The Second Generation
By David Graham Phillips
Public Domain Books
Chapter XII - Arthur Falls Among Lawyers
Arthur ended his far from orderly retreat at the Auditorium, and in the sitting room of his suite there set about re-forming his lines, with some vague idea of making another attack later in the day–one less timid and blundering. “I’d better not have gone near her,” said he disgustedly. “How could a man win when he feels beaten before he begins?” He was not now hazed by Janet’s beauty and her voice like bells in evening quiet, and her mystic ideas. Youth, rarely wise in action, is often wise in thought; and Arthur, having a reasoning apparatus that worked uncommonly well when he set it in motion and did not interfere with it, was soon seeing his situation as a whole much as it was–ugly, mocking, hopeless.
“Maybe Janet knows the real reason why she’s acting this way, maybe she don’t,” thought he, with the disposition of the inexperienced to give the benefit of even imaginary doubt. “No matter; the fact is, it’s all up between us.” This finality, unexpectedly staring at him, gave him a shock. “Why,” he muttered, “she really has thrown me over! All her talk was a blind–a trick.” And, further exhibiting his youth in holding the individual responsible for the system of which the individual is merely a victim, usually a pitiable victim, he went to the opposite extreme and fell to denouncing her–cold-hearted and mercenary like her mother, a coward as well as a hypocrite–for, if she had had any of the bravery of self-respect, wouldn’t she have been frank with him? He reviewed her in the flooding new light upon her character, this light that revealed her as mercilessly as flash of night-watchman’s lantern on guilty, shrinking form. “She–Why, she always was a fakir!” he exclaimed, stupefied by the revelation of his own lack of discernment, he who had prided himself on his acuteness, especially as to women. “From childhood up, she has always made herself comfortable, no matter who was put out; she has gotten whatever she wanted, always pretending to be unselfish, always making it look as if the other person were in the wrong.” There he started up in the rate of the hoodwinked, at the recollection of an incident of the previous summer–how she had been most gracious to a young French nobleman, in America in search of a wife; how anybody but “spiritual” Janet would have been accused of outrageous flirting–no, not accused, but convicted. He recalled a vague story which he had set down to envious gossip–a story that the Frenchman had departed on learning that Charles Whitney had not yet reached the stage of fashionable education at which the American father appreciates titles and begins to listen without losing his temper when the subject of settlements is broached. He remembered now that Janet had been low-spirited for some time after the Frenchman took himself and title and eloquent eyes and “soulful, stimulating conversation” to another market. “What a damn fool I’ve been!” Arthur all but shouted at his own image in a mirror which by chance was opposite him. A glance, and his eyes shifted; somehow, it gave him no pleasure, but the reverse, to see that handsome face and well-set-up, well-dressed figure.
“She was marrying me for money,” he went on, when he had once more seated himself, legs crossed and cigarette going reflectively. The idea seemed new to him–that people with money could marry for money, just as a capitalist goes only where he hopes to increase his capital. But on examining it more closely, he was surprised to find that it was not new at all. “What am I so virtuous about?” said he. “Wasn’t I after money, too? If our circumstances were reversed, what would I be doing?” He could find but one honest answer. “No doubt I’d be trying to get out of it, and if I didn’t, it’d be because I couldn’t see or make a way.” To his abnormally sensitized nerves the whole business began to exude a distinct, nauseating odor. “Rotten–that’s the God’s truth,” thought he. “Father was right!”
But there he drew back; he must be careful not to let anger sweep him into conceding too much. “No–life’s got to be lived as the world dictates,” he hastened to add. “I see now why father did it, but he went too far. He forgot my rights. The money is mine. And, by God, I’ll get it!” And again he started up; and again he was caught and put out of countenance by his own image in the mirror. He turned away, shamefaced, but sullenly resolute.
Base? He couldn’t deny it. But he was desperate; also, he had been too long accustomed to grabbing things to which his conscience told him he had doubtful right or none. “It’s mine. I’ve been cheated out of it. I’ll get it. Besides–” His mind suddenly cleared of the shadow of shame–"I owe it to mother and Del to make the fight. They’ve been cheated, too. Because they’re too soft-hearted and too reverent of father’s memory, is that any reason, any excuse, for my shirking my duty by them? If father were here to speak, I know he’d approve.” Before him rose the frightful look in his father’s eyes in the earlier stage of that second and last illness. ’That’s what the look meant!” he cried, now completely justified. “He recovered his reason. He wanted to undo the mischief that old sneak Hargrave had drawn him into!”
The case was complete: His father had been insane when he made the will, had repented afterward, but had been unable to unmake it; his only son Arthur Ranger, now head of the family, owed it to the family’s future and to its two helpless and oversentimental women to right the wrong. A complete case, a clear case, a solemn mandate. Interest and duty were synonymous–as always to ingenious minds.
He lost no time in setting about this newly discovered high task of love and justice. Within twenty minutes he was closeted with Dawson of the great law firm, Mitchell, Dawson, Vance & Bischoffsheimer, who had had the best seats on all the fattest stranded carcasses of the Middle West for a decade–that is, ever since Bischoffsheimer joined the firm and taught its intellects how on a vast scale to transubstantiate technically legal knowledge into technically legal wealth. Dawson–lean and keen, tough and brown of skin, and so carelessly dressed that he looked as if he slept in his clothes–listened with the sympathetic, unwandering attention which men give only him who comes telling where and how they can make money. The young man ended his story, all in a glow of enthusiasm for his exalted motives and of satisfaction with his eloquence in presenting them; then came the shrewd and thorough cross-examination which, he believed, strengthened every point he had made.
“On your showing,” was Dawson’s cautious verdict, “you seem to have a case. But you must not forget that judges and juries have a deep prejudice against breaking wills. They’re usually fathers themselves, and guard the will as the parent’s strongest weapon in keeping the children in order after they’re too old for the strap or the bed slat, as the case may be. Undue influence or mental infirmity must be mighty clearly proven. Even then the court may decide to let the will stand, on general principles. Your mother and sister, of course, join you?”
“I–I hope so,” hesitated Arthur. “I’m not sure.” More self-possessedly: “You know how it is with women–with ladies–how they shrink from notoriety.”
“No, I can’t say I do,” said Dawson dryly. “Ladies need money even more than women do, and so they’ll usually go the limit, and beyond, to get it. However, assuming that for some reason or other, your mother and sister won’t help, at least they won’t oppose?”
“My sister is engaged to the son of Dr. Hargrave,” said Arthur uneasily.
“That’s good–excellent!” exclaimed Dawson, rubbing his gaunt, beard-discolored jaw vigorously.
“But–he–Theodore Hargrave is a sentimental, unpractical chap.”
“So are we all–but not in money matters.”
“He’s an exception, I’m afraid,” said Arthur. “Really–I think it’s almost certain he’ll try to influence her to take sides against me. And my mother was very bitter when I spoke of contest. But, as I’ve shown you, my case is quite apart from what they may or may not do.”
“Um–um,” grunted Dawson. He threw himself back in his chair; to aid him in thinking, he twisted the only remaining crown-lock of his gray-black hair, and slowly drew his thin lips from his big sallow teeth, and as slowly returned them to place. “Obviously,” he said at length, “the doctor is the crucial witness. We must see to it that"–a significant grin–"that the other side does not attach him. We must anticipate them by attaching him to us. I’ll see what can be done–legitimately, you understand. Perhaps you may have to engage additional counsel–some such firm as, say, Humperdink & Grafter. Often, in cases nowadays, there is detail work of an important character that lawyers of our standing couldn’t think of undertaking. But, of course, we work in harmony with such other counsel as our client sees fit to engage.”
“Certainly; I understand,” said Arthur, with a knowing, “man-of-the-world” nod. His cause being good and its triumph necessary, he must not be squeamish about any alliances it might be necessary to make as a means to that triumph, where the world was so wicked. “Then, you undertake the case.”
“We will look into it,” Dawson corrected. “You appreciate that the litigation will be somewhat expensive?”
Arthur reddened. No, he hadn’t thought of that! Whenever he had wanted anything, he had ordered it, and had let the bill go to his father; whenever he had wanted money, he had sent to his father for it, and had got it. Dawson’s question made the reality of his position–moneyless, resourceless, friendless–burst over him like a waterspout. Dawson saw and understood; but it was not his cue to lessen that sense of helplessness.
At last Arthur sufficiently shook off his stupor to say: “Unless I win the contest, I shan’t have any resources beyond the five thousand I get under the will, and a thousand or so I have in bank at Saint X–and what little I could realize from my personal odds and ends. Isn’t there some way the thing could be arranged?”
“There is the method of getting a lawyer to take a case on contingent fee,” said Dawson. “That is, the lawyer gets a certain per cent of what he wins, and nothing if he loses. But we don’t make such arrangements. They are regarded as almost unprofessional; I couldn’t honestly recommend any lawyer who would. But, let me see–um–urn–” Dawson was reflecting again, with an ostentation which might have roused the suspicions of a less guileless person than Arthur Ranger at twenty-five. “You could, perhaps, give us a retainer of say, a thousand in cash?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, relieved. He thought he saw light ahead.
“Then we could take your note for say, five thousand–due in eighteen months. You could renew it, if your victory was by any chance delayed beyond that time.”
“Your victory” was not very adroit, but it was adroit enough to bedazzle Arthur. “Certainly,” said he gratefully.
Dawson shut his long, wild-looking teeth and gently drew back his dry, beard-discolored lips, while his keen eyes glinted behind his spectacles. The fly had a leg in the web!
Business being thus got into a smooth way, Dawson and Arthur became great friends. Nothing that Dawson said was a specific statement of belief in the ultimate success of the suit; but his every look and tone implied confidence. Arthur went away with face radiant and spirit erect. He felt that he was a man of affairs, a man of consequence, he had lawyers, and a big suit pending; and soon he would be rich. He thought of Janet, and audibly sneered. “I’ll make the Whitneys sick of their treachery!” said he. Back had come his sense of strength and superiority; and once more he was “gracious” with servants and with such others of the “peasantry” as happened into or near his homeward path.
Toward three o’clock that afternoon, as he was being whirled toward Saint X in the Eastern Express, his lawyer was in the offices of Ramsay & Vanorden, a rival firm of wreckers and pirate outfitters on the third floor of the same building. When Dawson had despatched his immediate business with Vanorden, he lingered to say: “Well, I reckon we’ll soon be lined up on opposite sides in another big suit.”
Confidences between the two firms were frequent and natural–not only because Vanorden and Dawson were intimate friends and of the greatest assistance each to the other socially and politically; not only because Ramsay and Bischoffsheimer had married sisters; but also, and chiefly, because big lawyers like to have big lawyers opposed to them in a big suit. For several reasons; for instance, ingenuity on each side prolongs the litigation and makes it intricate, and therefore highly expensive, and so multiplies the extent of the banquet.
“How so?” inquired Vanorden, put on the alert by the significant intonation of his friend.
“The whole Ranger-Whitney business is coming into court. Ranger, you know, passed over the other day. He cut his family off with almost nothing–gave his money to Tecumseh College. The son’s engaged us to attack the will.”
“Where do we come in?” asked Vanorden.
Dawson laughed and winked. “I guess your client, old Charley Whitney, won’t miss the chance to intervene in the suit and annex the whole business, in the scrimmage.”
Vanorden nodded. “Oh, I see,” said he. “I see! Yes, we’ll take a hand–sure!”
“There won’t be much in it for us,” continued Dawson. “The boy’s got nothing, and between you and me, Len, the chances are against him. But you fellows and whoever gets the job of defending the college’s rights–" Dawson opened his arms and made a humorous, huge, in-sweeping gesture. “And,” he added, “Whitney’s one of the trustees under the will. See?”
“Thanks, old man.” Vanorden was laughing like a shrewd and mischievous but through-and-through good-natured boy. The two brilliant young leaders of the Illinois bar shook hands warmly.
And so it came about that Charles Whitney was soon indorsing a plan to cause, and to profit by, sly confusion–the plan of his able lawyers. They had for years steered his hardy craft, now under the flag of peaceful commerce and now under the black banner of the buccaneer. The best of pilots, they had enabled him to clear many a shoal of bankruptcy, many a reef of indictment. They served well, for he paid well.