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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Seven - Chapter 70
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Together - Part Seven - Chapter 70 Post by :Jay_White Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :1307

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Together - Part Seven - Chapter 70


At the station in St. Louis a young man came forward from the crowd about the gate and raised his hat, explaining to Isabelle that he had been sent by her husband to meet her. Mr. Lane, he said further, was in court and found it impossible to be there. When she was in the cab and her trunk had been secured the young man asked:--

"Where shall I tell him? The Price house?"

A picture of the familiar empty rooms, of waiting there with her ghosts, aggravated the disappointment she had felt at not seeing John on her arrival. She hesitated.

"Could I go to the court?"

"Sure--of course; only Mr. Lane thought--"

"Get in, won't you, and come with me," Isabelle said, interrupting him, and then as the young man shyly took the vacant seat, she asked:--

"Aren't you Teddy Bliss? ... I haven't seen you for--years!" She added with a smile, "Since you played baseball in your father's back yard. How is your mother?"

It gave her a sense of age to find the son of her old friend in this smiling young man. Life was getting on apace.... The cab made its way slowly into the heart of the city, and they talked of the old times when the Blisses had been neighbors across the alley from the Prices. Isabelle wished to ask the young man about the trial. The New York paper that she had seen on the train had only a short account. But she hesitated to show her ignorance, and Teddy Bliss was too much abashed before the handsome wife of his "boss" to offer any information. Finally Isabelle asked:--

"Is the trial nearly over?"

"Pretty near the end. Cross-examination to-day. When I left, Mr. Lane was on the stand. Then come the arguments and the judge's charge, and it goes to the jury."

And he added with irresistible impulse:--

"It's a great case, Mrs. Lane! ... When our lawyers get after that district attorney, he won't know what's happened to him.... Why, the road's secured the best legal talent that ever argued a case in this district, so they tell me. That man Brinkerhoff is a corker!"

"Indeed!" Isabelle replied, smiling at the young man's enthusiasm for the scrap. To him it was all a matter of legal prowess with victory to the heavy battalions.

"Federal court-rooms are in here temporarily,--crowded out of the federal building," her companion explained as the cab stopped before a grimy office building.

Isabelle had expected that the trial would be in some sort of public building, which might have at least the semblance of serving as a temple of justice. But justice, it seemed, like most else in this day, had to accommodate itself to the practical life.... Upstairs there was a small crowd about the door of the court-room, through which the young man gained admission by a whispered word to the tobacco-chewing veteran that kept the gate.

The court-room was badly lighted by two windows at the farther end, in front of which on a low platform behind a plain oak desk sat the judge, and grouped about him informally the jurors, the lawyers, and stenographers, and mixed with these the defendants and witnesses. The body of the room, which was broken by bare iron pillars, was well filled with reporters and curious persons. Isabelle sank into a vacant chair near the door and looked eagerly for her husband. At last by craning her head she caught a partial view of him where he sat behind a pillar, his face bent downwards leaning on his hand, listening with an expression of weariness to the wrangle of counsel. He was sallow, and his attitude was abstracted, the attitude in which he listened at board meetings or gathered the substance of a wordy report from a subordinate. It was not the attitude of a criminal on trial for his honor! ...

"That's Brinkerhoff, the big gun," young Bliss whispered to Isabelle, indicating a gentle, gray-headed, smooth-shaven man, who seemed to be taking a nap behind his closed eyes.

The judge himself was lolling back listlessly, while several men in front of him talked back and forth colloquially. The argument between counsel proceeded with polite irony and sarcastic iteration of stock phrases, "If your honor pleases," ... "My learned brother, the district attorney," ... "The learned counsel for the defence," etc. The judge's eyes rested on the ceiling, as if he too wished to take a nap. There was a low hum of conversation among the men grouped about the desk meanwhile, and occasionally one of the young men who had been scribbling on a pad would grasp his hat hurriedly and leave the room. Thus the proceedings dragged on.

"They are arguing about admitting some evidence," the young man at her side explained....

Isabelle, who had been living in a suppressed state of emotional excitement ever since that night three days before when she had turned from the newspapers to pack her trunk, felt a sudden limp reaction come over her. Apparently the whole proceeding was without vitality,--a kind of routine through which all parties had to go, knowing all the time that it settled nothing,--did not much count. The judge was a plain, middle-aged man in a wrinkled sack coat,--very much in appearance what Conny would call a "bounder." The defending counsel talked among themselves or wrote letters or took naps, like the celebrated Mr. Brinkerhoff, and the counsel for the government listened or made a remark in the same placid manner. It was all very commonplace,--some respectable gentlemen engaged in a dull technical discussion over the terms of the game, in which seemingly there was no momentous personal interest involved.

"The government's case will collapse if they can't get those books of the coal companies in as evidence," young Bliss informed Isabelle. He seemed to understand the rules of the game,--the point at issue.

Surely the methods of modern justice are unpicturesque, unimpressive! Compare this trial of the cause of the People against the mighty Atlantic and Pacific railroad corporation _et al_. with the trial of the robber baron dragged from his bleak castle perched above the highroad where he had laid in wait to despoil his fellow-men, weaker vessels, into the court of his Bishop,--there to be judged, to free himself if he might by grasping hot iron with his naked hand, by making oath over the bones of some saint, and if found guilty to be condemned to take the cross in the crusade for the Saviour's sepulchre. Fantastic, that; but human--dramatic! And starkly memorable, like the row of his victim's heads nailed along the battlements of his castle. More civilized, the modern tyrant takes the cash and lets the victim die a natural death. Or compare this tedious legal game--which does not count--with that pageant of England's trial of a corrupt administrator at the bar of Parliament! The issues involved are hardly less vital to millions in the case of the People against the Atlantic and Pacific _et al_. than in the case of the races of India against Warren Hastings; but democracy is the essence of horse-sense. 'For these gentlemen before me,' the judge seemed to say, 'are not criminals, no matter how the jury may render its verdict, in any ordinary sense of the term. They may have exceeded the prescribed limits in playing the game that all men play,--the great predatory game of get all you can and keep it! ... But they are not common criminals.'

At last the judge leaned forward, his elbows on the desk:--

"The court orders that the papers in question be admitted as evidence pertinent to this case."

Teddy Bliss looked chagrined. His side had been ruled against.

"They'll be sure to reverse the decision on appeal," he whispered consolatorily to his employer's wife. "An exception has been taken."

That was apparently the opinion of those concerned who were grouped about the judge's desk. There was no consternation, merely a slight movement as if to free muscles cramped by one position, a word or two among counsel. The great Brinkerhoff still wore that placid look of contemplation, as if he were thinking of the new tulip bulbs he had imported from Holland for his house up the Hudson. He was not aroused even when one of his fellow-counsel asked him a question. He merely removed his glasses, wiped them reflectively, and nodded to his colleague benignantly. He knew, as the others knew, that the case would be appealed from the verdict of the jury to a higher court, and very likely would turn up ultimately in the highest court of all at Washington, where after the lapse of several years the question at issue would be argued wholly on technicalities, and finally decided according to the psychological peculiarities of the various personalities then composing the court. The residuum of justice thus meted out to his clients--if they were not successful before in maintaining their contention--would not affect these honorable gentlemen appreciably. The corporation would pay the legal expenses of the protracted litigation, and hand the bill on to the public ultimately, and the people by their taxes would pay their share of this row.... He put on his glasses and resumed his meditation.

"Court is adjourned." At last! Isabelle stood up eagerly, anxious to catch her husband's attention. He was talking with the lawyers. The young clerk went up to him and touched his elbow, and presently Lane came down the room in the stream of reporters and lawyers bent on getting to luncheon. It was neither the place nor the time that Isabelle would have preferred for meeting her husband after their long separation. There was so much in her heart,--this meeting meant so much, must be so much for them both in all the future years. The familiar solid figure, with the reserved, impassive face came nearer; Lane reached out his hand. There were lines about the mouth, and his hair seemed markedly gray.

"John!" was all she could say.

"Glad to see you, Isabelle!" he replied. "Sorry I couldn't meet you at the station. Everything all right?"

It was his usual kindly, rather short-hand manner with her.

"Yes," she said, "everything is all right." She felt as if all the significance of her act had been erased.

"You know your mother hasn't come back from the Springs," he added, "but they are expecting you at the house."

"Can't we go somewhere and have luncheon together? I want so much to see you!" she urged.

"I wish I might, but I have these lawyers on my hands--must take them to the club for luncheon. Sorry I shall be kept here until late in the afternoon. I will put you in a cab." And he led the way to the elevator. As always he was kind and considerate. But in his equable manner was there also some touch of coldness, of aloofness from this wife, who had taken this curious opportunity to come into his affairs?

"Thank you," she faltered, as he looked down the street for a cab. "Couldn't I go somewhere about here for luncheon and come back afterwards to the court-room? I should like to wait for you."

"Why, if you want to," he replied, looking at her with surprise. And as if divining a reason for her agitation, he said: "You mustn't mind what the papers say. It won't amount to anything, either way it goes."

"I think I'll stay," she said hurriedly.

"Very well. I will call Bliss to take you to a hotel."

He beckoned to the waiting young man, and while Mr. Bliss was finding a cab, Lane said to his wife:--

"You are looking very well. The country has done you good?"

"Yes! I am very well,--all well!" She tried to smile buoyantly. "I don't expect ever to be ill again."

He received this as a man accustomed to the vagaries of woman's health, and said, "That's good!"

Then he put her into the cab, gave some instructions to the young man, and raised his hat. His manner was perfect to her, and yet Isabelle went to her luncheon with the bubbling Mr. Bliss sad at heart. She was such an outsider, such a stranger to her husband's inner self! That it was to be expected, her own fault, the result of the misspent years of married life made it none the easier to bear....

Mr. Teddy Bliss exercised his best connoisseurship in selecting the dishes from the printed broadside put before him at the hotel restaurant, consulting Isabelle frequently as to her tastes, where the desire to please was mingled with the pride of appearing self-possessed. Having finally decided on tomato bisque aux crutons, prairie chicken, grilled sweet potatoes, salad and peche Melba, which was all very much to his liking, he dropped the card and looked at Isabelle with a broad smile. The world and its affairs still had an irrepressible zest and mirthful aspect to young Mr. Bliss.

"You're likely to hear some or-a-tory this afternoon, Mrs. Lane," he scoffed. "The district attorney is a Southerner, and he's going to spread himself when he makes his plea, you can believe. It's his chance to get talked about from San Francisco to Washington.... Of course it don't cut any ice what he says, but the papers will play it up large, and that's what they are after, the government. You see"--he waxed confidential--"the government's got to save its face somehow after all the talk and the dust they have raised. If they can secure a conviction,--oh, just a nominal fine (you know there is no prison penalty),--why, it'll be good campaign material this fall. So they fixed on the A. and P. as a shining mark for their shot. And you know there's a good deal of feeling, especially in this state, against railroads."

"I see!" In spite of herself Isabelle was amused at the naive assurance the young man had given her that nothing serious could happen to her husband,--not imprisonment! Mr. Bliss's point of view about the famous case was evidently that of the railroad office, tinged with a blithe sporting interest in a legal scrap. The ill-paid government attorneys trying the case were a lot of "light-weight mits," put up against the best "talent" in the country employed by the powerful corporation to protect itself; in short, a sure thing for the railroad in the final knockout if not in the first round.

"It was bad, their getting in those Pleasant Valley Company books," he remarked less exuberantly. "But it won't make any difference in the end. The papers have made the most of that evidence already."

"Why do you suppose the newspapers are so bitter against the road?"

"They aren't, the best of them; they know too much what's good for them. They just print the record of the trial. As for the sensational ones, you see it's this way,--they don't care, they haven't any convictions. It is just a matter of business for them. Slamming the corporations suits their readers. The people who buy most of the papers like to have the prosperous classes slammed. Most people are envious; they want the other fellow's roll,--isn't that so? They think they are as good as the best, and it makes 'em sick to see the other fellow in his automobile when they are earning fifteen or eighteen per! They don't stop to consider that it's brains that makes the diff."

"So it is merely envy that produces all this agitation?"

"I am not saying that the corporations are philanthropic institutions," Mr. Bliss continued didactically; "of course they aren't. They are out for business, and every man knows what that means. I suppose they do a good many tough things if they get the chance--same as their critics. What of it? Wouldn't the little fellow do the same thing, if he could,--had the chance? ... What would this country be to-day without the corporations, the railroads? Without the Atlantic and Pacific, right here in St. Louis? And all the work of those men they are prosecuting and fining and trying to put into jail? Why, if the President had his way, he'd lock up every man that had enough sense and snap in him to do things, and he'd make this country like a Methodist camp meeting after the shouting is over! There's no sense to it."

Isabelle laughed at the young man's vigorous defence of "our" side. It seemed useless to attempt to pick flaws in his logic, and it would hardly become her as the wife of his "boss" to betray that she was not wholly convinced of his accuracy.

"Besides, why can't the government let bygones be bygones? Every one knows that the roads did some queer things in the old days. But why rake up old crimes and make a mess? I say let's have a clean slate and begin over.... But if they keep on legislating and howling against corporations, like some of these trust-busting state legislatures, we'll have a panic sure thing, and that will do the business for the reformers, won't it now?"

This, as Isabelle realized, was, in the popular language of Mr. Teddy Bliss, her husband's point of view, the philosophy of the ruling class, imbibed by their dependents. As the young man turned from expounding the business situation to his succulent bird, Isabelle had time for reflection.

This young man was sucking his views about honesty, business morality, from the Atlantic and Pacific, from her husband. One of Renault's sentences came to her, "We all live in large part on a borrowed capital of suggested ideas, motives, desires." And the corollary: "Each is responsible not only for the capital that he borrows from others,--that it should really be the right idea for him,--but also for the capital he lends,--the suggestions he gives to others--possibly less stable minds. For thus by borrowing and lending ideas is created that compulsive body of thought throughout the universe on which we all act."

Her husband was on trial for that which he had borrowed and thus made his own, as well as for that which he had passed on into life--to Mr. Teddy Bliss, for example.

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Together - Part Seven - Chapter 71 Together - Part Seven - Chapter 71

Together - Part Seven - Chapter 71
PART SEVEN CHAPTER LXXIThe government attorney had already begun his argument when Isabelle, escorted by Teddy Bliss, returned to the court-room. The district attorney was a short, thick-set, sallow-faced man, with bushy gray hair growing in the absurd "Pompadour" fashion, and a homely drooping mustache. Another "bounder," thought Isabelle, one of the hungry outsiders, not in fee to the corporations, who hired only the best lawyers. Perhaps he was aware of his position there in the dingy court-room before the trained gladiators of his profession--and also before his country! The lawyers for the defendants lolling in their chairs settled themselves placidly

Together - Part Seven - Chapter 69 Together - Part Seven - Chapter 69

Together - Part Seven - Chapter 69
PART SEVEN CHAPTER LXIXAll night long in the corridors of the cliff-city the elevator doors had clicked, as they were opened and shut on the ceaseless trips to pack away the people in the eighteen stories. In the morning they became even livelier in their effort to take down the hungry guests for breakfast and the day's business. The corridors and the lobbies and the foyer were thronged with the same people, freshly dressed for the day, fat or lean, heavy eyed or alert, pale, nervous, with quick tones and jerky movements. And there was a line of new arrivals before