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- The Lion and the Mouse - 1/50 -
The Lion and the Mouse
A Story of an American Life
Novelized from the play by
"Judges and Senates have been bought for gold; Love and esteem have never been sold." POPE
THE LION AND THE MOUSE
There was unwonted bustle in the usually sleepy and dignified New York offices of the Southern and Transcontinental Railroad Company in lower Broadway. The supercilious, well-groomed clerks who, on ordinary days, are far too preoccupied with their own personal affairs to betray the slightest interest in anything not immediately concerning them, now condescended to bestir themselves and, gathered in little groups, conversed in subdued, eager tones. The slim, nervous fingers of half a dozen haughty stenographers, representing as many different types of business femininity, were busily rattling the keys of clicking typewriters, each of their owners intent on reducing with all possible despatch the mass of letters which lay piled up in front of her. Through the heavy plate-glass swinging doors, leading to the elevators and thence to the street, came and went an army of messengers and telegraph boys, noisy and insolent. Through the open windows the hoarse shouting of news-venders, the rushing of elevated trains, the clanging of street cars, with the occasional feverish dash of an ambulance--all these familiar noises of a great city had the far- away sound peculiar to top floors of the modern sky-scraper. The day was warm and sticky, as is not uncommon in early May, and the overcast sky and a distant rumbling of thunder promised rain before night.
The big express elevators, running smoothly and swiftly, unloaded every few moments a number of prosperous-looking men who, chatting volubly and affably, made their way immediately through the outer offices towards another and larger inner office on the glass door of which was the legend "Directors Room. Private." Each comer gave a patronizing nod in recognition of the deferential salutation of the clerks. Earlier arrivals had preceded them, and as they opened the door there issued from the Directors Room a confused murmur of voices, each different in pitch and tone, some deep and deliberate, others shrill and nervous, but all talking earnestly and with animation as men do when the subject under discussion is of common interest. Now and again a voice was heard high above the others, denoting anger in the speaker, followed by the pleading accents of the peace-maker, who was arguing his irate colleague into calmness. At intervals the door opened to admit other arrivals, and through the crack was caught a glimpse of a dozen directors, some seated, some standing near a long table covered with green baize.
It was the regular quarterly meeting of the directors of the Southern and Transcontinental Railroad Company, but it was something more than mere routine that had called out a quorum of such strength and which made to-day's gathering one of extraordinary importance in the history of the road. That the business on hand was of the greatest significance was easily to be inferred from the concerned and anxious expression on the directors' faces and the eagerness of the employes as they plied each other with questions.
"Suppose the injunction is sustained?" asked a clerk in a whisper. "Is not the road rich enough to bear the loss?"
The man he addressed turned impatiently to the questioner: "That's all you know about railroading. Don't you understand that this suit we have lost will be the entering wedge for hundreds of others. The very existence of the road may be at stake. And between you and me," he added in a lower key, "with Judge Rossmore on the bench we never stood much show. It's Judge Rossmore that scares 'em, not the injunction. They've found it easy to corrupt most of the Supreme Court judges, but Judge Rossmore is one too many for them. You could no more bribe him than you could have bribed Abraham Lincoln."
"But the newspapers say that he, too, has been caught accepting $50,000 worth of stock for that decision he rendered in the Great Northwestern case."
"Lies! All those stories are lies," replied the other emphatically. Then looking cautiously around to make sure no one overheard, he added contemptuously, "The big interests fear him, and they're inventing these lies to try and injure him. They might as well try to blow up Gibraltar. The fact is the public is seriously aroused this time and the railroads are in a panic."
It was true. The railroad, which heretofore had considered itself superior to law, had found itself checked in its career of outlawry and oppression. The railroad, this modern octopus of steam and steel which stretches its greedy tentacles out over the land, had at last been brought to book.
At first, when the country was in the earlier stages of its development, the railroad appeared in the guise of a public benefactor. It brought to the markets of the East the produce of the South and West. It opened up new and inaccessible territory and made oases of waste places. It brought to the city coal, lumber, food and other prime necessaries of life, taking back to the farmer and the woodsman in exchange, clothes and other manufactured goods. Thus, little by little, the railroad wormed itself into the affections of the people and gradually became an indispensable part of the life it had itself created. Tear up the railroad and life itself is extinguished.
So when the railroad found it could not be dispensed with, it grew dissatisfied with the size of its earnings. Legitimate profits were not enough. Its directors cried out for bigger dividends, and from then on the railroad became a conscienceless tyrant, fawning on those it feared and crushing without mercy those who were defenceless. It raised its rates for hauling freight, discriminating against certain localities without reason or justice, and favouring other points where its own interests lay. By corrupting government officials and other unlawful methods it appropriated lands, and there was no escape from its exactions and brigandage. Other roads were built, and for a brief period there was held out the hope of relief that invariably comes from honest competition. But the railroad either absorbed its rivals or pooled interests with them, and thereafter there were several masters instead of one.
Soon the railroads began to war among themselves, and in a mad scramble to secure business at any price they cut each other's rates and unlawfully entered into secret compacts with certain big shippers, permitting the latter to enjoy lower freight rates than their competitors. The smaller shippers were soon crushed out of existence in this way. Competition was throttled and prices went up, making the railroad barons richer and the people poorer. That was the beginning of the giant Trusts, the greatest evil American civilization has yet produced, and one which, unless checked, will inevitably drag this country into the throes of civil strife.
From out of this quagmire of corruption and rascality emerged the Colossus, a man so stupendously rich and with such unlimited powers for evil that the world has never looked upon his like. The famous Croesus, whose fortune was estimated at only eight millions in our money, was a pauper compared with John Burkett Ryder, whose holdings no man could count, but which were approximately estimated at a thousand millions of dollars. The railroads had created the Trust, the ogre of corporate greed, of which Ryder was the incarnation, and in time the Trust became master of the
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