Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Andrea Ball and the Online Distributed
[Illustration: "DO YOU BEGIN TO SUSPECT THINGS?" SHE ASKED.]
ARTHUR I. KELLER
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?"
"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."
"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
"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
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
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
"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?"
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
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
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
"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
"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
"Does Miss Brentwood know?"
"She knows nothing at all. I was unwilling to entangle her, even with a
"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
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,
"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
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
"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,
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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?"
"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
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
"No," she said decisively; "you must not."
"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
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
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?"
"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
"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
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."
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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.
Penelope clasped her hands and tried to look soulful.
"Oh, Ellie!" she said; "have you----"
"No," Elinor retorted; "I have not."
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"Do you mean the gentleman Penelope has waylaid? I haven't the pleasure of
his acquaintance. Will you introduce us?"
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
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
"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
"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?"
"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
"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
"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
"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
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."
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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