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mills of the years grind many grists besides the trickling stream of the
hours: would he find Miss Brentwood as he had left her? Could he be sure
of meeting her on the frank, friendly footing of the Croydon summer? He
feared not; feared all things - lover-like.

He hoped there would be no absence-reared barrier to be painfully leveled.
A man among men, a leader in some sort, and in battle a soldier who could
hew his way painstakingly, if not dramatically, to his end, David Kent was
no carpet knight, and he knew his lack. Would Elinor make things easy for
him, as she used to daily in the somewhat difficult social atmosphere of
the exclusive summer hotel?

Measuring it out in all its despairing length and breadth after the fact,
he was deeply grateful to Penelope. Missing her ready help at the moment
of cataclysms when he entered the sleeping-car, he might have betrayed
himself. His first glance lighted on Elinor and Ormsby, and he needed no
gloss on the love-text. He had delayed too long; had asked too much of the
Fates, and Atropos, the scissors-bearing sister, had snipped his thread of
hope.

It is one of the consequences of civilization that we are denied the
privilege of unmasking at the behest of the elemental emotions; that we
are constrained to bleed decorously. Making shift to lean heavily on
Penelope, Kent came through without doing or saying anything unseemly.
Mrs. Brentwood, who had been sleeping with one eye open, and that eye upon
Elinor and Ormsby, made sure that she had now no special reason to be
ungracious to David Kent. For the others, Ormsby was good-naturedly suave;
Elinor was by turns unwontedly kind and curiously silent; and
Penelope - but, as we say, it was to Penelope that Kent owed most.

So it came about that the outcome of the cataclysm was a thing which
happens often enough in a conventionalized world. David Kent, with his
tragedy fresh upon him, dropped informally into place as one of the party
of five; and of all the others, Penelope alone suspected how hard he was
hit. And when all was said; when the new _modus vivendi_ had been fairly
established and the hour grew late, Kent went voluntarily with Ormsby to
the smoking-compartment, "to play the string out decently," as he
afterward confessed to Loring.

"I see you know how to get the most comfort out of your tobacco," said the
club-man, when they were companionably settled in the men's room and Kent
produced his pipe and tobacco pouch. "I prefer the pipe myself, for a
steady thing; but at this time of night a light Castilla fits me pretty
well. Try one?" tendering his cigar-case.

Fighting shrewdly against a natural prompting to regard Ormsby as an
hereditary enemy, Kent forced himself to be neighborly.

"I don't mind," he said, returning the pipe to its case. And when the
Havanas were well alight, and the talk had circled down upon the political
situation in the State, he was able to bear his part with a fair exterior,
giving Ormsby an impressionistic outline of the late campaign and the
conditions that had made the sweeping triumph of the People's Party
possible.

"We have been coming to it steadily through the last administration, and a
part of the preceding one," he explained. "Last year the drought cut the
cereals in half, and the country was too new to stand it without
borrowing. There was little local capital, and the eastern article was
hungry, taking all the interest the law allows, and as much more as it
could get. This year the crop broke all records for abundance, but the
price is down and the railroads, trying to recoup for two bad years, have
stiffened the freight rates. The net result is our political overturn."

"Then the railroads and the corporations are not primarily to blame?" said
Ormsby.

"Oh, no. Corporations here, as elsewhere, are looking out for the present
dollar, but if the country were generally prosperous, the people would pay
the tax carelessly, as they do in the older sections. With us it has been
a sort of Donnybrook Fair: the agricultural voter has shillalahed the head
he could reach most easily."

The New Yorker nodded. His millions were solidly placed, and he took no
more than a sportsman's interest in the fluctuations of the stock market.

"Of course, there have been all sorts of rumors East: 'bull' prophecies
that the triumph of the new party means an era of unexampled prosperity
for the State - and by consequence for western stocks; 'bear' growlings
that things are sure to go to the bow-wows under the Bucks régime. What do
you think of it?"

Kent blew a series of smoke rings and watched them rise to become a part
of the stratified tobacco cloud overhead before replying.

"I may as well confess that I am not entirely an unprejudiced observer,"
he admitted. "For one thing, I am in the legal department of one of the
best-hated of the railroads; and for another, Governor Bucks, Meigs, the
attorney-general, and Hendricks, the new secretary of State, are men whom
I know as, it is safe to say, the general public doesn't know them. If I
could be sure that these three men are going to be able to control their
own party majority in the Assembly, I should take the first train East and
make my fortune selling tips in Wall Street."

"You put it graphically. Then the Bucks idea is likely to prove a
disturbing element on 'Change?"

"It is; always providing it can dominate its own majority. But this is by
no means certain. The political earthquake is essentially a popular
protest against hard conditions brought about, as the voters seem to
believe, by the oppressions of the alien corporations and extortionate
railroad rates. Yet there are plenty of steady-going, conservative men in
the movement; men who have no present idea of revolutionizing things.
Marston, the lieutenant-governor, is one of that kind. It all depends on
whether these men will allow themselves to be whipped into line by the
leaders, who, as I am very well convinced, are a set of conscienceless
demagogues, fighting solely for their own hand."

Ormsby nodded again.

"You are likely to have good hunting this winter, Mr. Kent. It hasn't
begun yet, I take it?"

"Oh, no; the Assembly does not convene for a fortnight, and nobody short
of an inspired prophet can foretell what legislation will be sprung. But
one thing is safe to count on: the leaders are out for spoils. They mean
to rob somebody, and, if my guess is worth anything, they are sharp enough
to try first to get their schemes legalized by having enabling laws passed
by the Assembly."

"Um," said the eastern man. Then he took the measure of his companion in a
shrewd overlook. "You are the man on the ground, Mr. Kent, and I'll ask a
straightforward question. If you had a friend owning stock in one of the
involved railways, what would you advise?"

Kent smiled.

"We needn't make it a hypothetical case. If I had the right to advise Mrs.
Brentwood and her daughters, I should counsel them to sit tight in the
boat for the present."

"Would you? But Western Pacific has gone off several points already."

"I know it has; and unfortunately, Mrs. Brentwood bought in at the top of
the market. That is why I counsel delay. If she sells now, she is sure to
lose. If she holds on, there is an even chance for a spasmodic upward
reaction before worse things happen."

"Perhaps: you know more about the probabilities than I pretend to. But on
the other hand, she may lose more if she holds on."

Kent bit deep into his cigar.

"We must see to it that she doesn't lose, Mr. Ormsby."

The club-man laughed broadly.

"Isn't that a good bit like saying that the shallop must see to it that
the wind doesn't blow too hard for it?"

"Possibly. But in the sorriest wreck there is usually some small chance
for salvage. I understand Mrs. Brentwood's holding is not very large?"

"A block of some three thousand shares, held jointly by her and her two
daughters, I believe."

"Exactly: not enough to excite anybody's cupidity; and yet enough to turn
the scale if there should ever be a fight for a majority control."

"There is no such fight in prospect, is there?"

"No; not that I know of. But I was thinking of the possibilities. If a
smash comes there will be a good deal of horse-swapping in the middle of
the stream - buying up of depressed stocks by people who need the lines
worse than the original owners do."

"I see," said Ormsby. "Then you would counsel delay?"

"I should; and I'll go a step farther. I am on the inside, in a way, and
any hint I can give you for Miss - for Mrs. Brentwood's benefit shall be
promptly forthcoming."

"By Jove! that's decent," said Ormsby, heartily. "You are a friend worth
having, Mr. Kent. But which 'inside' do you mean - the railroad or the
political?"

"Oh, the railroad, of course. And while I think of it, my office will be
in the Quintard Building; and you - I suppose you will put up at the
Wellington?"

"For the present, we all shall. It is Mrs. Brentwood's notion to take a
furnished house later on for herself and daughters, if she can find one.
I'll keep in touch with you."

"Do. It may come to a bit of quick wiring when our chance arrives. You
know Loring - Grantham Loring?"

"Passably well. I came across him one summer in the mountains of Peru,
where he was managing a railroad. He is a mighty good sort. I had mountain
fever, and he took me in and did for me."

"He is with us now," said David Kent; "the newly appointed general manager
of the Western Pacific."

"Good!" said the club-man "I think a lot of him; he is an all-around
dependable fellow, and plenty capable. I'm glad to know he has caught on
higher up."

The locomotive whistle was droning again, and a dodging procession of
red-eyed switch-lights flicked past the windows. Kent stood up and flung
away the stump of his cigar.

"The capital," he announced. "I'll go back with you and help out with the
shawl-strap things." And in the vestibule he added: "I spoke of Loring
because he will be with us in anything we have to do in Mrs. Brentwood's
behalf. Look him up when you have time - fourth floor of the Quintard."




VI


OF THE MAKING OF LAWS

The session, the shortest in the history of the State, and thus far the
least eventful, was nearing its close; and the alarmists who had
prophesied evil and evil only of the "Populist" victory were fast losing
credit with the men of their own camp and with the country at large.

After the orthodox strife over the speakership of the House, and the
equally orthodox wrangle over contested seats, the State Assembly had
settled down to routine business, despatching it with such unheard-of
celerity as to win columns of approval from the State press as a whole;
though there were not wanting a few radical editors to raise the
ante-election cry of reform, and to ask pointedly when it was to begin.

Notwithstanding the lack of alarms, however, the six weeks had been a
period of unceasing vigilance on the part of the interests which were
supposed to be in jeopardy. Every alien corporation owning property and
doing business in the State had its quota of watchful defenders on the
ground; men who came and went, in the lobbies of the capitol, in the
visitors' galleries, at the receptions; men who said little, but who saw
and heard all things down to the small talk of the corridors and the
clubs, and the gossip of the hotel rotundas.

David Kent was of this silent army of observation, doing watch-dog duty
for the Western Pacific; thankful enough, if the truth be told, to have a
thing to do which kept him from dwelling overmuch upon the wreck of his
hopes. But in the closing days of the session, when a despatchful
Assembly, anxious to be quit of its task, had gone into night sittings,
the anodyne drug of work began to lose its effect.

The Brentwoods had taken furnished apartments in Tejon Avenue, two squares
from the capitol, and Kent had called no oftener than good breeding
prescribed. Yet their accessibility, and his unconquerable desire to sear
his wound in the flame that had caused it, were constant temptations, and
he was battling with them for the hundredth time on the Friday night when
he sat in the House gallery listening to a perfunctory debate which
concerned itself with a bill touching State water-ways.

"Heavens! This thing is getting to be little short of deadly!" fumed
Crenshawe, his right-hand neighbor, who was also a member of the corps of
observation. "I'm going to the club for a game of pool. Won't you come
along?"

Kent nodded and left his seat with the bored one. But in the great rotunda
he changed his mind.

"You'll find plenty of better players than I am at the club," he said in
extenuation. "I think I'll smoke a whiff or two here and go back. They
can't hold on much longer for to-night."

Five minutes later, when he had lighted a cigar and was glancing over the
evening paper, two other members of the corporation committee of safety
came down from the Senate gallery and stopped opposite Kent's pillar to
struggle into their overcoats.

"It's precisely as I wrote our people two weeks ago - timidity scare, pure
and simple," one of them was saying. "I've a mind to start home to-morrow.
There is nothing doing here, or going to be done."

"No," said the other. "If it wasn't for House Bill Twenty-nine, I'd go
to-night. They will adjourn to-morrow or Monday."

"House Bill Twenty-nine is much too dead to bury," was the reassuring
rejoinder. "The committee is ours, and the bill will not be heard of again
at this session. If that is all you are holding on for - - "

They passed out of earshot, and Kent folded his newspaper absently. House
Bill Twenty-nine had been the one measure touching the sensitive "vested
interests"; the one measure for the suppression of which the corporations'
lobby had felt called on to take steps. It was an omnibus bill put forth
as a substitute for the existing law defining the status of foreign
corporations. It had originated in the governor's office, - a fact which
Kent had ferreted out within twenty-four hours of its first reading, - and
for that reason he had procured a printed copy, searching it diligently
for the hidden menace he was sure it embodied.

When the search proved fruitless, he had seen the bill pass the House by a
safe majority, had followed it to the Senate, and in a cunningly worded
amendment tacked on in the upper house had found what he was seeking.
Under the existing law foreign corporations were subject to State
supervision, and were dealt with as presumably unfriendly aliens. But the
Senate amendment to House Bill Twenty-nine fairly swept the interstate
corporations, as such, out of existence, by making it obligatory upon them
to acquire the standing of local corporations. Charters were to be refiled
with the secretary of State; resident directories and operating
headquarters were to be established within the boundaries and jurisdiction
of the State; in short, the State proposed, by the terms of the new law,
to deal only with creatures of its own creation.

Kent saw, or thought he saw, the fine hand of the junto in all this. It
was a still hunt in which the longest way around was the shortest way
home. Like all new-country codes, the organic law of the State favored
local corporations, and it might be argued that a bill placing the foreign
companies on a purely local footing was an unmixed blessing to the aliens.
But on the other hand, an unprincipled executive might easily make the new
law an engine of extortion. To go no further into the matter than the
required refiling of charters: the State constitution gave the secretary
of State quasi-judicial powers. It was within his province to pass upon
the applications for chartered rights, and to deny them if the question
_pro bono publico_ were involved.

Kent put two and two together, saw the wide door of exactions which might
be opened, and passed the word of warning among his associates; after
which he had watched the course of the amended House Bill Twenty-nine with
interest sharp-set, planning meanwhile with Hildreth, the editor of the
_Daily Argus_, an exposé which should make plain the immense possibilities
for corruption opened up by the proposed law; a journalistic salvo of
publicity to be fired as a last resort.

The measure as amended had passed the Senate without debate, and had gone
back to the House. Here, after the second reading, and in the very hour
when the _Argus_ editorial was getting itself cast in the linotypes, there
was a hitch. The member from the Rio Blanco, favoring the measure in all
its parts, and fearful only lest corporation gold might find a technical
flaw in it, moved that it be referred to the committee on judiciary for a
report on its constitutionality; and, accordingly, to the committee on
judiciary it had gone.

Kent recalled the passing of the crisis, remembering how he had hastened
to telephone the _Argus_ editor to kill the exposé at the last moment. The
incident was now a month in the past, and the committee had not yet
reported; would never report, Kent imagined. He knew the personnel of the
committee on judiciary; knew that at least three members of it were down
on the list, made up at the beginning of the session by his colleagues in
the army of observation, as "approachables". Also, he knew by inference at
least, that these three men had been approached, not without success, and
that House Bill Twenty-nine, with its fee-gathering amendment, was safely
shelved.

"It's an ill-smelling muck-heap!" he frowned, recalling the incidents of
the crisis at the suggestion let fall by the two outgoing lobbyists. "And
so much of this dog-watch as isn't sickeningly demoralizing is deadly
dull, as Crenshawe puts it. If I had anywhere to go, I'd cut the galleries
for to-night."

He was returning the newspaper to his pocket when it occurred to him that
his object in buying it had been to note the stock quotations; a daily
duty which, for Elinor's sake, he had never omitted. Whereupon he reopened
it and ran his eye down the lists. There was a decided upward tendency in
westerns. Overland Short Line had gained two points; and Western
Pacific - -

He held the paper under the nearest electric globe to make sure: Western
Pacific, preferred, was quoted at fifty-eight and a half, which was one
point and a half above the Brentwood purchase price.

One minute later an excited life-saver was shut in the box of the public
telephone, gritting his teeth at the inanity of the central operator who
insisted on giving him "A-1224" instead of "A-1234," the Hotel Wellington.

"No, no! Can't you understand? I want twelve-thirty-four; one, two,
_three_, four; the Hotel Wellington."

There was more skirling of bells, another nerve-trying wait, and at last
the clerk of the hotel answered.

"What name did you say? Oh, it's you, is it, Mr. Kent? Ormsby? Mr. Brookes
Ormsby? No, he isn't here; he went out about two minutes ago. What's that
you say? _Damn_? Well, I'm sorry, too. No message that I can take? All
right. Good-by."

This was the beginning. For the middle part Kent burst out of the
telephone-box and took the nearest short-cut through the capitol grounds
for the street-car corner. At a quarter of nine he was cross-questioning
the clerk face to face in the lobby of the Wellington. There was little
more to be learned about Ormsby. The club-man had left his key and gone
out. He was in evening dress, and had taken a cab at the hotel entrance.

Kent dashed across to his rooms and, in a feverish race against time, made
himself fit to chase a man in evening dress. There was no car in sight
when he came down, and he, too, took a cab with an explosive order to the
driver: "124 Tejon Avenue, and be quick about it!"

It was the housemaid that answered his ring at the door of the Brentwood
apartment. She was a Swede, a recent importation; hence Kent learned
nothing beyond the bare fact that the ladies had gone out. "With Mr.
Ormsby?" he asked.

"Yaas; Aye tank it vill pee dat yentlemans."

The pursuer took the road again, rather unhopefully. There were a dozen
places where Ormsby might have taken his charges. Among them there was the
legislative reception at Portia Van Brock's. Kent flipped a figurative
coin, and gave the order for Alameda Square. The reception was perhaps the
least unlikely place of the dozen.

He was no more than fashionably late at the Van Brock house, and
fortunately he was able to reckon himself among the chosen few for whom
Miss Portia's door swung on hospitable hinges at all hours. Loring had
known her in Washington, and he had stood sponsor for Kent in the first
week of the exile's residence at the capital. Thereafter she had taken
Kent up on his own account, and by now he was deep in her debt. For one
thing, she had set the fashion in the matter of legislative
receptions - her detractors, knowing nothing whatever about it, hinted that
she had been an amateur social lobbyist in Washington, playing the game
for the pure zest of it - and at these functions Kent had learned many
things pertinent to his purpose as watch-dog for the railroad company and
legal adviser to his chief - things not named openly on the floor of the
House or of the Senate chamber.

There was a crush in the ample mansion in Alameda Square, as there always
was at Miss Van Brock's "open evenings," and when Kent came down from the
cloakroom he had to inch his way by littles through the crowded
reception-parlors in the search for the Brentwood party. It was
unsuccessful at first; but later, catching a glimpse of Elinor at the
piano, and another of Penelope inducting an up-country legislator into the
mysteries of social small-talk, he breathed freer. His haphazard guess had
hit the mark, and the finding of Ormsby was now only a question of
moments.

It was Miss Van Brock herself who told him where to look for the
club-man - though not at his first asking.

"You did come, then," she said, giving him her hand with a frank little
smile of welcome. "Some one said you were not going to be frivolous any
more, and I wondered if you would take it out on me. Have you been at the
night session?"

"Yes; at what you and your frivolities have left of it. A good third of
the Solons seem to be sitting in permanence in Alameda Square."

"'Solons'," she repeated. "That recalls Editor Brownlo's little joke - only
he didn't mean it. He wrote of them as 'Solons,' but the printer got it
'solans'. The member from Caliente read the article and the word stuck in
his mind. In an unhappy hour he asked Colonel Mack's boy - Harry, the
irrepressible, you know - to look it up for him. Harry did it, and of
course took the most public occasion he could find to hand in his answer.
'It's geese, Mr. Hackett!' he announced triumphantly; and after we were
all through laughing at him the member from the warm place turned it just
as neatly as a veteran. 'Well, I'm Hackett,' he said."

David Kent laughed, as he was in duty bound, but he still had Ormsby on
his mind.

"I see you have Mrs. Brentwood and her daughters here: can you tell me
where I can find Mr. Brookes Ormsby?"

"I suppose I could if I should try. But you mustn't hurry me. There is a
vacant corner in that davenport beyond the piano: please put me there and
fetch me an ice. I'll wait for you."

He did as he was bidden, and when she was served he stood over her,
wondering, as other men had wondered, what was the precise secret of her
charm. Loring had told him Miss Van Brock's story. She was southern born,
the only child of a somewhat ill-considered match between a young
California lawyer, wire-pulling in the national capital in the interest of
the Central Pacific Railroad, and a Virginia belle tasting the delights of
her first winter in Washington.

Later, the young lawyer's state, or his employers, had sent him to
Congress; and Portia, left motherless in her middle childhood, had grown
up in an atmosphere of statecraft, or what passes for such, in an era of
frank commercialism. Inheriting her mother's rare beauty of face and form,
and uniting with it a sympathetic gift in grasp of detail, political and
other, she soon became her father's confidante and loyal partizan, taking
the place, as a daughter might, of the ambitious young wife and mother,
who had set her heart on seeing the Van Brock name on the roll of the
United States Senate.

Rensselaer Van Brock had died before the senatorial dream could be
realized, but not before he had made a sufficient number of lucky
investments to leave his daughter the arbitress of her own future. What
that future should be, not even Loring could guess. Since her father's


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