In the House of Rimmon
A. C. ALLENSON
LOOKING at the figures,
Frank Brandon decided it had been wise, certainly more profitable, had he devoted his talents to the gentle art of brickmaking rather than the lean, if allegedly learned, profession of the law. All the morning he had pondered personal finance, to the annoying tinkle of his telephone bell. Congratulations on political victories pall somewhat when the raucous voice of the bill collector is heard in the land. The day before, Brandon had been elected Mayor of Fritwell, hence the telephonic tintinnabulation. Fighting a stiff battle on local reform issues, he had routed a machine government hitherto regarded as invincible. Glorious it undoubtedly was. The papers were calling him David and Leonidas and such like, according to the limitations or amplitude of the reporter’s education. Still, some of the sheeif vanished in the chill fog of domestic arithmetic. Who can feel heroic with the gasman at the door with a bill and a frown, and funds at zero?
Brandon was young, clean, and rather more clever, perhaps, than most young lawyers and doctors are accused of being, until they are tried and acquitted. Still, the path to financial success was like the famous rocky road to Dublin, or the still more renowned one that runs to Tipperary.
It often struck him as odd that the clients who discovered him were almost invariably, the empty-pocketed ones. Fat, plump litigants apparently were blind as moles. He saw men whose standing at Varsity and Law School had been far inferior to his own, and whose success at the Bar examinations had been one of the mysteries that enshroud those ordeals, blossom forth into lucrative business. He went afoot, while they rode in resplendent cars. He pleaded in small court cases, while they, in some instances, sat on the bench clothed in an air of profundity that Mansfield could not have assumed. What hurt Brandon most, their wives had fine houses and servants, dressed well, lived luxuriously while Mary Brandon, his wife, had to put up with a small cottage in a rather shabby suburb, do her own housework, and count nickels more carefully than they did five-dollar bills. She never complained that she had been accustomed to refined surroundings and unused to menial work. It is the other kind that laments, not the thoroughbred. She had a pretty theory that roughing it is the inevitable prelude to brilliant success. Not in vain had she read the biographies of the world’s great men. After all, a sane optimism is the most
satisfactory of springs to ease the jarring when the road is bumpy.
W' VERYBODY did not seem to regard the prelude as at all necessary. Silverlock, boss of the machine Frank had put out of gear, for one. The tough old warrior, whose bluff, astute, and thoroughly corrupt generalship was of more than local fame, had stopped the victor the night before to shake hands.
“You trimmed us, my boy,” he said with a frankness that made him not disliked by his enemies. “Trimmed us to the King’s taste, and that counts: but where is it going to land you? Cranks and kickers, old women in and out of petticoats, are the devil of a team to drive. What’s there to it? You’re a young lawyer, and can handle, I guess, quite a bit more business than you get. How many dollars a year will your grouch mob bring you? They’d throw fits if they thought you were making a dollar out of them. They think you can live on wind and glory. Now we take care of our boys, and the more they make, the better we like it. We’re the folks who can do it. The corporations and the money interests are with us, and its only the
outs who want to be ins who kick. You should be with us, Frank, instead of with that mouldy, moth-eaten bunch. I knew your wife when she was a baby, and her father and grandfather before her. She’s much too fine a girl to have to worry where the next dress and coat for the baby are to come from. I’m not trying to get at you, I know I couldn’t, or maybe I’d have a shot, but reni e m b e r, Frank, a man’s got to look after himself in this world. If he doesn’t, there are precious few reformers who’ll do it for him.”
AS he now examined the figures, Silverlock’s words came back. He owed over a thousand dollars, and his passbook showed less than a hundred. Most of the debts were not urgent but one bothered him. It was listed, “Mallinson. Note of Hand. $250.” He had been hard pressed for money when the baby was born and Mallinson, a wealthy realestate man, who had known of his difficulties, had offered to accommodate him. At the time Brandon did not know a great deal of the man, their acquaintance being purely a business one. Later he learned that his creditor was an inside member of a clique interested in objects he, Brandon, was politically opposed to. The note had been renewed once, but the state of their political relations made further extension improbable. He was thinking the matter out, when Mallinson himself entered.
“Sit down,” said Brandon. “I was just figuring out that note.”
“Glad you were,” was the reply. “What about it?”
“Money’s confoundedly tight,” observed Frank.
“Has been, seemingly, ever since I lent it to you,” responded the other, offensively. “However, if you take care of it, it will please me. I should not like it to go to protest.”
The ultimatum was unmistakable, and with a nod, the visitor departed. The day wore away cheerlessly, clouded by the
obligation to be met on the morrow. Borrowing he hated, but perhaps he could manage it among friends at home. He would have to try, at any rate; and the ordeal was not alluring. Five o’clock came, and he was about to leave the office for the night, when the postman arrived. There was one letter, a long, blue, sealed envelope. He slit it open curiously, and from a blank sheet of paper five one-hundred-dollar bills fell to the desk. Apart from the typewritten address there was no distinguishable mark within or without the envelope. He spread the bills on the desk and looked at them. It was a long time since he had seen so much money in the lump. There was a wonderfully seductive attractiveness about the clean, unused, crisp bills. Where had they come from? Perhaps some political sympathizer. He laughed as he recalled Silverlock’s opinion of his party. At last he slipped the money into the envelope, put the whole into his pocket and went home. It is astonishing what a bulwark of confidence the mere possession of a fat pocketbook furnishes. Brandon felt ten times the man he had been when he had faced Mallinson. There is no humiliation more exacting than debt.
T) Y the time he reached home he was in excellent spirits. He would say nothing to Mary about it he decided; she had troubles of her own with home management. She was waiting for him at the door. The house looked very bright and cheery, and Mary was dressed with the care and taste that always distinguished her. He wondered how she did it on so little. After he had seen the boy in his cot, they sat down cosily to the pleasantest meal of the day. Dinner over, the Mayor helped the Mayoress to wash the dishes, then they settled down, he with pipe, she with sewing, for a Darby and Joan evening. It was not to be, however; for, before his pipe was fairly going, a telephone call came. The Harringtons, neighbors, would like him to step across if he did not mind. Mrs. Harrington was ill and they had some urgent business they wished him to look after. Mind? The roll in his pocket was not so large that he hated to increase it. When he returned he had cheerful news for Mary. The Harringtons were involved in a most glorious scrap about the division of a great estate, and had retained him. Heaven be praised! The bolts on the world’s money chest were “giving” the least bit. He sat down and began to take his shoes off. He would have his pipe at last. Harrington was a fine fellow, but his cigars might be good for asthma. Then he paused, thought for a minute and then, with a sigh, started to lace the shoes up again.
“I forgot,” he said. “I have to see Judge Wilcox. I telephoned from the office and he expects me. I shall not be long, honey girl.”
TT was eleven when he got back from the A judge’s house. He was thoughtful and quieter than usual. Mary was still sewing, and she noted his abstraction. It had been very evident lately. He had a way of stopping short in whatever he was doing, and settling a mental problem, to her great amusement. Now he lit a match, let
it burn down to his fingers, repeating the process several times, till she got up laughing and took the box away from him.
“You shall not cremate my husband,” she said, perching on his knee and ruffling up his hair. “We are very solemn to-night, Mr. Mayor.”
“I was just thinking,” he smiled absently.
“Well don’t,” she replied. “Keep union hours. I’d offer you a penny if I had one, I haven’t. I’m broke.”
He wondered if he should say anything about the five bills. Better not, perhaps. He had never told her of his debt to Mallinson.
“Any nice, rich, fidgety clients at the office to-day?” she asked.
“Too busy answering calls to think even of clients,” he replied. “I could have torn myself away from the flatterers had a really, meaty victim appeared. I’ll have to put a barker in front of the building to attract the plutocrat’s attention to the legal wonder rusticating upstairs.” “And how stands the exchequer?” she asked a little nervously.
“Slight upward tendency,” he laughed. “I’m really quite touchable.”
“I hate to bother you, Frank,” she said, “but Mr. Morgan, the grocer, called today. He was as nice and polite as possible, but he’s hard up too. He has been most obliging, but he would like a little on account, if quite convenient.”
“How much do we owe him?” he asked. “Tell me the worst.”
“Forty-three dollars, but that’s for nearly two months,” she replied. “It does climb up so horribly.”
“What a wonderful manager you are, Mary,” he said. “How on earth do you do it? The prettiest wife, the brainiest, and the finest little housekeeper and mother in the whole Province, and all inside five feet three and this little waist. Whistle the cheque book out of its kennel, honey, I can’t let you go.”
“You really can give him something?” she said, freeing herself, and fetching the book.
“What! the whole amount?” And she danced round the room waving the pink slip aloft.
“And what was there you were saying about a winter dress and hat?” he asked. “Then there’s the coat and other rig for his Nibs in the cot.”
“Surely, you silly boy, I can talk about things without expecting to get them?” she replied. “I shall not want one single thing this winter, but when you are rich enough, there is the dearest little warm coat and hood for baby. It will cost fifteen dollars, though.”
“And the winter dress and hat?” he demanded.
“But-,” she began.
“But me no buts, madame,” he interrupted. “The winter dress, also the hat, or I’ll take that cheque for nice Mr. Morgan back, and he can stew for it.”
“But really, Frank, can you afford it?” she asked, searchingly.
“You bet I’m going to,” he replied. “They’ll cost nearly forty-five dollars,” she said, bending over his shoulder. “A hundred, Frank!” she gasped, rescuing the cheque from the coils of her hair.
“Now, Mrs. Brandon, just listen to me,” he admonished. “To-morrow you go downtown, buy the baby’s things, and the dress and hat. No cheaper, just as good stuff, but the dress, the whole dress, and nothing but that particular dress. You need other things beside, and that hundred’s got to be spent on you and the kiddie to the last dime. You can’t think, Mary, how good it is to be able to give you things even in this little way. I’d like to ransack the city and find the daintest and finest to put on you, and then I’d want you back again in the pretty plain things just as you are now, you poor man’s jewel.”
She laughed happily, and the clock ticked away the midnight hour, but the world was very young and sweet and sunshiny.
TN the morning, Brandon deposited the A five hundred at his bank and took up Mallinson’s note. He fancied the receiving teller glanced at him rather oddly as he ran the bills over. It. occurred to Frank that the man was Mallinson’s brother-in-law. Still the young lawyer was not accustomed to deposit such sums.
Strangely enough, from that day the tide of business seemed to turn. It may have been coincidence that the change took place so soon after his public triumph. Possibly victory had roused the public to a realization of his existence. He had been striving, like a man with shoulder to a mired wagon, to move forward, and the harder he tried the deeper it sank. Then, when the task seemed almost hopeless, the mud became firm road, the wagon stirred, moved an inch, and then began to run forward at an ever quickening pace. His abilities were not unknown within a limited but influential circle, and back of this was a sound bit of work, directly insignificant, but which had shown his class. A small case involving mining rights had come into his office. He fought it with the energy of the belligerent youngster over his ewe lamb job, against a leading expert; and he won. He got no money out of it. But the work counted and, when the big corporation he had defeated locked horns later with a powerful rival organization, they remembered Brandon, and retained him as junior. This was the beginning of the upward movement. There was no frenzied rush for his services; but he was a comer, and good class practice began to flow towards him.
'T'HREE months passed and one afterA noon another blue envelope arrived at the office. Again, five crisp new hundred dollar bills dropped out of the blank sheet of paper. This time Brandon did not meditate long over them. Money was not quite as scarce as it had been. A day or two later one of his closest political friends dropped in.
“I’ve got news, Frank,” he said. “Fagan is opening up the ‘Snuggery.’ Nothing as yet but a small game or two, but on Monday the Horse Pool Room and the entire gambling shebang are to be in full blast again.”
“That so?” said Brandon. “Let ’em open. We’ll put the lid on so tight there will be nothing left under but a big, dirty grease spot.”
The “Snuggery” had for years been one of the main issues in Fritwell local politics. The crucial question was not whether one were Conservative or Liberal, but an open or shut “Snuggery” man. The place ran most kinds of gambling games, and was headquarters for most of the political rascality of the vicinity. In full blast it did an enormously successful trade, and had developed for its protection an elaborate system of corruptior, under the guise of open-handed generosity, that almost paralyzed efforts to combat it. It contributed largely to political campaign funds, retained many of the leading legal practitioners, had its secret payroll of political satellites and office holders. Any man who could make himself a nuisance to the “Snuggery” had a talent that could be cashed at sight, and perhaps the most obnoxious of the grafters were those who professed reform in order to bleed Fagan the more effectively.
ant to me. On the quiet, I own the ‘Snuggery’ Block. Between us, and on the level, Brandon, what is it, bluff or business?” The man’s effrontery amused Frank, but he answered quietly:
“I think you can put it down as business.”
“Then you’ve got the job of your life on your hands,” said Mallinson.
“And I never felt better able to tackle it,” answered Brandon.
“Maybe you don’t know how deep and wide the thing goes, or who you may be hurting,” continued Mallinson. “I’m quite candid. With ordinary tenants I might get a couple of thousands a year for my block. From the ‘Sunggery’ folks I get
-well, a whole lot more. You don’t
know where you stand, Brandon. The police are against you, sub rosa, and you can’t count on your council’s backing. The blue envelope goes into quite a lot of 'homes round Fritwell.”
Its pensioners were listed from hundreds a month to a beggarly fiver flung contemptuously to a puny grafter.
Since Brandon’s victory the place had been discreetly closed, but now the syndicate running it under Fagan determined to get to work again.
f I ' HE Friday before the day named for resuming operations, a reporter from the Meteor interviewed the young Mayor to find where he stood. He learned it with no uncertainty, and published the story. The fight was on. On Saturday afternoon Mallinson called to see the Mayor. He was greatly excited, and found it difficult to start the subject uppermost in his mind. At last it came out.
“I’ve been reading that interview with you in the Meteor,” he said. “I wanted to see you about it as the matter is import-
“The blue envelope?” repeated Frank, with a quick glance at the other. Mallinson nodded, a cynical grin on his face.
“I guess you’ve heard of it. Quite a charitable institution,” he said.
Brandon’s fingers drummed the desk uneasily. Mallinson got up went to the door, peeped out, then came back.
“Toll you what the scheme is,” he said in lowered voice. “Fagan’s wise and he’s a sport. He’ll work in with you all right. He understands all about that interview. You’ve got to make your play, and he’ll back you up, never fear. He won’t open Monday, and it can go out you’ve trimmed him. That’ll put you right with your crowd as a little tin conquering hero. Later, when things tone down, he’ll break in quietly and, if the public kicks, you can put it up to the police, and their hides are tough.”
“As you seem to be Fagan’s messenger you may as well take my answer,” replied Brandon. “Tell him that he’ll be wise not to open Monday, and he’d better stick to wisdom’s way. Just as soon as he starts up at the ‘Snuggery,’ or elsewhere in this town, the lid will drop so quickly and heavily he’ll not know for a bit what struck him.”
“Oh come off, Brandon,” responded Mallinson impatiently. “We know all about it, and Fagan’s a bad man to fool with. He’s put many little reformers down and out. Some he bought up and scrapped, some he trapped, and others he just plain broke.”
“I don’t figure on him doing any of the three to me,” said Brandon.
“Well, don’t push him too far, then,” threatened the other.
“I don’t know how far that is,” was the reply,” but as long as it lands him outside the city limits, it’ll suit me.”
“What did you take his money for, then?” snarled the angry man.
“What money?” demanded Brandon, swinging on his chair slowly.
“Innocent, eh!” sneered the other. “Where did the money come from to pay that note of mine? When I called that morning you didn’t know where to raise a dollar. Then the blue envelope came in the nick of time with the five hundred. The bills were marked, and have been identified. We made sure of that when you paid them into your account. We’ve got you, Brandon, dead to rights, and you’ll come to heel or walk the plank without any more fooling.”
Frank did not answer, and Mallinson sat watching his face with malicious glee.
“It’s up to you now,” continued the man. “P’agan opens next week, not on Monday, but a few days later. You sit tight and no harm’s done. I guess the blue envelope will continue to come round. There’s nothing small about Dick Fagan; but try any double cross work and the story comes out.” He rose to go and Frank got up with him.
“The world will know if you play any pranks,” Mallinson continued at the door. “It will know about the two-fifty that went to pay my note, the forty odd that paid the store bill you owed, and the hundred of Fagan’s that bought your wife’s dress and kid’s clothes-”
“Smash!” The drive came straight from the shoulder full on the sneering Continued on Page 86.
Continued from Page 19
mouth. And Mallinson went down like a felled ox.
“Get out of here as quick as you can. Quick. Quick!” stormed Brandon, as he stood over him. “Or by the living God I’ll kill you, you rotten, crawling worm.” He flung the office door open and kicked the man’s hat into the corridor. Mallinson scrambled to his feet and made off.
MALLINSON had gone too far for Fagan, who was a cool, shrewd man. The latter told him roundly he had been a fool, laughing at the scarred mouth of his ambassador. Publicly, Fagan intimated that in face of the Mayor’s opposition he did not propose to open. Quietly his party began to spread hints that Brandon’s opposition was only for stage effect, and that, if Fagan considered it worth while to defy him, the lily-white Mayor would cut a sorry figure.
Mary Brandon had been paying calls and was returning home near dusk. She was veiled and sat in a corner of the street
car. The men near her were talking of the general topic.
“Bluff, my boy ! Just plain bluff!” said one of them. “You’ll see the ‘Snuggery’ in full blast before you’re a week older.” He dropped his voice but Mary could hear what he said. “They’ve got at Brandon,” he whispered. “The very day after election Fagan slipped him five hundred. He took it, paid it into his account, green as grass, and I can tell you what he did with it. Two-fifty went to pay a note he was being pressed for, forty odd to clear up a dunning grocer, and a hundred to buy clothes for Mrs. Mayor and his kid. Kind o’ good, isn’t it? It’s straight and pat. Let Brandon chirp once, and he’s the flattest pancake you ever saw.”
Presently the men left the car. Mary’s heart was like lead, her mind swiftly checking off the terribly precise indictment, and comparing items with the events of the well-remembered evening. She was wearing the dress and hat the money had enabled her to buy. When she
reached home she took them off, gathered everything together that had been bought with the tainted money, and heaped them together in a disused closet. Then she sat down to think. She knew how severe the money pressure had been, and she blamed herself for mentioning the grocer’s call to Frank that fatal evening. Yet he must have already fallen and taken the bribe, else he would not have had the money to give her.
Her world was chaos. If belief in her husband’s integrity went, everything was gone. He must either sit silently, ignobly powerless to interfere with Fagan, and thus be the scorn of the community, or meet the vegeance of the man who had bought him. When he came in, he looked tired, and she could not find it in her heart to broach the matter. She was very gentle and quiet, and longed to take his tired head to her breast and hear the best or worst as it might be. If he had tripped and fallen, it was because of her and their home. He, too, was unusually quiet, yet in an undemonstrative way, more tenderly affectionate than ordinary. Later he had work to do, so she left him, and went to bed to pass a long sleepless night.
TTE left the house early next morning; * *■ and she went about the routine of her day listlessly, the harassing fight between hope and fear, doubt and belief, raging incessantly. It was the dreariest, most hopeless day she had ever known. Usually Frank telephoned once or twice during the day for a chat, but to-day he had not called her up. At five she could endure the suspense no longer and rang the office. She felt she must hear his voice. The call was answered by his little Irish typewriter.
“No, Mrs. Brandon, he’s out,” came the reply. “He’s one busy man this day. They raided the ‘Snuggery’ this afternoon. Fagan and his lot are just out under bail, and the joint’s shut tight. A million crowbars couldn’t pry it open. No, Ma’am, I guess he won’t be home for dinner. There’s a council meeting to be held, and all manner of ructions stirring. Everybody’s to be there, little me for one. What’s that? You’d like to be there? The surest thing you know, Mrs. Brandon. Yes, Ma’am, seven fifteen, corner of Main and High. Yes, put a veil on. Oh, we’ll get in all right. You see, Mrs, Brandon, there’s a cop there and he’d give me the City Hall, if I asked him real nice. They’re after the Mayor, they say, but I guess they’re after him the way the hobo’s after the bull dog. Yes, Ma’am. Huh! Huh! Well, I’m sport enough to put up my salary for a month that the one to take the count won’t be your husband and my boss. Right, Mrs. Brandon, I’ll be there sure.”
T_I IDDEN in a corner of the crowded -*• little gallery, Mary sat with the confident Molly O’Rourke, and watched her husband take his seat in the Mayor’s chair. At the reporter’s table she noticed old Judge Wilcox, and wondered what he was doing there. Her heart beat fast as Frank rose to speak, but the fear had gone. The perky, bantam confidence of Miss O'Rourke who chewed gum and made sniffy remarks about the squelched
Faganites to an impersonal public, rebuked her own faithlessness.
“It will be within the recollection of every one present,” began Frank, “that accusations connected with the attitude of the Council to the ‘Snuggery’ have been bandied about freely recently. Without repeating the charges in detail, they have amounted to this, that a prominent member of what is known as the Reform party has been bribed by the men at the back of the ‘Snuggery.’ The person accused, more or less covertly, has been myself. The statement is to the effect that the day after my election I accepted a bribe of five hundred dollars. That the day after I deposited it to the credit of my account, and that the notes were then identified. Further details have been circulated as to the way in which I spent the money. The statement of fact is perfectly true. On the day named, I received a blue envelope. Within were five one-hundred dollar bills. The following day I paid them in to my account and used them pretty much as rumored. The evening I received the blue envelope I called on my friend and adviser, the friend of every honest man in this town, whose name is synonymous with everything clean and of good report. I refer to Judge Wilcox, who is here to-night. I gave him the envelope and moneys as they had come to me. In accordance with his advice, I substituted five other one hundred dollar bills for those that came to me. These the Judge sealed up, endorsing the package with date, hour, and my declaration. The following morning, by his advice, I paid the
five bribe bills into my account, to see how far knowledge of them would travel, and what developments would spring from them. Meantime the Judge deposited the sealed package at Miller’s Bank at the same time, taking the cashier’s receipt. The cashier is present to-night with the sealed package which he will open in presence of all. The Judge advised me to be liberal in my allowance of rope to the devil, and I guess he’s had all he needed to hang himself. The first part of the funeral we attended this afternoon. I received a second envelope the other day,” he continued. “That, I suppose, was to grease the lock on the ‘Snuggery’ door. As the door is not open, and is not likely to be, I leave the money with the Treasurer, awaiting claimant.”
And he tossed the package to the table.
HAT puzzles me,” said Mary, “is VV where the five hundred dollars you substituted came from.”
“When the Harringtons retained me, they gave me exactly five hundred dollars. Odd, wasn’t it?” he asked. “If they had not, of course nice polite Mr. Morgan would have had to wait for his bill, and you and the kiddie would not have been able to get your things as soon as you did. I intended to leave the bribe money with the Judge, and he had promised to lend me enough to clear off Mallinson. I called him up earlier in the day. It is a pretty good sort of a world after all, Mary, isn’t it! What a lucky chap I am.”
And the clock ticked, and ticked, and ticked.