The Confessions of Artemas Quibble - Part 8

Part 8


As I jot down these random reminiscences I am impressed in a singular fashion with the fact that my career consisted entirely in the making, or rather getting, of money and the spending of it. I had no particular professional ambitions and never but once sought distinction as a const.i.tutional lawyer; and, however unworthy of an officer of the court such a confession may be, I am quite ready to admit that a seat upon the bench would have afforded me neither amus.e.m.e.nt nor sufficient compensation to satisfy my desires. Let other men find their gratification and emolument in the supposed honor of wearing the ermine! I have never found that a judge became any the less an erring human being after his elevation to the dais, and I could rake out of one good semi-criminal case twice the salary of any judge on the supreme bench. What is popularly regarded as respectability is oft-times in reality--if the truth were known-- merely stodginess and stupidity.

I am compelled to admit that in my early days, before I had formed my affiliation with Gottlieb, I had different ambitions, although they were none the less worldly. Then I wanted to be a judge because I supposed a judge was the king-pin of the profession.

Now, as Pat Flanagan says, "I know different." The judge is apt to be no less a tool of the boss than any other public officer elected by the suffrages of a political party. He is merely less obviously so. There are a few men in Wall Street who can press a b.u.t.ton and call for almost any judge they want--and he will come-- and adjourn court if necessary to do so--with his silk hat in his hands. And if any young aspirant for legal honors who reads these fugitive memoirs believes that the road to the supreme bench leads _via_ Blackstone, and is lighted by the midnight oil of study, let him disabuse himself of that idea, but seek rather the district leader; and let him make himself useful in getting the boys that are in trouble out of it. Under our elective system there is no more honor in being a judge than in being a sheriff or a hog-reeve; but, when one is young--and perhaps starving--it may seem otherwise.

If any of my lay readers believe that the practice of the law is a path of dalliance, let him but hazard his fortunes for a brief s.p.a.ce on the good ship Jurisprudence--he will find the voyage tedious beyond endurance, the ship's company but indifferent in character and the rations scanty. I make no doubt but that it is harder to earn an honest living at the law than by any other means of livelihood. Once one discovers this he must perforce choose whether he will remain a galley slave for life or hoist the Jolly Roger and turn freebooter, with a chance of dangling betimes from his own yard-arm.

Many a man has literally starved at the law. And most of the profession nearly do so; while some, by merest luck, have managed to struggle on until they stumbled upon some professional gold mine. I have heard many stories of how some young men managed to pull success out of disaster when the odds seemed overwhelming.

One which has particularly appealed to me I shall call the anecdote of The Most Capable Young Lawyer in New York.

Some years ago there came to the great city a young fellow who had always lived in a country town where the neighbors were all such good friends that they never went to law. He was able and industrious, but in his native place found it almost impossible to earn a living; and when by chance he met a well-known and prosperous attorney from New York who advised him to seek his fortune in the whirlpool rather than in the back eddies of life, he decided to follow the suggestion.

"I will endeavor to throw you something from time to time," said the prosperous lawyer, for it made him feel his own success to see such a poor young man and it tickled his vitals into benignity.

The country boy sold all his possessions for a few hundred dollars and came to New York. His friend was very kind in his manner and prolific of advice, but, unfortunately, he had no room in his own office for a junior or even an errand-boy. So Peters, for that was the young man's name, dragged himself up and down the city trying to find an opening, no matter how small. He was too old to begin as a clerk and too much of a b.u.mpkin for anything else, and he found that n.o.body had any use for a young man of his particular type and training. At last, in despair, he hired desk-room in an office, shared jointly by half a dozen young men like himself, and waited for something to turn up; but nothing came. His bank account fell lower and lower, and he became more and more shabby. Moreover, he was eating his heart out with disappointment, for he could not return to his native town and confess himself a failure.

From time to time he would drop into his prosperous friend's offices, but the latter never had anything to turn over to him and he would return dejectedly to his own solitary desk. At last he was forced to give up lunch and get along as best he could on two scanty meals a day; he grew thin and haggard, his Adam's apple projected redly above a frayed collar, his trousers grew wrinkled and shiny, and he looked ready to take his place in the "bread line." Finally he spent his last cent on a pretzel and made ready to "turn in his checks."

At this point Peters paid a last visit to his friend, who was visibly shocked at his emaciated appearance, for his eyes burned with the fever of starvation and his jaw was set in a pitiful determination to keep going until he dropped.

"Mr. Banks," said he grimly, "unless you give me something to do I'll go under. The fact is, I'm starving!"

Mr. Banks look at him critically.

"Pretty near ready to give up, eh?" he remarked. "Better chuck it and go back! I guess I was wrong when I told you to come down here."

"Not yet," answered Peters doggedly. "When I go back it'll be in a wooden box."

"Well," replied Mr. Banks, "I'm sorry; but there isn't a thing in the office I can give you." He pondered a minute. "I've got a lot of old judgments against a fellow named Rosenheim--in the cigar business, but he's no good--judgment proof--and they aren't worth the paper they're written on."

"Give them to me!" almost shouted Peters.

Mr. Banks laughed.

"You can have ninety per cent. of all you collect," said he as he bent over and, pulling out a lower drawer, removed a bundle of soiled doc.u.ments. "Here they are. My blessing to you!"

Peters grabbed the transcripts and staggered down the stairs. It took him less than ten minutes to find Mr. Simon Rosenheim, who was sitting inside a bra.s.s fence at a mahogany desk, smoking one of the best of his own cigars.

"Mr. Rosenheim," said Peters, "I have some judgments here against you, amounting to about three thousand dollars."

"Yes?" remarked Rosenheim politely.

"Can you let me have the money?" inquired Peters.

"My dear fellow," retorted Rosenheim, with an oily sneer, "I owe the money all right, but I don't own a thing in the world. Everything in this room belongs to my wife. The amount of money I owe is really something shocking. Even what is in the safe"--he nodded to a large affair on the other side of the room--"belongs to somebody else."

Rosenheim had been through this same performance hundreds of times before, but not with the same denouement.

Suddenly he saw a lean young man, with hollow cheeks and blazing eyes, leap over the bra.s.s railing. In another instant h.o.r.n.y hands grasped him firmly by the windpipe and a voice hissed in his ear:

"Pay me those judgments or I'll strangle you here and now!"

With bursting veins and protruding tongue he struggled helplessly to escape as his a.s.sailant dragged him toward the safe.

"I mean what I say!" half shrieked Peters. "I'm starving! I'd as lief die one way as another; but before I die you'll pay up those judgments--every cent!"

Rosenheim was on his knees now before the safe, his eyes starting from his head.

"Open the safe!" commanded Peters.

Rosenheim, the sweat of death on his brow, fumbled with the combination; the tumbler caught, the door swung open. Peters lifted his captive enough to permit him to reach in and take out the bills.

"Count 'em out!" he ordered.

Rosenheim did as he was told, shaking with fear. Peters stuffed the money into his pocket.

"Now do your damdest!" he shouted. "I've had one piece of law business before I died. Good afternoon!"

Rosenheim crawled back to his desk, relit his cigar and endeavored to pull himself together. He had a half-scared, half-puzzled look on his face and once in awhile he scratched his head.

Meantime Peters repaired to the nearest hotel and ordered a dinner of steak and fried potatoes, washed down with a pint of champagne.

He then purchased a new suit of clothes, a box of collars, a few shirts, and a hat. When he entered Mr. Banks' office an hour later the latter with difficulty recognized his visitor.

"I owe you three hundred dollars, I believe," remarked Peters, laying down the bills.

"Owe--me--What? You didn't get that money out of Rosenheim?"

stammered Banks.

"Why not?" asked Peters casually. "Of course I did. Every cent of it."

Banks looked at him in utter amazement. He, too, scratched his head.

"Say," he suddenly exploded, "you must be quite a feller! Now, look here, I've got a claim against the Pennsylvania and Susquehanna Terminal Company for two million dollars that I wish you'd come in and give me a little help on. What do you say?"

Peters hesitated and pursed his lips.

"Oh, I don't mind if I do," said he carelessly.

You may have heard of the celebrated law firm of Banks & Peters-- who do a business of about four hundred thousand a year? Well, that is Peters. Banks says he's "the ablest young lawyer in New York."

Peters, however, does not deserve the same credit as another young fellow of my acquaintance, since in Peters' case necessity was the parent of his invention; whereas in the other the scheme that led to success was the offspring of an ingenuity that needed no starvation to stimulate it into activity.

Baldwin was a youth of about thirty, who had done pretty well at the bar without giving any evidence of brilliancy and only moderate financial success. He perceived the obvious fact that the way to make money at the law is to have money-makers for clients, but he had no acquaintances with financiers and had no reason to advance to himself why he should ever hope to receive any business from such. Reading one day that a certain young attorney he knew had received a large retainer for bringing an injunction in an important railroad matter, it occurred to him that, after all, it was merely chance and nothing else that had sent the business to the other instead of to himself. "If I'd only known Morgan H. Rogers I might have had the job myself," thought he.

So he pondered deeply over how he could get to know Mr. Morgan H.

Rogers and at least conceived the idea of pretending that he had a client who--without disclosing his name for the time being-- desired to create a trust for the benefit of a charity in which the railroad magnate was much interested. With this excuse he found no difficulty in securing an interview and making an agreeable impression. The next step was more difficult.