Others than Banneker’s friends and frequenters now evinced symptoms of interest in his influence upon his environment. Approve him you might, or disapprove him; the palpable fact remained that he wielded a growing power. Several promising enterprises directed at the City Treasury had aborted under destructive pressure from his pen. A once impregnably cohesive ring of Albany legislators had disintegrated with such violence of mutual recrimination that prosecution loomed imminent, because of a two weeks’ “vacation” of Banneker’s at the State Capitol. He had hunted some of the lawlessness out of the Police Department and bludgeoned some decent housing measures through the city councils. Politically he was deemed faithless and unreliable which meant that, as an independent, he had ruined some hopefully profitable combinations in both parties. Certain men, high up in politics and finance at the point where they overlap, took thoughtful heed of him. How could they make him useful? Or, at least, prevent him from being harmful?
No less a potentate than Poultney Masters had sought illumination from Willis Enderby upon the subject in the days when people in street-cars first began to rustle through the sheets of The Patriot, curious to see what the editorial had to say to them that day.
“What do you think of him?” began the magnate.
“Able,” grunted the other.
“If he weren’t, I wouldn’t be troubling my head about him. What else? Dangerous?”
“As dangerous as he is upright. Exactly.”
“Now, I wonder what the devil you mean by that, Enderby,” said the financier testily. “Dangerous as long as he’s upright? Eh? And dangerous to what?”
“To anything he goes after. He’s got a following. I might almost say a blind following.”
“Got a boss, too, hasn’t he?”
“Marrineal? Ah, I don’t know how far Marrineal interferes. And I don’t know Marrineal.”
“Upright, too; that one?” The sneer in Masters’s heavy voice was palpable.
“You consider that no newspaper can be upright,” the lawyer interpreted.
“I’ve bought ’em and bluffed ’em and stood ’em in a corner to be good,” returned the other simply. “What would you expect my opinion to be?”
“The Sphere, among them?” queried the lawyer.
“Damn The Sphere!” exploded the other. “A dirty, muck-grubbing, lying, crooked rag.”
“Your actual grudge against it is not for those latter qualities, though,” pointed out Enderby. “On questions where it conflicts with your enterprises, it’s straight enough. That’s it’s defect. Upright equals dangerous. You perceive?”
Masters shrugged the problem away with a thick and ponderous jerk of his shoulders. “What’s young Banneker after?” he demanded.
“You ought to know him as well as I. He’s a sort of protege of yours, isn’t he?”