Mr. Crewe's Career
THE PARTING OF THE WAYS
The next time Austen visited the hospital Mr. Meader had a surprise in store
for him. After passing the time of day, as was his custom, the patient freely
discussed the motives which had led him to refuse any more of Victoria's fruit.
"I hain't got nothing against her," he declared; "I tried to make that plain.
She's as nice and common a young lady as I ever see, and I don't believe she had
a thing to do with it. But I suspicioned they was up to somethin' when she
brought them baskets. And when she give me the message from old Flint, I was
sure of it."
"Miss Flint was entirely innocent, I'm sure," said Austen, emphatically.
"If I could see old Flint, I'd tell him what I thought of him usin'
wimmen-folks to save 'em money," said Mr. Meader. "I knowed she wahn't that
kind. And then that other thing come right on top of it."
"What other thing?"
"Say," demanded Mr. Meader, "don't you know?"
"I know nothing," said Austen.
"Didn't know Hilary Vane's be'n here?"
"My father!" Austen ejaculated.
"Gittin' after me pretty warm, so they be. Want to know what my price is now.
But say, I didn't suppose your fayther'd come here without lettin' you know."
Austen was silent. The truth was that for a few moments he could not command
himself sufficiently to speak.
"He is the chief counsel for the road," he said at length; "I am not
connected with it."
"I guess you're on the right track. He's a pretty smooth talker, your
fayther. Just dropped in to see how I be, since his son was interested. Talked a
sight of law gibberish I didn't understand. Told me I didn't have much of a
case; said the policy of the railrud was to be liberal, and wanted to know what
I thought I ought to have."
"Well?" said Austen, shortly.
"Well," said Mr. Mender, "he didn't git a mite of satisfaction out of me.
I've seen enough of his kind of folks to know how to deal with 'em, and I told
him so. I asked him what they meant by sending that slick Mr. Tooting 'raound to
offer me five hundred dollars. I said I was willin' to trust my case on that
crossin' to a jury."
Austen smiled, in spite of his mingled emotions.
"What else did Mr. Vane say?" he asked.
"Not a great sight more. Said a good many folks were foolish enough to spend
money and go to law when they'd done better to trust to the liberality of the
railrud. Liberality! Adams' widow done well to trust their liberality, didn't
she? He wanted to know one more thing, but I didn't give him any satisfaction."
"What was that?"
"I couldn't tell you how he got 'raound to it. Guess he never did, quite. He
wanted to know what lawyer was to have my case. Wahn't none of his affair, and I
callated if you'd wanted him to know just yet, you'd have toad him."
Austen laid his hand on the farmer's, as he rose to go.
"Zeb," he said, "I never expect to have a more exemplary client."
Mr. Mender shot a glance at him.
"Mebbe I spoke a mite too free about your fayther, Austen," he said; "you and
him seem kind of different."
"The Judge and I understand each other," answered Austen.
He had got as far as the door, when he stopped, swung on his heel, and came
back to the bedside.
"It's my duty to tell you, Zeb, that in order to hush this thing up they may
offer you more than you can get from a jury. In that case I should have to
advise you to accept."
He was aware that, while he made this statement, Zeb Meader's eyes were
riveted on him, and he knew that the farmer was weighing him in the balance.
"Sell out?" exclaimed Mr. Meader. "You advise me to sell out?"
Austen did not get angry. He understood this man and the people from which he
"The question is for you to decide—whether you can get more money by a
"Money!" cried Zeb Meader, "I have found it pretty hard to git, but there's
some things I won't do for it. There's a reason why they want this case hushed
up, the way they've be'n actin'. I ain't lived in Mercer and Putnam County all
my life for nothin'. Hain't I seen 'em run their dirty politics there under
Brush Bascom for the last twenty-five years? There's no man has an office or a
pass in that county but what Bascom gives it to him, and Bascom's the railrud
tool." Suddenly Zeb raised himself in bed. "Hev' they be'n tamperin' with you?"
"Yes," answered Austen, dispassionately. He had hardly heard what Zeb had
said; his mind had been going onward. "Yes. They sent me an annual pass, and I
took it back."
Zeb Meader did not speak for a few moments.
"I guess I was a little hasty, Austen," he said at length.
"I might have known you wouldn't sell out. If you're' willin' to take the
risk, you tell 'em ten thousand dollars wouldn't tempt me."
"All right, Zeb," said Austen.
He left the hospital and struck out across the country towards the slopes of
Sawanec, climbed them, and stood bareheaded in the evening light, gazing over
the still, wide valley northward to the wooded ridges where Leith and Fairview
lay hidden. He had come to the parting of the ways of life, and while he did not
hesitate to choose his path, a Vane inheritance, though not dominant, could not
fail at such a juncture to point out the pleasantness of conformity. Austen's
affection for Hilary Vane was real; the loneliness of the elder man appealed to
the son, who knew that his father loved him in his own way. He dreaded the
And nature, persuasive in that quarter, was not to be stilled in a field more
completely her own. The memory and suppliance of a minute will scarce suffice
one of Austen's temperament for a lifetime; and his eyes, flying with the eagle
high across the valley, searched the velvet folds of the ridges, as they lay in
infinite shades of green in the level light, for the place where the enchanted
realm might be. Just what the state of his feelings were at this time towards
Victoria Flint is too vague—accurately to be painted, but he was certainly not
ready to give way to the attraction he felt for her. His sense of humour
intervened if he allowed himself to dream; there was a certain folly in pursuing
the acquaintance, all the greater now that he was choosing the path of
opposition to the dragon. A young woman, surrounded as she was, could be
expected to know little of the subtleties of business and political morality:
let him take Zeb Meader's case, and her loyalty would naturally be with her
father,—if she thought of Austen Vane at all.
And yet the very contradiction of her name, Victoria joined with Flint,
seemed to proclaim that she did not belong to her father or to the Rose of
Sharon. Austen permitted himself to dwell, as he descended the mountain in the
gathering darkness, upon the fancy of the springing of a generation of ideals
from a generation of commerce which boded well for the Republic. And Austen
Vane, in common with that younger and travelled generation, thought largely in
terms of the Republic. Pepper County and Putnam County were all one to
him—pieces of his native land. And as such, redeemable.
It was long past the supper hour when he reached the house in Hanover Street;
but Euphrasia, who many a time in days gone by had fared forth into the woods to
find Sarah Austen, had his supper hot for him. Afterwards he lighted his pipe
and went out into the darkness, and presently perceived a black figure seated
meditatively on the granite doorstep.
"Is that you, Judge?" said Austen.
The Honourable Hilary grunted in response.
"Be'n on another wild expedition, I suppose."
"I went up Sawanec to stretch my legs a little," Austen answered, sitting
down beside his father.
"Funny," remarked the Honourable Hilary, "I never had this mania for
stretchin' my legs after I was grown."
"Well," said Austen, "I like to go into the woods and climb the hills and get
aired out once in a while."
"I heard of your gettin' aired out yesterday, up Tunbridge way," said the
"I supposed you would hear of it," answered Austen.
"I was up there to-day. Gave Mr. Flint your pass did you?"
"Didn't see fit to mention it to me first—did you? Said you were going up to
thank him for it."
Austen considered this.
"You have put me in the wrong, Judge," he replied after a little. "I made
that remark ironically. I I am afraid we cannot agree on the motive which
"Your conscience a little finer than your father's—is it?"
"No," said Austen, "I don't honestly think it is. I've thought a good deal in
the last few years about the difference in our ways of looking at things. I
believe that two men who try to be honest may conscientiously differ. But I also
believe that certain customs have gradually grown up in railroad practice which
are more or less to be deplored from the point of view of the honour of the
profession. I think they are not perhaps—realized even by the eminent men in the
"Humph!" said the Honourable Hilary. But he did not press his son for the
enumeration of these customs. After all the years he had disapproved of Austen's
deeds it seemed strange indeed to be called to account by the prodigal for his
own. Could it be that this boy whom he had so often chastised took a clearer
view of practical morality than himself? It was preposterous. But why the
uneasiness of the past few years? Why had he more than once during that period,
for the first time in his life, questioned a hitherto absolute satisfaction in
his position of chief counsel for the Northeastern Railroads? Why had he
hesitated to initiate his son into many of the so-called duties of a railroad
lawyer? Austen had never verbally arraigned those duties until to-night.
Contradictory as it may seem, irritating as it was to the Honourable Hilary
Vane, he experienced again the certain faint tingling of pride as when Austen
had given him the dispassionate account of the shooting of Mr. Blodgett; and
this tingling only served to stiffen Hilary Vane more than ever. A lifelong
habit of admitting nothing and a lifelong pride made the acknowledgment of
possible professional lapses for the benefit of his employer not to be thought
of. He therefore assumed the same attitude as had Mr. Flint, and forced the
burden of explanation upon Austen, relying surely on the disinclination of his
son to be specific. And Austen, considering his relationship, could not be
expected to fathom these mental processes.
"See here, Judge," he said, greatly embarrassed by the real affection he
felt, "I don't want to seem like a prig and appear to be sitting in judgment
upon a man of your experience and position especially since I have the honour to
be your son, and have made a good deal of trouble by a not irreproachable
existence. Since we have begun on the subject, however, I think I ought to tell
you that I have taken the case of Zeb Meader against the Northeastern
"Wahn't much need of telling me, was there?" remarked the Honourable Hilary,
dryly. "I'd have found it out as soon as anybody else."
"There was this need of telling you," answered Austen, steadily, "although I
am not in partnership with you, I bear your name. And in-as-much as I am to have
a suit against your client, it has occurred to me that you would like me to
The Honourable Hilary was silent for a long time.
"Want to move—do YOU? Is that it?"
"Only because my presence may embarrass you."
"That wahn't in the contract," said the Honourable Hilary; "you've got a
right to take any fool cases you've a mind to. Folks know pretty well I'm not
mixed up in 'em."
Austen did not smile; he could well understand his father's animus in this
matter. As he looked up at the gable of his old home against the stars, he did
not find the next sentence any easier.
"And then," he continued, "in taking, a course so obviously against your
wishes and judgment it occurred to me—well, that I was eating at your table and
sleeping in your house."
To his son's astonishment, Hilary Vane turned on him almost truculently.
"I thought the time'd come when you'd want to go off again,—gypsying," he
"I'd stay right here in Ripton, Judge. I believe my work is in this State."
The Honour could see through a millstone with a hole in it. The effect of
Austen's assertion on him was a declaration that the mission of the one was to
tear down what the other had so laboriously built up. And yet a growing dread of
Hilary Vane's had been the loneliness of declining years in that house should
Austen leave it again, never to return.
"I knew you had this Meader business in mind," he said. "I knew you had
fanciful notions about—some things. Never told you I didn't want you here, did
"No," said Austen, "but—"
"Would have told you if I hadn't wanted you—wouldn't I?"
"I hope so, Judge," said Austen, who understood something of the feeling
which underlay this brusqueness. That knowledge made matters all the harder for
"It was your mother's house—you're entitled to that, anyway," said the
Honourable Hilary, "but what I want to know is, why you didn't advise that
eternal fool of a Meader to accept what we offered him. You'll never get a
county jury to give as much."
"I did advise him to accept it," answered Austen.
"What's the matter with him?" the Honourable Hilary demanded.
"Well, judge, if you really want my opinion, an honest farmer like Meader is
suspicious of any corporation which has such zealous and loyal retainers as Ham
Tooting and Brush Bascom." And Austen thought with a return of the pang which
had haunted him at intervals throughout the afternoon, that he might almost have
added to these names that of Hilary Vane. Certainly Zeb Meader had not spared
"Life," observed the Honourable Hilary, unconsciously using a phrase from the
'Book of Arguments,' "is a survival of the fittest."
"How do you define 'the fittest?'" asked Austen. "Are they the men who have
the not unusual and certainly not exalted gift of getting money from their
fellow creatures by the use of any and all weapons that may be at hand? who
believe the acquisition of wealth to be exempt from the practice of morality? Is
Mr. Flint your example of the fittest type to exist and survive, or Gladstone or
Wilberforce or Emerson or Lincoln?"
"Emerson!" cried the Honourable Hilary, the name standing out in red letters
before his eyes. He had never read a line of the philosopher's writings, not
even the charge to "hitch your wagon to a star" (not in the "Book of
Arguments"). Sarah Austen had read Emerson in the woods, and her son's question
sounded so like the unintelligible but unanswerable flashes with which the wife
had on rare occasions opposed the husband's authority that Hilary Vane found his
temper getting the best of him—The name of Emerson was immutably fixed in his
mind as the synonym for incomprehensible, foolish habits and beliefs. "Don't
talk Emerson to me," he exclaimed. "And as for Brush Bascom, I've known him for
thirty years, and he's done as much for the Republican party as any man in this
This vindication of Mr. Bascom naturally brought to a close a conversation
which had already continued too long. The Honourable Hilary retired to rest;
but—if Austen had known it—not to sleep until the small hours of the morning.
It was not until the ensuing spring that the case of Mr. Zebulun Meader
against the United Northeastern Railroads came up for trial in Bradford, the
county-seat of Putnam County, and we do not wish to appear to give it too great
a weight in the annals of the State. For one thing, the weekly newspapers did
not mention it; and Mr. Paul Pardriff, when urged to give an account of the
proceedings in the Ripton Record, said it was a matter of no importance, and
spent the afternoon writing an editorial about the domestic habits of the
Aztecs. Mr. Pardriff, however, had thought the matter of sufficient interest
personally to attend the trial, and for the journey he made use of a piece of
green cardboard which he habitually carried in his pocket. The editor of the
Bradford Champion did not have to use his yellow cardboard, yet his columns may
be searched in vain for the event.
Not that it was such a great event, one of hundreds of railroad accidents
that come to court. The son of Hilary Vane was the plaintiff's counsel; and Mr.
Meader, although he had not been able to work since his release from the
hospital, had been able to talk, and the interest taken in the case by the
average neglected citizen in Putnam proved that the weekly newspaper is not the
only disseminator of news.
The railroad's side of the case was presented by that genial and able
practitioner of Putnam County, Mr. Nathaniel Billings, who travelled from his
home in Williamstown by the exhibition of a red ticket. Austen Vane had to pay
his own way from Ripton, but as he handed back the mileage book, the conductor
leaned over and whispered something in his ear that made him smile, and Austen
thought he would rather have that little drop of encouragement than a pass. And
as he left the car at Bradford, two grizzled and hard-handed individuals arose
and wished him good luck.
He needed encouragement,—what young lawyer does not on his first important
case? And he did not like to think of the future if he lost this. But in this
matter he possessed a certain self-confidence which arose from a just and
righteous anger against the forces opposing him and a knowledge of their
tactics. To his mind his client was not Zeb Meader alone, but the host of
victims who had been maimed and bought off because it was cheaper than to give
the public a proper protection.
The court room was crowded. Mr. Zeb Meader, pale but determined, was
surrounded by a knot of Mercer neighbours, many of whom were witnesses. The
agate eyes of Mr. Brush Bascom flashed from the audience, and Mr. Nat Billings
bustled forward to shake Austen's hand. Nat was one of those who called not
infrequently upon the Honourable Hilary in Ripton, and had sat on Austen's
"Glad to see you, Austen," he cried, so that the people might hear; and
added, in a confidentially lower tone, "We lawyers understand that these little
things make no difference, eh?"
"I'm willing to agree to that if you are, Nat," Austen answered. He looked at
the lawyer's fleshy face, blue-black where it was shaven, and at Mr. Billings'
shifty eyes and mouth, which its muscles could not quite keep in place. Mr.
Billings also had nicked teeth. But he did his best to hide these obvious
disadvantages by a Falstaffian bonhomie,—for Mr. Billings was growing stout.
"I tried it once or twice, my friend, when I was younger. It's noble, but it
don't pay," said Mr. Billings, still confidential. "Brush is sour—look at him.
But I understand how you feel. I'm the kind of feller that speaks out, and what
I can't understand is, why the old man let you get into it."
"He knew you were going to be on the other side, Nat, and wanted to teach me
a lesson. I suppose it is folly to contest a case where the Railroad Commission
has completely exonerated your client," Austen added thoughtfully.
Mr. Billings' answer was to wink, very slowly, with one eye; and shortly
after these pleasantries were over, the case was called. A fragrant wind blew in
at the open windows, and Nature outside was beginning to array herself in myriad
hues of green. Austen studied the jury, and wondered how many points of his
argument he could remember, but when he had got to his feet the words came to
him. If we should seek an emblem for King David's smooth, round stone which he
flung at Goliath, we should call it the truth—for the truth never fails to reach
the mark. Austen's opening was not long, his words simple and not dramatic, but
he seemed to charge them with something of the same magnetic force that
compelled people to read and believe "Uncle Ton's Cabin" and the "Song of the
Shirt." Spectators and jury listened intently.
Some twenty witnesses appeared for the plaintiff, all of whom declared that
they had heard neither bell nor whistle. Most of these witnesses had been in the
grove, two or three in the train; two, residents of the vicinity, testified that
they had complained to the Railroad Commission about that crossing, and had
received evasive answers to the effect that it was the duty of citizens to look
out for themselves. On cross-examination they declared they had no objection to
grade crossings which were properly safeguarded; this crossing was a death-trap.
(Stricken out.) Mr. Billings made the mistake of trying to prove that one of
these farmers—a clear-eyed, full-chested man with a deep voice—had an animus
against the railroad dating from a controversy concerning the shipping of milk.
"I have an animus, your Honour," said the witness, quietly. "When the railrud
is represented by the kind of politicians we have in Putnam, it's natural I
should hain't it?"
This answer, although stricken out, was gleefully received.
In marked contrast to the earnestness of young Mr. Vane, who then rested, Mr.
Billings treated the affair from the standpoint of a man of large practice who
usually has more weighty matters to attend to. This was so comparatively trivial
as not to be dignified by a serious mien. He quoted freely from the "Book of
Arguments," reminding the jury of the debt of gratitude the State owed to the
Northeastern Railroads for doing so much for its people; and if they were to
eliminate all grade crossings, there would be no dividends for the stockholders.
Besides, the law was that the State should pay half when a crossing was
eliminated, and the State could not afford it. Austen had suggested, in his
opening, that it was cheaper for the railroad as well as the State to kill
citizens. He asked permission to inquire of the learned counsel for the defence
by what authority he declared that the State could not afford to enter into a
policy by which grade crossings would gradually be eliminated.
"Why," said Mr. Billings, "the fact that all bills introduced to this end
never get out of committee."
"May I ask," said Austen, innocently, "who has been chairman of that
particular committee in the lower House for the last five sessions?"
Mr. Billings was saved the embarrassment of answering this question by a loud
voice in the rear calling out:—"Brush Bascom!"
A roar of laughter shook the court room, and all eyes were turned on Brush,
who continued to sit unconcernedly with his legs crossed and his arm over the
back of the seat. The offender was put out, order was restored, and Mr. Billings
declared, with an injured air, that he failed to see why the counsel for the
plaintiff saw fit to impugn Mr. Bascom.
"I merely asked a question," said Austere; "far be it from me to impugn any
man who has held offices in the gift of the people for the last twenty years."
Another gale of laughter followed this, during which Mr. Billings wriggled
his mouth and gave a strong impression that such tactics and such levity were to
For the defence, the engineer and fireman both swore that the bell had been
rung before the crossing was reached. Austen merely inquired whether this was
not when they had left the station at North Mercer, two miles away. No, it was
nearer. Pressed to name the exact spot, they could only conjecture, but near
enough to be heard on the crossing. Other witnesses—among them several
picnickers in the grove—swore that they had heard the bell. One of these Austen
asked if he was not the member from Mercer in the last Legislature, and Mr.
Billings, no longer genial, sprang to his feet with an objection.
"I merely wish to show, your Honour," said Austen, "that this witness
accepted a pass from the Northeastern Railroads when he went to the Legislature,
and that he has had several trip passes for himself and his family since."
The objection was not sustained, and Mr. Billings noted an exception.
Another witness, upon whose appearance the audience tittered audibly, was
Dave Skinner, boss of Mercer. He had lived, he said, in the town of Mercer all
his life, and maintained that he was within a hundred yards of the track when
the accident occurred, and heard the bell ring.
"Is it not a fact," said Austen to this witness, "that Mr. Brush Bascom has a
mortgage on your farm?"
"I can show, your Honour," Austen continued, when Mr. Billings had finished
his protest, "that this man was on his way to Riverside to pay his quarterly
Mr. Bascom was not present at the afternoon session. Mr. Billings' summing up
was somewhat impassioned, and contained more quotations from the "Book of
Arguments." He regretted, he said, the obvious appeals to prejudice against a
railroad corporation that was honestly trying to do its duty-yes, and more than
Misjudged, misused, even though friendless, it would continue to serve the
people. So noble, indeed, was the picture which Mr. Billings' eloquence raised
up that his voice shook with emotion as he finished.
In the opinion of many of the spectators Austen Vane had yet to learn the art
of oratory. He might with propriety have portrayed the suffering and loss of the
poor farmer who was his client; he merely quoted from the doctor's testimony to
the effect that Mr. Meader would never again be able to do physical labour of
the sort by which he had supported himself, and ended up by calling the
attention of the jury to the photographs and plans of the crossing he had
obtained two days after the accident, requesting them to note the facts that the
public highway, approaching through a dense forest and underbrush at an angle of
thirty-three degrees, climbed the railroad embankment at that point, and a train
could not be seen until the horse was actually on the track.
The jury was out five minutes after the judge's charge, and gave Mr. Zebulun
Meader a verdict of six thousand dollars and costs,—a popular verdict, from the
evident approval with which it was received in the court room. Quiet being
restored, Mr. Billings requested, somewhat vehemently, that the case be
transferred on the exceptions to the Supreme Court, that the stenographer write
out the evidence, and that he might have three weeks in which to prepare a
draft. This was granted.
Zeb Meader, true to his nature, was self-contained throughout the
congratulations he received, but his joy was nevertheless intense.
"You shook 'em up good, Austen," he said, making his way to where his counsel
stood. "I suspicioned you'd do it. But how about this here appeal?"
"Billings is merely trying to save the face of his railroad," Austen
answered, smiling. "He hasn't the least notion of allowing this case to come up
again—take my word for it."
"I guess your word's good," said Zeb. "And I want to tell you one thing, as
an old man. I've been talkin' to Putnam County folks some, and you hain't lost
nothin' by this."
"How am I to get along without the friendship of Brush Bascom?" asked Austen,
Mr. Meader, who had become used to this mild sort of humour, relaxed
sufficiently to laugh.
"Brush did seem a mite disgruntled," he remarked.
Somewhat to Austen's embarrassment, Mr. Mender's friends were pushing
forward. One grizzled veteran took him by the hand and looked thoughtfully into
"I've lived a good many years," he said, "but I never heerd 'em talked up to
like that. You're my candidate for governor."