Mr. Crewe's Career
A SPIRIT IN THE WOODS
Empires crack before they crumble, and the first cracks seem easily
mended—even as they have been mended before. A revolt in Gaul or Britain or
Thrace is little to be minded, and a prophet in Judea less. And yet into him who
sits in the seat of power a premonition of something impending gradually
creeps—a premonition which he will not acknowledge, will not define. Yesterday,
by the pointing of a finger, he created a province; to-day he dares not, but
consoles himself by saying he does not wish to point. No antagonist worthy of
his steel has openly defied him, worthy of recognition by the opposition of a
legion. But the sense of security has been subtly and indefinably shaken.
By the strange telepathy which defies language, to the Honourable Hilary
Vane, Governor of the Province, some such unacknowledged forebodings have
likewise been communicated. A week after his conversation with Austen, on the
return of his emperor from a trip to New York, the Honourable Hilary was
summoned again to the foot of the throne, and his thoughts as he climbed the
ridges towards Fairview were not in harmony with the carols of the birds in the
depths of the forest and the joy of the bright June weather. Loneliness he had
felt before, and to its ills he had applied the antidote of labour. The burden
that sat upon his spirit to-day was not mere loneliness; to the truth of this
his soul attested, but Hilary Vane had never listened to the promptings of his
soul. He would have been shocked if you had told him this. Did he not confess,
with his eyes shut, his sins every Sunday? Did he not publicly acknowledge his
Austen Vane had once remarked that, if some keen American lawyer would really
put his mind to the evasion of the Ten Commandments, the High Heavens themselves
might be cheated. This saying would have shocked the Honourable Hilary
inexpressibly. He had never been employed by a syndicate to draw up papers to
avoid these mandates; he revered them, as he revered the Law, which he spelled
with a capital. He spelled the word Soul with a capital likewise, and certainly
no higher recognition could be desired than this! Never in the Honourable
Hilary's long, laborious, and preeminently model existence had he realized that
happiness is harmony. It would not be true to assert that, on this wonderful
June day, a glimmering of this truth dawned upon him. Such a statement would be
open to the charge of exaggeration, and his frame of mind was pessimistic. But
he had got so far as to ask himself the question,—Cui bono? and repeated it
several times on his drive, until a verse of Scripture came, unbidden, to his
lips. "For what hate man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart,
wherein he hath laboured under the sun?" and "there is one event unto all."
Austen's saying, that he had never learned how to enjoy life, he remembered,
too. What had Austen meant by that?
Hitherto Hilary Vane had never failed of self-justification in any event
which had befallen him; and while this consciousness of the rectitude of his own
attitude had not made him happier, there had been a certain grim pleasure in it.
To the fact that he had ruined, by sheer over-righteousness, the last years of
the sunny life of Sarah Austen he had been oblivious—until to-day. The strange,
retrospective mood which had come over him this afternoon led his thoughts into
strange paths, and he found himself wondering if, after all, it had not been in
his power to make her happier. Her dryad-like face, with its sweet, elusive
smile, seemed to peer at him now wistfully out of the forest, and suddenly a new
and startling thought rose up within him—after six and thirty years. Perhaps she
had belonged in the forest! Perhaps, because he had sought to cage her, she had
pined and died! The thought gave Hilary unwonted pain, and he strove to put it
away from him; but memories such as these, once aroused, are not easily set at
rest, and he bent his head as he recalled (with a new and significant pathos)
those hopeless and pitiful flights into the wilds she loved.
Now Austen had gone. Was there a Law behind these actions of mother and son
which he had persisted in denouncing as vagaries? Austen was a man: a man,
Hilary could not but see, who had the respect of his fellows, whose judgment and
talents were becoming recognized. Was it possible that he, Hilary Vane, could
have been one of those referred to by the Preacher? During the week which had
passed since Austen's departure the house in Hanover Street had been haunted for
Hilary. The going of his son had not left a mere void,—that would have been pain
enough. Ghosts were there, ghosts which he could but dimly feel and see, and
more than once, in the long evenings, he had taken to the streets to avoid them.
In that week Hilary's fear of meeting his son in the street or in the
passages of the building had been equalled by a yearning to see him. Every
morning, at the hour Austen was wont to drive Pepper to the Ripton House stables
across the square, Hilary had contrived to be standing near his windows—a little
back, and out of sight. And—stranger still!—he had turned from these glimpses to
the reports of the Honourable Brush Bascom and his associates with a distaste he
had never felt before.
With some such thoughts as these Hilary Vane turned into the last straight
stretch of the avenue that led to Fairview House, with its red and white awnings
gleaming in the morning sun. On the lawn, against a white and purple mass of
lilacs and the darker background of pines, a straight and infinitely graceful
figure in white caught his eye and held it. He recognized Victoria. She wore a
simple summer gown, the soft outline of its flounces mingling subtly with the
white clusters behind her. She turned her head at the sound of the wheels and
looked at him; the distance was not too great for a bow, but Hilary did not bow.
Something in her face deterred him from this act,—something which he himself did
not understand or define. He sought to pronounce the incident negligible. What
was the girl, or her look, to him? And yet (he found himself strangely thinking)
he had read in her eyes a trace of the riddle which had been relentlessly
pursuing him; there was an odd relation in her look to that of Sarah Austen.
During the long years he had been coming to Fairview, even before the new house
was built, when Victoria was in pinafores, he had never understood her. When she
was a child, he had vaguely recognized in her a spirit antagonistic to his own,
and her sayings had had a disconcerting ring. And now this simple glance of hers
had troubled him—only more definitely.
It was a new experience for the Honourable Hilary to go into a business
meeting with his faculties astray. Absently he rang the stable bell, surrendered
his horse, and followed a footman to the retired part of the house occupied by
the railroad president. Entering the oak-bound sanctum, he crossed it and took a
seat by the window, merely nodding to Mr. Flint, who was dictating a letter. Mr.
Flint took his time about the letter, but when it was finished he dismissed the
stenographer with an impatient and powerful wave of the hand—as though brushing
the man bodily out of the room. Remaining motionless until the door had closed,
Mr. Flint turned abruptly and fixed his eyes on the contemplative figure of his
"Well?" he said.
"Well, Flint," answered the Honourable Hilary.
"Well," said Mr. Flint, "that bridge over Maple River has got loosened up so
by the freshet that we have to keep freight cars on it to hold it down, and
somebody is trying to make trouble by writing a public letter to the Railroad
Commission, and calling attention to the head-on collision at Barker's Station."
"Well," replied the Honourable Hilary, again, "that won't have any influence
on the Railroad Commission."
"No," said Mr. Flint, "but it all goes to increase this confounded public
sentiment that's in the air, like smallpox. Another jackass pretends to have
kept a table of the through trains on the Sumsic division, and says they've
averaged forty-five minutes late at Edmundton. He says the through express made
the run faster thirty years ago."
"I guess that's so," said the Honourable Hilary, "I was counsel for that road
then. I read that letter. He says there isn't an engine on the division that
could pull his hat off, up grade."
Neither of the two gentlemen appeared to deem this statement humorous.
"What these incendiaries don't understand," said Mr. Flint, "is that we have
to pay dividends."
"It's because they don't get 'em," replied Mr. Vane, sententiously.
"The track slid into the water at Glendale," continued Mr. Flint. "I suppose
they'll tell us we ought to rock ballast that line. You'll see the Railroad
Commission, and give 'em a sketch of a report."
"I had a talk with Young yesterday," said Mr. Vane, his eyes on the stretch
of lawn and forest framed by the window. For the sake of the ignorant, it may be
well to add that the Honourable Orrin Young was the chairman of the Commission.
"And now," said Mr. Flint, "not that this Crewe business amounts to that"
(here the railroad president snapped his fingers with the intensity of a small
pistol shot), "but what's he been doing?"
"Political advertising," said the Honourable Hilary.
"Plenty of it, I guess," Mr. Flint remarked acidly. "That's one thing Tooting
can't teach him. He's a natural-born genius at it."
"Tooting can help—even at that," answered Mr. Vane, ironically. "They've got
a sketch of so-called Northeastern methods in forty weekly newspapers this week,
with a picture of that public benefactor and martyr, Humphrey Crewe. Here's a
sample of it."
Mr. Flint waved the sample away.
"You've made a list of the newspapers that printed it?" Mr. Flint demanded.
Had he lived in another age he might have added, "Have the malefactors burned
alive in my garden."
"Brush has seen some of 'em," said Mr. Vane, no doubt referring to the
editors, "and I had some of 'em come to Ripton. They've got a lot to say about
the freedom of the press, and their right to take political advertising. Crewe's
matter is in the form of a despatch, and most of 'em pointed out at the top of
the editorial columns that their papers are not responsible for despatches in
the news columns. Six of 'em are out and out for Crewe, and those fellows are
"Take away their passes and advertising," said Mr. Flint. ("Off with their
heads!" said the Queen of Hearts.)
"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Flint; they might make capital out of it.
I think you'll find that five of 'em have sent their passes back, anyway."
"Freeman will give you some new ideas" (from the "Book of Arguments,"
although Mr. Flint did not say so) "which have occurred to me might be
distributed for editorial purposes next week. And, by the way, what have you
done about that brilliant Mr. Coombes of the 'Johnstown Ray,' who says 'the
Northeastern Railroads give us a pretty good government'?"
The Honourable Hilary shook his head.
"Too much zeal," he observed. "I guess he won't do it again."
For a while after that they talked of strictly legal matters, which the chief
counsel produced in order out of his bag. But when these were finally disposed
of, Mr. Flint led the conversation back to the Honourable Humphrey Crewe, who
stood harmless—to be sure—like a bull on the track which it might be unwise to
"He doesn't amount to a soap bubble in a gale," Mr. Flint declared
contemptuously. "Sometimes I think we made a great mistake to notice him.
"We haven't noticed him," said Mr. Vane; "the newspapers have."
Mr. Flint brushed this distinction aside.
"That," he said irritably, "and letting Tooting go—"
The Honourable Hilary's eyes began to grow red. In former days Mr. Flint had
not often questioned his judgment.
"There's one thing more I wanted to mention to you," said the chief counsel.
"In past years I have frequently drawn your attention to that section of the act
of consolidation which declares that rates and fares existing at the time of its
passage shall not be increased."
"Well," said Mr. Flint, impatiently, "well, what of it?"
"Only this," replied the Honourable Hilary, "you disregarded my advice, and
the rates on many things are higher than they were."
"Upon my word, Vane," said Mr. Flint, "I wish you'd chosen some other day to
croak. What do you want me to do? Put all the rates back because this upstart
politician Crewe is making a noise? Who's going to dig up that section?"
"Somebody has dug it up," said Mr. Vane:
This was the last straw.
"Speak out, man!" he cried. "What are you leading up to?"
"Just this," answered the Honourable Hilary; "that the Gaylord Lumber Company
are going to bring suit under that section."
Mr. Flint rose, thrust his hands in his pockets, and paced the room twice.
"Have they got a case?" he demanded.
"It looks a little that way tome," said Mr. Vane. "I'm not prepared to give a
definite opinion as yet."
Mr. Flint measured the room twice again.
"Did that old fool Hammer stumble on to this?"
"Hammer's sick," said Mr. Vane; "they say he's got Bright's disease. My son
discovered that section."
There was a certain ring of pride in the Honourable Hilary's voice, and a
lifting of the head as he pronounced the words "my son," which did not escape
Mr. Flint. The railroad president walked slowly to the arm of the chair in which
his chief counsel was seated, and stood looking down at him. But the Honourable
Hilary appeared unconscious of what was impending.
"Your son!" exclaimed Mr. Flint. "So your son, the son of the man who has
been my legal adviser and confidant and friend for thirty years, is going to
join the Crewel and Tootings in their assaults on established decency and order!
He's out for cheap political preferment, too, is he? By thunder! I thought that
he had some such thing in his mind when he came in here and threw his pass in my
face and took that Meader suit. I don't mind telling you that he's the man I've
been afraid of all along. He's got a head on him—I saw that at the start. I
trusted to you to control him, and this is how you do it."
It was characteristic of the Honourable Hilary, when confronting an angry
man, to grow cooler as the other's temper increased.
"I don't want to control him," he said.
"I guess you couldn't," retorted Mr. Flint.
"That's a better way of putting it," replied the Honourable Hilary, "I
The chief counsel for the Northeastern Railroads got up and went to the
window, where he stood for some time with his back turned to the president. Then
Hilary Vane faced about.
"Mr. Flint," he began, in his peculiar deep and resonant voice, "you've said
some things to-day that I won't forget. I want to tell you, first of all, that I
admire my son."
"I thought so," Mr. Flint interrupted.
"And more than that," the Honourable Hilary continued, "I prophesy that the
time will come when you'll admire him. Austen Vane never did an underhanded
thing in his life—or committed a mean action. He's be'n wild, but he's always
told me the truth. I've done him injustice a good many times, but I won't stand
up and listen to another man do him injustice." Here he paused, and picked up
his bag. "I'm going down to Ripton to write out my resignation as counsel for
your roads, and as soon as you can find another man to act, I shall consider it
It is difficult to put down on paper the sensations of the president of the
Northeastern Railroads as he listened to these words from a man with whom he had
been in business relations for over a quarter of a century, a man upon whose
judgment he had always relied implicitly, who had been a strong fortress in time
of trouble. Such sentences had an incendiary, blasphemous ring on Hilary Vane's
lips—at first. It was as if the sky had fallen, and the Northeastern had been
wiped out of existence.
Mr. Flint's feelings were, in a sense, akin to those of a traveller by sea
who wakens out of a sound sleep in his cabin, with peculiar and unpleasant
sensations, which he gradually discovers are due to cold water, and he realizes
that the boat on which he is travelling is sinking.
The Honourable Hilary, with his bag, was halfway to the door, when Mr. Flint
crossed the room in three strides and seized him by the arm.
"Hold on, Vane," he said, speaking with some difficulty; "I'm—I'm a little
upset this morning, and my temper got the best of me. You and I have been good
friends for too many years for us to part this way. Sit down a minute, for God's
sake, and let's cool off. I didn't intend to say what I did. I apologize."
Mr. Flint dropped his counsel's arm, and pulled out a handkerchief, and
mopped his face. "Sit down, Hilary," he said.
The Honourable Hilary's tight lips trembled. Only three or four times in
their long friendship had the president made use of his first name.
"You wouldn't leave me in the lurch now, Hilary," Mr. Flint continued, "when
all this nonsense is in the air? Think of the effect such an announcement would
have! Everybody knows and respects you, and we can't do without your advice and
counsel. But I won't put it on that ground. I'd never forgive myself, as long as
I lived, if I lost one of my oldest and most valued personal friends in this
The Honourable Hilary looked at Mr. Flint, and sat down. He began to cut a
piece of Honey Dew, but his hand shook. It was difficult, as we know, for him to
give expression to his feelings.
"All right," he said.
Half an hour later Victoria, from under the awning of the little balcony in
front of her mother's sitting room, saw her father come out bareheaded into the
sun and escort the Honourable Hilary Vane to his buggy. This was an unwonted
Victoria loved to sit in that balcony, a book lying neglected in her lap,
listening to the summer sounds: the tinkle of distant cattle bells, the bass
note of a hurrying bee, the strangely compelling song of the hermit-thrush,
which made her breathe quickly; the summer wind, stirring wantonly, was prodigal
with perfumes gathered from the pines and the sweet June clover in the fields
and the banks of flowers; in the distance, across the gentle foreground of the
hills, Sawanec beckoned—did Victoria but raise her eyes!—to a land of
The appearance of her father and Hilary had broken her reverie, and a new
thought, like a pain, had clutched her. The buggy rolled slowly down the drive,
and Mr. Flint, staring after it a moment, went in the house. After a few minutes
he emerged again, an old felt hat on his head which he was wont to wear in the
country and a stick in his hand. Without raising his eyes, he started slowly
across the lawn; and to Victoria, leaning forward intently over the balcony
rail, there seemed an unwonted lack of purpose in his movements. Usually he
struck out briskly in the direction of the pastures where his prize Guernseys
were feeding, stopping on the way to pick up the manager of his farm. There are
signs, unknown to men, which women read, and Victoria felt her heart beating, as
she turned and entered the sitting room through the French window. A trained
nurse was softly closing the door of the bedroom on the right.
"Mrs. Flint is asleep," she said.
"I am going out for a little while, Miss Oliver," Victoria answered, and the
nurse returned a gentle smile of understanding.
Victoria, descending the stairs, hastily pinned on a hat which she kept in
the coat closet, and hurried across the lawn in the direction Mr. Flint had
taken. Reaching the pine grove, thinned by a famous landscape architect, she
paused involuntarily to wonder again at the ultramarine of Sawanec through the
upright columns of the trunks under the high canopy of boughs. The grove was on
a plateau, which was cut on the side nearest the mountain by the line of a gray
stone wall, under which the land fell away sharply. Mr. Flint was seated on a
bench, his hands clasped across his stick, and as she came softly over the
carpet of the needles he did not hear her until she stood beside him.
"You didn't tell me that you were going for a walk," she said reproachfully.
He started, and dropped his stick. She stooped quickly, picked it up for him,
and settled herself at his side.
"I—I didn't expect to go, Victoria," he answered.
"You see," she said, "it's useless to try to slip away. I saw you from the
"How's your mother feeling?" he asked.
"She's asleep. She seems better to me since she's come back to Fairview."
Mr. Flint stared at the mountain with unseeing eyes.
"Father," said Victoria, "don't you think you ought to stay up here at least
a week, and rest? I think so."
"No," he said, "no. There's a directors' meeting of a trust company to-morrow
which I have to attend. I'm not tired."
Victoria shook her head, smiling at him with serious eyes.
"I don't believe you know when you are tired," she declared. "I can't see the
good of all these directors' meetings. Why don't you retire, and live the rest
of your life in peace? You've got—money enough, and even if you haven't," she
added, with the little quiver of earnestness that sometimes came into her voice,
"we could sell this big house and go back to the farmhouse to live. We used to
be so happy there."
He turned abruptly, and fixed upon her a steadfast, searching stare that
held, nevertheless, a strange tenderness in it.
"You don't care for all this, do you, Victoria?" he demanded, waving his
stick to indicate the domain of Fairview.
She laughed gently, and raised her eyes to the green roof of the needles.
"If we could only keep the pine grove!" she sighed. "Do you remember what
good times we had in the farmhouse, when you and I used to go off for whole days
"Yes," said Mr. Flint, "yes."
"We don't do that any more," said Victoria. "It's only a little drive and a
walk, now and then. And they seem to be growing—scarcer."
Mr. Flint moved uneasily, and made an attempt to clear his voice.
"I know it," he said, and further speech seemingly failed him. Victoria had
the greater courage of the two.
"Why don't we?" she asked.
"I've often thought of it," he replied, still seeking his words with
difficulty. "I find myself with more to do every year, Victoria, instead of
"Then why don't you give it up?"
"Why?" he asked, "why? Sometimes I wish with my whole soul I could give it
up. I've always said that you had more sense than most women, but even you could
"I could understand," said Victoria.
He threw at her another glance,—a ring in her words proclaimed their truth in
spite of his determined doubt. In her eyes—had he but known it!—was a wisdom
that exceeded his.
"You don't realize what you're saying," he exclaimed; "I can't leave the
"Isn't it," she said, "rather the power that is so hard to relinquish?"
The feelings of Augustus Flint when he heard this question were of a complex
nature. It was the second time that day he had been shocked,—the first being
when Hilary Vane had unexpectedly defended his son. The word Victoria had used,
power, had touched him on the quick. What had she meant by it? Had she been his
wife and not his daughter, he would have flown into a rage. Augustus Flint was
not a man given to the psychological amusement of self-examination; he had never
analyzed his motives. He had had little to do with women, except Victoria. The
Rose of Sharon knew him as the fountainhead from which authority and money
flowed, but Victoria, since her childhood, had been his refuge from care, and in
the haven of her companionship he had lost himself for brief moments of his
life. She was the one being he really loved, with whom he consulted on such
affairs of importance as he felt to be within her scope and province,—the
cattle, the men on the place outside of the household, the wisdom of buying the
Baker farm; bequests to charities, paintings, the library; and recently he had
left to her judgment the European baths and the kind of treatment which her
mother had required. Victoria had consulted with the physicians in Paris, and
had made these decisions herself. From a child she had never shown a disposition
to evade responsibility.
To his intimate business friends, Mr. Flint was in the habit of speaking of
her as his right-hand man, but she was circumscribed by her sex,—or rather by
Mr. Flint's idea of her sex,—and it never occurred to him that she could enter
into the larger problems of his life. For this reason he had never asked himself
whether such a state of affairs would be desirable. In reality it was her
sympathy he craved, and such an interpretation of himself as he chose to present
So her question was a shock. He suddenly beheld his daughter transformed, a
new personality who had been thinking, and thinking along paths which he had
never cared to travel.
"The power!" he repeated. "What do you mean by that, Victoria?"
She sat for a moment on the end of the bench, gazing at him with a
questioning, searching look which he found disconcerting. What had happened to
his daughter? He little guessed the tumult in her breast. She herself could not
fully understand the strange turn the conversation had taken towards the gateway
of the vital things.
"It is natural for men to love power, isn't it?"
"I suppose so," said Mr. Flint, uneasily. "I don't know what you're driving
"You control the lives and fortunes of a great many people."
"That's just it," answered Mr. Flint, with a dash at this opening; "my
responsibilities are tremendous. I can't relinquish them."
"There is no—younger man to take your place? Not that I mean you are old,
father," she continued, "but you have worked very hard all your life, and
deserve a holiday the rest of it."
"I don't know of any younger man," said Mr. Flint. "I don't mean to say I'm
the only person in the world who can safeguard the stockholders' interests in
the Northeastern. But I know the road and its problems. I don't understand this
from you, Victoria. It doesn't sound like you. And as for letting go the helm
now," he added, with a short laugh tinged with bitterness, "I'd be posted all
over the country as a coward."
"Why?" asked Victoria, in the same quiet way.
"Why? Because a lot of discontented and disappointed people who have made
failures of their lives are trying to give me as much trouble as they can."
"Are you sure they are all disappointed and discontented, father?" she said.
"What," exclaimed Mr. Flint, "you ask me that question? You, my own daughter,
about people who are trying to make me out a rascal!"
"I don't think they are trying to make you out a rascal—at least most of them
are not," said Victoria. "I don't think the—what you might call the personal
aspect enters in with the honest ones."
Mr. Flint was inexpressibly amazed. He drew a long breath.
"Who are the honest ones?" he cried. "Do you mean to say that you, my own
daughter, are defending these charlatans?"
"Listen, father," said Victoria. "I didn't mean to worry you, I didn't mean
to bring up that subject to-day. Come—let's go for a walk and see the new barn."
But Mr. Flint remained firmly planted on the bench.
"Then you did intend to bring up the subject—some day?" he asked.
"Yes," said Victoria. She sat down again. "I have often wanted to hear—your
side of it."
"Whose side have you heard?" demanded Mr. Flint.
A crimson flush crept into her cheek, but her father was too disturbed to
"You know," she said gently, "I go about the country a good deal, and I hear
people talking,—farmers, and labourers, and people in the country stores who
don't know that I'm your daughter."
"What do they say?" asked Mr. Flint, leaning forward eagerly and
Victoria hesitated, turning over the matter in her mind.
"You understand, I am merely repeating what they say—"
"Yes, yes," he interrupted, "I want to know how far this thing has gone among
"Well," continued Victoria, looking at him bravely, "as nearly as I can
remember their argument it is this: that the Northeastern Railroads control the
politics of the State for their own benefit. That you appoint the governors and
those that go to the Legislature, and that—Hilary Vane gets them elected. They
say that he manages a political machine—that's the right word, isn't it?—for
you. And that no laws can be passed of which you do not approve. And they say
that the politicians whom Hilary Vane commands, and the men whom they put into
office are all beholden to the railroad, and are of a sort which good citizens
cannot support. They say that the railroad has destroyed the people's
Mr. Flint, for the moment forgetting or ignoring the charges, glanced at her
in astonishment. The arraignment betrayed an amount of thought on the subject
which he had not suspected.
"Upon my word, Victoria," he said, "you ought to take the stump for Humphrey
She reached out with a womanly gesture, and laid her hand upon his.
"I am only telling you—what I hear," she said.
"Won't you explain to me the way you look at it? These people don't all seem
to be dishonest men or charlatans. Some of them, I know, are honest." And her
colour rose again.
"Then they are dupes and fools," Mr. Flint declared vehemently. "I don't know
how to explain it to you the subject is too vast, too far-reaching. One must
have had some business experience to grasp it. I don't mean to say you're not
intelligent, but I'm at a loss where to begin with you. Looked at from their
limited point of view, it would seem as if they had a case. I don't mean your
friend, Humphrey Crewe—it's anything to get office with him. Why, he came up
here and begged me—"
"I wasn't thinking of Humphrey Crewe," said Victoria. Mr. Flint gave an
ejaculation of distaste.
"He's no more of a reformer than I am. And now we've got that wild son of
Hilary Vane's—the son of one of my oldest friends and associates—making trouble.
He's bitten with this thing, too, and he's got some brains in his head. Why,"
exclaimed Mr. Flint, stopping abruptly and facing his daughter, "you know him!
He's the one who drove you home that evening from Crewe's party."
"I remember," Victoria faltered, drawing her hand away.
"I wasn't very civil to him that night, but I've always been on the lookout
for him. I sent him a pass once, and he came up here and gave me as insolent a
talking to as I ever had in my life."
How well Victoria recalled that first visit, and how she had wondered about
the cause of it! So her father and Austen Vane had quarrelled from the first.
"I'm sure he didn't mean to be insolent," she said, in a low voice. "He isn't
at all that sort."
"I don't know what sort he is, except that he isn't my sort," Mr. Flint
retorted, intent upon the subject which had kindled his anger earlier in the
day. "I don't pretend to understand him. He could probably have been counsel for
the road if he had behaved decently. Instead, he starts in with suits against
us. He's hit upon something now."
The president of the Northeastern dug savagely into the ground with his
stick, and suddenly perceived that his daughter had her face turned away from
his, towards the mountain.
"Well, I won't bore you with that."
She turned with a look in her eyes that bewildered him.
"You're not—boring me," she said.
"I didn't intend to go into all that," he explained more calmly, "but the
last few days have been trying, we've got to expect the wind to blow from all
Victoria smiled at him faintly.
"I have told you," she said, "that what you need is a trip abroad. Perhaps
some day you will remember it."
"Maybe I'll go in the autumn," he answered, smiling back at her. "These
little flurries don't amount to anything more than mosquito-bites—only
mosquitoes are irritating. You and I understand each other, Victoria, and now
listen. I'll give you the broad view of this subject, the view I've got to take,
and I've lived in the world and seen more of it than some folks who think they
know it all. I am virtually the trustee for thousands of stockholders, many of
whom are widows and orphans. These people are innocent; they rely on my ability,
and my honesty, for their incomes. Few men who have not had experience in
railroad management know one-tenth of the difficulties and obstructions
encountered by a railroad president who strives to do his duty by the road. My
business is to run the Northeastern as economically as is consistent with good
service and safety, and to give the stockholders the best return for their
money. I am the steward—and so long as I am the steward," he exclaimed, "I'm
going to do what I think is right, taking into consideration all the
difficulties that confront me."
He got up and took a turn or two on the pine-needles. Victoria regarded him
in silence. He appeared to her at that moment the embodiment of the power he
represented. Force seemed to emanate from him, and she understood more clearly
than ever how, from a poor boy on an obscure farm in Truro, he had risen to his
"I don't say the service is what it should be," he went on, "but give me
time—give me time. With all this prosperity in the country we can't handle the
freight. We haven't got cars enough, tracks enough, engines enough. I won't go
into that with you. But I do expect you to understand this: that politicians are
politicians; they have always been corrupt as long as I have known them, and in
my opinion they always will be. The Northeastern is the largest property holder
in the State, pays the biggest tax, and has the most at stake. The politicians
could ruin us in a single session of the Legislature—and what's more, they would
do it. We'd have to be paying blackmail all the time to prevent measures that
would compel us to go out of business. This is a fact, and not a theory. What
little influence I exert politically I have to maintain in order to protect the
property of my stockholders from annihilation. It isn't to be supposed," he
concluded, "that I'm going to see the State turned over to a man like Humphrey
Crewe. I wish to Heaven that this and every other State had a George Washington
for governor and a majority of Robert Morrises in the Legislature. If they
exist, in these days, the people won't elect 'em—that's all. The kind of man the
people will elect, if you let 'em alone, is—a man who brings in a bill and comes
to you privately and wants you to buy him off."
"Oh, father," Victoria cried, "I can't believe that of the people I see about
here! They seem so kind and honest and high-principled."
Mr. Flint gave a short laugh.
"They're dupes, I tell you. They're at the mercy of any political schemer who
thinks it worth his while to fool 'em. Take Leith, for instance. There's a man
over there who has controlled every office in that town for twenty-five years or
more. He buys and sells votes and credentials like cattle. His name is Job
"Why," said Victoria, "I saw him at Humphrey Crewe's garden-party."
"I guess you did," said Mr. Flint, "and I guess Humphrey Crewe saw him before
Victoria was silent, the recollection of the talk between Mr. Tooting and Mr.
Crewe running through her mind, and Mr. Tooting's saying that he had done "dirty
things" for the Northeastern. She felt that this was something she could not
tell her father, nor could she answer his argument with what Tom Gaylord had
said. She could not, indeed, answer Mr. Flint's argument at all; the subject, as
he had declared, being too vast for her. And moreover, as she well knew, Mr.
Flint was a man whom other men could not easily answer; he bore them down, even
as he had borne her down. Involuntarily her mind turned to Austen, and she
wondered what he had said; she wondered how he would have answered her
father—whether he could have answered him. And she knew not what to think. Could
it be right, in a position of power and responsibility, to acknowledge evil and
deal with it as evil? That was, in effect, the gist of Mr. Flint's contention.
She did not know. She had never (strangely enough, she thought) sought before to
analyze the ethical side of her father's character. One aspect of him she had
shared with her mother, that he was a tower of defence and strength, and that
his name alone had often been sufficient to get difficult things done.
Was he right in this? And were his opponents charlatans, or dupes, or
idealists who could never be effective? Mr. Crewe wanted an office; Tom Gaylord
had a suit against the road, and Austen Vane was going to bring that suit! What
did she really know of Austen Vane? But her soul cried out treason at this, and
she found herself repeating, with intensity, "I believe in him! I believe in
him!" She would have given worlds to have been able to stand up before her
father and tell him that Austen would not bring the suit at this time that
Austen had not allowed his name to be mentioned for office in this connection,
and had spurned Mr. Crewe's advances. But she had not seen Austen since
What was his side of it? He had never told her, and she respected his
motives—yet, what was his side? Fresh from the inevitably deep impressions which
her father's personality had stamped upon her, she wondered if Austen could cope
with the argument before which she had been so helpless.
The fact that she made of each of these two men the embodiment of a different
and opposed idea did not occur to Victoria until that afternoon. Unconsciously,
each had impersonated the combatants in a struggle which was going on in her own
breast. Her father himself, instinctively, had chosen Austen Vane for his
antagonist without knowing that she had an interest in him. Would Mr. Flint ever
know? Or would the time come when she would be forced to take a side? The blood
mounted to her temples as she put the question from her.