Chapter XLIV
 

Keith immediately moved for a retrial, and began anew his heartbreaking labours in forcing a way to definite action through the thorn thicket of technicalities. At the same time, on his own account, and very secretly, he commenced a search for evidence against the attorneys for the defence. By now he possessed certain private agents of his own whom he considered trustworthy.

Early in his investigations he abandoned hope of getting direct evidence against McDougall himself. That astute lawyer had been careful to have nothing whatever to do with actual bribery or corruption, and he was crafty enough to disassociate himself from direct dealing with agents. Indeed, Keith himself was in some slight doubt as to whether McDougall had any actual detailed knowledge of the underground workings at all. But McDougall's. associates were a different matter. Here, little by little, real evidence began to accumulate, until Keith felt that he could, with reasonable excuse, move for an official investigation. To his genuine grief Calhoun Bennett seemed to be heavily involved. He could not forget that the young Southerner had been one of his earliest friends in the city, nor had he ever tried to forget the real liking he had felt for him. It was not difficult to recognize that according to his code Cal Bennett had merely played the game as the game was played, carrying out zealously the intentions of his superiors, availing himself of time-honoured methods, wholeheartedly fighting for his own side. Yet there could be no doubt that he had made himself criminally liable. Keith brooded much over the situation, but got nowhere, and so resolutely pushed it into the back of his mind in favour of the need of the moment.

But quietly as he conducted his investigations, some rumour of them escaped. One afternoon he received a call from Bennett. The young man was evidently a little embarrassed, but intent on getting at the matter.

"Look heah, Keith," he began, dropping into a chair, and leaning both arms on the table opposite Keith, "I don't want to say anything offensive, or make any disagreeable implications, or insult you by false suspicions, but there are various persistent rumours about, and I thought I'd better come to you direct."

"Fire away, Cal," said Keith.

"Well, it's just this: they do say yo're tryin' to fasten a criminal charge of bribery on me. You and I have been friends--and still are, I hope--but if yo're goin' gunnin' foh me, I want to know it."

His face was slightly flushed, but his fine dark eyes looked hopefully to his friend for denial. Keith was genuinely distressed. He moved an inkwell to and fro, and did not look up; but his voice was steady and determined as he replied:

"I'm not gunning for you, Cal, and I wish to heaven you weren't mixed up in this mess." He looked up. "But I am gunning for crooked work in this Cora case!"

Bennett took his arms from the table, and sat erect.

"Do you mean to imply, suh, that I am guilty of crooked work?" he inquired, a new edge of formality in his voice.

"No, no, of course not!" hastened Keith. "I hadn't thought of you in that connection! I am just looking the whole matter up----"

"Well, suh, I strongly advise you to drop it," interrupted Bennett curtly.

"But why?"

"It isn't ethical. You will find great resentment among yo' colleagues of the bar at the implication conveyed by yo' so-called investigation, suh."

Calhoun Bennett had become stiff and formal. Keith still tried desperately to be reasonable and conciliatory.

"But if there proves to be nothing out of the way," he urged, "surely no one could have anything to fear or object to."

"Nobody has anything to fear in any case," said Bennett, "but any gentleman--and I, most decidedly--would object to the implication."

At this Keith, stiffened a little in his turn.

"I am sorry we differ on that point, I have good reason to believe there has been crooked work somewhere in this Cora trial. I do not know who has done it; I accuse nobody; but in the public office I hold it seems my plain duty to investigate."

"Yo' public duty is to prosecute, that is all," argued Bennett. "It is the duty of the grand jury to investigate or to order investigations."

Here spoke the spirit of the law, for technically Bennett was correct.

"Whatever the rigid interpretation"--Keith found himself uttering heresy-- "I still feel it my duty to deal personally with whatever seems to me unjustly to interfere with, proper convictions." Then he stopped, aghast at the tremendous step he had taken. For to a man trained as was Keith, in a time when all men were created for the law, and not the law for men, in a society where the lawyer was considered the greatest citizen, and subtle technicality paramount to justice or commonsense, this was a tremendous step. At that moment, and by that spontaneous and unconsidered statement, Keith, unknown to himself, passed from one side to the other in the great social struggle that was impending.

"I wa'n you, suh," Bennett was repeating, "yo' course will not meet with the approval of the members of the bar."

"I am sorry, Cal," said Keith sadly.

Bennett rose, bowed stiffly, and turned to the door. But suddenly he whirled back, his face alight with feeling,

"Oh, see heah, Milt, be sensible!" he cried. "I know just how yo're feelin' now. Yo're sore, and I don't blame you. You put ap a hard fight, and though you got licked, I don't mind tellin' you that the whole bar appreciates yo're brilliant work. You must remember you had to play a lone hand against pretty big men--the biggest we've got! We all appreciate the odds. Cora has lots of friends. You'll never convict him, Milt; but go in again for another trial, if it will do yo're feelin's any good, with our best wishes. Only don't let gettin' licked make you so sore! Don't go buttin' yo're haid at yo're friends! Be a spo't!"

A half hour ago this appeal might have gained a response if not a practical effect, but the spiritual transformation in Keith was complete.

"I'm sorry," he replied simply, "but I must go ahead in my own way."

Calhoun Bennett's face lost its glow, and his tall figure stiffened.

"I must wa'n you not to bring my name into this," said he. "I do not intend to have my reputation sacrificed to yo' strait-laced Yankee conscience. If my name is ever mentioned, I shall hold you responsible, personally responsible. You understand, suh?"

He stood stiff and straight, staring at Keith. Keith did not stir. After a moment Calhoun Bennett went out.