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- The Lion and the Mouse - 5/50 -
prevail with Rossmore, so he plotted to take away from this man the one thing he cherished most--his honour. He would ruin him by defaming his character, and so skilfully would he accomplish his work that the judge himself would realize the hopelessness of resistance. No scruples embarrassed Ryder in arriving at this determination. From his point of view he was fully justified. "Business is business. He hurts my interests; therefore I remove him." So he argued, and he considered it no more wrong to wreck the happiness of this honourable man than he would to have shot a burglar in self-defence. So having thus tranquillized his conscience he had gone to work in his usually thorough manner, and his success had surpassed the most sanguine expectations.
This is what he had done.
Like many of our public servants whose labours are compensated only in niggardly fashion by an inconsiderate country, Judge Rossmore was a man of but moderate means. His income as Justice of the Supreme Court was $12,000 a year, but for a man in his position, having a certain appearance to keep up, it little more than kept the wolf from the door. He lived quietly but comfortably in New York City with his wife and his daughter Shirley, an attractive young woman who had graduated from Vassar and had shown a marked taste for literature. The daughter's education had cost a good deal of money, and this, together with life insurance and other incidentals of keeping house in New York, had about taken all he had. Yet he had managed to save a little, and those years when he could put by a fifth of his salary the judge considered himself lucky. Secretly, he was proud of his comparative poverty. At least the world could never ask him "where he got it."
Ryder was well acquainted with Judge Rossmore's private means. The two men had met at a dinner, and although Ryder had tried to cultivate the acquaintance, he never received much encouragement. Ryder's son Jefferson, too, had met Miss Shirley Rossmore and been much attracted to her, but the father having more ambitious plans for his heir quickly discouraged all attentions in that direction. He himself, however, continued to meet the judge casually, and one evening he contrived to broach the subject of profitable investments. The judge admitted that by careful hoarding and much stinting he had managed to save a few thousand dollars which he was anxious to invest in something good.
Quick as the keen-eyed vulture swoops down on its prey the wily financier seized the opportunity thus presented. And he took so much trouble in answering the judge's inexperienced questions, and generally made himself so agreeable, that the judge found himself regretting that he and Ryder had, by force of circumstances, been opposed to each other in public life so long. Ryder strongly recommended the purchase of Alaskan Mining stock, a new and booming enterprise which had lately become very active in the market. Ryder said he had reasons to believe that the stock would soon advance, and now there was an opportunity to get it cheap.
A few days after he had made the investment the judge was surprised to receive certificates of stock for double the amount he had paid for. At the same time he received a letter from the secretary of the company explaining that the additional stock was pool stock and not to be marketed at the present time. It was in the nature of a bonus to which he was entitled as one of the early shareholders. The letter was full of verbiage and technical details of which the judge understood nothing, but he thought it very liberal of the company, and putting the stock away in his safe soon forgot all about it. Had he been a business man he would have scented peril. He would have realized that he had now in his possession $50,000 worth of stock for which he had not paid a cent, and furthermore had deposited it when a reorganization came.
But the judge was sincerely grateful for Ryder's apparently disinterested advice and wrote two letters to him, one in which he thanked him for the trouble he had taken, and another in which he asked him if he was sure the company was financially sound, as the investment he contemplated making represented all his savings. He added in the second letter that he had received stock for double the amount of his investment, and that being a perfect child in business transactions he had been unable to account for the extra $50,000 worth until the secretary of the company had written him assuring him that everything was in order. These letters Ryder kept.
From that time on the Alaskan Mining Company underwent mysterious changes. New capitalists gained control and the name was altered to the Great Northwestern Mining Company. Then it became involved in litigation, and one suit, the outcome of which meant millions to the company, was carried to the Supreme Court, where Judge Rossmore was sitting. The judge had by this time forgotten all about the company in which he owned stock. He did not even recall its name. He only knew vaguely that it was a mine and that it was situated in Alaska. Could he dream that the Great Northwestern Mining Company and the company to which he had entrusted his few thousands were one and the same? In deciding on the merits of the case presented to him right seemed to him to be plainly with the Northwestern, and he rendered a decision to that effect. It was an important decision, involving a large sum, and for a day or two it was talked about. But as it was the opinion of the most learned and honest judge on the bench no one dreamed of questioning it.
But very soon ugly paragraphs began to appear in the newspapers. One paper asked if it were true that Judge Rossmore owned stock in the Great Northwestern Mining Company which had recently benefited so signally by his decision. Interviewed by a reporter, Judge Rossmore indignantly denied being interested in any way in the company. Thereupon the same paper returned to the attack, stating that the judge must surely be mistaken as the records showed a sale of stock to him at the time the company was known as the Alaskan Mining Company. When he read this the judge was overwhelmed. It was true then! They had not slandered him. It was he who had lied, but how innocently--how innocently!
His daughter Shirley, who was his greatest friend and comfort, was then in Europe. She had gone to the Continent to rest, after working for months on a novel which she had just published. His wife, entirely without experience in business matters and somewhat of an invalid, was helpless to advise him. But to his old and tried friend, ex-Judge Stott, Judge Rossmore explained the facts as they were. Stott shook his head. "It's a conspiracy!" he cried. "And John B. Ryder is behind it." Rossmore refused to believe that any man could so deliberately try to encompass another's destruction, but when more newspaper stories came out he began to realize that Stott was right and that his enemies had indeed dealt him a deadly blow. One newspaper boldly stated that Judge Rossmore was down on the mining company's books for $50,000 more stock than he had paid for, and it went on to ask if this were payment for the favourable decision just rendered. Rossmore, helpless, child- like as he was in business matters, now fully realized the seriousness of his position. "My God! My God!" he cried, as he bowed his head down on his desk. And for a whole day he remained closeted in his library, no one venturing near him.
As John Ryder sat there sphinx-like at the head of the directors' table he reviewed all this in his mind. His own part in the work was now done and well done, and he had come to this meeting to-day to tell them of his triumph.
The speaker, to whom he had paid such scant attention, resumed his seat, and there followed a pause and an intense silence which was broken only by the pattering of the rain against the big windows. The directors turned expectantly to Ryder, waiting for him to speak. What could the Colossus do now to save the situation? Cries of "the Chair! the Chair!" arose on every side. Senator Roberts leaned over to Ryder and whispered something in his ear.
With an acquiescent gesture, John Ryder tapped the table with his gavel and rose to address his fellow directors. Instantly the room was silent again as the tomb. One might have heard a pin drop, so intense was the attention. All eyes were fixed on the chairman. The air itself seemed charged with electricity, that needed but a spark to set it ablaze.
Speaking deliberately and dispassionately, the Master Dissembler began.
They had all listened carefully, he said, to what had been stated by previous speakers. The situation no doubt was very critical, but they had weathered worse storms and he had every reason to hope they would outlive this storm. It was true that public opinion was greatly incensed against the railroads and, indeed, against all organized capital, and was seeking to injure them through the courts. For a time this agitation would hurt business and lessen the dividends, for it meant not only smaller annual earnings but that a lot of money must be spent in Washington.
The eyes of the listeners, who were hanging on every word, involuntarily turned in the direction of Senator Roberts, but the latter, at that moment busily engaged in rummaging among a lot of papers, seemed to have missed this significant allusion to the road's expenses in the District of Columbia. Ryder continued:
In his experience such waves of reform were periodical and soon wear themselves out, when things go on just as they did before. Much of the agitation, doubtless, was a strike for graft. They would have to go down in their pockets, he supposed, and then these yellow newspapers and these yellow magazines that were barking at their heels would let them go. But in regard to the particular case now at issue--this Auburndale decision--there had been no way of preventing it. Influence had been used, but to no effect. The thing to do now was to prevent any such disasters in future by removing the author of them.
The directors bent eagerly forward. Had Ryder really got some plan up his sleeve after all? The faces around the table looked brighter, and the directors cleared their throats and settled themselves down in their chairs as audiences do in the theatre when the drama is reaching its climax.
The board, continued Ryder with icy calmness, had perhaps heard, and also seen in the newspapers, the stories regarding Judge Rossmore and his alleged connection with the Great Northwestern Company. Perhaps they had not believed these stories. It was only natural. He had not believed them himself. But he had taken the trouble to inquire into the matter very carefully, and he regretted to say that the stories were true. In fact, they were no longer denied by Judge Rossmore himself.
The directors looked at each other in amazement. Gasps of astonishment, incredulity, satisfaction were heard all over the room. The rumours were true, then? Was it possible? Incredible!
Investigation, Ryder went on, had shown that Judge Rossmore was not only interested in the company in whose favour, as Judge of
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