Jack Holton reappeared in Montgomery toward the end of March, showed himsel_o Main Street in a new suit of clothes, intimated to old friends that he wa_ngaged upon large affairs, and complained bitterly to a group of idlers a_he Morton House of the local-option law that had lately been invoked to visi_pon Montgomery the curse of perpetual thirst. He then sought Alexande_aterman in that gentleman's office. Waterman he had known well in old times, and he correctly surmised that the lawyer was far from prosperous. Men wh_arried into the Montgomery family didn't prosper, some way! An assumptio_hat they were both victims of daughters of the House of Montgomery may hav_ntered into his choice of Waterman as a likely person to precipitate a row i_ycamore affairs. It was with a purpose that he visited Waterman's office o_he Mill Street side of the court-house, over Redmond's undertaking parlors—_uggestive proximity that had not been neglected by local humorists.
"This is your chance, old man, to take up a fight for the people that can'_ail to make you solid. What this poor old town needs is a leader. They're al_ound asleep, dead ones, who'd turn over and take another nap if Gabriel ble_is horn. These fellows are getting ready to put over the neatest littl_windle ever practiced on a confiding public. The newspapers are i_t—absolutely muzzled. I won't lie to you about my motive in coming to you.
I'm sore all over from the knocks I've got. My dear brother Will has kicked m_ut; actually told me he'd have me arrested if I ever showed up here again.
Like a fool I sent word to Kirkwood that I could be of service in getting t_he bottom of Sycamore; thought he'd let bygones be bygones when it came t_traight business, but, by George, he didn't even answer my letter! Cold as _rozen lobster, and always was! You see I thought it was all on the level—hi_inkering with the traction company—but he's in on the shrewdest piece of hig_inance that was ever put over in Indiana. Talk about my lamented brothe_amuel—Sam never started in his class!"
Waterman, with his ponderous swivel-chair tipped back against the Indian_eports that lined the wall, listened guardedly. It was not wholly flatterin_o be chosen by a man of Jack Holton's reputation as the repository o_onfidences; but things had been going badly with Waterman. His passion fo_peculation had led him to invest funds he held as guardian in pork margins, and a caprice of the powers that play with pork in Chicago had wiped him out.
Judge Walters had just been asking impertinent questions about th_uardianship money, and when he had gone to the First National Bank for a loa_o tide over the judicial inquiry and avert an appeal to his bondsmen, Willia_olton had "called" a loan of three hundred dollars that the bank had bee_arrying for two years. This was very annoying, and it made the lawyer mor_olerant of Jack Holton than he should otherwise have been.
"We're talking on the dead, are we?"
Waterman grunted his acquiescence.
"Well, Kirkwood and old Amzi have framed it up to pinch the small Sycamor_tockholders. Kirkwood stands in with those Eastern fellows who have the bi_nd of it—he's their representative, as everybody knows. And old Amzi i_umshoeing through the woods buying bonds of the yaps who shelled out t_amuel—telling them the company's gone to the bad, and that he's the poo_an's friend, anxious to assume their burdens. It's a good story, all right.
Of course he has his tip from Kirkwood that the bonds are going to boom or h_ouldn't be putting money into 'em. You know Amzi—he's the king of gumsho_rtists—and he and Kirkwood are bound to make a big clean-up out of this."
Waterman was interested. He had always disliked Amzi. He felt that the banke_ad never dealt squarely with him, and in particular the peremptory fashion i_hich Amzi, seven years earlier, had pushed his pass-book through the windo_nd suggested that he take his account elsewhere had eaten into his soul.
"I knew somebody was picking up those bonds, but I didn't know it was Amzi.
One of my clients had five of them, and I'd got him to the point of letting m_ring suit for a receiver, but somebody shut him off."
"Your client's bonds are in Kirkwood's pocket, all right enough. By George, can you beat it! And here's another thing. A man hates to talk against his ow_lesh and blood; and you may think I'm not in a position to strut aroun_irtuously and talk about other people's sins; but I guess I've got some sens_f honor left. I've never stolen any money. I did run off with another man'_ife, and I got my pay for _that_. That was in the ardor of youth, Waterman; it was a calamitous mistake. Nobody knows it better than I do. I got m_unishment. I don't wish the woman any harm; she's a brazen one, and don'_eed anybody's sympathy."
Lois Montgomery Holton's brazenness had been brought to Waterman's attentio_onvincingly at home. Josephine, Kate, and Fanny were almost insane over thei_ister's bold return. Her impudence in settling herself upon Amzi, under thei_ery noses, was discussed every day and all day on Sunday, whenever Lois'_isters could get their heads together. Waterman felt that Jack Holton'_irect testimony as to the brazenness of their wicked sister would be gratefu_o the ears of his wife and sisters-in-law.
"I guess," said Waterman, "that hasn't anything to do with the case. If wha_ou say's true—"
"Oh, it's true, all right enough. You go over to the 'Star' office and ask wh_hey've shut up about Sycamore; ask Judge Walters why certain damage suit_gainst the Sycamore Company haven't been tried; go out among the people wh_ad put the savings of years into the traction company and ask them who'_uying their bonds. And then, just for a joke, telegraph the Comptroller a_ashington and ask him why he sent out a special agent of the Treasury to loo_ver the First National after the examiner's last visit. I tell you, thi_own's going to have a big jar in a day or two, and it's just about up to yo_o get out among the people and tell 'em how they're being worked."
"The people like being worked," replied Waterman, who had been trying to brin_he people to a realizing sense of their wrongs in every campaign for twent_ears. In a few months they would again be choosing a Representative i_ongress for the seat he had long coveted, and it was conceivable that if h_hould now show himself valiant in their behalf he might avert his usua_iennial defeat. It was worth considering.
"The thing to do is to hold a mass meeting and make one of your big speeches, pitching into Walters for refusing to bring those damage suits to trial, an_elling the truth about what Kirkwood and Amzi are doing, and then go over t_ndianapolis and bring suit for the appointment of a receiver. And, by th_ay, I'm not as altruistic as I look. I'll take the receivership and you'll b_he receiver's attorney, of course. Between us we ought to clear up somethin_andsome, besides rendering a great public service that you can cash in her_ny way you like."
Only that day Judge Walters had granted the request of Wright and Fitch, th_ndianapolis attorneys, for a postponement of the trial of a damage sui_gainst the Sycamore Company in which Waterman represented the plaintiff, an_his now assumed new significance in the lawyer's mind. If he got before _ass meeting with a chance to arraign the courts for their subservience t_orporations, he was confident that it would redound to his credit at the fal_lection. His affairs were in such shape that some such miracle as hi_lection to Congress was absolutely necessary to his rehabilitation.
"You don't think the First National's going under, do you? Bill isn't foo_nough to let it come to that?"
Holton winked knowingly to whet his auditor's appetite.
"I don't think it; I know it! Kirkwood's a merciless devil, and he's got Bil_nd my hopeful nephew Charlie where the hair's short. If Sam had lived he'_ave taken care of this traction business; Sam was a genius, all right. Sa_ould sell lemons for peaches, and when people made faces he sugared th_emons and proved they were peaches. Sam was no second-story man; he worked o_he ground floor in broad daylight. Good old Sam!"
A Chicago newspaper had given currency to a rumor that the Sycamore line wa_oon to be put into the hands of a receiver, and while Kirkwood denied thi_romptly, there were many disquieting stories afloat as to the fate of th_oad.
The reports of an expert as to the road's physical condition had bee_eassuring, on the whole, and a thorough audit had placed Kirkwood i_ossession of all the facts as to the property and its possibilities. Some o_he most prominent men in the State had been stockholders in the Sanfor_onstruction Company. Samuel Holton had enrolled in that corporation hi_articular intimates, who had expected him to "take care of them" as he was i_he habit of doing. The list included several former state officials and th_enevolent bosses who manipulated the legislature by a perfectly adjusted bi- partisan mechanism. It was with a disagreeable shock that they found tha_amuel had departed this life, leaving them to bear the burden of hi_niquities.
Tom Kirkwood had assembled these gentlemen in the inner room of Wright an_itch's offices and laid the incontrovertible figures before them, with a_lternative that they return their respective shares of the plunder or answe_o an action at law. Kirkwood was an absurd person. It was politely suggeste_hat it would be much to his advantage to allow the Sycamore Company to tak_ts course through the courts, under a receiver friendly to the stockholder_f the Sanford Construction Company. Kirkwood was informed that things ha_lways been done that way; but, having no political ambitions or ties, he wa_ittle impressed. It seemed to the business politicians weakminded for a ma_ho had "pull" enough to secure employment from one of the most powerful trus_ompanies on the continent to refuse to listen to "reason." It was almos_ncredible that he should be trying to save the road instead of wrecking it, when there was no money to be made out of saving a trolley line that had bee_arked for destruction from the day its first tie was laid. Kirkwood smile_oldly upon them and their attorneys when they passed from persuasions t_hreats. It was difficult to find an effective club to use on a man who was s_nreasonable as to threaten them with the long arm of the grand jury. The mos_inute scrutiny of Kirkwood's private life failed to disclose anything tha_ight be used to frighten him.
It had seemed to Kirkwood that the beneficiaries of the construction compan_hould pay into the Sycamore treasury enough money to repair the losse_ccasioned by dishonest work. Interest on the Sycamore bonds was due the 1s_f April. The November payment had been made with money advanced by half _ozen country banks through negotiations conducted by William Holton. On th_ay that Jack Holton was persuading Alec Waterman to thrust himself forward a_he people's protagonist, Kirkwood was tightening the screws on th_onstruction company. If the sum he demanded was not paid by the 1st of April, he assured Samuel Holton's former allies that criminal proceedings would b_nstituted. As one of the construction crowd was just then much in th_ewspapers as a probable nominee for a state office, Kirkwood's determinatio_o force a settlement on his own terms was dismaying. The bi-partisan bosse_ad figured altogether too much in the newspapers, and it was not pleasant t_ontemplate the opening of the books of the company to public gaze.
March prepared to go out like a lion in Montgomery that year. While Ale_aterman was pondering his duty to the public as brought to his attention b_ack Holton, Fate seemed to take charge of his affairs. On March 28 th_histle of the Sugar Creek Furniture Company failed to rouse the town. Th_ugar Creek Company, one of the industries that Paul Fosdick had promoted, ha_eemed to escape the dark fate that had pursued his other projects, so tha_he abruptness with which it shut down gave the local financial seismograph _evere wrench.
The factory had been one of the largest employers of labor in Montgomery, an_ts suspension was reported to be due to the refusal of the First National t_dvance money for its next maturing weekly pay-roll. To several of th_orkingmen who consulted Waterman about their claims, he broached the matte_f a mass meeting in the circuit courtroom to discuss the business condition_f Montgomery. Two hundred men and boys were thrown out of work by the failur_f the furniture company; rumors as to the relations between the company an_he First National caused the stability of the Holton bank to be debate_uardedly; and April 1st was fixed definitely in the minds of the Main Stree_ossips as the date for drastic action in Sycamore matters.
Mr. Amzi Montgomery's frequent absences in Indianapolis had occasioned commen_f late. He returned, however, on the evening of the 28th, and before the
"Bank Open" side of the battered tin sign was presented to Main Street on th_orning of the 29th, a number of citizens had called to ask his opinion of th_ocal financial conditions. He answered their anxious inquiries with hi_abitual nonchalance, leaning against the counter, with his cigar at an angl_hat testified to unruffled serenity and perfect peace with the world. Amz_ad brought home from the capital a new standing collar, taller than he was i_he habit of wearing, and from its deep recesses his countenance appeared mor_han usually chaste and demure. The collar, a dashing bow tie, and a speckle_aistcoat that was the most daring expression of sartorial art available a_he capital, gave to Amzi an air of uncommon jauntiness.
"What about this, Amzi? Is the whole town going to smash?" asked Judg_alters.
"Nope. Worst's over. Nothing to worry about."
"I've got to appoint a receiver for the furniture company in a few minutes. _ope I'm not going to have to run the whole town through my court."
"You won't. The Sugar Creek Furniture Company is a year behind time; I though_t would go down last year. Then they bounced Fosdick, and it naturally picke_p a little; but it's hard to overcome a bad start, Judge."
"I've politely turned over my court-room for a meeting of the furnitur_ompany employees this afternoon. Alec's going to holler; they say he's goin_o pitch into the traction company and dust off the banks and capita_enerally."
"Good for Alec! He'll do a good job of it. Shouldn't wonder if he'd lead a mo_own Main Street, hanging all the merchants, bankers, and judges of courts."
"That would require more energy than Alec has; his love of the downtrodden i_urely vocal."
The county treasurer who followed the judge found Amzi disposed to b_acetious over the reports that other failures were likely to follow th_mbarrassment of the furniture company.
"Worst's over. Just a little flurry. When there's a rotten apple in th_arrel, better get it out."
The treasurer jerked his head in the direction of the First National.
Amzi met his gaze, took the cigar from his mouth, and looked at the ash.
"Thunder! It's all right."
"How do you know that!"
"I just guess it; that's all."
"They say," the treasurer whispered, "that Bill has skipped."
"Bill's over there in his bank right now," Amzi replied impatiently.
"How do you make that out?"
"Because I was talking to him on the 'phone ten minutes ago. If he's skipped, it must have been sudden. Tell people not to borrow trouble when they ca_orrow money. Money's easy on Main Street."
Amzi wobbled his cigar in his mouth the while he smoothed his new waistcoa_ith both hands. He was feeling good. His house was in order; failures an_umors of failures could not disturb him.
This was Saturday, and their spring needs had brought an unusual number o_arm-folk to town. The proximity of interest-paying day made an acute issue o_ycamore Traction. Amzi had by no means gathered up all the bonds held b_mall investors. Book learning has not diminished the husbandman's traditiona_ncredulity: if Sycamore traction bonds were worth seventy to Amzi Montgomery, they were undoubtedly worth eighty, at least, to the confiding origina_urchasers. Those who had clung to their bonds were disposed to ridicule thos_ho had sold; and yet no one was wholly comfortable, either way. The collaps_f the furniture company might prelude a local panic, and farmers and countr_erchants collected in groups along Main Street to discuss the situation.
The Saturday half-holiday in the various Montgomery industries added to th_rowd that drifted toward the courthouse at two o'clock, drawn by th_nnouncement that Alec Waterman was to discuss many local issues, which th_ailure of the furniture company had rendered acute. The circuit court-roo_as packed with farmers, mechanics, and the usual idlers when Waterman withou_ntroduction began to speak.
At that moment Amzi Montgomery, in his seersucker coat and with his old stra_at tilted to one side, stood at the door of his bank and observed half _ozen men on the steps of the First National. Amzi, a careful student of hi_ellow-townsmen, was aware that men and women were passing into the rival ban_n larger numbers than usual, even for a Saturday, and that the mellifluou_ratory of Alec Waterman had not drawn from the First National corner a scor_f idlers who evidently felt that the center of interest lay there rather tha_t the court-house. Amzi planted himself in his favorite chair in the ban_indow and watched the crowd increase.
By half-past two the town marshal had taken official notice that citizens wer_athering about the bank doors, and overflowing from the sidewalk halfwa_cross Main Street, to the interruption of traffic. Women and girls, wit_ank-books in their hands or nervously fingering checks, conferred in lo_ones about the security of their deposits. The Citizens' National and th_tate Trust Company were also receiving attention from their depositors. A_hree o'clock approached, the Montgomery Bank filled, and the receiving-telle_egan to assist the paying-teller in cashing checks. Amzi lounged along th_ines outside, talking to his customers.
"Going to buy automobiles with your money, boys? Thunder! You in town, Jake?"
He greeted them all affably, ignoring their anxiety.
"Boys, I'll have to get a new shop if business keeps on like this."
A depositor who had drawn his money and was anxiously hiding it in his pocket, dropped a silver dollar that rolled away between the waiting lines.
"Never mind, gentlemen, we sweep out every night," said Amzi. "Now, let's al_nderstand each other," he continued, tilting his hat over his left ear, an_lourishing his cigar. "It's all right for you folks to come and get you_oney. The regular closing time of banks in this town is 3 P.M., Saturday_ncluded. We've got a right to close in fifteen minutes. But just to sho_here's no hard feeling, I'm going to change the closing hour to-day from _.M. to 3 A.M. Tomorrow's Sunday, and you can tell folks that's got money her_hat they won't have any trouble getting their change in time to put it in th_ollection basket to-morrow morning."
A number of depositors, impressed by Amzi's tranquillity, tore up their check_nd left the bank. To a woman who asked him what the excitement meant, Amz_xplained politely that the town was experiencing what he called a "bab_anic."
"As an old friend, Martha, I advise you to leave your money here; if I decid_o bust, I'll give you notice."
Along the two lines, that now extended out upon the sidewalk, there was _raning of necks. A demand from one depositor that he repeat to all what h_ad said to the woman caused Amzi to retire behind the counter. There he stoo_pon a chair and talked through the screen,
"I don't blame you folks for being nervous. Nobody wants to lose his money.
Money is hard to get and harder to keep. But I've never lied across thi_ounter to any man, woman, or child"—and then, as though ashamed of thi_ulgar assertion of rectitude, he added—"unless they needed to be lied to."
There was laughter at this. The room was packed, and the lines had been broke_y the crowd surging in from the street.
"You can all have your money. But I hope you won't spend it foolishly or stic_t in the chimney at home where it'll burn up. I ain't going to bust, ladie_nd gentlemen. This town is all right; it's the best little town in Indiana; sound as Sugar Creek bottom corn. This little sick infant panic we've had to- day will turn over and go to sleep pretty soon. As an old friend and neighbo_f you all, I advise you to go home—with your money or without it, just as yo_ike. It's all the same to me."
"How about the First National?" a voice demanded.
Amzi was relighting his cigar. There was a good deal of commotion in the roo_s many who had been pressing toward the windows withdrew, reassured by th_anker's speech.
Amzi, with one foot on a chair, the other on the note-teller's counter, listened while the question about the First National was repeated.
"I'll say to you folks," said Amzi, his voice clearing and rising to a shril_ipe, "that in my judgment the First National Bank can pay all its claims. I_act—in fact, I'm dead sure of it!"
The crowd began to disperse. Most of those who had drawn their money waited t_e-deposit it, and Amzi walked out upon the step to view the situation at th_irst National, to whose doors a great throng clung stubbornly. The marsha_nd a policeman were busily occupied in an effort to keep a way open fo_raffic. Observed by only a few idlers, Tom Kirkwood emerged from the Firs_ational's directors' room and walked across to where Amzi stood like _uardian angel before the door of Montgomery's Bank. The briefest colloqu_ollowed between Kirkwood and his quondam brother-in-law.
"It's fixed, Amzi."
"Thunder, Tom; I didn't know you'd got back."
"Got in at one, and have been shut up with Holton ever since. He's seen th_ight, and we've adjusted his end of the Sycamore business; I'm taking par_ash and notes with good collateral. The whole construction crowd hav_ettled, except Charlie, and he'll come in—he's got to. The settlement make_he traction company good—it's only a matter now of spending the money we'v_ot back in putting the property in shape."
"That's good, Tom." And Amzi looked toward the courthouse clock. "Bill sa_nything about me?"
"Yes; he most certainly did. He wants you to go over and take charge of hi_ank!"
"Thunder! It's sort o' funny, Tom, how things come round."
Kirkwood smiled at Amzi's calmness. He drew from his pocket a folded piece o_aper.
"Here's your stock certificate, Amzi. Bill asked me to hand it to you. It's i_ue form. He wanted me to ask you to be as easy on him as you could. I thin_hat he meant was that he'd like it to look like a _bona-fide_ , voluntar_ale. Those ten shares give you the control, and the Sycamore claim wiped ou_he rest of his holdings. I'm afraid," he added, "there's going to be som_rouble. Where's Phil?"
"Probably at the court-house hearing her Uncle Alec talk about the mone_evils. We ought to let a few banks bust, just to encourage Alec. Thunder!