The next day Nicholas went into Tom Bassett’s office, where he met Dudley Webb, who was spending a dutiful week in Kingsborough. He was a genial young fellow, with a clear-cut, cleanly shaven face and a handsome head covered with rich, dark hair. His hands were smooth and white, and he gesticulated rapidly as he talked. It was already said of him that he told a poor story better than anybody else told a good one—a fact which was probably the elemental feature of his popularity.
As Nicholas looked in, he raised himself lightly from Tom’s desk chair and gave him a hearty handshake.
“Hello, Burr! We were just talking of you. I was telling Tom a jolly thing I heard yesterday. Two farmers were discussing you at the post-office, and one of them said: ’’Tain’t that he’s got so much sense—I had a sight more at his age—but he’s so blamed sure of himself, he makes you believe in him.’ How’s that for fame?”
“Not so bad as it is for me,” returned Nicholas with a laugh. “If you win one or two small cases, there’s obliged to be undue influence of the devil.”
“Which, occasionally, it is,” added Tom seriously.
Dudley threw himself back into his chair and crossed his shapely legs. For a moment he smoked in silence, then he removed his cigar from his mouth and flecked the ashes upon the uncarpeted floor.
“Oh! the mystery to me is,” he said, “that you exist down here and live to tell the tale—or at least that you earn enough crumbs to feed the crows.”
“Kingsborough crows aren’t high livers,” remarked Nicholas as he threw himself into the remaining chair.
Dudley laughed softly—a humorous laugh that fell pleasantly on the ear.
“That reminds me,” he began whimsically. “I met a tourist with spectacles walking along Duke of Gloucester Street. ‘Sir,’ he said courteously, ’I am looking for Kingsborough. I am told that it is a city.’ ‘Sir,’ I responded, with a bow that did honour to my grandfather’s ghost, ’it was once a chartered city; it is now only a charter.’”
Then he turned to Tom.
“We haven’t got used to the railroad yet, have we?” he asked.
Tom shook his head.
“General Battle’s still protesting,” he replied. “He swears it makes Kingsborough common.”
Dudley thoughtfully examined his cigar, an amused smile about his mouth.
“My mother doesn’t want the cows turned out of the churchyard,” he observed, “because it would abolish one of Kingsborough’s characteristics. She’s right, too, by Jove.”
“They’re having a fight over it now,” put in Nicholas with the gravity he rarely lost. “The people who own cows call it an ‘ancient right.’ The people who don’t, call it sacrilege. The rector leads one faction, and the congregation has split.”
“And split we smash,” added Dudley. “Well, these are exciting times in Kingsborough’s history; it is almost as lively as Richmond. There we had a religious convention and an elopement last week. I don’t suppose you come up to that?”