“How can Mr. Watling help you?” I inquired.
“Well, I don’t mind giving you a few tips about your profession, Hughie. I’m going to get Watling to fix it up with the City Hall gang. Old Lord doesn’t like it, I’ll admit, and when I told him we had been contributing to the city long enough, that I proposed swinging into line with other property holders, he began to blubber about disgrace and what my grandfather would say if he were alive. Well, he isn’t alive. A good deal of water has flowed under the bridges since his day. It’s a mere matter of business, of getting your respectable firm to retain a City Hall attorney to fix it up with the assessor.”
“How about the penitentiary?” I ventured, not too seriously.
“I shan’t go to the penitentiary, neither will Watling. What I do is to pay a lawyer’s fee. There isn’t anything criminal in that, is there?”
For some time after Ralph had departed I sat reflecting upon this new knowledge, and there came into my mind the bitterness of Cousin Robert Breck against this City Hall gang, and his remarks about lawyers. I recalled the tone in which he had referred to Mr. Watling. But Ralph’s philosophy easily triumphed. Why not be practical, and become master of a situation which one had not made, and could not alter, instead of being overwhelmed by it? Needless to say, I did not mention the conversation to Mr. Watling, nor did he dwindle in my estimation. These necessary transactions did not interfere in any way with his personal relationships, and his days were filled with kindnesses. And was not Mr. Ripon, the junior partner, one of the evangelical lights of the community, conducting advanced Bible classes every week in the Church of the Redemption?... The unfolding of mysteries kept me alert. And I understood that, if I was to succeed, certain esoteric knowledge must be acquired, as it were, unofficially. I kept my eyes and ears open, and applied myself, with all industry, to the routine tasks with which every young man in a large legal firm is familiar. I recall distinctly my pride when, the Board of Aldermen having passed an ordinance lowering the water rates, I was intrusted with the responsibility of going before the court in behalf of Mr. Ogilvy’s water company, obtaining a temporary restricting order preventing the ordinance from going at once into effect. Here was an affair in point. Were it not for lawyers of the calibre of Watling, Fowndes and Ripon, hard-earned private property would soon be confiscated by the rapacious horde. Once in a while I was made aware that Mr. Watling had his eye on me.
“Well, Hugh,” he would say, “how are you getting along? That’s right, stick to it, and after a while we’ll hand the drudgery over to somebody else.”