I once defended a worthy gentleman named Cohen on a charge of perjury, alleged to have been committed by him in a civil case in which he, as defendant, denied that he had ever ordered a set of stable plans from a certain architect. The latter was a young man of very small practice who had an office but no clerks or draughtsmen. He certainly believed with the utmost honesty that my client had come to his office, engaged him to design a stable, and approved an elaborate set of plans that he had drawn. When it came to paying for them Mr. Cohen declined. The architect brought suit, and at the trial swore to the dates and places of the interviews between Cohen and himself, and to all the surrounding circumstances and details connected with the execution of the plans in question. His lawyer expected that the defendant would interpose the defense that the plans were inferior, defective, or worthless. Not at all! Mr. Cohen swore that he had never ordered the plans and, in fact, had never seen the architect in his life! He alleged that until the suit was brought he had never even heard of him, and that either the architect was demented or a liar, or else some other Cohen had given the order. The architect and his lawyer were thunderstruck, but they had no witnesses to corroborate their contentions, since no one had ever seen Cohen in the other's office. The jury disagreed and the architect in some way secured Cohen's indictment for perjury. But during the criminal trial, at which I defended him, Mr. Cohen calmly persisted in his denial that he had ever enjoyed the honor of the architect's acquaintance, and after two prosecutions, in each of which the jury hopelessly disagreed, the indictments against him were dismissed. From this it may easily be inferred that no fact is too patent to be denied. Frequently the more heroic the denial the greater its verisimilitude to truth. The jury feel that no prisoner would deny a fact that it would be much easier to explain away—and believe him.
I once represented an Italian called the King of Mulberry Street, who was charged with having deliberately shot in the head and killed a respectable dealer in olive-oil against whom he held no grudge whatsoever. The King was just an egotistic little man who liked notoriety and admiration. He was wont to refer to himself simply as "The Bravest Man," without reference to time or place—just "The Bravest Man." He was accustomed to demonstrate his bravery by shooting inoffensive people whenever the idea seized him. He never killed anybody save quiet and law-abiding fellow citizens who made no resistance, and the method he selected was to shoot them through the head. He seemed to feel that it was essential to his dignity thus to execute at least one human being every six months, and the extraordinary feature of his history was that he had never been convicted.
The case that I was called upon to defend was this: Not having killed anybody for nearly a year and fearing to jeopardize his dual title of King of Mulberry Street and The Bravest Man, he put a forty-four calibre pistol in his pocket, donned his Sunday clothes and took a walk. The thoroughfare was crowded, the day bright and fair, the time twelve o'clock noon. Presently the oil merchant approached and The King, first glancing about him to make sure that he had a "gallery," went up to him, placed the pistol at his head and fired. He was immediately arrested and indicted for murder.
Now, twenty witnesses had seen him fire the fatal shot. Yet there was not the slightest reason in the world why he should have done such a thing. Upon the trial my client insisted on simply denying that he had done anything of the kind. I had naturally assumed that he would either claim that the shooting had been accidental or that he had fired in self-defense, after he had first been attacked by the deceased. But no—he had had no pistol, did not know the man, and had not killed him. Why should he have killed him? he inquired. No one could answer the question, least of all the jury. The twenty witnesses were positive that he had done so, but he was equally positive that he had not. No one could offer the slightest explanation of the deed—if it had in fact taken place. The jury puzzled over the case for hours, at one time, I am informed, being on the point of acquitting the prisoner for lack of proof of any motive. They reasoned, with perfect logic, that it was almost if not quite as improbable that the defendant should in broad daylight on a public street have shot down a man against whom he had not the slightest grudge as that twenty commonplace citizens should be mistaken as to what they had seen. Whether they were aided in reaching a verdict by "the implements of decision" I do not know, but in the end they found my client guilty and in due course he paid the penalty, as many another king has done, upon the scaffold. The plain fact was that The King was a "bravo," who took a childish and vain pride in killing people. He killed for the love of killing, or rather for the egotistic satisfaction of being talked of as a killer. At any rate, there are many like him. While his defence was unsuccessful, he came near enough to escaping to point out the value of a bold denial in a criminal case.
Our clients consisted, for the most part, of three clearly defined classes of persons: Criminals, their victims, and persons involved in marital or quasi-marital difficulties. These last furnished by far the most interesting quota of our business, and, did not professional confidence seal my lips, I could recount numerous entertaining anecdotes concerning some of what are usually regarded as New York's most respectable, not to say straight-laced, households. A family skeleton is the criminal lawyer's strongest ally. Once you can locate him and drag him forth you have but to rattle his bones ever so little and the paternal bank account is at your mercy. New York is prolific of skeletons of this generic character, and Gottlieb had a magnificent collection. When naught else was doing we used to stir them up and revive business. Over this feature of the firm's activities I feel obliged, however, from a natural feeling of delicacy, to draw a veil. Our function usually consisted in offering to see to it that a certain proposed action, based on certain injudicious letters, should be discontinued upon the payment of a certain specified sum of money. These sums ranged in amount from five to twenty thousand dollars, of which we retained only one-half. I understand that some lawyers make more than this percentage, but for such I have only contempt. A member of a learned and honorable profession should be scrupulous in his conduct, and to keep for one's self more than half the money recovered for a client seems to me to be bordering on the unethical. But perhaps I am hypersqueamish.
Of course we had a great deal of the ordinary "knock-down-and-drag- out" variety of assault, robbery, theft, and homicide cases. Most of these our clerks attended to, but the murder cases Gottlieb defended in person, and in this he was so singularly successful that there was hardly a celebrated trial in which he was not retained in some capacity or other. For he was an adept in all those little arts that make a jury feel well disposed toward a lawyer, and as a word artist he was unsurpassed. Gottlieb could, I believe, have wrung tears from a lump of pig iron, and his own capacity to open the floodgates of emotion was phenomenal. He had that rare and priceless gift shared by some members of the theatrical profession of being able to shed real tears at will. His sobs and groans were truly heart-rending. This, as might be expected, rendered him peculiarly telling in his appeals to the jury, and he could frequently set the entire panel snivelling and wiping their eyes as he pictured the deserted home, the grief-stricken wife, and the starving children of the man whom they were asked to convict. These unfortunate wives and children were an important scenic feature in our defence, and if the prisoner was unmarried Gottlieb had little difficulty in supplying the omission due to such improvidence. Some buxom young woman with a child at the breast and another toddling by her side could generally be induced to come to court for a few hours for as many dollars. They were always seated beside the prisoner, but Gottlieb was scrupulous to avoid any statement that they belonged to the client. If the jury chose to infer as much that was not our fault. It was magnificent to hear (from the wings) Gottlieb sum up a case, his hand, in which was concealed a pin, caressing the youngest little one.
"Think, gentlemen, of the responsibility that rests upon you in rendering this woman a widow and depriving this poor innocent babe of a father's protecting love!"
Here Gottlieb would hiccough out a sob, sprinkle a few tears upon the counsel table, and gently thrust the pin into the infant's anatomy. Sob from Gottlieb—opportune wail from the baby. Verdict —not guilty.
There was a certain class of confidence men for whom we soon became the regular attorneys. They were a perennial source of delight as well as profit, and much of my time was given up to the drafting of circulars and advertisements for the sale of stock in such form that, whereas they contained no actual misstatement of an existing fact, they nevertheless were calculated to stimulate in the most casual reader an irresistible desire to sell all that he had and invest therein.
Originally the dealers in valueless securities did not take the trouble to purchase any properties but merely sold their stock and decamped with the proceeds. Of course such conduct was most ill- advised and unnecessary. It was obviously criminal to sell stock in a concern that has no existence, and several of my clients having been convicted of grand larceny, for this reason I took it upon myself to advise the others actually to purchase lands, mines, or other property and issue their stock against it. In this way their business became absolutely legitimate—as strictly honest and within the law as any of the stock-jobbing concerns of the financial district. To be sure, the mine need not be more than the mere beginning of a shaft, if even that; the oil-well might have ceased to flow; the timber land might be only an acre or so in extent; but at any rate they existed. Their value was immaterial, since the intending purchaser was not informed in the advertisement as to the amount of gold, silver, or copper mined in any specific period, the number of gallons of oil per minute that flowed from the well, or the precise locality of the timber forests, but merely as to the glorious future in store for all who subscribed for the stock.
This vital distinction has always existed in civil as well as criminal law between what is fraud and what is legitimate encouragement to the buyer. To tell the prospective vendee of your old gray mare that she is the finest horse in the county is not fraud even if she is the veriest scarecrow, for it merely represents your opinion —perhaps colored in part by your desire to sell—and is not a matter of demonstrable fact. To assure him, however, that she has never run away, had blind staggers, or spring halt, when these assertions are not true, is "a false statement as to a past or existing fact," and as such constitutes a fraud—if he buys your horse.
Now, it frequently has happened in my experience that gentlemen desiring to find purchasers for securities or property of little value have so carelessly mingled statements of fact with opinions, laudations, and prophecies as to their goods, that juries have said that they were guilty of fraud in so doing. Thus the lawyer becomes at every turn indispensable to the business man. The following circular was drawn up for one of our clients and is an excellent example of a perfectly harmless and legal advertisement that might easily become fraudulent. We will suppose that the corporation owned one-quarter of an acre of wood lot about ten miles from a region where copper was being mined.
"SAWHIDE COPPERS "YOUR LAST CHANCE TO BUY THIS STOCK AT PRESENT FIGURES! "The company's lands are located near the heart of the copper district, not far from properties now paying from forty to sixty per cent. a year. There is no reason in the world why Sawhide should not do as well if not better. With immense quantities of ore just beneath the surface, when our new smelter is completed Sawhide will undoubtedly prove one of the best dividend payers in the country! As the Buggenheims and other well-known financiers are largely interested in the stock, it is only a question of time before it will be marked up out of sight. The properties have great surface value and are rolling in timber and mineral wealth."
This is a fair example of a perfectly safe variety of advertisement that does not commit the author to anything. As long as there is a piece of land somewhere and an actual incorporated company the stock of which, however valueless, is being offered for sale, the mere fact that the writer indulges himself in rosy prophecies does not endanger him so far as the criminal law is concerned. It is only when he foolishly—and usually quite as unconsciously—makes some definite allegation, such as, for instance, that the company "owns six hundred acres of fully developed mining property," or has "a smelter in actual operation on the ground," or "has earned sixty-five per cent. on its capital in the past year," that the financier runs the slightest risk. It may be that a purchaser would find it so difficult to prove the falsity of any of the statements upon which he had relied in purchasing the stock that the vendor would practically be immune, but in these days of muck- raking and of an hysterical public conscience prosecutors sometimes go to the most absurd lengths and spend ridiculous sums of money out of the county treasuries to send promoters to jail.
They are apt to have a hard time of it, however. I recall one scheme in which a client of mine was interested, involving the floatation of about a hundred thousand dollars' worth of railroad stock. The circulars, printed by a famous engraver and stationer, were twenty pages in length and contained the minutest description of the company's board of directors, rolling stock, capitalization, bond issues, interests in other railroads, government grants of land, and the like. They were embellished with beautiful photographs of deep cuts, suspension-bridges, snow-sheds, railroad-yards, and round-houses. The promoter did a mail-order business and sold the stock by the bagful to elevator men, trained nurses, policemen, porters, clerks, and servant girls.
After he had salted away about forty thousand dollars some of the purchasers began to get anxious about their dividends. None were forthcoming, and as the promoter was inclined to be indefinite as to future prospects he was presently arrested. But when the case came to trial I pointed out a fact that, strange as it may seem, practically no one of the multitude of stockholders had previously noticed, namely, that the circulars made no actual statement as to where the railroad was located. By inference it might well have been supposed to be somewhere in Canada, but there was no such fact clearly alleged. Of course it was impossible for the prosecutor to prove that my client did not own a railroad somewhere in the world and the indictment had to be dismissed. Negations are extremely hard to establish, and therein lies the promoter's safety. If he sticks to generalizations, no matter how they glitter, he is immune. Had my railroad promoter inserted a single word descriptive of the location of his franchise or his terminals he would now be in Sing Sing instead of owning a steam yacht and spending his winters in Florida.
From the foregoing the reader will observe that the first-class criminal lawyer by no means devotes his time to defending mere burglars and "strong-arm" men. The elite of the profession do as gilt-edged an office practice as the most dignified corporation attorneys. Indeed, in many respects their work is strictly identical.
The firm of Gottlieb & Quibble had not been long established before —quite by chance—a new vista of opportunity opened before us. My partner had a wretched client who, not unlike many others, would go to more pains and trouble to steal a dollar than it would have taken him to earn twenty. This, I have noticed, is a general peculiarity of lawbreakers. The man's name was McDuff and my partner had defended him on several occasions and had got him off, with the result that he was always hanging about the office and asking if this and that were "within the law." One fine day he was arrested on the charge of having obtained money by false premises in an unique manner.
It appeared that he had learned through a certain bar-tender that one Jones, a patron of the place, had but recently come into a legacy of a couple of hundred dollars and, in connection therewith, had imbibed so freely that he had become involved in a fist fight with a gentleman by the name of Holahan and had done the latter considerable facial damage. McDuff pondered upon these facts for some time over his beer and then set out to find Jones—not a difficult task, as the legatee was making a round of all the near- by saloons and endeavoring to drink up his good fortune as rapidly as possible. Overtaking him in a side street McDuff grasped him roughly by the shoulder.
"Look here, Jones," says he, pretending to be an officer; "I have a warrant for your arrest for committing a battery upon Thomas Holahan. You must come along with me to the station-house."
"What! For me!" cries Jones in an agony of dismay. "Sure, I did nothing to the man. You're not going to lock me up for that!"
"It's my unpleasant duty," answers McDuff. "An officer has no choice in the matter. You must step along."
"Come, come!" replies Jones, pulling his money from his pocket. "Here's a hundred and fifty dollars. Say you couldn't find me!"
"I would be taking a great risk," responds the supposed officer. "Have you no more than that?"
"I have my gold watch and chain," returned Jones. "You can have them and welcome—only let me go!"
The bargain was stuck then and there and the transfer from Jones' pockets to those of McDuff effected. Unfortunately, however, Jones next day discovered that Holahan harbored no ill-will against him and that the supposed officer was nothing of the kind. Rising in his wrath, he in turn procured a warrant for McDuff and caused his arrest and indictment. The trial came off and despite Gottlieb's best efforts his client was convicted by the jury of stealing Jones' watch, chain, and money by falsely representing himself to be an officer of the law. The case went on appeal to the Supreme Court, which affirmed the conviction, and there seemed no escape for McDuff from a term in prison.
One evening Gottlieb and I got talking about the case among other things.
"How is it," said I, "that the criminal law will step in and give a man back his money when, under precisely the same circumstances, the civil law will let him whistle?"
"What mean you by that?" asked my partner.
"Why," answered I, "the civil law will not settle disputes between thieves, it will not enforce an equitable division of stolen property, and it will not compel rogues to keep a dishonest contract between themselves. Now this fellow, Jones, it seems to me, was almost as bad as your friend McDuff. He tried to induce a man he thought was a sworn officer of the law to violate his oath and disregard his duty. Why should the criminal law do anything for him? Why should it hand him back his money as if he were an innocent and honest man?"
"It is an ingenious argument," replied Gottlieb, scratching his ear; "and yet it is poppycock for all that. The criminal law is to punish criminals. According to your reasoning, two wrongs would make a right and two thieves one honest man. Would you let McDuff go unpunished simply because he was clever enough to induce Jones to try to break the law as well as himself? Why, any judge would laugh you out of court on such a proposition."
"But," I retorted, "surely, if I gave you a hundred dollars for the purpose of bribing a judge and you failed to accomplish your purpose, no court would assist me to recover the money. 'Twould be against public policy and contra bonos mores."
"Even so," answered my partner, "would it not be more contra bonos mores to let a thief go unpunished, once he had been arrested? Take my word, Quib, there's nothing in it," insisted Gottlieb warmly. "For instance, there is the crime against usury—a very foolish law to be sure, but there it is. No one can commit usury unless some one else participates in the offense by paying the unlawful interest; but the usurer does not escape on that account. Why, then, should the false pretender in our case?"
"I admit the force of your analogy," said I, "and I could easily suggest others myself. Bribery, for instance; extortion and many other offences, where the law does not refrain from punishing the one because the other is equally guilty. But the cases differ in that, in bribery, the briber is seeking to influence the acts of an official; and, in extortion, the law imputes an element of force which is supposed to overcome the will of the person paying the money. I am not so clear on your usury. Still, I believe there is a fighting chance to win the case on my theory."
"If you think so," grumbled Gottlieb, "you had better argue it yourself before the Court of Appeals."
"Very well," said I. "Nothing will give me greater pleasure."
It was with some trepidation, however, that I went to Albany to argue, before so august a body of judges, a proposition of law that had in reality so little to commend it; particularly as I was opposed in person by the district attorney of New York County—a man of great learning and power of sarcasm. However, I found the Court of Appeals much interested in my argument and had the pleasure of hearing them put many puzzling questions to my opponent, in answering which he was not always altogether successful.
Pending the opinion of the Court, which was not handed down for several months, an incident occurred in our practice that may serve to amuse the reader if not to illustrate the dangers of ignorance. We were engaged in a litigation in the United States District Court, where the subpoenas for the witnesses are issued by the clerk to the deputy marshals for service. Our opponent in the case was a testy old member of the bar over sixty years of age and of the very highest respectability and standing, who had several times refused elevation to the bench and was regarded as the personification of dignity and learning. Unfortunately his appearance belied his position, for he was almost totally bald and his face was as weazened and wrinkled as that of a monkey.
It so happened that we desired to have in court the following day certain papers that were in his possession; and, in order that we might be in a position to introduce copies of them in case he failed to produce the originals, we secured what is called a duces tecum subpoena for him—that is to say, a subpoena directing him to bring with him—duces tecum—"bring with you"—the papers in question. There had recently been appointed as a deputy marshal a very honest and enthusiastic, but exceedingly ignorant Irishman named Hennessey, who, prior to his advent into officialdom, had been employed at heaving coal at a dollar and eighty cents a day. The clerk called him into his office and handed to him our subpoena.
"Mike," he said, "here is a subpoena for Winthrop Van Rennsellaer" —our worthy opponent. "It is a duces tecum. Understand?"
"Shure, I do!" answered Mike, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and taking the paper; for, though he had no idea of what duces tecum meant, he had no intention of disclosing the fact.
"It's important," continued the clerk. "Be sure and attend to the matter at once."
"Lave that to me!" Mike assured him.
"Don't forget that it's a duces tecum," admonished the clerk as Mike passed out of the door.
"Not on yer life!" replied the newly appointed deputy.
Outside, he found a fellow deputy, also newly appointed.
"Pat," said Mike, holding out the subpoena, "phat is the meanin' o' thim two wurrds?"
His friend carefully examined the paper.
"'Duces tecum'," he repeated thoughtfully. "'Dooces taycum.' They be Latin words meanin' 'take him alive or dead.'"
"Thanks," said Mike. "Trust me!"
And he started forthwith for Wall Street, where Mr. Winthrop Van Rennsellaer's office was located. Having ascertained by inquiry that his quarry was in, Mike pushed by the clerks and scriveners in the outer offices and armed with the majesty of the law, boldly forced his way into the lawyer's sanctum. Marching up to him, he demanded in a loud voice:
"Are you Van Rennsellaer?"
The lawyer, exceedingly astonished, replied, with what dignity he was able to assume under the circumstances;
"I am Mister Winthrop Van Rennsellaer."
"Come wid me!" ordered Mike.
"I shall do nothing of the kind!" retorted the lawyer, getting red in the face.
"Y' won't, eh?" exclaimed the deputy; and, grasping Mr. Winthrop Van Rennsellaer by his linen collar, he yanked him out of his chair and, to the horror of the servile supernumeraries in the lawyer's employ, dragged that eminent member of the bar through his own offices, down the stairs, and into the street.
The lawyer protested loudly at the indignities to which he was being subjected and a large crowd gathered, which for the time being blocked Broadway. Mike, confident that he had the authority of the United States Government behind him, exhibited his badge, called upon the police to assist him in the exercise of his duty and proceeded triumphantly to march Mr. Winthrop Van Rennsellaer, hatless, up the street at the head of a large and enthusiastic procession of interested citizens. From time to time Mike would turn and call upon the crowd to disperse, at the same time announcing in a loud voice that he had arrested his prisoner by an order of the Government to take him alive or dead.
By this time the lawyer's little round head was glowing a bright red and his legs almost refused to carry him. Once they had arrived at the Post-office Building the mistake was quickly discovered and Mr. Van Rennsellaer was set at liberty; but each and every United States judge had to descend in his robes from the bench and implore his pardon before the furious little lawyer would consent to call a cab and return to his office.
I understand that he always believed that the whole thing was a trick of Gottlieb's to humiliate him; and, indeed, some members of the bar have suspected me of the same thing—entirely without justification, of course. During the rest of his exceedingly distinguished career one had only to mention the words duces tecum in the presence of Mr. Winthrop Van Rennsellaer to deprive him instantly of his composure; in fact, for a long time he abandoned appearing in court and contented himself with nursing his dignity in his office. I should add that the incident so affected his confidence the next day in court that we won our case without difficulty.
But to return to the unfortunate McDuff. To my great astonishment and still more so to that of my partner the Court of Appeals handed down an opinion sustaining my contention and holding his client's conviction to be illegal. That night Gottlieb and I, sitting in his office, shook our sides with laughter at the idea of having hoodwinked the greatest court in the State into a solemn opinion that a rogue should not be punished if at the same time he could persuade his victim to try to be a rogue also! But there it was in cold print. They had followed my reasoning absolutely and even adopted as their own some of the language used in my brief. Does any one of my readers doubt me, let him read the report of a like case in the forty-sixth volume of the reports of the Court of Appeals of New York, at page four hundred and seventy.
Said the Court: "The prosecutor"—Jones—"parted with his property as an inducement to a supposed officer to violate the law and his duties; and if in attempting to do this he has been defrauded the law will not punish his confederate, although such confederate may have been instrumental in inducing the commission of the offence. Neither the law nor public policy designs the protection of rogues in their dealings with each other, or to insure fair dealing and truthfulness, as between each other, in their dishonest practices." (This sentence had been in my brief.) "The design of the law is to protect those who, for some honest purpose, are induced upon false and fraudulent representations to give credit or part with their property to another, and not to protect those who, for unworthy or illegal purposes, part with their goods."
"Why, Quib," quoth Gottlieb, "you are the discoverer of a new legal principle. You will inaugurate a new field of human activity. Generations yet unborn will profit by your ingenuity. From now on every rascal in the land will set his wits to work trying to bring his schemes within the scope of this beneficent opinion."
"Indeed," I replied, "however fine it may be for McDuff, I can easily see that I have unloosed as many troubles as ever flew out of Pandora's Box."
"Yes—but to our profit," he retorted, with a grin. "Don't forget that. The inventors will all come flocking straight to us to get them out of their difficulties—you may be sure of it!"
"'Tis extraordinary," I said, "what a multitude of opportunities this new principle enunciated by the Court of Appeals affords to a man of an inventive turn of mind. As I take it, all one has to do is to induce another man to part with his money in the belief that he is going to take a sharp advantage of some one else. For example, let us suppose that I go to some person and falsely tell him that I have a client serving a term in Sing Sing for burglary who has confided to me the whereabouts of the secret hiding-place of his loot. All that is necessary is some one to put up sufficient money to cover the expense of transportation and excavation—and it can be divided between us. For this purpose he intrusts me with several hundred dollars, with which I make off. I have stolen the money fast enough, but I can never be punished for it."
"Exactly!" exclaimed my partner. "And here is another idea that is well calculated to appeal to almost anybody. It has just occurred to me quite involuntarily while you were speaking. Many of our clients want to know if they cannot send the judge, who is trying the case, a present of some sort, or maybe loan him a little money; and it is always distressing to be obliged to tell them—usually— that it is quite out of the question; that it would only get them into trouble. Of course, occasionally we let them send the judge a box of cigars, but always with the compliments of our adversary —never our own. Now this shows how readily persons who are mixed up in lawsuits or other difficulties would be ready to put up their money if they supposed the judge were going to get it. All you need is some unscrupulous fellow to go up to one of our clients and mention the fact that he is the judge's brother-in-law and is in dearth of ready money. Can't you see the client digging up the needful? He'd be stuffing it down our friend's pockets before he got through speaking; and the whole thing could be done quite openly, you observe, because, even if the client found out later that he had made a mistake, the law would not help him."
"An excellent illustration," I answered, "of the uses to which a legal decision may be put."
"Indeed, though," continued Gottlieb, "the scheme need by no means by as raw as all that. It is enough if there be merely an immoral or improper motive that induces the victim to part with his money. For example, if he but thinks that he can do a sharp trick to some one else. Let us suppose that I pretend to have secret information to the effect that certain property is really much more valuable than the owner supposes it to be. I propose to another that—if he will put up the money for that purpose—we shall buy the property, leading the owner to suppose he is getting full value for it. Now, if, to induce the latter to make the sale, it is agreed between us that we make false or misleading statements as to the real value of the property I do not see but that I would be perfectly safe."
"Safe?" I queried. "I don't understand. You would have bought the property, that is all."
"My dear Quib," returned my partner, "you seem singularly dull this evening for one of your brilliant parts. The point is that the property really isn't worth anything. I am in cahoots with the man who sells it; and we divide even!"
"Yes," I answered; "a dozen similar schemes could be worked like that."
"A dozen!" cried Gottlieb, bounding enthusiastically out of his chair and commencing to stalk up and down the room. "A hundred! Why, there are endless ways in which it can be worked—and I know the man to work them too!"
"Eh!" I exclaimed.
"I mean, who will undoubtedly avail himself of some of them," he corrected himself. "Take this case: It is a crime under the law to give back or rebate part of the premium on a life insurance policy. Now many a man could be induced to insure his life if he could get back the first year's premium. All you have got to do is to tell him that you are an insurance agent and will give it back—and then put the money in your own pocket, for he will have given you the premium for an illegal purpose—that is to say, with the idea of having it paid back to him contrary to law. Under the decision he will have no chance to get you arrested."
"Never say that you are not a man of ingenuity yourself," said I.
I bade my partner good-night and walked slowly homeward meditating upon the wonders of the law, but totally unconscious of what a harvest was to be reaped from the seed I had sown so innocently.
It was but a short time after this that, happening to enter the office somewhat unexpectedly one evening, I discovered Gottlieb in animated conversation with a stockily built man of about forty years of age, whose coal-black hair—by far his most conspicuous feature—had been suffered to grow quite long and was parted evenly in the middle, so that it gave him somewhat the appearance of the hooded seal that was then on exhibition at P. T. Barnum's museum. He had a good-humored face, jet-black eyes, and a familiar, easy way with him that put one on a friendly footing at once.
"Hello! Quib!" exclaimed my partner. "I want you to meet my friend, Charlie Billington."
"Delighted to meet you, Mister Quibble," cried the stranger, grasping my hand. "Our friend Gottlieb knows me almost better than I know myself—eh, Gottie? Between us we have turned many a trick."
"You mean that I have pulled you out of many a bad hole," retorted Gottlieb.
"As you please," answered Billington good-temperedly. "But in any event you are a splendid fellow at all times—and especially in times of need."
"May I inquire your business, Mr. Billington?" I asked, curious to identify my new acquaintance.
Billington winked at Gottlieb.
"How would you describe it, Mr. Lawyer?" said he.
Gottlieb laughed and shifted his cigar.
"Our friend Charlie lives by his brains," he replied. "He is an inventor, a promoter, an artist. He has earned many a small fortune by the simple use of a postage stamp. He can extract gold from seawater or silver from pineapples. Incidentally, he is of a scientific turn of mind and can rattle off the Morse alphabet as deftly as any operator in the business. Occasionally he has, in the interest of finance, tapped a wire."
"Tapped a wire!" Instantly I regarded Billington with a new interest. So at last I had met one of those famous gentry of whom I had so often heard!
"Never again, I fancy!" laughed Charlie. "My friend, you have saved a lot of poor devils a deal of trouble. From this time on none of us will ever need to tap wires. After this we shall only pretend to tap 'em."
"How so?" I inquired, dropping into a near-by chair.
"Why, under the new law," responded Billington—"the law of which, I may say, you are the creator—we shall only have to induce some innocent countryman to believe that he has heard the result of a horse-race being sent over the wire in advance of the pool rooms, and persuade him to turn over his roll for the purpose of betting it on a horse that is presumably already cooling off in the paddock and we can keep his money, for he has parted with it for an illegal or an inimical purpose—to wit, cheating the bookies."
"Not with my sanction!" I retorted, somewhat aghast at the idea of having paved a broad and easy path for the way of criminals.
"Tut, tut, Quib!" said Gottlieb. "You have nothing to do with what use our friend here sees fit to put your law to. I have never yet advised any man how to do an illegal thing. The most I have ever done has been to show some of my clients how to do in a perfectly legal manner that which had heretofore been unlawful."
"Yea, Gottlieb," remarked Billington. "And many things that before were accounted faults have now, thanks to you, become virtues."
After Billington bade us good-night, Gottlieb said to me:
"Quib, the more I think of it, the more astonishing is the result of this new doctrine of yours that has been sanctified by the Court of Appeals. I do not for the life of me see how a seller of 'green goods' can be prosecuted. The countryman comes to the city for the purpose of buying counterfeit money at a ridiculously low figure. He puts up his money and gets a package of blank paper with a genuine one-dollar bill on top of it. What good will it do him to appeal to the police? Has he not parted with his money avowedly for a most wicked purpose—that of uttering counterfeit bills?"
"I quite agree with you," I answered. "There seems to be no escape from your result; and I, for one, do not see what is to prevent New York from becoming the Mecca of all the thieves and rogues in the country."
And such, indeed, it became. From this time on, until very recently, the metropolis was the stamping ground of all the rogues who could not earn a dishonest living elsewhere. With our friend Charles as their sponsor, there sprang into being herds of "sick engineers," fake "wire-tappers," "green-goods" swindlers, and confidence men of all sorts, who flourished safely under the protection of the decision of the Court of Appeals in McDuff's case.
It was but shortly after this that one of Billington's friends found himself in the toils of the police for having pretended to sell a package of "green goods" to a yokel from the rural part of the State. Charlie at once engaged me to defend him, asserting that as I was responsible for the law it was my duty to apply it for the benefit of our clients. So once again I entered the arena in behalf of a principle that at heart I believed to be vicious and even absurd, and once again, to my surprise and the delight of my new clients, I triumphed. The Appellate Division reversed the conviction that had followed the arrest and discharged the prisoner, asserting that there was no longer any authority for holding him if the McDuff case was to be taken as law.
Thus it was, by such unconscious steps, that I, the only son of a clergyman, found myself—willy-nilly—a leader of the criminal bar. Yet at no time during my career would I have exchanged places with my honored parent or even with Mr. Tuckerman Toddleham, of Barristers' Hall, Boston.
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 constitutional 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 amusement 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 button 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 space 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 bumpkin for anything else, and he found that nobody 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 documents. "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 brass 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 brass railing. In another instant horny 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 assailant 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.
Finally, having learned through a clerk in the banker's office with whom he had cultivated an acquaintance that Mr. Morgan H. Rogers was going to Boston at a certain hour that very afternoon, he donned his best funeral suit and boarded the same train himself. As he passed through the drawing-room car he bowed to the great man, who returned his greeting with the shortness characteristic of him, and passed on to the smoker, where he ensconced himself in a chair near the door, depositing on the seat next to him a pile of magazines and his coat. Half an hour passed and the car filled up, save for the seat next the young lawyer. Presently the bulky form of Morgan H. Rogers filled the door-way. He already had a black unlit cigar in his mouth and he scanned the rows of seats with ill-concealed disappointment. Then his eye caught the one occupied by our friend's coat.
"Let me have this seat!" said he abruptly.
"Oh, how are you, Mr. Rogers!" exclaimed the young lawyer. "Certainly! Let me give you a light."
"Your name's Baldwin, isn't it?" inquired the banker as he took up a magazine. "Saw you about that trust matter last week, didn't I?"
"Yes," answered Baldwin. "Nothing has occurred in connection with it since then."
And he returned to his paper without paying any further attention to his companion. At Bridgeport a telegraph boy rushed into the car and yelled: "Baldwin! Mr. Baldwin!"
Mr. Baldwin held out his hand, in which lay half a dollar, and without much apparent interest opened the envelope and scanned its contents.
"H'm!" he remarked, half inwardly, and thrust the paper into his pocket.
At New Haven another boy boarded the train, calling anxiously for Everitt P. Baldwin—this time there were two telegrams; and just as the train pulled out a third arrived.
Mr. Baldwin read them all with the keenest interest and could hardly conceal an exclamation of satisfaction; but the magnate gave no sign. At New London there was another flurry and, in spite of himself, Mr. Baldwin slapped his knee and muttered: "Good enough!"
As the train started again Morgan H. Rogers let fall his magazine and growled half-facetiously:
"What the devil are all those telegrams about?"
"Just a little injunction suit," the young man answered modestly, "in which my firm has been quite successful." And, without giving any names—for, indeed, there were none—he sketched rapidly a hypothetical situation of the greatest legal delicacy, in which he had tied up an imaginary railroad system with an injunction, supposedly just made permanent. Morgan H. Rogers became interested and offered Mr. Baldwin a remarkably big cigar. He had been having a few troubles of his own of a similar character. In a few moments the two were deep in the problems of one of the financier's own transcontinental lines and a week later Baldwin was on Rogers' regular staff of railroad attorneys.
It is pleasant to reflect upon such happy incidents in the history of a profession that probably offers more difficulties to the beginner than any other. Yet the very obstacles to success in it are apt to develop an intellectual agility and a flexibility of morals which, in the long run, may well lead not only to fortune, but to fame—of one sort or another. I recall an incident in my own career, upon my ingenuity in which, for a time, I looked back with considerable professional pride, until I found it a common practice among my elders and contemporaries of the criminal and even of the civil bar.
It so happened that I had an elderly client of such an exceedingly irascible disposition that he was always taking offence at imaginary insults and was ready to enter into litigation of the fiercest character at the slightest excuse. Now, though he was often in the right, he was nevertheless frequently in the wrong—and equally unreasonable in either case. He was turned over to me in despair by another and older attorney, who could do nothing with him and wished me joy in my undertaking. I soon found that the old gentleman's guiding principle was "Millions for defence, but not one cent for tribute." In other words, as he always believed himself to have been imposed upon, he litigated almost every bill that was presented to him, with the result that three times out of five judgment was given against him. He had himself studied for the bar and had a natural fondness for technicalities; and he was quite ready to pay handsomely any one he believed to be zealously guarding his interests.
He was, at the time I became acquainted with him, nearly seventy years of age and his chief diversion was to sit in my office and harangue me upon his grievances. Being a sort of sea-lawyer himself he was forever devising quaint defences and strange reasons why he should not pay his creditors; and he was ever ready to spend a hundred dollars in lawyers' fees in order to save fifty. This is the most desirable variety of client a lawyer can have.
One trifling weakness, common to mankind in general, gave him much encouragement; for he soon discovered that, rather than incur the trouble of hiring lawyers and going to court, his creditors would usually compound with him for considerably less than their just claims. This happened so frequently that he almost never paid a bill in the first instance, with the natural result that those who had sent him honest bills before, after one or two experiences with him, made it a practice to add thirty per cent. or so to the total, in order that they might later on gracefully reduce their demands without loss. Thus my client, by his peevishness, actually created the very condition regarding which, out of an overactive imagination, he had complained originally without just cause.
It so happened that the first matter in which he required my services was a dispute over a tailor's bill that he regarded as excessive. He had ordered a pair of trousers without inquiring the price and was shocked to discover that he had been charged three dollars more than for his last pair. The tailor explained at great length that the first had been summer weight and that these were winter weight; but to no purpose.
"You think you can take advantage of me because I'm an old man!" he shrieked in rage. "But you'll find out. Just wait until I see my lawyer!"
So down he came to my office and fumed and chattered for an hour or more about the extra three dollars on his trousers. If he had been less abusive the tailor might have overlooked the matter; but even a tailor has a soul, and this time the man swore to have the law on his cantankerous customer.
"Fight to the last ditch!" shouted the old man. "Don't yield an inch!"
A day or two later the tailor served my client, whose name was Wimbleton, with a summons and complaint; and I was forced to put in an answer, in which I took issue upon the reasonable value of the trousers. By the time I had drawn the papers and listened to my client's detailed history of the transaction, as well as his picturesque denunciation of his opponent, I had already put in about a hundred dollars' worth of my time without any prospect of a return. I knew that if the case were tried it would mean a day lost for myself and a judgment against my client. The old fellow had a large amount of property, however, and I was willing to take a loss if it meant future business. Yet the time involved and the trifling character of the suit annoyed me and I resolved to take it upon myself to settle the matter over my client's head.
On my way home I stopped in at the tailor's and told him to take his three dollars and discontinue his action, which he was glad enough to do. The next day I wrote Mr. Wimbleton that I had forced his enemy to capitulate—horse, foot, and dragoons—and that the suit had been withdrawn. My embarrassment may be imagined when my client arrived at the office in a state of delirious excitement and insisted not only on inviting me to dinner, but on paying me fifty dollars for services in giving him the satisfaction of beating the tailor. Instantly I saw a means of entirely satisfying the old man and earning some good fees without the slightest exertion.
The same method—although for another purpose—will be recalled by my readers as having been invoked by the unjust steward who called his lord's debtors to him and inquired how much they owed. One, if I remember correctly, said a hundred measures of oil.
"Take thy bill," said the steward, "and sit down quickly, and write fifty."
Another, who confessed to owing a hundred measures of wheat, the steward let off with eighty. On discovering what he had done his lord commended him for having done wisely, on the ground that the children of this world were wiser than the children of light.
Thus, it will be observed, my early Biblical training stood me in practical stead; and the only difference between the unjust steward and myself lay in the manner in which we were each eventually treated by our respective masters. Indeed, I found this Scriptural scheme so profitable and effective that soon my client swore I was the cleverest lawyer he had ever employed.
Some one would commence a suit against him for damages for breach of contract amounting to a couple of thousand dollars, where he thought he ought to pay only fifteen hundred, but where he really had no defense. I would file an elaborate answer setting up all sorts of defences, move for an examination of the plaintiff and of his books and papers, secure a bill of particulars and go through all sorts of legal hocus-pocus to show how bitterly I was contesting the case as a matter of principle. Before the action came to trial, however, I would settle it for one thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars, telling my client that we had brought the other side to his terms, and charge him seven hundred and fifty dollars for my services—thus netting five hundred dollars in fees.
Often, when the amount sued for was small—say, fifty or one hundred dollars—and where my client had absolutely declined to pay anything, I paid the claim in full, simply for the satisfaction of leading him to believe that he had been successful in resisting what he regarded as an unjust or excessive demand.
This went on for several years, until, quite by chance, one of his creditors, with whom I had settled over his head, either out of forgetfulness or an evil wish to do me a bad turn, wrote him a letter thanking him for his generosity. The next day he appeared, purple with rage, and for some unaccountable reason, instead of "commending" me, denounced me for a shyster. And this in spite of the undoubted fact that my pacific methods had probably saved him hundreds of dollars!
It was about this time that Gottlieb devised a truly brilliant scheme, which had to commend it the highly desirable quality of being absolutely safe.
There is a very wise provision of our law to the effect that, where a wife desires to bring an action against her husband for divorce and is without means for the purpose, the courts will allow her a counsel fee and alimony pendente lite. The counsel fee is to enable her to pay a lawyer and prepare for trial, and the amount usually varies from one hundred to one thousand dollars.
One morning my partner came grinning into my office and showed me a very soiled and wrinkled paper.
"What d'ye think of that?" he laughed.
The document, which turned out to be an affidavit executed in Chicago, read as follows:
"STATE OF ILLINOIS ) "COOK COUNTY, CITY OF CHICAGO ) ss.
"LIZZIE YARNOWSKI, being duly sworn, deposes and says that she is over twenty-one years of age and engaged in the employment of making artificial flowers; that in the year 1881 the defendant induced her to leave her home in New York and journey with him in the West under a promise of marriage, representing himself to be a traveling salesman employed by a manufacturer of soda fountains; that they were married on July 5, 1881, in the town of Piqua, Ohio, by a justice of the peace under the names of Sadie Bings and Joshua Blank, and by a rabbi in Chicago on August 17, 1881; that two weeks thereafter defendant deserted plaintiff and has never since contributed toward her support, and that she has since learned that the defendant is a banker and a broker, doing business on Wall Street in the city of New York."
The affidavit then went on to state that the defendant had given the plaintiff good grounds for seeking for a divorce and that she was without means to engage counsel or prepare for trial. The contents of the paper was skilfully worded so as to convey the impression that the deponent was a woman of somewhat doubtful character herself, but that on the other hand she had been tricked by the defendant into a secret—and what he intended to be a temporary—marriage. Attached thereto was another affidavit from the justice of the peace to the effect that on the date in question he had united in the holy bonds of matrimony a man and a woman who had given the names of Sadie Bings and Joshua Blank.
"Well, Gottlieb," said I, "this is interesting reading, whether it be fact or fiction; but what is its significance to us?"
"Why," answered my associate, "these are the papers I propose to use on a motion for counsel fee and alimony in a divorce action brought against Mr. Chester Gates, a broker downtown—and, I may add, a very rich and respectable young gentleman. Of course, I have no personal knowledge of the matter, as the case has been sent to us by one of our legal friends in Chicago; but I am quite sure that the court will grant me a counsel fee in order to enable the poor woman to prepare her case and bring it to trial."
"But," I replied, "we have made just such applications a thousand times before, have we not?"
Gottlieb gave me one of his long, slow winks.
"Not just like this," said he, and went back into his room, while I pondered on what I had read.
A few days later Gottlieb served the complaint in an action for absolute divorce upon Mr. Chester Gates, to the young man's great indignation and annoyance; and shortly thereafter a very respectable and prosperous old family lawyer called upon us to explain that the whole matter was a mistake and that his client had never, never been married, and knew no Miss Lizzie Yarnowski, either as Sadie Bings or under any other name.
Gottlieb and I treated him with the greatest deference, explaining that we had no option but to go on with the matter, as we were only acting for our Chicago correspondent. At this the old lawyer grew very indignant and muttered something under his breath about perjury and blackmail, to which, however, neither Gottlieb nor I paid any attention. A week or so later we made our motion for alimony and counsel fee pendente lite, and in spite of the vehement affidavit of Chester Gates, Esquire, that he had never seen or heard of the plaintiff nor been married to anybody in his life, the court granted us two hundred and fifty dollars as counsel fee.
This was made payable at our office, as the attorneys for plaintiff; and a day or two later Mr. Gates himself called and asked to see us. He was a rosy-cheeked, athletic young fellow, who could, I fancy, have knocked both our heads together had he chosen to do so.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen," said he, closing the door and seating himself at Gottlieb's invitation. This is a very interesting experience you are putting me through. I am made the defendant in a divorce action and ordered to pay you two hundred and fifty dollars on affidavits that I know are perjured from start to finish. Well, if that's law I have nothing to say. Of course, you can't win your case, because you can't prove that I ever married anybody —which latter fact, of course, you very well know. I would never pay you a cent to settle this or any other unfounded suit, and I never did anything for which you or any other scoun—beg pardon, I mean lawyer—could blackmail me. But this is a new one on me. You have got a court order that I am to pay you two hundred and fifty dollars to bring a bogus action against myself. Well, here's my check for it. I congratulate you. Now, I'm amused to see what you're going to do next. I want to get something for may money."
Gottlieb took the check and rang a bell for the office boy.
"Take this over to the bank and cash it," he directed. "That's the first thing I'm going to do," turning to Gates. "The next is this." He opened the top drawer of his desk and took out a legal paper. "Here," said he, "is a discontinuance of the action, which I received this morning from Chicago. I suppose you have no objection to having the matter disposed of in that way? You'll take it?"
Mr. Gates looked at him for a moment and then burst out laughing.
"By George!" he exclaimed. "Take it? Of course I'll take it. I have no particular desire to go on with the litigation, I assure you. I fully expected to be adjudged the father of a large family of little Yarnowskis. But, now that the matter is settled, would you mind telling me who the lady really is?"
Gottlieb looked at him very solemnly and, to my horror, gave an imperceptible wink.
"All I can tell you, sir," he replied, "is that her name is Lizzie Yarnowski, and that you married her under the name of Sadie Bings before a justice of the peace at Piqua, Ohio."
At one time Gottlieb and I represented a very objectionable old party who ran a scurrilous "society" paper, chiefly for the opportunity it gave him to blackmail people. His method was the very simple one of publishing some unfounded scandal without using any names, and then to print a paragraph immediately following in which the real names of the parties appeared, ostensibly with relation to some other item of news:
"It is a well-known fact that a certain young society couple, both of whom have, to say the least, led rather lurid lives, are no longer on good terms and are carrying on—sub rosa—independent establishments. Mr. —— prefers the upper West Side, while Mrs. —— has a tidy little Louis XVI flat on Eleventh Street. Incidentally the family mansion remains at —— Fifth Avenue.
"Mr. and Mrs. Kopeck Louis d'Or Jones are not going to Newport this summer. There is a persistent rumor that Mrs. Jones will remain with her mother on the Hudson, while her husband's plans are quite indefinite."
In point of fact it was Gottlieb who had invented this neat method of publishing scandal without any of the usual attendant risks. Generally what would happen would be that the day after the issuing of the number in which the objectionable article had appeared, Mr. Kopeck Louis d'Or Jones would call up the white-haired editor of Social Sifting on the telephone and tell him that he proposed to sue him for libel unless he printed an immediate retraction. Our client would thereupon refer him to Gottlieb, who would explain to Mr. Jones that the libel in question had no reference to him whatsoever; that he could hardly expect favorable items to appear about him unless he took a financial interest in the paper; and end by offering to negotiate a purchase for him of some of the stock. In many instances the injured parties would instantly take this means of insuring that no further publications of such a character should appear. The stock usually cost about ten thousand dollars, which went into the pocket of the "General," as he was called; and from that time on none but the most pleasing reflections could be found in the columns of his paper in regard to its new stockholder.
Unfortunately for all parties, however, the "General" took exception to the size of one of our bills and we parted with mutual recriminations, although he had paid us many thousands of dollars in fees and we had saved him many more in judgments. He still owed us a large sum of money, but Gottlieb had tied up his property in such a fashion that the old fellow was judgment-proof. He was thus able to snap his fingers in our faces, a fact that naturally intensified our hard feelings against him. We cherished our anger until an appropriate occasion should present itself for getting even with him, which occurred sooner than any of us, least of all the "General," expected.
It so happened that one of the victims, having failed to "come across" substantially enough, discovered very shortly another libelous paragraph, which reflected very seriously upon his young and attractive wife; and as it was pretty generally known at the time that the "General" and ourselves had parted company, the husband forthwith came to us for advice.
"Of course," said he ruefully, "I can't thrash a white-haired villain who is old enough to be my grandfather, even if I could get to him, which is unlikely. You know he has an inner office 'way off from the rest and sneaks in and out, up and down the back stairs. A suit for libel wouldn't do any good and the publicity would hurt more than the satisfaction I might get out of a verdict. But vengeance I'll have—at any cost. How can I get it?"
Gottlieb pondered the matter for several days and at last sent for his new client, at the same time making an appointment at our office with a well-known feather-weight prize-fighter.
"If you will leave this matter to me I'll guarantee—for a thousand dollars—that the 'General' shall receive as severe a pounding as his old carcass can stand."
The client joyfully wrote out a check to our order and an hour later Hennessey, the celebrated bantam, arrayed in the uniform of an overgrown messenger boy, called with a letter at the "General's" office and asked to see him. He had, he insisted, orders to deliver the letter into nobody's hands but those of the "General" himself, and on this pretext in due course found himself, after being led through a labyrinth of passages and stairs, in the presence of our ex-client.
"Are you General ——?" he inquired.
"That's my name," answered the "General."
"I've got a letter for yous," continued the bantam, fumbling in his cap and producing two letters, one of which he handed over.
The "General" took it and his eye glinted for he perceived that it was addressed to a very well-known member of society whose escapades were notorious. Quickly he ran his penknife through the tongue of the envelope.
"Hold on, there!" suddenly cried Hennessey. "I've give yous the wrong letter. Here's yours. That one is for Mr. ——. Gimme it back!"
"One moment, my boy!" replied the "General," hastily tearing open the envelope. "Just one moment."
"Don't you take out dat letter! It ain't fer yous!" expostulated the messenger. "Here's your letter."
But the "General," with watering mouth, was already feverishly devouring a violet-colored note beginning, "Darling Guy," his bulbous nose close to the paper and scenting scandal in every line —that is, he devoured it until, quite unexpectedly, the bantam squared off and proceeded to hand him a few "upper cuts," "hooks," and straight leads from the shoulder, until the scandalmonger howled for mercy. But the bantam had his instructions.
"No!" says he. Bing! "I'll teach you to read other people's letters!" Bing! "I'll show yous what yous'll get if yous violates de United States mail—see?" Bing! "Read Mr. ——'s letter, will yous?" Bing! "Not wit' me here—see?" Bing! Bing! "You white- haired old son of a printing-press!"
Hennessey's description, on his return to the office, of the "General's" appearance at the conclusion of his drubbing was eminently satisfactory; and he forthwith exchanged his messenger's uniform for his Broadway regalia and a crisp one-hundred dollar bill. That is the only time, so far as I ever learned, that the "General" ever got his real deserts; but I am glad that he did, for once. And the sight of his red nose—somehow it looks redder now than it used to—invariably fills me with satisfaction.
Quite naturally our firm attracted a number of strange wastrels in the way of clients, all of whom were picturesque and many of them profitable. Among these was a gentleman known as the "Human Dog," who frequented the main thoroughfares during the crowded hours and simulated the performances of a starving animal with a verisimilitude that I believe to have been unsurpassed in the annals of beggary. He would go on all fours snuffling along the gutters for food and when he came to a morsel of offal he would fall upon it and devour it ravenously. If he found nothing he would whine and sit on his hind legs—so to speak—on the curb, with an imploring look on his hairy face. If a police officer approached the "Human Dog" would immediately roll over on his back, with his legs in the air, and yelp piteously; in fact, he combined the "lay" of insanity with that of starvation in a most ingenious and skilful manner. He was a familiar sight and a bugbear to the police, who were constantly arresting him; but, as he never asked for money, they had great difficulty in doing anything with him. Usually the magistrate sent him to the "Island," for thirty days and then Gottlieb would get him out on a writ of habeas corpus. Some of these writs attracted the attention of the bar and several appear in the reports. I am under the impression that we secured his release some twenty-nine separate times. At last he died in a fit of apoplexy caused by overeating; and when we administered his estate we found that he had already laid by, in a comparatively brief career, the very creditable sum of forty-one thousand dollars.
The "Human Dog" was but a clever variation of the "Crust-Thrower" —the beggar who tosses a dirty crust of bread into the gutter when no one is looking and then falls upon it with a cry of fierce joy. These "crust-throwers" have plied their trade for over six hundred years and were known in England and Flanders long before the discovery of America. Gottlieb was very shrewd at devising schemes that came just within the law and used to amuse himself by so doing in his leisure moments. One of the best—the idea which he sold for three hundred dollars and which is still being used in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere—is the following:
An old man, with a square of plate glass in a newspaper and a bundle of glass-cutter's tools by his side is seen sitting dejectedly on a curb with his head in his hands. He has no coat and the icy wind blows through his straggling locks of gray hair—a pathetic picture. He seems utterly discouraged, but no word of complaint passes his lips. Presently a well-dressed woman approaches and her pity is instantly aroused. She accosts him, and the aged one informs her in a faint voice that he works in Harlem and has been sent by his boss to set a pane of glass on Varick Street; but not knowing exactly where Varick Street is, he has got off the elevated at Fifty-ninth Street and finds that he is still several miles from his destination. What woman, unless she had a heart of granite, would not be moved by such a tale! She opens her purse and pours its contents into his lap; for it is a psychological truth that, if you can once get a woman up to the point of giving anything, she will give all that she has. How often have I seen these old men—the children of Gottlieb's brain—sitting patiently and silently on the streets! And how often have they paid us handsome fees to get them out of the "jug"!
In this catalogue of clients I must not forget "Banana Anna," who recently, I am sad to say, met her Waterloo. Anna was a lady so peculiarly gifted by the Almighty that she was able at will to simulate a very severe physical mishap. I shall not describe with any greater degree of particularity what her precise affliction was, save to say that if genuine it would have entitled her to the sympathy and generosity of mankind. It was the kind of thing that might easily result from a fall; but which, in fact, under ordinary circumstances gave her no inconvenience whatever.
Anna would conceal a bit of banana peel in her muff and, dropping in upon a station platform, would put her heel upon it and fall prostrate, uttering a groan of pain. The guard would come hastily to her assistance and find, to his horror, a woman with every mark of respectability suffering terrible agony from a condition obviously the result of a fall caused by a bit of banana skin carelessly left lying upon the premises. An ambulance would be summoned, but she would insist upon being taken to her own home—an imposing mansion —and calling her own physician. In due course the railroad would send its doctor, who would report that her condition was serious; and, as the leaving of a banana peel upon a public platform is in its very nature "negligent," the company's lawyer would recommend settlement. Thus "Banana Anna" was able to live in comfort if not in luxury; and an infirmity that might under other circumstances have been a curse became, in fact, a blessing. Of course she took a new name and hired—temporarily—a new residence for each accident; but, as she moved from city to city, she was able to keep up the same old ruse for years.
Perhaps our most interesting client was the one who made his living by supplying "to the trade" all kinds of corporate bonds and certificates of stock. Some of these bonds had originally been issued by corporations in good standing, but had been exchanged, cancelled, outlawed, or in some other way had become valueless. How our client secured them I never discovered. He also dealt in the repudiated bonds of Southern cities and States, which can be purchased for practically nothing almost everywhere.
His principal line of goods, however, was the bonds of companies that he incorporated himself and disposed of at cut rates to a clientele all his own. These companies all bore impressive names, such as Tennessee Gas, Heat, and Power Company, the Mercedes-Panard- Charon Motor Vehicle Supply Company, the Nevada Coal, Coke, Iron, and Bi-product Company, the Chicago Banking and Securities Company, the Southern Georgia Land and Fruit Company, and so on. He had an impressive office in a marble-fronted building on Wall Street, doors covered with green baize inside and gold lettering outside, and he wore a tall hat and patent-leather shoes. He also had a force of several young lady stenographers and clerks, who acted as the officers and directors of his various concerns, all of which were legally incorporated under the laws of West Virginia and New Jersey. His clients were the gilt-edged "con" men of Wall and Nassau Streets, who, when they needed them, could purchase a couple of hundred engraved one-thousand-dollar bonds of imposing appearance, in a real corporation, for a few hundred dollars in cash.
Our client did not act as an officer of these himself, but merely took a power of attorney from the president, secretary, and treasurer, authorizing him to sign their names to these bond issues. Yet no one ever saw these officers, all of whom had names connotative of wealth and financial responsibility. The Gates, Morgan, Rogers, and other families multiplied and brought forth at the mere wave of his pen. If you wished a half-million bond issue you simply called him up on the telephone and some "Light and Power Company" would hold a directors' meeting and vote a fifty-year debenture gold seven-per-cent security that you could peddle around at fifty- eight and one-eighth to unsuspecting investors, so as to net them merely thirteen per cent. on their money—when they got it. You could buy a million in these bonds for about three hundred and seventy-five dollars and fifty cents; but they were real bonds in real companies and legally issued against some form of property, even if it had no market value. Sometimes, I am told, these securities paid interest for a year or so, and the suckers got their friends in while there were a few left—bonds, I mean—there are always suckers.
Like other egoists, our client became careless as time went on and one day took it upon himself to issue a few hundred bonds in a company without holding a directors' meeting. He should not be severely blamed for neglecting a detail of this sort when he was so well aware of its purely formal if not farcical character. Still, it was one of those little slips that even the most careful of us will sometimes make, and the district-attorney took an underhand advantage of our friend and indicted him for forging the names of the officers of the company to an unauthorized issue of bonds. Gottlieb and I had, perforce, to defend him; but, unfortunately, his real defence would have been even worse than the charge. He could not say that there was no real company and that there were no such human beings as the persons whose names he had written across the back of the bonds in question.
Poor fellow! He was an absolutely innocent man. Yet he went to Sing Sing for seven years for committing no crime at all. How could he forge the names of persons who did not exist? However, he had invented these financial Frankensteins and they finally overwhelmed him. Somewhere lying around I have my share of the fee in this case—I forget just where. It consists of fourteen millions in the securities of the National Mortgage and Security Company of Jampole, Mississippi.
The fear that most people have of the criminal law has its origin in their ignorance of it. They are, luckily, most of them unfamiliar with bailiffs and constables, except at a distance. The gruff voice of authority has echoed but dimly for them. They have heard of the "third degree," "the cooler," "the sweat-box," and "the bracelets," yet they have never seen the inside of a station-house; and their knowledge of jails, if they have any at all, is derived from reading in their childhood of the miraculous escapes of Baron Trenck or the Fall of the Bastille. They picture officers of the law as human bulldogs, with undershot, foam-dripping jaws and bloodshot eyes. The bourne—from which so many travellers never return—bounded by the criminal statutes, is a terra incognita to the average citizen. A bailiff with a warrant for his arrest would cause his instant collapse and a message that "all was discovered" would—exactly as in the popular saw—lead him to flee at once.
Upon this dread of the unknown the criminal attorney plays whenever possible. It is his strongest asset, his stock in trade. The civil lawyer, vaguely believing that there must be a criminal law to cover every obvious wrong, retains him to put the screws on the evil-doer and bring him to terms. The man who has done a dirty business trick—in reality a hundred miles from being a crime— engages the shyster to keep him out of jail. The practical weapon of the criminal lawyer is the warrant of arrest. Just as at civil law any one can bring a groundless suit and subject his enemy to much annoyance and expense, so almost anybody can get almost anybody else arrested. Of course if there is no justification for it a suit for malicious prosecution and false arrest may arise; but most persons who resort to such tactics are "judgment proof" and the civil law has no terrors for them at all. At least fifty persons out of every hundred would gladly pay an unrighteous claim rather than be subjected to the humiliation of arrest, even if their confinement were of the most temporary character.
In New York the right of having the defendant arrested in certain classes of civil cases is a matter of statute. It is a preliminary remedy not half as much availed of as it might be. The young lady who brings a breach-of-promise suit against her faithless follower has the right to put him under arrest and make him give bail; and the young gentleman who would laugh ordinarily at the mere service of papers may well settle her claim if a sheriff whispers in his ear that he has a warrant for his person.