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Kilo, a novel by Ellis Parker Butler

Chapter 10. The Boss Grafter

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_ CHAPTER X. The Boss Grafter

Eliph' Hewlitt was resolved that into this interview no words regarding Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art should enter. With two such favored rivals in the field, and with such difficulty in getting into the house as he had experienced, he meant to get well acquainted in a hurry. Miss Sally sat stiffly in her chair, steeling herself to refuse the request to buy a copy of the book. Her usually attractive face was stern, as she looked at Eliph' Hewlitt, and she watched him suspiciously as he slowly combed his whiskers with his fingers, as if she feared this was some part of the operation by which he was charming her into a hypnotic state in which she would sign for a book without knowing why. She nerved herself to ward off whatever insinuating words he should first say, and Eliph', as he studied her face, sought words that would advance him at one bound deep into the state of being well acquainted. It was a trying moment for both.

Then, so suddenly that Miss Sally almost jumped from her chair, Eliph' coughed behind his hand, and spoke.

"It seems like it would be as hot to-day as it was yesterday, if it don't shower before night," he said, and smiled pleasantly as he said it.

Miss Sally was taken off her guard, and before she was aware she had answered, quite as politely as she would have answered the minister himself.

"It's awful hot," she said. "I guess Kilo's the hottest place on earth in summer."

"Not the hottest," answered Eliph', leaning forward eagerly. "You wouldn't say that if you had a copy of Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art, and studied it up the way I do. Page 442 gives all the hottest places on earth, with the record highest temperature of each, together with all the coldest places, where there is the greatest rainfall, and a chronological table of all the great famines, floods, storms, hot and cold spells the earth has ever known, from the time of Adam to the present day, with pictures of the Johnstown flood, and diagrams of Noah's Ark. This, with the chapter on the Physical Geography of Land and Sea, telling of tides, typhoons, trade winds, tornadoes, et cetery, explains why and how weather happens. All this and ten thousand other subjects, all indexed from A to Z in one book----"

He paused suddenly, appalled to think that he was already far from his resolve not to mention Jarby's Encyclopedia, and, as his voice still hung on the last word he had spoken, the doorbell rang, and Miss Sally jumped up, happy for any interruption. She merely turned her head to say:

"I guess I don't want one to-day," and then Eliph' heard her open the door, and greet the newcomers as she welcomed them into the hall. They were Mrs. Tarbro-Smith and Susan, and, as Miss Sally hurried them up the stairs to remove their dusty hats, she leaned back and called to Eliph':

"You can get right out the door," she said, "it ain't shut. I guess I won't have no more time to spend listenin' to you to-day."

For half an hour Eliph' waited, listening to the chatter of voices, and then he quietly stole from the house and stepped gently out of the yard. There was no sense in waiting longer, and he knew it.

Mrs. Tarbro-Smith, receiving a letter from the editor of MURRAY'S MAGAZINE, had learned at length that Clarence was not typical Iowa, and she had transferred her field of study to Kilo on his recommendation. She meant to spend the rest of the season there, and hoped Miss Sally would take her to board. She found that Miss Sally would be glad, indeed, to have her company, and Mrs. Smith did not think it necessary to mention that she was looking for local color and types. She was pleased when she heard that Eliph' Hewlitt, who had so interested her, was "working" Kilo.

As Eliph' Hewlitt walked toward the hotel he felt that another opportunity had been lost--thrown away--by his inability to avoid Jarby's Encyclopedia as a topic, and for one moment he came as near giving up Miss Sally as he ever came to giving up anything. In that moment he saw the simplicity of his courtship, as he had imagined it would be, resolve itself into a tangled affair, as all these new individualities entered into it. Instead of being a mere matter between himself and Miss Sally, it was involving men and women, one after the other. It seemed to become a fight between himself, a singer stranger in Kilo, and an endless chain of interested citizens. Already there was Pap Briggs, who hated book agents; the Colonel and Skinner, who hoped to win Miss Sally; Mrs. Smith, who would serve as a defense against Eliph's attacks; and, as he walked down the street, he seemed to see in every man, woman, and child, a possible ally of either the Colonel or Skinner. But he tucked his sample copy of Jarby's under his arm more securely, and braced up his courage. He even whistled as he approached the hotel, but, when he glanced up at the attorney's office and saw Toole and the Colonel with their head together, he stopped whistling. If Toole was going to take either side, Eliph' would have liked to claim him. Toole was a smart man.

Toole and the Colonel left Miss Sally's with the attorney well pleased, and his enigmatic smile rested on his face as he led the Colonel to his office. He handed him a chair, and made him take a cigar, and then turned and faced him.

"Now," he said, "what are you going to do with those what-do-you-call-'ems?"

"Them fire-extinguishers?" said the Colonel, licking the cigar around and around before lighting it. "Well, I ain't had much time to think that over yet. A feller can't decide on a thing like that all at once. It ain't likely no one in Kilo would buy a fire-extinguisher like them, all nickel-plated, if they had their senses about 'em. 'Twouldn't be natural. I might raffle 'em off, only nobody'd be likely to buy chances on a fire-extinguisher. I might take 'em down to Jefferson, but I don't see as that would do much good, nobody'd be likely to buy fire-extinguishers off of me down there."

"No," said the attorney, turning to his table and looking over some papers, with an appearance of interest, "No, I guess not. I don't see that you can do much of anything with them, unless you use them for ornaments. It seems a pity that Miss Briggs didn't go to Skinner for advice about that box, instead of you, doesn't it?"

The Colonel stopped with a lighted match half way to his cigar.

"What do you mean?" he asked, red in the face. "Do you mean that puffy old beef-cutter's got more sense than what I have, young man?"

"Oh, no," said the attorney, carelessly. "Not at all. I was just thinking that if Skinner HAD opened that box, and HAD found fire-extinguishers in it, it would have been a fine chance for him to say to Miss Briggs, 'Madam, I am building in this town an opera house, known as Skinner's Opera House. The safety of the people of Kilo demands fire-extinguishers in Skinner's Opera House. I will take those four nickel-plated appliances and install them in my opera house, and allow you ten dollars apiece for them, cash or meat.' But, of course," continued the attorney innocently, "you can't do that; you haven't built an opera house."

The Colonel's little eyes peered at the attorney, and they were filled with cunning. Across his hard mouth a smile crept and broadened until he had to lay his hand across it, it was so indecently wide and exultant.

"Skinner is no fool," continued the attorney. "As soon as he hears that Miss Briggs has those four things he will probably rush right up to her house and offer to buy them. It would be a great feather in his cap with her, if he could get the credit of having thought of it. I shouldn't wonder if he had heard of what was in that box by this time. It seems a pity, doesn't it, that he should get all the credit after you have done all the work?"

The Colonel looked at the noncommittal face of the attorney, and smiled again. This was a sort of cunning he could appreciate, and he leaned over and gave Toole a sly poke in the ribs, to show him that he understood. Toole looked at him with a blank face, and at this the Colonel slapped his knee, and uttered a mirthful noise that was like the sound of a man choking. He clapped his greasy hat on his mat of hair and went out, pausing at the door to look back and grin at the attorney once more.

Mr. Skinner was trimming a roast. He had just cut off a piece of suet, which he held in his plump read hand as he listened to the Colonel's proposition to sell him four nickel-plated fire-extinguishers at ten dollars each. Perhaps the Colonel spoke to impetuously; to commandingly. Skinner held the lump of suet offensively near the Colonel's nose as he answered.

"Fire-extinguishers!" he laughed. "Me buy fire-extinguishers? I wouldn't give THAT for them."

He shook the suet before the Colonel's eyes.

"No, sir!" he sneered. "I wouldn't give THAT for them. And I throw that away!"

"Skinner," said the Colonel, growing dangerously red in the face, "don't you shake no meat in MY face like that! Don't you dare do it! I won't have no butcher shake meat in MY face. You low-down beef-killer. That's all you are, a beef-killer."

"Mebby," admitted the butcher indifferently. "Mebby I am, but I don't buy no fire-extinguishers. And I don't take much stock in agents for them, neither. No. Nor in gold bricks. Nor green good. No."

The Colonel raised his fist and brought it down on the butcher's counter so hard that the meat scales danced, and the indicator jerked nervously across the face of the dial, weighing a half pound of anger. The butcher leaned back against the shopping block, and gently caressed the handle of his cleaver. He pointed to the door with his other hand.

"Git out!" he said, and the Colonel scowled but went.

On his way home the Colonel bethought himself of a good excuse to stop at Miss Sally's. He had left his ax there, and he went to the back door, this not being a formal call. Miss Sally came to the door when he knocked, and brought him the ax, and he took the opportunity to say a bad word for Skinner, and he was astounded to find that she sympathized with Skinner on his refusal to buy the fire-extinguishers.

"I don't wonder at it," she said, "seeing he has put so much money on that opery house already. He's done a lot for this town that nobody else would ever have thought of doin'. Mr Skinner's a very public-spirited citizen, and to think he made it all out of sellin' meat! It must be a good business. I guess you'll have to excuse me now, Colonel Guthrie, I've got visitors down from Clarence."

The Colonel's steps dragged as he walked home. Never had Miss Sally said so many good words for his rival. She had almost rebuffed his good offices in the attempt to sell the fire-extinguishers, and had praised Skinner to his face.

Early the next morning he "dropped up" into the office of Attorney Toole, and as that young man lay back in his chair, with his feet on his desk, he told him the whole story. The attorney smiled. This was the kind of split in the ranks of the Citizens' Party that he had hoped to promote.

"After that, Colonel," he said, when the Colonel had told him that Skinner had ordered him out of the shop, "you ought to MAKE him buy them."

"I wisht I could, dog take him!" cried the Colonel. "I'd like to make him eat 'em."

"Colonel," said Toole, "I see you are, as always, guided by a spirit of conservative kindness. You hesitate to force that butcher to do what he does not want to do. The feeling does you honor, but is it business? You hesitate even when you see how easily your could force him to do what he is in duty bound to do to protect the lives of our trustful citizens. I admire your gentleness, but I deplore your unbusinesslike moderation. You lack public spirit."

The Colonel grinned savagely. He felt that the attorney was teasing him, but he could not quite tell how.

"You," said Toole easily, "knowing that our town council can, and should, pass an ordinance compelling all owners of opera houses to install nickel-plated fire-extinguishers--to install four of them in each opera house in Kilo--for the protection of our people, hesitate to ask them to pass such an ordinance. You hesitate because you do not wish to appear malevolent toward a rival. Now, don't you?"

"Me be kind to that fat, pig-stealing, sausage-grinding----" snorted the Colonel, but the attorney stopped him with a lifted hand.

"Just what I said," exclaimed the attorney. "You are too kind; too considerate; too regardful of his feelings. But would he be so kind and considerate and regardful of your feelings, if he was in your place?"

He lowered his feet and his voice, and placed his hand on the Colonel's knee.

"No!" he whispered hoarsely. "No!" he cried loudly and defiantly. "No! He would not! He would use the influence you have with the city council and the mayor to have an ordinance passed making YOU put fire-extinguishers in YOUR opera house, and compel YOU to buy them of HIM. But you will not use your huge influence with Mayor Stitz and the city council. You hesitate."

Toole shook his head sadly; he almost wept out the last word, he seemed so heartbroken to see the Colonel hesitate.

"Why hesitate?" he asked. "If I were not a stranger in town, as I may say, I should beg you not to hesitate. I should beg you to act. I should beg you to think of the lives of poor, helpless women and children. I should beg you, for humanity's sake, to go to the honorable mayor and city council, and appeal to them to pass an ordinance compelling this Skinner to buy nickel-plated fire-extinguishers. To compel him, Colonel! But I have nothing to say."

He shuffled the legal-looking papers that littered his desk. The Colonel's eyes had narrowed to fine points of hate-instilled cunning as the attorney proceeded.

"What have we come to," asked the attorney sadly, "when the leading citizens of a town like Kilo neglect their duty? Are there no true citizens left to show the mayor and city council their plain duty?"

When the Colonel had the thing put to him in this light he did not hesitate. He knew Stitz, the mayor, and he knew that Stitz had full control of the city council. What Stitz told it to do the city council did, and the Colonel believed he had a right to dictate what Stitz should tell it, for he had suggested the name of Stitz as candidate for mayor, and, with Skinner, had helped elect him. He went at once to the mayor, and laid the case before him.

Mayor Johann Stitz was an honest, upright shoemaker, and owned his own building. It had once been a street car in Franklin, and when the horse cars were superseded by electric cars, Stitz had bought this car at auction, and had paid ten dollars to have it hauled to Kilo. It had not been a very good car when it left the shops before it made its first trip, and the ten years of running off the track and being boosted on again had not improved it much. It was in pretty bad shape when Stitz picked it up for eighteen dollars, and it had deteriorated greatly since it had been doing duty as a cobbler's shop, but Stitz liked it. The tiny car stove that stood midway of one of the seats was all he needed in cold weather, and the seats along the sides were a continuous spread of cobblers' seats. He could cobble all the way up one side of the car and all the way back the other, and when he had customers waiting he always had a seat to give them. He and the whole city council could hold a caucus in the car, and all have seats, and in the evenings he could take a stool out on his front or back porch and smoke a pipe in peace. His car stood side by side with the round topped wagon of the traveling photographer, who had not traveled since his felloes gave out on that very lot six years before.

The city officers of the Citizens' Party, being of an independent part, were so independent that they were worried and chafed by their independence. No one but a man in office knows the real blessedness of having the set beliefs and an traditions of a regular party to fall back upon. The independence of the independents made their work more difficult; it compelled them to decide things for themselves, and then everybody complained of what they did. No independent is ever satisfied with what another independent does, and they lost even the satisfaction of knowing that they were pleasing their own part, which a properly service Democrat or Republican is rather apt to be sure of. In this state of things the six councilmen had thrown their burdens of decision to Stitz. They cast the whole burden on him, saying, "Ask Stitz. He's mayor. What he says, we'll do." And Stitz never would say.

As the Colonel entered the mayor's shoe shop Stitz was reading a magazine, which he laid beside him on the car seat while he listened to the Colonel. A pile of similar magazines lay beside him on the seat. They were the missionary offerings of Doc Weaver, who was interested in whatever was latest in religion, government or popular science. They were magazines telling of the municipal corruption of "New York, The Vile," "Philadelphia, Defiled but Happy," "Chicago, the Base," and "St. Louis, the Decayed." Doc Weaver had given them to Mayor Stitz to show him the evil of graft, and to keep his administration clean and pure.

When the Colonel had laid before the mayor his request for an ordinance compelling all opera house owners in Kilo to install and maintain four nickel-plated fire-extinguishers in each opera house, the mayor beamed on him through his iron-rimmed spectacles.

"Ho! Ho-o!" he exclaimed, "it is to make Mister Skinner buy some fire-extinguishers, yes? So shall my city council pass an ordinance, yes? Um!"

He smiled broadly at the Colonel, and then nodded.

"For how much you graft me?" he asked blandly.

"What?" asked the Colonel.

"Graft me," repeated Mayor Stitz. "I say for how much you will graft me when I shall pass one such ordinance my council through?"

"What's that?" asked the Colonel, puzzled.

"For how much you will make me one graft?" Mayor Stitz repeated slowly. "Graft! Graft! Understand him not?"

The Colonel shook his head.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Graft! Graft! Graft!" exclaimed the mayor with annoyance. "Don't you know him? When I make you one ordinance to pass, so, then you make me one graft, so! Like I read me in this book. Me to you, one ordinance; you to me one graft. So!"

A look of dismay came over the face of the Colonel, as he frowned at the smooth, honest face of the mayor, from which beamed eyes of childish honesty and frankness.

"Here in this book," said the mayor slowly and distinctly, like one explaining some simple thing to a child, "I read me of this graft business. It is to me this graft comes. So it is by all big cities. Man would have one ordinance. Goot! In every town is such one boss grafter. To the boss grafter gives the ordinance-wanting man a graft. So! Then for the ordinance-wanting man does the boss grafter get one ordinance made like is wanted. Yes! So, it is; no graft, no ordinance! Some graft, some ordinance! I read him in this book Doc Weaver gives me as a lesson to go by. It is a goot way. I like me that graft business."

A glimmer of the meaning entered the Colonel's mind, but he could hardly connect the idea of graft with the honest Johann Stitz. As a fact, to Mayor Stitz the idea of unlawful gain did not come. Graft was a way out of the difficulty of having to decide things. It was a system authorized by the lawmakers of great cities, and a system that could operate in Kilo. Whenever Stitz and his council passed an ordinance someone complained, and upbraided him; he saw now why this was; they had not used the approved system. But the Colonel still frowned.

"Well, what--how much do you want?" he asked.

Mayor Stitz turned up his innocent face and smiled blandly again.

"That makes not!" he exclaimed. "In the books it says much money, but is not yet Kilo so gross as New York. We go easy yet a while. It is what you want to graft me. One bushel apples--one bushel potatoes--that YOU must say."

The Colonel moved closer to the mayor. He thought of Miss Sally, and of Skinner.

"I will make you a present of a bushel of apples," he said.

The mayor laid down his magazine and arose. As the Colonel watched him with surprise, he removed his leathern apron. The Colonel folded his hand into a fist, but on the pleasant face of Mayor Stitz there was no sign of anger; no sign of righteous indignation; only a bland look of satisfaction.

"Well," inquired the Colonel impatiently, "will ye put the ordinance through, or won't ye?"

The mayor looked at him with surprise in every feature. Clearly this Colonel did not understand the first rudiments of graft.

"First I must go by Mr. Skinner," said Stitz simply. "Mebby he grafts me more NOT to pass such an ordinance."

"Look here, Stitz," said the Colonel in alarm. "You ain't goin' to do that, are ye?"

"Vell," said the mayor, "still must I do it! So always does the boss grafter. Which side grafts him the most, so he does. It is always so, never different. To the most grafter, so goes he. I read it in this books. When the boss grafter does not so, what use is the grafts? How then does he know which he shall do for, the ordinance-wanting man, or the ordinance-not-wanting man?"

The Colonel tried to argue with him, but the mayor was obdurate. He would not budge from the highest principles of graft, and, as the Colonel had gone too far now to recede with honor, he secured the best terms he could. The most he could obtain was a promise that the mayor would not mention any names, nor so much as hint that graft had been promised. He uneasily awaited the mayor's return.

Stitz returned radiant. He was rubbing his hands and beaming.

"Fine!" he exclaimed. "Fine! I make me one boss grafter yet! Mister Skinner grafts me one roast beef and six pigs' feet. He ain't much liking those fire-extinguishers to have. How much more will you graft me now?"

The Colonel looked the mayor squarely in the eye.

"Stitz," he said, "I ain't goin' to run no auction with that there Skinner. I come to you first, an' I was the first to say I'd make you a present, an' you ought to pass that ordinance anyhow. But to shut up this thing right here an' now, I'll do this: if you'll say you'll pas that ordinance like I want, so Skinner'll have to buy them four nickel-plated fire-extinguishers that Miss Briggs owns, at twenty-five dollars each, I'll give you four bushels of Benoni apples, two bushels of Early Rose potatoes, four bunches of celery, a peck of peas, and one spring chicken. And if you won't" he added, raising his hand threateningly, "I'll go to them six councilmen, an' I'll graft 'em one at a time, an' THEN where 'll your boss grafter be? You can't help yourself."

"Say!" he exclaimed, "ain't I a boss grafter? Apples, potatoes, celery, peas, and chickens! Five grafts for one ordinance! I do it!"

"An' don't you say nothing about it," warned the Colonel.

The Colonel thought there would be no harm in making a little commission for himself on the deal. It was not as if he had done nothing to earn it. He would have to furnish the produce for the mayor's "graft," and he had secured the services of Toole free of fees, and he was doing Miss Sally a good turn into the bargain. If Skinner was compelled to buy the four fire-extinguishers at twenty-five dollars each Miss Sally could afford a commission of ten dollars each, and forty dollars were always forty dollars to the Colonel.

The mayor kept his promise. At the next meeting of the council the ordinance was proposed, and hurried to a third reading by suspension of the by-laws, and the next day Stitz signed it. There was some opposition at the council meeting, for Skinner was present, and wanted to talk, but the marshal was present, too, and at a word from Stitz, he helped Skinner down the stairs, but gently, as a marshal owing a considerable butcher's bill should. _

Read next: Chapter 11. The False Gods Of Doc Weaver

Read previous: Chapter 9. The Witness

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