A Far Country
As my apprenticeship advanced I grew more and more to the inhabitants of our city into two kinds, the who were served, and the inefficient, who were separate efficient, neglected; but the mental process of which the classification was the result was not so deliberate as may be supposed. Sometimes, when an important client would get into trouble, the affair took me into the police court, where I saw the riff-raff of the city penned up, waiting to have justice doled out to them: weary women who had spent the night in cells, indifferent now as to the front they presented to the world, the finery rued that they had tended so carefully to catch the eyes of men on the darkened streets; brazen young girls, who blazed forth defiance to all order; derelict men, sodden and hopeless, with scrubby beards; shifty looking burglars and pickpockets. All these I beheld, at first with twinges of pity, later to mass them with the ugly and inevitable with whom society had to deal somehow. Lawyers, after all, must be practical men. I came to know the justices of these police courts, as well as other judges. And underlying my acquaintance with all of them was the knowledge—though not on the threshold of my consciousness—that they depended for their living, every man of them, those who were appointed and those who were elected, upon a political organization which derived its sustenance from the element whence came our clients. Thus by degrees the sense of belonging to a special priesthood had grown on me.
I recall an experience with that same Mr. Nathan. Weill, the wholesale grocer of whose commerce with the City Hall my Cousin Robert Breck had so bitterly complained. Late one afternoon Mr. Weill's carriage ran over a child on its way up-town through one of the poorer districts. The parents, naturally, were frantic, and the coachman was arrested. This was late in the afternoon, and I was alone in the office when the telephone rang. Hurrying to the police station, I found Mr. Weill in a state of excitement and abject fear, for an ugly crowd had gathered outside.
"Could not Mr. Watling or Mr. Fowndes come?" demanded the grocer.
With an inner contempt for the layman's state of mind on such occasions I assured him of my competency to handle the case. He was impressed, I think, by the sergeant's deference, who knew what it meant to have such an office as ours interfere with the affair. I called up the prosecuting attorney, who sent to Monahan's saloon, close by, and procured a release for the coachman on his own recognizance, one of many signed in blank and left there by the justice for privileged cases. The coachman was hustled out by a back door, and the crowd dispersed.
The next morning, while a score or more of delinquents sat in the anxious seats, Justice Garry recognized me and gave me precedence. And Mr. Weill, with a sigh of relief, paid his fine.
"Mr. Paret, is it?" he asked, as we stood together for a moment on the sidewalk outside the court. "You have managed this well. I will remember."
He was sued, of course. When he came to the office he insisted on discussing the case with Mr. Watling, who sent for me.
"That is a bright young man," Mr. Weill declared, shaking my hand. "He will get on."
"Some day," said Mr. Watling, "he may save you a lot of money, Weill."
"When my friend Mr. Watling is United States Senator,—eh?"
Mr. Watling laughed. "Before that, I hope. I advise you to compromise this suit, Weill," he added. "How would a thousand dollars strike you? I've had Paret look up the case, and he tells me the little girl has had to have an operation."
"A thousand dollars!" cried the grocer. "What right have these people to let their children play on the streets? It's an outrage."
"Where else have the children to play?" Mr. Watling touched his arm. "Weill," he said gently, "suppose it had been your little girl?" The grocer pulled out his handkerchief and mopped his bald forehead. But he rallied a little.
"You fight these damage cases for the street railroads all through the courts."
"Yes," Mr. Watling agreed, "but there a principle is involved. If the railroads once got into the way of paying damages for every careless employee, they would soon be bankrupt through blackmail. But here you have a child whose father is a poor janitor and can't afford sickness. And your coachman, I imagine, will be more particular in the future."
In the end Mr. Weill made out a cheque and departed in a good humour, convinced that he was well out of the matter. Here was one of many instances I could cite of Mr. Watling's tenderness of heart. I felt, moreover, as if he had done me a personal favour, since it was I who had recommended the compromise. For I had been to the hospital and had seen the child on the cot,—a dark little thing, lying still in her pain, with the bewildered look of a wounded animal....
Not long after this incident of Mr. Weill's damage suit I obtained a more or less definite promotion by the departure of Larry Weed. He had suddenly developed a weakness of the lungs. Mr. Watling got him a place in Denver, and paid his expenses west.
The first six or seven years I spent in the office of Wading, Fowndes and Ripon were of importance to my future career, but there is little to relate of them. I was absorbed not only in learning law, but in acquiring that esoteric knowledge at which I have hinted—not to be had from my seniors and which I was convinced was indispensable to a successful and lucrative practice. My former comparison of the organization of our city to a picture puzzle wherein the dominating figures become visible only after long study is rather inadequate. A better analogy would be the human anatomy: we lawyers, of course, were the brains; the financial and industrial interests the body, helpless without us; the City Hall politicians, the stomach that must continually be fed. All three, law, politics and business, were interdependent, united by a nervous system too complex to be developed here. In these years, though I worked hard and often late, I still found time for convivialities, for social gaieties, yet little by little without realizing the fact, I was losing zest for the companionship of my former intimates. My mind was becoming polarized by the contemplation of one object, success, and to it human ties were unconsciously being sacrificed.
Tom Peters began to feel this, even at a time when I believed myself still to be genuinely fond of him. Considering our respective temperaments in youth, it is curious that he should have been the first to fall in love and marry. One day he astonished me by announcing his engagement to Susan Blackwood.
"That ends the liquor, Hughie," he told me, beamingly. "I promised her I'd eliminate it."
He did eliminate it, save for mild relapses on festive occasions. A more seemingly incongruous marriage could scarcely be imagined, and yet it was a success from the start. From a slim, silent, self-willed girl Susan had grown up into a tall, rather rawboned and energetic young woman. She was what we called in those days "intellectual," and had gone in for kindergartens, and after her marriage she turned out to be excessively domestic; practising her theories, with entire success, upon a family that showed a tendency to increase at an alarming rate. Tom, needless to say, did not become intellectual. He settled down—prematurely, I thought—into what is known as a family man, curiously content with the income he derived from the commission business and with life in general; and he developed a somewhat critical view of the tendencies of the civilization by which he was surrounded. Susan held it also, but she said less about it. In the comfortable but unpretentious house they rented on Cedar Street we had many discussions, after the babies had been put to bed and the door of the living-room closed, in order that our voices might not reach the nursery. Perry Blackwood, now Tom's brother-in-law, was often there. He, too, had lapsed into what I thought was an odd conservatism. Old Josiah, his father, being dead, he occupied himself mainly with looking after certain family interests, among which was the Boyne Street car line. Among "business men" he was already getting the reputation of being a little difficult to deal with. I was often the subject of their banter, and presently I began to suspect that they regarded my career and beliefs with some concern. This gave me no uneasiness, though at limes I lost my temper. I realized their affection for me; but privately I regarded them as lacking in ambition, in force, in the fighting qualities necessary for achievement in this modern age. Perhaps, unconsciously, I pitied them a little.
"How is Judah B. to-day, Hughie?" Tom would inquire. "I hear you've put him up for the Boyne Club, now that Mr. Watling has got him out of that libel suit."
"Carter Ives is dead," Perry would add, sarcastically, "let bygones be bygones."
It was well known that Mr. Tallant, in the early days of his newspaper, had blackmailed Mr. Ives out of some hundred thousand dollars. And that this, more than any other act, stood in the way, with certain recalcitrant gentlemen, of his highest ambition, membership in the Boyne.
"The trouble with you fellows is that you refuse to deal with conditions as you find them," I retorted. "We didn't make them, and we can't change them. Tallant's a factor in the business life of this city, and he has to be counted with."
Tom would shake his head exasperatingly.
"Why don't you get after Ralph?" I demanded. "He doesn't antagonize Tallant, either."
"Ralph's hopeless," said Tom. "He was born a pirate, you weren't, Hughie. We think there's a chance for his salvation, don't we, Perry?"
I refused to accept the remark as flattering.
Another object of their assaults was Frederick Grierson, who by this time had emerged from obscurity as a small dealer in real estate into a manipulator of blocks and corners.
"I suppose you think it's a lawyer's business to demand an ethical bill of health of every client," I said. "I won't stand up for all of Tallant's career, of course, but Mr. Wading has a clear right to take his cases. As for Grierson, it seems to me that's a matter of giving a dog a bad name. Just because his people weren't known here, and because he has worked up from small beginnings. To get down to hard-pan, you fellows don't believe in democracy,—in giving every man a chance to show what's in him."
"Democracy is good!" exclaimed Perry. "If the kind of thing we're coming to is democracy, God save the state!"...
On the other hand I found myself drawing closer to Ralph Hambleton, sometimes present at these debates, as the only one of my boyhood friends who seemed to be able to "deal with conditions as he found them." Indeed, he gave one the impression that, if he had had the making of them, he would not have changed them.
"What the deuce do you expect?" I once heard him inquire with good-natured contempt. "Business isn't charity, it's war.
"There are certain things," maintained Perry, stoutly, "that gentlemen won't do."
"Gentlemen!" exclaimed Ralph, stretching his slim six feet two: We were sitting in the Boyne Club. "It's ungentlemanly to kill, or burn a town or sink a ship, but we keep armies and navies for the purpose. For a man with a good mind, Perry, you show a surprising inability to think things, out to a logical conclusion. What the deuce is competition, when you come down to it? Christianity? Not by a long shot! If our nations are slaughtering men and starving populations in other countries,—are carried on, in fact, for the sake of business, if our churches are filled with business men and our sky pilots pray for the government, you can't expect heathen individuals like me to do business on a Christian basis,—if there is such a thing. You can make rules for croquet, but not for a game that is based on the natural law of the survival of the fittest. The darned fools in the legislatures try it occasionally, but we all know it's a sop to the 'common people.' Ask Hughie here if there ever was a law put on the statute books that his friend Watling couldn't get 'round'? Why, you've got competition even among the churches. Yours, where I believe you teach in the Sunday school, would go bankrupt if it proclaimed real Christianity. And you'll go bankrupt if you practise it, Perry, my boy. Some early, wide-awake, competitive, red-blooded bird will relieve you of the Boyne Street car line."
It was one of this same new and "fittest" species who had already relieved poor Mr. McAlery Willett of his fortune. Mr. Willett was a trusting soul who had never known how to take care of himself or his money, people said, and now that he had lost it they blamed him. Some had been saved enough for him and Nancy to live on in the old house, with careful economy. It was Nancy who managed the economy, who accomplished remarkable things with a sum they would have deemed poverty in former days. Her mother had died while I was at Cambridge. Reverses did not subdue Mr. Willett's spirits, and the fascination modern "business" had for him seemed to grow in proportion to the misfortunes it had caused him. He moved into a tiny office in the Durrett Building, where he appeared every morning about half-past ten to occupy himself with heaven knows what short cuts to wealth, with prospectuses of companies in Mexico or Central America or some other distant place: once, I remember, it was a tea, company in which he tried to interest his friends, to raise in the South a product he maintained would surpass Orange Pekoe. In the afternoon between three and four he would turn up at the Boyne Club, as well groomed, as spruce as ever, generally with a flower in his buttonhole. He never forgot that he was a gentleman, and he had a gentleman's notions of the fitness of things, and it was against his principles to use, a gentleman's club for the furtherance of his various enterprises.
"Drop into my office some day, Dickinson," he would say. "I think I've got something there that might interest you!"
He reminded me, when I met him, that he had always predicted I would get along in life....
The portrait of Nancy at this period is not so easily drawn. The decline of the family fortunes seemed to have had as little effect upon her as upon her father, although their characters differed sharply. Something of that spontaneity, of that love of life and joy in it she had possessed in youth she must have inherited from McAlery Willett, but these qualities had disappeared in her long before the coming of financial reverses. She was nearing thirty, and in spite of her beauty and the rarer distinction that can best be described as breeding, she had never married. Men admired her, but from a distance; she kept them at arm's length, they said: strangers who visited the city invariably picked her out of an assembly and asked who she was; one man from New York who came to visit Ralph and who had been madly in love with her, she had amazed many people by refusing, spurning all he might have given her. This incident seemed a refutation of the charge that she was calculating. As might have been foretold, she had the social gift in a remarkable degree, and in spite of the limitations of her purse the knack of dressing better than other women, though at that time the organization of our social life still remained comparatively simple, the custom of luxurious and expensive entertainment not having yet set in.
The more I reflect upon those days, the more surprising does it seem that I was not in love with her. It may be that I was, unconsciously, for she troubled my thoughts occasionally, and she represented all the qualities I admired in her sex. The situation that had existed at the time of our first and only quarrel had been reversed, I was on the highroad to the worldly success I had then resolved upon, Nancy was poor, and for that reason, perhaps, prouder than ever. If she was inaccessible to others, she had the air of being peculiarly inaccessible to me—the more so because some of the superficial relics of our intimacy remained, or rather had been restored. Her very manner of camaraderie seemed paradoxically to increase the distance between us. It piqued me. Had she given me the least encouragement, I am sure I should have responded; and I remember that I used occasionally to speculate as to whether she still cared for me, and took this method of hiding her real feelings. Yet, on the whole, I felt a certain complacency about it all; I knew that suffering was disagreeable, I had learned how to avoid it, and I may have had, deep within me, a feeling that I might marry her after all. Meanwhile my life was full, and gave promise of becoming even fuller, more absorbing and exciting in the immediate future.
One of the most fascinating figures, to me, of that Order being woven, like a cloth of gold, out of our hitherto drab civilization,—an Order into which I was ready and eager to be initiated,—was that of Adolf Scherer, the giant German immigrant at the head of the Boyne Iron Works. His life would easily lend itself to riotous romance. In the old country, in a valley below the castle perched on the rack above, he had begun life by tending his father's geese. What a contrast to "Steeltown" with its smells and sickening summer heat, to the shanty where Mrs. Scherer took boarders and bent over the wash-tub! She, too, was an immigrant, but lived to hear her native Wagner from her own box at Covent Garden; and he to explain, on the deck of an imperial yacht, to the man who might have been his sovereign certain processes in the manufacture of steel hitherto untried on that side of the Atlantic. In comparison with Adolf Scherer, citizen of a once despised democracy, the minor prince in whose dominions he had once tended geese was of small account indeed!
The Adolf Scherer of that day—though it is not so long ago as time flies—was even more solid and impressive than the man he afterwards became, when he reached the dizzier heights from which he delivered to an eager press opinions on politics and war, eugenics and woman's suffrage and other subjects that are the despair of specialists. Had he stuck to steel, he would have remained invulnerable. But even then he was beginning to abandon the field of production for that of exploitation: figuratively speaking, he had taken to soap, which with the aid of water may be blown into beautiful, iridescent bubbles to charm the eye. Much good soap, apparently, has gone that way, never to be recovered. Everybody who was anybody began to blow bubbles about that time, and the bigger the bubble the greater its attraction for investors of hard-earned savings. Outside of this love for financial iridescence, let it be called, Mr. Scherer seemed to care little then for glitter of any sort. Shortly after his elevation to the presidency of the Boyne Iron Works he had been elected a member of the Boyne Club,—an honour of which, some thought, he should have been more sensible; but generally, when in town, he preferred to lunch at a little German restaurant annexed to a saloon, where I used often to find him literally towering above the cloth,—for he was a giant with short legs,—his napkin tucked into his shirt front, engaged in lively conversation with the ministering Heinrich. The chef at the club, Mr. Scherer insisted, could produce nothing equal to Heinrich's sauer-kraut and sausage. My earliest relationship with Mr. Scherer was that of an errand boy, of bringing to him for his approval papers which might not be intrusted to a common messenger. His gruffness and brevity disturbed me more than I cared to confess. I was pretty sure that he eyed me with the disposition of the self-made to believe that college educations and good tailors were the heaviest handicaps with which a young man could be burdened: and I suspected him of an inimical attitude toward the older families of the city. Certain men possessed his confidence; and he had built, as it were, a stockade about them, sternly keeping the rest of the world outside. In Theodore Watling he had a childlike faith.
Thus I studied him, with a deliberation which it is the purpose of these chapters to confess, though he little knew that he was being made the subject of analysis. Nor did I ever venture to talk with him, but held strictly to my role of errand boy,—even after the conviction came over me that he was no longer indifferent to my presence. The day arrived, after some years, when he suddenly thrust toward me a big, hairy hand that held the document he was examining.
"Who drew this, Mr. Paret!" he demanded.
Mr. Ripon, I told him.
The Boyne Works were buying up coal-mines, and this was a contract looking to the purchase of one in Putman County, provided, after a certain period of working, the yield and quality should come up to specifications. Mr. Scherer requested me to read one of the sections, which puzzled him. And in explaining it an idea flashed over me.
"Do you mind my making a suggestion, Mr. Scherer?" I ventured.
"What is it?" he asked brusquely.
I showed him how, by the alteration of a few words, the difficulty to which he had referred could not only be eliminated, but that certain possible penalties might be evaded, while the apparent meaning of the section remained unchanged. In other words, it gave the Boyne Iron Works an advantage that was not contemplated. He seized the paper, stared at what I had written in pencil on the margin, and then stared at me. Abruptly, he began to laugh.
"Ask Mr. Wading what he thinks of it?"
"I intended to, provided it had your approval, sir," I replied.
"You have my approval, Mr. Paret," he declared, rather cryptically, and with the slight German hardening of the v's into which he relapsed at times. "Bring it to the Works this afternoon."
Mr. Wading agreed to the alteration. He looked at me amusedly.
"Yes, I think that's an improvement, Hugh," he said. I had a feeling that I had gained ground, and from this time on I thought I detected a change in his attitude toward me; there could be no doubt about the new attitude of Mr. Scherer, who would often greet me now with a smile and a joke, and sometimes went so far as to ask my opinions.... Then, about six months later, came the famous Ribblevale case that aroused the moral indignation of so many persons, among whom was Perry Blackwood.
"You know as well as I do, Hugh, how this thing is being manipulated," he declared at Tom's one Sunday evening; "there was nothing the matter with the Ribblevale Steel Company—it was as right as rain before Leonard Dickinson and Grierson and Scherer and that crowd you train with began to talk it down at the Club. Oh, they're very compassionate. I've heard 'em. Dickinson, privately, doesn't think much of Ribblevale paper, and Pugh" (the president of the Ribblevale) "seems worried and looks badly. It's all very clever, but I'd hate to tell you in plain words what I'd call it."
"Go ahead," I challenged him audaciously. "You haven't any proof that the Ribblevale wasn't in trouble."
"I heard Mr. Pugh tell my father the other day it was a d—d outrage. He couldn't catch up with these rumours, and some of his stockholders were liquidating."
"You, don't suppose Pugh would want to admit his situation, do you?" I asked.
"Pugh's a straight man," retorted Perry. "That's more than I can say for any of the other gang, saving your presence. The unpleasant truth is that Scherer and the Boyne people want the Ribblevale, and you ought to know it if you don't." He looked at me very hard through the glasses he had lately taken to wearing. Tom, who was lounging by the fire, shifted his position uneasily. I smiled, and took another cigar.
"I believe Ralph is right, Perry, when he calls you a sentimentalist. For you there's a tragedy behind every ordinary business transaction. The Ribblevale people are having a hard time to keep their heads above water, and immediately you smell conspiracy. Dickinson and Scherer have been talking it down. How about it, Tom?"
But Tom, in these debates, was inclined to be noncommittal, although it was clear they troubled him.
"Oh, don't ask me, Hughie," he said.
"I suppose I ought to cultivate the scientific point of view, and look with impartial interest at this industrial cannibalism," returned Perry, sarcastically. "Eat or be eaten that's what enlightened self-interest has come to. After all, Ralph would say, it is nature, the insect world over again, the victim duped and crippled before he is devoured, and the lawyer—how shall I put it?—facilitating the processes of swallowing and digesting...."
There was no use arguing with Perry when he was in this vein....
Since I am not writing a technical treatise, I need not go into the details of the Ribblevale suit. Since it to say that the affair, after a while, came apparently to a deadlock, owing to the impossibility of getting certain definite information from the Ribblevale books, which had been taken out of the state. The treasurer, for reasons of his own, remained out of the state also; the ordinary course of summoning him before a magistrate in another state had naturally been resorted to, but the desired evidence was not forthcoming.
"The trouble is," Mr. Wading explained to Mr. Scherer, "that there is no law in the various states with a sufficient penalty attached that will compel the witness to divulge facts he wishes to conceal."
It was the middle of a February afternoon, and they were seated in deep, leather chairs in one corner of the reading room of the Boyne Club. They had the place to themselves. Fowndes was there also, one leg twisted around the other in familiar fashion, a bored look on his long and sallow face. Mr. Wading had telephoned to the office for me to bring them some papers bearing on the case.
"Sit down, Hugh," he said kindly.
"Now we have present a genuine legal mind," said Mr. Scherer, in the playful manner he had adopted of late, while I grinned appreciatively and took a chair. Mr. Watling presently suggested kidnapping the Ribblevale treasurer until he should promise to produce the books as the only way out of what seemed an impasse. But Mr. Scherer brought down a huge fist on his knee.
"I tell you it is no joke, Watling, we've got to win that suit," he asserted.
"That's all very well," replied Mr. Watling. "But we're a respectable firm, you know. We haven't had to resort to safe-blowing, as yet."
Mr. Scherer shrugged his shoulders, as much as to say it were a matter of indifference to him what methods were resorted to. Mr. Watling's eyes met mine; his glance was amused, yet I thought I read in it a query as to the advisability, in my presence, of going too deeply into the question of ways and means. I may have been wrong. At any rate, its sudden effect was to embolden me to give voice to an idea that had begun to simmer in my mind, that excited me, and yet I had feared to utter it. This look of my chief's, and the lighter tone the conversation had taken decided me.
"Why wouldn't it be possible to draw up a bill to fit the situation?" I inquired.
Mr. Wading started.
"What do you mean?" he asked quickly.
All three looked at me. I felt the blood come into my face, but it was too late to draw back.
"Well—the legislature is in session. And since, as Mr. Watling says, there is no sufficient penalty in other states to compel the witness to produce the information desired, why not draw up a bill and—and have it passed—" I paused for breath—"imposing a sufficient penalty on home corporations in the event of such evasions. The Ribblevale Steel Company is a home corporation."
I had shot my bolt.... There followed what was for me an anxious silence, while the three of them continued to stare at me. Mr. Watling put the tips of his fingers together, and I became aware that he was not offended, that he was thinking rapidly.
"By George, why not, Fowndes?" he demanded.
"Well," said Fowndes, "there's an element of risk in such a proceeding I need not dwell upon."
"Risk!" cried the senior partner vigorously. "There's risk in everything. They'll howl, of course. But they howl anyway, and nobody ever listens to them. They'll say it's special legislation, and the Pilot will print sensational editorials for a few days. But what of it? All of that has happened before. I tell you, if we can't see those books, we'll lose the suit. That's in black and white. And, as a matter of justice, we're entitled to know what we want to know."
"There might be two opinions as to that," observed Fowndes, with his sardonic smile.
Mr. Watling paid no attention to this remark. He was already deep in thought. It was characteristic of his mind to leap forward, seize a suggestion that often appeared chimerical to a man like Fowndes and turn it into an accomplished Fact. "I believe you've hit it, Hugh," he said. "We needn't bother about the powers of the courts in other states. We'll put into this bill an appeal to our court for an order on the clerk to compel the witness to come before the court and testify, and we'll provide for a special commissioner to take depositions in the state where the witness is. If the officers of a home corporation who are outside of the state refuse to testify, the penalty will be that the ration goes into the hands of a receiver."
"That's going some!" he said.
"Well, we've got to go some. How about it, Scherer?"
Even Mr. Scherer's brown eyes were snapping.
"We have got to win that suit, Watling."
We were all excited, even Fowndes, I think, though he remained expressionless. Ours was the tense excitement of primitive man in chase: the quarry which had threatened to elude us was again in view, and not unlikely to fall into our hands. Add to this feeling, on my part, the thrill that it was I who had put them on the scent. I had all the sensations of an aspiring young brave who for the first time is admitted to the councils of the tribe!
"It ought to be a popular bill, too," Mr. Schemer was saying, with a smile of ironic appreciation at the thought of demagogues advocating it. "We should have one of Lawler's friends introduce it."
"Oh, we shall have it properly introduced," replied Mr. Wading.
"It may come back at us," suggested Fowndes pessimistically. "The Boyne Iron Works is a home corporation too, if I am not mistaken."
"The Boyne Iron Works has the firm of Wading, Fowndes and Ripon behind it," asserted Mr. Scherer, with what struck me as a magnificent faith.
"You mustn't forget Paret," Mr. Watling reminded him, with a wink at me.
We had risen. Mr. Scherer laid a hand on my arm.
"No, no, I do not forget him. He will not permit me to forget him."
A remark, I thought, that betrayed some insight into my character... Mr. Watling called for pen and paper and made then and there a draft of the proposed bill, for no time was to be lost. It was dark when we left the Club, and I recall the elation I felt and strove to conceal as I accompanied my chief back to the office. The stenographers and clerks were gone; alone in the library we got down the statutes and set to work to perfect the bill from the rough draft, on which Mr. Fowndes had written his suggestions. I felt that a complete yet subtle change had come over my relationship with Mr. Watling.
In the midst of our labours he asked me to call up the attorney for the Railroad. Mr. Gorse was still at his office.
"Hello! Is that you, Miller?" Mr. Watling said. "This is Wading. When can I see you for a few minutes this evening? Yes, I am leaving for Washington at nine thirty. Eight o'clock. All right, I'll be there."
It was almost eight before he got the draft finished to his satisfaction, and I had picked it out on the typewriter. As I handed it to him, my chief held it a moment, gazing at me with an odd smile.
"You seem to have acquired a good deal of useful knowledge, here and there, Hugh," he observed.
"I've tried to keep my eyes open, Mr. Watling," I said.
"Well," he said, "there are a great many things a young man practising law in these days has to learn for himself. And if I hadn't given you credit for some cleverness, I shouldn't have wanted you here. There's only one way to look at—at these matters we have been discussing, my boy, that's the common-sense way, and if a man doesn't get that point of view by himself, nobody can teach it to him. I needn't enlarge upon it."
"No, sir," I said.
He smiled again, but immediately became serious.
"If Mr. Gorse should approve of this bill, I'm going to send you down to the capital—to-night. Can you go?"
"I want you to look out for the bill in the legislature. Of course there won't be much to do, except to stand by, but you will get a better idea of what goes on down there."
I thanked him, and told him I would do my best.
"I'm sure of that," he replied. "Now it's time to go to see Gorse."
The legal department of the Railroad occupied an entire floor of the Corn Bank building. I had often been there on various errands, having on occasions delivered sealed envelopes to Mr. Gorse himself, approaching him in the ordinary way through a series of offices. But now, following Mr. Watling through the dimly lighted corridor, we came to a door on which no name was painted, and which was presently opened by a stenographer. There was in the proceeding a touch of mystery that revived keenly my boyish love for romance; brought back the days when I had been, in turn, Captain Kidd and Ali Baba.
I have never realized more strongly than in that moment the psychological force of prestige. Little by little, for five years, an estimate of the extent of Miller Gorse's power had been coming home to me, and his features stood in my mind for his particular kind of power. He was a tremendous worker, and often remained in his office until ten and eleven at night. He dismissed the stenographer by the wave of a hand which seemed to thrust her bodily out of the room.
"Hello, Miller," said Mr. Watling.
"Hello, Theodore," replied Mr. Gorse.
"This is Paret, of my office."
"I know," said Mr. Gorse, and nodded toward me. I was impressed by the felicity with which a cartoonist of the Pilot had once caricatured him by the use of curved lines. The circle of the heavy eyebrows ended at the wide nostrils; the mouth was a crescent, but bowed downwards; the heavy shoulders were rounded. Indeed, the only straight line to be discerned about him was that of his hair, black as bitumen, banged across his forehead; even his polished porphyry eyes were constructed on some curvilinear principle, and never seemed to focus. It might be said of Mr. Gorse that he had an overwhelming impersonality. One could never be quite sure that one's words reached the mark.
In spite of the intimacy which I knew existed between them, in my presence at least Mr. Gorse's manner was little different with Mr. Watling than it was with other men. Mr. Wading did not seem to mind. He pulled up a chair close to the desk and began, without any preliminaries, to explain his errand.
"It's about the Ribblevale affair," he said. "You know we have a suit."
"We've got to get at the books, Miller,—that's all there is to it. I told you so the other day. Well, we've found out a way, I think."
He thrust his hand in his pocket, while the railroad attorney remained impassive, and drew out the draft of the bill. Mr. Gorse read it, then read it over again, and laid it down in front of him.
"Well," he said.
"I want to put that through both houses and have the governor's signature to it by the end of the week."
"It seems a little raw, at first sight, Theodore," said Mr. Gorse, with the suspicion of a smile.
My chief laughed a little.
"It's not half so raw as some things I might mention, that went through like greased lightning," he replied. "What can they do? I believe it will hold water. Tallant's, and most of the other newspapers in the state, won't print a line about it, and only Socialists and Populists read the Pilot. They're disgruntled anyway. The point is, there's no other way out for us. Just think a moment, bearing in mind what I've told you about the case, and you'll see it."
Mr. Gorse took up the paper again, and read the draft over.
"You know as well as I do, Miller, how dangerous it is to leave this Ribblevale business at loose ends. The Carlisle steel people and the Lake Shore road are after the Ribblevale Company, and we can't afford to run any risk of their getting it. It's logically a part of the Boyne interests, as Scherer says, and Dickinson is ready with the money for the reorganization. If the Carlisle people and the Lake Shore get it, the product will be shipped out by the L and G, and the Railroad will lose. What would Barbour say?"
Mr. Barbour, as I have perhaps mentioned, was the president of the Railroad, and had his residence in the other great city of the state. He was then, I knew, in the West.
"We've got to act now," insisted Mr. Watling. "That's open and shut. If you have any other plan, I wish you'd trot it out. If not, I want a letter to Paul Varney and the governor. I'm going to send Paret down with them on the night train."
It was clear to me then, in the discussion following, that Mr. Watling's gift of persuasion, though great, was not the determining factor in Mr. Gorse's decision. He, too, possessed boldness, though he preferred caution. Nor did the friendship between the two enter into the transaction. I was impressed more strongly than ever with the fact that a lawsuit was seldom a mere private affair between two persons or corporations, but involved a chain of relationships and nine times out of ten that chain led up to the Railroad, which nearly always was vitally interested in these legal contests. Half an hour of masterly presentation of the situation was necessary before Mr. Gorse became convinced that the introduction of the bill was the only way out for all concerned.
"Well, I guess you're right, Theodore," he said at length. Whereupon he seized his pen and wrote off two notes with great rapidity. These he showed to Mr. Watling, who nodded and returned them. They were folded and sealed, and handed to me. One was addressed to Colonel Paul Varney, and the other to the Hon. W. W. Trulease, governor of the state.
"You can trust this young man?" demanded Mr. Gorse.
"I think so," replied Mr. Watling, smiling at me. "The bill was his own idea."
The railroad attorney wheeled about in his chair and looked at me; looked around me, would better express it, with his indefinite, encompassing yet inclusive glance. I had riveted his attention. And from henceforth, I knew, I should enter into his calculations. He had made for me a compartment in his mind.
"His own idea!" he repeated.
"I merely suggested it," I was putting in, when he cut me short.
"Aren't you the son of Matthew Paret?"
"Yes," I said.
He gave me a queer glance, the significance of which I left untranslated. My excitement was too great to analyze what he meant by this mention of my father....
When we reached the sidewalk my chief gave me a few parting instructions.
"I need scarcely say, Hugh," he added, "that your presence in the capital should not be advertised as connected with this—legislation. They will probably attribute it to us in the end, but if you're reasonably careful, they'll never be able to prove it. And there's no use in putting our cards on the table at the beginning."
"No indeed, sir!" I agreed.
He took my hand and pressed it.
"Good luck," he said. "I know you'll get along all right."