The legends which surround the famous war which we are about to touch upon
are as dim as those of Troy or Tuscany. Decorous chronicles and biographies and
monographs and eulogies exist, bound in leather and stamped in gold, each
lauding its own hero: chronicles written in really beautiful language, and
high-minded and noble, out of which the heroes come unstained. Horatius holds
the bridge, and not a dent in his armor; and swims the Tiber without getting wet
or muddy. Castor and Pollux fight in the front rank at Lake Regillus, in the
midst of all that gore and slaughter, and emerge all white and pure at the end
of the day—but they are gods.
Out of the classic wars to which we have referred sprang the great Roman
Republic and Empire, and legend runs into authentic and written history. Just
so, parva componere magnis, out of the cloud-wrapped conflicts of the five
railroads of which our own Gaul is composed, emerged one imperial railroad,
authentically and legally written down on the statute books, for all men to see.
We cannot go behind that statute except to collect the legends and write
homilies about the heroes who held the bridges.
If we were not in mortal terror of the imperial power, and a little fearful,
too, of tiring our readers, we would write out all the legends we have collected
of this first fight for consolidation, and show the blood, too.
In the statute books of a certain state may be found a number of laws setting
forth the various things that a railroad or railroads may do, and on the margin
of these pages is invariably printed a date, that being the particular year in
which these laws were passed. By a singular coincidence it is the very year at
which we have now arrived in our story. We do not intend to give a map of the
state, or discuss the merits or demerits of the consolidation of the Central and
the Northwestern and the Truro railroads. Such discussions are not the province
of a novelist, and may all be found in the files of the Tribune at the State
Library. There were, likewise, decisions without number handed down by the
various courts before and after that celebrated session,—opinions on the
validity of leases, on the extension of railroads, on the rights of individual
stockholders—all dry reading enough.
At the risk of being picked to pieces by the corporation lawyers who may read
these pages, we shall attempt to state the situation and with all modesty and
impartiality—for we, at least, hold no brief. When Mr. Isaac D. Worthington
obtained that extension of the Truro Railroad (which we have read about from the
somewhat verdant point of view of William Wetherell), that railroad then formed
a connection with another road which ran northward from Harwich through another
state, and with which we have nothing to do. Having previously purchased a line
to the southward from the capital, Mr. Worthington's railroad was in a position
to compete with Mr. Duncan's (the "Central") for Canadian traffic, and also to
cut into the profits of the "Northwestern," Mr. Lovejoy's road. In brief, the
Truro Railroad found itself very advantageously placed, as Mr. Worthington and
Mr. Flint had foreseen. There followed a period of bickering and recrimination,
of attempts of the other two railroads to secure representation in the Truro
directorate, of suits and injunctions and appeals to the Legislature and I know
not what else—in all of which affairs Mr. Bijah Bixby and other gentlemen we
could name found both pleasure and remuneration.
Oh, that those halcyon days of the little wars would come again, when a
captain could ride out almost any time at the held of his band of mercenaries
and see honest fighting and divide honest spoils! There was much knocking about
of men and horses, but very little bloodshed, so we are told. Mr. Bixby will sit
on the sunny side of his barns in Clovelly and tell you stories of that golden
period with tears in his eyes, when he went to conventions with a pocketful of
proxies from the river towns, and controlled in the greatest legislative year of
all a "block" which included the President of the Senate, for which he got the
fabulous sum of——. He will tell you, but I won't. Mr. Bixby's occupation is gone
now. We have changed all that, and we are ruled from imperial Rome. If you don't
do right, they cut off your (political) head, and it is of no use to run away,
because there is no one to run to.
It was Isaac D. Worthington—or shall we say Mr. Flint?—who was responsible
for this pernicious change for the worse, who conceived the notion of leasing
for the Truro the Central and the Northwestern,—thus making one railroad out of
the three. If such a gigantic undertaking could be got through, Mr. Worthington
very rightly deemed that the other railroads of the state would eventually fall
like ripe fruit into their caps—owning the ground under the tree, as they would.
A movement, which we need not go unto, was first made upon the courts, and for a
while adverse decisions came down like summer rain. A genius by the name of
Jethro Bass had for many years presided (in the room of the governor and council
at the State House) at the political birth of justices of the Supreme Court.
None of them actually wore livery, but we have seen one of them—along time
ago—in a horse blanket. None of them were favorable to the plans of Mr.
Worthington and Mr. Duncan.
We have listened to the firing on the skirmish lines for a long time, and now
the real battle is at hand. It is June, and the Legislature is meeting, and
Bijah Bixby has come down to the capital at the head of his regiment of
mercenaries, of which Mr. Sutton is the honorary colonel; the clans are here
from the north, well quartered and well fed; the Throne Room, within the sacred
precincts of which we have been before, is occupied. But there is another
headquarters now, too, in the Pelican House—a Railroad Room; larger than the
Throne Room, with a bath-room leading out of it. Another old friend of ours,
Judge Abner Parkinson of Harwich, he who gave the sardonic laugh when Sam Price
applied for the post of road agent, may often be seen in that Railroad Room from
now on. The fact is that the judge is about to become famous far beyond the
confines of Harwich; for he, and none other, is the author of the Consolidation
Mr. Flint is the generalissimo of the allied railroads, and sits in his
headquarters early and late, going over the details of the campaign with his
lieutenants; scanning the clauses of the bill with Judge Parkinson for the last
time, and giving orders to the captains of mercenaries as to the disposition of
their forces; writing out passes for the deserving and the true. For these
latter, also, and for the wavering there is a claw-hammer on the marble-topped
mantel wielded by Mr. Bijah Bixby, pro tem chief of staff—or of the hammer, for
he is self-appointed and very useful. He opens the mysterious packing cases
which come up to the Railroad Room thrice a week, and there is water to be had
in the bath-room—and glasses. Mr. Bixby also finds time to do some of the
scouting about the rotunda and lobbies, for which he is justly celebrated, and
to drill his regiment every day. The Honorable Heth Sutton, M.C.,—who held the
bridge in the Woodchuck Session,—is there also, sitting in a corner, swelled
with importance, smoking big Florizel cigars which come from—somewhere. There
are, indeed, many great and battle-scarred veterans who congregate in that
room—too numerous and great to mention; and saunterers in the Capitol Park
opposite know when a council of war is being held by the volumes of smoke which
pour out of the window, just as the Romans are made cognizant by the smoking of
a chimney of when another notable event takes place.
Who, then, are left to frequent the Throne Room? Is that ancient seat of
power deserted, and does Jethro Bass sit there alone behind the curtains, in his
bitterness, thinking of other bright June days that are gone?
Of all those who had been amazed when Jethro Bass suddenly emerged from his
retirement and appeared in the capital some months before, none were more
thunderstruck than certain gentlemen who had been to Coniston repeatedly, but in
vain, to urge him to make this very fight. The most important of these had been
Mr. Balch, president of the "Down East" Road, and the representatives of two
railroads of another state. They had at last offered Jethro fabulous sums to
take charge of their armies in the field—sums, at least, that would seem
fabulous to many people, and had seemed so to them. When they heard that the
lion had roused and shaken himself and had unaccountably come forth of his own
accord, they hastened to the state capital to renew their offers. Another shock,
but of a different kind, was in store for them. Mr. Balch had not actually
driven the pack-mules, laden with treasure, to the door of the Pelican House,
where Jethro might see them from his window; but he requested a private
audience, and it was probably accidental that the end of his personal check-book
protruded a little from his pocket. He was a big, coarse-grained man, Mr. Balch,
who had once been a brakeman, and had risen by what is known as horse sense to
the presidency of his road. There was a wonderful sunset beyond the Capitol, but
Mr. Balch did not talk about the sunset, although Jethro was watching it from
behind the curtains.
"If you are willing to undertake this fight against consolidation," said Mr.
Balch, "we are ready to talk business with you."
"D-don't know what you're going to, do," answered Jethro; "I'm going to
prevent consolidation, if I can."
"All right," said Balch, smiling. He regarded this reply as one of Jethro's
delicate euphemisms. "We're prepared to give that same little retainer."
Jethro did not look up. Mr. Balch went to the table and seized a pen and
filled out a check for an amount that shall be nameless.
"I have made it payable to bearer, as usual," he said, and he handed it to
Jethro took it, and absently tore it into little pieces, and threw the pieces
on the floor. Mr. Balch watched him in consternation. He began to think the
report that Jethro had reached his second childhood was true.
"What in Halifax are you doing, Bass?" he cried.
"W-want to stop this consolidation, don't you—want' to stop it?"
"Certainly I do."
"G-goin' to do all you can to stop it hain't you?"
"Certainly I am."
"I-I'll help you," said Jethro.
"Help us!" exclaimed Balch. "Great Scott, we want you to take charge of it."
"I-I'll do all I can, but I won't guarantee it—w-won't guarantee it," said
"We don't ask you to guarantee it. If you'll do all you can, that's enough.
You won't take a retainer?"
"W-won't take anything," said Jethro.
"You mean to say you don't want anything for your for your time and your
services if the bill is defeated?"
"T-that's about it, Ed. Little p-private matter with both of us. You don't
want consolidation, and I don't. I hain't offered to give you a retainer—have
"No," said the astounded Mr. Balch. He scratched his head and fingered the
leaves of his check-book. The captains over the tens and the captains over the
hundreds would want little retainers—and who was to pay these? "How about the
boys?" asked Mr. Balch.
"S-still got the same office in the depot—hain't you, Ed, s-same office?"
"G-guess the boys hev b'en there before," said Jethro.
Mr. Balch went away, meditating upon those sayings, and took the train for
Boston. If he had waked up of a fine morning to find himself at the head of some
benevolent and charitable organization, instead of the "Down East" Railroad, he
could not have been more astonished than he had been at the unaccountable change
of heart of Jethro Bass. He did not know what to make of it, and told his
colleagues so; and at first they feared one of two things,—treachery or lunacy.
But a little later a rumor reached Mr. Balch's ears that Jethro's hatred of
Isaac D. Worthington was at the bottom of his reappearance in public life,
although Jethro himself never mentioned Mr. Worthington's name. Jethro sat in
the Throne Room, consulting, directing day after day, and when the Legislature
assembled, "the boys" began to call at Mr. Balch's office. But Mr. Balch never
again broached the subject of money to Jethro Bass.
We have to sing the song of sixpence for the last time in these pages; and as
it is an old song now, there will be no encores. If you can buy one member of
the lower house for ten dollars, how many members can you buy for fifty? It was
no such problem in primary arithmetic that Mr. Balch and his associates had to
solve—theirs was in higher mathematics, in permutations and combinations, and in
least squares. No wonder the old campaigners speak with tears in their eyes of
the days of that ever memorable summer. There were spoils to be picked up in the
very streets richer than the sack of the thirty cities; and as the session wore
on it is affirmed by men still living that money rained down in the Capitol Park
and elsewhere like manna from the skies, if you were one of a chosen band. If
you were, all you had to do was to look in your vest pockets when you took your
clothes off in the evening and extract enough legal tender to pay your bill at
the Pelican for a week. Mr. Lovejoy having been overheard one day to make a
remark concerning the diet of hogs, the next morning certain visitors to the
capital were horrified to discover trails of corn leading from the Pelican House
to their doorways. Men who had never seen a receiving teller opened bank
accounts. No, it was not a problem in simple arithmetic, and Mr. Balch and Mr.
Flint, and even Mr. Duncan and Mr. Worthington, covered whole sheets with
figures during the stifling days in July. Some men are so valuable that they can
be bought twice, or even three times, and they make figuring complicated.
Jethro Bass did no calculating. He sat behind the curtains, and he must have
kept the figures in his head.
The battle had closed in earnest, and for twelve long, sultry weeks it raged
with unabated fierceness. Consolidation had a terror for the rural mind, and the
state Tribune skilfully played its stream upon the constituents of those
gentlemen who stood tamely at the Worthington hitching-posts, and the
constituents flocked to the capital; that able newspaper, too, found space to
return, with interest, the attacks of Mr. Worthington's organ, the Newcastle
Guardian. These amenities are much too personal to reproduce here, now that the
smoke of battle has rolled away. An epic could be written upon the conflict, if
there were space: Canto One, the first position carried triumphantly, though at
some expense, by the Worthington forces, who elect the Speaker. That had been a
crucial time before the town meetings, when Jethro abdicated. The Worthington
Speaker goes ahead with his committees, and it is needless to say that Mr.
Chauncey Weed is not made Chairman of the Committee on Corporations. As an
offset to this, the Jethro forces gain on the extreme right, where the Honorable
Peleg Hartington is made President of the Senate, etc.
For twelve hot weeks, with a public spirit which is worthy of the highest
praise, the Committee sit in their shirt sleeves all day long and listen to
arguments for and against consolidation; and ask learned questions that startle
rural witnesses; and smoke big Florizel cigars (a majority of them). Judge Abner
Parkinson defends his bill, quoting from the Constitution and the Declaration of
Independence and the Bible; a celebrated lawyer from the capital riddles it,
using the same authorities, and citing the Federalist and the Golden Rule in
addition. The Committee sit open-minded, listening with laudable impartiality;
it does not become them to arrive at a hasty decision on a question of such
magnitude. In the meantime the House passes an important bill dealing with the
bounty on hedgehogs, and there are several card games going on in the cellar,
where it is cool.
The governor of the state is a free lance, and may be seen any afternoon
walking through the park, consorting with no one. He may be recognized even at a
distance by his portly figure, his silk hat, and his dignified mien. Yes, it is
an old and valued friend, the Honorable Alva Hopkins, patron of the drama, and
sometimes he has a beautiful young woman (still unattached) by his side. He
lives in a suite of rooms at the Pelican. It is a well-known fact (among Mr.
Worthington's supporters) that the Honorable Alva promised in January, when Mr.
Bass retired, to sign the Consolidation Bill, and that he suddenly became
open-minded in March, and has remained open-minded ever since, listening gravely
to arguments, and giving much study to the subject. He is an executive now,
although it is the last year of his term, and of course he is never seen either
in the Throne Room or the Railroad Room. And besides, he may become a senator.
August has come, and the forces are spent and panting, and neither side dares
to risk the final charge. The reputation of Jethro Bass is at stake. Should he
risk and lose, he must go back to Coniston a beaten man, subject to the contempt
of his neighbors and his state. People do not know that he has nothing now to go
back to, and that he cares nothing for contempt. As he sits in his window day
after day he has only one thought and one wish,—to ruin Isaac D. Worthington.
And he will do it if he can. Those who know—and among them is Mr. Balch
himself—say that Jethro has never conducted a more masterly campaign than this,
and that all the others have been mere childish trials of strength compared to
it. So he sits there through those twelve weeks while the session slips by,
while his opponents grumble, and while even his supporters, eager for the
charge, complain. The truth is that in all the years of his activity be has
never had such an antagonist as Mr. Flint. Victory hangs in the balance, and a
false move will throw it to either side.
Victory hangs now, to be explicit, upon two factors. The first and most
immediate of these is a certain canny captain of many wars whose regiment is
still at the disposal of either army—for a price, a regiment which has hitherto
remained strictly neutral. And what a regiment it is! A block of river towns and
a senator, and not a casualty since they marched boldly into camp twelve weeks
ago. Mr. Batch is getting very much worried about this regiment, and beginning
to doubt Jethro's judgment.
"I tell you, Bass," he said one evening, "if you allow him to run around
loose much longer, we're lost, that's all there is to it!" (Mr. Batch referred
to the captain in question.) "They'll buy up his block at his figure—see, if
they don't. They're getting desperate. Don't you think I'd better bid him in?"
"B-bid him in if you've a mind to; Ed."
"Look here, Jethro," said Mr. Batch, savagely biting off the end of a cigar,
"I'm beginning to think you don't care a continental about this business. Which
side are you on, anyway?" The heat and the length and the uncertainty of the
struggle were telling on the nerves of the railroad president. "You sit there
from morning till night and won't say anything; and now, when there's only one
block out, you won't give the word to buy it."
"N-never told you to buy anything, did I—Ed?"
"No," answered Mr. Batch, "you haven't. I don't know what the devil's got
"D-done all the payin' without consultin' me, hain't you, Ed?"
"Yes; I have. What are you driving at?"
"D-done it if I hadn't b'en here, wouldn't you?"
"Yes, and more too," said Mr. Batch.
"W-wouldn't make much difference to you if I wasn't here—would it?"
"Great Scott, Jethro, what do you mean?" cried the railroad president, in
genuine alarm; "you're not going to pull out, are you?"
"W-wouldn't make much odds if I did—would it, Ed?"
"The devil it wouldn't!" exclaimed Mr. Balch. "If you pulled out, we'd lose
the North Country, and Peleg, and Gosport, and nobody can tell which way Alva
Hopkins will swing. I guess you know what he'll do—you're so d—d secretive I
can't tell whether you do or not. If you pulled out, they'd have their bill on
"H-hain't under any obligations to you, Ed—am I?"
"No," said Mr. Batch, "but I don't see why you keep harping on that."
"J-dust wanted to have it clear," said Jethro, and relapsed into silence.
There was a fireproof carpet on the Throne Room, and Mr. Batch flung down his
cigar and stamped on it and went out. No wonder he could not understand Jethro's
sudden scruples about money and obligations—about railroad money, that is.
Jethro was spending some of his own, but not in the capital, and in a manner
which was most effective. In short, at the very moment when Mr. Batch stamped on
his cigar, Jethro had the victory in his hands—only he did not choose to say so.
He had had a mysterious telegram that day from Harwich, signed by Chauncey Weed,
and Mr. Weed himself appeared at the door of Number 7, fresh from his travels,
shortly after Mr. Batch had gone out of it. Mr. Weed closed the door gently, and
locked it, and sat down in a rocking chair close to Jethro and put his hand over
his mouth. We cannot hear what Mr. Weed is saying. All is mystery here, and in
order to preserve that mystery we shall delay for a little the few words which
will explain Mr. Weed's successful mission.
Mr. Batch, angry and bewildered, descended into the rotunda, where he shortly
heard two astounding pieces of news. The first was that the Honorable Heth
Sutton had abandoned the Florizel cigars and had gone home to Clovelly. The
second; that Mr. Bijah Bixby had resigned the claw-hammer and had ceased to open
the packing cases in the Railroad Room. Consternation reigned in that room, so
it was said (and this was true). Mr. Worthington and Mr. Duncan and Mr. Lovejoy
were closeted there with Mr. Flint, and the door was locked and the transom
shut, and smoke was coming out of the windows.
Yes, Mr. Bijah Bixby is the canny captain of whom Mr. Balch spoke: he it is
who owns that block of river towns, intact, and the one senator. Impossible! We
have seen him opening the packing cases, we have seen him working for the
Worthington faction for the last two years. Mr. Bixby was very willing to open
boxes, and to make himself useful and agreeable; but it must be remembered that
a good captain of mercenaries owes a sacred duty to his followers. At first Mr.
Flint had thought he could count on Mr. Bixby; after a while he made several
unsuccessful attempts to talk business with him; a particularly difficult thing
to do, even for Mr. Flint, when Mr. Bixby did not wish to talk business. Mr.
Balch had found it quite as difficult to entice Mr. Bixby away from the boxes
and the Railroad Room. The weeks drifted on, until twelve went by, and then Mr.
Bixby found himself, with his block of river towns and one senator, in the
incomparable position of being the arbiter of the fate of the Consolidation Bill
in the House and Senate. No wonder Mr. Balch wanted to buy the services of that
famous regiment at any price!
But Mr. Bixby, for once in his life, had waited too long.
When Mr. Balch, rejoicing, but not a little indignant at not having been
taken into confidence, ascended to the Throne Room after supper to question
Jethro concerning the meaning of the things he had heard, he found Senator Peleg
Hartington seated mournfully on the bed, talking at intervals, and Jethro
"Come up and eat out of my hand," said the senator.
"Who?" demanded Mr. Balch.
"Bije," answered the senator.
"Great Scott, do you mean to say you've got Bixby?" exclaimed the railroad
president. He felt as if he would like to shake the senator, who was so
deliberate and mournful in his answers. "What did you pay him?"
Mr. Hartington appeared shocked by the question.
"Guess Heth Sutton will settle with him," he said.
"Heth Sutton! Why the—why should Heth pay him?"
"Guess Heth'd like to make him a little present, under the circumstances. I
was goin' through the barber shop," Mr. Hartington continued, speaking to Jethro
and ignoring the railroad president, "and I heard somebody whisperin' my name.
Sound came out of that little shampoo closet; went in there and found Bije.
'Peleg,' says he, right into my ear, 'tell Jethro it's all right—you understand.
We want Heth to go back—break his heart if he didn't—you understand. If I'd
knowed last winter Jethro meant business, I wouldn't hev' helped Gus Flint out.
Tell Jethro he can have 'em—you know what I mean.' Bije waited a little mite too
long," said the senator, who had given a very fair imitation of Mr. Bixby's
nasal voice and manner.
"Well, I'm d—d!" ejaculated Mr. Balch, staring at Jethro. "How did you work
"Sent Chauncey through the deestrict," said Mr. Hartington.
Mr. Chauncey Weed had, in truth, gone through a part of the congressional
district of the Honorable Heth Sutton with a little leather bag. Mr. Weed had
been able to do some of his work (with the little leather bag) in the capital
itself. In this way Mr. Bixby's regiment, Sutton was the honorary colonel, had
been attacked in the rear and routed. Here was to be a congressional convention
that autumn, and a large part of Mr. Sutton's district lay in the North Country,
which, as we have seen, was loyal to Jethro to the back bone. The district, too,
was largely rural, and therefore anti-consolidation, and the inability of the
Worthington forces to get their bill through had made it apparent that Jethro
Bass was as powerful as ever. Under these circumstances it had not been very
difficult for a gentleman of Mr. Chauncey Weed's powers of persuasion to induce
various lieutenants in the district to agree to send delegates to the coming
convention who would be conscientiously opposed to Mr. Sutton's renomination:
hence the departure from the capital of Mr. Sutton; hence the generous offer of
Mr. Bixby to put his regiment at the disposal of Mr. Bass—free of charge.
The second factor on which victory hung (we can use the past tense now) was
none other than his Excellency Alva Hopkins, governor of the state. The bill
would never get to his Excellency now—so people said; would never get beyond
that committee who had listened so patiently to the twelve weeks of argument.
These were only rumors, after all, for the rotunda never knows positively what
goes on in high circles; but the rotunda does figuring, too, when at length the
problem is reduced to a simple equation, with Bijah Bixby as x. If it were true
that Bijah had gone over to Jethro Bass, the Consolidation Bill was dead.