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- The Lion and the Mouse - 3/50 -
philosophy was the worst kind of paganism. There could, she argued, be no religion, and assuredly no salvation, outside the dogmatic teachings of the Church. But otherwise Jefferson was a model son and, with the exception of this bad habit of thinking for himself on religious matters, really gave her no anxiety. When Jefferson left college, his father took him into the Empire Trading Company with the idea of his eventually succeeding him as head of the concern, but the different views held by father and son on almost every subject soon led to stormy scenes that made the continuation of the arrangement impossible. Senator Roberts was well aware of these unfortunate independent tendencies in John Ryder's son, and while he devoutly desired the consummation of Jefferson's union with his daughter, he quite realized that the young man was a nut which was going to be exceedingly hard to crack.
"Hello, senator, you're always on time!"
Disturbed in his reflections, Senator Roberts looked up and saw the extended hand of a red-faced, corpulent man, one of the directors. He was no favourite with the senator, but the latter was too keen a man of the world to make enemies uselessly, so he condescended to place two fingers in the outstretched fat palm.
"How are you, Mr. Grimsby? Well, what are we going to do about this injunction? The case has gone against us. I knew Judge Rossmore's decision would be for the other side. Public opinion is aroused. The press--"
Mr. Grimsby's red face grew more apoplectic as he blurted out:
"Public opinion and the press be d---d. Who cares for public opinion? What is public opinion, anyhow? This road can manage its own affairs or it can't. If it can't I for one quit railroading. The press! Pshaw! It's all graft, I tell you. It's nothing but a strike! I never knew one of these virtuous outbursts that wasn't. First the newspapers bark ferociously to advertise themselves; then they crawl round and whine like a cur. And it usually costs something to fix matters."
The senator smiled grimly.
"No, no, Grimsby--not this time. It's more serious than that. Hitherto the road has been unusually lucky in its bench decisions- -"
The senator gave a covert glance round to see if any long ears were listening. Then he added:
"We can't expect always to get a favourable decision like that in the Cartwright case, when franchise rights valued at nearly five millions were at stake. Judge Stollmann proved himself a true friend in that affair."
Grimsby made a wry grimace as he retorted:
"Yes, and it was worth it to him. A Supreme Court judge don't get a cheque for $20,000 every day. That represents two years' pay."
"It might represent two years in jail if it were found out," said the senator with a forced laugh.
Grimsby saw an opportunity, and he could not resist the temptation. Bluntly he said:
"As far as jail's concerned, others might be getting their deserts there too."
The senator looked keenly at Grimsby from under his white eyebrows. Then in a calm, decisive tone he replied:
"It's no question of a cheque this time. The road could not buy Judge Rossmore with $200,000. He is absolutely unapproachable in that way."
The apoplectic face of Mr. Grimsby looked incredulous.
It was hard for these men who plotted in the dark, and cheated the widow and the orphan for love of the dollar, to understand that there were in the world, breathing the same air as they, men who put honour, truth and justice above mere money-getting. With a slight tinge of sarcasm he asked:
"Is there any man in our public life who is unapproachable from some direction or other?"
"Yes, Judge Rossmore is such a man. He is one of the few men in American public life who takes his duties seriously. In the strictest sense of the term, he serves his country instead of serving himself. I am no friend of his, but I must do him that justice."
He spoke sharply, in an irritated tone, as if resenting the insinuation of this vulgarian that every man in public life had his price. Roberts knew that the charge was true as far as he and the men he consorted with were concerned, but sometimes the truth hurts. That was why he had for a moment seemed to champion Judge Rossmore, which, seeing that the judge himself was at that very moment under a cloud, was an absurd thing for him to do.
He had known Rossmore years before when the latter was a city magistrate in New York. That was before he, Roberts, had become a political grafter and when the decent things in life still appealed to him. The two men, although having few interests in common, had seen a good deal of one another until Roberts went to Washington when their relations were completely severed. But he had always watched Rossmore's career, and when he was made a judge of the Supreme Court at a comparatively early age he was sincerely glad. If anything could have convinced Roberts that success can come in public life to a man who pursues it by honest methods it was the success of James Rossmore. He could never help feeling that Rossmore had been endowed by Nature with certain qualities which had been denied to him, above all that ability to walk straight through life with skirts clean which he had found impossible himself. To-day Judge Rossmore was one of the most celebrated judges in the country. He was a brilliant jurist and a splendid after-dinner speaker. He was considered the most learned and able of all the members of the judiciary, and his decisions were noted as much for their fearlessness as for their wisdom. But what was far more, he enjoyed a reputation for absolute integrity. Until now no breath of slander, no suspicion of corruption, had ever touched him. Even his enemies acknowledged that. And that is why there was a panic to-day among the directors of the Southern and Transcontinental Railroad. This honest, upright man had been called upon in the course of his duty to decide matters of vital importance to the road, and the directors were ready to stampede because, in their hearts, they knew the weakness of their case and the strength of the judge.
Grimsby, unconvinced, returned to the charge.
"What about these newspaper charges? Did Judge Rossmore take a bribe from the Great Northwestern or didn't he? You ought to know."
"I do know," answered the senator cautiously and somewhat curtly, "but until Mr. Ryder arrives I can say nothing. I believe he has been inquiring into the matter. He will tell us when he comes."
The hands of the large clock in the outer room pointed to three. An active, dapper little man with glasses and with books under his arm passed hurriedly from another office into the directors room.
"There goes Mr. Lane with the minutes. The meeting is called. Where's Mr. Ryder?"
There was a general move of the scattered groups of directors toward the committee room. The clock overhead began to strike. The last stroke had not quite died away when the big swinging doors from the street were thrown open and there entered a tall, thin man, gray-headed, and with a slight stoop, but keen eyed and alert. He was carefully dressed in a well-fitting frock coat, white waistcoat, black tie and silk hat.
It was John Burkett Ryder, the Colossus.
At fifty-six, John Burkett Ryder was surprisingly well preserved. With the exception of the slight stoop, already noted, and the rapidly thinning snow-white hair, his step was as light and elastic, and his brain as vigorous and alert, as in a man of forty. Of old English stock, his physical make-up presented all those strongly marked characteristics of our race which, sprung from Anglo-Saxon ancestry, but modified by nearly 300 years of different climate and customs, has gradually produced the distinct and true American type, as easily recognizable among the family of nations as any other of the earth's children. Tall and distinguished-looking, Ryder would have attracted attention anywhere. Men who have accomplished much in life usually bear plainly upon their persons the indefinable stamp of achievement, whether of good or evil, which renders them conspicuous among their fellows. We turn after a man in the street and ask, Who is he? And nine times out of ten the object of our curiosity is a man who has made his mark--a successful soldier, a famous sailor, a celebrated author, a distinguished lawyer, or even a notorious crook.
There was certainly nothing in John Ryder's outward appearance to justify Lombroso's sensational description of him: "A social and physiological freak, a degenerate and a prodigy of turpitude who, in the pursuit of money, crushes with the insensibility of a steel machine everyone who stands in his way." On the contrary, Ryder, outwardly at least, was a prepossessing-looking man. His head was well-shaped, and he had an intellectual brow, while power was expressed in every gesture of his hands and body. Every inch of him suggested strength and resourcefulness. His face, when in good humour, frequently expanded in a pleasant smile, and he had even been known to laugh boisterously, usually at his own stories, which he rightly considered very droll, and of which he possessed a goodly stock. But in repose his face grew stern and forbidding, and when his prognathous jaw, indicative of will-power and bull- dog tenacity, snapped to with a click-like sound, those who heard it knew that squalls were coming.
But it was John Ryder's eyes that were regarded as the most
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