The Confessions of Artemas Quibble - Part 4

Part 4

Armed with these insinuating doc.u.ments I procured a fresh roll of one hundred one-dollar bills and set forth to interview all whose acquaintance I had made in the course of my brief residence in the city. My argument ran thus: Almost anybody would be willing to receive a dollar every month in return for a service that would cost him nothing. With an outlay of one hundred dollars I could have a hundred persons virtually in my employ trying to get me business. After the first month I could discontinue with those who seemed likely to prove unremunerative. Almost any case would return in fees as much as my original disburs.e.m.e.nt. On the whole it seemed a pretty safe investment and the formal-looking contract would tend to increase the sense of obligation upon the contracting party of the first part. Nor did my forecast of the probabilities prove at all wide of the mark. Practically every one to whom I put the proposition readily accepted my dollar and signed the agreement, and at the end of a week my one hundred dollars had been distributed among all the cab drivers, conductors, waiters, elevator men, clerks, bartenders, actors, hall boys, and storekeepers that I knew or with whom I could an acquaintance. None of them expected to have any business of their own and all welcomed with delight the idea of profiting by the misfortunes of their friends.

I had often lost or won at a single sitting at cards a much larger sum than the one I was now risking in what seemed an excellent business proposition, so that the money involved caused me no uneasiness. Besides, I had fifty dollars left in my pocket.

Meantime I spent my evening in my office reading Blackstone and such text-books as I cared to borrow from the well-equipped library of my employers.

Business came, however, with unexpected prompt.i.tude. At the end of the first week I had received calls from two actors who desired to sue their managers for damages for breach of contract, five waiters who wished to bring actions for wages due, and actress who wanted a separation from her husband, a bartender who was charged with a.s.sault for knocking the teeth of an unruly customer down his throat, and a boy whose leg had been caught under an elevator and crushed. Each of these I made sign an agreement that I should receive half of any sum recovered in consideration of seeing that they received proper legal advice and service, and each of them I sent over to Counsellor Gottlieb, with whom I executed a mutual contract to divide evenly the fees received.

The reader will notice that I did not technically hold myself out as a lawyer in these contracts, and merely agreed to furnish counsel.

Thus I flattered myself I was keeping on the lee side of the law.

Gottlieb settled the case of the boy for twelve hundred dollars, and we divided six hundred between us, and the other cases that came in the first month netted us three hundred dollars apiece more. The future began to look bright enough, as I had to distribute as commissions only two hundred dollars, which left me a gross profit of four hundred dollars. With this I secured fifty new contracts, and after paying the second installments upon all the first I pocketed as a net result two hundred and fifty dollars cash. I now had a growing business at my back, finding it necessary to employ an office a.s.sistant, and accordingly selected for that purpose an old actor who was no longer able to walk the boards, but who still retained the ability to speak his part. For a weekly wage of ten dollars this elderly gentleman agreed to sit in my office and hold forth upon my ability, shrewdness, and learning to all such as called in my absence. In the afternoons I a.s.sumed charge myself and sent him forth armed with contracts to secure new allies.

My business soon increased to such an extent that it bid fair to take up all my time, and the bookkeeping end of it, with its complicated division of receipts, proved not a little difficult.

The amazement of my friend Gottlieb knew no bounds, but as it was a profitable arrangement for him he asked no questions and remained in ignorance as to the source of my stream of clients, until one of his friends, to whom my a.s.sistant had made application, showed him one of the contracts. That night he sent for me to come to his office, and after offering me a very large and exceedingly good Havana cigar delivered himself as follows:

"Harkee, Quib, you are more of a fellow than I took you for. You have more cleverness than any man of your years in my acquaintance at the bar. This scheme of yours, now, it's a veritable gold mine.

Not but that anybody could make use of it. It can't be patented, you know. But it's excellently devised; no one will deny that.

What do you say to a partnership, eh? On the same terms?"

Now, I had more than once thought of the same thing myself, but the idea of a.s.sociating myself in business with an out-and-out criminal attorney had to my mind serious drawbacks. We discussed the matter at length, however, and Gottlieb pointed out very wisely that I was running a great risk in distributing broadcast cards upon which appeared the unauthorized name of Haight & Foster, as well as in conducting an office under my own name, when in fact I was but an attorney's clerk downtown. My connection and a.s.sociation with such a reputable firm was an a.s.set not to be jeopardized lightly, and he advised my withdrawing so far as I could all my cards from circulation and conducting my business _sub rosa_. In the end we came to an understanding which we reduced to writing.

I was to become a silent partner in Gottlieb's business and my office was to become a branch of his, my own name being entirely in abeyance. On the whole, this arrangement pleased me very well, as under it I ran practically no risk of having my activities discovered by my employers.

It is somewhat difficult to know just in what order to present these memoirs to the reader, for from this time on my life became a very varied one. Had I the time I should like nothing better than to paint for my own satisfaction an old-fashioned law office as it was conducted in the 'seventies--its insistent note of established respectability, the suppressed voices of its young men, their obvious politeness to each other and defence to clients, their horror at anything vulgar, the quiet, the irritating quiet, Mr. Wigger's red wig--he was the engrossing clerk--the lifelessness of the atmosphere of the place, as if nothing real ever happened there, and as if the cases we prepared and tried were of interest only on account of the legal points involved. When I was there, filing papers in their dusty packages, I used to feel as though I was fumbling among the dust of clients long since dead and gone.

The place stifled and depressed me. I longed for red blood and real life. There I was, acting as a clerk on nothing a year, when uptown I was in the centre of the whirlpool of existence. It was with ill-concealed gratification that I used daily at one o'clock to enter the library, bow to whatever member of the firm happened to be there, remove a book from the shelves and slip out of the door. A horse-car dropped me in half an hour at a hotel near my office. After I had s.n.a.t.c.hed a sandwich and a cup of coffee in the cafe I would dash up to my office--the door of which now bore the lettering:


Siddons Kelly was the superannuated actor of whom I have already spoken, and when he was not, so to speak, in drink he was an invaluable person. He had followed the stage all his life, but he was of the sort that tear pa.s.sion to tatters and he had never risen above third-rate parts. In every respect save declamation he had all the elegances and charm of manner that the stage can give, and he would receive and bow out a scrubwoman who had fallen down a flight of back stairs and wanted to make the landlord pay for her broken head with a grace truly Chesterfieldian. This was all very fine until he had taken a drop too much, when his vocabulary would swell to such dimensions that the confused and embarra.s.sed client would flee in self-protection unless fortunate enough to be rescued by Gottlieb or myself. Poor Kelly! He was a fine old type. And many a client then and later was attracted to my office by his refined and intellectual old face with its locks of silky gray.

An old bachelor, he died alone one night in his little boarding- house with a peaceful smile on his wrinkled face. He lies in Greenwood Cemetery. Over him is a simple stone--for which I paid --bearing, as he had requested, only the words:


As may well be supposed, my professional career uptown was vastly more entertaining than my experiences at Haight & Foster's. My afternoons were filled with a constant procession of clients of all ages, s.e.xes, colors, and conditions. As the business grew and greater numbers of persons signed our contracts and received their honorarium of a dollar a month, a constantly increasing percentage of criminal or semi-criminal cases came to the office. Of course there was no better criminal lawyer than Gottlieb in the city, and before long the criminals outnumbered our civil clients. At the same time I noticed a tendency on the part of the civil business to fall off, the reason for this probably being that my partner was known only as a criminal attorney. Now, I began to dislike the idea of paying a dollar a month to induce people to refer business to us, and indeed I found that the disburs.e.m.e.nt of five or six hundred dollars every four weeks for this purpose was no trifling matter. Accordingly I decided to try letting them go for a month or so, but business fell off to such an alarming extent that I almost immediately resumed the contract system, merely reducing its proportions.

In addition to our "dollar-a-monthers," as we called them, Gottlieb employed half a dozen professional "runners," whose sole occupation it was to hunt down unfortunate persons injured accidentally and secure their cases. These employees made a business of joining as many social clubs, labor and other organizations as possible and swinging the business in Gottlieb's direction. At one time the compet.i.tion for accident cases became so fierce that if a man were run over on Broadway the rival runners would almost tear him limb from limb in their eagerness to get his case; and they would follow a dying man to the hospital and force their way on one pretext or another to his bedside. There used to be a story, which went the rounds of the clubs and barrooms, of a very swell old buck who owed an enormous amount of money and who happened to be knocked down and rendered insensible by a butcher's wagon. He was taken to the hospital and did not regain consciousness for several hours. When at last he opened his eyes he saw several dozen cards plastered upon the ceiling directly over his head, reading:






"Ah!" he murmured, rubbing his eyes and turning to the nurse; "I thought I was in some strange place, but I see that all my friends have been to call already!"

Our criminal business, however, was so extensive that it took practically all of Gottlieb's time, and he found it necessary to hire a couple of clerks to attend to the civil cases that came to us. My partner was obliged to spend the whole of almost every day in attendance at the criminal courts. Frequently he remarked jestingly that under the circ.u.mstances, as he had to give all his time to it anyway, he could as easily attend to _all_ the criminal business of the city as to the small part of it that came to him.

"Well," I said to him one day, "why don't you?"

"Why don't I what?" he retorted.

"Get all the criminal business there is," I answered.

"Quib," he exclaimed excitedly, "have you got another of your ideas?"

"I think so," I returned. "How does this strike you? Why not issue a policy, like life or accident insurance, in which for a moderate sum you agree to defend _free of charge_ any man accused of crime? You know that every criminal is always trying to save up money against the time when he shall be caught and have to hire a lawyer. Now, it is true that these fellows pay very well, but there are not many that can pay a large fee. If you could get enough crooks to take out a policy at ten dollars per year you might make a good thing of it."

"But how would we get our scheme going?" inquired my partner, with a gleam in his eye. "It certainly is a gold mine, if it will work."

"Leave the thing to me," I admonished him.

That evening I drew up with great care a policy of insurance against the loss occasioned by having to employ counsel if arrested for crime. On its back was indorsed the following insidious philosophy:

"Innocent men, as well as guilty, are frequently arrested for violating the law. This costs money. Lawyers are notorious extortioners. For ten dollars a year we guarantee to defend you _for nothing_ if charged with crime. Twenty-five dollars insures entire family. We make no distinction between ex-convicts and others.


My next task was to boom my scheme by successful advertising, and with this in view I persuaded Gottlieb to issue free policies to a dozen or so of the worst rascals that he knew. Naturally it was not long before one of them was arrested for some offence, and Gottlieb as naturally succeeded in getting him off, with the natural result that the fellow went all over town telling how one could be a burglar with impunity for ten dollars a year. At about the same time I heard of a man who was in the Tombs charged with murder, but who was almost certain to get off on account of the weakness of the case against him. I, therefore, visited the defendant and offered to give him a policy for ten dollars, in spite of the fact that he was already in jail. He s.n.a.t.c.hed readily enough at the chance of getting as good a lawyer as Gottlieb to defend him for ten dollars, and when he was acquitted made so much of it that there was hardly a prisoner in the Tombs who did not send for one of our policies to guard against future legal difficulties. To all of these we offered free advice and a free trial upon the charges pending against them, as a sort of premium or inducement to become policy-holders, and in six months had over two hundred subscribers. This meant in cash about two thousand dollars, but it necessitated defending any or all of them whenever they were so unfortunate as to run foul of the police, and as luck would have it out of the two hundred policy-holders forty-seven of them were arrested within the first six months--fifteen for burglary, eleven for robbery and a.s.sault, sixteen for theft, and five for murder.

These latter cases took all of Gottlieb's working hours for some seven and a half weeks, at the end of which time he threw up his hands and vowed never to insure anybody against anything again.

It was impossible for me to try any of the cases myself, as I was not as yet admitted to the bar, and the end of the matter was that we returned the premiums and cancelled the policies of the remaining one hundred and fifty-three insured. This done, Gottlieb and I heaved sighs of mutual relief.

"You are a clever fellow, Quib," he acknowledged good-naturedly, "but in some ways you are ahead of your time. You ought to have gone into life insurance or railroading. Your genius is wasted on anything that ain't done wholesale. Let's you and me just stick to such clients as come our way in the natural course of events.

There isn't any one born yet big enough to do all the criminal law business in this little old town by himself."

And in this I with some regret agreed with him.


As I have already taken some pains to indicate, I was fully persuaded of the practical value of a professional connection with a legal firm of so eminent a standing as that of Messrs. Haight & Foster, and for this reason the reader may easily appreciate the shock with which I received the information that my presence was no longer desired in the office.

Mr. Haight had unexpectedly sent for me word that I was wanted in the library and I had obeyed his summons without a suspicion that my career as a civil attorney was to be abruptly terminated. As I closed the door behind me I saw the old lawyer standing near the window, his spectacles poked above his eyebrows and his forehead red with indignation. Between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand he held a card.

"So," he exclaimed, vainly trying to appear collected, "I find that my firm has been conducting an uptown office for criminal business!

This is one of your cards, I believe?"

He tossed it from him as if it were infected with some virulent legal disease, and I saw that it was one of the unfortunate cards that I had had printed before forming my partnership with Gottlieb.

It was no use denying anything.

"Yes," I answered, as quietly as I could, "it is one of my cards."

"I am also informed," he continued, his voice trembling with suppressed wrath, "that while you have been masquerading as a student in this office you have been doing a police-court law business in a.s.sociation with a person named Gottlieb."

I turned white, yet made no traverse of his indictment. I was going to be kicked out, but I felt that I could at least make my exit with a dignified composure.

"Young man, you are no longer wanted here," continued Mr. Haight with acerbity. "You have found your own level without a.s.sistance and you will no doubt remain there. You obtained your position in this office by means of false pretences. I do not know who you really are or whence you really come, but I have no doubt as to where you will eventually go. This office does not lead in the right direction. You ought to be locked up! Get out!"