Part 3 out of 6
term of court. Meanwhile, the temporary receiver is to all intents and
purposes a permanent receiver; and the interval would suffice to wreck a
"And still you won't give up?"
"I hope you won't have to. But to a man up a tree it looks very much like
a dead cock in the pit. As I have said, if there is any backing to do, I'm
with you, first, last, and all the time, merely from a sportsman's
interest in the game. But is there any use in a little handful of us
trying to buck up against a whole state government?"
The coffee had been served, and Kent dropped a lump of sugar into his cup.
"Ormsby, I'll never let go while I'm alive enough to fight," he said
slowly. "One decent quality I have--and the only one, perhaps: I don't
know when I'm beaten. And I'll down this crowd of political plunderers
yet, if Bucks doesn't get me sand-bagged."
His listener pushed back his chair.
"If you stood to lose anything more than your job I could understand it,"
he commented. "As it is, I can't. Any way you look at it, your stake in
the game isn't worth the time and effort it will take to play the string
out. And I happen to know you're ambitious to do things--things that
"What is it you don't understand--the motive?"
"You are not as astute as Miss Van Brock. She pointed it out to me last
night--or thought she did--in two words."
Ormsby's eyes darkened, and he did not affect to misunderstand.
"It would be a grand-stand play," he said half-musingly, "if you should
happen to worry it through, I mean. I believe Mrs. Hepzibah would be ready
to fall on your neck and forgive you, and turn me down." Then,
half-jestingly: "Kent, what will you take to drop this thing permanently
and go away?"
David Kent's smile showed his teeth.
"The one thing you wouldn't be willing to give. You asked me once when we
had fallen over the fence upon this forbidden ground if I were satisfied,
and I told you I wasn't. Do we understand each other?"
"I guess so," said Ormsby. "But--Say, Kent, I like you too well to see you
go up against a stone fence blindfolded. I'm like Guilford: I am the man
in possession. And possession is nine points of the law."
Kent rose and took the proffered cigar from Ormsby's case.
"It depends a good bit upon how the possession is gained--and
held--doesn't it?" he rejoined coolly. "And your figure is unfortunate in
its other half. I am going to beat Guilford."
Just why Receiver Guilford, an officer of the court who was supposed to be
nursing an insolvent railroad to the end that its creditors might not lose
all, should begin by declaring war on the road's revenue, was a question
which the managers of competing lines strove vainly to answer. But when,
in defiance of all precedent, he made the cut rates effective to and from
all local stations on the Trans-Western, giving the shippers at
intermediate and non-competitive points the full benefit of the
reductions, the railroad colony denounced him as a madman and gave him a
month in which to find the bottom of a presumably empty treasury.
But the event proved that the major's madness was not altogether without
method. It is an axiom in the carrying trade that low rates make business;
create it, so to speak, out of nothing. Given an abundant crop, low
prices, and high freight rates in the great cereal belt, and, be the
farmers never so poor, much of the grain will be stored and held against
the chance of better conditions.
So it came about that Major Guilford's relief measure was timed to a
nicety, and the blanket cut in rates opened a veritable flood-gate for
business in Trans-Western territory. From the day of its announcement the
traffic of the road increased by leaps and bounds. Stored grain came out
of its hiding places at every country cross-roads to beg for cars; stock
feeders drove their market cattle unheard-of distances, across the tracks
of competing lines, over and around obstacles of every sort, to pour them
into the loading corrals of the Trans-Western.
Nor was the traffic all outgoing. With the easing of the money burden, the
merchants in the tributary towns began thriftily to take advantage of the
low rates to renew their stocks; long-deferred visits and business trips
suddenly became possible; and the saying that it was cheaper to travel
than to stay at home gained instant and grateful currency.
In a short time the rolling stock of the road was taxed to its utmost
capacity, and the newly appointed purchasing agent was buying cars and
locomotives right and left. Also, to keep pace with the ever-increasing
procession of trains, a doubled construction force wrought night and day
installing new side tracks and passing points.
Under the fructifying influence of such a golden shower of prosperity,
land values began to rise again, slowly at first, as buyers distrusted the
continuance of the golden shower; more rapidly a little later, as the
Guilford policy defined itself in terms of apparent permanence.
Towns along the line--hamlets long since fallen into the way-station rut
of desuetude--awoke with a start, bestirring themselves joyfully to meet
the inspiriting conditions. At Midland City, Stephen Hawk, the new
right-of-way agent, ventured to ask municipal help to construct a ten-mile
branch to Lavabee: it was forthcoming promptly; and the mass meeting, at
which the bond loan was anticipated by public subscription shouted itself
hoarse in enthusiasm.
At Gaston, where Hawk asked for a donation of land whereon the company
might build the long-promised division repair-shops, people fought with
one another to be first among the donors. And at Juniberg, where the
company proposed to establish the first of a series of grain
subtreasuries--warehouses in which the farmers of the surrounding country
could store their products and borrow money on them from the railroad
company at the rate of three per cent, per annum--at Juniberg enough money
was subscribed to erect three such depots as the heaviest tributary crop
could possibly fill.
It was while the pendulum of prosperity was in full swing that David Kent
took a day off from sweating over his problem of ousting the receiver and
ran down to Gaston. Single-eyed as he was in the pursuit of justice, he
was not unmindful of the six lots standing in his name in the Gaston
suburb, and from all accounts the time was come to dispose of them.
He made the journey in daylight, with his eyes wide open and the mental
pencil busy at work noting the changes upon which the State press had been
dilating daily, but which he was now seeing for the first time. They were
incontestable--and wonderful. He admitted the fact without prejudice to a
settled conviction that the sun-burst of prosperity was merely another
brief period of bubble-blowing. Towns whose streets had been grass-grown
since the day when each in turn had surrendered its right to be called the
terminus of the westward-building railroad, were springing into new life.
The song of the circular saw, the bee-boom of the planing-mill and the
tapping of hammers were heard in the land, and the wayside hamlets were
dotted with new roofs. And Gaston----
But Gaston deserved a separate paragraph in the mental note-book, and Kent
accorded it, marveling still more. It was as if the strenuous onrush of
the climaxing Year Three had never been interrupted. The material for the
new company shops was arriving by trainloads, and an army of men was at
work clearing the grounds. On a siding near the station a huge grain
elevator was rising. In the streets the hustling activity of the
"terminus" period was once more in full swing; and at the Mid-Continent
Kent had some little difficulty in securing a room.
He was smoking his after-dinner cigar in the lobby of the hotel and trying
as he might to orient himself when Blashfield Hunnicott drifted in. Kent
gave the sometime local attorney a cigar, made room for him on the
plush-covered settee, and proceeded to pump him dry of Gaston news. Summed
up, the inquiries pointed themselves thus: was there any basis for the
Gaston revival other than the lately changed attitude of the railroad? In
other words, if the cut rates should be withdrawn and the railroad
activities cease, would there not be a second and still more disastrous
collapse of the Gaston bubble?
Pressed hardly, Hunnicott admitted the probability; given another turn,
the screw of inquiry squeezed out an admission of the fact, slurred over
by the revivalist, that the railway company's treasury was really the
alms-box into which all hands were dipping.
"One more question and I'll let up on you," said Kent. "It used to be said
of you in the flush times that you kept tab on the real estate transfers
when everybody else was too busy to read the record. Do you still do it?"
Hunnicott laughed uneasily.
"Rather more than ever just now, as you'd imagine."
"It is well. Now you know the members of the old gang, from his Excellency
down. Tell me one thing: are they buying or selling?"
Hunnicott sprang up and slapped his leg.
"By Jupiter, Kent! They are selling--every last man of them!"
"Precisely. And when they have sold all they have to sell?"
"They'll turn us loose--drop us--quit booming the town, if your theory is
the right one. But say, Kent, I can't believe it, you know. It's too big a
thing to be credited to Jim Guilford and his handful of subs in the
railroad office. Why, it's all along the line, everywhere."
"I'm telling you that Guilford isn't the man. He is only a cog in the
wheel. There is a bigger mind than his behind it."
"I can't help it," Hunnicott protested. "I don't believe that any man or
clique could bring this thing about unless we were really on the upturn."
"Very good; believe what you please, but do as I tell you. Sell every foot
of Gaston dirt that stands in your name; and while you are about it, sell
those six lots for me in Subdivision Five. More than that, do it pretty
Hunnicott promised, in the brokerage affair, at least. Then he switched
the talk to the receivership.
"Still up in the air, are you, in the railroad grab case?"
"No news of MacFarlane?"
"Plenty of it. His health is still precarious, and will likely remain so
until the spoilsmen have picked the skeleton clean."
Hunnicott was silent for a full minute. Then he said:
"Say, Kent, hasn't it occurred to you that they are rather putting meat on
the bones instead of taking it off? Their bills for betterments must be
out of sight."
It had occurred to Kent, but he gave his own explanation of Major
Guilford's policy in a terse sentence.
"It is a part of the bluff; fattening the thing a little before they
"I suppose so. It's a pity we don't live a little farther back in the
history of the world: say at a time when we could hire MacFarlane's doctor
to obliterate the judge, and no questions asked."
Who can explain how it is that some jesting word, trivial and purposeless
it may be, will fire a hidden train of thought which was waiting only for
some chance spark? "Obliterate the judge," said Hunnicott in grim jest;
and straightway Kent saw possibilities; saw a thing to be done, though not
yet the manner of its doing.
"If you'll excuse me," he said abruptly to his companion, "I believe I'll
try to catch the Flyer back to the capital. I came down to see about
selling those lots of mine, but if you will undertake it for me----"
"Of course," said Hunnicott; "I'll be only too glad. You've ten minutes:
can you make it?"
Kent guessed so, and made the guess a certainty with two minutes to spare.
The through sleeper was lightly loaded, and he picked out the most
unneighbored section, of the twelve, being wishful only for undisturbed
thinking ground. But before the train had swung past the suburb lights of
Gaston, the smoker's unrest seized him and the thought-wheels demanded
tobacco. Kent fought it as long as he could, making sure that the
smoking-compartment liars' club would be in session; but when the demand
became a nagging insistence, he found his pipe and tobacco and went to the
The little den behind the drawing-room had but one occupant besides the
rear-end brakeman---a tall, saturnine man in a gray grass-cloth duster who
was smoking a Porto Rican stogie. Kent took a second look and held out his
"This is an unexpected pleasure, Judge Marston. I was counting on three
hours of solitary confinement."
The lieutenant-governor acknowledged the hand-clasp, nodded, and made room
on the leather-covered divan for the new-comer. Hildreth, the editor of
the _Argus_, put it aptly when he said that the grim-faced old cattle king
had "blown" into politics. He was a compromise on the People's Party
ticket; was no part of the Bucks programme, and had been made to feel it.
Tradition had it that he had been a terror to the armed and organized
cattle thieves of the early days; hence the brevet title of "Judge." But
those that knew him best did not know that he had once been the brightest
man upon the Supreme Bench of his native state: this before failing health
had driven him into exile.
As a mixer, the capital had long since voted Oliver Marston a conspicuous
failure. A reticent, reserved man by temperament and habit, and with both
temperament and habit confirmed by his long exile on the cattle ranges, he
had grown rather less than more talkative after his latest plunge into
public life; and even Miss Van Brock confessed that she found him
impossible on the social side. None the less, Kent had felt drawn toward
him from the first; partly because Marston was a good man in bad company,
and partly because there was something remindful of the elder Kent in the
strong face, the slow smile and the introspective eye of the old man from
the hill country.
For a time the talk was a desultory monologue, with Kent doing his best to
keep it from dying outright. Later, when he was fairly driven in upon his
reserves, he began to speak of himself, and of the hopeless fight for
enlargement in the Trans-Western struggle. Marston lighted the
match-devouring stogie for the twentieth time, squared himself on the end
of the divan and listened attentively. At the end of the recounting he
"It seems to be a failure of justice, Mr. Kent. Can you prove your
"I can. With fifteen minutes more on the day of the preliminary hearing I
should have shown it to any one's satisfaction."
Marston went into a brown study with his eyes fixed upon the
stamped-leather devil in the panel at the opposite end of the compartment.
When he spoke again, Kent wondered at the legal verbiage, and still more
at the clear-cut, judicial opinion.
"The facts in the case, as you state them, point to judicial connivance,
and we should always be slow to charge that, Mr. Kent. Technically, the
court was not at fault. Due notice was served on the company's attorney of
record, and you admit, yourself, that the delay, short as it was, would
have been sufficient if you had not been accidentally detained. And, since
there were no contravening affidavits submitted, Judge MacFarlane was
technically warranted in granting the prayer for a temporary receiver."
"I'm not trying to refute that," said Kent. "But afterward, when I called
upon the judge with the evidence in hand----"
"He was under no absolute obligation to retry the case out of court, as
you know, Mr. Kent. Neither was he obliged to give you an unofficial
notice of the day upon which he would hear your motion for the discharge
of the receiver and the vacation of his order appointing him."
"Under no absolute legal obligation, perhaps," retorted Kent. "But the
"We are coming to that. I have been giving you what would probably be a
minority opinion of an appellate court, if you could take an appeal. The
majority opinion might take higher ground, pointing to the manifest
injustice done to the defendant company by the shortness of the delay
granted; by Judge MacFarlane's refusal to continue the hearing for one
hour, though your attorney was present and pleading for the same; and
lastly for the indefinite postponement of the hearing on the merits on
insufficient grounds, since the judge was not at the time, and has not
since been, too ill to attend to the routine duties of his office."
Kent looked up quickly.
"Judge Marston, do you know that last assertion to be true?" he demanded.
The slow smile came and went in the introspective eyes of the older man.
"I have been giving you the opinion of the higher court," he said, with
his nearest approach to jocoseness. "It is based upon the supposition that
your allegations would be supported by evidence."
Kent smoked on in silence while the train measured the rail-lengths
between two of the isolated prairie stations. When he spoke again there
was honest deference in his manner.
"Mr. Marston, you have a far better right to your courtesy title of
'Judge' than that given by the Great American Title Company, Unlimited,"
he said. "Will you advise me?"
"As plain Oliver Marston, and a man old enough to be your father, yes.
What have you been doing? Trying to oust the receiver, I suppose."
"Yes; trying to find some technical flaw by which he could be ousted."
"It can't be done. You must strike higher. Are you fully convinced of
Judge MacFarlane's venality?"
"As fully as I can be without having seen with my own eyes and heard with
my own ears."
Marston opened his watch and looked at it. Then he lighted another of the
villainous little cigars.
"We have an hour yet," he said. "You have been giving me the legal points
in the case: now give me the inferences--all of them."
"I'm afraid I sha'n't be able to forget the lieutenant-governor. I shall
have to call some pretty hard names."
"Call them," said his companion, briefly; and Kent went deep into the
details, beginning with the formation of the political gang in Gaston the
The listener in the gray dust-coat heard him through without comment. When
Kent reached the end of the inferences, telling the truth without scruple
and letting the charge of political and judicial corruption lie where it
would, the engineer was whistling for the capital.
"You have told me some things I knew, and some others that I only
suspected," was all the answer he got until the train was slowing into the
Union Station. Then as he flung away the stump of the little cigar the
silent one added: "If I were in your place, Mr. Kent, I believe I should
take a supplementary course of reading in the State law."
"In what particular part of it?" said Kent, keen anxiety in every word.
"In that part of the fundamental law which relates to the election of
circuit judges, let us say. If I had your case to fight, I should try to
obliterate Judge MacFarlane."
Kent had but a moment in which to remark the curious coincidence in the
use of precisely the same word by both Hunnicott and his present adviser.
"But, my dear sir! we should gain nothing by MacFarlane's removal when his
successor would be appointed by the executive!"
Marston turned in the doorway of the smoking-compartment and laid a
fatherly hand on the younger man's shoulder.
"My boy, I didn't say 'remove'; I said 'obliterate'. Good night."
With Judge Marston's hint partly to point the way, Kent was no long time
in getting at work on the new lead.
Having been at the time a practitioner in one of the counties affected, he
knew the political deal by which MacFarlane had been elected. Briefly
described, it was a swapping of horses in midstream. In the preliminary
canvass it was discovered that in all probability Judge MacFarlane's
district, as constituted, would not reelect him. But the adjoining
district was strong enough to spare a county without loss to the party;
and that county added to MacFarlane's voting strength would tip the scale
in his favor. The Assembly was in session, and the remedy was applied in
the shape of a bill readjusting the district lines to fit the political
While this bill was still in the lower house an obstacle presented itself
in the form of a vigorous protest from Judge Whitcomb, whose district was
the one to suffer loss. The county in question was a prosperous one, and
the court fees--which a compliant clerk might secretly divide with the
judge appointing him--were large: wherefore Whitcomb threatened political
reprisals if Kiowa County should be taken away from him. The outcome was a
compromise. For elective purposes the two districts were gerrymandered as
the bill proposed; but it was expressly provided that the transferred
county should remain judicially in Whitcomb's district until the
expiration of Whitcomb's term of office.
Having refreshed his memory as to the facts, Kent spent a forenoon in the
State library. He stayed on past the luncheon hour, feeding on a dry diet
of Digests; and it was not until hunger began to sharpen his faculties
that he thought of going back of the statutory law to the fountain-head in
the constitution of the State. Here, after he had read carefully section
by section almost through the entire instrument, his eye lighted upon a
clause which gradually grew luminous as he read and re-read it.
"That is what Marston meant; it must be what he meant," he mused; and
returning the book to its niche in the alcove he sat down to put his face
in his hands and sum up the status in logical sequence.
The conclusion must have been convincing, since he presently sprang up and
left the room quickly to have himself shot down the elevator shaft to the
street level. The telegraph office in the capitol was closed, but there
was another in the Hotel Brunswick, two squares distant, and thither he
"Hold the pool in fighting trim at all hazards. Think I have found weak
link in the chain," was his wire to Loring, at Boston; and having sent it,
he went around to Cassatti's and astonished the waiter by ordering a
hearty luncheon at half-past three o'clock in the afternoon.
It was late in the evening before he left the tiny office on the fifth
floor of the Quintard Building where one of his former stenographers had
set up in business for herself. Since five o'clock the young woman had
been steadily driving the type-writer to Kent's dictation. When the final
sheet came out with a whirring rasp of the ratchet, he suddenly remembered
that he had promised Miss Van Brock to dine with her. It was too late for
the dinner, but not too late to go and apologize, and he did the thing
that he could, stopping at his rooms on the way to dress while his
He found Portia alone, for which he was glad; but her greeting was
"If I should pretend to be deeply offended and tell Thomas to show you the
door, what could you say for yourself?" she began, before he could say a
word in exculpation.
"I should say every sort of excuseful thing I could think of, knowing very
well that the most ingenious lie would fall far short of atoning for the
offense," he replied humbly.
"Possibly it would be better to tell the truth--had you thought of that?"
she suggested, quite without malice.
"Yes, I had; and I shall, if you'll let me begin back a bit." He drew up a
chair to face her and sat on the edge of it. "You know I told you I was
going to Gaston to sell my six lots while Major Guilford's little boom is
"I'm trying to remember: go on."
"Well, I went yesterday morning and returned late last night. Do you know,
it's positively marvelous!"
"Which--the six lots, the boom, or the celerity of your movements?" she
asked, with a simulation of the deepest interest.
"All three, if you please; but I meant the miraculous revival of things
along the Trans-Western. But that is neither here nor there--"
"I think it is very much here and there," she interrupted.
"I see you don't want me to tell the truth--the whole truth; but I am
determined. The first man I met after dinner was Hunnicott, and when I had
made him my broker in the real estate affair we fell to talking about the
railroad steal. Speaking of MacFarlane's continued absence, Hunnicott
said, jokingly, that it was a pity we couldn't go back to the methods of a
few hundred years ago and hire the Hot Springs doctor to 'obliterate' him.
The word stuck in my mind, and I broke away and took the train chiefly to
have a chance to think out the new line. In the smoking-room of the
sleeper I found--whom, do you suppose?"
"Oh, I don't know: Judge MacFarlane, perhaps, coming back to give you a
chance to poison him at short range?"
"No; it was Marston."
"And he talked so long and so fast that you couldn't get here in time for
dinner this evening? That would be the most picturesque of the little
fictions you spoke of."
"For the first hour he wouldn't talk at all; just sat there wooden-faced,
smoking vile little cigars that made me think I was getting hay-fever. But
I wouldn't give up; and after I had worn out all the commonplaces I began
on the Trans-Western muddle. At that he woke up all at once, and before I
knew it he was giving me an expert legal opinion on the case; meaty and
sound and judicial. Miss Van Brock, that man is a lawyer, and an
exceedingly able one, at that."
"Of course," she said coolly. "He was one of the justices of the Supreme
Court of his own state at forty-two: that was before he had to come West
for his health. I found that out a long time ago."
"And you never told me!" said Kent, reproachfully. "Well, no matter; I
found out for myself that he is a man to tie to. After we had canvassed
the purely legal side of the affair, he wanted to know more, and I went in
for the details, telling him all the inferences which involve Bucks,
Meigs, Hendricks, MacFarlane and the lot of them."
Miss Portia's eyes were flashing.
"Good, good, good!" she said. "David, I'm proud of you. That took
courage--heaps of it."
"I did have to forget pretty hard that he was the lieutenant-governor and
nominally one of the gang. But if he is not with us, neither is he against
us. He took it all in quietly, and when I was through, he said: 'You have
told me some things that I knew, and some others that I only suspected.'"
"Was that all?" asked Miss Van Brock, eagerly.
"No; I took a good long breath and asked his advice."
"Did he give it?"
"He did. He said in sober earnest just what Hunnicott had said in a joke:
'If I had your case to fight, I should try to obliterate Judge
MacFarlane.' I began to say that MacFarlane's removal wouldn't help us so
long as Bucks has the appointing of his successor, and then he turned on
me and hammered it in with a last word just as we were leaving the train:
'I didn't say remove; I said obliterate.' I caught on, after so long a
time, and I've been hard at work ever since."
"You are obliterating me," said Miss Portia. "I haven't the slightest idea
what it is all about."
"It's easy from this on," said Kent, consolingly. "You know how MacFarlane
secured his reelection?"
"Everybody knows that."
"Well, to cut a long story short, the gerrymander deal won't stand the
light. The constitution says--"
"Oh, please don't quote law books at me. Put it in English--woman-English,
if you can."
"I will. The special act of the Assembly is void; therefore there was no
legal election, and, by consequence, there is no judge and no receiver."
Miss Van Brock was silent for a reflective minute. Then she said:
"On second thought, perhaps you would better tell me what the constitution
says, Mr. David. Possibly I could grasp it."
"It is in the section on elections. It says: 'All circuit or district
judges, and all special judges, shall be elected by the qualified voters
of the respective circuits or districts in which they are to hold their
court.' Kiowa County was cut out of Judge Whitcomb's circuit and placed in
Judge MacFarlane's for electoral purposes only. In all other respects it
remains a part of Judge Whitcomb's circuit, and will so continue until
Whitcomb's term expires. Without the vote of Kiowa, MacFarlane could not
have been elected; with it he was illegally elected, or, to put it the
other way about, he was not elected at all. Since he is not lawfully a
judge, his acts are void, among them this appointment of Major Guilford as
receiver for the Trans-Western."
She was not as enthusiastic as he thought she ought to be. In the soil
prepared for it by the political confidences of the winter there had grown
up a many-branching tree of intimacy between these two; a frank, sexless
friendship, as Kent would have described it, in which a man who was not
very much given to free speech with any one unburdened himself, and the
woman made him believe that her quick, apprehending sympathy was the one
thing needful--as women have done since the world began.
Since the looting of the railroad which had taken him out of the steadying
grind of regular work, Kent had been the prey of mixed motives. From the
first he had thrown himself heartily into the problem of retrieval, but
the pugnacious professional ambition to break the power of the machine had
divided time pretty equally with sentiment. Elinor had said little about
the vise-nip of hardship which the stock-smashing would impose upon three
unguardianed women; but Penelope had been less reticent. Wanting bare
justice at the hands of the wreckers, Elinor would go to her wedding with
Ormsby as the beggar maid went to King Cophetua; and all the loyalty of an
unselfish love rose up in Kent to make the fight with the grafters a
At every step in the hitherto discouraging struggle Portia Van Brock had
been his keen-sighted adviser, prompter, ally of proof. He told himself
now and again in a flush of gratitude that he was coming to owe her more
than he had ever owed any woman; that where other men, more--or
less--fortunate, were not denied the joy of possession, he, the
disappointed one, was finding a true and loyal comradeship next best, if
not quite equal to the beatitudes of passion.
In all of which David Kent was not entirely just to himself. However much
he owed to Portia--and the debt was large--she was not his only creditor.
Something he owed to the unsatisfied love; more, perhaps, to the good
blood in his veins; but most of all to the battle itself. For out of the
soul-harrowings of endeavor was emerging a better man, a stronger man,
than any his friends had known. Brutal as their blind gropings were, the
Flagellants of the Dark Ages plied their whips to some dim purpose.
Natures there be that rise only to the occasion; and if there be no
occasion, no floggings of adversity or bone-wrenchings upon the rack of
things denied, there will be no awakening--no victory.
David Kent was suffering in both kinds, and was the better man for it.
From looking forward to success in the narrow field of professional
advancement, or in the scarcely broader one of the righting of one woman's
financial wrongs, he was coming now to crave it in the name of manhood; to
burn with an eager desire to see justice done for its own sake.
So, when he had come to Portia with the scheme of effacing Judge
MacFarlane and his receiver at one shrewd blow, the first of the many
plans which held out a fair promise of success as a reward for daring, he
was disappointed at her lack of enthusiasm.
"What is the matter with it?" he demanded, when he had given her five full
minutes for reflection.
"I don't know, David," she said gravely. "Have I ever thrown cold water on
any of your schemes thus far?"
"No, indeed. You have been the loyalest partizan a man ever had, I think;
the only one I have to whom I can talk freely. And I have told you more
than I have all the others put together."
"I know you have. And it hurts me to pull back now when you want me to
push. But I can't help it. Do you believe in a woman's intuition?"
"I suppose I do: all men do, don't they?"
She was tying little knots in the fringe of the table scarf, but the
prophetess-eyes, as Penelope called them, were not following the deft
intertwinings of the slender fingers.
"You mean to set about 'obliterating' Judge MacFarlane forthwith?" she
"Assuredly. I have been whipping the thing into shape all afternoon: that
is what kept me from dining with you."
"It involves some kind of legal procedure?"
"Yes; a rather complicated one."
"Could you explain it so that I could understand it?"
"I think so. In the first place the question is raised by means of an
information or inquiry called a _quo warranto_. This is directed to the
receiver, and is a demand to know by what authority he holds. Is it clear
"Pellucidly," she said.
"In reply the receiver cites his authority, which is the order from Judge
MacFarlane; and in our turn we proceed to show that the authority does not
exist--that the judge's election was illegal and that therefore his acts
are void. Do I make it plain?"
"You make it seem as though it were impossible to fail. And yet I know you
"How do you know it?"
"Don't ask me; I couldn't begin to tell you that. But in some spiritual or
mental looking-glass I can see you coming to me with the story of that
failure--coming to ask my help."
"You don't need to be the prophetess Penelope says you are to foresee part
of that. I always come to you with my woes."
"Do you?--oftener than you go to Miss Brentwood?"
This time his smile was a mere tightening of the lips.
"You do love to grind me on that side, don't you?" he said. "I and my
affairs are less than nothing to Miss Brentwood, and no one knows it any
better than you do."
"But you want to go to her," she persisted. "I am only the alternative."
He looked her full in the eyes.
"Miss Van Brock, what is it you want me to say? What can I say more than I
said a moment ago--that you are the truest friend a man ever had?"
The answering look out of the brown eyes was age-old in its infinite
"How little you men know when you think you know the most," she said
half-musingly; then she broke off abruptly. "Let us talk about something
else. If Major Guilford is wrecking the railroad, why is he spending so
much money on improvements? Have you thought to ask yourself that
"A good many times," he admitted, following her promptly back to first
"And you have not found the answer?"
"Not one that fully satisfies me--no."
"I've found one."
"Intuitively?" he smiled.
"No; it's pure logic, this time. Do you remember showing me a letter that
Mr. Hunnicott wrote you just before the explosion--a letter in which he
repeated a bit of gossip about Mr. Semple Falkland and his mysterious
visit to Gaston?"
"Yes, I remember it."
"Do you know who Mr. Falkland is?"
"Who doesn't?" he queried. "He has half of Wall Street in his clientele."
"Yes; but particularly he is the advisory counsel of the Plantagould
System. Ever since you showed me that letter I have been trying to account
for his presence in Gaston on the day before Judge MacFarlane's spring
term of court. I should never have found out but for Mrs. Brentwood."
Miss Van Brock nodded.
"Yes; the mother of my--of the young person for whom I am the alternative,
is in a peck of trouble; I quote her _verbatim_. She and her two daughters
hold some three thousand shares of Western Pacific stock. It was purchased
at fifty-seven, and it is now down to twenty-one."
"Twenty and a quarter to-day," Kent corrected.
"Never mind the fractions. The mother of the incomparable--Penelope, has
heard that I am a famous business woman; a worthy understudy for Mrs.
Hetty Green; so she came to me for advice. She had a letter from a New
York broker offering her a fraction more than the market price for her
three thousand shares of Western Pacific."
"Well?" said Kent.
"Meaning what did I do? I did what you did not do--what you are not doing
even now; I put two and two together in the twinkling of a bedstaff. Why
should a New York broker be picking up outlying Western Pacific at a
fraction more than the market when the stock is sinking every day? I was
curious enough to pass the 'why' along to a friend of mine in Wall
"Of course he told you all about it," said Kent, incredulously.
"He told me what I needed to know. The broker in question is a Plantagould
"Still I fail to 'connect up,' as the linemen say."
"Do you? Ah, David, David! will you leave it for a woman to point out what
you should have suspected the moment you read that bit of gossip in Mr.
Her hand was on the arm of her chair. He covered it with his own.
"I'll leave it for you, Portia. You are my good angel."
She withdrew the hand quickly, but there was no more than playful
resentment in her retort.
"Shame on you!" she scoffed. "What would Miss Brentwood say?"
"I wish you would leave her out of it," he frowned. "You are continually
ignoring the fact that she has promised to be the wife of another man."
"And has thereby freed you from all obligations of loyalty? Don't deceive
yourself: women are not made that way. Doubtless she will go on and marry
the other man in due season; but she will never forgive you if you smash
her ideals. But we were talking about the things you ought to have
guessed. Fetch me the atlas from the book-case--lower shelf; right-hand
corner; that's it."
He did it; and in further obedience opened the thin quarto at the map of
the United States. There were heavy black lines, inked in with a pen,
tracing out the various ramifications of a great railway system. The
nucleus of the system lay in the middle West, but there was a growing
network of the black lines reaching out toward the Pacific. And connecting
the trans-Mississippi network with the western was a broad red line
paralleling the Trans-Western Railway.
She smiled at his sudden start of comprehension.
"Do you begin to suspect things?" she asked.
He nodded his head.
"You ought to be a man. If you were, I should never give you a moment's
peace until you consented to take a partnership with me. It's as plain as
"Is it? Then I wish you would make it appear so to me. I am not half as
subtile as you give me credit for being."
"Yet you worked this out."
"That was easy enough; after I had seen Mrs. Brentwood's letter, and yours
from Mr. Hunnicott. The Plantagould people want your railroad, and the
receivership is a part of a plan for acquiring it. But why is Major
Guilford spending so much money for improvements?"
"His reasons are not far to seek now that you have shown me where to look.
His instructions are to run the stock down so that the Plantagould can buy
it in. Cut rates and big expenditures will do that--have done it. On the
other hand, it is doubtless a condition of the deal that the road shall be
turned over whole as to its property values--there is to be no wrecking in
the general acceptance of the word. The Plantagould doesn't want a picked
Miss Portia's eyes narrowed.
"It's a skilful bit of engineering, isn't it?" she said. "You'd admire it
as artistic work yourself if your point of view were not so hopelessly
"You don't know half the artistic skill of it yet," he went on. "Besides
all these different ends that are being conserved, the gang is taking care
of its surplus heelers on the pay-rolls of the company. More than that, it
is making immense political capital for itself. Everybody knows what the
policy of the road was under the old regime: 'All the tariff the traffic
will stand.' But now a Bucks man has hold of it, and liberality is the
word. Every man in Trans-Western territory is swearing by Bucks and
Guilford. Ah, my dear friend, his Excellency the governor is a truly great
"I've been trying to impress you with that fact all along. The mistake you
made was in not joining the People's Party early in the campaign, David."
But Kent was following out his own line of thought and putting it in words
as it came.
"Think of the brain-work it took to bring all these things into line.
There was no hitch, no slip, and nothing was overlooked. They picked their
time, and it was a moment when we were absolutely helpless. I had filed
our charter, but our local organization was still incomplete. They had
their judge and the needful case in his court, pending and ready for use
at the precise moment. They had Hawk on the ground, armed and equipped;
and they knew that unless a miracle intervened they would have nobody but
an unprepared local attorney to obstruct them."
"Is that all?" she asked.
"No. The finest bit of sculpture is on the capstone of the pyramid. Since
we have had no hearing on the merits, Guilford is only a temporary
receiver, subject to discharge if the allegations in Hawk's amended
petition are not sustained. After the major has sufficiently smashed the
stock, Judge MacFarlane will come back, the hearing on the merits will be
given, we shall doubtless make our point, and the road will revert to the
stock-holders. But by that time enough of the stock will have changed
hands on the 'wreck' price to put the Plantagould people safely in the
saddle, and the freeze-out will be a fact accomplished."
Miss Van Brock drew a long breath that was more than half a sigh.
"You spoke the simple truth, David, when you said that his Excellency is a
great man. It seems utterly hopeless now that we have cleared up all the
Kent rose to take his leave.
"No; that is where they all go out and I stay in," he said cheerfully.
"The shrewder he is, the more credit there will be in making him let go.
And you mark my words: I am going to make him let go. Good night."
She had gone with him to the door; was in the act of closing it behind
him, when he turned back for a belated question.
"By the way, what did you tell Mrs. Brentwood to do?"
"I told her not to do anything until she had consulted you and Mr. Loring
and Brookes Ormsby. Was that right?"
"Quite right. If it comes up again, rub it in some more. We'll save her
alive yet, if she will let us. Did you say I might come to dinner
to-morrow evening? Thank you: you grow sweeter and more truly
compassionate day by day. Good night again."
When Receiver Guilford took possession of the properties, appurtenances
and appendages of the sequestered Trans-Western Railway, one of the
luxuries to which he fell heir was private car "Naught-seven," a
commodious hotel on wheels originally used as the directors' car of the
Western Pacific, and later taken over by Loring to be put in commission as
the general manager's special.
In the hands of a friendly receiver this car became a boon to the capitol
contingent; its observation platform served as a shifting rostrum from
which a deep-chested executive or a mellifluous Hawk often addressed
admiring crowds at way stations, and its dining saloon was the moving
scene of many little relaxative feasts, at which _Veuve Cliquot_ flowed
freely, priceless cigars were burned, and the members of the organization
unbent, each after his kind.
But to the men of the throttle and oil-can, car Naught-seven, in the gift
of a hospitable receiver, shortly became a nightmare. Like most private
cars, it was heavier than the heaviest Pullman; and the engineer who was
constrained to haul it like a dragging anchor at the tail end of a fast
train was prone to say words not to be found in any vocabulary known to
It was in the evening of a wind-blown day, a week after Kent's visit to
Gaston, that Engineer "Red" Callahan, oiling around for the all-night run
with the Flyer on the Western Division, heard above the din and clamor of
Union Station noises the sullen thump betokening the addition of another
car to his train.
"Now fwhat the divvle will that be?" he rasped, pausing, torch in hand, to
apostrophize his fireman.
The answer came up out of the shadows to the rear on the lips of M'Tosh,
"You have the Naught-seven to-night, Callahan, and a pretty severe head
wind. Can you make your time?"
"Haven't thim bloody fools in the up-town office anything betther to do
than to tie that sivinty-ton ball-an'-chain to my leg such a night as
this?" This is not what Callahan said: it is merely a printable paraphrase
of his rejoinder.
M'Tosh shook his head. He was a hold-over from the Loring administration,
not because his place was not worth taking, but because as yet no
political heeler had turned up with the requisite technical ability to
"I don't blame you for cussing it out," he said; and the saying of it was
a mark of the relaxed discipline which was creeping into all branches of
the service. "Mr. Loring's car is anybody's private wagon these days. Can
you make your time with her?"
"Not on yer life," Callahan growled. "Is it the owld potgutted thafe iv a
rayceiver that's in her?"
"Yes; with Governor Bucks and a party of his friends. I take it you ought
to feel honored."
"Do I?" snapped Callahan. "If I don't make thim junketers think they're in
the scuff iv a cyclone whin I get thim on the crooks beyant Dolores ye can
gimme time, Misther M'Tosh. Where do I get shut iv thim?"
"At Agua Caliente. They are going to the hotel at Breezeland, I suppose.
There is your signal to pull out."
"I'll go whin I'm dommed good an' ready," said Callahan, jabbing the snout
of his oiler into the link machinery. And again M'Tosh let the breach of
discipline go without reproof.
Breezeland Inn, the hotel at Agua Caliente, is a year-round resort for
asthmatics and other health seekers, with a sanatorium annex which
utilizes the waters of the warm springs for therapeutic purposes. But
during the hot months the capital and the plains cities to the eastward
send their quota of summer idlers and the house fills to its capacity.
It was for this reason that Mr. Brookes Ormsby, looking for a comfortable
resort to which he might take Mrs. Brentwood and her daughters for an
outing, hit upon the expedient of going first in person to Breezeland,
partly to make sure of accommodations, and partly to check up the
attractions of the place against picturesque descriptions in the
When he turned out of his sleeper in the early morning at Agua Caliente
station, car Naught-seven had been thrown in on a siding a little farther
up the line, and Ormsby recognized the burly person of the governor and
the florid face and pursy figure of the receiver, in the group of men
crossing from the private car to the waiting Inn tally-ho. Being a
seasoned traveler, the club-man lost no time in finding the station agent.
"Isn't there some way you can get me up to the hotel before that crowd
reaches?" he asked; adding: "I'll make it worth your while."
The reply effaced the necessity for haste.
"The Inn auto will be down in a few minutes, and you can go up in that.
Naught-seven brought Governor Bucks and the receiver and their party, and
they're going down to Megilp, the mining camp on the other side of the
State line. They've chartered the tally-ho for the day."
Ormsby waited, and a little later was whisked away to the hotel in the
tonneau of the guests' automobile. Afterward came a day which was rather
hard to get through. Breakfast, a leisurely weighing and measuring of the
climatic, picturesque and health-mending conditions, and the writing of a
letter or two helped him wear out the forenoon; but after luncheon the
time dragged dispiteously, and he was glad enough when the auto-car came
to take him to the station for the evening train.
As it happened, there were no other passengers for the east-bound Flyer;
and finding he still had some minutes to wait, Ormsby lounged into the
telegraph office. Here the bonds of ennui were loosened by the gradual
development of a little mystery. First the telephone bell rang smartly,
and when the telegraph operator took down the ear-piece and said "Well?"
in the imperious tone common to his kind, he evidently received a
communication that shocked him.
Ormsby overheard but a meager half of the wire conversation; and the
excitement, whatever its nature, was at the other end of the line. None
the less, the station agent's broken ejaculations were provocative of keen
interest in a man who had been boring himself desperately for the better
part of a day.
"Caught him doing it, you say?... Great Scott!... Oh, I don't believe
that, you know ... yes--uh-huh--I hear ... But who did the shooting?"
Whether the information came or not, Ormsby did not know, for at this
conjuncture the telegraph instruments on the table set up a furious
chattering, and the railway man dropped the receiver and sprang to his
This left the listener out of it completely, and Ormsby strolled out to
the platform, wondering what had happened and where it had happened. He
glanced up at the telephone wires: two of them ran up the graveled
driveway toward Breezeland Inn; the poles of the other two sentineled the
road to the west down which the tally-ho had driven in the early morning.
In the reflective instant the telegraph operator dashed out of his
bay-windowed retreat and ran up the track to the private car. In a few
minutes he was back again, holding an excited conference with the
chauffeur of the Inn automobile, who was waiting to see if the Flyer
should bring him any fares for the hotel.
Curiosity is said to be peculiarly a foible feminine. It is not, as every
one knows. But of the major masculine allotment, Ormsby the masterful had
rather less than his due share. He saw the chauffeur turn his car in the
length of it and send it spinning down the road and across the line into
the adjoining State; heard the mellow whistle of the incoming train, and
saw the station man nervously setting his stop signal; all with no more
than a mild desire to know the reason for so much excitement and haste--a
desire which was content to wait on the explanation of events.
The explanation, such as it was, did not linger. The heavy train thundered
in from the west; stopped barely long enough to allow the single passenger
to swing up the steps of the Pullman; and went on again to stop a second
time with a jerk when it had passed the side-track switch.
Ormsby put his head out of the window and saw that the private car was to
be taken on; remarked also that the thing was done with the utmost
celerity. Once out on the main line with car Naught-seven coupled in, the
train was backed swiftly down to the station and the small mystery of
hurryings was sufficiently solved. The governor and his party were
returning, and they did not wish to miss connections.
Ormsby had settled back into the corner of his section when he heard the
spitting explosions of the automobile and the crash of hoofs and
iron-tired wheels on the sharp gravel. He looked out again and was in time
to see the finish of the race. Up the road from the westward came the
six-horse tally-ho, the horses galloping in the traces and the automobile
straining in the lead at the end of an improvised tow-line. In a twinkling
the coach was abreast of the private car, the transfer of passengers was
effected, and Ormsby was near enough at his onlooking window to remark
several things: that there was pell-mell haste and suppressed excitement;
that the governor was the coolest man in the group; and that the receiver
had to be helped across from the coach to the car. Then the train moved
out, gathering speed with each added wheel-turn.
The onlooker leaned from his window to see what became of the tangle of
horses and auto-car precipitated by the sudden stop of the tally-ho.
Mirage effects are common on the western plains, and if Ormsby had not
been familiar with them he might have marveled at the striking example
afforded by the backward look. In the rapidly increasing perspective the
six horses of the tally-ho were suddenly multiplied into a troop; and
where the station agent had stood on the platform there seemed to be a
dozen gesticulating figures fading into indistinctness, as the fast train
swept on its way eastward.
The club-man saw no more of the junketing party that night. Once when the
train stopped to cut out the dining-car, and he had stepped down for a
breath of fresh air on the station platform, he noticed that the private
car was brilliantly lighted, and that the curtains and window shades were
closely drawn. Also, he heard the popping of bottle corks and the clink of
glass, betokening that the governor's party was still celebrating its
successful race for the train. Singularly enough, Ormsby's reflections
concerned themselves chiefly with the small dishonesty.
"I suppose it all goes into the receiver's expense account and the
railroad pays for it," he said to himself. "So and so much for an
inspection trip to Megilp and return. I must tell Kent about it. It will
put another shovelful of coal into his furnace--not that he is especially
* * * * *
At the moment of this saying--it was between ten and eleven o'clock at
night--David Kent's wrath-fire was far from needing an additional stoking.
Once more Miss Van Brock had given proof of her prophetic gift, and Kent
had been moodily filling in the details of the picture drawn by her
woman's intuition. He had gone late to the house in Alameda Square,
knowing that Portia had dinner guests. And it was imperative that he
should have her to himself.
"You needn't tell me anything but the manner of its doing," she was
saying. "I knew they would find a way to stop you--or make one. And you
needn't be spiteful at me," she added, when Kent gripped the arms of his
"I don't mind your saying 'I told you so'," he fumed. "It's the fact that
I didn't have sense enough to see what an easy game I was dealing them. It
didn't take Meigs five minutes to shut me off."
"Tell me about it," she said; and he did it crisply.
"The _quo warranto_ inquiry is instituted in the name of the State; or
rather the proceedings are brought by some person with the approval of the
governor or the attorney-general, one or both. I took to-day for obtaining
this approval because I knew Bucks was out of town and I thought I could
"And you couldn't?" she said.
"Not in a thousand years. At first he said he would take the matter under
advisement: I knew that meant a consultation with Bucks. Then I put the
whip on; told him a few of the things I know, and let him imagine a lot
more; but it was no good. He was as smooth as oil, admitting nothing,
denying nothing. And what grinds me worst is that I let him put me in
fault; gave him a chance to show conclusively how absurd it was for me to
expect him to take up a question of such magnitude on the spur of the
"Of course," she said sympathetically. "I knew they would find a way. What
are you doing?"
Kent laughed in spite of his sore _amour-propre_.
"At this present moment I am doing precisely what you said I should:
unloading my woes upon you."
"Oh, but I didn't say that. I said you would come to me for help. Have
"I'd say yes, if I didn't know so well just what I am up against."
Miss Van Brock laughed unfeelingly.
"Is it a man's weakness to fight better in the dark?"
"It is a man's common sense to know when he is knocked out," he retorted.
She held him with her eyes while she said:
"Tell me what you want to accomplish, David; at the end of the ends, I
mean. Is it only that you wish to save Miss Brentwood's little marriage
He told the simple truth, as who could help, with Portia's eyes demanding
"It was that at first; I'll admit it. But latterly--"
"Latterly you have begun to think larger things?" She looked away from
him, and her next word seemed to be part of an unspoken thought. "I have
been wondering if you are great enough, David."
He shook his head despondently.
"Haven't I just been showing you that I am not?"
"You have been showing me that you can not always out-plan, the other
person. That is a lack, but it is not fatal. Are you great enough to run
fast and far when it is a straight-away race depending only upon mere
man-strength and indomitable determination?"
Her words fired him curiously. He recalled the little thrill of
inspiration which a somewhat similar appeal from Elinor had once given
him, and tried to compare the two sensations. There was no comparison. The
one was a call to moral victory; the other to material success. None the
less, he decided that the present was the more potent spell, perhaps only
because it was the present.
"Try me," he said impulsively.
"If I do ... David, no man can serve two masters--or two mistresses. If I
do, will you agree to put the sentimental affair resolutely in the
He took his head in his hands and was a long minute making up his mind.
But his refusal was blunt enough when it came.
"No; at least, not until they are married."
It would have taken a keener discernment than Kent's or any man's to have
fathomed the prompting of her laugh.
"I was only trying you," she said. "Perhaps, if you had said yes I should
have deserted you and gone over to the other side."
He got up and went to sit beside her on the pillowed divan.
"Don't try me again, please--not that way. I am only a man."
"I make no promises--not even good ones," she retorted. And then: "Would
you like to have your _quo warranto_ blind alley turned into a
"I believe you can do it if you try," he admitted, brightening a little.
"Maybe I can; or rather maybe I can put you in the way of doing it. You
say Mr. Meigs is obstinate, and the governor is likely to prove still more
obstinate. Have you thought of any way of softening them?"
"You know I haven't. It's a stark impossibility from my point of view."
"Nothing is impossible; it is always a question of ways and means." Then,
suddenly: "Have you been paying any attention to the development of the
Belmount oil field?"
"Enough to know that it is a big thing; the biggest since the Pennsylvania
discoveries, according to all accounts."
"And the people of the State are enthusiastic about it, thinking that now
the long tyranny of the oil monopoly will be broken?"
"That is the way most of the newspapers talk, and there seems to be some
little ground for it, granting the powers of the new law."
She laid the tips of her fingers on his arm and knotted the thread of
suggestion in a single sentence.
"In the present state of affairs--with the People's Party as yet on trial,
and the public mind ready to take fire at the merest hint of a foreign
capitalistic monopoly in the State--tell me what would happen to the man
who would let the Universal Oil Company into the Belmount field in
defiance of the new trust and corporation law?"
"By Jove!" Kent exclaimed, sitting up as if the shapely hand had given him
a buffet. "It would ruin him politically, world without end! Tell me; is
Bucks going to do that?"
She laughed softly.
"That is for you to find out, Mr. David Kent; not by hearsay, but in good,
solid terms of fact that will appeal to a level-headed, conservative
newspaper editor like--well, like Mr. Hildreth, of the _Argus_, let us
say. Are you big enough to do it?"
"I am desperate enough to try," was the slow-spoken answer.
"And when you have the weapon in your hands; when you have found the sword
and sharpened it?"
"Then I can go to his Excellency and tell him what will happen if he
doesn't instruct his attorney-general in the _quo warranto_ affair."
"That will probably suffice to save your railroad--and Miss Brentwood's
marriage portion. But after, David; what will you do afterward?"
"I'll go on fighting the devil with fire until I have burned him out. If
this is to be a government of dictators, I can be one of them, too."
She clapped her hands enthusiastically.
"There spoke the man David Kent; the man I have been trying to discover
deep down under the rubbish of ill-temper and hesitancy and--yes, I will
say it--of sentiment. Have you learned your lesson, David mine?"
It was a mark of another change in him that he rose and stood over her,
and that his voice was cool and dispassionate when he said:
"If I have, it is because I have you for an inspired text-book, Portia
And with that he took his leave.
SHARPENING THE SWORD
In the beginning of the new campaign of investigation David Kent wisely
discounted the help of paid professional spies--or rather he deferred, it
to a later stage--by taking counsel with Jeffrey Hildreth, night editor of
the _Argus_. Here, if anywhere, practical help was to be had; and the
tender of it was cheerfully hearty and enthusiastic.
"Most assuredly you may depend on the _Argus_, horse, foot and artillery,"
said the editor, when Kent had guardedly outlined some portion of his
plan. "We are on your side of the fence, and have been ever since Bucks
was sprung as a candidate on the convention. But you've no case. Of
course, it's an open secret that the Universal people are trying to break
through the fence of the new law and establish themselves in the Belmount
field without losing their identity or any of their monopolistic
privileges. And it is equally a matter of course to some of us that the
Bucks ring will sell the State out if the price is right. But to implicate
Bucks and the capitol gang in printable shape is quite another matter."
"I know," Kent admitted. "But it isn't impossible; it has got to be
The night editor sat back in his chair and chewed his cigar reflectively.
Suddenly he asked:
"What's your object, Kent? It isn't purely _pro lono pullico_, I take it?"
Kent could no longer say truthfully that it was, and he did not lie about
"No, it's purely personal, I guess. I need to get a grip on Bucks and I
mean to do it."
"And, having got it, you'll telephone me to let up--as you did in the
House Bill Twenty-nine fiasco. Where do we come in?"
"No; you shall come in on the ground floor this time; though I may ask you
to hold your hand until I have used my leverage. And if you'll go into it
to stay, you sha'n't be alone. Giving the _Argus_ precedence in any item
of news, I'll engage to have every other opposition editor in the State
ready to back you."
"Gad! you're growing, Kent. Do you mean to down the Bucks crowd
ded-definitely?" demanded the editor, who stammered a little under
excitable provocation. "Bigger men than you have tried it--and failed."
"But no one of them with half my obstinacy, Hildreth. It can be done, and
I am going to do it."
The night editor laughed again.
"If you can show that gang up, Kent, nothing in this State will be too
good for you."
"I've got it to do," said Kent. "Afterward, perhaps I'll come around for
some of the good things. I am not in this for health or pleasure. Can I
count on you after the mud-slinging begins?"
Hildreth reflected further, disregarding the foreman's reproachful calls
"I'll go you," he said at last; "and I'll undertake to swing the chief
into line. But I am going to disagree with you flat on the project of a
sudden expose. Right or wrong, Bucks has pup-popular sentiment on his
side. Take the Trans-Western territory, for example: at the present
speaking these grafters--or their man Guilford; it's all the same--own
those people down there body and soul. You couldn't pry Bucks out of their
affections with a crowbar--suddenly, I mean. We'll have to work up to it
gradually; educate the people as we go along."
"I concede that much," said Kent. "And you may as well begin on this same
Trans-Western deal,"--wherewith he pieced together the inferences which
pointed to the stock-smashing project behind the receivership.
"Don't use too much of it," he added, in conclusion.
"It is all inference and deduction as yet, as I say. But you will admit
The editor was sitting far back in his chair again, chewing absently on
the extinct cigar.
"Kent, did you fuf-figure all that out by yourself?"
"No," said Kent, briefly. "There is a keener mind than mine behind it--and
behind this oil field business, as well."
"I'd like to give that mind a stunt on the _Argus_," said the editor. "But
about the Belmount mix-up: you will give us a stickful now and then as we
go along, if you unearth anything that the public would like to read?"
"Certainly; any and everything that won't tend to interfere with my little
intermediate scheme. As I have intimated, I must bring Bucks to terms on
my own account before I turn him over to you and the people of the State.
But I mean to be in on that, too."
Hildreth wagged his head dubiously.
"I may be overcautious; and I don't want to seem to scare you out, Kent.
You ought to know your man better than I do--better than any of us; but if
I had your job, I believe I should want to travel with a body-guard. I do,
for a fact."
David Kent's laugh came easily. Fear, the fear of man, was not among his
"I am taking all the chances," he said; and so the conference ended.
Two days later the "educational" campaign was opened by an editorial in
the _Argus_ setting forth some hitherto unpublished matter concerning the
manner in which the Trans-Western had been placed in the hands of a
receiver. In its next issue the paper named the receivership after its
true author, showing by a list of the officials that the road under Major
Guilford had been made a hospital for Bucks politicians, and hinting
pointedly that it was to be wrecked for the benefit of a stock-jobbing
syndicate of eastern capitalists.
Having thus reawakened public interest in the Trans-Western affair,
Hildreth sounded a new note of alarm pitched upon the efforts of the
Universal Oil Company to establish itself in the Belmount oil region; a
cry which was promptly taken up by other State editors. This editorial was
followed closely by others in the same strain, and at the end of a
fortnight Kent was fain to call a halt.
"Not too fast, Hildreth," he cautioned, dropping into the editor's den
late one night. "You are doing mighty good work, but you are making it
infinitely harder for me--driving the game to deeper cover. One of my men
had a clue: Bucks and Meigs were holding conferences with a man from the
Belmount field whose record runs back to New York. But they have taken the
alarm and thrown us off the track."
"The secretary of State's office is the place you want to watch," said
Hildreth. "New oil companies are incorporating every day. Pretty soon one
of these will swallow up all the others: that one will be the Universal
under another name, and in its application for a charter you'll find
askings big enough to cover all the rights and privileges of the original
"That is a good idea," said Kent, who already had a clerk in the secretary
of State's office in his pay. "But how are we coming on in the political
"We are doing business there, and you have the _Argus_ to thank for it.
You--or your idea, I should say--has a respectable following all over the
State now; as it didn't have until we began to leg for it."
Again Kent acquiesced, making no mention of sundry journeys he had made
for the sole purpose of enlisting other editors, or of the open house Miss
Van Brock was keeping for out-of-town newspaper men visiting the capital.
"Moreover, we've served your turn in the Trans-Western affair," Hildreth
went on. "Public interest is on the _qui vive_ for new developments in
that. By the way, has the capitol gang any notion of your part in all this
Kent smiled and handed the editor an open letter. It was from Receiver
Guilford. The post of general counsel for the Trans-Western was vacant,
and the letter was a formal tender of the office to the "Hon. David Kent."
"H'm," said the editor. "I don't understand that a little bit."
"If they could get you to accept a general agency in Central Africa or New
Zealand, or some other antipodean place where you'd be safely out of the
way, it would be evident enough. But here they are proposing to take you
right into the heart of things."
Kent got a match out of the editor's desk and relighted his cigar.
"You've got brain-fag to-night, Hildreth. It's a bribe, pure and simple.
They argue that it is merely a matter of dollars and cents to me, as it
would be to one of them; and they propose to retain me just as they would
any other attorney whose opposition they might want to get rid of. Don't
"Sure. I was thinking up the wrong spout. Have you replied to the major?"
"Yes. I told him that my present engagements preclude the possibility of
considering his offer; much to my regret."
"Did you say that? You're a cold-plucked one, Kent, and I'm coming to
admire you. But now is the time for you to begin to look out. They have
spotted you, and their attempt to buy you has failed. I don't know how
deeply you have gone into Bucks' tinkering with the Universal people, but
if you are in the way of getting the grip you spoke of--as this letter
seems to indicate--you want to be careful."
Kent promised and went his way. One of his saving graces was the ability
to hold his tongue, even in a confidential talk with as good a friend as
Hildreth. As for example: he had let the suggestion of watching the
secretary of State's office come as a new thing from the editor, whereas
in fact it was one of the earliest measures he had taken.
And on that road he had traveled far, thanks to a keen wit, to Portia Van
Brock's incessant promptings, and to the help of the leaky clerk in
Hendricks' office; so far, indeed, that he had found the "stool pigeon"
oil company, to which Hildreth's hint had pointed--a company composed,
with a single exception, of men of "straw," the exception being the man
Rumford, whose conferences with the governor and the attorney-general had
aroused his suspicions.
It was about this time that Hunnicott reported the sale of the Gaston lots
at a rather fancy cash figure, and the money came in good play.
"Two things remain to be proved," said Portia, in one of their many
connings of the intricate course; "two things that must be proved before
you can attack openly: that Rumford is really representing the Universal
Oil Company; and that he is bribing the junto to let the Universal
incorporate under the mask of his 'straw' company. Now is the time when
you can not afford to be economical. Have you money?"
Since it was the day after the Hunnicott remittance, Kent could answer yes
with a good conscience.
"Then spend it," she said; and he did spend it like a millionaire, lying
awake nights to devise new ways of employing it.
And for the abutments of the arch of proof the money-spending sufficed. By
dint of a warm and somewhat costly wire investigation of Rumford's
antecedents, Kent succeeded in placing the Belmount promoter
unquestionably as one of the trusted lieutenants of the Universal; and the
leaky clerk in the secretary of State's office gave the text of the
application for the "straw" company charter, showing that the powers asked
for were as despotic as the great monopoly could desire.
But for the keystone of the arch, the criminal implication of the plotters
themselves, he was indebted to a fit of ill-considered anger and to a
chapter of accidents.
It was chiefly due to Portia's urgings that Kent took Ormsby into his
confidence when the campaign was fairly opened. She put it diplomatically
on the ground of charity to an exiled millionaire, temporarily out of a
job; but her real reason went deeper. From its inception as a one-man
fight against political chicanery in high places, the criticism of the
Bucks formula was beginning to shape itself in a readjustment of party
lines in the field of State politics; and Miss Van Brock, whose designs
upon Kent's future ran far in advance of her admissions to him, was
anxiously casting about for a managerial promoter.
A little practice-play in municipal politics made the need apparent. It
came in the midst of things, basing itself upon the year-gone triumph of
agrarianism in the State. In the upheaval, the capital city had
participated to the extent of electing a majority of the aldermen on the
People's Party ticket; and before long it developed that a majority of
this aldermanic majority could be counted among the spoilsmen--was in fact
a creature of the larger ring.
[Illustration: HE JAMMED THE FIRE END OF HIS CIGAR AMONG THE FINGERS OF
THE GRASPING HAND.]
Late in the summer an ordinance was proposed by the terms of which a
single corporation was to be given a franchise granting a complete
monopoly of the streets for gas and water mains and transit rights of way.
Thereupon a bitter struggle ensued. Party lines were obliterated, and men
who shunned the primaries and otherwise shirked their political duties
raised the cry of corruption, and a Civic League was formed to fight the
Into this struggle, as giving him the chance to front the enemy in a fair
field, David Kent flung himself with all the ardor of a born fighter. Mass
meetings were held, with Kent as spokesman for the League, and the outcome
was a decency triumph which brought Kent's name into grateful public
prominence. Hildreth played an able second, and by the time the obnoxious
ordinance had been safely tabled, Kent had a semi-political following
which was all his own. Men who had hitherto known him only as a
corporation lawyer began to prophesy large things of the fiery young
advocate, whose arguments were as sound and convincing as his invective
was keen and merciless.
Figuratively speaking, Portia stood in the wings and applauded. Also, she
saw that her protege had reached the point where he needed grooming for
whatever race lay before him. Hence her urgings, which made a triumvirate
out of the council of two, with Brookes Ormsby as the third member.
"You understand, I'm not interested a little bit in the merits of the
case," said the newly elected chairman, in his first official interview
with Miss Van Brock. "So far as the internal politics of this particularly
wild and woolly State are concerned, I'm neither in them nor of them. But
I am willing to do what I can for Kent."
"Owing him a good turn?" said Portia, with malice aforethought.
Ormsby's laugh was an Englishman's deep-chested haw-haw.
"So he has been making you his confidante in that, too, has he?"
"There was no confidence needed," she retorted. "I have eyes; and, to use
one of your own pet phrases, I was not born yesterday. But let that go:
you are willing to help us?"
"I said I was willing to help Kent. If you bracket yourself with him, I am
more than willing. But I am rather new to the game. You will have to tell
me the moves."
"We are only in the opening," she said, continuing the figure. "You will
learn as you go along. By and by you will have to spend money; but just
now the need is for a cool head to keep our young firebrand out of the
personalities. Where is he to-night?"
Ormsby's smile was a grin.
"I left him at 124 Tejon Avenue half an hour ago. Do you think he is
likely to get into trouble there?"
On the porch of the Brentwood apartment house David Kent was answering
that question measurably well for himself. With the striking of the City
Hall clock at nine Mrs. Brentwood had complained of the glare of the
electric crossing-lamp and had gone in, leaving the caller with Penelope
in the hammock on one side of him and Elinor in a basket chair on the
Their talk had been of the late municipal struggle, and of Kent's part in
it; and, like Miss Van Brock, Penelope was applausive. But Elinor's
congratulations were tempered with deprecation.
"I am glad you won for the League, of course; everybody must be glad of
that," she said. "But I hope the _Argus_ didn't report your speeches
correctly. If it did, you have made a host of bitter enemies."
"What does a man--a real man--care for that?" This from the depths of the
"I, at least, can afford to be careless," said Kent. "I am not running for
office, and I have nothing to lose, politically or otherwise."
"Can any man say that truthfully?" Elinor queried.
"I think I can. I have given no hostages to fortune."
Penelope lifted the challenge promptly.
"Lord Bacon said that, didn't he?--about men marrying. If he were alive
now he wouldn't need to say it. Men don't have to be discouraged."
"Don't they?" said Kent.
"No, indeed; they are too utterly selfish for any matrimonial use, as it
is. No, don't argue with me, please. I'm fixed--irrevocably fixed."
Elinor overtook the runaway conversation and drove it back into the path
of her own choosing.
"But I do think you owe it to yourself to be more careful in your public
utterances," she insisted. "If these men on the other side are only half
as unprincipled as your accusations make them out to be, they would not
stop short of personal violence."
"I am not hunting clemency or personal immunity just now," laughed Kent.
"On the contrary, I am only anxious to make the score as heavy as
possible. And so far from keeping prudently in the background, I'll
confess that I went into this franchise fight chiefly to let the capitol
gang know who I am and where I stand."
A sudden light came into Elinor's eyes and burned there steadily. She was
of those who lay votive offerings upon the shrine of manly courage.
"One part of me approves as much as another part disapproves," she said
after a time. "I suppose it isn't possible to avoid making political
enemies; but is it needful to turn them into personal enemies?"
He looked at her curiously.
"I am afraid I don't know any middle path, not being a politician," he
objected. "And as for the enmity of these men, I shall count it an honor
to win it. If I do not win it, I shall know I am not succeeding."
Silence for another little space, which Miss Brentwood broke by saying:
"Don't you want to smoke? You may."
Kent felt in his pocket.
"I have no cigar."
She looked past him to the hammock. "Penelope!" she called softly; and
when there was no response she went to spread the hammock rug over her
"You may smoke your pipe," she said; and when she had passed behind him to
her chair she made another concession: "Let me fill it for you--you used
He gave her the pipe and tobacco, and by a curious contradiction of terms
began to wonder if he ought not to go. Notwithstanding his frank defiance
of Brookes Ormsby, and his declaration of intention in the sentimental
affair, he had his own notions about the sanctity of a betrothal. Mrs.
Brentwood had vanished, and Penelope was asleep in the hammock. Could he
trust himself to be decently loyal to Ormsby if he should stay? Nice
questions of conscience had not been troubling him much of late; but this
was new ground--or if not new, so old that it had the effect of being new.
He let the question go unanswered--and stayed. But he was minded to fling
the biggest barrier he could lay hands on in the way of possible
disloyalty by saying good things of Ormsby.
"I owe you much for my acquaintance with him," he said, when the subject
was fairly introduced. "He has been all kinds of a good friend to me, and
he promises to be more."
"Isn't your debt to Penelope, rather than to me?" she returned.
"No, I think not. You are responsible, in the broader sense, at all
events. He did not come West for Penelope's sake." Then he took the
plunge: "May I know when it is to be--or am I to wait for my bidding with
the other and more formally invited guests?"
She laughed, a low little laugh that somehow grated upon his nerves.
"You shall know--when I know."
"Forgive me," he said quickly. "But from something Ormsby said----"
"He should not have spoken of it; I have given him no right," she said
"You make me twice sorry: once if I am a trespasser, and again if I have
unwittingly broken a confidence. But as a friend--a very old friend--I
She interrupted him again, but this time her laugh did not hurt him.
"Yes; our friendship antedates Mr. Ormsby; it is old enough to excuse
anything you said--or were going to say."
"Thank you," he rejoined, and he meant it. "What I was going to say
touches a matter which I believe you haven't confided to any one. May I
talk business for a few minutes?"
"If you will light your pipe and go on smoking. It makes me nervous to
have people hang on the brink of things."
He lighted the pipe, wondering what other thing he might do to allay her
nervousness. None the less, he would not go back from his purpose, which
"I have thought, wholly without warrant, perhaps, that your loss in this
railroad steal has had something to do with the postponement of your
happiness--and Ormsby's. Has it?"
"And if it should have?"
"I merely wanted to say that we still have a fighting chance. But one of
the hard and fast conditions is that every individual stockholder shall
hang on to his or her holdings like grim death."
She caught her breath with a little gasp.
"The encouragement comes too late for us. We have parted with our stock."
Kent turned cold and hot and cold again while she was saying it. Then the
lawyer in him came uppermost.
"Is it gone beyond recall? How much too late am I?" he demanded.
"My mother wrote the letter to-day. She had an offer from some one in New
Kent was on his feet instantly.
"Has that letter been mailed? Because if it has, it must be stopped by
Miss Brentwood rose.
"It was on the hall table this afternoon; I'll go and see," and in a
moment she returned with the letter in her hand.
Kent took it from her as if it had been an edged weapon or a can of high
"Heavens! what a turn you gave me!" he said, sitting down again. "Can I
see your mother?"
"I think she has gone to bed. What do you want to do?"
"I want to tell her that she mustn't do any such suicidal thing as this."
"You don't know my mother," was the calm reply. "Mr. Ormsby said
everything he could think of."
"Then we must take matters into our own hands. Will you help me?"
"How?" she asked.
"By keeping your own counsel and trusting me. Your mother supposes this
letter has gone: it has gone--this way." He tore the sealed envelope
across and across and dropped the pieces into his pocket. "Now we are
safe--at least until the man at the other end writes again."
It shocked her a little, and she did not promise to be a party to the
subterfuge. But neither did she say she would not.
"I am willing to believe that you have strong reasons for taking such
strong measures," she said. "May I know them?"
Kent's gift of reticence came to his rescue in time to prevent the
introduction of another and rather uncertain factor into his complicated
"I can explain it more intelligibly a little later on; or if I don't,
Ormsby will. In the mean time, you must take my word for it that we shall
have our railroad back in due season."
It is a question for the psychologists to answer if there be or be not
crises in a man's life when the event, weighty or trivial, turns upon that
thing which, for the want of a better name, is called a premonition.
In the silence that followed his dismissal of the subject, Kent became
aware of a vague prompting which was urging him to cut his visit short.
There was no definable reason for his going. He had finally brought
himself to the point of speaking openly to Elinor of her engagement, and
they were, as he fondly believed, safely beyond the danger point in that
field. Moreover, Penelope was stirring in her hammock and the perilous
privacy was at an end. Nevertheless, he rose and said good-night, and was
half-way to the next corner before he realized how inexcusably abrupt his
leave-taking had been.
When he did realize it, he was of two minds whether to go back or to let
the apology excuse another call the following evening. Then the insistent
prompting seized him again; and when next he came to a competent sense of
things present he was standing opposite the capitol building, staring
fixedly up at a pair of lighted windows in the second story.
They were the windows of the governor's room; and David Kent's brain
cleared suddenly. In the earliest beginnings of the determinate plan to
wrest the Trans-Western out of the grasp of the junto he had known that it
must come finally to some desperate duel with the master-spirit of the
ringsters. Was Jasper Bucks behind those lighted windows--alone?
Kent had not meant to make the open attack until he should have a weapon
in his hands which would arm him to win. But now as he stood looking up at
the heckoning windows a mad desire to have it out once for all with the
robber-in-chief sent the blood tingling to his finger-tips. True, he had
nothing as yet in the oil-field conspiracy that the newspapers or the
public would accept as evidence of fraud and corruption. But on the other
hand, Bucks was only a man, after all; a man with a bucaneer's record, and
by consequence vulnerable beneath the brazen armor of assurance. If the
attack were bold enough----
Kent did not stop to argue it out. When a man's blood is up the odds
against him shrink and become as naught. Two minutes later he was in the
upper corridor of the capitol, striding swiftly to the door of the lighted
Recalling it afterward he wondered if the occult prompting which had
dragged him out of his chair on the Brentwcod porch saw to it that he
walked upon the strip of matting in the tile-paved corridor and so made
his approach noiseless. Also, if the same silent monitor bade him stop
short of the governor's office: at the door, namely, of the public
anteroom, which stood ajar?
A low murmur of voices came from beyond, and for a moment he paused
listening. Then he went boldly within, crossing the anteroom and standing
fairly in the broad beam of light pouring through the open door of
communication with the private office.
Four men sat in low-toned conference around the governor's writing-table,
and if any one of them had looked up the silent witness must have been
discovered. Kent marked them down one by one: the governor; Hendricks, the
secretary of State; Rumford, the oil man; and Senator Duvall. For five
pregnant minutes he stood looking on, almost within arm's reach of the
four; hearing distinctly what was said; seeing the papers which changed
hands across the table. Then he turned and went away, noiselessly as he
had come, the thick-piled carpet of the anteroom muffling his footfalls.
It was midnight when he reached his quarters in the Clarendon and flung
himself full length upon the bed, sodden with weariness. For two hours he
had tramped the deserted streets, striving in sharp travail of soul to fit
the invincible, chance-given weapon to his hand. When he came in the thing
was done, and he slept the sleep of an outworn laborer.
For six days after the night of revelations Kent dived deep, personally
and by paid proxy, in a sea of secrecy which, but for the five pregnant
minutes in the doorway of the governor's office, might easily have proved
On the seventh day the conflagration broke out. The editor of the Belmount
_Refiner_ was the first to smell smoke and to raise the cry of "Fire!" but
by midnight the wires were humming with the news and the entire State was
The story as it appeared under the scare headlines the next morning was
crisply told. An oil company had been formed with Senator Duvall at its
head. After its incorporation it was ascertained that it not only held
options on all the most valuable wells in the Belmount region, but that
its charter gave it immunity from the law requiring all corporations to
have their organizations, officers, and operating headquarters in the
State. By the time the new company was three days old it had quietly taken
up its options and was the single big fish in the pool by virtue of its
having swallowed all the little ones.
Then came the finishing stroke which had set the wires to humming. On the
sixth day it was noised about that Senator Duvall had transferred his
controlling interest to Rumford--otherwise to the Universal Oil Company;
that he had served only as a figurehead in the transaction, using his
standing, social and political, to secure the charter which had been
denied Rumford and his associates.
It had all been managed very skilfully; the capping of the wells by the
Universal's agent, the practical sealing up of the entire district, being
the first public intimation of the result of Duvall's treachery and the
complete triumph of a foreign monopoly.
The storm that swept the State when the facts came out was cyclonic, and
it was reported, as it needed to be, that Senator Duvall had disappeared.
Never in the history of the State had public feeling risen so high; and
there were not lacking those who said that if Duvall showed himself his
life would not be safe in the streets of the capital.
It was after the _Argus_ had gone to press on the night of explosions that
Editor Hildreth sought and found David Kent in his rooms at the Clarendon,
and poured out the vials of his wrath.
"Say, I'd like to know if you cue-call this giving me a fair show!" he
demanded, flinging into Kent's sitting-room and dropping into a chair.
"Did I, or did I not understand that I was to have the age on this oil
business when there was anything fit to print?"
Kent gave the night editor a cigar and was otherwise exasperatingly
"Keep your clothes on, and don't accuse a man of disloyalty until you have
all the documents in the case," he said. "I didn't know, until I saw your
bulletin a few hours ago, that the thing had been pulled off. In fact,
I've been too busy with other things to pay much attention to the Belmount
end of it."
"The ded-devil you have!" sputtered Hildreth, chewing savagely on the gift
cigar. "I'd like to know what business you had to mix up in other things
to the detriment of my news column. You were the one man who knew all
about it; or at least you did a week or two ago."
"Yes; but other and more important things have intervened. I have been
desperately busy, as I say."
"Well, you've lost your chance to get your grip on the capitol gang,
anyway; that is one comfort," growled the editor, getting what consolation
he could out of Kent's apparent failure. "They played it too fuf-fine for
"Did they?" said Kent.
"It looks pretty much that way, doesn't it? Duvall is the scapegoat, and
the only one. About day after to-morrow Bucks' organ, the _Tribune_, will
come out with an 'inspired' editorial whitewashing the entire capitol
outfit. It will show how Rumford's application for the charter was
refused, and how a truly good and beneficent state government has been
hoodwinked and betrayed by one of its most trusted supporters."
Kent threw off his street coat and went to get his dressing-gown from the
wardrobe in the bedroom. When he came back he said: "Hildreth, you have
taken me at my word thus far, and you haven't had occasion to call me
either a knave or a fool. Do it a little longer and I'll put you in the
way of touching off a set-piece of pyrotechnics that will double discount
this mild little snap-cracker of the Belmount business."
"Can't you do it now?"
"No; the time isn't ripe yet. We must let the _Tribune's_ coat of
whitewash dry in first."
Hildreth wriggled in his chair.
"Kent, if I thought it would do any good, I'd cuc-curse you out; I would