The Second Generation
By David Graham Phillips
Public Domain Books
Chapter XIII - But Is Rescued
By the time he reached Saint X our young “man of affairs” believed his conscience soundly converted to his adventure; and, as he drove toward the house, a final survey of his defenses and justifications satisfied him that they were impregnable. Nevertheless, as he descended from the station hack and entered the grounds of the place that in his heart of heart was all that the word “home” can contain, he felt strangely like a traitor and a sneak. He kept his manner of composed seriousness, but he reasoned in vain against those qualms of shame and panic. At the open front door he dared not lift his eyes lest he should be overwhelmed by the sight of that colossal figure, with a look in its face that would force him to see the truth about his thoughts and his acts. The house seemed deserted; on the veranda that opened out from the back parlor he found Dory Hargrave, reading. He no longer felt bitter toward Dory. Thinking over the whole of the Ranger-Whitney relations and the sudden double break in them, he had begun to believe that perhaps Adelaide had had the good luck to make an extremely clever stroke when she shifted from Ross Whitney to Hargrave. Anyhow, Dory was a fine fellow, both in looks and in brains, with surprisingly good, yes, really amazing air and manner–considering his opportunities; he’d be an ornament to any family as soon as he had money enough properly to equip himself–which would be very soon, now that the great Dawson was about to open fire on the will and demolish it.
“Howdy,” he accordingly said, with only a shade less than his old friendliness, and that due to embarrassment, and not at all to ill feeling. “Where’s mother–and Del?”
“Your sister has taken your mother for a drive,” replied Hargrave.
“Smoke?” said Arthur, extending his gold cigarette case, open.
Dory preferred his own brand of cigarettes; but, feeling that he ought to meet any advance of Arthur’s, he took one of the big, powerful Egyptians with “A.K.” on it in blue monogram. They smoked in silence a moment or so, Arthur considering whether to practise on Dory the story of his proposed contest, to enable him to tell it in better form to his mother and sister. “I’ve been to Chicago to see about contesting the will,” he began, deciding for the rehearsal.
“I supposed so,” said Hargrave.
“Of course, for mother’s and Del’s sake I simply have to do it,” he went on, much encouraged. “Anyone who knew father knows he must have been out of his mind when he made that will.”
“I see your point of view,” said Dory, embarrassed. Then, with an effort he met Arthur’s eyes, but met them fearlessly. “You misunderstood me. I think a contest is a mistake.”
Arthur flamed. “Naturally you defend your father,” he sneered.
“Let us leave my father out of this,” said Dory. His manner made it impossible for Arthur to persist. For Dory was one of those who have the look of “peace with honor” that keeps to bounds even the man crazed by anger.
“You can’t deny I have a legal right to make the contest,” pursued Arthur.
“And a moral right, too,” said Arthur, somewhat defiantly.
“Yes,” assented Dory. The tone of the “yes"–or was it Arthur’s own self-respect–made him suspect Dory of thinking that a man might have the clearest legal and moral right and still not be able to get his honor’s consent. “But why discuss the matter, Arthur? You couldn’t be changed by anything I’d say.”
“We will discuss it!” exclaimed Arthur furiously. “I see what your plan is. You know I’m bound to win; so you’ll try to influence Del and mother against me, and get the credit for taking high ground, and at the same time get the benefit of the breaking of the will. When the will’s broken, mother’ll have her third; you think you can stir up a quarrel between her and me, and she’ll leave all of her third to Del and you.”
Arthur had started up threateningly. There showed at his eyes and mouth the ugliest of those alien passions which his associations had thrust into him, and which had been master ever since the reading of the will. The signs were all for storm; but Dory sat impassive. He looked steadily at Arthur until Arthur could no longer withstand, but had to drop his eyes. Then he said: “I want you to think over what you have just said to me, Artie–especially your calculations on the death of your mother.”
Arthur dropped back into his chair.
“Honestly, Artie, honestly,” Dory went on, with the friendliest earnestness, “isn’t there something wrong about anything that causes the man you are by nature to think and feel and talk that way, when his father is not a week dead?”
Arthur forced a sneer, but without looking at Dory.
“Do you remember the day of the funeral?” Dory went on. “It had been announced in the papers that the burial would be private. As we drove out of the front gates there, I looked round–you remember it was raining. There were uncovered farm wagons blocking the streets up and down. There were thousands of people standing in the rain with bared heads. And I saw tears thick as the rain drops streaming down faces of those who had known your father as boy and man, who had learned to know he was all that a human being should be.”
Arthur turned away to hide his features from Dory.
“That was your father, Artie. What if he could have heard you a few minutes ago?”
“I don’t need to have anyone praise my father to me,” said Arthur, trying to mask his feelings behind anger. “And what you say is no reason why I should let mother and Del and myself be cheated out of what he wanted us to have.”
Dory left it to Arthur’s better self to discuss that point with him. “I know you’ll do what is right,” said he sincerely. “You are more like your father than you suspect as yet, Artie. I should have said nothing to you if you hadn’t forced your confidence on me. What I’ve said is only what you’d say to me, were I in your place and you in mine–what you’ll think yourself a month from now. What lawyer advised you to undertake the contest?”
“Dawson of Mitchell, Dawson, Vance & Bischoffsheimer. As good lawyers as there are in the country.”
“I ought to tell you,” said Dory, after brief hesitation, “that Judge Torrey calls them a quartette of unscrupulous scoundrels–says they’re regarded as successful only because success has sunk to mean supremacy in cheating and double-dealing. Would you mind telling me what terms they gave you–about fee and expenses?”
“A thousand down, and a note for five thousand,” replied Arthur, compelled to speech by the misgivings Dory was raising within him in spite of himself.
“That is, as the first installment, they take about all the money in sight. Does that look as if they believed in the contest?”
At this Arthur remembered and understood Dawson’s remark, apparently casual, but really crucial, about the necessity of attaching Dr. Schulze. Without Schulze, he had no case; and Dawson had told him so! What kind of a self-hypnotized fool was he, not to hear the plainest warnings? And without waiting to see Schulze, he had handed over his money!
“I know you think I am not unprejudiced about this will,” Dory went on. “But I ask you to have a talk with Judge Torrey. While he made the will, it was at your father’s command, and he didn’t and doesn’t approve it. He knows all the circumstances. Before you go any further, wouldn’t it be well to see him? You know there isn’t an abler lawyer, and you also know he’s honest. If there’s any way of breaking the will, he’ll tell you about it.”
Hiram Ranger’s son now had the look of his real self emerging from the subsiding fumes of his debauch of folly and fury. “Thank you, Hargrave," he said. “You are right.”
“Go straight off,” advised Dory. “Go before you’ve said anything to your mother about what you intend to do. And please let me say one thing more. Suppose you do finally decide to make this contest. It means a year, two years, three years, perhaps five or six, perhaps ten or more, of suspense, of degrading litigation, with the best of you shriveling, with your abilities to do for yourself paralyzed. If you finally lose–you’ll owe those Chicago sharks an enormous sum of money, and you’ll be embittered and blighted for life. If you win, they and their pals will have most of the estate; you will have little but the barren victory; and you will have lost your mother. For, Arthur, if you try to prove that your father was insane, and cut off his family in insane anger, you know it will kill her.”
A long silence; then Arthur moved toward the steps leading down to the drive. “I’ll think it over,” he said, in a tone very different from any he had used before.
Dory watched him depart with an expression of friendship and admiration. “He’s going to Judge Torrey,” he said to himself. “Scratch that veneer of his, and you find his mother and father.”
The old judge received Arthur like a son, listened sympathetically as the young man gave him in detail the interview with Dawson. Even as Arthur recalled and related, he himself saw Dawson’s duplicity; for, that past master of craft had blundered into the commonest error of craft of all degrees–he had underestimated the intelligence of the man he was trying to cozen. He, rough in dress and manners and regarding “dudishness” as unfailing proof of weak-mindedness, had set down the fashionable Arthur, with his Harvard accent and his ignorance of affairs, as an unmitigated ass. He had overlooked the excellent natural mind which false education and foolish associations had tricked out in the motley, bells and bauble of “culture"; and so, he had taken no pains to cozen artistically. Also, as he thought greediness the strongest and hardiest passion in all human beings, because it was so in himself, he had not the slightest fear that anyone or anything could deflect his client from pursuing the fortune which dangled, or seemed to dangle, tantalizingly near.
Arthur, recalling the whole interview, was accurate where he had been visionary, intelligent where he had been dazed. He saw it all, before he was half done; he did not need Torrey’s ejaculated summary: “The swindling scoundrel!” to confirm him.
“You signed the note?” said the judge.
“Yes,” replied Arthur. He laughed with the frankness of self-derision that augurs so well for a man’s teachableness.
“He must have guessed,” continued the judge, “that a contest is useless.”
At that last word Arthur changed expression, changed color–or, rather, lost all color. “Useless?” he repeated, so overwhelmed that he clean forgot pride of appearances and let his feelings have full play in his face. Useless! A contest useless. Then–
“I did have some hopes,” interrupted Judge Torrey’s deliberate, judicial tones, “but I had to give them up after I talked with Schulze and President Hargrave. Your father may have been somewhat precipitate, Arthur, but he was sane when he made that will. He believed his wealth would be a curse to his children. And–I ain’t at all sure he wasn’t right. As I look round this town, this whole country, and see how the second generation of the rich is rotten with the money-cancer, I feel that your grand, wise father had one of the visions that come only to those who are about to leave the world and have their eyes cleared of the dust of the combat, and their minds cooled of its passions.” Here the old man leaned forward and laid his hand on the knee of the white, haggard youth. “Arthur,” he went on, “your father’s mind may have been befogged by his affections in the years when he was letting his children do as they pleased, do like most children of the rich. And his mind may have been befogged by his affections again, after he made that will and went down into the Dark Valley. But, I tell you, boy, he was sane when he made that will. He was saner than most men have the strength of mind to be on the best day of their whole lives.”
Arthur was sitting with elbows on the desk; his face stared out, somber and gaunt, from between his hands. “How much he favors his father," thought the old judge. “What a pity it don’t go any deeper than looks." But the effect of the resemblance was sufficient to make it impossible for him to offer any empty phrases of cheer and consolation. After a long time the hopeless, dazed expression slowly faded from the young man’s face; in its place came a calm, inscrutable look. The irresponsible boy was dead; the man had been born–in rancorous bitterness, but in strength and decision.
It was the man who said, as he rose to depart, “I’ll write Dawson that I’ve decided to abandon the contest.”
“Ask him to return the note,” advised Torrey. “But,” he added, “I doubt if he will.”
“He won’t,” said Arthur. “And I’ll not ask him. Anyhow, a few dollars would be of no use to me. I’d only prolong the agony of getting down to where I’ve got to go.”
“Five thousand dollars is right smart of money,” protested the judge. “On second thought, I guess you’d better let me negotiate with him.” The old man’s eyes were sparkling with satisfaction in the phrases that were forming in his mind for the first letter to Dawson.
“Thank you,” said Arthur. But it was evident that he was not interested. “I must put the past behind me,” he went on presently. “I mustn’t think of it.”
“After all,” suggested Torrey, “you’re not as bad off as more than ninety-nine per cent of the young men. You’re just where they are–on bed rock. And you’ve got the advantage of your education.”
Arthur smiled satirically. “The tools I learned to use at college,” said he, “aren’t the tools for the Crusoe Island I’ve been cast away on.”
“Well, I reckon a college don’t ruin a young chap with the right stuff in him, even if it don’t do him any great sight of good.” He looked uneasily at Arthur, then began: “If you’d like to study law"–as if he feared the offer would be accepted, should he make it outright.
“No; thank you, I’ve another plan,” replied Arthur, though “plan” would have seemed to Judge Torrey a pretentious name for the hazy possibilities that were beginning to gather in the remote corners of his mind.
“I supposed you wouldn’t care for the law,” said Torrey, relieved that his faint hint of a possible offer had not got him into trouble. He liked Arthur, but estimated him by his accent and his dress, and so thought him probably handicapped out of the running by those years of training for a career of polite uselessness. “That East!” he said to himself, looking pityingly at the big, stalwart youth in the elaborate fopperies of fashionable mourning. “That damned East! We send it most of our money and our best young men; and what do we get from it in return? Why, sneers and snob-ideas.” However, he tried to change his expression to one less discouraging; but his face could not wholly conceal his forebodings. “It’s lucky for the boy,” he reflected, “that Hiram left him a good home as long as his mother’s alive. After she’s gone–and the five thousand, if I get it back–I suppose he’ll drop down and down, and end by clerking it somewhere.” With a survey of Arthur’s fashionable attire, “I should say he might do fairly well in a gent’s furnishing store in one of those damn cities.” The old man was not unfeeling–far from it; he had simply been educated by long years of experience out of any disposition to exaggerate the unimportant in the facts of life. “He’ll be better off and more useful as a clerk than he would be as a pattern of damnfoolishness and snobbishness. So, Hiram was right anyway I look at it, and no matter how it comes out. But–it did take courage to make that will!”
“Well, good day, judge,” Arthur was saying, to end both their reveries. “I must,” he laughed curtly, “’get a move on.’”
“Good day, and God bless you, boy,” said the old man, with a hearty earnestness that, for the moment, made Arthur’s eyes less hard. “Take your time, settling on what to do. Don’t be in a hurry.”
“On the contrary,” said Arthur. “I’m going to make up my mind at once. Nothing stales so quickly as a good resolution.”