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Chapter 22 MR. WATERMAN'S GREAT OPPORTUNITY

  • 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!
  • Phil's all right!"