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Toppleton's Client; Or, A Spirit in Exile By John Kendrick Bangs Characters: 14403

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Mr. Hopkins Toppleton, Barrister of London and New York, was considered by his intimates a most fortunate young man. He was accounted the happy possessor of an income of something over fifty thousand dollars a year, derived from investments which time had shown to be as far removed from instability, and as little influenced by the fluctuations of the stock market, as the pyramids of Egypt themselves. Better than this, however, better even than personal beauty, with which he was plentifully endowed, Mr. Hopkins Toppleton was blessed with a great name, which he had received ready-made from his illustrious father, late head of the legal firm of Toppleton, Morley, Harkins, Perkins, Mawson, Bronson, Smithers and Hicks. The value of the name to Hopkins was unquestionable, since it enabled him, at his father's death, to enter that famous aggregation of legal talent as a special partner, although his knowledge of law was scant, receiving a share of the profits of the concern for the use of his patronymic, which, owing to his father's pre-eminent success at the Bar, Messrs. Morley, Harkins, et al., were anxious to retain. This desire of Mr. Toppleton's late associates was most natural, for such was the tremendous force exerted by the name he bore, that plaintiffs when they perceived it arrayed in opposition to their claims, not infrequently withdrew their suits, or offered terms upon which any defendant of sense might be induced to compromise. On the other hand, when a defendant found himself confronted with the fact that Hopkins Toppleton, Sen., had joined forces with the plaintiff, he usually either settled the claim against him in full or placed himself beyond the jurisdiction of the courts.

When Toppleton, Sen., died, it was very generally believed that the firm, whose name has already been mentioned at some length, lost not only its head, but also a very large proportion of its brains,-a situation quite as logical as it was unfortunate for the gentlemen with whom Mr. Toppleton had been associated. Nor was this feeling, that with the departure of Toppleton, the illustrious, for other worlds the firm was deprived of a most considerable portion of its claims to high standing, confined to cavilling outsiders. No one recognized the unhappy state of affairs at the busy office on Broadway more quickly than did Messrs. Morley, Harkins, Perkins, Mawson, Bronson, Smithers, and Hicks themselves, and at the first meeting of the firm, after the funeral of their dead partner, these gentlemen unanimously resolved that something must be done.

It was at this meeting that Mr. Hicks suggested that the only course left for the bereaved firm to pursue, if it desired to remain an aggressive force in its chosen profession, was to retain the name of Toppleton at the mast-head, and, as Mr. Mawson put it, "to bluff it out." Mr. Perkins agreed with Mr. Hicks, and suggested that the only honest way to do this was to induce Mr. Toppleton's only son, known to all-even to the clerks in the office-as Hoppy, to enter the firm as a full partner.

"I do not think," Mr. Perkins said, "that it is quite proper for us to assume a virtue that we do not possess, and while Hoppy-I should say Hopkins-has never studied law, I think he could be induced to do so, in which event he could be taken in here, and we should have a perfectly equitable claim to all the business which the name of Toppleton would certainly bring to us."

"I am afraid," Mr. Bronson put in at this point, "I am very much afraid that such a course would require the entire reorganization of the firm's machinery. It would never do for the member whose name stands at the head of our partnership designation, to be on such terms of intimacy with the office boys, for instance, as to permit of his being addressed by them as Hoppy; nor would it conduce toward good discipline, I am convinced, for the nominal head of the concern to be engaged in making pools on baseball games with our book-keepers and clerks, which, during his lamented father's life, I understand was one of the lad's most cherished customs. Now, while I agree with my friend Perkins that it is desirable that the firm should have an unassailable basis for its retention of the name of Toppleton, I do not agree with him that young Hopkins should be taken in here if we are to retain our present highly efficient force of subordinates. They would be utterly demoralized in less than a month."

"But what do you suggest as an alternative?" inquired Mr. Morley.

"I believe that we should make Hopkins a special partner in the firm, and have him travel abroad for his health," returned Mr. Bronson after a moment's reflection.

"I regret to say," objected Mr. Hicks, "that Hoppy's health is distressingly good. Your point in regard to the probable demoralization of our office force, however, is well taken. Hopkins must go abroad if he becomes one of us; but I suggest that instead of sending him for his health, we establish a London branch office, and put him in charge on a salary of, say, 10,000 dollars. We have no business interests outside of this country, so that such a course, in view of his absolute ignorance of law, would be perfectly safe, and we could give Hoppy to understand in the event of his acceptance of our proposition that he shall be free to take a vacation whenever he pleases, for as long a period of time as he pleases, and the oftener the better."

"That's the best plan, I think," said Mr. Mawson. "In fact, if Hoppy declines that responsible office, I wouldn't mind taking it myself."

And so it happened. The proposition was made to Hopkins, and he accepted it with alacrity. He did not care for the practice of the law, but he had no objection to receiving an extra ten thousand dollars a year as a silent partner in a flourishing concern with headquarters in London, particularly when his sole duties were to remain away from the office on a perpetual vacation.

"I was born with a love of rest," Hoppy once said in talking over his prospects with his friends some time before the proposition of his father's partners had been submitted to him. "Even as a baby I was fond of it. I remember my mother saying that I slept for nearly the whole of my first year of existence, and when I came to my school days my reputation with my teachers was, that in the enjoyment of recess and in assiduous devotion to all that pertained to a life of elegant leisure, there was not a boy in school who could approach me."

The young man never railed at fate for compelling him to lead a life which would have filled others of robuster ideas with ennui, but he did on occasions find fault with the powers for having condemned him to birth in a country like the United States, where the man of leisure is regarded with less of reverence than of derision.

"It is a no harder fate for the soul of an artist to dwell in the body of a pork-packer," he had said only the night before the plan outlined by Mr. Hicks was brought to his attention, "than for a man of my restful tendencies to be at home in a land where the hustler alone inspires respect. What the fates should have done in my case was clearly to hav

e had me born a rich duke or a prince, whose chief duty it would be to lead the fashionable world and to set styles of dress for others to follow. I'd have made a magnificent member of the House of Lords, or proprietor of a rich estate somewhere in England, with nothing to do but to spend my income and open horse shows; but in New York there is no leisure class of recognized standing, excepting, of course, the messenger-boys and the plumbers, and even they do not command the respect which foreign do-nothings inspire. It's hard luck. The only redeeming feature of the case is that owing to a high tariff I can spend my money with less effort here than I could abroad."

Then came the proposition from the firm, and in it Hoppy recognized the ingredients of the ideal life-a life of rest in a country capable of understanding the value to society of the drones, a life free from responsibility, yet possessing a semblance of dignity bound to impress those unacquainted with the real state of affairs. Added to this was the encouragement which an extra ten thousand a year must invariably bring to the man appointed to receive it.

"It's just what I needed," he said to Mr. Hicks, "to make my income what it ought to be. Fifty thousand dollars is, of course, a handsome return from investments, but it is an awkward sum to spend. It doesn't divide up well. But sixty thousand a year is simply ideal. Twelve goes into sixty five times, and none over-five thousand a month means something, and doesn't complicate accounts. Besides, the increase will pay the interest on a yacht nicely."

"You are a great boy, Hoppy," said Mr. Hicks, when the young man had thus unbosomed himself, "but I doubt if you will ever be a great man."

"Oh, I don't know," said Hoppy; "there's no telling what may develop. Of course, Mr. Hicks, I shall go into the study of the law very seriously; I couldn't think of accepting your offer without making some effort to show that I deserved it. I shall give up the reading of my irresponsible days, and take to reading law. I shall stop my subscription to the sporting papers, and take the Daily Register and Court Calendar instead, and if you think it would be worth while I might also subscribe to the Albany Law Journal, with which interesting periodical I am already tolerably familiar, having kept my father's files in order for some years."

"No, Hoppy," said Mr. Hicks, with a smile, "I don't think you'd better give up the sporting papers; 'all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.'"

"Perhaps you are right," said Hopkins, in reply to this. "But I shall read Blackstone, and accumulate a library on legal subjects, Mr. Hicks. In that I am firm. I am a good deal of a book-lover anyhow, and since law is to be my profession I might as well suit my books to my needs. I'll order a first edition of Blackstone at once."

"You'd better get the comic Blackstone," said Mr. Hicks, gravely. "You will find it a very interesting book."

"Very well, Mr. Hicks," returned the amiable head-partner-elect of the famous legal firm, "I'll make a note of that. I will also purchase the 'Newgate Calendar,' and any other books you may choose to recommend,-and I tell you what, Mr. Hicks, when my collection gets going it will be the talk of the town. I'll have 'em all in absolute firsts, and as for the bindings, your old yellow-backed tomes at the office will be cast utterly in the shade by my full crushed levant morocco books in rich reds and blues. Just think of the hundred or more volumes of New York reports in Russia leather, Mr. Hicks!"

"It takes my breath away, Hoppy," returned the lawyer. "Every one of the volumes will be absolutely uncut, I suppose, eh?"

"Never you mind about that," retorted Hopkins; "you think I'm joking, but you'll find your mistake some day. I'm serious in this business, though I think I'll begin my labours by taking a winter at Nice."

"That is wise," said Mr. Hicks, approvingly; "and then you might put in the summer in Norway, devoting the spring and autumn to rest and quiet."

"I'll think about that," Hopkins answered; "but the first step to take, really, is to pack up my things here, and sail for London and secure an office."

"A very proper sentiment, my dear boy," returned Mr. Hicks; "but let me advise you, do not be rash about plunging into the professional vortex. Remember that at present your knowledge of the law is limited entirely to your theories as to what it ought to be, and law is seldom that; nor must you forget that in asking you to represent us in London, it is not our desire to inflict upon you any really active work. We simply desire you to live in an atmosphere that, to one of your tastes, is necessarily broadening, and if you find it advisable to pursue intellectual breadth across the continent of Europe to the uttermost parts of the earth, you will find that the firm stands ready to furnish you with material assistance, and to remove all obstacles from your path."

"Thanks for your kindness, Mr. Hicks," said Hopkins. "I shall endeavour to prove myself worthy of it."

"I have no doubt of it, my boy," rejoined Mr. Hicks, rising. "And, in parting with you, let me impress upon you the importance, both to you and to ourselves in the present stage of your legal development, of the maxim, that to a young lawyer not sure of his law, and devoid of experience, there is nothing quite so dangerous as a client. Avoid clients, Hoppy, as you would dangerous explosives. Many a young lawyer has seemed great until fate has thrown a client athwart his path."

With these words, designed quite as much for the protection of the firm, as for the edification of that concern's new head, Mr. Hicks withdrew, and Hopkins turned his attention to preparations for departure; paying his bills, laying in a stock of cigars, and instructing his valet as to the disposition of his lares and penates. Four weeks later he sailed for London, arriving there in good shape early in June, ready for all the delights of the season, then at its height.

It was not until Hopkins had been four days at sea, that the firm of Toppleton, Morley, Harkins, Perkins, Mawson, Bronson, Smithers, and Hicks learned that the new partner had presided at a Coney Island banquet, given by himself to the office-boys, clerks, book-keepers, and stenographers of the firm, on the Saturday half-holiday previous to his departure. It is doubtful if this appalling fact would have come to light even then, had not Mr. Mawson, in endeavouring to discharge one of the office-boys for insubordination, been informed by the delinquent that he defied him; the senior member of the firm, the departed Hoppy, having promised to retain the youth in his employ at increased wages, until he was old enough to go to London, and assist him in looking after the interests of his clients abroad. An investigation, which followed, showed that Hopkins had celebrated his departure in the manner indicated, and also divulged the interesting fact that the running expenses of the office, according to the new partner's promises, were immediately to be increased at least twenty-five per cent. per annum in salaries.

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