have to go.
It was a very innocent looking boy who stood before him and looked inquiringly into his face.
“William,” began the Governor–Freckles was pained at first, and then remembered that officially he was William–“this gentleman has made a very serious charge against you.”
Freckles looked at Mr. Ludlow in a hurt way, and waited for the Governor to proceed.
“He says,” went on the chief executive, “that you deliberately took him to the top of the building and wilfully left him there a prisoner all afternoon. Did you do that?”
“Oh, sir,” burst forth Freckles, “I did the very best I could to save his life! I was willing to sacrifice mine for him. I–”
“You little liar!” broke in Ludlow.
The Governor held up his hand. “You had your chance. Let him have his.”
“You see, Governor,” began Freckles, as if anxious to set right a great wrong which had been done him, “the car is acting bad. The engineer said only this morning it needed a going over. When it took that awful shoot, I lost control of it. Maybe I’m to be discharged for losing control of it, but not”–Freckles sniffled pathetically—“but not for anything like what he says I done. Why Governor,” he went on, ramming his knuckles into his eyes, “I ain’t got nothing against him! What’d I take him to the attic for?”
“Of course not for money,” sneered Mr. Ludlow.
The Governor turned on him sharply. “When you can bring any proof of that, I’ll be ready to hear it. Until you can, you’d better leave it out of the question.”
“Strange it should have happened this very afternoon,” put in the eminent lobbyist.
The Governor looked at him with open countenance. “You were especially interested in something this afternoon? I thought you told me you had no vital interest here this session.”
There was nothing to be said. Mr. Ludlow said nothing.
“Now, William,” pursued the Governor, fearful in his heart that this would be Freckles’ undoing, “why did you close the door of the shaft before you started down?”
“Well, you see, sir,” began Freckles, still tremulously, “I’m so used to closin’ doors. Closin’ doors has become a kind of second nature with me. I’ve been told about it so many times. And up there, though I thought I was losin’ my life, still I didn’t neglect my duty.”
The Governor put his hand to his mouth and coughed.
“And why,” he went on, more secure now, for a boy who could get out of that could get out of anything, “why was it you didn’t make some immediate effort to get Mr. Ludlow down? Why didn’t you notify someone, or do something about it?”
“Why, I supposed, of course, he walked down by the stairs,” cried Freckles. “I never dreamed he’d want to trust the elevator after the way she had acted.”
“The door was locked,” snarled the eminent lobbyist.
“Well, now, you see, I didn’t know that,” explained Freckles expansively. “Late in the afternoon I took a run up just to test the car–and there you were! I never was so surprised in my life. I supposed, of course, sir, that you’d spent the afternoon in the Senate, along with everybody else.”
Once more the Governor put his hand to his mouth.
“Your case will come before the executive council at its next meeting, William. And if anything like this should happen again, you will be discharged on the spot.” Freckles bowed. “You may go now.”
When he was almost at the door the Governor called to him.
“Don’t you think, William,” he said–the Governor felt that he and Freckles could afford to be generous–“that you should apologise to the gentleman for the really grave inconvenience to which you have been the means of subjecting him?”
Freckles’ little grey eyes grew steely. He looked at Henry Ludlow, and there was an ominous silence. Then light broke over his face. “On behalf of the elevator,” he said, “I apologise.”
And a third time the Governor’s hand was raised to his mouth.
The next week Freckles was wearing a signet ring; long and audibly had he sighed for a ring of such kind and proportions. He was at some pains in explaining to everyone to whom he showed it that it had been sent him by “a friend up home.”
Freckles M’Grath by Susan Glaspell