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Ambrose Bierce and the Queen of Spades-Oakley Hall.

Ambrose Bierce and the Queen of Spades-Oakley Hall. Электронная библиотека, книги всех жанров


Arthur Brittain Sloat at a meeting in New York of the Newspaper Guild, of which I was at that time an officer. He was a reporter working for James Gordon Bennett at the World. Looking at him was like seeing in a mirror not my reflection but the reflection of myself twenty-two years before. He must have thought I was drunk from the confusion of my greeting.

      His mother was at that time on her third marriage and her seventh novel, which was a fictionalization of the Rose of Sharon.


      Huntington remained Bierce’s chief enemy. Crocker had died in 1888, Stanford in 1893, and Collis B. Huntington became the Southern Pacific Railroad. In 1884 he had been able to cross the country entirely on lines he controlled. His dislike of Leland Stanford, which had always smoldered, caught fire in the senatorial election of 1885, when Stanford doublecrossed Huntington’s friend and faithful Railroad ally Aaron A. Sargent to capture the Republican nomination. In 1887 Stanford “trifled” again with Huntington, making a deal with George Hearst and San Francisco boss Chris Buckley to assist Hearst’s future candidacy in return for Democratic support for a second term in the U.S. Senate.

      “I don’t forget those who have played me false,” Huntington said.

      His chance to strike back at Stanford came when Stanford had overextended financing his son’s memorial, the Leland Stanford Jr. University. Huntington prevented the former governor’s withdrawal of Railroad funds to balance his personal accounts. The Railroad was then under heavy investigation by the government, and Stanford would have been indicted except for the timely decisions of Justice Stephan Field of the State Supreme Court, who had never been known to let down a millionaire friend.

      Huntington was to take one more swipe at his old partner. When Stanford died the estate was immediately tied up in lawsuits, the most important of which was that filed by the federal government attaching assets until the Railroad’s $57,000,000 debt was settled. It seemed that the university must close its doors. “Close the circus!” Huntington growled, and let the Stanford estate fight the battle of the Big Four’s liability, which he also, in his time, would have to face.

      By Mrs. Stanford’s heroic efforts the university was kept in operation. A friendly judge allowed her to claim professors and staff as personal servants. Race horses were sold, Mrs. Stanford’s household servants and gardeners were dismissed, her carriage let go. The university was kept open despite Huntington’s malignity.

      As the cold-hearted old magnate grew older, he became an easy mark for cartoonists, with his bald, double-domed skull, which he kept covered with a rabbinical skullcap. Caricaturists customarily portrayed him and his railroad lines as an octopus.

      The electorate had begun to take a different view of laissez-faire capitalism, and the Railroad’s rate structure, which was universally viewed as arbitrary and discriminatory, was widely blamed for the depression of the 1890s. Moreover the Railroad’s second-mortgage governmental bonds were soon to fall due, and Huntington girded his forces for the fight against their payment. He employed representatives in Washington and in state capitals, whose duty it was to “explain” to legislators what was “right.” He insisted on the American privilege of supporting the election of officials whose views coincided with his own. Payments were made when necessary, but he did not view this as bribery. A bribe was a voluntary purchase for personal advancement, the wrongdoing of which he had accused Stanford.


      When I wrote a memorial piece on Bierce for the Chronicle, I was pleased to describe his final triumph over Huntington and the Railroad, which had been a long time coming:

      William Randolph Hearst sent Bierce to Washington to help the Hearst newspapers fight the Railroad Funding Bill. This Bill would have been the biggest giveaway yet to the Southern Pacific Railroad. The $75,000,000 debt to the U.S. government was to be fobbed off in the form of 2 percent bonds due in 80 years. In effect it was a total gift to the Southern Pacific. Huntington had bought up enough senators, especially those of the Western states, to insure the Bill’s passage.

      Bierce immediately went into action in the San Francisco Examiner and the New York Morning Journal, in the style of invective he had perfected, abusing the Railroad and Collis B. Huntington, and praising Senator John T. Morgan, chairman of the senate committee that had summoned Huntington to testify before it, and who embarrassed the president of the Railroad with probing questions.

      Bierce wrote, “Huntington has been able to remove his hand from the public’s pocket long enough to raise it over a Bible. In Sacramento the Railroad’s bagmen are as common a sight as the senate pages, but instead of sending lobbyists to Washington to accomplish his crowning achievement of the purchase of the U.S. Senate, Huntington has packed his own baggage full of greenbacks and come to tend to matters himself.”

      In trouble in committee, Huntington produced testimonial letters from prominent Californians attesting to the Railroad’s benefits to the state and the extraordinary ethics of its proprietors. Bierce pursued the authors of these testimonials as he had pursued Aaron Jennings. He publicized them in “Bierce’s Black Book,” where their names were broadcast until they recanted. Recant they did. The senate revelations, Huntington’s arrogance and ignorance as shown in the committee hearings, and Bierce’s harpoonings were so shocking that all but two of the testimonials were withdrawn. The senatorial tide turned against the Southern Pacific Railroad.

      Huntington encountered Bierce on the steps of the capitol. “How much?” he growled in defeat, and he uttered his familiar judgment, more cynical than Ambrose Bierce had ever been: “Every man has his price!”

      “Seventy-five million dollars,” Bierce said in his triumph. “Payable to the U.S. Government!”