He got up and took a turn or two on the pine-needles. Victoria regarded him in silence. He appeared to her at that moment the embodiment of the power he represented. Force seemed to emanate from him, and she understood more clearly than ever how, from a poor boy on an obscure farm in Truro, he had risen to his present height.
"I don't say the service is what it should be," he went on, "but give me time--give me time. With all this prosperity in the country we can't handle the freight. We haven't got cars enough,, tracks enough, engines enough. I won't go into that with you. But I do expect you to understand this: that politicians are politicians; they have always been corrupt as long as I have known them, and in my opinion they always will be. The Northeastern is the largest property holder in the State, pays the biggest tax, and has the most at stake. The politicians could ruin us in a single session of the Legislature--and what's more, they would do it. We'd have to be paying blackmail all the time to prevent measures that would compel us to go out of business. This is a fact, and not a theory. What little influence I exert politically I have to maintain in order to protect the property of my stockholders from annihilation. It isn't to be supposed," he concluded, "that I'm going to see the State turned over to a man like Humphrey Crewe. I wish to Heaven that this and every other State had a George Washington for governor and a majority of Robert Morrises in the Legislature. If they exist, in these days, the people won't elect 'em--that's all. The kind of man the people will elect, if you let 'em alone, is--a man who brings in a bill and comes to you privately and wants you to buy him off."
"Oh, father," Victoria cried, "I can't believe that of the people I see about here! They seem so kind and honest and high-principled."
"They're dupes, I tell you. They're at the mercy of any political schemer who thinks it worth his while to fool 'em. Take Leith, for instance. There's a man over there who has controlled every office in that town for twenty-five years or more. He buys and sells votes and credentials like cattle. His name is Job Braden."
"Why," said Victoria, I saw him at Humphrey Crewe's garden-party."
"I guess you did," said Mr. Flint, "and I guess Humphrey Crewe saw him before he went."
Victoria was silent, the recollection of the talk between Mr. Tooting and Mr. Crewe running through her mind, and Mr. Tooting's saying that he had done "dirty things" for the Northeastern. She felt that this was something she could not tell her father, nor could she answer his argument with what Tom Gaylord had said. She could not, indeed, answer Mr. Flint's argument at all; the subject, as he had declared, being too vast for her. And moreover, as she well knew, Mr. Flint was a man whom other men could not easily answer; he bore them down, even as he had borne her down. Involuntarily her mind turned to Austen, and she wondered what he had said; she wondered how he would have answered her father--whether he could have answered him. And she knew not what to think. Could it be right, in a position of power and responsibility, to acknowledge evil and deal with it as evil? That was, in effect, the gist of Mr. Flint's contention. She did not know. She had never (strangely enough, she thought) sought before to analyze the ethical side of her father's character. One aspect of him she had shared with her mother, that he was a tower of defence and strength, and that his name alone had often been sufficient to get difficult things done.
Was he right in this? And were his opponents charlatans, or dupes, or idealists who could never be effective? Mr. Crewe wanted an office; Tom Gaylord had a suit against the road, and Austen Vane was going to bring that suit! What did she really know of Austen Vane? But her soul cried out treason at this, and she found herself repeating, with intensity, "I believe in him! I believe in him!" She would have given worlds to have been able to stand up before her father and tell him that Austen would not bring the suit at this time that Austen had not allowed his name to be mentioned for office in this connection, and had spurned Mr. Crewe's advances. But she had not seen Austen since February.