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Kilo, a novel by Ellis Parker Butler

Chapter 14. Something Turns Up

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_ CHAPTER XIV. Something Turns Up

Something turned up the very next day. It turned all Kilo upside down as nothing had for years, and created such a demand for the TIMES that J. T. Jones had to print an extra edition of sixty copies, and he would have printed ten more if his press had not broken down.

Across two columns--the TIMES never used over one column headlines except for the elections--blazed the work "GRAFT," and beneath, in but a size or two smaller, stared the "sub-head" "OFFICIAL OF KILO CORRUPTED. CITIZENS' PARTY ROTTEN TO THE CORE. PROMINENT CITIZEN IMPLICATED." Beneath this followed the moral of it, "The City, as Predicted in These Columns, Suffers for Departing from The Beneficent Rule of the Republican Party."

Attorney Toole was sitting in his office when the boy from the TIMES delivered the paper to him. He smiled as he opened the damp sheet, for he extracted more amusement than news from the little paper, but as he turned it the headlines caught his eye, and instantly he was deep in the columns. Someone had sprung his mine before he had intended--it had exploded prematurely and with, what seemed to him, as he read on, a futile insipidity.

There were full two columns of it. There were hints and innuendoes, too well veiled, but no names mentioned. The specific act of graft was not brought to the surface. It was as if the writer had a "spread" of some vaguely uncertain rumor, and yet there was not doubt that Colonel Guthrie and Mayor Stitz and the fire-extinguishers were meant. The attorney could see that, and he had an idea that the writer had meant to tell more than he really did tell. The veiled allusions were so thoroughly veiled in words that they were buried as if under mountains of veils. Each slight hint was swamped in morasses of quotations and fine flourishes, overgrown and hidden by tropical verbiage, and covered up by philosophical and political phrases until nothing of the hint could be seen. As he read on the attorney could see Doc Weaver talking, as plainly as if he stood before him; he could see him at his desk in a frenzy of composition, and he recognized the apt quotations from Shakespeare that were Doc's specialty. Doc Weaver had written it.

The attorney laid the paper down and studied the matter. How could Doc have learned of the affair? Skinner, angry as he had been at having to buy the four fire-extinguishers, would never have dared to wreck the party he had helped to create. The Colonel would have been no such fool. Stitz? He would hardly accuse himself. Who then?

One passage set the attorney thinking again as he re-read the article. "'Thinks are seldom what they seem,' as the poet says, which is as true as that 'Honesty is the best policy.' And as Shakespeare says, 'To what base ends,' for all this disreputable graft centers around certain brilliant objects that are not what the guilty bribers and bribees suppose them to be. While we shudder with horror at the temerity of the sinners we shake with laughter as we think of their faces as they will be when they realize that they are mortals to whom the immortal bard refers when he enunciates the truth, 'What fools these mortals be!'"

"Certain brilliant objects" could mean nothing but the lung-testers. Eliph' Hewlitt had that secret, and Eliph' Hewlitt boarded with Doc Weaver. The attorney felt a sudden rush of anger. It was to this intermeddling book agent, then, that he owed the premature explosion of the mine that was to have blown the Citizens' Party to fragments, and to have landed the fragments in the basket held ready by Attorney Toole?

The distribution of that week's TIMES acted like a tonic on the town streets. New life followed in the wake of the boy as he carried the paper from door to door. It began at the corner of Main and Cross Streets, and as the boy proceeded, the merchants, the loafers, and the customers came from the stores and gathered in knots that formed quickly and dissolved again as the parts passed from one group to another, questioning, arguing, and guessing. The attorney looked out of his window. Across the street he could see the office of the TIMES, and T. J. already besieged by questioners, to whom he was evidently giving a kind but decided refusal of further information. The editor was waving them away with his hands. Some of the editor's visitors handed T. J. money, and carried away copies of the TIMES, but all went, gently urged by the editor, and joined one or another of the groups below. The attorney drew on his coat. He would postpone his interview with Eliph' Hewlitt; Thomas Jefferson Jones was the man he wanted to see at that moment.

It was difficult for the attorney to retain his enigmatical smiles as he climbed the stairs to the TIMES office. He was angry, but he knew the value of that irritating smile that hinted superiority and a knowledge of hidden details. He needed it in his talk with the editor.

It is odd how common interests will bring men together. And sometimes how common interests will not. The attorney and the editor had been as one man in polite attentions to Susan Bell, Mrs. Smith's protegee, at first, but as their acquaintance with her grew they seemed to like each other less. They no longer consulted each other on the best methods of bringing Republican rule back to Kilo. They did not consult together at all. The attorney coldly ignored the editor, and his irritation, beginning in this rivalry, was increased by the growing suspicion that the editor dared look toward the leadership of the Republican party in Kilo.

It all angered the attorney. What right had a country editor to compete with a man of talent, with a member of the bar, with Attorney Toole? Was this the thanks a rising lawyer should receive for leaving the superior culture of Franklin and bringing his talents to add luster to the bleak unimportance of Kilo? The very impertinence of it angered him. Toole, a man whose name would one day ring in the hall of Congress and perhaps stand at the head of the nation's officers as chief executive, to be bothered by the interference of a Jones! By the interference of a man who spent his time collecting news of measles and hog cholera! It was about time T. J. Jones was told a few things.

As Toole entered the printing office T. J. was handing a copy of the TIMES to a customer, and the editor turned, and, seeing who his visitor was, held up his hand playfully.

"No use!" he exclaimed. "I can't say anything about it, except what's in the paper. Contributed article, and the editor sworn to silence, you know."

The attorney seated himself on the editor's desk, pushing a pile of papers out of his way.

"That's all right, Jones," he said. "That's for the"--he waved his hand toward the window--"for the fellow citizens; for the populace. This is between ourselves."

"I'd like to," said Jones, "but really, I can't say anything about it. I promised faithfully I would not betray my contributor's confidence."

"Now, do I look so green as that?" asked Toole. "Nonsense! Doc Weaver wrote that rot." He smiled. "He spread himself, didn't he?"

The editor remained motionless.

"I have nothing whatever to say," he remarked, noncommittally.

"Well, I have!" cried the attorney. "I'll tell you that it is poor work for you to steal my thunder and attempt to use it without consulting me! It is poor work, and mean work. You want to be boss of this party in Kilo county, that's what you want. And you haven't the capacity. You have proved it right here, right here in this silly sheet of yours. You hit on a big thing, and you spoil it. You are so anxious that Toole shall get no credit that you rush it into print and make a fizzle of it. I know who the traitors to the party are--you are one. Doc Weaver with his elegant style and his Shakespeare is another. And that miserable intermeddling little book agent is another. You make me sick."

The editor stood like a statue, and his face was as white. The attorney dropped his words slowly from lips that still wore the tantalizing smile.

"The childishness amuses me," said the attorney. "It makes me smile. Why didn't you give names, since you had them? Why didn't you tell it all, and do the party some good, as well as doing me some harm, if that was what you were after--and I don't know what you were after if it wasn't that? Why don't you get a schoolboy to edit your paper for you?"

T. J. ground his nails into the palms of his hands. He meant to retain possession of his temper, but it was boiling within. He said nothing as the attorney indolently arose from his seat on the desk; he was resolved to do nothing, but when the attorney brushed against him in passing, turning his superior smile full in his face, he raised his arm. The next moment the two men were lying beside the press, struggling and gasping, locked fast and fighting for advantage, legs intertwined and each grasping the other by a wrist. The editor was on top, but the heavier attorney was working with the energy of hate, and as they panted and struggled the door opened and Eliph' Hewlitt entered.

There was strength in his wiry arms, and he threw himself upon the upper man and dragged him backward. The attorney loosened his hold and the two men stood up, panting and gulping, and soon began to brush their clothes and look at the floor for dropped articles, as men do who have fought inconclusively and are not sorry to have been parted. The only real damage seemed to have been done to Eliph's spectacles, which he had shaken off in his efforts, and which had been crushed beneath a heel. The attorney presently smiled, but it was a silly smile, and then he went out of the door and down the street.

Eliph' coughed gently behind his hand, as if to excuse his intrusion.

"Quarreling?" he suggested. "I used to wrestle some when I was a boy. But not much. I hadn't then the rules, given on page 554 of Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art, including "How to Wrestle, How to Defend Oneself Against Sudden Attack, Jui Jitsu," et cetery, with wood cuts showing the best holds and how to get them. All this being but one of one thousand and one subjects treated of in this work, the price of which is but five dollars, neatly bound in cloth."

The editor had turned his back and was staring angrily out of the window--sulkily tremulous would be a better description, perhaps--when he suddenly cried out. Eliph' searched hurriedly in his pockets for another pair of spectacles, found them and put them on, and looked where the editor pointed. Across the street the attorney, backed up against the wall of the bank, was defending his face with one arm, and with his right hand seeking to grasp a ship that was raining blows upon his face and head. Someone grasped the whip from behind and wrenched it from the hand of the attorney's assailant, and as the man turned angrily, the two in the window saw that it was Colonel Guthrie.

They heard him cursing those who had taken the ship from him, ending by loudly justifying himself for what he had done to the attorney, and saw the attorney step forward to quell the Colonel's hot words. The Colonel put up both his hands and shouted, and some from the crowd, grasping the attorney about the waist and arms, as if the feared he was about to attack the older man, hurried him away, speaking soothing words to him.

The Colonel rioted on. Nothing could have stopped him. He pulled a copy of the TIMES from his pocket and slapped it with his hand as he abused the attorney for having given T. J. Jones the facts of the article.

He lit it be plainly known, in his anger, that the article called him a giver of graft. The crowd stood silent, as crowds stand about some drunken man, for the Colonel was drunk with wrath, and wordy with it, talking to himself as drunken men do. He finished, and the crowd opened a passage through itself to let him pass, and Skinner, who, in apron and bare arms, had viewed his rival's wrath from a safe place on the edge of the group, backed away. The Colonel, mumbling, caught sight of him, and with one swift motion of the arm grasped him by the shirt band.

"You!" he shouted, pulling the shirt band until Skinner grew purple in the face. "You! You done it! Why couldn't you buy them fire-extinguishers like a man? You made me buy up that Dutchman. I wouldn't 'a' had to do it but for you."

He gave the choking butcher an extra shake, and raised his hand to strike him, but again the crowd interfered, and seized the Colonel, and hurried him away.

The butcher stood stupidly and rubbed his neck, waiting for the wits that had been choked out of him to return, and far down the street Mayor Stitz, hearing a noise, came out on his front platform and looked up the street. It appeared to him that something was going on, and sticking his awl in the door of his car, he walked blandly up the street to where the remnant of the crowd formed a half circle around the butcher. He crowded through, saying, "Look out, the mayor is coming. Stand one side yet for the mayor!"

The butcher looked and saw before him the round, innocent face of the mayor, topped by the mayor's round bald head. He raised his large, fat hand, and in vent for all his injured feelings brought it down, smack! On the smooth bald spot.

"Ouw-etch!" said the mayor.

He was surprised. He backed away and rubbed the top of his head, and what he said next was a rapid string of real, genuine German; exclamations, compound tenses, and irregular verbs and all that makes German a useful, forceful language. As long as he rubbed his head--with a rotary motion--he spoke German; then he stopped rubbing and spoke English.

"So is it you treat your mayor!" he exclaimed indignantly. "Such a town is Kilo, to give mayors a klop on the head! Donnerblitzenvetter! Not so is it in Germany." He turned to the crowd. "A klop on the head! It is not for klops on the head that I am mayor. No. I resign out of this mayor business. Go get another mayor, such as likes klops on the head. I am no mayor. I am resigned."

He turned and walked slowly back to his car, pulled the awl out of the door, and went inside.

The editor moved away from the window. He seated himself at his desk and leaned his head on his arms and thought.

"Headache?" asked Eliph'.

"No," said the editor, lifting his head. "I'm trying to think this thing out. Guthrie is in it, and Skinner must be in it, and Stitz. And that fellow across the way said you knew something about it, and he said Doc Weaver wrote the article. No," he added hastily, as Eliph' offered to speak, "let me think it out myself."

He leaned his head on his hand, and gazed at the attorney's office. He drew the week's copy of the TIMES toward him and read over the article that had caused all the trouble.

"It might be that fire-extinguishers ordinance," he said slowly. "Stitz pushed that through. And Skinner had to buy them. And--they were owned by Miss Briggs and the Colonel negotiated the sale." He jumped up and turned over the file of back numbers of the TIMES. He found the announcement he had made of the arrival of Eliph', and the report of the meeting of the city council that had passed the fire-extinguishers ordinance. Eliph' had been in town before the ordinance had passed. Eliph' boarded now with Doc Weaver. Again he read the article in the TIMES, seeking for the meanings that Doc knew so well how to hide. He paused at the "Things are seldom what they seem" lines, and considered it. Suddenly he arose and put on his hat.

"Wait here," he said, "I'll be back."

When he returned he was smiling. He had visited Skinner's Opera House and had examined the fire-extinguishers where they sat, each on its bracket.

"Hewlitt," he said, "when you told Doc about the fire-extinguishers did you tell him they were lung-testers?"

The little book agent stared at the editor.

"I never told," he exclaimed. "I have never said a word to Doc Weaver, nor to anyone about them. Not a word. I have kept it as sacred as the secret of the Man in the Iron Mask, a full account of whom, together with a wood cut, is given on page 231, together with 'All the World's Famous Mysteries,' this being but one feature of Jarby's----"

"All right," said the editor. "And you never told him about the graft?"

The blank amazement on the book agent's face was sufficient answer.

"I've got to go out," said the editor. "I've got some reporting to do. You'll excuse me. I want to see Stitz. And Skinner. And Guthrie. I wish Doc hadn't gone to his State Medical Society meeting to-day."

Eliph' went out with the editor, who locked the door behind him.

"Don't say anything," said the editor, "but I think there will be an extra edition of the TIMES out to-morrow." _

Read next: Chapter 15. Difficulties

Read previous: Chapter 13. "Second: A Small Present"

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