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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTogether - Part Seven - Chapter 74
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Together - Part Seven - Chapter 74 Post by :Jay_White Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :1916

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Together - Part Seven - Chapter 74

PART SEVEN CHAPTER LXXIV

The newsboys were crying the verdict up and down the wet street. Across the front page of the penny sheet which Isabelle bought ran in broad, splotched letters: GUILTY; RAILROAD GRAFTERS FINED; and in slightly smaller type: _Atlantic and Pacific found guilty of illegal discrimination in famous coal cases--Fined eighty-five thousand dollars. Vice-president Lane, General Traffic Manager of Road, fined thirteen thousand six hundred and eighty dollars_, etc. Isabelle crumpled the paper into her muff and hurried home. As she walked numbly, she thought, 'Why six hundred and eighty dollars? why so exact?' As if the precise measure of wrong could be determined! On the doorstep of her mother's house lay the quietly printed, respectable two-cent evening paper that the family had always read. Isabelle took this also with her to her room. Even in this conservative sheet, favorable to the interests of the property classes, there were scare-heads about the verdict. It was of prime importance as news. Without removing her hat or coat, Isabelle read it all through,--the judge's charge to the jury, the verdict, the reporters' gossip of the court-room. The language of the judge was trenchant, and though his charge was worded in stiff and solemn form and laden with legal phrases, Isabelle understood it better even than the hot eloquence of the district attorney. It swept away all that legal dust, those technical quibbles, which Mr. Brinkerhoff and his associate counsel had so industriously sprinkled over the issue. "If the facts have been established of such and such a nature, beyond reasonable doubt; if the connection of the defendant has been clearly set forth," etc. As the penny sheet put it, "Judge Barstow's charge left no room for doubt as to the verdict. The jury was out forty minutes and took one ballot." Twelve men, be they farmers or "sore-heads," had found John Lane guilty of something very like grand larceny. The case was to be appealed--of course.

Even the respectable two-cent paper delivered itself editorially on the verdict in the famous coal cases, with unusual daring. For the _Post was ordinarily most cautious not to reflect upon matters inimical to "leading interests." To-night it was moved beyond the limits of an habitual prudence.

"Judge Barstow," it said, "in his able analysis left no room for doubt as to the gravity of the charges brought by the government against the Atlantic and Pacific and certain of its officers. The verdict will be no surprise to those who have followed closely the so-called coal cases through the preliminary investigation by the Interstate Commerce Commission and the recent trial. A state of affairs in the management of the Atlantic and Pacific railroad was revealed that may well shock men long accustomed to the methods of corporate control. It was shown that officers and employees of the railroad owned or controlled various coal properties that depended for their existence upon special favors given them by the road, and that these companies were enabled by their secret alliance with the railroad to blackmail independent, rival companies, and drive them out of existence. To put it in plain words, the Atlantic and Pacific favored its secret partners at the expense of their competitors.... Apart from the legal aspect so ably dealt with by Judge Barstow, the spectacle of graft in the Atlantic and Pacific must surprise the stockholders of that corporation quite as much as the public at large. Apparently high-salaried officials shared in these extra profits together with freight clerks and division superintendents! ... We cannot believe that the moral sense of the country will long tolerate a condition of affairs such as has been revealed in the case of Vice-president Lane."...

This was no academic question of economic policy! No legal technicality. The paper fell from Isabelle's hand, and she sat staring at the floor. Her husband was called in plain prose a "grafter,"--one who participated in unearned and improper profits, due to granting favors in his official capacity to himself.

As Isabelle closed the old-fashioned shutters before dressing for dinner, she saw her husband coming up the steps, walking with his slow, powerful stride, his head erect,--the competent, high-minded, generous man, a rock of stable strength, as she had always believed him, even when she loved him least! There must be something wrong with the universe when this man, the best type of hard, intelligent labor, should have become a public robber! ... Renault's solemn words repeated themselves, "The curse of our age, of our country, is its frantic egotism." The predatory instinct, so highly valued in the Anglo-Saxon male, had thriven mightily in a country of people "born free and equal," when such a man as John Lane "grafted" and believed himself justified.

* * * * *

Lane stood behind her chair waiting for her in the dining room. As she entered the room he glanced at her questioningly. He had noticed that the evening paper was not in its usual place in the hall. But after that glance he settled himself composedly for the meal, and while the servants were in the room husband and wife talked of immediate plans. He said he should have to go to New York the next day, and asked what she wished to do. Would she wait here in St. Louis for her mother? Or join her at the Springs? Or open the Farm? He should have to be back and forth between New York and St. Louis all the spring, probably.

Isabelle could answer only in monosyllables. All these details of where she should be seemed irrelevant to the one burning point,--what will you do now, in the face of this verdict of guilt? At last the meal was over, and they were alone. Isabelle, without looking up, said:--

"I saw the verdict in the papers, John."

He made no reply, and she cried:--

"Tell me what you are going to do! We must talk about it."

"The case will be appealed, as I told you before."

"Yes! ... but the fine, the--"

She stopped for lack of the right word. He made a gesture of indifference at the word "fine," but still waited.

"John, is it true what the judge said, what the district attorney said, about--the officials getting money from those coal companies?"

She colored, while Lane eyed her and at last replied irritably:--

"The officers of the road invested their money, like most men, where they saw fit, I suppose."

"But does that mean they take advantage of their position with the road to make money--improperly?"

"That depends on what you call 'improperly.'"

Her mind leaped clear of this evasion; she cried out:--

"But why did you want to make money--so much money? You had a large salary, and I could have had all the money we wanted from my father!"

Her husband looked at her almost contemptuously, as if her remark was too childish for serious consideration. It was axiomatic that all men who had the power desired to make what money they could.

"I certainly never cared to live on your father's money," he retorted.

"But we didn't need so much--"

"I wonder if you realize just how much we have seemed to need in one way or another since we moved East?"

There it was staring her in the face, her share in the responsibility for this situation! She had known only vaguely what they were spending, and always considered that compared with women of her class she was not extravagant, in fact economical.

"But, John, if I had only known--"

"Known what?" he demanded harshly. "Known that I was making money in stocks and bonds, like other men, like your father's friend, Senator Thomas, like Morton, and Beals himself? Isabelle, you seem to have the comprehension of a child! ... Do you think that such men live on salaries?"

"But why weren't the others indicted and tried?"

He hesitated a moment, his face flushing, and then there burst out the truth. She had unwittingly touched the sore spot in his mind.

"Because there had to be some sort of scapegoat to satisfy public clamor! The deals went through my office mostly; but the road is behind me, of course.... They all shared, from Beals down."

At last they were at the heart of the matter, he challenging her criticism, she frightened at the cloudy places in her husband's soul that she had penetrated, when a servant interrupted them, saying that Lane was wanted at the telephone. While he was out of the room, Isabelle thought swiftly. What would be the next word? Was it not better to accept his excuse? "They have all done as I have done, men who are honored and respected. It is universal, what we do, and it is only an accident that I am put up as a target for public abuse!" If she persisted in knowing all, she would merely divide herself farther from her husband, who would resent her attitude. And what right had she to examine and judge, when for all these years she had gone her way and let him go his?

The blood beat in her ears, and she was still uncertain when Lane returned. His face had lost its color of passion, and his voice was subdued as he said:--

"Steve has met with an accident,--a serious one."

"Steve!" Isabelle cried.

"Yes; I think we had better go out there at once. Alice got some one to telephone for her."

The account of the accident had been in that late edition of the penny paper which Isabelle had seen, but it had been crowded into the second page by the magnitude of the Atlantic and Pacific sensation. Lane bought the papers, and they read them on their way to Bryn Mawr. Johnston had been run down as he was going to the station early that Saturday afternoon. It was a heavy motor, running at reduced yet lively speed through the crowded city street. A woman with a child by the hand had stepped from the sidewalk to hail an approaching street-car, without noticing the automobile that was bearing down behind her. Steve had seen their danger, rushed for the woman and pulled her and the child out of the way,--got them clear of the motor. But he was struck, a glancing blow in the back, as the motor sheered off. He had been taken to a drug-store, and reviving quickly had insisted on going home. The driver of the car, apparently a humane person, had waited with a notable display of decency and taken the injured man with the doctor who had attended him at the drug-store to Bryn Mawr.... The reporter for the penny paper had done his best by the accident, describing the thrilling rescue of the woman and child, the unavoidable blow to the rescuer, with all the vividness of his art.

"It was a brave act," Lane remarked, folding up the sheet and putting it in his pocket....

As soon as they entered, Alice came down to them from the sick room. She was pale, but she seemed to Isabelle wonderfully composed and calm,--the steady balance-wheel of the situation. When Steve had first reached home, he had apparently not been badly off, she told them. He had insisted on walking upstairs and said that he would be quite right after he had laid down a little while. So the doctor went back to the city in the motor. But at dinner time, Alice, going into his room, found him breathing heavily, almost unconscious, and his voice had become so thick that she could scarcely make out what he was saying. She had summoned their own doctor, and he had called another from the city. They feared cerebral trouble, due to a lesion of the spinal chord; but nothing could be certainly determined yet.

"Something seems to be on his mind," Alice said in conclusion. "I thought I made out your name, John; so I had you telephoned for. I don't know that it will do any good, but it may quiet him to see you."

While Lane was upstairs, Alice talked on in the composed, capable, self-contained manner that she usually had,--merely speaking a trifle faster, with occasional pauses, as if she were listening for a sound from Steve's room. But the house was painfully still.

... "You see," she explained, "Steve doesn't move quickly,--is too heavy and slow. I suppose that was why he didn't succeed in getting out of the way himself. The car wasn't really going fast, not over eight miles an hour, the chauffeur said.... But Steve saved the woman and child,--they would have been killed."

He had saved the woman and child,--chance strangers in the street,--possibly at the cost of his life or the use of his limbs. There was an ironical note in the tragedy. This stout man with the character in his slow organism that could accomplish great things--this hero of Alice's--had stepped off the sidewalk to save the life of a careless passer-by, and risked his own life, the happiness of his wife and children, in just that little way.

"It was so like Steve,--to realize but one point, _their danger," Alice continued with a proud smile. And Isabelle could see the dull, large-framed man, his head slightly bent, plodding forward in the stream of home-goers on the pavement, suddenly lift his head, and without a moment's hesitation step out into the path of danger....

When Isabelle and John left the house late in the evening, he said gravely, "The doctors don't think there is much chance for him."

"He will die!" Isabelle gasped, thinking of Alice, who had smiled at them cheerily when they went out of the door.

"Perhaps worse than that,--complete paralysis,--the lower limbs are paralyzed now."

"How perfectly awful!"

"I think he knew me. He grasped my hand so hard it hurt, and I could make out my name. But I couldn't understand what he was trying to say."

"Do you suppose it could be the mortgage?"

"Very likely. I must attend to that matter at once."

They were silent on the way back to the city, each buried in thought. The verdict, which had stirred them so deeply a few hours before, had already sunk into the background of life, overshadowed by this nearer, more human catastrophe.

"I shall have to go on to New York to-morrow, for a few days at least," Lane said as they entered the house.

"I will stay here, of course," Isabelle replied, "and you can bring Molly and the governess back with you. I will telegraph them." It was all easily decided, what had seemed perplexing earlier in the evening, when she had been occupied merely with herself and John. "I can be of some help to Alice any way, and if he should die--"

"Yes," Lane agreed. "That is best. I will be back in a week." And he added casually, announcing a decision arrived at on the way to the city:--

"I'll have my lawyer look up that mortgage. You can tell Alice to-morrow and try to get Steve to understand, so that he will have it off his mind as soon as possible."

Her heart responded with a glow. Yes, that was the very thing to do! She had money enough to help them, but she did not know just what to do. It was like John, this sure, quick way of seeing the one thing to be done immediately and doing it. It was like him, too, to do generous things. How many poor boys and young men he had helped along rough roads in their struggle up,--given them the coveted chance in one way and another, without ostentation or theory, simply in the human desire to help another with that surplus strength which had given him his position of vantage.

"I will write the note to Mather now, telling him what to do about the mortgage," he continued in his methodical, undemonstrative manner. As he sat down at the desk and drew pen and paper towards him, he paused a moment. "You will see to the nurses,--they should have two. The doctors may decide on an operation. Have the best men, of course."

He struck pen into the paper with his broad, firm stroke. Isabelle stood watching him, her heart beating strangely, and suddenly leaning over him she kissed his forehead, then fled swiftly to the door.

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PART SEVEN CHAPTER LXXIIIIsabelle did not go back to the court-room to listen to the remaining arguments, not even to hear Mr. Brinkerhoff's learned and ingenious plea in behalf of the rights of capital, the sacred privileges of property. She felt that John would rather not have her there. But Isabelle read every word of the newspaper report of the trial, which since the district attorney's impassioned and powerful plea had excited even greater public interest than before. Not only locally, but throughout the country, the trial of the People vs. the Atlantic and Pacific et al. was recognized as the
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