Counsel for the defense, p.3
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       Counsel for the Defense, p.3

           Leroy Scott
 

  CHAPTER III

  KATHERINE COMES HOME

  Next morning when the Limited slowed down beside the old framestation--a new one of brick was rising across the tracks--a youngwoman descended from a Pullman at the front of the train. She waslithe and graceful, rather tall and slender, and was dressed witheffective simplicity in a blue tailored suit and a tan straw hat witha single blue quill. Her face was flushed, and there glowed anexpectant brightness in her brown eyes, as though happiness andaffection were upon the point of bubbling over.

  Standing beside her suit-case, she eagerly scanned the figures aboutthe station. Three or four swagger young drummers had scrambled offthe smoker, and these ambassadors of fashion as many hotel bus driverswere inviting with importunate hospitality to honour their respectiveboard and bed. There was the shirt-sleeved figure of Jim Ludlow,ticket agent and tenor of the Presbyterian choir. And leaningcross-legged beneath the station eaves, giving the effect ofsupporting the low roof, were half a dozen slowly masticating, soberlycontemplative gentlemen--loose-jointed caryatides, whose lanksculpture forms the sole and invariable ornamentation of the facadesof all Western stations. But nowhere did the young woman's expectanteyes alight upon the person whom they sought.

  The joyous response to welcome, which had plainly trembled at the tipsof her being, subsided, and in disappointment she picked up her bagand was starting for a street car, when up the long, broad platformthere came hurrying a short-legged little man, with a bloodshot,watery eye. He paused hesitant at a couple of yards, smiledtentatively, and the remnant of an old glove fumbled the brim of arumpled, semi-bald object that in its distant youth had probably beena silk hat.

  The young woman smiled back and held out her hand.

  "How do you do, Mr. Huggins."

  "How de do, Miss Katherine," he stammered.

  "Have you seen father anywhere?" she asked anxiously.

  "No. Your aunt just sent me word I was to meet you and fetch you home.She couldn't leave Doctor West."

  "Is father ill?" she cried.

  The old cabman fumbled his ancient headgear.

  "No--he ain't--he ain't exactly sick. He's just porely. I guess it'sonly--only a bad headache."

  He hastily picked up her suit-case and led her past the sidlingadmiration of the drummers, those sovereign critics of Westernfemininity, to the back of the station where stood a tottering surreyand a dingy gray nag, far gone in years, that leaned upon its shaftsas though on crutches. Katherine clambered in, and the drooping animaldoddered along a street thickly overhung with the exuberant May-greenof maples.

  She gazed with ardent eyes at the familiar frame cottages, in some ofwhich had lived school and high-school friends, sitting comfortablyback amid their little squares of close-cropped lawn. She liked NewYork with that adoptive liking one acquires for the place one choosesfrom among all others for the passing of one's life; but her affectionremained warm and steadfast with this old town of her girlhood.

  "Oh, but it feels good to be back in Westville again!" she cried tothe cabman.

  "I reckon it must. I guess it's all of two years sence you been home."

  "Two years, yes. It's going to be a great celebration this afternoon,isn't it?"

  "Yes'm--very big"--and he hastily struck the ancient steed. "Get-epthere, Jenny!"

  Mr. Huggins's mare turned off Station Avenue, and Katharine excitedlystared ahead beneath the wide-boughed maples for the first glimpse ofher home. At length it came into view--one of those big, square,old-fashioned wooden houses, built with no perceptible architecturalidea beyond commodious shelter. She had thought her father mightpossibly stumble out to greet her, but no one stood waiting at thepaling gate.

  She sprang lightly from the carriage as it drew up beside the curb,and leaving Mr. Huggins to follow with her bag she hurried up thebrick-paved path to the house. As she crossed the porch, a slight,gray, Quakerish little lady, with a white kerchief folded across herbreast, pushed open the screen door. Her Katherine gathered into herarms and kissed repeatedly.

  "I'm so glad to see you, auntie!" she cried. "How are you?"

  "Very well," the old woman answered in a thin, tremulous voice. "Howis thee?"

  "Me? Oh, you know nothing's ever wrong with me!" She laughed in herbuoyant young strength. "But you, auntie?" She grew serious. "You lookvery tired--and very, very worn and worried. But I suppose it's thestrain of father's headache--poor father! How is he?"

  "I--I think he's feeling some better," the old woman faltered. "He'sstill lying down."

  They had entered the big, airy sitting-room. Katherine's hat and coatwent flying upon the couch.

  "Now, before I so much as ask you a question, or tell you a thing,Aunt Rachel, I'm going up to see dear old father."

  She made for the stairway, but her aunt caught her arm inconsternation.

  "Wait, Katherine! Thee musn't see him yet."

  "Why, what's the matter?" Katherine asked in surprise.

  "It--it would be better for him if thee didn't disturb him."

  "But, auntie--you know no one can soothe him as I can when he has aheadache!"

  "But he's asleep just now. He didn't sleep a minute all night."

  "Then of course I'll wait." Katherine turned back. "Has he sufferedmuch----"

  She broke off. Her aunt was gazing at her in wide-eyed, helplessmisery.

  "Why--why--what's the matter, auntie?"

  Her aunt did not answer her.

  "Tell me! What is it? What's wrong?"

  Still the old woman did not speak.

  "Something has happened to father!" cried Katherine. She clutched heraunt's thin shoulders. "Has something happened to father?"

  The old woman trembled all over, and tears started from her mild eyes.

  "Yes," she quavered.

  "But what is it?" Katherine asked frantically. "Is he very sick?"

  "It's--it's worse than that."

  "Please! What is it then?"

  "I haven't the heart to tell thee," she said piteously, and she sankinto a chair and covered her face.

  Katherine caught her arm and fairly shook her in the intensity of herdemand.

  "Tell me! I can't stand this another instant!"

  "There--there isn't going to be any celebration."

  "No celebration?"

  "Yesterday--thy father--was arrested."

  "Arrested!"

  "And indicted for accepting a bribe."

  Katherine shrank back.

  "Oh!" she whispered. "Oh!" Then her slender body tensed, and her darkeyes flashed fire. "Father accept a bribe! It's a lie! A lie!"

  "It hardly seems true to me, either."

  "It's a lie!" repeated Katherine. "But is he--is he locked up?"

  "They let me go his bail."

  Again Katherine caught her aunt's arm.

  "Come--tell me all about it!"

  "Please don't make me. I--I can't."

  "But I must know!"

  "It's in the newspapers--they're on the centre-table."

  Katherine turned to the table and seized a paper. At sight of thesheet she had picked up, the old woman hurried across to her indismay.

  "Don't read that _Express_!" she cried, and she sought to draw thepaper from Katherine's hands. "Read the _Clarion_. It's ever so muchkinder."

  But Katherine had already seen the headline that ran across the top ofthe _Express_. It staggered her. She gasped at the blow, but she heldon to the paper.

  "I'll read the worst they have to say," she said.

  Her aunt dropped into a chair and covered her eyes to avoid sight ofthe girl's suffering. The story, in its elements, was a commonplace toKatherine; in her work with the Municipal League she had every fewdays met with just such a tale as this. But that which is acommonplace when strangers are involved, becomes a tragedy when lovedones are its actors. So, as she read the old, old story, Katherinetrembled as with mortal pain.

  But sickening as was the story in itself, it was made even moreagonizing to her by the manne
r of the _Express's_ telling. Bruce'stypewriter had never been more impassioned. The story was inheavy-faced type, the lines two columns wide; and in a "box" in thevery centre of the first page was an editorial denouncing Doctor Westand demanding for him such severe punishment as would make futuretraitors forever fear to sell their city. Article and editorial wererousing and vivid, brilliant and bitter--as mercilessly stinging as asalted whip-lash cutting into bare flesh.

  Katherine writhed with the pain of it. "Oh!" she cried. "It's brutal!Brutal! Who could have had the heart to write like that about father?"

  "The editor, Arnold Bruce," answered her aunt.

  "Oh, he's a brute! If I could tell him to his face----" Her wholeslender being flamed with anger and hatred, and she crushed the paperin a fierce hand and flung it to the floor.

  Then, slowly, her face faded to an ashen gray. She steadied herself onthe back of a chair and stared in desperate, fearful supplication atthe bowed figure of the older woman.

  "Auntie?" she breathed.

  "Yes?"

  "Auntie"--eyes and voice were pleading--"auntie, the--the things--thispaper says--they never happened, did they?"

  The old head nodded.

  "Oh! oh!" she gasped. She wavered, sank stricken into a chair, andburied her face in her arms. "Poor father!" she moaned brokenly. "Poorfather!"

  There was silence for a moment, then the old woman rose and gently puta hand upon the quivering young shoulder.

  "Don't, dear! Even if it did happen, I can't believe it. Thyfather----"

  At that moment, overhead, there was a soft noise, as of feet placedupon the floor. Katherine sprang up.

  "Father!" she breathed. There began a restless, slippered pacing."Father!" she repeated, and sprang for the stairway and rapidly ranup.

  At her father's door she paused, hand over her heart. She feared toenter to her father--feared lest she should find his head bowed inacknowledged shame. But she summoned her strength and noiselesslyopened the door. It was a large room, a hybrid of bedroom and study,whose drawn shades had dimmed the brilliant morning into twilight. Anopen side door gave a glimpse of glass jars, bellying retorts andother paraphernalia of the laboratory.

  Walking down the room was a tall, stooping, white-haired figure in aquilted dressing-gown. He reached the end of the room, turned about,then sighted her in the doorway.

  "Katherine!" he cried with quavering joy, and started toward her; buthe came abruptly to a pause, hesitating, accused man that he was, tomake advances.

  Her sickening fear was for the instant swept away by a rising flood oflove. She sprang forward and threw her arms about his neck.

  "Father!" she sobbed. "Oh, father!"

  She felt his tears upon her forehead, felt his body quiver, and felthis hand gently stroke her back.

  "You've heard--then?" he asked, at length.

  "Yes--from the papers."

  He held her close, but for a moment did not speak.

  "It isn't a--a very happy celebration--I've prepared for you."

  She could only cry convulsively, "Poor father!"

  "You never dreamt," he quavered, "your old father--could do a thinglike this--did you?"

  She did not answer. She trembled a moment longer on his shoulder;then, slowly and with fear, she lifted her head and gazed into hisface. The face was worn--she thrilled with pain to see how sadly wornit was!--but though tear-wet and working with emotion, it met her lookwith steadiness. It was the same simple, kindly, open face that shehad known since childhood.

  There was a sudden wild leaping within her. She clutched hisshoulders, and her voice rang out in joyous conviction:

  "Father--you are not guilty!"

  "You believe in me, then?"

  "You are not guilty!" she cried with mounting joy.

  He smiled faintly.

  "Why, of course not, my child."

  "Oh, father!" And again she caught him in a close embrace.

  After a moment she leaned back in his arms.

  "I'm so happy--so happy! Forgive me, daddy dear, that I could doubtyou even for a minute."

  "How could you help it? They say the evidence against me is verystrong."

  "I should have believed you innocent against all the evidence in theworld! And I do, and shall--no matter what they may say!"

  "Bless you, Katherine!"

  "But come--tell me how it all came about. But, first, let's brightenup the room a little."

  So great was her relief that her spirits had risen as though somepositive blessing had befallen her. She crossed lightly to the big baywindow, raised the shades and threw up the sashes. The sunlightslanted down into the room and lay in a dazzling yellow square uponthe floor. The soft breeze sighed through the two tall pines withoutand bore into them the perfumed freshness of the spring.

  "There now, isn't that better?" she said, smiling brightly.

  "That's just what your home-coming has done for me," he saidgratefully--"let in the sunlight."

  "Come, come--don't try to turn the head of your offspring withflattery! Now, sir, sit down," and she pointed to a chair at his desk,which stood within the bay window.

  "First,"--with his gentle smile--"if I may, I'd like to take a look atmy daughter."

  "I suppose a father's wish is a daughter's command," she complained."So go ahead."

  He moved to the window, so that the light fell full upon her, and fora long moment gazed into her face. The brow was low and broad. Overthe white temples the heavy dark hair waved softly down, to befastened in a simple knot low upon the neck, showing in its fullbeauty the rare modelling of her head. The eyes were a rich, warm,luminous brown, fringed with long lashes, and in them lurked allmanner of fathomless mysteries. The mouth was soft, yet full andfirm--a real mouth, such as Nature bestows upon her real women. It wasa face of freshness and youth and humour, and now was tremulous with asmiling, tear-wet tenderness.

  "I think," said her father, slowly and softly, "that my daughter isvery beautiful."

  "There--enough of your blarney!" She flushed with pleasure, andpressed her fresh cheek against his withered one. "You dear oldfather, you!"

  She drew him to his desk, which was strewn with a half-finishedmanuscript on the typhoid bacillus, and upon which stood a fadedphotograph of a young woman, near Katherine's years and made in herimage, dressed in the tight-fitting "basque" of the early eighties.Westville knew that Doctor West had loved his wife dearly, but thetown had never surmised a tenth of the grief that had closed darkly inupon him when typhoid fever had carried her away while her youngwomanhood was in its freshest bloom.

  Katherine pressed him down into his chair at the desk, sat down in onebeside it, and took his hand.

  "Now, father, tell me just how things stand."

  "You know everything already," said he.

  "Not everything. I know the charges of the other side, and I know yourinnocence. But I do not know your explanation of the affair."

  He ran his free hand through his silver hair, and his face grewtroubled.

  "My explanation agrees with what you have read, except that I did notknow I was being bribed."

  "H'm!" Her brow wrinkled thoughtfully and she was silent for a moment."Suppose we go back to the very beginning, father, and run over thewhole affair. Try to remember. In the early stages of negotiations,did the agent say anything to you about money?"

  He did not speak for a minute or more.

  "Now that I think it over, he did say something about its being worthmy while if his filter was accepted."

  "That was an overture to bribe you. And what did you say to him?"

  "I don't remember. You see, at the time, his offer, if it was one, didnot make any impression on me. I believe I didn't say anything to himat all."

  "But you approved his filter?"

  "Yes."

  "Mr. Marcy says in the _Express_, and you admit it, that he offeredyou a bribe. You approved his filter. On the face of it, speakinglegally, that looks bad, father."

  "But how cou
ld I honestly keep from approving his filter, when it wasthe very best on the market for our water?" demanded Doctor West.

  "Then how did you come to accept that money?"

  The old man's face cleared.

  "I can explain that easily. Some time ago the agent said somethingabout the Acme Filter Company wishing to make a little donation to ourhospital. I'm one of the directors, you know. So, when he handed methat envelope, I supposed it was the contribution to thehospital--perhaps twenty-five or fifty dollars."

  "And that is all?"

  "That's the whole truth. But when I explained the matter to theprosecuting attorney, he just smiled."

  "I know it's the truth, because you say it." She affectionately pattedthe hand that she held. "But, again speaking legally, it wouldn'tsound very plausible to an outsider. But how do you explain thesituation?"

  "I think the whole affair must be just a mistake."

  "Possibly. But if so, you'll have to be able to prove it." She thoughta space. "Could it be that this is a manufactured charge?"

  Doctor West's eyes widened with amazement.

  "Why, of course not! You have forgotten that the man who makes thecharge is Mr. Sherman. You surely do not think he would let himself beinvolved in anything that he did not believe to be in the highestdegree honourable?"

  "I do not know him very well. During the four years he has been here,I have met him only a few times."

  "But you know what your dearest friend thinks of him."

  "Yes, I know Elsie considers her husband to be an ecclesiastical SirGalahad. And I must admit that he has seemed to me the highest type ofthe modern young minister."

  "Then you agree with me, that Mr. Sherman is thoroughly honest in thisaffair? That his only motive is a sense of public duty?"

  "Yes. I cannot conceive of him knowingly doing a wrong."

  "That's what has forced me to think it's only just a mistake," saidher father.

  "You may be right." She considered the idea. "But what does yourlawyer say?"

  His pale cheeks flushed.

  "I have no lawyer," he said slowly.

  "I see. You were waiting to consult me about whom to retain."

  He shook his head.

  "Then you have approached some one?"

  "I have spoken to Hopkins, and Williams, and Freeman. They all----" Hehesitated.

  "Yes?"

  "They all said they could not take my case."

  "Could not take your case!" she cried. "Why not?"

  "They made different excuses. But their excuses were not their realreason."

  "And what was that?"

  The old man flushed yet more painfully.

  "I guess you do not fully realize the situation, Katherine. I don'tneed to tell you that a wave of popular feeling against politicalcorruption is sweeping across the country. This is the first big casethat has come out in Westville, and the city is stirred up over thisas it hasn't been stirred in years. The way the _Express_----You sawthe _Express_?"

  Her hands instinctively clenched.

  "It was awful! Awful!"

  "The way the _Express_ has handled it has especially--well, yousee----"

  "You mean those lawyers are afraid to take the case?"

  Doctor West nodded.

  Katherine's dark eyes glowed with wrath.

  "Did you try any one else?"

  "Mr. Green came to see me. But----"

  "Of course not! It would kill your case to have a shyster representyou." She gripped his hand, and her voice rang out: "Father, I'm gladthose men refused you. We're going to get for you the biggest man, thebiggest lawyer, in Westville."

  "You mean Mr. Blake?"

  "Yes, Mr. Blake."

  "I thought of him at first, of course. But I--well, I hesitated toapproach him."

  "Hesitated? Why?"

  "Well, you see," he stammered, "I remembered about your refusing him,and I felt----"

  "That would never make any difference to him," she cried. "He's toomuch of a gentleman. Besides, that was five years ago, and he hasforgotten it."

  "Then you think he'll take the case?"

  "Of course, he'll take it! He'll take it because he's a big man, andbecause you need him, and because he's no coward. And with the biggestman in Westville on your side, you'll see how public opinion willright-about face!"

  She sprang up, aglow with energy. "I'm going to see him this minute!With his help, we'll have this matter cleared up before you know it,and"--smiling lightly--"just you see, daddy, all Westville will be outthere in the front yard, tramping over Aunt Rachel's sweet williams,begging to be allowed to come and kiss your hand!"

  He kissed her own. He rose, and a smile broke through the clouds ofhis face.

  "You've been home only an hour, and I feel that a thousand years havebeen lifted off me."

  "That's right--and just keep on feeling a thousand years younger."She smiled caressingly, and began to twist a finger in a buttonhole ofhis coat. "U'm--don't you think, daddy, that such a very younggentleman as you are, such a regular roaring young blade,might--u'm--might----"

  "Might what, my dear?"

  "Might----" She leaned forward and whispered in his ear.

  A hand went to his throat.

  "Eh, why, is this one----"

  "I'm afraid it is, daddy--very!"

  "We've been so upset I guess your aunt must have forgotten to put outa clean one for me."

  "And I suppose it never occurred to the profound scientific intellectthat it was possible for one to pull out a drawer and take out acollar for one's self." She crossed to the bureau and came back with aclean collar. "Now, sir--up with your chin!" With quick hands shereplaced the offending collar with the fresh one, tied the tie andgave it a perfecting little pat. "There--that's better! And now I mustbe off. I'll send around a few policemen to keep the crowds off AuntRachel's flower-beds."

  And pressing on his pale cheek another kiss, and smiling at him fromthe door, she hurried out.

 
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