That day Mr. Bolton brought home a stranger to dinner, Mr. Bigler of the great firm of Pennybacker, Bigler & Small, railroad contractors. He was always bringing home somebody, who had a scheme; to build a road, or open a mine, or plant a swamp with cane to grow paper-stock, or found a hospital, or invest in a patent shad-bone separator, or start a college somewhere on the frontier, contiguous to a land speculation.
The Bolton house was a sort of hotel for this kind of people. They were always coming. Ruth had known them from childhood, and she used to say that her father attracted them as naturally as a sugar hogshead does flies. Ruth had an idea that a large portion of the world lived by getting the rest of the world into schemes. Mr. Bolton never could say "no" to any of them, not even, said Ruth again, to the society for stamping oyster shells with scripture texts before they were sold at retail.
Mr. Bigler's plan this time, about which he talked loudly, with his mouth full, all dinner time, was the building of the Tunkhannock, Rattlesnake and Youngwomans-town railroad, which would not only be a great highway to the west, but would open to market inexhaustible coal-fields and untold millions of lumber. The plan of operations was very simple.
"We'll buy the lands," explained he, "on long time, backed by the notes of good men; and then mortgage them for money enough to get the road well on. Then get the towns on the line to issue their bonds for stock, and sell their bonds for enough to complete the road, and partly stock it, especially if we mortgage each section as we complete it. We can then sell the rest of the stock on the prospect of the business of the road through an improved country, and also sell the lands at a big advance, on the strength of the road. All we want," continued Mr. Bigler in his frank manner, "is a few thousand dollars to start the surveys, and arrange things in the legislature. There is some parties will have to be seen, who might make us trouble."
"It will take a good deal of money to start the enterprise," remarked Mr. Bolton, who knew very well what "seeing" a Pennsylvania Legislature meant, but was too polite to tell Mr. Bigler what he thought of him, while he was his guest; "what security would one have for it?"
Mr. Bigler smiled a hard kind of smile, and said, "You'd be inside, Mr. Bolton, and you'd have the first chance in the deal."
This was rather unintelligible to Ruth, who was nevertheless somewhat amused by the study of a type of character she had seen before. At length she interrupted the conversation by asking,
"You'd sell the stock, I suppose, Mr. Bigler, to anybody who was attracted by the prospectus?"
"O, certainly, serve all alike," said Mr. Bigler, now noticing Ruth for the first time, and a little puzzled by the serene, intelligent face that was turned towards him.
"Well, what would become of the poor people who had been led to put their little money into the speculation, when you got out of it and left it half way?"
It would be no more true to say of Mr. Bigler that he was or could be embarrassed, than to say that a brass counterfeit dollar-piece would change color when refused; the question annoyed him a little, in Mr. Bolton's presence.
"Why, yes, Miss, of course, in a great enterprise for the benefit of the community there will little things occur, which, which--and, of course, the poor ought to be looked to; I tell my wife, that the poor must be looked to; if you can tell who are poor--there's so many impostors. And then, there's so many poor in the legislature to be looked after," said the contractor with a sort of a chuckle, "isn't that so, Mr. Bolton?"
Eli Bolton replied that he never had much to do with the legislature.
"Yes," continued this public benefactor, "an uncommon poor lot this year, uncommon. Consequently an expensive lot. The fact is, Mr. Bolton, that the price is raised so high on United States Senator now, that it affects the whole market; you can't get any public improvement through on reasonable terms.