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- The Lion and the Mouse - 4/50 -
reliable barometer of his mental condition. Wonderful eyes they were, strangely eloquent and expressive, and their most singular feature was that they possessed the uncanny power of changing colour like a cat's. When their owner was at peace with the world, and had temporarily shaken off the cares of business, his eyes were of the most restful, beautiful blue, like the sky after sunrise on a Spring morning, and looking into their serene depths it seemed absurd to think that this man could ever harm a fly. His face, while under the spell of this kindly mood, was so benevolent and gentle, so frank and honest that you felt there was nothing in the world--purse, honour, wife, child--that, if needs be, you would not entrust to his keeping.
When this period of truce was ended, when the plutocrat was once more absorbed in controlling the political as well as the commercial machinery of the nation, then his eyes took on a snakish, greenish hue, and one could plainly read in them the cunning, the avariciousness, the meanness, the insatiable thirst for gain that had made this man the most unscrupulous money-getter of his time. But his eyes had still another colour, and when this last transformation took place those dependent on him, and even his friends, quaked with fear. For they were his eyes of anger. On these dreaded occasions his eyes grew black as darkest night and flashed fire as lightning rends the thundercloud. Almost ungovernable fury was, indeed, the weakest spot in John Ryder's armour, for in these moments of appalling wrath he was reckless of what he said or did, friendship, self-interest, prudence--all were sacrificed.
Such was the Colossus on whom all eyes were turned as he entered. Instantly the conversations, stopped as by magic. The directors nudged each other and whispered. Instinctively, Ryder singled out his crony, Senator Roberts, who advanced with effusive gesture:
"You're punctual as usual, Mr. Ryder. I never knew you to be late!"
The great man chuckled, and the little men standing around, listening breathlessly, chuckled in respectful sympathy, and they elbowed and pushed one another in their efforts to attract Ryder's notice, like so many cowardly hyenas not daring to approach the lordly wolf. Senator Roberts made a remark in a low tone to Ryder, whereupon the latter laughed. The bystanders congratulated each other silently. The great man was pleased to be in a good humour. And as Ryder turned with the senator to enter the Directors Room the light from the big windows fell full on his face, and they noticed that his eyes were of the softest blue.
"No squalls to-day," whispered one.
"Wait and see," retorted a more experienced colleague. "Those eyes are more fickle than the weather."
Outside the sky was darkening, and drops of rain were already falling. A flash of lightning presaged the coming storm.
Ryder passed on and into the Directors Room followed by Senator Roberts and the other directors, the procession being brought up by the dapper little secretary bearing the minutes.
The long room with its narrow centre table covered with green baize was filled with directors scattered in little groups and all talking at once with excited gesture. At the sight of Ryder the chattering stopped as if by common consent, and the only sound audible was of the shuffling of feet and the moving of chairs as the directors took their places around the long table.
With a nod here and there Ryder took his place in the chairman's seat and rapped for order. Then at a sign from the chair the dapper little secretary began in a monotonous voice to read the minutes of the previous meeting. No one listened, a few directors yawned. Others had their eyes riveted on Ryder's face, trying to read there if he had devised some plan to offset the crushing blow of this adverse decision, which meant a serious loss to them all. He, the master mind, had served them in many a like crisis in the past. Could he do so again? But John Ryder gave no sign. His eyes, still of the same restful blue, were fixed on the ceiling watching a spider marching with diabolical intent on a wretched fly that had become entangled in its web. And as the secretary ambled monotonously on, Ryder watched and watched until he saw the spider seize its helpless prey and devour it. Fascinated by the spectacle, which doubtless suggested to him some analogy to his own methods, Ryder sat motionless, his eyes fastened on the ceiling, until the sudden stopping of the secretary's reading aroused him and told him that the minutes were finished. Quickly they were approved, and the chairman proceeded as rapidly as possible with the regular business routine. That disposed of, the meeting was ready for the chief business of the day. Ryder then calmly proceeded to present the facts in the case.
Some years back the road had acquired as an investment some thousands of acres of land located in the outskirts of Auburndale, on the line of their road. The land was bought cheap, and there had been some talk of laying part of it out as a public park. This promise had been made at the time in good faith, but it was no condition of the sale. If, afterwards, owing to the rise in the value of real estate, the road found it impossible to carry out the original idea, surely they were masters of their own property! The people of Auburndale thought differently and, goaded on by the local newspapers, had begun action in the courts to restrain the road from diverting the land from its alleged original purpose. They had succeeded in getting the injunction, but the road had fought it tooth and nail, and finally carried it to the Supreme Court, where Judge Rossmore, after reserving his opinion, had finally sustained the injunction and decided against the railroad. That was the situation, and he would now like to hear from the members of the board.
Mr. Grimsby rose. Self-confident and noisily loquacious, as most men of his class are in simple conversation, he was plainly intimidated at speaking before such a crowd. He did not know where to look nor what to do with his hands, and he shuffled uneasily on his feet, while streams of nervous perspiration ran down his fat face, which he mopped repeatedly with a big coloured handkerchief. At last, taking courage, he began:
"Mr. Chairman, for the past ten years this road has made bigger earnings in proportion to its carrying capacity than any other railroad in the United States. We have had fewer accidents, less injury to rolling stock, less litigation and bigger dividends. The road has been well managed and"--here he looked significantly in Ryder's direction--"there has been a big brain behind the manager. We owe you that credit, Mr. Ryder!"
Cries of "Hear! Hear!" came from all round the table.
Ryder bowed coldly, and Mr. Grimsby continued: "But during the last year or two things have gone wrong. There has been a lot of litigation, most of which has gone against us, and it has cost a heap of money. It reduced the last quarterly dividend very considerably, and the new complication--this Auburndale suit, which also has gone against us--is going to make a still bigger hole in our exchequer. Gentlemen, I don't want to be a prophet of misfortune, but I'll tell you this--unless something is done to stop this hostility in the courts you and I stand to lose every cent we have invested in the road. This suit which we have just lost means a number of others. What I would ask our chairman is what has become of his former good relations with the Supreme Court, what has become of his influence, which never failed us. What are these rumours regarding Judge Rossmore? He is charged in the newspapers with having accepted a present from a road in whose favour he handed down a very valuable decision. How is it that our road cannot reach Judge Rossmore and make him presents?"
The speaker sat down, flushed and breathless. The expression on every face showed that the anxiety was general. The directors glanced at Ryder, but his face was expressionless as marble. Apparently he took not the slightest interest in this matter which so agitated his colleagues.
Another director rose. He was a better speaker than Mr. Grimsby, but his voice had a hard, rasping quality that smote the ears unpleasantly. He said:
"Mr. Chairman, none of us can deny what Mr. Grimsby has just put before us so vividly. We are threatened not with one, but with a hundred such suits, unless something is done either to placate the public or to render its attacks harmless. Rightly or wrongly, the railroad is hated by the people, yet we are only what railroad conditions compel us to be. With the present fierce competition, no fine question of ethics can enter into our dealings as a business organization. With an irritated public and press on one side, and a hostile judiciary on the other, the outlook certainly is far from bright. But is the judiciary hostile? Is it not true that we have been singularly free from litigation until recently, and that most of the decisions were favourable to the road? Judge Rossmore is the real danger. While he is on the bench the road is not safe. Yet all efforts to reach him have failed and will fail. I do not take any stock in the newspaper stories regarding Judge Rossmore. They are preposterous. Judge Rossmore is too strong a man to be got rid of so easily."
The speaker sat down and another rose, his arguments being merely a reiteration of those already heard. Ryder did not listen to what was being said. Why should he? Was he not familiar with every possible phase of the game? Better than these men who merely talked, he was planning how the railroad and all his other interests could get rid of this troublesome judge.
It was true. He who controlled legislatures and dictated to Supreme Court judges had found himself powerless when each turn of the legal machinery had brought him face to face with Judge Rossmore. Suit after suit had been decided against him and the interests he represented, and each time it was Judge Rossmore who had handed down the decision. So for years these two men had fought a silent but bitter duel in which principle on the one side and attempted corruption on the other were the gauge of battle. Judge Rossmore fought with the weapons which his oath and the law directed him to use, Ryder with the only weapons he understood-- bribery and trickery. And each time it had been Rossmore who had emerged triumphant. Despite every manoeuvre Ryder's experience could suggest, notwithstanding every card that could be played to undermine his credit and reputation, Judge Rossmore stood higher in the country's confidence than when he was first appointed.
So when Ryder found he could not corrupt this honest judge with gold, he decided to destroy him with calumny. He realized that the sordid methods which had succeeded with other judges would never
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