The Scarlet Letters

The Scarlet Letters by Louis Auchincloss Read Free Book Online

Book: The Scarlet Letters by Louis Auchincloss Read Free Book Online
Authors: Louis Auchincloss
Tags: General Fiction
family midst to the toughest office test, so he assigned the new recruit to the job of acting as his principal assistant in the most complicated of corporate reorganizations. Rod had been extraordinary. He toiled away, night and day, even sleeping on a couch in the law library, until he mastered every detail of the massive transaction with a clarity of mind and an organizing capability that had astonished and delighted his new boss. When the job was finished Ambrose took him out to a Lucullan dinner at the most expensive French restaurant in town, where, he was pleased to note, his guest partook freely of three famous wines without slurring a syllable.
    As they sat over their cognac after their meal, Ambrose embarked on a more personal note. "Well, my boy, now you've had a glimpse of what a corporate law practice is all about, I daresay it strikes a young idealist like yourself as something a bit dustier than you'd expected. Even a bit grubbier. Isn't that so? You know the poem of the young Apollo, tiptoe on the verge of strife? How does it go? 'Magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life'? Well, I suppose the 'magnificently' is something."
    "But what are the details, sir, if the whole is good?"
    "You find a corporate reorganization good? You interest me."
    "Isn't it part of the social machinery that got us out of the great Depression? How can that not be good?"
    "Well, I guess you might argue that in the matter we've just finished. But I'm afraid, my friend, you'll find that some reorganizations have no purpose loftier than to establish the control of one set of pirates over another."
    Ambrose, facing the cool responding stare of those blue-gray eyes, felt almost ashamed of himself. What was he up to now, old ham that he was, but trying to impress this young man with the broad reach of a mind that could dive into the bottom as well as rise to the top of a modern law practice?
    "But those things are going to be done anyway, sir" was Rod's sturdy reply. "As I see it, our job is to make sure they are done efficiently and lawfully. In a democracy, and in a free market, or as free as practicable, we have to allow businessmen to some extent to work things out their own way. But as lawyers we can see that they work it out strictly within the law. It doesn't matter so much
what
they do, as long as it's in the public eye. Then, if laws have to be changed, the voters will know what to change."
    Ambrose nodded musingly. "Which means that a lawyer doesn't really need a conscience at all?"
    "Or the highest and most sensitive kind. Like your own, sir."
    This had all been very gratifying, and the young man was evidently sincere, if almost too much so. It had not taken more than a few months before it was recognized by all twenty partners and sixty clerks that young Jessup had been enlisted among the small group of selected associates who worked almost exclusively for the senior partner. Within a year Rod had become Ambrose's son-in-law, and in another five he was made the youngest member of the firm. A tour of naval duty in the Pacific in World War II only added to his luster, and he and Vinnie, neighbors of her parents in town and tenants of a cottage abutting the latters' estate in Glenville, became as essential to Ambrose's family as they were to his law practice. Even Vinnie's younger sisters adored their handsome and intriguingly serious brother-in-law and sought his approval of their boyfriends.
    There were times when Ambrose liked to think of himself as an aging Hadrian leaning on the sturdy shoulders of a stalwart Antinoüs, on whose total fidelity he could confidently rely to help him bear the burdens of empire. But there were also moments when he was subject to the uncomfortable suspicion that his protégé was gaining control of his inner being and becoming as much a guide as a support. If there was the hint of a fanatic in Rod, there might also be the hint of a fanatic's strength.
    When a vacancy on the Court

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