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On his way to the house he decided that he could not confide even to Judge Leslie that he had been singled out as likely spoil by the "grafters." No doubt that in a way it was a compliment to his abilities, this early-conceived determination to whisk him out of the reform field and engross his abilities, killing two birds with one stone. Probably he would be approached in a similar manner very often, until he became a definite quantity, and in time would grow accustomed to it; and callous. But at present he was hot and sickened, the more so as he felt that he had received a new impulse to believe in himself. These vast corporations—the railroad, street railways, lighting, and telephone companies, were the ones that dictated to San Francisco, and were supposed to have debauched the Board of Supervisors, all of them small laborers, elevated by the Boss to serve his ends—counted their capital by the millions; in one case, at least, by the hundred million. They had already bought much of the best talent in the country, and they wasted no time on the second-rate. Gwynne could easily guess in whose teeming and orderly brain the scheme to seduce and attach himself had been shaped, and, with the American contempt for the perspicacity of any foreigner, had selected this judge, with his breezy direct tactful manner, as certain to edge the newcomer into the fold. To Gwynne the only saving grace in the whole interview was that he had not been tempted. Had he been he should have felt utterly demoralized, disposed to take himself at the valuation of the business-like unsentimental brains in power.
He found his judge awakening from a nap before his library fire and dusting the crumbs from his beard.
"This is an unexpected pleasure," the old gentleman began, then stopped short. "What is the matter?" he asked, anxiously. "Sit down."
"What does indigenate mean?"
"Why—a purely technical term for citizenship."
"A friend of yours called upon me to-day, on the strength of having known the Otises, and remarked that it was a pity I was ever discharged from my American indigenate."
"That you renounced American citizenship upon coming of age. It is a pity."
"But I remember doing no such thing. I did no such thing. I certainly should remember it."
"You mean that you made no formal act of renunciation of your American birthright, obtained no certificate of British nationality?"
"I did nothing of the sort. It is possible that my father did it for me—"
"Your father could do nothing." Judge Leslie was staring at him. Suddenly he laughed. "You are British! I am almost inclined to believe you hopeless. How did I get the impression that you had formally expatriated yourself? From Isabel, who, no doubt, woman-like, jumped at the conclusion—having known you when you were more British still. And you never brought up the subject—"
"Don't regard me as wholly an idiot. I read the Constitution of the United States half a dozen times while making up my mind to come here, and it is not likely that Article XIV.—'All persons born in the United States, etc., are citizens of the United States, etc.'—escaped me. I consulted my solicitor, and he read me from some chapter on Expatriation, as plainly as may be, that the forfeiture of native citizenship was accomplished not only by a formal act of renunciation, but followed a long severance with the relations of the government under which the person was born, or—acceptance of service under a foreign government. Considering that I had left the United States when I was five weeks old, and had fought and bled for Great Britain, besides serving in her Parliament—where, of course I took my oath of allegiance—and that I had been an Englishman to every possible intent and purpose, even wearing my titles for some weeks, it seemed to me—and to my solicitor—that I would have rather a hard time obtaining an American passport."
The judge nodded. "Quite right. All the same, I can't understand why your father did not bring the question up when you attained your majority, or why you, an ardent Britisher, did not think of it yourself."
"You would understand if you lived among us for a few years. In the first place my being born in the United States was such a mere incident that it was rarely mentioned, and then in the most casual manner. I don't suppose my mother ever volunteered a piece of information in her life, and my father rarely gave a thought to any matter but sport. My grandfather probably disliked the idea—he detested America—at all events he never alluded to the subject, and was far too British to dream that the child of British parents could be other than British were he born in heaven itself. I don't think the matter had entered my mind for ten years, when the subject came up the first night of Isabel's visit to Capheaton—and I stupefied every one by announcing that I had been born in America; but otherwise it made no impression upon them. It is quite possible that had there been any prospect of my becoming the heir, when I reached my majority, some member of the family would have recalled the fact of my birthplace; but Zeal was well then, his wife was bearing children rapidly, there was every reason to suppose she would have half a dozen boys. Do you mean to say that I have never been an Englishman?"
"Oh, you are all right as far as the British law goes. And you were a good and bona fide British subject for thirty years. Don't feel any discouragement on that score."
"Then am I an American citizen? Is there to be no long period of waiting and of comparative inaction?"
"I am not so sure. There is no provision of the Constitution so open to various construction. And none has been so variously construed. I could cite a hundred instances—that is, I could read them to you to-morrow. But I recall two, and they are fair samples. One child, born in the United States, of French parents, returned to France, and after serving his term in the French army wished to become an American citizen, and obtained his passport without difficulty. A full-grown American citizen went to Mexico and fought for Maximilian, and lost not only his own citizenship, but that of his children, who had been born in the United States. There you are, and there you are again, as dear old Dickens would say. But I must think a minute." He transferred his gaze to the coals, and was silent for a few moments.
"There is a pretty strong case on both sides," he resumed, in a musing tone. "You left this country when an infant, you practically forgot it, you entered the service of Great Britain heart and soul, and achieved high distinction. You inherited a title and wore it as a matter of course. For thirty years you never set foot on American soil, nor at any time demanded the protection of the United States, as you might easily have done in your foreign wanderings. There is hardly a doubt that if England had gone to war with us at any time during the last ten years and needed your services you would have given them. However, that contingency did not arise, so let it pass. But with an unsympathetic State Department and an active enemy or two, all the other points cited would make up as clear a case of voluntary expatriation as any on record. But there is a pretty good balance on the other side. You were born in the United States, you did not renounce at any time your allegiance, you have the blood of two Presidents in your veins, and—here is the important point: you have been one of the heaviest tax-payers in California for thirty-two years. Now, as I have intimated, these expatriation cases have all been decided on their individual merits. I should advise you to go at once to Washington, and enlist the influence of the British Ambassador to get you personal and private interviews with the powers that be. Then plead your own case. One of two things will happen. Either there will be much hemming and hawing, and much virtuous and judicial weighing of your peculiar case, article by article, or the President himself will decide one way or another off-hand—he being what he is. For that reason I think it would be well to approach him by degrees, let him digest it a bit. He may be delighted that you have thrown over your titles and your brilliant and promising career to become an American citizen, invite you to take the oath of allegiance forthwith, and order the State Department to issue a passport. On the other hand he may fly off at a tangent and be righteously indignant that a man with the blood of the Otises and Adamses in him, who had the good-fortune to be born on American soil, hesitated a moment after reaching man's estate—more particularly that he never gave the matter a thought. Nothing could be more problematical. I wouldn't bet a twenty-dollar gold piece either way. But, I repeat, you must go yourself. Otherwise the affair would hang on interminably. Moreover, you must tell no one the object of your journey. Tom Colton would pull every wire within his reach, and he is no mean rival, to postpone your admission to citizenship, and so, I fancy, would others."
He shot a keen glance at Gwynne. "I think I know who your visitor was, to-day, and what he came to Rosewater for. That speech of yours, and its effect on the crowd, never escaped the attention of the party bosses, and of course you are a marked man in this small community—to say nothing of your intimacy with the reform set in town. The judge, who started somewhere in this neighborhood as a poor boy, rose from various minor situations to be the secretary of Colton's bank, saved his dimes and studied law. So far so good; the average self-made American. The law leads a good many of us into politics and it wasn't long leading him. He was an invaluable party man, with that bluff honest exterior, that superabundant magnetism, and that twinkling eye. The world always associates a fine upright nature with a twinkling eye. I have one myself and I believe that is the main reason why I have always been afraid to do wrong. Well, our friend got the bench when he wanted it, and he has been a mighty good friend to the corporation that put him there. And it has done well by him. He owns a fine house in San Francisco, entertains, goes into the best society, has visited Europe several times, and, although he is now rising sixty, continues to fool all but a few. He might climb higher and become a United States Senator, but the corporation finds him too useful here. He rather resents that, but they make the sacrifice worth his while. I can well conceive they have spotted you, and you may be sure there is little about you they don't know. Of course they have made up their minds you are erratic, and have not the least doubt that they can manipulate that loose screw. They have bought thousands, these —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— (it was not often the judge swore, but when he did he took some time). Grafters, that are debauching the country and will soon make it impossible for an honest man to live; and although they will no doubt have the grace to approach you with less brutal directness than commonly, I knew that was what they were after the moment that old rascal began to talk to me this morning. He never fooled me. Well, we'll fool him. You go to Washington and get your passport, and if you can't hasten matters don't let an outsider know what you are after. Plunge into society and let them think you need a change from California. Of course you will give your real name. Cat's out, anyhow. Perhaps they will think you are on your way home to England. Flirt with the girls and be a frivolous young blood. The judge asked you to dinner, I suppose? I thought so. You would meet more than the judge; if not the first time, then the second and third. Write him a note, telling him you are obliged to go south to take a look at your mother's ranch. Then obey a sudden impulse and go East by the southern route. In Washington be seen as much with your ambassador as possible. I don't think these rascals will suspect, for they take for granted that you were duly 'discharged from your American indigenate'—I can hear him! If they did there would be the devil to pay, but I don't think they will. However, don't waste any time."
Gwynne was staring at the fire, his inner being chaos, but he replied in a moment that he would start for Washington on the following day.
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