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Kilo, a novel by Ellis Parker Butler

Chapter 15. Difficulties

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_ CHAPTER XV. Difficulties

Eliph' had said nothing to Doc Weaver about the affair of the fire-extinguishers, he had known nothing of the graft matter, and yet it could not be supposed that Doc Weaver could be a confidant of the attorney's. The editor was puzzled, but he was sure he was right in the main, and he was nearer learning the truth than he supposed, as he hurried down the street to the mayor's car-cobbler shop.

He opened the door and stepped inside, but the mayor did not look up with his usual smile; he was sulking, and from time to time he rubbed his head where the butcher had struck him.

"How do, Stitz," said the editor. "How's the mayor?"

The cobbler pulled his waxed threads angrily through a tough bit of leather, and did not look up.

"I am no more a mayor," he said crossly. "I am out of that mayor job. I give him up. I haf been insulted."

"I saw it," the editor assured him. "He gave you a good whack. Sounded like a wet plank falling on a marble slab. Mad about the fire-extinguishers business, wasn't he?"

"And why?" asked the mayor, looking up for the first time, "he has a right to obey those ordinances and not get mad."

"Oh, but he don't like the way folks will laugh at him when they learn the joke you have played on him. That was a good one."

"Joke?" queried the mayor, growing brighter. "Did I play him one joke?"

"You know," said T. J. "Making him buy those lung-testers of Miss Briggs' when he thought they were fire-extinguishers. I should say it WAS a joke!"

"Sit down," said the mayor; "don't hang on those straps when seats is enough and plenty. Sit down. So I joked him, yes?"

"Rather," said the editor, "and Guthrie, too, making him pay that graft."

"Sure!" grinned the cobbler. "I got goot grafts. Apples, and potatoes, and celery, and peas, and chickens! Five grafts for one such little ordinances. Grafts is a good business, but now is all over. I quit me that boss-grafter job. I like me not such kloppings on the head. Next comes such riots, and revolutionings. I quit first." He sewed steadily for a while then prepared another thread, waxing it, and twisting the bristle on either end.

"That fire-extinguishers joke," he said, as he ran the ball of wax up and down the thread; "that was a good one, yes? On Skinner. That makes me a revenge on Skinner for such a klop on the head, yes?"

He adjusted the shoe on his knee, and began to sew again.

"Yes," he said, "I am glad I make that joke on Skinner. What was it?"

"Come now!" said T. J. "Don't pretend such innocence, Stitz. Don't try to fool ME. You knew all the time that those fire-extinguishers were nothing but lung-testers." The mayor looked puzzled, and properly, for he had never heard of lung-testers. "To test lungs," explained the editor. "To show how many pounds a man can blow; how much wind his lungs will hold; a sort of game, like pitching horseshoes. They are not worth anything to Skinner. He paid his money for them for nothing. He will have to buy four genuine fire-extinguishers now. That was what made him mad at you."

When the editor left Stitz's car he had learned all the mayor could tell him, including the undoubted fact that the mayor considered graft a quite legitimate operation, and this particular case a good joke on Skinner and Colonel Guthrie, and that the mayor himself, thinking the joke too good to keep, had told Doc Weaver. The editor easily guessed that Doc had investigated the rest of the affair, and had seen the fire-extinguishers and known them to be not what they seemed. He hurried back to his office to set in type what he had learned.

But others were abroad, too. Attorney Toole, watching the editor, had seen him enter the cobbler-car and leave it again, and he easily guessed the object of the editor's visit. He, too, went to see Stitz, and had a long and confidential talk with him, first frightening him until he was in a collapse, and then offering him immunity and safety, and at length leaving him in a perspiration of gratitude. He held up to him a vision of the penitentiary as the reward of grafting, and when the mayor was sufficiently wilted, rebraced him by promising to defend him, whatever happened, and finally restored him to complacency by showing him that the transaction was not graft at all. When he parted from the mayor, that official was, as opposition papers put it, "a creature of the attorney's."

The attorney found Skinner in his butcher-shop surrounded by a group of friends, to whom he was relating a story of how he had been attacked by the Colonel, and what would have happened to the Colonel if intervention had not come just when it did. Toole entered briskly and pushed his way through the group to where the butcher stood.

"Skinner," he said, "I want half a dozen words with you, at once," and his manner was enough to silence the butcher. Skinner led the way to the back room where the sausage machine made its home, and Toole carefully closed the door.

"Now," he said, taking the butcher by the shirtsleeve," you have had a taste of what comes of taking the political lead away from the party to which it rightly belongs. You have had an experience of what happens when people who know nothing about politics meddle with thing that the natural political leaders should be left to handle. You have been choked, and you have been cheated, and you deserve to be kicked. You pay money to this editor her in town, for an advertisement that you know does you no good, and in return he prints an article to make you laughed at. You form a combination with Guthrie to put in outsiders instead of good party men, and Guthrie uses his pull to have an ordinance passed to make you spend money for fire-extinguishers. You elect a mayor, by your influence as a leading citizen, and he takes a bribe from Guthrie, and passes an ordinance to rob you. And you, like a fool, let him do it. And you let Guthrie, that he may stand in solidly with the very woman you have your eye on, sell you--what? Fire-extinguishers? Not much! Not fire-extinguishers at all, but useless, no-account lung-testers! Lung-testers, that he makes you pay one hundred dollars for, and that you will have to throw away. That is what they are, lung-testers, and you can pocket a loss of one hundred dollars, and buy four real fire-extinguishers now, as the ordinance tells you, and makes you!"

The butcher's mouth opened and his eyes stared. He felt weakly behind him for the edge of the table, pawing uncertainly in the air.

"That's all I have to say to YOU," said the attorney. "If you like that kind of thing, you are welcome. If you are willing to be cheated it is nothing to me. I don't say T. J. Jones set them up to doing all this, just to throw down your Citizen's Party, but you can see in the TIMES who printed the whole thing. If you like to have that kind of man run your only public journal it is no business of mine, but look out for the next TIMES!"

The butcher had found the edge of the table and was leaning back against it. The attorney paused with his hand on the door.

"You ought to be able to make the Colonel pay you back that hundred dollars," he said. "It looks as if he had obtained money under false pretenses and given a bribe. But if you don't care, I don't," and he went out.

Outside of the butcher shop the attorney stopped and looked up and down the street, smiling. He felt that he had done well, so far, setting both the mayor and Skinner against the editor, making a tool of the mayor, and inflaming the butcher against the Colonel. He would have liked to go to the Colonel and set him against the editor and Skinner, but he neither dared nor felt it really necessary. If Skinner attempted to make the Colonel take back the lung-testers the ill feeling between the two would be sufficiently emphasized, and no doubt the Colonel had sufficient reason, in the publication of the article, to hate the editor.

Horsewhipped! His face reddened as he thought of it, but he was too polite to consider a revenge of fists, which would not lessen the insult of the whipping he had received, but would only add the stigma of attacking an older man. That he had led the Colonel into the affair, putting him up to it, did not strike him as being any excuse for the Colonel. He felt that he had done only what he was entitled to do in the pursuit of political leadership. He would revenge himself on the Colonel later. A suit for damages for assault, timed to precede the next election, would be both revenge and politics. He could, at the moment, think of nothing else to do to undermine his opponents, and he had turned toward his office when a fresh idea occurred to him. Should Miss Sally take back the lung-testers, where then would his case stand? Guthrie would return the hundred dollars to Skinner. Skinner was fool enough to be satisfied with that, and Kilo, like many other towns, not wishing to besmirch herself, would hush up the whole affair. Miss Sally must not take back the lung-testers.

The attorney swung around and walked briskly toward Miss Sally's home, tossing tumultuously in his mind the events of the day, his plans and what he would say to Miss Sally. As he turned in at the gate he saw Mrs. Smith and Susan sitting on the porch, and he took off his hat, and walked smilingly up to them.

"Miss Sally in?" he asked, after the customary greetings. "I would like to speak to her if she is."

"She's in" said Mrs. Smith, "but she is engaged at present. Won't you have a seat and wait?"

Toole passed rapidly through his mind all those who might have business with Miss Sally this morning--the Colonel, Skinner, the editor. It could not be Skinner, for he had just left him, nor the editor, for he knew he was still in his office where he had seen him last. Probably it was the Colonel. He took the proffered seat.

"I suppose you saw the TIMES," he said, "and that tremendous article. It amused me considerably. Splendid specimen of local journalism. Our friend T. J. is to be congratulated, isn't he? He has made quite a stir."

"The Colonel was here with a paper," said Mrs. Smith. "He was furiously angry. I couldn't understand what it was all about, except that it was connected with those fire-extinguishers Miss Sally had."

"It was about the meanest piece of business I have ever run across," said the attorney, speaking more to Susan than to Mrs. Smith. "It was the most vindictive thing I ever heard of. Do you know any reason why that editor should want to annoy Miss Briggs?"

"Mr. Jones annoy Miss Sally?" said Susan, with surprise. "I can't imagine why he should."

"That's what puzzles me," said Toole. "There doesn't seem to be any reason whatever, except that he is showing his ill-will. It looks like a conspiracy to throw those fire-extinguishers back on Miss Sally's hands. Probably he has taken an agency for fire-extinguishers, or had made a deal to take some in payment for advertising space in his paper, and wants to sell them to Skinner. I understand there is some cock-and-bull story he has got up about these fire-extinguishers being out-of-date, or useless, or something of that kind, and that he means to make a big stir about the council having been bribed to force them on Skinner. I suppose Jones will get something out of it, someway. I understand he means to keep the thing alive in his paper, and throw ridicule on all concerned, until he forces things his way. Probably he has some political object, too. But I think it is bad that he should drag Miss Sally into it. I don't mind his trying to throw mud on me. I can see his reason for that."

He looked at Susan and smiled.

"I don't understand," said Mrs. Smith, "I couldn't see that he said anything about you this morning."

"Not this morning," said the attorney. "There will be more to follow. Wait until you see the next issue of the representative of a free and untrammeled press. He will serve up all his friends there. I saw him darting around like a hawk-eyed reporter this morning. I went up to plead with him to drop the whole thing, this morning, but he as much as told me to mind my own business. The poor old Colonel was so angry he came at me with a whip--I don't know why--but I did not take the advantage my strength gave me. I can forgive a man who is anger blinded. All I want to do now is to prevent that editor fellow making any more trouble for my friends, if I can. I don't want Miss Sally to TAKE back those fire-extinguishers, and I don't want her to be blackmailed into BUYING them back. I want to put her on her guard against T. J. Jones."

"This is very kind of you," said Mrs. Smith.

"She is a friend of yours, and of Miss Susan's," said the attorney. "That would be reason enough for my doing it."

The door opened and Eliph' Hewlitt came out of the house, and Toole, who had jumped up, in order to be on the defensive had it been the Colonel, assumed an air of indifference. The book agent hesitated uncertainly, glanced toward Mrs. Smith, felt under his left arm where his sample copy usually reposed, and, not finding it, put on his hat and walked toward the gate. Mrs. Smith sprang from her chair and ran after him. She caught him at the gate and laid her hand on his arm. He turned to face her, and she saw that there were tears in his usually clear eyes. He had put the question to Miss Sally, and the answer had been unfavorable.

The interview had been short and conducted with the utmost propriety, as advised by "Courtship--How to Win the Affections," and Miss Sally had been kind but firm. The article in the TIMES had, far from turning her against the Colonel, shown her what the Colonel has risked for her sake, and she had decided in his favor, although he had not yet appeared to claim an answer to the question he had never asked, but had been hinting for years. _

Read next: Chapter 16. Two Lovers, And A Third

Read previous: Chapter 14. Something Turns Up

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