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The Grafters by Francis Lynde

Part 4 out of 6

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for a fact. You are too blamed close-mouthed for any ordinary newspaper

But Kent only laughed at him. Now that the strain was in some measure
relaxed he could stand any amount of abuse from so good a friend as the
night editor.

"Turn on the hot water if you want to, and if it will relieve the
pressure. I know about how you feel; and I'd be as sore as you are if I
didn't know that I am going to make it up to you a little later on. But
about this oil blaze and to-morrow's--or to-day's--issue of the _Argus_. I
hope you haven't said too much."

"I haven't sus-said anything. The stuff trickled in by Associated wire at
the last minute, and we had to cut and slash for space and run it pretty
much as it came--the bare story."

"All right; that's better. Now suppose you hint darkly that only half of
the truth has come out; that more--and more startling--developments may be
safely predicted in the immediate hence. Hit it up hard toward the
capitol, and don't be afraid of libeling anybody."

Hildreth's eyes narrowed.

"Say, Kent; you have grown a lot in these last few weeks: what is your

"Hard work--and a determination to make my brag good."

"To down the ring, you mean?"

"Yes; to down the ring."

"Are you any nearer to it than you were when you began?"

"A good many parasangs."

"By Jove! I more than half believe you've got hold of something
ded-definite at last!"

"I have, indeed. Hildreth, I have evidence--printable evidence--enough to
dig a dozen political graves, one of them big enough to hold Jasper G.
Bucks' six-feet-two."

"Let me see it!" said the night editor, eagerly; but Kent laughed and
pushed him toward the door.

"Go home and go to bed. I wouldn't show it to you to-night if I had it
here--as I have not. I don't go around with a stick of dynamite in my

"Where is it?" Hildreth asked.

"It is in a safety-deposit box in the vault of the Security Bank; where it
is going to stay until I am ready to use it. Go home, I say, and let me go
to bed. I'm ragged enough to sleep the clock around."

In spite of his weariness, which was real enough, Kent was up betimes the
next morning. He had a wire appointment with Blashfield Hunnicott and two
others in Gaston, and he took an early train to keep it. The ex-local
attorney met him at the station with a two-seated rig; and on the way to
the western suburbs they picked up Frazee, the county assessor, and Orton,
the appraiser of the Apache Building and Loan Association.

"Hunnicott has told you what I am after," said Kent, when the surrey party
was made up. "We all know the property well enough, but to have it all
fair and above-board, we'll drive out and look it over, so that our
knowledge may be said to be fully up to date."

Twenty minutes afterward the quartet was locating the corners of a square
in Gaston's remotest suburb; an "addition" whose only improvements were
the weathered and rotting street and lot stakings on the bare, brown

"'Lots 1 to 56 in Block 10, Guilford & Hawk's Addition,'" said Kent,
reading from a memorandum in his note-book. "It lies beautifully, doesn't

"Yes; for a chicken farm," chuckled the assessor.

"Well, give me your candid opinion, you two: what is the property worth?"

The Building and Loan man scratched his chin.

"Say fifty dollars for the plot--if you'll fence it."

"No, put it up. You are having a little boom here now: give it the top
boom price, if you like."

The two referees drew apart and laid their heads together.

"As property is going here just now, fifty dollars for the inside lots,
and one hundred dollars apiece for the corners; say three thousand for the
plot. And that is just about three times as much as anybody but a
land-crazy idiot would give for it." It was Frazee who announced the

"Thank you both until you are better paid. Now we'll go back to town and
you can write me a joint letter stating the fact. If you think it will get
you disliked here at home, make the figure higher; make it high enough so
that all Gaston will be dead sure to approve."

"You are going to print it?" asked the Building and Loan appraiser.

"I may want to. You may shape it to that end."

"I'll stand by my figures," said Frazee. "It will give me my little chance
to get back at the governor. I had it assessed as unimproved suburban
property at so much the lot, but he made a kick to the board of
equalization and got it put in as unimproved farm land at fifty dollars an
acre." Then, looking at his watch: "We'd better be getting back, if you
have to catch the Accommodation. Won't you stay over and visit with us?"

"I can't, this time; much obliged," said Kent; and they drove to the
Building and Loan office where the joint letter of appraisal was written
and signed.

Kent caught his train with something to spare, and was back at the capital
in good time to keep a dinner engagement at Miss Van Brock's. He had
understood that Ormsby would be the only other guest. But Portia had a
little surprise in store for him. Loring had dropped in, unannounced, from
the East; and Portia, having first ascertained that Mrs. Brentwood's
asthma was prohibitive of late dinings-out, had instructed Ormsby to bring
Elinor and Penelope.

Kent had been saving the results of his deep-sea divings in the oil-field
investigation to spread them out before Miss Van Brock and Ormsby "in
committee," but he put a padlock on his lips when he saw the others.

Portia gave him Elinor to take out, and he would have rejoiced brazenly if
the table talk, from the bouillon to the ices, had not been persistently
general, turning most naturally upon the Universal Oil Company's
successful _coup_ in the Belmount field. Kent kept out of it as much as he
could, striving manfully to monopolize Elinor for his own especial behoof;
but finally Portia laid her commands upon him.

"You are not to be allowed to maroon yourself with Miss Brentwood any
longer," she said dictatorially. "You know more about the unpublished part
of this Belmount conspiracy than any one else excepting the conspirators
themselves, and you are to tell us all about it."

Kent looked up rather helplessly.

"Really, I--I'm not sure that I know anything worth repeating at your
dinner-table," he protested.

But Miss Van Brock made a mock of his caution.

"You needn't be afraid. I pledged everybody to secrecy before you came. It
is understood that we are in 'executive session.' And if you don't know
much, you may tell us what you know now more than you knew before you knew
so little as you know now."

"Hold on," said Kent; "will you please say that over again and say it

"Never mind," laughed Ormsby. "Miss Portia has a copyright on that. But
before you begin, I'd like to know if the newspapers have it straight as
far as they have gone into it?"

"They have, all but one small detail. They are saying that Senator Duvall
has left the city and the State."

"Hasn't he?" Loring asked.

"He hadn't yesterday."

"My-oh!" said Portia. "They will mob him if he shows himself."

Kent nodded assent.

"He knows it: he is hiding out. But I found him."

"Where?" from the three women in chorus.

"In his own house, out in Pentland Place. The family has been away since
April, and the place has been shut up. I took him the first meal he'd had
in thirty-six hours."

Portia clapped her hands. The butler came in with the coffee and she
dismissed him and bade him shut the doors.

"Now begin at the very tip end of the beginning," she commanded.

Kent had a sharp little tussle with his inborn reticence, thrust it to the
wall and told a plain tale.

"It begins in a piece of reckless folly. Shortly after I left Mrs.
Brentwood's last Thursday evening I had a curious experience. The shortest
way down-town is diagonally through the capitol grounds, but some
undefinable impulse led me to go around on the Capitol Avenue side. As I
was passing the right wing of the building I saw lights in the governor's
room, and in a sudden fit of desperation resolved to go up and have it out
with Bucks. It was abnormally foolish, I'll confess. I had nothing
definite to go on; but I--well, I was keyed up to just about the right
pitch, and I thought I might bluff him."

"Mercy me! You do need a guardian angel worse than anybody I know!" Portia
cut in. "Do go on."

Kent nodded.

"I had one that night; angel or demon, whichever you please. I was fairly
dragged into doing what I did. When I reached the upper corridor the door
of the public anteroom was ajar, and I heard voices. The outer room was
not lighted, but the door between it and the governor's private office was
open. I went in and stood in that open doorway for as much as five
minutes, I think, and none of the four men sitting around the governor's
writing-table saw me."

He had his small audience well in hand by this time, and Ormsby's question
was almost mechanical. "Who were the four?"

"After the newspaper rapid-fire of this morning you might guess them all.
They were his Excellency, Grafton Hendricks, Rumford, and Senator Duvall.
They were in the act of closing the deal as I became an onlooker. Rumford
had withdrawn his application for a charter, and another 'straw' company
had been formed with Duvall at its head. I saw at once what I fancy Duvall
never suspected; that he was going to be made the scapegoat for the ring.
They all promised to stand by him--and you see how that promise has been

"Good heavens!" ejaculated Loring. "What a despicable lot of scoundrels!
But the bribe: did you learn anything about that?"

"I saw it," said Kent, impressively. "It was a slip of paper passed across
the table by Rumford to Bucks, face down. Bucks glanced at it before he
thrust it into his pocket, and I had my glimpse, too. It was a draft on a
Chicago bank, but I could not read the figures, and I doubt if either of
the other conspirators knew the amount. Then the governor tossed a folded
paper over to the oil man, saying, 'There is your deed to the choicest
piece of property in all Gaston, and you've got it dirt cheap.' I came
away at that."

Elinor's sigh was almost a sob; but Miss Van Brock's eyes were dancing.

"Go on, go on," she exclaimed. "That is only the beginning."

Kent's smile was of reminiscent weariness.

"I found it so, I assure you. So far as any usable evidence was concerned,
I was no better off than before; it was merely my assertion against their
denial--one man against four. But I have had a full week, and it has not
been wasted. I needn't bore you with the mechanical details. One of my men
followed Bucks' messenger to Chicago--he wouldn't trust the banks here or
the mails--and we know now, know it in black on white, with the proper
affidavits, that the draft was for two hundred thousand dollars, payable
to the order of Jasper G. Bucks. The ostensible consideration was the
transfer from Bucks to Rumford of a piece of property in the outskirts of
Gaston. I had this piece of land appraised for me to-day by two
disinterested citizens of Gaston, and they valued it at a possible, but
highly improbable, three thousand."

"Oh, how clumsy!" said Portia, in fine scorn. "Does his Excellency imagine
for a moment that any one would be deceived by such a primitive bit of
dust-throwing?" and Ormsby also had something to say about the fatal
mistakes of the shrewdest criminals.

"It was not so bad," said Kent. "If it should ever be charged that he took
money from Rumford, here is a plain business transaction to account for
it. The deed, as recorded, has nothing to say of the enormous price paid.
The phrasing is the common form used when the parties to the transfer do
not wish to make the price public: 'For one dollar to me in hand paid, and
other valuable considerations.' Luckily, we are able to establish
conclusively what the 'other valuable considerations' were."

"It seems to me that these documents arm and equip you for anything you
want to do," said Loring, polishing his eye-glasses after his ingrained

Kent shook his head.

"No; thus far the evidence is all circumstantial, or rather inferential.
But I picked up the final link in the chain--the human link--yesterday.
One of the detectives had been dogging Duvall. Two days ago the senator
disappeared, unaccountably. I put two and two together, and late last
evening took the liberty of breaking into his house."

"Alone?" said Elinor, with the courage-worshiping light in the blue-gray

"Yes; it didn't seem worth while to double the risk. I did it rather
clumsily, I suppose, and my greeting was a shot fired at random in the
darkness--the senator mistaking me for a burglar, as he afterward
explained. There was no harm done, and the pistol welcome effectually
broke the ice in what might otherwise have been a rather difficult
interview. We had it out in an upper room, with the gas turned low and the
window curtains drawn. To cut a long story short, I finally succeeded in
making him understand what he was in for; that his confederates had used
him and thrown him aside. Then I went out and brought him some supper."

Ormsby smote softly upon the edge of the table with an extended

"Will he testify?" he asked.

Kent's rejoinder was definitive.

"He has put himself entirely in my hands. He is a ruined man, politically
and socially, and he is desperate. While I couldn't make him give me any
of the details in the Trans-Western affair, he made a clean breast of the
oil field deal, and I have his statement locked up with the other papers
in the Security vaults."

It was Penelope who gave David Kent his due meed of praise.

"I am neither a triumphant politician nor a successful detective, but I
recognize both when they are pointed out to me," she said. "Mr. Kent, will
you serve these gentlemen up hot for dinner, or cold for luncheon?"

"Yes," Portia chimed in. "You have outrun your pace-setters, and I'm proud
of you. Tell us what you mean to do next."

Kent laughed.

"You want to make me say some melodramatic thing about having the shackles
forged and snapping them upon the gubernatorial wrists, don't you? It will
be prosaic enough from this on. I fancy we shall have no difficulty now in
convincing his Excellency of the justice of our proceedings to quash Judge
MacFarlane and his receiver."

"But how will you go about it? Surely you can not go personally and
threaten the governor of the State!" this from Miss Brentwood.

"Can't I?" said Kent. "Having the score written out and safely committed
to memory, that will be quite the easiest number on the programme, I
assure you."

But Loring had something to say about the risk.

"Thus far you have not considered your personal safety--haven't had to,
perhaps. But you are coming to that now. You are dealing with a desperate
man, David; with a gang of them, in fact."

"That is so," said Ormsby. "And, as chairman of the executive committee, I
shall have to take steps. We can't afford to bury you just yet, Kent."

"I think you needn't select the pall-bearers yet a while," laughed the
undaunted one; and then Miss Van Brock gave the signal and the "executive
committee" adjourned to the drawing-room. Here the talk, already so deeply
channeled in the groove political, ran easily to forecastings and
predictions for another electoral year; and when Penelope began to yawn
behind her fan, Ormsby took pity on her and the party broke up.

It was at the moment of leave-taking that Elinor sought and found her
chance to extract a promise from David Kent.

"I must have a word with you before you do what you say you are going to
do," she whispered hurriedly. "Will you come to see me?"

"Certainly, if you wish it. But you mustn't let Loring's nervousness
infect you. There is no danger."

"There is a danger," she insisted, "a much greater danger than the one Mr.
Loring fears. Come as soon as you can, won't you?"

It was a new thing for her to plead with him, and he promised in an access
of tumultuous hope reawakened by her changed attitude. But afterward, when
he was walking down-town with Loring, the episode troubled him a little;
would have troubled him more if he had not been so deeply interested in
Loring's story of the campaign in the East.

Taking it all in all, the ex-manager's report was encouraging. The New
Englanders were by no means disposed to lie down in the harness, and since
the Western Pacific proper was an interstate line, the Advisory Board had
taken its grievance to Washington. Many of the small stockholders were
standing firm, though there had been panicky defections in spite of all
that could be done. Loring had no direct evidence to sustain the stock
deal theory; but it was morally certain that the Plantagould brokers were
picking up Western Pacific by littles wherever they could find it.

"I am inclined to believe we haven't much time to lose," was Kent's
comment. "Things will focus here long before Washington can get action.
The other lines are bringing a tremendous pressure to bear on Guilford,
whose cut rates are demoralizing business frightfully. The fictitious boom
in Trans-Western traffic is about worked out; and for political reasons
Bucks can't afford to have the road in the hands of his henchmen when the
collapse comes. The major is bolstering things from week to week now until
the Plantagould people get what they are after--a controlling majority of
the stock--and then Judge MacFarlane will come back."

They were within two squares of the Clarendon, and the cross-street was
deserted save for a drunken cow-boy in shaps and sombrero staggering
aimlessly around the corner.

"That's curious," Loring remarked. "Don't you know, I saw that same
fellow, or his double, lurching across the avenue as we came out of
Alameda Square, and I wondered what he was doing out in that region."

"It was his double, I guess," said Kent. "This one is many pegs too drunk
to have covered the distance as fast as we have been walking."

But drunk or sober, the cow-boy turned up again most unexpectedly; this
time at the entrance of the alley half-way down the block. In passing he
stumbled heavily against Kent; there was a thick-tongued oath, and Loring
struck out smartly with his walking-stick. By consequence the man's pistol
went off harmlessly in the air. The shot brought a policeman lumbering
heavily up from the street beyond, and the skirling of relief whistles
shrilled on the night. But the man with a pistol had twisted out of Kent's
grasp and was gone in a flash.

"By Jove!" said Loring, breathing hard; "he wasn't as drunk as he seemed
to be!"

Kent drew down his cuffs and shook himself straight in his coat.

"No; he wasn't drunk at all; I guess he was the man you saw when we came
out of the square." Then, as the policeman came up puffing: "Let me do the
talking; the whisky theory will be good enough for the newspapers."



"_Oof_! I feel as if I had been dipped in a warm bath of conspiracy and
hung up to dry in the cold storage of nihilism! If you take me to any more
meetings of your committee of safety, I shall be like the man without
music in his soul--'fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils.'"

Thus Penelope, after the breaking up of the Van Brock dinner party. Elinor
had elected to walk the few blocks intervening between Alameda Square and
Tejon Avenue, and Ormsby had dismissed his chauffeur with the motor-car.

"I told you beforehand it was going to be a political confab," said the
club-man in self-defense. "And you mustn't treat it lightly, either. Ten
prattling words of what you have heard to-night set afloat on the gossip
pool of this town might make it pretty difficult for our David."

"We are not very likely to babble," retorted Penelope. "We are not so rich
in intimates in this aboriginal desert." But Elinor spoke to the penal
clause in his warning.

"Then Mr. Kent's danger is more real than he admitted?" she said.

"It's real enough, I fancy; more real for him than it might be for another
man in his place. He is a curious combination, is David: keen and
sharp-witted and as cold as an icicle in the planning part; but when it
comes to the in-fighting he hasn't sense enough to pound sand, as his New
Hampshire neighbors would say."

"I like that side of him best," Penelope averred. "Deliver me from a man
of the cold and calculating sort who sits on his impulses, sleeps on his
injuries, and takes money-revenge for an insult. Mr. Loring tells a story
of a transplanted Vermonter in South America. A hot-headed Peruvian called
him a liar, and he said: 'Oh, pshaw! you can't prove it.'"

"What a merciless generalizer you are!" said Ormsby, laughing. "The man
who marries you will have his work cut out for him if he proposes to fill
the requirements."

"Won't he?" said Penelope. "I can fancy him sitting up nights to figure it
all out."

They had reached the Tejon Avenue apartment house, and to Elinor's "Won't
you come in?" Ormsby said: "It's pretty late, but I'll smoke a cigar on
the porch, if you'll let me."

Penelope took the hammock, but she kept it only during the first inch of
Ormsby's cigar. After her sister had gone in, Elinor went back to the
lapsed topic.

"I am rather concerned about Mr. Kent. You described him exactly;
and--well, he is past the planning part and into the fighting part. Do you
think he will take ordinary precautions?"

"I hope so, I'm sure," rejoined the amateur chairman. "As his business
manager I am responsible for him, after a fashion. I was glad to see
Loring to-night--glad he has come back. Kent defers to him more than he
does to any one else; and Loring is a solid, sober-minded sort."

"Yes," she agreed; "I was glad, too."

After that the talk languished, and the silence was broken only by the
distant droning of an electric car, the fizz and click of the arc light
over the roadway, and the occasional _dap_ of one the great beetles
darting hither and thither in the glare.

Ormsby was wondering if the time was come for the successful exploiting of
an idea which had been growing on him steadily for weeks, not to say

It was becoming more and more evident to him that he was not advancing in
the sentimental siege beyond the first parallel thrown up so skilfully on
the last night of the westward journey. It was not that Elinor was lacking
in loyalty or in acquiescence; she scrupulously gave him both as an
accepted suitor. But though he could not put his finger upon the precise
thing said or done which marked the loosening of his hold, he knew he was
receding rather than advancing.

Now to a man of expedients the interposition of an obstacle suggests only
ways and means for overcoming it. Ormsby had certain clear-cut convictions
touching the subjugation of women, and as his stout heart gave him
resolution he lived up to them. When he spoke again it was of the matter
which concerned him most deeply; and his plea was a gentle repetition of
many others in the same strain.

"Elinor, I have waited patiently for a long time, and I'll go on doing it,
if that is what will come the nearest to pleasing you. But it would be a
prodigious comfort if I might be counting the days or the weeks. Are you
still finding it impossible to set the limit?"

She nodded slowly, and he took the next step like a man feeling his way in
the dark.

"That is as large an answer as you have ever given me, I think. Is there
any speakable reason?"

"You know the reason," she said, looking away from him.

"I am not sure that I do. Is it because the moneygods have been
unpropitious--because these robber barons have looted your railroad?"

"No; that is only part of it--the smallest part."

"I hoped so: if you have too little, I have a good bit too much. But that
corners it in a way to make me sorry. I am not keeping my promise to win
what you weren't able to give me at first."

"Please don't put it that way. If there be any fault, it is mine. You have
left nothing undone."

The man of expedients ran over his cards reflectively and decided that the
moment for playing his long suit was fully come.

"Your goodness of heart excuses me where I am to blame," he qualified. "I
am coming to believe that I have defeated my own cause."

"By being too good to me?" she suggested.

"No; by running where I should have been content to walk; by shackling you
with a promise, and so in a certain sense becoming your jailer. That is
putting it rather clumsily, but isn't it true?"

"I had never thought of it in that light," she said unresponsively.

"You wouldn't, naturally. But the fact remains. It has wrenched your point
of view hopelessly aside, don't you think? I have seen it and felt it all
along, but I haven't had the courage of my convictions."

"In what way?" she asked.

"In the only way the thing can be stood squarely upon its feet. It's
hard--desperately hard; and hardest of all for a man of my peculiar build.
I am no longer what you would call a young man, Elinor, and I have never
learned to turn back and begin all over again with any show of heartiness.
They used to say of me in the Yacht Club that if I gained a half-length in
a race, I'd hold it if it took the sticks out of my boat."

"I know," she assented absently.

"Well, it's the same way now. But for your sake--or rather for the sake of
my love--I am going to turn back for once. You are free again, Elinor. All
I ask is that you will let me begin where I left off somewhere on the road
between here and Boston last fall."

She sat with clasped hands looking steadily at the darkened windows of the
opposite house, and he let her take her own time. When she spoke there was
a thrill in her voice that he had never heard before.

"I don't deserve it--so much consideration, I mean," she said; and he made
haste to spare her.

"Yes, you do; you deserve anything the best man in the world could do for
you, and I'm a good bit short of that."

"But if I don't want you to go back?"

He had gained something--much more than he knew; and for a tremulous
instant he was near to losing it again by a passionate retraction of all
he had been saying. But the cool purpose came to his rescue in time.

"I should still insist on doing it. You gave me what you could, but I want
more, and I am willing to do what is necessary to win it."

Again she said: "You are too good to me," and again he contradicted her.

"No; it is hardly a question of goodness; indeed, I am not sure that it
escapes being selfish. But I am very much in earnest, and I am going to
prove it. Three years ago you met a man whom you thought you could
love--don't interrupt me, please. He was like some other men we know: he
didn't have the courage of his convictions, lacking the few dollars which
might have made things more nearly equal. May I go on?"

"I suppose you have earned the right to say what you please," was the
impassive reply.

It was the old struggle in which they were so evenly matched--of the woman
to preserve her poise; of the man to break it down. Another lover might
have given up in despair, but Ormsby's strength lay in holding on in the
face of all discouragements.

"I believe, as much as I believe anything in this world, that you were
mistaken in regard to your feeling for the other man," he went on calmly.
"But I want you to be sure of that for yourself, and you can't be sure
unless you are free to choose between us."

"Oh, don't!--you shouldn't say such things to me," she broke out; and then
he knew he was gaining ground.

"Yes, I must. We have been stumbling around in the dark all these months,
and I mean to be the lantern-bearer for once in a way. You know, and I
know, and Kent is coming to know. That man is going to be a success,
Elinor: he has it in him, and he sha'n't lack the money-backing he may
need. When he arrives----"

She turned on him quickly, and the blue-gray eyes were suspiciously

"Please don't bury me alive," she begged.

He saw what he had done; that the nicely calculated purpose had carried
straight and true to its mark; and for a moment the mixed motives, which
are at the bottom of most human sayings and doings, surged in him like the
sea at the vexed tide-line of an iron-bound coast. But it was the better
Brookes Ormsby that struggled up out of the elemental conflict.

"Don't mistake me," he said. "I am neither better nor worse than other
men, I fancy. My motives, such as they are, would probably turn out to be
purely selfish in the last analysis. I am proceeding on the theory that
constraint breeds the desire for the thing it forbids; therefore I remove
it. Also, it is a part of that theory that the successful David Kent will
not appeal to you as the unspoiled country lawyer did. No, I'm not going
to spoil him; if I were, I shouldn't be telling you about it. But--may I
be brutally frank?--the David Kent who will come successfully out of this
political prize-fight will not be the man you have idealized."

There was a muttering of thunder in the air, and the cool precursory
breeze of a shower was sweeping through the tree-tops.

"Shall we go into the house?" she asked; and he took it as his dismissal.

"You may; I have kept you up long enough." And then, taking her hand: "Are
we safely ashore on the new continent, Elinor? May I come and go as

"You were always welcome, Brookes; you will be twice welcome, now."

It was the first time she had ever called him by his Christian name and it
went near to toppling down the carefully reared structure of
self-restraint. But he made shift to shore the tottering walls with a
playful retort.

"If that is the case, I'll have to think up some more self-abnegations.
Good night."



Editor Hildreth's prophecy concerning the probable attitude of the
administration newspapers in the discussion of the oil field affair waited
but a day for its fulfilment. On the Friday morning there appeared in the
_Capital Tribune_, the _Midland City Chronicle_, the _Range County
Maverick_ and the _Agriculta Ruralist_ able editorials exonerating the
People's Party, its policy and the executive, and heaping mountains of
obloquy on the name of Duvall. These editorials were so similar in tone,
tenor and texture, as pointedly to suggest a common model--a coincidence
which was not allowed to pass unremarked by Hildreth and other molders of
public opinion on the opposite side of the political fence.

But Hildreth did not pause at generalities. Two days after the Universal's
triumph in the Belmount field, the _Argus_ began to "hit it up" boldly
toward the capitol, and two things came of it. The first was an attempt by
some party or parties unknown to buy up a controlling interest in the
_Argus_. The second was the waylaying of David Kent in the lobby of the
Clarendon Hotel by no less a personage than the Honorable Melton Meigs,
attorney-general of the State.

In his first conversation with Ormsby, Kent had spoken of the three
leading spirits of the junto as from personal knowledge; but of the three,
Bucks, Hendricks and Meigs, the attorney-general was the least known to
him. Prior to his nomination on the State ticket Meigs had been best known
as the most astute criminal lawyer in the State, his astuteness lying not
so much in his ability as a pleader as in a certain oratorical gift by
which he was able to convince not only a jury but the public of the entire
innocence of his client.

He was a small man physically, with womanish hands and feet, and a
beardless face of that prematurely aged cast which is oftenest seen in
dwarfs and precocious infants; and his distinguishing characteristic, the
one which stuck longest in the mind of a chance acquaintance or a casual
observer, was a smile of the congealed sort which served to mask whatever
emotion there might be behind it.

Kent had seen little of Meigs since the latter had turned him down in the
_quo warranto_ matter; and his guard went up quickly when the
attorney-general accosted him in the lobby of the hotel and asked for a
private interview.

"I am very much occupied just now, Mr. Meigs," he demurred; "but if it is
a matter of importance----"

"It is; a matter of the greatest importance," was the smooth-toned reply.
"I am sure you will not regret it if you will give me a few moments, Mr.

Kent decided quickly. Being forewarned, there was nothing to fear.

"We will go up to my rooms, if you please," he said, leading the way to
the elevator; and no other word was spoken until they were behind closed
doors on the fourth floor.

"A prefatory remark may make my business with you seem a little less
singular, Mr. Kent," Meigs began, when Kent had passed his cigar-case and
the attorney-general had apologized for a weak digestive tract. "On wholly
divergent lines and from wholly different motives we are both working
toward the same end, I believe, and it has occurred to me that we might be
of some assistance to each other."

Kent's rejoinder was a mute signal to the effect that he was attending.

"Some little time ago you came to me as the legal representative of the
stock-holders of the Trans-Western Railway Company, and I did not find it
possible at that time to meet your wishes in the matter of a _quo
warranto_ information questioning Judge MacFarlane's election and status.
You will admit, I presume, that your demand was a little peremptory?"

"I admit nothing," said Kent, curtly. "But for the sake of expediting
present matters----"

"Precisely," was the smiling rejoinder. "You will note that I said 'at
that time.' Later developments--more especially this charge made openly by
the public press of juggling with foreign corporations--have led me to
believe that as the public prosecutor I may have duties which transcend
all other considerations--of loyalty to a party standard--of----"

Kent took his turn at interrupting.

"Mr. Meigs, there is nothing to be gained by indirection. May I ask you to
come to the point?"

"Briefly, then: the course pursued by Senator Duvall in the Belmount
affair leaves an unproved charge against others; a charge which I am
determined to sift to the bottom--you see, I am speaking quite frankly.
That charge involves the reputation of men high in authority; but I shall
be strong to do my sworn duty, Mr. Kent; I ask you to believe that."

Kent nodded and waved him on.

"You will readily understand the delicacy of the task, and how, in the
nature of things, I am handicapped and hedged up on every side.
Evidence--of a kind to enable me to assail a popular idol--is exceedingly
difficult to procure."

"It is," said Kent, grimly.

"Exactly. But in revolving the matter in my own mind, I thought of you.
You are known at the capitol, Mr. Kent, and I may say throughout the
State, as the uncompromising antagonist of the State administration. I
have asked myself this: Is it possible that a cool-headed, resolute
attorney like Mr. David Kent would move so far and so determinedly in this
matter of antagonism without substantially paving the ground under his
feet with evidence as he went along?"

Kent admitted that it was possible, but highly improbable.

"So I decided," was the smile-tempered rejoinder. "In that case it only
remains for me to remind you of your public duty, Mr. Kent; to ask you in
the name of justice and of the people of the State, to place your
information in the hands of the public prosecutor."

Kent's face betrayed nothing more than his appreciation of the confidence
reposed in him by the man whose high sense of official honor was making
him turn traitor to the party leader who had dragged him through a
successful election.

"I have what evidence I need, Mr. Meigs," he declared. "But if I make no
secret of this, neither do I conceal the fact that the motive _pro bono
publico_ has had little to do with its accumulating. I want justice first
for what might be called a purely private end, and I mean to have it."

"Pre-cisely," smiled the attorney-general. "And now we are beginning to
see our way a little clearer. It is not too late for us to move in the
_quo warranto_ proceedings. If you will call at my office I shall be glad
to reopen the matter with you."

"And the price?" said Kent, shortly.

"Oh, my dear sir! must we put it upon the ground of a _quid pro quo_?
Rather let us say that we shall help each other. You are in a position to
assist me very materially: I may be in a position to serve your turn. Come
to my office to-morrow morning prepared to do your duty as an honest,
loyal citizen, and you will find me quite willing to meet you half-way."

Kent rose and opened his watch.

"Mr. Meigs, I have given you your opportunity, and you have seemed to give
me mine," he said coolly. "Will you pardon me if I say that I can paddle
my own canoe--if I ask you to assure his Excellency that one more device
of his to escape punishment has been tried and found wanting?"

For a flitting moment the cast-iron smile faded from the impassive face of
the attorney-general and an unrelenting devil came to peer out of the
colorless eyes. Then Meigs rose cat-like and laid his hand on the

"Do I understand that you refuse to move in a matter which should be the
first duty of a good citizen, Mr. Kent?" he asked purringly.

"I certainly do refuse to fall into any such clumsy trap as you have been
trying to bait for me, Mr. Meigs," said David Kent, dropping back into his
former curtness.

The door opened slowly under the impulse of the slender womanish hand.

"You have a task of some magnitude before you, Mr. Kent. You can scarcely
hope to accomplish it alone."

"Meaning that you would like to know if the fight will go on if I should
chance to meet another drunken cow-boy with a better aim? It will."

The door closed softly behind the retreating figure of the
attorney-general, and Kent released the spring of the night-latch. Then he
went to the dropped portiere at the farther end of the room, drew it aside
and looked in on a man who was writing at a table pushed out between the

"You heard him, Loring?" he asked.

The ex-manager nodded.

"They are hard pressed," he said. Then, looking up quickly: "You could
name your price if you wanted to close out the stock of goods in hand,

"I shall name it when the time comes. Are you ready to go over to the
_Argus_ office with me? I want to have a three-cornered talk with

"In a minute. I'll join you in the lobby if you don't want to wait."

* * * * *

It was in the afternoon of the same day that Kent found a note in his
key-box at the Clarendon asking him to call up 124 Tejon Avenue by
telephone. He did it at once, and Penelope answered. The key-box note had
been placed at Elinor's request, and she, Miss Penelope, could not say
what was wanted; neither could she say definitely when her sister would be
in. Elinor had gone out an hour earlier with Mr. Ormsby and Miss Van Brock
in Mr. Ormsby's motor-car. When was he, David Kent, coming up? Did he know
they were talking of spending the remainder of the summer at Breezeland
Inn? And where was Mr. Loring all this time?

Kent made fitting answers to all these queries, hung up the ear-piece and
went away moodily reflective. He was due at a meeting of the executive
committee of the Civic League, but he let the public business wait while
he speculated upon the probable object of Elinor's telephoning him.

Now there is no field in which the inconsistency of human nature is so
persistent as in that which is bounded by the sentimentally narrowed
horizon of a man in love. With Ormsby at the nodus of his point of view,
David Kent made no secret of his open rivalry of the millionaire,
declaring his intention boldly and taking no shame therefor. But when he
faced about toward Elinor he found himself growing hotly jealous for her
good faith; careful and fearful lest she should say or do something not
strictly in accordance with the letter and spirit of her obligations as
Ormsby's _fiancee_.

For example: at the "conspiracy dinner," as Loring dubbed it, Ormsby being
present to fight for his own hand, Kent, as we have seen, had boldly
monopolized Miss Brentwood, and would have committed himself still more
pointedly had the occasion favored him. None the less, when Elinor had
begged him privately to see her before moving in the attack on the junto,
he had almost resented the implied establishing of confidential relations
with her lover's open rival.

For this cause he had been postponing the promised visit, and thereby
postponing the taking of the final step in the campaign of intimidation.
The unexplained telephone call decided him, however. He would go and see
Elinor and have the ordeal over with.

But as a preliminary he dined that evening with Ormsby at the Camelot
Club, and over the coffee had it out with him.

"I am going out to see Miss Brentwood to-night," he announced abruptly.
"Have you any objection?"

The millionaire gave him the shrewdest of over-looks, ending with a
deep-rumbling laugh.

"Kent, you are the queerest lot I have ever discovered, and that is saying
a good bit. Why, in the name of all the proprieties, should I object?"

"Your right is unchallenged," Kent admitted.

"Is it? Better ask Miss Brentwood about that. She might say it isn't."

"I don't understand," said Kent, dry-tongued.

"Don't you? Perhaps I'd better explain: she might find it a little
difficult. You have been laboring under the impression that we are
engaged, haven't you?"

"Laboring under the--why, good heavens, man! it's in everybody's mouth!"

"Curious, isn't it, how such things get about," commented the player of
long suits. "How do you suppose they get started?"

"I don't suppose anything about it, so far as we two are concerned; I have
your own word for it. You said you were the man in possession."

Ormsby laughed again.

"You are something of a bluffer yourself, David. Did you let my little
stagger scare you out?"

David Kent pushed his chair back from the table and nailed Ormsby with a
look that would have made a younger man betray himself.

"Do you mean to tell me that there is no engagement between you and Miss

"Just that." Ormsby put all the nonchalance he could muster into the
laconic reply, but he was anticipating the sequent demand which came like
a shot out of a gun.

"And there never has been?"

Ormsby grinned.

"When you are digging a well and have found your stream of water, it's
folly to go deeper, David. Can't you let 'good enough' alone?"

Kent turned it over in his mind, frowning thoughtfully into his
coffee-cup. When he spoke it was out of the mid-heart of manliness.

"I wish you would tell me one thing, Ormsby. Am I responsible for--for the
present state of affairs?"

Ormsby stretched the truth a little; partly for Elinor's sake; more,
perhaps, for Kent's.

"You have done nothing that an honorable rival--and incidentally a good
friend of mine--might not do. Therefore you are not responsible."

"That is putting it very diplomatically," Kent mused. "I am afraid it does
not exonerate me wholly."

"Yes, it does. But it doesn't put me out of the running, you understand.
I'm 'forninst' you yet; rather more stubbornly than before, I fancy."

Kent nodded.

"That, of course; I should think less of you if you were not. And you
shall have as fair a show as you are giving me--which is saying a lot.
Shall we go and smoke?"



It was still early in the evening when Kent mounted the steps of the
Brentwood apartment house. Mother and daughters were all on the porch, but
it was Mrs. Brentwood who welcomed him.

"We were just wondering if you would imagine the message which Elinor was
going to send, and didn't, and come out to see what was wanted," she said.
"I am in need of a little legal advice. Will you give me a few minutes in
the library?"

Kent went with her obediently, but not without wondering why she had sent
for him, of all the retainable lawyers in the capital. And the wonder
became amazement when she opened her confidence. She had received two
letters from a New York broker who offered to buy her railroad stock at a
little more than the market price. To the second letter she had replied,
asking a price ten points higher than the market. At this the broker had
apparently dropped the attempted negotiation, since there had been no more
letters. What would Mr. Kent advise her to do--write again?

Kent smiled inwardly at the good lady's definition of "legal advice," but
he rose promptly to the occasion. If he were in Mrs. Brentwood's place, he
would not write again; nor would he pay any attention whatever to any
similar proposals from any source. Had there been any others?

Mrs. Brentwood confessed that there had been; that a firm of Boston
brokers had also written her. Did Mr. Kent know the meaning of all this
anxiety to buy in Western Pacific when the stock was going down day by

Kent took time for reflection before he answered. It was exceedingly
difficult to eliminate the personal factor in the equation. If all went
well, if by due process of law the Trans-Western should be rescued out of
the hands of the wreckers, the property would be a long time recovering
from the wounds inflicted by the cut rates and the Guilford bad
management. In consequence, any advance in the market value of the stock
must be slow and uncertain under the skilfullest handling. But, while it
might be advisable for Mrs. Brentwood to take what she could get, the
transfer of the three thousand shares at the critical moment might be the
death blow to all his hopes in the fight for retrieval.

Happily, he hit upon the expedient of shifting the responsibility for the
decision to other shoulders.

"I scarcely feel competent to advise you in a matter which is personal
rather than legal," he said at length. "Have you talked it over with Mr.

Mrs. Brentwood's reply was openly contemptuous.

"Brookes Ormsby doesn't know anything about dollars. You have to express
it in millions before he can grasp it. He says for me not to sell at any

Kent shook his head.

"I shouldn't put it quite so strongly. At the same time, I am not the
person to advise you."

The shrewd eyes looked up at him quickly.

"Would you mind telling me why, Mr. Kent?"

"Not in the least. I am an interested party. For weeks Mr. Loring and I
have been striving by all means to prevent transfers of the stock from the
hands of the original holders. I don't want to advise you to your hurt;
but to tell you to sell might be to undo all that has been done."

"Then you are still hoping to get the railroad out of Major Guilford's


"And in that case the price of the stock will go up again?"

"That is just the difficulty. It may be a long time recovering."

"Do you think the sale of my three thousand shares would make any
difference?" she asked.

"There is reason to fear that it would make all the difference."

She was silent for a time, and when she spoke again Kent realized that he
was coming to know an entirely unsuspected side of Elinor's mother.

"It makes it pretty hard for me," she said slowly. "This little drib of
railroad stock is all that my girls have left out of what their father
willed them. I want to save it if I can."

"So do I," said David Kent, frankly; "and for the same reason."

Mrs. Brentwood confined herself to a dry "Why?"

"Because I have loved your elder daughter well and truly ever since that
summer at the foot of Old Croydon, Mrs. Brentwood, and her happiness and
well-being concern me very nearly."

"You are pretty plain-spoken, Mr. Kent. I suppose you know Elinor is to be
married to Brookes Ormsby?" Mrs. Brentwood was quite herself again.

Kent dexterously equivocated.

"I know they have been engaged for some time," he said; but the small
quibble availed him nothing.

"Which one of them was it told you it was broken off?" she inquired.

He smiled in spite of the increasing gravity of the situation.

"You may be sure it was not Miss Elinor."

"Humph!" said Mrs. Brentwood. "She didn't tell me, either. 'Twas Brookes
Ormsby, and he said he wanted to begin all over again, or something of
that sort. He is nothing but a foolish boy, for all his hair is getting

"He is a very honorable man," said Kent.

"Because he is giving you another chance? I don't mind telling you plainly
that it won't do any good, Mr. Kent."

"Why?" he asked in his turn.

"For several reasons: one is that Elinor will never marry without my
consent; another is that she can't afford to marry a poor man."

Kent rose.

"I am glad to know how you feel about it, Mrs. Brentwood: nevertheless, I
shall ask you to give your consent some day, God willing."

He expected an outburst of some sort, and was telling himself that he had
fairly provoked it, when she cut the ground from beneath his feet.

"Don't you go off with any such foolish notion as that, David Kent," she
said, not unsympathetically. "She's in love with Brookes Ormsby, and she
knows it now, if she didn't before." And it was with this arrow rankling
in him that Kent bowed himself out and went to join the young women on the



The conversation on the Brentwood porch was chiefly of Breezeland Inn as a
health and pleasure resort, until an outbound electric car stopped at the
corner below and Loring came up to make a quartet of the trio behind the
vine-covered trellis.

Later, the ex-manager confessed to a desire for music--Penelope's
music--and the twain went in to the sitting-room and the piano, leaving
Elinor and Kent to make the best of each other as the spirit moved them.

It was Elinor's chance for free speech with Kent--the opportunity she had
craved. But now it was come, the simplicity of the thing to be said had
departed and an embarrassing complexity had taken its place. Under other
conditions Kent would have been quick to see her difficulty, and would
have made haste to efface it; but he was fresh from the interview with
Mrs. Brentwood, and the Parthian arrow was still rankling. None the less,
he was the first to break away from the commonplaces.

"What is the matter with us this evening?" he queried. "We have been
sitting here talking the vaguest trivialities ever since Penelope and
Loring side-tracked us. I haven't been doing anything I am ashamed of;
have you?"

"Yes," she confessed, looking away from him.

"What is it?"

"I asked a certain good friend of mine to come to see me when there is
good reason to believe he didn't want to come."

"What makes you think he didn't want to come?"

"Why--I don't know; did he?" She had turned upon him swiftly with an
outflash of the playful daring which had been one of his major fetterings
in time past--the ecstatic little charm that goes with quick repartee and
instant and sympathetic apprehension.

"You have never yet asked anything of him that he wasn't glad enough to
give," he rejoined, keeping up the third person figurative.

"Is that saying very much--or very little?"

"Very little, indeed. But it is only your askings that have been
lacking--not his good will."

"That was said like the David Kent I used to know. Are you really quite
the same?"

"I hope not," he protested gravely. "People used to say of me that I
matured late, and year by year as I look back I can see that it was a true
saying. I have done some desperately boyish things since I was a man
grown; things that make me tingle when I recall them."

"Like wasting a whole summer exploring Mount Croydon with a--a somebody
who did not mature late?"

"No; I wasn't counting that among my lapses. An older man than I ever hope
to be might find excuses for the Croydon summer. I meant in other ways.
For one thing, I have craved success as I think few men have ever craved
it; and yet my plowings in that field have been ill-timed and boyish to a

She shook her head.

"I don't know how you measure success; it is a word of so many, many
meanings. But I think you are your own severest critic."

"That may be; but the fact remains. It is only within the past few months
that I have begun to get a true inkling of things; to know, for example,
that opportunities are things to be compelled--not waited for."

She was looking away from him again.

"I am not sure that I like you better for your having discovered yourself.
I liked the other David Kent."

He smiled rather joylessly.

"Somebody has said that for every new point of view gained we have to
sacrifice all the treasures of the old. I am sorry if I am disappointing

"I don't know that you are. And yet, when you were sitting at Miss Van
Brock's table the other evening telling us about your experience with the
politicians, I kept saying to myself that I didn't know you--that I had
never known you."

"I wish I knew just how to take that," he said dubiously.

"I wish I knew how to make you understand," she returned; and then: "I
could have made the other David Kent understand."

"You are in duty bound to try to make this one understand, don't you
think? You spoke of a danger which was not the violent kind, such as
Loring fears. What is it?"

"You have had two whole days," she rejoined. "Haven't you discovered it?"

"I haven't found anything to fear but failure," was his reply.

"That is it; you have given it a name--its only true name--failure."

"But I am not going to fail."

"You mean you are going to take our railroad away from these men who have
stolen it?"

"That is what I mean."

"And you will do it by threatening to expose them?"

"I shall tell Governor Bucks what I know about the oil field deal,
assuring him that I shall publish the facts if he doesn't let the law take
its course in ousting Judge MacFarlane and the receiver."

She rose and stood before him, leaning against one of the vine-clad porch
pillars with her hands behind her.

"David Kent, are there any circumstances in which you would accept a

He answered her in all seriousness.

"They say every man has his price: mine is higher than any bid they have
yet made--or can make, I hope."

"Why don't you let _them_ bribe _you_?" she asked coolly. "Is it because
it is inexpedient--because there is more 'success' the other way?"

He tried to emulate her coolness and made a failure of it.

"Have I ever done anything to make you think I had thrown common honesty
and self-respect overboard?" he demanded.

Her answer was another question, sharp-edged and well thrust home.

"Is it any worse to take a bribe than it is to give one? You have just
admitted that you are going to buy the governor's neutrality, you know."

"I don't see it in that light at all."

"The other David Kent would have seen it. He would have said: These men
are public criminals. If I can not bring them to justice, I can at least
expose them to the scorn of all good men. Therefore I have no right to
bargain with them."

Kent was silent for a long time. When he spoke it was to say:

"Why have you done this, Elinor?"

"Because I had to, David. Could I do less?"

"I suppose not. It's in the blood--in your blood and mine. Other folk call
it the Puritan virus of over-righteousness, and scoff at it. I don't know:
sometimes I think they have the best of the argument."

"I can't believe you are quite sincere when you say that," she asserted.

"Yes, I am. One can not compromise with conscience; that says itself. But
I have come to believe latterly that one's conscience may be morbidly
acute, or even diseased. I'll admit I've been taking treatment."

"That sounds very dreadful," she rejoined.

"It does, doesn't it? Yet it had to be done. As I intimated a few minutes
ago, my life has hitherto been a sort of unostentatious failure. I used to
think it was because I was outclassed: I know now it has been because I
wouldn't do as other men do. It has been a rather heart-breaking
process--to sort out the scruples, admitting the just and overriding the
others--but I have been given to see that it is the price of success."

"I want you to succeed," she said.

"Pardon me; I don't think you do. You have reopened the door to doubt, and
if I admit the doubt I shall fail."

The sonata Penelope was playing was approaching its finale, and Elinor was
suddenly shaken with a trembling fit of fear--the fear of consequences
which might involve this man's entire future. She knew Kent was leaning on
her, and she saw herself as one who has ruthlessly thrust an iron bar
among the wheels of a delicate mechanism. Who was she to be his
conscience-keeper--to stand in the way and bid him go back? Were her own
motives always so exalted? Had she not once deliberately debated this same
question of expediency, to the utter abasement of her own ideals?

Penelope had left the piano, and Loring was looking at his watch. Kent saw
them through the open window and got upon his feet.

"Grantham is saying he had no idea it was so late," he hazarded. "If I
thank you for what you have said I am afraid it must be as the patient
thanks the surgeon for the knife-stroke which leaves him a cripple for

It was the one word needed to break her resolution.

"Oh, forget it; please forget it!" she said. "I had no right.... You are
doing a man's work in the world, and it must be done in a man's way. If I
can not help, you must not let me hinder. If you let anything I have said
discourage you, I shall never cease regretting it."

His smile was a mere indrawing of the lips.

"Having opened the door, you would try to shut it again, would you? How
like a woman! But I am afraid it can't be done. I had been trying to keep
away from that point of view.... There is much to be said on both sides.
There was a time when I wouldn't have gone into such a thing as this fight
with the junto; but being in, I should have seen it through regardless of
the public welfare--ignoring that side of it. I can't do it now; you have
shown me that I can't."

"But I don't want to be a stumbling-block," she insisted. "Won't you
believe that I wanted to help?"

"I believe that your motive was all it should be; yes. But the result is
the same."

Loring and Penelope were coming out, and the end of their privacy was at

"What will you do?" she asked.

"I don't know: nothing that I had meant to do. It was a false start and I
am back under the wire again."

"But you must not turn back unless you are fully convinced of the wrong of
going on," she protested.

"Didn't you mean to convince me?"

"No--yes--I don't know. I--it seems very clear to me; but I want it to
seem clear to you. Doesn't your conscience tell you that you ought to turn

"No," he said shortly; but he immediately qualified the denial. "You may
be right: I am afraid you are right. But I shall have to fight it out for
myself. There are many things to consider. If I hold my hand, these
bucaneers will triumph over the stockholders, and a host of innocent
people will suffer loss." Then, seeing the quick-springing tears in her
eyes: "But you mustn't be sorry for having done what you had to do; you
have nothing to reproach yourself for."

"Oh, but I have!" she said; and so they parted.



When the Receiver Guilfords, great and small, set their official
guillotines at work lopping off department heads, they commonly ignore a
consequence overlooked by many; namely, the possible effect of such
wholesale changes in leadership upon the rank and file.

The American railroad in its unconsolidated stage is a modern feudalism.
Its suzerains are the president and board of directors; its clan chiefs
are the men who have built it and fought for its footing in the sharply
contested field of competition. To these leaders the rank and file is
loyal, as loyalty is accorded to the men who build and do, rather than to
their successors who inherit and tear down. Add to this the supplanting of
competent executive officers by a staff of political trenchermen, ignorant
alike of the science of railroading, and the equally important sub-science
of industrial manhandling, and you have the kindling for the fire of
insurrection which had been slowly smoldering in the Trans-Western service
since the day when Major Guilford had issued his general order Number One.

At first the fire had burned fitfully, eating its way into the small
economies; as when the section hands pelt stray dogs with new spikes from
the stock keg, and careless freight crews seed down the right of way with
cast-off links and pins; when engineers pour oil where it should be
dropped, and firemen feed the stack instead of the steam-dome.

But later, when the incompetence of the new officials became the mocking
gibe of the service, and the cut-rate avalanche of traffic had doubled all
men's tasks, the flames rose higher, and out of the smoke of them loomed
the shape of the dread demon of demoralization.

First it was Hank Brodrick, who misread his orders and piled two freights
in a mountain of wreckage in the deep cut between Long Pine and Argenta.
Next it was an overworked night man who lost his head and cranked a switch
over in front of the west-bound Flyer, laying the 1020 on her side in the
ditch, with the postal and the baggage-car neatly telescoped on top to
hold her down.

Two days later it was Patsy Callahan; and though he escaped with his life
and his job, it was a close call. He was chasing a time freight with the
fast mail, and the freight was taking the siding at Delhi to let him pass.
One of the red tail-lights of the freight had gone out, and Callahan
mistook the other for the target lamp of the second switch. He had time to
yell at his fireman, to fling himself upon the throttle-bar and to set the
airbrake before he began to turn Irish handsprings down the embankment;
but the wrecking crew camped two whole days at Delhi gathering up the

It was well on in the summer, when the two divisions, east and west, were
strewn with wreckage and the pit tracks in the shops and shop yard were
filled to overflowing with crippled engines, that the insurrectionaries
began to gather in their respective labor groups to discuss the growing
hazards of railroading on the Trans-Western.

The outcome was a protest from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers,
addressed to the receiver in the name of the organization, setting forth
in plain terms the grievance of the members, and charging it bluntly to
bad management. This was followed immediately by similar complaints from
the trainmen, the telegraphers, and the firemen; all praying for relief
from the incubus of incompetent leadership. Not to be behind these, came
the Amalgamated Machinists, demanding an increase of pay for night work
and overtime; and last, but not least, an intimation went forth from the
Federative Council of all these labor unions hinting at possible political
consequences and the alienation of the labor vote if the abuses were not

"What d'ye calc'late the major will do about it?" said Brodrick, in the
roundhouse conclave held daily by the trainmen who were hung up or off
duty. "Will he listen to reason and give us a sure-enough railroad man or
two at the top?"

"Not in _ein_ t'ousand year," quoth "Dutch" Tischer, Callahan's alternate
on the fast mail. "Haf you not de _Arkoos_ been reading? It is bolotics
from der beginning to der ent; mit der governor _vorwaerts_."

"Then I am tellin' you-all right now there's goin' to be a heap o'
trouble," drawled "Pike County" Griggs, the oldest engineer on the line.
"The shopmen are b'ilin'; and if the major puts on that blanket cut in
wages he's talkin' about----"

"'If'," broke in Callahan, with fine scorn. "'Tis slaping on yer injuries
ye are, Misther Griggs. The notice is out; 'twas posted in the shops this

"Then that settles it," said Griggs, gloomily. "When does it take hold?"

"The first day av the month to come. An' they're telling me it catches
everybody, down to the missinger b'ys in the of'ces."

Griggs got upon his feet, yawning and stretching before he dropped back
into his corner of the wooden settle.

"You lissen at me: if that's the fact, I'm tellin' you-all that every
wheel on this blame', hoodooed railroad is goin' to stop turnin' at twelve
o'clock on the night before that notice takes hold."

An oil-begrimed wiper crawled from under the 1031, spat at the dope-bucket
and flung his bunch of waste therein.

"Gur-r-r! Let 'em stop," he rasped. "The dope's bad, and the waste's bad;
and the old man has cut out the 'lectrics and put us back on _them_,"
kicking a small jacket lamp to the bottom of an empty stall. "Give 's a
chaw o' yer smokin' plug, Mr. Callahan," and he held out his hand.

Callahan emptied the hot ashes from his black pipe into the open palm.

"'Tis what ye get f'r yer impidunce, an' f'r layin' tongue to ould man
Durgan, ye scut. 'Tis none av his doin's--the dhirty oil an' the chape
waste an' the jacket lamps. It's ay-conomy, me son; an' the other name f'r
that is a rayceiver."

"Is Durgan with us?" asked Brodrick.

"He's wit' himself, as a master-mechanic shu'd be," said Callahan. "So's
M'Tosh. But nayther wan n'r t'other av thim'll take a thrain out whin the
strike's on. They're both Loring min."

At the mention of Loring's name Griggs looked up from the stick he was

"No prospects o' the Boston folks getting the road back again, I reckon,"
he remarked tentatively.

"You should read dose _Arkoos_ newsbapers: den you should know somet'ings
alretty, ain'd it?" said Tischer.

Brodrick laughed.

"If you see it in the papers, it's so," he quoted. "What the _Argus_
doesn't say would make a 'nough sight bigger book than what it does. But
I've been kind o' watchin' that man Kent. He's been hot after the major,
right from the jump. You rec'lect what he said in them Civic League talks
o' his: said these politicians had stole the road, hide, hair an' horns."

"I'm onto him," said Callahan. "'Tis a bird he is. Oleson was telling me.
The Scandehoovian was thryin' to get him down to Gaston the day they
ray-ceivered us. Jarl says he wint a mile a minut', an' the little man
never turned a hair."

"Is he here yet; or did he go back to God's country?" asked Engineer
Scott, leaning from the cab window of the 1031.

"He's here; and so is Mr. Loring. They're stopping at the Clarendon," said

"Then they haven't quit," drawled Griggs; adding: "I wonder if they have a
ghost of a show against the politicals?"

"Has annybody been to see 'em?" asked Callahan.

"There's a notion for you, Scott," said Brodrick. Scott was the presiding
officer in the B. of L.E. local. "Get up a committee from the Federative
to go and ask Mr. Loring if there's any use in our tryin' to hold on."

The wiper was killing time at a window which commanded a view of the upper
yards, with the Union Passenger Station at the end of the three-mile
vista. Being a late comer in the field, the Trans-Western had scanty track
rights in the upper yard; its local headquarters were in the shops suburb,
where the two division main lines proper began and ended, diverging, the
one to the eastward and the other to the west.

"Holy smut!" said the wiper. "See Dicky Dixon comin' out with the Flyer!
How's that for ten miles an hour in the city limits?"

It was a foot-note commentary on the way the service was going to pieces.
Halkett, the "political" general superintendent, had called Dixon on the
carpet for not making time with his train. "If you're afraid to run, say
so, and we'll get a man that isn't," Halkett had said; and here was Dixon
coming down a borrowed track in a busy yard at the speed which presupposes
a ninety-pound rail and nothing in the way.

The conclave had gathered at the wiper's window.

"The dum fool!" said Brodrick. "If anything gets in front of him----"

There was a suburb street-crossing three hundred yards townward from the
"yard limits" telegraph office, which stood in the angle formed by the
diverging tracks of the two divisions. Beyond the yard the street became a
country road, well traveled as the principal southern inlet to the city.
When Dixon was within two train-lengths of the crossing, a farm wagon
appeared, driven between the cut freight trains on the sidings directly in
the path of the Flyer. The men at the roundhouse window heard the crash of
the splintering wagon above the roar of the train; and the wiper on the
window seat yelped like a kicked dog and went sickly green under his mask
of grime.

"There it is again," said Scott, when Dixon had brought his train to a
stand two hundred yards beyond the "limits" office where he should have
stopped for orders. "We're all hoodooed, the last one of us. I'll get that
committee together this afternoon and go and buzz Mr. Loring."

Now it fell out that these things happened on a day when the tide of
retrieval was at its lowest ebb; the day, namely, in which Kent had told
Loring that he was undecided as to his moral right to use the evidence
against Bucks as a lever to pry the Trans-Western out of the grip of the
junto. It befell, also, that it was the day chosen by two other men, not
members of the labor unions, in which to call upon the ex-manager; and
Loring found M'Tosh, the train-master, and Durgan, the master-mechanic,
waiting for him in the hotel corridor when he came in from a late luncheon
at the Camelot Club.

"Can you give us a few minutes, Mr. Loring?" asked M'Tosh, when Loring had
shaken hands with them, not as subordinates.

"Surely. My time is not very valuable, just at present. Come in, and I'll
see if Mr. Kent has left me any cigars."

"Humph!" said Durgan, when the ex-manager had gone into Kent's room to
rummage for the smoke offering. "And they give us the major in the place
of such a man as that!" with a jerk of his thumb toward the door of the

"Come off!" warned M'Tosh; "he'll hear you." And when Loring came back
with the cigars there was dry humor in his eye.

"You mustn't let your loyalty to the old guard get you into trouble with
the receiver," he cautioned; and they both smiled.

"The trouble hasn't waited for our bringing," said M'Tosh. "That is why we
are here. Durgan has soured on his job, and I'm more than sick of mine.
It's hell, Mr. Loring. I have been at it twenty years, and I never saw
such crazy railroading in any one of them."

"Bad management, you mean?"

"Bad management at the top, and rotten demoralization at the bottom as a
natural consequence. We can't be sure of getting a train out of the yards
without accident. Dixon is as careful a man as ever stepped on an engine,
and he smashed a farmer's wagon and killed the farmer this morning within
two train-lengths of the shop junction."

"Drunk?" inquired the ex-manager.

"Never a drop; Dixon's a Prohibitionist, dyed in the wool. But just before
he took his train, Halkett had him in the sweat-box, jacking him up for
not making his time. He came out red in the face, jumped on his engine,
and yanked the Flyer down the yards forty miles an hour."

"And what is your trouble, Durgan?" asked Loring.

"Another side of the same thing. I wrote Major Guilford yesterday, telling
him that six pit gangs, all the roundhouse 'emergencies' and two outdoor
repair squads couldn't begin to keep the cripples moving; and within a
week every one of the labor unions has kicked through its grievance
committee. His reply is an order announcing a blanket cut in wages, to go
into effect the first of the month. That means a strike and a general

Loring shook his head regretfully.

"It hurts me," he admitted. "We had the best-handled piece of railroad in
the West, and I give the credit to the men that did the handling. And to
have it wrecked by a gang of incompetent salary-grabbers----"

The two left-overs nodded.

"That's just it, Mr. Loring," said M'Tosh. "And we're here to ask you if
it's worth while for us to stick to the wreck any longer. Are you folks
doing anything?"

"We have been trying all legal means to break the grip of the

"And what are the prospects?" It was the master-mechanic who wanted to

"They are not very bright at present, I must confess. We have the entire
political ring to fight, and the odds are overwhelming."

"You say you've been trying legal means'," M'Tosh put in. "Can't we down
them some other way? I believe you could safely count on the help of every
man in the service, barring the politicals."

Loring smiled.

"I don't say we should scruple to use force if there were any way to apply
it. But the way doesn't offer."

"I didn't know," said the train-master, rising to close the interview.
"But if the time ever comes, all you or Mr. Kent will have to do will be
to pass the word. Maybe you can think of some way to use the strike. It
hasn't been declared yet, but you can bet on it to a dead moral

It was late in the afternoon of the same day that the Federative Council
sent its committee, chairmaned by Engineer Scott, to interview the
ex-general manager at his rooms in the Clarendon. Scott acted as
spokesman, stating the case with admirable brevity and conciseness, and
asking the same question as that propounded by the train-master, to wit,
if there were any prospect of a return of the road to its former

Loring spoke more hopefully to the committee than he had to Durgan and
M'Tosh. There had been a little more time for reflection, and there was
the heartening which comes upon the heels of unsolicited help-tenderings,
however futile. So he told the men that the stockholders were moving
heaven and earth in the effort to recover their property; that until the
road should be actually sold under an order from the court, there was
always room for hope. The committee might rest assured that no stone would
be left unturned; also that the good will of the rank and file would not
be forgotten in the day of restitution, if that day should ever dawn.

When Loring was through, Engineer Scott did a thing no union man had ever
done before: he asked an ex-general manager's advice touching the
advisability of a strike.

"I can't say as to that," was the prompt reply. "You know your own
business best--what it will cost, and what it may accomplish. But I've
been on the other side often enough to be able to tell you why most
strikes fail, if you care to know."

A broad grin ran the gamut of the committee.

"Tell us what to do, and we'll do it; Mr. Loring," said Scott, briefly.

"First, then, have a definite object and one that will stand the test of
public opinion; in this case we'll say it is the maintenance of the
present wage-scale and the removal of incompetent officers and men.
Secondly, make your protest absolutely unanimous to a man. Thirdly, don't
give the major time to fortify: keep your own counsels, and don't send in
your ultimatum until the final moment. And, lastly, shun violence as you
would a temptation of the devil."

"Yon's a man," said Angus Duncan, the member from the Amalgamated
Machinists, when the committee was filing out through the hotel corridor.

"Now you're shouting!" said Engineer Scott. "And you might say a man and a



Tested upon purely diplomatic principles, Miss Van Brock's temper was
little less than angelic, exhibiting itself under provocation only in
guarded pin-pricks of sarcasm, or in small sharp-clawed kitten-buffetings
of repartee. But she was at no pains to conceal her scornful
disappointment when David Kent made known his doubts concerning his moral
right to use the weapon he had so skilfully forged.

He delayed the inevitable confession to Portia until he had told Loring;
and in making it he did not tell Miss Van Brock to whom he owed the sudden
change in the point of view. But Portia would have greatly discredited her
gift of insight if she had not instantly reduced the problem to its lowest

"You have been asking Miss Brentwood to lend you her conscience, and she
has done it," was the form in which she stated the fact. And when Kent did
not deny it: "You lack at least one quality of greatness, David; you sway
too easily."

"No, I don't!" he protested. "I am as obstinate as a mule. Ask Ormsby, or
Loring. But the logic of the thing is blankly unanswerable. I can either
get down to the dirty level of these highbinders--fight the devil with a
brand taken out of his own fire; or----"

"Or what?" she asked.

"Or think up some other scheme; some plan which doesn't involve a
surrender on my part of common decency and self-respect."

"Yes?" she retorted. "I suppose you have the other plan all wrought out
and ready to drop into place?"

"No, I haven't," he admitted reluctantly.

"But at least you have some notion of what it is going to be?"


She was pacing back and forth in front of his chair in a way that was
almost man-like; but her contemptuous impatience made her dangerously
beautiful. Suddenly she stopped and turned upon him, and there were sharp
claws in the kitten-buffetings.

"Do you know you are spoiling a future that most men would hesitate to
throw away?" she asked. "While you have been a man of one idea in this
railroad affair, we haven't been idle--your newspaper and political
friends, and Ormsby and I. You are ambitious; you want to succeed; and we
have been laying the foundations for you. The next election would give you
anything in the gift of the State that a man of your years could aspire
to. Have you known this?"

"I have guessed it," he said quite humbly.

"Of course you have. But it has all been contingent upon one thing: you
were to crush the grafters in this railroad struggle--show them up--and
climb to distinction yourself on the ladder from which you had shaken
them. It might have been done; it was in a fair way to be done. And now
you turn back and leave the plow in the furrow!"

There was more of a like quality--a good bit more; some of it regretful;
all of it pungent and logical from Miss Van Brock's point of view; and
Kent was no rock not to be moved by the small tempest of disappointed
vicarious ambition. Wherefore he escaped when he could, though only to
begin the ethical battle all over again; to fight and to wander among the
tombs in the valley of indecision for a week and a day, eight miserable
twirlings of the earth in space, during which interval he was invisible to
his friends and innocuous to his enemies.

On the morning of the ninth day Editor Hildreth telephoned Miss Van Brock
to ask if she knew where Kent could be found. The answer was a rather
anxious negative; though the query could have been answered affirmatively
by the conductor and motorman of an early morning electric car which ran
to the farthest outskirts of the eastern suburb of the city. Following a
boyish habit he had never fully outgrown, Kent had once more taken his
problem to the open, and the hour after luncheon time found him plodding
wearily back to the end of the car line, jaded, dusty and stiff from much
tramping of the brown plain, but with the long duel finally fought out to
some despairing conclusion.

The City Hall clock was upon the stroke of three when the inbound
trolley-car landed him in front of the Clarendon. It was a measure of his
purposeful abstraction that he went on around the corner to the Security
Bank, dusty and unpresentable as he was, and transferred the packet of
incriminating affidavits from the safety deposit box to his pocket before
going to his rooms in the hotel.

This paper weapon was the centering point of the struggle which had now
lasted for nearly a fortnight. So long as the weapon was his to use or to
cast away, the outcome of the moral conflict hung in the balance. But now
he was emerging from the night wanderings among the tombs of the

"I can't give it up; there is too much at stake," he muttered, as he
trudged heavily back to the hotel. And before he went above stairs he
asked the young woman at the house telephone exchange to ascertain if
Governor Bucks were in his office at the capitol, and if so, if he were
likely to remain there for an hour.

When he reached his rooms he flung the packet of papers on the
writing-table and went to freshen himself with a bath. That which lay
before him called for fitness, mental and physical, and cool sanity. In
other times of stress, as just before a critical hour in court, the tub
and the cold plunge had been his fillip where other men resorted to the

He was struggling into clean linen, and the packet was still lying where
he had tossed it on entering, when a bell-boy came up with a card. Kent
read the name with a ghost of a smile relaxing the care-drawn lines about
his mouth. There are times when a man's fate rushes to meet him, and he
had fallen upon one of them.

"Show him up," was the brief direction; and when the door of the elevator
cage clacked again, Kent was waiting.

His visitor was a man of heroic proportions; a large man a little
breathed, as it seemed, by the swift upward rush of the elevator. Kent
admitted him with a nod; and the governor planted himself heavily in a
chair and begged a light for his cigar. In the match-passing he gathered
his spent breath and declared his errand.

"I think we have a little score to settle between us as man to man, Kent,"
he began, when Kent had clipped the end from his own cigar and lighted it
in stolid silence.

"Possibly: that is for you to say," was the unencouraging reply.

Bucks rose deliberately, walked to the bath-room door, and looked beyond
it into the bedroom.

"We are quite alone, if that is what you want to make sure of," said Kent,
in the same indifferent tone; and the governor came back and resumed his

"I came up to see what you want--what you will take to quit," he
announced, crossing his legs and locking the huge ham-like hands over his
knee. "That is putting it rather abruptly, but business is business, and
we can dispense with the preliminaries, I take it."

"I told your attorney-general some time ago what I wanted, and he did not
see fit to grant it," Kent responded. "I am not sure that I want anything
now--anything you can have to offer." This was not at all what he had
intended to say; but the presence of the adversary was breeding a stubborn
antagonism that was more potent on the moral side than all the prickings
of conscience.

The yellow-lidded eyes of the governor began to close down, and the look
came into them which had been there when he had denied a pardon to a widow
pleading for the life of her convicted son.

"I had hoped you were in the market," he demurred. "It would be better for
all concerned if you had something to sell, with a price attached. I know
what you have been doing, and what you think you have got hold of. It's a
tissue of mistakes and falsehoods and back-bitings from beginning to end,
but it may serve your purpose with the newspapers. I want to buy that
package of stuff you've got stowed away in the Security vaults."

The governor's chair was on one side of the writing-table, and Kent's was
on the other. In plain sight between the two men lay the packet Bucks was
willing to bargain for. It was inclosed in a box envelope, bearing the
imprint of the Security Bank. Kent was looking steadily away from the
table when he said:

"What if I say it isn't for sale?"

"Don't you think it had better be?"

"I don't know. I hadn't thought much about the advisable phase of it."

"Well, the time has come when you've got it to do," was the low-toned

"But not as a matter of compulsion," said Kent, coolly enough. "What is
your bid?"

Bucks made it promptly.

"Ten thousand dollars: and you promise to leave the State and stay away
for one year from the first Tuesday in November next."

"That is, until after the next State election." Kent blew a whiff of smoke
to the ceiling and shook his head slowly. "It is not enough."

The governor uncrossed his legs, crossed them the other way, and said:

"I'll make it twenty thousand and two years."

"Or thirty thousand and three years," Kent suggested amiably. "Or suppose
we come at once to the end of that string and say one hundred thousand and
ten years. That would still leave you a fair price for your block of
suburban property in Guilford and Hawk's addition to the city of Gaston,
wouldn't it?"

The governor set his massive jaw with a sharp little click of the teeth.

"You are joking on the edge of your grave, my young friend. I taught you
in Gaston that you were not big enough to fight me: do you think you are
big enough now?"

"I don't think; I know," said Kent, incisively. "And since you have
referred to the Gaston days: let me ask if I ever gave you any reason to
believe that I could be scared out?"

"Keep to the point," retorted Bucks, harshly. "This State isn't broad
enough to hold you and me on opposite sides of the fence. I could make it
too hot to hold you without mixing up in it myself, but I choose to fight
my own battles. Will you take twenty thousand dollars spot cash, and
MacFarlane's job as circuit judge when I'm through with him? Yes or no."


"Then what will you take?"

"Without committing myself in any sense, I might say that you are getting
off too cheaply on your most liberal proposition. You and your friends
have looted a seventy-million-dollar railroad, and----"

"You might have stood in on that if you had taken Guilford's offer," was
the brusk rejoinder. "There was more than a corporation lawyer's salary in
sight, if you'd had sense enough to see it."

"Possibly. But I stayed out--and I am still out."

"Do you want to get in? Is that your price?"

"I intend to get in--though not, perhaps, in the way you have in mind. Are
you ready to recall Judge MacFarlane with instructions to give us our
hearing on the merits?"

The governor's face was wooden when he said:

"Is that all you want? I understand MacFarlane is returning, and you will
doubtless have your hearing in due season."

"Not unless you authorize it," Kent objected.

"And if I do? If I say that I have already done so, will you come in and
lay down your arms?"


"Then I'm through. Give me your key and write me an order on the Security
Bank for those papers you are holding."

"No," said Kent, again.

"I say _yes_!" came the explosive reassertion; and Kent found himself
looking down the bright barrel of a pistol thrust into his face across the

For a man who had been oftenest an onlooker on the football half of life,
Kent was measurably quick and resourceful. In one motion he clamped the
weapon and turned it aside; in another he jammed the fire end of his cigar
among the fingers of the grasping hand. The governor jerked free with an
oath, pain-extorted; and Kent dropped the captured weapon into the table
drawer. It was all done in two breaths, and when it was over, Kent flung
away the broken cigar and lighted a fresh one.

"That was a very primitive expedient, your Excellency, to say the best of
it," he remarked. "Have you nothing better to offer?"

The reply was a wild-beast growl, and taking it for a negative, Kent went

"Then perhaps you will listen to my proposal. The papers you are so
anxious about are here,"--tapping the envelope on the table. "No, don't
try to snatch them; you wouldn't get out of here alive with them, lacking
my leave. Such of them as relate to your complicity in the Universal Oil
deal are yours--on one condition; that your health fails and you get
yourself ordered out of the State for the remainder of your term."

"No!" thundered the governor.

"Very well; you may stay and take a course of home treatment, if you
prefer. It's optional."

"By God! I don't know what keeps me from throttling you with my hands!"
Bucks got upon his feet, and Kent rose, also, slipping the box envelope
into his pocket and laying a precautionary hand on the drawer-pull.

The governor turned away and walked to the window, nursing his burned
fingers. When he faced about it was to return to the charge.

"Kent, what is it you want? Say it in two words."

"Candidly, I didn't know, until a few minutes ago, Governor. It began with
a determination to break your grip on my railroad, I believe."

"You can have your railroad, if you can get it--and be damned to it, and
to you, too!"

"I said it began that way. My sole idea in gathering up this evidence
against you and your accomplices was to whittle out a club that would make
you let go of the Trans-Western. For two weeks I have been debating with
myself as to whether I should buy you or break you; and half an hour
before you came, I went to the bank and took these papers out, meaning to
go and hunt you up."

"Well?" said the governor, and the word bared his teeth because his lips
were dry.

"I thought I knew, in the old Gaston days, how many different kinds of a
scoundrel you could be, but you've succeeded in showing me some new
variations in the last few minutes. It's a thousand pities that the people
of a great State should be at the mercy of such a gang of pirates as you
and Hendricks and Meigs and MacFarlane, and----"

"Break it off!" said Bucks.

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