Infomotions, Inc.The Grafters / Lynde, Francis, 1856-1930



Author: Lynde, Francis, 1856-1930
Title: The Grafters
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): kent; ormsby; david kent; loring; miss brentwood; judge macfarlane; brookes ormsby; david; western pacific; western
Contributor(s): Curtin, Jeremiah, 1835-1906 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 90,429 words (short) Grade range: 8-10 (high school) Readability score: 67 (easy)
Identifier: etext11418
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Title: The Grafters

Author: Francis Lynde

Release Date: March 3, 2004 [EBook #11418]

Language: English

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[Illustration: "DO YOU BEGIN TO SUSPECT THINGS?" SHE ASKED.]



THE
GRAFTERS

BY
FRANCIS LYNDE

ILLUSTRATED BY
ARTHUR I. KELLER


CONTENTS

CHAPTER

     I  ASHES OF EMPIRE
    II  A MAN OF THE PEOPLE
   III  THE BOSTONIANS
    IV  THE FLESH-POTS OF EGYPT
     V  JOURNEYS END--
    VI  OF THE MAKING OF LAWS
   VII  THE SENTIMENTALISTS
  VIII  THE HAYMAKERS
    IX  THE SHOCKING OF HUNNICOTT
     X  WITHOUT BENEFIT OF CLERGY
    XI  THE LAST DITCH
   XII  THE MAN IN POSSESSION
  XIII  THE WRECKERS
   XIV  THE GERRYMANDER
    XV  THE JUNKETERS
   XVI  SHARPENING THE SWORD
  XVII  THE CONSPIRATORS
 XVIII  DOWN, BRUNO!
   XIX  DEEP-SEA SOUNDINGS
    XX  THE WINNING LOSER
   XXI  A WOMAN INTERVENES
  XXII  A BORROWED CONSCIENCE
 XXIII  THE INSURRECTIONARIES
  XXIV  INTO THE PRIMITIVE
   XXV  DEAD WATER AND QUICK
  XXVI  ON THE HIGH PLAINS
 XXVII  BY ORDER OF THE COURT
XXVIII  THE NIGHT OF ALARMS
  XXIX  THE RELENTLESS WHEELS
   XXX  SUBHI SADIK


TO MY GOOD FRIEND
MR. EDWARD YOUNG CHAPIN


THE GRAFTERS




I


ASHES OF EMPIRE

In point of age, Gaston the strenuous was still no more than a lusty
infant among the cities of the brown plain when the boom broke and the
junto was born, though its beginnings as a halt camp ran back to the days
of the later Mormon migrations across the thirsty plain; to that day when
the advanced guard of Zophar Smith's ox-train dug wells in the damp sands
of Dry Creek and called them the Waters of Merom.

Later, one Jethro Simsby, a Mormon deserter, set up his rod and staff on
the banks of the creek, home-steaded a quarter-section of the sage-brush
plain, and in due time came to be known as the Dry Creek cattle king. And
the cow-camp was still Simsby's when the locating engineers of the Western
Pacific, searching for tank stations in a land where water was scarce and
hard to come by, drove their stakes along the north line of the
quarter-section; and having named their last station Alphonse, christened
this one Gaston.

From the stake-driving of the engineers to the spike-driving of the
track-layers was a full decade. For hard times overtook the Western
Pacific at Midland City, eighty miles to the eastward; while the State
capital, two days' bronco-jolting west of Dry Creek, had railroad outlets
in plenty and no inducements to offer a new-comer.

But, with the breaking of the cloud of financial depression, the Western
Pacific succeeded in placing its extension bonds, and a little later the
earth began to fly on the grade of the new line to the west. Within a
Sundayless month the electric lights of the night shift could be seen,
and, when the wind was right, the shriek of the locomotive whistle could
be heard at Dry Creek; and in this interval between dawn and daylight
Jethro Simsby sold his quarter-section for the nominal sum of two thousand
dollars, spot cash, to two men who buck-boarded in ahead of the
track-layers.

This purchase of the "J-lazy-S" ranch by Hawk and Guilford marked the
modest beginning of Gaston the marvelous. By the time the temporary
sidings were down and the tank well was dug in the damp sands, it was
heralded far and wide that the Western Pacific would make the city on the
banks of Dry Creek--a city consisting as yet only of the Simsby ranch
shacks--its western terminus. Thereupon followed one of the senseless
rushes that populate the waste places of the earth and give the
professional city-builder his reason for being. In a fortnight after the
driving of the silver spike the dusty plain was dotted with the
black-roofed shelters of the Argonauts; and by the following spring the
plow was furrowing the cattle ranges in ever-widening circles, and Gaston
had voted a bond loan of three hundred thousand dollars to pave its
streets.

Then under the forced draft of skilful exploitation, three years of high
pressure passed quickly; years named by the promoters the period of
development. In the Year One the very heavens smiled and the rainfall
broke the record of the oldest inhabitant. Thus the region round about
lost the word "arid" as a qualifying adjective, and the picturesque
fictions of the prospectus makers were miraculously justified. In Year Two
there was less rain, but still an abundant crop; and Jethro Simsby,
drifting in from some unnamed frontier of a newer cow-country, saw what he
had missed, took to drink, and shot himself in the lobby of the
Mid-Continent Hotel, an ornate, five-storied, brick-and-terra-cotta
structure standing precisely upon the site of the "J-lazy-S" branding
corral.

It was in this same Year Two, the fame of the latest of western Meccas for
young men having penetrated to the provincial backgrounds of New
Hampshire, that David Kent came.

By virtue of his diploma, and three years of country practice in the New
Hampshire county town where his father before him had read Blackstone and
Chitty, he had his window on the fourth floor of the Farquhar Building
lettered "Attorney and Counselor at Law"; but up to the day in the latter
part of the fateful Year Three, when the overdue crash came, he was best
known as a reckless plunger in real estate--this, mind you, at a moment
when every third man counted his gains in "front feet", and was shouting
himself hoarse at the daily brass-band lot sales.

When the bottom fell out in the autumn of Year Three, Kent fell with it,
though not altogether as far or as hard as many another. One of his
professional hold-fasts--it was the one that afterward became the
bread-tackle in the famine time--was his position as local attorney for
the railway company. By reason of this he was among the first to have a
hint of the impending cataclysm. The Western Pacific, after so long a
pause on the banks of Dry Creek, had floated its second mortgage bonds and
would presently build on to the capital, leaving Gaston to way-station
quietude. Therefore and wherefore----

Kent was not lacking in native shrewdness or energy. He foresaw, not the
pitiable bubble-burst which ensued, indeed, but the certain and inevitable
end of the speculative era. Like every one else, he had bought chiefly
with promises to pay, and his paper in the three banks aggregated a sum
equal to a frugal New Hampshire competence.

"How long have I got?" was the laconic wire which he sent to Loring, the
secretary of the Western Pacific Advisory Board in Boston, from whom his
hint had come. And when Loring replied that the grading and track-laying
contracts were already awarded, there was at least one "long" on the
Gaston real estate exchange who wrought desperately night and day to
"unload".

As it turned out, the race against time was both a victory and a defeat.
On the morning when the _Daily Clarion_ sounded the first note of public
alarm, David Kent took up the last of his bank promises-to-pay, and
transferred his final mortgaged holding in Gaston realty. When it was done
he locked himself in his office in the Farquhar Building and balanced the
account. On leaving the New Hampshire country town to try the new cast for
fortune in the golden West, he had turned his small patrimony into
cash--some ten thousand dollars of it. To set over against the bill of
exchange for this amount, which he had brought to Gaston a year earlier,
there were a clean name, a few hundred dollars in bank, six lots, bought
and paid for, in one of the Gaston suburbs, and a vast deal of experience.

Kent ran his hands through his hair, opened the check-book and hastily
filled out a check payable to himself for the remaining few hundreds. When
he reached the Apache National on the corner of Colorado and Texas
Streets, he was the one hundred and twenty-seventh man in the queue, which
extended around the corner and doubled back and forth in the cross-street
to the stoppage of all traffic. The announcement in the _Clarion_ had done
its work, and the baleful flower of panic, which is a juggler's rose for
quick-growing possibilities, was filling the very air of the street with
its acrid perfume--the scent of all others that soonest drives men mad.

Major James Guilford, the president of the Apache National, was in the
cage with the sweating paying tellers, and it was to him that Kent
presented his check when his turn came.

"What! You, too, Kent?" said the president, reproachfully. "I thought you
had more backbone."

Kent shook his head.

"Gaston has absorbed nine-tenths of the money I brought here; I'll absorb
the remaining tenth myself, if it's just the same to you, Major. Thank
you." And the hundred and twenty-seventh man pocketed his salvage from the
wreck and fought his way out through the jam at the doors. Two hours
farther along in the forenoon the Apache National suspended payment, and
the bank examiner was wired for.

For suddenness and thoroughgoing completeness the Gaston bubble-bursting
was a record-breaker. For a week and a day there was a frantic struggle
for enlargement, and by the expiration of a fortnight the life was pretty
well trampled out of the civic corpse and the stench began to arise.

Flight upon any terms then became the order of the day, and if the place
had been suddenly plague-smitten the panicky exodus could scarcely have
been more headlong. None the less, in any such disorderly up-anchoring
there are stragglers perforce: some left like stranded hulks by the ebbing
tide; others riding by mooring chains which may be neither slipped nor
capstaned. When all was over there were deserted streets and empty suburbs
in ruthless profusion; but there was also a hungry minority of the crews
of the stranded and anchored hulks left behind to live or die as they
might, and presently to fall into cannibalism, preying one upon another
between whiles, or waiting like their prototypes of the Spanish Main for
the stray spoils of any luckless argosy that might drift within grappling
distance.

Kent stayed partly because a local attorney for the railroad was as
necessary in Gaston the bereaved as in Gaston the strenuous; partly, also,
because he was a student of his kind, and the broken city gave him
laboratory opportunities for the study of human nature at its worst.

He marked the raising of the black flag as the Gaston castaways, getting
sorrily afloat one by one, cleared their decks for action. Some Bluebeard
admiral there will always be for such stressful occasions, and David Kent,
standing aside and growing cynical day by day, laid even chances on Hawk,
the ex-district attorney, on Major Guilford, and on one Jasper G. Bucks,
sometime mayor of Gaston the iridescent.

Afterward he was to learn that he had underrated the gifts of the former
mayor. For when the famine time was fully come, and there were no more
argosies drifting Gastonward for the bucaneers to sack and scuttle, it was
Jasper G. Bucks who called a conference of his fellow werwolves, set forth
his new cast for fortune, and brought the junto, the child of sheer
desperation fiercely at bay, into being.

It was in the autumn of that first cataclysmic year that Secretary Loring,
traveling from Boston to the State capital on a mission for the Western
Pacific, stopped over a train with Kent. After a rather dispiriting dinner
in the deserted Mid-Continent cafe, and some plowing of the field of
recollection in Kent's rooms in the Farquhar Building, they took the
deserted street in the golden twilight to walk to the railway station.

"It was a decent thing for you to do--stopping over a train with me,
Grantham," said the host, when the five squares intervening had been half
measured. "I have had all kinds of a time out here in this God-forsaken
desert, but never until to-day anything approaching a chummy hour with a
man I know and care for."

Kent had not spoken since they had felt their way out of the dark lower
hall of the Farquhar Building. Up to this point the talk had been
pointedly reminiscent; of the men of their university year, of mutual
friends in the far-away "God's country" to the eastward, of the Gastonian
epic, of all things save only two--the exile's cast for fortune in the
untamed West, and one other.

"That brings us a little nearer to the things that be--and to your
prospects, David," said the guest. "How are you fixed here?"

Kent shrugged.

"Gaston is dead, as you see; too dead to bury."

"Why don't you get out of it, then?"

"I shall some day, perhaps. Up to date there has been no place to go to,
and no good way to arrive. Like some thousands of others, I've made an ass
of myself here, Loring."

"By coming, you mean? Oh, I don't know about that. You have had some hard
knocks, I take it, but if you are the same David Kent I used to know, they
have made a bigger man of you."

"Think so?"

"I'd bet on it. We have had the Gaston epic done out for us in the
newspapers. No man could live through such an experience as you must have
had without growing a few inches. Hello! What's this?"

A turned corner had brought them in front of a lighted building in Texas
Street with a straggling crowd gathered about the porticoed entrance. As
Loring spoke, there was a rattle of snare drums followed by the _dum-dum_
of the bass, and a brass band ramped out the opening measures of a
campaign march.

"It is a rally," said Kent, when they had passed far enough beyond the
zone of brass-throated clamorings to make the reply audible. "I told you
that the Gaston wolf-pack had gone into politics. We are in the throes of
a State election, and there is to be a political speech-making at the
Opera House to-night, with Bucks in the title role. And there is a fair
measure of the deadness of the town! When you see people flock together
like that to hear a brass band play, it means one of two things: that the
town hasn't outgrown the country village stage, or else it has passed that
and all other stages and is well on its way to the cemetery."

"That is one way of putting it," Loring rejoined. "If things are as bad as
that, it's time you were moving on, don't you think?"

"I guess so," was the lack-luster response. "Only I don't know where to
go, or what to do when I get there."

They were crossing the open square in front of the wide-eaved passenger
station. A thunderous tremolo, dominating the distant band music, thrilled
on the still air, and the extended arm of the station semaphore with its
two dangling lanterns wagged twice.

"My train," said Loring, quickening his step.

"No," Kent corrected. "It is a special from the west, bringing a Bucks
crowd to the political rally. Number Three isn't due for fifteen minutes
yet, and she is always late."

They mounted the steps to the station platform in good time to meet the
three-car special as it came clattering in over the switches, and
presently found themselves in the thick of the crowd of debarking
ralliers.

It was a mixed masculine multitude, fairly typical of time, place and
occasion; stalwart men of the soil for the greater part, bearded and
bronzed and rough-clothed, with here and there a range-rider in
picturesque leathern shaps, sagging pistols and wide-flapped sombrero.

Loring stood aside and put up his eye-glasses. It was his first sight near
at hand of the untrammeled West _in puris naturalibus_, and he was finding
the spectacle both instructive and diverting. Looking to Kent for
fellowship he saw that his companion was holding himself stiffly aloof;
also, he remarked that none of the boisterous partizans flung a word of
recognition in Kent's direction.

"Don't you know any of them?" he asked.

Kent's reply was lost in the deep-chested bull-bellow of a cattleman from
the Rio Blanco.

"Hold on a minute, boys, before you scatter! Line up here, and let's give
three cheers and a tail-twister for next-Governor Bucks! Now,
then--_everybody_! Hip, hip----"

The ripping crash of the cheer jarred Loring's eye-glasses from their
hold, and he replaced them with a smile. Four times the ear-splitting
shout went up, and as the echoes of the "tiger" trailed off into silence
the stentorian voice was lifted again.

"Good enough! Now, then; three groans for the land syndicates, alien
mortgagees, and the Western Pacific Railroad, by grabs! and to hell with
'em!"

The responsive clamor was a thing to be acutely remembered--sustained,
long-drawn, vindictive; a nerve-wrenching pandemonium of groans, yelpings
and cat-calls, in the midst of which the partizans shuffled into loose
marching order and tramped away townward.

"That answers your question, doesn't it?" said Kent, smiling sourly. "If
not, I can set it out for you in words. The Western Pacific is the
best-hated corporation this side of the Mississippi, and I am its local
attorney."

"I don't envy you," said Loring. "I had no idea the opposition
crystallized itself in any such concrete ill will. You must have the whole
weight of public sentiment against you in any railroad litigation."

"I do," said Kent, simply. "If every complainant against us had the right
to pack his own jury, we couldn't fare worse."

"What is at the bottom of it? Is it our pricking of the Gaston bubble by
building on to the capital?"

"Oh, no; it's much more personal to these shouters. As you may, or may
not, know, our line--like every other western railroad with no
competition--has for its motto, 'All the tariff the traffic will stand,'
and it bleeds the country accordingly. But we are forgetting your train.
Shall we go and see how late it is?"




II


A MAN OF THE PEOPLE

Train Number Three, the Western Flyer, was late, as Kent had
predicted--just how late the operator could not tell; and pending the
chalking-up of its arriving time on the bulletin board, the two men sat on
an empty baggage truck and smoked in companionable silence.

While they waited, Loring's thoughts were busy with many things, friendly
solicitude for the exile serving as the point of departure. He knew what a
handfast friend might know: how Kent had finished his postgraduate course
in the law and had succeeded to his father's small practice in the New
Hampshire county town where he was born and bred. Also, he knew how Kent's
friends, college friends who knew his gifts and ability, had deprecated
the burial; and he himself had been curious enough to pay Kent a visit to
spy out the reason why. On their first evening together in the stuffy
little law office which had been his father's, Kent had made a clean
breast of it: there was a young woman in the case, and a promise passed
before Kent had gone to college. She was a farmer's daughter, with no
notion for a change of environment; wherefore she had determined Kent's
career and the scene of it, laying its lines in the narrow field of her
own choosing.

Later, as Loring knew, the sentimental anchor had dragged until it was
hopelessly off holding-ground. The young woman had laid the blame at the
door of the university, had given Kent a bad half-year of fault-finding
and recrimination, and had finally made an end of the matter by bestowing
her dowry of hillside acres on the son of a neighboring farmer.

Thereafter Kent had stagnated quietly, living with simple rigor the life
he had marked out for himself; thankful at heart, Loring had suspected,
for the timely intervention of the farmer's son, but holding himself well
in hand against a repetition of the sentimental offense. All this until
the opening of the summer hotel at the foot of Old Croydon, and the coming
of Elinor Brentwood.

No one knew just how much Miss Brentwood had to do with the long-delayed
awakening of David Kent; but in Loring's forecastings she enjoyed the full
benefit of the doubt. From tramping the hills alone, or whipping the
streams for brook trout, David had taken to spending his afternoons with
lover-like regularity at the Croydon Inn; and at the end of the season had
electrified the sleepy home town by declaring his intention to go West and
grow up with the country.

In Loring's setting-forth of the awakening, the motive was not far to
seek. Miss Brentwood was ambitious, and if her interest in Kent had been
only casual she would not have been likely to point him to the wider
battle-field. Again, apart from his modest patrimony, Kent had only his
profession. The Brentwoods were not rich, as riches are measured in
millions; but they lived in their own house in the Back Bay wilderness,
moved in Boston's older substantial circle, and, in a world where success,
economic or other, is in some sort the touchstone, were many social planes
above a country lawyer.

Loring knew Kent's fierce poverty-pride--none better. Hence, he was at no
loss to account for the exile's flight afield, or for his unhopeful
present attitude. Meaning to win trophies to lay at Miss Brentwood's feet,
the present stage of the rough joust with Fortune found him unhorsed,
unweaponed and rolling in the dust of the lists.

Loring chewed his cigar reflectively, wishing his companion would open the
way to free speech on the subject presumably nearest his heart. He had a
word of comfort, negative comfort, to offer, but it might not be said
until Kent should give him leave by taking the initiative. Kent broke
silence at last, but the prompting was nothing more pertinent than the
chalking-up of the delayed train's time.

"An hour and twenty minutes: that means any time after nine o'clock. I'm
honestly sorry for you, Grantham--sorry for any one that has to stay in
this charnel-house of a town ten minutes after he's through. What will you
do with yourself?"

Loring got up, looked at his watch, and made a suggestion, hoping that
Kent would fall in with it.

"I don't know. Shall we go back to your rooms and sit a while?"

The exile's eyes gloomed suddenly.

"Not unless you insist on it. We should get back among the relics and I
should bore you. I'm not the man you used to know, Grantham."

"No?" said Loring. "I sha'n't be hypocritical enough to contradict you.
Nevertheless, you are my host. It is for you to say what you will do with
me until train time."

"We can kill an hour at the rally, if you like. You have seen the street
parade and heard the band play: it is only fair that you should see the
menagerie on exhibition."

Loring found his match-box and made a fresh light for his cigar.

"It's pretty evident that you and 'next-Governor' Bucks are on opposite
sides of the political fence," he observed.

"We are. I should think a good bit less of myself than I do--and that's
needless--if I trained in his company."

"Yet you will give him a chance to make a partizan of me? Well, come
along. Politics are not down on my western programme, but I'm here to see
all the new things."

The Gaston Opera House was a survival of the flush times, and barring a
certain tawdriness from disuse and neglect, and a rather garish effect
which marched evenly with the brick-and-terra-cotta fronts in Texas Street
and the American-Tudor cottages of the suburbs, it was a creditable relic.
The auditorium was well filled in pit, dress-circle and gallery when Kent
and his guest edged their way through the standing committee in the foyer;
but by dint of careful searching they succeeded in finding two seats well
around to the left, with a balcony pillar to separate them from their
nearest neighbors.

Since the public side of American politics varies little with the
variation of latitude or longitude, the man from the East found himself at
once in homely and remindful surroundings. There was the customary draping
of flags under the proscenium arch and across the set-piece villa of the
background. In the semicircle of chairs arched from wing to wing sat the
local and visiting political lights; men of all trades, these, some of
them a little shamefaced and ill at ease by reason of their unwonted
conspicuity; all of them listening with a carefully assumed air of
strained attention to the speaker of the moment.

Also, there was the characteristic ante-election audience, typical of all
America--the thing most truly typical in a land where national types are
sought for microscopically: wheel-horses who came at the party call; men
who came in the temporary upblaze of enthusiastic patriotism, which is
lighted with the opening of the campaign, and which goes out like a candle
in a gust of wind the day after the election; men who came to applaud
blindly, and a few who came to cavil and deride. Loring oriented himself
in a leisurely eye-sweep, and so came by easy gradations to the speaker.

Measured by the standard of fitness for his office of prolocutor the man
standing beside the stage-properties speaker's desk was worthy a second
glance. He was dark, undersized, trimly built; with a Vandyke beard
clipped closely enough to show the lines of a bull-dog jaw, and eyes that
had the gift, priceless to the public speaker, of seeming to hold every
onlooking eye in the audience. Unlike his backers in the awkward
semicircle, he wore a professional long coat; and the hands that marked
his smoothly flowing sentences were slim and shapely.

"Who is he?" asked Loring, in an aside to Kent.

"Stephen Hawk, the ex-district attorney: boomer, pettifogger, promoter--a
charter member of the Gaston wolf-pack. A man who would persuade you into
believing in the impeccability of Satan in one breath, and knife you in
the back for a ten-dollar bill in the next," was the rejoinder.

Loring nodded, and again became a listener. Hawk's speech was merely
introductory, and it was nearing its peroration.

"Fellow citizens, this occasion is as auspicious as it is significant.
When the people rise in their might to say to tyranny in whatsoever form
it oppresses them, 'Thus far and no farther shalt thou go,' the night is
far spent and the light is breaking in the east.

"Since the day when we first began to wrest with compelling hands the
natural riches from the soil of this our adoptive State, political
trickery in high places, backed by the puissant might of alien
corporations, has ground us into the dust.

"But now the time of our deliverance is at hand. Great movements give
birth to great leaders; and in this, our holy crusade against oppression
and tyranny, the crisis has bred the man. Ladies and gentlemen, I have the
pleasure of presenting to you the speaker of the evening: our friend and
fellow citizen the Honorable Jasper G. Bucks, by the grace of God, and
your suffrages, the next governor of the State."

In the storm of applause that burst upon the dramatic peroration of the
ex-district attorney, a man rose from the center of the stage semicircle
and lumbered heavily forward to the footlights. Loring's first emotion was
of surprise, tempered with pity. The crisis-born leader, heralded by such
a flourish of rhetorical trumpets, was a giant in size; but with his huge
figure, unshapely and ill-clad, all promise of greatness seemed to pause.

His face, broad-featured, colorless, and beardless as a boy's, was either
a blank or an impenetrable mask. There was no convincement in the
lack-luster gaze of the small, porcine eyes; no eloquence in the harsh,
nasal tones of the untrained voice, or in the ponderous and awkward
wavings of the beam-like arms. None the less, before he had uttered a
dozen halting sentences he was carrying the audience with him step by
step; moving the great concourse of listeners with his commonplace periods
as a mellifluous Hawk could never hope to move it.

Loring saw the miracle in the throes of its outworking; saw and felt it in
his own proper person, and sought in vain to account for it. Was there
some subtile magnetism in this great hulk of a man that made itself felt
in spite of its hamperings? Or was it merely that the people, weary of
empty rhetoric and unkept promises, were ripe to welcome and to follow any
man whose apparent earnestness and sincerity atoned for all his lacks?

Explain it as he might, Loring soon assured himself that the Honorable
Jasper G. Bucks was laying hold of the sentiment of the audience as though
it were a thing tangible to be grasped by the huge hands. Unlike Hawk,
whose speech flamed easily into denunciation when it touched on the alien
corporations, he counseled moderation and lawful reprisals. Land
syndicates, railroads, foreign capital in whatever employment, were prime
necessities in any new and growing commonwealth. The province of the
people was not to wreck the ship, but to guide it. And the remedy for all
ills lay in controlling legislation, faithfully and rigidly enforced.

"My friends: I'm only a plain, hard-handed farmer, as those of you who are
my fellow townsmen can testify. But I've seen what you've seen, and I've
suffered what you've suffered. Year after year we send our representatives
to the legislature, and what comes of it? Why, these corporations, looking
only to their own interests, as they're in duty bound to do, buys 'em if
they can. You can't blame 'em for that; it's business--their business. But
it is our business, as citizens of this great commonwealth, to prevent it.
We have good laws on our statute books, but we need more of 'em; laws for
control, with plain, honest men at the capital, in the judiciary, in every
root and branch of the executive, to enforce 'em. With such laws, and such
men to see that they are executed, there wouldn't be any more extortion,
any more raising of the rates of transportation on the produce of our
ranches and farms merely because the eastern market for that particular
product happened to jump a few cents on the dollar.

"No, my friends; plain, hard-handed farmer though I be, I can see what
will follow an honest election of the people, by the people, and for the
people. The State can be--it ought to be--sovereign within its own
boundaries. If we rise up as one man next Tuesday and put a ticket into
the ballot-box that says we are going to make it so, and keep it so,
you'll see a new commodity tariff put into effect on the Western Pacific
Railroad the day after."

The speaker paused, and into the little gap of silence barked a voice from
the gallery.

"That's what you say. But supposin' they don't do it?"

Loring was gazing steadfastly at the blank, heavy face, so utterly devoid
of the enthusiasm the man was evoking in others. For one flitting instant
he thought he saw behind the mask. The immobile face, the awkward
gestures, the slipshod English became suddenly transparent, revealing the
real man; a man of titanic strength, of tremendous possibilities for good
or evil. Loring put up his glasses and looked again; but the figure of the
flash-light inner vision had vanished, and the speaker was answering his
objector as calmly as though the house held only the single critic to be
set right.

"I'm always glad to hear a man speak right out in meeting," he said,
dropping still deeper into the colloquialisms. "Supposing the corporations
don't see the handwriting on the wall--won't see it, you say? Then, my
friend, it will become the manifest duty of the legislature and the
executive to make 'em see it: always lawfully, you understand; always with
a just and equitable respect for the rights of property in which our free
and glorious institutions are founded, but with level-handed justice, and
without fear or favor."

A thunderous uproar of applause clamored on the heels of the answer, and
the Honorable Jasper mopped his face with a colored handkerchief and took
a swallow of water from the glass on the desk.

"Mind you, my friends, I'm not saying we are not going to find plenty of
stumps and roots and a tough sod in this furrow we are going to plow. It's
only the fool or the ignoramus who underrates the strength of his
opponent. It is going to be just plain, honest justice and the will of the
people against the money of the Harrimans and the Goulds and the
Vanderbilts and all the rest of 'em. But the law is mighty, and it will
prevail. Give us an honest legislature to make such laws, and an executive
strong enough to enforce 'em, and the sovereign State will stand out
glorious and triumphant as a monument against oppression.

"When that time comes--and it's a-coming, my friends--the corporations and
the syndicates will read the handwriting on the wall; don't you be afraid
of that. If they should be a little grain thick-headed and sort o' blind
at first, as old King Belshazzar was, it may be that the sovereign State
will have to give 'em an object-lesson--lawfully, always lawfully, you
understand. But when they see, through the medium of such an object-lesson
or otherwise, as the case may be, that we mean business; when they see
that we, the people of this great and growing commonwealth, mean to assert
our rights to live and move and have our being, to have fair, even-handed
justice meted out to ourselves, our wives and our little children, they'll
come down and quit watering their stock with the sweat of our brows; and
that hold-up motto of theirs, 'All the tariff the traffic will stand,'
will be no more known in Israel!"

Again the clamor of applause rose like fine dust on the throng-heated air,
and Kent looked at his watch.

"It is time we were going," he said; adding: "I guess you have had enough
of it, haven't you?"

Loring was silent for the better part of the way back to the railway
station. When he spoke it was in answer to a delayed question of Kent's.

"What do I think of him? I don't know, David; and that's the plain truth.
He is not the man he appears to be as he stands there haranguing that
crowd. That is a pose, and an exceedingly skilful one. He is not
altogether apparent to me; but he strikes me as being a man of immense
possibilities--whether for good or evil, I can't say."

"You needn't draw another breath of uncertainty on that score," was the
curt rejoinder. "He is a demagogue, pure and unadulterated."

Loring did not attempt to refute the charge.

"Are he and his party likely to win?" he asked.

"God knows," said Kent. "We have had so many lightning transformations in
politics in the State that nothing is impossible."

"I'd like to know," was Loring's comment. "It might make some difference
to me, personally."

"To you?" said Kent, inquiringly. "That reminds me: I haven't given you a
chance to say ten words about yourself."

"The chance hasn't been lacking. But my business out here is--well, it
isn't exactly a Star Chamber matter, but I'm under promise in a way not to
talk about it until I have had a conference with our people at the
capital. I'll write you about it in a few days."

They were ascending the steps at the end of the passenger platform again,
and Loring broke away from the political and personal entanglement to give
Kent one more opportunity to hear his word of negative comfort.

"We dug up the field of recollection pretty thoroughly in our after-dinner
seance in your rooms, David, but I noticed there was one corner of it you
left undisturbed. Was there any good reason?"

Kent made no show of misunderstanding.

"There was the excellent reason which must have been apparent to you
before you had been an hour in Gaston. I've made my shot, and missed."

Loring entered the breach with his shield held well to the fore. He was
the last man in the world to assault a friend's confidence recklessly.

"I thought a good while ago, and I still think, that you are making a
mountain out of a mole-hill, David. Elinor Brentwood is a true woman in
every inch of her. She is as much above caring for false notions of caste
as you ought to be."

"I know her nobility: which is all the more reason why I shouldn't take
advantage of it. We may scoff at the social inequalities as much as we
please, but we can't laugh them out of court. As between a young woman who
is an heiress in her own right, and a briefless lawyer, there are
differences which a decent man is bound to efface. And I haven't been
able."

"Does Miss Brentwood know?"

"She knows nothing at all. I was unwilling to entangle her, even with a
confidence."

"The more fool you," said Loring, bluntly. "You call yourself a lawyer,
and you have not yet learned one of the first principles of common
justice, which is that a woman has some rights which even a besotted lover
is bound to respect. You made love to her that summer at Croydon; you
needn't deny it. And at the end of things you walk off to make your
fortune without committing yourself; without knowing, or apparently
caring, what your stiff-necked poverty-pride may cost her in years of
uncertainty. You deserve to lose her."

Kent's smile was a fair measure of his unhopeful mood.

"You can't well lose what you have never had. I'm not such an ass as to
believe that she cared greatly."

"How do you know? Not by anything you ever gave her a chance to say, I'll
dare swear. I've a bit of qualified good news for you, but the spirit is
moving me mightily to hold my tongue."

"Tell me," said Kent, his indifference vanishing in the turning of a leaf.

"Well, to begin with, Miss Brentwood is still unmarried, though the
gossips say she doesn't lack plenty of eligible offers."

"Half of that I knew; the other half I took for granted. Go on."

"Her mother, under the advice of the chief of the clan Brentwood, has been
making a lot of bad investments for herself and her two daughters: in
other words, she has been making ducks and drakes of the Brentwood
fortune."

Kent was as deeply moved as if the loss had been his own, and said as
much, craving more of the particulars.

"I can't give them. But I may say that the blame lies at your door,
David."

"At my door? How do you arrive at that?"

"By the shortest possible route. If you had done your duty by Elinor in
the Croydon summer, Mrs. Brentwood would have had a bright young attorney
for a son-in-law and adviser, and the bad investments would not have been
made."

Kent's laugh was entirely devoid of mirth.

"Don't trample on a man when he's down. I was neither a prophet nor the
son of a prophet. But how bad is the smash? Surely you know that?"

"No, I don't. Bradford was telling me about it the day I left Boston. He
gave me to understand that the principal family holding at present is in
the stock of a certain western railway."

"Did he happen to know the name of the stock?" asked Kent, moistening his
lips.

"He did. Fate flirts with you two in the usual fashion. Mrs. Brentwood's
little fortune--and by consequence, Elinor's and Penelope's--is tied up in
the stock of the company whose platform we are occupying at the present
moment--the Western Pacific."

Kent let slip a hard word directed at ill-advisers in general, and Loring
took his cue from the malediction.

"You swear pretty feelingly, David. Isn't our property as good a thing as
we of the Boston end have been cracking it up to be?"

"You know better about the financial part of it than I do. But--well, you
are fresh from this anarchistic conclave at the Opera House. You can
imagine what the stock of the Western Pacific, or of any other foreign
corporation doing business in this State, will be worth in six months
after Bucks and his crowd get into the saddle."

"You speak as if the result of the election were a foregone conclusion. I
hope it isn't. But we were talking more particularly of Miss Brentwood,
and your personal responsibilities." The belated train was whistling for
the lower yard, and Loring was determined to say all that was in his mind.

"Yes; go on. I'm anxious to hear--more anxious than I seem to be,
perhaps."

"Well, she is coming West, after a bit. She, and her sister and the
mother. Mrs. Brentwood's asthma is worse, and the wise men have ordered
her to the interior. I thought you'd like to know."

"Is she--are they coming this way?" asked Kent.

The train was in, and the porter had fetched Loring's hand-bag from the
check-stand. The guest paused with one foot on the step of the
sleeping-car.

"If I were you, David, I'd write and ask; I should, by Jove. It would be a
tremendously cheeky thing to do, of course, having such a slight
acquaintance with her as you have; but I'll be hanged if I shouldn't
chance it. And in the mean time, if I don't go back East next week, you'll
hear from me. When you do, or if you do, take a day off and run up to the
capital. I shall need you. Good-by."

Kent watched the train pull out; stood looking after it until the two red
eyes of the rear signals had disappeared in the dusty darkness of the
illimitable plain. Then he went to his rooms, to the one which was called
by courtesy his office, and without allowing himself time for a nice
balancing of the pros and cons, squared himself at the desk to write a
letter.




III


THE BOSTONIANS

It was precisely on the day set for the Brentwoods' westward flitting that
the postman, making his morning round, delivered David Kent's asking at
the house in the Back Bay sub-district. Elinor was busy packing for the
migration, but she left Penelope and the maid to cope with the problem of
compressing two trunkfuls into one while she read the letter, and she was
reading it a second time when Mr. Brookes Ormsby's card came up.

"You go, Penelope," she begged. "There is so much to do."

"Not I," said the younger sister, cavalierly; "he didn't come to see me."
Whereupon Elinor smoothed the two small wrinkles of impatience out of her
brow, tucked her letter into her bosom, and went down to meet the early
morning caller.

Mr. Brookes Ormsby, club-man, gentleman of athletic leisure, and inheritor
of the Ormsby millions, was pacing back and forth before the handful of
fire in the drawing-room grate when she entered.

"You don't deserve to have a collie sheep-dog friend," he protested
reproachfully. "How was I to know that you were going away?"

Another time Elinor might have felt that she owed him an explanation, but
just now she was careful, and troubled about the packing.

"How was I to know you didn't know?" she retorted. "It was in the
_Transcript_."

"Well!" said Ormsby. "Things have come to a pretty pass when I have to
keep track of you through the society column. I didn't see the paper.
Dyckman brought me word last night at Vineyard Haven, and we broke a
propeller blade on the _Amphitrite_ trying to get here in time."

"I am so sorry--for the _Amphitrite_," she said. "But you are here, and in
good season. Shall I call mother and Nell?"

"No. I ran out to see if I'm in time to do your errands for you--take your
tickets, and so on."

"Oh, we shouldn't think of troubling you. James can do all those things.
And failing James, there is a very dependable young woman at the head of
this household. Haven't I 'personally conducted' the family all over
Europe?"

"James is a base hireling," said the caller, blandly. "And as for the
capable young woman: do I or do I not recollect a dark night on the German
frontier when she was glad enough to call on a sleepy fellow pilgrim to
help her wrestle with a particularly thick-headed customs officer?"

"If you do, it is not especially kind of you to remind her of it."

He looked up quickly, and the masterful soul of the man, for which the
clean-cut, square-set jaw and the athletic figure were the outward
presentments, put on a mask of deference and humility.

"You are hard with me, Elinor--always flinty and adamantine, and that
sort. Have you no soft side at all?"

She laughed.

"The sentimental young woman went out some time ago, didn't she? One can't
be an anachronism."

"I suppose not. Yet I'm always trying to make myself believe other things
about you. Don't you like to be cared for like other women?"

"I don't know; sometimes I think I should. But I have had to be the man of
the house since father died."

"I know," he said. "And it is the petty anxieties that have made you put
the woman to the wall. I'm here this morning to save you some of them; to
take the man's part in your outsetting, or as much of it as I can. When
are you going to give me the right to come between you and all the little
worries, Elinor?"

She turned from him with a faint gesture of cold impatience.

"You are forgetting your promise," she said quite dispassionately. "We
were to be friends; as good friends as we were before that evening at Bar
Harbor. I told you it would be impossible, and you said you were strong
enough to make it possible."

He looked at her with narrowing eyes.

"It is possible, in a way. But I'd like to know what door of your heart it
is that I haven't been able to open."

She ignored the pleading and took refuge in a woman's expedient.

"If you insist on going back to the beginnings, I shall go back, also--to
Abigail and the trunk-packing."

He planted himself squarely before her, the mask lifted and the masterful
soul asserting itself boldly.

"It wouldn't do any good, you know. I am going with you."

"To Abigail and the trunk-room?"

"Oh, no; to the jumping-off place out West--wherever it is you are going
to hibernate."

"No," she said decisively; "you must not."

"Why?"

"My saying so ought to be sufficient reason."

"It isn't," he contended, frowning down on her good-naturedly. "Shall I
tell you why you don't want me to go? It is because you are afraid."

"I am not," she denied.

"Yes, you are. You know in your own heart there is no reason why you
should continue to make me unhappy, and you are afraid I might
over-persuade you."

Her eyes--they were the serene eyes of cool gray that take on slate-blue
tints in stressful moments--met his defiantly.

"If you think that, I withdraw my objection," she said coldly. "Mother and
Penelope will be delighted, I am sure."

"And you will be bored, world without end," he laughed. "Never mind; I'll
be decent about it and keep out of your way as much as you like."

Again she made the little gesture of petulant impatience.

"You are continually placing me in a false position. Can't you leave me
out of it entirely?"

It is one of the prime requisites of successful mastership to know when to
press the point home, and when to recede gracefully. Ormsby abruptly shut
the door upon sentiment and came down to things practical.

"It is your every-day comfort that concerns me chiefly. I am going to take
all three of you in charge, giving the dependable young person a
well-earned holiday--a little journey in which she won't have to chaffer
with the transit people. Have you chosen your route to the western
somewhere?"

Miss Brentwood had the fair, transparent skin that tells tales, and the
blue-gray eyes were apt to confirm them. David Kent's letter was hidden in
the folds of her loose-waisted morning gown, and she fancied it stirred
like a thing alive to remind her of its message. Ormsby was looking past
her to the old-fashioned ormolu clock on the high mantel, comparing the
time with his watch, but he was not oblivious of the telltale flush.

"There is nothing embarrassing about the choosing of a route, is there?"
he queried.

"Oh, no; being true Americans, we don't know one route from another in our
own country," she confessed. "But at the western end of it we want to go
over the Western Pacific."

Ormsby knew the West by rail routes as one who travels much for
time-killing purposes.

"It's a rather roundabout cow-path," he objected. "The Overland Short Line
is a good bit more direct; not to mention the service, which is a lot
better."

But Elinor had made her small concession to David Kent's letter, and she
would not withdraw it.

"Probably you don't own any Western Pacific stock," she suggested. "We do;
and we mean to be loyal to our salt."

Ormsby laughed.

"I see Western Pacific has gone down a few points since the election of
Governor Bucks. If I had any, I'd wire my broker to sell."

"We are not so easily frightened," she asserted; adding, with a touch of
the austerity which was her Puritan birthright: "Nor quite so
conscienceless as you men."

"Conscience," he repeated half absently; "is there any room for such an
out-of-date thing in a nation of successfulists? But seriously; you ought
to get rid of Western Pacific. There can be no possible question of
conscience involved."

"I don't agree with you," she retorted with prompt decision. "If we were
to sell now it would be because we were afraid it might prove to be a bad
investment. Therefore, for the sake of a presumably ignorant buyer, we
have no right to sell."

He smiled leniently.

"All of which goes to prove that you three lone women need a guardian. But
I mustn't keep you any longer from Abigail and the trunks. What time shall
I send the expediters after your luggage?"

She told him, and went with him to the door.

"Please don't think me ungrateful," she said, when she had thrown the
night-latch for him. "I don't mean to be."

"I don't think anything of you that I ought not to think: in that I am as
conscientious as even you could wish. Good-by, until this evening. I'll
meet you all at the station."

As had come to be the regular order of things, Elinor found herself under
fire when she went above stairs to rejoin her mother and sister.

Mrs. Brentwood was not indifferent to the Ormsby millions; neither had she
forgotten a certain sentimental summer at the foot of Old Croydon. She was
a thin-lipped little person, plain-spoken to the verge of unfriendliness;
a woman in whom the rugged, self-reliant, Puritan strain had become
panic-acidulous. And when the Puritan stock degenerates in that direction,
it is apt to lack good judgment on the business side, and also the
passivity which smooths the way for incompetence in less assertive folk.

Kent had stood something in awe, not especially of her personality, but of
her tongue; and had been forced to acquiesce silently in Loring's
summing-up of Elinor's mother as a woman who had taken culture and the
humanizing amenities of the broader life much as the granite of her native
hills takes polish--reluctantly, and without prejudice to its inner
granular structure.

"Elinor, you ought to be ashamed to keep Brookes Ormsby dangling the way
you do," was her comment when Elinor came back. "You are your father's
daughters, both of you: there isn't a drop of the Grimkie blood in either
of you, I do believe."

Elinor was sufficiently her father's daughter to hold her peace under her
mother's reproaches: also, there was enough of the Grimkie blood in her
veins to stiffen her in opposition when the need arose. So she said
nothing.

"Since your Uncle Ichabod made such a desperate mess of that copper
business in Montana, we have all been next door to poverty, and you know
it," the mother went on, irritated by Elinor's silence. "I don't care so
much for myself: your father and I began with nothing, and I can go back
to nothing, if necessary. But you can't, and neither can Penelope; you'd
both starve. I should like to know what Brookes Ormsby has done that you
can't tolerate him."

"It isn't anything he has done, or failed to do," said Elinor, wearily.
"Please let's not go over it all again, mother."

Mrs. Brentwood let that gun cool while she fired another.

"I suppose he came to say good-by: what is he going to do with himself
this winter?"

The temptation to equivocate for pure perversity's sake was strong upon
Elinor, and she yielded to it.

"How should I know? He has the _Amphitrite_ and the Florida coast, hasn't
he?"

Mrs. Brentwood groaned.

"To think of the way he squanders his money in sheer dissipation!" she
exclaimed. "Of course, he will take an entire house-party with him, as
usual, and the cost of that one cruise would set you up in housekeeping."

Penelope laughed with a younger daughter's license. She was a statuesque
young woman with a pose, ripe lips, flashing white teeth, laughing eyes
with an imp of mischief in them, and an exquisitely turned-up nose that
was neither the Brentwood, which was severely classic, nor the Grimkie,
which was pure Puritan renaissance.

"Which is to intimate that he won't have money enough left to do it when
he comes back," she commented. "I wish there were some way of making him
believe he had to give me what remains of his income after he has spent
all he can on the Florida cruise. I'd wear Worth gowns and be lapped in
luxury for the next ten years at the very least."

"He isn't going to Florida this winter," said Elinor, repenting her of the
small quibble. "He is going West."

Mrs. Brentwood looked up sharply.

"With us?" she queried.

"Yes."

Penelope clasped her hands and tried to look soulful.

"Oh, Ellie!" she said; "have you----"

"No," Elinor retorted; "I have not."




IV


THE FLESH-POTS OF EGYPT

The westward journey began at the appointed hour in the evening with the
resourceful Ormsby in command; and when the outsetting, in which she had
to sustain only the part of an obedient automaton, was a fact
accomplished, Elinor settled back into the pillowed corner of her
sleeping-car section to enjoy the unwonted sensation of being the one
cared for instead of the caretaker.

She had traveled more or less with her mother and Penelope ever since her
father's death, and was well used to taking the helm. Experience and the
responsibilities had made her self-reliant, and her jesting boast that she
was a dependable young woman was the simple truth. Yet to the most modern
of girl bachelors there may come moments when the soul harks back to the
eternal-womanly, and the desire to be petted and looked after and
safe-conducted is stronger than the bachelor conventions.

Two sections away the inevitable newly married pair posed unconsciously to
point the moral for Miss Brentwood. She marked the eagerly anticipative
solicitude of the boyish groom, contrasting it now and then with Ormsby's
less obtrusive attentions. It was all very absurd and sentimental, she
thought; and yet she was not without a curious heart-stirring of envy
provoked by the self-satisfied complacency of the bride.

What had that chit of a girl done to earn her immunity from
self-defendings and the petty anxieties? Nothing, Elinor decided; at
least, nothing more purposeful than the swimmer does when he lets himself
drift with the current. None the less, the immunity was hers, undeniably,
palpably. For the first time in her life Miss Brentwood found herself
looking, with a little shudder of withdrawal and dismay, down the possible
vista--possible to every unmarried woman of twenty-four--milestoned by
unbroken years of spinsterhood and self-helpings.

Was she strong enough to walk this hedged-up path alone?--single-hearted
enough to go on holding out against her mother's urgings, against Ormsby's
masterful wooing, against her own unconquerable longing for a sure
anchorage in some safe haven of manful care and supervision; all this that
she might continue to preserve her independence and live the life which,
despite its drawbacks, was yet her own?

There were times when she doubted her resolution; and this first night of
the westward journey was one of them. She had thought at one time that she
might be able to idealize David Kent, but he had gone his way to hew out
his fortune, taking her upstirrings of his ambition in a purely literal
and selfish sense, so far as she could determine. And now there was
Brookes Ormsby. She could by no possibility idealize him. He was a fixed
fact, stubbornly asserted. Yet he was a great-hearted gentleman, unspoiled
by his millions, thoughtful always for her comfort, generous,
self-effacing. Just now, for example, when he had done all, he had seemed
to divine her wish to be alone and had betaken himself to the
smoking-compartment.

"I promised not to bore you," he had said, "and I sha'n't. Send the porter
after me if there is anything I have forgotten to do."

She took up the magazine he had left on the seat beside her and sought to
put away the disquieting thoughts. But they refused to be dismissed; and
now among them rose up another, dating back to that idealizing summer at
the foot of Old Croydon, and having its genesis in a hard saying of her
mother's.

She closed her eyes, recalling the words and the occasion of them. "You
are merely wasting time and sentiment on this young upstart of a country
lawyer, Elinor. So long as you were content to make it a summer day's
amusement, I had nothing to say; you are old enough and sensible enough to
choose your own recreations. But in justice to yourself, no less than to
him, you must let it end with our going home. You haven't money enough for
two."

Her eyes grew hot under the closed lids when she remembered. At the time
the hard saying was evoked there was money enough for two, if David Kent
would have shared it. But he had held his peace and gone away, and now
there was not enough for two.

Elinor faced her major weakness unflinchingly. She was not a slave to the
luxuries--the luxuries of the very rich. On the contrary, she had tried to
make herself believe that hardness was a part of her creed. But latterly,
she had been made to see that there was a formidable array of things which
she had been calling comforts: little luxuries which Brookes Ormsby's wife
might reckon among the simplest necessities of the daily life, but which
David Kent's wife might have to forego; nay, things which Elinor Brentwood
might presently have to forego. For she compelled herself to front the
fact of the diminished patrimony squarely. So long as the modest Western
Pacific dividends were forthcoming, they could live comfortably and
without pinching. But failing these----

"No, I'm not great enough," she confessed, with a little shiver. "I should
be utterly miserable. If I could afford to indulge in ideals it would be
different; but I can't--not when one word of mine will build a barrier so
high that all the soul-killing little skimpings can never climb over it.
And besides, I owe something to mother and Nell."

It was the final straw. When any weakness of the human heart can find a
seeming virtue to go hand in hand with it, the battle is as good as lost;
and at that moment Brookes Ormsby, placidly refilling his short pipe in
the smoking-room of the Pullman, was by no means in the hopeless case he
was sometimes tempted to fancy himself.

As may be surmised, a diligent suitor, old enough to plan thoughtfully,
and yet young enough to simulate the youthful ardor of a lover whose hair
has not begun to thin at the temples, would lose no ground in a three
days' journey and the opportunities it afforded.

In Penelope's phrase, Elinor "suffered him", enjoying her freedom from
care like a sleepy kitten; shutting the door on the past and keeping it
shut until the night when their through sleeper was coupled to the Western
Pacific Flyer at A.& T. Junction. But late that evening, when she was
rummaging in her hand-bag for a handkerchief, she came upon David Kent's
letter and read it again.

"Loring tells me you are coming West," he wrote. "I assume there is at
least one chance in three that you will pass through Gaston. If you do,
and if the hour is not altogether impossible, I should like to meet your
train. One thing among the many the past two years have denied me--the
only thing I have cared much about, I think--is the sight of your face. I
shall be very happy if you will let me look at you--just for the minute or
two the train may stop."

There was more of it; a good bit more: but it was all guarded commonplace,
opening no window in the heart of the man David Kent. Yet even in the
commonplace she found some faint interlinings of the change in him; not a
mere metamorphosis of the outward man, as a new environment might make,
but a radical change, deep and biting, like the action of a strong acid
upon a fine-grained metal.

She returned the letter to its envelope, and after looking up Gaston on
the time-table fell into a heart-stirring reverie, with unseeing eyes
fixed on the restful blackness of the night rushing rearward past the car
windows.

"He has forgotten," she said, with a little lip-curl of disappointment.
"He thinks he ought to remember, and he is trying--trying because Grantham
said something that made him think he ought to try. But it's no use. It
was only a little summer idyl, and we have both outlived it."

She was still gazing steadfastly upon the wall of outer darkness when the
porter began to make down the berths and Penelope came over to sit in the
opposite seat. A moment later the younger sister made a discovery, or
thought she did.

"Why, Elinor Brentwood!" she said. "I do believe you are crying!"

Elinor's smile was serenity undisturbed.

"What a vivid imagination you have, Nell, dear," she scoffed. Then she
changed the subject arbitrarily: "Is mother quite comfortable? Did you
have the porter put a screen in her window?--you know she always insists
she can't breathe without it."

Penelope evaded the queries and took her turn at subject-wrenching--an art
in which she excelled.

"We are on our own railroad now, aren't we?" she asked, with purposeful
lack-interest. "And--let me see--isn't Mr. Kent at some little town we
pass through?"

"It is a city," said Elinor. "And the name is Gaston."

"I remember now," Penelope rejoined. "I wonder if we shall see him?"

"It is most unlikely. He does not know we are coming, and he wouldn't be
looking for us."

Penelope's fine eyes clouded. At times Elinor's thought-processes were as
plain as print to the younger sister; at other times they were not.

"I should think the least we could do would be to let him know," she
ventured. "Does anybody know what time the train passes Gaston?"

"At seven-fifteen to-morrow evening," was the unguarded reply; and
Penelope drew her own conclusions from the ready answer and the folded
time-table in Elinor's lap.

"Well, why don't you send him a wire? I'm sure I should."

"Why should I?" said Elinor, warily.

"Oh, I don't know: any other young woman of his acquaintance would, I
fancy. I have half a mind to do it myself. _I_ like him, if you don't care
for him any more."

Thus Penelope; and a little while afterward, finding herself in the
library compartment with blanks and pen and ink convenient and nothing
better to do, she impulsively made the threat good in a ten-word message
to Kent.

"If he should happen to drop in unexpectedly it will give Ellie the shock
of her life," she mused; and the telegram was smuggled into the hands of
the porter to be sent as occasion offered.

       *       *       *       *       *

Those who knew Mr. Brookes Ormsby best were wont to say that the world of
action, a world lusting avidly for resourceful men, had lost the chance of
acquiring a promising leader when he was born heir to the Ormsby millions.
Be that as it may, he made the most of such opportunities for the
exercising of his gift as came to one for whom the long purse leveled most
barriers; had been making the most of the present leaguer of a woman's
heart--a citadel whose capitulation was not to be compassed by mere
money-might, he would have said.

Up to the final day of the long westward flight all things had gone well
with him. True, Elinor had not thawed visibly, but she had been tolerant;
Penelope had amused herself at no one's expense save her own--a boon for
which Ormsby did not fail to be duly thankful; and Mrs. Brentwood had
contributed her mite by keeping hands off.

But at the dining-car luncheon on the last day's run, Penelope,
languishing at a table for two with an unresponsive Ormsby for a
vis-a-vis, made sly mention of the possible recrudescence of one David
Kent at a place called Gaston: this merely to note the effect upon an
unresponsive table-mate.

In Penelope's observings there was no effect perceptible. Ormsby said
"Ah?" and asked if she would have more of the salad. But later, in a
contemplative half-hour with his pipe in the smoking-compartment, he let
the scrap of information sink in and take root.

Hitherto Kent had been little more than a name to him; a name he had never
heard on Elinor's lips. But if love be blind in the teens and twenties, it
is more than apt to have a keen gift of insight in the thirties and
beyond. Hence, by the time Ormsby had come to the second filling of his
pipe, he had pieced together bits of half-forgotten gossip about the
Croydon summer, curious little reticences on Elinor's part, vague hints
let fall by Mrs. Brentwood; enough to enable him to chart the rock on
which his love-argosy was drifting, and to name it--David Kent.

Now to a well-knit man of the world--who happens to be a heaven-born
diplomatist into the bargain--to be forewarned is to be doubly armed. At
the end of the half-hour of studious solitude in the smoking-room, Ormsby
had pricked out his course on the chart to a boat's-length; had trimmed
his sails to the minutest starting of a sheet. A glance at his watch and
another at the time-table gave him the length of his respite. Six hours
there were; and a dining-car dinner intervened. Those six hours, and the
dinner, he decided, must win or lose the race.

Picturing for ourselves, if we may, how nine men out of ten would have
given place to panic-ardor, turning a possible victory into a hopeless
rout, let us hold aloof and mark the generalship of the tenth, who chances
to be the heaven-born.

For five of the six precious hours Ormsby merely saw to it that Elinor was
judiciously marooned. Then the dining-car was reopened and the evening
meal was announced. Waiting until a sufficient number of passengers had
gone forward to insure a crowded car, Ormsby let his party fall in with
the tail of the procession, and the inevitable happened. Single seats only
could be had, and Elinor was compelled to dine in solemn silence at a
table with three strangers.

Dinner over, there remained but twenty minutes of the respite; but the
diplomatist kept his head, going back to the sleeping-car with his charges
and dropping into the seat beside Elinor with the light of calm assurance
in his eye.

"You are quite comfortable?" he began. "Sha'n't I have the Presence in the
buffet make you a cup of tea? That in the diner didn't deserve the name."

She was regarding him with curious anger in the gray eyes, and her reply
quite ignored the kindly offer of refreshment.

"You are the pink of dragomans," she said. "Don't you want to go and
smoke?"

"To be entirely consistent, I suppose I ought to," he confessed, wondering
if his throw had failed. "Do you want me to go?"

"I have been alone all the afternoon: I can endure it a little while
longer, I presume."

Ormsby permitted himself a single heart-throb of exultation. He had
deliberately gone about to break down her poise, her only barrier of
defense, and it began to look as if he had succeeded.

"I couldn't help it, you know," he said, catching his cue swiftly. "There
are times when I'm obliged to keep away from you--times when every fiber
of me rebels against the restraints of the false position you have thrust
me into. When I'm taken that way I don't dare play with the fire."

"I wish I could know how much you mean by that," she said musingly. Deep
down in her heart she knew she was as far as ever from loving this man;
but his love, or the insistent urging of it, was like a strong current
drifting her whither she would not go.

"I mean all that an honest man can mean," he rejoined. "I have fought like
a soldier for standing-room in the place you have assigned me; I have
tried sincerely--and stupidly, you will say--to be merely your friend,
just the best friend you ever had. But it's no use. Coming or going, I
shall always be your lover."

"Please don't," she said, neither coldly nor warmly. "You are getting over
into the domain of the very young people when you say things like that."

It was an unpleasant thing to say, and he was not beyond wincing a little.
None the less, he would not be turned aside.

"You'll overlook it in me if I've pressed the thing too hard on the side
of sentiment, won't you? Apart from the fact that I feel that way, I've
been going on the supposition that you'd like it, if you could only make
up your mind to like me."

"I do like you," she admitted; "more than any one I have ever known, I
think."

The drumming wheels and a long-drawn trumpet blast from the locomotive
made a shield of sound to isolate them. The elderly banker in the opposite
section was nodding over his newspaper; and the newly married ones were
oblivious, each to all else but the other. Mrs. Brentwood was apparently
sleeping peacefully three seats away; and Penelope was invisible.

"There was a time when I should have begged hard for something more,
Elinor; but now I'm willing to take what I can get, and be thankful. Will
you give me the right to make you as happy as I can on the unemotional
basis?"

She felt herself slipping.

"If you could fully understand----"

"I understand that you don't love me, in the novelist's sense of the word,
and I am not asking more than you can give. But if you can give me the
little now, and more when I have won it--don't curl your lip at me,
please: I'm trying to put it as mildly as I can."

She was looking at him level-eyed, and he could have sworn that she was
never calmer or more self-possessed.

"I don't know why you should want my promise--or any woman's--on such
conditions," she said evenly.

"But I do," he insisted.

The lights of a town suburb were flitting past the windows, and the
monotonous song of the tires was drowned in the shrill crescendo of the
brakes. She turned from him suddenly and laid her cheek against the
grateful cool of the window-pane. But when he took her hand she did not
withdraw it.

"Is it mine, Elinor?" he whispered. "You see, I'm not asking much."

"Is it worth taking--by itself?"

"You make me very happy," he said quietly; and just then the train stopped
with a jerk, and a shuffling bustle of station-platform noises floated in
through the open deck transoms of the car.

As if the solution of continuity had been a call to arouse her, Elinor
freed her hand with a swift little wrench and sat bolt upright in her
corner.

"This station--do you know the name of it?" she asked, fighting hard for
the self-control that usually came so easily.

Ormsby consulted his watch.

"I am not quite sure. It ought to be----"

He broke off when he saw that she was no longer listening to him. There
was a stir in the forward vestibule, and the porter came in with a
hand-bag. At his heels was a man in a rough-weather box-coat; a youngish
man, clean-shaven and wind-tanned to a healthy bronze, with an eager face
and alert eyes that made an instant inventory of the car and its
complement of passengers. So much Ormsby saw. Then Penelope stood up in
her place to greet the new-comer.

"Why, Mr. Kent!" she exclaimed. "Are you really going on with us? How nice
of you!"

Elinor turned coolly upon her seat-mate, self-possession once more firmly
seated in the saddle.

"Did you know Mr. Kent was going to board the train here?" she asked
abruptly.

"Do you mean the gentleman Penelope has waylaid? I haven't the pleasure of
his acquaintance. Will you introduce us?"




V


JOURNEYS END--

It had been a day of upsettings for David Kent, beginning with the late
breakfast at which Neltje, the night watchman at the railway station, had
brought him Penelope's telegram.

At ten he had a case in court: Shotwell _vs_. Western Pacific Co., damages
for stock-killing; for the plaintiff--Hawk; for the defendant--Kent. With
the thought that he was presently going to see Elinor again, Kent went
gaily to the battle legal, meaning to wring victory out of a jury drawn
for the most part from the plaintiff's stock-raising neighbors. By dint of
great perseverance he managed to prolong the fight until the middle of the
afternoon, was worsted, as usual, and so far lost his temper as to get
himself called down by the judge, MacFarlane.

Whereupon he went back to the Farquhar Building and to his office and sat
down at the type-writer to pound out a letter to the general counsel,
resigning his sinecure. The Shotwell case was the third he had lost for
the company in a single court term. Justice for the railroad company,
under present agrarian conditions, was not to be had in the lower courts,
and he was weary of fighting the losing battle. Therefore----

In the midst of the type-rattling the boy that served the few occupied
offices in the Farquhar Building had brought the afternoon mail. It
included a letter from Loring, and there was another reversive upheaval
for the exile. Loring's business at the capital was no longer a secret. He
had been tendered the resident management of the Western Pacific, with
headquarters on the ground, and had accepted. His letter was a brief note,
asking Kent to report at once for legal duty in the larger field.

"I am not fairly in the saddle yet, and shall not be for a week or so,"
wrote the newly appointed manager. "But I find I am going to need a
level-headed lawyer at my elbow from the jump--one who knows the State
political ropes and isn't afraid of a scrap. Come in on Number Three
to-day, if you can; if not, send a wire and say when I may look for you.
Or, better still, wire anyway."

David Kent struggled with his emotions until he had got his feet down to
the solid earth again. Then he tore up the half-written resignation and
began to smite things in order for the flight. Could he make Number Three?
Since that was the train named in Penelope's message, nothing short of a
catastrophe should prevent his making it.

He did make it, with an hour to spare; an hour which he proceeded to turn
into a time of sharp trial for the patient telegraph operator at the
station, with his badgerings of the man for news of Number Three. The
train reported--he took it as a special miracle wrought in his behalf that
the Flyer was for this once abreast of her schedule--he fell to tramping
up and down the long platform, deep in anticipative prefigurings. The
mills of the years grind many grists besides the trickling stream of the
hours: would he find Miss Brentwood as he had left her? Could he be sure
of meeting her on the frank, friendly footing of the Croydon summer? He
feared not; feared all things--lover-like.

He hoped there would be no absence-reared barrier to be painfully leveled.
A man among men, a leader in some sort, and in battle a soldier who could
hew his way painstakingly, if not dramatically, to his end, David Kent was
no carpet knight, and he knew his lack. Would Elinor make things easy for
him, as she used to daily in the somewhat difficult social atmosphere of
the exclusive summer hotel?

Measuring it out in all its despairing length and breadth after the fact,
he was deeply grateful to Penelope. Missing her ready help at the moment
of cataclysms when he entered the sleeping-car, he might have betrayed
himself. His first glance lighted on Elinor and Ormsby, and he needed no
gloss on the love-text. He had delayed too long; had asked too much of the
Fates, and Atropos, the scissors-bearing sister, had snipped his thread of
hope.

It is one of the consequences of civilization that we are denied the
privilege of unmasking at the behest of the elemental emotions; that we
are constrained to bleed decorously. Making shift to lean heavily on
Penelope, Kent came through without doing or saying anything unseemly.
Mrs. Brentwood, who had been sleeping with one eye open, and that eye upon
Elinor and Ormsby, made sure that she had now no special reason to be
ungracious to David Kent. For the others, Ormsby was good-naturedly suave;
Elinor was by turns unwontedly kind and curiously silent; and
Penelope--but, as we say, it was to Penelope that Kent owed most.

So it came about that the outcome of the cataclysm was a thing which
happens often enough in a conventionalized world. David Kent, with his
tragedy fresh upon him, dropped informally into place as one of the party
of five; and of all the others, Penelope alone suspected how hard he was
hit. And when all was said; when the new _modus vivendi_ had been fairly
established and the hour grew late, Kent went voluntarily with Ormsby to
the smoking-compartment, "to play the string out decently," as he
afterward confessed to Loring.

"I see you know how to get the most comfort out of your tobacco," said the
club-man, when they were companionably settled in the men's room and Kent
produced his pipe and tobacco pouch. "I prefer the pipe myself, for a
steady thing; but at this time of night a light Castilla fits me pretty
well. Try one?" tendering his cigar-case.

Fighting shrewdly against a natural prompting to regard Ormsby as an
hereditary enemy, Kent forced himself to be neighborly.

"I don't mind," he said, returning the pipe to its case. And when the
Havanas were well alight, and the talk had circled down upon the political
situation in the State, he was able to bear his part with a fair exterior,
giving Ormsby an impressionistic outline of the late campaign and the
conditions that had made the sweeping triumph of the People's Party
possible.

"We have been coming to it steadily through the last administration, and a
part of the preceding one," he explained. "Last year the drought cut the
cereals in half, and the country was too new to stand it without
borrowing. There was little local capital, and the eastern article was
hungry, taking all the interest the law allows, and as much more as it
could get. This year the crop broke all records for abundance, but the
price is down and the railroads, trying to recoup for two bad years, have
stiffened the freight rates. The net result is our political overturn."

"Then the railroads and the corporations are not primarily to blame?" said
Ormsby.

"Oh, no. Corporations here, as elsewhere, are looking out for the present
dollar, but if the country were generally prosperous, the people would pay
the tax carelessly, as they do in the older sections. With us it has been
a sort of Donnybrook Fair: the agricultural voter has shillalahed the head
he could reach most easily."

The New Yorker nodded. His millions were solidly placed, and he took no
more than a sportsman's interest in the fluctuations of the stock market.

"Of course, there have been all sorts of rumors East: 'bull' prophecies
that the triumph of the new party means an era of unexampled prosperity
for the State--and by consequence for western stocks; 'bear' growlings
that things are sure to go to the bow-wows under the Bucks regime. What do
you think of it?"

Kent blew a series of smoke rings and watched them rise to become a part
of the stratified tobacco cloud overhead before replying.

"I may as well confess that I am not entirely an unprejudiced observer,"
he admitted. "For one thing, I am in the legal department of one of the
best-hated of the railroads; and for another, Governor Bucks, Meigs, the
attorney-general, and Hendricks, the new secretary of State, are men whom
I know as, it is safe to say, the general public doesn't know them. If I
could be sure that these three men are going to be able to control their
own party majority in the Assembly, I should take the first train East and
make my fortune selling tips in Wall Street."

"You put it graphically. Then the Bucks idea is likely to prove a
disturbing element on 'Change?"

"It is; always providing it can dominate its own majority. But this is by
no means certain. The political earthquake is essentially a popular
protest against hard conditions brought about, as the voters seem to
believe, by the oppressions of the alien corporations and extortionate
railroad rates. Yet there are plenty of steady-going, conservative men in
the movement; men who have no present idea of revolutionizing things.
Marston, the lieutenant-governor, is one of that kind. It all depends on
whether these men will allow themselves to be whipped into line by the
leaders, who, as I am very well convinced, are a set of conscienceless
demagogues, fighting solely for their own hand."

Ormsby nodded again.

"You are likely to have good hunting this winter, Mr. Kent. It hasn't
begun yet, I take it?"

"Oh, no; the Assembly does not convene for a fortnight, and nobody short
of an inspired prophet can foretell what legislation will be sprung. But
one thing is safe to count on: the leaders are out for spoils. They mean
to rob somebody, and, if my guess is worth anything, they are sharp enough
to try first to get their schemes legalized by having enabling laws passed
by the Assembly."

"Um," said the eastern man. Then he took the measure of his companion in a
shrewd overlook. "You are the man on the ground, Mr. Kent, and I'll ask a
straightforward question. If you had a friend owning stock in one of the
involved railways, what would you advise?"

Kent smiled.

"We needn't make it a hypothetical case. If I had the right to advise Mrs.
Brentwood and her daughters, I should counsel them to sit tight in the
boat for the present."

"Would you? But Western Pacific has gone off several points already."

"I know it has; and unfortunately, Mrs. Brentwood bought in at the top of
the market. That is why I counsel delay. If she sells now, she is sure to
lose. If she holds on, there is an even chance for a spasmodic upward
reaction before worse things happen."

"Perhaps: you know more about the probabilities than I pretend to. But on
the other hand, she may lose more if she holds on."

Kent bit deep into his cigar.

"We must see to it that she doesn't lose, Mr. Ormsby."

The club-man laughed broadly.

"Isn't that a good bit like saying that the shallop must see to it that
the wind doesn't blow too hard for it?"

"Possibly. But in the sorriest wreck there is usually some small chance
for salvage. I understand Mrs. Brentwood's holding is not very large?"

"A block of some three thousand shares, held jointly by her and her two
daughters, I believe."

"Exactly: not enough to excite anybody's cupidity; and yet enough to turn
the scale if there should ever be a fight for a majority control."

"There is no such fight in prospect, is there?"

"No; not that I know of. But I was thinking of the possibilities. If a
smash comes there will be a good deal of horse-swapping in the middle of
the stream--buying up of depressed stocks by people who need the lines
worse than the original owners do."

"I see," said Ormsby. "Then you would counsel delay?"

"I should; and I'll go a step farther. I am on the inside, in a way, and
any hint I can give you for Miss--for Mrs. Brentwood's benefit shall be
promptly forthcoming."

"By Jove! that's decent," said Ormsby, heartily. "You are a friend worth
having, Mr. Kent. But which 'inside' do you mean--the railroad or the
political?"

"Oh, the railroad, of course. And while I think of it, my office will be
in the Quintard Building; and you--I suppose you will put up at the
Wellington?"

"For the present, we all shall. It is Mrs. Brentwood's notion to take a
furnished house later on for herself and daughters, if she can find one.
I'll keep in touch with you."

"Do. It may come to a bit of quick wiring when our chance arrives. You
know Loring--Grantham Loring?"

"Passably well. I came across him one summer in the mountains of Peru,
where he was managing a railroad. He is a mighty good sort. I had mountain
fever, and he took me in and did for me."

"He is with us now," said David Kent; "the newly appointed general manager
of the Western Pacific."

"Good!" said the club-man "I think a lot of him; he is an all-around
dependable fellow, and plenty capable. I'm glad to know he has caught on
higher up."

The locomotive whistle was droning again, and a dodging procession of
red-eyed switch-lights flicked past the windows. Kent stood up and flung
away the stump of his cigar.

"The capital," he announced. "I'll go back with you and help out with the
shawl-strap things." And in the vestibule he added: "I spoke of Loring
because he will be with us in anything we have to do in Mrs. Brentwood's
behalf. Look him up when you have time--fourth floor of the Quintard."




VI


OF THE MAKING OF LAWS

The session, the shortest in the history of the State, and thus far the
least eventful, was nearing its close; and the alarmists who had
prophesied evil and evil only of the "Populist" victory were fast losing
credit with the men of their own camp and with the country at large.

After the orthodox strife over the speakership of the House, and the
equally orthodox wrangle over contested seats, the State Assembly had
settled down to routine business, despatching it with such unheard-of
celerity as to win columns of approval from the State press as a whole;
though there were not wanting a few radical editors to raise the
ante-election cry of reform, and to ask pointedly when it was to begin.

Notwithstanding the lack of alarms, however, the six weeks had been a
period of unceasing vigilance on the part of the interests which were
supposed to be in jeopardy. Every alien corporation owning property and
doing business in the State had its quota of watchful defenders on the
ground; men who came and went, in the lobbies of the capitol, in the
visitors' galleries, at the receptions; men who said little, but who saw
and heard all things down to the small talk of the corridors and the
clubs, and the gossip of the hotel rotundas.

David Kent was of this silent army of observation, doing watch-dog duty
for the Western Pacific; thankful enough, if the truth be told, to have a
thing to do which kept him from dwelling overmuch upon the wreck of his
hopes. But in the closing days of the session, when a despatchful
Assembly, anxious to be quit of its task, had gone into night sittings,
the anodyne drug of work began to lose its effect.

The Brentwoods had taken furnished apartments in Tejon Avenue, two squares
from the capitol, and Kent had called no oftener than good breeding
prescribed. Yet their accessibility, and his unconquerable desire to sear
his wound in the flame that had caused it, were constant temptations, and
he was battling with them for the hundredth time on the Friday night when
he sat in the House gallery listening to a perfunctory debate which
concerned itself with a bill touching State water-ways.

"Heavens! This thing is getting to be little short of deadly!" fumed
Crenshawe, his right-hand neighbor, who was also a member of the corps of
observation. "I'm going to the club for a game of pool. Won't you come
along?"

Kent nodded and left his seat with the bored one. But in the great rotunda
he changed his mind.

"You'll find plenty of better players than I am at the club," he said in
extenuation. "I think I'll smoke a whiff or two here and go back. They
can't hold on much longer for to-night."

Five minutes later, when he had lighted a cigar and was glancing over the
evening paper, two other members of the corporation committee of safety
came down from the Senate gallery and stopped opposite Kent's pillar to
struggle into their overcoats.

"It's precisely as I wrote our people two weeks ago--timidity scare, pure
and simple," one of them was saying. "I've a mind to start home to-morrow.
There is nothing doing here, or going to be done."

"No," said the other. "If it wasn't for House Bill Twenty-nine, I'd go
to-night. They will adjourn to-morrow or Monday."

"House Bill Twenty-nine is much too dead to bury," was the reassuring
rejoinder. "The committee is ours, and the bill will not be heard of again
at this session. If that is all you are holding on for----"

They passed out of earshot, and Kent folded his newspaper absently. House
Bill Twenty-nine had been the one measure touching the sensitive "vested
interests"; the one measure for the suppression of which the corporations'
lobby had felt called on to take steps. It was an omnibus bill put forth
as a substitute for the existing law defining the status of foreign
corporations. It had originated in the governor's office,--a fact which
Kent had ferreted out within twenty-four hours of its first reading,--and
for that reason he had procured a printed copy, searching it diligently
for the hidden menace he was sure it embodied.

When the search proved fruitless, he had seen the bill pass the House by a
safe majority, had followed it to the Senate, and in a cunningly worded
amendment tacked on in the upper house had found what he was seeking.
Under the existing law foreign corporations were subject to State
supervision, and were dealt with as presumably unfriendly aliens. But the
Senate amendment to House Bill Twenty-nine fairly swept the interstate
corporations, as such, out of existence, by making it obligatory upon them
to acquire the standing of local corporations. Charters were to be refiled
with the secretary of State; resident directories and operating
headquarters were to be established within the boundaries and jurisdiction
of the State; in short, the State proposed, by the terms of the new law,
to deal only with creatures of its own creation.

Kent saw, or thought he saw, the fine hand of the junto in all this. It
was a still hunt in which the longest way around was the shortest way
home. Like all new-country codes, the organic law of the State favored
local corporations, and it might be argued that a bill placing the foreign
companies on a purely local footing was an unmixed blessing to the aliens.
But on the other hand, an unprincipled executive might easily make the new
law an engine of extortion. To go no further into the matter than the
required refiling of charters: the State constitution gave the secretary
of State quasi-judicial powers. It was within his province to pass upon
the applications for chartered rights, and to deny them if the question
_pro bono publico_ were involved.

Kent put two and two together, saw the wide door of exactions which might
be opened, and passed the word of warning among his associates; after
which he had watched the course of the amended House Bill Twenty-nine with
interest sharp-set, planning meanwhile with Hildreth, the editor of the
_Daily Argus_, an expose which should make plain the immense possibilities
for corruption opened up by the proposed law; a journalistic salvo of
publicity to be fired as a last resort.

The measure as amended had passed the Senate without debate, and had gone
back to the House. Here, after the second reading, and in the very hour
when the _Argus_ editorial was getting itself cast in the linotypes, there
was a hitch. The member from the Rio Blanco, favoring the measure in all
its parts, and fearful only lest corporation gold might find a technical
flaw in it, moved that it be referred to the committee on judiciary for a
report on its constitutionality; and, accordingly, to the committee on
judiciary it had gone.

Kent recalled the passing of the crisis, remembering how he had hastened
to telephone the _Argus_ editor to kill the expose at the last moment. The
incident was now a month in the past, and the committee had not yet
reported; would never report, Kent imagined. He knew the personnel of the
committee on judiciary; knew that at least three members of it were down
on the list, made up at the beginning of the session by his colleagues in
the army of observation, as "approachables". Also, he knew by inference at
least, that these three men had been approached, not without success, and
that House Bill Twenty-nine, with its fee-gathering amendment, was safely
shelved.

"It's an ill-smelling muck-heap!" he frowned, recalling the incidents of
the crisis at the suggestion let fall by the two outgoing lobbyists. "And
so much of this dog-watch as isn't sickeningly demoralizing is deadly
dull, as Crenshawe puts it. If I had anywhere to go, I'd cut the galleries
for to-night."

He was returning the newspaper to his pocket when it occurred to him that
his object in buying it had been to note the stock quotations; a daily
duty which, for Elinor's sake, he had never omitted. Whereupon he reopened
it and ran his eye down the lists. There was a decided upward tendency in
westerns. Overland Short Line had gained two points; and Western
Pacific----

He held the paper under the nearest electric globe to make sure: Western
Pacific, preferred, was quoted at fifty-eight and a half, which was one
point and a half above the Brentwood purchase price.

One minute later an excited life-saver was shut in the box of the public
telephone, gritting his teeth at the inanity of the central operator who
insisted on giving him "A-1224" instead of "A-1234," the Hotel Wellington.

"No, no! Can't you understand? I want twelve-thirty-four; one, two,
_three_, four; the Hotel Wellington."

There was more skirling of bells, another nerve-trying wait, and at last
the clerk of the hotel answered.

"What name did you say? Oh, it's you, is it, Mr. Kent? Ormsby? Mr. Brookes
Ormsby? No, he isn't here; he went out about two minutes ago. What's that
you say? _Damn_? Well, I'm sorry, too. No message that I can take? All
right. Good-by."

This was the beginning. For the middle part Kent burst out of the
telephone-box and took the nearest short-cut through the capitol grounds
for the street-car corner. At a quarter of nine he was cross-questioning
the clerk face to face in the lobby of the Wellington. There was little
more to be learned about Ormsby. The club-man had left his key and gone
out. He was in evening dress, and had taken a cab at the hotel entrance.

Kent dashed across to his rooms and, in a feverish race against time, made
himself fit to chase a man in evening dress. There was no car in sight
when he came down, and he, too, took a cab with an explosive order to the
driver: "124 Tejon Avenue, and be quick about it!"

It was the housemaid that answered his ring at the door of the Brentwood
apartment. She was a Swede, a recent importation; hence Kent learned
nothing beyond the bare fact that the ladies had gone out. "With Mr.
Ormsby?" he asked.

"Yaas; Aye tank it vill pee dat yentlemans."

The pursuer took the road again, rather unhopefully. There were a dozen
places where Ormsby might have taken his charges. Among them there was the
legislative reception at Portia Van Brock's. Kent flipped a figurative
coin, and gave the order for Alameda Square. The reception was perhaps the
least unlikely place of the dozen.

He was no more than fashionably late at the Van Brock house, and
fortunately he was able to reckon himself among the chosen few for whom
Miss Portia's door swung on hospitable hinges at all hours. Loring had
known her in Washington, and he had stood sponsor for Kent in the first
week of the exile's residence at the capital. Thereafter she had taken
Kent up on his own account, and by now he was deep in her debt. For one
thing, she had set the fashion in the matter of legislative
receptions--her detractors, knowing nothing whatever about it, hinted that
she had been an amateur social lobbyist in Washington, playing the game
for the pure zest of it--and at these functions Kent had learned many
things pertinent to his purpose as watch-dog for the railroad company and
legal adviser to his chief--things not named openly on the floor of the
House or of the Senate chamber.

There was a crush in the ample mansion in Alameda Square, as there always
was at Miss Van Brock's "open evenings," and when Kent came down from the
cloakroom he had to inch his way by littles through the crowded
reception-parlors in the search for the Brentwood party. It was
unsuccessful at first; but later, catching a glimpse of Elinor at the
piano, and another of Penelope inducting an up-country legislator into the
mysteries of social small-talk, he breathed freer. His haphazard guess had
hit the mark, and the finding of Ormsby was now only a question of
moments.

It was Miss Van Brock herself who told him where to look for the
club-man--though not at his first asking.

"You did come, then," she said, giving him her hand with a frank little
smile of welcome. "Some one said you were not going to be frivolous any
more, and I wondered if you would take it out on me. Have you been at the
night session?"

"Yes; at what you and your frivolities have left of it. A good third of
the Solons seem to be sitting in permanence in Alameda Square."

"'Solons'," she repeated. "That recalls Editor Brownlo's little joke--only
he didn't mean it. He wrote of them as 'Solons,' but the printer got it
'solans'. The member from Caliente read the article and the word stuck in
his mind. In an unhappy hour he asked Colonel Mack's boy--Harry, the
irrepressible, you know--to look it up for him. Harry did it, and of
course took the most public occasion he could find to hand in his answer.
'It's geese, Mr. Hackett!' he announced triumphantly; and after we were
all through laughing at him the member from the warm place turned it just
as neatly as a veteran. 'Well, I'm Hackett,' he said."

David Kent laughed, as he was in duty bound, but he still had Ormsby on
his mind.

"I see you have Mrs. Brentwood and her daughters here: can you tell me
where I can find Mr. Brookes Ormsby?"

"I suppose I could if I should try. But you mustn't hurry me. There is a
vacant corner in that davenport beyond the piano: please put me there and
fetch me an ice. I'll wait for you."

He did as he was bidden, and when she was served he stood over her,
wondering, as other men had wondered, what was the precise secret of her
charm. Loring had told him Miss Van Brock's story. She was southern born,
the only child of a somewhat ill-considered match between a young
California lawyer, wire-pulling in the national capital in the interest of
the Central Pacific Railroad, and a Virginia belle tasting the delights of
her first winter in Washington.

Later, the young lawyer's state, or his employers, had sent him to
Congress; and Portia, left motherless in her middle childhood, had grown
up in an atmosphere of statecraft, or what passes for such, in an era of
frank commercialism. Inheriting her mother's rare beauty of face and form,
and uniting with it a sympathetic gift in grasp of detail, political and
other, she soon became her father's confidante and loyal partizan, taking
the place, as a daughter might, of the ambitious young wife and mother,
who had set her heart on seeing the Van Brock name on the roll of the
United States Senate.

Rensselaer Van Brock had died before the senatorial dream could be
realized, but not before he had made a sufficient number of lucky
investments to leave his daughter the arbitress of her own future. What
that future should be, not even Loring could guess. Since her father's
death Miss Van Brock had been a citizen of the world. With a widowed aunt
for the shadowiest of chaperons, she had drifted with the tide of
inclination, coming finally to rest in the western capital for no better
reason, perhaps, than that some portion of her interest-bearing securities
were emblazoned with the great seal of this particular western State.

Kent was thinking of Loring's recountal as he stood looking down on her.
Other women were younger--and with features more conventionally beautiful;
Kent could find a round dozen within easy eye-reach, to say nothing of the
calm-eyed, queenly _improvisatrice_ at the piano--his constant standard of
all womanly charm and grace. Unconsciously he fell to comparing the two,
his hostess and his love, and was brought back to things present by a
sharp reminder from Portia.

"Stop looking at Miss Brentwood that way, Mr. David. She is not for you;
and you are keeping me waiting."

He smiled down on her.

"It is the law of compensation. I fancy you have kept many a man
waiting--and will keep many another."

There was a little tang of bitterness in her laugh.

"You remind me of the time when I went home from school--oh, years and
years ago. Old Chloe--she was my black mammy, you know--had a grown
daughter of her own, and her effort to dispose of her 'M'randy' was a
standing joke in the family. In answer to my stereotyped question she
stood back and folded her arms. 'Naw, honey; dat M'randy ain't ma'ied yit.
She gwine be des lak you; look pretty, an' say, _Howdy! Misteh Jawnson_,
an' go 'long by awn turrer side de road.'"

"A very pretty little fable," said Kent. "And the moral?"

"Is that I amuse myself with you--all of you; and in your turn you make
use of me--or you think you do. Of what use can _I_ be to Mr. David Kent
this evening?"

"See how you misjudge me!" he protested. "My errand here to-night is
purely charitable. Which brings me back to Ormsby: did you say you could
tell me where to look for him?"

"He is in the smoking-room with five or six other tobacco misanthropes.
What do you want of him?"

"I want to say two words in his ear; after which I shall vanish and make
room for my betters."

Miss Van Brock was gazing steadfastly at the impassioned face lighted by
the piano candles.

"Is it about Miss Brentwood?" she asked abruptly.

"In a way--yes," he confessed.

She rose and stood beside him--a bewitching figure of a woman who knew her
part in the human comedy and played it well.

"Is it wise, David?" she asked softly. "I am not denying the
possibilities: you might come between them if you should try--I'm rather
afraid you could. But you mustn't, you know; it's too late. You've marred
her, between you; or rather that convention, which makes a woman deaf,
blind and dumb until a man has fairly committed himself, has marred her.
For your sake she can never be quite all she ought to be to him: for his
sake she could never be quite the same to you."

He drew apart from her, frowning.

"If I should say that I don't fully understand what you mean?" he
rejoined.

"I should retort by saying something extremely uncomplimentary about your
lack of perspicacity," she cut in maliciously.

"I beg pardon," he said, a little stiffly. "You are laboring under an
entirely wrong impression. What I have to say to Mr. Brookes Ormsby does
not remotely concern the matter you touch upon. It's an affair of the
Stock Exchange."

"As if I didn't know!" she countered. "You merely reminded me of the other
thing. But if it is only a business secret you may as well tell me all
about it at first hands. Some one is sure to tell me sooner or later."

Now David Kent was growing impatient. Down in the inner depths of him he
was persuaded that Ormsby might have difficulty in inducing Mrs. Brentwood
to sell her Western Pacific stock even at an advance; might require time,
at least. And time, with a Bucks majority tinkering with corporate rights
in the Assembly, might well be precious.

"Forgive me if I tell Ormsby first," he pleaded. "Afterward, if you care
to know, you shall."

Miss Van Brock let him go at that, but now the way to the smoking-den on
the floor above was hedged up. He did battle with the polite requirements,
as a man must; shaking hands or exchanging a word with one and another of
the obstructors only as he had to. None the less, when he had finally
wrought his way to the smoking-room Ormsby had eluded him again.

He went back to the parlors, wondering how he had missed the club-man. In
the middle room of the suite he found Portia chatting with Marston, the
lieutenant-governor; and a young woman in the smartest of reception gowns
had succeeded to Elinor's place at the piano.

"You found him?" queried the hostess, excusing herself to the tall,
saturnine man who had shared the honors at the head of the People's Party
ticket with Jasper G. Bucks.

"No," said Kent. "Have you seen him?"

"Why, yes; they all came to take leave just a few moments after you left
me. I thought of telling Mr. Ormsby you were looking for him, but you shut
me off so snippily----"

"Miss Van Brock! What have you done? I must go at once."

"Really? I am complimented. But if you must, you must, I suppose. I had
something to tell you--something of importance; but I can't remember what
it was now. I never can remember things in the hurry of leave-takings."

As we have intimated, Kent had hitherto found Miss Portia's confidences
exceedingly helpful in a business way, and he hesitated. "Tell me," he
begged.

"No, I can't remember it: I doubt if I shall ever remember it unless you
can remind me by telling me why you are so desperately anxious to find Mr.
Ormsby."

"I wonder if you hold everybody up like this," he laughed. "But I don't
mind telling you. Western Pacific preferred has gone to fifty-eight and a
half."

"And Mr. Ormsby has some to sell? I wish I had. Do you know what I'd do?"
She drew closer and laid a hand on his arm. "I'd sell--by wire--to-night;
at least, I'd make sure that my telegram would be the first thing my
broker would lay his hands on in the morning."

"On general principles, I suppose: so should I, and for the same reason.
But have I succeeded in reminding you of that thing you were going to tell
me?"

"Not wholly; only partly. You said this matter of Mr. Ormsby's concerned
Miss Brentwood--in a way--didn't you?"

"You will have your pound of flesh entire, won't you? The stock is hers,
and her mother's and sister's. I want Ormsby to persuade them to sell.
They'll listen to him. That is all; all the all."

"Of course!" she said airily. "How simple of me not to have been able to
add it up without your help. I saw the quotation in the evening paper; and
I know, better, perhaps, than you do, the need for haste. Must you go
now?" She had taken his arm and was edging him through the press in the
parlors toward the entrance hall.

"_You_ haven't paid me yet," he objected.

"No; I'm trying to remember. Oh, yes; I have it now. Wasn't some one
telling me that you are interested in House Bill Twenty-nine?"

They had reached the dimly lighted front vestibule, and her hand was still
on his arm.

"I was interested in it," he admitted, correcting the present to the past
tense.

"But after it went to the House committee on judiciary you left it to more
skilful, or perhaps we'd better say, to less scrupulous hands?"

"I believe you are a witch. Is there anything you don't know?"

"Plenty of things. For example, I don't know exactly how much it cost our
good friends of the 'vested interests' to have that bill mislaid in the
committee room. But I do know they made a very foolish bargain."

"Beyond all doubt a most demoralizing bargain, which, to say the best of
it, was only a choice between two evils. But why foolish?"

"Because--well, because mislaid things have a way of turning up
unexpectedly, you know, and--"

He stopped her in a sudden gust of feverish excitement.

"Tell me what you mean in one word, Miss Van Brock. Don't those fellows
intend to stay bought?"

She smiled pityingly.

"You are very young, Mr. David--or very honest. Supposing those 'fellows',
as you dub the honorable members of the committee on judiciary, had a
little plan of their own; a plan suggested by the readiness of certain of
their opponents to rush into print with statements which might derange
things?"

"I am supposing it with all my might."

"That is right; we are only supposing, you must remember. We may suppose
their idea was to let the excitement about the amended bill die down; to
let people generally, and one fiercely honest young corporation attorney
in particular, have time to forget that there was such a thing as House
Bill Twenty-nine. And in such a suppositional case, how much they would be
surprised, and how they would laugh in their sleeves, if some one came
along and paid them handsomely for doing precisely what they meant to do."

David Kent's smile was almost ferocious.

"My argument is as good now as it was in the beginning: they have yet to
reckon with the man who will dare to expose them."

She turned from him and spoke to the footman at the door.

"Thomas, fetch Mr. Kent's coat and hat from the dressing-room." And then
to Kent, in the tone she might have used in telling him of the latest
breeziness of the member from the Rio Blanco: "I remember now what it was
that I wanted to tell you. While you have been trying to find Mr. Ormsby,
the committee on judiciary has been reporting the long-lost House Bill
Twenty-nine. If you hurry you may be in time to see it passed--it will
doubtless go through without any tiresome debate. But you will hardly have
time to obstruct it by arousing public sentiment through the newspapers."

David Kent shook the light touch of her hand from his arm and set his
teeth hard upon a word hot from the furnace of righteous indignation. For
a moment he fully believed she was in league with the junto; that she had
been purposely holding him in talk while the very seconds were priceless.

She saw the scornful wrath in his eyes and turned it aside with a swift
denial.

"No, David; I didn't do that," she said, speaking to his inmost thought.
"If there had been anything you could do--the smallest shadow of a chance
for you--I should have sent you flying at the first word. But there
wasn't; it was all too well arranged--"

But he had snatched coat and hat from the waiting Thomas and was running
like a madman for the nearest cab-stand.



VII


THE SENTIMENTALISTS

Kent's time from Alameda Square to the capitol was the quickest a flogged
cab-horse could make, but he might have spared the horse and saved the
double fee. On the broad steps of the south portico he, uprushing three at
a bound, met the advance guard of the gallery contingent, down-coming. The
House had adjourned.

"One minute, Harnwicke!" he gasped, falling upon the first member of the
corporations' lobby he could identify in the throng. "What's been done?"

"They've taken a fall out of us," was the brusk reply. "House Bill
Twenty-nine was reported by the committee on judiciary and rushed through
after you left. Somebody engineered it to the paring of a fingernail: bare
quorum to act; members who might have filibustered weeded out, on one
pretext or another, to a man; pages all excused, and nobody here with the
privilege of the floor. It was as neat a piece of gag-work as I ever hope
to see if I live to be a hundred."

Kent faced about and joined the townward dispersal with his informant.

"Well, I suppose that settles it definitely; at least, until we can test
its constitutionality in the courts," he said.

Harnwicke thought not, being of the opinion that the vested interests
would never say die until they were quite dead. As assistant counsel for
the Overland Short Line, he was in some sense the dean of the corps of
observation, and could speak with authority.

"There is one chance left for us this side of the courts," he went on;
"and now I think of it, you are the man to say how much of a chance it is.
The bill still lacks the governor's signature."

Kent shook his head.

"It is his own measure. I have proof positive that he and Meigs and
Hendricks drafted it. And all this fine-haired engineering to-night was
his, or Meigs'."

"Of course; we all know that. But we don't know the particular object yet.
Do they need the new law in their business as a source of revenue? Or do
they want to be hired to kill it? In other words, does Bucks want a lump
sum for a veto? You know the man better than any of us."

"By Jove!" said Kent. "Do you mean to say you would buy the governor of a
state?"

Harnwicke turned a cold eye on his companion as they strode along. He was
of the square-set, plain-spoken, aggressive type--a finished product of
the modern school of business lawyers.

"I don't understand that you are raising the question of ethics at this
stage of the game, do I?" he remarked.

Kent fired up a little.

"And if I am?" he retorted.

"I should say you had missed your calling. It is baldly a question of
business--or rather of self-preservation. We needn't mince matters among
ourselves. If Bucks is for sale, we buy him."

Kent shrugged.

"There isn't any doubt about his purchasability. But I confess I don't
quite see how you will go about it."

"Never mind that part of it; just leave the ways and means with those of
us who have riper experience--and fewer hamperings, perhaps--than you
have. Your share in it is to tell us how big a bid we must make. As I say,
you know the man."

David Kent was silent for the striding of half a square. The New England
conscience dies hard, and while it lives it is given to drawing sharp
lines on all the boundaries of culpability. Kent ended by taking the
matter in debate violently out of the domain of ethics and standing it
upon the ground of expediency.

"It will cost too much. You would have to bid high--not to overcome his
scruples, for he has none; but to satisfy his greed--which is abnormal.
And, besides, he has his pose to defend. If he can see his way clear to a
harvest of extortions under the law, he will probably turn you down--and
will make it hot for you later on in the name of outraged virtue."

Harnwicke's laugh was cynical.

"He and his little clique don't own the earth in fee simple. Perhaps we
shall be able to make them grasp that idea before we are through with
them. We have had this fight on in other states. Would ten thousand be
likely to satisfy him?"

"No," said Kent. "If you add another cipher, it might."

"A hundred thousand is a pot of money. I take it for granted the Western
Pacific will stand its pro-rate?"

The New England conscience bucked again, and Kent made his first open
protest against the methods of the demoralizers.

"I am not in a position to say: I should advise against it. Unofficially,
I think I can speak for Loring and the Boston people. We are not more
saintly than other folk, perhaps; and we are not in the railroad business
for health or pleasure. But I fancy the Advisory Board would draw the line
at bribing a governor--at any rate, I hope it would."

"Rot!" said Harnwicke. And then: "You'll reap the benefits with other
interstate interests; you'll have to come in."

Kent hesitated, but not now on the ground of the principle to be defended.

"That brings in a question which I am not competent to decide. Loring is
your man. You will call a conference of the 'powers,' I take it?"

"It is already called. I sent Atherton out to notify everybody as soon as
the trap was sprung in the House. We meet in the ordinary at the Camelot.
You'll be there?"

"A little later--if Loring wants me. I have some telephoning to do before
this thing gets on the wires."

They parted at the entrance to the Camelot Club, and Kent went two squares
farther on to the Wellington. Ormsby had not yet returned, and Kent went
to the telephone and called up the Brentwood apartments. It was Penelope
that answered.

"Well, I think you owe it," she began, as soon as he had given his name.
"What did I do at Miss Van Brock's to make you cut me dead?"

"Why, nothing at all, I'm sure. I--I was looking for Mr. Ormsby, and----"

"Not when I saw you," she broke in flippantly. "You were handing Miss
Portia an ice. Are you still looking for Mr. Ormsby?"

"I am--just that. Is he with you?"

"No; he left here about twenty minutes ago. Is it anything serious?"

"Serious enough to make me want to find him as soon as I can. Did he say
he was coming down to the Wellington?"

"Of course, he didn't," laughed Penelope. And then: "Whatever is the
matter with you this evening, Mr. Kent?"

"I guess I'm a little excited," said Kent. "Something has
happened--something I can't talk about over the wires. It concerns you and
your mother and sister. You'll know all about it as soon as I can find
Ormsby and send him out to you."

Penelope's "Oh!" was long-drawn and gasping.

"Is any one dead?" she faltered.

"No, no; it's nothing of that kind. I'll send Ormsby out, and he will tell
you all about it."

"Can't you come yourself?"

"I may have to if I can't find Ormsby. Please don't let your mother go to
bed until you have heard from one or the other of us. Did you get that?"

"Ye-es; but I should like to know more--a great deal more."

"I know; and I'd like to tell you. But I am using the public telephone
here at the Wellington, and--Oh, damn!" Central had cut him out, and it
was some minutes before the connection was switched in again. "Is that
you, Miss Penelope? All right; I wasn't quite through. When Ormsby comes,
you must do as he tells you to, and you and Miss Elinor must help him
convince your mother. Do you understand?"

"No, I don't understand anything. For goodness' sake, find Mr. Ormsby and
make him run! This is perfectly dreadful!"

"Isn't it? And I'm awfully sorry. Good-by."

Kent hung up the receiver, and when he was asking a second time at the
clerk's desk for the missing man, Ormsby came in to answer for himself.
Whereupon the crisis was outlined to him in brief phrase, and he rose to
the occasion, though not without a grimace.

"I'm not sure just how well you know Mrs. Hepzibah Brentwood," he
demurred; "but it will be quite like her to balk. Don't you think you'd
better go along? You are the company's attorney, and your opinion ought to
carry some weight."

David Kent thought not; but a cautious diplomatist, having got the idea
well into the back part of his head, was not to be denied.

"Of course, you'll come. You are just the man I'll need to back me up. I
shan't shirk; I'll take the mother into the library and break the ice,
while you are squaring things with the young women. Penelope won't care
the snap of her finger either way; but Elinor has some notion's that you
are fitter to cope with than I am. After, if you can give me a lift with
Mrs. Hepzibah, I'll call you in. Come on; it's getting pretty late to go
visiting."

Kent yielded reluctantly, and they took a car for the sake of speed. It
was Penelope who opened the door for them at 124 Tejon Avenue; and Ormsby
made it easy for his coadjutor, as he had promised.

"I want to see your mother in the library for a few minutes," he began.
"Will you arrange it, and take care of Mr. Kent until I come for him?"

Penelope "arranged" it, not without another added pang of curiosity,
whereupon David Kent found himself the rather embarrassed third of a
silent trio gathered about the embers of the sitting-room fire.

"Is it to be a Quaker meeting?" asked Penelope, sweetly, when the silence
had grown awe-inspiring.

Kent laughed for pure joy at the breaking of the spell.

"One would think we had come to drag you all off to jail, Ormsby and I,"
he said; and then he went on to explain. "It's about your Western Pacific
stock, you know. To-day's quotations put it a point and a half above your
purchase price, and we've come to persuade you to unload, _pronto_, as the
member from the Rio Blanco would say."

"Is that all?" said Penelope, stifling a yawn. "Then I'm not in it: I'm an
infant." And she rose and went to the piano.

"You haven't told us all of it: what has happened?" queried Elinor,
speaking for the first time since her greeting of Kent.

He briefed the story of House Bill Twenty-nine for her, pointing out the
probabilities.

"Of course, no one can tell what the precise effect will be," he
qualified. "But in my opinion it is very likely to be destructive of
dividends. Skipping the dry details, the new law, which is equitable
enough on its face, can be made an engine of extortion in the hands of
those who administer it. In fact, I happen to know that it was designed
and carried through for that very purpose."

She smiled.

"I have understood you were in the opposition. Are you speaking
politically?"

"I am stating the plain fact," said Kent, nettled a little by her
coolness. "Decadent Rome never lifted a baser set of demagogues into
office than we have here in this State at the present moment."

He spoke warmly, and she liked him best when he put her on the footing of
an equal antagonist.

"I can't agree with your inference," she objected. "As a people we are
neither obsequious nor stupid."

"Perhaps not. But it is one of the failures of a popular government that
an honest majority may be controlled and directed by a small minority of
shrewd rascals. That is exactly what has happened in the passage of this
bill. I venture to say that not one man in ten who voted for it had the
faintest suspicion that it was a 'graft'."

"If that be true, what chances there are for men with the gift of true
leadership and a love of pure justice in their hearts!" she said
half-absently; and he started forward and said: "I beg pardon?"

She let the blue-gray eyes meet his and there was a passing shadow of
disappointment in them.

"I ought to beg yours. I'm afraid I was thinking aloud. But it is one of
my dreams. If I were a man I should go into politics."

"To purify them?"

"To do my part in trying. The great heart of the people is honest and
well-meaning: I think we all admit that. And there is intelligence, too.
But human nature is the same as it used to be when they set up a man who
_could_ and called him a king. Gentle or simple, it must be led."

"There is no lack of leadership, such as it is," he hazarded.

"No; but there seems to be a pitiful lack of the right kind: men who will
put self-seeking and unworthy ambition aside and lift the standard of
justice and right-doing for its own sake. Are there any such men
nowadays?"

"I don't know," he rejoined gravely. "Sometimes I'm tempted to doubt it.
It is a frantic scramble for place and power for the most part. The kind
of man you have in mind isn't in it; shuns it as he would a plague spot."

She contradicted him firmly.

"No, the kind of man I have in mind wouldn't shun it; he would take hold
with his hands and try to make things better; he would put the selfish
temptations under foot and give the people a leader worth following--be
the real mind and hand of the well-meaning majority."

Kent shook his head slowly.

"Not unless we admit a motive stronger than the abstraction which we call
patriotism."

"I don't understand," she said; meaning, rather, that she refused to
understand.

"I mean that such a man, however exalted his views might be, would have to
have an object more personal to him than the mere dutiful promptings of
patriotism to make him do his best."

"But that would be self-seeking again."

"Not necessarily in the narrow sense. The old knightly chivalry was a
beautiful thing in its way, and it gave an uplift to an age which would
have been frankly brutal without it: yet it had its well-spring in what
appeals to us now as being a rather fantastic sentiment."

"And we are not sentimentalists?" she suggested.

"No; and it's the worse for us in some respects. You will not find your
ideal politician until you find a man with somewhat of the old knightly
spirit in him. And I'll go further and say that when you do find him he
will be at heart the champion of the woman he loves rather than that of a
political constituency."

She became silent at that, and for a time the low sweet harmonies of the
nocturne Penelope was playing filled the gap.

Kent left his chair and began to wish honestly for Ormsby's return. He was
searing the wound again, and the process was more than commonly painful.
They had been speaking in figures, as a man and a woman will; yet he made
sure the mask of metaphor was transparent, no less to her than to him. As
many times before, his heart was crying out to her; but now behind the cry
there was an upsurging tidal wave of emotion new and strange; a toppling
down of barriers and a sweeping inrush of passionate rebellion.

Why had she put it out of her power to make him her champion in the Field
of the Lust of Mastery? Instantly, and like a revealing lightning flash,
it dawned upon him that this was his awakening. Something of himself she
had shown him in the former time: how he was rusting inactive in the small
field when he should be doing a man's work, the work for which his
training had fitted him, in the larger. But the glamour of sentiment had
been over it all in those days, and to the passion-warped the high call is
transmitted in terms of self-seeking.

He turned upon her suddenly.

"Did you mean to reproach me?" he asked abruptly.

"How absurd!"

"No, it isn't. You are responsible for me, in a certain sense. You sent me
out into the world, and somehow I feel as if I had disappointed you."

"'But what went ye out for to see?'" she quoted softly.

"I know," he nodded, sitting down again. "You thought you were arousing a
worthy ambition, but it was only avarice that was quickened. I've been
trying to be a money-getter."

"You can be something vastly better."

"No, I am afraid not; it is too late."

Again the piano-mellowed silence supervened, and Kent put his elbows on
his knees and his face in his hands, being very miserable. He believed now
what he had been slow to credit before: that he had it in him to hew his
way to the end of the line if only the motive were strong enough to call
out all the reserves of battle-might and courage. That motive she alone,
of all the women in the world, might have supplied, he told himself in
keen self-pity. With her love to arm him, her clear-eyed faith to inspire
him.... He sat up straight and pushed the cup of bitter herbs aside. There
would be time enough to drain it farther on.

"Coming back to the stock market and the present crisis," he said,
breaking the silence in sheer self-defense; "Ormsby and I----"

She put the resurrected topic back into its grave with a little gesture of
apathetic impatience she used now and then with Ormsby.

"I suppose I ought to be interested, but I am not," she confessed. "Mother
will do as she thinks best, and we shall calmly acquiesce, as we always
do."

David Kent was not sorry to be relieved in so many words of the persuasive
responsibility, and the talk drifted into reminiscence, with the Croydon
summer for a background.

It was a dangerous pastime for Kent; perilous, and subversive of many
things. One of his meliorating comforts had been the thought that however
bitter his own disappointment was, Elinor at least was happy. But in this
new-old field of talk a change came over her and he was no longer sure she
was entirely happy. She was saying things with a flavor akin to cynicism
in them, as thus:

"Do you remember how we used to go into raptures of pious indignation over
the make-believe sentiment of the summer man and the summer girl? I
recollect your saying once that it was wicked; a desecration of things
which ought to be held sacred. It isn't so very long ago, but I think we
were both very young that summer--years younger than we can ever be again.
Don't you?"

"Doubtless," said David Kent. He was at a pass in which he would have
agreed with her if she had asserted that black was white. It was not
weakness; it was merely that he was absorbed in a groping search for the
word which would fit her changed mood.

"We have learned to be more charitable since," she went on; "more
charitable and less sentimental, perhaps. And yet we prided ourselves on
our sincerity in that young time, don't you think?"

"I, at least, was sincere," he rejoined bluntly. He had found the
mood-word at last: it was resentment; though, being a man, he could see no
good reason why the memories of the Croydon summer should make her
resentful.

She was not looking at him when she said: "No; sincerity is always just.
And you were not quite just, I think."

"To you?" he demanded.

"Oh, no; to yourself."

Portia Van Brock's accusation was hammering itself into his brain. _You
have marred her between you.... For your sake she can never be quite all
she ought to be to him; for his sake she could never be quite the same to
you_. A cold wave of apprehension submerged him. In seeking to do the most
unselfish thing that offered, had he succeeded only in making her despise
him?

The question was still hanging answerless when there came the sound of a
door opening and closing, and Ormsby stood looking in upon them.

"We needn't keep these sleepy young persons out of bed any longer," he
announced briefly; and the coadjutor said good-night and joined him at
once.

"What luck?" was David Kent's anxious query when they were free of the
house and had turned their faces townward.

"Just as much as we might have expected. Mrs. Hepzibah refuses point-blank
to sell her stock--won't talk about it. 'The idea of parting with it now,
when it is actually worth more than it was when we bought it!'" he quoted,
mimicking the thin-lipped, acidulous protest. "Later, in an evil minute, I
tried to drag you in, and she let you have it square on the point of the
jaw--intimated that it was a deal in which some of you inside people
needed her block of stock to make you whole. She did, by Jove!"

Kent's laugh was mirthless.

"I was never down in her good books," he said, by way of accounting for
the accusation.

If Ormsby thought he knew the reason why, he was magnanimous enough to
steer clear of that shoal.

"It's a mess," he growled. "I don't fancy you had any better luck with
Elinor."

"She seemed not to care much about it either way. She said her mother
would have the casting vote."

"I know. What I don't know is, what remains to be done."

"More waiting," said Kent, definitively. "The fight is fairly on now--as
between the Bucks crowd and the corporations, I mean--but there will
probably be ups and downs enough to scare Mrs. Brentwood into letting go.
We must be ready to strike when the iron is hot; that's all."

The New Yorker tramped a full square in thoughtful silence before he said:
"Candidly, Kent, Mrs. Hepzibah's little stake in Western Pacific isn't
altogether a matter of life and death to me, don't you know? If it comes
to the worst, I can have my broker play the part of the god in the car.
Happily, or unhappily, whichever way you like to put it, I sha'n't miss
what he may have to put up to make good on her three thousand shares."

David Kent stopped short and wheeled suddenly upon his companion.

"Ormsby, that's a thing I've been afraid of, all along; and it's the one
thing you must never do."

"Why not?" demanded the straightforward Ormsby.

Kent knew he was skating on the thinnest of ice, but his love for Elinor
made him fearless of consequences.

"If you don't know without being told, it proves that your money has
spoiled you to that extent. It is because you have no right to entrap Miss
Brentwood into an obligation that would make her your debtor for the very
food she eats and the clothes she wears. You will say she need never know:
be very sure she would find out, one way or another; and she would never
forgive you."

"Um," said Ormsby, turning visibly grim. "You are frank enough--to draw it
mildly. Another man in my place might suggest that it isn't Mr. David
Kent's affair."

Kent turned about and caught step again.

"I've said my say--all of it," he rejoined stolidly. "We've been decently
modern up to now, and we won't go back to the elemental things so late in
the day. All the same, you'll not take it amiss if I say that I know Miss
Brentwood rather better than you do."

Ormsby did not say whether he would or would not, and the talk went aside
to less summary ways and means preservative of the Brentwood fortunes. But
at the archway of the Camelot Club, where Kent paused, Ormsby went back to
the debatable ground in an outspoken word.

"I know pretty well now what there is between us, Kent, and we mustn't
quarrel if we can help it," he said. "If you complain that I didn't give
you a fair show, I'll retort that I didn't dare to. Are you satisfied?"

"No," said David Kent; and with that they separated.




VIII


THE HAYMAKERS

By the terms of its dating clause the new trust and corporation law became
effective at once, "the public welfare requiring it"; and though there was
an immediate sympathetic decline in the securities involved, there was no
panic, financial or industrial, to mark the change from the old to the
new.

Contrary to the expectations of the alarmists and the lawyers, and
somewhat to the disappointment of the latter, the vested interests showed
no disposition to test the constitutionality of the act in the courts. So
far, indeed, from making difficulties, the various alien corporations
affected by the new law wheeled promptly into line in compliance with its
provisions, vying with one another in proving, or seeming to prove, the
time-worn aphorism that capital can never afford to be otherwise than
strictly law-abiding.

In the reorganization of the Western Pacific, David Kent developed at once
and heartily into that rare and much-sought-for quantity, a man for an
emergency. Loring, also, was a busy man in this transition period, yet he
found time to keep an appreciative eye on Kent, and, true to his implied
promise, pushed him vigorously for the first place in the legal department
of the localized company. Since the resident manager stood high in the
Boston counsels of the company, the pushing was not without results; and
while David Kent was still up to his eyes in the work of flogging the
affairs of the newly named Trans-Western into conformity with the law, his
appointment as general counsel came from the Advisory Board.

At one time, when success in his chosen vocation meant more to him than he
thought it could ever mean again, the promoted subordinate would have had
an attack of jubilance little in keeping with the grave responsibilities
of his office. As it fell out, he was too busy to celebrate, and too sore
on the sentimental side to rejoice. Hence, his recognition of the
promotion was merely a deeper plunge into the flood of legalities and the
adding of two more stenographers to his office force.

Now there is this to be said of such submersive battlings in a sea of
work: while the fierce toil of the buffeting may be good for the swimmer's
soul, it necessarily narrows his horizon, inasmuch as a man with his head
in the sea-smother lacks the view-point of the captain who fights his ship
from the conning tower.

So it befell that while the newly appointed general counsel of the
reorganized Western Pacific was bolting his meals and clipping the nights
at both ends in a strenuous endeavor to clear the decks for a possible
battle-royal at the capital, events of a minatory nature were shaping
themselves elsewhere.

To bring these events down to their focusing point in the period of
transition, it is needful to go back a little; to a term of the circuit
court held in the third year of Gaston the prosperous.

Who Mrs. Melissa Varnum was; how she came to be traveling from Midland
City to the end of the track on a scalper's ticket; and in what manner she
was given her choice of paying fare to the conductor or leaving the train
at Gaston--these are details with which we need not concern ourselves.
Suffice it to say that Kent, then local attorney for the company, mastered
them; and when Mrs. Varnum, through Hawk, her counsel, sued for five
thousand dollars damages, he was able to get a continuance, knowing from
long experience that the jury would certainly find for the plaintiff if
the case were then allowed to go to trial.

And at the succeeding term of court, which was the one that adjourned on
the day of Kent's transfer to the capital, two of the company's witnesses
had disappeared; and the one bit of company business Kent had been
successful in doing that day was to postpone for a second time the coming
to trial of the Varnum case.

It was while Kent's head was deepest in the flood of reorganization that a
letter came from one Blashfield Hunnicott, his successor in the local
attorneyship at Gaston, asking for instructions in the Varnum matter.
Judge MacFarlane's court would convene in a week. Was he, Hunnicott, to
let the case come to trial? Or should he--the witnesses still being
unproducible--move for a further continuance?

Kent took his head out of the cross-seas long enough to answer. By all
means Hunnicott was to obtain another continuance, if possible. And if,
before the case were called, there should be any new developments, he was
to wire at once to the general office, and further instructions would
issue.

It was about this time, or, to be strictly accurate, on the day preceding
the convening of Judge MacFarlane's court in Gaston, that Governor Bucks
took a short vacation--his first since the adjournment of the Assembly.

One of the mysteries of this man--the only one for which his friends could
not always account plausibly--was his habit of dropping out for a day or a
week at irregular intervals, leaving no clue by which he could be traced.
While he was merely a private citizen these disappearances figured in the
local notes of the Gaston _Clarion_ as business trips, object and
objective point unknown or at least unstated; but since his election the
newspapers were usually more definite. On this occasion, the public was
duly informed that "Governor Bucks, with one or two intimate friends, was
taking a few days' recreation with rod and gun on the headwaters of Jump
Creek"--a statement which the governor's private secretary stood ready to
corroborate to all and sundry calling at the gubernatorial rooms on the
second floor of the capitol.

Now it chanced that, like all gossip, this statement was subject to
correction as to details in favor of the exact fact. It is true that the
governor, his gigantic figure clad in sportsmanlike brown duck, might have
been seen boarding the train on the Monday evening; and in addition to the
ample hand-bag there were rod and gun cases to bear out the newspaper
notices. None the less, it was equally true that the keeper of the Gun
Club shooting-box at the terminus of the Trans-Western's Jump Creek branch
was not called upon to entertain so distinguished a guest as the State
executive. Also, it might have been remarked that the governor traveled
alone.

Late that same night, Stephen Hawk was keeping a rather discomforting
vigil with a visitor in the best suite of rooms the Mid-Continent Hotel in
Gaston afforded. The guest of honor was a brother lawyer--though he might
have refused to acknowledge the relationship with the ex-district
attorney--a keen-eyed, business-like gentleman, whose name as an organizer
of vast capitalistic ventures had traveled far, and whose present attitude
was one of undisguised and angry contempt for Gaston and all things
Gastonian.

"How much longer have we to wait?" he demanded impatiently, when the hands
of his watch pointed to the quarter-hour after ten. "You've made me travel
two thousand miles to see this thing through: why didn't you make sure of
having your man here?"

Hawk wriggled uneasily in his chair. He was used to being bullied, not
only by the good and great, but by the little and evil as well. Yet there
was a rasp to the great man's impatience that irritated him.

"I've been trying to tell you all the evening that I'm only the hired man
in this business, Mr. Falkland. I can't compel the attendance of the other
parties."

"Well, it's damned badly managed, as far as we've gone," was the
ungracious comment. "You say the judge refuses to confer with me?"

"Ab-so-lutely."

"And the train--the last train the other man can come on; is that in yet?"

Hawk consulted his watch.

"A good half-hour ago."

"You had your clerk at the station to meet it?"

"I did."

"And he hasn't reported?"

"Not yet."

Falkland took a cigar from his case, bit the end of it like a man with a
grudge to satisfy, and began again.

"There is a very unbusinesslike mystery about all this, Mr. Hawk, and I
may as well tell you shortly that my time is too valuable to make me
tolerant of half-confidences. Get to the bottom of it. Has your man
weakened?"

"No; he is not of the weakening kind. And, besides, the scheme is his own
from start to finish, as you know."

"Well, what is the matter, then?"

Hawk rose.

"If you will be patient a little while longer, I'll go to the wire and try
to find out. I am as much in the dark as you are."

This last was not strictly true. Hawk had a telegram in his pocket which
was causing him more uneasiness than all the rasping criticisms of the New
York attorney, and he was re-reading it by the light of the corridor
bracket when a young man sprang from the ascending elevator and hurried to
the door of the parlor suite. Hawk collared his Mercury before he could
rap on the door.

"Well?" he queried sharply.

"It's just as you suspected--what Mr. Hendricks' telegram hinted at. I met
him at the station and couldn't do a thing with him."

"Where has he gone?"

"To the same old place."

"You followed him?"

"Sure. That is what kept me so long."

Hawk hung upon his decision for the barest fraction of a second. Then he
gave his orders concisely.

"Hunt up Doctor Macquoid and get him out to the club-house as quick as you
can. Tell him to bring his hypodermic. I'll be there with all the help
he'll need." And when the young man was gone, Hawk smote the air with a
clenched fist and called down the Black Curse of Shielygh, or its modern
equivalent, on all the fates subversive of well-laid plans.

A quarter of an hour later, on the upper floor of the club-house at the
Gentlemen's Driving Park, four men burst in upon a fifth, a huge figure in
brown duck, crouching in a corner like a wild beast at bay. A bottle and a
tumbler stood on the table under the hanging lamp; and with the crash of
breaking glass which followed the mad-bull rush of the duck-clothed giant,
the reek of French brandy filled the room.

"Hold him still, if you can, and pull up that sleeve." It was Macquoid who
spoke, and the three apparitors, breathing hard, sat upon the prostrate
man and bared his arm for the physician. When the apomorphia began to do
its work there was a struggle of another sort, out of which emerged a
pallid and somewhat stricken reincarnation of the governor.

"Falkland is waiting at the hotel, and he and MacFarlane can't get
together," said Hawk, tersely, when the patient was fit to listen.
"Otherwise we shouldn't have disturbed you. It's all day with the scheme
if you can't show up."

The governor groaned and passed his hand over his eyes.

"Get me into my clothes--Johnson has the grip--and give me all the time
you can," was the sullen rejoinder; and in due course the Honorable Jasper
G. Bucks, clothed upon and in his right mind, was enabled to keep his
appointment with the New York attorney at the Mid-Continent Hotel.

But first came the whipping-in of MacFarlane. Bucks went alone to the
judge's room on the floor above the parlor suite. It was now near
midnight, but MacFarlane had not gone to bed. He was a spare man, with
thin hair graying rapidly at the temples and a care-worn face; the face of
a man whose tasks or responsibilities, or both, have overmatched him. He
was walking the floor with his head down and his hands--thin, nerveless
hands they were--tightly locked behind him, when the governor entered.

For a large man the Honorable Jasper was usually able to handle his weight
admirably; but now he clung to the door-knob until he could launch himself
at a chair and be sure of hitting it.

"What's this Hawk's telling me about you, MacFarlane?" he demanded,
frowning portentously.

"I don't know what he has told you. But it is too flagrant, Bucks; I can't
do it, and that's all there is about it." The protest was feebly fierce,
and there was the snarl of a baited animal in the tone.

"It's too late to make difficulties now," was the harsh reply. "You've got
to do it."

"I tell you I can not, and I will not!"

"A late attack of conscience, eh?" sneered the governor, who was sobering
rapidly now. "Let me ask a question or two. How much was that security
debt your son-in-law let you in for?"

"It was ten thousand dollars. It is an honest debt, and I shall pay it."

"But not out of the salary of a circuit judge," Bucks interposed. "Nor yet
out of the fees you make your clerks divide with you. And that isn't all.
Have you forgotten the gerrymander business? How would you like to see the
true inwardness of that in the newspapers?"

The judge shrank as if the huge gesturing hand had struck him.

"You wouldn't dare," he began. "You were in that, too, deeper than----"

Again the governor interrupted him.

"Cut it out," he commanded. "I can reward, and I can punish. You are not
going to do anything technically illegal; but, by the gods, you are going
to walk the line laid down for you. If you don't, I shall give the
documents in the gerrymander affair to the papers the day after you fail.
Now we'll go and see Falkland."

MacFarlane made one last protest.

"For God's sake, Bucks! spare me that. It is nothing less than the foulest
collusion between the judge, the counsel for the plaintiff--and the
devil!"

"Cut that out, too, and come along," said the governor, brutally; and by
the steadying help of the chair, the door-post and the wall of the
corridor, he led the way to the parlor suite on the floor below.

The conference in Falkland's rooms was chiefly a monologue with the
sharp-spoken New York lawyer in the speaking part. When it was concluded
the judge took his leave abruptly, pleading the lateness of the hour and
his duties for the morrow. When he was gone the New Yorker began again.

"You won't want to be known in this, I take it," he said, nodding at the
governor. "Mr. Hawk here will answer well enough for the legal part, but
how about the business end of it. Have you got a man you can trust?"

The governor's yellow eyebrows met in a meaning scowl.

"I've got a man I can hang, which is more to the purpose. It's Major Jim
Guilford. He lives here; want to meet him?"

"God forbid!" said Falkland, fervently. He rose and whipped himself into
his overcoat, turning to Hawk: "Have your young man get me a carriage, and
see to it that my special is ready to pull east when I give the word, will
you?"

Hawk went obediently, and the New Yorker had his final word with the
governor alone.

"I think we understand each other perfectly," he said. "You are to have
the patronage: we are to pay for all actual betterments for which vouchers
can be shown at the close of the deal. All we ask is that the stock be
depressed to the point agreed upon within the half-year."

"It's going to be done," said the governor, trying as he could to keep the
eye-image of his fellow conspirator from multiplying itself by two.

"All right. Now as to the court affair. If it is managed exactly as I have
outlined, there will be no trouble--and no recourse for the other fellows.
When I say that, I'm leaving out your Supreme Court. Under certain
conditions, if the defendant's hardship could be definitely shown, a writ
of _certiorari_ and _supersedeas_ might issue. How about that?"

The governor closed one eye slowly, the better to check the troublesome
multiplying process.

"The Supreme Court won't move in the matter. The ostensible reason will be
that the court is now two years behind its docket."

"And the real reason?"

"Of the three justices, one of them was elected on our ticket; another is
a personal friend of Judge MacFarlane. The goods will be delivered."

"That's all, then; all but one word. Your judge is a weak brother.
Notwithstanding all the pains I took to show him that his action would be
technically unassailable, he was ready to fly the track at any moment.
Have you got him safe?"

Bucks held up one huge hand with the thumb and forefinger tightly pressed
together.

"I've got him right there," he said. "If you and Hawk have got your papers
in good shape, the thing will go through like a hog under a barbed-wire
fence."




IX


THE SHOCKING OF HUNNICOTT

It was two weeks after the date of the governor's fishing trip, and by
consequence Judge MacFarlane's court had been the even fortnight in
session in Gaston, when Kent's attention was recalled to the forgotten
Varnum case by another letter from the local attorney, Hunnicott.

"Varnum _vs_. Western Pacific comes up Friday of this week, and they are
going to press for trial this time, and no mistake," wrote the local
representative. "Hawk has been chasing around getting affidavits; for what
purpose I don't know, though Lesher tells me that one of them was sworn by
Houligan, the sub-contractor who tried to fight the engineer's estimates
on the Jump Creek work.

"Also, there is a story going the rounds that the suit is to be made a
blind for bigger game, though I guess this is all gossip, based on the
fact that Mr. Semple Falkland's private car stopped over here two weeks
ago, from three o'clock in the afternoon till midnight of the same day.
Jason, of the _Clarion_, interviewed the New Yorker, and Falkland told him
he had stopped over to look up the securities on a mortgage held by one of
his New York clients."

Kent read this unofficial letter thoughtfully, and later on took it in to
the general manager.

"Just to show you the kind of jackal we have to deal with in the smaller
towns," he said, by way of explanation. "Here is a case that Stephen Hawk
built up out of nothing a year ago. The woman was put off one of our
trains because she was trying to travel on a scalper's ticket. She didn't
care to fight about it; but when I had about persuaded her to compromise
for ten dollars and a pass to her destination, Hawk got hold of her and
induced her to sue for five thousand dollars."

"Well?" said Loring.

"We fought it, of course--in the only way it could be fought in the lower
court. I got a continuance, and we choked it off in the same way at the
succeeding term. The woman was tired out long ago, but Hawk will hang on
till his teeth fall out."

"Do you 'continue' again?" asked the general manager.

Kent nodded.

"I so instructed Hunnicott. Luckily, two of our most important witnesses
are missing. They have always been missing, in point of fact."

Loring was glancing over the letter.

"How about this affidavit business, and the Falkland stop-over?" he asked.

"Oh, I fancy that's gossip, pure and simple, as Hunnicott says. Hawk is
sharp enough not to let us know if he were baiting a trap. And Falkland
probably told the _Clarion_ man the simple truth."

Loring nodded in his turn. Then he broke away from the subject abruptly.
"Sit down," he said; and when Kent had found a chair: "I had a caller this
morning--Senator Duvall."

State Senator Duvall had been the father, or the ostensible father, of the
Senate amendment to House Bill Twenty-nine. He was known to the
corporations' lobby as a legislator who would sign a railroad's
death-warrant with one hand and take favors from it with the other; and
Kent laughed.

"How many did he demand passes for, this time? Or was it a special train
he wanted?"

"Neither the one nor the other, this morning, as it happened," said the
general manager. "Not to put too fine an edge upon it, he had something to
sell, and he wanted me to buy it."

"What was it?" Kent asked quickly.

Loring was rubbing his eye-glasses absently with the corner of his
handkerchief.

"I guess I made a mistake in not turning him over to you, David. He was
too smooth for me. I couldn't find out just what it was he had for sale.
He talked vaguely about an impending crisis and a man who had some
information to dispose of; said the man had come to him because he was
known to be a firm friend of the Trans-Western, and so on."

Kent gave his opinion promptly.

"It's a capitol-gang deal of some sort to hold us up; and Duvall is
willing to sell out his fellow conspirators if the price is right."

"Have you any notion of what it is?"

Kent shook his head.

"Not the slightest. The ways have been tallowed for us, thus far, and I
don't fully understand it. I presented our charter for re-filing
yesterday, and Hendricks passed it without a word. As I was coming out of
the secretary's office I met Bucks. We were pretty nearly open enemies in
the old days in Gaston, but he went out of his way to shake hands and to
congratulate me on my appointment as general counsel."

"That was warning in itself, wasn't it?"

"I took it that way. But I can't fathom his drift; which is the more
unaccountable since I have it on pretty good authority that the ring is
cinching the other companies right and left. Some one was saying at the
Camelot last night that the Overland's reorganization of its
within-the-State lines was going to cost all kinds of money in excess of
the legal fees."

Loring's smile was a wordless sarcasm.

"It's the reward of virtue," he said ironically. "We were not in the list
of subscribers to the conditional fund for purchasing a certain veto which
didn't materialize."

"And for that very reason, if for no other, we may look out for squalls,"
Kent asserted. "Jasper G. Bucks has a long memory; and just now the fates
have given him an arm to match. I am fortifying everywhere I can, but if
the junto has it in for us, we'll be made to sweat blood before we are
through with it."

"Which brings us back to Senator Duvall. Is it worth while trying to do
anything with him?"

"Oh, I don't know. I'm opposed to the method--the bargain and sale
plan--and I know you are. Turn him over to me if he comes in again."

When Kent had dictated a letter in answer to Hunnicott's, he dismissed the
Varnum matter from his mind, having other and more important things to
think of. So, on the Friday, when the case was reached on Judge
MacFarlane's docket--but really, it is worth our while to be present in
the Gaston court-room to see and hear what befalls.

When the Varnum case was called, Hunnicott promptly moved for a third
continuance, in accordance with his instructions. The judge heard his
argument, the old and well-worn one of the absence of important witnesses,
with perfect patience; and after listening to Hawk's protest, which was
hardly more than mechanical, he granted the continuance.

Then came the after-piece. Court adjourned, and immediately Hawk asked
leave to present, "at chambers," an amended petition. Hunnicott was
waylaid by a court officer as he was leaving the room; and a moment later,
totally unprepared, he was in the judge's office, listening in some dazed
fashion while Hawk went glibly through the formalities of presenting his
petition.

Not until the papers were served upon him as the company's attorney, and
the judge was naming three o'clock of the following afternoon as the time
which he would appoint for the preliminary hearing, did the local attorney
come alive.

"But, your Honor!--a delay of only twenty-four hours in which to prepare a
rejoinder to this petition--to allegations of such astounding gravity?" he
began, shocked into action by the very ungraspable magnitude of the thing.

"What more could you ask, Mr. Hunnicott?" said the judge, mildly. "You
have already had a full measure of delay on the original petition. Yet I
am willing to extend the time if you can come to an agreement with Mr.
Hawk, here."

Hunnicott knew the hopelessness of that and did not make the attempt.
Instead, he essayed a new line of objection.

"The time would be long enough if Gaston were the headquarters of the
company, your Honor. But in such a grave and important charge as this
amended petition brings, our general counsel should appear in person,
and----"

"You are the company's attorney, Mr. Hunnicott," said the judge, dryly;
"and you have hitherto been deemed competent to conduct the case in behalf
of the defendant. I am unwilling to work a hardship to any one, but I can
not entertain your protest. The preliminary hearing will be at three
o'clock to-morrow."

Hunnicott knew when he was definitely at the string's end; and when he was
out of the judge's room and the Court House, he made a dash for his
office, dry-lipped and panting. Ten minutes sufficed for the writing of a
telegram to Kent, and he was half-way down to the station with it when it
occurred to him that it would never do to trust the incendiary thing to
the wires in plain English. There was a little-used cipher code in his
desk provided for just such emergencies, and back he went to labor
sweating over the task of securing secrecy at the expense of the precious
minutes of time. Wherefore, it was about four o'clock when he handed the
telegram to the station operator, and adjured him by all that was good and
great not to delay its sending.

It was just here he made his first and only slip, since he did not stay to
see the thing done. It chanced that the regular day operator was off on
leave of absence, and his substitute, a young man from the
train-despatcher's office, was a person who considered the company wires
an exclusive appanage of the train service department. At the moment of
Hunnicott's assault he was taking an order for Number 17; and observing
that the lawyer's cipher "rush" covered four closely written pages, he
hung it upon the sending hook with a malediction on the legal department
for burdening the wires with its mail correspondence, and so forgot it.

It was nine o'clock when the night operator came on duty; and being a
careful man, he not only looked first to his sending hook, but was
thoughtful enough to run over the accumulation of messages waiting to be
transmitted, to the end that he might give precedence to the most
important. And when he came to Hunnicott's cipher with the
thrice-underlined "RUSH" written across its face, and had marked the hour
of its handing in, he had the good sense to hang up the entire wire
business of the railroad until the thing was safely out of his office.

It was half-past nine when the all-important cipher got itself written out
in the headquarters office at the capital; and for two anxious hours the
receiving operator tried by all means in his power to find the general
counsel--tried and failed. For, to make the chain of mishaps complete in
all its links, Kent and Loring were spending the evening at Miss Portia
Van Brock's, having been bidden to meet a man they were both willing to
cultivate--Oliver Marston, the lieutenant-governor. And for this cause it
wanted but five minutes of midnight when Kent burst into Loring's bedroom
on the third floor of the Clarendon, catastrophic news in hand.

"For heaven's sake, read that!" he gasped; and Loring sat on the edge of
the bed to do it.

"So! they've sprung their mine at last: this is what Senator Duvall was
trying to sell us," he said quietly, when he had mastered the purport of
Hunnicott's war news.

Kent had caught his second wind in the moment of respite, and was settling
into the collar in a way to strain the working harness to the breaking
point.

"It's a put-up job from away back," he gritted. "If I'd had the sense of a
pack-mule I should have been on the lookout for just such a trap as this.
Look at the date of that message!"

The general manager did look, and shook his head. "'Received, 3:45, P.M.;
Forwarded, 9:17, P.M.' That will cost somebody his job. What do we do?"

"We get busy at the drop of the hat. Luckily, we have the news, though
I'll bet high it wasn't Hawk's fault that this message came through with
no more than eight hours' delay. Get into your clothes, man! The minutes
are precious, now!"

Loring began to dress while Kent walked the floor in a hot fit of
impatience.

"The mastodonic cheek of the thing!" he kept repeating, until Loring
pulled him down with another quiet remark.

"Tell me what we have to do, David. I am a little lame in law matters."

"Do? We have to appear in Judge MacFarlane's court to-morrow afternoon
prepared to show that this thing is only a hold-up with a blank cartridge.
Hawk meant to take a snap judgment. He counted on throwing the whole thing
up against Hunnicott, knowing perfectly well that a little local attorney
at a way-station couldn't begin to secure the necessary affidavits."

Loring paused with one end of his collar flying loose.

"Let me understand," he said. "Do we have to disprove these charges by
affidavits?"

"Certainly; that is the proper rejoinder--the only one, in fact," said
Kent; then, as a great doubt laid hold of him and shook him: "You don't
mean to say there is any doubt about our ability to do it?"

"Oh, no; I suppose not, if it comes to a show-down. But I was thinking of
your man Hunnicott. Doesn't it occur to you that he is in just about as
good a fix to secure those affidavits in Gaston as we are here, David?"

"Good Lord! Do you mean that we have to send to Boston for our
ammunition?"

"Haven't we? Don't you see how nicely the thing is timed? Ten days later
our Trans-Western reorganization would be complete, and we could swear our
own officers on the spot. These people know what they are about."

Kent was walking the floor again, but now the strength of the man was
coming uppermost.

"Never mind: we'll wire Boston, and then we'll do what we can here. Could
you get me to Gaston on a special engine in three hours?"

"Yes."

"Then we have till eleven o'clock to-morrow to prepare. I'll be ready by
that time."

"David, you are a brick when it comes to the in-fighting," said the
general manager; and then he finished buttoning his collar.




X


WITHOUT BENEFIT OF CLERGY

At ten forty-eight on the Saturday morning Kent was standing with the
general manager on the Union Station track platform beside the engine
which was to make the flying run to Gaston.

Nine hours of sharp work lay between the hurried conference in Loring's
bedroom and the drive to the station at a quarter before eleven. Boston
had been wired; divers and sundry friends of the railway company had been
interviewed; some few affidavits had been secured; and now they were
waiting to give Boston its last chance, with a clerk hanging over the
operator in the station telegraph office to catch the first word of
encouragement.

"If the Advisory Board doesn't send us something pretty solid, I'm going
into this thing lame," said Kent, dubiously. "Of course, what Boston can
send us will be only corroborative; unfortunately we can't wire
affidavits. But it will help. What we have secured here lacks directness."

"Necessarily," said Loring. "But I'm banking on the Board. If we don't get
the ammunition before you have to start, I can wire it to you at Gaston.
That gives us three hours more to go and come on."

"Yes; and if it comes to the worst--if the decision be unfavorable--it can
only embarrass us temporarily. This is merely the preliminary hearing, and
nothing permanent can be established until we have had a hearing on the
merits, and we can go armed to that, at all events."

The general manager was looking at his watch, and he shut the case with a
snap.

"Don't you let it come to that, as long as you have a leg to stand on,
David," he said impressively. "An interregnum of ten days might make it
exceedingly difficult for us to prove anything." Then, as the telegraph
office watcher came to the door and shook his head as a sign that Boston
was still silent: "Your time is up. Off with you, and don't let Oleson
scare you when he gets 219 in motion. He is a good runner, and you have a
clear track."

Kent clambered to the footplate of the smart eight-wheeler.

"Can you make it by two o'clock?" he asked, when the engineer, a
big-boned, blue-eyed Norwegian, dropped the reversing lever into the
corner for the start.

"Ay tank maybe so, ain'd it? Yust you climb opp dat odder box, Mester
Kent, and hol' you' hair on. Ve bane gone to maig dat time, als' ve preak
somedings, _ja_!" and he sent the light engine spinning down the yards to
a quickstep of forty miles an hour.

Kent's after-memory of that distance-devouring rush was a blurred picture
of a plunging, rocking, clamoring engine bounding over mile after mile of
the brown plain; of the endless dizzying procession of oncoming telegraph
poles hurtling like great side-flung projectiles past the cab windows; of
now and then a lonely prairie station with waving semaphore arms, sighted,
passed and left behind in a whirling sand-cloud in one and the same
heart-beat. And for the central figure in the picture, the one constant
quantity when all else was mutable and shifting and indistinct, the big,
calm-eyed Norwegian on the opposite box, hurling his huge machine doggedly
through space.

At 12:45 they stopped for water at a solitary tank in the midst of the
brown desert. Kent got down stiffly from his cramped seat on the fireman's
box and wetted his parched lips at the nozzle of the tender hose.

"Do we make it, Jarl?" he asked.

The engineer wagged his head.

"Ay tank so. Ve maig it all right iff dey haf bane got dose track clear."

"There are other trains to meet?"

"_Ja_; two bane comin' dis vay; ant Nummer Samteen ve pass opp by."

Oleson dropped off to pour a little oil into the speed-woundings while the
tank was filling; and presently the dizzying race began again. For a time
all things were propitious. The two trains to be met were found snugly
withdrawn on the sidings at Mavero and Agriculta, and the station
semaphores beckoned the flying special past at full speed. Kent checked
off the dodging mile-posts: the pace was bettering the fastest run ever
made on the Prairie Division--which was saying a good deal.

But at Juniberg, twenty-seven miles out of Gaston, there was a delay.
Train Number 17, the east-bound time freight, had left Juniberg at one
o'clock, having ample time to make Lesterville, the next station east,
before the light engine could possibly overtake it. But Lesterville had
not yet reported its arrival; for which cause the agent at Juniberg was
constrained to put out his stop signal, and Kent's special came to a stand
at the platform.

Under the circumstances, there appeared to be nothing for it but to wait
until the delayed Number 17 was heard from; and Kent's first care was to
report to Loring, and to ask if there were anything from Boston.

The reply was encouraging. A complete denial of everything, signed by the
proper officials, had been received and repeated to Kent at Gaston--was
there now awaiting him. Kent saw in anticipation the nicely calculated
scheme of the junto crumbling into small dust in the precise moment of
fruition, and had a sharp attack of ante-triumph which he had to walk off
in turns up and down the long platform. But as the waiting grew longer,
and the dragging minutes totaled the quarter-hour and then the half, he
began to perspire again.

Half-past two came and went, and still there was no hopeful word from
Lesterville. Kent had speech with Oleson, watch in hand. Would the
engineer take the risk of a rear-end collision on a general manager's
order? Oleson would obey orders if the heavens fell; and Kent flew to the
wire again. Hunnicott, at Gaston, was besought to gain time in the hearing
by any and all means; and Loring was asked to authorize the risk of a
rear-end smash-up. He did it promptly. The light engine was to go on until
it should "pick up" the delayed train between stations.

The Juniberg man gave Oleson his release and the order to proceed with due
care while the sounder was still clicking a further communication from
headquarters. Loring was providing for the last contingency by sending
Kent the authority to requisition Number 17's engine for the completion of
the run in case the track should be blocked, with the freight engine free
beyond the obstruction.

Having his shackles stricken off, the Norwegian proceeded "with due care,"
which is to say that he sent the eight-wheeler darting down the line
toward Lesterville at the rate of a mile a minute. The mystery of the
delay was solved at a point half-way between the two stations. A broken
flange had derailed three cars of the freight, and the block was
impassable.

Armed with the general manager's mandatory wire, Kent ran forward to the
engine of the freight train and was shortly on his way again. But in the
twenty-mile run to Gaston more time was lost by the lumbering freight
locomotive, and it was twenty minutes past three o'clock when the county
seat came in sight and Kent began to oscillate between two sharp-pointed
horns of a cruel dilemma.

By dropping off at the street-crossing nearest the Court House, he might
still be in time to get a hearing with such documentary backing as he had
been able to secure at the capital. By going on to the station he could
pick up the Boston wire which, while it was not strictly evidence, might
create a strong presumption in his favor; but in this case he would
probably be too late to use it. So he counted the rail-lengths, watch in
hand, with a curse to the count for his witlessness in failing to have
Loring repeat the Boston message to him during the long wait at Juniberg;
and when the time for the decision arrived he signaled the engineer to
slow down, jumped from the step at the nearest crossing and hastened up
the street toward the Court House.

In the mean time, to go back a little, during this day of hurryings to and
fro Blashfield Hunnicott had been having the exciting experiences of a
decade crowded into a corresponding number of hours. Early in the morning
he had begun besieging the headquarters wire office for news and
instructions, and, owing to Kent's good intentions to be on the ground in
person, had got little enough of either.

At length, to his unspeakable relief, he had news of the coming special;
and with the conviction that help was at hand he waited at the station
with what coolness there was in him to meet his chief. But as the time for
the hearing drew near he grew nervous again; and all the keen pains of
utter helplessness returned with renewed acuteness when the operator, who
had overheard the Juniberg-Lesterville wire talk, told him that the
special was hung up at the former station.

"O my good Lord!" he groaned. "I'm in for it with empty hands!" None the
less, he ran to the baggage-room end of the building and, capturing an
express wagon, had himself trundled out to the Court House.

The judge was at his desk when Hunnicott entered, and Hawk was on hand,
calmly reading the morning paper. The hands of the clock on the wall
opposite the judge's desk pointed to five minutes of the hour, and for
five minutes Hunnicott sat listening, hoping against hope that he should
hear the rush and roar of the incoming special.

Promptly on the stroke of three the judge tapped upon his desk with his
pencil.

"Now, gentlemen, proceed with your case; and I must ask you to be as brief
as possible. I have an appointment at four which can not be postponed," he
said quietly; and Hawk threw down his paper and began at once.

Hunnicott heard his opponent's argument mechanically, having his ear
attuned for whistle signals and wheel drummings. Hawk spoke rapidly and
straight to his point, as befitted a man speaking to the facts and with no
jury present to be swayed by oratorical effort. When he came to the
summarizing of the allegations in the amended petition, he did it wholly
without heat, piling up the accusations one upon another with the careful
method of a bricklayer building a wall. The wall-building simile thrust
itself upon Hunnicott with irresistible force as he listened. If the
special engine should not dash up in time to batter down the wall----

Hawk closed as dispassionately as he had begun, and the judge bowed
gravely in Hunnicott's direction. The local attorney got upon his feet,
and as he began to speak a telegram was handed in. It was Kent's wire from
Juniberg, beseeching him to gain time at all hazards, and he settled
himself to the task. For thirty dragging minutes he rang the changes on
the various steps in the suit, knowing well that the fatal moment was
approaching when--Kent still failing him--he would be compelled to submit
his case without a scrap of an affidavit to support it.

The moment came, and still there was no encouraging whistle shriek from
the dun plain beyond the open windows. Hawk was visibly disgusted, and
Judge MacFarlane was growing justly impatient. Hunnicott began again, and
the judge reproved him mildly.

"Much of what you are saying is entirely irrelevant, Mr. Hunnicott. This
hearing is on the plaintiff's amended petition."

No one knew better than the local attorney that he was wholly at the
court's mercy; that he had been so from the moment the judge began to
consider his purely formal defense, entirely unsupported by affidavits or
evidence of any kind. None the less, he strung his denials out by every
amplification he could devise, and, having fired his last shot, sat down
in despairing breathlessness to hear the judge's summing-up and decision.

Judge MacFarlane was mercifully brief. On the part of the plaintiff there
was an amended petition fully fortified by uncontroverted affidavits. On
the part of the defendant company there was nothing but a formal denial of
the allegations. The duty of the court in the premises was clear. The
prayer of the plaintiff was granted, the temporary relief asked for was
given, and the order of the court would issue accordingly.

The judge was rising when the still, hot air of the room began to vibrate
with the tremulous thunder of the sound for which Hunnicott had been so
long straining his ears. He was the first of the three to hear it, and he
hurried out ahead of the others. At the foot of the stair he ran blindly
against Kent, dusty, travel-worn and haggard.

"You're too late!" he blurted out. "We're done up. Hawk's petition has
been granted and the road is in the hands of a receiver."

Kent dashed his fist upon the stair-rail.

"Who is the man?" he demanded.

"Major Jim Guilford," said Hunnicott. Then, as footfalls coming stairward
were heard in the upper corridor, he locked arms with Kent, faced him
about and thrust him out over the door-stone. "Let's get out of this. You
look as if you might kill somebody."




XI


THE LAST DITCH

It was a mark of the later and larger development of David Kent that he
was able to keep his head in the moment of catastrophes. In boyhood his
hair had been a brick-dust red, and having the temperament which belongs
of right to the auburn-hued, his first impulse was to face about and make
a personal matter of the legal robbery with Judge MacFarlane.

Happily for all concerned, Hunnicott's better counsels prevailed, and when
the anger fit passed Kent found himself growing cool and determined.
Hunnicott was crestfallen and disposed to be apologetic; but Kent did him
justice.

"Don't blame yourself: there was nothing else you could have done. Have
you a stenographer in your office?"

"Yes."

"A good one?"

"It's young Perkins: you know him."

"He'll do. 'Phone him to run down to the station and get what telegrams
there are for me, and we'll talk as we go."

Once free of the Court House, Kent began a rapid-fire of questions.

"Where is Judge MacFarlane stopping?"

"At the Mid-Continent."

"Have you any idea when he intends leaving town?"

"No; but he will probably take the first train. He never stays here an
hour longer than he has to after adjournment."

"That would be the Flyer east at six o'clock. Is he going east?"

"Come to think of it, I believe he is. Somebody said he was going to Hot
Springs. He's in miserable health."

Kent saw more possibilities, and worse, and quickened his pace a little.

"I hope your young man won't let the grass grow under his feet," he said.
"The minutes between now and six o'clock are worth days to us."

"What do we do?" asked Hunnicott, willing to take a little lesson in
practice as he ran.

"The affidavits I have brought with me and the telegrams which are waiting
at the station must convince MacFarlane that he has made a mistake. We
shall prepare a motion for the discharge of the receiver and for the
vacation of the order appointing him, and ask the judge to set an early
day for the hearing on the merits of the case. He can't refuse."

Hunnicott shook his head.

"It has been all cut and dried from 'way back," he objected. "They won't
let you upset it at the last moment."

"We'll give them a run for their money," said Kent. "A good bit of it
depends upon Perkins' speed as a stenographer."

As it befell, Perkins did not prove a disappointment, and by five o'clock
Kent was in the lobby of the Mid-Continent, sending his card up to the
judge's room. Word came back that the judge was in the cafe fortifying the
inner man in preparation for his journey, and Kent did not stand upon
ceremony. From the archway of the dining-room he marked down his man at a
small table in the corner, and went to him at once, plunging promptly into
the matter in hand.

"The exigencies of the case must plead my excuse for intruding upon you
here, Judge MacFarlane," he began courteously. "But I have been told that
you were leaving town----"

The judge waved him down with a deprecatory fork.

"Court is adjourned, Mr. Kent, and I must decline to discuss the case _ex
parte_. Why did you allow it to go by default?"

"That is precisely what I am here to explain," said Kent, suavely. "The
time allowed us was very short; and a series of accidents----"

Again the judge interrupted.

"A court can hardly take cognizance of accidents, Mr. Kent. Your local
attorney was on the ground and he had the full benefit of the delay."

"I know," was the patient rejoinder. "Technically, your order is
unassailable. None the less, a great injustice has been done, as we are
prepared to prove. I am not here to ask you to reopen the case at your
dinner-table, but if you will glance over these papers I am sure you will
set an early day for the hearing upon the merits."

Judge MacFarlane forced a gray smile.

"You vote yea and nay in the same breath, Mr. Kent. If I should examine
your papers, I should be reopening the case at my dinner-table. You shall
have your hearing in due course."

"At chambers?" said Kent. "We shall be ready at any moment; we are ready
now, in point of fact."

"I can not say as to that. My health is very precarious, and I am under a
physician's orders to take a complete rest for a time. I am sorry if the
delay shall work a hardship to the company you represent; but under the
circumstances, with not even an affidavit offered by your side, it is your
misfortune. And now I shall have to ask you to excuse me. It lacks but a
few minutes of my train time."

The hotel porter was droning out the call for the east-bound Flyer, and
Kent effaced himself while Judge MacFarlane was paying his bill and making
ready for his departure. But when the judge set out to walk to the
station, Kent walked with him. There were five squares to be measured, and
for five squares he hung at MacFarlane's elbow and the plea he made should
have won him a hearing. Yet the judge remained impassible, and at the end
of the argument turned him back in a word to his starting point.

"I can not recall the order at this time, if I would, Mr. Kent; neither
can I set a day for the hearing on the merits. What has been done was done
in open court and in the presence of your attorney, who offered no
evidence in contradiction of the allegations set forth in the plaintiff's
amended petition, although they were supported by more than a dozen
affidavits; and it can not be undone in the streets. Since you have not
improved your opportunities, you must abide the consequences. The law can
not be hurried."

They had reached the station and the east-bound train was whistling for
Gaston. Kent's patience was nearly gone, and the auburn-hued temperament
was clamoring hotly for its innings.

"This vacation of yours, Judge MacFarlane: how long is it likely to last?"
he inquired, muzzling his wrath yet another moment.

"I can not say; if I could I might be able to give you a more definite
answer as to the hearing on the merits. But my health is very miserable,
as I have said. If I am able to return shortly, I shall give you the
hearing at chambers at an early date."

"And if not?"

"If not, I am afraid it will have to go over to the next term of court."

"Six months," said Kent; and then his temper broke loose. "Judge
MacFarlane, it is my opinion, speaking as man to man, that you are a
scoundrel. I know what you have done, and why you have done it. Also, I
know why you are running away, now that it is done. So help me God, I'll
bring you to book for it if I have to make a lifetime job of it! It's all
right for your political backers; they are thieves and bushwhackers, and
they make no secret of it. But there is one thing worse than a trickster,
and that is a trickster's tool!"

For the moment while the train was hammering in over the switches they
stood facing each other fiercely, all masks flung aside, each after his
kind; the younger man flushed and battle-mad; the elder white, haggard,
tremulous. Kent did not guess, then or ever, how near he came to death.
Two years earlier a judge had been shot and maimed on a western circuit
and since then, MacFarlane had taken a coward's precaution. Here was a man
that knew, and while he lived the cup of trembling might never be put
aside.

It was the conductor's cry of "All aboard!" that broke the homicidal
spell. Judge MacFarlane started guiltily, shook off the angry eye-grip of
his accuser, and went to take his place in the Pullman. One minute later
the east-bound train was threading its way out among the switches of the
lower yard, and Kent had burst into the telegraph office to wire the
volcanic news to his chief.




XII


THE MAN IN POSSESSION

Appraised at its value in the current coin of street gossip, the legal
seizure of the Trans-Western figured mainly as an example of the failure
of modern business methods when applied to the concealment of a working
corporation's true financial condition.

This unsympathetic point of view was sufficiently defined in a bit of
shop-talk between Harnwicke, the cold-blooded, and his traffic manager in
the office of the Overland Short Line the morning after the newspaper
announcement of the receivership.

"I told you they were in deep water," said the lawyer, confidently. "They
haven't been making any earnings--net earnings--since the Y.S.& F. cut
into them at Rio Verde, and the dividends were only a bluff for
stock-bracing purposes. I surmised that an empty treasury was what was the
matter when they refused to join us in the veto affair."

"That is one way of looking at it," said the traffic manager. "But some of
the papers are claiming that it was a legal hold-up, pure and simple."

"Nothing of the kind," retorted the lawyer, whose respect for the law was
as great as his contempt for the makers of the laws. "Judge MacFarlane had
no discretion in the matter. Hawk had a perfect right to file an amended
petition, and the judge was obliged to act upon it. I'm not saying it
wasn't a devilish sharp trick of Hawk's. It was. He saw a chance to smite
them under the fifth rib, and he took it."

"But how about his client: the woman who was put off the train? Is she any
better off than she was before?"

"Oh, she'll get her five thousand dollars, of course, if they don't take
the case out of court. It has served its turn. It's an ugly crusher for
the Loring management. Hawk's allegations charge all sorts of crookedness,
and neither Loring nor Kent seemed to have a word to say for themselves. I
understand Kent was in court, either in person or by attorney, when the
receivership order was made, and that he hadn't a word to say for
himself."

This view of Harnwicke's, colored perhaps by the fact that the
Trans-Western was a business competitor of the Short Line, was the
generally accepted one in railroad and financial circles at the capital.
Civilization apart, there is still a deal of the primitive in human
nature, and wolves are not the only creatures that are prone to fall upon
the disabled member of the pack and devour him.

But in the State at large the press was discussing the event from a
political point of view; one section, small but vehement, raising the cry
of trickery and judicial corruption, and prophesying the withdrawal of all
foreign capital from the State, while the other, large and complacent,
pointed eloquently to the beneficent working of the law under which the
cause of a poor woman, suing for her undoubted right, might be made the
whip to flog corporate tyranny into instant subjection.

As for the dispossessed stock-holders in the far-away East, they were slow
to take the alarm, and still slower to get concerted action. Like many of
the western roads, the Western Pacific had been capitalized largely by
popular subscription; hence there was no single holder, or group of
holders, of sufficient financial weight to enter the field against the
spoilers.

But when Loring and his associates had fairly got the wires hot with the
tale of what had been done, and the much more alarming tale of what was
likely to be done, the Boston inertness vanished. A pool of the stock was
formed, with the members of the Advisory Board as a nucleus; money was
subscribed, and no less a legal light than an ex-attorney-general of the
state of Massachusetts was despatched to the seat of war to advise with
the men on the ground. None the less, disaster out-travels the swiftest of
"limited" trains. Before the heavily-feed consulting attorney had crossed
the Hudson in his westward journey, Wall Street had taken notice, and
there was a momentary splash in the troubled pool of the Stock Exchange
and a vanishing circle of ripples to show where Western Pacific had gone
down.

In the meantime Major James Guilford, somewhile president of the Apache
National Bank of Gaston, and antecedent to that the frowning autocrat of a
twenty-five-mile logging road in the North Carolina mountains, had given
bond in some sort and had taken possession of the company's property and
of the offices in the Quintard Building.

His first official act as receiver was to ask for the resignations of a
dozen heads of departments, beginning with the general manager and pausing
for the moment with the supervisor of track. That done, he filled the
vacancies with political troughsmen; and with these as assistant
decapitators the major passed rapidly down the line, striking off heads in
daily batches until the over-flow of the Bucks political following was
provided for on the railroad's pay-rolls to the wife's cousin's nephew.

This was the work of the first few administrative days or weeks, and while
it was going on, the business attitude of the road remained unchanged. But
once seated firmly in the saddle, with his awkward squad well in hand, the
major proceeded to throw a bomb of consternation into the camp of his
competitors.

Kent was dining with Ormsby in the grill-room of the Camelot Club when the
waiter brought in the evening edition of the _Argus_, whose railroad
reporter had heard the preliminary fizzing of the bomb fuse. The story was
set out on the first page, first column, with appropriate headlines.

  WAR TO THE KNIFE AND THE KNIFE
  TO THE HILT!

  TRANS-WESTERN CUTS COMMODITY RATE.

  Great Excitement in Railroad Circles.
  Receiver Guilford's Hold-up.

Kent ran his eye rapidly down the column and passed the paper across to
Ormsby.

"I told you so," he said. "They didn't find the road insolvent, but they
are going to make it so in the shortest possible order. A rate war will do
it quicker than anything else on earth."

Ormsby thrust out his jaw.

"Have we got to stand by and see 'em do it?"

"The man from Massachusetts says yes, and he knows, or thinks he does. He
has been here two weeks now, and he has nosed out for himself all the
dead-walls. We can't appeal, because there is no decision to appeal from.
We can't take it out of the lower court until it is finished in the lower
court. We can't enjoin an officer of the court; and there is no authority
in the State that will set aside Judge MacFarlane's order when that order
was made under technically legal conditions."

"You could have told him all that in the first five minutes," said Ormsby.

"I did tell him, and was mildly sat upon. To-day he came around and gave
me back my opinion, clause for clause, as his own. But I have no kick
coming. Somebody will have to be here to fight the battle to a finish when
the judge returns, and our expert will advise the Bostonians to retain
me."

"Does he stay?" Ormsby asked.

"Oh, no; he is going back with Loring to-night. Loring has an idea of his
own which may or may not be worth the powder it will take to explode it.
He is going to beseech the Boston people to enlarge the pool until it
controls a safe majority of the stock."

"What good will that do?"

"None, directly. It's merely a safe preliminary to anything that may
happen. I tell Loring he is like all the others: he knows when he has
enough and is willing to stand from under. I'm the only fool in the lot."
Ormsby's smile was heartening and good for sore nerves.

"I like your pluck, Kent; I'll be hanged if I don't. And I'll back you to
win, yet."

Kent shook his head unhopefully.

"Don't mistake me," he said. "I am fighting for the pure love of it, and
not with any great hope of saving the stock-holders. These grafters have
us by the nape of the neck. We can't make a move till MacFarlane comes
back and gives us a hearing on the merits. That may not be till the next
term of court. Meanwhile, the temporary receiver is to all intents and
purposes a permanent receiver; and the interval would suffice to wreck a
dozen railroads."

"And still you won't give up?"

"No."

"I hope you won't have to. But to a man up a tree it looks very much like
a dead cock in the pit. As I have said, if there is any backing to do, I'm
with you, first, last, and all the time, merely from a sportsman's
interest in the game. But is there any use in a little handful of us
trying to buck up against a whole state government?"

The coffee had been served, and Kent dropped a lump of sugar into his cup.

"Ormsby, I'll never let go while I'm alive enough to fight," he said
slowly. "One decent quality I have--and the only one, perhaps: I don't
know when I'm beaten. And I'll down this crowd of political plunderers
yet, if Bucks doesn't get me sand-bagged."

His listener pushed back his chair.

"If you stood to lose anything more than your job I could understand it,"
he commented. "As it is, I can't. Any way you look at it, your stake in
the game isn't worth the time and effort it will take to play the string
out. And I happen to know you're ambitious to do things--things that
count."

"What is it you don't understand--the motive?"

"That's it."

Kent laughed.

"You are not as astute as Miss Van Brock. She pointed it out to me last
night--or thought she did--in two words."

Ormsby's eyes darkened, and he did not affect to misunderstand.

"It would be a grand-stand play," he said half-musingly, "if you should
happen to worry it through, I mean. I believe Mrs. Hepzibah would be ready
to fall on your neck and forgive you, and turn me down." Then,
half-jestingly: "Kent, what will you take to drop this thing permanently
and go away?"

David Kent's smile showed his teeth.

"The one thing you wouldn't be willing to give. You asked me once when we
had fallen over the fence upon this forbidden ground if I were satisfied,
and I told you I wasn't. Do we understand each other?"

"I guess so," said Ormsby. "But--Say, Kent, I like you too well to see you
go up against a stone fence blindfolded. I'm like Guilford: I am the man
in possession. And possession is nine points of the law."

Kent rose and took the proffered cigar from Ormsby's case.

"It depends a good bit upon how the possession is gained--and
held--doesn't it?" he rejoined coolly. "And your figure is unfortunate in
its other half. I am going to beat Guilford."




XIII


THE WRECKERS

Just why Receiver Guilford, an officer of the court who was supposed to be
nursing an insolvent railroad to the end that its creditors might not lose
all, should begin by declaring war on the road's revenue, was a question
which the managers of competing lines strove vainly to answer. But when,
in defiance of all precedent, he made the cut rates effective to and from
all local stations on the Trans-Western, giving the shippers at
intermediate and non-competitive points the full benefit of the
reductions, the railroad colony denounced him as a madman and gave him a
month in which to find the bottom of a presumably empty treasury.

But the event proved that the major's madness was not altogether without
method. It is an axiom in the carrying trade that low rates make business;
create it, so to speak, out of nothing. Given an abundant crop, low
prices, and high freight rates in the great cereal belt, and, be the
farmers never so poor, much of the grain will be stored and held against
the chance of better conditions.

So it came about that Major Guilford's relief measure was timed to a
nicety, and the blanket cut in rates opened a veritable flood-gate for
business in Trans-Western territory. From the day of its announcement the
traffic of the road increased by leaps and bounds. Stored grain came out
of its hiding places at every country cross-roads to beg for cars; stock
feeders drove their market cattle unheard-of distances, across the tracks
of competing lines, over and around obstacles of every sort, to pour them
into the loading corrals of the Trans-Western.

Nor was the traffic all outgoing. With the easing of the money burden, the
merchants in the tributary towns began thriftily to take advantage of the
low rates to renew their stocks; long-deferred visits and business trips
suddenly became possible; and the saying that it was cheaper to travel
than to stay at home gained instant and grateful currency.

In a short time the rolling stock of the road was taxed to its utmost
capacity, and the newly appointed purchasing agent was buying cars and
locomotives right and left. Also, to keep pace with the ever-increasing
procession of trains, a doubled construction force wrought night and day
installing new side tracks and passing points.

Under the fructifying influence of such a golden shower of prosperity,
land values began to rise again, slowly at first, as buyers distrusted the
continuance of the golden shower; more rapidly a little later, as the
Guilford policy defined itself in terms of apparent permanence.

Towns along the line--hamlets long since fallen into the way-station rut
of desuetude--awoke with a start, bestirring themselves joyfully to meet
the inspiriting conditions. At Midland City, Stephen Hawk, the new
right-of-way agent, ventured to ask municipal help to construct a ten-mile
branch to Lavabee: it was forthcoming promptly; and the mass meeting, at
which the bond loan was anticipated by public subscription shouted itself
hoarse in enthusiasm.

At Gaston, where Hawk asked for a donation of land whereon the company
might build the long-promised division repair-shops, people fought with
one another to be first among the donors. And at Juniberg, where the
company proposed to establish the first of a series of grain
subtreasuries--warehouses in which the farmers of the surrounding country
could store their products and borrow money on them from the railroad
company at the rate of three per cent, per annum--at Juniberg enough money
was subscribed to erect three such depots as the heaviest tributary crop
could possibly fill.

It was while the pendulum of prosperity was in full swing that David Kent
took a day off from sweating over his problem of ousting the receiver and
ran down to Gaston. Single-eyed as he was in the pursuit of justice, he
was not unmindful of the six lots standing in his name in the Gaston
suburb, and from all accounts the time was come to dispose of them.

He made the journey in daylight, with his eyes wide open and the mental
pencil busy at work noting the changes upon which the State press had been
dilating daily, but which he was now seeing for the first time. They were
incontestable--and wonderful. He admitted the fact without prejudice to a
settled conviction that the sun-burst of prosperity was merely another
brief period of bubble-blowing. Towns whose streets had been grass-grown
since the day when each in turn had surrendered its right to be called the
terminus of the westward-building railroad, were springing into new life.
The song of the circular saw, the bee-boom of the planing-mill and the
tapping of hammers were heard in the land, and the wayside hamlets were
dotted with new roofs. And Gaston----

But Gaston deserved a separate paragraph in the mental note-book, and Kent
accorded it, marveling still more. It was as if the strenuous onrush of
the climaxing Year Three had never been interrupted. The material for the
new company shops was arriving by trainloads, and an army of men was at
work clearing the grounds. On a siding near the station a huge grain
elevator was rising. In the streets the hustling activity of the
"terminus" period was once more in full swing; and at the Mid-Continent
Kent had some little difficulty in securing a room.

He was smoking his after-dinner cigar in the lobby of the hotel and trying
as he might to orient himself when Blashfield Hunnicott drifted in. Kent
gave the sometime local attorney a cigar, made room for him on the
plush-covered settee, and proceeded to pump him dry of Gaston news. Summed
up, the inquiries pointed themselves thus: was there any basis for the
Gaston revival other than the lately changed attitude of the railroad? In
other words, if the cut rates should be withdrawn and the railroad
activities cease, would there not be a second and still more disastrous
collapse of the Gaston bubble?

Pressed hardly, Hunnicott admitted the probability; given another turn,
the screw of inquiry squeezed out an admission of the fact, slurred over
by the revivalist, that the railway company's treasury was really the
alms-box into which all hands were dipping.

"One more question and I'll let up on you," said Kent. "It used to be said
of you in the flush times that you kept tab on the real estate transfers
when everybody else was too busy to read the record. Do you still do it?"

Hunnicott laughed uneasily.

"Rather more than ever just now, as you'd imagine."

"It is well. Now you know the members of the old gang, from his Excellency
down. Tell me one thing: are they buying or selling?"

Hunnicott sprang up and slapped his leg.

"By Jupiter, Kent! They are selling--every last man of them!"

"Precisely. And when they have sold all they have to sell?"

"They'll turn us loose--drop us--quit booming the town, if your theory is
the right one. But say, Kent, I can't believe it, you know. It's too big a
thing to be credited to Jim Guilford and his handful of subs in the
railroad office. Why, it's all along the line, everywhere."

"I'm telling you that Guilford isn't the man. He is only a cog in the
wheel. There is a bigger mind than his behind it."

"I can't help it," Hunnicott protested. "I don't believe that any man or
clique could bring this thing about unless we were really on the upturn."

"Very good; believe what you please, but do as I tell you. Sell every foot
of Gaston dirt that stands in your name; and while you are about it, sell
those six lots for me in Subdivision Five. More than that, do it pretty
soon."

Hunnicott promised, in the brokerage affair, at least. Then he switched
the talk to the receivership.

"Still up in the air, are you, in the railroad grab case?"

Kent nodded.

"No news of MacFarlane?"

"Plenty of it. His health is still precarious, and will likely remain so
until the spoilsmen have picked the skeleton clean."

Hunnicott was silent for a full minute. Then he said:

"Say, Kent, hasn't it occurred to you that they are rather putting meat on
the bones instead of taking it off? Their bills for betterments must be
out of sight."

It had occurred to Kent, but he gave his own explanation of Major
Guilford's policy in a terse sentence.

"It is a part of the bluff; fattening the thing a little before they
barbecue it."

"I suppose so. It's a pity we don't live a little farther back in the
history of the world: say at a time when we could hire MacFarlane's doctor
to obliterate the judge, and no questions asked."

Who can explain how it is that some jesting word, trivial and purposeless
it may be, will fire a hidden train of thought which was waiting only for
some chance spark? "Obliterate the judge," said Hunnicott in grim jest;
and straightway Kent saw possibilities; saw a thing to be done, though not
yet the manner of its doing.

"If you'll excuse me," he said abruptly to his companion, "I believe I'll
try to catch the Flyer back to the capital. I came down to see about
selling those lots of mine, but if you will undertake it for me----"

"Of course," said Hunnicott; "I'll be only too glad. You've ten minutes:
can you make it?"

Kent guessed so, and made the guess a certainty with two minutes to spare.
The through sleeper was lightly loaded, and he picked out the most
unneighbored section, of the twelve, being wishful only for undisturbed
thinking ground. But before the train had swung past the suburb lights of
Gaston, the smoker's unrest seized him and the thought-wheels demanded
tobacco. Kent fought it as long as he could, making sure that the
smoking-compartment liars' club would be in session; but when the demand
became a nagging insistence, he found his pipe and tobacco and went to the
men's room.

The little den behind the drawing-room had but one occupant besides the
rear-end brakeman---a tall, saturnine man in a gray grass-cloth duster who
was smoking a Porto Rican stogie. Kent took a second look and held out his
hand.

"This is an unexpected pleasure, Judge Marston. I was counting on three
hours of solitary confinement."

The lieutenant-governor acknowledged the hand-clasp, nodded, and made room
on the leather-covered divan for the new-comer. Hildreth, the editor of
the _Argus_, put it aptly when he said that the grim-faced old cattle king
had "blown" into politics. He was a compromise on the People's Party
ticket; was no part of the Bucks programme, and had been made to feel it.
Tradition had it that he had been a terror to the armed and organized
cattle thieves of the early days; hence the brevet title of "Judge." But
those that knew him best did not know that he had once been the brightest
man upon the Supreme Bench of his native state: this before failing health
had driven him into exile.

As a mixer, the capital had long since voted Oliver Marston a conspicuous
failure. A reticent, reserved man by temperament and habit, and with both
temperament and habit confirmed by his long exile on the cattle ranges, he
had grown rather less than more talkative after his latest plunge into
public life; and even Miss Van Brock confessed that she found him
impossible on the social side. None the less, Kent had felt drawn toward
him from the first; partly because Marston was a good man in bad company,
and partly because there was something remindful of the elder Kent in the
strong face, the slow smile and the introspective eye of the old man from
the hill country.

For a time the talk was a desultory monologue, with Kent doing his best to
keep it from dying outright. Later, when he was fairly driven in upon his
reserves, he began to speak of himself, and of the hopeless fight for
enlargement in the Trans-Western struggle. Marston lighted the
match-devouring stogie for the twentieth time, squared himself on the end
of the divan and listened attentively. At the end of the recounting he
said:

"It seems to be a failure of justice, Mr. Kent. Can you prove your
postulate?"

"I can. With fifteen minutes more on the day of the preliminary hearing I
should have shown it to any one's satisfaction."

Marston went into a brown study with his eyes fixed upon the
stamped-leather devil in the panel at the opposite end of the compartment.
When he spoke again, Kent wondered at the legal verbiage, and still more
at the clear-cut, judicial opinion.

"The facts in the case, as you state them, point to judicial connivance,
and we should always be slow to charge that, Mr. Kent. Technically, the
court was not at fault. Due notice was served on the company's attorney of
record, and you admit, yourself, that the delay, short as it was, would
have been sufficient if you had not been accidentally detained. And, since
there were no contravening affidavits submitted, Judge MacFarlane was
technically warranted in granting the prayer for a temporary receiver."

"I'm not trying to refute that," said Kent. "But afterward, when I called
upon the judge with the evidence in hand----"

"He was under no absolute obligation to retry the case out of court, as
you know, Mr. Kent. Neither was he obliged to give you an unofficial
notice of the day upon which he would hear your motion for the discharge
of the receiver and the vacation of his order appointing him."

"Under no absolute legal obligation, perhaps," retorted Kent. "But the
moral obligation--"

"We are coming to that. I have been giving you what would probably be a
minority opinion of an appellate court, if you could take an appeal. The
majority opinion might take higher ground, pointing to the manifest
injustice done to the defendant company by the shortness of the delay
granted; by Judge MacFarlane's refusal to continue the hearing for one
hour, though your attorney was present and pleading for the same; and
lastly for the indefinite postponement of the hearing on the merits on
insufficient grounds, since the judge was not at the time, and has not
since been, too ill to attend to the routine duties of his office."

Kent looked up quickly.

"Judge Marston, do you know that last assertion to be true?" he demanded.

The slow smile came and went in the introspective eyes of the older man.

"I have been giving you the opinion of the higher court," he said, with
his nearest approach to jocoseness. "It is based upon the supposition that
your allegations would be supported by evidence."

Kent smoked on in silence while the train measured the rail-lengths
between two of the isolated prairie stations. When he spoke again there
was honest deference in his manner.

"Mr. Marston, you have a far better right to your courtesy title of
'Judge' than that given by the Great American Title Company, Unlimited,"
he said. "Will you advise me?"

"As plain Oliver Marston, and a man old enough to be your father, yes.
What have you been doing? Trying to oust the receiver, I suppose."

"Yes; trying to find some technical flaw by which he could be ousted."

"It can't be done. You must strike higher. Are you fully convinced of
Judge MacFarlane's venality?"

"As fully as I can be without having seen with my own eyes and heard with
my own ears."

Marston opened his watch and looked at it. Then he lighted another of the
villainous little cigars.

"We have an hour yet," he said. "You have been giving me the legal points
in the case: now give me the inferences--all of them."

Kent laughed.

"I'm afraid I sha'n't be able to forget the lieutenant-governor. I shall
have to call some pretty hard names."

"Call them," said his companion, briefly; and Kent went deep into the
details, beginning with the formation of the political gang in Gaston the
dismantled.

The listener in the gray dust-coat heard him through without comment. When
Kent reached the end of the inferences, telling the truth without scruple
and letting the charge of political and judicial corruption lie where it
would, the engineer was whistling for the capital.

"You have told me some things I knew, and some others that I only
suspected," was all the answer he got until the train was slowing into the
Union Station. Then as he flung away the stump of the little cigar the
silent one added: "If I were in your place, Mr. Kent, I believe I should
take a supplementary course of reading in the State law."

"In what particular part of it?" said Kent, keen anxiety in every word.

"In that part of the fundamental law which relates to the election of
circuit judges, let us say. If I had your case to fight, I should try to
obliterate Judge MacFarlane."

Kent had but a moment in which to remark the curious coincidence in the
use of precisely the same word by both Hunnicott and his present adviser.

"But, my dear sir! we should gain nothing by MacFarlane's removal when his
successor would be appointed by the executive!"

Marston turned in the doorway of the smoking-compartment and laid a
fatherly hand on the younger man's shoulder.

"My boy, I didn't say 'remove'; I said 'obliterate'. Good night."




XIV


THE GERRYMANDER

With Judge Marston's hint partly to point the way, Kent was no long time
in getting at work on the new lead.

Having been at the time a practitioner in one of the counties affected, he
knew the political deal by which MacFarlane had been elected. Briefly
described, it was a swapping of horses in midstream. In the preliminary
canvass it was discovered that in all probability Judge MacFarlane's
district, as constituted, would not reelect him. But the adjoining
district was strong enough to spare a county without loss to the party;
and that county added to MacFarlane's voting strength would tip the scale
in his favor. The Assembly was in session, and the remedy was applied in
the shape of a bill readjusting the district lines to fit the political
necessity.

While this bill was still in the lower house an obstacle presented itself
in the form of a vigorous protest from Judge Whitcomb, whose district was
the one to suffer loss. The county in question was a prosperous one, and
the court fees--which a compliant clerk might secretly divide with the
judge appointing him--were large: wherefore Whitcomb threatened political
reprisals if Kiowa County should be taken away from him. The outcome was a
compromise. For elective purposes the two districts were gerrymandered as
the bill proposed; but it was expressly provided that the transferred
county should remain judicially in Whitcomb's district until the
expiration of Whitcomb's term of office.

Having refreshed his memory as to the facts, Kent spent a forenoon in the
State library. He stayed on past the luncheon hour, feeding on a dry diet
of Digests; and it was not until hunger began to sharpen his faculties
that he thought of going back of the statutory law to the fountain-head in
the constitution of the State. Here, after he had read carefully section
by section almost through the entire instrument, his eye lighted upon a
clause which gradually grew luminous as he read and re-read it.

"That is what Marston meant; it must be what he meant," he mused; and
returning the book to its niche in the alcove he sat down to put his face
in his hands and sum up the status in logical sequence.

The conclusion must have been convincing, since he presently sprang up and
left the room quickly to have himself shot down the elevator shaft to the
street level. The telegraph office in the capitol was closed, but there
was another in the Hotel Brunswick, two squares distant, and thither he
went.

"Hold the pool in fighting trim at all hazards. Think I have found weak
link in the chain," was his wire to Loring, at Boston; and having sent it,
he went around to Cassatti's and astonished the waiter by ordering a
hearty luncheon at half-past three o'clock in the afternoon.

It was late in the evening before he left the tiny office on the fifth
floor of the Quintard Building where one of his former stenographers had
set up in business for herself. Since five o'clock the young woman had
been steadily driving the type-writer to Kent's dictation. When the final
sheet came out with a whirring rasp of the ratchet, he suddenly remembered
that he had promised Miss Van Brock to dine with her. It was too late for
the dinner, but not too late to go and apologize, and he did the thing
that he could, stopping at his rooms on the way to dress while his
cab-driver waited.

He found Portia alone, for which he was glad; but her greeting was
distinctly accusative.

"If I should pretend to be deeply offended and tell Thomas to show you the
door, what could you say for yourself?" she began, before he could say a
word in exculpation.

"I should say every sort of excuseful thing I could think of, knowing very
well that the most ingenious lie would fall far short of atoning for the
offense," he replied humbly.

"Possibly it would be better to tell the truth--had you thought of that?"
she suggested, quite without malice.

"Yes, I had; and I shall, if you'll let me begin back a bit." He drew up a
chair to face her and sat on the edge of it. "You know I told you I was
going to Gaston to sell my six lots while Major Guilford's little boom is
on?"

"I'm trying to remember: go on."

"Well, I went yesterday morning and returned late last night. Do you know,
it's positively marvelous!"

"Which--the six lots, the boom, or the celerity of your movements?" she
asked, with a simulation of the deepest interest.

"All three, if you please; but I meant the miraculous revival of things
along the Trans-Western. But that is neither here nor there--"

"I think it is very much here and there," she interrupted.

"I see you don't want me to tell the truth--the whole truth; but I am
determined. The first man I met after dinner was Hunnicott, and when I had
made him my broker in the real estate affair we fell to talking about the
railroad steal. Speaking of MacFarlane's continued absence, Hunnicott
said, jokingly, that it was a pity we couldn't go back to the methods of a
few hundred years ago and hire the Hot Springs doctor to 'obliterate' him.
The word stuck in my mind, and I broke away and took the train chiefly to
have a chance to think out the new line. In the smoking-room of the
sleeper I found--whom, do you suppose?"

"Oh, I don't know: Judge MacFarlane, perhaps, coming back to give you a
chance to poison him at short range?"

"No; it was Marston."

"And he talked so long and so fast that you couldn't get here in time for
dinner this evening? That would be the most picturesque of the little
fictions you spoke of."

Kent laughed.

"For the first hour he wouldn't talk at all; just sat there wooden-faced,
smoking vile little cigars that made me think I was getting hay-fever. But
I wouldn't give up; and after I had worn out all the commonplaces I began
on the Trans-Western muddle. At that he woke up all at once, and before I
knew it he was giving me an expert legal opinion on the case; meaty and
sound and judicial. Miss Van Brock, that man is a lawyer, and an
exceedingly able one, at that."

"Of course," she said coolly. "He was one of the justices of the Supreme
Court of his own state at forty-two: that was before he had to come West
for his health. I found that out a long time ago."

"And you never told me!" said Kent, reproachfully. "Well, no matter; I
found out for myself that he is a man to tie to. After we had canvassed
the purely legal side of the affair, he wanted to know more, and I went in
for the details, telling him all the inferences which involve Bucks,
Meigs, Hendricks, MacFarlane and the lot of them."

Miss Portia's eyes were flashing.

"Good, good, good!" she said. "David, I'm proud of you. That took
courage--heaps of it."

"I did have to forget pretty hard that he was the lieutenant-governor and
nominally one of the gang. But if he is not with us, neither is he against
us. He took it all in quietly, and when I was through, he said: 'You have
told me some things that I knew, and some others that I only suspected.'"

"Was that all?" asked Miss Van Brock, eagerly.

"No; I took a good long breath and asked his advice."

"Did he give it?"

"He did. He said in sober earnest just what Hunnicott had said in a joke:
'If I had your case to fight, I should try to obliterate Judge
MacFarlane.' I began to say that MacFarlane's removal wouldn't help us so
long as Bucks has the appointing of his successor, and then he turned on
me and hammered it in with a last word just as we were leaving the train:
'I didn't say remove; I said obliterate.' I caught on, after so long a
time, and I've been hard at work ever since."

"You are obliterating me," said Miss Portia. "I haven't the slightest idea
what it is all about."

"It's easy from this on," said Kent, consolingly. "You know how MacFarlane
secured his reelection?"

"Everybody knows that."

"Well, to cut a long story short, the gerrymander deal won't stand the
light. The constitution says--"

"Oh, please don't quote law books at me. Put it in English--woman-English,
if you can."

"I will. The special act of the Assembly is void; therefore there was no
legal election, and, by consequence, there is no judge and no receiver."

Miss Van Brock was silent for a reflective minute. Then she said:

"On second thought, perhaps you would better tell me what the constitution
says, Mr. David. Possibly I could grasp it."

"It is in the section on elections. It says: 'All circuit or district
judges, and all special judges, shall be elected by the qualified voters
of the respective circuits or districts in which they are to hold their
court.' Kiowa County was cut out of Judge Whitcomb's circuit and placed in
Judge MacFarlane's for electoral purposes only. In all other respects it
remains a part of Judge Whitcomb's circuit, and will so continue until
Whitcomb's term expires. Without the vote of Kiowa, MacFarlane could not
have been elected; with it he was illegally elected, or, to put it the
other way about, he was not elected at all. Since he is not lawfully a
judge, his acts are void, among them this appointment of Major Guilford as
receiver for the Trans-Western."

She was not as enthusiastic as he thought she ought to be. In the soil
prepared for it by the political confidences of the winter there had grown
up a many-branching tree of intimacy between these two; a frank, sexless
friendship, as Kent would have described it, in which a man who was not
very much given to free speech with any one unburdened himself, and the
woman made him believe that her quick, apprehending sympathy was the one
thing needful--as women have done since the world began.

Since the looting of the railroad which had taken him out of the steadying
grind of regular work, Kent had been the prey of mixed motives. From the
first he had thrown himself heartily into the problem of retrieval, but
the pugnacious professional ambition to break the power of the machine had
divided time pretty equally with sentiment. Elinor had said little about
the vise-nip of hardship which the stock-smashing would impose upon three
unguardianed women; but Penelope had been less reticent. Wanting bare
justice at the hands of the wreckers, Elinor would go to her wedding with
Ormsby as the beggar maid went to King Cophetua; and all the loyalty of an
unselfish love rose up in Kent to make the fight with the grafters a
personal duel.

At every step in the hitherto discouraging struggle Portia Van Brock had
been his keen-sighted adviser, prompter, ally of proof. He told himself
now and again in a flush of gratitude that he was coming to owe her more
than he had ever owed any woman; that where other men, more--or
less--fortunate, were not denied the joy of possession, he, the
disappointed one, was finding a true and loyal comradeship next best, if
not quite equal to the beatitudes of passion.

In all of which David Kent was not entirely just to himself. However much
he owed to Portia--and the debt was large--she was not his only creditor.
Something he owed to the unsatisfied love; more, perhaps, to the good
blood in his veins; but most of all to the battle itself. For out of the
soul-harrowings of endeavor was emerging a better man, a stronger man,
than any his friends had known. Brutal as their blind gropings were, the
Flagellants of the Dark Ages plied their whips to some dim purpose.
Natures there be that rise only to the occasion; and if there be no
occasion, no floggings of adversity or bone-wrenchings upon the rack of
things denied, there will be no awakening--no victory.

David Kent was suffering in both kinds, and was the better man for it.
From looking forward to success in the narrow field of professional
advancement, or in the scarcely broader one of the righting of one woman's
financial wrongs, he was coming now to crave it in the name of manhood; to
burn with an eager desire to see justice done for its own sake.

So, when he had come to Portia with the scheme of effacing Judge
MacFarlane and his receiver at one shrewd blow, the first of the many
plans which held out a fair promise of success as a reward for daring, he
was disappointed at her lack of enthusiasm.

"What is the matter with it?" he demanded, when he had given her five full
minutes for reflection.

"I don't know, David," she said gravely. "Have I ever thrown cold water on
any of your schemes thus far?"

"No, indeed. You have been the loyalest partizan a man ever had, I think;
the only one I have to whom I can talk freely. And I have told you more
than I have all the others put together."

"I know you have. And it hurts me to pull back now when you want me to
push. But I can't help it. Do you believe in a woman's intuition?"

"I suppose I do: all men do, don't they?"

She was tying little knots in the fringe of the table scarf, but the
prophetess-eyes, as Penelope called them, were not following the deft
intertwinings of the slender fingers.

"You mean to set about 'obliterating' Judge MacFarlane forthwith?" she
asked.

"Assuredly. I have been whipping the thing into shape all afternoon: that
is what kept me from dining with you."

"It involves some kind of legal procedure?"

"Yes; a rather complicated one."

"Could you explain it so that I could understand it?"

"I think so. In the first place the question is raised by means of an
information or inquiry called a _quo warranto_. This is directed to the
receiver, and is a demand to know by what authority he holds. Is it clear
thus far?"

"Pellucidly," she said.

"In reply the receiver cites his authority, which is the order from Judge
MacFarlane; and in our turn we proceed to show that the authority does not
exist--that the judge's election was illegal and that therefore his acts
are void. Do I make it plain?"

"You make it seem as though it were impossible to fail. And yet I know you
will fail."

"How do you know it?"

"Don't ask me; I couldn't begin to tell you that. But in some spiritual or
mental looking-glass I can see you coming to me with the story of that
failure--coming to ask my help."

He smiled.

"You don't need to be the prophetess Penelope says you are to foresee part
of that. I always come to you with my woes."

"Do you?--oftener than you go to Miss Brentwood?"

This time his smile was a mere tightening of the lips.

"You do love to grind me on that side, don't you?" he said. "I and my
affairs are less than nothing to Miss Brentwood, and no one knows it any
better than you do."

"But you want to go to her," she persisted. "I am only the alternative."

He looked her full in the eyes.

"Miss Van Brock, what is it you want me to say? What can I say more than I
said a moment ago--that you are the truest friend a man ever had?"

The answering look out of the brown eyes was age-old in its infinite
wisdom.

"How little you men know when you think you know the most," she said
half-musingly; then she broke off abruptly. "Let us talk about something
else. If Major Guilford is wrecking the railroad, why is he spending so
much money on improvements? Have you thought to ask yourself that
question?"

"A good many times," he admitted, following her promptly back to first
principles.

"And you have not found the answer?"

"Not one that fully satisfies me--no."

"I've found one."

"Intuitively?" he smiled.

"No; it's pure logic, this time. Do you remember showing me a letter that
Mr. Hunnicott wrote you just before the explosion--a letter in which he
repeated a bit of gossip about Mr. Semple Falkland and his mysterious
visit to Gaston?"

"Yes, I remember it."

"Do you know who Mr. Falkland is?"

"Who doesn't?" he queried. "He has half of Wall Street in his clientele."

"Yes; but particularly he is the advisory counsel of the Plantagould
System. Ever since you showed me that letter I have been trying to account
for his presence in Gaston on the day before Judge MacFarlane's spring
term of court. I should never have found out but for Mrs. Brentwood."

"Mrs. Brentwood!"

Miss Van Brock nodded.

"Yes; the mother of my--of the young person for whom I am the alternative,
is in a peck of trouble; I quote her _verbatim_. She and her two daughters
hold some three thousand shares of Western Pacific stock. It was purchased
at fifty-seven, and it is now down to twenty-one."

"Twenty and a quarter to-day," Kent corrected.

"Never mind the fractions. The mother of the incomparable--Penelope, has
heard that I am a famous business woman; a worthy understudy for Mrs.
Hetty Green; so she came to me for advice. She had a letter from a New
York broker offering her a fraction more than the market price for her
three thousand shares of Western Pacific."

"Well?" said Kent.

"Meaning what did I do? I did what you did not do--what you are not doing
even now; I put two and two together in the twinkling of a bedstaff. Why
should a New York broker be picking up outlying Western Pacific at a
fraction more than the market when the stock is sinking every day? I was
curious enough to pass the 'why' along to a friend of mine in Wall
Street."

"Of course he told you all about it," said Kent, incredulously.

"He told me what I needed to know. The broker in question is a Plantagould
man."

"Still I fail to 'connect up,' as the linemen say."

"Do you? Ah, David, David! will you leave it for a woman to point out what
you should have suspected the moment you read that bit of gossip in Mr.
Hunnicott's letter?"

Her hand was on the arm of her chair. He covered it with his own.

"I'll leave it for you, Portia. You are my good angel."

She withdrew the hand quickly, but there was no more than playful
resentment in her retort.

"Shame on you!" she scoffed. "What would Miss Brentwood say?"

"I wish you would leave her out of it," he frowned. "You are continually
ignoring the fact that she has promised to be the wife of another man."

"And has thereby freed you from all obligations of loyalty? Don't deceive
yourself: women are not made that way. Doubtless she will go on and marry
the other man in due season; but she will never forgive you if you smash
her ideals. But we were talking about the things you ought to have
guessed. Fetch me the atlas from the book-case--lower shelf; right-hand
corner; that's it."

He did it; and in further obedience opened the thin quarto at the map of
the United States. There were heavy black lines, inked in with a pen,
tracing out the various ramifications of a great railway system. The
nucleus of the system lay in the middle West, but there was a growing
network of the black lines reaching out toward the Pacific. And connecting
the trans-Mississippi network with the western was a broad red line
paralleling the Trans-Western Railway.

She smiled at his sudden start of comprehension.

"Do you begin to suspect things?" she asked.

He nodded his head.

"You ought to be a man. If you were, I should never give you a moment's
peace until you consented to take a partnership with me. It's as plain as
day, now."

"Is it? Then I wish you would make it appear so to me. I am not half as
subtile as you give me credit for being."

"Yet you worked this out."

"That was easy enough; after I had seen Mrs. Brentwood's letter, and yours
from Mr. Hunnicott. The Plantagould people want your railroad, and the
receivership is a part of a plan for acquiring it. But why is Major
Guilford spending so much money for improvements?"

"His reasons are not far to seek now that you have shown me where to look.
His instructions are to run the stock down so that the Plantagould can buy
it in. Cut rates and big expenditures will do that--have done it. On the
other hand, it is doubtless a condition of the deal that the road shall be
turned over whole as to its property values--there is to be no wrecking in
the general acceptance of the word. The Plantagould doesn't want a picked
skeleton."

Miss Portia's eyes narrowed.

"It's a skilful bit of engineering, isn't it?" she said. "You'd admire it
as artistic work yourself if your point of view were not so hopelessly
personal."

"You don't know half the artistic skill of it yet," he went on. "Besides
all these different ends that are being conserved, the gang is taking care
of its surplus heelers on the pay-rolls of the company. More than that, it
is making immense political capital for itself. Everybody knows what the
policy of the road was under the old regime: 'All the tariff the traffic
will stand.' But now a Bucks man has hold of it, and liberality is the
word. Every man in Trans-Western territory is swearing by Bucks and
Guilford. Ah, my dear friend, his Excellency the governor is a truly great
man!"

She nodded.

"I've been trying to impress you with that fact all along. The mistake you
made was in not joining the People's Party early in the campaign, David."

But Kent was following out his own line of thought and putting it in words
as it came.

"Think of the brain-work it took to bring all these things into line.
There was no hitch, no slip, and nothing was overlooked. They picked their
time, and it was a moment when we were absolutely helpless. I had filed
our charter, but our local organization was still incomplete. They had
their judge and the needful case in his court, pending and ready for use
at the precise moment. They had Hawk on the ground, armed and equipped;
and they knew that unless a miracle intervened they would have nobody but
an unprepared local attorney to obstruct them."

"Is that all?" she asked.

"No. The finest bit of sculpture is on the capstone of the pyramid. Since
we have had no hearing on the merits, Guilford is only a temporary
receiver, subject to discharge if the allegations in Hawk's amended
petition are not sustained. After the major has sufficiently smashed the
stock, Judge MacFarlane will come back, the hearing on the merits will be
given, we shall doubtless make our point, and the road will revert to the
stock-holders. But by that time enough of the stock will have changed
hands on the 'wreck' price to put the Plantagould people safely in the
saddle, and the freeze-out will be a fact accomplished."

Miss Van Brock drew a long breath that was more than half a sigh.

"You spoke the simple truth, David, when you said that his Excellency is a
great man. It seems utterly hopeless now that we have cleared up all the
little mysteries."

Kent rose to take his leave.

"No; that is where they all go out and I stay in," he said cheerfully.
"The shrewder he is, the more credit there will be in making him let go.
And you mark my words: I am going to make him let go. Good night."

She had gone with him to the door; was in the act of closing it behind
him, when he turned back for a belated question.

"By the way, what did you tell Mrs. Brentwood to do?"

"I told her not to do anything until she had consulted you and Mr. Loring
and Brookes Ormsby. Was that right?"

"Quite right. If it comes up again, rub it in some more. We'll save her
alive yet, if she will let us. Did you say I might come to dinner
to-morrow evening? Thank you: you grow sweeter and more truly
compassionate day by day. Good night again."




XV


THE JUNKETERS

When Receiver Guilford took possession of the properties, appurtenances
and appendages of the sequestered Trans-Western Railway, one of the
luxuries to which he fell heir was private car "Naught-seven," a
commodious hotel on wheels originally used as the directors' car of the
Western Pacific, and later taken over by Loring to be put in commission as
the general manager's special.

In the hands of a friendly receiver this car became a boon to the capitol
contingent; its observation platform served as a shifting rostrum from
which a deep-chested executive or a mellifluous Hawk often addressed
admiring crowds at way stations, and its dining saloon was the moving
scene of many little relaxative feasts, at which _Veuve Cliquot_ flowed
freely, priceless cigars were burned, and the members of the organization
unbent, each after his kind.

But to the men of the throttle and oil-can, car Naught-seven, in the gift
of a hospitable receiver, shortly became a nightmare. Like most private
cars, it was heavier than the heaviest Pullman; and the engineer who was
constrained to haul it like a dragging anchor at the tail end of a fast
train was prone to say words not to be found in any vocabulary known to
respectable philologists.

It was in the evening of a wind-blown day, a week after Kent's visit to
Gaston, that Engineer "Red" Callahan, oiling around for the all-night run
with the Flyer on the Western Division, heard above the din and clamor of
Union Station noises the sullen thump betokening the addition of another
car to his train.

"Now fwhat the divvle will that be?" he rasped, pausing, torch in hand, to
apostrophize his fireman.

The answer came up out of the shadows to the rear on the lips of M'Tosh,
the train-master.

"You have the Naught-seven to-night, Callahan, and a pretty severe head
wind. Can you make your time?"

"Haven't thim bloody fools in the up-town office anything betther to do
than to tie that sivinty-ton ball-an'-chain to my leg such a night as
this?" This is not what Callahan said: it is merely a printable paraphrase
of his rejoinder.

M'Tosh shook his head. He was a hold-over from the Loring administration,
not because his place was not worth taking, but because as yet no
political heeler had turned up with the requisite technical ability to
hold it.

"I don't blame you for cussing it out," he said; and the saying of it was
a mark of the relaxed discipline which was creeping into all branches of
the service. "Mr. Loring's car is anybody's private wagon these days. Can
you make your time with her?"

"Not on yer life," Callahan growled. "Is it the owld potgutted thafe iv a
rayceiver that's in her?"

"Yes; with Governor Bucks and a party of his friends. I take it you ought
to feel honored."

"Do I?" snapped Callahan. "If I don't make thim junketers think they're in
the scuff iv a cyclone whin I get thim on the crooks beyant Dolores ye can
gimme time, Misther M'Tosh. Where do I get shut iv thim?"

"At Agua Caliente. They are going to the hotel at Breezeland, I suppose.
There is your signal to pull out."

"I'll go whin I'm dommed good an' ready," said Callahan, jabbing the snout
of his oiler into the link machinery. And again M'Tosh let the breach of
discipline go without reproof.

Breezeland Inn, the hotel at Agua Caliente, is a year-round resort for
asthmatics and other health seekers, with a sanatorium annex which
utilizes the waters of the warm springs for therapeutic purposes. But
during the hot months the capital and the plains cities to the eastward
send their quota of summer idlers and the house fills to its capacity.

It was for this reason that Mr. Brookes Ormsby, looking for a comfortable
resort to which he might take Mrs. Brentwood and her daughters for an
outing, hit upon the expedient of going first in person to Breezeland,
partly to make sure of accommodations, and partly to check up the
attractions of the place against picturesque descriptions in the
advertisements.

When he turned out of his sleeper in the early morning at Agua Caliente
station, car Naught-seven had been thrown in on a siding a little farther
up the line, and Ormsby recognized the burly person of the governor and
the florid face and pursy figure of the receiver, in the group of men
crossing from the private car to the waiting Inn tally-ho. Being a
seasoned traveler, the club-man lost no time in finding the station agent.

"Isn't there some way you can get me up to the hotel before that crowd
reaches?" he asked; adding: "I'll make it worth your while."

The reply effaced the necessity for haste.

"The Inn auto will be down in a few minutes, and you can go up in that.
Naught-seven brought Governor Bucks and the receiver and their party, and
they're going down to Megilp, the mining camp on the other side of the
State line. They've chartered the tally-ho for the day."

Ormsby waited, and a little later was whisked away to the hotel in the
tonneau of the guests' automobile. Afterward came a day which was rather
hard to get through. Breakfast, a leisurely weighing and measuring of the
climatic, picturesque and health-mending conditions, and the writing of a
letter or two helped him wear out the forenoon; but after luncheon the
time dragged dispiteously, and he was glad enough when the auto-car came
to take him to the station for the evening train.

As it happened, there were no other passengers for the east-bound Flyer;
and finding he still had some minutes to wait, Ormsby lounged into the
telegraph office. Here the bonds of ennui were loosened by the gradual
development of a little mystery. First the telephone bell rang smartly,
and when the telegraph operator took down the ear-piece and said "Well?"
in the imperious tone common to his kind, he evidently received a
communication that shocked him.

Ormsby overheard but a meager half of the wire conversation; and the
excitement, whatever its nature, was at the other end of the line. None
the less, the station agent's broken ejaculations were provocative of keen
interest in a man who had been boring himself desperately for the better
part of a day.

"Caught him doing it, you say?... Great Scott!... Oh, I don't believe
that, you know ... yes--uh-huh--I hear ... But who did the shooting?"
Whether the information came or not, Ormsby did not know, for at this
conjuncture the telegraph instruments on the table set up a furious
chattering, and the railway man dropped the receiver and sprang to his
key.

This left the listener out of it completely, and Ormsby strolled out to
the platform, wondering what had happened and where it had happened. He
glanced up at the telephone wires: two of them ran up the graveled
driveway toward Breezeland Inn; the poles of the other two sentineled the
road to the west down which the tally-ho had driven in the early morning.

In the reflective instant the telegraph operator dashed out of his
bay-windowed retreat and ran up the track to the private car. In a few
minutes he was back again, holding an excited conference with the
chauffeur of the Inn automobile, who was waiting to see if the Flyer
should bring him any fares for the hotel.

Curiosity is said to be peculiarly a foible feminine. It is not, as every
one knows. But of the major masculine allotment, Ormsby the masterful had
rather less than his due share. He saw the chauffeur turn his car in the
length of it and send it spinning down the road and across the line into
the adjoining State; heard the mellow whistle of the incoming train, and
saw the station man nervously setting his stop signal; all with no more
than a mild desire to know the reason for so much excitement and haste--a
desire which was content to wait on the explanation of events.

The explanation, such as it was, did not linger. The heavy train thundered
in from the west; stopped barely long enough to allow the single passenger
to swing up the steps of the Pullman; and went on again to stop a second
time with a jerk when it had passed the side-track switch.

Ormsby put his head out of the window and saw that the private car was to
be taken on; remarked also that the thing was done with the utmost
celerity. Once out on the main line with car Naught-seven coupled in, the
train was backed swiftly down to the station and the small mystery of
hurryings was sufficiently solved. The governor and his party were
returning, and they did not wish to miss connections.

Ormsby had settled back into the corner of his section when he heard the
spitting explosions of the automobile and the crash of hoofs and
iron-tired wheels on the sharp gravel. He looked out again and was in time
to see the finish of the race. Up the road from the westward came the
six-horse tally-ho, the horses galloping in the traces and the automobile
straining in the lead at the end of an improvised tow-line. In a twinkling
the coach was abreast of the private car, the transfer of passengers was
effected, and Ormsby was near enough at his onlooking window to remark
several things: that there was pell-mell haste and suppressed excitement;
that the governor was the coolest man in the group; and that the receiver
had to be helped across from the coach to the car. Then the train moved
out, gathering speed with each added wheel-turn.

The onlooker leaned from his window to see what became of the tangle of
horses and auto-car precipitated by the sudden stop of the tally-ho.
Mirage effects are common on the western plains, and if Ormsby had not
been familiar with them he might have marveled at the striking example
afforded by the backward look. In the rapidly increasing perspective the
six horses of the tally-ho were suddenly multiplied into a troop; and
where the station agent had stood on the platform there seemed to be a
dozen gesticulating figures fading into indistinctness, as the fast train
swept on its way eastward.

The club-man saw no more of the junketing party that night. Once when the
train stopped to cut out the dining-car, and he had stepped down for a
breath of fresh air on the station platform, he noticed that the private
car was brilliantly lighted, and that the curtains and window shades were
closely drawn. Also, he heard the popping of bottle corks and the clink of
glass, betokening that the governor's party was still celebrating its
successful race for the train. Singularly enough, Ormsby's reflections
concerned themselves chiefly with the small dishonesty.

"I suppose it all goes into the receiver's expense account and the
railroad pays for it," he said to himself. "So and so much for an
inspection trip to Megilp and return. I must tell Kent about it. It will
put another shovelful of coal into his furnace--not that he is especially
needing it."

       *       *       *       *       *

At the moment of this saying--it was between ten and eleven o'clock at
night--David Kent's wrath-fire was far from needing an additional stoking.
Once more Miss Van Brock had given proof of her prophetic gift, and Kent
had been moodily filling in the details of the picture drawn by her
woman's intuition. He had gone late to the house in Alameda Square,
knowing that Portia had dinner guests. And it was imperative that he
should have her to himself.

"You needn't tell me anything but the manner of its doing," she was
saying. "I knew they would find a way to stop you--or make one. And you
needn't be spiteful at me," she added, when Kent gripped the arms of his
chair.

"I don't mind your saying 'I told you so'," he fumed. "It's the fact that
I didn't have sense enough to see what an easy game I was dealing them. It
didn't take Meigs five minutes to shut me off."

"Tell me about it," she said; and he did it crisply.

"The _quo warranto_ inquiry is instituted in the name of the State; or
rather the proceedings are brought by some person with the approval of the
governor or the attorney-general, one or both. I took to-day for obtaining
this approval because I knew Bucks was out of town and I thought I could
bully Meigs."

"And you couldn't?" she said.

"Not in a thousand years. At first he said he would take the matter under
advisement: I knew that meant a consultation with Bucks. Then I put the
whip on; told him a few of the things I know, and let him imagine a lot
more; but it was no good. He was as smooth as oil, admitting nothing,
denying nothing. And what grinds me worst is that I let him put me in
fault; gave him a chance to show conclusively how absurd it was for me to
expect him to take up a question of such magnitude on the spur of the
moment."

"Of course," she said sympathetically. "I knew they would find a way. What
are you doing?"

Kent laughed in spite of his sore _amour-propre_.

"At this present moment I am doing precisely what you said I should:
unloading my woes upon you."

"Oh, but I didn't say that. I said you would come to me for help. Have
you?"

"I'd say yes, if I didn't know so well just what I am up against."

Miss Van Brock laughed unfeelingly.

"Is it a man's weakness to fight better in the dark?"

"It is a man's common sense to know when he is knocked out," he retorted.

She held him with her eyes while she said:

"Tell me what you want to accomplish, David; at the end of the ends, I
mean. Is it only that you wish to save Miss Brentwood's little marriage
portion?"

He told the simple truth, as who could help, with Portia's eyes demanding
it.

"It was that at first; I'll admit it. But latterly--"

"Latterly you have begun to think larger things?" She looked away from
him, and her next word seemed to be part of an unspoken thought. "I have
been wondering if you are great enough, David."

He shook his head despondently.

"Haven't I just been showing you that I am not?"

"You have been showing me that you can not always out-plan, the other
person. That is a lack, but it is not fatal. Are you great enough to run
fast and far when it is a straight-away race depending only upon mere
man-strength and indomitable determination?"

Her words fired him curiously. He recalled the little thrill of
inspiration which a somewhat similar appeal from Elinor had once given
him, and tried to compare the two sensations. There was no comparison. The
one was a call to moral victory; the other to material success. None the
less, he decided that the present was the more potent spell, perhaps only
because it was the present.

"Try me," he said impulsively.

"If I do ... David, no man can serve two masters--or two mistresses. If I
do, will you agree to put the sentimental affair resolutely in the
background?"

He took his head in his hands and was a long minute making up his mind.
But his refusal was blunt enough when it came.

"No; at least, not until they are married."

It would have taken a keener discernment than Kent's or any man's to have
fathomed the prompting of her laugh.

"I was only trying you," she said. "Perhaps, if you had said yes I should
have deserted you and gone over to the other side."

He got up and went to sit beside her on the pillowed divan.

"Don't try me again, please--not that way. I am only a man."

"I make no promises--not even good ones," she retorted. And then: "Would
you like to have your _quo warranto_ blind alley turned into a
thoroughfare?"

"I believe you can do it if you try," he admitted, brightening a little.

"Maybe I can; or rather maybe I can put you in the way of doing it. You
say Mr. Meigs is obstinate, and the governor is likely to prove still more
obstinate. Have you thought of any way of softening them?"

"You know I haven't. It's a stark impossibility from my point of view."

"Nothing is impossible; it is always a question of ways and means." Then,
suddenly: "Have you been paying any attention to the development of the
Belmount oil field?"

"Enough to know that it is a big thing; the biggest since the Pennsylvania
discoveries, according to all accounts."

"And the people of the State are enthusiastic about it, thinking that now
the long tyranny of the oil monopoly will be broken?"

"That is the way most of the newspapers talk, and there seems to be some
little ground for it, granting the powers of the new law."

She laid the tips of her fingers on his arm and knotted the thread of
suggestion in a single sentence.

"In the present state of affairs--with the People's Party as yet on trial,
and the public mind ready to take fire at the merest hint of a foreign
capitalistic monopoly in the State--tell me what would happen to the man
who would let the Universal Oil Company into the Belmount field in
defiance of the new trust and corporation law?"

"By Jove!" Kent exclaimed, sitting up as if the shapely hand had given him
a buffet. "It would ruin him politically, world without end! Tell me; is
Bucks going to do that?"

She laughed softly.

"That is for you to find out, Mr. David Kent; not by hearsay, but in good,
solid terms of fact that will appeal to a level-headed, conservative
newspaper editor like--well, like Mr. Hildreth, of the _Argus_, let us
say. Are you big enough to do it?"

"I am desperate enough to try," was the slow-spoken answer.

"And when you have the weapon in your hands; when you have found the sword
and sharpened it?"

"Then I can go to his Excellency and tell him what will happen if he
doesn't instruct his attorney-general in the _quo warranto_ affair."

"That will probably suffice to save your railroad--and Miss Brentwood's
marriage portion. But after, David; what will you do afterward?"

"I'll go on fighting the devil with fire until I have burned him out. If
this is to be a government of dictators, I can be one of them, too."

She clapped her hands enthusiastically.

"There spoke the man David Kent; the man I have been trying to discover
deep down under the rubbish of ill-temper and hesitancy and--yes, I will
say it--of sentiment. Have you learned your lesson, David mine?"

It was a mark of another change in him that he rose and stood over her,
and that his voice was cool and dispassionate when he said:

"If I have, it is because I have you for an inspired text-book, Portia
dear."

And with that he took his leave.




XVI


SHARPENING THE SWORD

In the beginning of the new campaign of investigation David Kent wisely
discounted the help of paid professional spies--or rather he deferred, it
to a later stage--by taking counsel with Jeffrey Hildreth, night editor of
the _Argus_. Here, if anywhere, practical help was to be had; and the
tender of it was cheerfully hearty and enthusiastic.

"Most assuredly you may depend on the _Argus_, horse, foot and artillery,"
said the editor, when Kent had guardedly outlined some portion of his
plan. "We are on your side of the fence, and have been ever since Bucks
was sprung as a candidate on the convention. But you've no case. Of
course, it's an open secret that the Universal people are trying to break
through the fence of the new law and establish themselves in the Belmount
field without losing their identity or any of their monopolistic
privileges. And it is equally a matter of course to some of us that the
Bucks ring will sell the State out if the price is right. But to implicate
Bucks and the capitol gang in printable shape is quite another matter."

"I know," Kent admitted. "But it isn't impossible; it has got to be
possible."

The night editor sat back in his chair and chewed his cigar reflectively.
Suddenly he asked:

"What's your object, Kent? It isn't purely _pro lono pullico_, I take it?"

Kent could no longer say truthfully that it was, and he did not lie about
it.

"No, it's purely personal, I guess. I need to get a grip on Bucks and I
mean to do it."

Hildreth laughed.

"And, having got it, you'll telephone me to let up--as you did in the
House Bill Twenty-nine fiasco. Where do we come in?"

"No; you shall come in on the ground floor this time; though I may ask you
to hold your hand until I have used my leverage. And if you'll go into it
to stay, you sha'n't be alone. Giving the _Argus_ precedence in any item
of news, I'll engage to have every other opposition editor in the State
ready to back you."

"Gad! you're growing, Kent. Do you mean to down the Bucks crowd
ded-definitely?" demanded the editor, who stammered a little under
excitable provocation. "Bigger men than you have tried it--and failed."

"But no one of them with half my obstinacy, Hildreth. It can be done, and
I am going to do it."

The night editor laughed again.

"If you can show that gang up, Kent, nothing in this State will be too
good for you."

"I've got it to do," said Kent. "Afterward, perhaps I'll come around for
some of the good things. I am not in this for health or pleasure. Can I
count on you after the mud-slinging begins?"

Hildreth reflected further, disregarding the foreman's reproachful calls
for copy.

"I'll go you," he said at last; "and I'll undertake to swing the chief
into line. But I am going to disagree with you flat on the project of a
sudden expose. Right or wrong, Bucks has pup-popular sentiment on his
side. Take the Trans-Western territory, for example: at the present
speaking these grafters--or their man Guilford; it's all the same--own
those people down there body and soul. You couldn't pry Bucks out of their
affections with a crowbar--suddenly, I mean. We'll have to work up to it
gradually; educate the people as we go along."

"I concede that much," said Kent. "And you may as well begin on this same
Trans-Western deal,"--wherewith he pieced together the inferences which
pointed to the stock-smashing project behind the receivership.

"Don't use too much of it," he added, in conclusion.

"It is all inference and deduction as yet, as I say. But you will admit
it's plausible."

The editor was sitting far back in his chair again, chewing absently on
the extinct cigar.

"Kent, did you fuf-figure all that out by yourself?"

"No," said Kent, briefly. "There is a keener mind than mine behind it--and
behind this oil field business, as well."

"I'd like to give that mind a stunt on the _Argus_," said the editor. "But
about the Belmount mix-up: you will give us a stickful now and then as we
go along, if you unearth anything that the public would like to read?"

"Certainly; any and everything that won't tend to interfere with my little
intermediate scheme. As I have intimated, I must bring Bucks to terms on
my own account before I turn him over to you and the people of the State.
But I mean to be in on that, too."

Hildreth wagged his head dubiously.

"I may be overcautious; and I don't want to seem to scare you out, Kent.
You ought to know your man better than I do--better than any of us; but if
I had your job, I believe I should want to travel with a body-guard. I do,
for a fact."

David Kent's laugh came easily. Fear, the fear of man, was not among his
weaknesses.

"I am taking all the chances," he said; and so the conference ended.

Two days later the "educational" campaign was opened by an editorial in
the _Argus_ setting forth some hitherto unpublished matter concerning the
manner in which the Trans-Western had been placed in the hands of a
receiver. In its next issue the paper named the receivership after its
true author, showing by a list of the officials that the road under Major
Guilford had been made a hospital for Bucks politicians, and hinting
pointedly that it was to be wrecked for the benefit of a stock-jobbing
syndicate of eastern capitalists.

Having thus reawakened public interest in the Trans-Western affair,
Hildreth sounded a new note of alarm pitched upon the efforts of the
Universal Oil Company to establish itself in the Belmount oil region; a
cry which was promptly taken up by other State editors. This editorial was
followed closely by others in the same strain, and at the end of a
fortnight Kent was fain to call a halt.

"Not too fast, Hildreth," he cautioned, dropping into the editor's den
late one night. "You are doing mighty good work, but you are making it
infinitely harder for me--driving the game to deeper cover. One of my men
had a clue: Bucks and Meigs were holding conferences with a man from the
Belmount field whose record runs back to New York. But they have taken the
alarm and thrown us off the track."

"The secretary of State's office is the place you want to watch," said
Hildreth. "New oil companies are incorporating every day. Pretty soon one
of these will swallow up all the others: that one will be the Universal
under another name, and in its application for a charter you'll find
askings big enough to cover all the rights and privileges of the original
monopoly."

"That is a good idea," said Kent, who already had a clerk in the secretary
of State's office in his pay. "But how are we coming on in the political
field?"

"We are doing business there, and you have the _Argus_ to thank for it.
You--or your idea, I should say--has a respectable following all over the
State now; as it didn't have until we began to leg for it."

Again Kent acquiesced, making no mention of sundry journeys he had made
for the sole purpose of enlisting other editors, or of the open house Miss
Van Brock was keeping for out-of-town newspaper men visiting the capital.

"Moreover, we've served your turn in the Trans-Western affair," Hildreth
went on. "Public interest is on the _qui vive_ for new developments in
that. By the way, has the capitol gang any notion of your part in all this
upstirring?"

Kent smiled and handed the editor an open letter. It was from Receiver
Guilford. The post of general counsel for the Trans-Western was vacant,
and the letter was a formal tender of the office to the "Hon. David Kent."

"H'm," said the editor. "I don't understand that a little bit."

"Why?"

"If they could get you to accept a general agency in Central Africa or New
Zealand, or some other antipodean place where you'd be safely out of the
way, it would be evident enough. But here they are proposing to take you
right into the heart of things."

Kent got a match out of the editor's desk and relighted his cigar.

"You've got brain-fag to-night, Hildreth. It's a bribe, pure and simple.
They argue that it is merely a matter of dollars and cents to me, as it
would be to one of them; and they propose to retain me just as they would
any other attorney whose opposition they might want to get rid of. Don't
you see?"

"Sure. I was thinking up the wrong spout. Have you replied to the major?"

"Yes. I told him that my present engagements preclude the possibility of
considering his offer; much to my regret."

"Did you say that? You're a cold-plucked one, Kent, and I'm coming to
admire you. But now is the time for you to begin to look out. They have
spotted you, and their attempt to buy you has failed. I don't know how
deeply you have gone into Bucks' tinkering with the Universal people, but
if you are in the way of getting the grip you spoke of--as this letter
seems to indicate--you want to be careful."

Kent promised and went his way. One of his saving graces was the ability
to hold his tongue, even in a confidential talk with as good a friend as
Hildreth. As for example: he had let the suggestion of watching the
secretary of State's office come as a new thing from the editor, whereas
in fact it was one of the earliest measures he had taken.

And on that road he had traveled far, thanks to a keen wit, to Portia Van
Brock's incessant promptings, and to the help of the leaky clerk in
Hendricks' office; so far, indeed, that he had found the "stool pigeon"
oil company, to which Hildreth's hint had pointed--a company composed,
with a single exception, of men of "straw," the exception being the man
Rumford, whose conferences with the governor and the attorney-general had
aroused his suspicions.

It was about this time that Hunnicott reported the sale of the Gaston lots
at a rather fancy cash figure, and the money came in good play.

"Two things remain to be proved," said Portia, in one of their many
connings of the intricate course; "two things that must be proved before
you can attack openly: that Rumford is really representing the Universal
Oil Company; and that he is bribing the junto to let the Universal
incorporate under the mask of his 'straw' company. Now is the time when
you can not afford to be economical. Have you money?"

Since it was the day after the Hunnicott remittance, Kent could answer yes
with a good conscience.

"Then spend it," she said; and he did spend it like a millionaire, lying
awake nights to devise new ways of employing it.

And for the abutments of the arch of proof the money-spending sufficed. By
dint of a warm and somewhat costly wire investigation of Rumford's
antecedents, Kent succeeded in placing the Belmount promoter
unquestionably as one of the trusted lieutenants of the Universal; and the
leaky clerk in the secretary of State's office gave the text of the
application for the "straw" company charter, showing that the powers asked
for were as despotic as the great monopoly could desire.

But for the keystone of the arch, the criminal implication of the plotters
themselves, he was indebted to a fit of ill-considered anger and to a
chapter of accidents.




XVII


THE CONSPIRATORS

It was chiefly due to Portia's urgings that Kent took Ormsby into his
confidence when the campaign was fairly opened. She put it diplomatically
on the ground of charity to an exiled millionaire, temporarily out of a
job; but her real reason went deeper. From its inception as a one-man
fight against political chicanery in high places, the criticism of the
Bucks formula was beginning to shape itself in a readjustment of party
lines in the field of State politics; and Miss Van Brock, whose designs
upon Kent's future ran far in advance of her admissions to him, was
anxiously casting about for a managerial promoter.

A little practice-play in municipal politics made the need apparent. It
came in the midst of things, basing itself upon the year-gone triumph of
agrarianism in the State. In the upheaval, the capital city had
participated to the extent of electing a majority of the aldermen on the
People's Party ticket; and before long it developed that a majority of
this aldermanic majority could be counted among the spoilsmen--was in fact
a creature of the larger ring.

[Illustration: HE JAMMED THE FIRE END OF HIS CIGAR AMONG THE FINGERS OF
THE GRASPING HAND.]

Late in the summer an ordinance was proposed by the terms of which a
single corporation was to be given a franchise granting a complete
monopoly of the streets for gas and water mains and transit rights of way.
Thereupon a bitter struggle ensued. Party lines were obliterated, and men
who shunned the primaries and otherwise shirked their political duties
raised the cry of corruption, and a Civic League was formed to fight the
ring.

Into this struggle, as giving him the chance to front the enemy in a fair
field, David Kent flung himself with all the ardor of a born fighter. Mass
meetings were held, with Kent as spokesman for the League, and the outcome
was a decency triumph which brought Kent's name into grateful public
prominence. Hildreth played an able second, and by the time the obnoxious
ordinance had been safely tabled, Kent had a semi-political following
which was all his own. Men who had hitherto known him only as a
corporation lawyer began to prophesy large things of the fiery young
advocate, whose arguments were as sound and convincing as his invective
was keen and merciless.

Figuratively speaking, Portia stood in the wings and applauded. Also, she
saw that her protege had reached the point where he needed grooming for
whatever race lay before him. Hence her urgings, which made a triumvirate
out of the council of two, with Brookes Ormsby as the third member.

"You understand, I'm not interested a little bit in the merits of the
case," said the newly elected chairman, in his first official interview
with Miss Van Brock. "So far as the internal politics of this particularly
wild and woolly State are concerned, I'm neither in them nor of them. But
I am willing to do what I can for Kent."

"Owing him a good turn?" said Portia, with malice aforethought.

Ormsby's laugh was an Englishman's deep-chested haw-haw.

"So he has been making you his confidante in that, too, has he?"

"There was no confidence needed," she retorted. "I have eyes; and, to use
one of your own pet phrases, I was not born yesterday. But let that go:
you are willing to help us?"

"I said I was willing to help Kent. If you bracket yourself with him, I am
more than willing. But I am rather new to the game. You will have to tell
me the moves."

"We are only in the opening," she said, continuing the figure. "You will
learn as you go along. By and by you will have to spend money; but just
now the need is for a cool head to keep our young firebrand out of the
personalities. Where is he to-night?"

Ormsby's smile was a grin.

"I left him at 124 Tejon Avenue half an hour ago. Do you think he is
likely to get into trouble there?"

On the porch of the Brentwood apartment house David Kent was answering
that question measurably well for himself. With the striking of the City
Hall clock at nine Mrs. Brentwood had complained of the glare of the
electric crossing-lamp and had gone in, leaving the caller with Penelope
in the hammock on one side of him and Elinor in a basket chair on the
other.

Their talk had been of the late municipal struggle, and of Kent's part in
it; and, like Miss Van Brock, Penelope was applausive. But Elinor's
congratulations were tempered with deprecation.

"I am glad you won for the League, of course; everybody must be glad of
that," she said. "But I hope the _Argus_ didn't report your speeches
correctly. If it did, you have made a host of bitter enemies."

"What does a man--a real man--care for that?" This from the depths of the
hammock.

"I, at least, can afford to be careless," said Kent. "I am not running for
office, and I have nothing to lose, politically or otherwise."

"Can any man say that truthfully?" Elinor queried.

"I think I can. I have given no hostages to fortune."

Penelope lifted the challenge promptly.

"Lord Bacon said that, didn't he?--about men marrying. If he were alive
now he wouldn't need to say it. Men don't have to be discouraged."

"Don't they?" said Kent.

"No, indeed; they are too utterly selfish for any matrimonial use, as it
is. No, don't argue with me, please. I'm fixed--irrevocably fixed."

Elinor overtook the runaway conversation and drove it back into the path
of her own choosing.

"But I do think you owe it to yourself to be more careful in your public
utterances," she insisted. "If these men on the other side are only half
as unprincipled as your accusations make them out to be, they would not
stop short of personal violence."

"I am not hunting clemency or personal immunity just now," laughed Kent.
"On the contrary, I am only anxious to make the score as heavy as
possible. And so far from keeping prudently in the background, I'll
confess that I went into this franchise fight chiefly to let the capitol
gang know who I am and where I stand."

A sudden light came into Elinor's eyes and burned there steadily. She was
of those who lay votive offerings upon the shrine of manly courage.

"One part of me approves as much as another part disapproves," she said
after a time. "I suppose it isn't possible to avoid making political
enemies; but is it needful to turn them into personal enemies?"

He looked at her curiously.

"I am afraid I don't know any middle path, not being a politician," he
objected. "And as for the enmity of these men, I shall count it an honor
to win it. If I do not win it, I shall know I am not succeeding."

Silence for another little space, which Miss Brentwood broke by saying:

"Don't you want to smoke? You may."

Kent felt in his pocket.

"I have no cigar."

She looked past him to the hammock. "Penelope!" she called softly; and
when there was no response she went to spread the hammock rug over her
sister.

"You may smoke your pipe," she said; and when she had passed behind him to
her chair she made another concession: "Let me fill it for you--you used
to."

He gave her the pipe and tobacco, and by a curious contradiction of terms
began to wonder if he ought not to go. Notwithstanding his frank defiance
of Brookes Ormsby, and his declaration of intention in the sentimental
affair, he had his own notions about the sanctity of a betrothal. Mrs.
Brentwood had vanished, and Penelope was asleep in the hammock. Could he
trust himself to be decently loyal to Ormsby if he should stay? Nice
questions of conscience had not been troubling him much of late; but this
was new ground--or if not new, so old that it had the effect of being new.

He let the question go unanswered--and stayed. But he was minded to fling
the biggest barrier he could lay hands on in the way of possible
disloyalty by saying good things of Ormsby.

"I owe you much for my acquaintance with him," he said, when the subject
was fairly introduced. "He has been all kinds of a good friend to me, and
he promises to be more."

"Isn't your debt to Penelope, rather than to me?" she returned.

"No, I think not. You are responsible, in the broader sense, at all
events. He did not come West for Penelope's sake." Then he took the
plunge: "May I know when it is to be--or am I to wait for my bidding with
the other and more formally invited guests?"

She laughed, a low little laugh that somehow grated upon his nerves.

"You shall know--when I know."

"Forgive me," he said quickly. "But from something Ormsby said----"

"He should not have spoken of it; I have given him no right," she said
coldly.

"You make me twice sorry: once if I am a trespasser, and again if I have
unwittingly broken a confidence. But as a friend--a very old friend--I
ventured----"

She interrupted him again, but this time her laugh did not hurt him.

"Yes; our friendship antedates Mr. Ormsby; it is old enough to excuse
anything you said--or were going to say."

"Thank you," he rejoined, and he meant it. "What I was going to say
touches a matter which I believe you haven't confided to any one. May I
talk business for a few minutes?"

"If you will light your pipe and go on smoking. It makes me nervous to
have people hang on the brink of things."

He lighted the pipe, wondering what other thing he might do to allay her
nervousness. None the less, he would not go back from his purpose, which
was barrier-building.

"I have thought, wholly without warrant, perhaps, that your loss in this
railroad steal has had something to do with the postponement of your
happiness--and Ormsby's. Has it?"

"And if it should have?"

"I merely wanted to say that we still have a fighting chance. But one of
the hard and fast conditions is that every individual stockholder shall
hang on to his or her holdings like grim death."

She caught her breath with a little gasp.

"The encouragement comes too late for us. We have parted with our stock."

Kent turned cold and hot and cold again while she was saying it. Then the
lawyer in him came uppermost.

"Is it gone beyond recall? How much too late am I?" he demanded.

"My mother wrote the letter to-day. She had an offer from some one in New
York."

Kent was on his feet instantly.

"Has that letter been mailed? Because if it has, it must be stopped by
wire!"

Miss Brentwood rose.

"It was on the hall table this afternoon; I'll go and see," and in a
moment she returned with the letter in her hand.

Kent took it from her as if it had been an edged weapon or a can of high
explosives.

"Heavens! what a turn you gave me!" he said, sitting down again. "Can I
see your mother?"

"I think she has gone to bed. What do you want to do?"

"I want to tell her that she mustn't do any such suicidal thing as this."

"You don't know my mother," was the calm reply. "Mr. Ormsby said
everything he could think of."

"Then we must take matters into our own hands. Will you help me?"

"How?" she asked.

"By keeping your own counsel and trusting me. Your mother supposes this
letter has gone: it has gone--this way." He tore the sealed envelope
across and across and dropped the pieces into his pocket. "Now we are
safe--at least until the man at the other end writes again."

It shocked her a little, and she did not promise to be a party to the
subterfuge. But neither did she say she would not.

"I am willing to believe that you have strong reasons for taking such
strong measures," she said. "May I know them?"

Kent's gift of reticence came to his rescue in time to prevent the
introduction of another and rather uncertain factor into his complicated
problem.

"I can explain it more intelligibly a little later on; or if I don't,
Ormsby will. In the mean time, you must take my word for it that we shall
have our railroad back in due season."

It is a question for the psychologists to answer if there be or be not
crises in a man's life when the event, weighty or trivial, turns upon that
thing which, for the want of a better name, is called a premonition.

In the silence that followed his dismissal of the subject, Kent became
aware of a vague prompting which was urging him to cut his visit short.
There was no definable reason for his going. He had finally brought
himself to the point of speaking openly to Elinor of her engagement, and
they were, as he fondly believed, safely beyond the danger point in that
field. Moreover, Penelope was stirring in her hammock and the perilous
privacy was at an end. Nevertheless, he rose and said good-night, and was
half-way to the next corner before he realized how inexcusably abrupt his
leave-taking had been.

When he did realize it, he was of two minds whether to go back or to let
the apology excuse another call the following evening. Then the insistent
prompting seized him again; and when next he came to a competent sense of
things present he was standing opposite the capitol building, staring
fixedly up at a pair of lighted windows in the second story.

They were the windows of the governor's room; and David Kent's brain
cleared suddenly. In the earliest beginnings of the determinate plan to
wrest the Trans-Western out of the grasp of the junto he had known that it
must come finally to some desperate duel with the master-spirit of the
ringsters. Was Jasper Bucks behind those lighted windows--alone?

Kent had not meant to make the open attack until he should have a weapon
in his hands which would arm him to win. But now as he stood looking up at
the heckoning windows a mad desire to have it out once for all with the
robber-in-chief sent the blood tingling to his finger-tips. True, he had
nothing as yet in the oil-field conspiracy that the newspapers or the
public would accept as evidence of fraud and corruption. But on the other
hand, Bucks was only a man, after all; a man with a bucaneer's record, and
by consequence vulnerable beneath the brazen armor of assurance. If the
attack were bold enough----

Kent did not stop to argue it out. When a man's blood is up the odds
against him shrink and become as naught. Two minutes later he was in the
upper corridor of the capitol, striding swiftly to the door of the lighted
room.

Recalling it afterward he wondered if the occult prompting which had
dragged him out of his chair on the Brentwcod porch saw to it that he
walked upon the strip of matting in the tile-paved corridor and so made
his approach noiseless. Also, if the same silent monitor bade him stop
short of the governor's office: at the door, namely, of the public
anteroom, which stood ajar?

A low murmur of voices came from beyond, and for a moment he paused
listening. Then he went boldly within, crossing the anteroom and standing
fairly in the broad beam of light pouring through the open door of
communication with the private office.

Four men sat in low-toned conference around the governor's writing-table,
and if any one of them had looked up the silent witness must have been
discovered. Kent marked them down one by one: the governor; Hendricks, the
secretary of State; Rumford, the oil man; and Senator Duvall. For five
pregnant minutes he stood looking on, almost within arm's reach of the
four; hearing distinctly what was said; seeing the papers which changed
hands across the table. Then he turned and went away, noiselessly as he
had come, the thick-piled carpet of the anteroom muffling his footfalls.

It was midnight when he reached his quarters in the Clarendon and flung
himself full length upon the bed, sodden with weariness. For two hours he
had tramped the deserted streets, striving in sharp travail of soul to fit
the invincible, chance-given weapon to his hand. When he came in the thing
was done, and he slept the sleep of an outworn laborer.




XVIII


DOWN, BRUNO!

For six days after the night of revelations Kent dived deep, personally
and by paid proxy, in a sea of secrecy which, but for the five pregnant
minutes in the doorway of the governor's office, might easily have proved
fathomless.

On the seventh day the conflagration broke out. The editor of the Belmount
_Refiner_ was the first to smell smoke and to raise the cry of "Fire!" but
by midnight the wires were humming with the news and the entire State was
ablaze.

The story as it appeared under the scare headlines the next morning was
crisply told. An oil company had been formed with Senator Duvall at its
head. After its incorporation it was ascertained that it not only held
options on all the most valuable wells in the Belmount region, but that
its charter gave it immunity from the law requiring all corporations to
have their organizations, officers, and operating headquarters in the
State. By the time the new company was three days old it had quietly taken
up its options and was the single big fish in the pool by virtue of its
having swallowed all the little ones.

Then came the finishing stroke which had set the wires to humming. On the
sixth day it was noised about that Senator Duvall had transferred his
controlling interest to Rumford--otherwise to the Universal Oil Company;
that he had served only as a figurehead in the transaction, using his
standing, social and political, to secure the charter which had been
denied Rumford and his associates.

It had all been managed very skilfully; the capping of the wells by the
Universal's agent, the practical sealing up of the entire district, being
the first public intimation of the result of Duvall's treachery and the
complete triumph of a foreign monopoly.

The storm that swept the State when the facts came out was cyclonic, and
it was reported, as it needed to be, that Senator Duvall had disappeared.
Never in the history of the State had public feeling risen so high; and
there were not lacking those who said that if Duvall showed himself his
life would not be safe in the streets of the capital.

It was after the _Argus_ had gone to press on the night of explosions that
Editor Hildreth sought and found David Kent in his rooms at the Clarendon,
and poured out the vials of his wrath.

"Say, I'd like to know if you cue-call this giving me a fair show!" he
demanded, flinging into Kent's sitting-room and dropping into a chair.
"Did I, or did I not understand that I was to have the age on this oil
business when there was anything fit to print?"

Kent gave the night editor a cigar and was otherwise exasperatingly
imperturbable.

"Keep your clothes on, and don't accuse a man of disloyalty until you have
all the documents in the case," he said. "I didn't know, until I saw your
bulletin a few hours ago, that the thing had been pulled off. In fact,
I've been too busy with other things to pay much attention to the Belmount
end of it."

"The ded-devil you have!" sputtered Hildreth, chewing savagely on the gift
cigar. "I'd like to know what business you had to mix up in other things
to the detriment of my news column. You were the one man who knew all
about it; or at least you did a week or two ago."

"Yes; but other and more important things have intervened. I have been
desperately busy, as I say."

"Well, you've lost your chance to get your grip on the capitol gang,
anyway; that is one comfort," growled the editor, getting what consolation
he could out of Kent's apparent failure. "They played it too fuf-fine for
you."

"Did they?" said Kent.

"It looks pretty much that way, doesn't it? Duvall is the scapegoat, and
the only one. About day after to-morrow Bucks' organ, the _Tribune_, will
come out with an 'inspired' editorial whitewashing the entire capitol
outfit. It will show how Rumford's application for the charter was
refused, and how a truly good and beneficent state government has been
hoodwinked and betrayed by one of its most trusted supporters."

Kent threw off his street coat and went to get his dressing-gown from the
wardrobe in the bedroom. When he came back he said: "Hildreth, you have
taken me at my word thus far, and you haven't had occasion to call me
either a knave or a fool. Do it a little longer and I'll put you in the
way of touching off a set-piece of pyrotechnics that will double discount
this mild little snap-cracker of the Belmount business."

"Can't you do it now?"

"No; the time isn't ripe yet. We must let the _Tribune's_ coat of
whitewash dry in first."

Hildreth wriggled in his chair.

"Kent, if I thought it would do any good, I'd cuc-curse you out; I would
for a fact. You are too blamed close-mouthed for any ordinary newspaper
use."

But Kent only laughed at him. Now that the strain was in some measure
relaxed he could stand any amount of abuse from so good a friend as the
night editor.

"Turn on the hot water if you want to, and if it will relieve the
pressure. I know about how you feel; and I'd be as sore as you are if I
didn't know that I am going to make it up to you a little later on. But
about this oil blaze and to-morrow's--or to-day's--issue of the _Argus_. I
hope you haven't said too much."

"I haven't sus-said anything. The stuff trickled in by Associated wire at
the last minute, and we had to cut and slash for space and run it pretty
much as it came--the bare story."

"All right; that's better. Now suppose you hint darkly that only half of
the truth has come out; that more--and more startling--developments may be
safely predicted in the immediate hence. Hit it up hard toward the
capitol, and don't be afraid of libeling anybody."

Hildreth's eyes narrowed.

"Say, Kent; you have grown a lot in these last few weeks: what is your
diet?"

"Hard work--and a determination to make my brag good."

"To down the ring, you mean?"

"Yes; to down the ring."

"Are you any nearer to it than you were when you began?"

"A good many parasangs."

"By Jove! I more than half believe you've got hold of something
ded-definite at last!"

"I have, indeed. Hildreth, I have evidence--printable evidence--enough to
dig a dozen political graves, one of them big enough to hold Jasper G.
Bucks' six-feet-two."

"Let me see it!" said the night editor, eagerly; but Kent laughed and
pushed him toward the door.

"Go home and go to bed. I wouldn't show it to you to-night if I had it
here--as I have not. I don't go around with a stick of dynamite in my
pocket."

"Where is it?" Hildreth asked.

"It is in a safety-deposit box in the vault of the Security Bank; where it
is going to stay until I am ready to use it. Go home, I say, and let me go
to bed. I'm ragged enough to sleep the clock around."

In spite of his weariness, which was real enough, Kent was up betimes the
next morning. He had a wire appointment with Blashfield Hunnicott and two
others in Gaston, and he took an early train to keep it. The ex-local
attorney met him at the station with a two-seated rig; and on the way to
the western suburbs they picked up Frazee, the county assessor, and Orton,
the appraiser of the Apache Building and Loan Association.

"Hunnicott has told you what I am after," said Kent, when the surrey party
was made up. "We all know the property well enough, but to have it all
fair and above-board, we'll drive out and look it over, so that our
knowledge may be said to be fully up to date."

Twenty minutes afterward the quartet was locating the corners of a square
in Gaston's remotest suburb; an "addition" whose only improvements were
the weathered and rotting street and lot stakings on the bare, brown
plain.

"'Lots 1 to 56 in Block 10, Guilford & Hawk's Addition,'" said Kent,
reading from a memorandum in his note-book. "It lies beautifully, doesn't
it?"

"Yes; for a chicken farm," chuckled the assessor.

"Well, give me your candid opinion, you two: what is the property worth?"

The Building and Loan man scratched his chin.

"Say fifty dollars for the plot--if you'll fence it."

"No, put it up. You are having a little boom here now: give it the top
boom price, if you like."

The two referees drew apart and laid their heads together.

"As property is going here just now, fifty dollars for the inside lots,
and one hundred dollars apiece for the corners; say three thousand for the
plot. And that is just about three times as much as anybody but a
land-crazy idiot would give for it." It was Frazee who announced the
decision.

"Thank you both until you are better paid. Now we'll go back to town and
you can write me a joint letter stating the fact. If you think it will get
you disliked here at home, make the figure higher; make it high enough so
that all Gaston will be dead sure to approve."

"You are going to print it?" asked the Building and Loan appraiser.

"I may want to. You may shape it to that end."

"I'll stand by my figures," said Frazee. "It will give me my little chance
to get back at the governor. I had it assessed as unimproved suburban
property at so much the lot, but he made a kick to the board of
equalization and got it put in as unimproved farm land at fifty dollars an
acre." Then, looking at his watch: "We'd better be getting back, if you
have to catch the Accommodation. Won't you stay over and visit with us?"

"I can't, this time; much obliged," said Kent; and they drove to the
Building and Loan office where the joint letter of appraisal was written
and signed.

Kent caught his train with something to spare, and was back at the capital
in good time to keep a dinner engagement at Miss Van Brock's. He had
understood that Ormsby would be the only other guest. But Portia had a
little surprise in store for him. Loring had dropped in, unannounced, from
the East; and Portia, having first ascertained that Mrs. Brentwood's
asthma was prohibitive of late dinings-out, had instructed Ormsby to bring
Elinor and Penelope.

Kent had been saving the results of his deep-sea divings in the oil-field
investigation to spread them out before Miss Van Brock and Ormsby "in
committee," but he put a padlock on his lips when he saw the others.

Portia gave him Elinor to take out, and he would have rejoiced brazenly if
the table talk, from the bouillon to the ices, had not been persistently
general, turning most naturally upon the Universal Oil Company's
successful _coup_ in the Belmount field. Kent kept out of it as much as he
could, striving manfully to monopolize Elinor for his own especial behoof;
but finally Portia laid her commands upon him.

"You are not to be allowed to maroon yourself with Miss Brentwood any
longer," she said dictatorially. "You know more about the unpublished part
of this Belmount conspiracy than any one else excepting the conspirators
themselves, and you are to tell us all about it."

Kent looked up rather helplessly.

"Really, I--I'm not sure that I know anything worth repeating at your
dinner-table," he protested.

But Miss Van Brock made a mock of his caution.

"You needn't be afraid. I pledged everybody to secrecy before you came. It
is understood that we are in 'executive session.' And if you don't know
much, you may tell us what you know now more than you knew before you knew
so little as you know now."

"Hold on," said Kent; "will you please say that over again and say it
slowly?"

"Never mind," laughed Ormsby. "Miss Portia has a copyright on that. But
before you begin, I'd like to know if the newspapers have it straight as
far as they have gone into it?"

"They have, all but one small detail. They are saying that Senator Duvall
has left the city and the State."

"Hasn't he?" Loring asked.

"He hadn't yesterday."

"My-oh!" said Portia. "They will mob him if he shows himself."

Kent nodded assent.

"He knows it: he is hiding out. But I found him."

"Where?" from the three women in chorus.

"In his own house, out in Pentland Place. The family has been away since
April, and the place has been shut up. I took him the first meal he'd had
in thirty-six hours."

Portia clapped her hands. The butler came in with the coffee and she
dismissed him and bade him shut the doors.

"Now begin at the very tip end of the beginning," she commanded.

Kent had a sharp little tussle with his inborn reticence, thrust it to the
wall and told a plain tale.

"It begins in a piece of reckless folly. Shortly after I left Mrs.
Brentwood's last Thursday evening I had a curious experience. The shortest
way down-town is diagonally through the capitol grounds, but some
undefinable impulse led me to go around on the Capitol Avenue side. As I
was passing the right wing of the building I saw lights in the governor's
room, and in a sudden fit of desperation resolved to go up and have it out
with Bucks. It was abnormally foolish, I'll confess. I had nothing
definite to go on; but I--well, I was keyed up to just about the right
pitch, and I thought I might bluff him."

"Mercy me! You do need a guardian angel worse than anybody I know!" Portia
cut in. "Do go on."

Kent nodded.

"I had one that night; angel or demon, whichever you please. I was fairly
dragged into doing what I did. When I reached the upper corridor the door
of the public anteroom was ajar, and I heard voices. The outer room was
not lighted, but the door between it and the governor's private office was
open. I went in and stood in that open doorway for as much as five
minutes, I think, and none of the four men sitting around the governor's
writing-table saw me."

He had his small audience well in hand by this time, and Ormsby's question
was almost mechanical. "Who were the four?"

"After the newspaper rapid-fire of this morning you might guess them all.
They were his Excellency, Grafton Hendricks, Rumford, and Senator Duvall.
They were in the act of closing the deal as I became an onlooker. Rumford
had withdrawn his application for a charter, and another 'straw' company
had been formed with Duvall at its head. I saw at once what I fancy Duvall
never suspected; that he was going to be made the scapegoat for the ring.
They all promised to stand by him--and you see how that promise has been
kept."

"Good heavens!" ejaculated Loring. "What a despicable lot of scoundrels!
But the bribe: did you learn anything about that?"

"I saw it," said Kent, impressively. "It was a slip of paper passed across
the table by Rumford to Bucks, face down. Bucks glanced at it before he
thrust it into his pocket, and I had my glimpse, too. It was a draft on a
Chicago bank, but I could not read the figures, and I doubt if either of
the other conspirators knew the amount. Then the governor tossed a folded
paper over to the oil man, saying, 'There is your deed to the choicest
piece of property in all Gaston, and you've got it dirt cheap.' I came
away at that."

Elinor's sigh was almost a sob; but Miss Van Brock's eyes were dancing.

"Go on, go on," she exclaimed. "That is only the beginning."

Kent's smile was of reminiscent weariness.

"I found it so, I assure you. So far as any usable evidence was concerned,
I was no better off than before; it was merely my assertion against their
denial--one man against four. But I have had a full week, and it has not
been wasted. I needn't bore you with the mechanical details. One of my men
followed Bucks' messenger to Chicago--he wouldn't trust the banks here or
the mails--and we know now, know it in black on white, with the proper
affidavits, that the draft was for two hundred thousand dollars, payable
to the order of Jasper G. Bucks. The ostensible consideration was the
transfer from Bucks to Rumford of a piece of property in the outskirts of
Gaston. I had this piece of land appraised for me to-day by two
disinterested citizens of Gaston, and they valued it at a possible, but
highly improbable, three thousand."

"Oh, how clumsy!" said Portia, in fine scorn. "Does his Excellency imagine
for a moment that any one would be deceived by such a primitive bit of
dust-throwing?" and Ormsby also had something to say about the fatal
mistakes of the shrewdest criminals.

"It was not so bad," said Kent. "If it should ever be charged that he took
money from Rumford, here is a plain business transaction to account for
it. The deed, as recorded, has nothing to say of the enormous price paid.
The phrasing is the common form used when the parties to the transfer do
not wish to make the price public: 'For one dollar to me in hand paid, and
other valuable considerations.' Luckily, we are able to establish
conclusively what the 'other valuable considerations' were."

"It seems to me that these documents arm and equip you for anything you
want to do," said Loring, polishing his eye-glasses after his ingrained
habit.

Kent shook his head.

"No; thus far the evidence is all circumstantial, or rather inferential.
But I picked up the final link in the chain--the human link--yesterday.
One of the detectives had been dogging Duvall. Two days ago the senator
disappeared, unaccountably. I put two and two together, and late last
evening took the liberty of breaking into his house."

"Alone?" said Elinor, with the courage-worshiping light in the blue-gray
eyes.

"Yes; it didn't seem worth while to double the risk. I did it rather
clumsily, I suppose, and my greeting was a shot fired at random in the
darkness--the senator mistaking me for a burglar, as he afterward
explained. There was no harm done, and the pistol welcome effectually
broke the ice in what might otherwise have been a rather difficult
interview. We had it out in an upper room, with the gas turned low and the
window curtains drawn. To cut a long story short, I finally succeeded in
making him understand what he was in for; that his confederates had used
him and thrown him aside. Then I went out and brought him some supper."

Ormsby smote softly upon the edge of the table with an extended
forefinger.

"Will he testify?" he asked.

Kent's rejoinder was definitive.

"He has put himself entirely in my hands. He is a ruined man, politically
and socially, and he is desperate. While I couldn't make him give me any
of the details in the Trans-Western affair, he made a clean breast of the
oil field deal, and I have his statement locked up with the other papers
in the Security vaults."

It was Penelope who gave David Kent his due meed of praise.

"I am neither a triumphant politician nor a successful detective, but I
recognize both when they are pointed out to me," she said. "Mr. Kent, will
you serve these gentlemen up hot for dinner, or cold for luncheon?"

"Yes," Portia chimed in. "You have outrun your pace-setters, and I'm proud
of you. Tell us what you mean to do next."

Kent laughed.

"You want to make me say some melodramatic thing about having the shackles
forged and snapping them upon the gubernatorial wrists, don't you? It will
be prosaic enough from this on. I fancy we shall have no difficulty now in
convincing his Excellency of the justice of our proceedings to quash Judge
MacFarlane and his receiver."

"But how will you go about it? Surely you can not go personally and
threaten the governor of the State!" this from Miss Brentwood.

"Can't I?" said Kent. "Having the score written out and safely committed
to memory, that will be quite the easiest number on the programme, I
assure you."

But Loring had something to say about the risk.

"Thus far you have not considered your personal safety--haven't had to,
perhaps. But you are coming to that now. You are dealing with a desperate
man, David; with a gang of them, in fact."

"That is so," said Ormsby. "And, as chairman of the executive committee, I
shall have to take steps. We can't afford to bury you just yet, Kent."

"I think you needn't select the pall-bearers yet a while," laughed the
undaunted one; and then Miss Van Brock gave the signal and the "executive
committee" adjourned to the drawing-room. Here the talk, already so deeply
channeled in the groove political, ran easily to forecastings and
predictions for another electoral year; and when Penelope began to yawn
behind her fan, Ormsby took pity on her and the party broke up.

It was at the moment of leave-taking that Elinor sought and found her
chance to extract a promise from David Kent.

"I must have a word with you before you do what you say you are going to
do," she whispered hurriedly. "Will you come to see me?"

"Certainly, if you wish it. But you mustn't let Loring's nervousness
infect you. There is no danger."

"There is a danger," she insisted, "a much greater danger than the one Mr.
Loring fears. Come as soon as you can, won't you?"

It was a new thing for her to plead with him, and he promised in an access
of tumultuous hope reawakened by her changed attitude. But afterward, when
he was walking down-town with Loring, the episode troubled him a little;
would have troubled him more if he had not been so deeply interested in
Loring's story of the campaign in the East.

Taking it all in all, the ex-manager's report was encouraging. The New
Englanders were by no means disposed to lie down in the harness, and since
the Western Pacific proper was an interstate line, the Advisory Board had
taken its grievance to Washington. Many of the small stockholders were
standing firm, though there had been panicky defections in spite of all
that could be done. Loring had no direct evidence to sustain the stock
deal theory; but it was morally certain that the Plantagould brokers were
picking up Western Pacific by littles wherever they could find it.

"I am inclined to believe we haven't much time to lose," was Kent's
comment. "Things will focus here long before Washington can get action.
The other lines are bringing a tremendous pressure to bear on Guilford,
whose cut rates are demoralizing business frightfully. The fictitious boom
in Trans-Western traffic is about worked out; and for political reasons
Bucks can't afford to have the road in the hands of his henchmen when the
collapse comes. The major is bolstering things from week to week now until
the Plantagould people get what they are after--a controlling majority of
the stock--and then Judge MacFarlane will come back."

They were within two squares of the Clarendon, and the cross-street was
deserted save for a drunken cow-boy in shaps and sombrero staggering
aimlessly around the corner.

"That's curious," Loring remarked. "Don't you know, I saw that same
fellow, or his double, lurching across the avenue as we came out of
Alameda Square, and I wondered what he was doing out in that region."

"It was his double, I guess," said Kent. "This one is many pegs too drunk
to have covered the distance as fast as we have been walking."

But drunk or sober, the cow-boy turned up again most unexpectedly; this
time at the entrance of the alley half-way down the block. In passing he
stumbled heavily against Kent; there was a thick-tongued oath, and Loring
struck out smartly with his walking-stick. By consequence the man's pistol
went off harmlessly in the air. The shot brought a policeman lumbering
heavily up from the street beyond, and the skirling of relief whistles
shrilled on the night. But the man with a pistol had twisted out of Kent's
grasp and was gone in a flash.

"By Jove!" said Loring, breathing hard; "he wasn't as drunk as he seemed
to be!"

Kent drew down his cuffs and shook himself straight in his coat.

"No; he wasn't drunk at all; I guess he was the man you saw when we came
out of the square." Then, as the policeman came up puffing: "Let me do the
talking; the whisky theory will be good enough for the newspapers."




XIX


DEEP-SEA SOUNDINGS

"_Oof_! I feel as if I had been dipped in a warm bath of conspiracy and
hung up to dry in the cold storage of nihilism! If you take me to any more
meetings of your committee of safety, I shall be like the man without
music in his soul--'fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils.'"

Thus Penelope, after the breaking up of the Van Brock dinner party. Elinor
had elected to walk the few blocks intervening between Alameda Square and
Tejon Avenue, and Ormsby had dismissed his chauffeur with the motor-car.

"I told you beforehand it was going to be a political confab," said the
club-man in self-defense. "And you mustn't treat it lightly, either. Ten
prattling words of what you have heard to-night set afloat on the gossip
pool of this town might make it pretty difficult for our David."

"We are not very likely to babble," retorted Penelope. "We are not so rich
in intimates in this aboriginal desert." But Elinor spoke to the penal
clause in his warning.

"Then Mr. Kent's danger is more real than he admitted?" she said.

"It's real enough, I fancy; more real for him than it might be for another
man in his place. He is a curious combination, is David: keen and
sharp-witted and as cold as an icicle in the planning part; but when it
comes to the in-fighting he hasn't sense enough to pound sand, as his New
Hampshire neighbors would say."

"I like that side of him best," Penelope averred. "Deliver me from a man
of the cold and calculating sort who sits on his impulses, sleeps on his
injuries, and takes money-revenge for an insult. Mr. Loring tells a story
of a transplanted Vermonter in South America. A hot-headed Peruvian called
him a liar, and he said: 'Oh, pshaw! you can't prove it.'"

"What a merciless generalizer you are!" said Ormsby, laughing. "The man
who marries you will have his work cut out for him if he proposes to fill
the requirements."

"Won't he?" said Penelope. "I can fancy him sitting up nights to figure it
all out."

They had reached the Tejon Avenue apartment house, and to Elinor's "Won't
you come in?" Ormsby said: "It's pretty late, but I'll smoke a cigar on
the porch, if you'll let me."

Penelope took the hammock, but she kept it only during the first inch of
Ormsby's cigar. After her sister had gone in, Elinor went back to the
lapsed topic.

"I am rather concerned about Mr. Kent. You described him exactly;
and--well, he is past the planning part and into the fighting part. Do you
think he will take ordinary precautions?"

"I hope so, I'm sure," rejoined the amateur chairman. "As his business
manager I am responsible for him, after a fashion. I was glad to see
Loring to-night--glad he has come back. Kent defers to him more than he
does to any one else; and Loring is a solid, sober-minded sort."

"Yes," she agreed; "I was glad, too."

After that the talk languished, and the silence was broken only by the
distant droning of an electric car, the fizz and click of the arc light
over the roadway, and the occasional _dap_ of one the great beetles
darting hither and thither in the glare.

Ormsby was wondering if the time was come for the successful exploiting of
an idea which had been growing on him steadily for weeks, not to say
months.

It was becoming more and more evident to him that he was not advancing in
the sentimental siege beyond the first parallel thrown up so skilfully on
the last night of the westward journey. It was not that Elinor was lacking
in loyalty or in acquiescence; she scrupulously gave him both as an
accepted suitor. But though he could not put his finger upon the precise
thing said or done which marked the loosening of his hold, he knew he was
receding rather than advancing.

Now to a man of expedients the interposition of an obstacle suggests only
ways and means for overcoming it. Ormsby had certain clear-cut convictions
touching the subjugation of women, and as his stout heart gave him
resolution he lived up to them. When he spoke again it was of the matter
which concerned him most deeply; and his plea was a gentle repetition of
many others in the same strain.

"Elinor, I have waited patiently for a long time, and I'll go on doing it,
if that is what will come the nearest to pleasing you. But it would be a
prodigious comfort if I might be counting the days or the weeks. Are you
still finding it impossible to set the limit?"

She nodded slowly, and he took the next step like a man feeling his way in
the dark.

"That is as large an answer as you have ever given me, I think. Is there
any speakable reason?"

"You know the reason," she said, looking away from him.

"I am not sure that I do. Is it because the moneygods have been
unpropitious--because these robber barons have looted your railroad?"

"No; that is only part of it--the smallest part."

"I hoped so: if you have too little, I have a good bit too much. But that
corners it in a way to make me sorry. I am not keeping my promise to win
what you weren't able to give me at first."

"Please don't put it that way. If there be any fault, it is mine. You have
left nothing undone."

The man of expedients ran over his cards reflectively and decided that the
moment for playing his long suit was fully come.

"Your goodness of heart excuses me where I am to blame," he qualified. "I
am coming to believe that I have defeated my own cause."

"By being too good to me?" she suggested.

"No; by running where I should have been content to walk; by shackling you
with a promise, and so in a certain sense becoming your jailer. That is
putting it rather clumsily, but isn't it true?"

"I had never thought of it in that light," she said unresponsively.

"You wouldn't, naturally. But the fact remains. It has wrenched your point
of view hopelessly aside, don't you think? I have seen it and felt it all
along, but I haven't had the courage of my convictions."

"In what way?" she asked.

"In the only way the thing can be stood squarely upon its feet. It's
hard--desperately hard; and hardest of all for a man of my peculiar build.
I am no longer what you would call a young man, Elinor, and I have never
learned to turn back and begin all over again with any show of heartiness.
They used to say of me in the Yacht Club that if I gained a half-length in
a race, I'd hold it if it took the sticks out of my boat."

"I know," she assented absently.

"Well, it's the same way now. But for your sake--or rather for the sake of
my love--I am going to turn back for once. You are free again, Elinor. All
I ask is that you will let me begin where I left off somewhere on the road
between here and Boston last fall."

She sat with clasped hands looking steadily at the darkened windows of the
opposite house, and he let her take her own time. When she spoke there was
a thrill in her voice that he had never heard before.

"I don't deserve it--so much consideration, I mean," she said; and he made
haste to spare her.

"Yes, you do; you deserve anything the best man in the world could do for
you, and I'm a good bit short of that."

"But if I don't want you to go back?"

He had gained something--much more than he knew; and for a tremulous
instant he was near to losing it again by a passionate retraction of all
he had been saying. But the cool purpose came to his rescue in time.

"I should still insist on doing it. You gave me what you could, but I want
more, and I am willing to do what is necessary to win it."

Again she said: "You are too good to me," and again he contradicted her.

"No; it is hardly a question of goodness; indeed, I am not sure that it
escapes being selfish. But I am very much in earnest, and I am going to
prove it. Three years ago you met a man whom you thought you could
love--don't interrupt me, please. He was like some other men we know: he
didn't have the courage of his convictions, lacking the few dollars which
might have made things more nearly equal. May I go on?"

"I suppose you have earned the right to say what you please," was the
impassive reply.

It was the old struggle in which they were so evenly matched--of the woman
to preserve her poise; of the man to break it down. Another lover might
have given up in despair, but Ormsby's strength lay in holding on in the
face of all discouragements.

"I believe, as much as I believe anything in this world, that you were
mistaken in regard to your feeling for the other man," he went on calmly.
"But I want you to be sure of that for yourself, and you can't be sure
unless you are free to choose between us."

"Oh, don't!--you shouldn't say such things to me," she broke out; and then
he knew he was gaining ground.

"Yes, I must. We have been stumbling around in the dark all these months,
and I mean to be the lantern-bearer for once in a way. You know, and I
know, and Kent is coming to know. That man is going to be a success,
Elinor: he has it in him, and he sha'n't lack the money-backing he may
need. When he arrives----"

She turned on him quickly, and the blue-gray eyes were suspiciously
bright.

"Please don't bury me alive," she begged.

He saw what he had done; that the nicely calculated purpose had carried
straight and true to its mark; and for a moment the mixed motives, which
are at the bottom of most human sayings and doings, surged in him like the
sea at the vexed tide-line of an iron-bound coast. But it was the better
Brookes Ormsby that struggled up out of the elemental conflict.

"Don't mistake me," he said. "I am neither better nor worse than other
men, I fancy. My motives, such as they are, would probably turn out to be
purely selfish in the last analysis. I am proceeding on the theory that
constraint breeds the desire for the thing it forbids; therefore I remove
it. Also, it is a part of that theory that the successful David Kent will
not appeal to you as the unspoiled country lawyer did. No, I'm not going
to spoil him; if I were, I shouldn't be telling you about it. But--may I
be brutally frank?--the David Kent who will come successfully out of this
political prize-fight will not be the man you have idealized."

There was a muttering of thunder in the air, and the cool precursory
breeze of a shower was sweeping through the tree-tops.

"Shall we go into the house?" she asked; and he took it as his dismissal.

"You may; I have kept you up long enough." And then, taking her hand: "Are
we safely ashore on the new continent, Elinor? May I come and go as
heretofore?"

"You were always welcome, Brookes; you will be twice welcome, now."

It was the first time she had ever called him by his Christian name and it
went near to toppling down the carefully reared structure of
self-restraint. But he made shift to shore the tottering walls with a
playful retort.

"If that is the case, I'll have to think up some more self-abnegations.
Good night."




XX


THE WINNING LOSER

Editor Hildreth's prophecy concerning the probable attitude of the
administration newspapers in the discussion of the oil field affair waited
but a day for its fulfilment. On the Friday morning there appeared in the
_Capital Tribune_, the _Midland City Chronicle_, the _Range County
Maverick_ and the _Agriculta Ruralist_ able editorials exonerating the
People's Party, its policy and the executive, and heaping mountains of
obloquy on the name of Duvall. These editorials were so similar in tone,
tenor and texture, as pointedly to suggest a common model--a coincidence
which was not allowed to pass unremarked by Hildreth and other molders of
public opinion on the opposite side of the political fence.

But Hildreth did not pause at generalities. Two days after the Universal's
triumph in the Belmount field, the _Argus_ began to "hit it up" boldly
toward the capitol, and two things came of it. The first was an attempt by
some party or parties unknown to buy up a controlling interest in the
_Argus_. The second was the waylaying of David Kent in the lobby of the
Clarendon Hotel by no less a personage than the Honorable Melton Meigs,
attorney-general of the State.

In his first conversation with Ormsby, Kent had spoken of the three
leading spirits of the junto as from personal knowledge; but of the three,
Bucks, Hendricks and Meigs, the attorney-general was the least known to
him. Prior to his nomination on the State ticket Meigs had been best known
as the most astute criminal lawyer in the State, his astuteness lying not
so much in his ability as a pleader as in a certain oratorical gift by
which he was able to convince not only a jury but the public of the entire
innocence of his client.

He was a small man physically, with womanish hands and feet, and a
beardless face of that prematurely aged cast which is oftenest seen in
dwarfs and precocious infants; and his distinguishing characteristic, the
one which stuck longest in the mind of a chance acquaintance or a casual
observer, was a smile of the congealed sort which served to mask whatever
emotion there might be behind it.

Kent had seen little of Meigs since the latter had turned him down in the
_quo warranto_ matter; and his guard went up quickly when the
attorney-general accosted him in the lobby of the hotel and asked for a
private interview.

"I am very much occupied just now, Mr. Meigs," he demurred; "but if it is
a matter of importance----"

"It is; a matter of the greatest importance," was the smooth-toned reply.
"I am sure you will not regret it if you will give me a few moments, Mr.
Kent."

Kent decided quickly. Being forewarned, there was nothing to fear.

"We will go up to my rooms, if you please," he said, leading the way to
the elevator; and no other word was spoken until they were behind closed
doors on the fourth floor.

"A prefatory remark may make my business with you seem a little less
singular, Mr. Kent," Meigs began, when Kent had passed his cigar-case and
the attorney-general had apologized for a weak digestive tract. "On wholly
divergent lines and from wholly different motives we are both working
toward the same end, I believe, and it has occurred to me that we might be
of some assistance to each other."

Kent's rejoinder was a mute signal to the effect that he was attending.

"Some little time ago you came to me as the legal representative of the
stock-holders of the Trans-Western Railway Company, and I did not find it
possible at that time to meet your wishes in the matter of a _quo
warranto_ information questioning Judge MacFarlane's election and status.
You will admit, I presume, that your demand was a little peremptory?"

"I admit nothing," said Kent, curtly. "But for the sake of expediting
present matters----"

"Precisely," was the smiling rejoinder. "You will note that I said 'at
that time.' Later developments--more especially this charge made openly by
the public press of juggling with foreign corporations--have led me to
believe that as the public prosecutor I may have duties which transcend
all other considerations--of loyalty to a party standard--of----"

Kent took his turn at interrupting.

"Mr. Meigs, there is nothing to be gained by indirection. May I ask you to
come to the point?"

"Briefly, then: the course pursued by Senator Duvall in the Belmount
affair leaves an unproved charge against others; a charge which I am
determined to sift to the bottom--you see, I am speaking quite frankly.
That charge involves the reputation of men high in authority; but I shall
be strong to do my sworn duty, Mr. Kent; I ask you to believe that."

Kent nodded and waved him on.

"You will readily understand the delicacy of the task, and how, in the
nature of things, I am handicapped and hedged up on every side.
Evidence--of a kind to enable me to assail a popular idol--is exceedingly
difficult to procure."

"It is," said Kent, grimly.

"Exactly. But in revolving the matter in my own mind, I thought of you.
You are known at the capitol, Mr. Kent, and I may say throughout the
State, as the uncompromising antagonist of the State administration. I
have asked myself this: Is it possible that a cool-headed, resolute
attorney like Mr. David Kent would move so far and so determinedly in this
matter of antagonism without substantially paving the ground under his
feet with evidence as he went along?"

Kent admitted that it was possible, but highly improbable.

"So I decided," was the smile-tempered rejoinder. "In that case it only
remains for me to remind you of your public duty, Mr. Kent; to ask you in
the name of justice and of the people of the State, to place your
information in the hands of the public prosecutor."

Kent's face betrayed nothing more than his appreciation of the confidence
reposed in him by the man whose high sense of official honor was making
him turn traitor to the party leader who had dragged him through a
successful election.

"I have what evidence I need, Mr. Meigs," he declared. "But if I make no
secret of this, neither do I conceal the fact that the motive _pro bono
publico_ has had little to do with its accumulating. I want justice first
for what might be called a purely private end, and I mean to have it."

"Pre-cisely," smiled the attorney-general. "And now we are beginning to
see our way a little clearer. It is not too late for us to move in the
_quo warranto_ proceedings. If you will call at my office I shall be glad
to reopen the matter with you."

"And the price?" said Kent, shortly.

"Oh, my dear sir! must we put it upon the ground of a _quid pro quo_?
Rather let us say that we shall help each other. You are in a position to
assist me very materially: I may be in a position to serve your turn. Come
to my office to-morrow morning prepared to do your duty as an honest,
loyal citizen, and you will find me quite willing to meet you half-way."

Kent rose and opened his watch.

"Mr. Meigs, I have given you your opportunity, and you have seemed to give
me mine," he said coolly. "Will you pardon me if I say that I can paddle
my own canoe--if I ask you to assure his Excellency that one more device
of his to escape punishment has been tried and found wanting?"

For a flitting moment the cast-iron smile faded from the impassive face of
the attorney-general and an unrelenting devil came to peer out of the
colorless eyes. Then Meigs rose cat-like and laid his hand on the
door-knob.

"Do I understand that you refuse to move in a matter which should be the
first duty of a good citizen, Mr. Kent?" he asked purringly.

"I certainly do refuse to fall into any such clumsy trap as you have been
trying to bait for me, Mr. Meigs," said David Kent, dropping back into his
former curtness.

The door opened slowly under the impulse of the slender womanish hand.

"You have a task of some magnitude before you, Mr. Kent. You can scarcely
hope to accomplish it alone."

"Meaning that you would like to know if the fight will go on if I should
chance to meet another drunken cow-boy with a better aim? It will."

The door closed softly behind the retreating figure of the
attorney-general, and Kent released the spring of the night-latch. Then he
went to the dropped portiere at the farther end of the room, drew it aside
and looked in on a man who was writing at a table pushed out between the
windows.

"You heard him, Loring?" he asked.

The ex-manager nodded.

"They are hard pressed," he said. Then, looking up quickly: "You could
name your price if you wanted to close out the stock of goods in hand,
David."

"I shall name it when the time comes. Are you ready to go over to the
_Argus_ office with me? I want to have a three-cornered talk with
Hildreth."

"In a minute. I'll join you in the lobby if you don't want to wait."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was in the afternoon of the same day that Kent found a note in his
key-box at the Clarendon asking him to call up 124 Tejon Avenue by
telephone. He did it at once, and Penelope answered. The key-box note had
been placed at Elinor's request, and she, Miss Penelope, could not say
what was wanted; neither could she say definitely when her sister would be
in. Elinor had gone out an hour earlier with Mr. Ormsby and Miss Van Brock
in Mr. Ormsby's motor-car. When was he, David Kent, coming up? Did he know
they were talking of spending the remainder of the summer at Breezeland
Inn? And where was Mr. Loring all this time?

Kent made fitting answers to all these queries, hung up the ear-piece and
went away moodily reflective. He was due at a meeting of the executive
committee of the Civic League, but he let the public business wait while
he speculated upon the probable object of Elinor's telephoning him.

Now there is no field in which the inconsistency of human nature is so
persistent as in that which is bounded by the sentimentally narrowed
horizon of a man in love. With Ormsby at the nodus of his point of view,
David Kent made no secret of his open rivalry of the millionaire,
declaring his intention boldly and taking no shame therefor. But when he
faced about toward Elinor he found himself growing hotly jealous for her
good faith; careful and fearful lest she should say or do something not
strictly in accordance with the letter and spirit of her obligations as
Ormsby's _fiancee_.

For example: at the "conspiracy dinner," as Loring dubbed it, Ormsby being
present to fight for his own hand, Kent, as we have seen, had boldly
monopolized Miss Brentwood, and would have committed himself still more
pointedly had the occasion favored him. None the less, when Elinor had
begged him privately to see her before moving in the attack on the junto,
he had almost resented the implied establishing of confidential relations
with her lover's open rival.

For this cause he had been postponing the promised visit, and thereby
postponing the taking of the final step in the campaign of intimidation.
The unexplained telephone call decided him, however. He would go and see
Elinor and have the ordeal over with.

But as a preliminary he dined that evening with Ormsby at the Camelot
Club, and over the coffee had it out with him.

"I am going out to see Miss Brentwood to-night," he announced abruptly.
"Have you any objection?"

The millionaire gave him the shrewdest of over-looks, ending with a
deep-rumbling laugh.

"Kent, you are the queerest lot I have ever discovered, and that is saying
a good bit. Why, in the name of all the proprieties, should I object?"

"Your right is unchallenged," Kent admitted.

"Is it? Better ask Miss Brentwood about that. She might say it isn't."

"I don't understand," said Kent, dry-tongued.

"Don't you? Perhaps I'd better explain: she might find it a little
difficult. You have been laboring under the impression that we are
engaged, haven't you?"

"Laboring under the--why, good heavens, man! it's in everybody's mouth!"

"Curious, isn't it, how such things get about," commented the player of
long suits. "How do you suppose they get started?"

"I don't suppose anything about it, so far as we two are concerned; I have
your own word for it. You said you were the man in possession."

Ormsby laughed again.

"You are something of a bluffer yourself, David. Did you let my little
stagger scare you out?"

David Kent pushed his chair back from the table and nailed Ormsby with a
look that would have made a younger man betray himself.

"Do you mean to tell me that there is no engagement between you and Miss
Brentwood?"

"Just that." Ormsby put all the nonchalance he could muster into the
laconic reply, but he was anticipating the sequent demand which came like
a shot out of a gun.

"And there never has been?"

Ormsby grinned.

"When you are digging a well and have found your stream of water, it's
folly to go deeper, David. Can't you let 'good enough' alone?"

Kent turned it over in his mind, frowning thoughtfully into his
coffee-cup. When he spoke it was out of the mid-heart of manliness.

"I wish you would tell me one thing, Ormsby. Am I responsible for--for the
present state of affairs?"

Ormsby stretched the truth a little; partly for Elinor's sake; more,
perhaps, for Kent's.

"You have done nothing that an honorable rival--and incidentally a good
friend of mine--might not do. Therefore you are not responsible."

"That is putting it very diplomatically," Kent mused. "I am afraid it does
not exonerate me wholly."

"Yes, it does. But it doesn't put me out of the running, you understand.
I'm 'forninst' you yet; rather more stubbornly than before, I fancy."

Kent nodded.

"That, of course; I should think less of you if you were not. And you
shall have as fair a show as you are giving me--which is saying a lot.
Shall we go and smoke?"




XXI


A WOMAN INTERVENES

It was still early in the evening when Kent mounted the steps of the
Brentwood apartment house. Mother and daughters were all on the porch, but
it was Mrs. Brentwood who welcomed him.

"We were just wondering if you would imagine the message which Elinor was
going to send, and didn't, and come out to see what was wanted," she said.
"I am in need of a little legal advice. Will you give me a few minutes in
the library?"

Kent went with her obediently, but not without wondering why she had sent
for him, of all the retainable lawyers in the capital. And the wonder
became amazement when she opened her confidence. She had received two
letters from a New York broker who offered to buy her railroad stock at a
little more than the market price. To the second letter she had replied,
asking a price ten points higher than the market. At this the broker had
apparently dropped the attempted negotiation, since there had been no more
letters. What would Mr. Kent advise her to do--write again?

Kent smiled inwardly at the good lady's definition of "legal advice," but
he rose promptly to the occasion. If he were in Mrs. Brentwood's place, he
would not write again; nor would he pay any attention whatever to any
similar proposals from any source. Had there been any others?

Mrs. Brentwood confessed that there had been; that a firm of Boston
brokers had also written her. Did Mr. Kent know the meaning of all this
anxiety to buy in Western Pacific when the stock was going down day by
day?

Kent took time for reflection before he answered. It was exceedingly
difficult to eliminate the personal factor in the equation. If all went
well, if by due process of law the Trans-Western should be rescued out of
the hands of the wreckers, the property would be a long time recovering
from the wounds inflicted by the cut rates and the Guilford bad
management. In consequence, any advance in the market value of the stock
must be slow and uncertain under the skilfullest handling. But, while it
might be advisable for Mrs. Brentwood to take what she could get, the
transfer of the three thousand shares at the critical moment might be the
death blow to all his hopes in the fight for retrieval.

Happily, he hit upon the expedient of shifting the responsibility for the
decision to other shoulders.

"I scarcely feel competent to advise you in a matter which is personal
rather than legal," he said at length. "Have you talked it over with Mr.
Ormsby?"

Mrs. Brentwood's reply was openly contemptuous.

"Brookes Ormsby doesn't know anything about dollars. You have to express
it in millions before he can grasp it. He says for me not to sell at any
price."

Kent shook his head.

"I shouldn't put it quite so strongly. At the same time, I am not the
person to advise you."

The shrewd eyes looked up at him quickly.

"Would you mind telling me why, Mr. Kent?"

"Not in the least. I am an interested party. For weeks Mr. Loring and I
have been striving by all means to prevent transfers of the stock from the
hands of the original holders. I don't want to advise you to your hurt;
but to tell you to sell might be to undo all that has been done."

"Then you are still hoping to get the railroad out of Major Guilford's
hands?"

"Yes."

"And in that case the price of the stock will go up again?"

"That is just the difficulty. It may be a long time recovering."

"Do you think the sale of my three thousand shares would make any
difference?" she asked.

"There is reason to fear that it would make all the difference."

She was silent for a time, and when she spoke again Kent realized that he
was coming to know an entirely unsuspected side of Elinor's mother.

"It makes it pretty hard for me," she said slowly. "This little drib of
railroad stock is all that my girls have left out of what their father
willed them. I want to save it if I can."

"So do I," said David Kent, frankly; "and for the same reason."

Mrs. Brentwood confined herself to a dry "Why?"

"Because I have loved your elder daughter well and truly ever since that
summer at the foot of Old Croydon, Mrs. Brentwood, and her happiness and
well-being concern me very nearly."

"You are pretty plain-spoken, Mr. Kent. I suppose you know Elinor is to be
married to Brookes Ormsby?" Mrs. Brentwood was quite herself again.

Kent dexterously equivocated.

"I know they have been engaged for some time," he said; but the small
quibble availed him nothing.

"Which one of them was it told you it was broken off?" she inquired.

He smiled in spite of the increasing gravity of the situation.

"You may be sure it was not Miss Elinor."

"Humph!" said Mrs. Brentwood. "She didn't tell me, either. 'Twas Brookes
Ormsby, and he said he wanted to begin all over again, or something of
that sort. He is nothing but a foolish boy, for all his hair is getting
thin."

"He is a very honorable man," said Kent.

"Because he is giving you another chance? I don't mind telling you plainly
that it won't do any good, Mr. Kent."

"Why?" he asked in his turn.

"For several reasons: one is that Elinor will never marry without my
consent; another is that she can't afford to marry a poor man."

Kent rose.

"I am glad to know how you feel about it, Mrs. Brentwood: nevertheless, I
shall ask you to give your consent some day, God willing."

He expected an outburst of some sort, and was telling himself that he had
fairly provoked it, when she cut the ground from beneath his feet.

"Don't you go off with any such foolish notion as that, David Kent," she
said, not unsympathetically. "She's in love with Brookes Ormsby, and she
knows it now, if she didn't before." And it was with this arrow rankling
in him that Kent bowed himself out and went to join the young women on the
porch.




XXII


A BORROWED CONSCIENCE

The conversation on the Brentwood porch was chiefly of Breezeland Inn as a
health and pleasure resort, until an outbound electric car stopped at the
corner below and Loring came up to make a quartet of the trio behind the
vine-covered trellis.

Later, the ex-manager confessed to a desire for music--Penelope's
music--and the twain went in to the sitting-room and the piano, leaving
Elinor and Kent to make the best of each other as the spirit moved them.

It was Elinor's chance for free speech with Kent--the opportunity she had
craved. But now it was come, the simplicity of the thing to be said had
departed and an embarrassing complexity had taken its place. Under other
conditions Kent would have been quick to see her difficulty, and would
have made haste to efface it; but he was fresh from the interview with
Mrs. Brentwood, and the Parthian arrow was still rankling. None the less,
he was the first to break away from the commonplaces.

"What is the matter with us this evening?" he queried. "We have been
sitting here talking the vaguest trivialities ever since Penelope and
Loring side-tracked us. I haven't been doing anything I am ashamed of;
have you?"

"Yes," she confessed, looking away from him.

"What is it?"

"I asked a certain good friend of mine to come to see me when there is
good reason to believe he didn't want to come."

"What makes you think he didn't want to come?"

"Why--I don't know; did he?" She had turned upon him swiftly with an
outflash of the playful daring which had been one of his major fetterings
in time past--the ecstatic little charm that goes with quick repartee and
instant and sympathetic apprehension.

"You have never yet asked anything of him that he wasn't glad enough to
give," he rejoined, keeping up the third person figurative.

"Is that saying very much--or very little?"

"Very little, indeed. But it is only your askings that have been
lacking--not his good will."

"That was said like the David Kent I used to know. Are you really quite
the same?"

"I hope not," he protested gravely. "People used to say of me that I
matured late, and year by year as I look back I can see that it was a true
saying. I have done some desperately boyish things since I was a man
grown; things that make me tingle when I recall them."

"Like wasting a whole summer exploring Mount Croydon with a--a somebody
who did not mature late?"

"No; I wasn't counting that among my lapses. An older man than I ever hope
to be might find excuses for the Croydon summer. I meant in other ways.
For one thing, I have craved success as I think few men have ever craved
it; and yet my plowings in that field have been ill-timed and boyish to a
degree."

She shook her head.

"I don't know how you measure success; it is a word of so many, many
meanings. But I think you are your own severest critic."

"That may be; but the fact remains. It is only within the past few months
that I have begun to get a true inkling of things; to know, for example,
that opportunities are things to be compelled--not waited for."

She was looking away from him again.

"I am not sure that I like you better for your having discovered yourself.
I liked the other David Kent."

He smiled rather joylessly.

"Somebody has said that for every new point of view gained we have to
sacrifice all the treasures of the old. I am sorry if I am disappointing
you."

"I don't know that you are. And yet, when you were sitting at Miss Van
Brock's table the other evening telling us about your experience with the
politicians, I kept saying to myself that I didn't know you--that I had
never known you."

"I wish I knew just how to take that," he said dubiously.

"I wish I knew how to make you understand," she returned; and then: "I
could have made the other David Kent understand."

"You are in duty bound to try to make this one understand, don't you
think? You spoke of a danger which was not the violent kind, such as
Loring fears. What is it?"

"You have had two whole days," she rejoined. "Haven't you discovered it?"

"I haven't found anything to fear but failure," was his reply.

"That is it; you have given it a name--its only true name--failure."

"But I am not going to fail."

"You mean you are going to take our railroad away from these men who have
stolen it?"

"That is what I mean."

"And you will do it by threatening to expose them?"

"I shall tell Governor Bucks what I know about the oil field deal,
assuring him that I shall publish the facts if he doesn't let the law take
its course in ousting Judge MacFarlane and the receiver."

She rose and stood before him, leaning against one of the vine-clad porch
pillars with her hands behind her.

"David Kent, are there any circumstances in which you would accept a
bribe?"

He answered her in all seriousness.

"They say every man has his price: mine is higher than any bid they have
yet made--or can make, I hope."

"Why don't you let _them_ bribe _you_?" she asked coolly. "Is it because
it is inexpedient--because there is more 'success' the other way?"

He tried to emulate her coolness and made a failure of it.

"Have I ever done anything to make you think I had thrown common honesty
and self-respect overboard?" he demanded.

Her answer was another question, sharp-edged and well thrust home.

"Is it any worse to take a bribe than it is to give one? You have just
admitted that you are going to buy the governor's neutrality, you know."

"I don't see it in that light at all."

"The other David Kent would have seen it. He would have said: These men
are public criminals. If I can not bring them to justice, I can at least
expose them to the scorn of all good men. Therefore I have no right to
bargain with them."

Kent was silent for a long time. When he spoke it was to say:

"Why have you done this, Elinor?"

"Because I had to, David. Could I do less?"

"I suppose not. It's in the blood--in your blood and mine. Other folk call
it the Puritan virus of over-righteousness, and scoff at it. I don't know:
sometimes I think they have the best of the argument."

"I can't believe you are quite sincere when you say that," she asserted.

"Yes, I am. One can not compromise with conscience; that says itself. But
I have come to believe latterly that one's conscience may be morbidly
acute, or even diseased. I'll admit I've been taking treatment."

"That sounds very dreadful," she rejoined.

"It does, doesn't it? Yet it had to be done. As I intimated a few minutes
ago, my life has hitherto been a sort of unostentatious failure. I used to
think it was because I was outclassed: I know now it has been because I
wouldn't do as other men do. It has been a rather heart-breaking
process--to sort out the scruples, admitting the just and overriding the
others--but I have been given to see that it is the price of success."

"I want you to succeed," she said.

"Pardon me; I don't think you do. You have reopened the door to doubt, and
if I admit the doubt I shall fail."

The sonata Penelope was playing was approaching its finale, and Elinor was
suddenly shaken with a trembling fit of fear--the fear of consequences
which might involve this man's entire future. She knew Kent was leaning on
her, and she saw herself as one who has ruthlessly thrust an iron bar
among the wheels of a delicate mechanism. Who was she to be his
conscience-keeper--to stand in the way and bid him go back? Were her own
motives always so exalted? Had she not once deliberately debated this same
question of expediency, to the utter abasement of her own ideals?

Penelope had left the piano, and Loring was looking at his watch. Kent saw
them through the open window and got upon his feet.

"Grantham is saying he had no idea it was so late," he hazarded. "If I
thank you for what you have said I am afraid it must be as the patient
thanks the surgeon for the knife-stroke which leaves him a cripple for
life."

It was the one word needed to break her resolution.

"Oh, forget it; please forget it!" she said. "I had no right.... You are
doing a man's work in the world, and it must be done in a man's way. If I
can not help, you must not let me hinder. If you let anything I have said
discourage you, I shall never cease regretting it."

His smile was a mere indrawing of the lips.

"Having opened the door, you would try to shut it again, would you? How
like a woman! But I am afraid it can't be done. I had been trying to keep
away from that point of view.... There is much to be said on both sides.
There was a time when I wouldn't have gone into such a thing as this fight
with the junto; but being in, I should have seen it through regardless of
the public welfare--ignoring that side of it. I can't do it now; you have
shown me that I can't."

"But I don't want to be a stumbling-block," she insisted. "Won't you
believe that I wanted to help?"

"I believe that your motive was all it should be; yes. But the result is
the same."

Loring and Penelope were coming out, and the end of their privacy was at
hand.

"What will you do?" she asked.

"I don't know: nothing that I had meant to do. It was a false start and I
am back under the wire again."

"But you must not turn back unless you are fully convinced of the wrong of
going on," she protested.

"Didn't you mean to convince me?"

"No--yes--I don't know. I--it seems very clear to me; but I want it to
seem clear to you. Doesn't your conscience tell you that you ought to turn
back?"

"No," he said shortly; but he immediately qualified the denial. "You may
be right: I am afraid you are right. But I shall have to fight it out for
myself. There are many things to consider. If I hold my hand, these
bucaneers will triumph over the stockholders, and a host of innocent
people will suffer loss." Then, seeing the quick-springing tears in her
eyes: "But you mustn't be sorry for having done what you had to do; you
have nothing to reproach yourself for."

"Oh, but I have!" she said; and so they parted.




XXIII


THE INSURRECTIONARIES

When the Receiver Guilfords, great and small, set their official
guillotines at work lopping off department heads, they commonly ignore a
consequence overlooked by many; namely, the possible effect of such
wholesale changes in leadership upon the rank and file.

The American railroad in its unconsolidated stage is a modern feudalism.
Its suzerains are the president and board of directors; its clan chiefs
are the men who have built it and fought for its footing in the sharply
contested field of competition. To these leaders the rank and file is
loyal, as loyalty is accorded to the men who build and do, rather than to
their successors who inherit and tear down. Add to this the supplanting of
competent executive officers by a staff of political trenchermen, ignorant
alike of the science of railroading, and the equally important sub-science
of industrial manhandling, and you have the kindling for the fire of
insurrection which had been slowly smoldering in the Trans-Western service
since the day when Major Guilford had issued his general order Number One.

At first the fire had burned fitfully, eating its way into the small
economies; as when the section hands pelt stray dogs with new spikes from
the stock keg, and careless freight crews seed down the right of way with
cast-off links and pins; when engineers pour oil where it should be
dropped, and firemen feed the stack instead of the steam-dome.

But later, when the incompetence of the new officials became the mocking
gibe of the service, and the cut-rate avalanche of traffic had doubled all
men's tasks, the flames rose higher, and out of the smoke of them loomed
the shape of the dread demon of demoralization.

First it was Hank Brodrick, who misread his orders and piled two freights
in a mountain of wreckage in the deep cut between Long Pine and Argenta.
Next it was an overworked night man who lost his head and cranked a switch
over in front of the west-bound Flyer, laying the 1020 on her side in the
ditch, with the postal and the baggage-car neatly telescoped on top to
hold her down.

Two days later it was Patsy Callahan; and though he escaped with his life
and his job, it was a close call. He was chasing a time freight with the
fast mail, and the freight was taking the siding at Delhi to let him pass.
One of the red tail-lights of the freight had gone out, and Callahan
mistook the other for the target lamp of the second switch. He had time to
yell at his fireman, to fling himself upon the throttle-bar and to set the
airbrake before he began to turn Irish handsprings down the embankment;
but the wrecking crew camped two whole days at Delhi gathering up the
debris.

It was well on in the summer, when the two divisions, east and west, were
strewn with wreckage and the pit tracks in the shops and shop yard were
filled to overflowing with crippled engines, that the insurrectionaries
began to gather in their respective labor groups to discuss the growing
hazards of railroading on the Trans-Western.

The outcome was a protest from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers,
addressed to the receiver in the name of the organization, setting forth
in plain terms the grievance of the members, and charging it bluntly to
bad management. This was followed immediately by similar complaints from
the trainmen, the telegraphers, and the firemen; all praying for relief
from the incubus of incompetent leadership. Not to be behind these, came
the Amalgamated Machinists, demanding an increase of pay for night work
and overtime; and last, but not least, an intimation went forth from the
Federative Council of all these labor unions hinting at possible political
consequences and the alienation of the labor vote if the abuses were not
corrected.

"What d'ye calc'late the major will do about it?" said Brodrick, in the
roundhouse conclave held daily by the trainmen who were hung up or off
duty. "Will he listen to reason and give us a sure-enough railroad man or
two at the top?"

"Not in _ein_ t'ousand year," quoth "Dutch" Tischer, Callahan's alternate
on the fast mail. "Haf you not de _Arkoos_ been reading? It is bolotics
from der beginning to der ent; mit der governor _vorwaerts_."

"Then I am tellin' you-all right now there's goin' to be a heap o'
trouble," drawled "Pike County" Griggs, the oldest engineer on the line.
"The shopmen are b'ilin'; and if the major puts on that blanket cut in
wages he's talkin' about----"

"'If'," broke in Callahan, with fine scorn. "'Tis slaping on yer injuries
ye are, Misther Griggs. The notice is out; 'twas posted in the shops this
day."

"Then that settles it," said Griggs, gloomily. "When does it take hold?"

"The first day av the month to come. An' they're telling me it catches
everybody, down to the missinger b'ys in the of'ces."

Griggs got upon his feet, yawning and stretching before he dropped back
into his corner of the wooden settle.

"You lissen at me: if that's the fact, I'm tellin' you-all that every
wheel on this blame', hoodooed railroad is goin' to stop turnin' at twelve
o'clock on the night before that notice takes hold."

An oil-begrimed wiper crawled from under the 1031, spat at the dope-bucket
and flung his bunch of waste therein.

"Gur-r-r! Let 'em stop," he rasped. "The dope's bad, and the waste's bad;
and the old man has cut out the 'lectrics and put us back on _them_,"
kicking a small jacket lamp to the bottom of an empty stall. "Give 's a
chaw o' yer smokin' plug, Mr. Callahan," and he held out his hand.

Callahan emptied the hot ashes from his black pipe into the open palm.

"'Tis what ye get f'r yer impidunce, an' f'r layin' tongue to ould man
Durgan, ye scut. 'Tis none av his doin's--the dhirty oil an' the chape
waste an' the jacket lamps. It's ay-conomy, me son; an' the other name f'r
that is a rayceiver."

"Is Durgan with us?" asked Brodrick.

"He's wit' himself, as a master-mechanic shu'd be," said Callahan. "So's
M'Tosh. But nayther wan n'r t'other av thim'll take a thrain out whin the
strike's on. They're both Loring min."

At the mention of Loring's name Griggs looked up from the stick he was
whittling.

"No prospects o' the Boston folks getting the road back again, I reckon,"
he remarked tentatively.

"You should read dose _Arkoos_ newsbapers: den you should know somet'ings
alretty, ain'd it?" said Tischer.

Brodrick laughed.

"If you see it in the papers, it's so," he quoted. "What the _Argus_
doesn't say would make a 'nough sight bigger book than what it does. But
I've been kind o' watchin' that man Kent. He's been hot after the major,
right from the jump. You rec'lect what he said in them Civic League talks
o' his: said these politicians had stole the road, hide, hair an' horns."

"I'm onto him," said Callahan. "'Tis a bird he is. Oleson was telling me.
The Scandehoovian was thryin' to get him down to Gaston the day they
ray-ceivered us. Jarl says he wint a mile a minut', an' the little man
never turned a hair."

"Is he here yet; or did he go back to God's country?" asked Engineer
Scott, leaning from the cab window of the 1031.

"He's here; and so is Mr. Loring. They're stopping at the Clarendon," said
Brodrick.

"Then they haven't quit," drawled Griggs; adding: "I wonder if they have a
ghost of a show against the politicals?"

"Has annybody been to see 'em?" asked Callahan.

"There's a notion for you, Scott," said Brodrick. Scott was the presiding
officer in the B. of L.E. local. "Get up a committee from the Federative
to go and ask Mr. Loring if there's any use in our tryin' to hold on."

The wiper was killing time at a window which commanded a view of the upper
yards, with the Union Passenger Station at the end of the three-mile
vista. Being a late comer in the field, the Trans-Western had scanty track
rights in the upper yard; its local headquarters were in the shops suburb,
where the two division main lines proper began and ended, diverging, the
one to the eastward and the other to the west.

"Holy smut!" said the wiper. "See Dicky Dixon comin' out with the Flyer!
How's that for ten miles an hour in the city limits?"

It was a foot-note commentary on the way the service was going to pieces.
Halkett, the "political" general superintendent, had called Dixon on the
carpet for not making time with his train. "If you're afraid to run, say
so, and we'll get a man that isn't," Halkett had said; and here was Dixon
coming down a borrowed track in a busy yard at the speed which presupposes
a ninety-pound rail and nothing in the way.

The conclave had gathered at the wiper's window.

"The dum fool!" said Brodrick. "If anything gets in front of him----"

There was a suburb street-crossing three hundred yards townward from the
"yard limits" telegraph office, which stood in the angle formed by the
diverging tracks of the two divisions. Beyond the yard the street became a
country road, well traveled as the principal southern inlet to the city.
When Dixon was within two train-lengths of the crossing, a farm wagon
appeared, driven between the cut freight trains on the sidings directly in
the path of the Flyer. The men at the roundhouse window heard the crash of
the splintering wagon above the roar of the train; and the wiper on the
window seat yelped like a kicked dog and went sickly green under his mask
of grime.

"There it is again," said Scott, when Dixon had brought his train to a
stand two hundred yards beyond the "limits" office where he should have
stopped for orders. "We're all hoodooed, the last one of us. I'll get that
committee together this afternoon and go and buzz Mr. Loring."

Now it fell out that these things happened on a day when the tide of
retrieval was at its lowest ebb; the day, namely, in which Kent had told
Loring that he was undecided as to his moral right to use the evidence
against Bucks as a lever to pry the Trans-Western out of the grip of the
junto. It befell, also, that it was the day chosen by two other men, not
members of the labor unions, in which to call upon the ex-manager; and
Loring found M'Tosh, the train-master, and Durgan, the master-mechanic,
waiting for him in the hotel corridor when he came in from a late luncheon
at the Camelot Club.

"Can you give us a few minutes, Mr. Loring?" asked M'Tosh, when Loring had
shaken hands with them, not as subordinates.

"Surely. My time is not very valuable, just at present. Come in, and I'll
see if Mr. Kent has left me any cigars."

"Humph!" said Durgan, when the ex-manager had gone into Kent's room to
rummage for the smoke offering. "And they give us the major in the place
of such a man as that!" with a jerk of his thumb toward the door of the
bedroom.

"Come off!" warned M'Tosh; "he'll hear you." And when Loring came back
with the cigars there was dry humor in his eye.

"You mustn't let your loyalty to the old guard get you into trouble with
the receiver," he cautioned; and they both smiled.

"The trouble hasn't waited for our bringing," said M'Tosh. "That is why we
are here. Durgan has soured on his job, and I'm more than sick of mine.
It's hell, Mr. Loring. I have been at it twenty years, and I never saw
such crazy railroading in any one of them."

"Bad management, you mean?"

"Bad management at the top, and rotten demoralization at the bottom as a
natural consequence. We can't be sure of getting a train out of the yards
without accident. Dixon is as careful a man as ever stepped on an engine,
and he smashed a farmer's wagon and killed the farmer this morning within
two train-lengths of the shop junction."

"Drunk?" inquired the ex-manager.

"Never a drop; Dixon's a Prohibitionist, dyed in the wool. But just before
he took his train, Halkett had him in the sweat-box, jacking him up for
not making his time. He came out red in the face, jumped on his engine,
and yanked the Flyer down the yards forty miles an hour."

"And what is your trouble, Durgan?" asked Loring.

"Another side of the same thing. I wrote Major Guilford yesterday, telling
him that six pit gangs, all the roundhouse 'emergencies' and two outdoor
repair squads couldn't begin to keep the cripples moving; and within a
week every one of the labor unions has kicked through its grievance
committee. His reply is an order announcing a blanket cut in wages, to go
into effect the first of the month. That means a strike and a general
tie-up."

Loring shook his head regretfully.

"It hurts me," he admitted. "We had the best-handled piece of railroad in
the West, and I give the credit to the men that did the handling. And to
have it wrecked by a gang of incompetent salary-grabbers----"

The two left-overs nodded.

"That's just it, Mr. Loring," said M'Tosh. "And we're here to ask you if
it's worth while for us to stick to the wreck any longer. Are you folks
doing anything?"

"We have been trying all legal means to break the grip of the
combination--yes."

"And what are the prospects?" It was the master-mechanic who wanted to
know.

"They are not very bright at present, I must confess. We have the entire
political ring to fight, and the odds are overwhelming."

"You say you've been trying legal means'," M'Tosh put in. "Can't we down
them some other way? I believe you could safely count on the help of every
man in the service, barring the politicals."

Loring smiled.

"I don't say we should scruple to use force if there were any way to apply
it. But the way doesn't offer."

"I didn't know," said the train-master, rising to close the interview.
"But if the time ever comes, all you or Mr. Kent will have to do will be
to pass the word. Maybe you can think of some way to use the strike. It
hasn't been declared yet, but you can bet on it to a dead moral
certainty."

It was late in the afternoon of the same day that the Federative Council
sent its committee, chairmaned by Engineer Scott, to interview the
ex-general manager at his rooms in the Clarendon. Scott acted as
spokesman, stating the case with admirable brevity and conciseness, and
asking the same question as that propounded by the train-master, to wit,
if there were any prospect of a return of the road to its former
management.

Loring spoke more hopefully to the committee than he had to Durgan and
M'Tosh. There had been a little more time for reflection, and there was
the heartening which comes upon the heels of unsolicited help-tenderings,
however futile. So he told the men that the stockholders were moving
heaven and earth in the effort to recover their property; that until the
road should be actually sold under an order from the court, there was
always room for hope. The committee might rest assured that no stone would
be left unturned; also that the good will of the rank and file would not
be forgotten in the day of restitution, if that day should ever dawn.

When Loring was through, Engineer Scott did a thing no union man had ever
done before: he asked an ex-general manager's advice touching the
advisability of a strike.

"I can't say as to that," was the prompt reply. "You know your own
business best--what it will cost, and what it may accomplish. But I've
been on the other side often enough to be able to tell you why most
strikes fail, if you care to know."

A broad grin ran the gamut of the committee.

"Tell us what to do, and we'll do it; Mr. Loring," said Scott, briefly.

"First, then, have a definite object and one that will stand the test of
public opinion; in this case we'll say it is the maintenance of the
present wage-scale and the removal of incompetent officers and men.
Secondly, make your protest absolutely unanimous to a man. Thirdly, don't
give the major time to fortify: keep your own counsels, and don't send in
your ultimatum until the final moment. And, lastly, shun violence as you
would a temptation of the devil."

"Yon's a man," said Angus Duncan, the member from the Amalgamated
Machinists, when the committee was filing out through the hotel corridor.

"Now you're shouting!" said Engineer Scott. "And you might say a man and a
brother."




XXIV


INTO THE PRIMITIVE

Tested upon purely diplomatic principles, Miss Van Brock's temper was
little less than angelic, exhibiting itself under provocation only in
guarded pin-pricks of sarcasm, or in small sharp-clawed kitten-buffetings
of repartee. But she was at no pains to conceal her scornful
disappointment when David Kent made known his doubts concerning his moral
right to use the weapon he had so skilfully forged.

He delayed the inevitable confession to Portia until he had told Loring;
and in making it he did not tell Miss Van Brock to whom he owed the sudden
change in the point of view. But Portia would have greatly discredited her
gift of insight if she had not instantly reduced the problem to its lowest
terms.

"You have been asking Miss Brentwood to lend you her conscience, and she
has done it," was the form in which she stated the fact. And when Kent did
not deny it: "You lack at least one quality of greatness, David; you sway
too easily."

"No, I don't!" he protested. "I am as obstinate as a mule. Ask Ormsby, or
Loring. But the logic of the thing is blankly unanswerable. I can either
get down to the dirty level of these highbinders--fight the devil with a
brand taken out of his own fire; or----"

"Or what?" she asked.

"Or think up some other scheme; some plan which doesn't involve a
surrender on my part of common decency and self-respect."

"Yes?" she retorted. "I suppose you have the other plan all wrought out
and ready to drop into place?"

"No, I haven't," he admitted reluctantly.

"But at least you have some notion of what it is going to be?"

"No."

She was pacing back and forth in front of his chair in a way that was
almost man-like; but her contemptuous impatience made her dangerously
beautiful. Suddenly she stopped and turned upon him, and there were sharp
claws in the kitten-buffetings.

"Do you know you are spoiling a future that most men would hesitate to
throw away?" she asked. "While you have been a man of one idea in this
railroad affair, we haven't been idle--your newspaper and political
friends, and Ormsby and I. You are ambitious; you want to succeed; and we
have been laying the foundations for you. The next election would give you
anything in the gift of the State that a man of your years could aspire
to. Have you known this?"

"I have guessed it," he said quite humbly.

"Of course you have. But it has all been contingent upon one thing: you
were to crush the grafters in this railroad struggle--show them up--and
climb to distinction yourself on the ladder from which you had shaken
them. It might have been done; it was in a fair way to be done. And now
you turn back and leave the plow in the furrow!"

There was more of a like quality--a good bit more; some of it regretful;
all of it pungent and logical from Miss Van Brock's point of view; and
Kent was no rock not to be moved by the small tempest of disappointed
vicarious ambition. Wherefore he escaped when he could, though only to
begin the ethical battle all over again; to fight and to wander among the
tombs in the valley of indecision for a week and a day, eight miserable
twirlings of the earth in space, during which interval he was invisible to
his friends and innocuous to his enemies.

On the morning of the ninth day Editor Hildreth telephoned Miss Van Brock
to ask if she knew where Kent could be found. The answer was a rather
anxious negative; though the query could have been answered affirmatively
by the conductor and motorman of an early morning electric car which ran
to the farthest outskirts of the eastern suburb of the city. Following a
boyish habit he had never fully outgrown, Kent had once more taken his
problem to the open, and the hour after luncheon time found him plodding
wearily back to the end of the car line, jaded, dusty and stiff from much
tramping of the brown plain, but with the long duel finally fought out to
some despairing conclusion.

The City Hall clock was upon the stroke of three when the inbound
trolley-car landed him in front of the Clarendon. It was a measure of his
purposeful abstraction that he went on around the corner to the Security
Bank, dusty and unpresentable as he was, and transferred the packet of
incriminating affidavits from the safety deposit box to his pocket before
going to his rooms in the hotel.

This paper weapon was the centering point of the struggle which had now
lasted for nearly a fortnight. So long as the weapon was his to use or to
cast away, the outcome of the moral conflict hung in the balance. But now
he was emerging from the night wanderings among the tombs of the
undecided.

"I can't give it up; there is too much at stake," he muttered, as he
trudged heavily back to the hotel. And before he went above stairs he
asked the young woman at the house telephone exchange to ascertain if
Governor Bucks were in his office at the capitol, and if so, if he were
likely to remain there for an hour.

When he reached his rooms he flung the packet of papers on the
writing-table and went to freshen himself with a bath. That which lay
before him called for fitness, mental and physical, and cool sanity. In
other times of stress, as just before a critical hour in court, the tub
and the cold plunge had been his fillip where other men resorted to the
bottle.

He was struggling into clean linen, and the packet was still lying where
he had tossed it on entering, when a bell-boy came up with a card. Kent
read the name with a ghost of a smile relaxing the care-drawn lines about
his mouth. There are times when a man's fate rushes to meet him, and he
had fallen upon one of them.

"Show him up," was the brief direction; and when the door of the elevator
cage clacked again, Kent was waiting.

His visitor was a man of heroic proportions; a large man a little
breathed, as it seemed, by the swift upward rush of the elevator. Kent
admitted him with a nod; and the governor planted himself heavily in a
chair and begged a light for his cigar. In the match-passing he gathered
his spent breath and declared his errand.

"I think we have a little score to settle between us as man to man, Kent,"
he began, when Kent had clipped the end from his own cigar and lighted it
in stolid silence.

"Possibly: that is for you to say," was the unencouraging reply.

Bucks rose deliberately, walked to the bath-room door, and looked beyond
it into the bedroom.

"We are quite alone, if that is what you want to make sure of," said Kent,
in the same indifferent tone; and the governor came back and resumed his
chair.

"I came up to see what you want--what you will take to quit," he
announced, crossing his legs and locking the huge ham-like hands over his
knee. "That is putting it rather abruptly, but business is business, and
we can dispense with the preliminaries, I take it."

"I told your attorney-general some time ago what I wanted, and he did not
see fit to grant it," Kent responded. "I am not sure that I want anything
now--anything you can have to offer." This was not at all what he had
intended to say; but the presence of the adversary was breeding a stubborn
antagonism that was more potent on the moral side than all the prickings
of conscience.

The yellow-lidded eyes of the governor began to close down, and the look
came into them which had been there when he had denied a pardon to a widow
pleading for the life of her convicted son.

"I had hoped you were in the market," he demurred. "It would be better for
all concerned if you had something to sell, with a price attached. I know
what you have been doing, and what you think you have got hold of. It's a
tissue of mistakes and falsehoods and back-bitings from beginning to end,
but it may serve your purpose with the newspapers. I want to buy that
package of stuff you've got stowed away in the Security vaults."

The governor's chair was on one side of the writing-table, and Kent's was
on the other. In plain sight between the two men lay the packet Bucks was
willing to bargain for. It was inclosed in a box envelope, bearing the
imprint of the Security Bank. Kent was looking steadily away from the
table when he said:

"What if I say it isn't for sale?"

"Don't you think it had better be?"

"I don't know. I hadn't thought much about the advisable phase of it."

"Well, the time has come when you've got it to do," was the low-toned
threat.

"But not as a matter of compulsion," said Kent, coolly enough. "What is
your bid?"

Bucks made it promptly.

"Ten thousand dollars: and you promise to leave the State and stay away
for one year from the first Tuesday in November next."

"That is, until after the next State election." Kent blew a whiff of smoke
to the ceiling and shook his head slowly. "It is not enough."

The governor uncrossed his legs, crossed them the other way, and said:

"I'll make it twenty thousand and two years."

"Or thirty thousand and three years," Kent suggested amiably. "Or suppose
we come at once to the end of that string and say one hundred thousand and
ten years. That would still leave you a fair price for your block of
suburban property in Guilford and Hawk's addition to the city of Gaston,
wouldn't it?"

The governor set his massive jaw with a sharp little click of the teeth.

"You are joking on the edge of your grave, my young friend. I taught you
in Gaston that you were not big enough to fight me: do you think you are
big enough now?"

"I don't think; I know," said Kent, incisively. "And since you have
referred to the Gaston days: let me ask if I ever gave you any reason to
believe that I could be scared out?"

"Keep to the point," retorted Bucks, harshly. "This State isn't broad
enough to hold you and me on opposite sides of the fence. I could make it
too hot to hold you without mixing up in it myself, but I choose to fight
my own battles. Will you take twenty thousand dollars spot cash, and
MacFarlane's job as circuit judge when I'm through with him? Yes or no."

"No."

"Then what will you take?"

"Without committing myself in any sense, I might say that you are getting
off too cheaply on your most liberal proposition. You and your friends
have looted a seventy-million-dollar railroad, and----"

"You might have stood in on that if you had taken Guilford's offer," was
the brusk rejoinder. "There was more than a corporation lawyer's salary in
sight, if you'd had sense enough to see it."

"Possibly. But I stayed out--and I am still out."

"Do you want to get in? Is that your price?"

"I intend to get in--though not, perhaps, in the way you have in mind. Are
you ready to recall Judge MacFarlane with instructions to give us our
hearing on the merits?"

The governor's face was wooden when he said:

"Is that all you want? I understand MacFarlane is returning, and you will
doubtless have your hearing in due season."

"Not unless you authorize it," Kent objected.

"And if I do? If I say that I have already done so, will you come in and
lay down your arms?"

"No."

"Then I'm through. Give me your key and write me an order on the Security
Bank for those papers you are holding."

"No," said Kent, again.

"I say _yes_!" came the explosive reassertion; and Kent found himself
looking down the bright barrel of a pistol thrust into his face across the
table.

For a man who had been oftenest an onlooker on the football half of life,
Kent was measurably quick and resourceful. In one motion he clamped the
weapon and turned it aside; in another he jammed the fire end of his cigar
among the fingers of the grasping hand. The governor jerked free with an
oath, pain-extorted; and Kent dropped the captured weapon into the table
drawer. It was all done in two breaths, and when it was over, Kent flung
away the broken cigar and lighted a fresh one.

"That was a very primitive expedient, your Excellency, to say the best of
it," he remarked. "Have you nothing better to offer?"

The reply was a wild-beast growl, and taking it for a negative, Kent went
on.

"Then perhaps you will listen to my proposal. The papers you are so
anxious about are here,"--tapping the envelope on the table. "No, don't
try to snatch them; you wouldn't get out of here alive with them, lacking
my leave. Such of them as relate to your complicity in the Universal Oil
deal are yours--on one condition; that your health fails and you get
yourself ordered out of the State for the remainder of your term."

"No!" thundered the governor.

"Very well; you may stay and take a course of home treatment, if you
prefer. It's optional."

"By God! I don't know what keeps me from throttling you with my hands!"
Bucks got upon his feet, and Kent rose, also, slipping the box envelope
into his pocket and laying a precautionary hand on the drawer-pull.

The governor turned away and walked to the window, nursing his burned
fingers. When he faced about it was to return to the charge.

"Kent, what is it you want? Say it in two words."

"Candidly, I didn't know, until a few minutes ago, Governor. It began with
a determination to break your grip on my railroad, I believe."

"You can have your railroad, if you can get it--and be damned to it, and
to you, too!"

"I said it began that way. My sole idea in gathering up this evidence
against you and your accomplices was to whittle out a club that would make
you let go of the Trans-Western. For two weeks I have been debating with
myself as to whether I should buy you or break you; and half an hour
before you came, I went to the bank and took these papers out, meaning to
go and hunt you up."

"Well?" said the governor, and the word bared his teeth because his lips
were dry.

"I thought I knew, in the old Gaston days, how many different kinds of a
scoundrel you could be, but you've succeeded in showing me some new
variations in the last few minutes. It's a thousand pities that the people
of a great State should be at the mercy of such a gang of pirates as you
and Hendricks and Meigs and MacFarlane, and----"

"Break it off!" said Bucks.

"I'm through. I was merely going to add' that I have concluded not to buy
you."

"Then it's to be war to the knife, is it?"

"That is about the size of it," said Kent; and the governor found his hat.

"I'll trouble you to return my property," he growled, pointing to the
table drawer.

"Certainly." Kent broke the revolver over the blotting pad, swept the
ejected cartridges into the open drawer, and passed the empty weapon to
its owner.

When the door closed behind the outgoing visitor the victor in the small
passage at arms began to walk the floor; but at four o'clock, which was
Hildreth's hour for coming down-town, he put on his hat and went to climb
the three flights of stairs to the editor's den in the _Argus_ building.




XXV


DEAD WATER AND QUICK

The cubby-hole in which Hildreth earned his bread by the sweat of his
brain was dark even at midday; and during working hours the editor sat
under a funnel-shaped reflector in a conic shower-bath of electric light
which flooded man and desk and left the corners of the room in a penumbra
of grateful twilight.

Kent sat just outside of the cone of radiance, watching Hildreth's face as
the editor read stolidly through the contents of the box envelope. It was
an instructive study in thought dynamics. There was a gleam of battle
satisfaction in the editorial eye when Hildreth faced the last sheet down
upon the accumulation of evidence, saying:

"You didn't overstate the fact in your brag about the political graves.
Only this isn't a spade; it's a steam shovel. Do I understand you are
giving me this stuff to use as I please?"

"Just that," said Kent.

"And you have made it serve your turn, too?"

"No." Kent's voice was sharp and crisp.

"Isn't that what you got it for?"

"Yes."

"Then why don't you use it?"

"That was what Bucks wanted to know a little while ago when he came to my
rooms to try to buy me off. I don't think I succeeded in making him
understand why I couldn't traffic with it; and possibly you wouldn't
understand."

"I guess I do. It's public property, and you couldn't divert it into
private channels. Is that the way it struck you?"

"It is the way it struck a friend of mine whose sense of ultimate right
and wrong hasn't lost its fine edge in the world-mill. I did not want to
do it."

"Naturally," said the editor. "Giving it up means the loss of all you have
been working for in the railroad game. I wish I could use it, just as it
stands."

"Can't you?"

"I am afraid not--effectively. It would make an issue in a campaign; or,
sprung on the eve of an election, it might down the ring conclusively. I
think it would. But this is the off year, and the people won't rise to a
political issue--couldn't make themselves felt if they should."

"I don't agree with you. You have your case all made out, with the
evidence in sound legal form. What is to prevent your trying it?"

"The one thing that you ought to be lawyer enough to see at a glance.
There is no court to try it in. With the Assembly in session we might do
something: as it is, we can only yap at the heels of the ringsters, and
our yapping won't help you in the railroad fight. What do you hear from
Boston?"

"Nothing new. The stock is still flat on the market, with the
stock-holders' pool holding a bare majority, and the Plantagould brokers
buying in driblets wherever they can find a small holder who is willing to
let go. It is only a question of time; and a very short time at that."

The editor wagged his head in sympathy.

"I wish I could help you, David. You've done a big thing for me--for the
_Argus_; and all I have to hand you in return is a death sentence.
MacFarlane is back."

"Here? In town?"

"Yes. And that isn't the worst of it. The governor sent for him."

"Have you any idea what is in the wind?" asked Kent, dry-lipped.

"I am afraid I have. My young men have been nosing around in the
Trans-Western affair, and several things have developed. Matters are
approaching a crisis. The cut-rate boom is about to collapse, and there is
trouble brewing in the labor organizations. If Bucks doesn't get his
henchmen out of it pretty soon, they will be involved in the smash--which
will be bad for them and for him, politically."

"I developed most of that a good while ago," Kent cut in.

"Yes; I know. But there is more to follow. The stock-smashing plan was all
right, but it is proving too slow. Now they are going to do something
else."

"Can you give it a name?" asked Kent, nerving himself.

"I can. But first tell me one thing: as matters stand, could Guilford
dispose of the road--sell it or lease it?"

"No; he would first have to be made permanent receiver and be given
authority by the court."

"Ah! that explains Judge MacFarlane's return. Now what I am going to tell
you is the deadest of secrets. It came to me from one of the Overland
officials, and I'm not supposed to gossip. Did you know the Overland Short
Line had passed under Plantagould domination?"

"I know they elected a Plantagould directory at the annual meeting."

"Exactly. Well, Guilford is going to lease the Trans-Western to its
competitor for a term of ninety-nine years. That's your death sentence."

Kent sprang to his feet, and what he said is unrecordable. He was not a
profane man, but the sanguine temperament would assert itself explosively
in moments of sudden stress.

"When is this thing to be done?" he demanded, when the temperamental gods
were appeased a little.

Hildreth shrugged.

"I have told you all I could, and rather more than I had any right to.
Open the door behind you, won't you? The air is positively sulphurous."

Kent opened the door, entirely missing the point of the sarcasm in his
heat.

"But you must have some idea," he insisted.

"I haven't; any more than the general one that they won't let the grass
grow under their feet."

"No. God blast the whole--I wish I could swear in Sanscrit. The
mother-tongue doesn't begin to do justice to it. Now I know what Bucks
meant when he told me to take my railroad, _if I could get it_. He had the
whole thing coopered up in a barrel at that minute."

"I take it you have no alternative to this," said the editor, tapping the
pile of affidavits.

"Not a cursed shred of an idea! And, Hildreth--" he broke off short
because once again the subject suddenly grew too large for coherent
speech.

Hildreth disentangled himself from the legs of his chair and stood up to
put his hands on Kent's shoulders.

"You are up against it hard, David," he said; and he repeated: "I'd give
all my old shoes to be able to help you out."

"I know it," said Kent; and then he turned abruptly and went away.

Between nine and ten o'clock the same evening Kent was walking the floor
of his room, trying vainly to persuade himself that virtue was its own
reward, and wondering if a small dose of chloral hydrate would be
defensible under the cruel necessity for sleep. He had about decided in
favor of the drug when a tap at the door announced the coming of a
bell-boy with a note. It was a message from Portia.

"If you have thrown away your chance definitely, and are willing to take a
still more desperate one, come to see me," she wrote; and he went
mechanically, as a drowning man catches at a straw, knowing it will not
save him.

The house in Alameda Square was dark when he went up the walk; and while
he was feeling for the bell-push his summoner called to him out of the
electric stencilings of leaf shadows under the broad veranda.

"It is too fine a night to stay indoors," she said. "Come and sit in the
hammock while I scold you as you deserve." And when he had taken the
hammock: "Now give an account of yourself. Where have you been for the
past age or two?"

"Wallowing around in the lower depths of the place that Dante visited," he
admitted.

"Don't you think you deserve a manhandling?"

"I suppose so; and if you have it in mind, I shall probably get it. But I
may say I'm not especially anxious for a tongue-lashing to-night."

"Poor boy!" she murmured, in mock sympathy. "Does it hurt to be truly
good?"

"Try it some time when you have a little leisure, and see for yourself,"
he retorted.

She laughed.

"No; I'll leave that for the Miss Brentwoods. By the way, did you go to
tell the household good-by? Penelope was wondering audibly what had become
of you."

"I didn't know they were gone. I have been nowhere since the night you
drove me out with contumely and opprobrium."

She laughed again.

"You must have dived deep. They went a week ago Tuesday, and you lost your
ghostly adviser and your political stage manager at one fell swoop. But it
isn't wonderful that you haven't missed Mr. Ormsby. Having elected Miss
Brentwood your conscience-keeper-in-chief, you have no further use for the
P.S.M."

"And you have no further use for me, apparently," he complained. "Did you
send for me so that you might abuse me in the second edition?"

"No; I wanted to give you a bit of news, and to repeat an old question of
mine. Do you know what they are going to do next with your railroad?"

"Yes; Hildreth told me this afternoon."

"Well, what are _you_ going to do?"

"Nothing. There is nothing to be done. They have held to the form of legal
procedure thus far, but they won't do it any more. They will take
MacFarlane off in a corner somewhere, have him make Guilford permanent
receiver, and the lease to the Overland will be consummated on the spot. I
sha'n't be in it."

"Probably not; certainly not if you don't try to get in it. And that
brings me back to the old question. Are you big enough, David?"

"If you think I haven't been big enough to live up to my opportunities
thus far, I'm afraid I may disappoint you again," he said doubtfully.

"You have disappointed me," she admitted. "That is why I am asking: I'd
like to be reasonably sure your Jonathan Edwardsy notions are not going to
trip us again."

"Portia, if I thought you really meant that ... A conscienceless man is
bad enough, God knows; but a conscienceless woman----"

Her laugh was a decorous little shriek.

"David, you are _not_ big; you are narrow, narrow, _narrow_! Is there then
no other code of morals in the round world save that which the accident of
birth has interleaved with your New England Bible? What is conscience? Is
it an absolute standard of right and wrong? Or is it merely your ideal or
mine, or Shafiz Ullah Khan's?"

"You may call it all the hard names you can lay tongue to," he allowed.
"I'm not getting much comfort out of it, and I rather enjoy hearing it
abused. But you are thrusting at a shadow in the present instance. Do you
know what I did this afternoon?"

"How should I know?"

"I don't know why you shouldn't: you know everything that happens. But
I'll tell you. I had been fighting the thing over from start to finish and
back again ever since you blessed me out a week ago last Monday, and at
the wind-up this afternoon I took the papers out of the bank vault, having
it in mind to go and give his Excellency a bad quarter of an hour."

"But you didn't do it?"

"No, he saved me the trouble. While I was getting ready to go and hunt
him, his card came up. We had it out in my rooms."

"I'm listening," she said; and he rehearsed the-facts for her, concealing
nothing.

"What a curious thing human nature is!" she commented, when he had made an
end. "My better judgment says you were all kinds of a somebody for not
clinching the nail when you had it so well driven home. And yet I can't
help admiring your exalted fanaticism. I do love consistency, and the
courage of it. But tell me, if you can, how far these fair-fighting
scruples of yours go. You have made it perfectly plain that if a thief
should steal your pocketbook, you would suffer loss before you'd
compromise with him to get it back. But suppose you should catch him at
it: would you feel compelled to call a policeman--or would you----"

He anticipated her.

"You are doing me an injustice on the other side, now. I'll fight as
furiously as you like. All I ask is to be given a weapon that won't bloody
my hands."

"Good!" she said approvingly. "I think I have found the weapon, but it's
desperate, desperate! And O David! you've got to have a cool head and a
steady hand when you use it. If you haven't, it will kill everybody within
the swing of it--everybody but the man you are trying to reach."

"Draw it and let me feel its edge," he said shortly.

Her chair was close beside the low-swung hammock. She bent to his ear and
whispered a single sentence. For a minute or two he sat motionless,
weighing and balancing the chance of success against the swiftly
multiplying difficulties and hazards.

"You call it desperate," he said at length; "if there is a bigger word in
the language, you ought to find it and use it. The risk is that of a
forlorn hope; not so much for me, perhaps, as for the innocent--or at
least ignorant--accomplices I'll have to enlist."

She nodded.

"That is true. But how much is your railroad worth?"

"It is bonded for fifty millions first, and twenty millions second
mortgage."

"Well, seventy millions are worth fighting for: worth a very considerable
risk, I should say."

"Yes." And after another thoughtful interval: "How did you come to think
of it?"

"It grew out of a bit of talk with the man who will have to put the apex
on our pyramid after we have done our part."

"Will he stand by us? If he doesn't, we shall all be no better than dead
men the morning after the fact."

She clasped her hands tightly over her knee, and said:

"That is one of the chances we must take, David; one of the many. But it
is the last of the bridges to be crossed, and there are lots of them in
between. Are the details possible? That was the part I couldn't go into by
myself."

He took other minutes for reflection.

"I can't tell," he said doubtfully. "If I could only know how much time we
have."

Her eyes grew luminous.

"David, what would you do without me?" she asked. "To-morrow night, in
Stephen Hawk's office in Gaston, you will lose your railroad. MacFarlane
is there, or if he isn't, he'll be there in the morning. Bucks, Guilford
and Hawk will go down from here to-morrow evening; and the Overland people
are to come up from Midland City to meet them."

There was awe undisguised in the look he gave her, and it had crept into
his voice when he said:

"Portia, are you really a flesh-and-blood woman?"

She smiled.

"Meaning that your ancestors would have burned me for a witch? Perhaps
they would: I think quite likely they burned women who made better
martyrs. But I didn't have to call in Flibbertigibbet. The programme is a
carefully guarded secret, to be sure; but it is known--it had to be
known--to a number of people outside of our friends the enemy. You've
heard the story of the inventor and his secret, haven't you?"

"No."

"Well, the man had invented something, and he told the secret of it to his
son. After a little the son wanted to tell it to a friend. The old man
said, 'Hold on; I know it--that's one'--holding up one finger--'you know
it--that's eleven'--holding up another finger beside the first; 'and now
if you tell this other fellow, that'll be one hundred and eleven'--holding
up three fingers. That is the case with this programme. One of the one
hundred and eleven--he is a person high up in the management of the
Overland Short Line--dropped a few words in my hearing and I picked them
up. That's all."

"It is fearfully short--the time, I mean," he said after another pause.
"We can't count on any help from any one in authority. Guilford's broom
has swept the high-salaried official corners clean. But the wage-people
are mutinous and ripe for anything. I'll go and find out where we stand."
And he groped on the floor of the veranda for his hat.

"No, wait a minute," she interposed. "We are not quite ready to adjourn
yet. There remains a little matter of compensation--your compensation--to
be considered. You are still on the company's payrolls?"

"In a way, yes; as its legal representative on the ground."

"That won't do. If you carry this thing through successfully it must be on
your own account, and not as the company's paid servant. You must resign
and make terms with Boston beforehand; and that, too, without telling
Boston what you propose to do."

He haggled a little at that.

"The company is entitled to my services," he asserted.

"It is entitled to what it pays for--your legal services. But this is
entirely different. You will be acting upon your own initiative, and
you'll have to spend money like water at your own risk. You must be free
to deal with Boston as an outsider."

"But I have no money to spend," he objected.

Again the brown eyes grew luminous; and again she said:

"What would you do without me? Happily, my information came early enough
to enable me to get a letter to Mr. Ormsby. He answered promptly by wire
this morning. Here is his telegram."

She had been winding a tightly folded slip of paper around her fingers,
and she smoothed it out and gave it to him. He held it in a patch of the
electric light between the dancing leaf shadows and read:

"Plot Number Two approved. Have wired one hundred thousand to Kent's order
Security Bank. Have him draw as he needs."

"So now you see," she went on, "you have the sinews of war. But you must
regard it as an advance and name your fee to the Boston folk so you can
pay it back."

He protested again, rather weakly.

"It looks like extortion; like another graft," he said; and now she lost
patience with him.

"Of all the Puritan fanatics!" she cried. "If it were a simple commercial
transaction by which you would save your clients a round seventy million
dollars, which would otherwise be lost, would you scruple to take a
proportionate fee?"

"No; certainly not."

"Well, then; you go and tell Mr. Loring to wire his Advisory Board, and to
do it to-night."

"But I'll have to name a figure," said Kent.

"Of course," she replied.

Kent thought about it for a long minute. Then he said: "I wonder if ten
thousand dollars, and expenses, would paralyze them?"

Miss Van Brock's comment was a little shriek of derision.

"I knew you'd make difficulties when it came to the paying part of it, and
since I didn't know, myself, I wired Mr. Ormsby again. Here is what he
says," and she untwisted a second telegram and read it to him.

"'Fee should not be less than five per cent. of bonded indebtedness;
four-fifths in stock at par; one-fifth cash; no cure, no pay.'"

"Three million five hundred thousand dollars!" gasped Kent.

"It's only nominally that much," she laughed. "The stock part of it is
merely your guaranty of good faith: it is worth next to nothing now, and
it will be many a long day before it goes to par, even if you are
successful in saving its life. So your magnificent fee shrinks to seven
hundred thousand dollars, less your expenses."

"But heavens and earth! that's awful!" said Kent.

"Not when you consider it as a surgeon's risk. You happen to be the one
man who has the idea, and if it isn't carried out, the patient is going to
die to-morrow night, permanently. You are the specialist in this case, and
specialists come high. Now you may go and attend to the preliminary
details, if you like."

He found his hat and stood up. She stood with him; but when he took her
hand she made him sit down again.

"You have at least three degrees of fever!" she exclaimed; "or is it only
the three-million-five-hundred-thousand-dollar shock? What have you been
doing to yourself?"

"Nothing, I assure you. I haven't been sleeping very well for a few
nights. But that is only natural."

"And I said you must have a cool head! Will you do exactly as I tell you
to?"

"If you don't make it too hard."

"Take the car down-town--don't walk--and after you have made Mr. Loring
send his message to Boston, you go straight to Doctor Biddle. Tell him
what is the matter with you, and that you need to sleep the clock around."

"But the time!" he protested. "I shall need every hour between now and
to-morrow night!"

"One clear-headed hour is worth a dozen muddled ones. You do as I say."

"I hate drugs," he said, rising again.

"So do I; but there is a time for everything under the sun. It is a crying
necessity that you go into this fight perfectly fit and with all your wits
about you. If you don't, somebody--several somebodies--will land in the
penitentiary. Will you mind me?"

"Yes," he promised; and this time he got away.




XXVI


ON THE HIGH PLAINS

Much to Elinor's relief, and quite as much, perhaps, to Penelope's, Mrs.
Brentwood tired of Breezeland Inn in less than a fortnight and began to
talk of returning to the apartment house in the capital.

Pressed to give a reason for her dissatisfaction, the younger sister might
have been at a loss to account for it in words; but Elinor's desire to cut
the outing short was based upon pride and militant shame. After many
trap-settings she had succeeded in making her mother confess that the stay
at Breezeland was at Ormsby's expense; and not all of Mrs. Brentwood's
petulant justifyings could remove the sting of the nettle of obligation.

"There is no reason in the world why you should make so much of it: I am
your mother, and I ought to know," was Mrs. Brentwood's dictum. "You
wouldn't have any scruples if we were his guests on the _Amphitrite_ or in
his country house on Long Island."

"That would be different," Elinor contended. "We are not his guests here;
we are his pensioners."

"Nonsense!" frowned the mother. "Isn't it beginning to occur to you that
beggars shouldn't be choosers? And, besides, so far as you are concerned,
you are only anticipating a little."

It was an exceedingly injudicious, not to say brutal way of putting it;
and the blue-gray eyes flashed fire.

"Can't you see that you are daily making a marriage between us more and
more impossible?" was the bitter rejoinder. Elinor's _metier_ was cool
composure under fire, but she was not always able to compass it.

Mrs. Brentwood fanned herself vigorously. She had been aching to have it
out with this self-willed young woman who was playing fast and loose with
attainable millions, and the hour had struck.

"What made you break it off with Brookes Ormsby?" she snapped; adding: "I
don't wonder you were ashamed to tell me about it."

"I did not break it off; and I was not ashamed." Elinor had regained her
self-control, and the angry light in the far-seeing eyes was giving place
to the cool gray blankness which she cultivated.

"That is what Brookes told me, but I didn't believe him," said the mother.
"It's all wrong, anyway, and I more than half believe David Kent is at the
bottom of it."

Elinor left her chair and went to the window, which looked down on the
sanatorium, the ornate parterre, and the crescent driveway. These family
bickerings were very trying to her, and the longing to escape them was
sometimes strong enough to override cool reason and her innate sense of
the fitness of things.

In her moments of deepest depression she told herself that the prolonged
struggle was making her hard and cynical; that she was growing more and
more on the Grimkie side and shrinking on the Brentwood. With the
unbending uprightness of the Grimkie forebears there went a prosaic and
unmalleable strain destructive alike of sentiment and the artistic ideals.
This strain was in her blood, and from childhood she had fought it,
hopefully at times, and at other times, as now, despairingly. There were
tears in her eyes when she turned to the window; and if they were merely
tears of self-pity, they were better than none. Once, in the halcyon
summer, David Kent had said that the most hardened criminal in the dock
was less dangerous to humanity than the woman who had forgotten how to
cry.

But into the turmoil of thoughts half indignant, half self-compassionate,
came reproach and a great wave of tenderness filial. She saw, as with a
sudden gift of retrospection, her mother's long battle with inadequacy,
and how it had aged her; saw, too, that the battle had been fought
unselfishly, since she knew her mother's declaration that she could
contentedly "go back to nothing" was no mere petulant boast. It was for
her daughters that she had grown thin and haggard and irritable under the
persistent reverses of fortune; it was for them that she was sinking the
Grimkie independence in the match-making mother.

The tears in Elinor's eyes were not altogether of self-pity when she put
her back to the window. Ormsby was coming up the curved driveway in his
automobile, and she had seen him but dimly through the rising mist of
emotion.

"Have you set your heart upon this thing, mother?--but I know you have.
And I--I have tried as I could to be just and reasonable; to you and
Penelope, and to Brookes Ormsby. He is nobleness itself: it is a shame to
give him the shadow when he so richly deserves the substance."

She spoke rapidly, almost incoherently; and the mother-love in the woman
who was careful and troubled about the things that perish put the
match-maker to the wall. It was almost terrifying to see Elinor, the
strong-hearted, the self-contained, breaking down like other mothers'
daughters. So it was the mother who held out her arms, and the daughter
ran to go down on her knees at the chair-side, burying her face in the lap
of comforting.

"There, there, Ellie, child; don't cry. It's terrible to hear you sob like
that," she protested, her own voice shaking in sympathy. "I have been
thinking only of you and your future, and fearing weakly that you couldn't
bear the hard things. But we'll bear them together--we three; and I'll
never say another word about Brookes Ormsby and what might have been."

"O mother! you are making it harder than ever, now," was the tearful
rejoinder. "I--there is no reason why I should be so obstinate. I haven't
even the one poor excuse you are making for me down deep in your heart."

"David Kent?" said the mother.

The bowed head nodded a wordless assent.

"I sha'n't say that I haven't suspected him all along, dear. I am afraid I
have. I have nothing against him. But he is a poor man, Elinor; and we are
poor, too. You'd be miserably unhappy."

"If he stays poor, it is I who am to blame,"--this most contritely. "He
had a future before him: the open door was his winning in the railroad
fight, and I closed it against him."

"You?" said the mother, astonished.

"Yes. I told him he couldn't go on in the way he meant to. I made it a
matter of conscience; and he--he has turned back when he might have fought
it out and made a name for himself, and saved us all. And it was such a
hair-splitting thing! All the world would have applauded him if he had
gone on; and there was only one woman in all the world to pry into the
secret places of his soul and stir up the sleeping doubt!"

Now, if all the thrifty, gear-getting "faculty" of the dead and gone
Grimkies had become thin and diluted and inefficient in this Mrs.
Hepzibah, last of the name, the strong wine and iron of the blood of
uprightness had come down to her unstrained.

"Tell me all about it, daughter," she adjured; and when the tale was told,
she patted the bowed head tenderly and spoke the words of healing.

"You did altogether right, Ellie, dear; I--I am proud of you, daughter.
And if, as you say, you were the only one to do it, that doesn't matter;
it was all the more necessary. Are you sure he gave it up?"

Elinor rose and stood with clasped hands beside her mother's chair; a very
pitiful and stricken half-sister of the self-reliant, dependable young
woman who had boasted herself the head of the household.

"I have no means of knowing what he has done," she said slowly. "But I
know the man. He has turned back."

There was a tap at the door and a servant was come to say that Mr. Brookes
Ormsby was waiting with his auto-car. Was Miss Brentwood nearly ready?

Elinor said, "In a minute," and when the door closed, she made a
confidante of her mother for the first time since her childhood days.

"I know what you have suspected ever since that summer in New Hampshire,
and it is true," she confessed. "I do love him--as much as I dare to
without knowing whether he cares for me. Must I--may I--say yes to Brookes
Ormsby without telling him the whole truth?"

"Oh, my dear! You couldn't do that!" was the quick reply.

"You mean that I am not strong enough? But I am; and Mr. Ormsby is manly
enough and generous enough to meet me half-way. Is there any other honest
thing to do, mother?"

Mrs. Hepzibah shook her head deliberately and determinedly, though she
knew she was shaking the Ormsby millions into the abyss of the
unattainable.

"No; it is his just due. But I can't help being sorry for him, Ellie. What
will you do if he says it doesn't make any difference?"

The blue-gray eyes were downcast.

"I don't know. Having asked so much, and accepted so much from him--it
shall be as he says, mother."


The afternoon had been all that a summer afternoon on the brown highlands
can be, and the powerful touring car had swept them from mile to mile over
the dun hills like an earth-skimming dragon whose wing-beat was the
muffled, explosive thud of the motor.

Through most of the miles Elinor had given herself up to silent enjoyment
of the rapture of swift motion, and Ormsby had respected her mood, as he
always did. But when they were on the high hills beyond the mining-camp of
Megilp, and he had thrown the engines out of gear to brake the car gently
down the long inclines, there was room for speech.

"This is our last spin together on the high plains, I suppose," he said.
"Your mother has fixed upon to-morrow for our return to town, hasn't she?"

Elinor confirmed it half-absently. She had been keyed up to face the
inevitable in this drive with Ormsby, and she was afraid now that he was
going to break her resolution by a dip into the commonplaces.

"Are you glad or sorry?" he asked.

Her reply was evasive.

"I have enjoyed the thin, clean air and the freedom of the wide horizons.
Who could help it?"

"But you have not been entirely happy?"

It was on her lips to say some conventional thing about the constant
jarring note in all human happiness, but she changed it to a simple "No."

"May I try if I can give the reason?"

She made a reluctant little gesture of assent; some such signal of
acquiescence as Marie Antoinette may have given the waiting headsman.

"You have been afraid every day lest I should begin a second time to press
you for an answer, haven't you?"

She could not thrust and parry with him. They were past all that.

"Yes," she admitted briefly.

"You break my heart, Elinor," he said, after a long pause. "But"--with a
sudden tightening of the lips--"I'm not going to break yours."

She understood him, and her eyes filled quickly with the swift shock of
gratitude.

"If you had made a study of womankind through ten lifetimes instead of a
part of one, you could not know when and how to strike truer and deeper,"
she said; and then, softly: "Why can't you make me love you, Brookes?"

He took his foot from the brake-pedal, and for ten seconds the released
car shot down the slope unhindered. Then he checked the speed and answered
her.

"A little while ago I should have said I didn't know; but now I do know.
It is because you love David Kent: you loved him before I had my chance."

She did not deny the principal fact, but she gave him his opportunity to
set it aside if he could--and would.

"Call it foolish, romantic sentiment, if you like. Is there no way to
shame me out of it?"

He shook his head slowly.

"You don't mean that."

"But if I say that I do; if I insist that I am willing to be shamed out of
it."

His smile was that of a brother who remembers tardily to be loving-kind.

"I shall leave that task for some one who cares less for you and for your
true happiness than I do, or ever shall. And it will be a mighty thankless
service that that 'some one' will render you."

"But I ought to be whipped and sent to bed," she protested, almost
tearfully. "Do you know what I have done?--how I have----"

She could not quite put it in words, even for him, and he helped her
generously, as before.

"I know what Kent hasn't done; which is more to the point. But he will do
it fast enough if you will give him half a chance."

"No," she said definitively.

"I say yes. One thing, and one thing only, has kept him from telling you
any time since last autumn: that is a sort of finical loyalty to me. I saw
how matters stood when he came aboard of our train at Gaston--I'm asking
you to believe that I didn't know it beforeand I saw then that my only
hope was to make a handfast friend of him. And I did it."

"I believe you can do anything you try to do," she said warmly.

This time his smile was a mere grimace.

"You will have to make one exception, after this; and so shall I. And
since it is the first of any consequence in all my mounting years, it
grinds. I can't throw another man out of the window and take his place."

"If you were anything but what you are, you would have thrown him out of
the window another way," she rejoined.

"That would have been a dago's trick; not a white man's," he asserted. "I
suppose I might have got in his way and played the dog in the manger
generally, and you would have stuck to your word and married me, but I am
not looking for that kind of a winning. I don't mind confessing that I
played my last card when I released you from your engagement. I said to
myself: If that doesn't break down the barriers, nothing will."

She looked up quickly.

"You will never know how near it came to doing it, Brookes."

"But it didn't quite?"

"No, it didn't quite."

The brother-smile came again.

"Let's paste that leaf down and turn the other; the one that has David
Kent's name written, at the top. He is going to succeed all around,
Elinor; and I am going to help him--for his sake, as well as yours."

"No," she dissented. "He is going to fail; and I am to blame for it."

He looked at her sidewise.

"So you were at the bottom of that, were you? I thought as much, and tried
to make him admit it, but he wouldn't. What was your reason?"

"I gave it to him: I can't give it to you."

"I guess not," he laughed. "I wasn't born on the right side of the
Berkshire Hills to appreciate it. But really, you mustn't interfere. As I
say, we are going to make something of David; and a little conscience--of
the right old Pilgrim Fathers' brand--goes a long way in politics."

"But you promised me you were not going to spoil him--only it doesn't
matter; you can't."

Ormsby chuckled openly, and when she questioned "What?" he said:

"I was just wondering what you would say if you knew what he is into now;
if you could guess, for instance, that his backers have put up a cool
hundred thousand to be used as he sees fit?"

"Oh!" she exclaimed; and there was dismay and sharp disappointment in her
voice. "You don't mean that he is going to bribe these men?"

"No," he said, relenting. "As a matter of fact, I don't know precisely
what he is doing with the money, but I guess it is finding its way into
legitimate channels. I'll make him give me an itemized expense account for
your benefit when it's all over, if you like."

"It would be kinder to tell me more about it now," she pleaded.

"No; I'll let him have that pleasure, after the fact--if we can get him
pardoned out before you go back East."

She was silent so long that he stole another sidewise look between his
snubbings of the brake-pedal. Her face was white and still, like the face
of one suddenly frost-smitten, and he was instantly self-reproachful.

"Don't look that way," he begged. "It hurts me; makes me feel how heavy my
hand is when I'm doing my best to make it light. He is trying a rather
desperate experiment, to be sure, but he is in no immediate personal
danger. I believe it or I shouldn't be here; I should be with him."

She asked no more questions, being unwilling to tempt him to break
confidence with Kent. But she was thinking of all the desperate things a
determined man with temperamental unbalancings might do when the touring
car rolled noiselessly down the final hill into the single street of
Megilp.

There was but one vehicle in the street at the moment; a freighter's
ore-wagon drawn by a team of mules, meekest and most shambling-prosaic of
their tribe. The motor-car was running on the spent velocity of the
descent, and Ormsby thought to edge past without stopping. But at the
critical instant the mules gave way to terror, snatched the heavy wagon
into the opposite plank walk, and tried to climb a near-by telephone pole.
Ormsby put his foot on the brake and something snapped under the car.

"What was that?" Elinor asked; and Ormsby got down to investigate.

"It is our brake connection," he announced, after a brief inspection. "And
we are five good miles from Hudgins and his repair kit."

A ring of town idlers was beginning to form about them. An automobile was
still enough of a rarity in the mining-camp to draw a crowd.

"Busted?" inquired one of the onlookers.

Ormsby nodded, and asked if there were a machinist in the camp.

"Yep," said the spokesman; "up at the Blue Jay mine."

"Somebody go after him," suggested Ormsby, flipping a coin; and a boy
started on a run.

The waiting was a little awkward. The ringing idlers were good-natured but
curious. Ormsby stood by and answered questions multiform, diverting
curiosity from the lady to the machine. Presently the spokesman said:

"Is this here the steam-buggy that helped a crowd of you fellers to get
away from Jud Byers and his posse one day a spell back?"

"No," said Ormsby. Then he remembered the evening of small surprises--the
racing tally-ho with the Inn auto-car to help; and, more pointedly now,
the singular mirage effect in the lengthening perspective as the
east-bound train shot away from Agua Caliente.

"What was the trouble that day?" he asked, putting in a question on his
side.

"A little ruction up at the Twin Sisters. There was a furss, an' a gun
went off, accidintally on purpose killin' Jim Harkins," was the reply.

The machinist was come from the Blue Jay, and Ormsby helped Elinor out of
her seat while the repairs were making. The town office of the Blue Jay
was just across the street, and he took her there and begged house-room
and a chair for her, making an excuse that he must go and see to the
brake-mending.

But once outside he promptly stultified himself, letting the repairs take
care of themselves while he went in search of one Jud Byers. The deputy
sheriff was not hard to find. Normally and in private life he was the
weigher for the Blue Jay; and Ormsby was directed to the scale shanty
which served as the weigher's office.

The interview was brief and conclusive; was little more than a rapid fire
of question and answer; and for the greater part the sheriff's
affirmatives were heartily eager. Yes, certainly; if the thing could be
brought to pass, he, Byers, would surely do his part. All he asked was an
hour or two in which to prepare.

"You shall have all the time there is," was the reply. "Have you a Western
Union wire here?"

"No; nothing but the railroad office."

"That won't do; they'd stop the message. How about the Inn?"

"Breezeland has a Western Union all right; wire your notice there, and
I'll fix to have it 'phoned over. I don't believe it can be worked,
though," added the deputy, doubtfully.

"We can't tell till we try," said Ormsby; and he hurried back to his car
to egg on the machinist with golden promises contingent upon haste.

Miss Brentwood found her companion singularly silent on the five-mile race
to Breezeland; but the lightning speed at which he drove the car put
conversation out of the question. At the hotel he saw her into the lift
with decent deliberation; but the moment she was off his hands he fairly
ran to the telegrapher's alcove in the main hall.

"Have you a Western Union wire to the capital direct?" he inquired.

The young man snapped his key and said he had.

"It has no connection with the Trans-Western railroad offices?"

"None whatever."

Ormsby dashed off a brief message to Kent, giving three or four addresses
at which he might be found.

"Send that, and have them try the Union Station train platform first.
Don't let them spare expense at the other end, and if you can bring proof
of delivery to Room 261 within half an hour, it means a month's pay to
you, individually. Can you do it?"

But the operator was already claiming the wire, writing "deth," "deth,"
"deth," as rapidly as his fingers could shake off the dots and dashes.




XXVII


BY ORDER OF THE COURT

Between the hours of eight-thirty and ten P.M. the Union Passenger Station
at the capital presents a moving and spirited spectacle. Within the hour
and a half, four through and three local trains are due to leave, and the
space within the iron grille that fences off the track platforms from the
public part of the station is filled with hurrying throngs of
train-takers.

Down at the outer end of the train-shed the stuttering pop-valves of the
locomotives, the thunderous trundling of the heavy baggage trucks, and the
shrill, monotonous chant of the express messengers checking in their
cargoes, lift a din harmonious to the seasoned traveler; a medley softened
and distance-diminished for those that crowd upon the gate-keepers at the
iron grille.

It was the evening of the last day in the month; the day when the
Federative Council of Railway Workers had sent its ultimatum to Receiver
Guilford. The reduction in wages was to go into effect at midnight: if, by
midnight, the order had not been rescinded, and the way opened for a joint
conference touching the removal of certain obnoxious officials, a general
strike and tie-up would be ordered. Trains in transit carrying passengers
or United States mail would be run to their respective destinations;
trains carrying perishable freight would be run to division stations: with
these exceptions all labor would cease promptly on the stroke of twelve.

Such was the text of the ultimatum, a certified copy of which Engineer
Scott had delivered in person into the hands of the receiver at noon.

It was now eight forty-five P.M. The east-bound night express was ready
for the run to A. & T. Junction; the fast mail, one hour and thirty-five
minutes late from the east, was backing in on track nine to take on the
city mail. On track eight, pulled down so that the smoke from the engine
should not foul the air of the train-shed, the receiver's private car,
with the 1010 for motive power and "Red" Callahan in the cab, had been
waiting since seven o'clock for the order to run special to Gaston. And as
yet the headquarters office had made no sign; sent no word of reply to the
strike notice.

Griggs was on for the night run eastward with the express; and "Dutch"
Tischer had found himself slated to take the fast mail west. The change of
engines on the mail had been effected at the shops; and when Tischer
backed his train in on track nine his berth was beside the 1010. Callahan
swung down from his cab and climbed quickly to that of the mail engine.

"Annything new at the shops, Dutchy?" he inquired.

"I was not somet'ings gehearing, _nein_. You was dot _Arkoos_ newsbaper
dis evening _schen_? He says nodings too, alretty, about dot strike."

"Divil a worrd. Ye might think Scotty'd handed the major a bit av blank
paper f'r all the notice he's taking. More thin that, he's lavin' town,
wid me to pull him. The Naught-seven's to run special to Gaston--bad cess
to ut!"

"Vell, I can'd hellup id," said the phlegmatic Bavarian. "I haf the mail
and egspress got, and I go mit dem t'rough to Pighorn. You haf der brivate
car got, and you go mit dem t'rough to Gaston. Den ve qvits, ain'd it?"

Callahan nodded and dropped to the platform. But before he could mount to
the foot-board of the 1010, M'Tosh collared him.

"Patsy, I have your orders, at last. Your passengers will be down in a few
minutes, and you are to pull out ahead of the express."

"Is it to Gaston I'm goin', Misther M'Tosh?"

The fireman was standing by with the oil can and torch, ready to
Callahan's hand, and the train-master drew the engineer aside.

"Shovel needn't hear," he said in explanation. And then: "Are you willing
to stand with us, Patsy? You've had time enough to think it over."

Callahan stood with his arms folded and his cap drawn down over his eyes.

"'Tis not f'r meself I'm thinkin', Misther M'Tosh, as ye well know. But
I'm a widdy man; an' there's the bit colleen in the convint."

"She'll be well cared for, whatever happens to you," was the quick reply.

"Thin I'm yer man," said Callahan; and when the train-master was gone, he
ordered Shovel to oil around while he did two or three things which, to an
initiated onlooker, might have seemed fairly inexplicable. First he
disconnected the air-hose between the car and the engine, tying the ends
up with a stout cord so that the connection would not seem to be broken.
Next he crawled under the Naught-seven and deliberately bled the air-tank,
setting the cock open a mere hair's-breadth so that it would leak slowly
but surely until the pressure was entirely gone.

Then he got a hammer and sledge out of the engine tool-box, and after
hooking up the safety-chain couplings between the private car and the
1010, he crippled the points of the hooks with the hammer so that they
could not be disengaged without the use of force and the proper tools.

"There ye are, ye ould divil's band-wagon," he said, apostrophizing the
private car when his work was done. "Ye'll ride this night where Patsy
Callahan dhrives, an' be dommed to ye."

Meanwhile the train-master had reached the iron grille at the other end of
the long track platform. At a small wicket used by the station employees
and trainmen, Kent was waiting for him.

"Is it all right, M'Tosh? Will he do it?" he asked anxiously.

"Yes, Patsy's game for it; I knew he would be. He'd put his neck in a rope
to spite the major. But it's a crazy thing, Mr. Kent."

"I know it; but if it will give me twenty-four hours--"

"It won't. They can't get home on our line because we'll be tied up. But
they can get the Naught-seven put on the Overland's Limited at A. & T.
Junction, and that will put them back here before you've had time to turn
around twice. Have they come down yet?"

"No," said Kent; and just then he saw Loring coming in from the street
entrance and went to meet him.

"I have the final word from Boston," said the ex-manager, when he had
walked Kent out of earshot of the train-takers. "Your terms are
accepted--with all sorts of safeguards thrown about the 'no cure, no pay'
proviso; also with a distinct repudiation of you and your scheme if there
is anything unlawful afoot. Do you still think it best to keep me in the
dark as to what you are doing?"

"Yes; there are enough of us involved, as it stands. You couldn't help;
and you might hinder. Besides, if the mine should happen to explode in our
direction it'll be a comfort to have a foot-loose friend or two on the
outside to pick up the pieces of us."

Loring was polishing his eye-glasses with uncommon vigor.

"I wish you'd drop it, David, if it isn't too late. I can't help feeling
as if I had prodded you into it, whatever it is."

Kent linked arms with him and led him back to the street entrance.

"Go away, Grantham, and don't come back again," he commanded. "Then you
can swear truthfully that you didn't know anything about it. It is too
late to interfere, and you are not responsible for me. Go up to see
Portia; she'll keep you interested while you wait."

When Loring was gone, Kent went back to the wicket in the grille; but
M'Tosh, who was always a busy man at train-time, had disappeared again.

It was a standing mystery to the train-master, and to the rank and file,
why Receiver Guilford had elected to ignore the fact that he was within
three hours of a strike which promised to include at least four-fifths of
his operatives; had taken no steps for defense, and had not confided, as
it appeared, in the members of his own official staff.

But Kent was at no loss to account for the official silence. If the secret
could be kept for a few hours longer, the junto would unload the
Trans-Western, strike, tie-up and general demoralization, upon an
unsuspecting Overland management.

None the less, there were other things unexplainable even to Kent; for
one, this night flitting to Gaston to put the finishing touch on an
edifice of fraud which had been builded shamelessly in the light of day.

Kent had not the key to unlock this door of mystery; but here the master
spirit of the junto was doing, not what he would, but what he could. The
negotiations for the lease had consumed much time at a crisis when time
was precious. Judge MacFarlane had to be recalled and once more bullied
into subjection; and Falkland, acting for the Plantagould interest, had
insisted upon some formal compliance with the letter of the law.

Bucks had striven masterfully to drive and not be driven; but the delays
were inexorable, and the impending strike threatened to turn the orderly
charge into a rout. The governor had postponed the _coup_ from day to day,
waiting upon the leisurely movements of Falkland; and at the end of the
ends there remained but three hours of the final day of grace when the
telegram came from Falkland with the welcome news that the Overland
officials were on their way from Midland City to keep the appointment in
Gaston.

Of all this Kent knew nothing, and was anxious in just proportion as the
minutes elapsed and the time for the departure of the east-bound express
drew near. For the success of the desperate venture turned upon this: that
the receiver's special must leave ahead of the passenger train. With the
express blocking the way the difficulties became insurmountable.

Kent was still standing at the trainmen's wicket when Callahan sent the
private car gently up to the trackhead of track eight. M'Tosh had been
telephoning again, and the receiver and his party were on the way to the
station.

"I was afraid you'd have to let the express go first," said Kent, when the
train-master came his way again. "How much time have we?"

"Five minutes more; and they are on the way down--there they come."

Kent looked and saw a group of six men making for the nearest exit in the
grille. Then he smote his fist into his palm.

"Damn!" he muttered; "they've got the vice-president of the Overland with
them! That's bad."

"It's bad for Mr. Callafield," growled M'Tosh. "We're in too deep now to
back down on his account."

Kent moved nearer and stood in the shadow of the gate-keeper's box,
leaving M'Tosh, who was on the track platform, free to show himself. From
his new point of espial Kent checked off the members of the party. When
Major Guilford left it to come back for a word with M'Tosh, there were
five others: the governor, his private secretary, Hawk, Halkett, the
general superintendent, and the Overland's vice-president.

"All ready, M'Tosh?" said the receiver.

"Ready and waiting, Major," was the bland reply.

"Who is our engineer?"

"Patrick Callahan."

"That wild Irishman? The governor says he'd as soon ride behind the
devil."

"Callahan will get you there," said the train-master, with deliberate
emphasis. Then he asked a question of his own. "Is Mr. Callafield going
with you?"

"No. He came down to see us off. How is the fast mail to-night?"

"She's just in--an hour and thirty-five minutes late."

The major swore pathetically. He was of the generation of railway
officials, happily fast passing, which cursed and swore itself into
authority.

"That's another five hundred dollars' forfeit to the Post-office
Department! Who's taking it west?"

"Tischer."

"Give him orders to cut out all the stops. If he is more than fifty-five
minutes late at Bighorn, he can come in and get his time."

Tischer had just got the word to go, and was pulling out on the yard main
line.

"I'll catch him with the wire at yard limits," said M'Tosh. Then: "Would
you mind hurrying your people a little, Major? The express is due to
leave."

Guilford was a heavy man for his weight, and he waddled back to the
others, waving his arms as a signal for them to board the car.

Kent saw the vice-president of the Overland Short Line shake hands with
Bucks and take his leave, and was so intent upon watching the tableau of
departure that he failed to notice the small boy in Western Union blue who
was trying to thrust a telegram, damp from the copying rolls, into his
hand.

"It's a rush, sir," said the boy, panting from his quick dash across the
track platforms.

It was Ormsby's message from Breezeland; and while Kent was trying to
grasp the tremendous import of it, M'Tosh was giving Callahan the signal
to go. Kent sprang past the gate-keeper and gave the square of damp paper
to the train-master.

"My God! read that!" he gasped, with a dry sob of excitement. "It was our
chance--one chance in a million--and we've lost it!"

M'Tosh was a man for a crisis. The red tail-lights of the private-car
special were yet within a sprinter's dash of the trackhead, but the
train-master lost no time chasing a ten-wheel flyer with "Red" Callahan at
the throttle.

"Up to my office!" he shouted; and ten seconds later Kent was leaning
breathless over the desk in the despatcher's room while M'Tosh called
Durgan over the yard limits telephone.

"Is that you, Durgan?" he asked, when the reply came. Then: "Drop the
board on the mail, quick! and send somebody to tell Tischer to side-track,
leaving the main line Western Division clear. Got that?"

The answer was evidently prompt and satisfactory, since he began again
almost in the same breath.

"Now go out yourself and flag Callahan before he reaches the limits. Tell
him the time-card's changed and he is to run _west_ with the special to
Megilp as first section of the mail--no stops, or Tischer will run him
down. Leg it! He's half-way down the yard, now!"

The train-master dropped the ear-piece of the telephone and crossed
quickly to the despatcher's table.

"Orders for the Western Division, Donohue," he said curtly, "and don't let
the grass grow. 'Receiver's car, Callahan, engineer, runs to Megilp as
first section of fast mail. Fast mail, Hunt, conductor; Tischer, engineer;
runs to the end of the division without stop, making up all time
possible.' Add to that last, 'By order of the receiver.'"

The orders were sent as swiftly as the despatcher could rattle them off on
his key; and then followed an interval of waiting more terrible than a
battle. Kent tried to speak, but his lips were parched and his tongue was
like a dry stick between his teeth. What was doing in the lower yard?
Would Durgan fail at the pinch and mismanage it so as to give the alarm?
The minutes dragged leaden-winged, and even the sounders on the
despatcher's table were silent.

Suddenly the clicking began again. The operator at "yard limits" was
sending the O.K. to the two train orders. So far, so good. Now if Callahan
could get safely out on the Western Division...

But there was a hitch in the lower yard. Durgan had obeyed his orders
promptly and precisely, and had succeeded in stopping Callahan at the
street-crossing where Engineer Dixon had killed the farmer. Durgan climbed
to the cab of the 1010, and the changed plan was explained in a dozen
words. But now came the crux.

"If I stand here till you'd be bringin' me my orders, I'll have the whole
kit av thim buzzin' round to know fwhat's the matther," said Callahan; but
there was no other thing to do, and Durgan hurried back to the telegraph
office to play the messenger.

He was too long about it. Before he got back, Halkett was under the cab
window of the 1010, demanding to know--with many objurgations--why
Callahan had stopped in the middle of the yards.

"Get a move on you!" he shouted. "The express is right behind us, and
it'll run us down, you damned bog-trotter!"

Callahan's gauntleted hand shot up to the throttle-bar.

"I'm l'avin', Misther Halkett," he said mildly. "Will yez go back to the
car, or ride wit' me?"

The general superintendent took no chance of catching the Naught-seven's
hand-rails in the darkness, and he whipped up into the cab at the first
sharp cough of the exhaust.

"I'll go back when you stop for your orders," he said; but a shadowy
figure had leaped upon the engine-step a scant half-second behind him, and
Callahan was stuffing the crumpled copy of the order into the sweat-band
of his cap. The next instant the big 1010 leaped forward like a blooded
horse under an unmerited cut of the whip, slid past the yard limits
telegraph office and shot out upon the main line of the Western Division.

"Sit down, Misther Halkett, an' make yerself aisy!" yelled Callahan across
the cab. "'Tis small use Jimmy Shovel'll have for his box this night."

"Shut off, you Irish madman!" was the shouted command. "Don't you see
you're on the wrong division?"

Callahan gave the throttle-bar another outward hitch, tipped his seat and
took a hammer from the tool-box.

"I know where I'm goin', an' that's more thin you know, ye blandhanderin'
divil! Up on that box wit' you, an' kape out av Jimmy Shovel's road, or
I'll be the death av yez! Climb, now!"

It was at this moment that the tense strain of suspense was broken in the
despatcher's room on the second floor of the Union Station. The telephone
skirled joyously, and the train-master snatched up the ear-piece.

"What does he say?" asked Kent.

"It's all right. He says Callahan is out on the Western Division, with
Tischer chasing him according to programme. Halkett's in the cab of the
1010 with Patsy, and--hold on--By George! he says one of them jumped the
car as it was passing the limits station!"

"Which one was it?" asked Kent; and he had to wait till the reply came
from Durgan.

"It was Hawk, the right-of-way man. He broke and ran for the nearest
electric-car line the minute he hit the ground, Durgan says. Does he
count?"

"No," said Kent; but it is always a mistake to under-rate an enemy's
caliber--even that of his small arms.




XXVIII


THE NIGHT OF ALARMS

If Editor Hildreth had said nothing in his evening edition about the
impending strike on the Trans-Western, it was not because public interest
was waning. For a fortnight the newspapers in the territory tributary to
the road had been full of strike talk, and Hildreth had said his say,
deprecating the threatened appeal to force as fearlessly as he condemned
the mismanagement which was provoking it.

But it was Kent who was responsible for the dearth of news on the eve of
the event. Early in the morning of the last day of the month he had sought
out the editor and begged him to close the columns of the _Evening Argus_
to strike news, no matter what should come in during the course of the
day.

"I can't go into the reasons as deeply now as I hope to a little later,"
he had said, his secretive habit holding good to the final fathom of the
slipping hawser of events. "But you must bear with me once more, and
whatever you hear between now and the time you go to press, don't comment
on it. I have one more chance to win out, and it hangs in a balance that a
feather's weight might tip the wrong way. I'll be with you between ten and
twelve to-night, and you can safely save two columns of the morning paper
for the sensation I'm going to give you."

It was in fulfilment of this promise that Kent bestirred himself after he
had sent a wire to Ormsby, and M'Tosh had settled down to the task of
smoothing Callahan's way westward over a division already twitching in the
preliminary rigor of the strike convulsion.

"I am going to set the fuse for the newspaper explosion," he said to his
ally. "Barring accidents, there is no reason why we shouldn't begin to
figure definitely upon the result, is there?"

M'Tosh was leaning over Despatcher Donohue's shoulder. He had slipped
Donohue's fingers aside from the key to cut in with a peremptory "G.S."
order suspending, in favor of the fast mail, the rule which requires a
station operator to drop his board on a following section that is less
than ten minutes behind its file-leader.

"The fun is beginning," said the train-master. "Tischer has his tip from
Durgan to keep Callahan's tail-lights in sight. With the mail treading on
their heels the gentlemen in the Naught-seven will be chary about pulling
Patsy down too suddenly in mid career. They have just passed Morning Dew,
and the operator reports Tischer for disregarding his slow signal."

"Can't you fix that?" asked Kent.

"Oh, yes; that is one of the things I can fix. But there are going to be
plenty of others."

"Still we must take something for granted, Mr. M'Tosh. What I have to do
up-town won't wait until Callahan has finished his run. I thought the main
difficulty was safely overcome."

"Umph!" said the train-master; "the troubles are barely getting themselves
born. You must remember that we swapped horses at the last minute. We were
ready for the race to the east. Everybody on the Prairie Division had been
notified that a special was to go through to-night without stop from
Lesterville to A. & T. Junction."

"Well?"

"Now we have it all to straighten out by wire on another division; meeting
points to make, slow trains to side-track, fool operators to hold down;
all on the dizzy edge of a strike that is making every man on the line
lose his balance. But you go ahead with your newspaper business. I'll do
what a man can here. And if you come across that right-of-way agent, I
wish you'd make it a case of assault and battery and get him locked up.
I'm leery about him."

Kent went his way dubiously reflective. In the moment of triumph, when
Durgan had announced the success of the bold change in the programme, he
had made light of Hawk's escape. But now he saw possibilities. True, the
junto was leaderless for the moment, and Bucks had no very able
lieutenants. But Hawk would give the alarm; and there was the rank and
file of the machine to reckon with. And for weapons, the ring controlled
the police power of the State and of the city. Let the word be passed that
the employees of the Trans-Western were kidnapping their receiver and the
governor, and many things might happen before "Red" Callahan should finish
his long race to the westward.

Thinking of these things, David Kent walked up-town when he might have
taken a car. When the toxin of panic is in the air there is no antidote
like vigorous action.

Passing the Western Union central office, he stopped to send Ormsby a
second telegram, reporting progress and asking him to be present in person
at the denouement to put the facts on the wire at the earliest possible
instant of time. "Everything depends upon this," he added, when he had
made the message otherwise emphatic. "If we miss the morning papers, we
are done."

While he was pocketing his change at the receiving clerk's pigeon-hole, a
cab rattled up with a horse at a gallop, and Stephen Hawk sprang out. Kent
saw him through the plate-glass front and turned quickly to the public
writing-desk, hoping to be overlooked. He was. For once in a way the
ex-district attorney was too nearly rattled to be fully alert to his
surroundings. There were others at the standing desk; and Hawk wrote his
message, after two or three false starts, almost at Kent's elbow.

Kent heard the chink of coin and the low-spoken urgings for haste at the
receiving clerk's window; but he forbore to move until the cab had rattled
away. Then he gathered up the spoiled blanks left behind by Hawk and
smoothed them out. Two of them bore nothing but the date line, made
illegible, it would seem, by the writer's haste and nervousness. But at
the third attempt Hawk had got as far as the address: "To All
Trans-Western agents on Western Division."

Kent stepped quickly to the receiver's window. The only expedient he could
think of was open to reproach, but it was no time to be over-scrupulous.

"Pardon me," he began, "but didn't the gentleman who was just here forget
to sign his message?"

The little hook caught its minnow. The receiving clerk was folding Hawk's
message to place it in the leather carrier of the pneumatic tube, but he
opened and examined it.

"No," he said; "it's signed all right: 'J.B. Halkett, G.S.'"

"Ah!" said Kent. "That's a little odd. Mr. Halkett is out of town, and
this gentleman, Mr. Hawk, is not in his department. I believe I should
investigate a little before sending that, if I were you."

Having thus sown the small seed of suspicion, which, by the by, fell on
barren soil, Kent lost no time in calling up M'Tosh over the nearest
telephone.

"Do our agents on the Western Division handle Western Union business?" he
asked.

The reply came promptly.

"Yes; locally. The W-U. has an independent line to Breezeland Inn and
points beyond."

"Well, our right-of-way man has just sent a telegram to all agents,
signing Halkett's name. I don't know what he said in it, but you can
figure that out for yourself."

"You bet I can!" was the emphatic rejoinder. And then: "Where are you
now?"

"I'm at the Clarendon public 'phone, but I am going over to the _Argus_
office. I'll let you know when I leave there. Good-by."

When Kent reached the night editor's den on the third floor of the _Argus_
building he found Hildreth immersed chin-deep in a sea of work. But he
quickly extricated himself and cleared a chair for his visitor.

"Praise be!" he ejaculated. "I was beginning to get anxious. Large things
are happening, and you didn't turn up. I've had Manville wiring all over
town for you."

"What are some of the large things?" asked Kent, lighting his first cigar
since dinner.

"Well, for one: do you know that your people are on the verge of the
much-talked-of strike?"

"Yes; I knew it this morning. That was what I wanted you to suppress in
the evening edition."

"I suppressed it all right; I didn't know it--day and date, I mean. They
kept it beautifully quiet. But that isn't all. Something is happening at
the capitol. I was over at the club a little while ago, and Hendricks was
there. Somebody sent in a note, and he positively ran to get out. When I
came back, I sent Rogers over to Cassatti's to see if he could find you.
There was a junto dinner confab on; Meigs, Senator Crowley, three or four
of the ring aldermen and half a dozen wa-ward politicians. Rogers has a
nose for news, and when he had 'phoned me you weren't there, he hung
around on the edges."

"Good men you have, Hildreth. What did the unimpeachable Rogers see?"

"He saw on a large scale just what I had seen on a small one: somebody
pup-passed a note in, and when it had gone the round of the dinner-table
those fellows tumbled over each other trying to get away."

"Is that all?" Kent inquired.

"No. Apart from his nose, Rogers is gifted with horse sense. When the
dinner crowd boarded an up-town car, our man paid fare to the same
conductor. He wired me from the Hotel Brunswick a few minutes ago. There
is some sort of a caucus going on in Hendricks' office in the capitol, and
mum-messengers are flying in all directions."

"And you wanted me to come and tell you all the whys and wherefores?" Kent
suggested.

"I told the chief I'd bet a bub-blind horse to a broken-down mule you
could do it if anybody could."

"All right; listen: something worse than an hour ago the governor, his
private secretary, Guilford, Hawk and Halkett started out on a special
train to go to Gaston."

"What for?" interrupted the editor.

"To meet Judge MacFarlane, Mr. Semple Falkland, and the Overland
officials. You can guess what was to be done?"

"Sure. Your railroad was to be sold out, lock, stock and barrel; or leased
to the Overland for ninety-nine years--which amounts to the same thing."

"Precisely. Well, by some unaccountable mishap the receiver's special was
switched over to the Western Division at yard limits, and the engineer
seems to think he has orders to proceed westward. At all events, that is
what he is doing. And the funny part of it is that he can't stop to find
out his blunder. The fast mail is right behind him, with the receiver's
order to smash anything that gets in its way; so you see--"

"That will do," said the night editor. "We don't print fairy stories in
the _Argus_."

"None the less, you are going to print this one to-morrow morning, just as
I'm telling it to you," Kent asserted confidently. "And when you get the
epilogue you will say that it makes my little preface wearisome by
contrast."

The light was slowly dawning in the editorial mind.

"My heaven!" he exclaimed. "Kent, you're good for twenty years, at the
very lul-least!"

"Am I? It occurs to me that the prosecuting attorney in the case will have
a hard time proving anything. Doesn't it look that way to you? At the
worst, it is only an unhappy misunderstanding of orders. And if the end
should happen to justify the means----"

Hildreth shook his head gravely.

"You don't understand, David. If you could be sure of a fair-minded judge
and an unbiased jury--you and those who are implicated with you: but
you'll get neither in this machine-ridden State."

"We are going to have both, after you have filled your two columns--by the
way, you are still saving those two columns for me, aren't you?--in
to-morrow morning's _Argus_. Or rather, I'm hoping there will be no need
for either judge or jury."

The night editor shook his head again, and once more he said, "My heaven!"
adding: "What could you possibly hope to accomplish? You'll get the
receiver and his big boss out of the State for a few minutes, or possibly
for a few hours, if your strike makes them hunt up another railroad to
return on. But what will it amount to? Getting rid of the receiver doesn't
annul the decree of the court."

Kent fell back on his secretive habit yet once again.

"I don't care to anticipate the climax, Hildreth. By one o'clock one of
two things will have happened: you'll get a wire that will make your back
hair sit up, or I'll get one that will make me wish I'd never been born.
Let it rest at that for the present; you have work enough on hand to fill
up the interval, and if you haven't, you can distribute those affidavits I
gave you among the compositors and get them into type. I want to see them
in the paper to-morrow morning, along with the other news."

"Oh, we can't do that, David! The time isn't ripe. You know what I told
you about----"

"If the time doesn't ripen to-night, Hildreth, it never will. Do as I tell
you, and get that stuff into type. Do more; write the hottest editorial
you can think of, demanding to know if it isn't time for the people to
rise and clean out this stable once for all."

"By Jove! David, I've half a mum-mind to do it. If you'd only unbutton
yourself a little, and let me see what my backing is going to be----"

"All in good season," laughed Kent. "Your business for the present moment
is to write; I'm going down to the Union Station."

"What for?" demanded the editor.

"To see if our crazy engineer is still mistaking his orders properly."

"Hold on a minute. How did the enemy get wind of your plot so quickly? You
can tell me that, can't you?"

"Oh, yes; I told you Hawk was one of the party in the private car. He fell
off at the yard limits station and came back to town."

The night editor stood up and confronted his visitor.

"David, you are either the coolest plunger that ever drew breath--or the
bub-biggest fool. I wouldn't be standing in your shoes to-night for two
such railroads as the T-W."

Kent laughed again and opened the door.

"I suppose not. But you know there is no accounting for the difference in
tastes. I feel as if I had never really lived before this night; the only
thing that troubles me is the fear that somebody or something will get in
the way of my demented engineer."

He went out into the hall, but as Hildreth was closing the door he turned
back.

"There is one other thing that I meant to say: when you get your two
columns of sensation, you've got to be decent and share with the
Associated Press."

"I'm dud-dashed if I do!" said Hildreth, fiercely.

"Oh, yes, you will; just the bare facts, you know. You'll have all the
exciting details for an 'exclusive,' to say nothing of the batch of
affidavits in the oil scandal. And it is of the last importance to me that
the facts shall be known to-morrow morning wherever the Associated has a
wire."

"Go away!" said the editor, "and dud-don't come back here till you can
uncork yourself like a man and a Cuc-Christian! Go off, I say!"

It wanted but a few minutes of eleven when Kent mounted the stair to the
despatcher's room in the Union Station. He found M'Tosh sitting at
Donohue's elbow, and the sounders on the glass-topped table were crackling
like overladen wires in an electric storm.

"Strike talk," said the train-master. "Every man on both divisions wants
to know what's doing. Got your newspaper string tied up all right?"

Kent made a sign of assent.

"We are waiting for Mr. Patrick Callahan. Any news from him?"

"Plenty of it. Patsy would have a story to tell, all right, if he could
stop to put it on the wires. Durgan ought to have caught that blamed
right-of-way man and chloroformed him."

"I found him messing, as I 'phoned you. Anything come of it?"

"Nothing fatal, I guess, since Patsy is still humping along. But Hawk's
next biff was more to the purpose. He came down here with Halkett's chief
clerk, whom he had hauled out of bed, and two policemen. The plan was to
fire Donohue and me, and put Bicknell in charge. It might have worked if
Bicknell'd had the sand. But he weakened at the last minute; admitted that
he wasn't big enough to handle the despatcher's trick. The way Hawk cursed
him out was a caution to sinners."

"When was this?" Kent asked.

"Just a few minutes ago. Hawk went off ripping; swore he would find
somebody who wasn't afraid to take the wires. And, between us three, I'm
scared stiff for fear he will."

"Can it be done?"

"Dead easy, if he knows how to go about it--and Bicknell will tell him.
The Overland people don't love us any too well, and if they did, the lease
deal would make them side with Guilford and the governor. If Hawk asks
them to lend him a train despatcher for a few minutes, they'll do it."

"But the union?" Kent objected.

"They have three or four non-union men."

"Still, Hawk has no right to discharge you."

"Bicknell has. He is Halkett's representative, and----"

The door opened suddenly and Hawk danced in, followed by a man bareheaded
and in his shirt-sleeves, the superintendent's chief clerk, and the two
officers.

"Now, then, we'll trouble you and your man to get out of here, Mr.
M'Tosh," said the captain of the junto forces, vindictively.

But the train-master was of those who die hard. He protested vigorously,
addressing himself to Bicknell and ignoring the ex-district attorney as if
he were not. He, McTosh, was willing to surrender the office on an
official order in writing over the chief clerk's signature. But did
Bicknell fully understand what it might mean in loss of life and property
to put a new man on the wires at a moment's notice?

Bicknell would have weakened again, but Hawk was not to be frustrated a
second time.

"Don't you see he is only sparring to gain time?" he snapped at Bicknell.
Then to M'Tosh: "Get out of here, and do it quick! And you can go, too,"
wheeling suddenly upon Kent.

Donohue had taken no part in the conflict of authority. But now he threw
down his pen and clicked his key to cut in with the "G.S.," which claims
the wire instantly. Then distinctly, and a word at a time so that the
slowest operator on the line could get it, he spelled out the message:
"All Agents: Stop and hold all trains except first and second fast mail,
west-bound. M'Tosh fired, and office in hands of police----"

"Stop him!" cried the shirt-sleeved man. "He's giving it away on the
wire!"

But Donohue had signed his name and was putting on his coat.

"You're welcome to what you can find," he said, scowling at the
interloper. "If you kill anybody now, it'll be your own fault."

"Arrest that man!" said Hawk to his policemen; but Kent interposed.

"If you do, the force will be two men shy to-morrow. The Civic League
isn't dead yet." And he took down the numbers of the two officers.

There were no arrests made, and when the ousted three were clear of the
room and the building, Kent asked an anxious question.

"How near can they come to smashing us, M'Tosh?"

"That depends on Callahan's nerve. The night operators at Donerail,
Schofield and Agua Caliente are all Guilford appointees, and when the new
man explains the situation to them, they'll do what they are told to do.
But I'm thinking Patsy won't pull up for anything milder than a spiked
switch."

"Well, they might throw a switch on him. I wonder somebody hasn't done it
before this."

The train-master shook his head.

"If Tischer is keeping close up behind, that would jeopardize more lives
than Callahan's. But there is another thing that doesn't depend on
nerve--Patsy's or anybody's."

"What is that?"

"Water. The run is one hundred and eighty miles. The 1010's tank is good
for one hundred with a train, or a possible hundred and sixty, light.
There is about one chance in a thousand that Callahan's crown-sheet won't
get red-hot and crumple up on him in the last twenty miles. Let's take a
car and go down to yard limits. We can sit in the office and hear what
goes over the wires, even if we can't get a finger in to help Patsy out of
his troubles."

They boarded a Twentieth Avenue car accordingly, but when they reached the
end of the line, which was just across the tracks from the junction in the
lower yards, they found the yard limits office and the shops surrounded by
a cordon of militia.

"By George!" said M'Tosh. "They got quick action, didn't they? I suppose
it's on the ground of the strike and possible violence."

Kent spun on his heel, heading for the electric car they had just left.

"Back to town," he said; "unless you two want to jump the midnight
Overland as it goes out and get away while you can. If Callahan fails----"




XXIX


THE RELENTLESS WHEELS

But Engineer Callahan had no notion of failing. When he had drawn the
hammer on his superior officer, advising discretion and a seat on Jimmy
Shovel's box, the 1010 was racking out over the switches in the Western
Division yards. Three minutes later the electric beam of Tischer's
following headlight sought and found the first section on the long tangent
leading up to the high plains, and the race was in full swing.

At Morning Dew, the first night telegraph station out of the capital, the
two sections were no more than a scant quarter of a mile apart; and the
operator tried to flag the second section down, as reported. This did not
happen again until several stations had been passed, and Callahan set his
jaw and gave the 1010 more throttle. But at Lossing, a town of some size,
the board was down and a man ran out at the crossing, swinging a red
light.

Callahan looked well to the switches, with the steam shut off and his hand
dropping instinctively to the air; and the superintendent shrank into his
corner and gripped the window ledge when the special roared past the
warning signals and on through the town beyond. He had maintained a dazed
silence since the episode of the flourished hammer, but now he was moved
to yell across the cab.

"I suppose you know what you're in for, if you live to get out of this!
It's twenty years, in this State, to pass a danger signal!" This is not
all that the superintendent said: there were forewords and interjections,
emphatic but unprintable.

Callahan's reply was another flourish of the hammer, and a sudden
outpulling of the throttle-bar; and the superintendent subsided again.

But enforced silence and the grindstone of conscious helplessness will
sharpen the dullest wit. The swerving lurch of the 1010 around the next
curve set Halkett clutching for hand-holds, and the injector lever fell
within his grasp. What he did not know about the working parts of a modern
locomotive was very considerable; but he did know that an injector, half
opened, will waste water as fast as an inch pipe will discharge it. And
without water the Irishman would have to stop.

Callahan heard the chuckling of the wasting boiler feed before he had gone
a mile beyond the curve. It was a discovery to excuse bad language, but
his protest was lamb-like.

"No more av that, if ye plaze, Misther Halkett, or me an' Jimmy Shovel'll
have to--Ah! would yez, now?"

Before his promotion to the superintendency Halkett had been a ward boss
in the metropolis of the State. Thinking he saw his chance, he took it,
and the blow knocked Callahan silly for the moment. Afterward there was a
small free-for-all buffeting match in the narrow cab in which the fireman
took a hand, and during which the racing 1010 was suffered to find her way
alone. When it was over, Callahan spat out a broken tooth and gave his
orders concisely.

"Up wid him over the coal, an' we'll put him back in the car where he
belongs. Now, thin!"

Halkett had to go, and he went, not altogether unwillingly. And when it
came to jumping across from the rear of the tender to the forward
vestibule of the Naught-seven, or being chucked across, he jumped.

Now it so chanced that the governor and his first lieutenant in the great
railway steal had weighty matters to discuss, and they had not missed the
superintendent or the lawyer, supposing them to be still out on the rear
platform enjoying the scenery. Wherefore Halkett's sudden appearance,
mauled, begrimed and breathless from his late tussle with the two
enginemen, was the first intimation of wrong-going that had penetrated to
the inner sanctum of the private car.

"What's that you say, Mr. Halkett?--on the Western Division? Whereabouts?"
demanded the governor.

"Between Lossing and Skipjack siding--if we haven't passed the siding in
the last two or three minutes. I've been too busy to notice," was the
reply.

"And you say you were on the engine? Why the devil didn't you call your
man down?"

"I knocked him down," gritted the superintendent, savagely, "and I'd have
beat his face in for him if there hadn't been two of them. It's a plot of
some kind, and Callahan knows what he is about. He had me held up with a
hammer till just a few minutes ago, and he's running past stop-signals and
over red lights like a madman!"

Bucks and Guilford exchanged convictions by the road of the eye, and the
governor said:

"This is pretty serious, Major. Have you anything to suggest?" And without
waiting for a reply he turned upon Halkett: "Where is Mr. Hawk?"

"I don't know. I supposed he was in here with you. Or maybe he's out on
the rear platform."

The three of them went to the rear, passing the private secretary
comfortably asleep in his wicker chair. When they stepped out upon the
recessed observation platform they found it empty.

"He must have suspected something and dropped off in the yard or at the
shops," said Halkett. And at the saying of it he shrank back involuntarily
and added: "Ah! Look at that, will you?"

The car had just thundered past another station, and Callahan had underrun
one more stop-signal at full speed. At the same instant Tischer's
headlight swung into view, half blinding them with its glare.

"What is that following us?" asked Bucks.

"It's the fast mail," said Halkett.

Guilford turned livid and caught at the hand-rail.

"S-s-say--are you sure of that?" he gasped.

"Of course: it was an hour and thirty-five minutes late, and we are on its
time."

"Then we can't stop unless somebody throws us on a siding!" quavered the
receiver, who had a small spirit in a large body. "I told M'Tosh to give
the mail orders to make up her lost time or I'd fire the engineer--told
him to cut out all the stops this side of Agua Caliente!"

"That's what you get for your infernal meddling!" snapped Halkett. In
catastrophic moments many barriers go down; deference to superior officers
among the earliest.

But the master spirit of the junto was still cool and collected.

"This is no time to quarrel," he said. "The thing to be done is to stop
this train without getting ourselves ripped open by that fellow behind the
headlight yonder. The stop-signals prove that Hawk and the others are
doing their best, but we must do ours. What do you say, Halkett?"

"There is only one thing," replied the superintendent; "we've got to make
the Irishman run ahead fast enough and far enough to give us room to stop
or take a siding."

The governor planned it in a few curt sentences. Was there a weapon to be
had? Danforth, the private secretary, roused from his nap in the wicker
chair, was able to produce a serviceable revolver. Two minutes later, the
sleep still tingling in his nerves to augment another tingling less
pleasurable, the secretary had spanned the terrible gap separating the car
from the engine and was making his way over the coal, fluttering his
handkerchief in token of his peaceful intentions.

He was charged with a message to Callahan, mandatory in its first form,
and bribe-promising in its second; and he was covered from the forward
vestibule of the private car by the revolver in the hands of a resolute
and determined state executive.

"One of them's comin' ahead over the coal," warned James Shovel; and
Callahan found his hammer.

"Run ahead an' take a siding, is ut?" he shouted, glaring down on the
messenger. "I have me ordhers fr'm betther men than thim that sint you. Go
back an' tell thim so."

"You'll be paid if you do, and you'll be shot if you don't," yelled the
secretary, persuasively.

"Tell the boss he can't shoot two av us to wanst; an' the wan that's
left'll slap on the air," was Callahan's answer; and he slacked off a
little to bring the following train within easy striking distance.

Danforth went painfully and carefully back with this defiance, and while
he was bridging the nerve-trying gap, another station with the stop-board
down and red lights frantically swinging was passed with a roar and a
whistle shriek.

"Fwhat are they doing now?" called Callahan to his fireman.

"They've gone inside again," was the reply.

"Go back an' thry the tank," was the command; and Jimmy Shovel climbed
over the coal and let himself down feet foremost into the manhole. When he
slid back to the footplate his legs were wet to the mid shin.

"It's only up to there," he reported, measuring with his hand.

Callahan looked at his watch. There was yet a full hour's run ahead of
him, and there was no more than a scant foot of water in the tank with
which to make it.

Thereafter he forgot the Naught-seven, and whatever menace it held for
him, and was concerned chiefly with the thing mechanical. Would the water
last him through? He had once made one hundred and seventy miles on a
special run with the 1010 without refilling his tank; but that was with
the light engine alone. Now he had the private car behind him, and it
seemed at times to pull with all the drag of a heavy train.

But one expedient remained, and that carried with it the risk of his life.
An engine, not overburdened, uses less water proportionately to miles run
as the speed is increased. He could outpace the safe-guarding mail, save
water--and take the chance of being shot in the back from the forward
vestibule of the Naught-seven when he had gained lead enough to make a
main-line stop safe for the men behind him.

Callahan thought once of the child mothered by the Sisters of Loretto in
the convent at the capital, shut his eyes to that and to all things
extraneous, and sent the 1010 about her business. At the first reversed
curve he hung out of his window for a backward look. Tischer's headlight
had disappeared and his protection was gone.

On the rear platform of the private car four men watched the threatening
second section fade into the night.

"Our man has thought better of it," said the governor, marking the
increased speed and the disappearance of the menacing headlight.

Guilford's sigh of relief was almost a groan.

"My God!" he said; "it makes me cold to think what might happen if he
should pull us over into the other State!"

But Halkett was still smarting from the indignities put upon him, and his
comment was a vindictive threat.

"I'll send that damned Irishman over the road for this, if it is the last
thing I ever do!" he declared; and he confirmed it with an oath.

But Callahan was getting his punishment as he went along. He had scarcely
settled the 1010 into her gait for the final run against the failing water
supply when another station came in sight. It was a small cattle town, and
in addition to the swinging red lights and a huge bonfire to illuminate
the yards, the obstructionists had torn down the loading corral and were
piling the lumber on the track.

Once again Callahan's nerve flickered, and he shut off the steam. But
before it was too late he reflected that the barrier was meant only to
scare him into stopping. One minute later the air was full of flying
splinters, and that danger was passed. But one of the broken planks came
through the cab window, missing the engineer by no more than a
hand's-breadth. And the shower of splinters, sucked in by the whirl of the
train, broke glass in the private car and sprinkled the quartet on the
platform with split kindling and wreckage.

"What was that?" gasped the receiver.

Halkett pointed to the bonfire, receding like a fading star in the
rearward distance.

"Our friends are beginning to throw stones, since clods won't stop him."
he said.

Bucks shook his head.

"If that is the case, we'll have to be doing something on our own account.
The next obstruction may derail us."

Halkett stepped into the car and pulled the cord of the automatic air.

"No good," he muttered. "The Irishman bled our tank before he started.
Help me set the hand brakes, a couple of you."

Danforth and the governor took hold of the brake wheel with him, and for a
minute or two the terrible speed slackened a little. Then some part of the
disused hand-gear gave way under the three-man strain and that hope was
gone.

"There's one thing left," said the superintendent, indomitable to the
last. "We'll uncouple and let him drop us behind."

The space in the forward vestibule was narrow and cramped, and with the
strain of the dragging car to make the pin stick, it took two of them
lying flat, waiting for the back-surging moment and wiggling it for slack,
to pull it. The coupling dropped out of the hook and the engine shot ahead
to the length of the safety-chains; thus far, but no farther.

Halkett stood up.

"It's up to you, Danforth," he said, raising his voice to be heard above
the pounding roar of the wheels. "You're the youngest and lightest: get
down on the 1010's brake-beam and unhook those chains."

The secretary looked once into the trap with the dodging jaws and the
backward-flying bottom and declined the honor.

"I can't get down there," he cried. "And I shouldn't know what to do if I
could."

Once more the superintendent exhibited his nerve. He had nothing at stake
save a desire to defeat Callahan; but he had the persistent courage of the
bull-terrier. With Bucks and the secretary to steady him he lowered
himself in the gap till he could stand upon the brake-beam of the 1010's
tender and grope with one free hand for the hook of the nearest
safety-chain. Death nipped at him every time the engine gave or took up
the slack of the loose coupling, but he dodged and hung on until he had
satisfied himself.

"It's no good," he announced, when they had dragged him by main strength
back to a footing in the narrow vestibule. "The hooks are bent into the
links. We're due to go wherever that damned Irishman is taking us."

Shovel was firing, and the trailing smoke and cinders quickly made the
forward vestibule untenable. When they were driven in, Bucks and the
receiver went through to the rear platform, where they were presently
joined by Halkett and Danforth.

"I've been trying the air again," said the superintendent, "but it's no
go. What's next?"

The governor gave the word.

"Wait," he said; and the four of them clung to the hand-rails, swaying and
bending to the bounding lurches of the flying car.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mile after mile reels from beneath the relentless wheels, and still the
speed increases. Station Donerail is passed, and now the pace is so
furious that the watchers on the railed platform can not make out the
signals in the volleying wake of dust. Station Schofield is passed, and
again the signals, if any there be, are swiftly drowned in the gray
dust-smother. From Schofield to Agua Caliente is but a scant ten miles;
and as the flying train rushes on toward the State boundary, two faces in
the quartet of watchers show tense and drawn under the yellow light of the
Pintsch platform lamp.

The governor swings himself unsteadily to the right-hand railing and the
long look ahead brings the twinkling arc-star of the tower light on
Breezeland Inn into view. He turns to Guilford, who has fallen limp into
one of the platform chairs.

"In five minutes more we shall pass Agua Caliente," he says. "Will you
kill the Irishman, or shall I?" Guilford's lips move, but there is no
audible reply; and Bucks takes Danforth's weapon and passes quickly and
alone to the forward vestibule.

The station of Agua Caliente swings into the field of 1010's electric
headlight. Callahan's tank has been bone dry for twenty minutes, and he is
watching the glass water-gage where the water shows now only when the
engine lurches heavily to the left. He knows that the crown-sheet of the
fire-box is bare, and that any moment it may give down and the end will
come. Yet his gauntleted hand never falls from the throttle-bar to the
air-cock, and his eyes never leave the bubble appearing and disappearing
at longer intervals in the heel of the water-glass.

Shovel has stopped firing, and is hanging out of his window for the
straining look ahead. Suddenly he drops to the footplate to grip
Callahan's arm.

"See!" he says. "They have set the switch to throw us in on the siding!"
In one motion the flutter of the exhaust ceases, and the huge ten-wheeler
buckles to the sudden setting of the brakes. The man standing in the
forward vestibule of the Naught-seven lowers his weapon. Apparently it is
not going to be necessary to kill the engineer, after all.

But Callahan's nerve has failed him only for the moment. There is one
chance in ten thousand that the circumambulating side track is empty; one
and one only, and no way to make sure of it. Beyond the station, as
Callahan well knows, the siding comes again into the main line, and the
switch is a straight-rail "safety." Once again the thought of his
motherless child flickers into the engineer's brain; then he releases the
air and throws his weight backward upon the throttle-bar. Two gasps and a
heart-beat decide it; and before the man in the vestibule can level his
weapon and fire, the one-car train has shot around the station, heaving
and lurching over the uneven rails of the siding, and grinding shrilly
over the points of the safety switch to race on the down grade to Megilp.

At the mining-camp the station is in darkness save for the goggle eyes of
an automobile drawn up beside the platform, and deep silence reigns but
for the muffled, irregular thud of the auto-car's motor. But the beam of
the 1010's headlight shows the small station building massed by men, a
score of them poising for a spring to the platforms of the private car
when the slackening speed shall permit. A bullet tears into the woodwork
at Callahan's elbow, and another breaks the glass of the window beside
him, but he makes the stop as steadily as if death were not snapping at
him from behind and roaring in his ears from the belly of the burned
engine.

"Be doomping yer fire lively, now, Jimmy, b'y," he says, dropping from his
box to help. And while they wrestle with the dumping-bar, these two, the
poising figures have swarmed upon the Naught-seven, and a voice is lifted
above the Babel of others in sharp protest.

"Put away that rope, boys! There's law here, and by God, we're going to
maintain it!"

At this a man pushes his way out of the thick of the crowd and climbs to a
seat beside the chauffeur in the waiting automobile.

"They've got him," he says shortly. "To the hotel for all you're worth,
Hudgins; our part is to get this on the wires before one o'clock. Full
speed; and never mind the ruts."




XXX


SUBHI SADIK

The dawn of a new day was graying over the capital city, and the newsboys
were crying lustily in the streets, when David Kent felt his way up the
dark staircases of the Kittleton Building to knock at the door of Judge
Oliver Marston's rooms on the top floor. He was the bearer of tidings, and
he made no more than a formal excuse for the unseemly hour when the door
was opened by the lieutenant-governor.

"I am sorry to disturb you, Judge Marston," he began, when he had the
closed door at his back and was facing the tall thin figure in flannel
dressing gown and slippers, "but I imagine I'm only a few minutes ahead of
the crowd. Have you heard the news of the night?"

The judge pressed the button of the drop-light and waved his visitor to a
chair.

"I have heard nothing, Mr. Kent. Have a cigar?"--passing the box of
unutterable stogies.

"Thank you; not before breakfast," was the hasty reply. Then, without
another word of preface: "Judge Marston, for the time being you are the
governor of the State, and I have come to----"

"One moment," interrupted his listener. "There are some stories that read
better for a foreword, however brief. What has happened?"

"This: last night it was the purpose of Governor Bucks and Receiver
Guilford to go to Gaston by special train. In some manner, which has not
yet been fully explained, there was a confusion of orders. Instead of
proceeding eastward, the special was switched to the tracks of the Western
Division; was made the first section of the fast mail, which had orders to
run through without stop. You can imagine the result."

Marston got upon his feet slowly and began pacing the length of the long
room. Kent waited, and the shrill cries of the newsboys floated up and in
through the open windows. When the judge finally came back to his chair
the saturnine face was gray and haggard.

"I hope it was an accident that can be clearly proved," he said; and a
moment later: "You spoke of Bucks and Guilford; were there others in the
private car?"

"Two others; Halkett, and the governor's private secretary."

"And were they all killed?"

A great light broke in upon Kent when he saw how Marston had
misapprehended. Also, he saw how much it would simplify matters if he
should be happy enough to catch the ball in the reactionary rebound.

"They are all alive and uninjured, to the best of my knowledge and belief;
though I understand that one of them narrowly escaped lynching at the
hands of an excited mob."

The long lean figure erected itself in the chair, and the weight of years
seemed to slip from its shoulders.

"But I understood you to say that the duties of the executive had devolved
upon me, Mr. Kent. You also said I could imagine the result of this
singular mistaking of train-orders, and I fancied I could. What was the
result?"

"A conclusion not quite as sanguinary as that you had in mind, though it
is likely to prove serious enough for one member of the party in the
private car. The special train was chased all the way across the State by
the fast mail. It finally outran the pursuing section and was stopped at
Megilp. A sheriff's posse was in waiting, and an arrest was made."

"Go on," said the lieutenant-governor.

"I must first go back a little. Some weeks ago there was a shooting affray
in the mining-camp, arising out of a dispute over a 'salted' mine, and a
man was killed. The murderer escaped across the State line. Since the
authorities of the State in which the crime was committed had every reason
to believe that a governor's requisition for this particular criminal
would not be honored, two courses were open to them: to publish the facts
and let the moral sentiment of the neighboring commonwealth punish the
criminal as it could, or would; or, suppressing the facts, to bide their
chance of catching their man beyond the boundaries of the State which gave
him an asylum. They chose the latter."

A second time Marston left his chair and began to pace the floor. After a
little he paused to say:

"This murderer is James Guilford, I take it; and the governor--"

"No," said Kent, gravely. "The murderer is--Jasper G. Bucks." He handed
the judge a copy of the _Argus_. "You will find it all in the press
despatches; all I have told you, and a great deal more."

The lieutenant-governor read the newspaper story as he walked, lighting
the electric chandelier to enable him to do so. When it was finished he
sat down again.

"What a hideous cesspool it is!" was his comment. "But we shall clean it,
Mr. Kent; we shall clean it if it shall leave the People's Party without a
vote in the State. Now what can I do for you? You didn't come here at this
hour in the morning merely to bring me the news."

"No, I didn't, Judge Marston. I want my railroad."

"You shall have it," was the prompt response. "What have you done since
our last discussion of the subject?"

"I tried to 'obliterate' Judge MacFarlane, as you suggested. But I failed
in the first step. Bucks and Meigs refused to approve the _quo warranto_."

The judge knitted his brows thoughtfully.

"That way is open to you now; but it is long and devious, and delays are
always dangerous. You spoke of the receivership as being part of a plan by
which your road was to be turned over to an eastern monopoly. How nearly
has that plan succeeded?"

Kent hesitated, not because he was afraid to trust the man Oliver Marston,
but because there were some things which the governor of the State might
feel called upon to investigate if the knowledge of them were thrust upon
him. But in the end he took counsel of utter frankness.

"So nearly that if Bucks and the receiver had reached Gaston last night,
our road would now be in the hands of the Plantagoulds under a
ninety-nine-year lease."

The merest ghost of a smile flitted over the lieutenant-governor's face
when he said, with his nearest approach to sarcasm:

"How extremely opportune the confusion of train-orders becomes as we go
along! But answer one more question if you please--it will not involve
these singularly heedless railway employees of yours: is Judge MacFarlane
in Gaston now?"

"He is. He was to have met the others on the arrival of the special
train."

There were footsteps on the stair and in the corridor, and Marston rose.

"Our privacy is about to be invaded, Mr. Kent. This is a miserable
business; miserable for everybody, but most of all for the deceived and
hoodwinked people of an unhappy State. God knows, I did not seek this
office; but since it has fallen on me, I shall do my duty as I see it, and
my hand shall be heaviest upon that man who makes a mockery of the justice
he is sworn to administer. Come to the capitol a little later in the day,
prepared to go at once to Gaston. I think I can promise you your hearing
on the merits without further delay."

"Thank you," said Kent, simply, grasping the hand of leave-taking. Then he
tried to find other and larger words. "I wish I could do something to show
my appreciation of your--"

But the lieutenant-governor was pushing him toward the door.

"You have done something, Mr. Kent, and you can do more. Head those people
off at the door and say that for the present I refuse positively to be
seen or interviewed. They will find me at the capitol during office
hours."

It was seven o'clock in the evening of the fiercest working day Kent had
ever fought through when the special train--his own private special, sent
to Gaston and brought back again over the strike-paralyzed road by the
express permission and command of the strikers themselves--set him down in
the Union Station at the capital.

Looking back to the gray of the morning when he had shaken hands with
Governor Marston at the door of the room on the top floor of the Kittleton
Building, the crowding events made the interval seem more like a week; and
now the events themselves were beginning to take on dream-like
incongruities in the haze of utter weariness.

"_Evening Argus_! all about the p'liminary trial of Governor Bucks.
_Argus_, sir?" piped a small boy at the station exit; but Kent shook his
head, found a cab and had himself conveyed quickly through streets still
rife with excitement to the Clarendon Hotel.

In the lobby was the same bee-buzzing crowd with which he had been
contending all day, and he edged his way through it to the elevator,
praying that he might go unrecognized--as he did. Once safe in his rooms
he sent for Loring, stretching himself on the bed in a very ecstasy of
relaxation until the ex-manager came up. Then he emptied his mind as an
overladen ass spills its panniers.

"I'm done, Grantham," he said; "and that is more different kinds of truth
than you have heard in a week. Go and reorganize your management, and
M'Tosh is the man to put in Halkett's place. The strike will be declared
off at the mere mention of your name and his. That's all. Now go away and
let me sleep."

"Oh, hold on!" was the good-natured protest; "I'm not more curious than I
have to be, but I'd like to know how it was done."

"I don't know, myself; and that's the plain fact. But I suspect Marston
fell upon Judge MacFarlane: gave him a wire hint of what was due to arrive
if he didn't give us a clean bill of health. I had my preliminary
interview with the governor at daybreak this morning; and I was with him
again between nine and ten. He went over the original papers with me, and
about all he said was, 'Be in Gaston by two o'clock this afternoon, and
MacFarlane will give you the hearing in chambers.' I went on my knees to
the Federative Council to get a train."

"You shouldn't have had any trouble there."

"I didn't have, after the men understood what was in the wind. Jarl Oleson
took me down and brought me back. The council did it handsomely, dipping
into its treasury and paying the mileage on a Pullman car."

"And MacFarlane reversed his own order?"

"Without a question. It was the merest formality. Jennison, Hawk's former
law partner, stood for the other side; but he made no argument."

"Good!" said Loring. "That will do for the day's work. But now I'd like to
know how last night's job was managed."

"I'm afraid you want to know more than is good for you. What do the papers
say? I haven't looked at one all day."

"They say there was a misunderstanding of orders. That will answer for the
public, perhaps, but it won't do for me."

"I guess it will have to do for you, too, Grantham," said Kent, yawning
shamelessly. "Five men, besides myself--six of us in all--know the true
inwardness of last night's round-up. There will never be a seventh."

Loring's eye-glasses fell from his nose, and he was smiling shrewdly when
he replaced them.

"There is one small consequence that doesn't please you, I'm sure. You'll
have to bury the hatchet with MacFarlane."

"Shall I?" flashed Kent, sitting up as if he had been struck with a whip.
"Let me tell you: Marston is going to call an extra session of the
Assembly. There is a death vacancy in this district, and I shall be a
candidate in the special election. If there is no other way to get at
MacFarlane, he shall be impeached!"

"H'm: so you're going into politics?"

"You've said it," said Kent, subsiding among the pillows. "Now will you
go?"

       *       *       *       *       *

It took the general manager a wakeful twenty-four hours to untangle the
industrial snarl which was the receiver's legacy to his successor; and
David Kent slept through the major part of that interval, rising only in
time to dress for dinner on the day following the retrieval of the
Trans-Western.

In the grill-room of the Camelot he came face to face with Ormsby, and
learned, something to his astonishment, that the Breezeland party had
returned to the capital on the first train in from the west.

"I thought you were going to stay a month or more," he said, with his eyes
cast down.

"So did I," said Ormsby. "But Mrs. Brentwood cut it short. She's a town
person, and so is Penelope." And it was not until the soup plates had been
removed that he added a question. "Are you going out to see them this
evening, David? You have my royal permission."

"No"--bluntly.

"Isn't it up to you to go and give them a chance to jolly you a little? I
think they are all aching to do it. Mrs. Hepzibah has seen the rising
stock quotations, and she thinks you are It."

"No; I can't go there any more," said Kent, and his voice was gruffer than
he meant it to be.

"Why not?"

"There were good reasons before: there are better ones now."

"A seven-hundred-thousand-dollar difference?" suggested Ormsby, who had
had speech with Loring.

Kent flushed a dull red.

"I sha'n't strike you, Ormsby, no matter what you say," he said doggedly.

"Humph! There is one difference between you and Rabbi Balaam's burro,
David: it could talk sense, and you can't," was the offensive rejoinder.

Kent changed the subject abruptly.

"Say, Ormsby; I'm going into a political office-hunt. There is a death
vacancy in the House, and I mean to have the nomination and election. I
don't need money now, but I do need a friend. Are you with me?"

"Oh, sure. Miss Van Brock will answer for that."

"But I don't want you to do it on her account; I want you to do it for
me."

"It's all one," said the club-man.

Kent looked up quickly.

"You are right; that is the truest word you've said to-night," and he went
away, leaving the dessert untouched.

The evening was still young when Kent reached the house in Alameda Square.
Within the week the weather had changed, and the first chill of the
approaching autumn was in the air. The great square house was lighted and
warmed, and the homelikeness of the place appealed to him as it never had
before. To her other gifts, which were many and diverse, Miss Van Brock
added that of home-making; and the aftermath of battle is apt to be an
acute longing for peace and quiet, for domesticity and creature comforts.

He had not seen Portia since the night when she had armed him for the
final struggle with the enemy; he told himself that he should not see her
again until the battle was fought and won. But in no part of the struggle
had he been suffered to lose sight of his obligation to her. He had seen
the chain lengthen link by link, and now the time was come for the welding
of it into a shackle to bind. He did not try to deceive himself, nor did
he allow the glamour of false sentiment to blind him. With an undying love
for Elinor Brentwood in his heart, he knew well what was before him. None
the less, Portia should have her just due.

She was waiting for him when he entered the comfortable library.

"I knew you would come to-night," she said cheerfully. "I gave you a day
to drive the nail--and, O David! you have driven it well!--another day to
clinch it, and a third to recover from the effects. Have you fully
recovered?"

"I hope so. I took the day for it, at all events," he laughed. "I am just
out of bed, as you might say."

"I can imagine how it took it out of you," she assented. "Not so much the
work, but the anxiety. Night before last, after Mr. Loring went away, I
sat it out with the telephone, nagging poor Mr. Hildreth for news until I
know he wanted to murder me."

"How much did you get of it?" he asked.

"He told me all he dared--or perhaps it was all he knew--and it made me
feel miserably helpless. The little I could get from the _Argus_ office
was enough to prove that all your plans had been changed at the last
moment."

"They were," he admitted; and he began at the beginning and filled in the
details for her.

She heard him through without comment other than a kindling of the brown
eyes at the climaxes of daring; but at the end she gave him praise
unstinted.

"You have played the man, David, as I knew you would if you could be once
fully aroused. I've had faith in you from the very first."

"It has been more than faith, Portia," he asserted soberly. "You have
taken me up and carried me when I could neither run nor walk. Do you
suppose I am so besotted as not to realize that you have been the head,
while I have been only the hand?"

"Nonsense!" she said lightly. "You are in the dumps of the reaction now.
You mustn't say things that you will be sorry for, later on."

"I am going to say one thing, nevertheless; and will remain for you to
make it a thing hard to be remembered, or the other kind. Will you take
what there is of me and make what you can of it?"

She laughed in his face.

"No, my dear David; no, no, no." And after a little pause: "How
deliciously transparent you are, to be sure!"

He would have been less than a man if his self-love had not been touched
in its most sensitive part.

"I am glad if it amuses you," he frowned. "Only I meant it in all
seriousness."

"No, you didn't; you only thought you did," she contradicted, and the
brown eyes were still laughing at him. "Let me tell you what you did mean.
You are pleased to think that I have helped you--that an obligation has
been incurred; and you meant to pay your debt like a man and a gentleman
in the only coin a woman is supposed to recognize."

"But if I should say that you are misinterpreting the motive?" he
suggested.

"It would make your nice little speech a perjury instead of a simple
untruth, and I should say no, again, on other, and perhaps better,
grounds."

"Name them," he said shortly.

"I will, David, though I am neither a stick nor a stone to do it without
wincing. You love another woman with all your heart and soul, and you know
it."

"Well? You see I am neither admitting nor denying."

"As if you needed to!" she scoffed. "But don't interrupt me, please. You
said I might take what there is of you and make what I can of it: I might
make you anything and everything in the world, David, except that which a
woman craves most in a husband--a lover."

His eyes grew dark.

"I wish I knew how much that word means to you, Portia."

"It means just as much to me as it does to every woman who has ever drawn
the breath of life in a passionate world, David. But that isn't all.
Leaving Miss Brentwood entirely out of the question, you'd be miserably
unhappy."

"Why should I?"

"Because I shouldn't be able to realize a single one of your ideals. I
know what they are--what you will expect in a wife. I could make you a
rich man, a successful man, as the world measures success, and perhaps I
could even give you love: after the first flush of youth is past, the
heavenly-affinity sentiment loses its hold and a woman comes to know that
if she cares to try hard enough she can love any man who will be
thoughtful and gentle, and whose habits of life are not hopelessly at war
with her own. But that kind of love doesn't breed love. Your vanity would
pique itself for a little while, and then you would know the curse of
unsought love and murder me in your heart a thousand times a day. No,
David, I have read you to little purpose if these are the things you will
ask of the woman who takes your name and becomes the mother of your
children." She had risen and was standing beside his chair, with her hand
lightly touching his shoulder. "Will you go now? There are others coming,
and--"

He made his adieux gravely and went away half dazed and a prey to many
emotions, but strangely light-hearted withal: and as once before, he
walked when he might have ridden. But the mixed-emotion mood was not
immortal. At the Clarendon he found a committee of Civic Leaguers waiting
to ask him if he would stand as a "Good Government" candidate in the
special election to fill the House vacancy in the capital district; and in
the discussion of ways and means, and the setting of political pins which
followed there was little food for sentiment.

It was three weeks and more after Governor Marston's call summoning the
Assembly for an investigative session. Kent had fought his way
triumphantly through the special election to a seat in the House, aided
and abetted manfully by Ormsby, Hildreth, and the entire Trans-Western
influence and vote. And now men were beginning to say that without the
tireless blows of the keen-witted, sharp-tongued young corporation lawyer,
the junto might still have reasserted itself.

But the House committee, of which Kent was the youngest member and the
chairman, had proved incorruptible, and the day of the Gaston wolf-pack
was over. Hendricks resigned, to escape a worse thing; Meigs came over to
the majority with a show of heartiness that made Kent doubly watchful of
him; heads fell to the right and left, until at the last there was left
only one member of the original cabal to reckon with; the judicial tool of
the capitol ring.

Kent had hesitated when MacFarlane's name came up; and the judge never
knew that he owed his escape from the inquisitorial House committee, and
his permission to resign on the plea of broken health, to a young woman
whom he had never seen.

It was Elinor Brentwood who was his intercessor; and the occasion was the
last day of the third week of the extra session--a Saturday afternoon and
a legislative recess when Kent had borrowed Ormsby's auto-car, and had
driven Elinor and Penelope out to Pentland Place to look at a house he was
thinking of buying. For with means to indulge it, Kent's Gaston-bred mania
for plunging in real estate had returned upon him with all the acuteness
of a half-satisfied passion.

They had gone all over the house and grounds with the caretaker, and when
there was nothing more to see, Penelope had prevailed on the woman to open
the Venetians in the music-room. There was a grand piano in the place of
honor, presided over by a mechanical piano-player; and Penelope went into
ecstasies of mockery.

"Wait till I can find the music scrolls, and I'll hypnotize you," she said
gleefully; and Kent and Elinor beat a hasty retreat to the wide entrance
hall.

"I don't quite understand it," was Elinor's comment, when they had put
distance between themselves and Penelope's joyous grinding-out of a Wagner
scroll. "It looks as if the owners had just walked out at a moment's
notice."

"They did," said Kent. "They went to Europe, I believe. And by the way; I
think I have a souvenir here somewhere. Will you go up to the first
landing of the stair and point your finger at that window?"

She did it, wondering; and when he had the line of direction he knelt in
the cushioned window-seat and began to probe with the blade of his
pen-knife in a small round hole in the woodwork.

"What is it?" she asked, coming down to stand beside him.

"This." He had cut out a flattened bullet and was holding it up for her to
see. "It was meant for me, and I've always had an idea that I heard it
strike the woodwork."

"For you? Were you ever here when the house was occupied?"

"Yes, once; it is the Senator Duvall place. This is the window where I
broke in."

She nodded intelligence.

"I know now why you are going to buy it. The senator is another of those
whom you haven't forgiven."

His laugh was a ready denial.

"I have nothing against Duvall. He was one of Bucks' dupes, and he is
paying the price. The property is to be sold at a forced sale, and it is a
good investment."

"Is that all it means to you? It is too fine to be hawked about as a thing
to make money with. It's a splendidly ideal home--leaving out that thing
that Penelope is quarreling with." And she made a feint of stopping her
ears.

He laughed again.

"Ormsby says I ought to buy it, and marry and settle down."

She took him seriously.

"You don't need it. Miss Van Brock has a very lovely home of her own," she
said soberly.

It was at his tongue's end to tell the woman he loved how the woman he did
not love had refused him, but he saved himself on the brink and said:

"Why Miss Van Brock?"

"Because she is vindictive, too, and----"

"But I am not vindictive."

"Yes, you are. Do you know anything about Judge MacFarlane's family
affairs?"

"A little. He has three daughters; one of them rather unhappily married, I
believe."

"Have you considered the cost to these three women if you make their
father's name a byword in the city where they were born?"

"He should have considered it," was the unmoved reply.

"David!" she said; and he looked up quickly.

"You want me to let him resign? It would be compounding a felony. He is a
Judge, and he was bribed."

She sat down beside him in the cushioned window seat and began to plead
with him.

"You must let him go," she insisted. "It is entirely in your hands as
chairman of the House committee; the governor, himself, told me so. I know
all you say about him is true; but he is old and wretched, with only a
little while to live, at best."

There was a curious little smile curling his lip when he answered her.

"He has chosen a good advocate. It is quite like a man of his stamp to try
to reach me through you."

"David!" she said again. Then: "I really shouldn't know him if I were to
see him."

"Then why----" he began; but there was a love-light in the blue-gray eyes
to set his heart afire. "You are doing this for me?" he said, trembling on
the verge of things unutterable.

"Yes. You don't know how it hurts me to see you growing hard and merciless
as you climb higher and higher in the path you have marked out for
yourself."

"The path you have marked out for me," he corrected. "Do you remember our
little talk over the embers of the fire in your sitting-room at home? I
knew then that I had lost the love I might have won; but the desire to be
the kind of leader you were describing was born in me at that moment. I
haven't always been true to the ideal. I couldn't be, lacking the right to
wear your colors on my heart----"

"Don't!" she said. "I haven't been true to my ideals. I--I sold them,
David!"

She was in his arms when she said it, and the bachelor maid was quite lost
in the woman.

"I'll never believe that," he said loyally. "But if you did, we'll buy
them back--together."

       *       *       *       *       *

Penelope was good to them. It was a full half-hour before she professed
herself satisfied with the mechanical piano-toy; and when she was through,
she helped the woman caretaker to shut the Venetians with clangings that
would have warned the most oblivious pair of lovers.

And afterward, when they were free of the house, she ran ahead to the
waiting auto-car, leaving Kent and Elinor to follow at a snail's pace down
the leaf-covered walk to the gate. There was a cedar hedge to mark the
sidewalk boundary, and while it still screened them Kent bent quickly to
the upturned face of happiness.

"One more," he pleaded; and when he had it: "Do you know now, dearest, why
I brought you here to-day?"

She nodded joyously.

"It is the sweetest old place. And, David, dear; we'll bring our
ideals--all of them; and it shall be your haven when the storms beat."





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