The quiet confidence with which he spoke aroused, suddenly, a twinge of antagonism. He had every right to go into the law, of course, and yet!... my query would have made it evident to me, had I been introspective in those days, that the germ of the ideal of the profession, implanted by Mr. Watling, was expanding. Were not influential friends necessary for the proper kind of career? and where were Krebs’s? In spite of the history of Daniel Webster and a long line of American tradition, I felt an incongruity in my classmate’s aspiration. And as he stood there, gaunt and undoubtedly hungry, his eyes kindling, I must vaguely have classed him with the revolutionaries of all the ages; must have felt in him, instinctively, a menace to the stability of that Order with which I had thrown my fortunes. And yet there were comparatively poor men in the Law School itself who had not made me feel this way! He had impressed me against my will, taken me by surprise, commiseration had been mingled with other feelings that sprang out of the memory of the night I had called on him, when he had been sick. Now I resented something in him which Tom Peters had called “crust.”
“The law!” I repeated. “Why?”
“Well,” he said, “even when I was a boy, working at odd jobs, I used to think if I could ever be a lawyer I should have reached the top notch of human dignity.”
Once more his smile disarmed me.
“And now” I asked curiously.
“You see, it was an ideal with me, I suppose. My father was responsible for that. He had the German temperament of ’48, and when he fled to this country, he expected to find Utopia.” The smile emerged again, like the sun shining through clouds, while fascination and antagonism again struggled within me. “And then came frightful troubles. For years he could get only enough work to keep him and my mother alive, but he never lost his faith in America. ‘It is man,’ he would say, ’man has to grow up to it—to liberty.’ Without the struggle, liberty would be worth nothing. And he used to tell me that we must all do our part, we who had come here, and not expect everything to be done for us. He had made that mistake. If things were bad, why, put a shoulder to the wheel and help to make them better.
“That helped me,” he continued, after a moment’s pause. “For I’ve seen a good many things, especially since I’ve been working for a newspaper. I’ve seen, again and again, the power of the law turned against those whom it was intended to protect, I’ve seen lawyers who care a great deal more about winning cases than they do about justice, who prostitute their profession to profit making,—profit making for themselves and others. And they are often the respectable lawyers, too, men of high standing, whom you would not think would do such things. They are on the side of the powerful, and the best of them are all retained by rich men and corporations. And what is the result? One of the worst evils, I think, that can befall a country. The poor man goes less and less to the courts. He is getting bitter, which is bad, which is dangerous. But men won’t see it.”