The Buffer


The Buffer

By

Johnston McCulley


I

JOHN WELLINGTON HARMS crashed his great fist down upon the desk. Freely, the little district attorney, flinched. In the outer office, Bobbie Harms, aged six, tried in vain to reach the knob of the door that would admit him to his father’s presence. A private secretary and a half-dozen clerical men watched him in amusement, but neglected to tender aid.

“I tell you,” John Wellington Harms was saying, “that you’re going to the penitentiary! You’re going to be a crushed idol! You’re going to have the dear people you say you serve rise up and curse you!”

“If you will be calm and allow me to explain,” said the little district attorney.

“No explanation is necessary; I know the facts, and so do you. The district attorney has aided a forger, instead of prosecuting him. That’s all!”

“It is not all——” began Freely.

“You’re right! It isn’t all! I’ll tell you the rest! When you came out for office, and made a run on the plea that you would treat every law-breaker alike, you mentioned names. You mentioned our corporation, and our ring, in particular. You were elected, of course, and from the time you stepped into office until the present you’ve done nothing but hound us.”

“I did nothing except to enforce the law.”

“Bah! You had every one of us indicted—some of us half a dozen times. You made us spend money. There are two indictments hanging

over my head now. Can’t a man be successful in money-getting without having a cur like you snapping at his heels?”

“Not when he makes money as you do,” said Freely.

“That’s enough of that sort of talk! I’ve got you where I want you! You’ve helped a forger instead of prosecuting him! That will be the end of you! You’re going to lose your office, and you’re going to jail—and you’ll have your senatorial ambition knocked in the head. You’re a dead one, Freely! You’ve bucked against us, and you’ve lost!”

“You know the forger you say I helped?” Freely asked.

“I do! I know he’s your half brother! That makes the case the more aggravated. Sell out the people to protect members of your own family! You—reformer!"

When Freely answered there was a new quality in his voice.

“You are right—he is my half-brother,” he said. “He was my mother’s baby. As she was dying she asked me to look out for him. I sent him to college with money I earned by working like a dog. I educated him. He mixed with a fast set at college, and he came out into the world penniless and foolish. I had given him his education and it was up to him to do the rest.”

“This doesn’t interest me,” said Harms.

“Just a moment, please! He was unable to make money, and he wanted it—needed it. He was ashamed to come to me for it, because he knew I didn’t have any to spare. He forged a check for one hundred dollars. Then he grew frightened and came to me—confessed. I saw my duty in a new light. Perhaps I hadn’t cared for him as I promised my mother I would. If I prosecuted him, his life would be ruined. If I let him off, he’d turn out a man of the better sort, because of the lesson. I paid the check, made arrangements with the man whose name he had forged. And so I let him off!”

“And so you let him off,” said Harms in echo. “You let off a forger, who may forge my name to-morrow, or the name of someone else. And you’re going to jail. It was a friend of mine whose name he forged.”

“I know,” said Freely.

“And so I got hold of the facts in the case, and I’m going to use them to squeeze you with! You’ve hindered me and my associates. You’ve kept our attorneys busy keeping us out of jail. You’ve forced us to put up heavy cash bail instead of taking bonds. You have hounded us, I say. And now you’re going to pay for it!”

Freely arose, and so did Harms.

“I am in your power,” said the district attorney. “You refuse to look at the other side of the matter—refuse to see how a promise to a dying mother, or love for a foolish, weak boy can enter into the case. You say I am guilty—and technically I am. You are going to ruin my career and try to send me to prison. And I tell you, in the face of your threats, that it is just like you—you, robber of ignorant workingmen, robber of widows, swindler of orphans, boodler—you, who owns judges and senators and a governor—you, a man without a thought except of making money, without a scruple as to how you get it—”

Suddenly Harms towered above him, his fist raised to strike. The financier’s face was purple with rage. Freely, the little district attorney, bent beneath him, waiting for the blow he thought would come.

At that moment Bobbie Harms, stepping on a convenient box, turned the knob of the door and stumbled into the inner office. He looked in amazement at his father, and at the man who seemed so afraid of him. He wasn’t sure he had arrived at an opportune moment.

“I come for candy,” he said.

Harms looked past Freely at the boy. Gradually the anger left his face, gradually the fist dropped at his side. The little district attorney straightened himself again.

“I come for candy,” Bobbie repeated

Freely looked at Harms, then slipped through the door and into the hall.


II

John Wellington Harms sighed, then picked Bobbie up in his arms and carried him to the desk.

“You little buffer,” he said, opening a drawer to get the candy he always kept there.

“What a buffer?” Bobbie demanded.

“A buffer,” said John Wellington Harms, handing Bobbie some of the candy, “is anything that neutralizes the shock of two opposing forces. If you don’t believe it, you can look in the dictionary.”

Bobbie sank his teeth into a piece of candy and looked at his father blankly.

“How did you get down to the office?” John Wellington Harms demanded.

“I wunned away. Lizzie gone—Sam gone—”

“I’ll discharge Lizzie and I’ll break Sam’s neck!”

“Lizzie in back of house,” Bobbie explained, in extenuation of his nurse. “I wunned twick."

“And Sam?”

“I don’t know,” said Bobbie.

In fact, he never did know about Sam. Sam was his big brother, a young man of twenty-three who did pretty much as he pleased. John Wellington Harms had been anxious about Sam for some time. The young man was one of a fast set, he knew, and threw money about recklessly. Not that Harms cared for the money—because he didn’t when one of his own family had the spending of it—but he loved both of his boys—Sam, the young club man, and Bobbie, whose coming had meant his mother’s departure from the world.

“We’ll have to talk to Sam,” he said, stroking Bobbie’s hair. “Yes, son, we’ll have to talk to Sam.”

“What we tell him?” Bobbie asked.

“We’ll tell him things, all right!” answered his father, growing stem.

He looked at his watch; it was 4:30. He left Bobbie seated upon the desk, and stepped to the door.

“Williams,” he said, to the secretary, “I’m going home with the baby. Order my car, will you? And if anyone is in, make appointments for to-morrow at the usual hours.”

He closed the door again, and went back to the desk.

“We’ll go home now, baby," he said. “Want to go home?”

“No,” said Bobbie.

“What? Why?”

“Don’t like it at home,” said Bobbie, frankly. “Sam gone, an’ he wont ever play when he’s not gone. An’ Lizzie work. ’Nen I don’t got nuthin’ to do nor anyone to play wif.”

“By George!” said John Wellington Harms. He looked at his younger son in amazement. “By George!” he said again. “We’ll have to fix things! I shouldn’t wonder if you get lonesome sometimes.”

He carried Bobbie to the elevator, they descended to the street, and got into the car.

“Home,” said Harms, and his tone caused the chauffeur to make as much speed as possible.

When home was reached, John Wellington Harms took Bobbie into the library after scolding a very excited and anxious nurse, and there sat him down upon a divan. For several minutes Harms did not speak a word; he was thinking about Sam. Bobbie did the talking, and though Harms answered now and then with a peculiar grunt, he paid no attention to the words of his younger son. It was only when he heard someone whistling up-stairs that he awoke from his semi-reverie. The whistler was Sam.

“Bobbie,” said his father, “you go up and tell Sammie to come down here. And then you go and make Lizzie dress you for dinner.”

Bobbie jumped down from the divan and obeyed eagerly. He liked dressing for dinner—it made one seem grown-up.

Harms turned up and down the room. The telephone-bell rang—his private ’phone. He threw himself in a chair before the table, and answered:

“That you, Harms?” asked a voice. “This is Beardsley, of the Third National. Yes—Beardsley. Say, we got a check on you to-day that’s a rank forgery. Thought I’d let you know right away. For two hundred. Yes.”

“Payable to whom?” thundered Harms.

“Walter Newton.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Harms. “I’ll see you about it to-morrow. Do nothing until then.”

He snapped the switch and got up again. There was a deep smile of victory on his face. Walter Newton was the half-brother of the district attorney. Evidently that young man had not stopped at a single crime. Now he had dared to forge the name of John Wellington Harms, and Harms would use the forgery to break Freely and to jail his half-brother also.

He was standing before a window, thinking out his probable course, when Sam came into the room.

“You wanted me, dad?” he asked.

Harms whirled toward him.

“Sit down!” he commanded. “I want to talk to you again, as I did the other day, and I want your obedience. Are you going to quit this fast set you’re running with, and be a little decent?”

“But, dad—”

Are you? Do you know where that sort of existence will lead you? I saw an example to-day—the case of a young man who has ruined himself and his brother’s career because he forged a check.”

Sam’s face grew white.

“But, dad—” he said.

“I’m not saying you’d forge a check, nor commit any felony. But I do mean to say that you’ll drift along with that crowd of young asses until you get to the point where you’ll forge or do anything else to get money, because you’ll be ashamed to ask me for it. I don’t want you to do anything like that, boy.”

Sam’s face was buried in his hands. He did not look at his father.

“I’ll try to do better,” he said.

“You’ve said that before. I want you to mean it this time. Break away from that crowd. You can spend money and have a good time without making a fool of yourself. Let’s have an end of it, now. I don’t like to be stern—to talk this way. Be around the house a little now and then. Bobbie was complaining this afternoon that you never played with him any more. He gets lonesome in this big house with nobody but the servants. Poor little chap!”

Harms turned toward the window again, to hide his emotion. Somehow, everything connected with Bobbie touched his heart—and little else did.

“I want you to buck up and be a man,” he continued, turning to Sam after a while. “You find yourself in a peculiar position. You are the son of a successful man, at whose heels all the curs in the town are snapping. I’ve had to fight my enemies, and you’ll have to fight the same enemies after I’m gone, unless you back down and let them put you down and out. And I don’t think you’ll do that—you’re not that kind. You want to take a little interest in the business—in things generally. I don’t ask you to forego your pleasures, because you are young and ought to get all the pleasure you can. But show a little interest now and then.”

“I’ll try,” said Sam.

“I’ve got some of ’em going now. Thank Heaven, you aren’t one of the moral kind, or you might try to preach to me! I’m gettin’ ’em, and they’ll learn, maybe, to be careful where they jump after this. I’ve got Freely going now.”

“Freely?” said Sam, looking up.

“Yes—that little cur of a district attorney. I’ve got a strangle hold on him. He has a fool of a half-brother, Walter Newton, who spends money but can’t make it. Newton forged a check on Blakely, one of my business associates. Freely paid the check and didn’t prosecute Newton. I got the facts. I’ll have Freely hounded for malfeasance, and I’ll spoil his senatorial race and send him to jail!”

Harms was walking back and forth again, clenching his fists. He had forgotten about Sam’s dereliction from obedience in his anger at the district attorney who had thwarted him.

“Is Walter Newton the half-brother of Freely?” Sam asked.

“Yes! Do you know the scamp?”

“I know Newton.”

“Well, you’d better drop him!”

“He—he never seemed a bad sort,” said Sam.

“Drop him, I say!”

“Can’t you get Freely without dragging Newton in?”

“I could, I suppose, but I’m not going to,” said Harms. “He says he’s protecting his half-brother because he promised his dying mother to look out for him. Wonder if he thinks I’m a jury, to try that heart-interest gag on me? But I wont let things drop, because I’ve got something else on him— on Newton, I mean. Beardsley just called up.”

“The banker?” asked Sam.

“The president of the Third National. They have a check down there, with my name forged to it. It’s payable to Newton. The young scamp is busy with his pen, it seems.”

Sam’s face had gone white again.

“Dad,” he said, “I—I wish you’d let Newton off.”

“Let him off? Let Freely slip through my fingers? You’re crazy!”

“No I am not, dad. But—well, Newton did something for me once that was a great favor.”

“That may be, but it doesn’t give him a license to commit a felony.”

“It will look like ingratitude if you go after him—you, my father.”

“What great favor did he do you?” demanded Harms, sarcastically.

“Oh, he—well, he’s done several things. He’s not a bad sort at all—just got educated to a champagne taste at college, and is trying to gratify it now on an ice cream soda allowance, that’s all. And he isn’t really a bad sort!”

“A forger—and not a bad sort?”

“It’s the way you look at it, dad Some people, you know, call you a swindler and a thief. Wont you let him off?”

Harms crashed his fist down upon the table.

“I’ll not!” he said. “I’ll go to the district attorney to-morrow morning, with my attorney, and demand an indictment for Newton. And you may bet that I’ll get it!”

“But, dad—”

“That’s all, young man. I’m surprised at your attitude! I’ve the chance to crush Freely, and I’m going to do it. Don’t say another word—the matter is closed for the present.”

The door opened and Bobbie tottered into the room. That was the second time in one day that he had interrupted an interesting scene. He looked at his father, who had stopped in the middle of the room with fist half-upraised in the act of making a gesture; he looked at Sam, who sat on the divan, his face in his hands again. Then he stumbled up to his brother.

“Tham,” he said, “you come play.”

“Run along, Bobbie; I don’t want to play.”

“Please play, Tham!”

“You go with him,” thundered John Wellington Harms, “and remember what I told you when we first started to talk.”

“Come, Tham,” Bobbie pleaded.

Sam got upon his feet, looked down at Bobbie and smiled—though it was a poor smile.

“All right, youngster,” he said. “We’ll play.”


III

When once John Wellington Harms made up his mind to do a thing, that thing was generally done. And so, on the following morning, he took his attorney and went to Freely’s office and sent in his card.

Freely ordered them admitted at once. Harms took the chair the district attorney indicated, and his attorney sat in another. The attorney, whose name was Allen, began the conversation.

“My client,” he said, indicating Mr. Harms, “has a case to put before you, and he asks immediate action. I may state that we expect to get it.”

“Expect!” thundered Harms. “We are going to get it! You keep still, Allen, and allow me to do the talking. You may stop me if I get on dangerous ground.”

Allen subsided, and Harms turned so that he could face Freely.

“Yesterday,” he said, “I accused you of shielding a criminal. You gave me reasons—a lot of stuff about having promised your mother something. And I told you that I was going to crush you anyway. Now I have come to you to demand that, instead of shielding young Newton, you bring action against him at once. Your idea that he would profit by the lesson of one crime seems to have been a bad one.”

“What do you mean?” Freely demanded.

“I mean that the young man has committed a second crime—that he has forged another check. This time, he forged my name. The amount was two hundred dollars, and he made the check payable to himself. That’s nerve, of course—but I suppose he wanted to use the money to get out of the country.”

Freely bent forward suddenly and looked Harms in the eyes.

“Let me understand you,” he said. “You say that my brother, Walter Newton, forged your name to a check for two hundred dollars?”

“He did; and presented the check himself and received the money on it.”

“And you demand that he be indicted and tried before a jury for that crime?”

“I do,” thundered Harms.

“No matter what the consequences?”

"Consequences! I fail to understand you, sir.”

“You want him tried, no matter what the consequences may be?”

“Certainly! It is nothing to me if he goes to prison—a forger! Let him take the punishment reserved for criminals. And I want you to act quickly! I have my eyes on you, mind! I’ve got you where I want you, and I’ll not only ruin your career, but I’ll make you send your brother to prison and crack that heart of yours—that heart you brag so much about!”

“You have no heart, it seems,” said Freely.

“Not when criminals are to be considered, sir.”

Freely touched a bell.

“Very well,” he said. “I am glad you have not. It will be all the easier for you.”

A deputy entered the room in answer to the bell.

“Tell my brother to step in here, please,” said the district attorney. “He is in the waiting room.”

None of the three men spoke until Walter Newton pushed open the door and entered, and took the chair indicated by Freely. Harms glared at him, Allen cleared his throat and awaited developments. It seemed to Allen that there was a sort of peculiar atmosphere in the room, that the air was charged with the unexpected.

“Newton,” said Freely, looking at his brother, “this is John Wellington Harms. He accuses you of forging his name to a check for two hundred dollars.”

Newton sprang from his chair, his face livid.

He accuses me of that!” he cried. “Does he know? Have you told him that—”

“Silence!” commanded Freely. Newton looked at the district attorney and then sat back in his chair.

“I have told Mr. Harms nothing,” said Freely, “and did not intend to do so. But he has forced me to do it, in order to protect myself. I’ll say to Mr. Harms now that I stand ready to prosecute the forgers of two certain checks—”

“Forgers!” cried Harms.

“I spoke in the plural,” said Freely. “I stand ready to prosecute the forgers, if you desire it.”

“You can’t bluff me that way!” cried Harms. “Do you mean to try making some other poor devil answer for this second forgery?”

“I’ll make no one answer for it, except the guilty man,” said Freely. “The two forgeries are connected, Mr. Harms. I knew it yesterday, when you were talking to me in your office. I was laboring under a false idea of honor then. I refused to prosecute my half-brother for another reason than to observe my mother’s dying request.”

“Why?” demanded Harms.

“Because, sir, I was placed in a position where I could easily humble an enemy of mine—a man who has tried everything his brain could contrive to disgrace me, belittle me, stop my work, kill my chances for a successful life. In other words, you, sir!”

“I!” cried Harms.

“I found myself in a position where, to obey my oath of office and prosecute my half-brother, I could drag your name in the dirt deeper than it now is, how I could wound you beyond recovery, make you a laughing-stock, and play a part that would make the people you designate as common curs rise up and call me blessed. Had I been a man like some men, I would have done so. I did not, sir, because I felt it would be taking an advantage of you. So I did not prosecute my half-brother, and by refusing to do so I not only gave him a chance to lead a better life, but I threw aside a chance to beat you once and for all because I felt it wouldn’t be a fair fight. In other words, though you take advantage of your wealth and influence to injure me, I respect you too much as an enemy to take advantage of my public office to wound you.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said Harms. “And whatever scruples you may have had in the first case need not prevent you having this young rascal indicted for his second offense.”

“He has no second offense,” said Freely, quietly. “He never forged your name to that check, Mr. Harms.”

“What? When it is made payable to him?”

“He is innocent of that forgery, sir, though it is a forgery. I know the circumstances of the case. Beardsley called me up last evening and had a talk with me. He thought Newton guilty, too. I had a talk with Newton, afterward, and I finally got at the truth of the matter.”

“I think you’re trying to dodge us,” said Harms. “But if you think you have the truth of the matter, let’s hear it.”

“As a last request, sir, I ask that you let the whole matter drop. Believe me, it will be better for you to do so.”

“Drop!” cried Harms. “Not on your life! Tell me your confounded story, and after you are done I’ll probably tell you that you lie.”

There was a dangerous gleam in Freely’s eyes for a moment, but it soon passed. When he spoke it was in a low tone, and there was no chance of anyone hearing except those in the inner office.

“Newton,” he said, “you presented a check at the Third National for two hundred dollars, signed by John Wellington Harms, yesterday afternoon, did you not?”

“Yes,” Newton replied.

“And got the money after properly endorsing the check.”

“Yes.”

“Where did you get the check? How did you come by it?"

“It was given to me, in partial payment of gambling debts, by Sam Harms sir,” said Newton.

There was silence for a moment, then Harms sprang from the chair in which he was sitting.

“You lie!” he screamed. “But you can’t lie out of this!”

“Just a moment,” said Freely. “I told you not to insist upon knowing the truth of the matter. Now that it has been told you, you doubt it. As it is but eleven o’clock in the morning, and your son Samuel was perhaps out late last night, we may be able to find him still at home, Mr. Harms, if we go at once.”

“What do you mean?” Harms demanded.

As Freely arose and bent toward him, there was a suspicion of determination in his eyes.

“I mean for you to take us all out to your house—right now—and bring us face to face with your son. Then we may perhaps learn the truth.”

“I’ll do it!” cried Harms. “And when my son denies his guilt, I’ll cram these lies back into your throats and send you and your rascal of a brother to the pen where you belong. My car is outside. Come, both of you! You, too, Allen!”


IV

Half an hour later they sat in Harms’ library, waiting for Sam, who had been summoned. He came in presently, dressed in an outing suit, his eyes still heavy with sleep. When he saw Newton and Freely, his face grew white, and his hands trembled.

“Sam,” said his father kindly, “I have asked you in here to give the lie to these two scoundrels. They accuse you—you, my son, who has never wanted for money—of forging my name to a check for two hundred dollars and giving it to this man Newton.”

Harms waited. The outburst of denial that he expected did not come. Neither did the look of surprise and then disgust, with which an innocent man might have favored his detractors. Instead, Sam Harms went down upon the divan, and buried his face in the pillows, and wept.

“Sam!” Harms cried. “Sam, boy—you—don’t mean—?”

Sam sat up and suddenly dashed the tears from his eyes.

“I’ll not make an ass of myself!” he said. “I’ll not cry about it! I did it, dad, I—”

“You did it?” cried Harms. “You admit it?”

“Easy there, dad. Listen while I tell the whole thing. I’ve been going the pace, you know. You warned me, but I kept it up. I got in debt—fearfully so—gambling. Your allowance was so large that I didn’t dare ask for more, for fear you would want to know what I did with so much money. I pawned things I could spare. Then I borrowed.”

“Borrowed!” cried Harms. “You, my son—”

“Wait, dad. I borrowed from all the fellows. Once when Newton was flush, when he had been winning for several days—he was in our crowd, you see—he loaned me three hundred. The other day Newton was in a deuce of a hole, and he needed money. He asked me for the three hundred. I told him I’d get it by evening. I couldn’t borrow it any place, and so I—made out that check for two hundred, and said that it was all you’d give me.”

“You! Why didn’t you come to me?”

“Wait, dad! I was afraid to come to you—and tell; and so I forged the check. Newton took it, and never said a word because he didn’t get the whole three hundred. He was decent about it.”

Freely walked across the room.

“Yes—he was decent about it,” said the district attorney. “So decent that, instead of going to your father, he, himself, forged a check for one hundred to make up the deficit, for he had to have the money. Now you can see, Harms, why I didn’t prosecute my half-brother. It would have looked like I was taking advantage of you. The public would have said that I sacrificed my mother’s son in order to drag you into the dirt with him. To prosecute him for forgery would mean that it would all come out—how your son gambled, and got in debt, and forged your name to pay his debts, and how, because he didn’t pay all his debts, he forced another man into forgery. And because I refused to prosecute, you are going to have me tried for malfeasance, you say, and sent to prison, and are going to ruin my career. I’m ready to go either direction now. What do you say, Harms? Shall I prosecute, or not? To prosecute means that there will be two prosecuted; to grant immunity means that we fight our fight with other weapons than this affair.”

Harms looked across at Sam. In his face gathered the anger-cloud. His pride was wounded—for his boy had borrowed money and had repaid it with difficulty; his boy had placed him at disadvantage before the district attorney, in a place where the district attorney acted in a manner that called for gratitude instead of war; his son had committed a crime, had been the means of another man committing a crime.

“That’s why I didn’t prosecute Newton,” Freely summed up. “Because to prosecute him would be to disgrace your son and drag your name in the dirt. I’m fighting you, Harms, not your son; and I’m fighting you for the things you do, and not for what other members of your family do. I’m trying to fight fair. So I’m willing to drop this matter. You’re not fighting fair—for you are not willing to drop it.”

“You’re right—I am not!” cried Harms. “You prosecute, sir, or I’ll hound you out of office!”

Allen gasped, but said nothing. Newton and Sam looked at Harms with fear.

“Do you realize,” said Freely, “that to prosecute means disgrace and perhaps a prison cell for your son?”

“I know what it means! You prosecute!”

“If you have no love for your son, I, at least, have enough hope in humanity to make an effort to save him,” said Freely. “I believe of him as I do of my brother—that a first mistake may be the means of reforming, whereas prosecution for a first mistake may mean a ruined life. Laws should not look to revenge, but to reformation, I refuse to prosecute!”

“Because your brother would go to prison?” sneered Harms.

“Because his life, and the life of your son, would be ruined. And the evidence would show, remember, that my brother would not have committed this crime if your son had paid his debts. The public will lay my brother’s ruin at the door of you and your son. They’ll say he would never have become a criminal if you had given your son money with which to pay. There’s more on your side than on mine. I’m speaking now merely as an officer of the law, and as to a man I had had no dealings with before. I refuse to prosecute your son. If he is prosecuted it will be because you, his father, swear out the complaint!”

“You shall prosecute!” cried Harms. “He’s son of mine no longer! I’ll have no forger under my roof! Prosecute, and I can stand the consequences, if you can!”

“You are willing to ruin your son’s life in order to discredit me with the people through my brother’s downfall,” said Freely. “You rise against your own flesh and blood in order to win another point in your eternal battle for wealth, your eternal battle to sweep your enemies from your path! Have you no heart?”

“Will you prosecute?” demanded Harms.

“No!”

“Then you’ll be tried for malfeasance, and the whole thing will come out anyway. I say I’ve got you where I want you—and I’ll crush you this time, even if I do send my son to a prison cell doing it. He’s a forger anyway—a criminal!”

“Some people say the same of his father,” said Freely.

“You dare? But I’ll crush you—crush you! I’ve got you either way. Which shall it be? Will you prosecute, or not?”

“I’ll not, unless you swear to the complaint against your own son, and so force me!”

“Then I’ll swear to the complaint!” cried Harms.

“Dad!” screamed Sam.

Dont’ speak to me—don’t call me that! You’re nothing to me—nothing!”

He turned toward the window. The library-door opened just then, and Bobbie came in. He had a rope in one hand, a little whip in the other. He stopped just inside the room, and surveyed the scene before him.

“Play, Tham!” he commanded.

“Horsie—play! Tham, play!”

“Run away, Bobbie,” Sam said, sobbing.

“Play, Tham. I so lonesome. Lizzie work in back of house. I so lonesome, Tham. Please play!”

Harms had turned from the window and was looking at his two sons. Sam still had his head in his hands.

“Tham—I so lonesome—” Bobbie protested. “Play, Tham!”

Allen got up suddenly and walked to the other end of the room. Newton turned his head away. Only Freely watched John Wellington Harms, as the millionaire gazed at his sons.

“Run away, Bobbie. We’re—we’re busy I—I can’t play, Bobbie; I can’t play with you—ever!” Sam was sobbing as he spoke.

Bobbie turned around and faced his father. He looked up at him soberly, the remembrance of yesterday afternoon in that same room still strong within him. He looked up, his eyes shining, his face expressive of hope of success through this appeal to the highest court.

“Make Tham play,” he pleaded. “Pop, you make Tham play! I—so— lonesome—”

Lonesome! And what of the future, with Sam a felon, what of the lonesome hours coming then, before he was old enough to understand; and what of the hours of shame after he was old enough to understand? John Wellington Harms thought of that at last.

He caught Bobbie to his breast, and held him there, and gave a sob that seemed to come from the depths of his soul. Then he placed Bobbie down upon the floor again—a much astonished Bobbie—Bobbie, the buffer—and looked over at his other son.

“Sam,” he said, “you play—with the—baby.”

Bobbie danced gleefully, holding out rope and whip.

“Tham! Tham!” he cried.

His big brother took the end of the rope, and with Bobbie cracking the whip behind he stumbled from the room, the tears streaming down his cheeks, his head hung low so that he looked none of them in the eyes.

Harms went forward to Freely.

“You need not—prosecute, sir,” he said. “And there’ll—there’ll be no trial for malfeasance. I want to thank you for the way in which you looked at the matter, and for the way in which you stood up for my son—for saying you believed there was good in him and that this would be the only necessary lesson.”

“I fight you fair,” said Freely, “and not through your son.”

“And the other matters—I don’t believe I can fight any more,” continued Harms. “I’ll answer to the indictments you have against me, of course; but—well, you’ll never bring another. I’m going to get out of business. My baby—he’s lonesome! And I want to rear him clean. I didn’t rear my first son that way—and I’ve suffered to-day because I did not.”

Freely turned toward the door, taking his hat from the table.

“And one other matter,” said Harms. “That senatorial race of yours— You needn’t worry about the opposition in our quarter, the opposition of the ‘interests.’ There’ll not be any opposition. I control the ‘interests’ and I promise you that. When you need help of any sort—I’m ready!”

Freely passed into the corridor, and together with Newton went into the street. Harms’ car was there, to take them back to Freely’s office.

Alone in the library, John Wellington Harms sat before the long table, and listened to the baby chatter that came to his ears through the open door from the hall above: “Get up, Tham! Play, Tham, play!” Bobbie, the buffer, was getting over being lonesome.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925.


The author died in 1958, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.