Counsel for the defense, p.7
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       Counsel for the Defense, p.7

           Leroy Scott
 

  CHAPTER VII

  THE MASK FALLS

  But presently the sobs subsided, as though shut off by main force, andKatherine rose to her feet. She wiped her eyes and looked at herfather, a wan smile on her reddened, still tremulous face.

  "What a hope-inspiring lawyer you have, father!"

  "I would not want a truer," said he loyally.

  "We won't have one of these cloud-bursts again, I promise you. Butwhen you have been under a strain for months, and things are stretchedtighter and tighter, and at last something makes things snap, why youjust can't help--well," she ended, "a man would have done somethingelse, I suppose, but it might have been just as bad."

  "Worse!" avowed her father.

  "Anyhow, it's all over. I'll just repair some of the worst ravages ofthe storm, and then we'll talk about our programme for the trial."

  As she was arranging her hair before her father's mirror, she saw, inthe glass, the old man stoop and take something from the waste-basket.Turning his back to her, he cautiously examined the object.

  She left the mirror and came up behind him.

  "What are you looking at, dear?"

  He started, and glanced up.

  "Oh--er--that editorial Mr. Bruce referred to." He rubbed his headdazedly. "If that should happen, with me even indirectly the cause ofit--why, Katherine, it really would be pretty bad!" He held out the_Clarion_. "Perhaps, after all, you had better read it."

  She took the paper. The _Clarion_ had from the first opposed thecity's owning the water-works, and the editorial declared that thepresent situation gave the paper, and all those who had held a similaropinion, their long-awaited triumph and vindication. "This failure isonly what invariably happens whenever a city tries municipalownership," declared the editorial. "The situation has grown sounbearably acute that the city's only hope of good water lies in thesale of the system to some private concern, which will give us thatsuperior service which is always afforded by private capital.Westville is upon the eve of a city election, and we most emphaticallyurge upon both parties that they make the chief plank of theirplatforms the immediate sale of our utterly discredited water-worksto some private company."

  The editorial did not stir Katherine as it had appeared to stir Bruce,nor even in the milder degree it had stirred Doctor West. She wasinterested in the water-works only in so far as it concerned herfather, and the _Clarion's_ proposal had no apparent bearing on hisguilt or innocence.

  She laid the _Clarion_ on the table, without comment, and proceeded todiscuss the coming trial. The only course she had to suggest was thatthey plead for a postponement on the ground that they needed more timein which to prepare their defense. If that plea were denied, thenbefore them seemed certain conviction. On that plea, then, theydecided to place all their hope.

  When this matter had been talked out Doctor West took the _Clarion_from the table and again read the editorial with troubled face, whileKatherine walked to and fro across the floor, her mind all on thetrial.

  "If the town does sell, it will be too bad!" he sighed.

  "I suppose so," said Katherine mechanically.

  "It has reached me that people are saying that the system isn't worthanything like what we paid for it."

  "Is that so?" she asked absently.

  Doctor West drew himself up and his faded cheeks flushed indignantly.

  "No, it is not so. I don't know what's wrong, but it's the very bestsystem of its size in the Middle West!"

  She paused.

  "Forgive me--I wasn't paying any attention to what I was saying. I'msure it is."

  She resumed her pacing.

  "But if they sell out to some company," Doctor West continued, "thecompany will probably get it for a third, or less, of what it isactually worth."

  "So, if some corporation has been secretly wanting to buy it,"commented Katherine, "things could not have worked out better for thecorporation if they had been planned."

  She came to a sudden pause, and stood gazing at her father, her lipsslowly parting.

  "It could not have worked out better for the corporation if it hadbeen planned," she repeated.

  "No," said Doctor West.

  She picked up the _Clarion_, quickly read the editorial, and laid thepaper aside.

  "Father!" Her voice was a low, startled cry.

  "Yes?"

  She moved slowly toward him, in her face a breathless look, and caughthis shoulders with tense hands.

  "_Perhaps it was planned!_"

  "What?"

  Her voice rang out more loudly:

  "_Perhaps it was planned!_"

  "But Katherine--what do you mean?"

  "Let me think. Let me think." She began feverishly to pace the room."Oh, why did I not think of this before!" she cried to herself. "Ithought of graft--political corruption--everything else. But it neveroccurred to me that there might be a plan, a subtle, deep-laid plan,to steal the water-works!"

  Doctor West watched her rather dazedly as she went up and down thefloor, her brows knit, her lips moving in self-communion. Herconnection with the Municipal League in New York had given her anintimate knowledge of the devious means by which public servicecorporations sometimes gain their end. Her mind flashed over all thesituation's possibilities.

  Suddenly she paused before her father, face flushed, triumph in hereyes.

  "Father, _it was planned!_"

  "Eh?" said he.

  "Father," she demanded excitedly, "do you know what the great publicservice corporations are doing now?" Her words rushed on, not waitingfor an answer. "They have got hold of almost all the valuable publicutilities in the great cities, and now they are turning to a freshfield--the small cities. Westville is a rich chance in a small way. Ithas only thirty thousand inhabitants now. But it is growing. Some dayit will have fifty thousand--a hundred thousand."

  "That's what people say."

  "If a private company could get hold of the water-works, the systemwould not only be richly profitable at once, but it would be worth afortune as the city grows. Now if a company, a clever company, wantedto buy in the water-works, what would be their first move?"

  "To make an offer, I suppose."

  "Never! Their first step would be to try to make the people want tosell. And how would they try to make the people want to sell?"

  "Why--why----"

  "By making the water-works fail!" Her excitement was mounting; shecaught his shoulders. "Fail so badly that the people would bedisgusted, just as they now are, and willing to sell at any price.And now, father--and now, father--" he could feel her quivering allover--"listen to me! We're coming to the point! How would they makethe water-works fail?"

  He could only blink at her.

  "They'd make it fail by removing from office, and so disgracinghim that everything he had done would be discredited, the oneincorruptible man whose care and knowledge had made it a success!Don't you see, father? Don't you see?"

  "Bless me," said the old man, "if I know what you're talking about!"

  "With you out of the way, whom they knew they could not corrupt, theycould buy under officials to attend to the details of making the waterbad and the plant itself a failure--just exactly what has been done.You are not the real victim. You are just an obstruction--somethingthat they had to get out of the way. The real victim is Westville!It's a plan to rob the city!"

  His gray eyes were catching the light that blazed from hers.

  "I begin to see," he said. "It hardly seems possible people would dosuch things. But perhaps you're right. What are you going to do?"

  "Fight!"

  "Fight?" He looked admiringly at her glowing figure. "But if there isa strong company behind all this, for you to fight it alone--it willbe an awful big fight!"

  "I don't care how big the fight is!" she cried exultantly. "What hasalmost broken my heart till now is that there has been no one tofight!"

  A shadow fell on the old man's face.

  "But after all, Katherine, it is all only a guess."
<
br />   "Of course it is only a guess!" she cried. "But I have tested everyother possible solution. This is the only one left, and it fits everyknown circumstance of the case. It is only a guess--but I'll stake mylife on its being the right guess!" Her voice rose. "Oh, father, we'reon the right track at last! We're going to clear you! Don't you everdoubt that. We're going to clear you!"

  There was no resisting the ringing confidence in her voice, the fireof her enthusiasm.

  "Katherine!" he cried, and opened his arms.

  She rushed into them. "We're going to clear you, father! And, oh,won't it be fine! Won't it be fine!"

  For a space they held each other close, then they parted.

  "What are you going to do first?" he asked.

  "Try to find the person, or corporation, behind the scheme."

  "And how will you do that?"

  "First, I shall talk it over with Mr. Blake. You know he told me tocome to him if I ever wished his advice. He knows the situationhere--he has the interests of Westville at heart--and I know he willhelp us. I'm not going to lose a second, so I'm off to see him now."

  She rushed downstairs. But she did have to lose a second, and many ofthem, for when she called up Mr. Blake's office on the telephone, theanswer came back that Mr. Blake was in the capital and would notreturn till the following day on the one forty-five. It occurred toKatherine to advise with old Hosie Hollingsworth, for during the longsummer her blind, childish shrinking had changed to warm liking of thedry old lawyer; and she had discovered, too, that the heresies it hadbeen his delight to utter a generation before--and on which he stillprided himself--were now a part of the belief of many an orthodoxdivine.

  But she decided against conferring with Old Hosie. Her adviser andleader must be a man more actively in the current of modern affairs.No, Blake was her great hope, and precious and few as were the hoursbefore the trial, there was nothing for it but to wait for his return.

  She went up to her room, and her excited mind, now half inspired, wentfeverishly over the situation and all who were in any wise concernedin it. She thought of the fifty dollar check from the Acme FilterCompany. With her new viewpoint she now understood the wholebewildering business of that check. The company, or at least one ofits officers, was somehow in on the deal, and there had been somecareful scheming behind the sending of that fifty dollars. Thecompany had been confronted with two obvious difficulties. First, ithad to make certain that the check would not be received until afterthe two thousand dollars was in the hands of her father. Second, thedate of the check and the date of the Westville postmark must beearlier than the day the two thousand dollars was delivered--elseDoctor West could produce check and envelope to prove that the checkhad not arrived until after he had already accepted what he thoughtwas the donation, and thus perhaps ruin the whole scheme. What hadbeen done, Katherine now clearly perceived, was that some one, mostprobably an assistant of her father, had been bought over to look outfor the arrival of the letter, to hold it back until the critical dayhad passed, and then slip it into her father's neglected mail.

  Her mind raced on to further matters, further persons, connected withthe situation. When she came to Bruce her hands clenched the arms ofher wicker rocking chair. In a flash the whole man was plain to her,and her second great discovery of the day was made.

  Bruce was an agent of the hidden corporation!

  The motive behind his fierce desire to destroy her father was at lastapparent. To destroy Doctor West was his part in the conspiracy. Asfor his rabid advocacy of municipal ownership, and all his fine talkabout the city's betterment, that was mere sham--merely the virtuousfront behind which he could work out his purpose unsuspected. No onecould quote the scripture of civic improvement more loudly than thecivic despoiler. She always had distrusted him. Now she knew him. Manya time through the night her mind flashed back to him from othermatters and she thrilled with a vengeful joy at the thought of tearingaside his mask.

  It was a long and feverish night to Katherine, and a long and feverishforenoon. At a quarter to two she was in Blake's office, which wasfurnished with just that balance between simplicity and richnessappropriate to a growing great man with a constituency half of thecity and half of the country. She had sat some time at a windowlooking down upon the Square, its foliage now a dusty, shrivelledbrown, when Blake came in. He had not been told that she was waiting,and at sight of her he came to a sudden pause. But the next instant hehad crossed the room and was shaking her hand.

  For that first instant Katherine's eyes and mind, which during thelast twenty-four hours had had an almost more than mortal clearness,had an impression that he was strangely agitated. But the moment over,the impression was gone.

  He placed a chair for her at the corner of his desk and himself satdown, his dark, strong, handsome face fixed on hers.

  "Now, how can I serve you, Katherine?"

  There were rings about her eyes, but excitement gave her colour.

  "You know that to-morrow is father's trial?"

  "Yes. You must have a hard, hard fight before you."

  "Perhaps not so hard as you may think." She tried to keep her tuggingexcitement in leash.

  "I hope not," said he.

  "I think it may prove easy--if you will help me."

  "Help you?"

  "Yes. I have come to ask you that again."

  "Well--you see--as I told you----"

  "But the situation has changed since I first came to you," she put inquickly, not quite able to restrain a little laugh. "I have foundsomething out!"

  He started. "You have found--you say----"

  "I have found something out!"

  She smiled at him happily, triumphantly.

  "And that?" said he.

  She leaned forward.

  "I do not need to tell you, for you know it, that the big corporationshave discovered a new gold mine--or rather, thousands of little goldmines. That all over the country they have gained control, and areworking to gain control, of the street-car lines, gas works and otherpublic utilities in the smaller cities."

  "Well?"

  She spoke excitedly, putting the case more definitely than it reallywas, to better the chance of winning his aid.

  "Well, I have just discovered that there is a plan on foot, directedby a hidden some one, to seize the water-works of Westville. I havediscovered that my father is not guilty. He is the victim of a trickto ruin the water-works and make the people willing to sell. The firstthing to do is to find the man behind the scheme. I want you to helpme find this man."

  A greenish pallor had overspread his features.

  "And you want me--to find this man?" he repeated.

  "Yes. I know you will take this up, simply because of your interest inthe city. But there is another reason--it would help you in yourlarger ambition. If you could disclose this scheme, save the city,become the hero of a great popular gratitude, think how it would helpyour senatorial chances!"

  He did not at once reply, but sat staring at her.

  "Don't you see?" she cried.

  "I--I see."

  "Why, it would turn your chance for the Senate into a certainty! Itwould--but, Mr. Blake, what's the matter?"

  "Matter," he repeated, huskily. "Why--why nothing."

  She gazed at him with deep concern. "But you look almost sick."

  In his eyes there struggled a wild look. Her gaze became fixed uponhis face, so strangely altered. In her present high-wrought state allher senses were excited to their intensest keenness.

  There was a moment of silence--eyes into eyes. Then she stood slowlyup, and one hand reached slowly out and clutched his arm.

  "Mr. Blake!" she whispered, in an awed and terrified tone. Shecontinued to stare into his eyes. "Mr. Blake!" she repeated.

  She felt a tensing of his body, as of a man who seeks to masterhimself with a mighty effort. He tried to smile, though his greenishpallor did not leave him.

  "It is my turn," he said, "to ask what is the matter with you,Katherine."
<
br />   "Mr. Blake!" She loosed her hold upon his arm, and shrank away.

  He rose.

  "What is the matter?" he repeated. "You seem upset. I suppose it isthe nervous strain of to-morrow's trial."

  In her face was stupefied horror.

  "It is what--what I have discovered."

  "What you call your discovery would be most valuable, if true. But itis just a dream, Katherine--a crazy, crazy dream."

  She still was looking straight into his eyes.

  "Mr. Blake, it is true," she said slowly, almost breathlessly. "For Ihave found the man behind the plan."

  "Indeed! And who?"

  "I think you know him, Mr. Blake."

  "I?"

  "Better than any one else."

  His smile had left him.

  "Who?"

  She continued to stare at him for a moment in silence. Then she slowlyraised her arm and pointed at him.

  The silence continued for several moments, each gazing at the other.He had put one hand upon his desk and was leaning heavily upon it. Helooked like a man sick unto death. But soon a shiver ran through him;he swallowed, gripped himself in a strong control, and smiled againhis strained, unnatural smile.

  "Katherine, Katherine," he tried to say it reprovingly andindulgently, but there was a quaver in his voice. "You have gone quiteout of your head!"

  "It is true!" she cried. "All unintentionally I have followed one ofthe oldest of police expedients. I have suddenly confronted thecriminal with his crime, and I have surprised his guilt upon hisface!"

  "What you say is absurd. I can explain it only on the theory that youare quite out of your mind."

  "Never before was I so much in it!"

  In this moment when she felt that the hidden enemy she had striven solong to find was at last revealed to her, she felt more of anguishthan of triumph.

  "Oh, how could you do such a thing, Mr. Blake?" she burst out. "Howcould you do it?"

  He shook his head, and tried to smile at her perversity--but the smilewas a wan failure.

  "I see--I see!" she cried in her pain. "It is just the old story. Agood man rises to power through being the champion of the people--and,once in power, the opportunities, the temptation, are too much forhim. But I never--no, never!--thought that such a thing would happenwith you!"

  He strove for the injured air of the misjudged old friend.

  "Again I must say that I can only explain your charges by supposingthat you are out of your head."

  "Here in Westville you believe it is not woman's business to thinkabout politics," Katherine went on, in her voice of pain. "But I couldnot help thinking about them, and watching them. I have lost my faithin the old parties, but I had kept my faith in some of their leaders.I believe some of them honest, devoted, indomitable. And of them all,the one I admired most, ranked highest, was you. And now--and now--oh,Mr. Blake!--to learn that you----"

  "Katherine! Katherine!" And he raised his hands with the manner ofexasperated, yet indulgent, helplessness.

  "Mr. Blake, you know you are now only playing a part! And you knowthat I know it!" She moved up to him eagerly. "Listen to me," shepleaded rapidly. "You have only started on this, you have not gone toofar to turn back. You have done no real wrong as yet, save to myfather, and I know my father will forgive you. Drop your plan--let myfather be honourably cleared--and everything will be just as before!"

  For a space he seemed shaken by her words. She watched him,breathless, awaiting the outcome of the battle she felt was wagingwithin him.

  "Drop the plan--do!--do!--I beg you!" she cried.

  His dark face twitched; a quivering ran through his body. Then by amighty effort he partially regained his mastery.

  "There is no plan for me to drop," he said huskily.

  "You still cling to the part you are playing?"

  "I am playing no part; you are all wrong about me," he continued."Your charges are so absurd that it would be foolish to deny them.They are merely the ravings of an hysterical woman."

  "And this is your answer?"

  "That is my answer."

  She gazed at him for a long moment. Then she sighed.

  "I'm so sorry!" she said; and she turned away and moved toward thedoor.

  She gave him a parting look, as he stood pale, quivering, yetcontrolled, behind his desk. In this last moment she remembered thegallant fight this man had made against Blind Charlie Peck; sheremembered that fragrant, far-distant night of June when he had askedher to marry him; and she felt as though she were gazing for the lasttime upon a dear dead face.

  "I'm sorry--oh, so sorry!" she said tremulously. "Good-by." Andturning, she walked with bowed head out of his office.

 
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