Read CHAPTER III of Scattergood Baines, free online book, by Clarence Budington Kelland, on ReadCentral.com.

THE MOUNTAIN COMES TO SCATTERGOOD

Scattergood Baines was on his way to the city! An exclamation point deserves to be placed after this because it rightly belongs in a class with the statement that the mountain was coming to Mohammed. Scattergood had fully as much in common with cities as eels with the Desert of Sahara.

He had not started the journey brashly, on impulse, but after debate and discussion with Mandy, his wife. Mandy’s conclusion was that if Scattergood had to go to the city he might as well get at it and have it over, exercising the care of an exceedingly prudent man in the circumstances, and following minutely advice that would be forthcoming from her. Undoubtedly, she thought, he could manage the matter and return to Coldriver unscathed.

So Scattergood was clambering into the stage his stage that plied between Coldriver village and the railroad, twenty-four miles distant. When he settled in his seat the stage sagged noticeably on that side, for Scattergood added to his weight yearly as he added to his other possessions. Mandy stood by, watching anxiously.

“Remember,” said she, “I pinned your money in the right leg of your pants, clost to the knee.”

“Mandy,” said he, confidentially, “I feel the lump of it. I hope I don’t have to git after it sudden. Dunno but I should have fetched along a ferret to send up after it.”

“Don’t git friendly with no strangers dressed-up ones, especial. And never set down your valise. There’s a white shirt and a collar and two pairs of sox, and what not, in there. Make quite an object for some sharper.”

He nodded solemnly.

“If you git invited out to his house,” she said, “it’ll save you a dollar hotel bill, anyhow, and be a heap sight safer.”

“You’re right, Mandy, as usual,” he agreed. “G’by, Mandy. I calculate you won’t have no trouble mindin’ the store.”

“G’by, Scattergood,” she said, dabbing at her eyes. “I’ll be relieved to see you gittin’ back.”

There seemed to be little sentiment in these, their words of parting, but in reality it was an exceedingly sentimental passage for them. Between Scattergood and his wife there was a deep, true, abiding affection. Folks who regarded it as a business partnership and there were many of them lacked the seeing eye.

The stage rattled off down the valley Scattergood’s valley. He had invaded it some years before because valleys were his hobby and because this valley offered him the opportunity he had been searching for. Scattergood knew what could be done with a valley, and he was busy doing it, but he was only at the beginning. As he bumped along he could see busy villages where only hamlets rested; he could see mills turning timber into finished products; he could see business and life and activity where there were only silence and rocks and trees. And where ran the rutted mountain road, over which his stage was carrying him uncomfortably, he could see the railroad that was to make his dream a reality. He could see a railroad stretching all the way from Coldriver village to the main line, and by virtue of this railroad Scattergood would rule the valley.

He had arrived with forty-odd dollars in his pocket. His few years of labor there, assisted by a wise and business-like marriage, had increased that forty dollars to what some folks would call wealth. First, he owned a prosperous hardware store. This was his business. It netted him a couple of thousand dollars a year. The valley was his avocation. It had netted him well over a hundred thousand dollars, most of which was growing on the mountain sides in straight, clear spruce, in birch, beech, and maple. It had netted him certain strategic holdings of land along Coldriver itself, sites for future dams, for mills yet to be built for railroad yards, depots, and terminals. Quietly, almost stealthily, he had gotten a hold on the valley. Now he was ready to grip it with both hands and to make it his own.... That is why he journeyed to the city.

He put his canvas telescope between his feet so that he could feel it. It was as well, he determined, to practice caution where none was needed, so he would be letter perfect in the art when he reached the dangers of the city. Between Scattergood’s shoes and the feet they inclosed, were sox. Before his union with Mandy he had been a stranger to such effeteness. Even now he was prone to discard them as soon as he was out of range of her vision. To-day he had not escaped, for, warm as the day was, heavy white woolen sox folded and festooned themselves modishly over the tops of his shoes. He could not wriggle a toe, which made his mental processes difficult, for his toes were first aids to his brain.

However, he was going to visit a railroad president, and railroad presidents were said by Mandy to go in for style. Scattergood mournfully arose to the necessities of the situation.

The twenty-four-mile ride was not long to Scattergood, for he occupied it by studying again every inch of his valley. He never tired of studying it. As the law book to the lawyer so the valley was to Scattergood something never to be laid aside, something to be kept fresh in mind and never neglected. He never passed the length of it without seeing a new possibility.

Scattergood flagged the train. The four-hour ride to the city he occupied in talking to the conductor or brake-man or any member of the train’s crew he could engage in conversation. He was asking them about their jobs, what they did, and why. He was asking question after question about railroads and railroading, in his quaint, characteristic manner. It was his intention to own a railroad, and he was at work finding out how the thing was done.

Next morning at seven he was on hand at the terminal offices of the G. and B. An hour later minor employees began to arrive.

“Young feller,” he said, accosting a pleasant-faced boy, “where d’you calc’late I’ll find Mr. Castle?”

“President Castle?” asked the boy.

“That’s the feller,” said Scattergood.

“About now he’ll be eating grapefruit and poached egg,” said the boy.

“Don’t he work none durin’ the day?”

The boy laughed good-humoredly. “He gets down about nine thirty, and when he don’t go off somewheres he’s mostly here till four except between one and two, when he’s at lunch.”

“Gosh!” said Scattergood. “Must be wearin’ him to the bone. ’Most five hours a day he sticks to it. Bear up under it perty well, young feller, does he? Keep his health and strength?”

“He works enough to get paid fifty thousand a year for it,” said the boy.

“That settles it,” said Scattergood. “I’ve picked my job. I’m a-goin’ to be a railroad president.” He put his canvas telescope down, and placed a heavy foot on it for safety. “Calc’late I kin sit here and wait, can’t I?”

The boy nodded and went on. During the next hour more than one dozen young men and women passed that spot to eye with appreciation the caller who waited for Mr. Castle. Scattergood was unaware of their scrutiny, for he was building a railroad down his valley a railroad of which he was the president.

Scattergood looked frequently at a big, open-faced, silver watch which was connected to his vest in pickpocket-proof fashion with a braided leather thong. When it told him nine thirty had arrived, he got up, his telescope in his hand, and ambled heavily down the corridor. He poked his head in at an open door, and called, amiably, “Kin anybody tell me where to find Mr. Castle?”

He was directed, and presently opened a door marked “President’s Office.” The room within did not contain the president. It was crossed by a railing, behind which sat an office boy. Behind him was a stenographer.

“President in?” asked Scattergood.

The boy looked at him severely, and replied, shortly, that the president was busy.

“Havin’ only five hours to do all his work,” said Scattergood, “I calc’lated he would be some took up. Tell him Scattergood Baines wants to have a talk to him, sonny.”

“Have an appointment?”

“No, sonny,” said Scattergood, “but if you don’t scamper into his room fairly spry, the seat of your pants is goin’ to have an appointment with my hand.” He leaned over the railing as he said it, and the boy, regarding Scattergood’s face a moment, arose and whisked into the next room.

Shortly there appeared a youngish man, constructed by nature to adorn wearing apparel.

“Be you Mr. Castle?” asked Scattergood.

“I’m his secretary. What do you want?”

“Young man, I’m disapp’inted. When I see you I figgered you must be president of the railroad or the Queen of Sheeby. I want to see Mr. Castle.”

“What is your business with him?”

“’Tain’t fit for young ears to listen to,” said Scattergood.

“If you have any business with Mr. Castle, state it to me.”

“Um!... I come quite consid’able of a distance to see him which I calc’late to do.” He reached over, with astonishing suddenness in one so bulky, and twirled the secretary about with his ham of a hand. At the same time he leaned against the gate, which was not fastened to restrain such a weight. “Now, forrard march, young feller. Lead the way. I’m follerin’ you.” And thus Scattergood entered the presence.

He saw behind a huge, flat desk a very thin man, who leaned forward, clutching his temples as though to restrain within bounds the machinery of the brain inside. It was President Castle’s habitual posture when working. The temples and dome of the head seemed to bulge, as if there was too much inside for the strength of the restraining walls. The president looked up and fastened eyes that themselves bulged from hollowed sockets. It was the face of a man who ran his mental dynamo at top speed in defiance of nature’s laws against speeding.

“Well?” he snapped. “Well well?”

“Name’s Scattergood Baines. Figger to build a railroad. Want to see you about it,” said Scattergood, succinctly.

“Not interested. Busy. Get out,” said Castle.

Scattergood dropped the secretary, and lumbered up to the president’s desk. He leaned over it heavily. “I’ve come to see you about this here thing,” he said, quietly. “Either you’ll talk to me about it now, or I’ll have to sort of arrange so that you’ll come to me, askin’ to talk about it, later. Now you kin save both our time.”

Castle regarded Scattergood with eyes that seemed to burn with unnatural nervous energy it was a brief scrutiny. “Clear out,” he said to his secretary. “Sit down,” to Scattergood.

“Obleeged,” said Scattergood. “I’m figgerin’ on buildin’ a railroad down Coldriver Valley from Coldriver to connect with the G. and B. narrow gauge. Carry freight and passengers. Want you to agree about train service, freight transfer, buildin’ a station, and sich matters.”

Here was a man who could get down to business, President Castle perceived, and who could state his business clearly and to the point.

“I know the valley. Been talking about it. Where do you come in?”

“I calculate to build the road.”

“For Crane and Keith?”

“Eh?”

“They’re the men backing it, aren’t they? In to see me about it last week.”

Crane and Keith! Scattergood’s career in the valley had been one of warfare with Crane and Keith. He had beaten them with his dam and boom company; he had beaten them in certain stumpage operations. Now they were after his railroad and his valley.

“Um!...” he said, and reached down mechanically to loosen his shoe. Here was need for careful thought.

“I gave them all necessary information,” said the president.

“Don’t concern me none,” said Scattergood. “This here is to be my railroad, and I’m the feller that’s goin’ to own and run it. Crane and Keith hain’t in it at all.”

“You’re too late. The G. and B. has agreed to handle their freight and to stop passengers at their station. Tentatively agreed to lease and operate the road when built.... Good morning.” “I calculate there’s room for argument,” said Scattergood. “I own right consid’able of that right of way.”

“Railroad can take it under the right of eminent domain,” said the president.

“Kin one railroad take from another one?” asked Scattergood, a bit anxiously.

“No.”

“Um!... Wa-al, you see, Mr. Castle, I got me a charter to build this railroad. Legislature up and give me one.”

“Makes no difference. We’ve made an agreement with Crane and Keith which stands. You can’t build your road, whatever you’ve got. Frankly, we won’t tolerate a road there that we don’t control. Good morning.”

“That final, Mr. President?”

“Absolutely.”

“If I was to build in spite of you I calc’late you’d fix things so’s runnin’ it wouldn’t do much good to me, eh? Stop no trains for me, and sich like?”

“Exactly.”

“Um!... Mornin’, Mr. President. If you ever git up to Coldriver don’t go to the hotel. Come right to my house. Mandy’ll be glad to see you. Mornin’.”

Scattergood and Johnnie Bones, the young lawyer whom Scattergood had taken to his heart, were studying a railway map of the state with special reference to the G. & B. It showed them that the G. & B. traversed a southerly corner of the state and had within its boundaries some forty miles of track.

“The idée,” said Scattergood, “is to make that forty mile of track consid’able more of a worry to Castle than all the rest of his railroad.”

“Meddling with the railroads is a dangerous pastime,” said Johnnie. “Besides, how can you manage it?”

“We got a legislature, hain’t we?”

“Yes, but the boys feel pretty friendly to the railroads, I understand.”

“Feel perty friendly to me, too,” said Scattergood.

“I doubt if you could pass any legislation they wanted to fight hard.”

“Um!... I’ll look out for that end, Johnnie. Now what I want is for you to draw up a bill for me that’ll sort of irritate ’em where irritation does the most hurt which, I calc’late, is in the pocketbook. Here’s my notion: To make a pop’lar measure of it; somethin’ that’ll appeal to the folks. We kin git the papers to start a holler and have folks demandin’ action of their representatives, and sich like. Taxes! That’ll fetch ’em every time.”

“Yes,” said Johnnie, dubiously, “but

“You listen” said Scattergood. “It stands to reason that the state don’t realize much out of that there forty mile of track. The G. and B. gits the use of the state, so to speak, without payin’ a fair rent for it. You draw up a bill pervidin’ that the railroad has got to pay a fee of, say a dollar, for every passenger car it runs over them forty miles, and fifty cents for every freight car. That’ll mount to a consid’able sum every year, eh?”

“It’ll amount to so much,” said Johnnie, gazing ruefully at his client, “that there’ll be the devil to pay. You’ll pull every railroad in the state down around your ears.”

“Let ’em drop.”

“And I don’t know if the law’ll hold water even if you got it passed. It’s darn-fool legislation, Mr. Baines but some darn-fool legislation sticks. I don’t believe this would, but it might.”

“That’s plenty to suit me,” said Scattergood, slipping on his shoes and standing up. “You git at it.... And say,” he said, as a sort of afterthought, “I want to git through a leetle bill for my stage line. Here’s about it. Won’t take more’n fifty words.” He handed Johnnie a slip, crumpled and grimy, with lead-pencil notes on. “This won’t cause no trouble, anyhow.”

Scattergood went back to his hardware store and sat down in his reinforced armchair on the piazza. As he sat there young Jim Hands drove up with his girl, alighted, and went into the ice-cream parlor for refreshment. Scattergood studied the rig. It lacked something to give it the final touch of style dear to the country youth.

Scattergood got up, and ambled into his store, returning with a resplendent buggy whip one with a white silk bow tied above its handle. This he placed in the socket on the dashboard. Then he resumed his chair. Presently Jim emerged with his girl and helped her into the rig. He noticed the whip, took it out of its place, and examined it; swished it through the air to try its excellence.

“Mighty nice gad,” said Scattergood.

“Where in tunket did it come from?” asked Jim.

“I stuck it there. Looked to me like a rig sich as your’n needed a good whip to set it off. I jest put it there to see how it looked.”

Jim glanced at his girl, scratched the back of his suntanned neck, and felt in his pocket.

“Calc’late I did need a whip,” he said. “How much is sich whips fetchin’?”

“I kin give you that one a might lower ’n usual. It’ll be two dollars to you, seem’s you got sich a purty girl in the buggy.”

The girl giggled, Jim flushed, and fished out two one-dollar bills, which he passed over to Scattergood. Then, whip in hand, he drove off with a flourish. Scattergood pocketed the money serenely. It was by methods such as this that he did, in his hardware store, double the business such a store in such a locality normally accounted for. Scattergood’s most outstanding quality was that he never let a business opportunity slip large or small and that he manufactured for himself fully half of his business opportunities. He had lifted retail salesmanship to the rank of an art.

Again he got up and went inside, where he wrote a letter to a certain wholesale house with whom his account was large. The letter said he had pressing need for half a dozen railroad rails of certain size and weight, and didn’t know where to get them, and would the recipient find them and ship them at once.

Presently Tim Plant, teamster, drove by, and Scattergood hailed him.

“Tim,” he said, “you owe me a leetle bill. This hain’t a dun, but I got a mite of work to be done, and seein’ things wasn’t brisk with you, I figgered you might want to work it out jest to keep busy.”

“Sure,” said Tim.

Whereupon Scattergood elevated himself to the seat beside Tim, and was driven to the spot he had selected for the Coldriver terminal of his railroad.

“I want about a hunderd feet graded along here,” he said, “to lay rails on.”

“Rails!... Gosh! Scattergood, you hain’t thinkin’ of buildin’ a railroad, be you?”

“Shucks!” said Scattergood. “I jest got a half dozen rails comin’, and I figgered I’d like to see how they’d look all laid down on the spot. Give folks an idée how a railroad ’u’d look if there was one.”

In which manner Scattergood collected a doubtful bill, obtained a quantity of labor at what might be called wholesale rates and actually started work on his railroad. Actual, patent for the world to see. The railroad was begun. Not Crane & Keith, not President Castle, not a court in the world could deny that actual construction had begun. Scattergood was insuring himself against possible steps by the enemy to nullify his charter.

“What’s this here eminent domain?” Scattergood asked Johnnie Bones.

“It’s a legal thing that allows railroads to take land necessary to its operation paying for it, of course.”

“Anybody’s land?”

“Yes.”

“Crane and Keith, f’r instance?”

“Yes.”

“Um!... Have to be right of way, or jest land for railroad yards, or to build railroad buildin’s on?”

“Any land necessary to a railroad.”

“Um!... Who says if it’s necessary?”

“The courts.”

“How’d you git at it?”

“Start what are called condemnation proceedings.”

“All right, Johnnie, start me some.”

“Against whom, and for what, Mr. Baines?”

“Against Crane and Keith, to git their land down at the G. and B. All their mill yards, you know. Don’t want the mill buildin’. They’re welcome to that. Jest their yards.”

“But they can’t run the mill without the log yard and the yard to pile out their lumber.”

“Be too bad, wouldn’t it? Calc’late I’m a heap sorry for Crane and Keith. Them fellers arouses my sympathy mighty frequent.”

“But you’re not a railroad, Mr. Baines.”

“Yes I be, Johnnie. To-morrow I’ll be layin’ rails to prove it.”

“But you own land right adjoining Crane and Keith’s yards. Plenty of it.”

“Not plenty, Johnnie.... Not plenty. As long as Crane and Keith owns anything in this neighborhood I hain’t got plenty of it. Get the idée?”

“You want to run them out?”

“Wa-al, they hain’t been exactly friendly to me. I like to dwell among friends, Johnnie. Lately they been makin’ a sight of trouble for me. Seems like I ought to sort of return the favor. ’Tain’t jest spite, Johnnie. Spite’s a luxury I can’t afford if there hain’t a money profit in it. Seems like there might be a dollar or two in this here proceedin’ if handled jest right.”

Johnnie didn’t see it, but then he failed to see the profitable object in a great many things that Scattergood undertook. It was not his business to see, but to carry out promptly and efficiently Scattergood’s directions. The time had not yet arrived when Johnnie was Scattergood’s right hand, as in the bigger days that lay ahead.

“Didn’t know Crane’s sister married President Castle of the G. and B., did you, Johnnie?”

“No. What has that to do with it?”

“Consid’able.... Consid’able. Goes some ways toward provin’ to me I was expected to call on Castle and that things was arranged on purpose. Proves to my satisfaction that Crane and Keith went out of their way to start this rumpus with me.... You start them condemnation proceedin’s as quick as you kin.”

Johnnie started them. Scattergood waited a few days; watched with interest the laying of the first rails of the Coldriver Railroad, and then made the day’s drive to the state capital with drafts of his pair of bills in his pocket. He hunted up the representative from his town Amri Striker by name.

“Amri,” said he, “how’s your disposition these days, eh? Feel like doin’ favors?”

“Guess a lot of us boys feel like doin’ favors for you, Scattergood.” Which was not short of the truth, for Scattergood had been studying the science of politics as it was practiced in his state and putting to practical use his education. Indeed, he added to the science not a few contrivances characteristic of himself, which made the old-timers scratch their heads and admit that a new man had arisen who must be reckoned with. Not yet did Scattergood hold the state in the hollow of his hand, naming governors, senators, directing legislation, as he did when his years were heavier on his shoulders. Probably, however, there was no single individual in the commonwealth who could exert as much influence as he. If there was a single man to compare with him it was Lafe Siggins, from the northern part of the state. All men admitted that a partnership between Scattergood and Lafe would be unbeatable.

“Got a bill I want introduced, Amri,” said Scattergood.

“Let’s see her, Scattergood.”

Amri read the bill; then he turned around in his chair and looked out of the window. Then he walked to the door and opened it suddenly, and peered up and down the hall.

“The dum thing’s loaded with dynamite,” he said, when he came back.

“Calc’lated on some explosion,” said Scattergood. “But I calc’late the folks’ll be for it. Shouldn’t be s’prised if the feller who introduced it and made a fight for it would stand mighty well, back home. Might git to be Senator, Amri. No tellin’.”

“Can’t no sich bill be passed. The boys likes their passes, and I guess there’s some that gits more than passes out of the railroads.”

“If this bill’s introduced, Amri,” said Scattergood, solemnly, “there’ll be a chance for some of the boys to fat up their savings’ account pervidin’ there’s a good chance of its passin’. The railroads’ll git scairt and send quite a bank roll up this way.”

“You bet,” said Amri, with watering mouth.

“Lafe in town?”

“Come in last week.”

“Lafe, I understand, hain’t in politics for fun.”

“Lafe’s in right where he kin git the most the quickest.”

“Run out and git him to step up here,” said Scattergood.

In half an hour Lafe Siggins, tall, bony, long, and solemn of face, stepped into the room, and closed the door after him cautiously.

“Howdy, Scattergood!” he said.

“Howdy, Lafe!... Want your backin’ for a pop’lar measure. I’ve up and invented a new way of taxin’ a railroad.”

Lafe started for the door. “Afternoon,” he said, with a tone of finality.

“But,” said Scattergood, “I figger you to do the fightin’ for the railroads reapin’ whatever benefits you can figger out of it for yourself.”

Lafe paused, considered, and returned. “What’s the idée?” he asked.

“I jest don’t want this bill to pass too easy,” said Scattergood, soberly, but with a twinkle in his eye.

“It wouldn’t,” said Lafe.

“Um!... Railroads is more liberal, hain’t they, when there’s a good chance of their gittin’ licked? Suppose this come to a fight, and it looked like they was goin’ to git the worst of it. Supposin’ the outcome hung on two or three votes, eh? And them votes looked dubious.”

Lafe pressed his thin lips together.

“I guess I kin account for near half of the boys, Lafe, and I guess you kin line up clost to half with the railroads, can’t you? Well, you don’t stand to lose nothin’, do you? All we got to do is keep them decidin’ votes where we want ’em.” Then he leaned over and whispered in Lafe’s ear briefly.

Lafe’s thin lips curved upward a trifle at the ends. “Scattergood,” said he, “this here’s an idée. Never recollect nothin’ resemblin’ it since I been in politics. What you after?”

“Jest pleasure, Lafe.... Jest pleasure. Is it a deal?”

“It’s a deal.”

“Amri outside?”

“Standin’ guard, Scattergood.”

“When you go out send him in.”

Amri opened the door that Lafe closed behind him.

“All fixed,” said Scattergood. “I want to see these boys to-night.” Scattergood handed Amri a list of names. “And say, Amri, here’s a leetle bill you might jest slip along quick. Don’t amount to nothin’, but it might help me some. Like to git the Governor’s signature to it as soon as it kin be done.”

Amri read it cautiously. It was just a harmless little measure having to do with stage lines. “All right,” he said, carelessly.

Crane was in President Castle’s office, and his demeanor was that of a man who has heard disquieting news.

“I told you,” he said, in tones of reproach, “that he wasn’t safe to monkey with. Keith and I thought he was just a fat, backwoods rube, but we got burnt, and burnt good. We were going to let him alone, but you got us into this and now you’ve got to get us out again. Know what he’s done? Nothing much but start condemnation proceedings against us to take our mill yards down on the railroad for a site for a depot and freight sheds. That’s all. And us with close to a hundred thousand tied up in that mill. If he puts it through ...”

“He won’t,” snapped Castle.

“He’s started to build his railroad. Actually laying rails.”

“So I heard. That’s to hold his charter.... Don’t you worry. He can’t build that road, and you men will. As soon as I found out he had that charter, and saw the possibilities of that valley, I made up my mind he had to be eliminated. And he will be.”

“Keith and I tried that.”

“I saw him,” said Castle. “He’s no fool. You thought he was. I’m not making any such mistake. Going after you the way he has proves it.”

“And he’ll be going after you, too. You want to mind your eye.”

“It’s a little different tackling the G. and B., don’t you think? And I doubt if he figures we’re really backing you.”

“What he figures and what you think he figures are mighty wide apart sometimes. It cost me money to find that out.”

The telephone interrupted. Castle answered: “Yes, Hammond, I can see you now. What is it?... All right. Come right up.” Hammond was the railroad’s general counsel.

He appeared presently.

“I thought we had the legislature up yonder tamed,” he said, angrily, as he entered the office.

“We have.”

“Huh!... Take a look at this.” He handed to the president Scattergood’s novel taxation, measure. “What you make of that? Who’s behind it? What’s the game?”

Castle read it carefully; then he turned to Crane. “You win,” he said, succinctly. “Your friend Scattergood has brought the fight right on to our front porch.... What about it, Hammond? Will such a tom-fool law stand water?”

“Can’t tell. My judgment is that it wouldn’t, but it’s such a fool law that nobody can tell. And if it stuck ” He sucked in his breath. “It would give every jay legisature a show to rough the railroads beautifully.”

“It would hurt.... Of course it mustn’t pass. Get after it and don’t let any grass grow. Kill it in committee. That’s the safest way.... Have Lafe Siggins look after it.”

Hammond bustled out, and Castle turned to his brother-in-law. “I underestimated this Scattergood some,” he said. “Now I’ll go after him.... For reasons of necessity we will discontinue all train service at the flag station at the mouth of Coldriver Valley. That’ll leave his stage line dangling in the air. Just for a taste of what we can do.... I’ll have Hammond look after that condemnation matter for you.”

“He’ll be coming around to offer to sidetrack that legislation if you’ll let him build his railroad.”

“Probably. I guess we won’t trade.”

But Scattergood did not come around to offer a compromise. He seemed to have lost interest in the matter wholly and to give his time solely to his hardware store. But the Transient Car bill, as it came to be called, began mysteriously to attract unprecedented attention. The press of the state showed unusual interest in it. In short, it became the one big measure of the legislative session. Everything else was secondary to it. When a railroad measure is hotly discussed in every loafing place in a state there is a measure that legislators handle with gloves. It is loaded. When the home folks get really interested in a thing they are apt to demand explanations. Wherefore it was but natural that President Castle’s experts found it impossible to strangle the bill in committee. It was reported out, and then Hammond found it wise to journey to the capital to take charge of things himself.

At the end of a week, Mr. Hammond, general counsel for the G. & B. and expert handler of legislatures, was forced to write President Castle that he faced a condition new in his broad experience.

“The chances,” he said, “are more than even that this bill passes. Men we have been able to depend on are refractory. Siggins is doing his best, but so far he has been able to account for only forty-five per cent of the votes. The strange thing about it,” he finished, with genuine amazement, “is that the other side doesn’t seem to be spending a penny.”

Which was perfectly true. Neither in that fight nor in any of the scores of legislative battles in which Scattergood took part in his after life did he spend a dollar to buy a vote or to influence legislation. Perhaps it was scruple on his part; perhaps economy; perhaps he felt that his own peculiar methods were more efficacious than mere barter and sale.

From end to end, the state was in excitement over the measure. Skillful work had made it seem a vital thing to the people, and hundreds of letters and telegrams poured in to representatives. It looked as if public opinion were overwhelmingly with the bill. It was Scattergood’s first use of the weapon of public opinion. In this battle he learned its potentialities. Men who knew him well and were close to him in political matters declare he became the most skillful creator of a fictitious public opinion that ever lived in the state. It was in keeping with his methods that he always seemed to be acting in response to a demand from the public rather than that he excited the public to demand what Scattergood wanted. But that was when Scattergood’s hair was touched with gray and his girth had increased by twoscore pounds.

“I can’t find any trace of Scattergood Baines in this matter,” Hammond reported to President Castle.

That was true. Scattergood stayed at home, tending vigorously to his hardware business. Representatives did not call on him; he did not call on them. No trails led to his door.

President Castle had expected overtures from Scattergood, but none materialized. To a man of Castle’s experience this was more than strange; it was uncanny. He began to consider the situation really serious. Was the man so confident as his silence indicated?

“Get the votes,” he wired succinctly to Hammond, and Hammond, reading the message correctly, dipped into the emergency barrel of the railroad with generous hands. Prosperity had come to that legislature. Yet he was able, at the end of another two weeks, to guarantee six votes less than a majority. The opposition had captured one more vote than he, and needed but five to pass their measure. Hammond faced the task of acquiring those five unplaced legislators, and of weaning one away from Scattergood and the bill was due to come up in the House in two days.

That day President Castle himself arrived in the capital, and, after discussing the situation with Hammond, wired Scattergood, asking for an appointment. The mountain was going to Mohammed. Scattergood replied not a word.

“I calc’late,” he said to Mandy, “that President Castle’s raisin’ him a blister.”

On the morning of the day on which the bill was to come to a vote Scattergood appeared unostentatiously in the capital, but word of his presence flashed from tongue to tongue with miraculous speed. Word of it came to President Castle, who pocketed his pride for excellent business reasons, and sent up his card to Scattergood’s room.

“Guess I kin see him a minute,” said Scattergood, and the president ascended with thoughts in his heart which Scattergood was well able to lead.

“Baines,” said Castle, without preface, “what do you want?”

“Nothin’ you’ve got, I calc’late,” said Scattergood, serenely.

“You’re back of this infernal bill. The railroads can’t permit it to pass. It won’t pass.”

“Then what you wastin’ your time on me for?” Scattergood asked.

“If we let you build your infernal little railroad will you drop out of this?”

“Hain’t in it to speak of.”

“Will you take your hands off if we give you your railroad and guarantee train service?”

“Can’t seem to see my way clear.”

“What do you gain by passing this bill? You’re nothing ahead. It won’t give you your railroad. It won’t give you anything.”

“Calc’late you’re right.”

“Listen to reason, man. You want something. What is it?”

“Me?... Um!... I’m a plain kind of a man, Mr. President, with a plain kind of a wife. Hain’t never met Mandy, have you? Wa-al, her and me is perty contented with life. We got a good hardware store ...”

“Rot! What do you want?”

Scattergood leaned forward, his round face, with its bulging cheeks, as expressionless as some particularly big and ruddy apple.

“If you’re achin’ to do favors for me, Mr. President you kin drop in along about supper time. Right now can’t think of a thing you kin do for me. But I’ll try ... I’ll spend the afternoon thinkin’ over all the things you might be able to do, and I’ll try to pick one of ’em out.... I got to see a hardware salesman now. Afternoon Mr. President.”

“Baines,” said Castle, losing his temper for the first time in a dozen years, “we’ll smash you for this. We’ll drive you out of the state. Well

“Don’t slam the door,” said Scattergood, placidly; “it might disturb the other folks in the hotel.”

That afternoon the galleries of the House were jammed. Below, in their seats, the legislators sat uncomfortably. There was a tenseness in the air which made men’s skin tingle. The Transient Car bill was about to come to a vote. Everything had been done by both sides that could be done. There could be no more outside interference; no more money influence. It was all over. Now the matter was in the hands of those uneasy men, who, even now, might hold steadfast to their principles or to the money that had bought them or to the power that had compelled them or who might, for reasons secret to their several souls, change sides with astonishing suddenness, upsetting all calculations. Such things have been done.... But, even without the happening of the unexpected, no man could say how the votes would fall. Neither side had obtained a sure majority.

The preliminary formalities went forward. Then began the roll call, and from his place in the gallery Hammond shecked off on his list name after name, as they voted yea or nay and President Castle watched and kept mental count. Scattergood was not present. The thing was even, dangerously even. For every yea there sounded a balancing nay. The count stood sixty-one for, sixty against ... with ten more votes to call.... With six votes to call the count was even.

“Whittaker,” called the clerk’s monotonous voice.

“Nay.”

“Robbins.”

“Nay.”

“Baker.”

“Nay.”

“Hooper.”

“Nay.”

“Bolger.”

“Nay.”

“Brock.”

“Nay.”

The six final votes had been cast and cast solidly against Scattergood’s bill. Scattergood was beaten, decisively, destructively beaten. Not only was he defeated here, but he was smashed where the damage was even more destructive in his prestige. He was a discredited political leader.... Lafe Siggins could not restrain a chuckle, for Scattergood had played into his hands. Scattergood had allowed himself to be eliminated from calculation in the state, leaving Siggins as sole, undisputed, victorious boss. It had been a clever scheme that Scattergood had outlined to Lafe so clever that Lafe hadn’t seen the great good that lay in it for himself until days later. He shrugged his shoulders. It was just another case of a man unfamiliar with the game overplaying his hand.

President Castle shook hands openly with Hammond. True, there was a demonstration of disapproval from the gallery but that was only the people! It did not signify.

“We got him,” said Castle.

“But it was a close squeak.”

Castle looked grimly down on the representatives, now huddled together in whispering groups.

“I don’t often have the impulse to crow over a man,” he said, “but this Baines was so infernally cocky. He told me I might see him at six o’clock and he’d tell me what I could do for him. Well, I’m going to see him.” His voice was grim and forbidding.

On the way they picked up Siggins and invited him to dinner. The three went to the hotel, where, sitting calmly, placidly in the lobby, was Scattergood.

Castle walked directly to him. “You were going to tell me what I could do for you at this hour, I believe.”

“Did say somethin’ like that.”

Castle eyed Scattergood venomously, found him a hard man to crow over. He admitted Scattergood to be a good loser.

“I expect you’ll be asking favors for some time,” Castle said, “and not getting them. I told you we’d lick you and we have. I told you we’d smash you and drive you out of the state. We’ll do that just as surely ...”

“Maybe so,” said Scattergood, phlegmatically. “Maybe so. Nobody kin tell.... Howdy, Siggins! Lookin’ mighty jubilant about somethin’. Glad to see it.... And Mr. Hammond seems pleased, too. Done a good job of work, didn’t you? Bet your boss is pleased with you, eh?”

“When you’re ready to turn your chunks of right of way over to Crane and Keith, let them know,” said Castle. “I guess the G. and B. loses interest in you from this on or it will presently.”

“Jest a jiffy,” said Scattergood, as the trio turned away. “Seems like you was goin’ to do a favor for me. Well, you hain’t done it yet.... Guess I need a favor perty bad at this minute, eh? Wa-al, ’tain’t a big one. Jest sort of cast your eye over this here.” Scattergood handed Castle a folded paper of documentary appearance.

Castle snatched it and read it. It was brief. Not more than fifty words. It was a copy of a bill having to do with stage lines, passed by both Houses and signed by the Governor. It provided that wherever any stage line or other transportation company of whatsoever nature intersected the line of a railroad or terminated on such line, the railroad should be compelled to establish a regular station on demand, for the handling of passengers and freight, and should stop all trains except through trains, and should establish sidetracks for the handling and transfer of freight.

A few formal words, backed by the authority of the state, compelling the G. & B. to do all, and more than all, that Scattergood had requested of them! A few words making possible Scattergood’s railroad more surely than agreement with President Castle could have made it!

“While you folks was busy with the Transient Car bill,” Scattergood said, amiably, “the boys sort of tended to this for me. If I’d thought Hammond was int’rested I might have called it to his attention. But I figgered he was paid to watch out for sich things, and I didn’t want to interfere none. Jest as well, I take it.”

Castle was scowling at Hammond, momentarily at a loss for words. Siggins was gazing at Scattergood with thin lips parted a trifle. His joy was blanketed.

“Somethin’ else,” said Scattergood, looking from one to another, and finally at Lafe. “Siggins figgered that my gittin’ a beatin’ on this bill would sort of make him boss of the state. You see, Mr. President, this here bill wasn’t meant to pass. It was fixed up for a couple of reasons. One was to git something which I’ll tell you about in a second. Another was to make the boys in the House sort of prosperous like, and grateful to me for gittin’ ’em the prosperity with the railroads payin’ for it. The last was to settle things between Lafe and me. I sort of wanted Lafe and the boys in politics to understand which was which.... And they’ll understand.... Now, Mr. President, the thing I wanted to git was in two parts. First one was to git your attention on this here bill so’s you wouldn’t notice my little stage-line thing. The other was pretty nigh as valuable. I got it. It’s a list of every man in this legislature that took money for a vote on this thing, with how much money he took and the hour and minute it was paid him and who by. Seems like I managed to git your name, Mr. President, connected with them last six votes that you took over body and britches this noon. And I kin prove every item of it.... With the folks around the state feelin’ like they do, I shouldn’t be s’prised if I could make a heap of trouble.”

President Castle was a big man or he would not hold the position that was his. He knew when a fight was over. “You win,” he said, tersely. “Name it.”

“Two things. First off I want an agreement with your road, made by a full vote of the board of directors, agreein’ to do jest what this bill pervides in case of emergencies. And second, I want your folks should handle the bonds of my railroad construction bonds. Guess I could manage it without, but I need my money for somethin’ else. About two hunderd thousand dollars’ worth of bonds’ll do it.”

Castle shrugged his shoulders seeing possibilities for the future. However, he knew Scattergood had weighed those possibilities himself.

“Agreed,” he said. There was a moment’s silence. “By the way,” he asked, “what was the idea of the condemnation proceedings against Crane and Keith?”

“Jest a mite of business. With the railroad goin’, I need a good mill up on a site I got below Coldriver. Seems like Crane and Keith got a might timid, and yestiddy they up and sold out that mill to a friend of mine actin’ for me for fifty-five thousand dollars. Figger I got it dirt cheap. Wuth close to a hunderd thousand, hain’t it?... I’m goin’ to move it to Coldriver, lock, stock, and barrel.”

“Baines,” said Castle, presently, “the G. and B. will keep hands off your valley. It will be better for us to work together than at odds. Suppose we bury the hatchet and work for each other’s interest.... I’m paid to know a coming man when I see one.”

“Was hopin’ you’d see it that way, Mr. President. I hain’t one that hankers for strife ... not even with Lafe, here, if he can figger he’s willin’ to admit what he’s got to admit.”

“I take my orders from you,” said Lafe.

In which authentic manner Scattergood Baines, in one transaction, made possible and financed his railroad, obtained his first mill, and became undisputed political dictator of his state. Characteristically, there was charged to expense for the whole transaction a sum that a very ordinary man could earn in a week. Scattergood loved cheap results.