I would try to persuade him to relinquish it, take his place among men on equal terms, earn the bread he eats, and hold of slight value all deference paid him because of artificial position, all reverence not the just due of his own personal merits."
Tracy seemed to be listening to utterances of his own made in talks with his radical friends in England. It was as if some eavesdropping phonograph had treasured up his words and brought them across the Atlantic to accuse him with them in the hour of his defection and retreat. Every word spoken by this stranger seemed to leave a blister on Tracy's conscience, and by the time the speech was finished he felt that he was all conscience and one blister. This man's deep compassion for the enslaved and oppressed millions in Europe who had to bear with the contempt of that small class above them, throned upon shining heights whose paths were shut against them, was the very thing he had often uttered himself. The pity in this man's voice and words was the very twin of the pity that used to reside in his own heart and come from his own lips when he thought of these oppressed peoples.
The homeward tramp was accomplished in brooding silence. It was a silence most grateful to Tracy's feelings. He wouldn't have broken it for anything; for he was ashamed of himself all the way through to his spine. He kept saying to himself:
"How unanswerable it all is--how absolutely unanswerable! It is basely, degradingly selfish to keep those unearned honors, and--and--oh, hang it, nobody but a cur--'
"What an idiotic damned speech that Tompkins made!"
This outburst was from Barrow. It flooded Tracy's demoralized soul with waters of refreshment. These were the darlingest words the poor vacillating young apostate had ever heard--for they whitewashed his shame for him, and that is a good service to have when you can't get the best of all verdicts, self-acquittal.
"Come up to my room and smoke a pipe, Tracy."
Tracy had been expecting this invitation, and had had his declination all ready: but he was glad enough to accept, now. Was it possible that a reasonable argument could be made against that man's desolating speech? He was burning to hear Barrow try it. He knew how to start him, and keep him going: it was to seem to combat his positions--a process effective with most people.
"What is it you object to in Tompkins's speech, Barrow?"
"Oh, the leaving out of the factor of human nature; requiring another man to do what you wouldn't do yourself."
"Do you mean--"
"Why here's what I mean; it's very simple. Tompkins is a blacksmith; has a family; works for wages; and hard, too--fooling around won't furnish the bread. Suppose it should turn out that by the death of somebody in England he is suddenly an earl--income, half a million dollars a year. What would he do?"
"Well, I--I suppose he would have to decline to--"
"Man, he would grab it in a second!"
"Do you really think he would?"
"Think?--I don't think anything about it, I know it."
"Because he's not a fool."
"So you think that if he were a fool, he--"
"No, I don't. Fool or no fool, he would grab it. Anybody would. Anybody that's alive. And I've seen dead people that would get up and go for it. I would myself."
"This was balm, this was healing, this was rest and peace and comfort."
"But I thought you were opposed to nobilities."
"Transmissible ones, yes. But that's nothing. I'm opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position."
"You'd take it?"
"I would leave the funeral of my dearest enemy to go and assume its burdens and responsibilities."
Tracy thought a while, then said:
"I don't know that I quite get the bearings of your position. You say you are opposed to hereditary nobilities, and yet if you had the chance you would--"
"Take one? In a minute I would. And there isn't a mechanic in that entire club that wouldn't. There isn't a lawyer, doctor, editor, author, tinker, loafer, railroad president, saint-land, there isn't a human being in the United States that wouldn't jump at the chance!"
"Except me," said Tracy softly.