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   Chapter 3 CONCERNING THE PRACTICE OF LAW

Mr. Crewe's Career -- Complete By Winston Churchill Characters: 28150

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


So instinctively do we hark back to the primeval man that there was a tendency to lionize the prodigal in Ripton, which proves the finished civilization of the East not to be so far removed from that land of outlaws, Pepper County. Mr. Paul Pardriff, who had a guilty conscience about the clipping, and vividly bearing in mind Mr. Blodgett's mishap, alone avoided young Mr. Vane; and escaped through the type-setting room and down an outside stairway in the rear when that gentleman called. It gave an ironical turn to the incident that Mr. Pardriff was at the moment engaged in a "Welcome Home" paragraph meant to be propitiatory.

Austen cared very little for lionizing. He spent most of his time with young Tom Gaylord, now his father's right-hand man in a tremendous lumber business. And Tom, albeit he had become so important, habitually fell once more under the domination of the hero of his youthful days. Together these two visited haunts of their boyhood, camping and fishing and scaling mountains, Tom with an eye to lumbering prospects the while.

After a matter of two or three months bad passed away in this pleasant though unprofitable manner, the Honourable Hilary requested the presence of his son one morning at his office. This office was in what had once been a large residence, and from its ample windows you could look out through the elms on to the square. Old-fashioned bookcases lined with musty books filled the walls, except where a steel engraving of a legal light or a railroad map of the State was hung, and the Honourable Hilary sat in a Windsor chair at a mahogany table in the middle.

The anteroom next door, where the clerks sat, was also a waiting-room for various individuals from the different parts of the State who continually sought the counsel's presence.

"Haven't seen much of you since you've be'n home, Austen," his father remarked as an opening.

"Your-legal business compels you to travel a great deal," answered Austen, turning from the window and smiling.

"Somewhat," said the Honourable Hilary, on whom this pleasantry was not lost. "You've be'n travelling on the lumber business, I take it."

"I know more about it than I did," his son admitted.

The Honourable Hilary grunted.

"Caught a good many fish, haven't you?"

Austen crossed the room and sat on the edge of the desk beside his father's chair.

"See here, Judge," he said, "what are you driving at? Out with it."

"When are you-going back West?" asked Mr. Vane.

Austen did not answer at once, but looked down into his father's inscrutable face.

"Do you want to get rid of me?" he said.

"Sowed enough wild oats, haven't you?" inquired the father.

"I've sowed a good many," Austen admitted.

"Why not settle down?"

"I haven't yet met the lady, Judge," replied his son.

"Couldn't support her if you had," said Mr. Vane.

"Then it's fortunate," said Austen, resolved not to be the necessary second in a quarrel. He knew his father, and perceived that these preliminary and caustic openings of his were really olive branches.

"Sometimes I think you might as well be in that outlandish country, for all I see of you," said the Honourable Hilary.

"You ought to retire from business and try fishing," his son suggested.

The Honourable Hilary sometimes smiled.

"You've got a good brain, Austen, and what's the use of wasting it chasing cattle and practising with a pistol on your fellow-beings? You won't have much trouble in getting admitted to the bar. Come into the office."

Austen did not answer at once. He suspected that it had cost his father not a little to make these advances.

"Do you believe you and I could get along, Judge? How long do you think it would last?"

"I've considered that some," answered the Honourable Hilary, "but I won't last a great while longer myself."

"You're as sound as a bronco," declared Austen, patting him.

"I never was what you might call dissipated," agreed Mr. Vane, "but men don't go on forever. I've worked hard all my life, and got where I am, and I've always thought I'd like to hand it on to you. It's a position of honour and trust, Austen, and one of which any lawyer might be proud."

"My ambition hasn't run in exactly that channel," said his son.

"Didn't know as you had any precise ambition," responded the Honourable Hilary, "but I never heard of a man refusing to be chief counsel for a great railroad. I don't say you can be, mind, but I say with work and brains it's as easy for the son of Hilary Vane as for anybody else."

"I don't know much about the duties of such a position," said Austen, laughing, "but at all events I shall have time to make up my mind how to answer Mr. Flint when he comes to me with the proposal. To speak frankly, Judge, I hadn't thought of spending the whole of what might otherwise prove a brilliant life in Ripton."

The Honourable Hilary smiled again, and then he grunted.

"I tell you what I'll do," he said; "you come in with me and agree to stay five years. If you've done well for yourself, and want to go to New York or some large place at the end of that time, I won't hinder you. But I feel it my duty to say, if you don't accept my offer, no son of mine shall inherit what I've laid up by hard labour. It's against American doctrine, and it's against my principles. You can go back to Pepper County and get put in jail, but you can't say I haven't warned you fairly."

"You ought to leave your fortune to the railroad, Judge," said Austen. "Generations to come would bless your name if you put up a new station in Ripton and built bridges over Bunker Hill grade crossing and the other one on Heath Street where Nic Adams was killed last month. I shouldn't begrudge a cent of the money."

"I suppose I was a fool to talk to you," said the Honourable Hilary, getting up.

But his son pushed him down again into the Windsor chair.

"Hold on, Judge," he said, "that was just my way of saying if I accepted your offer, it wouldn't be because I yearned after the money. Thinking of it has never kept me awake nights. Now if you'll allow me to take a few days once in a while to let off steam, I'll make a counter proposal, in the nature of a compromise."

"What's that?" the Honourable Hilary demanded suspiciously.

"Provided I get admitted to the bar I will take a room in another part of this building and pick up what crumbs of practice I can by myself. Of course, sir, I realize that these, if they come at all, will be owing to the lustre of your name. But I should, before I become Mr. Flint's right-hand man, like to learn to walk with my own legs."

The speech pleased the Honourable Hilary, and he put out his hand.

"It's a bargain, Austen," he said.

"I don't mind telling you now, Judge, that when I left the West I left it for good, provided you and I could live within a decent proximity. And I ought to add that I always intended going into the law after I'd had a fling. It isn't fair to leave you with the impression that this is a sudden determination. Prodigals don't become good as quick as all that."

Ripton caught its breath a second time the day Austen hired a law office, nor did the surprise wholly cease when, in one season, he was admitted to the bar, for the proceeding was not in keeping with the habits and customs of prodigals. Needless to say, the practice did not immediately begin to pour in, but the little office rarely lacked a visitor, and sometimes had as many as five or six. There was an irresistible attraction about that room, and apparently very little law read there, though sometimes its occupant arose and pushed the visitors into the hall and locked the door, and opened the window at the top to let the smoke out. Many of the Honourable Hilary's callers preferred the little room in the far corridor to the great man's own office.

These visitors of the elder Mr. Vane's, as has been before hinted, were not all clients. Without burdening the reader too early with a treatise on the fabric of a system, suffice it to say that something was continually going on that was not law; and gentlemen came and went-fat and thin, sharp-eyed and red-faced-who were neither clients nor lawyers. These were really secretive gentlemen, though most of them had a hail-fellow-well-met manner and a hearty greeting, but when they talked to the Honourable Hilary it was with doors shut, and even then they sat very close to his ear. Many of them preferred now to wait in Austen's office instead of the anteroom, and some of them were not so cautious with the son of Hilary Vane that they did not let drop certain observations to set him thinking. He had a fanciful if somewhat facetious way of calling them by feudal titles which made them grin.

"How is the Duke of Putnam this morning?" he would ask of the gentleman of whom the Ripton Record would frequently make the following announcement: "Among the prominent residents of Putnam County in town this week was the Honourable Brush Bascom."

The Honourable Brush and many of his associates, barons and earls, albeit the shrewdest of men, did not know exactly how to take the son of Hilary Vane. This was true also of the Honourable Hilary himself, who did not wholly appreciate the humour in Austen's parallel of the feudal system. Although Austen had set up for himself, there were many ways-not legal-in which the son might have been helpful to the father, but the Honourable Hilary hesitated, for some unformulated reason, to make use of him; and the consequence was that Mr. Hamilton Tooting and other young men of a hustling nature in the Honourable Hilary's office found that Austen's advent did not tend greatly to lighten a certain class of their labours. In fact, father and son were not much nearer in spirit than when ode had been in Pepper County and the other in Ripton. Caution and an instinct which senses obstacles are characteristics of gentlemen in Mr. Vane's business.

So two years passed,-years liberally interspersed with expeditions into the mountains and elsewhere, and nights spent in the company of Tom Gaylord and others. During this period Austen was more than once assailed by the temptation to return to the free life of Pepper County, Mr. Blodgett having completely recovered now, and only desiring vengeance of a corporal nature. But a bargain was a bargain, and Austen Vane stuck to his end of it, although he had now begun to realize many aspects of a situation which he had not before suspected. He had long foreseen, however, that the time was coming when a serious disagreement with his father was inevitable. In addition to the difference in temperament, Hilary Vane belonged to one generation and Austen to another.

It happened, as do so many incidents which tend to shape a life, by a seeming chance. It was a Tune evening, and there had been a church sociable and basket picnic during the day in a grove in the town of Mercer, some ten miles south of Ripton. The grove was bounded on one side by the railroad track, and merged into a thick clump of second growth and alders where there was a diagonal grade crossing. The picnic was over and the people preparing to go home when they were startled by a crash, followed by the screaming of brakes as a big engine flew past the grove and brought a heavy train to a halt some distance down the grade. The women shrieked and dropped the dishes they were washing, and the men left their horses standing and ran to the crossing and then stood for the moment helpless, in horror at the scene which met their eyes. The wagon of one-of their own congregation was in splinters, a man (a farmer of the neighbourhood) lying among the alders with what seemed a mortal injury. Amid the lamentations and cries for some one to go to Mercer Village for the doctor a young man drove up rapidly and sprang out of a buggy, trusting to some one to catch his horse, pushed, through the ring of people, and bent over the wounded farmer. In an instant he had whipped out a knife, cut a stick from one of the alders, knotted his handkerchief around the man's leg, ran the stick through the knot, and twisted the handkerchief until the blood ceased to flow. They watched him, paralyzed, as the helpless in this world watch the capable, and before he had finished his task the train crew and some passengers began to arrive.

"Have you a doctor aboard, Charley?" the young man asked.

"No," answered the conductor, who had been addressed; "my God, not one, Austen."

"Back up your train," said Austen, "and stop your baggage car here. And go to the grove," he added to one of the picnickers, "and bring four or five carriage cushions. And you hold this."

The man beside him took the tourniquet, as he was bid. Austen Vane drew a note-book from his pocket.

"I want this man's name and address," he said, "and the names and addresses of every person here, quickly."

He did not lift his voice, but the man who had taken charge of such a situation was not to be denied. They obeyed him, some eagerly, some reluctantly, and by that time the train had backed down and the cushions had arrived. They laid these on the floor of the baggage car and lifted the man on to them. His name was Zeb Meader, and he was still insensible. Austen Vane, with a peculiar set look upon his face, sat beside him all the way into Ripton. He spoke only once, and that was to tell the conductor to telegraph from Avalon to have the ambulance from St. Mary's Hospital meet the train at Ripton.

The next day Hilary Vane, returning from one of his periodical trips to the northern part of the State, invaded his son's office.

"What's this they tell me about your saving a man's life?" he asked, sinking into one of the vacant chairs and regarding Austen with his twinkling eyes.

"I don't know what they tell you," Austen answered. "I didn't do anything but get a tourniquet on his leg and have him put on the train."

The Honourable Hilary grunted, and continued to regard his son. Then he cut a piece of Honey Dew.

"

Looks bad, does it?" he said.

"Well," replied Austen, "it might have been done better. It was bungled. In a death-trap as cleverly conceived as that crossing, with a down grade approaching it, they ought to have got the horse too."

The Honourable Hilary grunted again, and inserted the Honey Dew. He resolved to ignore the palpable challenge in this remark, which was in keeping with this new and serious mien in Austen.

"Get the names of witnesses?" was his next question.

"I took particular pains to do so."

"Hand 'em over to Tooting. What kind of man is this Meagre?"

"He is rather meagre now," said Austen, smiling a little. "His name's Meader."

"Is he likely to make a fuss?"

"I think he is," said Austen.

"Well," said the Honourable Hilary, "we must have Ham Tooting hurry 'round and fix it up with him as soon as he can talk, before one of these cormorant lawyers gets his claw in him."

Austen said nothing, and after some desultory conversation, in which he knew how to indulge when he wished to conceal the fact that he was baffled, the Honourable Hilary departed. That student of human nature, Mr. Hamilton Tooting, a young man of a sporting appearance and a free vocabulary, made the next attempt. It is a characteristic of Mr. Tooting's kind that, in their efforts to be genial, they often use an awkward diminutive of their friends' names.

"Hello, Aust," said Mr. Tooting, "I dropped in to get those witnesses in that Meagre accident, before I forget it."

"I think I'll keep 'em," said Austen, making a note out of the Revised Statutes.

"Oh, all right, all right," said Mr. Tooting, biting off a piece of his cigar. "Going to handle the case yourself, are you?"

"I may."

"I'm just as glad to have some of 'em off my hands, and this looks to me like a nasty one. I don't like those Mercer people. The last farmer they ran over there raised hell."

"I shouldn't blame this one if he did, if he ever gets well enough," said Austen. Young Mr. Tooting paused with a lighted match halfway to his cigar and looked at Austen shrewdly, and then sat down on the desk very close to him.

"Say, Aust, it sometimes sickens a man to have to buy these fellows off. What? Poor devils, they don't get anything like what they ought to get, do they? Wait till you see how the Railroad Commission'll whitewash that case. It makes a man want to be independent. What?"

"This sounds like virtue, Ham."

"I've often thought, too," said Mr. Tooting, "that a man could make more money if he didn't wear the collar."

"But not sleep as well, perhaps," said Austen.

"Say, Aust, you're not on the level with me."

"I hope to reach that exalted plane some day, Ham."

"What's got into you?" demanded the usually clear-headed Mr. Tooting, now a little bewildered.

"Nothing, yet," said Austen, "but I'm thinking seriously of having a sandwich and a piece of apple pie. Will you come along?"

They crossed the square together, Mr. Tooting racking a normally fertile brain for some excuse to reopen the subject. Despairing of that, he decided that any subject would do.

"That Humphrey Crewe up at Leith is smart-smart as paint," he remarked. "Do you know him?"

"I've seen him," said Austen. "He's a young man, isn't he?"

"And natty. He knows a thing or two for a millionaire that don't have to work, and he runs that place of his right up to the handle. You ought to hear him talk about the tariff, and national politics. I was passing there the other day, and he was walking around among the flowerbeds. 'Ain't your name Tooting?' he hollered. I almost fell out of the buggy."

"What did he want?" asked Austen, curiously. Mr. Tooting winked.

"Say, those millionaires are queer, and no mistake. You'd think a fellow that only had to cut coupons wouldn't be lookin' for another job, wouldn't you? He made me hitch my horse, and had me into his study, as he called it, and gave me a big glass of whiskey and soda. A fellow with buttons and a striped vest brought it on tiptoe. Then this Crewe gave me a long yellow cigar with a band on it and told me what the State needed,-macadam roads, farmers' institutes, forests, and God knows what. I told him all he had to do was to get permission from old man Flint, and he could have 'em."

"What did he say to that?"

"He said Flint was an intimate friend of his. Then he asked me a whole raft of questions about fellows in the neighbourhood I didn't know he'd ever heard of. Say, he wants to go from Leith to the Legislature."

"He can go for all I care," said Austen, as he pushed open the door of the restaurant.

For a few days Mr. Meader hung between life and death. But he came of a stock which had for generations thrust its roots into the crevices of granite, and was not easily killed by steam-engines. Austen Vane called twice, and then made an arrangement with young Dr. Tredway (one of the numerous Ripton Tredways whose money had founded the hospital) that he was to see Mr. Meader as soon as he was able to sustain a conversation. Dr. Tredway, by the way, was a bachelor, and had been Austen's companion on many a boisterous expedition.

When Austen, in response to the doctor's telephone message, stood over the iron bed in the spick-and-span men's ward of St. Mary's, a wave of that intense feeling he had experienced at the accident swept over him. The farmer's beard was overgrown, and the eyes looked up at him as from caverns of suffering below the bandage. They were shrewd eyes, however, and proved that Mr. Meader had possession of the five senses-nay, of the six. Austen sat down beside the bed.

"Dr. Tredway tells me you are getting along finely," he said.

"No thanks to the railrud," answered Mr. Meader; "they done their best."

"Did you hear any whistle or any bell?" Austen asked.

"Not a sound," said Mr. Meader; "they even shut off their steam on that grade."

Austen Vane, like most men who are really capable of a deep sympathy, was not an adept at expressing it verbally. Moreover, he knew enough of his fellow-men to realize that a Puritan farmer would be suspicious of sympathy. The man had been near to death himself, was compelled to spend part of the summer, his bread-earning season, in a hospital, and yet no appeal or word of complaint had crossed his lips.

"Mr. Meader," said Austen, "I came over here to tell you that in my opinion you are entitled to heavy damages from the railroad, and to advise you not to accept a compromise. They will send some one to you and offer you a sum far below that which you ought in justice to receive, You ought to fight this case."

"How am I going to pay a lawyer, with a mortgage on my farm?" demanded Mr. Meader.

"I'm a lawyer," said Austen, "and if you'll take me, I'll defend you without charge."

"Ain't you the son of Hilary Vane?"

"Yes."

"I've heard of him a good many times," said Mr. Meader, as if to ask what man had not. "You're railroad, ain't ye?"

Mr. Meader gazed long and thoughtfully into the young man's face, and the suspicion gradually faded from the farmer's blue eyes.

"I like your looks," he said at last. "I guess you saved my life. I'm-I'm much obliged to you."

When Mr. Tooting arrived later in the day, he found Mr. Meader willing to listen, but otherwise strangely non-committal. With native shrewdness, the farmer asked him what office he came from, but did not confide in Mr. Tooting the fact that Mr. Vane's son had volunteered to wring more money from Mr. Vane's client than Mr. Tooting offered him. Considerably bewildered, that gentleman left the hospital to report the affair to the Honourable Hilary, who, at intervals during the afternoon, found himself relapsing into speculation.

Inside of a somewhat unpromising shell, Mr. Zeb Meader was a human being, and no mean judge of men and motives. As his convalescence progressed, Austen Vane fell into the habit of dropping in from time to time to chat with him, and gradually was rewarded by many vivid character sketches of Mr. Meader's neighbours in Mercer and its vicinity. One afternoon, when Austen came into the ward, he found at Mr. Meader's bedside a basket of fruit which looked too expensive and tempting to have come from any dealer's in Ripton.

"A lady came with that," Mr. Meader explained. "I never was popular before I was run over by the cars. She's be'n here twice. When she fetched it to-day, I kind of thought she was up to some, game, and I didn't want to take it."

"Up to some game?" repeated Austen.

"Well, I don't know," continued Mr. Meader, thoughtfully, "the woman here tells me she comes regular in the summer time to see sick folks, but from the way she made up to me I had an idea that she wanted something. But I don't know. Thought I'd ask you. You see, she's railrud."

"Railroad!"

"She's Flint's daughter."

Austen laughed.

"I shouldn't worry about that," he said. "If Mr. Flint sent his daughter with fruit to everybody his railroad injures, she wouldn't have time to do anything else. I doubt if Mr. Flint ever heard of your case."

Mr. Meader considered this, and calculated there was something in it.

"She was a nice, common young lady, and cussed if she didn't make me laugh, she has such a funny way of talkin'. She wanted to know all about you."

"What did she want to know?" Austen exclaimed, not unnaturally.

"Well, she wanted to know about the accident, and I told her how you druv up and screwed that thing around my leg and backed the train down. She was a good deal took with that."

"I think you are inclined to make too much of it," said Austen.

Three days later, as he was about to enter the ward, Mr. Meader being now the only invalid there, he heard a sound which made him pause in the doorway. The sound was feminine laughter of a musical quality that struck pleasantly on Austen's ear. Miss Victoria Flint was sated beside Mr. Meader's bed, and qualified friendship had evidently been replaced by intimacy since Austen's last visit, for Mr. Meader was laughing, too.

"And now I'm quite sure you have missed your vocation, Mr. Meader," said Victoria. "You would have made a fortune on the stage."

"Me a play-actor!" exclaimed the invalid. "How much wages do they git?"

"Untold sums," she declared, "if they can talk like you."

"He kind of thought that story funny-same as you," Mr. Meader ruminated, and glanced up. "Drat me," he remarked, "if he ain't a-comin' now! I callated he'd run acrost you sometime."

Victoria raised her eyes, sparkling with humour, and they met Austen's.

"We was just talkin' about you," cried Mr. Meader, cordially; "come right in." He turned to Victoria. "I want to make you acquainted," he said, "with Austen Vane."

"And won't you tell him who I am, Mr. Meader?" said Victoria.

"Well," said Mr. Meader, apologetically, "that was stupid of me-wahn't it? But I callated he'd know. She's the daughter of the railrud president-the 'one that was askin' about you."

There was an instant's pause, and the colour stole into Victoria's cheeks. Then she glanced at Austen and bit her lip-and laughed. Her laughter was contagious.

"I suppose I shall have to confess that you have inspired my curiosity, Mr. Vane," she said.

Austen's face was sunburned, but it flushed a more vivid red under the tan. It is needless to pretend that a man of his appearance and qualities had reached the age of thirty-two without having listened to feminine comments of which he was the exclusive subject. In this remark of Victoria's, or rather in the manner in which she made it, he recognized a difference.

"It is a tribute, then, to the histrionic talents of Mr. Meader, of which you were speaking," he replied laughingly.

Victoria glanced at him with interest as he looked down at Mr. Meader.

"And how is it to-day, Zeb?" he said.

"It ain't so bad as it might be-with sech folks as her and you araound," admitted Mr. Meader. "I'd almost agree to get run over again. She was askin' about you, and that's a fact, and I didn't slander you, neither. But I never callated to comprehend wimmen-folks."

"Now, Mr. Meader," said Victoria, reprovingly, but there were little creases about her eyes, "don't be a fraud."

"It's true as gospel," declared the invalid; "they always got the better of me. I had one of 'em after me once, when I was young and prosperin' some."

"And yet you have survived triumphant," she exclaimed.

"There wahn't none of 'em like you," said Mr. Meader, "or it might have be'n different."

Again her eyes irresistibly sought Austen's,-as though to share with him the humour of this remark,-and they laughed together. Her colour, so sensitive, rose again, but less perceptibly this time. Then she got up.

"That's unfair, Mr. Meader!" she protested.

"I'll leave it to Austen," said Mr. Meader, "if it ain't probable. He'd ought to know."

In spite of a somewhat natural embarrassment, Austen could not but acknowledge to himself that Mr. Meader was right. With a womanly movement which he thought infinitely graceful, Victoria leaned over the bed.

"Mr. Meader," she said, "I'm beginning to think it's dangerous for me to come here twice a week to see you, if you talk this way. And I'm not a bit surprised that that woman didn't get the better of you."

"You hain't a-goin'!" he exclaimed. "Why, I callated-"

"Good-by," she said quickly; "I'm glad to see that you are doing so well." She raised her head and looked at Austen in a curious, inscrutable way. "Good-by, Mr. Vane," she said; "I-I hope Mr. Blodgett has recovered."

Before he could reply she had vanished, and he was staring at the empty doorway. The reference to the unfortunate Mr. Blodgett, after taking his breath away, aroused in him an intense curiosity betraying, as it did, a certain knowledge of past events in his life in the hitherto unknown daughter of Augustus interest could she have in him? Such a Flint. What question, from similar sources, has heightened the pulse of young men from time immemorial.

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