Infomotions, Inc.The Deluge / Phillips, David Graham, 1867-1911



Author: Phillips, David Graham, 1867-1911
Title: The Deluge
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
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Title: The Deluge

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*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK, THE DELUGE ***




THE DULUGE

BY

DAVID GRAHAM PHILLIPS

_Author of_
The Cost, The Plum Tree, The Social Secretary, etc.





WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY

GEORGE GIBBS


[Illustration]



CONTENTS

     I MR. BLACKLOCK
    II IN THOSE DAYS AROSE KINGS
   III CAME A WOMAN
    IV A CANDIDATE FOR "RESPECTABILITY"
     V DANGER SIGNALS
    VI OF "GENTLEMEN"
   VII BLACKLOCK GOES INTO TRAINING
  VIII ON THE TRAIL OF LANGDON
    IX LANGDON AT HOME
     X TWO "PILLARS OF SOCIETY"
    XI WHEN A MAN IS NOT A MAN
   XII ANITA
  XIII "UNTIL TO-MORROW"
   XIV FRESH AIR IN A GREENHOUSE
    XV SOME STRANGE LAPSES OF A LOVER
   XVI TRAPPED AND TRIMMED
  XVII A GENTEEL "HOLD-UP"
 XVIII ANITA BEGINS TO BE HERSELF
   XIX A WINDFALL FROM "GENTLEMAN JOE"
    XX A BREATHING SPELL
   XXI MOST UNLADYLIKE
  XXII MOST UNGENTLEMANLY
 XXIII "SHE HAS CHOSEN"
  XXIV BLACKLOCK ATTENDS FAMILY PRAYERS
   XXV "MY WIFE MUST"
  XXVI THE WEAK STRAND
 XXVII A CONSPIRACY AGAINST ANITA
XXVIII BLACKLOCK SEES A LIGHT
  XXIX A HOUSEWARMING
   XXX BLACKLOCK OPENS FIRE
  XXXI ANITA'S SECRET
 XXXII LANGDON COMES TO THE SURFACE
XXXIII MRS. LANGDON MAKES A CALL
 XXXIV "MY RIGHT EYE OFFENDS ME"
  XXXV "WILD WEEK"
 XXXVI "BLACK MATT'S" TRIUMPH




I

MR. BLACKLOCK


When Napoleon was about to crown himself--so I have somewhere read--they
submitted to him the royal genealogy they had faked up for him. He crumpled
the parchment and flung it in the face of the chief herald, or whoever it
was. "My line," said he, "dates from Montenotte." And so I say, my line
dates from the campaign that completed and established my fame--from "Wild
Week."

I shall not pause to recite the details of the obscurity from which I
emerged. It would be an interesting, a romantic story; but it is a familiar
story, also, in this land which Lincoln so finely and so fully described
when he said: "The republic is opportunity."

One fact only: _I did not take the name Blacklock_.

I was born Blacklock, and christened Matthew; and my hair's being very
black and growing so that a lock of it often falls down the middle of my
forehead is a coincidence. The malicious and insinuating story that I used
to go under another name arose, no doubt, from my having been a bootblack
in my early days, and having let my customers shorten my name into Matt
Black. But, as soon as I graduated from manual labor, I resumed my rightful
name and have borne it--I think I may say without vanity--in honor to
honor.

Some one has written: "It was a great day for fools when modesty was made
a virtue." I heartily subscribe to that. Life means action; action means
self-assertion; self-assertion rouses all the small, colorless people to
the only sort of action of which they are capable--to sneering at the doer
as egotistical, vain, conceited, bumptious and the like. So be it! I have
an individuality, aggressive, restless and, like all such individualities,
necessarily in the lime-light; I have from the beginning lost no
opportunity to impress that individuality upon my time. Let those who have
nothing to advertise, and those less courageous and less successful than
I at advertisement, jeer and spit. I ignore them. I make no apologies for
egotism. I think, when my readers have finished, they will demand none.
They will see that I had work to do, and that I did it in the only way an
intelligent man ever tries to do his work--his own way, the way natural to
him!

Wild Week! Its cyclones, rising fury on fury to that historic climax of
chaos, sing their mad song in my ears again as I write. But I shall by no
means confine my narrative to business and finance. Take a cross-section
of life anywhere, and you have a tangled interweaving of the action and
reaction of men upon men, of women upon women, of men and women upon one
another. And this shall be a cross-section out of the very heart of our
life to-day, with its big and bold energies and passions--the swiftest and
intensest life ever lived by the human race.

To begin:




II

IN THOSE DAYS AROSE KINGS


Imagine yourself back two years and a half before Wild Week, back at
the time when the kings of finance had just completed their apparently
final conquest of the industries of the country, when they were seating
themselves upon thrones encircled by vast armies of capital and brains,
when all the governments of the nation--national, state and city--were
prostrate under their iron heels.

You may remember that I was a not inconspicuous figure then. Of all their
financial agents, I was the best-known, the most trusted by them, the most
believed in by the people. I had a magnificent suite of offices in the
building that dominates Wall and Broad Streets. Boston claimed me also, and
Chicago; and in Philadelphia, New Orleans, St. Louis, San Francisco, in
the towns and rural districts tributary to the cities, thousands spoke of
Blacklock as their trusted adviser in matters of finance. My enemies--and
I had them, numerous and venomous enough to prove me a man worth while--my
enemies spoke of me as the "biggest bucket-shop gambler in the world."

Gambler I was--like all the other manipulators of the markets.
But "bucket-shop" I never kept. As the kings of finance were the
representatives of the great merchants, manufacturers and investors, so was
I the representative of the masses, of those who wished their small savings
properly invested. The power of the big fellows was founded upon wealth and
the brains wealth buys or bullies or seduces into its service; my power was
founded upon the hearts and homes of the people, upon faith in my frank
honesty.

How had I built up my power? By recognizing the possibilities of publicity,
the chance which the broadcast sowing of newspapers and magazines put
within the reach of the individual man to impress himself upon the whole
country, upon the whole civilized world. The kings of finance relied upon
the assiduity and dexterity of sundry paid agents, operating through the
stealthy, clumsy, old-fashioned channels for the exercise of power. I
relied only upon myself; I had to trust to no fallible, perhaps traitorous,
understrappers; through the megaphone of the press I spoke directly to the
people.

My enemies charge that I always have been unscrupulous and dishonest. So?
Then how have I lived and thrived all these years in the glare and blare of
publicity?

It is true, I have used the "methods of the charlatan" in bringing myself
into wide public notice. The just way to put it would be that I have used
for honest purposes the methods of publicity that charlatans have shrewdly
appropriated, because by those means the public can be most widely and
most quickly reached. Does good become evil because hypocrites use it as a
cloak? It is also true that I have been "undignified." Let the stupid cover
their stupidity with "dignity." Let the swindler hide his schemings under
"dignity." I am a man of the people, not afraid to be seen as the human
being that I am. I laugh when I feel like it. I have no sense of jar
when people call me "Matt." I have a good time, and I shall stay young
as long as I stay alive. Wealth hasn't made me a solemn ass, fenced in
and unapproachable. The custom of receiving obedience and flattery and
admiration has not made me a turkey-cock. Life is a joke; and when the
joke's on me, I laugh as heartily as when it's on the other fellow.

It is half-past three o'clock on a May afternoon; a dismal, dreary rain
is being whirled through the streets by as nasty a wind as ever blew out
of the east. You are in the private office of that "king of kings," Henry
J. Roebuck, philanthropist, eminent churchman, leading citizen and--in
business--as corrupt a creature as ever used the domino of respectability.
That office is on the twelfth floor of the Power Trust Building--and the
Power Trust is Roebuck, and Roebuck is the Power Trust. He is seated at his
desk and, thinking I do not see him, is looking at me with an expression of
benevolent and melancholy pity--the look with which he always regarded any
one whom the Roebuck God Almighty had commanded Roebuck to destroy. He and
his God were in constant communication; his God never did anything except
for his benefit, he never did anything except on the direct counsel or
command of his God. Just now his God is commanding him to destroy me, his
confidential agent in shaping many a vast industrial enterprise and in
inducing the public to buy by the million its bonds and stocks.

I invited the angry frown of the Roebuck God by saying: "And I bought in
the Manasquale mines on my own account."

"On your own account!" said Roebuck. Then he hastily effaced his
involuntary air of the engineer startled by sight of an unexpected red
light.

"Yes," replied I, as calm as if I were not realizing the tremendous
significance of what I had announced. "I look to you to let me participate
on equal terms."

That is, I had decided that the time had come for me to take my place
among the kings of finance. I had decided to promote myself from agent to
principal, from prime minister to king--I must, myself, promote myself,
for in this world all promotion that is solid comes from within. And in
furtherance of my object I had bought this group of mines, control of which
was vital to the Roebuck-Langdon-Melville combine for a monopoly of the
coal of the country.

"Did not Mr. Langdon commission you to buy them for him and his friends?"
inquired Roebuck, in that slow, placid tone which yet, for the attentive
ear, had a note in it like the scream of a jaguar that comes home and finds
its cub gone.

"But I couldn't get them for him," I explained. "The owners wouldn't sell
until I engaged that the National Coal and Railway Company was not to have
them."

"Oh, I see," said Roebuck, sinking back relieved. "We must get Browne to
draw up some sort of perpetual, irrevocable power of attorney to us for you
to sign."

"But I won't sign it," said I.

Roebuck took up a sheet of paper and began to fold it upon itself with
great care to get the edges straight. He had grasped my meaning; he was
deliberating.

"For four years now," I went on, "you people have been promising to take
me in as a principal in some one of your deals--to give me recognition by
making me president, or chairman of an executive or finance committee. I am
an impatient man, Mr. Roebuck. Life is short, and I have much to do. So I
have bought the Manasquale mines--and I shall hold them."

Roebuck continued to fold the paper upon itself until he had reduced it
to a short, thick strip. This he slowly twisted between his cruel fingers
until it was in two pieces. He dropped them, one at a time, into the
waste-basket, then smiled benevolently at me. "You are right," he said.
"You shall have what you want. You have seemed such a mere boy to me that,
in spite of your giving again and again proof of what you are, I have been
putting you off. Then, too--" He halted, and his look was that of one
surveying delicate ground.

"The bucket-shop?" suggested I.

"Exactly," said he gratefully. "Your brokerage business has been invaluable
to us. But--well, I needn't tell you how people--the men of standing--look
on that sort of thing."

"I never have paid any attention to pompous pretenses," said I, "and I
never shall. My brokerage business must go on, and my daily letters to
investors. By advertising I rose; by advertising I am a power that even you
recognize; by advertising alone can I keep that power."

"You forget that in the new circumstances, you won't need that sort of
power. Adapt yourself to your new surroundings. Overalls for the trench; a
business suit for the office."

"I shall keep to my overalls for the present," said I. "They're more
comfortable, and"--here I smiled significantly at him--"if I shed them, I
might have to go naked. The first principle of business is never to give up
what you have until your grip is tight on something better."

"No doubt you're right," agreed the white-haired old scoundrel, giving
no sign that I had fathomed his motive for trying to "hint" me out of my
stronghold. "I will talk the matter over with Langdon and Melville. Rest
assured, my boy, that you will be satisfied." He got up, put his arm
affectionately round my shoulders. "We all like you. I have a feeling
toward you as if you were my own son. I am getting old, and I like to see
young men about me, growing up to assume the responsibilities of the Lord's
work whenever He shall call me to my reward."

It will seem incredible that a man of my shrewdness and experience could
be taken in by such slimy stuff as that--I who knew Roebuck as only a
few insiders knew him, I who had seen him at work, as devoid of heart as
an empty spider in an empty web. Yet I was taken in to the extent that
I thought he really purposed to recognize my services, to yield to the
only persuasion that could affect him--force. I fancied he was actually
about to put me where I could be of the highest usefulness to him and his
associates, as well as to myself. As if an old man ever yielded power or
permitted another to gain power, even though it were to his own great
advantage. The avarice of age is not open to reason.

It was with tears in my eyes that I shook hands with him, thanking him
emotionally. It was with a high chin and a proud heart that I went back
to my offices. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that I was about to get my
deserts, was about to enter the charmed circle of "high finance."

That small and exclusive circle, into which I was seeing myself admitted
without the usual arduous and unequal battle, was what may be called the
industrial ring--a loose, yet tight, combine of about a dozen men who
controlled in one way or another practically all the industries of the
country. They had no formal agreements; they held no official meetings.
They did not look upon themselves as an association. They often quarreled
among themselves, waged bitter wars upon each other over divisions of
power or plunder. But, in the broad sense, in the true sense, they were
an association--a band united by a common interest, to control finance,
commerce and therefore politics; a band united by a common purpose, to keep
that control in as few hands as possible. Whenever there was sign of peril
from without they flung away differences, pooled resources, marched in
full force to put down the insurrection. For they looked on any attempt
to interfere with them as a mutiny, as an outbreak of anarchy. This band
persisted, but membership in it changed, changed rapidly. Now, one would
be beaten to death and despoiled by a clique of fellows; again, weak or
rash ones would be cut off in strenuous battle. Often, most often, some
too-powerful or too-arrogant member would be secretly and stealthily
assassinated by a jealous associate or by a committee of internal safety.
Of course, I do not mean literally assassinated, but assassinated, cut off,
destroyed, in the sense that a man whose whole life is wealth and power is
dead when wealth and power are taken from him.

Actual assassination, the crime of murder--these "gentlemen" rarely did
anything which their lawyers did not advise them was legal or could be made
legal by bribery of one kind or another. Rarely, I say--not never. You will
see presently why I make that qualification.

I had my heart set upon membership in this band--and, as I confess now with
shame, my prejudices of self-interest had blinded me into regarding it
and its members as great and useful and honorable "captains of industry."
Honorable in the main; for, not even my prejudice could blind me to the
almost hair-raising atrocity of some of their doings. Still, morality is
largely a question of environment. I had been bred in that environment.
Even the atrocities I excused on the ground that he who goes forth to war
must be prepared to do and to tolerate many acts the church would have to
strain a point to bless. What was Columbus but a marauder, a buccaneer?
Was not Drake, in law and in fact, a pirate; Washington a traitor to his
soldier's oath of allegiance to King George? I had much to learn, and to
unlearn. I was to find out that whenever a Roebuck puts his arm round you,
it is invariably to get within your guard and nearer your fifth rib. I was
to trace the ugliest deformities of that conscience of his, hidden away
down inside him like a dwarfed, starved prisoner in an underground dungeon.
I was to be astounded by revelations of Langdon, who was not a believer,
like Roebuck, and so was not under the restraint of the feeling that he
must keep some sort of conscience ledgers against the inspection of the
angelic auditing committee in the day of wrath.

Much to learn--and to unlearn. It makes me laugh as I recall how, on that
May day, I looked into the first mirror I was alone with, smiled delighted,
as an idiot with myself and said: "Matt, you are of the kings now. Your
crown suits you and, as you've earned it, you know how to keep it. Now for
some fun with your subjects and your fellow sovereigns."

A little premature, that preening!




III

CAME A WOMAN


In my suite in the Textile Building, just off the big main room with its
blackboards and tickers, I had a small office in which I spent a good deal
of time during Stock Exchange hours. It was there that Sam Ellersly found
me the next day but one after my talk with Roebuck.

"I want you to sell that Steel Common, Matt," said he.

"It'll go several points higher," said I. "Better let me hold it and use my
judgment on selling."

"I need money--right away," was his answer.

"That's all right," said I. "Let me give you an order for what you need."

"Thank you, thank you," said he, so promptly that I knew I had done what he
had been hoping for, probably counting on.

I give this incident to show what our relations were. He was a young fellow
of good family, to whom I had taken a liking. He was a lazy dog, and as out
of place in business as a cat in a choir. I had been keeping him going for
four years at that time, by giving him tips on stocks and protecting him
against loss. This purely out of good nature and liking; for I hadn't the
remotest idea he could ever be of use to me beyond helping to liven things
up at a dinner or late supper, or down in the country, or on the yacht. In
fact, his principal use to me was that he knew how to "beat the box" well
enough to shake fairly good music out of it--and I am so fond of music that
I can fill in with my imagination when the performer isn't too bad.

They have charged that I deliberately ruined him. Ruined! The first time I
gave him a tip--and that was the second or third time I ever saw him--he
burst into tears and said: "You've saved my life, Blacklock. I'll never
tell you how much this windfall means to me now." Nor did I with deep and
dark design keep him along on the ragged edge. He kept himself there.
How could I build up such a man with his hundred ways of wasting money,
including throwing it away on his own opinions of stocks--for he would
gamble on his own account in the bucket-shops, though I had shown him that
the Wall Street game is played always with marked cards, and that the only
hope of winning is to get the confidence of the card-markers, unless you
are big enough to become a card-marker yourself.

As soon as he got the money from my teller that day, he was rushing away. I
followed him to the door--that part of my suite opened out on the sidewalk,
for the convenience of my crowds of customers. "I'm just going to lunch,"
said I. "Come with me."

He looked uneasily toward a smart little one-horse brougham at the curb.
"Sorry--but I can't," said he. "I've my sister with me. She brought me down
in her trap."

"That's all right," said I; "bring her along. We'll go to the Savarin." And
I locked his arm in mine and started toward the brougham.

[Illustration]

He was turning all kinds of colors, and was acting in a way that puzzled
me--then. Despite all my years in New York I was ignorant of the elaborate
social distinctions that had grown up in its Fifth Avenue quarter. I knew,
of course, that there was a fashionable society and that some of the most
conspicuous of those in it seemed unable to get used to the idea of being
rich and were in a state of great agitation over their own importance.
Important they might be, but not to me. I knew nothing of their careful
gradations of snobbism--the people to know socially, the people to know in
a business way, the people to know in ways religious and philanthropic,
the people to know for the fun to be got out of them, the people to
pride oneself on not knowing at all; the nervousness, the hysteria
about preserving these disgusting gradations. All this, I say, was an
undreamed-of mystery to me who gave and took liking in the sensible,
self-respecting American fashion. So I didn't understand why Sam, as I
almost dragged him along, was stammering: "Thank you--but--I--she--the fact
is, we really must get up-town."

By this time I was where I could look into the brougham. A glance--I can
see much at a glance, as can any man who spends every day of every year in
an all-day fight for his purse and his life, with the blows coming from all
sides. I can see much at a glance; I often have seen much; I never saw more
than just then. Instantly, I made up my mind that the Ellerslys would lunch
with me. "You've got to eat somewhere," said I, in a tone that put an end
to his attempts to manufacture excuses. "I'll be delighted to have you.
Don't make up any more yarns."

He slowly opened the door. "Anita," said he, "Mr. Blacklock. He's invited
us to lunch."

I lifted my hat, and bowed. I kept my eyes straight upon hers. And it
gave me more pleasure to look into them than I had ever before got out of
looking into anybody's. I am passionately fond of flowers, and of children;
and her face reminded me of both. Or, rather, it seemed to me that what
I had seen, with delight and longing, incomplete in their freshness and
beauty and charm, was now before me in the fullness. I felt like saying to
her, "I have heard of you often. The children and the flowers have told
me you were coming." Perhaps my eyes did say it. At any rate, she looked
as straight at me as I at her, and I noticed that she paled a little and
shrank--yet continued to look, as if I were compelling her. But her voice,
beautifully clear, and lingering in the ears like the resonance of the
violin after the bow has swept its strings and lifted, was perfectly
self-possessed, as she said to her brother: "That will be delightful--if
you think we have time."

I saw that she, uncertain whether he wished to accept, was giving him a
chance to take either course. "He has time--nothing but time," said I. "His
engagements are always with people who want to get something out of him.
And they can wait." I pretended to think he was expecting me to enter
the trap; I got in, seated myself beside her, said to Sam: "I've saved
the little seat for you. Tell your man to take us to the Equitable
Building--Nassau Street entrance."

I talked a good deal during the first half of the nearly two hours we were
together--partly because both Sam and his sister seemed under some sort of
strain, chiefly because I was determined to make a good impression. I told
her about myself, my horses, my house in the country, my yacht. I tried to
show her I wasn't an ignoramus as to books and art, even if I hadn't been
to college. She listened, while Sam sat embarrassed. "You must bring your
sister down to visit me," I said finally. "I'll see that you both have
the time of your lives. Make up a party of your friends, Sam, and come
down--when shall we say? Next Sunday? You know you were coming anyhow. I
can change the rest of the party."

Sam grew as red as if he were going into apoplexy. I thought then he was
afraid I'd blurt out something about who were in the party I was proposing
to change. I was soon to know better.

"Thank you, Mr.--Blacklock," said his sister. "But I have an engagement
next Sunday. I have a great many engagements just now. Without looking at
my book I couldn't say when I can go." This easily and naturally. In her
set they certainly do learn thoroughly that branch of tact which plain
people call lying.

Sam gave her a grateful look, which he thought I didn't see, and which I
didn't rightly interpret--then.

"We'll fix it up later, Blacklock," said he.

"All right," said I. And from that minute I was almost silent. It was
something in her tone and manner that silenced me. I suddenly realized that
I wasn't making as good an impression as I had been flattering myself.

When a man has money and is willing to spend it, he can readily fool
himself into imagining he gets on grandly with women. But I had better
grounds than that for thinking myself not unattractive to them, as a rule.
Women had liked me when I had nothing; women had liked me when they didn't
know who I was. I felt that this woman did not like me. And yet, by the way
she looked at me in spite of her efforts not to do so, I could tell that
I had some sort of unusual interest for her. Why didn't she like me? She
made me feel the reason. I didn't belong to her world. My ways and my looks
offended her. She disliked me a good deal; she feared me a little. She
would have felt safer if she had been gratifying her curiosity, gazing in
at me through the bars of a cage.

Where I had been feeling and showing my usual assurance, I now became ill
at ease. I longed for them to be gone; at the same time I hated to let her
go--for, when and how would I see her again, would I get the chance to
remove her bad impression? It irritated me thus to be concerned about the
sister of a man into my liking for whom there was mixed much pity and some
contempt. But I am of the disposition that, whenever I see an obstacle of
whatever kind, I can not restrain myself from trying to jump it. Here was
an obstacle--a dislike. To clear it was of the smallest importance in the
world, was a silly waste of time. Yet I felt I could not maintain with
myself my boast that there were no obstacles I couldn't get over, if I
turned aside from this.

Sam--not without hesitation, as I recalled afterward--left me with her,
when I sent him to bring her brougham up to the Broadway entrance. As she
and I were standing there alone, waiting in silence, I turned on her
suddenly, and blurted out, "You don't like me."

She reddened a little, smiled slightly. "What a quaint remark!" said she.

I looked straight at her. "But you shall."

Our eyes met. Her chin came out a little, her eyebrows lifted. Then, in
scorn of herself as well as of me, she locked herself in behind a frozen
haughtiness that ignored me. "Ah, here is the carriage," she said. I
followed her to the curb; she just touched my hand, just nodded her
fascinating little head.

"See you Saturday, old man," called her brother friendlily. My lowering
face had alarmed him.

"That party is off," said I curtly. And I lifted my hat and strode away.

As I had formed the habit of dismissing the disagreeable, I soon put her
out of my mind. But she took with her my joy in the taste of things. I
couldn't get back my former keen satisfaction in all I had done and was
doing. The luxury, the tangible evidences of my achievement, no longer gave
me pleasure; they seemed to add to my irritation.

That's the way it is in life. We load ourselves down with toys like so many
greedy children; then we see another toy and drop everything to be free to
seize it; and if we can not, we're wretched.

I worked myself up, or rather, down, to such a mood that when my office boy
told me Mr. Langdon would like me to come to his office as soon as it was
convenient, I snapped out: "The hell he does! Tell Mr. Langdon I'll be
glad to see him here whenever he calls." That was stupidity, a premature
assertion of my right to be treated as an equal. I had always gone to
Langdon, and to any other of the rulers of finance, whenever I had got a
summons. For, while I was rich and powerful, I held both wealth and power,
in a sense, on sufferance; I knew that, so long as I had no absolute
control of any great department of industry, these rulers could destroy me
should they decide that they needed my holdings or were not satisfied with
my use of my power. There were a good many people who did not realize that
property rights had ceased to exist, that property had become a revocable
grant from the "plutocrats." I was not of those misguided ones who had
failed to discover the new fact concealed in the old form. So I used to go
when I was summoned.

But not that day. However, no sooner was my boy gone than I repented the
imprudence, "But what of it?" said I to myself. "No matter how the thing
turns out, I shall be able to get some advantage." For it was part of my
philosophy that a proper boat with proper sails and a proper steersman can
gain in any wind. I was surprised when Langdon appeared in my office a few
minutes later.

He was a tallish, slim man, carefully dressed, with a bored, weary look
and a slow, bored way of talking. I had always said that if I had not been
myself I should have wished to be Langdon. Men liked and admired him; women
loved and ran after him. Yet he exerted not the slightest effort to please
any one; on the contrary, he made it distinct and clear that he didn't
care a rap what any one thought of him or, for that matter, of anybody or
anything. He knew how to get, without sweat or snatching, all the good
there was in whatever fate threw in his way--and he was one of those men
into whose way fate seems to strive to put everything worth having. His
business judgment was shrewd, but he cared nothing for the big game he was
playing except as a game. Like myself, he was simply a sportsman--and, I
think, that is why we liked each other. He could have trusted almost any
one that came into contact with him; but he trusted nobody, and frankly
warned every one not to trust him--a safe frankness, for his charm caused
it to be forgotten or ignored. He would do anything to gain an object,
however trivial, which chanced to attract him; once it was his, he would
throw it aside as carelessly as an ill-fitting collar.

His expression, as he came into my office, was one of cynical amusement,
as if he were saying to himself: "Our friend Blacklock has caught the
swollen head at last." Not a suggestion of ill humor, of resentment
at my impertinence--for, in the circumstances, I had been guilty of an
impertinence. Just languid, amused patience with the frailty of a friend.
"I see," said he, "that you have got Textile up to eighty-five."

He was the head of the Textile Trust which had been built by his
brother-in-law and had fallen to him in the confusion following his
brother-in-law's death. As he was just then needing some money for his
share in the National Coal undertaking, he had directed me to push Textile
up toward par and unload him of two or three hundred thousand shares--he,
of course, to repurchase the shares after he had taken profits and Textile
had dropped back to its normal fifty.

"I'll have it up to ninety-eight by the middle of next month," said I. "And
there I think we'd better stop."

"Stop at about ninety," said he. "That will give me all I find I'll need
for this Coal business. I don't want to be bothered with hunting up an
investment."

I shook my head. "I must put it up to within a point or two of par," I
declared. "In my public letter I've been saying it would go above
ninety-five, and I never deceive my public."

He smiled--my notion of honesty always amused him. "As you please," he
said with a shrug. Then I saw a serious look--just a fleeting flash of
warning--behind his smiling mask; and he added carelessly: "Be careful
about your own personal play. I doubt if Textile can be put any higher."

It must have been my mood that prevented those words from making the
impression on me they should have made. Instead of appreciating at once
and at its full value this characteristic and amazingly friendly signal
of caution, I showed how stupidly inattentive I was by saying: "Something
doing? Something new?"

But he had already gone further than his notion of friendship warranted. So
he replied: "Oh, no. Simply that everything's uncertain nowadays."

My mind had been all this time on those Manasquale mining properties. I now
said: "Has Roebuck told you that I had to buy those mines on my own
account?"

"Yes," he said. He hesitated, and again he gave me a look whose meaning
came to me only when it was too late. "I think, Blacklock, you'd better
turn them over to me."

"I can't," I answered. "I gave my word."

"As you please," said he.

Apparently the matter didn't interest him. He began to talk of the
performances of my little two-year-old, Beachcomber; and after twenty
minutes or so, he drifted away. "I envy you your enthusiasm," he said,
pausing in my doorway. "Wherever I am, I wish I were somewhere else.
Whatever I'm doing, I wish I were doing something else. Where do you get
all this joy of the fight? What the devil are you fighting for?"

He didn't wait for a reply.

I thought over my situation steadily for several days. I went down to my
country place. I looked everywhere among all my belongings, searching,
searching, restless, impatient. At last I knew what ailed me--what the lack
was that yawned so gloomily from everything I had once thought beautiful,
had once found sufficient. I was in the midst of the splendid, terraced
pansy beds my gardeners had just set out; I stopped short and slapped my
thigh. "A woman!" I exclaimed. "That's what I need. A woman--the right sort
of woman--a wife!"




IV

A CANDIDATE FOR "RESPECTABILITY"


To handle this new business properly I must put myself in position
to look the whole field over. I must get in line and in touch with
"respectability." When Sam Ellersly came in for his "rations," I said:
"Sam, I want you to put me up at the Travelers Club."

"The Travelers!" echoed he, with a blank look.

"The Travelers," said I. "It's about the best of the big clubs, isn't it?
And it has as members most of the men I do business with and most of those
I want to get into touch with."

He laughed. "It can't be done."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Oh--I don't know. You see--the fact is--well, they're a lot of old fogies
up there. You don't want to bother with that push, Matt. Take my advice. Do
business with them, but avoid them socially."

"I want to go in there," I insisted. "I have my own reasons. You put me
up."

"I tell you, it'd be no use," he replied, in a tone that implied he wished
to hear no more of the matter.

"You put me up," I repeated. "And if you do your best, I'll get in all
right. I've got lots of friends there. And you've got three relatives in
the committee on membership."

At this he gave me a queer, sharp glance--a little fright in it.

I laughed. "You see, I've been looking into it, Sam. I never take a jump
till I've measured it."

"You'd better wait a few years, until--" he began, then stopped and turned
red.

"Until what?" said I. "I want you to speak frankly."

"Well, you've got a lot of enemies--a lot of fellows who've lost money in
deals you've engineered. And they'd say all sorts of things."

"I'll take care of that," said I, quite easy in mind. "Mowbray Langdon's
president, isn't he? Well, he's my closest friend." I spoke quite honestly.
It shows how simple-minded I was in certain ways that I had never once
noted the important circumstance that this "closest friend" had never
invited me to his house, or anywhere where I'd meet his up-town associates
at introducing distance.

Sam looked surprised. "Oh, in that case," he said, "I'll see what can be
done." But his tone was not quite cordial enough to satisfy me.

To stimulate him and to give him an earnest of what I intended to do for
him, when our little social deal had been put through, I showed him how he
could win ten thousand dollars in the next three days. "And you needn't
bother about putting up margins," said I, as I often had before. "I'll take
care of that."

He stammered a refusal and went out; but he came back within an hour, and,
in a strained sort of way, accepted my tip and my offer.

"That's sensible," said I. "When will you attend to the matter at the
Travelers? I want to be warned so I can pull my own set of wires in
concert."

"I'll let you know," he answered, hanging his head.

I didn't understand his queer actions then. Though I was an expert in
finance, I hadn't yet made a study of that other game--the game of
"gentleman." And I didn't know how seriously the frauds and fakirs who play
it take it and themselves. I attributed his confusion to a ridiculous mock
modesty he had about accepting favors; it struck me as being particularly
silly on this occasion, because for once he was to give as well as to take.

He didn't call for his profits, but wrote asking me to mail him the check
for them. I did so, putting in the envelop with it a little jog to his
memory on the club matter. I didn't see him again for nearly a month; and
though I searched and sent, I couldn't get his trail. On opening day at
Morris Park, I was going along the passage behind the boxes in the grand
stand, on my way to the paddock. I wanted to see my horse that was about to
run for the Salmagundi Sweepstakes, and to tell my jockey that I'd give him
fifteen thousand, instead of ten thousand, if he won--for I had put quite a
bunch down. I was a figure at the tracks in those days. I went into racing
on my customary generous scale. I liked horses, just as I liked everything
that belonged out under the big sky; also I liked the advertising my string
of thoroughbreds gave me. I was rich enough to be beyond the stage at which
a man excites suspicion by frequenting race-tracks and gambling-houses; I
was at the height where prodigalities begin to be taken as evidences of
abounding superfluity, not of a dangerous profligacy. Jim Harkaway, who
failed at playing the same game I played and won, said to me with a sneer
one day: "You certainly do know how to get a dollar's worth of notoriety
out of a dollar's worth of advertising."

"If I only knew that, Jim," said I, "I'd have been long ago where you're
bound for. The trick is to get it back ten for one. The more _you_
advertise yourself, the more suspicious of you people become. The more
money I 'throw away' in advertising, the more convinced people are that I
can afford to do it."

But, as I was about to say, in one of the boxes I spied my shy friend,
Sammy. He was looking better than I had ever seen him. Less heavy-eyed,
less pallid and pasty, less like a man who had been shirking bed and
keeping up on cocktails and cold baths. He was at the rear of the box,
talking with a lady and a gentleman. As soon as I saw that lady, I knew
what it was that had been hiding at the bottom of my mind and rankling
there.

Luckily I was alone; ever since that lunch I had been cutting loose from
the old crowd--from all its women, and from all its men except two or three
real friends who were good fellows straight through, in spite of their
having made the mistake of crossing the dead line between amateur "sport"
and professional. I leaned over and tapped Sammy on the shoulder.

He glanced round, and when he saw me, looked as if I were a policeman who
had caught him in the act.

"Howdy, Sam?" said I. "It's been so long since I've seen you that I
couldn't resist the temptation to interrupt. Hope your friends'll excuse
me. Howdy do, Miss Ellersly?" And I put out my hand.

She took it reluctantly. She was giving me a very unpleasant look--as if
she were seeing, not somebody, but some _thing_ she didn't care to
see, or were seeing nothing at all. I liked that look; I liked the woman
who had it in her to give it. She made me feel that she was difficult and
therefore worth while, and that's what alt we human beings are in business
for--to make each other feel that we're worth while.

"Just a moment," said Sam, red as a cranberry and stuttering. And he made a
motion to come out of the box and join me. At the same time Miss Anita and
the other fellow began to turn away.

But I was not the man to be cheated in that fashion. I wanted to see
_her_, and I compelled her to see it and to feel it. "Don't let me
take you from your friends," said I to Sammy. "Perhaps they'd like to come
with you and me down to look at my horse. I can give you a good tip--he's
bound to win. I've had my boys out on the rails every morning at the trials
of all the other possibilities. None of 'em's in it with Mowghli."

"Mowghli!" said the young lady--she had begun to turn toward me as soon as
I spoke the magic word, "tip." There may be men who can resist that word
"tip" at the race-track, but there never was a woman.

"My sister has to stay here," said Sammy hurriedly. "I'll go with you,
Blacklock."

All this time he was looking as if he were doing something he ought to be
ashamed of. I thought then he was ashamed because he, professing to be a
gentleman, had been neglecting his debt of honor. I now know he was ashamed
because he was responsible for his sister's being contaminated by contact
with such a man as I! I who hadn't a dollar that wasn't honestly earned;
I who had made a fortune by my own efforts, and was spending my millions
like a prince; I who had taste in art and music and in architecture and
furnishing and all the fine things of life. Above all, I who had been his
friend and benefactor. _He_ knew I was more of a gentleman than he
could ever hope to be, he with no ability at anything but spending money;
he a sponge and a cadger, yes, and a welcher--for wasn't he doing his best
to welch me? But just because a lot of his friends, jealous of my success
and angry that I refused to truckle to them and be like them instead of
like myself, sneered at me--behind my back--this poor-spirited creature
was daring to pretend to himself that I wasn't fit for the society of his
sister!

"Mowghli!" said Miss Ellersly. "What a quaint name!"

"My trainer gave it," said I. "I've got a second son of one of those
broken-down English noblemen at the head of my stables. He's trying to get
money enough together to be able to show up at Newport and take a shy at an
heiress."

At this the fellow who was fourth in our party, and who had been giving me
a nasty, glassy stare, got as red as was Sammy. Then I noticed that he was
an Englishman, and I all but chuckled with delight. However, I said, "No
offense intended," and clapped him on the shoulder with a friendly smile.
"He's a good fellow, my man Monson, and knows a lot about horses."

Miss Ellersly bit her lip and colored, but I noticed also that her eyes
were dancing.

Sam introduced the Englishman to me--Lord Somebody-or-other, I forget what,
as I never saw him again. I turned like a bulldog from a toy terrier and
was at Miss Ellersly again. "Let me put a little something on Mowghli for
you," said I. "You're bound to win--and I'll see that you don't lose. I
know how you ladies hate to lose."

That was a bit stiff, as I know well enough now. Indeed, my instinct
would have told me better then, if I hadn't been so used to the sort of
women that jump at such an offer, and if I hadn't been casting about so
desperately and in such confusion for some way to please her. At any rate,
I hardly deserved her sudden frozen look. "I beg pardon," I stammered, and
I think my look at her must have been very humble--for me.

The others in the box were staring round at us. "Come on," cried Sam,
dragging at my arm, "let's go."

"Won't you come?" I said to his sister. I shouldn't have been able to keep
my state of mind out of my voice, if I had tried. And I didn't try.

Trust the right sort of woman to see the right sort of thing in a man
through any and all kinds of barriers of caste and manners and breeding.
Her voice was much softer as she said: "I think I must stay here. Thank
you, just the same."

As soon as Sam and I were alone, I apologized. "I hope you'll tell your
sister I'm sorry for that break," said I.

"Oh, that's all right," he answered, easy again, now that we were away from
the others. "You meant well--and motive's the thing."

"Motive--hell!" cried I in my anger at myself. "Nobody but a man's God
knows his motives; he doesn't even know them himself. I judge others by
what they do, and I expect to be judged in the same way. I see I've got a
lot to learn." Then I suddenly remembered the Travelers Club, and asked him
what he'd done about it.

"I--I've been--thinking it over," said he. "Are you _sure_ you want to
run the risk of an ugly cropper, Matt?"

I turned him round so that we were facing each other. "Do you want to do me
that favor, or don't you?" I demanded.

"I'll do whatever you say," he replied. "I'm thinking only of your
interests."

"Let _me_ take care of _them_," said I. "You put me up at that
club to-morrow. I'll send you the name of a seconder not later than noon."

"Up goes your name," he said. "But don't blame me for the consequences."

And my name went up, with Mowbray Langdon's brother, Tom, as seconder.
Every newspaper in town published the fact, most of them under big black
headlines. "The fun's about to begin," thought I, as I read. And I was
right, though I hadn't the remotest idea how big a ball I had opened.




V

DANGER SIGNALS


At that time I did not myself go over the bills before the legislatures
of those states in which I had interests. I trusted that work to my
lawyers--and, like every man who ever absolutely trusted an important
division of his affairs to another, I was severely punished. One morning
my eye happened to light upon a minor paragraph in a newspaper--a list
of the "small bills yesterday approved by the governor." In the list was
one "defining the power of sundry commissions." Those words seemed to
me somehow to spell "joker." But why did I call up my lawyers to ask
them about it? It's a mystery to me. All I know is that, busy as I was,
something inside me compelled me to drop everything else and hunt that
"joker" down.

I got Saxe--then senior partner in Browne, Saxe and Einstein--on the
'phone, and said: "Just see and tell me, will you, what is the 'bill
defining the power of sundry commissions'--the bill the governor signed
yesterday?"

"Certainly, Mr. Blacklock," came the answer. My nerves are, and always have
been, on the watchout for the looks and the tones and the gestures that are
just a shade off the natural; and I feel that I do Saxe no injustice when I
say his tone was, not a shade, but a full color, off the natural. So I was
prepared for what he said when he returned to the telephone. "I'm sorry,
Mr. Blacklock, but we seem unable to lay our hands on that bill at this
moment."

"Why not?" said I, in the tone that makes an employee jump as if a
whip-lash had cut him on the calves.

He had jumped all right, as his voice showed. "It's not in our file," said
he. "It's House Bill No. 427, and it's apparently not here."

"The hell you say!" I exclaimed. "Why?"

"I really can't explain," he pleaded, and the frightened whine confirmed my
suspicion.

"I guess not," said I, making the words significant and suggestive. "And
you're in my pay to look after such matters! But you'll have to explain, if
this turns out to be serious."

"Apparently our file of bills is complete except that one," he went on. "I
suppose it was lost in the mail, and I very stupidly didn't notice the gap
in the numbers."

"Stupid isn't the word I'd use," said I, with a laugh that wasn't of the
kind that cheers. And I rang off and asked for the state capitol on the
"long distance."

Before I got my connection Saxe, whose office was only two blocks away,
came flustering in. "The boy has been discharged, Mr. Blacklock," he began.

"What boy?" said I.

"The boy in charge of the bill file--the boy whose business it was to keep
the file complete."

"Send him to me, you damned scoundrel," said I. "I'll give him a job. What
do you take me for, anyway? And what kind of a cowardly hound are you to
disgrace an innocent boy as a cover for your own crooked work?"

"Really, Mr. Blacklock, this is most extraordinary," he expostulated.

"Extraordinary? I call it criminal," I retorted. "Listen to me. You look
after the legislation calendars for me, and for Langdon, and for Roebuck,
and for Melville, and for half a dozen others of the biggest financiers in
the country. It's the most important work you do for us. Yet you, as shrewd
and careful a lawyer as there is at the bar, want me to believe you trusted
that work to a boy! If you did, you're a damn fool. If you didn't, you're
a damn scoundrel. There's no more doubt in my mind than in yours which of
those horns has you sticking on it."

"You are letting your quick temper get away with you, Mr. Blacklock," he
deprecated.

"Stop lying!" I shouted, "I knew you had been doing some skulduggery when
I first heard your voice on the telephone. And if I needed any proof, the
meek way you've taken my abuse would furnish it, and to spare."

Just then the telephone bell rang and I got the right department and asked
the clerk to read House Bill 427. It contained five short paragraphs. The
"joker" was in the third, which gave the State Canal Commission the right
"to institute condemnation proceedings, and to condemn, and to abolish, any
canal not exceeding thirty miles in length and not a part of the connected
canal system of the state."

When I hung up the receiver I was so absorbed that I had forgotten Saxe was
waiting. He made some slight sound. I wheeled on him. I needed a vent. If
he hadn't been there I should have smashed a chair. But there was he--and I
kicked him out of my private office and would have kicked him out through
the anteroom into the outer hall, had he not gathered himself together and
run like a jack-rabbit.

Since that day I have done my own calendar watching.

By this incident I do not mean to suggest that there are not honorable men
in the legal profession. Most of them are men of the highest honor, as are
most business men, most persons of consequence in every department of life.
But you don't look for character in the proprietors, servants, customers
and hangers-on of dives. No more ought you to look for honor among any of
the people that have to do with the big gilded dive of the dollarocracy.
They are there to gamble, and to prostitute themselves. The fact that they
look like gentlemen and have the manners and the language of gentlemen
ought to deceive nobody but the callow chaps of the sort that believes the
swell gambler is "an honest fellow" and a "perfect gentleman otherwise,"
because he wears a dress suit in the evening and is a judge of books and
pictures. Lawyers are the doorkeepers and the messengers of the big dive;
and these lawyers, though they stand the highest and get the biggest fees,
are just what you would expect human beings to be who expose themselves to
such temptations, and yield whenever they get an opportunity, as eager and
as compliant as a _cocotte_.

My lawyers had sold me out; I, fool that I was, had not guarded the only
weak plate in my armor against my companions--the plate over my back, to
shed assassin thrusts. Roebuck and Langdon between them owned the governor;
he owned the Canal Commission; my canal, which gave me access to tide-water
for the product of my Manasquale mines, was as good as closed. I no longer
had the whip-hand in National Coal. The others could sell me out and take
two-thirds of my fortune, whenever they liked--for of what use were my
mines with no outlet now to any market, except the outlets the coal crowd
owned?

As soon as I had thought the situation out in all its bearings, I realized
that there was no escape for me now, that whatever chance to escape I might
have had was closed by my uncovering to Saxe and kicking him. But I did not
regret; it was worth the money it would cost me. Besides, I thought I saw
how I could later on turn it to good account. A sensible man never makes
fatal errors. Whatever he does is at least experience, and can also be used
to advantage. If Napoleon hadn't been half dead at Waterloo, I don't doubt
he would have used its disaster as a means to a greater victory.

Was I downcast by the discovery that those bandits had me apparently at
their mercy? Not a bit. Never in my life have I been downcast over money
matters more than a few minutes. Why should I be? Why should any man be who
has made himself all that he is? As long as his brain is sound, his capital
is unimpaired. When I walked into Mowbray Langdon's office, I was like a
thoroughbred exercising on a clear frosty morning; and my smile was as
fresh as the flower in my buttonhole. I thrust out my hand at him. "I
congratulate you," said I.

He took the proffered hand with a questioning look.

"On what?" said he. It is hard to tell from his face what is going on in
his head, but I think I guessed right when I decided that Saxe hadn't yet
warned him.

"I have just found out from Saxe," I pursued, "about the Canal Bill."

"What Canal Bill?" he asked.

"That puzzled look was a mistake, Langdon," said I, laughing at him. "When
you don't know anything about a matter, you look merely blank. You overdid
it; you've given yourself away."

He shrugged his shoulders. "As you please," said he. As you please was his
favorite expression; a stereotyped irony, for in dealing with him, things
were never as _you_ pleased, but always as _he_ pleased.

"Next time you want to dig a mine under anybody," I went on, "don't hire
Saxe. Really I feel sorry for you--to have such a clever scheme messed by
such an ass."

"If you don't mind, I'd like to know what you're talking about," said he,
with his patient, bored look.

"As you and Roebuck own the governor, I know your little law ends my little
canal."

"Still I don't know what you're talking about," drawled he. "You are always
suspecting everybody of double-dealing. I gather that this is another
instance of your infirmity. Really, Blacklock, the world isn't wholly made
up of scoundrels."

"I know that," said I. "And I will even admit that its scoundrels are
seldom made up wholly of scoundrelism. Even Roebuck would rather do the
decent thing, if he can do it without endangering his personal interests.
As for you--I regard you as one of the decentest men I ever knew--outside
of business. And even there, I believe you'd keep your word, as long as the
other fellow kept his."

"Thank you," said he, bowing ironically. "This flattery makes me suspect
you've come to get something."

"On the contrary," said I. "I want to give something. I want to give you my
coal mines."

"I thought you'd see that our offer was fair," said he. "And I'm glad you
have changed your mind about quarreling with your best friends. We can be
useful to you, you to us. A break would be silly."

"That's the way it looks to me," I assented. And I decided that my sharp
talk to Roebuck had set them to estimating my value to them.

"Sam Ellersly," Langdon presently remarked, "tells me he's campaigning hard
for you at the Travelers. I hope you'll make it. We're rather a slow crowd;
a few men like you might stir things up."

I am always more than willing to give others credit for good sense and good
motives. It was not vanity, but this disposition to credit others with
sincerity and sense, that led me to believe him, both as to the Coal matter
and as to the Travelers Club. "Thanks, Langdon," I said; and that he might
look no further for my motive, I added: "I want to get into that club much
as the winner of a race wants the medal that belongs to him. I've built
myself up into a rich man, into one of the powers in finance, and I feel
I'm entitled to recognition."

"I don't quite follow you," he said. "I can't see that you'll be either
better or worse for getting into the Travelers."

"No more I shall," replied I. "No more is the winner of the race the better
or the worse for having the medal. But he wants it."

He had a queer expression. I suppose he regarded it as a joke, my attaching
apparently so much importance to a thing he cared nothing about. "You've
always had that sort of thing," said I, "and so you don't appreciate it.
You're like a respectable woman. She can't imagine what all the fuss over
women keeping a good reputation is about. Well, just let her lose it!"

"Perhaps," said he.

"And," I went on, "you can have the rule about the waiting list suspended,
and can move me up and get me in at once."

"We don't do things in quite such a hurry at the Travelers," said he,
laughing. "However, we'll try to comply with your commands."

His generous, cordial offer made me half ashamed of the plot I had
underneath my submission about the coal mines--a plot to get into the coal
combine in order to gather the means to destroy it, and perhaps reconstruct
it with myself in control. I made up my mind that, if he continued to act
squarely, I would alter those plans.

"If you don't mind," Langdon was going on, "I'll make a suggestion--merely
a suggestion. It might not be a bad idea for you to arrange to--to
eliminate some of the--the popular features from your--brokerage business.
There are several influential members of the Travelers who have a--a
prejudice--"

"I understand," I interposed, to spare him the necessity of saying things
he thought I might regard as impertinent. "They look on me as a keeper of a
high-class bucket-shop." "That's about the way they'd put it."

"But the things they object to are, unfortunately, my 'strong hold,'" I
explained. "You other big fellows gather in the big investors by simply
announcing your projects in a dignified way. I haven't got the ear of that
class of people. I have to send out my letters, have to advertise in all
the cities and towns, have to catch the little fellows. You can afford to
send out engraved invitations; I have to gather in my people with brass
bands and megaphones. Don't forget that my people count in the totals
bigger than yours. And what's my chief value to you? Why, when you want to
unload, I furnish the crowd to unload on, the crowd that gives you and your
big customers cash for your water and wind. I don't see my way to letting
go of what I've got until I get hold of what I'm reaching for." All this
with not a suspicion in my mind that he was at the same game that had
caused Roebuck to "hint" that same proposal. What a "con man" high finance
got when Mowbray Langdon became active down town!

"That's true," he admitted, with a great air of frankness. "But the cry
that you're not a financier, but a bucket-shop man, might be fatal at the
Travelers. Of course, the sacrifice would be large for such a small object.
Still, you might have to make it--if you really want to get in."

"I'll think it over," said I. He thought I meant that I'd think over
dropping my power--thought I was as big a snob as he and his friends of the
Travelers, willing to make any sacrifice to be "in the push." But, while
Matthew Blacklock has the streak of snob in him that's natural to all
human beings and to most animals, he is not quite insane. No, the thing
I intended to think over was how to stay in the "bucket-shop" business,
but wash myself of its odium. Bucket-shop! What snobbery! Yet it's human
nature, too. The wholesale merchant looks down on the retailer, the big
retailer on the little; the burglar despises the pickpocket; the financier,
the small promoter; the man who works with his brain, the man who works
with his hands. A silly lot we are--silly to look down, sillier to feel
badly when we're looked down upon.




VI

OF "GENTLEMEN"


When I got back to my office and was settling I to the proofs of the
"Letter to Investors," which I published in sixty newspapers throughout the
country and which daily reached upward of five million people, Sam Ellersly
came in. His manner was certainly different from what it had ever been
before; a difference so subtle that I couldn't describe it more nearly than
to say it made me feel as if he had not until then been treating me as of
the same class with himself. I smiled to myself and made an entry in my
mental ledger to the credit of Mowbray Langdon.

"That club business is going nicely," said Sam. "Langdon is enthusiastic,
and I find you've got good friends on the committee."

I knew that well enough. Hadn't I been carrying them on my books at a good
round loss for two years?

"If it wasn't for--for some features of this business of yours," he went
on, "I'd say there wouldn't be the slightest trouble."

"Bucket-shop?" said I with an easy laugh, though this nagging was beginning
to get on my nerves.

"Exactly," said he. "And, you know, you advertise yourself like--like--"

"Like everybody else, only more successfully than most," said I. "Everybody
advertises, each one adapting his advertising to the needs of his
enterprises, as far as he knows how."

"That's true enough," he confessed. "But there are enterprises and
enterprises, you know."

"You can tell 'em, Sam," said I, "that I never put out a statement I don't
believe to be true, and that when any of my followers lose on one of my
tips, I've lost on it, too. For I play my own tips--and that's more than
can be said of any 'financier' in this town."

"It'd be no use to tell 'em that," said he. "Character's something of
a consideration in social matters, of course. But it isn't the chief
consideration by a long shot, and the absence of it isn't necessarily
fatal."

"I'm the biggest single operator in the country," I went on. "And it's my
methods that give me success--because I know how to advertise--how to keep
my name before the country, and how to make men say, whenever they hear
it: 'There's a shrewd, honest fellow.' That and the people it brings me,
in flocks, are my stock in trade. Honesty's a bluff with most of the big
respectables; under cover of their respectability, of their 'old and
honored names,' of their social connections, of their church-going and
that, they do all sorts of queer work."

"To hear you talk," put in Sam, with a grin, "one would think you didn't
shove off millions of dollars of suspicious stuff on the public through
those damn clever letters of yours."

"There's where you didn't stop to think, Sam," said I. "When I say a
stock's going to rise, it rises. When I stop talking about it, it may go on
rising or it may fall. But I never advise anybody to buy except when I have
every reason to believe it's a good thing. If they hold on too long, that's
their own lookout."

"But they invest--"

"You use words too carelessly," I said. "When I say buy, I don't mean
_invest_. When I mean invest, I say invest." There I laughed. "It's a
word I don't often use."

"And that's what you call honesty!" jeered he.

"That's what I call honesty," I retorted, "and that _is_ honesty." And
I thought so then.

"Well--every man has a right to his own notion of what's honest," he said.
"But no man's got a right to complain if a fellow with a different notion
criticizes him."

"None in the world," I assented. "Do _you_ criticize me?"

"No, no, no, indeed!" he answered, nervous, and taking seriously what I had
intended as a joke.

After a while I dragged in _the_ subject. "One thing I can and will
do to get myself in line for that club," I said, like a seal on promenade.
"I'm sick of the crowd I travel with--the men and the women. I feel it's
about time I settled down. I've got a fortune and establishment that needs
a woman to set it off. I can make some woman happy. You don't happen to
know any nice girls--the right sort, I mean?"

"Not many." said Sam. "You'd better go back to the country where you came
from, and get her there. She'd be eternally grateful, and her head wouldn't
be full of mercenary nonsense."

"Excuse me!" exclaimed I. "It'd turn her head. She'd go clean crazy. She'd
plunge in up to her neck--and not being used to these waters, she'd make
a show of herself, and probably drown, dragging me down with her, if
possible."

Sam laughed. "Keep out of marriage, Matt," he advised, not so obtuse to my
real point as he wanted me to believe. "I know the kind of girl you've got
in mind. She'd marry you for your money, and she'd never appreciate you.
She'd see in you only the lack of the things she's been taught to lay
stress on."

"For instance?"

"I couldn't tell you any more than I could enable you to recognize a person
you'd never seen by describing him."

"Ain't I a gentleman?" I inquired.

He laughed, as if the idea tickled him. "Of course," he said. "Of course."

"Ain't I got as proper a country place as there is a-going? Ain't my
apartment in the Willoughby a peach? Don't I give as elegant dinners as you
ever sat down to? Don't I dress right up to the Piccadilly latest? Don't
I act all right--know enough to keep my feet off the table and my knife
out of my mouth?" All true enough; and I so crude then that I hadn't a
suspicion what a flat contradiction of my pretensions and beliefs about
myself the very words and phrases were.

"You're right in it, Matt," said Sam. "But--well--you haven't traveled with
our crowd, and they're shy of strangers, especially as--as energetic a sort
of stranger as you are. You're too sudden, Matt--too dazzling--too--"

"Too shiny and new?" said I, beginning to catch his drift. "That'll be
looked after. What I want is you to take me round a bit."

"I can't ask you to people's houses," protested he, knowing I'd not realize
what a flimsy pretense that was.

While we were talking I had been thinking--working out the proposition
along lines he had indicated to me without knowing it. "Look here, Sam," I
said. "You imagine I'm trying to butt in with a lot of people that don't
know me and don't want to know me. But that ain't my point of view. Those
people can be useful to me. I need 'em. What do I care whether they want to
be useful to me or not? The machine'd have run down and rusted out long ago
if you and your friends' idea of a gentleman had been taken seriously by
anybody who had anything to do and knew how to do it. In this world you've
got to _make_ people do what's for your good and their own. Your
idea of a gentleman was put forward by lazy fakirs who were living off of
what their ungentlemanly ancestors had annexed, and who didn't want to be
disturbed. So they 'fixed' the game by passing these rules you and your
kind are fools enough to abide by--that is, you are fools, unless you
haven't got brains enough to get on in a free-and-fair-for-all."

Sam laughed.. "There's a lot of truth in what you say," he admitted.

"However," I ended, "my plans don't call for hurry just there. When I get
ready to go round, I'll let you know."




VII

BLACKLOCK GOES INTO TRAINING


This brings me to the ugliest story my enemies have concocted against me.
No one appreciates more thoroughly than I that, to rise high, a man must
have his own efforts seconded by the flood of vituperation that his enemies
send to overwhelm him, and which washes him far higher than he could hope
to lift himself. So I do not here refer to any attack on me in the public
prints; I think of them only with amusement and gratitude. The story that
rankles is the one these foes of mine set creeping, like a snake under the
fallen leaves, everywhere, anywhere, unseen, without a trail. It has been
whispered into every ear--and it is, no doubt, widely believed--that I
deliberately put old Bromwell Ellersly "in a hole," and there tortured him
until he consented to try to compel his daughter to marry me.

It is possible that, if I had thought of such a devilish device, I might
have tried it--is not all fair in love? But there was no need for my
cudgeling my brains to carry that particular fortification on my way to
what I had fixed my will upon. _Bromwell Ellersly came to me of his own
accord_.

I suppose the Ellerslys must have talked me over in the family circle.
However this may be, my acquaintance with her father began with Sam's
asking me to lunch with him. "The governor has heard me talk of you so
much," said he, "that he is anxious to meet you."

I found him a dried-up, conventional old gentleman, very proud of his
ancestors, none of whom I had ever heard of, and very positive that a great
deal of deference was due him--though on what grounds I could not then,
and can not now, make out. I soon discovered that it was the scent of my
stock-tip generosity, wafted to him by Sammy, that had put him hot upon my
trail. I hadn't gone far into his affairs before I learned that he had been
speculating, mortgaging, kiting notes, doing what he called, and thought,
"business" on a large scale. He regarded business as beneath the dignity
and the intellect of a "gentleman"--how my gorge does rise at that word! So
he put his great mind on it only for a few hours now and then; he reserved
the rest of his time for what he regarded as the proper concerns of a
gentleman--attending to social "duties," reading pretentious books, looking
at the pictures and listening to the music decreed fashionable.

They charge that I put him "in a hole." In fact, I found him at the bottom
of a deep pit he had dug for himself; and when he first met me he was,
without having the sense to realize it, just about to go smash, with not a
penny for his old age. As soon as I had got this fact clear of the tangle,
I showed it to him.

"My God, what is to become of _me_?" he said, That was his only
thought--not, what is to become of my wife and daughter; but, what is to
become of "_me_!" I do not blame him for this. Naturally enough,
people who have always been used to everything become, unconsciously,
monsters of egotism and selfishness; it is natural, too, that they should
imagine themselves liberal and generous if they give away occasionally
something that costs them, at most, nothing more serious than the foregoing
of some extravagant luxury or other. I recite his remark simply to show
what manner of man he was, what sort of creature I had to deal with.

I offered to help him, and I did help him. Is there any one, knowing
anything of the facts of life, who will censure me when I admit that
I--with deliberation--simply tided him over, did not make for him and
present to him a fortune? What chance should I have had, if I had been so
absurdly generous to a man who deserved nothing but punishment for his
selfish and bigoted mode of life? I took away his worst burdens; but I left
him more than he could carry without my help. And it was not until he had
appealed, in vain to all his social friends to relieve him of the necessity
of my aid, not until he realized that I was his only hope of escaping a
sharp comedown from luxury to very modest comfort in a flat somewhere--not
until then did his wife send me an invitation to dinner. And I had not so
much as hinted that I wanted it.

I shall never forget the smallest detail of that dinner--it was a purely
"family" affair, only the Ellerslys and I. I can feel now the oppressive
atmosphere, the look as of impending sacrilege upon the faces of the old
servants; I can see Mrs. Ellersly trying to condescend to be "gracious,"
and treating me as if I were some sort of museum freak or menagerie
exhibit. I can see Anita. She was like a statue of snow; she spoke not
a word; if she lifted her eyes, I failed to note it. And when I was
leaving--I with my collar wilted from the fierce, nervous strain I had been
enduring--Mrs. Ellersly, in that voice of hers into which I don't believe
any shade of a real human emotion ever penetrated, said: "You must come to
see us, Mr. Blacklock. We are always at home after five."

I looked at Miss Ellersly. She was white to the lips now, and the spangles
on her white dress seemed bits of ice glittering there. She said nothing;
but I knew she felt my look, and that it froze the ice the more closely in
around her heart. "Thank you," I muttered.

I stumbled in the hall; I almost fell down the broad steps. I stopped at
the first bar and took three drinks in quick succession. I went on down the
avenue, breathing like an exhausted swimmer. "I'll give her up!" I cried
aloud, so upset was I.

I am a man of impulse; but I have trained myself not to be a
_creature_ of impulse, at least not in matters of importance. Without
that patient and painful schooling, I shouldn't have got where I now am;
probably I'd still be blacking boots, or sheet-writing for some bookmaker,
or clerking it for some broker. Before I got to my rooms, the night air and
my habit of the "sober second thought" had cooled me back to rationality.

"I want her, I need her," I was saying to myself. "I am worthier of her
than are those mincing manikins she has been bred to regard as men. She is
for me--she belongs to me. I'll abandon her to no smirking puppet who'd
wear her as a donkey would a diamond. Why should I do myself and her an
injury simply because she has been too badly brought up to know her own
interest?"

And now I see all the smooth frauds, all the weak people who never have
purposes or passions worthy of the name, all the finicky, finger-dusting
gentry with the "fine souls," who flatter themselves that their timidity is
the squeamishness of superior sensibilities--I see all these feeble folk
fluttering their feeble fingers in horror of me. "The brute!" they cry;
"the bounder!" Well, I accept the names quite cheerfully. Those are the
epithets the wishy-washy always hurl at the strong; they put me in the
small and truly aristocratic class of men who _do_. I proudly avow
myself no subscriber to the code that was made by the shearers to encourage
the sheep to keep on being nice docile animals, trotting meekly up to
be shorn or slaughtered as their masters may decide. I harm no man, and
no woman; but neither do I pause to weep over any man or any woman who
flings himself or herself upon my steady spear. I try to be courteous and
considerate to all; but I do not stop when some fellow who has something
that belongs to me shouts "Rude!" at me to sheer me off.

At the same time, her delicate beauty, her quiet, distinctive, high-bred
manner, had thrust it home to me that in certain respects I was ignorant
and crude--as who would not have been, brought up as was I? I knew there
was, somewhere between my roughness of the uncut individuality and the
smoothness of the planed and sand-papered nonentity of her "set," a mean,
better than either, better because more efficient.

When this was clear to me I sent for my trainer. He was one of those spare,
wiry Englishmen, with skin like tanned and painted hide--brown except
where the bones seem about to push their sharp angles through, and there
a frosty, winter-apple red. He dressed like a Deadwood gambler, he talked
like a stable boy; but for all that, you couldn't fail to see he was a
gentleman born and bred. Yes, he was a gentleman, though he mixed profanity
into his ordinary flow of conversation more liberally than did I when in a
rage.

I stood up before him, threw my coat back, thrust my thumbs into my
trousers pockets and slowly turned about like a ready-made tailor's dummy.
"Monson," said I, "what do you think of me?"

He looked me over as if I were a horse he was about to buy. "Sound, I'd
say," was his verdict. "Good wind--uncommon good wind. A goer, and a
stayer. Not a lump. Not a hair out of place." He laughed. "Action a bit
high perhaps--for the track. But a grand reach."

"I know all that," said I. "You miss my point. Suppose you wanted to enter
me for--say, the Society Sweepstakes--what then?"

"Um--um," he muttered reflectively. "That's different."

"Don't I look--sort of--new--as if the varnish was still sticky and might
come off on the ladies' dresses and on the fine furniture?"

"Oh--that!" said he dubiously. "But all those kinds of things are matters
of taste."

"Out with it!" I commanded. "Don't be afraid. I'm not one of those damn
fools that ask for criticism when they want only flattery, as you ought
to know by this time. I'm aware of my good points, know how good they are
better than anybody else in the world. And I suspect my weak points--always
did. I've got on chiefly because I made people tell me to my face what
they'd rather have grinned over behind my back."

"What's your game?" asked Monson. "I'm in the dark."

"I'll tell you, Monson. I hired you to train horses. Now I want to hire you
to train me, too. As it's double work, it's double pay."

"Say on," said he, "and say it slow."

"I want to marry," I explained. "I want to inspect all the offerings before
I decide. You are to train me so that I can go among the herds that'd shy
off from me if I wasn't on to their little ways."

He looked suspiciously at me, doubtless thinking this some new development
of "American humor."

"I mean it," I assured him. "I'm going to train, and train hard. I've got
no time to lose. I must be on my way down the aisle inside of three months.
I give you a free hand. I'll do just what you say."

"The job's out of my line," he protested.

"I know better," said I. "I've always seen the parlor under the stable in
you. We'll begin right away. What do you think of these clothes?"

"Well--they're not exactly noisy," he said. "But--they're far from silent.
That waistcoat--" He stopped and gave me another nervous, timid look. He
found it hard to believe a man of my sort, so self-assured, would stand the
truth from a man of his second-fiddle sort.

"Go on!" I commanded. "Speak out! Mowbray Langdon had on one twice as loud
the other day at the track."

"But, perhaps you'll remember, it was only his waistcoat that was loud--not
he himself. Now, a man of your manner and voice and--you've got a look out
of the eyes that'd wake the dead all by itself. People can feel you coming
before they hear you. When they feel and hear and see all together--it's
like a brass band in scarlet uniform, with a seven-foot, sky-blue drum
major. If your hair wasn't so black and your eyes so steel-blue and sharp,
and your teeth so big and strong and white, and your jaw such a--such
a--_jaw_--"

"I see the point," said I. And I did. "You'll find you won't need to tell
me many things twice. I've got a busy day before me here; so we'll have
to suspend this until you come to dine with me at eight--at my rooms.
I want you to put in the time well. Go to my house in the country and
then up to my apartment; take my valet with you; look through all my
belongings--shirts, ties, socks, trousers, waistcoats, clothes of every
kind. Throw out every rag you think doesn't fit in with what I want to be.
How's my grammar?"

I was proud of it; I had been taking more or less pains with my mode of
speech for a dozen years. "Rather too good," said he. "But that's better
than making the breaks that aren't regarded as good form."

"Good form!" I exclaimed. "That's it! That's what I want! What does 'good
form' mean?"

He laughed. "You can search me," said he. "I could easier tell
you--anything else. It's what everybody recognizes on sight, and nobody
knows how to describe. It's like the difference between a cultivated
'jimson' weed and a wild one."

"Like the difference between Mowbray Langdon and me," I suggested
good-naturedly. "How about my manners?"

"Not so bad," said he. "Not so rotten bad. But--when you're polite, you're
a little too polite; when you're not polite, you--"

"Show where I came from too plainly?" said I. "Speak right out--hit good
and hard. Am I too frank for 'good form'?"

"You needn't bother about that," he assured me. "Say whatever comes into
your head--only, be sure the right sort of thing comes into your head.
Don't talk too much about yourself, for instance. It's good form to think
about yourself all the time; it's bad form to let people see it--in your
talk. Say as little as possible about your business and about what you've
got. Don't be lavish with the I's and the my's."

"That's harder," said I. "I'm a man who has always minded his own business,
and cared for nothing else. What could I talk about, except myself?"

"Blest if I know," replied he. "Where you want to go, the last thing people
mind is their own business--in talk, at least. But you'll get on all right
if you don't worry too much about it. You've got natural independence, and
an original way of putting things, and common sense. Don't be afraid."

"Afraid!" said I. "I never knew what it was to be afraid."

"Your nerve'll carry you through," he assured me. "Nerve'll take a man
anywhere."

"You never said a truer thing in your life," said I. "It'll take him
wherever he wants, and, after he's there, it'll get him whatever he wants."

And with that, I, thinking of my plans and of how sure I was of success,
began to march up and down the office with my chest thrown out--until I
caught myself at it. That stopped me, set me off in a laugh at my own
expense, he joining in with a kind of heartiness I did not like, though I
did not venture to check him.

So ended the first lesson--the first of a long series. I soon saw that
Monson was being most useful to me--far more useful than if he were a
"perfect gentleman" with nothing of the track and stable and back stairs
about him. Being a sort of betwixt and between, he could appreciate my
needs as they could not have been appreciated by a fellow who had never
lived in the rough-and-tumble I had fought my way up through. And being
at bottom a real gentleman, and not one of those nervous, snobbish
make-believes, he wasn't so busy trying to hide his own deficiencies
from me that he couldn't teach me anything. He wasn't afraid of being
found out, as Sam--or perhaps, even Langdon--would have been in the same
circumstances. I wonder if there is another country where so many gentlemen
and ladies are born, or another where so many of them have their natural
gentility educated out of them.




VIII

ON THE TRAIL OF LANGDON


I had Monson with me twice each week-day--early in the morning and again
after business hours until bed-time. Also he spent the whole of every
Saturday and Sunday with me. He developed astonishing dexterity as a
teacher, and as soon as he realized that I had no false pride and was
thoroughly in earnest, he handled me without gloves--like a boxing teacher
who finds that his pupil has the grit of a professional. It was easy enough
for me to grasp the theory of my new business--it was nothing more than "Be
natural." But the rub came in making myself naturally of the right sort.
I had--as I suppose every man of intelligence and decent instincts has--a
disposition to be friendly and simple. But my manner was by nature what you
might call abrupt. My not very easy task was to learn the subtle difference
between the abrupt that injects a tonic into social intercourse, and the
abrupt that makes the other person shut up with a feeling of having been
insulted.

Then, there was the matter of good taste in conversation. Monson found,
as I soon saw, that my everlasting self-assertiveness was beyond cure. As
I said to him: "I'm afraid you might easier succeed in reducing my chest
measure." But we worked away at it, and perhaps my readers may discover
even in this narrative, though it is necessarily egotistic, evidence of at
least an honest effort not to be baldly boastful. Monson would have liked
to make of me a self-deprecating sort of person--such as he was himself,
with the result that the other fellow always got the prize and he got left.
But I would have none of it.

"How are people to know about you, if you don't tell 'em?" I argued. "Don't
you yourself admit that men take a man at his own valuation less a slight
discount, and that women take him at his own valuation plus an allowance
for his supposed modesty?"

"Cracking yourself up is vulgar, nevertheless," declared the Englishman.
"It's the chief reason why we on the other side look on you Americans as a
lot of vulgarians--"

"And are in awe of our superior cleverness," I put in.

He laughed.

"Well, do the best you can," said he. "Only, you really must not brag and
swagger, and you must get out of the habit of talking louder than any one
else."

In the matter of dress, our task was easy. I had a fancy for bright
colors and for strong contrasts; but I know I never indulged in clashes
and discords. It was simply that in clothes I had the same taste as in
pictures--the taste that made me prefer Rubens to Rembrandt. We cast out of
my wardrobe everything in the least doubtful; and I gave away my jeweled
canes, my pins and links and buttons for shirts and waistcoats except plain
gold and pearls. I even left off the magnificent diamond I had worn for
years on my little finger--but I didn't give away that stone; I put it
by for resetting into an engagement ring. However, when I was as quietly
dressed as it was possible for a gentleman to be, he still studied me
dubiously, when he thought I wasn't seeing him. And I recall that he said
once: "It's your face, Blacklock. If you could only manage to look less
like a Spanish bull dashing into the ring, gazing joyfully about for
somebody to gore and toss!"

"But I can't," said I. "And I wouldn't if I could--because that's
_me_!"

One Saturday he brought a dancing master down to my country place--Dawn
Hill, which I bought of the Dumont estate and completely remodeled. I saw
what the man's business was the instant I looked at him. I left him in the
hall and took Monson into my den.

"Not for me!" I protested. "There's where I draw the line."

"You don't understand," he urged. "This fellow, this Alphonse Lynch, out in
the hall there, isn't going to teach you dancing so that you may dance, but
so that you shall be less awkward in strange company."

"My walk suits me," said I. "And I don't fall over furniture or trip people
up."

"True enough," he answered. "But you haven't the complete control of your
body that'll make you unconscious of it when you're suddenly shot by a
butler into a room full of people you suspect of being unfriendly and
critical."

Not until he used his authority as trainer-in-full-charge, did I yield. It
may seem absurd to some for a serious man like me solemnly to caper about
in imitation of a scraping, grimacing French-Irishman; but Monson was
right, and I haven't in the least minded the ridicule he has brought on me
by tattling this and the other things everywhere, since he turned against
me. It's nothing new under the sun for the crowds of chuckleheads to laugh
where they ought to applaud; their habit is to laugh and to applaud in the
wrong places. There's no part of my career that I'm prouder of than the
whole of this thorough course of education in the trifles that are yet not
trifles. To have been ignorant is no disgrace; the disgrace comes when one
persists in ignorance and glories in it.

Yet those who make the most pretensions in this topsy-turvy of a world
regard it as a disgrace to have been obscure and ignorant, and pride
themselves upon their persistence in their own kind of obscurity and
ignorance! No wonder the few strong men do about as they please with such a
race of nincompoopery. If they didn't grow old and tired, what would they
not do?

All this time I was giving myself--or thought I was giving myself--chiefly
to my business, as usual. I know now that the new interests had in fact
crowded the things down town far into the background, had impaired my
judgment, had suspended my common sense; but I had no inkling of this then,
The most important matter that was occupying me down town was pushing
Textile up toward par. Langdon's doubts, little though they influenced me,
still made enough of an impression to cause me to test the market. I sold
for him at ninety, as he had directed; I sold in quantity every day. But no
matter how much I unloaded, the price showed no tendency to break.

"This," said I to myself, "is a testimonial to the skill with which I
prepared for my bull campaign." And that seemed to me--all unsuspicious as
I then was--a sufficient explanation of the steadiness of the stock which I
had worked to establish in the public confidence.

I felt that, if my matrimonial plans should turn out as I confidently
expected, I should need a much larger fortune than I had--for I was
determined that my wife should have an establishment second to none.
Accordingly, I enlarged my original plan. I had intended to keep close
to Langdon in that plunge; I believed I controlled the market, but I
hadn't been in Wall Street twenty years without learning that the worst
thunderbolts fall from cloudless skies. Without being in the least
suspicious of Langdon, and simply acting on the general principle that
surprise and treachery are part of the code of high finance, I had prepared
to guard, first, against being taken in the rear by a secret change of plan
on Langdon's part, and second, against being involved and overwhelmed by a
sudden secret attack on him from some associate of his who might think he
had laid himself open to successful raiding.

The market is especially dangerous toward Christmas and in the
spring--toward Christmas the big fellows often juggle the stocks to get the
money for their big Christmas gifts and alms; toward spring the motive is,
of course, the extra summer expenses of their families and the commencement
gifts to colleges. It was now late in the spring.

I say, I had intended to be cautious. I abandoned caution and rushed in
boldly, feeling that the market was, in general, safe and that Textile was
under my control--and that I was one of the kings of high finance, with
my lucky star in the zenith. I decided to continue my bull campaign on my
own account for two weeks after I had unloaded for Langdon, to continue
it until the stock was at par. I had no difficulty in pushing it to
ninety-seven, and I was not alarmed when I found myself loaded up with
it, quoted at ninety-eight for the preferred and thirty for the common. I
assumed that I was practically its only supporter and that it would slowly
settle back as I slowly withdrew my support.

To my surprise, the stock did not yield immediately under my efforts to
depress it. I sold more heavily; Textile continued to show a tendency to
rise. I sold still more heavily; it broke a point or two, then steadied
and rose again. Instead of sending out along my secret lines for inside
information, as I should have done, and would have done had I not been in
a state of hypnotized judgment--I went to Langdon! I who had been studying
those scoundrels for twenty-odd years, and dealing directly with and for
them for ten years!

He wasn't at his office; they told me there that they didn't know whether
he was at his town house or at his place in the country--"probably in the
country," said his down-town secretary, with elaborate carelessness. "He
wouldn't be likely to stay away from the office or not to send for me, if
he were in town, would he?"

It takes an uncommon good liar to lie to me when I'm on the alert. As I was
determined to see Langdon, I was in so far on the alert. And I felt the
fellow was lying. "That's reasonable," said I. "Call me up, if you hear
from him. I want to see him--important, but not immediate." And I went
away, having left the impression that I would make no further effort.

Incredible though it may seem, especially to those who know how careful I
am to guard every point and to see in every friend a possible foe, I still
did not suspect that smooth, that profound scoundrel. I do not use these
epithets with heat. I flatter myself I am a connoisseur of finesse and can
look even at my own affairs with judicial impartiality. And Langdon was,
and is now, such a past master of finesse that he compels the admiration
even of his victims. He's like one of those fabled Damascus blades. When
he takes a leg off, the victim forgets to suffer in his amazement at the
cleanness of the wound, in his incredulity that the leg is no longer
part of him. "Langdon," said I to myself, "is a sly dog. No doubt he's
busy about some woman, and has covered his tracks." Yet I ought, in the
circumstances, instantly to have suspected that I was the person he was
dodging.

I went up to his house. You, no doubt, have often seen and often admired
its beautiful facade, so simple that it hides its own magnificence from
all but experienced eyes, so perfect in its proportions that it hides the
vastness of the palace of which it is the face. I have heard men say: "I'd
like to have a house--a moderate-sized house--one about the size of Mowbray
Langdon's--though perhaps a little more elegant, not so plain."

That's typical of the man. You have to look closely at him, to study him,
before you appreciate how he has combined a thousand details of manner and
dress into an appearance which, while it can not but impress the ordinary
man with its distinction, suggests to all but the very observant the most
modest plainness and simplicity. How few realize that simplicity must be
profound, complex, studied, not to be and to appear crude and coarse. In
those days that truth had just begun to dawn on me.

"Mr. Langdon isn't at home," said the servant.

I had been at his house once before; I knew he occupied the left side--the
whole of the second floor, so shut off that it not only had a separate
entrance, but also could not be reached by those in the right side of
the house without descending to the entrance hall and ascending the left
stairway.

"Just take my card to his private secretary, to Mr. Rathburn," said I. "Mr.
Langdon has doubtless left a message for me."

The butler hesitated, yielded, showed me into the reception-room off the
entrance hall. I waited a few seconds, then adventured the stairway to
the left, up which he had disappeared. I entered the small salon in which
Langdon had received me on my other visit. From the direction of an open
door, I heard his voice--he was saying: "I am not at home. There's no
message."

And still I did not realize that it was I he was avoiding!

"It's no use now, Langdon," I called cheerfully. "Beg pardon for seeming to
intrude. I misunderstood--or didn't hear where the servant said I was to
wait. However, no harm done. So long! I'm off." But I made no move toward
the door by which I had entered; instead, I advanced a few feet nearer the
door from which his voice had come.

After a brief--a very brief--pause, there came in Langdon's
voice--laughing, not a trace of annoyance: "I might have known! Come in,
Matt!"




IX

LANGDON AT HOME


I entered, with an amused glance at the butler, who was giving over his
heavy countenance to a delightful exhibition of disgust and discomfiture.
It was Langdon's sitting-room. He had had the carved antique oak interior
of a room in an old French palace torn out and transported to New York
and set up for him. I had made a study of that sort of thing, and at Dawn
Hill had done something toward realizing my own ideas of the splendid.
But a glance showed me that I was far surpassed. What I had done seemed
in comparison like the composition of a school-boy beside an essay by
Goldsmith or Hazlitt.

And in the midst of this quiet splendor sat, or rather lounged, Langdon,
reading the newspapers. He was dressed in a dark blue velvet house-suit
with facings and cords of blue silk a shade or so lighter than the suit. I
had always thought him handsome; he looked now like a god. He was smoking
a cigarette in an oriental holder nearly a foot long; but the air of
the room, so perfect was the ventilation, instead of being scented with
tobacco, had the odor of some fresh, clean, slightly saline perfume.

I think what was in my mind must have shown in my face, must have subtly
flattered him, for, when I looked at him, he was giving me a look of
genuine friendly kindliness. "This is--perfect, Langdon," said I. "And I
think I'm a judge."

"Glad you like it," said he, trying to dissemble his satisfaction in so
strongly impressing me.

"You must take me through your house sometime," I went on. "I'm going to
build soon. No--don't be afraid I'll imitate. I'm too vain for that. But I
want suggestions. I'm not ashamed to go to school to a master--to anybody,
for that matter."

"Why do you build?" said he. "A town house is a nuisance. If I could induce
my wife to take the children to the country to live, I'd dispose of this."

"That's it--the wife," said I.

"But you have no wife. At least--"

"No," I replied with a laugh. "Not yet. But I'm going to have."

I interpreted his expression then as amused cynicism. But I see a different
meaning in it now. And I can recall his tone, can find a strained note
which then escaped me in his usual mocking drawl.

"To marry?" said he. "I haven't heard of that."

"Nor no one else," said I.

"Except her," said he.

"Not even except her," said I. "But I've got my eye on her--and you know
what that means with me."

"Yes, I know," drawled he. Then he added, with a curious twinkle which I do
not now misunderstand: "We have somewhat the same weakness."

"I shouldn't call it a weakness," said I. "It's the quality that makes the
chief difference between us and the common run--the fellows that have no
purposes beyond getting comfortably through each day--"

"And getting real happiness," he interrupted, with just a tinge of
bitterness.

"We wouldn't think it happiness," was my answer.

"The worse for us," he replied. "We're under the tyranny of to-morrow--and
happiness is impossible."

"May I look at your bedroom?" I asked.

"Certainly," he assented.

I pushed open the door he indicated. At first glimpse I was disappointed.
The big room looked like a section of a hospital ward. It wasn't until
I had taken a second and very careful look at the tiled floor, walls,
ceiling, that I noted that those plain smooth tiles were of the very
finest, were probably of his own designing, certainly had been imported
from some great Dutch or German kiln. Not an inch of drapery, not a
picture, nothing that could hold dust or germs anywhere; a square of
sanitary matting by the bed; another square opposite an elaborate
exercising machine. The bed was of the simplest metallic construction--but
I noted that the metal was the finest bronze. On it was a thin, hard
mattress. You could wash the big room down and out with the hose, without
doing any damage.

"Quite a contrast," said I, glancing from the one room to the other.

"My architect is a crank on sanitation," he explained, from his lounge.

I noted that the windows were huge--to admit floods of light--and that
they were hermetically sealed so that the air should be only the pure air
supplied from the ventilating apparatus. To many people that room would
have seemed a cheaply got together cell; to me, once I had examined it, it
was evidently built at enormous cost and represented an extravagance of
common-sense luxury which was more than princely or royal.

Suddenly my mind reverted to my business. "How do you account for the
steadiness of Textile, Langdon?" I asked, returning to the carved
sitting-room and trying to put those surroundings out of my mind.

"I don't account for it," was his languid, uninterested reply.

"Any of your people under the market?"

"It isn't to my interest to have it supported, is it?" he replied.

"I know that," I admitted. "But why doesn't it drop?"

"Those letters of yours may have overeducated the public in confidence,"
suggested he. "Your followers have the habit of believing implicitly
whatever you say."

"Yes, but I haven't written a line about Textile for nearly a month now," I
pretended to object, my vanity fairly purring with pleasure.

"That's the only reason I can give," said he.

"You are sure none of your people is supporting the stock?" I asked, as a
form and not for information; for I thought I knew they weren't--I trusted
him to have seen to that.

"I'd like to get my holdings back," said he. "I can't buy until it's down.
And I know none of my people would dare support it."

You will notice he did not say directly that he was not himself supporting
the market; he simply so answered me that I, not suspecting him, would
think he reassured me. There is another of those mysteries of conscience.
Had it been necessary, Langdon would have told me the lie flat and direct,
would have told it without a tremor of the voice or a blink of the eye,
would have lied to me as I have heard him, and almost all the big fellows,
lie under oath before courts and legislative committees; yet, so long as it
was possible, he would thus lie to me with lies that were not lies. As if
negative lies are not falser and more cowardly than positive lies, because
securer and more deceptive.

"Well, then, the price must break," said I, "It won't be many days before
the public begins to realize that there isn't anybody under Textile."

"No sharp break!" he said carelessly. "No panic!"

"I'll see to that," replied I, with not a shadow of a notion of the
subtlety behind his warning.

"I hope it will break soon," he then said, adding in his friendliest voice
with what I now know was malignant treachery: "You owe it to me to bring it
down." That meant that he wished me to increase my already far too heavy
and dangerous line of shorts.

Just then a voice--a woman's voice--came from the salon. "May I come in? Do
I interrupt?" it said, and its tone struck me as having in it something of
plaintive appeal.

"Excuse me a moment, Blacklock," said he, rising with what was for him
haste.

But he was too late. The woman entered, searching the room with a piercing,
suspicious gaze. At once I saw, behind that look, a jealousy that pounced
on every object that came into its view, and studied it with a hope that
feared and a fear that hoped. When her eyes had toured the room, they
paused upon him, seemed to be saying: "You've baffled me again, but I'm not
discouraged. I shall catch you yet."

"Well, my dear?" said Langdon, whom she seemed faintly to amuse. "It's only
Mr. Blacklock. Mr. Blacklock, my wife."

I bowed; she looked coldly at me, and her slight nod was more than a hint
that she wished to be left alone with her husband.

I said to him: "Well, I'll be off. Thank you for--"

"One moment," he interrupted. Then to his wife: "Anything special?"

She flushed. "No--nothing special. I just came to see you. But if I am
disturbing you--as usual--"

"Not at all," said he. "When Blacklock and I have finished, I'll come to
you. It won't be longer than an hour--or so."

"Is that all?" she said almost savagely. Evidently she was one of those
women who dare not make "scenes" with their husbands in private and so are
compelled to take advantage of the presence of strangers to ease their
minds. She was an extremely pretty woman, would have been beautiful but for
the worn, strained, nervous look that probably came from her jealousy. She
was small in stature; her figure was approaching that stage at which a
woman is called "well rounded" by the charitable, fat by the frank and
accurate. A few years more and she would be hunting down and destroying
early photographs. There was in the arrangement of her hair and in the
details of her toilet--as well as in her giving way to her tendency to
fat--that carelessness that so many women allow themselves, once they are
safely married to a man they care for.

"Curious," thought I, "that being married to him should make her feel
secure enough of him to let herself go, although her instinct is warning
her all the time that she isn't in the least sure of him. Her laziness must
be stronger than her love--her laziness or her vanity."

While I was thus sizing her up, she was reluctantly leaving. She didn't
even give me the courtesy of a bow--whether from self-absorption or from
haughtiness I don't know; probably from both. She was a Western woman,
and when those Western women do become perverts to New York's gospel of
snobbishness, they are the worst snobs in the push. Langdon, regardless of
my presence, looked after her with a faintly amused, faintly contemptuous
expression that--well, it didn't fit in with _my_ notion of what
constitutes a gentleman. In fact, I didn't know which of them had come off
the worse in that brief encounter in my presence. It was my first glimpse
of a fashionable behind-the-scenes, and it made a profound impression upon
me--an impression that has grown deeper as I have learned how much of the
typical there was in it. Dirt looks worse in the midst of finery than where
one naturally expects to find it--looks worse, and is worse.

When we were seated again, Langdon, after a few reflective puffs at his
cigarette, said: "So you're about to marry?"

"I hope so," said I. "But as I haven't asked her yet, I can't be quite
sure." For obvious reasons I wasn't so enamored of the idea of matrimony as
I had been a few minutes before.

"I trust you're making a sensible marriage," said he. "If the part that may
be glamour should by chance rub clean away, there ought to be something to
make one feel he wasn't wholly an ass."

"Very sensible," I replied with emphasis. "I want the woman. I need her."

He inspected the coal of his cigarette, lifting his eyebrows at it.
Presently he said: "And she?"

"I don't know how she feels about it--as I told you," I replied curtly. In
spite of myself, my eyes shifted and my skin began to burn. "By the way,
Langdon, what's the name of your architect?"

"Wilder and Marcy," said he. "They're fairly satisfactory, if you tell
'em exactly what you want and watch 'em all the time. They're perfectly
conventional and so can't distinguish between originality that's artistic
and originality that's only bizarre. They're like most people--they keep to
the beaten track and fight tooth and nail against being drawn out of it and
against those who do go out of it."

"I'll have a talk with Marcy this very day," said I.

"Oh, you're in a hurry!" He laughed. "And you haven't asked her. You remind
me of that Greek philosopher who was in love with Lais. They asked him:
'But does she love you?' And he said: 'One does not inquire of the fish one
likes whether it likes one.'"

I flushed. "You'll pardon me, Langdon," said I, "but I don't like that. It
isn't my attitude at all toward--the right sort of women."

He looked half-quizzical, half-apologetic. "Ah, to be sure," said he. "I
forgot you weren't a married man."

"I don't think I'll ever lose the belief that there's a quality in a good
woman for a man to--to respect and look up to."

"I envy you," said he, but his eyes were mocking still. I saw he was a
little disdainful of my rebuking _him_--and angry at me, too.

"Woman's a subject of conversation that men ought to avoid," said I
easily--for, having set myself right, I felt I could afford to smooth him
down.

"Well, good-by--good luck--or, if I may be permitted to say it to one so
touchy, the kind of luck you're bent on having, whether it's good or bad."

"If my luck ain't good, I'll make it good," said I with a laugh.

And so I left him, with a look in his eyes that came back to me long
afterward when I realized the full meaning of that apparently almost
commonplace interview.

That same day I began to plunge on Textile, watching the market closely,
that I might go more slowly should there be signs of a dangerous break--for
no more than Langdon did I want a sudden panicky slump. The price held
steady, however; but I, fool that I was, certain the fall must come,
plunged on, digging the pit for my own destruction deeper and deeper.




X

TWO "PILLARS OF SOCIETY"


I was neither seeing nor hearing from the Ellerslys, father or son; but,
as I knew why, I was not disquieted. I had made them temporarily easy in
their finances just before that dinner, and they, being fatuous, incurable
optimists, were probably imagining they would never need me again. I did
not disturb them until Monson and I had got my education so well under
way that even I, always severe in self-criticism and now merciless, was
compelled to admit to myself a distinct change for the better. You know
how it is with a boy at the "growing age"--how he bursts out of clothes
and ideas of life almost as fast as they are supplied him, so swiftly is
he transforming into a man. Well, I think it is much that way with us
Americans all our lives; we continue on and on at the growing age. And
if one of us puts his or her mind hard upon growth in some particular
direction, you see almost overnight a development fledged to the last
tail-feathers and tip of top-knot where there was nothing at all. What
miracles can be wrought by an open mind and a keen sense of the cumulative
power of the unwasted minute! All this apropos of a very trivial matter,
you may be thinking. But, be careful how you judge what is trivial and what
important in a universe built up of atoms.

However-- When my education seemed far enough advanced, I sent for Sam.
He, after his footless fashion, didn't bother to acknowledge my note. His
margin account with me was at the moment straight; I turned to his father.
I had my cashier send him a formal, type-written letter signed Blacklock &
Co., informing him that his account was overdrawn and that we "would be
obliged if he would give the matter his immediate attention." The note must
have reached him the following morning; but he did not come until, after
waiting three days, "we" sent him a sharp demand for a check for the
balance due us.

A pleasing, aristocratic-looking figure he made as he entered my office,
with his air of the man whose hands have never known the stains of toil,
with his manner of having always received deferential treatment. There
was no pretense in my curt greeting, my tone of "despatch your business,
sir, and be gone"; for I was both busy and much irritated against him.
"I guess you want to see our cashier," said I, after giving him a hasty,
absent-minded hand-shake. "My boy out there will take you to him."

The old do-nothing's face lost its confident, condescending expression. His
lip quivered, and I think there were tears in his bad, dim, gray-green
eyes. I suppose he thought his a profoundly pathetic case; no doubt he
hadn't the remotest conception what he really was--and no doubt, also,
there are many who would honestly take his view. As if the fact that he
was born with all possible advantages did not make him and his plight
inexcusable. It passes my comprehension why people of his sort, when
suffering from the calamities they have deliberately brought upon
themselves by laziness and self-indulgence and extravagance, should get
a sympathy that is withheld from those of the honest human rank and file
falling into far more real misfortunes not of their own making.

"No, my dear Blacklock," said he, cringing now as easily as he had
condescended--how to cringe and how to condescend are taught at the same
school, the one he had gone to all his life. "It is you I want to talk
with. And, first, I owe you my apologies. I know you'll make allowances
for one who was never trained to business methods. I've always been like a
child in those matters."

"You frighten me," said I. "The last 'gentleman' who came throwing me off
my guard with that plea was shrewd enough to get away with a very large
sum of my hard-earned money. Besides"--and I was laughing, though not too
good-naturedly--"I've noticed that you 'gentlemen' become vague about
business only when the balance is against you. When it's in your favor, you
manage to get your minds on business long enough to collect to the last
fraction of a cent."

He heartily echoed my laugh. "I only wish I _were_ clever," said he.
"However, I've come to ask your indulgence. I'd have been here before,
but those who owe me have been putting me off. And they're of the sort of
people whom it's impossible to press."

"I'd like to accommodate you further," said I, shedding that last little
hint as a cliff sheds rain, "but your account has been in an unsatisfactory
state for nearly a month now."

"I'm sure you'll give me a few days longer," was his easy reply, as if we
were discussing a trifle. "By the way, you haven't been to see us yet. Only
this morning my wife was wondering when you'd come. You quite captivated
her, Blacklock. Can't you dine with us to-morrow night--no, Sunday--at
eight? We're having in a few people I think you'd like to meet."

If any one imagines that this bald, businesslike way of putting it set
my teeth on edge, let him dismiss the idea; my nerves had been too long
accustomed to the feel of the harsh facts of life. It is evidence of the
shrewdness of the old fellow at character-reading that he wasted none of
his silk and velvet pretenses upon me, and so saved his time and mine.
Probably he wished me to see that I need have no timidity or false shame in
dealing with him, that when the time came to talk business I was free to
talk it in my own straight fashion.

"Glad to come," said I, wishing to be rid of him, now that my point was
gained. "We'll let the account stand open for the present--I rather think
your stocks are going up. Give my regards to--the ladies, please,
especially to Miss Anita."

He winced, but thanked me graciously; gave me his soft, fine hand to shake
and departed, as eager to be off as I to be rid of him. "Sunday next--at
eight," were his last words. "Don't fail us"--that in the tone of a king
addressing some obscure person whom he had commanded to court. It may be
that old Ellersly was wholly unconscious of his superciliousness, fancied
he was treating me as if I were almost an equal; but I suspect he rather
accentuated his natural manner, with the idea of impressing upon me that
in our deal he was giving at least as much as I.

I recall that I thought about him for several minutes after he was
gone--philosophized on the folly of a man's deliberately weaving a net to
entangle himself. As if any man was ever caught in any net not of his own
weaving and setting; as if I myself were not just then working at the last
row of meshes of a net in which I was to ensnare myself.

My petty and inevitable success with that helpless creature added
amazingly, ludicrously, to that dangerous elation which, as I can now see,
had been growing in me ever since the day Roebuck yielded so readily to my
demands as to National Coal. The whole trouble with me was that up to that
time I had won all my victories by the plainest kind of straightaway hard
work. I was imagining myself victor in contests of wit against wit, when,
in fact, no one with any especial equipment of brains had ever opposed me;
all the really strong men had been helping me because they found me useful.
Too easy success--there is the clue to the wild folly of my performances in
those days, a folly that seems utterly inconsistent with the reputation for
shrewdness I had, and seemed to have earned.

I can find a certain small amount of legitimate excuse for my falling under
Langdon's spell. He had, and has, fascinations, through personal magnetism,
which it is hardly in human nature to resist. But for my self-hypnotism in
the case of Roebuck, I find no excuse whatever for myself.

He sent for me and told me what share in National Coal they had decided to
give me for my Manasquale mines. "Langdon and Melville," said he, "think me
too liberal; far too liberal, my boy. But I insisted--in your case I felt
we could afford to be generous as well as just." All this with an air that
was a combination of the pastor and the parent.

I can't even offer the excuse of not having seen that he was a hypocrite.
I felt his hypocrisy at once, and my first impulse was to jump for my
breastworks. But instantly my vanity got behind me, held me in the open,
pushed me on toward him. If you will notice, almost all "confidence" games
rely for success chiefly upon enlisting a man's vanity to play the traitor
to his judgment. So, instead of reading his liberality as plain proof of
intended treachery, I read it as plain proof of my own greatness, and of
the fear it had inspired in old Roebuck. Laugh _with_ me if you like;
but, before you laugh _at_ me, think carefully--those of you who have
ever put yourselves to the test on the field of action--think carefully
whether you have never found that your head decoration which you thought a
crown was in reality the peaked and belled cap of the fool.

But my vanity was not done with me. Led on by it, I proceeded to have one
of those ridiculous "generous impulses"--I persuaded myself that there must
be some decency in this liberality, in addition to the prudence which I
flattered myself was the chief cause. "I have been unjust to Roebuck," I
thought. "I have been misjudging his character." And incredible though it
seems, I said to him with a good deal of genuine emotion: "I don't know
how to thank you, Mr. Roebuck. And, instead of trying, I want to apologize
to you. I have thought many hard things against you; have spoken some of
them. I had better have been attending to my own conscience, instead of
criticizing yours."

I had often thought his face about the most repulsive, hypocrisy-glozed
concourse of evil passions that ever fronted a fiend in the flesh. It had
seemed to me the fitting result of a long career which, according to common
report, was stained with murder, with rapacity and heartless cruelty, with
the most brutal secret sensuality, and which had left in its wake the ruins
of lives and hearts and fortunes innumerable. I had looked on the vast
wealth he had heaped mountain high as a monument to devil-daring--other men
had, no doubt, dreamed of doing the ferocious things he had done, but their
weak, human hearts failed when it came to executing such horrible acts, and
they had to be content with smaller fortunes, with the comparatively small
fruits of their comparatively small infamies. He had dared all, had won;
the most powerful bowed with quaking knees before him, and trembled lest
they might, by a blundering look or word, excite his anger and cause him to
snatch their possessions from them.

Thus I had regarded him, accepting the universal judgment, believing the
thousand and one stories. But as his eyes, softened by his hugely generous
act, beamed upon me now, I was amazed that I had so misjudged him. In that
face which I had thought frightful there was, to my hypnotized gaze, the
look of strong, sincere--yes, holy--beauty and power--the look of an
archangel.

"Thank you, Blacklock," said he, in a voice that made me feel as if I were
a little boy in the crossroads church, believing I could almost see the
angels floating above the heads of the singers in the choir behind the
preacher. "Thank you. I am not surprised that you have misjudged me. God
has given me a great work to do, and those who do His will in this wicked
world must expect martyrdom. I should never have had the courage to do what
I have done, what He has done through me, had He not guided my every step.
You are not a religious man?"

"I try to do what's square," said I. "But I'd prefer not to talk about it."

"That's right! That's right!" he approved earnestly. "A man's religion is
a matter between himself and his God. But I hope, Matthew, you will never
forget that, unless you have daily, hourly communion with Almighty God,
you will never be able to bear the great burdens, to do the great work
fearlessly, disregarding the lies of the wicked, and, hardest of all to
endure, the honestly-mistaken judgments of honest men."

"I'll look into it," said I. And I don't know to what lengths of foolish
speech I should have gone had I not been saved by an office boy
interrupting with a card for him.

"Ah, here's Walters now," said he. Then to the boy: "Bring him in when I
ring."

I rose to go.

"No, sit down, Blacklock," he insisted. "You are in with us now, and you
may learn something by seeing how I deal with the larger problems that face
men in these large undertakings, the problems that have faced me in each
new enterprise I have inaugurated to the glory of God."

Naturally, I accepted with enthusiasm.

You would not believe what a mood I had by this time been worked into by my
rampant and raging vanity and emotionalism and by his snake-like charming.
"Thank you," I said, with an energetic warmth that must have secretly
amused him mightily.

"When my reorganization of the iron industry proved such a great success,
and God rewarded my labors with large returns," he went on, "I looked
about me to see what new work He wished me to undertake, how He wished me
to invest His profits. And I saw the coal industry and the coal-carrying
railroads in confusion, with waste on every side, and godless competition.
Thousands of widows and orphans who had invested in coal railways and mines
were getting no returns. Labor was fitfully employed, owing to alternations
of over-production and no production at all. I saw my work ready for my
hand. And now we are bringing order out of chaos. This man Walters, useful
up to a certain point, has become insolent, corrupt, a stumbling-block in
our way." Here he pressed the button of his electric bell.




XI

WHEN A MAN IS NOT A MAN


Walters entered. He was one of the great railway presidents, was
universally regarded as a power, though I, of course, knew that he, like so
many other presidents of railways, of individual corporations, of banks,
of insurance companies, and high political officials in cities, states
and the nation, was little more than a figurehead put up and used by the
inside financial ring. As he shifted from leg to leg, holding his hat and
trying to steady his twitching upper lip, he looked as one of his smallest
section-bosses would have looked, if called up for a wigging.

Roebuck shook hands cordially with him, responded to his nervous glance at
me with:

"Blacklock is practically in our directory." We all sat, then Roebuck began
in his kindliest tone:

"We have decided, Walters, that we must give your place to a stronger man.
Your gross receipts, outside of coal, have fallen rapidly and steadily for
the past three quarters. You were put into the presidency to bring them
up. They have shown no change beyond what might have been expected in the
natural fluctuations of freight. We calculated on resuming dividends a year
ago. We have barely been able to meet the interest on our bonds."

"But, Mr. Roebuck," pleaded Walters, "you doubled the bonded indebtedness
of the road just before I took charge."

"The money went into improvements, into increasing your facilities, did it
not?" inquired Roebuck, his paw as soft as a playful tiger's.

"Part of it," said Walters. "But you remember the reorganizing syndicate
got five millions, and then the contracts for the new work had to be given
to construction companies in which directors of the road were silent
partners. Then they are interested in the supply companies from which I
must buy. You know what all that means, Mr. Roebuck."

"No doubt," said Roebuck, still smooth and soft. "But if there was waste,
you should have reported--"

"To whom?" demanded Walters. "Every one of our directors, including
yourself, Mr. Roebuck, is a stock-holder--a large stock-holder--in one or
more of those companies."

"Have you proof of this, Walters?" asked Roebuck, looking profoundly
shocked. "It's a very grave charge--a criminal charge."

"Proof?" said Walters, "You know how that is. The real books of all big
companies are kept in the memories of the directors--and mighty treacherous
memories they are." This with a nervous laugh. "As for the holdings of
directors in construction and supply companies--most of those holdings are
in other names--all of them are disguised where the connection is direct."

Roebuck shook his head sadly. "You admit, then, that you have allowed
millions of the road's money to be wasted, that you made no complaint, no
effort to stop the waste; and your only defense is that you _suspect_
the directors of fraud. And you accuse them to excuse yourself--accuse them
with no proof. Were you in any of those companies, Walters?"

"No," he said, his eyes shifting.

Roebuck's face grew stern. "You bought two hundred thousand dollars of the
last issue of government bonds, they tell me, with your two years' profits
from the Western Railway Construction Company."

"I bought no bonds," blustered Walters. "What money I have I made out of
speculating in the stock of my road--on legitimate inside information."

"Your uncle in Wilkesbarre, I meant," pursued Roebuck.

Walters reddened, looked straight at Roebuck without speaking.

"Do you still deny?" demanded Roebuck.

"I saw everybody--_everybody_--grafting," said Walters boldly, "and
I thought I might as well take my share. It's part of the business." Then
he added cynically: "That's the way it is nowadays. The lower ones see
the higher ones raking off, and they rake off, too--down to conductors
and brakemen. We caught some trackwalkers in a conspiracy to dispose
of the discarded ties and rails the other day." He laughed. "We jailed
_them_."

"If you can show that any director has taken anything that did not belong
to him, if you can show that a single contract you let to a construction or
a supply company--except, of course, the contracts you let to yourself--of
them I know nothing, suspect much--if you can show one instance of these
criminal doings, Mr. Walters, I shall back you up with all my power in
prosecution."

"Of course I can't show it," cried Walters. "If I tried, wouldn't they ruin
and disgrace me, perhaps send me to the penitentiary? Wasn't I the one that
passed on and signed their contracts? And wouldn't they--wouldn't you, Mr.
Roebuck--have fired me if I had refused to sign?"

"Excuses, excuses, Walters," was Roebuck's answer, with a sad, disappointed
look, as if he had hoped Walters would make a brighter showing for himself.
"How many times have you yourself talked to me of this eternal excuse habit
of men who fail? And if I expended my limited brain-power in looking into
all the excuses and explanations, what energy or time would I have for
constructive work? All I can do is to select a man for a position and to
judge him by results. You were put in charge to produce dividends. You
haven't produced them. I'm sorry, and I venture to hope that things are not
so bad as you make out in your eagerness to excuse yourself. For the sake
of old times, Tom, I ignore your angry insinuations against me. I try to be
just, and to be just one must always be impersonal."

"Well," said Walters with an air of desperation, "give me another year, Mr.
Roebuck, and I'll produce results all right. I'll break the agreements and
cut rates. I'll freeze out the branch roads and our minority stock-holders,
I'll keep the books so that all the expert accountants in New York couldn't
untangle them. I'll wink at and commit and order committed all the
necessary crimes. I don't know why I've been so squeamish, when there were
so many penitentiary offenses that I did consent to, and, for that matter,
commit, without a quiver. I thought I ought to draw the line somewhere--and
I drew it at keeping my personal word and at keeping the books reasonably
straight. But I'll go the limit."

I'll never forget Roebuck's expression; it was perfect, simply perfect--a
great and good man outraged beyond endurance, but a Christian still. "You
have made it impossible for me to temper justice with mercy, Walters," said
he. "If it were not for the long years of association, for the affection
for you which has grown up in me, I should hand you over to the fate you
have earned. You tell me you have been committing crimes in my service. You
tell me you will commit more and greater crimes. I can scarcely believe my
own ears."

Walters laughed scornfully--the reckless laugh of a man who suddenly sees
that he is cornered and must fight for his life. "Rot!" he jeered. "Rot!
You always have been a wonder at juggling with your conscience. But do
you expect me to believe you think yourself innocent because you do not
yourself execute the orders you issue--orders that can be carried out only
by committing crimes?" Walters was now beside himself with rage. He gave
the reins to that high horse he had been riding ever since he was promoted
to the presidency of the great coal road. He began to lay on whip and spur.
"Do you think," he cried to Roebuck, "the blood of those five hundred men
drowned in the Pequot mine is not on _your_ hands--_your_ head?
You, who ordered John Wilkinson to suppress the competition the Pequot was
giving you, ordered him in such a way that he knew the alternative was his
own ruin? He shot himself--yet he had as good an excuse as you, for he,
too, passed on the order until it got to the poor fireman--that wretched
fellow they sent to the penitentiary for life? And as sure as there is
a God in Heaven, you will some day do a long, long sentence in whatever
hell there is, for letting that wretch rot in prison--yes, and for John
Wilkinson's suicide, and for the lives of those five hundred drowned. Your
pensions to the widows and orphans can't save you."

I listened to this tirade astounded. Used as I was to men losing their
heads through vanity, I could not credit my own ears and eyes when they
reported to me this insane exhibition. I looked at Roebuck. He was wearing
an expression of beatific patience; he would have made a fine study for a
picture of the martyr at the stake.

"I forgive you, Tom," he said, when Walters stopped for breath. "Your own
sinful heart makes you see the black of sin upon everything. I had heard
that you were going about making loud boasts of your power over your
employers, but I tried not to believe it. I see now that you have, indeed,
lost your senses. Your prosperity has been too much for your good sense."
He sighed mournfully. "I shall not interfere to prevent your getting a
position elsewhere," he continued. "But after what you have confessed,
after your slanders, how can I put you back in your old place out West, as
I intended? How can I continue the interest in you and care for your career
that I have had, in spite of all your shortcomings? I who raised you up
from a clerk."

"Raised me up as you fellows always raise men up--because you find them
clever at doing your dirty work. I was a decent, honest fellow when you
first took notice of me and tempted me. But, by God, Mr. Roebuck, if I've
sold out beyond hope of living decent again, I'll have my price--to the
last cent. You've got to leave me where I am or give me a place and salary
equally as good." This Walters said blusteringly, but beneath I could
detect the beginnings of a whine.

"You are angry, Tom," said Roebuck soothingly. "I have hurt your vanity--it
is one of the heaviest crosses I have to bear, that I must be continually
hurting the vanity of men. Go away and--and calm down. Think the situation
over coolly; then come and apologize to me, and I will do what I can to
help you. As for your threats--when you are calm, you will see how idle
they are."

Walters gave a sort of groan; and though I, blinded by my prejudices in
favor of Roebuck and of the crowd with whom my interests lay, had been
feeling that he was an impudent and crazy ingrate, I pitied him.

"What proofs have I got?" he said desperately. "If I show up the things I
know about, I show up myself, and everybody will say I'm lying about you
and the others in the effort to save myself. The newspapers would denounce
me as a treacherous liar--you fellows own or control or foozle them in
one way and another. And if I was believed, who'd prosecute you and what
court'd condemn you? Don't you own both political parties and make all the
tickets, and can't you ruin any office-holders who lifted a finger against
you? What a hell of a state of affairs!"

A swifter or a weaker descent I never witnessed. My pity changed to
contempt. "This fellow, with his great reputation," thought I, "is a fool
and a knave, and a weak one at that."

"Go away now, Tom," said Roebuck.

"When you're master of yourself again, come to see me."

"Master of myself!" cried Walters bitterly. "Who that's got anything to
lose is master of himself in this country?" With shoulders sagging and a
sort of stumble in his gait, he went toward the door. He paused there to
say: "I've served too long, Mr. Roebuck. There's no fight in me. I thought
there was, but there ain't. Do the best you can for me." And he took
himself out of our sight.

You will wonder how I was ever able to blind myself to the reality of this
frightful scene. But please remember that in this world every thought and
every act is a mixture of the good and the bad; and the one or the other
shows the more prominently according to one's point of view. There probably
isn't a criminal in any cell, anywhere, no matter what he may say in
sniveling pretense in the hope of lighter sentence, who doesn't at the
bottom of his heart believe his crime or crimes somehow justifiable--and
who couldn't make out a plausible case for himself.

At that time I was stuffed with the arrogance of my fancied membership in
the caste of directing financial geniuses; I was looking at everything
from the viewpoint of the brotherhood of which Roebuck was the strongest
brother, and of which I imagined myself a full and equal member. I did not,
I could not, blind myself to the vivid reminders of his relentlessness; but
I knew too well how necessary the iron hand and the fixed purpose are to
great affairs to judge him as infuriated Walters, with his vanity savagely
wounded, was judging him. I'd as soon have thought of describing General
Grant as a murderer, because he ordered the battles in which men were
killed or because he planned and led the campaigns in which subordinates
committed rapine and pillage and assassination. I did not then see the
radical difference--did not realize that while Grant's work was at the
command of patriotism and necessity, there was no necessity whatever
for Roebuck's getting rich but the command of his own greedy and cruel
appetites.

Don't misunderstand me. My morals are practical, not theoretical. Men must
die, old customs embodied in law must be broken, the venal must be bribed
and the weak cowed and compelled, in order that civilization may advance.
You can't establish a railway or a great industrial system by rose-water
morality. But I shall show, before I finish, that Roebuck and his gang of
so-called "organizers of industry" bear about the same relation to industry
that the boll weevil bears to the cotton crop.

I'll withdraw this, if any one can show me that, as the result of the
activities of those parasites, anybody anywhere is using or is able to
use a single pound or bushel or yard more of any commodity whatsoever.
I'll withdraw it, if I can not show that but for those parasites, bearing
precisely the same relation to our society that the kings and nobles
and priests bore to France before the Revolution, everybody except them
would have more goods and more money than they have under the system that
enables these parasites to overshadow the highways of commerce with their
strongholds and to clog them with their toll-gates. They know little about
producing, about manufacturing, about distributing, about any process of
industry. Their skill is in temptation, in trickery and in terror.

On that day, however, I sided--honestly, as I thought--with Roebuck. What
I saw and heard increased my admiration of the man, my already profound
respect for his master mind. And when, just after Walters went out, he
leaned back in his chair and sat silent with closed eyes and moving lips,
I--yes, I, Matt Blacklock, "Black Matt," as they call me--was awed in the
presence of this great and good man at prayer!

How he and that God of his must have laughed at me! So infatuated was I
that, clear as it is that he'd never have let me be present at such a scene
without a strong ulterior motive, not until he himself long afterward
made it impossible for me to deceive myself did I penetrate to his real
purpose--that he wished to fill me with a prudent dread and fear of him,
with a sense of the absoluteness of his power and of the hopelessness of
trying to combat it. But at the time I thought--imbecile that my vanity
had made me--at the time I thought he had let me be present because he
genuinely liked, admired and trusted me!

Is it not amazing that one who could fall into such colossal blunders
should survive to tell of them? I would not have survived had not Roebuck
and his crowd been at the same time making an even more colossal
misestimate of me than I was making of them. My attack of vanity was
violent, but temporary; theirs was equally violent, and chronic and
incurable to boot.




XII

ANITA


On my first day in long trousers I may have been more ill at ease than I
was that Sunday evening at the Ellerslys'; but I doubt it.

When I came into their big drawing-room and took a look round at the
assembled guests, I never felt more at home in my life. "Yes," said I
to myself, as Mrs. Ellersly was greeting me and as I noted the friendly
interest in the glances of the women, "this is where I belong. I'm
beginning to come into my own."

As I look back on it now, I can't refrain from smiling at my own
simplicity--and snobbishness. For, so determined was I to believe what
I was working for was worth while, that I actually fancied there were
upon these in reality ordinary people, ordinary in looks, ordinary in
intelligence, some subtle marks of superiority, that made them at a glance
superior to the common run. This ecstasy of snobbishness deluded me as to
the women only--for, as I looked at the men, I at once felt myself their
superior. They were an inconsequential, patterned lot. I even was better
dressed than any of them, except possibly Mowbray Langdon; and, if he
showed to more advantage than I, it was because of his manner, which, as I
have probably said before, is superior to that of any human being I've ever
seen--man or woman.

"You are to take Anita in," said Mrs. Ellersly. With a laughable sense that
I was doing myself proud, I crossed the room easily and took my stand in
front of her. She shook hands with me politely enough. Langdon was sitting
beside her; I had interrupted their conversation.

"Hello, Blacklock!" said Langdon, with a quizzical, satirical smile with
the eyes only. "It seems strange to see you at such peaceful pursuits."
His glance traveled over me critically--and that was the beginning of my
trouble. Presently, he rose, left me alone with her.

"You know Mr. Langdon?" she said, obviously because she felt she must say
something.

"Oh, yes," I replied. "We are old friends. What a tremendous swell he
is--really a swell." This with enthusiasm.

She made no comment. I debated with myself whether to go on talking of
Langdon. I decided against it because all I knew of him had to do with
matters down town--and Monson had impressed it upon me that down town was
taboo in the drawing-room. I rummaged my brain in vain for another and
suitable topic.

She sat, and I stood--she tranquil and beautiful and cold, I every instant
more miserably self-conscious. When the start for the dining-room was
made I offered her my left arm, though I had carefully planned beforehand
just what I would do. She--without hesitation and, as I know now, out of
sympathy for me in my suffering--was taking my wrong arm, when it flashed
on me like a blinding blow in the face that I ought to be on the other side
of her. I got red, tripped in the far-sprawling train of Mrs. Langdon, tore
it slightly, tried to get to the other side of Miss Ellersly by walking in
front of her, recovered myself somehow, stumbled round behind her, walked
on her train and finally arrived at her left side, conscious in every
red-hot atom of me that I was making a spectacle of myself and that the
whole company was enjoying it. I must have seemed to them an ignorant
boor; in fact, I had been about a great deal among people who knew how to
behave, and had I never given the matter of how to conduct myself on that
particular occasion an instant's thought, I should have got on without the
least trouble.

It was with a sigh of profound relief that I sank upon the chair between
Miss Ellersly and Mrs. Langdon, safe from danger of making "breaks,"
so I hoped, for the rest of the evening. But within a very few minutes
I realized that my little misadventure had unnerved me. My hands were
trembling so that I could scarcely lift the soup spoon to my lips, and my
throat had got so far beyond control that I had difficulty in swallowing.
Miss Ellersly and Mrs. Langdon were each busy with the man on the other
side of her; I was left to my own reflections, and I was not sure whether
this made me more or less uncomfortable. To add to my torment, I grew
angry, furiously angry, with myself. I looked up and down and across the
big table noted all these self-satisfied people perfectly at their ease;
and I said to myself: "What's the matter with you, Matt? They're only men
and women, and by no means the best specimens of the breed. You've got more
brains than all of 'em put together, probably; is there one of the lot that
could get a job at good wages if thrown on the world? What do you care
what they think of you? It's a damn sight more important what you think of
them; as it won't be many years before you'll hold everything they value,
everything that makes them of consequence, in the hollow of your hand."

But it was of no use. When Miss Ellersly finally turned her face toward
me to indicate that she would be graciously pleased to listen if I had
anything to communicate, I felt as if I were slowly wilting, felt my throat
contracting into a dry twist. What was the matter with me? Partly, of
course, my own snobbishness, which led me to attach the same importance to
those people that the snobbishness of the small and silly had got them in
the way of attaching to themselves. But the chief cause of my inabilit
 was Monson and his lessons. I had thought I was estimating at its proper
value what he was teaching. But so earnest and serious am I by nature,
and so earnest and serious was he about those trivialities that he had
been brought up to regard as the whole of life, that I had unconsciously
absorbed his attitude; I was like a fellow who, after cramming hard for
an examination, finds that all the questions put to him are on things he
hasn't looked at. I had been making an ass of myself, and that evening
I got the first instalment of my sound and just punishment. I who had
prided myself on being ready for anything or anybody, I who had laughed
contemptuously when I read how men and women, presented at European courts,
made fools of themselves--I was made ridiculous by these people who, as I
well know, had nothing to back their pretensions to superiority but a
barefaced bluff.

Perhaps, had I thought this out at the table, I should have got back to
myself and my normal ease; but I didn't, and that long and terrible dinner
was one long and terrible agony of stage fright. When the ladies withdrew,
the other men drew together, talking of people I did not know and of
things I did not care about--I thought then that they were avoiding me
deliberately as a flock of tame ducks avoids a wild one that some wind has
accidentally blown down among them. I know now that my forbidding aspect
must have been responsible for my isolations, However, I sat alone,
sullenly resisting old Ellersly's constrained efforts to get me into
the conversation, and angrily suspicious that Langdon was enjoying my
discomfiture more than the cigarette he was apparently absorbed in.

Old Ellersly, growing more and more nervous before my dark and sullen look,
finally seated himself beside me. "I hope you'll stay after the others have
gone," said he. "They'll leave early, and we can have a quiet smoke and
talk."

All unstrung though I was, I yet had the desperate courage to resolve that
I'd not leave, defeated in the eyes of the one person whose opinion I
really cared about. "Very well," said I, in reply to him.

He and I did not follow the others to the drawing-room, but turned into
the library adjoining. From where I seated myself I could see part of the
drawing-room--saw the others leaving, saw Langdon lingering, ignoring
the impatient glances of his wife, while he talked on and on with Miss
Ellersly. Her face was full toward me; she was not aware that I was
looking at her, I am sure, for she did not once lift her eyes. As I sat
studying her, everything else was crowded out of my mind. She was indeed
wonderful--too wonderful and fine and fragile, it seemed to me at that
moment, for one so plain and rough as I. "Incredible," thought I, "that she
is the child of such a pair as Ellersly and his wife--but again, has she
any less in common with them than she'd have with any other pair of human
creatures?" Her slender white arms, her slender white shoulders, the bloom
on her skin, the graceful, careless way her hair grew round her forehead
and at the nape of her neck, the rather haughty expression of her small
face softened into sweetness and even tenderness, now that she was talking
at her ease with one whom she regarded as of her own kind--"but he isn't!"
I protested to myself. "Langdon--none of these men--none of these women,
is fit to associate with her. They can't appreciate her. She belongs to me
who can." And I had a mad impulse then and there to seize her and bear her
away--home--to the home she could make for me out of what I would shower
upon her.

At last Langdon rose. It irritated me to see her color under that
indifferent fascinating smile of his. It irritated me to note that he held
her hand all the time he was saying good-by, and the fact that he held it
as if he'd as lief not be holding it hardly lessened my longing to rush in
and knock him down. What he did was all in the way of perfect good manners,
and would have jarred no one not supersensitive, like me--and like his
wife. I saw that she, too, was frowning. She looked beautiful that evening,
in spite of her too great breadth for her height--her stoutness was not
altogether a defect when she was wearing evening dress. While she seemed
friendly and smiling to Miss Ellersly, I saw, whether others saw it or not,
that she quivered with apprehension at his mildly flirtatious ways. He
acted toward any and every attractive woman as if he were free and were
regarding her as a possibility, and didn't mind if she flattered herself
that he regarded her as a probability.

In an aimless sort of way Miss Ellersly, after the Langdons had
disappeared, left the drawing-room by the same door. Still aimlessly
wandering, she drifted into the library by the hall door. As I rose, she
lifted her eyes, saw me, and drove away the frown of annoyance which came
over her face like the faintest haze. In fact, it may have existed only in
my imagination. She opened a large, square silver box on the table, took
out a cigarette, lighted it and holding it, with the smoke lazily curling
up from it, between the long slender first and second fingers of her white
hand, stood idly turning the leaves of a magazine. I threw my cigar into
the fireplace. The slight sound as it struck made her jump, and I saw that,
underneath her surface of perfect calm, she was in a nervous state full as
tense as my own.

"You smoke?" said I.

"Sometimes," she replied. "It is soothing and distracting. I don't know how
it is with others, but when I smoke, my mind is quite empty."

"It's a nasty habit--smoking," said I.

"Do you think so?" said she, with the slightest lift to her tone and her
eyebrows.

"Especially for a woman," I went on, because I could think of nothing else
to say, and would not, at any cost, let this conversation, so hard to
begin, die out.

"You are one of those men who have one code for themselves and another for
women," she replied.

"I'm a man," said I. "All men have the two codes."

"Not all," said she after a pause.

"All men of decent ideas," said I with emphasis.

"Really?" said she, in a tone that irritated me by suggesting that what I
said was both absurd and unimportant.

"It is the first time I've ever seen a respectable woman smoke," I went on,
powerless to change the subject, though conscious I was getting tedious.
"I've read of such things, but I didn't believe."

"That is interesting," said she, her tone suggesting the reverse.

"I've offended you by saying frankly what I think," said I. "Of course,
it's none of my business."

"Oh, no," replied she carelessly. "I'm not in the least offended.
Prejudices always interest me."

I saw Ellersly and his wife sitting in the drawing-room, pretending to
talk to each other. I understood that they were leaving me alone with her
deliberately, and I began to suspect she was in the plot. I smiled, and my
courage and self-possession returned as summarily as they had fled.

"I'm glad of this chance to get better acquainted with you," said I. "I've
wanted it ever since I first saw you."

As I put this to her directly, she dropped her eyes and murmured something
she probably wished me to think vaguely pleasant.

"You are the first woman I ever knew," I went on, "with whom it was hard
for me to get on any sort of terms. I suppose it's my fault. I don't know
this game yet. But I'll learn it, if you'll be a little patient; and when I
do, I think I'll be able to keep up my end."

She looked at me--just looked. I couldn't begin to guess what was going on
in that gracefully-poised head of hers.

"Will you try to be friends with me?" said I with directness.

She continued to look at me in that same steady, puzzling way.

"Will you?" I repeated.

"I have no choice," said she slowly.

I flushed. "What does that mean?" I demanded.

She threw a hurried and, it seemed to me, frightened glance toward the
drawing-room. "I didn't intend to offend you," she said in a low voice.
"You have been such a good friend to papa--I've no right to feel anything
but friendship for you."

"I'm glad to hear you say that," said I. And I was; for those words of hers
were the first expression of appreciation and gratitude I had ever got from
any member of that family which I was holding up from ruin. I put out my
hand, and she laid hers in it.

"There isn't anything I wouldn't do to earn your friendship, Miss Anita," I
said, holding her hand tightly, feeling how lifeless it was, yet feeling,
too, as if a flaming torch were being borne through me, were lighting a
fire in every vein.

The scarlet poured into her face and neck, wave on wave, until I thought
it would never cease to come. She snatched her hand away and from her face
streamed proud resentment. God, how I loved her at that moment!

"Anita! Mr. Blacklock!" came from the other room, in her mother's voice.
"Come in here and save us old people from boring each other to sleep."

She turned swiftly and went into the other room, I following. There were a
few minutes of conversation--a monologue by her mother. Then I ceased to
disregard Ellersly's less and less covert yawns, and rose to take leave. I
could not look directly at Anita, but I was seeing that her eyes were fixed
on me, as if by some compulsion, some sinister compulsion. I left in high
spirits. "No matter why or how she looks at you," said I to myself. "All
that is necessary is to get yourself noticed. After that, the rest is easy.
You must keep cool enough always to remember that under this glamour that
intoxicates you, she's a woman, just a woman, waiting for a man."




XIII

"UNTIL TO-MORROW"


On the following Tuesday afternoon, toward five o'clock, I descended from
my apartment on my way to my brougham. In the entrance hall I met Monson
coming in.

"Hello, you!" said he. "Slipping away to get married?"

"No, I'm only making a call," replied I, taking alarm instantly.

"Oh, is _that_ all?" said he with a sly grin. "It must be a mighty
serious matter."

"I'm in no hurry," said I. "Come up with me for a few minutes."

As soon as we were alone in my sitting-room, I demanded: "What's wrong with
me?"

"Nothing--not a thing," was his answer, in a tone I had a struggle with
myself not to resent. "I've never seen any one quite so grand--top
hat, latest style, long coat ditto, white buckskin waistcoat,
twenty-thousand-dollar pearl in pale blue scarf, white spats, spotless
varnish boots just from the varnishers, cream-colored gloves. You
_will_ make a hit! My eye, I'll bet she won't be able to resist you."

I began to shed my plumage. "I thought this was the thing when you're
calling on people you hardly know."

"I should say you'd have to know 'em uncommon well to give 'em such a
treat. Rather!"

"What shall I wear?" I asked. "You certainly told me the other day that
this was proper."

"Proper--so it is--too damn proper," was his answer. "That'd be all right
for a bridegroom or a best man or an usher--or perhaps for a wedding guest.
It wouldn't do any particular harm even to call in it, if the people were
used to you. But--"

"I look dressed up?"

"Like a fashion plate--like a tailor--like a society actor."

"What shall I wear?"

"Oh, just throw yourself together any old way. Business suit's good
enough."

"But I barely know these people--socially. I never called there," I
objected.

"Then don't call," he advised. "Send your valet in a cab to leave a card
at the door. Calling has gone clean out--unless a man's got something very
especial in mind. Never show that you're eager. Keep your hand hid."

"They'd know I had something especial in mind if I called?"

"Certainly, and if you'd gone in those togs, they'd have assumed you had
come to--to ask the old man for his daughter--or something like that."

I lost no time in getting back into a business suit.

A week passed and, just as I was within sight of my limit of patience,
Bromwell Ellersly appeared at my office. "I can't put my hand on the
necessary cash, Mr. Blacklock--at least, not for a few days. Can I count
on your further indulgence?" This in his best exhibit of old-fashioned
courtliness--the "gentleman" through and through, ignorant of anything
useful.

"Don't let that matter worry you, Ellersly," said I, friendly, for I wanted
to be on a somewhat less business-like basis with that family. "The
market's steady, and will go up before it goes down."

"Good!" said he. "By the way, you haven't kept your promise to call."

"I'm a busy man," said I. "You must make my excuses to your wife. But--in
the evenings. Couldn't we get up a little theater-party--Mrs. Ellersly and
your daughter and you and I--Sam, too, if he cares to come?"

"Delightful!" cried he.

"Whichever one of the next five evenings you say," I said. "Let me know
by to-morrow morning, will you?" And we talked no more of the neglected
margins; we understood each other. When he left he had negotiated a three
months' loan of twenty thousand dollars.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were so surprised that they couldn't conceal it, when they were
ushered into my apartment on the Wednesday evening they had fixed upon. If
my taste in dress was somewhat too pronounced, my taste in my surroundings
was not. I suppose the same instinct that made me like the music and the
pictures and the books that were the products of superior minds had guided
me right in architecture, decoration and furniture. I know I am one of
those who are born with the instinct for the best. Once Monson got in
the way of free criticism, he indulged himself without stint, after the
customary human fashion; in fact, so free did he become that had I not
feared to frighten him and so bring about the defeat of my purposes, I
should have sat on him hard very soon after we made our bargain. As it was,
I stood his worst impudences without flinching, and partly consoled myself
with the amusement I got out of watching his vanity lead him on into
thinking his knowledge the most vital matter in the world--just as you
sometimes see a waiter or a clerk with the air of sharing the care of the
universe with the Almighty.

But even Monson could find nothing to criticize either in my apartment
or in my country house. And, by the way, he showed his limitations by
remarking, after he had inspected: "I must say, Blacklock, your architects
and decorators have done well by you." As if a man's surroundings were not
the unfailing index to himself, no matter how much money he spends or how
good architects and the like he hires. As if a man could ever buy good
taste.

I was pleased out of all proportion to its value by what Ellersly and his
wife looked and said. But, though I watched Miss Ellersly closely, though I
tried to draw from her some comment on my belongings--on my pictures, on my
superb tapestries, on the beautiful carving of my furniture--I got nothing
from her beyond that first look of surprise and pleasure. Her face resumed
its statuelike calm, her eyes did not wander; her lips, like a crimson bow
painted upon her clear, white skin, remained closed. She spoke only when
she was spoken to, and then as briefly as possible. The dinner--and a
mighty good dinner it was--would have been memorable for strain and silence
had not Mrs. Ellersly kept up her incessant chatter. I can't recall a word
she said, but I admired her for being able to talk at all. I knew she was
in the same state as the rest of us, yet she acted perfectly at her ease;
and not until I thought it over afterward did I realize that she had done
all the talking, except answers to her occasional and cleverly-sprinkled
direct questions.

Ellersly sat opposite me, and I was irritated, and thrown into confusion,
too, every time I lifted my eyes, by the crushed, criminal expression of
his face. He ate and drank hugely--and extremely bad manners it would
have been regarded in me had I made as much noise as he, or lifted such
quantities at a time into my mouth. But through his noisy gluttony he
managed somehow to maintain that hang-dog air--like a thief who has gone
through the house and, on his way out, has paused at the pantry, with the
sack of plunder beside him, to gorge himself.

I looked at Anita several times, each time with a carefully-framed remark
ready; each time I found her gaze on me--and I could say nothing, could
only look away in a sort of panic. Her eyes were strangely variable. I have
seen them of a gray, so pale that it was almost silver--like the steely
light of the snow-line at the edge of the horizon; again, and they were
so that evening, they shone with the deepest, softest blue, and made one
think, as one looked at her, of a fresh violet frozen in a block of clear
ice.

I sat behind her in the box at the theater. During the first and
second intermissions several men dropped in to speak to her mother and
her--fellows who didn't ever come down town, but I could tell they knew who
I was by the way they ignored me. It exasperated me to a pitch of fury,
that coldly insolent air of theirs--a jerky nod at me without so much as a
glance, and no notice of me when they were leaving _my_ box beyond a
faint, supercilious smile as they passed with eyes straight ahead. I knew
what it meant, what they were thinking--that the "Bucket-Shop King," as the
newspapers had dubbed me, was trying to use old Ellersly's necessities as a
"jimmy" and "break into society." When the curtain went down for the last
intermission, two young men appeared; I did not get up as I had before, but
stuck to my seat--I had reached that point at which courtesy has become
cowardice.

They craned and strained at her round me and over me, presently gave up
and retired, disguising their anger as contempt for the bad manners of a
bounder. But that disturbed me not a ripple, the more as I was delighting
in a consoling discovery. Listening and watching as she talked with these
young men, whom she evidently knew well, I noted that she was distant and
only politely friendly in manner habitually, that while the ice might
thicken for me, it was there always. I knew enough about women to know
that, if the woman who can thaw only for one man is the most difficult, she
is also the most constant. "Once she thaws toward me!" I said to myself.

When the young men had gone, I leaned forward until my head was close to
hers, to her hair--fine, soft, abundant, electric hair. Like the infatuated
fool that I was, I tore out all the pigeon-holes of my brain in search of
something to say to her, something that would start her to thinking well
of me. She must have felt my breath upon her neck, for she moved away
slightly, and it seemed to me a shiver visibly passed over that wonderful
white skin of hers.

I drew back and involuntarily said, "Beg pardon." I glanced at her mother
and it was my turn to shudder. I can't hope to give an accurate impression
of that stony, mercenary, mean face. There are looks that paint upon the
human countenance the whole of a life, as a flash of lightning paints upon
the blackness of the night miles on miles of landscape. That look of Mrs.
Ellersly's--stern disapproval at her daughter, stern command that she be
more civil, that she unbend--showed me the old woman's soul. And I say that
no old harpy presiding over a dive is more full of the venom of the hideous
calculations of the market for flesh and blood than is a woman whose life
is wrapped up in wealth and show.

"If you wish it," I said, on impulse, to Miss Ellersly in a low voice, "I
shall never try to see you again."

I could feel rather than see the blood suddenly beating in her skin, and
there was in her voice a nervousness very like fright as she answered: "I'm
sure mama and I shall be glad to see you whenever you come."

"You?" I persisted.

"Yes," she said, after a brief hesitation.

"Glad?" I persisted.

She smiled--the faintest change in the perfect curve of her lips. "You are
very persistent, aren't you?"

"Very," I answered. "That is why I have always got whatever I wanted."

"I admire it," said she.

"No, you don't," I replied. "You think it is vulgar, and you think I am
vulgar because I have that quality--that and some others."

She did not contradict me.

"Well, I _am_ vulgar--from your standpoint," I went on. "I have
purposes and passions. And I pursue them. For instance, you."

"I?" she said tranquilly.

"You," I repeated. "I made up my mind the first day I saw you that I'd make
you like me. And--you will."

"That is very flattering," said she. "And a little terrifying. For"--she
faltered, then went bravely on--"I suppose there isn't anything you'd stop
at in order to gain your end."

"Nothing," said I, and I compelled her to meet my gaze.

She drew a long breath, and I thought there was a sob in it--like a
frightened child.

"But I repeat," I went on, "that if you wish it, I shall never try to see
you again. Do you wish it?"

"I--don't--know," she answered slowly. "I think--not."

As she spoke the last word, she lifted her eyes to mine with a look of
forced friendliness in them that I'd rather not have seen there. I wished
to be blind to her defects, to the stains and smutches with which her
surroundings must have sullied her. And that friendly look seemed to me
an unmistakable hypocrisy in obedience to her mother. However, it had the
effect of bringing her nearer to my own earthy level, of putting me at ease
with her; and for the few remaining minutes we talked freely, I indifferent
whether my manners and conversation were correct. As I helped her into
their carriage, I pressed her arm slightly, and said in a voice for her
only, "Until to-morrow."




XIV

FRESH AIR IN A GREENHOUSE


At five the next day I rang the Ellerslys' bell, was taken through the
drawing-room into that same library. The curtains over the double doorway
between the two rooms were almost drawn. She presently entered from the
hall. I admired the picture she made in the doorway--her big hat, her
embroidered dress of white cloth, and that small, sweet, cold face of hers.
And as I looked, I knew that nothing, nothing--no, not even her wish, her
command--could stop me from trying to make her my own. That resolve must
have shown in my face--it or the passion that inspired it--for she paused
and paled.

"What is it?" I asked. "Are you afraid of me?"

She came forward proudly, a fine scorn in her eyes. "No," she said. "But if
you knew, you might be afraid of me."

"I am," I confessed. "I am afraid of you because you inspire in me a
feeling that is beyond my control. I've committed many follies in my
life--I have moods in which it amuses me to defy fate. But those follies
have always been of my own willing. You"--I laughed--"you are a folly for
me. But one that compels me."

She smiled--not discouragingly--and seated herself on a tiny sofa in the
corner, a curiously impregnable intrenchment, as I noted--for my impulse
was to carry her by storm. I was astonished at my own audacity; I was
wondering where my fear of her had gone, my awe of her superior fineness
and breeding. "Mama will be down in a few minutes," she said.

"I didn't come to see your mother," replied I. "I came to see you."

She flushed, then froze--and I thought I had once more "got upon" her
nerves with my rude directness. How eagerly sensitive our nerves are to bad
impressions of one we don't like, and how coarsely insensible to bad
impressions of one we do like!

[Illustration]

"I see I've offended again, as usual," said I. "You attach so much
importance to petty little dancing-master tricks and caperings. You
live--always have lived--in an artificial atmosphere. Real things act on
you like fresh air on a hothouse flower."

"You are--fresh air?" she inquired, with laughing sarcasm.

"I am that," retorted I. "And good for you--as you'll find when you get
used to me."

I heard voices in the next room--her mother's and some man's. We waited
until it was evident we were not to be disturbed. As I realized that fact
and surmised its meaning, I looked triumphantly at her. She drew further
back into her corner, and the almost stern firmness of her contour told me
she had set her teeth.

"I see you are nerving yourself," said I with a laugh. "You are perfectly
certain I am going to propose to you."

She flamed scarlet and half-started up.

"Your mother--in the next room--expects it, too," I went on, laughing even
more disagreeably. "Your parents need money--they have decided to sell you,
their only large income-producing asset. And I am willing to buy. What do
you say?"

I was blocking her way out of the room. She was standing, her breath coming
fast, her eyes blazing. "You are--_frightful_!" she exclaimed in a low
voice.

"Because I am frank, because I am honest? Because I want to put things on
a sound basis? I suppose, if I came lying and pretending, and let you lie
and pretend, and let your parents and Sam lie and pretend, you would find
me--almost tolerable. Well, I'm not that kind. When there's no especial
reason one way or the other, I'm willing to smirk and grimace and dodder
and drivel, like the rest of your friends, those ladies and gentlemen. But
when there's business to be transacted, I am business-like. Let's not begin
with your thinking you are deceiving me, and so hating me and despising me
and trying to keep up the deception. Let's begin right."

She was listening; she was no longer longing to fly from the room; she was
curious. I knew I had scored.

"In any event," I continued, "you would have married for money. You've been
brought up to it, like all these girls of your set. You'd be miserable
without luxury. If you had your choice between love without luxury and
luxury without love, it'd be as easy to foretell which you'd do as to
foretell how a starving poet would choose between a loaf of bread and a
volume of poems. You may love love; but you love life--your kind of
life--better!"

She lowered her head. "It is true," she said. "It is low and vile, but it
is true."

"Your parents need money--" I began.

She stopped me with a gesture. "Don't blame them," she pleaded. "I am more
guilty than they."

I was proud of her as she made that confession. "You have the making of a
real woman in you," said I. "I should have wanted you even if you hadn't.
But what I now see makes what I thought a folly of mine look more like
wisdom."

"I must warn you," she said, and now she was looking directly at me, "I
shall never love you."

"Never is a long time," replied I. "I'm old enough to be cynical about
prophecy."

"I shall never love you," she repeated. "For many reasons you wouldn't
understand. For one you will understand."

"I understand the 'many reasons' you say are beyond me," said I. "For,
dear young lady, under this coarse exterior I assure you there's hidden
a rather sharp outlook on human nature--and--well, nerves that respond
to the faintest changes in you as do mine can't be altogether without
sensitiveness. What's the other reason--_the_ reason? That you think
you love some one else?"

"Thank you for saying it for me," she replied.

You can't imagine how pleased I was at having earned her gratitude, even
in so little a matter. "I have thought of that," said I. "It is of no
consequence."

"But you don't understand," she pleaded earnestly.

"On the contrary, I understand perfectly," I assured her. "And the reason I
am not disturbed is--you are here, you are not with him."

She lowered her head so that I had no view of her face.

"You and he do not marry," I went on, "because you are both poor?"

"No," she replied.

"Because he does not care for you?"

"No--not that," she said.

"Because you thought he hadn't enough for two?"

A long pause, then--very faintly: "No--not that."

"Then it must be because he hasn't as much money as he'd like, and must
find a girl who'll bring him--what he _most_ wants."

She was silent.

"That is, while he loves you dearly, he loves money more. And he's willing
to see you go to another man, be the wife of another man, be--everything to
another man." I laughed. "I'll take my chances against love of that sort."

"You don't understand," she murmured. "You don't realize--there are many
things that mean nothing to you and that mean--oh, so much to people
brought up as we are."

"Nonsense!" said I. "What do you mean by 'we'? Nature has been bringing
us up for a thousand thousand years. A few years of silly false training
doesn't undo her work. If you and he had cared for each other, you wouldn't
be here, apologizing for his selfish vanity."

"No matter about him," she cried impatiently, lifting her head haughtily.
"The point is, I love him--and always shall. I warn you."

"And I take you at my own risk?"

Her look answered "Yes!"

"Well,"--and I took her hand--"then, we are engaged."

Her whole body grew tense, and her hand chilled as it lay in mine.
"Don't--please don't," I said gently. "I'm not so bad as all that. If you
will be as generous with me as I shall be with you, neither of us will ever
regret this."

There were tears on her cheeks as I slowly released her hand.

"I shall ask nothing of you that you are not ready freely to give," I said.

Impulsively she stood and put out her hand, and the eyes she lifted to mine
were shining and friendly. I caught her in my arms and kissed her--not once
but many times. And it was not until the chill of her ice-like face had
cooled me that I released her, drew back red and ashamed and stammering
apologies. But her impulse of friendliness had been killed; she once more,
as I saw only too plainly, felt for me that sense of repulsion, felt for
herself that sense of self-degradation.

"I _can not_ marry you!" she muttered.

"You can--and will--and must," I cried, infuriated by her look.

There was a long silence. I could easily guess what was being fought out in
her mind. At last she slowly drew herself up. "I can not refuse," she said,
and her eyes sparkled with defiance that had hate in it. "You have the
power to compel me. Use it, like the brute you refuse to let me forget that
you are." She looked so young, so beautiful, so angry--and so tempting.

"So I shall!" I answered. "Children have to be taught what is good for
them. Call in your mother, and we'll tell her the news."

Instead, she went into the next room. I followed, saw Mrs. Ellersly seated
at the tea-table in the corner farthest from the library where her daughter
and I had been negotiating. She was reading a letter, holding her lorgnon
up to her painted eyes.

"Won't you give us tea, mother?" said Anita, on her surface not a trace of
the cyclone that must still have been raging hi her.

"Congratulate me, Mrs. Ellersly," said I. "Your daughter has consented to
marry me."

Instead of speaking, Mrs. Ellersly began to cry--real tears. And for a
moment I thought there was a real heart inside of her somewhere. But when
she spoke, that delusion vanished.

"You must forgive me, Mr. Blacklock," she said in her hard, smooth, politic
voice. "It is the shock of realizing I'm about to lose my daughter." And
I knew that her tears were from joy and relief--Anita had "come up to the
scratch;" the hideous menace of "genteel poverty" had been averted.

"Do give us tea, mama," said Anita. Her cold, sarcastic tone cut my nerves
and her mother's like a razor blade. I looked sharply at her, and wondered
whether I was not making a bargain vastly different from that my passion
was picturing.




XV

SOME STRANGE LAPSES OF A LOVER


But before there was time for me to get a distinct impression, that ugly
shape of cynicism had disappeared.

"It was a shadow I myself cast upon her," I assured myself; and once more
she seemed to me like a clear, calm lake of melted snow from the mountains.
"I can see to the pure white sand of the very bottom," thought I. Mystery
there was, but only the mystery of wonder at the apparition of such beauty
and purity in such a world as mine. True, from time to time, there showed
at the surface or vaguely outlined in the depths, forms strangely out of
place in those unsullied waters. But I either refused to see or refused to
trust my senses. I had a fixed ideal of what a woman should be; this girl
embodied that ideal.

"If you'd only give up your cigarettes," I remember saying to her when we
were a little better acquainted, "you'd be perfect."

She made an impatient gesture. "Don't!" she commanded almost angrily. "You
make me feel like a hypocrite. You tempt me to be a hypocrite. Why not be
content with woman as she is--a human being? And--how could I--any woman
not an idiot--be alive for twenty-five years without learning--a thing or
two? Why should any man want it?"

"Because to know is to be spattered and stained," said I. "I get enough of
people who know, down-town. Up-town--I want a change of air. Of course,
you think you know the world, but you haven't the remotest conception of
what it's really like. Sometimes when I'm with you, I begin to feel mean
and--and unclean. And the feeling grows on me until it's all I can do to
restrain myself from rushing away."

She looked at me critically.

"You've never had much to do with women, have you?" she finally said slowly
in a musing tone.

"I wish that were true--almost," replied I, on my mettle as a man, and
resisting not without effort the impulse to make some vague
"confessions"--boastings disguised as penitential admissions--after the
customary masculine fashion.

She smiled--and one of those disquieting shapes seemed to me to be floating
lazily and repellently downward, out of sight. "A man and a woman can be a
great deal to each other, I believe," said she; "can be--married, and all
that--and remain as strange to each other as if they had never met--more
hopelessly strangers."

"There's always a sort of mystery," I conceded. "I suppose that's one of
the things that keep married people interested."

She shrugged her shoulders--she was in evening dress, I recall, and there
was on her white skin that intense, transparent, bluish tinge one sees on
the new snow when the sun comes out.

"Mystery!" she said impatiently. "There's no mystery except what we
ourselves make. It's useless--perfectly useless," she went on absently.
"You're the sort of man who, if a woman cared for him, or even showed
friendship for him by being frank and human and natural with him, he'd
punish her for it by--by despising her."

I smiled, much as one smiles at the efforts of a precocious child to prove
that it is a Methuselah in experience.

"If you weren't like an angel in comparison with the others I've known,"
said I, "do you suppose I could care for you as I do?"

I saw my remark irritated her, and I fancied it was her vanity that was
offended by my disbelief in her knowledge of life. I hadn't a suspicion
that I had hurt and alienated her by slamming in her very face the door of
friendship and frankness her honesty was forcing her to try to open for me.

In my stupidity of imagining her not human like the other women and the
men I had known, but a creature apart and in a class apart, I stood day
after day gaping at that very door, and wondering how I could open it,
how penetrate even to the courtyard of that vestal citadel. So long as my
old-fashioned belief that good women were more than human and bad women
less than human had influenced me only to a sharper lookout in dealing
with the one species of woman I then came in contact with, no harm to me
resulted, but on the contrary good--whoever got into trouble through
walking the world with sword and sword arm free? But when, under the spell
of Anita Ellersly, I dragged the "superhuman goodness" part of my theory
down out of the clouds and made it my guardian and guide--really, it's a
miracle that I escaped from the pit into which that lunacy pitched me
headlong. I was not content with idealizing only her; I went on to seeing
good, and only good, in everybody! The millennium was at hand; all Wall
Street was my friend; whatever I wanted would happen. And when Roebuck,
with an air like a benediction from a bishop backed by a cathedral organ
and full choir, gave me the tip to buy coal stocks, I canonized him on the
spot. Never did a Jersey "jay" in Sunday clothes and tallowed boots respond
to a bunco steerer's greeting with a gladder smile than mine to that pious
old past-master of craft.

I will say, in justice to myself, though it is also in excuse, that if I
had known him intimately a few years earlier, I should have found it all
but impossible to fool myself. For he had not long been in a position where
he could keep wholly detached from the crimes committed for his benefit
and by his order, and where he could disclaim responsibility and even
knowledge. The great lawyers of the country have been most ingenious in
developing corporate law in the direction of making the corporation a
complete and secure shield between the beneficiary of a crime and its
consequences; but before a great financier can use this shield perfectly,
he must build up a system--he must find lieutenants with the necessary
coolness, courage and cunning; he must teach them to understand his hints;
he must educate them, not to point out to him the disagreeable things
involved in his orders, but to execute unquestioningly, to efface
completely the trail between him and them, whether or not they succeed in
covering the roundabout and faint trail between themselves and the tools
that nominally commit the crimes.

As nearly as I can get at it, when Roebuck was luring me into National Coal
he had not for nine years been open to attack, but had so far hedged
himself in that, had his closest lieutenants been trapped and frightened
into "squealing," he would not have been involved; without fear of exposure
and with a clear conscience he could--and would!--have joined in the
denunciation of the man who had been caught, and could--and would!--have
helped send him to the penitentiary or to the scaffold. With the security
of an honest man and the serenity of a Christian he planned his colossal
thefts and reaped their benefits; and whenever he was accused, he could
have explained everything, could have got his accuser's sympathy and
admiration. I say, could have explained; but he would not. Early in his
career, he had learned the first principle of successful crime--silence. No
matter what the provocation or the seeming advantage, he uttered only a few
generous general phrases, such as "those misguided men," or "the Master
teaches us to bear with meekness the calumnies of the wicked," or "let him
that is without sin cast the first stone." As to the crime itself--silence,
and the dividends.

A great man, Roebuck! I doff my hat to him. Of all the dealers in stolen
goods under police protection, who so shrewd as he?

Wilmot was the instrument he employed to put the coal industry into
condition for "reorganization." He bought control of one of the coal
railroads and made Wilmot president of it. Wilmot, taught by twenty years
of his service, knew what was expected of him, and proceeded to do it. He
put in a "loyal" general freight agent who also needed no instructions,
but busied himself at destroying his own and all the other coal roads by a
system of secret rebates and rate cuttings. As the other roads, one by one,
descended toward bankruptcy, Roebuck bought the comparatively small blocks
of stock necessary to give him control of them. When he had power over
enough of them to establish a partial monopoly of transportation in and out
of the coal districts, he was ready for his lieutenant to attack the mining
properties. Probably his orders to Wilmot were nothing more definite or
less innocent than: "Wilmot, my boy, don't you think you and I and some
others of our friends ought to buy some of those mines, if they come on the
market at a fair price? Let me know when you hear of any attractive
investments of that sort."

That would have been quite enough to "tip it off" to Wilmot that the time
had come for reaching out from control of railway to control of mine. He
lost no time; he easily forced one mining property after another into a
position where its owners were glad--were eager--to sell all or part of the
wreck of it "at a fair price" to him and Roebuck and "our friends." It was
as the result of one of these moves that the great Manasquale mines were
so hemmed in by ruinous freight rates, by strike troubles, by floods from
broken machinery and mysteriously leaky dams, that I was able to buy them
"at a fair price"--that is, at less than one-fifth their value. But at the
time--and for a long time afterward--I did not know, on my honor did not
suspect, what was the cause, the sole cause, of the change of the coal
region from a place of peaceful industry, content with fair profits, to an
industrial chaos with ruin impending.

Once the railways and mining companies were all on the verge of bankruptcy,
Roebuck and his "friends" were ready to buy, here control for purposes of
speculation, there ownership for purposes of permanent investment. This
is what is known as the reorganizing stage. The processes of high finance
are very simple--first, buy the comparatively small holdings necessary
to create confusion and disaster; second, create confusion and disaster,
buying up more and more wreckage; third, reorganize; fourth, offer the
new stocks and bonds to the public with a mighty blare of trumpets which
produces a boom market; fifth, unload on the public, pass dividends, issue
unfavorable statements, depress prices, buy back cheap what you have sold
dear. Repeat ad infinitum, for the law is for the laughter of the strong,
and the public is an eager ass. To keep up the fiction of "respectability,"
the inside ring divides into two parties for its campaigns--one party to
break down, the other to build up. One takes the profits from destruction
and departs, perhaps to construct elsewhere; the other takes the profits
from construction and departs, perhaps to destroy elsewhere. As their
collusion is merely tacit, no conscience need twitch. I must add that, at
the time of which I am writing, I did not realize the existence of this
conspiracy. I knew, of course, that many lawless and savage things were
done, that there were rascals among the high financiers, and that almost
all financiers now and then did things that were more or less rascally; but
I did not know, did not suspect, that high finance was through and through
brigandage, and that the high financier, by long and unmolested practice of
brigandage, had come to look on it as legitimate, lawful business, and on
laws forbidding or hampering it as outrageous, socialistic, anarchistic,
"attacks upon the social order!"

I was sufficiently infected with the spirit of the financier, I frankly
confess, to look on the public as a sort of cow to milk and send out to
grass that it might get itself ready to be driven in and milked again. Does
not the cow produce milk not for her own use but for the use of him who
looks after her, provides her with pasturage and shelter and saves her from
the calamities in which her lack of foresight and of other intelligence
would involve her, were she not looked after? And is not the fact that the
public--beg pardon, the cow--meekly and even cheerfully submits to the
milking proof that God intended her to be the servant of the Roebucks--beg
pardon again, of man?

Plausible, isn't it?

Roebuck had given me the impression that it would be six months, at least,
before what I was in those fatuous days thinking of as "_our_" plan
for "putting the coal industry on a sound business basis" would be ready
for the public. So, when he sent for me shortly after I became engaged to
Miss Ellersly, and said: "Melville will publish the plan on the first of
next month and will open the subscription books on the third--a Thursday,"
I was taken by surprise and was anything but pleased. His words meant that,
if I wished to make a great fortune, now was the time to buy coal stocks,
and buy heavily--for on the very day of the publication of the plan every
coal stock would surely soar. Buy I must; not to buy was to throw away a
fortune. Yet how could I buy when I was gambling in Textile up to my limit
of safety, if not beyond?

I did not dare confess to Roebuck what I was doing in Textile. He was
bitterly opposed to stock gambling, denouncing it as both immoral and
unbusinesslike. No gambling for him! When his business sagacity and
foresight(?) informed him a certain stock was going to be worth a great
deal more than it was then quoted at, he would buy outright in large
quantities; when that same sagacity and foresight of the fellow who has
himself marked the cards warned him that a stock was about to fall, he sold
outright. But gamble--never! And I felt that, if he should learn that I had
staked a large part of my entire fortune on a single gambling operation, he
would straightway cut me off from his confidence, would look on me as too
deeply tainted by my long career as a "bucket-shop" man to be worthy of
full rank and power as a financier. Financiers do not gamble. Their only
vice is grand larceny.

All this was flashing through my mind while I was thanking him.

"I am glad to have such a long forewarning," I was saying. "Can I be of use
to you? You know my machinery is perfect--I can buy anything and in any
quantity without starting rumors and drawing the crowd."

"No thank you, Matthew," was his answer. "I have all of those stocks I
wish--at present."

Whether it is peculiar to me, I don't know--probably not--but my memory
is so constituted that it takes an indelible and complete impression of
whatever is sent to it by my eyes and ears; and just as by looking closely
you can find in a photographic plate a hundred details that escape your
glance, so on those memory plates of mine I often find long afterward many
and many a detail that escaped me when my eyes and ears were taking the
impression. On my memory plate of that moment in my interview with Roebuck,
I find details so significant that my failing to note them at the time
shows how unfit I then was to guard my interests. For instance, I find
that just before he spoke those words declining my assistance and implying
that he had already increased his holdings, he opened and closed his hands
several times, finally closed and clinched them--a sure sign of energetic
nervous action, and in that particular instance a sign of deception,
because there was no energy in his remark and no reason for energy. I am
not superstitious, but I believe in palmistry to a certain extent. Even
more than the face are the hands a sensitive recorder of what is passing in
the mind.

But I was then too intent upon my dilemma carefully to study a man who had
already lulled me into absolute confidence in him. I left him as soon as
he would let me go. His last words were, "No gambling, Matthew! No abuse
of the opportunity God is giving us. Be content with the just profits from
investment. I have seen gamblers come and go, many of them able men--very
able men. But they have melted away, and where are they? And I have
remained and have increased, blessed be God who has saved me from the
temptations to try to reap where I had not sown! I feel that I can trust
you. You began as a speculator, but success has steadied you, and you have
put yourself on the firm ground where we see the solid men into whose hands
God has given the development of the abounding resources of this beloved
country of ours."

Do you wonder that I went away with a heart full of shame for the gambling
projects my head was planning upon the information that good man had given
me?

I shut myself in my private office for several hours of hard thinking--as
I can now see, the first real attention I had given my business in two
months. It soon became clear enough that my Textile plunge was a folly;
but it was too late to retrace. The only question was, could and should I
assume additional burdens? I looked at the National Coal problem from
every standpoint--so I thought. And I could see no possible risk. Did not
Roebuck's statement make it certain as sunrise that, as soon as the
reorganization was announced, all coal stocks would rise? Yes, I should
be risking nothing; I could with absolute safety stake my credit; to make
contracts to buy coal stocks at present prices for future delivery was no
more of a gamble than depositing cash in the United States Treasury.

"You've gone back to gambling lately, Matt," said I to myself. "You've
been on a bender, with your head afire. You must get out of this Textile
business as soon as possible. But it's good sound sense to plunge on
the coal stocks. In fact, your profits there would save you if by some
mischance Textile should rise instead of fall. Acting on Roebuck's tip
isn't gambling, it's insurance."

I emerged to issue orders that soon threw into the National Coal venture
all I had not staked on a falling market for Textiles. I was not
content--as the pious gambling-hater, Roebuck, had begged me to be--with
buying only what stock I could pay for; I went plunging on, contracting for
many times the amount I could have bought outright.

The next time I saw Langdon I was full of enthusiasm for Roebuck. I can see
his smile as he listened.

"I had no idea you were an expert on the trumpets of praise, Blacklock,"
said he finally. "A very showy accomplishment," he added, "but rather
dangerous, don't you think? The player may become enchanted by his own
music."

"I try to look on the bright side of things." said I, "even of human
nature."

"Since when?" drawled he.

I laughed--a good, hearty laugh, for this shy reference to my affair of the
heart tickled me. I enjoyed to the full only in long retrospect the look he
gave me.

"As soon as a man falls in love," said he, "trustees should be appointed to
take charge of his estate."

"You're wrong there, old man," I replied. "I've never worked harder or with
a clearer head than since I learned that there are"--I hesitated, and ended
lamely--"other things in life."

Langdon's handsome face suddenly darkened, and I thought I saw in his eyes
a look of savage pain. "I envy you," said he with an effort at his wonted
lightness and cynicism. But that look touched my heart; I talked no more of
my own happiness. To do so, I felt would be like bringing laughter into the
house of grief.




XVI

TRAPPED AND TRIMMED


There are two kinds of dangerous temptations--those that tempt us, and
those that don't. Those that don't, give us a false notion of our resisting
power, and so make us easy victims to the others. I thought I knew myself
pretty thoroughly, and I believed there was nothing that could tempt me
to neglect my business. With this delusion of my strength firmly in mind,
when Anita became a temptation to neglect business, I said to myself: "To
go up-town during business hours for long lunches, to spend the mornings
selecting flowers and presents for her--these things _look_ like
neglect of business, and would be so in some men. But _I_ couldn't
neglect business. I do them because my affairs are so well ordered that a
few hours of absence now and then make no difference--probably send me back
fresher and clearer."

When I left the office at half-past twelve on that fateful Wednesday in
June, my business was never in better shape. Textile Common had dropped a
point and a quarter in two days--evidently it was at last on its way slowly
down toward where I could free myself and take profits. As for the Coal
enterprise nothing could possibly happen to disturb it; I was all ready for
the first of July announcement and boom. Never did I have a lighter heart
than when I joined Anita and her friends at Sherry's. It seemed to me her
friendliness was less perfunctory, less a matter of appearances. And the
sun was bright, the air delicious, my health perfect. It took all the
strength of all the straps Monson had put on my natural spirits to keep me
from being exuberant.

I had fully intended to be back at my office half an hour before the
Exchange closed--this in addition to the obvious precaution of leaving
orders that they were to telephone me if anything should occur about which
they had the least doubt. But so comfortable did my vanity make me that
I forgot to look at my watch until a quarter to three. I had a momentary
qualm; then, reassured, I asked Anita to take a walk with me. Before we set
out I telephoned my right-hand man and partner, Ball. As I had thought,
everything was quiet; the Exchange was closing with Textile sluggish and
down a quarter. Anita and I took a car to the park.

As we strolled about there, it seemed to me I was making more headway with
her than in all the times I had seen her since we became engaged. At each
meeting I had had to begin at the beginning once more, almost as if we
had never met; for I found that she had in the meanwhile taken on all, or
almost all, her original reserve. It was as if she forgot me the instant I
left her--not very flattering, that!

"You accuse me of refusing to get acquainted with you," said I, "of
refusing to see that you're a different person from what I imagine. But how
about you? Why do you still stick to your first notion of me? Whatever I am
or am not, I'm not the person you condemned on sight."

"You _have_ changed," she conceded. "The way you dress--and sometimes
the way you act. Or, is it because I'm getting used to you?"

"No--it's--" I began, but stopped there. Some day I would confess about
Monson, but not yet. Also, I hoped the change wasn't altogether due to
Monson and the dancing-master and my imitation of the tricks of speech and
manner of the people in her set.

She did not notice my abrupt halt. Indeed, I often caught her at not
listening to me. I saw that she wasn't listening now.

"You didn't hear what I said," I accused somewhat sharply, for I was
irritated--as who would not have been?

She started, gave me that hurried, apologetic look that was bitterer to me
than the most savage insult would have been.

"I beg your pardon," she said. "We were talking of--of changes, weren't
we?"

"We were talking of _me_" I answered. "Of the subject that interests
you not at all."

She looked at me in a forlorn sort of way that softened my irritation with
sympathy. "I've told you how it is with me," she said. "I do my best to
please you. I--"

"Damn your best!" I cried. "Don't try to please _me_. Be yourself. I'm
no slave-driver. I don't have to be conciliated. Can't you ever see that
I'm not your tyrant? Do I treat you as any other man would feel he had the
right to treat the girl who had engaged herself to him? Do I ever thrust my
feelings or wishes--or--longings on you? And do you think repression easy
for a man of my temperament?"

"You have been very good," she said humbly.

"Don't you ever say that to me again," I half commanded, half pleaded. "I
won't have you always putting me in the position of a kind and indulgent
master."

She halted and faced me.

"Why do you want me, anyhow?" she cried. Then she noticed several loungers
on a bench staring at us and grinning; she flushed and walked on.

"I don't know," said I. "Because I'm a fool, probably. My common sense
tells me I can't hope to break through that shell of self-complacence
you've been cased in by your family and your associates. Sometimes I think
I'm mistaken in you, think there isn't any real, human blood left in your
veins, that you're like the rest of them--a human body whose heart and mind
have been taken out and a machine substituted--a machine that can say and
do only a narrow little range of conventional things--like one of those
French dolls."

"You mustn't blame me for that," she said gently. "I realize it, too--and
I'm ashamed of it. But--if you could know how I've been educated. They've
treated me as the Flathead Indian women treat their babies--keep their
skulls in a press--isn't that it?--until their heads and brains grow of
the Flathead pattern. Only, somehow, in my case--the process wasn't quite
complete. And so, instead of being contented like the other Flathead girls,
I'm--almost a rebel, at times. I'm neither the one thing nor the other--not
natural and not Flathead, not enough natural to grow away from Flathead,
not enough Flathead to get rid of the natural."

"I take back what I said about not knowing why I--I want you, Anita," I
said. "I do know why--and--well, as I told you before, you'll never regret
marrying me."

"If you won't misunderstand me," she answered, "I'll confess to you my
instinct has been telling me that, too. I'm not so bad as you must think.
I did bargain to sell myself, but I'd have thrown up the bargain if you
had been as--as you seemed at first." For some reason--perhaps it was her
dress, or hat--she was looking particularly girlish that day, and her
skin was even more transparent than usual. "You're different from the men
I've been used to all my life," she went on, and--smiling in a friendly
way--"you often give me a terrifying sense of your being a--a wild man on
his good behavior. But I've come to feel that you're generous and unselfish
and that you'll be kind to me--won't you? And I must make a life for
myself--I must--I must! Oh, I can't explain to you, but--" She turned her
little head toward me, and I was looking into those eyes that the flowers
were like.

I thought she meant her home life. "You needn't tell me," I said, and I'll
have to confess my voice was anything but steady. "And, I repeat, you'll
never regret."

She evidently feared that she had said too much, for she lapsed into
silence, and when I tried to resume the subject of ourselves, she answered
me with painful constraint. I respected her nervousness and soon began to
talk of things not so personal to us. Again, my mistake of treating her as
if she were marked "Fragile. Handle with care." I know now that she, like
all women, had the plain, tough, durable human fibre under that exterior
of delicacy and fragility, and that my overconsideration caused her to
exaggerate to herself her own preposterous notions of her superior
fineness. We walked for an hour, talking--with less constraint and more
friendliness than ever before, and when I left her I, for the first time,
felt that I had left a good impression.

When I entered my offices, I, from force of habit, mechanically went direct
to the ticker--and dropped all in an instant from the pinnacle of Heaven
into a boiling inferno. For the ticker was just spelling out these words:
"Mowbray Langdon, president of the Textile Association, sailed unexpectedly
on the _Kaiser Wilhelm_ at noon. A two per cent. raise of the dividend
rate of Textile Common, from the present four per cent, to six, has been
determined upon."

And I had staked up to, perhaps beyond, my limit of safety that Textile
would fall!

Ball was watching narrowly for some sign that the news was as bad as he
feared. But it cost me no effort to keep my face expressionless; I was like
a man who has been killed by lightning and lies dead with the look on his
face that he had just before the bolt struck him.

"Why didn't you tell me this," said I to Ball, "when I had you on the
'phone?" My tone was quiet enough, but the very question ought to have
shown him that my brain was like a schooner in a cyclone.

"We heard it just after you rang off," was his reply. "We've been trying
to get you ever since. I've gone everywhere after Textile stock. Very few
will sell, or even lend, and they ask--the best price was ten points above
to-day's closing. A strong tip's out that Textiles are to be rocketed."

Ten points up already--on the mere rumor! Already ten dollars to pay on
every share I was "short"--and I short more than two hundred thousand! I
felt the claws of the fiend Ruin sink into the flesh of my shoulders. "Ball
doesn't know how I'm fixed," I remember I thought, "and he mustn't know."

I lit a cigar with a steady hand and waited for Joe's next words.

"I went to see Jenkins at once," he went on. Jenkins was then first
vice-president of the Textile Trust. "He's all cut up because the news got
out--says Langdon and he were the only ones who knew, so he supposed--says
the announcement wasn't to have been made for a month--not till Langdon
returned. He has had to confirm it, though. That was the only way to free
his crowd from suspicion of intending to rig the market."

"All right," said I.

"Have you seen the afternoon paper?" he asked. As he held it out to me, my
eye caught big Textile head-lines, then flashed to some others--something
about my going to marry Miss Ellersly.

"All right," said I, and with the paper in my hand, went to my outside
office. I kept on toward my inner office, saying over my shoulder--to the
stenographer: "Don't let anybody interrupt me." Behind the closed and
locked door my body ventured to come to life again and my face to reflect
as much as it could of the chaos that was heaving in me like ten thousand
warring devils.

Three months before, in the same situation, my gambler's instinct would
probably have helped me out. For I had not been gambling in the great
American Monte Carlo all those years without getting used to the downs
as well as to the ups. I had not--and have not--anything of the business
man in my composition. To me, it was wholly finance, wholly a game, with
excitement the chief factor and the sure winning, whether the little ball
rolled my way or not. I was the financier, the gambler and adventurer; and
that had been my principal asset. For, the man who wins in the long run at
any of the great games of life--and they are all alike--is the man with
the cool head; and the only man whose head is cool is he who plays for the
game's sake, not caring greatly whether he wins or loses on any one play,
because he feels that if he wins to-day, he will lose to-morrow; if he
loses to-day, he will win to-morrow. But now a new factor had come into the
game. I spread out the paper and stared at the head-lines: "Black Matt To
Wed Society Belle--The Bucket-Shop King Will Lead Anita Ellersly To The
Altar." I tried to read the vulgar article under these vulgar lines, but I
could not. I was sick, sick in body and in mind. My "nerve" was gone. I was
no longer the free lance; I had responsibilities.

That thought dragged another in its train, an ugly, grinning imp that
leered at me and sneered: "_But she won't have you now_!"

"She will! She must!" I cried aloud, starting up. And then the storm
burst--I raged up and down the floor, shaking my clinched fists, gnashing
my teeth, muttering all kinds of furious commands and threats--a truly
ridiculous exhibition of impotent rage. For through it all I saw clearly
enough that she wouldn't have me, that all these people I'd been trying
to climb up among would kick loose my clinging hands and laugh as they
watched me disappear. They who were none too gentle and slow in disengaging
themselves from those of their own lifelong associates who had reverses
of fortune--what consideration could "Black Matt" expect from them? And
she--The necessity and the ability to deceive myself had gone, now that I
could not pay the purchase price for her. The full hideousness of my
bargain for her dropped its veil and stood naked before me.

At last, disgusted and exhausted, I flung myself down again, and dumbly and
helplessly inspected the ruins of my projects--or, rather, the ruin of the
one project upon which I had my heart set. I had known I cared for her, but
it had seemed to me she was simply one more, the latest, of the objects on
which I was in the habit of fixing my will from time to time to make the
game more deeply interesting. I now saw that never before had I really been
in earnest about anything, that on winning her I had staked myself, and
that myself was a wholly different person from what I had been imagining.
In a word, I sat face to face with that unfathomable mystery of
sex-affinity that every man laughs at and mocks another man for believing
in, until he has himself felt it drawing him against will, against reason,
and sense, and interest, over the brink of destruction yawning before his
eyes--drawing him as the magnet-mountain drew Sindbad and his ship. And I
say to you that those who can defy and resist that compulsion are not more,
but less, than man or woman; and their fancied strength is in reality a
deficiency. Looking calmly back upon my follies under her spell, I think
the better of myself for them. It is the splendid follies of life that
redeem it from vulgarity.

But--it is not in me to despair. There never yet was an impenetrable siege
line; to escape, it is only necessary by craft or by chance to hit upon the
moment and the spot for the sortie. "Ruined!" I said aloud. "Trapped and
trimmed like the stupidest sucker that ever wandered into Wall Street! A
dead one, no doubt; but I'll see to it that they don't enjoy my funeral."




XVII

A GENTEEL "HOLD-UP"


In my childhood at home, my father was often away for a week or longer,
working or looking for work. My mother had a notion that a boy should
be punished only by his father; so, whenever she caught me in what she
regarded as a serious transgression, she used to say: "You will get a
good whipping for this, when your father comes home." At first I used to
wait passively, suffering the torments of ten thrashings before the "good
whipping" came to pass. But soon my mind began to employ the interval more
profitably. I would scheme to escape execution of sentence; and, though my
mother was a determined woman, many's the time I contrived to change her
mind. I am not recommending to parents the system of delay in execution
of sentence; but I must say that in my case it was responsible for an
invaluable discipline. For example, the Textile tangle.

I knew I was in all human probability doomed to go down before the Stock
Exchange had been open an hour the next morning. All Textile stocks must
start many points higher than they had been at the close, must go steadily
and swiftly up. Entangled as my reserve resources were in the Coal deal, I
should have no chance to cover my shorts on any terms less than the loss
of all I had. At most, I could hope only to save myself from criminal
bankruptcy.

And now my early training in coolly and calmly studying how to avert
execution of sentence came into play. There is a kind of cornered-rat,
hit-or-miss, last-ditch fight that any creature will make in such
circumstances as mine then were, and the inspirations of despair sometimes
happen to be lucky. But I prefer the reasoned-out plan.

There was no signal of distress in my voice as I telephoned Corey,
president of the Interstate Trust Company, to stay at his office until I
came; there was no signal of distress in my manner as I sallied forth and
went down to the Power Trust Building; nor did I show or suggest that I had
heard the "shot-at-sunrise" sentence, as I strode into Roebuck's presence
and greeted him. I was assuming, by way of precaution, that some rumor
about me either had reached him or would soon reach him. I knew he had
an eye in every secret of finance and industry, and, while I believed my
secret was wholly my own, I had too much at stake with him to bank on that,
when I could, as I thought, so easily reassure him.

"I've come to suggest, Mr. Roebuck," said I, "that you let my
house--Blacklock and Company--announce the Coal reorganization plan. It
would give me a great lift, and Melville and his bank don't need prestige.
My daily letters to the public on investments have, as you know, got me
a big following that would help me make the flotation an even bigger
success than it's bound to be, no matter who announces it and invites
subscriptions."

As I thus proposed that I be in a jiffy caught up from the extremely
humble level of reputed bucket-shop dealer into the highest heaven of high
finance, that I be made the official spokesman of the financial gods, his
expression was so ludicrous that I almost lost my gravity. I suspect, for
a moment he thought I had gone mad. His manner, when he recovered himself
sufficiently to speak, was certainly not unlike what it would have been
had he found himself alone before a dangerous lunatic who was armed with a
bomb.

"You know how anxious I am to help you, to further your interests,
Matthew," said he wheedlingly. "I know no man who has a brighter future.
But--not so fast, not so fast, young man. Of course, you will appear as
one of the reorganizing committee--but we could not afford to have the
announcement come through any less strong and old established house than
the National Industrial Bank."

"At least, you can make me joint announcer with them," I urged.

"Perhaps--yes--possibly--we'll see," said he soothingly. "There is plenty
of time."

"Plenty of time," I assented, as if quite content. "I only wanted to put
the matter before you." And I rose to go.

"Have you heard the news of Textile Common?" he asked.

"Yes," said I carelessly. Then, all in an instant, a plan took shape in my
mind. "I own a good deal of the stock, and I must say, I don't like this
raise."

"Why?" he inquired.

"Because I'm sure it's a stock-jobbing scheme," replied I boldly. "I know
the dividend wasn't earned. I don't like that sort of thing, Mr. Roebuck.
Not because it's unlawful--the laws are so clumsy that a practical man
often must disregard them. But because it is tampering with the reputation
and the stability of a great enterprise for the sake of a few millions of
dishonest profit. I'm surprised at Langdon."

"I hope you're wrong, Matthew," was Roebuck's only comment. He questioned
me no further, and I went away, confident that, when the crash came in the
morning, if come it must, there would be no more astonished man in Wall
Street than Henry J. Roebuck. How he must have laughed; or, rather, would
have laughed, if his sort of human hyena expressed its emotions in the
human way.

From him, straight to my lawyers, Whitehouse and Fisher, in the Mills
Building.

"I want you to send for the newspaper reporters at once," said I to Fisher,
"and tell them that in my behalf you are going to apply for an injunction
against the Textile Trust, forbidding them to take any further steps toward
that increase of dividend. Tell them I, as a large stock-holder, and
representing a group of large stock-holders, purpose to stop the paying of
unearned dividends."

Fisher knew how closely connected my house and the Textile Trust had been;
but he showed, and probably felt no astonishment. He was too experienced in
the ways of finance and financiers. It was a matter of indifference to him
whether I was trying to assassinate my friend and ally, or was feinting at
Langdon, to lure the public within reach so that we might, together, fall
upon it and make a battue. Your lawyer is your true mercenary. Under his
code honor consists in making the best possible fight in exchange for the
biggest possible fee. He is frankly for sale to the highest bidder. At
least so it is with those that lead the profession nowadays, give it what
is called "character" and "tone."

Not without some regret did I thus arrange to attack my friend in his
absence. "Still," I reasoned, "his blunder in trusting some leaky person
with his secret is the cause of my peril--and I'll not have to justify
myself to him for trying to save myself." What effect my injunction would
have I could not foresee. Certainly it could not save me from the loss of
my fortune; but, possibly, it might check the upward course of the stock
long enough to enable me to snatch myself from ruin, and to cling to firm
ground until the Coal deal drew me up to safety.

My next call was at the Interstate Trust Company. I found Corey waiting for
me in a most uneasy state of mind.

"Is there any truth in this story about you?" was the question he plumped
at me.

"What story?" said I, and a hard fight I had to keep my confusion and alarm
from the surface. For, apparently, my secret was out.

"That you're on the wrong side of the Textile."

So it was out! "Some truth," I admitted, since denial would have been
useless here. "And I've come to you for the money to tide me over."

He grew white, a sickly white, and into his eyes came a horrible, drowning
look.

"I owe a lot to you, Matt," he pleaded. "But I've done you a great many
favors, haven't I?"

"That you have Bob," I cordially agreed. "But this isn't a favor. It's
business."

"You mustn't ask it, Blacklock," he cried. "I've loaned you more money now
than the law allows. And I can't let you have any more."

"Some one has been lying to you, and you've been believing him," said I.
"When I say my request isn't a favor, but business, I mean it."

"I can't let you have any more," he repeated. "I can't!" And down came his
fist in a weak-violent gesture.

I leaned forward and laid my hand strongly on his arm.

"In addition to the stock of this concern that I hold in my own name," said
I, "I hold five shares in the name of a man whom nobody knows that I even
know. If you don't let me have the money, that man goes to the district
attorney with information that lands you in the penitentiary, that puts
your company out of business and into bankruptcy before to-morrow noon.
I saved you three years ago, and got you this job against just such an
emergency as this, Bob Corey. And, by God, you'll toe the mark!"

"But we haven't done anything that every bank in town doesn't do every
day--doesn't have to do. If we didn't lend money to dummy borrowers
and over-certify accounts, our customers would go where they could get
accommodations."

"That's true enough," said I. "But I'm in a position for the moment where I
need my friends--and they've got to come to time. If I don't get the money
from you, I'll get it elsewhere--but over the cliff with you and your
bank! The laws you've been violating may be bad for the practical banking
business, but they're mighty good for punishing ingratitude and treachery."

He sat there, yellow and pinched, and shivering every now and then. He
made no reply. He was one of those shells of men that are conspicuous as
figureheads in every department of active life--fellows with well-shaped,
white-haired or prematurely bald heads, and grave, respectable faces;
they look dignified and substantial, and the soul of uprightness; they
coin their looks into good salaries by selling themselves as covers for
operations of the financiers. And how those operations, in the nude, as it
were, would terrify the plodders that save up and deposit or invest the
money the financiers gamble with on the big green tables!

Presently I shook his arm impatiently. His eyes met mine, and I fixed them.

"I'm going to pull through," said I. "But if I weren't, I'd see to it that
you were protected. Come, what's your answer? Friend or traitor?"

"Can't you give me any security--any collateral?"

"No more than I took from you when I saved you as you were going down with
the rest in the Dumont smash. My word--that's all. I borrow on the same
terms you've given me before, the same you're giving four of your heaviest
borrowers right now."

He winced as I thus reminded him how minute my knowledge was of the
workings of his bank.

"I didn't think this of you, Matt," he whined. "I believed you above such
hold-up methods."

"I suit my methods to the men I'm dealing with," was my answer. "These
fellows are trying to push me off the life raft. I fight with every weapon
I can lay hands on. And I know as well as you do that, if you get into
serious trouble through this loan, at least five men we could both name
would have to step in and save the bank and cover up the scandal. You'll
blackmail them, just as you've blackmailed them before, and they you.
Blackmail's a legitimate part of the game. Nobody appreciates that better
than you." It was no time for the smug hypocrisies under which we people
down town usually conduct our business--just as the desperadoes used to
patrol the highways disguised as peaceful merchants.

"Send round in the morning and get the money," said he, putting on a
resigned, hopeless look.

I laughed. "I'll feel easier if I take it now," I replied. "We'll fix up
the notes and checks at once."

He reddened, but after a brief hesitation busied himself. When the papers
were all made up and signed, and I had the certified checks in my pocket,
I said: "Wait here, Bob, until the National Industrial people call you
up. I'll ask them to do it, so they can get your personal assurance that
everything's all right. And I'll stop there until they tell me they've
talked with you."

"But it's too late," he said. "You can't deposit to-day."

"I've a special arrangement with them," I replied.

His face betrayed him. I saw that at no stage of that proceeding had I been
wiser than in shutting off his last chance to evade. What scheme he had in
mind I don't know, and can't imagine. But he had thought out something,
probably something foolish that would have given me trouble without saving
him. A foolish man in a tight place is as foolish as ever, and Corey was
a foolish man--only a fool commits crimes that put him in the power of
others. The crimes of the really big captains of industry and generals of
finance are of the kind that puts others in their power.

"Buck up, Corey," said I. "Do you think I'm the man to shut a friend in the
hold of a sinking ship? Tell me, who told you I was short on Textile?"

"One of my men," he slowly replied, as he braced himself together.

"Which one? Who?" I persisted. For I wanted to know just how far the news
was likely to spread.

He seemed to be thinking out a lie.

"The truth!" I commanded. "I know it couldn't have been one of your men.
Who was it? I'll not give you away."

"It was Tom Langdon," he finally said.

I checked an exclamation of amazement. I had been assuming that I had been
betrayed by some one of those tiny mischances that so often throw the best
plans into confusion.

"Tom Langdon," I said satirically. "It was he that warned you against me?"

"It was a friendly act," said Corey. "He and I are very intimate. And he
doesn't know how close you and I are."

"Suggested that you call my loans, did he?" I went on.

"You mustn't blame him, Blacklock; really you mustn't," said Corey
earnestly, for he was a pretty good friend to those he liked, as friendship
goes in finance. "He happened to hear. You know the Langdons keep a sharp
watch on operations in their stock. And he dropped in to warn me as a
friend. You'd do the same thing in the same circumstances. He didn't say a
word about my calling your loans. I--to be frank--I instantly thought of it
myself. I intended to do it when you came, but"--a sickly smile--"you
anticipated me."

"I understand," said I good-humoredly. "I don't blame him." And I didn't
then.

After I had completed my business at the National Industrial, I went back
to my office and gathered together the threads of my web of defense. Then
I wrote and sent out to all my newspapers and all my agents a broadside
against the management of the Textile Trust--it would be published in
the morning, in good time for the opening of the Stock Exchange. Before
the first quotation of Textile could be made, thousands on thousands of
investors and speculators throughout the country would have read my letter,
would be believing that Matthew Blacklock had detected the Textile Trust
in a stock-jobbing swindle, and had promptly turned against it, preferring
to keep faith with his customers and with the public. As I read over my
pronunciamiento aloud before sending it out, I found in it a note of
confidence that cheered me mightily. "I'm even stronger than I thought,"
said I. And I felt stronger still as I went on to picture the thousands on
thousands throughout the land rallying at my call to give battle.




XVIII

ANITA BEGINS TO BE HERSELF


I had asked Sam Ellersly to dine with me; so preoccupied was I that not
until ten minutes before the hour set did he come into my mind--he or any
of his family, even his sister. My first impulse was to send word that I
couldn't keep the engagement. "But I must dine somewhere," I reflected,
"and there's no reason why I shouldn't dine with him, since I've done
everything that can be done." In my office suite I had a bath and
dressing-room, with a complete wardrobe. Thus, by hurrying a little over
my toilet, and by making my chauffeur crowd the speed limit, I was at
Delmonico's only twenty minutes late.

Sam, who had been late also, as usual, was having a cocktail and was
ordering the dinner. I smoked a cigarette and watched him. At business or
at anything serious his mind was all but useless; but at ordering dinner
and things of that sort, he shone. Those small accomplishments of his had
often moved me to a sort of pitying contempt, as if one saw a man of talent
devoting himself to engraving the Lord's Prayer on gold dollars. That
evening, however, as I saw how comfortable and contented he looked, with
not a care in the world, since he was to have a good dinner and a good
cigar afterward; as I saw how much genuine pleasure he was getting out of
selecting the dishes and giving the waiter minute directions for the chef,
I envied him.

What Langdon had once said came back to me: "We are under the tyranny of
to-morrow, and happiness is impossible." And I thought how true that was.
But, for the Sammys, high and low, there is no to-morrow. He was somehow
impressing me with a sense that he was my superior. His face was weak, and,
in a weak way, bad; but there was a certain fineness of quality in it,
a sort of hothouse look, as if he had been sheltered all his life, and
brought up on especially selected food. "Men like me," thought I with a
certain envy, "rise and fall. But his sort of men have got something that
can't be taken away, that enables them to carry off with grace, poverty or
the degradation of being spongers and beggars."

This shows how far I had let that attack of snobbishness eat into me. I
glanced down at my hands. No delicateness there; certainly those fingers,
though white enough nowadays, and long enough, too, were not made for fancy
work and parlor tricks. They would have looked in place round the handle
of a spade or the throttle of an engine, while Sam's seemed made for the
keyboard of a piano.

"You must come over to my rooms after dinner, and give me some music," said
I.

"Thanks," he replied, "but I've promised to go home and play bridge.
Mother's got a few in to dinner, and more are coming afterward, I believe."

"Then I'll go with you, and talk to your sister--she doesn't play."

He glanced at me in a way that made me pass my hand over my face. I learned
at least part of the reason for my feeling at disadvantage before him. I
had forgotten to shave; and as my beard is heavy and black, it has to be
looked after twice a day. "Oh, I can stop at my rooms and get my face into
condition in a few minutes," said I.

"And put on evening dress, too," he suggested. "You wouldn't want to go in
a dinner jacket."

I can't say why this was the "last straw," but it was.

"Bother!" said I, my common sense smashing the spell of snobbishness that
had begun to reassert itself as soon as I got into his unnatural, unhealthy
atmosphere. "I'll go as I am, beard and all. I only make myself ridiculous,
trying to be a sheep. I'm a goat, and a goat I'll stay."

That shut him into himself. When he re-emerged, it was to say: "Something
doing down town to-day, eh?"

A sharpness in his voice and in his eyes, too, made me put my mind on him
more closely, and then I saw what I should have seen before--that he was
moody and slightly distant.

"Seen Tom Langdon this afternoon?" I asked carelessly.

He colored. "Yes--had lunch with him," was his answer.

I smiled--for his benefit. "Aha!" thought I. "So Tom Langdon has been fool
enough to take this paroquet into his confidence." Then I said to him: "Is
Tom making the rounds, warning the rats to leave the sinking ship?"

"What do you mean, Matt?" he demanded, as if I had accused him.

I looked steadily at him, and I imagine my unshaven jaw did not make my
aspect alluring.

"That I'm thinking of driving the rats overboard," replied I. "The ship's
sound, but it would be sounder if there were fewer of them."

"You don't imagine anything Tom could say would change my feelings toward
you?" he pleaded.

"I don't know, and I don't care a damn," replied I coolly. "But I do know,
before the Langdons or anybody else can have Blacklock pie, they'll have
first to catch their Blacklock."

I saw Langdon had made him uneasy, despite his belief in my strength. And
he was groping for confirmation or reassurance. "But," thought I, "if he
thinks I may be going up the spout, why isn't he more upset? He probably
hates me because I've befriended him, but no matter how much he hated me,
wouldn't his fear of being cut off from supplies drive him almost crazy?" I
studied him in vain for sign of deep anxiety. Either Tom didn't tell him
much, I decided, or he didn't believe Tom knew what he was talking about.

"What did Tom say about me?" I inquired.

"Oh, almost nothing. We were talking chiefly of--of club matters," he
answered, in a fair imitation of his usual offhand manner.

"When does my name come up there?" said I.

He flushed and shifted. "I was just about to tell you," he stammered. "But
perhaps you know?"

"Know what?"

"That-- Hasn't Tom told you? He has withdrawn--and--you'll have to get
another second--if you think--that is--unless you--I suppose you'd have
told me, if you'd changed your mind?"

Since I had become so deeply interested in Anita, my
ambition--ambition!--to join the Travelers had all but dropped out of my
mind.

"I had forgotten about it," said I. "But, now that you remind me, I want my
name withdrawn. It was a passing fancy. It was part and parcel of a lot of
damn foolishness I've been indulging in for the last few months. But I've
come to my senses--and it's 'me to the wild,' where I belong, Sammy, from
this time on."

He looked tremendously relieved, and a little puzzled, too. I thought I was
reading him like an illuminated sign. "He's eager to keep friends with me,"
thought I, "until he's absolutely sure there's nothing more in it for him
and his people." And that guess was a pretty good one. It is not to the
discredit of my shrewdness that I didn't see it was not hope, but fear,
that made him try to placate me. I could not have possibly known then what
the Langdons had done. But-- Sammy was saying, in his friendliest tone:

"What's the matter, old man? You're sour to-night."

"Never in a better humor," I assured him, and as I spoke the words
they came true. What I had been saying about the Travelers and all it
represented--all the snobbery, and smirking, and rotten pretense--my final
and absolute renunciation of it all--acted on me as I've seen religion act
on the fellows that used to go up to the mourners' bench at the revivals. I
felt as if I had suddenly emerged from the parlor of a dive and its stench
of sickening perfumes, into the pure air of God's Heaven.

I signed the bill, and we went afoot up the avenue. Sam, as I saw with a
good deal of amusement, was trying to devise some subtle, tactful way of
attaching his poor, clumsy little suction-pump to the well of my secret
thoughts.

"What is it, Sammy?" said I at last. "What do you want to know that you're
afraid to ask me?"

"Nothing," he said hastily. "I'm only a bit worried about--about you and
Textile. Matt,"--this in the tone of deep emotion we reserve for the
attempt to lure our friends into confiding that about themselves which will
give us the opportunity to pity them, and, if necessary, to sheer off from
them--"Matt, I do hope you haven't been hard hit?"

"Not yet," said I easily. "Dry your tears and put away your black clothes.
Your friend, Tom Langdon, was a little premature."

"I'm afraid I've given you a false impression," Sam continued, with
an overeagerness to convince me that did not attract my attention at
the time. "Tom merely said, 'I hear Blacklock is loaded up with Textile
shorts,'--that was all. A careless remark. I really didn't think of it
again until I saw you looking so black and glum."

That seemed natural enough, so I changed the subject. As we entered his
house, I said:

"I'll not go up to the drawing-room. Make my excuses to your mother, will
you? I'll turn into the little smoking-room here. Tell your sister--and say
I'm going to stop only a moment."

Sam had just left me when the butler came.

"Mr. Ball--I think that was the name, sir--wishes to speak to you on the
telephone."

I had given Ellerslys' as one of the places at which I might be found,
should it be necessary to consult me. I followed the butler to the
telephone closet under the main stairway. As soon as Ball made sure it was
I, he began:

"I'll use the code words. I've just seen Fearless, as you told me to."

Fearless--that was Mitchell, my spy in the employ of Tavistock, who was
my principal rival in the business of confidential brokerage for the high
financiers. "Yes," said I. "What does he say?"

"There has been a great deal of heavy buying for a month past."

Then my dread was well-founded--Textiles were to be deliberately rocketed.
"Who's been doing it?" I asked.

"He found out only this afternoon. It's been kept unusually dark. It--"

"Who? Who?" I demanded.

"Intrepid," he answered.

Intrepid--that is, Langdon--Mowbray Langdon!

"The whole thing--was planned carefully," continued Ball, "and is coming
off according to schedule. Fearless overheard a final message Intrepid's
brother brought from him to-day."

So it was no mischance--it was an assassination. Mowbray Langdon had
stabbed me in the back and fled.

"Did you hear what I said?" asked Ball. "Is that you?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Oh," came in a relieved tone from the other end of the wire. "You were so
long in answering that I thought I'd been cut off. Any instructions?"

"No," said I. "Good-by."

I heard him ring off, but I sat there for several minutes, the receiver
still to my ear. I was muttering: "Langdon, Langdon--why--why--why?" again
and again. Why had he turned against me? Why had he plotted to destroy
me--one of those plots so frequent in Wall Street--where the assassin
steals up, delivers the mortal blow, and steals away without ever being
detected or even suspected? I saw the whole plot now--I understood Tom
Langdon's activities, I recalled Mowbray Langdon's curious phrases and
looks and tones. But--why--why--why? How was I in his way?

It was all dark to me--pitch-dark. I returned to the smoking-room, lighted
a cigar, sat fumbling at the new situation. I was in no worse plight than
before--what did it matter who was attacking me? In the circumstances,
a novice could now destroy me as easily as a Langdon. Still, Ball's
news seemed to take away my courage. I reminded myself that I was used
to treachery of this sort, that I deserved what I was getting because
I had, like a fool, dropped my guard in the fight that is always an
every-man-for-himself. But I reminded myself in vain. Langdon's smiling
treachery made me heart-sick.

Soon Anita appeared--preceded and heralded by a faint rustling from soft
and clinging skirts, that swept my nerves like a love-tune. I suppose for
all men there is a charm, a spell, beyond expression, in the sight of a
delicate beautiful young woman, especially if she be dressed in those fine
fabrics that look as if only a fairy loom could have woven them; and when a
man loves the woman who bursts upon his vision, that spell must overwhelm
him, especially if he be such a man as was I--a product of life's roughest
factories, hard and harsh, an elbower and a trampler, a hustler and a
bluffer. Then, you must also consider the exact circumstances--I standing
there, with destruction hanging over me, with the sense that within a few
hours I should be a pariah to her, a masquerader stripped of his disguise
and cast out from the ball where he had been making so merry and so free.
Only a few hours more! Perhaps now was the last time I should ever stand
so near to her! The full realization of all this swallowed me up as
in a great, thick, black mist. And my arms strained to escape from my
tightly-locked hands, strained to seize her, to snatch from her, reluctant
though she might be, at least some part of the happiness that was to be
denied me.

I think my torment must have somehow penetrated to her. For she was sweet
and friendly--and she could not have hurt me worse! If I had followed my
impulse I should have fallen at her feet and buried my face, scorching, in
the folds of that pale blue, faintly-shimmering robe of hers.

"Do throw away that huge, hideous cigar," she said, laughing. And she took
two cigarettes from the box, put both between her lips, lit them, held one
toward me. I looked at her face, and along her smooth, bare, outstretched
arm, and at the pink, slender fingers holding the cigarette. I took it as
if I were afraid the spell would be broken, should my fingers touch hers.
Afraid--that's it! That's why I didn't pour out all that was in my heart. I
deserved to lose her.

"I'm taking you away from the others," I said. We could hear the murmur
of many voices and of music. In fancy I could see them assembled round
the little card-tables--the well-fed bodies, the well-cared-for skins,
the elaborate toilets, the useless jeweled hands--comfortable, secure,
self-satisfied, idle, always idle, always playing at the imitation
games--like their own pampered children, to be sheltered in the nurseries
of wealth their whole lives through. And not at all in bitterness, but
wholly in sadness, a sense of the injustice, the unfairness of it all--a
sense that had been strong in me in my youth but blunted during the years
of my busy prosperity--returned for a moment. For a moment only; my mind
was soon back to realities--to her and me--to "us." How soon it would never
be "us" again!

"They're mama's friends," Anita was answering. "Oldish and tiresome. When
you leave I shall go straight on up to bed."

"I'd like to--to see your room--where you live," said I, more to myself
than to her.

"I sleep in a bare little box," she replied with a laugh. "It's like a
cell. A friend of ours who has the anti-germ fad insisted on it. But my
sitting-room isn't so bad."

"Langdon has the anti-germ fad," said I. She answered "Yes" after a pause,
and in such a strained voice that I looked at her. A flush was just dying
out of her face. "He was the friend I spoke of," she went on.

"You know him very well?" I asked.

"We've known him--always," said she. "I think he's one of my earliest
recollections. His father's summer place and ours adjoin. And once--I guess
it's the first time I remember seeing him--he was a freshman at Harvard,
and he came along on a horse past the pony cart in which a groom was
driving me. And I--I was very little then--I begged him to take me up, and
he did. I thought he was the greatest, most wonderful man that ever lived."
She laughed queerly. "When I said my prayers, I used to imagine a god that
looked like him to say them to."

I echoed her laugh heartily. The idea of Mowbray Langdon as a god struck me
as peculiarly funny, though natural enough, too.

"Absurd, wasn't it?" said she. But her face was grave, and she let her
cigarette die out.

"I guess you know him better than that now?"

"Yes--better," she answered, slowly and absently. "He's--anything but a
god!"

"And the more fascinating on that account," said I. "I wonder why women
like best the really bad, dangerous sort of man, who hasn't any respect for
them, or for anything."

I said this that she might protest, at least for herself. But her answer
was a vague, musing, "I wonder--I wonder."

"I'm sure _you_ wouldn't," I protested earnestly, for her.

She looked at me queerly.

"Can I never convince you that I'm just a woman?" said she mockingly. "Just
a woman, and one a man with your ideas of women would fly from."

"I wish you were!" I exclaimed. "Then--I'd not find it so--so impossible to
give you up."

She rose and made a slow tour of the room, halting on the rug before the
closed fireplace a few feet from me. I sat looking at her.

"I am going to give you up," I said at last.

Her eyes, staring into vacancy, grew larger and intenser with each long,
deep breath she took.

"I didn't intend to say what I'm about to say--at least, not this evening,"
I went on, and to me it seemed to be some other than myself who was
speaking. "Certain things happened down town to-day that have set me to
thinking. And--I shall do whatever I can for your brother and your father.
But you--you are free!"

She went to the table, stood there in profile to me, straight and slender
as a sunflower stalk. She traced the silver chasings in the lid of the
cigarette box with her forefinger; then she took a cigarette and began
rolling it slowly and absently.

"Please don't scent and stain your fingers with that filthy tobacco," said
I rather harshly.

"And only this afternoon you were saying you had become reconciled to my
vice--that you had canonized it along with me--wasn't that your phrase?"
This indifferently, without turning toward me, and as if she were thinking
of something else.

"So I have," retorted I. "But my mood--please oblige me this once."

She let the cigarette fall into the box, closed the lid gently, leaned
against the table, folded her arms upon her bosom and looked full at me.
I was as acutely conscious of her every movement, of the very coming and
going of the breath at her nostrils, as a man on the operating-table is
conscious of the slightest gesture of the surgeon.

"You are--suffering!" she said, and her voice was like the flow of oil upon
a burn. "I have never seen you like this. I didn't believe you capable
of--of much feeling."

I could not trust myself to speak. If Bob Corey could have looked in on
that scene, could have understood it, how amazed he would have been!

"What happened down town to-day?" she went on. "Tell me, if I may know."

"I'll tell you what I didn't think, ten minutes ago, I'd tell any human
being," said I. "They've got me strapped down in the press. At ten o'clock
in the morning--precisely at ten--they're going to put on the screws." I
laughed. "I guess they'll have me squeezed pretty dry before noon."

She shivered.

"So, you see," I continued, "I don't deserve any credit for giving you up.
I only anticipate you by about twenty-four hours. Mine's a deathbed
repentance."

"I'd thought of that," said she reflectively. Presently she added: "Then,
it is true." And I knew Sammy had given her some hint that prepared her for
my confession.

"Yes--I can't go blustering through the matrimonial market," replied I.
"I've been thrown out. I'm a beggar at the gates."

"A beggar at the gates," she murmured.

I got up and stood looking down at her.

"Don't _pity_ me!" I said. "My remark was a figure of speech. I want
no alms. I wouldn't take even you as alms. They'll probably get me down,
and stamp the life out of me--nearly. But not quite--don't you lose sight
of that. They can't kill me, and they can't tame me. I'll recover, and I'll
strew the Street with their blood and broken bones."

She drew in her breath sharply.

"And a minute ago I was almost liking you!" she exclaimed.

I retreated to my chair and gave her a smile that must have been grim.

"Your ideas of life and of men are like a cloistered nun's," said I. "If
there are any real men among your acquaintances, you may find out some
day that they're not so much like lapdogs as they pretend--and that you
wouldn't like them, if they were."

"What--just what--happened to you down town to-day--after you left me?"

"A friend of mine has been luring me into a trap--why, I can't quite
fathom. To-day he sprang the trap and ran away."

"A friend of yours?"

"The man we were talking about--your ex-god--Langdon."

"Langdon," she repeated, and her tone told me that Sammy knew and had
hinted to her more than I suspected him of knowing. And, with her arms
still folded, she paced up and down the room. I watched her slender feet in
pale blue slippers appear and disappear--first one, then the other--at the
edge of her trailing skirt.

Presently she stopped in front of me. Her eyes were gazing past me.

"You are sure it was he?" she asked.

I could not answer immediately, so amazed was I at her expression. I had
been regarding her as a being above and apart, an incarnation of youth
and innocence; with a shock it now came to me that she was experienced,
intelligent, that she understood the whole of life, the dark as fully as
the light, and that she was capable to live it, too. It was not a girl that
was questioning me there; it was a woman.

"Yes--Langdon," I replied. "But I've no quarrel with him. My reverse is
nothing but the fortune of war. I assure you, when I see him again, I'll be
as friendly as ever--only a bit less of a trusting ass, I fancy. We're a
lot of free lances down in the Street. We fight now on one side, now on the
other. We change sides whenever it's expedient; and under the code it's not
necessary to give warning. To-day, before I knew he was the assassin, I had
made my plans to try to save myself at his expense, though I believed him
to be the best friend I had down town. No doubt he's got some good reason
for creeping up on me in the dark."

"You are sure it was he?" she repeated.

"He, and nobody else," replied I. "He decided to do me up--and I guess
he'll succeed. He's not the man to lift his gun unless he's sure the bird
will fall."

"Do you really not care any more than you show?" she asked. "Or is your
manner only bravado--to show off before me?"

"I don't care a damn, since I'm to lose you," said I. "It'll be a godsend
to have a hard row to hoe the next few months or years."

She went back to leaning against the table, her arms folded as before. I
saw she was thinking out something. Finally she said:

"I have decided not to accept your release."

I sprang to my feet.

"Anita!" I cried, my arms stretched toward her.

But she only looked coldly at me, folded her arms the more tightly and
said:

"Do not misunderstand me. The bargain is the same as before. If you want me
on those terms, I must--give myself."

"Why?" I asked.

A faint smile, with no mirth in it, drifted round the corners of her mouth.

"An impulse," she said. "I don't quite understand it myself. An impulse
from--from--" Her eyes and her thoughts were far away, and her expression
was the one that made it hardest for me to believe she was a child of those
parents of hers. "An impulse from a sense of justice--of decency. I am the
cause of your trouble, and I daren't be a coward and a cheat." She repeated
the last words. "A coward--a cheat! We--I--have taken much from you, more
than you know. It must be repaid. If you still wish, I will--will keep to
my bargain."

"It's true, I'd not have got into the mess," said I, "if I'd been attending
to business instead of dangling after you. But you're not responsible for
that folly."

She tried to speak several times, before she finally succeeded in saying:

"It's my fault. I mustn't shirk."

I studied her, but I couldn't puzzle her out.

"I've been thinking all along that you were simple and transparent," I
said. "Now, I see you are a mystery. What are you hiding from me?"

Her smile was almost coquettish as she replied:

"When a woman makes a mystery of herself to a man, it's for the man's
good."

I took her hand--almost timidly.

"Anita," I said, "do you still--dislike me?"

"I do not--and shall not--love you," she answered. "But you are--"

"More endurable?" I suggested, as she hesitated.

"Less unendurable," she said with raillery. Then she added, "Less
unendurable than profiting by a-creeping up in the dark."

I thought I understood her better than she understood herself. And suddenly
my passion melted in a tenderness I would have said was as foreign to me
as rain to a desert. I noticed that she had a haggard look. "You are very
tired, child," said I. "Good night. I am a different man from what I was
when I came in here."

"And I a different woman," said she, a beauty shining from her that was as
far beyond her physical beauty as--as love is beyond passion.

"A nobler, better woman," I exclaimed, kissing her hand.

She snatched it away.

"If you only knew!" she cried. "It seems to me, as I realize what sort of
woman I am, that I am almost worthy of _you_!" And she blazed a look
at me that left me rooted there, astounded.

But I went down the avenue with a light heart. "Just like a woman," I was
saying to myself cheerfully, "not to know her own mind."

A few blocks, and I stopped and laughed outright--at Langdon's treachery,
at my own credulity. "What an ass I've been making of myself!" said I to
myself. And I could see myself as I really had been during those months
of social struggling--an ass, braying and gamboling in a lion's skin--to
impress the ladies!

"But not wholly to no purpose," I reflected, again all in a glow at thought
of Anita.




XIX

A WINDFALL FROM "GENTLEMAN JOE"


I went to my rooms, purposing to go straight to bed, and get a good sleep.
I did make a start toward undressing; then I realized that I should only
lie awake with my brain wearing me out, spinning crazy thoughts and schemes
hour after hour--for my imagination rarely lets it do any effective
thinking after the lights are out and the limitations of material things
are wiped away by the darkness. I put on a dressing-gown and seated myself
to smoke and to read.

When I was very young, new to New York, in with the Tenderloin crowd and
up to all sorts of pranks, I once tried opium smoking. I don't think I
ever heard of anything in those days without giving it a try. Usually, I
believe, opium makes the smoker ill the first time or two; but it had no
such effect on me, nor did it fill my mind with fantastic visions. On
the contrary, it made everything around me intensely real--that is, it
enormously stimulated my dominant characteristic of accurate observation.
I noticed the slightest details--such things as the slight difference in
the length of the arms of the Chinaman who kept the "joint," the number of
buttons down the front of the waist of the girl in the bunk opposite mine,
across the dingy, little, sweet-scented room. Nothing escaped me, and also
I was conscious of each passing second, or, rather, fraction of a second.

As a rule, time and events, even when one is quietest, go with such a rush
that one notes almost nothing of what is passing. The opium seemed to
compel the kaleidoscope of life to turn more slowly; in fact, it sharpened
my senses so that they unconsciously took impressions many times more
quickly and easily and accurately. As I sat there that night after leaving
Anita, forcing my mind to follow the printed lines, I found I was in
exactly the state in which I had been during my one experiment with opium.
It seemed to me that as many days as there had been hours must have elapsed
since I got the news of the raised Textile dividend. Days--yes, weeks, even
months, of thought and action seemed to have been compressed into those six
hours--for, as I sat there, it was not yet eleven o'clock.

And then I realized that this notion was not of the moment, but that I had
been as if under the influence of some powerful nerve stimulant since my
brain began to recover from the shock of that thunderbolt. Only, where
nerve stimulants often make the mind passive and disinclined to take part
in the drama so vividly enacting before it, this opening of my reservoirs
of reserve nervous energy had multiplied my power to act as well as my
power to observe. "I wonder how long it will last," thought I. And it made
me uneasy, this unnatural alertness, unaccompanied by any feverishness or
sense of strain. "Is this the way madness begins?"

I dressed myself again and went out--went up to Joe Healey's gambling place
in Forty-fourth Street. Most of the well-known gamblers up town, as well as
their "respectable" down town fellow members of the fraternity, were old
acquaintances of mine; Joe Healey was as close a friend as I had. He had
great fame far squareness--and, in a sense, deserved it. With his fellow
gamblers he was straight as a string at all times--to be otherwise would
have meant that when he went broke he would stay broke, because none of
the fraternity would "stake" him. But with his patrons--being regarded by
them as a pariah, he acted toward them like a pariah--a prudent pariah. He
fooled them with a frank show of gentlemanliness, of honesty to his own
hurt; under that cover he fleeced them well, but always judiciously.

That night, I recall, Joe's guests were several young fellows of the
fashionable set, rich men's sons and their parasites, a few of the big down
town operators who hadn't yet got hipped on "respectability"--they playing
poker in a private room--and a couple of flush-faced, flush-pursed chaps
from out of town, for whom one of Joe's men was dealing faro from what
looked to my experienced and accurate eye like a "brace" box.

Joe, very elegant, too elegant in fact, in evening dress, was showing a new
piece of statuary to the oldest son of Melville, of the National Industrial
Bank. Joe knew a little something about art--he was much like the art
dealers who, as a matter of business, learn the difference between good
things and bad, but in their hearts wonder and laugh at people willing to
part with large sums of money for a little paint or marble or the like.

As soon as Joe thought he had sufficiently impressed young Melville, he
drifted him to a roulette table, left him there and joined me.

"Come to my office," said he. "I want to see you."

He led the way down the richly-carpeted marble stairway as far as the
landing at the turn. There, on a sort of mezzanine, he had a gorgeous
little suite. The principal object in the sitting-room or office was a huge
safe. He closed and locked the outside door behind us.

"Take a seat," said he. "You'll like the cigars in the second box on my
desk--the long one." And he began turning the combination lock. "You
haven't dropped in on us for the past three or four months," he went on.

"No," said I, getting a great deal of pleasure out of seeing again, and
thus intimately, his round, ruddy face--like a yachtman's, not like a
drinker's--and his shifty, laughing brown eyes. "The game down town has
given me enough excitement. I haven't had to continue it up town to keep
my hand in."

In fact, I had, as I have already said, been breaking off with my former
friends because, while many of the most reputable and reliable financiers
down town go in for high play occasionally at the gambling houses, it isn't
wise for the man trying to establish himself as a strictly legitimate
financier. I had been playing as much as ever, but only in games in my own
rooms and at the rooms of other bankers, brokers and commercial leaders.
The passion for high play is a craving that gnaws at a man all the time,
and he must always be feeding it one way or another.

"I've noticed that you are getting too swell to patronize us fellows," said
he, his shrewd smile showing that my polite excuse had not fooled him.
"Well, Matt, you're right--you always did have good sound sense and a
steady eye for the main chance. I used to think the women'd ruin you, they
were so crazy about that handsome mug and figure of yours. But when I saw
you knew exactly when to let go, I knew nothing could stop you."

By this time he had the safe open, disclosing several compartments and a
small, inside safe. He worked away at the second combination lock, and
presently exposed the interior of the little safe. It was filled with a
great roll of bills. He pried this out, brought it over to the desk and
began wrapping it up. "I want you to take this with you when you go," said
he. "I've made several big killings lately, and I'm going to get you to
invest the proceeds."

"I can't take that big bundle along with me, Joe," said I. "Besides, it
ain't safe. Put it in the bank and send me a check."

"Not on your life," replied Healey with a laugh. "The suckers we trimmed
gave checks, and I turned 'em into cash as soon as the banks opened. I
wasn't any too spry, either. Two of the damned sneaks consulted lawyers
as soon as they sobered off, and tried to stop payment on their checks.
They're threatening proceedings. You must take the dough away with you, and
I don't want a receipt."

"Trimming suckers, eh?" said I, not able to decide what to do.

"Their fathers stole it from the public," he explained. "They're drunken
little snobs, not fit to have money. I'm doing a public service by
relieving them of it. If I'd 'a' got more, I'd feel that much more"--he
vented his light, cool, sarcastic laugh--"more patriotic."

"I can't take it," said I, feeling that, in my present condition, to take
it would be very near to betraying the confidence of my old friend.

"They lost it in a straight game," he hastened to assure me. "I haven't had
a 'brace' box or crooked wheel for four years." This with a sober face and
a twinkle in his eye. "But even if I had helped chance to do the good work
of teaching them to take care of their money, you'd not refuse me. Up town
and down town, and all over the place, what's business, when you come to
look at it sensibly, but trading in stolen goods? Do you know a man who
could honestly earn more than ten or twenty thousand a year--good clean
money by good clean work?"

"Oh, for that matter, your money's as clean as anybody's," said I. "But,
you know, I'm a speculator, Joe. I have my downs--and this happens to be a
stormy time for me. If I take your money, I mayn't be able to account for
it or even to pay dividends on it for--maybe a year or so."

"It's all right, old man. I'll never give it a thought till you remind me
of it. Use it as you'd use your own. I've got to put it behind somebody's
luck--why not yours?"

He finished doing up the package, then he seated himself, and we both
looked at it through the smoke of our cigars.

"It's just as easy to deal in big sums as in little, in large matters as in
small, isn't it, Joe," said I, "once one gets in the way of it?"

"Do you remember--away back there--the morning," he asked musingly--"the
last morning--you and I got up from the straw in the stables over at Jerome
Park--the stables they let us sleep in?"

"And went out in the dawn to roost on the rails and spy on the speed trials
of old Revell's horses?"

"Exactly," said Joe, and we looked at each other and laughed. "We in
rags--gosh, how chilly it was that morning! Do you remember what we talked
about?"

"No," said I, though I did.

"I was proposing to turn a crooked trick--and you wouldn't have it. You
persuaded me to keep straight, Matt. I've never forgotten it. You kept me
straight--showed me what a damn fool a man was to load himself down with a
petty larceny record. You made a man of me, Matt. And then those good looks
of yours caught the eye of that bookmaker's girl, and he gave you a job at
writing sheet--and you worked me in with you."

So long ago it seemed, yet near and real, too, as I sat there, conscious of
every sound and motion, even of the fantastic shapes taken by our upcurling
smoke. How far I was from the "rail bird" of those happy-go-lucky years,
when a meal meant quite as much to me as does a million now--how far from
all that, yet how near, too. For was I not still facing life with the same
careless courage, forgetting each yesterday in the eager excitement of each
new day with its new deal? We went on in our reminiscences for a while;
then, as Joe had a little work to do, I drifted out into the house, took
a bite of supper with young Melville, had a little go at the tiger, and
toward five in the clear June morning emerged into the broad day of the
streets, with the precious bundle under my arms and a five hundred-dollar
bill in my waistcoat pocket.

"Give my win to me in a single bill," I said to the banker, "and blow
yourself off with the change."

Joe walked down the street with me--for companionship and a little air
before turning in, he said, but I imagine a desire to keep his eye on his
treasure a while longer had something to do with his taking that early
morning stroll. We passed several of those forlorn figures that hurry
through the slowly-awakening streets to bed or to work. Finally, there came
by an old, old woman--a scrubwoman, I guess, on her way home from cleaning
some office building. Beside her was a thin little boy, hopping along on a
crutch. I stopped them.

"Hold out your hand," said I to the boy, and he did. I laid the five
hundred-dollar bill in it. "Now, shut your fingers tight over that," said
I, "and don't open them till you get home. Then tell your mother to do what
she likes with it." And we left them gaping after us, speechless before
this fairy story come true.

"You must be looking hard for luck to-day," said Joe, who understood this
transaction where another might have thought it a showy and not very wise
charity. "They'll stop in at the church and pray for you, and burn a
candle."

"I hope so," said I, "for God knows I need it."




XX

A BREATHING SPELL


Langdon, after several years of effort, had got recognition for Textile
in London, but that was about all. He hadn't succeeded in unloading any
great amount of it on the English. So it was rather because I neglected
nothing than because I was hopeful of results that I had made a point of
telegraphing to London news of my proposed suit. The result was a little
trading in Textiles over there and a slight decline in the price. This fact
was telegraphed to all the financial centers on this side of the water, and
reinforced the impression my lawyers' announcement and my own "bear" letter
were making.

Still, this was nothing, or next to it. What could I hope to avail against
Langdon's agents with almost unlimited capital, putting their whole energy
under the stock to raise it? In the same newspapers that published my bear
attack, in the same columns and under the same head-lines, were official
denials from the Textile Trust and the figures of enormous increase of
business as proof positive that the denials were honest. If the public
had not been burned so many times by "industrials," if it had not learned
by bitter experience that practically none of the leaders of finance and
industry were above lying to make or save a few dollars, if Textiles had
not been manipulated so often, first by Dumont and since his death by his
brother-in-law and successor, this suave and cynical Langdon, my desperate
attack would have been without effect. As it was--

Four months before, in the same situation, had I seen Textiles stagger as
they staggered in the first hour of business on the Stock Exchange that
morning, I'd have sounded the charge, clapped spurs to my charger, and
borne down upon them. But--I had my new-born yearning for "respectability";
I had my new-born squeamishness, which led me to fear risking Bob Corey
and his bank and the money of my old friend Healey; finally, there was
Anita--the longing for her that made me prefer a narrow and uncertain
foothold to the bold leap that would land me either in wealth and power
or in the bottomless abyss.

Instead of continuing to sell Textiles, I covered as far as I could; and
I bought so eagerly and so heavily that, more than Langdon's corps of
rocketers, I was responsible for the stock's rally and start upward. When I
say "eagerly" and "heavily," I do not mean that I acted openly or without
regard to common sense. I mean simply that I made no attempt to back up my
followers in the selling campaign I had urged them into; on the contrary,
I bought as they sold. That does not sound well, and it is no better than
it sounds. I shall not dispute with any one who finds this action of mine
a betrayal of my clients to save myself. All I shall say is that it was
business, that in such extreme and dire compulsion as was mine, it was--and
is--right under the code, the private and real Wall Street code.

You can imagine the confused mass of transactions in which I was involved
before the Stock Exchange had been open long. There was the stock we had
been able to buy or get options on at various prices, between the closing
of the Exchange the previous day and that morning's opening--stock from all
parts of this country and in England. There was the stock I had been buying
since the Exchange opened--buying at figures ranging from one-eighth above
last night's closing price to fourteen points above it. And, on the debit
side, there were the "short" transactions extending over a period of nearly
two months--"sellings" of blocks large and small at a hundred different
prices.

An inextricable tangle, you will say, one it would be impossible for a
man to unravel quickly and in the frantic chaos of a wild Stock Exchange
day. Yet the influence of the mysterious state of my nerves, which I have
described above, was so marvelous that, incredible though it seems, the
moment the Exchange closed, I knew exactly, where I stood.

Like a mechanical lightning calculator, my mind threw up before me the net
result of these selling and buying transactions. Textile Common closed
eighteen points above the closing quotation of the previous day; if
Langdon's brother had not been just a little indiscreet, I should have been
as hopeless a bankrupt in reputation and in fortune as ever was ripped up
by the bulls of Wall Street.

As it was, I believed that, by keeping a bold front, I might extricate and
free myself when the Coal reorganization was announced. The rise of Coal
stocks would square my debts--and, as I was apparently untouched by
the Textile flurry, so far as even Ball, my nominal partner and chief
lieutenant, knew, I need not fear pressure from creditors that I could
not withstand.

I could not breathe freely, but I could breathe.




XXI

MOST UNLADYLIKE


When I saw I was to have a respite of a month or so, I went over to the
National Industrial Bank with Healey's roll, which my tellers had counted
and prepared for deposit. I finished my business with the receiving teller
of the National Industrial, and dropped in on my friend Lewis, the first
vice-president. I did not need to pretend coolness and confidence; my
nerves were still in that curious state of tranquil exhilaration, and I
felt master of myself and of the situation. Just as I was leaving, in came
Tom Langdon with Sam Ellersly.

Tom's face was a laughable exhibit of embarrassment. Sam--really, I felt
sorry for him. There was no reason on earth why he shouldn't be with Tom
Langdon; yet he acted as if I had caught him "with the goods on him." He
stammered and stuttered, clasped my hand eagerly, dropped it as if it had
stung him; he jerked out a string of hysterical nonsense, ending with
a laugh so crazy that the sound of it disconcerted him. Drink was the
explanation that drifted through my mind; but in fact I thought little
about it, so full was I of other matters.

"When is your brother returning?" said I to Tom.

"On the next steamer, I believe," he replied. "He went only for the rest
and the bath of sea air." With an effort he collected himself, drew me
aside and said: "I owe you an apology, Mr. Blacklock. I went to the steamer
with Mowbray to see him off, and he asked me to tell you about our new
dividend rate--though it was not to be made public for some time. Anyhow,
he told me to go straight to you--and I--frankly, I forgot it." Then, with
the winning, candid Langdon smile, he added, ingenuously: "The best excuse
in the world--yet the one nobody ever accepts."

"No apology necessary," said I with the utmost good nature. "I've no
personal interest in Textile. My house deals on commission only, you
know--never on margins for myself. I'm a banker and broker, not a gambler.
Some of our customers were alarmed by the news of the big increase, and
insisted on bringing suit to stop it. But I'm going to urge them now to let
the matter drop."

Tom tried to look natural, and as he is an apt pupil of his brother's, he
succeeded fairly well. His glance, however, wouldn't fix steadily on my
gaze, but circled round and round it like a bat at an electric light. "To
tell you the truth," said he, "I'm extremely nervous as to what my brother
will say--and do--to me, when I tell him. I hope no harm came to you
through my forgetfulness."

"None in the world," I assured him. Then I turned on Sam. "What are you
doing down town to-day?" said I. "Are you on your way to see me?"

He flushed with angry shame, reading an insinuation into my careless
remark, when I had not the remotest intention of reminding him that his
customary object in coming down town was to play the parasite and the
sponge at my expense. I ought to have guessed at once that there was
some good reason for his recovery of his refined, high-bred, gentlemanly
super-sensibilities; but I was not in the mood to analyze trifles, though
my nerves were taking careful record of them.

"Oh, I was just calling on Tom," he replied rather haughtily.

Then Melville himself came in, brushing back his white tufted burnsides and
licking his lips and blinking his eyes--looking for all the world like a
cat at its toilet.

"Oh! ah! Blacklock!" he exclaimed, with purring cordiality--and I knew he
had heard of the big deposit I was making. "Come into my office on your way
out--nothing especial--only because it's always a pleasure to talk with
you."

I saw that his effusive friendliness confirmed Tom Langdon's fear that I
had escaped from his brother's toils. He stared sullenly at the carpet
until he caught me looking at him with twinkling eyes. He made a valiant
effort to return my smile and succeeded in twisting his face into a knot
that seemed to hurt him as much as it amused me.

"Well, good-by, Tom," said I. "Give my regards to your brother when he
lands, and tell him his going away was a mistake. A man can't afford to
trust his important business to understrappers." This with a face free from
any suggestion of intending a shot at him. Then to Sam: "See you to-night,
old man," and I went away, leaving Lewis looking from one to the other as
if he felt that there was dynamite about, but couldn't locate it. I stopped
with Melville to talk Coal for a few minutes--at my ease, and the last man
on earth to be suspected of hanging by the crook of one finger from the
edge of the precipice.

I rang the Ellerslys' bell at half-past nine that evening. The butler faced
me with eyes not down, as they should have been, but on mine, and full
of the servile insolence to which he had been prompted by what he had
overheard in the family.

"Not at home, sir," he said, though I had not spoken.

I was preoccupied and not expecting that statement; neither had I skill,
nor desire to acquire skill, in reading family barometers in the faces of
servants. So, I was for brushing past him and entering where I felt I had
as much right as in my own places. He barred the way.

"Beg pardon, sir. Mrs. Ellersly instructed me to say no one was at home."

I halted, but only like an oncoming bear at the prick of an arrow.

"What the hell does this mean?" I exclaimed, waving him aside. At that
instant Anita appeared from the little reception-room a few feet away.

"Oh--come in!" she said cordially. "I was expecting you. Burroughs, please
take Mr. Blacklock's hat."

I followed her into the reception-room, thinking the butler had made some
sort of mistake.

"How did you come out?" she asked eagerly, facing me. "You look your
natural self--not tired or worried--so it must have been not so bad as you
feared."

"If our friend Langdon hadn't slipped away, I might not look and feel so
comfortable," said I. "His brother blundered, and there was no one to
checkmate my moves." She seemed nearer to me, more in sympathy with me than
ever before.

"I can't tell you how glad I am!"

Her eyes were wide and bright, as from some great excitement, and her color
was high. Once my attention was on it, I knew instantly that only some
extraordinary upheaval in that household could have produced the fever that
was blazing in her. Never had I seen her in any such mood as this.

"What is it?" I asked. "What has happened?"

"If anything disagreeable should be said or done this evening here," she
said, "I want you to promise me that you'll restrain yourself, and not say
or do any of those things that make me--that jar on me. You understand?"

"I am always myself," replied I. "I can't be anybody else."

"But you are--several different kinds of self," she insisted. "And
please--this evening don't be _that_ kind. It's coming into your eyes
and chin now."

I had lifted my head and looked round, probably much like the leader of a
horned herd at the scent of danger.

"Is this better?" said I, trying to look the thoughts I had no difficulty
in getting to the fore whenever my eyes were on her.

Her smile rewarded me. But it disappeared, gave place to a look of nervous
alarm, of terror even, at the rustling, or, rather, bustling, of skirts in
the hall--there was war in the very sound, and I felt it. Mrs. Ellersly
appeared, bearing her husband as a dejected trailer invisibly but firmly
coupled. She acknowledged my salutation with a stiff-necked nod, ignored my
extended hand. I saw that she wished to impress upon me that she was a very
grand lady indeed; but, while my ideas of what constitutes a lady were at
that time somewhat befogged by my snobbishness, she failed dismally. She
looked just what she was--a mean, bad-tempered woman, in a towering rage.

"You have forced me, Mr. Blacklock," said she, and then I knew for just
what purpose that voice of hers was best adapted--"to say to you what I
should have preferred to write. Mr. Ellersly has had brought to his ears
matters in connection with your private life that make it imperative that
you discontinue your calls here."

"My private life, ma'am?" I repeated. "I was not aware that I had a private
life."

"Anita, leave us alone with Mr. Blacklock," commanded her mother.

The girl hesitated, bent her head, and with a cowed look went slowly toward
the door. There she paused, and, with what seemed a great effort, lifted
her head and gazed at me. How I ever came rightly to interpret her look
I don't know, but I said: "Miss Ellersly, I've the right to insist that
you stay." I saw she was going to obey me, and before Mrs. Ellersly could
repeat her order I said: "Now, madam, if any one accuses me of having done
anything that would cause you to exclude a man from your house, I am ready
for the liar and his lie."

As I spoke I was searching the weak, bad old face of her husband for an
explanation. Their pretense of outraged morality I rejected at once--it was
absurd. Neither up town nor down, nor anywhere else, had I done anything
that any one could regard as a breach of the code of a man of the world.
Then, reasoned I, they must have found some one else to help them out of
their financial troubles--some one who, perhaps, has made this insult to me
the price, or part of the price, of his generosity. Who? Who hates me? In
instant answer, up before my mind flashed a picture of Tom Langdon and Sam
Ellersly arm in arm entering Lewis' office. Tom Langdon wishes to marry
her; and her parents wish it, too; he is the man she was confessing to me
about--these were my swift conclusions.

"We do not care to discuss the matter, sir," Mrs. Ellersly was replying,
her tone indicating that it was not fit to discuss. And this was the woman
I had hardly been able to treat civilly, so nauseating were her fawnings
and flatterings!

"So!" I said, ignoring her and opening my batteries full upon the old man.
"You are taking orders from Mowbray Langdon now. Why?"

As I spoke, I was conscious that there had been some change in Anita. I
looked at her. With startled eyes and lips apart, she was advancing toward
me.

"Anita, leave the room!" cried Mrs. Ellersly harshly, panic under the
command in her tones.

I felt rather than saw my advantage, and pressed it.

"You see what they are doing, Miss Ellersly," said I.

She passed her hands over her eyes, let her face appear again. In it there
was an energy of repulsion that ought to have seemed exaggerated to me
then, knowing really nothing of the true situation. "I understand now!"
said she. "Oh--it is--loathsome!" And her eyes blazed upon her mother.

"Loathsome," I echoed, dashing at my opportunity. "If you are not merely a
chattel and a decoy, if there is any womanhood, any self-respect in you,
you will keep faith with me."

"Anita!" cried Mrs. Ellersly. "Go to your room!"

I had, once or twice before, heard a tone as repulsive--a female
dive-keeper hectoring her wretched white slaves. I looked at Anita. I
expected to see her erect, defiant. Instead, she was again wearing that
cowed look.

"Don't judge me too harshly," she said pleadingly to me. "I know what is
right and decent--God planted that too deep in me for them to be able to
uproot it. But--oh, they have broken my will! They have broken my will!
They have made me a coward, a thing!" And she hid her face in her hands and
sobbed.

Mrs. Ellersly was about to speak. I could not offer better proof of my own
strength of will than the fact that I, with a look and a gesture, put her
down. Then I said to the girl:

"You must choose now! Woman or thing--which shall it be? If it is woman,
then you have me behind you and in front of you and around you. If it is
thing--God have mercy on you! Your self-respect, your pride are gone--for
ever. You will be like the carpet under his feet to the man whose creature
you become."

She came and stood by me, with her back to them.

"If you will take me with you now," she said, "I will go. If I delay, I am
lost. I shall not have the courage. And I am sick, sick to death of this
life here, of this hideous wait for the highest bidder."

Her voice gained strength and her manner courage as she spoke; at the end
she was meeting her mother's gaze without flinching. My eyes had followed
hers, and my look was taking in both her mother and her father. I had long
since measured them, yet I could scarcely credit the confirmation of my
judgment. Had life been smooth and comfortable for that old couple, as it
was for most of their acquaintances and friends, they would have lived and
died regarding themselves, and regarded, as well-bred, kindly people, of
the finest instincts and tastes. But calamity was putting to the test the
system on which they had molded their apparently elegant, graceful lives.
The storm had ripped off the attractive covering; the framework, the
reality of that system, was revealed, naked and frightful.

"Anita, go to your room!" almost screamed the old woman, her fury tearing
away the last shreds of her cloak of manners.

"Your daughter is of age, madam," said I. "She will go where she pleases.
And I warn you that you are deceived by the Langdons. I am not powerless,
and"--here I let her have a full look into my red-hot furnaces of wrath--"I
stop at nothing in pursuing those who oppose me--at nothing!"

Anita, staring at her mother's awful face, was shrinking and trembling
as if before the wicked, pale-yellow eyes and quivering, outstretched
tentacles of a devil-fish. Clinging to my arm, she let me guide her to the
door. Her mother recovered speech. "Anita!" she cried. "What are you doing?
Are you mad?"

"I think I must be out of my mind," said Anita. "But, if you try to keep me
here, I shall tell him all--_all_."

Her voice suggested that she was about to go into hysterics. I gently urged
her forward. There was some sort of woman's wrap in the hall. I put it
round her. Before she--or I--realized it, she was in my waiting electric.

"Up town," I said to my man.

She tried to get out.

"Oh, what have I done! What am I doing!" she cried, her courage oozing
away. "Let me out--please!"

"You are going with me," said I, entering and closing the door. I saw the
door of the Ellersly mansion opening, saw old Ellersly, bareheaded and
distracted, scuttling down the steps.

"Go ahead--fast!" I called to my man.

And the electric was rushing up the avenue, with the bell ringing for
crossings incessantly. She huddled away from me into the corner of the
seat, sobbing hysterically. I knew that to touch her would be fatal--or
to speak. So I waited.




XXII

MOST UNGENTLEMANLY


As we neared the upper end of the park, I told my chauffeur, through the
tube, to enter and go slowly. Whenever a lamp flashed in at us, I had a
glimpse of her progress toward composure--now she was drying her eyes with
the bit of lace she called a handkerchief; now her bare arms were up, and
with graceful fingers she was arranging her hair; now she was straight and
still, the soft, fluffy material with which her wrap was edged drawn close
about her throat. I shifted to the opposite seat, for my nerves warned me
that I could not long control myself, if I stayed on where her garments
were touching me.

I looked away from her for the pleasure of looking at her again, of
realizing that my overwrought senses were not cheating me. Yes, there she
was, in all the luster of that magnetic beauty I can not think of even now
without an upblazing of the fire which is to the heart what the sun is to a
blind man dreaming of sight. There she was on my side of the chasm that had
separated us--alone with me--mine--mine! And my heart dilated with pride.
But a moment later came a sense of humility. Her beauty intoxicated me, but
her youth, her fineness, so fragile for such rough hands as mine, awed and
humbled me.

"I must be very gentle," said I to myself. "I have promised that she shall
never regret. God help me to keep my promise! She is mine, but only to
preserve and protect."

And that idea of _responsibility in possession_ was new to me--was
to have far-reaching consequences. Now that I think of it, I believe it
changed the whole course of my life.

She was leaning forward, her elbow on the casement of the open window of
the brougham, her cheek against her hand; the moonlight was glistening
on her round, firm forearm and on her serious face. "How far, far away
from--everything it seems here!" she said, her voice tuned to that soft,
clear light, "and how beautiful it is!" Then, addressing the moon and the
shadows of the trees rather than me: "I wish I could go on and on--and
never return to--to the world."

"I wish we could," said I.

My tone was low, but she started, drew back into the brougham, became an
outline in the deep shadow. In another mood that might have angered me.
Just then it hurt me so deeply that to remember it to-day is to feel a
faint ache in the scar of the long-healed wound. My face was not hidden as
was hers; so, perhaps, she saw. At any rate, her voice tried to be friendly
as she said: "Well--I have crossed the Rubicon. And I don't regret. It was
silly of me to cry. I thought I had been through so much that I was beyond
such weakness. But you will find me calm from now on, and reasonable."

"Not too reasonable, please," said I, with an attempt at her lightness. "A
reasonable woman is as trying as an unreasonable man."

"But we are going to be sensible with each other," she urged, "like two
friends. Aren't we?"

"We are going to be what we are going to be," said I. "We'll have to take
life as it comes."

That clumsy reminder set her to thinking, stirred her vague uneasiness in
those strange circumstances to active alarm. For presently she said, in a
tone that was not so matter-of-course as she had tried to make it: "We'll
go now to my Uncle Frank's. He's a brother of my father's. I always used to
like him best--and still do. But he married a woman mama thought--queer.
They hadn't much, so he lives away up on the West Side--One Hundred and
Twenty-seventh Street."

"The wise plan, the only wise plan," said I, not so calm as she must have
thought me, "is to go to my partner's house and send for a minister."

"Not to-night," she replied nervously. "Take me to Uncle Frank's, and
to-morrow we can discuss what to do and how to do it."

"To-night," I persisted. "We must be married to-night. No more uncertainty
and indecision and weakness. Let us begin bravely, Anita!"

"To-morrow," she said. "But not to-night. I must think it over."

"To-night," I repeated. "To-morrow will be full of its own problems. This
is to-night's."

She shook her head, and I saw that the struggle between us had begun--the
struggle against her timidity and conventionality. "No, not tonight." This
in her tone for finality.

To argue with any woman in such circumstances would be dangerous; to argue
with her would have been fatal. To reason with a woman is to flatter
her into suspecting you of weakness and herself of strength. I told the
chauffeur to turn about and go slowly up town. She settled back into her
corner of the brougham. Neither of us spoke until we were passing Grant's
Tomb. Then she started out of her secure confidence in my obedience, and
exclaimed: "This is not the way!" And her voice had in it the hasty
call-to-arms.

"No," I replied, determined to push the panic into a rout. "As I told you,
our future shall be settled to-night." That in _my_ tone for finality.

A pause, then: "It _has_ been settled," she said, like a child that
feels, yet denies, its impotence as it struggles in the compelling arms of
its father. "I thought until a few minutes ago that I really intended to
marry you. Now I see that I didn't."

"Another reason why we're not going to your uncle's," said I.

She leaned forward so that I could see her face. "I can not marry you," she
said. "I feel humble toward you, for having misled you. But it is better
that you--and I--should have found out now than too late."

"It is too late--too late to go back."

"Would you wish to marry a woman who does not love you, who loves some one
else, and who tells you so and refuses to marry you?" She had tried to
concentrate enough scorn into her voice to hide her fear.

"I would," said I. "And I shall. I'll not desert you, Anita, when your
courage and strength shall fail. I will carry you on to safety."

"I tell you I can not marry you," she cried, between appeal and command.
"There are reasons--I may not tell you. But if I might, you would--would
take me to my uncle's. I can not marry you!"

"That is what conventionality bids you say now," I replied. And then I
gathered myself together and in a tone that made me hate myself as I
heard it, I added slowly, each word sharp and distinct: "But what will
conventionality bid you say to-morrow morning, as we drive down crowded
Fifth Avenue, after a night in this brougham?"

I could not see her, for she fell back into the darkness as sharply as if
I had struck her with all my force full in the face. But I could feel the
effect of my words upon her. I paused, not because I expected or wished
an answer, but because I had to steady myself--myself, not my purpose; my
purpose was inflexible. I would put through what we had begun, just as I
would have held her and cut off her arm with my pocket-knife if we had
been cast away alone, and I had had to do it to save her life. She was
not competent to decide for herself. Every problem that had ever faced
her had been decided by others for her. Who but me could decide for her
now? I longed to plead with her, longed to let her see that I was not
hard-hearted, was thinking of her, was acting for her sake as much as for
my own. But I dared not. "She would misunderstand," said I to myself. "She
would think you were weakening."

Full fifteen minutes of that frightful silence before she said: "I will go
where you wish." And she said it in a tone that makes me wince as I recall
it.

I called my partner's address up through the tube. Again that frightful
silence, then she was trying to choke back the sobs. A few words I caught:
"They have broken my will--they have broken my will."

       *       *       *       *       *

My partner lived in a big, gray-stone house that stood apart and commanded
a noble view of the Hudson and the Palisades. It was, in the main, a
reproduction of a French chateau, and such changes as the architect had
made in his model were not positively disfiguring, though amusing. There
should have been trees and shrubbery about it, but--"As Mrs. B. says," Joe
had explained to me, "what's the use of sinking a lot of cash in a house
people can't see?" So there was not a bush, not a flower. Inside--One day
Ball took me on a tour of the art shops. "I've got a dozen corners and
other big bare spots to fill," said he. "Mrs. B. hates to give up money,
haggles over every article. I'm going to put the job through in business
style." I soon discovered that I had been brought along to admire his
"business style," not to suggest. After two hours, in which he bought in
small lots several tons of statuary, paintings, vases and rugs, he said,
"This is too slow." He pointed his stick at a crowded corner of the shop.
"How much for that bunch of stuff?" he demanded. The proprietor gave him a
figure. "I'll close," said Joe, "if you'll give fifteen off for cash." The
proprietor agreed. "Now we're done," said Joe to me. "Let's go down town,
and maybe I can pick up what I've dropped."

You can imagine that interior. But don't picture it as notably worse than
the interior of the average New York palace. It was, if anything, better
than those houses, where people who deceive themselves about their lack of
taste have taken great pains to prevent any one else from being deceived.
One could hardly move in Joe's big rooms for the litter of gilded and
tapestried furniture, and their crowded walls made the eyes ache.

The appearance of the man who opened the door for Anita and me suggested
that our ring had roused him from a bed where he had deposited himself
without bothering to take off his clothes. At the sound of my voice, Ball
peered out of his private smoking-room, at the far end of the hall. He
started forward; then, seeing how I was accompanied, stopped with mouth
ajar. He had on a ragged smoking-jacket, a pair of shapeless old Romeo
slippers, his ordinary business waistcoat and trousers. He was wearing
neither tie nor collar, and a short, black pipe was between his fingers.
We had evidently caught the household stripped of "lugs," and sunk in the
down-at-the-heel slovenliness which it called "comfort." Joe was crimson
with confusion, and was using his free hand to stroke, alternately, his
shiny bald head and his heavy brown mustache. He got himself together
sufficiently, after a few seconds, to disappear into his den. When he came
out again, pipe and ragged jacket were gone, and he rushed for us in a
gorgeous velvet jacket with dark red facings, and a showy pair of slippers.

"Glad to see you, Mr. Blacklock"--in his own home he always addressed every
man as Mister, just as "Mrs. B." always called him "Mister Ball," and he
called her "Missus Ball" before "company." "Come right into the front
parlor. Billy, turn on the electric lights."

Anita had been standing with her head down. She now looked round with
shame and terror in those expressive blue-gray eyes of hers; her delicate
nostrils were quivering. I hastened to introduce Ball to her. Her impulse
to fly passed; her lifelong training in doing the conventional thing
asserted itself. She lowered her head again, murmured an inaudible
acknowledgment of Joe's greeting.

"Your wife is at home?" said I. If one was at home in the evening, the
other was also, and both were always there, unless they were at some
theater--except on Sunday night, when they dined at Sherry's, because many
fashionable people did it. They had no friends and few acquaintances.
In their humbler and happy days they had had many friends, but had lost
them when they moved away from Brooklyn and went to live, like uneasy,
out-of-place visitors, in their grand house, pretending to be what they
longed to be, longing to be what they pretended to be, and as discontented
as they deserved.

"Oh, yes, Mrs. B.'s at home," Joe answered. "I guess she and Alva
were--about to go to bed." Alva was their one child. She had been
christened Malvina, after Joe's mother; but when the Balls "blossomed out"
they renamed her Alva, which they somehow had got the impression was
"smarter."

At Joe's blundering confession that the females of the family were in no
condition to receive, Anita said to me in a low voice: "Let us go."

I pretended not to hear. "Rout 'em out," said I to Joe. "Then, take my
electric and bring the nearest parson. There's going to be a wedding--right
here." And I looked round the long salon, with everything draped for the
summer departure. Joe whisked the cover off one chair, his man took off
another. "I'll have the women-folks down in two minutes," he cried. Then to
the man: "Get a move on you, Billy. Stir 'em up in the kitchen. Do the best
you can about supper--and put a lot of champagne on the ice. That's the
main thing at a wedding."

Anita had seated herself listlessly in one of the uncovered chairs. The
wrap slipped back from her shoulders and--how proud I was of her! Joe
gazed, took advantage of her not looking up to slap me on the back and to
jerk his head in enthusiastic approval. Then he, too, disappeared.

A wait followed, during which we could hear, through the silence, excited
undertones from the upper floors. The words were indistinct until Joe's
heavy voice sent down to us an angry "No damn nonsense, I tell you. Allie's
got to come, too. She's not such a fool as you think. Bad example--bosh!"

Anita started up. "Oh--please--please!" she cried. "Take me away--anywhere!
This is dreadful."

It was, indeed, dreadful. If I could have had my way at just that moment,
it would have gone hard with "Mrs. B." and "Allie"--and heavy-voiced Joe,
too. But I hid my feelings.

"There's nowhere else to go," said I, "except the brougham."

She sank into her chair.

A few minutes more of silence, and there was a rustling on the stairs.
She started up, trembling, looked round, as if seeking some way of escape
or some place to hide. Joe was in the doorway holding aside one of the
curtains. There entered in a beribboned and beflounced tea-gown, a pretty,
if rather ordinary, woman of forty, with a petulant baby face. She was
trying to look reserved and severe. She hardly glanced at me before
fastening sharp, suspicious eyes on Anita.

"Mrs. Ball," said I, "this is Miss Ellersly,"

"Miss Ellersly!" she exclaimed, her face changing. And she advanced and
took both Anita's hands. "Mr. Ball is so stupid," she went on, with that
amusingly affected accent which is the "Sunday clothes" of speech.

"I didn't catch the name, my dear," Joe stammered.

"Be off," said I, aside, to him. "Get the nearest preacher, and hustle him
here with his tools."

I had one eye on Anita all the time, and I saw her gaze follow Joe as he
hurried out; and her expression made my heart ache. I heard him saying in
the hall, "Go in, Allie. It's O K"; heard the door slam, knew we should
soon have some sort of minister with us.

"Allie" entered the drawing-room. I had not seen her in six years. I
remembered her unpleasantly as a great, bony, florid child, unable to
stand still or to sit still, or to keep her tongue still, full of aimless
questions and giggles and silly remarks that she and her mother thought
funny. I saw her now, grown into a handsome young woman, with enough beauty
points for an honorable mention, if not for a prize--straight and strong
and rounded, with a brow and a keen look out of the eyes which it seemed
a pity should be wasted on a woman. Her mother's looks, her father's good
sense, a personality apparently got from neither, but all her own, and
unusual and interesting. No wonder the Balls felt toward her much as a pair
of barn-swallows would feel if they were to hatch out an eaglet. These
quiet, tame American parents that are always finding their suppressed
selves, the bold, fantastic, unadmitted dreams of their youth startlingly
confronting them in the flesh as their own children!

"From what Mr. Ball said,"--Mrs. Ball was gushing affectedly to Anita,--"I
got an idea that--well, really, I didn't know _what_ to think."

Anita looked as if she were about to suffocate. Allie came to the rescue.
"Not very complimentary to Mr. Blacklock, mother," said she good-humoredly.
Then to Anita, with a simple friendliness there was no resisting: "Wouldn't
you like to come up to my room for a few minutes?"

"Oh, thank you!" responded Anita, after a quick, but thorough inspection
of Alva's face, to make sure she was like her voice. I had not counted on
this; I had been assuming that Anita would not be out of my sight until we
were married. It was on the tip of my tongue to interfere when she looked
at me--for permission to go!

"Don't keep her too long," said I to Alva, and they were gone.

"You can't blame me--really you can't, Mr. Blacklock," Mrs. Ball began to
plead for herself, as soon as they were safely out of hearing. "After some
things--mere hints, you understand--for I'm careful what I permit Mr. Ball
to say before _me_. I think married people can not be too respectful of
each other. I _never_ tolerate _vulgarity_."

"No doubt, Joe has made me out a very vulgar person," said I, forgetting
her lack of humor.

"Oh, not at all, not at all, Mr. Blacklock," she protested, in a panic lest
she had done her husband damage with me. "I understand, men will be men,
though as a pure-minded woman, I'm sure I can't imagine why they should
be."

"How far off is the nearest church?" I cut in.

"Only two blocks--that is, the Methodist church," she replied. "But I know
Mr. Ball will bring an Episcopalian."

"Why, I thought you were a devoted Presbyterian," said I, recalling how in
their Brooklyn days she used to insist on Joe's going twice every Sunday to
sleep through long sermons.

She looked uncomfortable. "I was reared Presbyterian," she explained
confusedly, "but you know how it is in New York. And when we came to live
here, we got out of the habit of church-going. And all Alva's little
friends were Episcopalians. So I drifted toward that church. I find the
service so satisfying--so--elegant. And--one sees there the people one sees
socially."

"How is your culture class?" I inquired, deliberately malicious, in my
impatience and nervousness. "And do you still take conversation lessons?"

She was furiously annoyed. "Oh, those old jokes of Joe's," she said,
affecting disdainful amusement.

In fact, they were anything but jokes. On Mondays and Thursdays she used
to attend a class for women who, like herself, wished to be "up-to-date on
culture and all that sort of thing." They hired a teacher to cram them with
odds and ends about art and politics and the "latest literature, heavy and
light." On Tuesdays and Fridays she had an "indigent gentlewoman," whatever
that may be, come to her to teach her how to converse and otherwise conduct
herself according to the "standards of polite society."

Joe used to give imitations of those conversation lessons that raised roars
of laughter round the poker table, the louder because so many of the other
men had wives with the same ambitions and the same methods of attaining
them.

Mrs. Ball came back to the subject of Anita.

"I am glad you are going to settle with such a charming girl. She comes of
such a charming family. I have never happened to meet any of them. We are
in the West Side set, you know, while they move in the East Side set, and
New York is so large that one almost never meets any one outside one's own
set." This smooth snobbishness, said in the affected "society" tone, was
as out of place in her as rouge and hair-dye in a wholesome, honest old
grandmother.

I began to pace the floor. "Can it be," I fretted aloud, "that Joe's racing
round looking for an Episcopalian preacher, when there was a Methodist at
hand?"

"I'm sure he wouldn't bring anything but a Church of England priest,"
Mrs. Ball assured me loftily. "Why, Miss Ellersly wouldn't think she was
married, if she hadn't a priest of her own church."

My temper got the bit in its teeth. I stopped before her, and fixed her
with an eye that must have had some fire in it. "I'm not marrying a fool,
Mrs. Ball," said I. "You mustn't judge her by her bringing-up--by her
family. Children have a way of bringing themselves up, in spite of damn
fool parents."

She weakened so promptly that I was ashamed of myself. My only apology for
getting out of patience with her is that I had seen her seldom in the last
few years, had forgotten how matter-of-surface her affectation and snobbery
were, and how little they interfered with her being a good mother and a
good wife, up to the limits of her brain capacity.

"I'm sure, Mr. Blacklock," she said plaintively, "I only wished to say what
was pleasant and nice about your fiancee. I know she's a lovely girl. I've
often admired her at the opera. She goes a great deal in Mrs. Langdon's
box, and Mrs. Langdon and I are together on the board of managers of the
Magdalene Home, and also on the board of the Hospital for Unfortunate
Gentlefolk." And so on, and on.

I walked up and down among those wrapped-up, ghostly chairs and tables and
cabinets and statues many times before Joe arrived with the minister--and
he was a Methodist, McCabe by name. You should have seen Mrs. Ball's look
as he advanced his portly form and round face with its shaven upper lip
into the drawing-room. She tried to be cordial, but she couldn't--her mind
was on Anita, and the horror that would fill her when she discovered that
she was to be married by a preacher of a sect unknown to fashionable
circles.

"All I ask of you," said I to him, "is that you cut it as short as
possible. Miss Ellersly is tired and nervous." This while we were shaking
hands after Joe's introduction.

"You can count on me, sir," said McCabe, giving my hand an extra shake
before dropping it. "I've no doubt, from what my young neighbor here
tells me, that your marriage is already made in your hearts and with all
solemnity. The form is an incident--important, but only an incident."

I liked that, and I liked his unaffected way of saying it. His voice had
more of the homely, homelike, rural twang in it than I had heard in New
York in many a day. I mentally doubled the fee I had intended to give him.
And now Alva and she were coming down the stairway. I was amazed at sight
of her. Her evening dress had given place to a pretty blue street suit
with a short skirt--white showing at her wrists, at her neck and through
slashings in the coat over her bosom; and on her head was a hat to match. I
looked at her feet--the slippers had been replaced by boots. "And they're
just right for her," said Alva, who was following my glance, "though I'm
not so tall as she."

But what amazed me most, and delighted me, was that she seemed to be almost
in good spirits. It was evident she had formed with Joe's daughter one of
those sudden friendships so great and so vivid that they rarely lived long
after the passing of the heat of the emergency that bred them. Mrs. Ball
saw it, also, and was straightway giddied into a sort of ecstasy. You can
imagine the visions it conjured. I've no doubt she talked house on the
east side of the park to Joe that very night, before she let him sleep.
However, Anita's face was serious enough when we took our places before
the minister, with his little, black-bound book open. And as he read in a
voice that was genuinely impressive those words that no voice could make
unimpressive, I saw her paleness blanch into pallor, saw the dusk creep
round her eyes until they were like stars waning somberly before the gray
face of dawn. When they closed and her head began to sway, I steadied her
with my arm. And so we stood, I with my arm round her, she leaning lightly
against my shoulder. Her answers were mere movements of the lips.

At the end, when I kissed her cheek, she said: "Is it over?"

"Yes," McCabe answered--she was looking at him. "And I wish you all
happiness, Mrs. Blacklock."

At that name, her new name, she stared at him with great wondering eyes;
then her form relaxed. I carried her to a chair. Joe came with a glass of
champagne; she drank some of it, and it brought life back to her face, and
some color. With a naturalness that deceived even me for the moment, she
smiled up at Joe as she handed him the glass. "Is it bad luck," she asked,
"for me to be the first to drink my own health?" And she stood, looking
tranquilly at every one--except me.

I took McCabe into the hall and paid him off.

When we came back, I said: "Now we must be going."

"Oh, but surely you'll stay for supper!" cried Joe's wife.

"No," replied I, in a tone that made it impossible to insist. "We
appreciate your kindness, but we've imposed on it enough." And I shook
hands with her and with Allie and the minister, and, linking Joe's arm in
mine, made for the door. I gave the necessary directions to my chauffeur
while we were waiting for Anita to come down the steps. Joe's daughter was
close beside her, and they kissed each other good-by, Alva on the verge of
tears, Anita not suggesting any emotion of any sort. "To-morrow--sure,"
Anita said to her. And she answered: "Yes, indeed--as soon as you telephone
me." And so we were off, a shower of rice rattling on the roof of the
brougham--the slatternly man-servant had thrown it from the midst of the
group of servants.

Neither of us spoke. I watched her face without seeming to do so, and by
the light of occasional street lamps saw her studying me furtively. At last
she said: "I wish to go to my uncle's now."

"We are going home," said I.

"But the house will be shut up," said she, "and every one will be in bed.
It's nearly midnight. Besides, they might not--" She came to a full stop.

"We are going--home," I repeated. "To the Willoughby."

She gave me a look that was meant to scorch--and it did. But I showed at
the surface no sign of how I was wincing and shrinking.

She drew farther into her corner, and out of its darkness came, in a low
voice: "How I _hate_ you!" like the whisper of a bullet.

I kept silent until I had control of myself. Then, as if talking--of a
matter that had been finally and amicably settled, I began: "The apartment
isn't exactly ready for us, but Joe's just about now telephoning my man
that we are coming, and telephoning your people to send your maid down
there."

"I wish to go to my uncle's," she repeated.

"My wife will go with me," said I quietly and gently. "I am considerate of
_her_, not of her unwise impulses."

A long pause, then from her, in icy calmness: "I am in your power just now.
But I warn you that, if you do not take me to my uncle's, you will wish you
had never seen me."

"I've wished that many times already," said I sadly. "I've wished it from
the bottom of my heart this whole evening, when step by step fate has been
forcing me on to do things that are even more hateful to me than to you.
For they not only make me hate myself, but make you hate me, too." I laid
my hand on her arm and held it there, though she tried to draw away.
"Anita," I said, "I would do anything for you--live for you, die for you.
But there's that something inside me--you've felt it; and when it says
'must,' I can't disobey--you know I can't. And, though you might break
my heart, you could not break that will. It's as much my master as it is
yours."

"We shall see--to-morrow," she said.

"Do not put me to the test," I pleaded. Then I added what I knew to be
true: "But you will not. You know it would take some one stronger than your
uncle, stronger than your parents, to swerve me from what I believe right
for you and for me." I had no fear for "to-morrow." The hour when she could
defy me had passed.

A long, long silence, the electric speeding southward under the arching
trees of the West Drive. I remember it was as we skirted the lower end
of the Mall that she said evenly: "You have made me hate you so that it
terrifies me. I am afraid of the consequences that must come to you and
to me."

"And well you may be," I answered gently. "For you've seen enough of me to
get at least a hint of what I would do, if goaded to it. Hate is terrible,
Anita, but love can be more terrible."

At the Willoughby she let me help her descend from the electric, waited
until I sent it away, walked beside me into the building. My man, Sanders,
had evidently been listening for the elevator; the door opened without my
ringing, and there he was, bowing low. She acknowledged his welcome with
that regard for "appearances" that training had made instinctive. In the
center of my--our--drawing-room table was a mass of fresh white roses.
"Where did you get 'em?" I asked him, in an aside.

"The elevator boy's brother, sir," he replied, "works in the florist's shop
just across the street, next to the church. He happened to be down stairs
when I got your message, sir. So I was able to get a few flowers. I'm
sorry, sir, I hadn't a little more time."

"You've done noble," said I, and I shook hands with him warmly.

Anita was greeting those flowers as if they were a friend suddenly
appearing in a time of need. She turned now and beamed on Sanders. "Thank
you," she said; "thank you." And Sanders was hers.

"Anything I can do--ma'am--sir?" asked Sanders.

"Nothing--except send my maid as soon as she comes," she replied.

"I shan't need you," said I.

"Mr. Monson is still here," he said, lingering. "Shall I send him away,
sir, or do you wish to see him?"

"I'll speak to him myself in a moment," I answered.

When Sanders was gone, she seated herself and absently played with the
buttons of her glove.

"Shall I bring Monson?" I asked. "You know, he's my--factotum."

"_I_ do not wish to see him," she answered.

"You do not like him?"

After a brief hesitation she answered, "No." Not for worlds would she just
then have admitted, even to herself, that the cause of her dislike was her
knowledge of his habit of tattling, with suitable embroideries, his lessons
to me.

I restrained a strong impulse to ask her why, for instinct told me she had
some especial reason that somehow concerned me. I said merely: "Then I
shall get rid of him."

"Not on my account," she replied indifferently. "I care nothing about him
one way or the other."

"He goes at the end of his month," said I.

She was now taking off her gloves. "Before your maid comes," I went on,
"let me explain about the apartment. This room and the two leading out of
it are yours. My own suite is on the other side of our private hall there."

She colored high, paled. I saw that she did not intend to speak.

I stood awkwardly, waiting for something further to come into my own head.
"Good night," said I finally, as if I were taking leave of a formal
acquaintance at the end of a formal call.

She did not answer. I left the room, closing the door behind me. I paused
an instant, heard the key click in the lock. And I burned in a hot flush of
shame that she should be thinking thus basely of me--and with good cause.
How could she know, how appreciate even if she had known? "You've had to
cut deep," said I to myself. "But the wounds'll heal, though it may take
long--very long." And I went on my way, not wholly downcast.

I joined Monson in my little smoking-room. "Congratulate you," he began,
with his nasty, supercilious grin, which of late had been getting on my
nerves severely.

"Thanks," I replied curtly, paying no attention to his outstretched hand.
"I want you to put a notice of the marriage in to-morrow morning's
_Herald_."

"Give me the facts--clergyman's name--place, and so on," said he.

"Unnecessary," I answered. "Just our names and the date--that's all. You'd
better step lively. It's late, and it'll be too late if you delay."

With an irritating show of deliberation he lit a fresh cigarette before
setting out. I heard her maid come. After about an hour I went into the
hall--no light through the transoms of her suite. I returned to my own part
of the flat and went to bed in the spare room to which Sanders had moved my
personal belongings. That day which began in disaster--in what a blaze of
triumph it had ended! Anita--my wife, and under my roof! I slept with good
conscience. I had earned sleep.




XXIII

"SHE HAS CHOSEN!"


Joe got to the office rather later than usual the next morning. They told
him I was already there, but he wouldn't believe it until he had come into
my private den and with his own eyes had seen me. "Well, I'm jiggered!"
said he. "It seems to have made less impression on you than it did on us.
My missus and the little un wouldn't let me go to bed till after two. They
sat on and on, questioning and discussing."

I laughed--partly because I knew that Joe, like most men, was as full of
gossip and as eager for it as a convalescent old maid, and that, whoever
might have been the first at his house to make the break for bed, he was
the last to leave off talking. But the chief reason for my laugh was that,
just before he came in on me, I was almost pinching myself to see whether I
was dreaming it all, and he had made me feel how vividly true it was.

"Why don't you ease down, Blacklock?" he went on. "Everything's smooth. The
business--at least, my end of it, and I suppose your end, too--was never
better, never growing so fast. You could go off for a week or two, just as
well as not. I don't know of a thing that can prevent you."

And he honestly thought it, so little did I let him know about the larger
enterprises of Blacklock and Company. I could have spoken a dozen words,
and he would have been floundering like a caught fish in a basket. There
are men--a very few--who work more swiftly and more surely when they know
they're on the brink of ruin; but not Joe. One glimpse of our real National
Coal account, and all my power over him couldn't have kept him from showing
the whole Street that Blacklock and Company was shaky. And whenever the
Street begins to think a man is shaky, he must be strong indeed to escape
the fate of the wolf that stumbles as it runs with the pack.

"No holiday at present, Joe," was my reply to his suggestion. "Perhaps the
second week in July; but our marriage was so sudden that we haven't had the
time to get ready for a trip."

"Yes--it _was_ sudden, wasn't it?" said Joe, curiosity twitching his
nose like a dog's at scent of a rabbit. "How _did_ it happen?"

"Oh, I'll tell you sometime," replied I. "I must work now."

And work a-plenty there was. Before me rose a sheaf of clamorous telegrams
from our out-of-town customers and our agents; and soon my anteroom was
crowded with my local following, sore and shorn. I suppose a score or more
of the habitual heavy plungers on my tips were ruined and hundreds of
others were thousands and tens of thousands out of pocket. "Do you want me
to talk to these people?" inquired Joe, with the kindly intention of giving
me a chance to shift the unpleasant duty to him.

"Certainly not," said I. "When the place is jammed, let me know. I'll jack
'em up."

It made Joe uneasy for me even to talk of using my "language"--he would
have crawled from the Battery to Harlem to keep me from using it on him.
So he silently left me alone. My system of dealing face to face with the
speculating and investing public had many great advantages over that of all
the other big operators--their system of hiding behind cleverly-contrived
screens and slaughtering the decoyed public without showing so much as the
tip of a gun or nose that could be identified. But to my method there was
a disadvantage that made men, who happened to have more hypocrisy and less
nerve than I, shrink from it. When one of my tips miscarried, down upon me
would swoop the bad losers in a body to give me a turbulent quarter of an
hour.

Toward ten o'clock, my boy came in and said: "Mr. Ball thinks it's about
time for you to see some of these people."

I went into the main room, where the tickers and blackboards were. As I
approached through my outer office I could hear the noise the crowd was
making--as they cursed me. If you want to rile the true inmost soul of the
average human being, don't take his reputation or his wife; just cause
him to lose money. There were among my speculating customers many with
the even-tenored sporting instinct. These were bearing their losses with
philosophy--none of them had swooped on me. Of the perhaps three hundred
who had come to ease their anguish by tongue-lashing me, every one was
a bad loser and was mad through and through--those who had lost a few
hundred dollars were as infuriated as those whom my misleading tip had cost
thousands and tens of thousands; those whom I had helped to win all they
had in the world were more savage than those new to my following.

I took my stand in the doorway, a step up from the floor of the main room.
I looked all round until I had met each pair of angry eyes. They say I can
give my face an expression that is anything but agreeable; such talent as
I have in that direction I exerted then. The instant I appeared a silence
fell; but I waited until the last pair of claws drew in. Then I said, in
the quiet tone the army officer uses when he tells the mob that the machine
guns will open up in two minutes by the watch: "Gentlemen, in the effort to
counteract my warning to the public, the Textile crowd rocketed the stock
yesterday. Those who heeded my warning and sold got excellent prices. Those
who did not should sell to-day. Not even the powerful interests behind
Textile can long maintain yesterday's prices."

A wave of restlessness passed over the crowd. Many shifted their eyes from
me and began to murmur.

I raised my voice slightly as I went on: "The speculators, the gamblers,
are the only people who were hurt. Those who sold what they didn't have are
paying for their folly. I have no sympathy for them. Blacklock and Company
wishes none such in its following, and seizes every opportunity to weed
them out. We are in business only for the bona fide investing public, and
we are stronger with that public to-day than we have ever been."

Again I looked from coward to coward of that mob, changed from three
hundred strong to three hundred weak. Then I bowed and withdrew, leaving
them to mutter and disperse. I felt well content with the trend of
events--I who wished to impress the public and the financiers that I had
broken with speculation and speculators, could I have had a better than
this unexpected opportunity sharply to define my new course? And as
Textiles, unsupported, fell toward the close of the day, my content rose
toward my normal high spirits. There was no whisper in the Street that
I was in trouble; on the contrary, the idea was gaining ground that I
had really long ceased to be a stock gambler and deserved a much better
reputation than I had. Reputation is a matter of diplomacy rather than of
desert. In all my career I was never less entitled to a good reputation
than in those June days; yet the disastrous gambling follies, yes, and
worse, I then committed, formed the secure foundation of my reputation
for conservatism and square dealing. From that time dates the decline of
the habit the newspapers had of speaking of me as "Black Matt" or "Matt"
Blacklock. In them, and therefore in the public mind, I began to figure as
"Mr. Blacklock, a recognized authority on finance," and such information as
I gave out ceased to be described as "tips" and was respectfully referred
to as "indications."

No doubt, my marriage had something to do with this. Probably one couldn't
borrow any great amount of money in New York directly and solely on
the strength of a fashionable marriage; but, so all-pervading is the
snobbishness there, one can get, by making a fashionable marriage, any
quantity of that deferential respect from rich people which is, in some
circumstances, easily convertible into cash and credit.

I searched with a good deal of anxiety, as you may imagine, the early
editions of the afternoon papers. The first article my eye chanced upon was
a mere wordy elaboration of the brief and vague announcement Monson had put
in the _Herald_. Later came an interview with old Ellersly.

"Not at all mysterious," he had said to the reporters. "Mr. Blacklock found
he would have to go abroad on business soon--he didn't know just when. On
the spur of the moment they decided to marry." A good enough story, and
I confirmed it when I admitted the reporters. I read their estimates of
my fortune and of Anita's with rather bitter amusement--she whose father
was living from hand to mouth; I who could not have emerged from a forced
settlement with enough to enable me to keep a trap. Still, when one is
rich, the reputation of being rich is heavily expensive; but when one is
poor the reputation of being rich can be made a wealth-giving asset.

Even as I was reading these fables of my millions, there lay on the desk
before me a statement of the exact posture of my affairs--a memorandum made
by myself for my own eyes, and to be burned as soon as I mastered it. On
the face of the figures the balance against me was appalling. My chief
asset, indeed my only asset that measured up toward my debts, was my Coal
stocks, those bought and those contracted for; and, while their par value
far exceeded my liabilities, they had to appear in my memorandum at their
actual market value on that day. I looked at the calendar--seventeen days
until the reorganization scheme would be announced, only seventeen days!

Less than three business weeks, and I should be out of the storm and
sailing safer and smoother seas than I had ever known. "To indulge in vague
_hopes_ is bad," thought I, "but not to indulge in _a_ hope, especially
when one has only it between him and the pit." And I proceeded to plan on
the not unwarranted assumption that my Coal hope was a present reality.
Indeed, what alternative had I? To put it among the future's uncertainties
was to put myself among the utterly ruined. Using as collateral the Coal
stocks I had bought outright, I borrowed more money, and with it went still
deeper into the Coal venture. Everything or nothing!--since the chances in
my favor were a thousand, to practically none against me. Everything or
nothing!--since only by staking everything could I possibly save anything
at all.

The morality of these and many of my other doings in those days will no
doubt be condemned. By no one more severely than by myself--now that the
necessities which then compelled me have passed. There is no subject on
which men talk and think, more humbug than on that subject of morality. As
a matter of fact, except in those personal relations that are governed by
the affections, what is morality but the mandate of policy, and what is
policy but the mandate of necessity? My criticism of Roebuck and the other
"high financiers" is not upon their morality, but upon their policy, which
is short-sighted and stupid and base. The moral difference between me and
them is that, white I merely assert and maintain my right to live, they
deny the right of any but themselves to live. I say I criticize them;
but that does not mean that I sympathize with the public at large in its
complainings against them. The public, its stupidity and cupidity, creates
the conditions that breed and foster these men. A rotten cheese reviling
the maggots it has bred!

In those very hours when I was obeying the imperative law of
self-preservation, was clutching at every log that floated by me regardless
of whether it was my property or not so long as it would help me keep my
head above water--what was going on all round me? In every office of the
down town district--merchant, banker, broker, lawyer, man of commerce or
finance--was not every busy brain plotting, not self-preservation but
pillage and sack--plotting to increase the cost of living for the masses of
men by slipping a little tax here and a little tax there on to everything
by which men live? All along the line between the farm or mine or shop
and the market, at every one of the toll-gates for the collection of
_just_ charges, these big financiers, backed up by the big lawyers and
the rascally public officials, had an agent in charge to collect on each
passing article more than was honestly due. A thousand subtle ways of
levying, all combining to pour in upon the few the torrents of unjust
wealth. I laugh when I read of laboring men striking for higher wages.
Poor, ignorant fools--they almost deserve their fate. They had better be
concerning themselves with a huge, universal strike at the polls for lower
prices. What will it avail to get higher wages, as long as the masters
control and recoup on the prices of all the things for which those wages
must be spent?

I lived in Wall Street, in its atmosphere of the practical morality of
"finance." On every side swindling operations, great and small; operations
regarded as right through long-established custom; dishonest or doubtful
operations on the way to becoming established by custom as "respectable."
No man's title to anything conceded unless he had the brains to defend it.
There was a time when it would have been regarded as wildly preposterous
and viciously immoral to deny property rights in human beings. There may
come a time--who knows?--when "high finance's" denial of a moral right
to property of any kind may cease to be regarded as wicked; may become a
generally accepted canon, as our Socialist friends predict. However, I
attempt no excuses for myself; I need them no more than a judge in the Dark
Ages needed to apologize for ordering a witch to the stake. I could no
more have done differently than a fish could breathe on land or a man
under water. I did as all the others did--and I had the justification of
necessity. Right of might being the prevailing code, when men set upon
me with pistols, I met them with pistols, not with the discarded and
antiquated weapons of sermon and prayer and the law.

And I thought extremely well of myself and of my pistols that June
afternoon, as I was hurrying up town the moment the day's settlement on
'Change was finished. I had sent out my daily letter to investors, and its
tone of confidence was genuine--I knew that hundreds of customers of a
better class would soon be flocking in to take the places of those I had
been compelled to teach a lesson in the vicissitudes of gambling. With a
light heart and the physical feeling of a football player in training, I
sped toward home.

Home! For the first time since I was a squat little slip of a shaver the
word had a personal meaning for me. Perhaps, if the only other home of mine
had been less uninviting, I should not have looked forward with such high
beating of the heart to that cold home Anita was making for me. No, I
withdraw that. It is fellows like me, to whom kindly looks and unsought
attentions are as unfamiliar as flowers to the Arctic--it is men like me
that appreciate and treasure and warm up under the faintest show or shadowy
suggestion of the sunshine of sentiment. I'd be a little ashamed to say how
much money I handed out to beggars and street gamins that day. I had a home
to go to!

As my electric drew up at the Willoughby, a carriage backed to make room
for it. I recognized the horses and the coachman and the crest.

"How long has Mrs. Ellersly been with my wife?" I asked the elevator boy,
as he was taking me up.

"About half an hour, sir," he answered. "But Mr. Ellersly--I took up his
card before lunch, and he's still there."

Instead of using my key, I rang the bell, and when Sanders opened, I said:
"Is Mrs. Blacklock in?" in a voice loud enough to penetrate to the
drawing-room.

As I had hoped, Anita appeared. Her dress told me that her trunks had
come--she had sent for her trunks! "Mother and father are here," said she,
without looking at me.

I followed her into the drawing-room and, for the benefit of the servants,
Mr. and Mrs. Ellersly and I greeted each other courteously, though Mrs.
Ellersly's eyes and mine met in a glance like the flash of steel on steel.
"We were just going," said she, and then I felt that I had arrived in the
midst of a tempest of uncommon fury.

"You must stop and make _me_ a visit," protested I, with elaborate
politeness. To myself I was assuming that they had come to "make up and be
friends"--and resume their places at the trough.

She was moving toward the door, the old man in her wake. Neither of them
offered to shake hands with me; neither made pretense of saying good-by
to Anita, standing by the window like a pillar of ice. I had closed the
drawing-room door behind me, as I entered. I was about to open it for them
when I was restrained by what I saw working in the old woman's face. She
had set her will on escaping from my loathed presence without a "scene;"
but her rage at having been outgeneraled was too fractious for her will.

"You scoundrel!" she hissed, her whole body shaking and her
carefully-cultivated appearance of the gracious evening of youth swallowed
up in a black cyclone of hate. "You gutter-plant! God will punish you for
the shame you have brought upon us!"

I opened the door and bowed, without a word, without even the desire to
return insult for insult--had not Anita evidently again and finally
rejected them and chosen me? As they passed into the private hall I
rang for Sanders to come and let them out. When I turned back into the
drawing-room, Anita was seated, was reading a book. I waited until I saw
she was not going to speak. Then I said: "What time will you have dinner?"
But my face must have been expressing some of the joy and gratitude that
filled me. "She has chosen!" I was saying to myself over and over.

"Whenever you usually have it," she replied, without looking up.

"At seven o'clock, then. You had better tell Sanders."

I rang for him and went into my little smoking-room. She had resisted her
parents' final appeal to her to return to them. She had cast in her lot
with me. "The rest can be left to time," said I to myself. And, reviewing
all that had happened, I let a wild hope send tenacious roots deep into me.
How often ignorance is a blessing; how often knowledge would make the step
falter and the heart quail!




XXIV

BLACKLOCK ATTENDS FAMILY PRAYERS


During dinner I bore the whole burden of conversation--though burden I did
not find it. Like most close-mouthed men, I am extremely talkative. Silence
sets people to wondering and prying; he hides his secrets best who hides
them at the bottom of a river of words. If my spirits are high, I often
talk aloud to myself when there is no one convenient. And how could my
spirits be anything but high, with her sitting there opposite me, mine,
mine for better or for worse, through good and evil report--my wife!

She was only formally responsive, reluctant and brief in answers,
volunteering nothing. The servants waiting on us no doubt laid her manner
to shyness; I understood it, or thought I did--but I was not troubled.
It is as natural for me to hope as to breathe; and with my knowledge of
character, how could I take seriously the moods and impulses of one whom I
regarded as a childlike girl, trained to false pride and false ideals? "She
has chosen to stay with me," said I to myself. "Actions count, not words or
manner. A few days or weeks, and she will be herself, and mine." And I went
gaily on with my efforts to interest her, to make her smile and forget the
role she had commanded herself to play. Nor was I wholly unsuccessful.
Again and again I thought I saw a gleam of interest in her eyes or the
beginnings of a smile about that sweet mouth of hers. I was careful not to
overdo my part.

As soon as we finished dessert I said: "You loathe cigar smoke, so I'll
hide myself in my den. Sanders will bring you the cigarettes." I had myself
telephoned for a supply of her kind early in the day.

She made a polite protest for the benefit of the servants; but I was firm,
and left her free to think things over alone in the drawing-room--"your
sitting-room," I called it, I had not finished a small cigar when there
came a timid knock at my door. I threw away the cigar and opened. "I
thought it was you," said I. "I'm familiar with the knocks of all the
others. And this was new--like a summer wind tapping with a flower for
admission at a closed window." And I laughed with a little raillery, and
she smiled, colored, tried to seem cold and hostile again.

"Shall I go with you to your sitting-room?" I went on. "Perhaps the cigar
smoke here--"

"No, no," she interrupted; "I don't really mind cigars--and the windows are
wide open. Besides, I came for only a moment--just to say--"

As she cast about for words to carry her on, I drew up a chair for her.
She looked at it uncertainly, seated herself. "When mama was here--this
afternoon," she went on, "she was urging me to--to do what she wished.
And after she had used several arguments, she said something I--I've been
thinking it over, and it seemed I ought in fairness to tell you."

I waited.

"She said: 'In a few days more he'--that meant you--'he will be ruined. He
imagines the worst is over for him, when in fact they've only begun.'"

"They!" I repeated. "Who are 'they'? The Langdons?"

"I think so," she replied with an effort. "She did not say--I've told you
her exact words--as far as I can."

"Well," said I, "and why didn't you go?"

She pressed her lips firmly together. Finally, with a straight look into my
eyes, she replied: "I shall not discuss that. You probably misunderstand,
but that is your own affair."

"You believed what she said about me, of course," said I.

"I neither believed nor disbelieved," she answered indifferently, as she
rose to go. "It does not interest me."

"Come here," said I.

I waited until she reluctantly joined me at the window. I pointed to the
steeple of the church across the way. "You could as easily throw down that
steeple by pushing against it with your bare hands," I said to her, "as
'they,' whoever they are, could put me down. They might take away my money.
But if they did, they would only be giving me a lesson that would teach me
how more easily to get it back. I am not a bundle of stock certificates or
a bag of money. I am--here," and I tapped my forehead.

She forced a faint, scornful smile. She did not wish me to see her belief
of what I said.

"You may think that is vanity," I went on. "But you will learn, sooner or
later, the difference between boasting and simple statement of fact. You
will learn that I do not boast. What I said is no more a boast than for a
man with legs to say, 'I can walk.' Because you have known only legless
men, you exaggerate the difficulty of walking. It's as easy for me to make
money as it is for some people to spend it."

It is hardly necessary for me to say I was not insinuating anything against
her people. But she was just then supersensitive on the subject, though
I did not suspect it. She flushed hotly. "You will not have any cause to
sneer at my people on that account hereafter," she said. "I settled
_that_ to-day."

"I was not sneering at them," I protested. "I wasn't even thinking of them.
And--you must know that it's a favor to me for anybody to ask me to do
anything that will please you--Anita!"

She made a gesture of impatience. "I see I'd better tell you why I did not
go with them to-day. I insisted that they give back all they have taken
from you. And when they refused, I refused to go."

"I don't care why you refused, or imagined you refused," said I. "I am
content with the fact that you are here."

"But you misunderstand it," she answered coldly.

"I don't understand it, I don't misunderstand it," was my reply. "I accept
it."

She turned away from the window, drifted out of the room--you, who love or
at least have loved, can imagine how it made me feel to see _Her_
moving about in those rooms of mine.

While the surface of my mind was taken up with her, I must have been
thinking, underneath, of the warning she had brought; for, perhaps half or
three-quarters of an hour after she left, I was suddenly whirled out of
my reverie at the window by a thought like a pistol thrust into my face.
"What if 'they' should include Roebuck!" And just as a man begins to defend
himself from a sudden danger before he clearly sees what the danger is, so
I began to act before I even questioned whether my suspicion was plausible
or absurd. I went into the hall, rang the bell, slipped a light-weight coat
over my evening dress and put on a hat. When Sanders appeared, I said: "I'm
going out for a few minutes--perhaps an hour--if any one should ask." A
moment later I was in a hansom and on the way to Roebuck's.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Roebuck lived near Chicago, he had a huge house, a sort of crude
palace such as so many of our millionaires built for themselves in the
first excitement of their new wealth--a house with porches and balconies
and towers and minarets and all sorts of gingerbread effects to compel the
eye of the passer-by. But when he became enormously rich, so rich that his
name was one of the synonyms for wealth, so rich that people said "rich as
Roebuck" where they used to say "rich as Croesus," he cut away every kind
of ostentation, and avoided attention.

He took advantage of his having to remove to New York where his vast
interests centered; he bought a small and commonplace and, far a rich man,
even mean house in East Fifty-Second Street--one of a raw, and an almost
dingy looking row at that. There he had an establishment a man with
one-fiftieth of his fortune would have felt like apologizing for. To his
few intimates who were intimate enough to question him about his come-down
from his Chicago splendors he explained that he was seeing with clearer
eyes his responsibilities as a steward of the Lord, that luxury was sinful,
that no man had a right to waste the Lord's money.

The general theory about him was that advancing years had developed
his natural closeness into the stingiest avariciousness. But my notion
is he was impelled by the fear of exciting envy, by the fear of
assassination--the fear that made his eyes roam restlessly whenever
strangers were near him, and so dried up the inside of his body that his
dry tongue was constantly sliding along his dry lips. I have seen a convict
stand in the door of his cell and, though it was impossible that any one
could be behind him, look nervously over his shoulder every moment or so.
Roebuck had the same trick--only his dread, I suspect, was not the officers
of the law, even of the divine law, but the many, many victims of his
merciless execution of "the Lord's will."

This state of mind is not uncommon among the very rich men, especially
those who have come up from poverty. Those who have inherited great wealth,
and have always been used to it, get into the habit of looking upon the
mass of mankind as inferiors, and move about with no greater sense of peril
than a man has in venturing among a lot of dogs with tails wagging. But
those who were born poor and have risen under the stimulus of a furious
envy of the comfortable and the rich, fancy that everybody who isn't rich
has the same savage hunger that they themselves had, and is ready to use
similar desperate methods in gratifying it. Thus, where the rich of the
Langdon sort are supercilious, the rich of the Roebuck sort are nervous and
often become morbid on the subject of assassination as they grow richer and
richer.

The door of Roebuck's house was opened for me by a maid--a man-servant
would have been a "sinful" luxury, a man-servant might be the hireling
of plotters against his life. I may add that she looked the cheap
maid-of-all-work, and her manners were of the free and fresh sort that
indicates a feeling that as high, or higher, wages, and less to do could
be got elsewhere.

"I don't think you can see Mr. Roebuck," she said.

"Take my card to him," I ordered, "and I'll wait in the parlor."

"Parlor's in use," she retorted with a sarcastic grin, which I was soon to
understand.

So I stood by the old-fashioned coat and hat rack while she went in at the
hall door of the back parlor. Soon Roebuck himself came out, his glasses on
his nose, a family Bible under his arm. "Glad to see you, Matthew," said he
with saintly kindliness, giving me a friendly hand. "We are just about to
offer up our evening prayer. Come right in."

I followed him into the back parlor. Both it and the front parlor were
lighted; in a sort of circle extending into both rooms were all the
Roebucks and the four servants. "This is my friend, Matthew Blacklock,"
said he, and the Roebucks in the circle gravely bowed. He drew up a chair
for me, and we seated ourselves. Amid a solemn hush, he read a chapter from
the big Bible spread out upon his lean lap. My glance wandered from face to
face of the Roebucks, as plainly dressed as were their servants. I was able
to look freely, mine being the only eyes not bent upon the floor.

It was the first time in my life that I had witnessed family prayers.
When I was a boy at home, my mother had taken literally the Scriptural
injunction to pray in secret--in a closet, I think the passage of the Bible
said. Many times each day she used to retire to a closet under the stairway
and spend from one to twenty minutes shut in there. But we had no family
prayers. I was therefore deeply interested in what was going on in those
countrified parlors of one of the richest and most powerful men in the
world--and this right in the heart of that district of New York where
palaces stand in rows and in blocks, and where such few churches as there
are resemble social clubs for snubbing climbers and patronizing the poor.

It was astonishing how much every Roebuck in that circle, even the old
lady, looked like Roebuck himself--the same smug piety, the same underfed
appearance that, by the way, more often indicates a starved soul than
a starved body. One difference--where his face had the look of power
that compels respect and, to the shrewd, reveals relentless strength
relentlessly used, the expressions of the others were simply small and
mean and frost-nipped. And that is the rule--the second generation of a
plutocrat inherits, with his money, the meanness that enabled him to hoard
it, but not the scope that enabled him to make it.

So absorbed was I in the study of the influence of his terrible
master-character upon those closest to it, that I started when he said:
"Let us pray." I followed the example of the others, and knelt. The audible
prayer was offered up by his oldest daughter, Mrs. Wheeler, a widow.
Roebuck punctuated each paragraph in her series of petitions with a
loudly-whispered amen. When she prayed for "the stranger whom Thou has led
seemingly by chance into our little circle," he whispered the amen more
fervently and repeated it. And well he might, the old robber and assassin
by proxy! The prayer ended and, us on our feet, the servants withdrew;
then, awkwardly, all the family except Roebuck. That is, they closed the
doors between the two rooms and left him and me alone in the front parlor.

"I shall not detain you long, Mr. Roebuck," said I. "A report reached me
this evening that sent me to you at once."

"If possible, Matthew," said he, and he could not hide his uneasiness, "put
off business until to-morrow. My mind--yours, too, I trust--is not in the
frame for that kind of thoughts now."

"Is the Coal organization to be announced the first of July?" I demanded.
It has always been, and always shall be, my method to fight in the open.
This, not from principle, but from expediency. Some men fight best in the
brush; I don't. So I always begin battle by shelling the woods.

"No," he said, amazing me by his instant frankness. "The announcement has
been postponed."

Why did he not lie to me? Why did he not put me off the scent, as he might
easily have done, with some shrewd evasion? I suspected I owed it to
my luck in catching him at family prayers. For I know that the general
impression of him is erroneous; he is not merely a hypocrite before the
world, but also a hypocrite before himself. A more profoundly, piously
conscientious man never lived. Never was there a truer epitaph than the one
implied in the sentence carved over his niche in the magnificent mausoleum
he built: "Fear naught but the Lord."

"When will the reorganization be announced?" I asked.

"I can not say," he answered. "Some difficulties--chiefly labor
difficulties--have arisen. Until they are settled, nothing can be done.
Come to me to-morrow, and we'll talk about it."

"That is all I wished to know," said I, with a friendly, easy smile. "Good
night."

It was his turn to be astonished--and he showed it, where I had given not a
sign. "What was the report you heard?" he asked, to detain me.

"That you and Mowbray Langdon had conspired to ruin me," said I, laughing.

He echoed my laugh rather hollowly. "It was hardly necessary for you to
come to me about such a--a statement."

"Hardly," I answered dryly. Hardly, indeed! For I was seeing now all that I
had been hiding from myself since I became infatuated with Anita and made
marrying her my only real business in life.

We faced each other, each measuring the other. And as his glance quailed
before mine, I turned away to conceal my exultation. In a comparison of
resources this man who had plotted to crush me was to me as giant to
midget. But I had the joy of realizing that man to man, I was the stronger.
He had craft, but I had daring. His vast wealth aggravated his natural
cowardice--crafty men are invariably cowards, and their audacities under
the compulsion of their ravenous greed are like a starving jackal's dashes
into danger for food. My wealth belonged to me, not I to it; and, stripped
of it, I would be like the prize-fighter stripped for the fight. Finally,
he was old, I young. And there was the chief reason for his quailing. He
knew that he must die long before me, that my turn must come, that I could
dance upon his grave.




XXV

"MY WIFE MUST!"


As I drove away, I was proud of myself. I had listened to my death sentence
with a face so smiling that he must almost have believed me unconscious;
and also, it had not even entered my head, as I listened, to beg for mercy.
Not that there would have been the least use in begging; as well try to
pray a statue into life, as try to soften that set will and purpose. Still,
many a man would have weakened--and I had not weakened. But when I was
once more in my apartment--in our apartment--perhaps I did show that there
was a weak streak through me. I fought against the impulse to see her
once more that night; but I fought in vain. I knocked at the door of her
sitting-room--a timid knock, for me. No answer. I knocked again, more
loudly--then a third time, still more loudly. The door opened and she stood
there, like one of the angels that guarded the gates of Eden after the
fall. Only, instead of a flaming sword, hers was of ice. She was in a
dressing-gown or tea-gown, white and clinging and full of intoxicating
hints and glimpses of all the beauties of her figure. Her face softened as
she continued to look at me, and I entered.

"No--please don't turn on any more lights," I said, as she moved toward the
electric buttons. "I just came in to--to see if I could do anything for
you." In fact, I had come, longing for her to do something for me, to show
in look or tone or act some sympathy for me in my loneliness and trouble.

"No, thank you," she said. Her voice seemed that of a stranger who wished
to remain a stranger. And she was evidently waiting for me to go. You will
see what a mood I was in when I say I felt as I had not since I, a very
small boy indeed, ran away from home; I came back through the chilly night
to take one last glimpse of the family that would soon be realizing how
foolishly and wickedly unappreciative they had been of such a treasure
as I; and when I saw them sitting about the big fire in the lamp-light,
heartlessly comfortable and unconcerned, it was all I could do to keep back
the tears of strong self-pity--and I never saw them again.

"I've seen Roebuck," said I to Anita, because I must say something, if I
was to stay on.

"Roebuck?" she inquired. Her tone reminded me that his name conveyed
nothing to her.

"He and I are in an enterprise together," I explained. "He is the one man
who could seriously cripple me."

"Oh," she said, and her indifference, forced though I thought it, wounded.

"Well," said I, "your mother was right."

She turned full toward me, and even in the dimness I saw her quick
sympathy--an impulsive flash instantly gone. But it had been there!

"I came in here," I went on, "to say that--Anita, it doesn't in the least
matter. No one in this world, no one and nothing, could hurt me except
through you. So long as I have _you_, they--the rest--all of them
together--can't touch me."

We were both silent for several minutes. Then she said, and her voice was
like the smooth surface of the river where the boiling rapids run deep:
"But you _haven't_ me--and never _shall_ have. I've told you
that. I warned you long ago. No doubt you will pretend, and people will
say, that I left you because you lost your money. But it won't be so."

I was beside her instantly, was looking into her face. "What do you mean?"
I asked, and I did not speak gently.

She gazed at me without flinching. "And I suppose," she said satirically,
"you wonder why I--why you are repellent to me. Haven't you learned that,
though I may have been made into a moral coward, I'm not a physical coward?
Don't bully and threaten. It's useless."

I put my hand strongly on her shoulder--taunts and jeers do not turn me
aside. "What did you mean?" I repeated.

"Take your hand off me," she commanded.

"What did you mean?" I repeated sternly. "Don't be afraid to answer."

She was very young--so the taunt stung her. "I was about to tell you," said
she, "when you began to make it impossible."

I took advantage of this to extricate myself from the awkward position in
which she had put me--I took my hand from her shoulder.

"I am going to leave you," she announced.

"You forget that you are my wife," said I.

"I am not your wife," was her answer, and if she had not looked so
childlike, there in the moonlight all in white, I could not have held
myself in check, so insolent was the tone and so helpless of ever being
able to win her did she make me feel.

"You are my wife and you will stay here with me," I reiterated, my brain on
fire.

"I am my own, and I shall go where I please, and do what I please," was her
contemptuous retort. "Why won't you be reasonable? Why won't you see how
utterly unsuited we are? I don't ask you to be a gentleman--but just a man,
and be ashamed even to wish to detain a woman against her will."

I drew up a chair so close to her that to retreat, she was forced to sit
in the broad window-seat. Then I seated myself. "By all means, let us be
reasonable," said I. "Now, let me explain my position. I have heard you and
your friends discussing the views of marriage you've just been expressing.
Their views may be right, may be more civilized, more 'advanced' than mine.
No matter. They are not mine. I hold by the old standards--and you are
my wife--mine. Do you understand?" All this as tranquilly as if we were
discussing fair weather. "And you will live up to the obligation which the
marriage service has put upon you."

She might have been a marble statue pedestaled in that window seat.

"You married me of your own free will--for you could have protested to
the preacher and he would have sustained you. You tacitly put certain
conditions on our marriage. I assented to them. I have respected them.
I shall continue to respect them. But--when you married me, you didn't
marry a dawdling dude chattering 'advanced ideas' with his head full of
libertinism. You married a man. And that man is your husband."

I waited, but she made no comment--not even by gesture or movement. She
simply sat, her hands interlaced in her lap, her eyes straight upon mine.

"You say let us be reasonable," I went on. "Well, let us be reasonable.
There may come a time when woman can be free and independent, but that time
is a long way off yet. The world is organized on the basis of every woman's
having a protector--of every decent woman's having a husband, unless she
remains in the home of some of her blood-relations. There may be women
strong enough to set the world at defiance. But you are not one of
them--and you know it. You have shown it to yourself again and again in
the last forty-eight hours. Your bringing-up has kept you a child in real
knowledge of real life, as distinguished from the life in that fashionable
hothouse. If you tried to assert your so-called independence, you would be
the easy prey of a scoundrel or scoundrels. When I, who have lived in the
thick of the fight all my life, who have learned by many a surprise and
defeat never to sleep except with the sword and gun in hand, and one eye
open--when I have been trapped as Roebuck and Langdon have just trapped
me--what chance would a woman like you have?"

She did not answer or change expression.

"Is what I say reasonable or unreasonable?" I asked gently.

"Reasonable--from _your_ standpoint," she said.

She gazed out into the moonlight, up into the sky. And at the look in her
face, the primeval savage in me strained to close round that slender white
throat of hers and crush and crush until it had killed in her the thought
of that other man which was transforming her from marble to flesh that
glowed and blood that surged. I pushed back my chair with a sudden noise;
by the way she trembled I gaged how tense her nerves must be. I rose and,
in a fairly calm tone, said: "We understand each other?"

"Yes," she answered. "As before."

I ignored this. "Think it over, Anita," I urged--she seemed to me so like a
sweet, spoiled child again. I longed to go straight at her about that other
man. I stood for a moment with Tom Langdon's name on my lips, but I could
not trust myself. I went away to my own rooms.

I thrust thoughts of her from my mind. I spent the night gnawing upon the
ropes with which Mowbray Langdon and Roebuck had bound me, hand and foot. I
now saw they were ropes of steel--and it had long been broad day before I
found that weak strand which is in every rope of human make.




XXVI

THE WEAK STRAND


No sane creature, not even a sane bulldog, will fight simply from love of
fighting. When a man is attacked, he may be sure he has excited either fear
or cupidity, or both. As far as I could see, it was absurd that cupidity
was inciting Langdon and Roebuck against me. I hadn't enough to tempt them.
Thus, I was forced to conclude that I must possess a strength of which I
was unaware, and which stirred even Roebuck's fears. But what could it be?

Besides Langdon and Roebuck and me there were six principals in the
proposed Coal combine, three of them richer and more influential in finance
than even Langdon, all of them except possibly Dykeman, the lawyer or
navigating officer of the combine, more formidable figures than I. Yet none
of these men was being assailed. "Why am I singled out?" I asked myself,
and I felt that if I could answer, I should find I had the means wholly
or partly to defeat them. But I could not explain to my satisfaction even
Langdon's activities against me. I felt that Anita was somehow, in part at
least, the cause; but, even so, how had he succeeded in convincing Roebuck
that I must be clipped and plucked into a groundling?

"It must have something to do with the Manasquale mines," I decided. "I
thought I had given over my control of them, but somehow I must still have
a control that makes me too powerful for Roebuck to be at ease so long as I
am afoot and armed." And I resolved to take my lawyers and search the whole
Manasquale transaction--to explore it from attic to underneath the cellar
flooring. "We'll go through it," said I, "like ferrets through a ship's
hold."

As I was finishing breakfast, Anita came in. She had evidently slept well,
and I regarded that as ominous. At her age, a crisis means little sleep
until a decision has been reached. I rose, but her manner warned me not to
advance and try to shake hands with her.

"I have asked Alva to stop with me here for a few days," she said formally.

"Alva!" said I, much surprised. She had not asked one of her own friends;
she had asked a girl she had met less than two days before, and that girl
my partner's daughter.

"She was here yesterday morning," Anita explained. And I now wondered how
much Alva there was in Anita's firm stand against her parents.

"Why don't you take her down to our place on Long Island?" said I, most
carefully concealing my delight--for Alva near her meant a friend of mine
and an advocate and example of real womanhood near her. "Everything's ready
for you there, and I'm going to be busy the next few days--busy day and
night."

She reflected. "Very well," she assented presently. And she gave me a
puzzled glance she thought I did not see--as if she were wondering whether
the enemy was not hiding new and deeper guile under an apparently harmless
suggestion.

"Then I'll not see you again for several days," said I, most businesslike.
"If you want anything, there will be Monson out at the stables where he
can't annoy you. Or you can get me on the 'long distance.' Good-by. Good
luck."

And I nodded carelessly and friendlily to her, and went away, enjoying
the pleasure of having startled her into visible astonishment. "There's
a better game than icy hostility, you very young, young lady," said I to
myself, "and that game is friendly indifference."

Alva would be with her. So she was secure for the present and my mind was
free for "finance."

At that time the two most powerful men in finance were Galloway and
Roebuck. In Spain I once saw a fight between a bull and a tiger--or, rather
the beginning of a fight. They were released into a huge iron cage. After
circling it several times in the same direction, searching for a way out,
they came face to face. The bull tossed the tiger; the tiger clawed the
bull. The bull roared; the tiger screamed. Each retreated to his own side
of the cage. The bull pawed and snorted as if he could hardly wait to get
at the tiger; the tiger crouched and quivered and glared murderously, as if
he were going instantly to spring upon the bull. But the bull did not rush,
neither did the tiger spring. That was the Roebuck-Galloway situation.

How to bait Tiger Galloway to attack Bull Roebuck--that was the problem I
must solve, and solve straightway. If I could bring about war between the
giants, spreading confusion over the whole field of finance and filling all
men with dread and fear, there was a chance, a bare chance, that in the
confusion I might bear off part of my fortune. Certainly, conditions would
result in which I could more easily get myself intrenched again; then, too,
there would be a by no means small satisfaction in seeing Roebuck clawed
and bitten in punishment for having plotted against me.

Mutual fear had kept these two at peace for five years, and most
considerate and polite about each other's "rights." But while our country's
industrial territory is vast, the interests of the few great controllers
who determine wages and prices for all are equally vast, and each plutocrat
is tormented incessantly by jealousy and suspicion; not a day passes
without conflicts of interest that adroit diplomacy could turn into
ferocious warfare. And in this matter of monopolizing the coal, despite
Roebuck's earnest assurances to Galloway that the combine was purely
defensive, and was really concerned only with the labor question, Galloway,
a great manufacturer, or, rather, a huge levier of the taxes of dividends
and interest upon manufacturing enterprises, could not but be uneasy.

Before I rose that morning I had a tentative plan for stirring him to
action. I was elaborating it on the way down town in my electric. It shows
how badly Anita was crippling my brain, that not until I was almost at my
office did it occur to me: "That was a tremendous luxury Roebuck indulged
his conscience in last night. It isn't like him to forewarn a man, even
when he's sure he can't escape. Though his prayers were hot in his mouth,
still, it's strange he didn't try to fool me. In fact, it's suspicious. In
fact--"

Suspicious? The instant the idea was fairly before my mind, I knew I had
let his canting fool me once more. I entered my offices, feeling that the
blow had already fallen; and I was surprised, but not relieved, when I
found everything calm. "But fall it will within an hour or so--before I can
move to avert it," said I to myself.

And fall it did. At eleven o'clock, just as I was setting out to make my
first move toward heating old Galloway's heels for the war-path, Joe came
in with the news: "A general lockout's declared in the coal regions. The
operators have stolen a march on the men who, so they allege, were secretly
getting ready to strike. By night every coal road will be tied up and every
mine shut down."

Joe knew our coal interests were heavy, but he did not dream his news meant
that before the day was over we would be bankrupt and not able to pay
fifteen cents on the dollar. However, he knew enough to throw him into
a fever of fright. He watched my calmness with terror. "Coal stocks are
dropping like a thermometer in a cold wave," he said, like a fireman at a
sleeper in a burning house.

"Naturally," said I, unruffled, apparently. "What can we do about it?"

"We must do something!" he exclaimed.

"Yes, we must," I admitted. "For instance, we must keep cool, especially
when two or three dozen people are watching us. Also, you must attend to
your usual routine."

"What are you going to do?" he cried. "For God's sake, Matt, don't keep me
in suspense!"

"Go to your desk," I commanded. And he quieted down and went. I hadn't been
schooling him in the fire-drill for fifteen years in vain.

I went up the street and into the great banking and brokerage house of
Galloway and Company. I made my way through the small army of guards,
behind which the old beast of prey was intrenched, and into his private
den. There he sat, at a small, plain table, in the middle of the room
without any article of furniture in it but his table and his chair. On the
table was a small inkstand, perfectly clean, a steel pen equally clean, on
the rest attached to it. And that was all--not a letter, not a scrap of
paper, not a sign of work or of intention to work. It might have been the
desk of a man who did nothing; in fact, it was the desk of a man who had
so much to do that his only hope of escape from being overwhelmed was to
despatch and clear away each matter the instant it was presented to him.
Many things could be read from the powerful form, bolt upright in that
stiff chair, and from the cynical, masterful old face. But to me the
chief quality there revealed was that quality of qualities, decision--the
greatest power a man can have, except only courage. And old James Galloway
had both.

He respected Roebuck; Roebuck feared him. Roebuck did have some sort
of conscience, distorted though it was, and the dictator of savageries
Galloway would have scorned to commit. Galloway had no professions of
conscience--beyond such small glozing of hypocrisy as any man must put on
if he wishes to be intrusted with the money of a public that associates
professions of religion and appearances of respectability with honesty.
Roebuck's passion was wealth--to see the millions heap up and up. Galloway
had that passion, too--I have yet to meet a multi-millionaire who isn't
avaricious and even stingy. But Galloway's chief passion was power--to
handle men as a junk merchant handles rags, to plan and lead campaigns of
conquest with his golden legions, and to distribute the spoils like an
autocrat who is careless how they are divided, since all belongs to him,
whenever he wishes to claim it.

He pierced me with his blue eyes, keen as a youth's, though his face was
seamed with scars of seventy tumultuous years. He extended toward me
over the table his broad, stubby white hand--the hand of a builder, of a
constructive genius. "How are you, Blacklock?" said he. "What can I do
for you?" He just touched my hand before dropping it, and resumed that
idol-like pose. But although there was only repose and deliberation in his
manner, and not a suggestion of haste, I, like every one who came into that
room and that presence, had a sense of an interminable procession behind
me, a procession of men who must be seen by this master-mover, that they
might submit important and pressing affairs to him for decision. It was
unnecessary for him to tell any one to be brief and pointed.

"I shall have to go to the wall to-day," said I, taking a paper from
my pocket, "unless you save me. Here is a statement of my assets and
liabilities. I call to your attention my Coal holdings. I was one of the
eight men whom Roebuck got round him for the new combine--it is a secret,
but I assume you know all about it."

He laid the paper before him, put on his nose-glasses and looked at it.

"If you will save me," I continued, "I will transfer to you, in a block,
all my Coal holdings. They will be worth double my total liabilities within
three months--as soon as the reorganization is announced. I leave it
entirely to your sense of justice whether I shall have any part of them
back when this storm blows over."

"Why didn't you go to Roebuck?" he asked without looking up.

"Because it is he that has stuck the knife into me."

"Why?"

"I don't know. I suspect the Manasquale properties, which I brought into
the combine, have some value, which no one but Roebuck, and perhaps
Langdon, knows about--and that I in some way was dangerous to them through
that fact. They haven't given me time to look into it."

A grim smile flitted over his face. "You've been too busy getting married,
eh?"

"Exactly," said I. "It's another case of unbuckling for the wedding-feast
and getting assassinated as a penalty. Do you wish me to explain anything
on that list--do you want any details of the combine--of the Coal stocks
there?"

"Not necessary," he replied. As I had thought, with that enormous machine
of his for drawing in information, and with that enormous memory of his for
details, he probably knew more about the combine and its properties than I
did.

"You have heard of the lockout?" I inquired--for I wished him to know I
had no intention of deceiving him as to the present market value of those
stocks.

"Roebuck has been commanded by his God," he said, "to eject the free
American labor from the coal regions and to substitute importations of
coolie Huns and Bohemians. Thus, the wicked American laborers will be
chastened for trying to get higher wages and cut down a pious man's
dividends; and the downtrodden coolies will be brought where they can enjoy
the blessings of liberty and of the preaching of Roebuck's missionaries."

I laughed, though he had not smiled, but had spoken as if stating colorless
facts. "And righteousness and Roebuck will prevail," said I.

He frowned slightly, a sardonic grin breaking the straight, thin, cruel
line of his lips. He opened his table's one shallow drawer, and took out a
pad and a pencil. He wrote a few words on the lowest part of the top sheet,
folded it, tore off the part he had scribbled on, returned the pad and
pencil to the drawer, handed the scrap of paper to me. "I will do it," he
said. "Give this to Mr. Farquhar, second door to the left. Good morning."
And in that atmosphere of vast affairs speedily despatched his consent
without argument seemed, and was, the matter-of-course.

I bowed. Though he had not saved me as a favor to me, but because it fitted
in with his plans, whatever they were, my eyes dimmed. "I shan't forget
this," said I, my voice not quite steady.

"I know it," said he curtly. "I know you." I saw that his mind had already
turned me out. I said no more, and withdrew. When I left the room it was
precisely as it had been when I entered it--except the bit of paper torn
from the pad. But what a difference to me, to the thousands, the hundreds
of thousands directly and indirectly interested in the Coal combine and its
strike and its products, was represented by those few, almost illegible
scrawlings on that scrap of paper.

Not until I had gone over the situation with Farquhar, and we had signed
and exchanged the necessary papers, did I begin to relax from the
strain--how great that strain was I realized a few weeks later, when
the gray appeared thick at my temples and there was in my crown what
was, for such a shock as mine, a thin spot. "I am saved!" said I to
myself, venturing a long breath, as I stood on the steps of Galloway's
establishment, where hourly was transacted business vitally affecting
the welfare of scores of millions of human beings, with James Galloway's
personal interest as the sole guiding principle. "Saved!" I repeated, and
not until then did it flash before me, "I must have paid a frightful price.
He would never have consented to interfere with Roebuck as soon as I asked
him to do it, unless there had been some powerful motive. If I had had my
wits about me, I could have made far better terms." Why hadn't I my wits
about me? "Anita" was my instant answer to my own question. "Anita again.
I had a bad attack of family man's panic." And thus it came about that I
went back to my own office, feeling as if I had suffered a severe defeat,
instead of jubilant over my narrow escape.

Joe followed me into my den. "What luck?" asked he, in the tone of a mother
waylaying the doctor as he issues from the sick-room.

"Luck?" said I, gazing blankly at him.

"You've seen the latest quotation, haven't you?" In his nervousness his
temper was on a fine edge,

"No," replied I indifferently. I sat down at my desk and began to busy
myself. Then I added: "We're out of the Coal combine. I've transferred our
holdings. Look after these things, please." And I gave him the checks,
notes and memoranda of agreement.

"Galloway!" he exclaimed. And then his eye fell on the totals of the stock
I had been carrying. "Good God, Matt!" he gasped. "Ruined!"

And he sat down, and buried his face and cried like a child--it was then
that I measured the full depth of the chasm I had escaped. I made no such
exhibition of myself, but when I tried to relight my cigar my hand trembled
so that the flame scorched my lips.

"Ruined?" I said to Joe, easily enough. "Not at all. We're back in the
road, going smoothly ahead--only, at a bit less stiff a pace. Think, Joe,
of all those poor devils down in the mining districts. They're out--clear
out--and thousands of 'em don't know where their families will get bread.
And though they haven't found it out yet, they've got to leave the place
where they've lived all their lives, and their fathers before them--have
got to go wandering about in a world that's as strange to them as the
surface of the moon, and as bare for them as the Sahara desert."

"That's so," said Joe. "It's hard luck." But I saw he was thinking only of
himself and his narrow escape from having to give up his big house and all
the rest of it; that, soft-hearted and generous though he was, to those
poor chaps and their wives and children he wasn't giving a thought.

Wall Street never does--they're too remote, too vague. It deals with
columns of figures and slips of paper. It never thinks of those
abstractions as standing for so many hearts and so many mouths, just as the
bank clerk never thinks of the bits of metal he counts so swiftly as money
with which things and men could be bought. I read somewhere once that
Voltaire--I think it was Voltaire--asked a man what he would do if, by
pressing a button on his table, he would be enormously rich and at the
same time would cause the death of a person away off at the other side of
the earth, unknown to him, and probably no more worthy to live, and with
no greater expectation of life or of happiness than the average sinful,
short-lived human being. I've often thought of that as I've watched our
great "captains of industry." Voltaire's dilemma is theirs. And they don't
hesitate; they press the button. I leave the morality of the performance to
moralists; to me, its chief feature is its cowardice, its sneaking, slimy
cowardice.

"You've done a grand two hours' work," said Joe.

"Grander than you think," replied I. "I've set the tiger on to fight the
bull."

"Galloway and Roebuck?"

"Just that," said I. And I laughed, started up, sat down again. "No, I'll
put off the pleasure," said I. "I'll let Roebuck find out, when the claws
catch in that tough old hide of his."




XXVII

A CONSPIRACY AGAINST ANITA


On about the hottest afternoon of that summer I had the yacht take me down
the Sound to a point on the Connecticut shore within sight of Dawn Hill,
but seven miles farther from New York. I landed at the private pier of
Howard Forrester, the only brother of Anita's mother. As I stepped upon the
pier I saw a fine-looking old man in the pavilion overhanging the water. He
was dressed all in white except a sky-blue tie that harmonized with the
color of his eyes. He was neither fat nor lean, and his smooth skirt was
protesting ruddily against the age proclaimed by his wool-white hair. He
rose as I came toward him, and, while I was still several yards away,
showed unmistakably that he knew who I was and that he was anything but
glad to see me.

"Mr. Forrester?" I asked

He grew purple to the line of his thick white hair. "It is, Mr. Blacklock,"
said he. "I have the honor to wish you good day, sir." And with that he
turned his back on me and gazed out toward Long Island.

"I have come to ask a favor of you, sir," said I, as polite to that hostile
back as if I had been addressing a cordial face. And I waited.

He wheeled round, looked at me from head to foot. I withstood the
inspection calmly; when it was ended I noted that in spite of himself he
was somewhat relaxed from the opinion of me he had formed upon what he had
heard and read. But he said: "I do not know you, sir, and I do not wish to
know you."

"You have made me painfully aware of that," replied I. "But I have learned
not to take snap judgments too seriously. I never go to a man unless I have
something to say to him, and I never leave until I have said it."

"I perceive, sir," retorted he, "you have the thick skin necessary to
living up to that rule." And the twinkle in his eyes betrayed the man who
delights to exercise a real or imaginary talent for caustic wit. Such men
are like nettles--dangerous only to the timid touch.

"On the contrary," replied I, easy in mind now, though I did not anger him
by showing it, "I am most sensitive to insults--insults to myself. But you
are not insulting _me_. You are insulting a purely imaginary, hearsay
person who is, I venture to assure you, utterly unlike me, and who
doubtless deserves to be insulted."

His purple had now faded. In a far different tone he said: "If your
business in any way relates to the family into which you have married, I do
not wish to hear it. Spare my patience and your time, sir."

"It does not," was my answer. "It relates to my own family--to my wife and
myself. As you may have heard, she is no longer a member of the Ellersly
family. And I have come to you chiefly because I happen to know your
sentiment toward the Ellerslys."

"I have no sentiment toward them, sir!" he exclaimed. "They are
non-existent, sir--nonexistent! Your wife's mother ceased to be a Forrester
when she married that scoundrel. Your wife is still less a Forrester."

"True," said I. "She is a Blacklock."

He winced, and it reminded me of the night of my marriage and Anita's
expression when the preacher called her by her new name. But I held his
gaze, and we looked each at the other fixedly for, it must have been, full
half a minute. Then he said courteously: "What do you wish?"

I went straight to the point. My color may have been high, but my voice
did not hesitate as I explained: "I wish to make my wife financially
independent. I wish to settle on her a sum of money sufficient to give her
an income that will enable her to live as she has been accustomed. I know
she would not take it from me. So, I have come to ask you to pretend to
give it to her--I, of course, giving it to you to give."

Again--we looked full and fixedly each at the other. "Come to the house,
Blacklock," he said at last in a tone that was the subtlest of compliments.
And he linked his arm in mine. Halfway to the rambling stone house, severe
in its lines, yet fine and homelike, quaintly resembling its owner, as a
man's house always should, he paused. "I owe you an apology," said he.
"After all my experience of this world of envy and malice, I should have
recognized the man even in the caricatures of his enemies. And you brought
the best possible credentials--you are well hated. To be well hated by the
human race and by the creatures mounted on its back is a distinction, sir.
It is the crown of the true kings of this world."

We seated ourselves on the wide veranda; he had champagne and water
brought, and cigars; and we proceeded to get acquainted--nothing promotes
cordiality and sympathy like an initial misunderstanding. It was a good
hour before this kind-hearted, hard-soft, typical old-fashioned New
Englander reverted to the object of my visit. Said he: "And now, young man,
may I venture to ask some extremely personal questions?"

"In the circumstances," replied I, "you have the right to know everything.
I did not come to you without first making sure what manner of man I was
to find." At this he blushed, pleased as a girl at her first beau's first
compliment. "And you, Mr. Forrester, can not be expected to embark in the
little adventure I propose, until you have satisfied yourself."

"First, the why of your plan."

"I am in active business," replied I, "and I shall be still more active.
That means financial uncertainty."

His suspicion of me started up from its doze and rubbed its eyes. "Ah! You
wish to insure yourself."

"Yes," was my answer, "but not in the way you hint. It takes away a man's
courage just when he needs it most, to feel that his family is involved in
his venture."

"Why do you not make the settlement direct?" he asked, partly reassured.

"Because I wish her to feel that it is her own, that I have no right over
it whatever."

He thought about this. His eyes were keen as he said, "Is that your real
reason?"

I saw I must be unreserved with him. "Part of it," I replied. "The rest
is--she would not take it from me."

The old man smiled cynically. "Have you tried?" he inquired.

"If I had tried and failed, she would have been on the alert for an
indirect attempt."

"Try her, young man," said he, laughing. "In this day there are few people
anywhere who'd refuse any sum from anybody for anything. And a woman--and a
New York woman--and a New York fashionable woman--and a daughter of old
Ellersly--she'll take it as a baby takes the breast."

"She would not take it," said I.

My tone, though I strove to keep angry protest out of it, because I needed
him, caused him to draw back instantly. "I beg your pardon," said he. "I
forgot for the moment that I was talking to a man young enough still to
have youth's delusions about women. You'll learn that they're human, that
it's from them we men inherit our weaknesses. However, let's assume that
she won't take it: _Why_ won't she take your money? What is there
about it that repels Ellersly's daughter, brought up in the sewers of
fashionable New York--the sewers, sir!"

"She does not love me," I answered.

"I have hurt you," he said quickly, in great distress at having compelled
me to expose my secret wound.

"The wound does not ache the worse," said I, "for my showing it--to
_you_." And that was the truth. I looked over toward Dawn Hill whose
towers could just be seen. "We live there." I pointed. "She is--like a
guest in my house."

When I glanced at him again, his face betrayed a feeling of which I doubt
if any one had thought him capable in many a year. "I see that you love
her," he said, gently as a mother.

"Yes," I replied. And presently I went on: "The idea of any one I love
being dependent on me in a sordid way is most distasteful to me. And since
she does not love me, does not even like me, it is doubly necessary that
she be independent."

"I confess I do not quite follow you" said he.

"How can she accept anything from me? If she should finally be compelled by
necessity to do it, what hope could I have of her ever feeling toward me as
a wife should feel toward her husband?"

At this explanation of mine his eyes sparkled with anger--and I could not
but suspect that he had at one time in his life been faced with a problem
like mine, and had settled it the other way. My suspicion was not weakened
when he went on to say:

"Boyish motives again! They show you do not know women. Don't be deceived
by their delicate exterior, by their pretenses of super-refinement. They
affect to be what passion deludes us into thinking them. But they're clay,
sir, just clay, and far less sensitive than we men. Don't you see, young
man, that by making her independent you're throwing away your best chance
of winning her? Women are like dogs--like dogs, sir! They lick the hand
that feeds 'em--lick it, and like it."

"Possibly," said I, with no disposition to combat views based on I knew not
what painful experience. "But I don't care for that sort of liking--from a
woman, or from a dog."

"It's the only kind you'll get," retorted he, trying to control his
agitation. "I'm an old man. I know human nature--that's why I live alone.
You'll take that kind of liking, or do without."

"Then I'll do without," said I.

"Give her an income, and she'll go. I see it all. You've flattered her
vanity by showing your love for her--that's the way with women. They go
crazy about themselves, and forget all about the man. Give her an income
and she'll go."

"I doubt it," said I. "And you would, if you knew her. But, even so, I
shall lose her in any event. For, unless she is made independent, she'll
certainly go with the last of the little money she has, the remnant of a
small legacy."

The old man argued with me, the more vigorously, I suspect, because he
found me resolute. When he could think of no new way of stating his
case--his case against Anita--he said: "You are a fool, young man--that's
clear. I wonder such a fool was ever able to get together as much property
as report credits you with. But--you're the kind of fool I like."

"Then--you'll indulge my folly?" said I, smiling.

He threw up his arms in a gesture of mock despair. "If you will have it
so," he replied. "I am curious about this niece of mine. I want to see her.
I want to see the woman who can resist _you_."

"Her mind and her heart are closed against me," said I. "And it is my own
fault--I closed them."

"Put her out of your head," he advised. "No woman is worth a serious man's
while."

"I have few wants, few purposes," said I. "But those few I pursue to the
end. Even though she were not worth while, even though I wholly lost hope,
still I'd not give her up. I couldn't--that's my nature. But--_she_ is
worth while." And I could see her, slim and graceful, the curves in her
face and figure that made my heart leap, the azure sheen upon her
petal-like skin, the mystery of the soul luring from her eyes.

After we had arranged the business--or, rather, arranged to have it
arranged through our lawyers--he walked down to the pier with me. At the
gangway he gave me another searching look from head to foot--but vastly
different from the inspection with which our interview had begun. "You are
a devilish handsome young fellow," said he. "Your pictures don't do you
justice. And I shouldn't have believed any man could overcome in one brief
sitting such a prejudice as I had against you. On second thought, I don't
care to see her. She must be even below the average."

"Or far above it," I suggested.

"I suppose I'll have to ask her over to visit me," he went on. "A fine
hypocrite I'll feel."

"You can make it one of the conditions of your gift that she is not to
thank you or speak of it," said I. "I fear your face would betray us, if
she ever did."

"An excellent idea!" he exclaimed. Then, as he shook hands with me in
farewell: "You will win her yet--if you care to."

As I steamed up the Sound, I was tempted to put in at Dawn Hill's harbor.
Through my glass I could see Anita and Alva and several others, men and
women, having tea on the lawn under a red and white awning. I could see her
dress--a violet suit with a big violet hat to match. I knew that costume.
Like everything she wore, it was both beautiful in itself and most becoming
to her. I could see her face, could almost make out its expression--did I
see, or did I imagine, a cruel contrast to what I always saw when she knew
I was looking?

I gazed until the trees hid lawn and gay awning, and that lively company
and her. In my bitterness I was full of resentment against her, full of
self-pity. I quite forgot, for that moment, _her_ side of the story.




XXVIII

BLACKLOCK SEES A LIGHT


It was next day, I think, that I met Mowbray Langdon and his brother Tom in
the entrance of the Textile Building. Mowbray was back only a week from his
summer abroad; but Tom I had seen and nodded to every day, often several
times in the same day, as he went to and fro about his "respectable" dirty
work for the Roebuck-Langdon clique. He was one of their most frequently
used stool-pigeon directors in banks and insurance companies whose funds
they staked in their big gambling operations, they taking almost all the
profits and the depositors and policy holders taking almost all the risk.
It had never once occurred to me to have any feeling of any kind about Tom,
or in any way to take him into my calculations as to Anita. He was, to
my eyes, too obviously a pale understudy of his powerful and fascinating
brother. Whenever I thought of him as the man Anita fancied she loved, I
put it aside instantly. "The kind of man a woman _really_ cares for,"
I would say to myself, "is the measure of her true self. But not the kind
of man she _imagines_ she cares for."

Tom went on; Mowbray stopped. We shook hands, and exchanged commonplaces
in the friendliest way--I was harboring no resentment against him, and I
wished him to realize that his assault had bothered me no more than the
buzzing and battering of a summer fly. "I've been trying to get in to see
you," said he. "I wanted to explain about that unfortunate Textile deal."

This, when the assault on me had burst out with fresh energy the day after
he landed from Europe! I could scarcely believe that his vanity, his
confidence in his own skill at underground work could so delude him. "Don't
bother," said I. "All that's ancient history."

But he had thought out some lies he regarded as particularly creditable to
his ingenuity; he was not to be deprived of the pleasure of telling them.
So I was compelled to listen; and, being in an indulgent mood, I did not
spoil his pleasure by letting him see or suspect my unbelief. If he could
have looked into my mind, as I stood there in an attitude of patient
attention, I think even his self-complacence would have been put out of
countenance. You may admire the exploits of a "gentleman" cracksman or
pickpocket, if you hear or read them with only their ingenuity put before
you. But _see_ a "gentleman" liar or thief at his sneaking, cowardly
work, and admiration is impossible. As Langdon lied on, as I studied
his cheap, vulgar exhibition of himself, he all unconscious, I thought:
"Beneath that very thin surface of yours, you're a poor cowardly
creature--you, and all your fellow bandits. No; bandit is too grand a word
to apply to this game of 'high finance.' It's really on the level with the
game of the fellow that waits for a dark night, slips into the barn-yard,
poisons the watch-dog, bores an auger-hole in the granary, and takes to his
heels at a suspicious sound."

With his first full stop, I said: "I understand perfectly, Langdon. But I
haven't the slightest interest in crooked enterprises now. I'm clear out
of all you fellows' stocks. I've reinvested my property so that not even a
panic would trouble me."

"That's good," he drawled. I saw he did not believe me--which was natural,
as he knew nothing of my arrangement with Galloway and assumed I was
laboring in heavy weather, with a bad cargo of Coal stocks and contracts.
"Come to lunch with me. I've got some interesting things to tell you about
my trip."

A few months before, I should have accepted with alacrity. But I had lost
interest in him. He had not changed; if anything, he was more dazzling than
ever in the ways that had once dazzled me. It was I that had changed--my
ideals, my point of view. I had no desire to feed my new-sprung contempt by
watching him pump in vain for information to be used in his secret campaign
against me. "No, thanks. Another day," I replied, and left him with a curt
nod. I noted that he had failed to speak of my marriage, though he had not
seen me since. "A sore subject with all the Langdons," thought I. "It must
be very sore, indeed, to make a man who is all manners, neglect them."

My whole life had been a series of transformations so continuous that I had
noted little about my advance, beyond its direction--like a man hurrying up
a steep that keeps him bent, eyes down. But, as I turned away from Langdon,
I caught myself in the very act of transformation. No doubt, the new view
had long been there, its horizon expanding with every step of my ascent;
but not until that talk with him did I see it. I looked about me in Wall
Street; in my mind's eye I all in an instant saw my world as it really was.
I saw the great rascals of "high finance," their respectability stripped
from them; saw them gathering in the spoils which their cleverly-trained
agents, commercial and political and legal, filched with light fingers from
the pockets of the crowd, saw the crowd looking up to these trainers and
employers of pickpockets, hailing them "captains of industry"! They reaped
only where and what others had sown; they touched industry only to plunder
and to blight it; they organized it only that its profits might go to
those who did not toil and who despised those who did. "Have I gone mad in
the midst of sane men?" I asked myself. "Or have I been mad, and have I
suddenly become sane in a lunatic world?"

I did not linger on that problem. For me action remained the essential of
life, whether I was sane or insane. I resolved then and there to map a new
course. By toiling like a sailor at the pump of a sinking ship, I had taken
advantage to the uttermost of the respite Galloway's help had given me. My
property was no longer in more or less insecure speculative "securities,"
but was, as I had told Langdon, in forms that would withstand the worst
shocks. The attacks of my enemies, directed partly at my fortune, or,
rather, at the stocks in which they imagined it was still invested, and
partly at my personal character, were doing me good instead of harm. Hatred
always forgets that its shafts, falling round its intended victim, spring
up as legions of supporters for him. My business was growing rapidly; my
daily letter to investors was read by hundreds of thousands where tens of
thousands had read it before the Roebuck-Langdon clique began to make me
famous by trying to make me infamous.

"I am strong and secure," said I to myself as I strode through the
wonderful canyon of Broadway, whose walls are those mighty palaces of
finance and commerce from which business men have been ousted by cormorant
"captains of industry." I must _use_ my strength. How could I better
use it than by fluttering these vultures on their roosts, and perhaps
bringing down a bird or two?

I decided, however, that it was better to wait until they had stopped
rattling their beaks and claws on my shell in futile attack. "Meanwhile," I
reasoned carefully, "I can be getting good and ready."

Their first new move, after my little talk with Langdon, was intended
as a mortal blow to my credit Melville requested me to withdraw mine and
Blacklock and Company's accounts from the National Industrial Bank; and the
fact that this huge and powerful institution had thus branded me was slyly
given to the financial reporters of the newspapers. Far and wide it was
published; and the public was expected to believe that this was one more
and drastic measure in the "campaign of the honorable men of finance to
clean the Augean Stables of Wall Street." My daily letter to investors next
morning led off with this paragraph--the first notice I had taken publicly
of their attacks on me:

"In the effort to discredit the only remaining uncontrolled source of
financial truth, the big bandits have ordered my accounts out of their
chief gambling-house. I have transferred the accounts to the Discount and
Deposit National, where Leonidas Thornley stands guard against the new
order that seeks to make business a synonym for crime."

Thornley was of the type that was dominant in our commercial life before
the "financiers" came--just as song birds were common in our trees until
the noisy, brawling, thieving sparrows drove them out. His oldest son was
about to marry Joe's daughter--Alva. Many a Sunday I have spent at his
place near Morristown--a charming combination of city comfort with farm
freedom and fresh air. I remember, one Sunday, saying to him, after he had
seen his wife and daughters off to church: "Why haven't you got rich? Why
haven't you looked out for establishing these boys and girls of yours?"

"I don't want my girls to be sought for money," said he, "I don't want my
boys to rely on money. Perhaps I've seen too much of wealth, and have come
to have a prejudice against it. Then, too, I've never had the chance to get
rich."

I showed that I thought that he was simply jesting.

"I mean it," said he, looking at me with eyes as straight as a
well-brought-up girl's. "How could my mind be judicial if I were personally
interested in the enterprises people look to me for advice about?"

And not only did he keep himself clear and his mind judicial but also
he was, like all really good people, exceedingly slow to believe others
guilty of the things he would as soon have thought of doing as he would
have thought of slipping into the teller's cage during the lunch hour and
pocketing a package of bank-notes. He gave me his motto--a curious one:
"Believe in everybody; trust in nobody."

"Only a thief wishes to be trusted," he explained, "and only a fool trusts.
I let no one trust me; I trust no one. But I believe evil of no man. Even
when he has been convicted, I see the mitigating circumstances."

How Thornley did stand by me! And for no reason except that it was as
necessary for him to be fair and just as to breathe. I shall not say he
resisted the attempts to compel him to desert me--they simply made no
impression on him. I remember, when Roebuck himself, a large stock-holder
in the bank, left cover far enough personally to urge him to throw me over,
he replied steadfastly:

"If Mr. Blacklock is guilty of circulating false stories against commercial
enterprises, as his enemies allege, the penal code can be used to stop him.
But as long as I stay at the head of this bank, no man shall use it for
personal vengeance. It is a chartered public institution, and all have
equal rights to its facilities. I would lend money to my worst enemy, if he
came for it with the proper security. I would refuse my best friend, if he
could not give security. The funds of a bank are a trust fund, and my duty
is to see that they are employed to the best advantage. If you wish other
principles to prevail here, you must get another president."

That settled it. No one appreciated more keenly than did Roebuck that
character is as indispensable in its place as is craft where the situation
demands craft--and is far harder to get.

I shall not relate in detail that campaign against me. It failed not so
much because I was strong as because it was weak. Perhaps, if Roebuck and
Langdon could have directed it in person, or had had the time to advise
with their agents before and after each move, it might have succeeded.
They would not have let exaggeration dominate it and venom show upon its
surface; they would not have neglected to follow up advantages, would not
have persisted in lines of attack that created public sympathy for me.
They would not have so crudely exploited my unconventional marriage and
my financial relations with old Ellersly. But they dared not go near the
battle-field; they had to trust to agents whom their orders and suggestions
reached by the most roundabout ways; and they were busier with their
enterprises that involved immediate and great gain or loss of money.

When Galloway died, they learned that the Coal stocks with which they
thought I was loaded down were part of his estate. They satisfied
themselves that I was in fact as impregnable as I had warned Langdon. They
reversed tactics; Roebuck tried to make it up with me. "If he wants to see
me," was my invariable answer to the intimations of his emissaries, "let
him come to my office, just as I would go to his, if I wished to see him."

"He is a big man--a dangerous big man," cautioned Joe.

"Big--yes. But strong only against his own kind," replied I. "One mouse can
make a whole herd of elephants squeal for mercy."

"It isn't prudent, it isn't prudent," persisted Joe.

"It is not," replied I. "Thank God, I'm at last in the position I've been
toiling to achieve. I don't have to be prudent. I can say and do what I
please, without fear of the consequences. I can freely indulge in the
luxury of being a man. That's costly, Joe, but it's worth all it could
cost."

Joe didn't understand me--he rarely did. "I'm a hen. You're an eagle," said
he.




XXIX

A HOUSEWARMING


Joe's daughter, staying on and on at Dawn Hill, was chief lieutenant, if
not principal, in my conspiracy to drift Anita day by day further and
further into the routine of the new life. Yet neither of us had shown by
word or look that a thorough understanding existed between us. My part was
to be unobtrusive, friendly, neither indifferent nor eager, and I held to
it by taking care never to be left alone with Anita; Alva's part was to
be herself--simple and natural and sensible, full of life and laughter,
mocking at those moods that betray us into the absurdity of taking
ourselves too seriously.

I was getting ready a new house in town as a surprise to Anita, and I took
Alva into my plot. "I wish Anita's part of the house to be exactly to her
liking," said I. "Can't you set her to dreaming aloud what kind of place
she would like to live in, what she would like to open her eyes on in the
morning, what surroundings she'd like to dress in and read in, and all
that?"

Alva had no difficulty in carrying out the suggestions. And by harassing
Westlake incessantly, I succeeded in realizing her report of Anita's dream
to the exact shade of the draperies and the silk that covered the walls. By
pushing the work, I got the house done just as Alva was warning me that she
could not remain longer at Dawn Hill, but must go home and get ready for
her wedding. When I went down to arrange with her the last details of the
surprise, who should meet me at the station but Anita herself? I took one
glance at her serious face and, much disquieted, seated myself beside her
in the little trap. Instead of following the usual route to the house, she
turned her horse into the bay-shore road.

"Several days ago," she began, as the bend hid the station, "I got a letter
from some lawyers, saying that an uncle of mine had given me a large sum
of money--a very large sum. I have been inquiring about it, and find it is
mine absolutely."

I braced myself against the worst. "She is about to tell me that she is
leaving," thought I. But I managed to say: "I'm glad to hear of your luck,"
though I fear my tone was not especially joyous.

"So," she went on, "I am in a position to pay back to you, I think, what my
father and Sam took from you. It won't be enough, I'm afraid, to pay what
you lost indirectly. But I have told the lawyers to make it all over to
you."

I could have laughed aloud. It was too ridiculous, this situation into
which I had got myself. I did not know what to say. I could hardly keep
out of my face how foolish this collapse of my crafty conspiracy made me
feel. And then the full meaning of what she was doing came over me--the
revelation of her character. I trusted myself to steal a glance at her; and
for the first time I didn't see the thrilling azure sheen over her smooth
white skin, though all her beauty was before me, as dazzling as when it
compelled me to resolve to win her. No; I saw her, herself--the woman
within. I had known from the outset that there was an altar of love within
my temple of passion. I think that was my first real visit to it.

"Anita!" I said unsteadily. "Anita!"

The color flamed in her cheeks; we were silent for a long time.

"You--your people owe me nothing" I at length found voice to say. "Even if
they did, I couldn't and wouldn't take _your_ money. But, believe me,
they owe me nothing."

"You can not mislead me," she answered. "When they asked me to become
engaged to you, they told me about it."

I had forgotten. The whole repulsive, rotten business came back to me. And,
changed man that I had become in the last six months, I saw myself as I had
been. I felt that she was looking at me, was reading the degrading
confession in my telltale features.

"I will tell you the whole truth," said I. "I did use your father's and
your brother's debts to me as a means of getting _to_ you. But, before
God, Anita, I swear I was honest with you when I said to you I never hoped
or wished to win you in that way!"

"I believe you," she replied, and her tone and expression made my heart
leap with indescribable joy.

Love is sometimes most unwise in his use of the reins he puts on passion.
Instead of acting as impulse commanded, I said clumsily, "And I am very
different to-day from what I was last spring." It never occurred to me how
she might interpret those words.

"I know," she replied. She waited several seconds before adding: "I, too,
have changed. I see that I was far more guilty than you. There is no excuse
for me. I was badly brought up, as you used to say, but--"

"No--no," I began to protest.

She cut me short with a sad: "You need not be polite and spare my feelings.
Let's not talk of it. Let us go back to the object I had in coming for you
to-day."

"You owe me nothing," I repeated. "Your brother and your father settled
long ago. I lost nothing through them. And I've learned that if I had never
known you, Roebuck and Langdon would still have attacked me."

"What my uncle gave me has been transferred to you," said she, woman
fashion, not hearing what she did not care to heed. "I can't make you
accept it; but there it is, and there it stays."

"I can not take it," said I. "If you insist on leaving it in my name, I
shall simply return it to your uncle."

"I wrote him what I had done," she rejoined. "His answer came yesterday. He
approves it."

"Approves it!" I exclaimed.

"You do not know how eccentric he is," she explained, naturally
misunderstanding my astonishment. She took a letter from her bosom and
handed it to me. I read:

"DEAR MADAM: It was yours to do with as you pleased. If you ever find
yourself in the mood to visit, Gull House is open to you, provided you
bring no maid. I will not have female servants about.

"Yours truly,

"HOWARD FORRESTER."

"You will consent now, will you not?" she asked, as I lifted my eyes from
this characteristic note.

I saw that her peace of mind was at stake. "Yes--I consent."

She gave a great sigh as at the laying down of a heavy burden. "Thank you,"
was all she said, but she put a world of meaning into the words. She took
the first homeward turning. We were nearly at the house before I found
words that would pave the way toward expressing my thoughts--my longings
and hopes.

"You say you have forgiven me," said I. "Then we can be--friends?"

She was silent, and I took her somber expression to mean that she feared I
was hiding some subtlety.

"I mean just what I say, Anita," I hastened to explain. "Friends--simply
friends." And my manner fitted my words.

She looked strangely at me. "You would be content with that?" she asked.

I answered what I thought would please her. "Let us make the best of our
bad bargain," said I. "You can trust me now, don't you think you can?"

She nodded without speaking; we were at the door, and the servants were
hastening out to receive us. Always the servants between us. Servants
indoors, servants outdoors; morning, noon and night, from waking to
sleeping, these servants to whom we are slaves. As those interrupting
servants sent us each a separate way, her to her maid, me to my valet, I
was depressed with the chill that the opportunity that has not been seen
leaves behind it as it departs.

"Well," said I to myself by way of consolation, as I was dressing for
dinner, "she is certainly softening toward you, and when she sees the new
house you will be still better friends."

       *       *       *       *       *

But, when the great day came, I was not so sure. Alva went for a "private
view" with young Thornley; out of her enthusiasm she telephoned me from the
very midst of the surroundings she found "_so_ wonderful and _so_
beautiful"--thus she assured me, and her voice made it impossible to doubt.
And, the evening before the great day, I, going for a final look round,
could find no flaw serious enough to justify the sinking feeling that came
over me every time I thought of what Anita would think when she saw my
efforts to realize her dream. I set out for "home" half a dozen times at
least, that afternoon, before I pulled myself together, called myself an
ass, and, with a pause at Delmonico's for a drink, which I ordered and then
rejected, finally pushed myself in at the door. What, a state my nerves
were in!

Alva had departed; Anita was waiting for me in her sitting-room. When she
heard me in the hall, just outside, she stood in the doorway. "Come in,"
she said to me, who did not dare so much as a glance at her.

I entered. I must have looked as I felt--like a boy, summoned before
the teacher to be whipped in presence of the entire school. Then I was
conscious that she had my hand--how she had got it, I don't know--and that
she was murmuring, with tears of happiness in her voice: "Oh, I can't
_say_ it!"

"Glad you like your own taste," said I awkwardly. "You know, Alva told me."

"But it's one thing to dream, and a very different thing to do," she
answered. Then, with smiling reproach: "And I've been thinking all summer
that you were ruined! I've been expecting to hear every day that you had
had to give up the fight."

"Oh--that passed long ago," said I.

"But you never told me," she reminded me. "And I'm glad you didn't,"
she added. "Not knowing saved me from doing something very foolish."
She reddened a little, smiled a great deal, dazzlingly, was altogether
different from the ice-locked Anita of a short time before, different as
June from January. And her hand--so intensely alive--seemed extremely
comfortable in mine.

Even as my blood responded to that electric touch, I had a twinge of
cynical bitterness. Yes, apparently I was at last getting what I had so
long, so vainly, and, latterly, so hopelessly craved. But--_why_ was
she giving it? Why had she withheld herself until this moment of material
happiness? "I have to pay the rich man's price," thought I, with a sigh.

It was in reaching out for some sweetness to take away this bitter taste in
my honey that I said to her, "When you gave me that money from your uncle,
you did it to help me out?"

She colored deeply. "How silly you must have thought me!" she answered.

I took her other hand. As I was drawing her toward me, the sudden pallor of
her face and chill of her hands halted me once more, brought sickeningly
before me the early days of my courtship when she had infuriated my pride
by trying to be "submissive." I looked round the room--that room into which
I had put so much thought--and money. Money! "The rich man's price!" those
delicately brocaded walls shimmered mockingly at me.

"Anita," said I, "do you _care_ for me?"

She murmured inaudibly. Evasion! thought I, and suspicion sprang on guard,
bristling.

"Anita," I repeated sternly, "do you care for _me_?"

"I am your wife," she replied, her head drooping still lower. And
hesitatingly she drew away from me. That seemed confirmation of my doubt
and I said to her satirically, "You are willing to be my wife out of
gratitude, to put it politely?"

She looked straight into my eyes and answered, "I can only say there is no
one I like so well, and--I will give you all I have to give."

"Like!" I exclaimed contemptuously, my nerves giving way altogether. "And
you would be my _wife_! Do you want me to _despise_ you?" I
struck dead my poor, feeble hope that had been all but still-born. I rushed
from the room, closing the door violently between us.

Such was our housewarming.




XXX

BLACKLOCK OPENS FIRE


For what I proceeded to do, all sorts of motives, from the highest to the
basest, have been attributed to me. Here is the truth: I had already pushed
the medicine of hard work to its limit. It was as powerless against this
new development as water against a drunkard's thirst. I must find some new,
some compelling drug--some frenzy of activity that would swallow up my self
as the battle makes the soldier forget his toothache. This confession may
chagrin many who have believed in me. My enemies will hasten to say: "Aha,
his motive was even more selfish and petty than we alleged." But those who
look at human nature honestly, and from the inside, will understand how I
can concede that a selfish reason moved me to draw my sword, and still
can claim a higher motive. In such straits as were mine, some men of my
all-or-none temperament debauch themselves; others thresh about blindly,
reckless whether they strike innocent or guilty. I did neither.

Probably many will recall that long before the "securities" of the
reorganized coal combine were issued, I had in my daily letter to investors
been preparing the public to give them a fitting reception. A few days
after my whole being burst into flames of resentment against Anita, out
came the new array of new stocks and bonds. Roebuck and Langdon arranged
with the under writers for a "fake" four times over-subscription, indorsed
by the two greatest banking houses in the Street. Despite this often-tried
and always-good trick, the public refused to buy. I felt I had not been
overestimating my power. But I made no move until the "securities" began to
go up, and the financial reporters--under the influence where not actually
in the pay of the Roebuck-Langdon clique--shouted that, "in spite of the
malicious attacks from the gambling element, the new securities are being
absorbed by the public at prices approximating their value." Then--But I
shall quote my investors' letter the following morning:

"At half-past nine yesterday--nine-twenty-eight, to be exact--President
Melville, of the National Industrial Bank, loaned six hundred thousand
dollars. He loaned it to Bill Van Nest, an ex-gambler and proprietor of
pool rooms, now silent partner in Hoe & Wittekind, brokers, on the New York
Stock Exchange, and also in Filbert & Jonas, curb brokers. He loaned it to
Van Nest without security.

"Van Nest used the money yesterday to push up the price of the new coal
securities by 'wash sales'--which means, by making false purchases and
sales of the stock in order to give the public the impression of eager
buying. Van Nest sold to himself and bought from himself 347,060 of the
352,681 shares traded in.

"Melville, in addition to being president of one of the largest banks in
the world, is a director in no less than seventy-three great industrial
enterprises, including railways, telegraph companies, _savings-banks and
life-insurance companies_. Bill Van Nest has done time in the Nevada
State Penitentiary for horse-stealing."

       *       *       *       *       *

That was all. And it was enough--quite enough. I was a national figure,
as much so as if I had tried to assassinate the president. Indeed, I had
exploded a bomb under a greater than the president--under the chiefs of the
real government of the United States, the government that levied daily upon
every citizen, and that had state and national and the principal municipal
governments in its strong box.

I confess I was as much astounded at the effect of my bomb as old Melville
must have been. I felt that I had been obscure, as I looked at the
newspapers, with Matthew Blacklock appropriating almost the entire front
page of each. I was the isolated, the conspicuous figure, standing alone
upon the steps of the temple of Mammon, where mankind daily and devoutly
comes to offer worship.

Not that the newspapers praised me. I recall none that spoke well of me.
The nearest approach to praise was the "Blacklock squeals on the Wall
Street gang" in one of the sensational penny sheets that strengthen
the plutocracy by lying about it. Some of the papers insinuated that
I had gone mad; others that I had been bought up by a rival gang to
the Roebuck-Langdon clique; still others thought I was simply hunting
notoriety. All were inclined to accept as a sufficient denial of my
charges Melville's dignified refusal "to notice any attack from a quarter
so discredited."

As my electric whirled into Wall Street, I saw the crowd in front of the
Textile Building, a dozen policemen keeping it in order. I descended amid
cheers, and entered my offices through a mob struggling to shake hands with
me--and, in my ignorance of mob mind, I was delighted and inspired! Just
why a man who knows men, knows how wishy-washy they are as individuals,
should be influenced by a demonstration from a mass of them, is hard to
understand. But the fact is indisputable. They fooled me then; they could
fool me again, in spite of all I have been through. There probably wasn't
one in that mob for whose opinion I would have had the slightest respect
had he come to me alone; yet as I listened to those shallow cheers and
those worthless assurances of "the people are behind you, Blacklock," I
felt that I was a man with a mission!

Our main office was full, literally full, of newspaper men--reporters
from morning papers, from afternoon papers, from out-of-town and foreign
papers. I pushed through them, saying as I went: "My letter speaks for me,
gentlemen, and will continue to speak for me. I have nothing to say except
through it."

"But the public--" urged one.

"It doesn't interest me," said I, on my guard against the temptation to
cant. "I am a banker and investment broker. I am interested only in my
customers."

And I shut myself in, giving strict orders to Joe that there was to be no
talking about me or my campaign. "I don't purpose to let the newspapers
make us cheap and notorious," said I. "We must profit by the warning in
the fate of all the other fellows who have sprung into notice by attacking
these bandits."

The first news I got was that Bill Van Nest had disappeared. As soon as
the Stock Exchange opened, National Coal became the feature. But, instead
of "wash sales," Roebuck, Langdon and Melville were themselves, through
various brokers, buying the stocks in large quantities to keep the prices
up. My next letter was as brief as my first philippic:

"Bill Van Nest is at the Hotel Frankfort, Newark, under the name of Thomas
Lowry. He was in telephonic communication with President Melville, of the
National Industrial Bank, twice yesterday.

"The underwriters of the National Coal Company's new issues, frightened by
yesterday's exposure, have compelled Mr. Roebuck, Mr. Mowbray Langdon and
Mr. Melville themselves to buy. So, yesterday, those three gentlemen bought
with real money, with their own money, large quantities of stocks which are
worth less than half what they paid for them.

"They will continue to buy these stocks so long as the public holds aloof.
They dare not let the prices slump. They hope that this storm will blow
over, and that then the investing public will forget and will relieve them
of their load."

I had added: "But this storm won't blow over. It will become a cyclone." I
struck that out. "No prophecy," said I to myself. "Your rule, iron-clad,
must be--facts, always facts; only facts."

The gambling section of the public took my hint and rushed into the market;
the burden of protecting the underwriters was doubled, and more and more of
the hoarded loot was disgorged. That must have been a costly day--for, ten
minutes after the Stock Exchange closed, Roebuck sent for me.

"My compliments to him," said I to his messenger, "but I am too busy. I'll
be glad to see him here, however."

"You know he dares not come to you," said the messenger, Schilling,
president of the National Manufactured Food Company, sometimes called the
Poison Trust. "If he did, and it were to get out, there'd be a panic."

"Probably," replied I with a shrug. "That's no affair of mine. I'm not
responsible for the rotten conditions which these so-called financiers have
produced, and I shall not be disturbed by the crash which must come."

Schilling gave me a genuine look of mingled pity and admiration. "I suppose
you know what you're about," said he, "but I think you're making a
mistake."

"Thanks, Ned," said I--he had been my head clerk a few years before, and I
had got him the chance with Roebuck which he had improved so well. "I'm
going to have some fun. Can't live but once."

"I know some people," said he significantly, "who would go to _any_
lengths to get an enemy out of the way." He had lived close enough to
Roebuck to peer into the black shadows of that satanic mind, and dimly to
see the dread shapes that lurked there.

"I'm the safest man on Manhattan Island for the present," said I.

"You remember Woodrow? I've always believed that he was murdered, and that
the pistol they found beside him was a 'plant.'"

"You'd kill me yourself, if you got the orders, wouldn't you?" said I
good-humoredly.

"Not personally," replied he in the same spirit, yet serious, too, at
bottom. "Inspector Bradlaugh was telling me, the other night, that there
were easily a thousand men in the slums of the East Side who could be hired
to kill a man for five hundred dollars."

I suppose Schilling, as the directing spirit of a corporation that
hid poison by the hogshead in low-priced foods of various kinds,
was responsible for hundreds of deaths annually, and for misery of
sickness beyond calculation among the poor of the tenements and cheap
boarding-houses. Yet a better husband, father and friend never lived. He,
personally, wouldn't have harmed a fly; but he was a wholesale poisoner for
dividends.

Murder for dividends. Poison for dividends. Starve and freeze and maim for
dividends. Drive parents to suicide, and sons and daughters to crime and
prostitution--for dividends. Not fair competition, in which the stronger
and better would survive, but cheating and swindling, lying and pilfering
and bribing, so that the honest and the decent go down before the dishonest
and the depraved. And the custom of doing these things so "respectable,"
the applause for "success" so undiscriminating, and men so unthinking in
the rush of business activity, that criticism is regarded as a mixture of
envy and idealism. And it usually is, I must admit.

Schilling lingered. "I hope you won't blame me for lining up against you,
Matt," said he. "I don't want to, but I've got to."

"Why?"

"You know what'd become of me if I didn't."

"You might become an honest man and get self-respect," I suggested with
friendly satire.

"That's all very well for you to say," was his laughing retort. "You've
made yourself tight and tidy for the blow. But I've a family, and a damned
expensive one, too. And if I didn't stand by this gang, they'd take
everything I've got away from me. No, Matt, each of us to his own game.
What _is_ your game, anyhow?"

"Fun--just fun. Playing the pipe to see the big fellows dance."

But he didn't believe it. And no one has believed it--not even my most
devoted followers. To this day Joe Ball more than half suspects that my
real objective was huge personal gain. That any rich man should do anything
except for the purpose of growing richer seems incredible. That any rich
man should retain or regain the sympathies and viewpoint of the class from
which he sprang, and should become a "traitor" to the class to which he
belongs, seems preposterous. I confess I don't fully understand my own
case. Who ever does?

My "daily letters" had now ceased to be advertisements, had become news,
sought by all the newspapers of this country and of the big cities in Great
Britain. I could have made a large saving by no longer paying my sixty-odd
regular papers for inserting them. But I was looking too far ahead to
blunder into that fatal mistake. Instead, I signed a year's contract
with each of my papers, they guaranteeing to print my advertisements, I
guaranteeing to protect them against loss on libel suits. I organized
a dummy news bureau, and through it got contracts with the telegraph
companies. Thus insured against the cutting of my communications with the
public, I was ready for the real campaign.

It began with my "History of the National Coal Company." I need not repeat
that famous history here. I need recall only the main points--how I proved
that the common stock was actually worth less than two dollars a share,
that the bonds were worth less than twenty-five dollars in the hundred,
that both stock and bonds were illegal; my detailed recital of the crimes
of Roebuck, Melville and Langdon in wrecking mining properties, in wrecking
coal railways, in ejecting American labor and substituting helots from
eastern Europe; how they had swindled and lied and bribed; how they had
twisted the books of the companies, how they were planning to unload the
mass of almost worthless securities at high prices, then to get from under
the market and let the bonds and stocks drop down to where they could buy
them in on terms that would yield them more than two hundred and fifty per
cent, on the actual capital invested. Less and dearer coal; lower wages and
more ignorant laborers; enormous profits absorbed without mercy into a few
pockets.

On the day the seventh chapter of this history appeared, the telegraph
companies notified me that they would transmit no more of my matter. They
feared the consequences in libel suits, explained Moseby, general manager
of one of the companies.

"But I guarantee to protect you," said I. "I will give bond in any amount
you ask."

"We can't take the risk, Mr. Blacklock," replied he. The twinkle in his eye
told me why, and also that he, like every one else in the country except
the clique, was in sympathy with me.

My lawyers found an honest judge, and I got an injunction that compelled
the companies to transmit under my contracts. I suspended the "History" for
one day, and sent out in place of it an account of this attempt to shut
me off from the public. "Hereafter," said I, in the last paragraph in my
letter, "I shall end each day's chapter with a forecast of what the next
day's chapter is to be. If for any reason it fails to appear, the public
will know that somebody has been coerced by Roebuck, Melville & Co."




XXXI

ANITA'S SECRET


That afternoon--or, was it the next?--I happened to go home early. I have
never been able to keep alive anger against any one. My anger against Anita
had long ago died away, had been succeeded by regret and remorse that I
had let my nerves, or whatever the accursed cause was, whirl me into such
an outburst. Not that I regretted having rejected what I still felt was
insulting to me and degrading to her; simply that my manner should have
been different. There was no necessity or excuse for violence in showing
her that I would not, could not, accept from gratitude what only love
has the right to give. And I had long been casting about for some way
to apologize--not easy to do, when her distant manner toward me made
it difficult for me to find even the necessary commonplaces to "keep
up appearances" before the servants on the few occasions on which we
accidentally met.

But, as I was saying, I came up from the office and stretched myself
on--the lounge in my private room adjoining the library. I had read myself
into a doze, when a servant brought me a card. I glanced at it as it lay
upon his extended tray. "Gerald Monson," I read aloud. "What does the
damned rascal want?" I asked.

The servant smiled. He knew as well as I how Monson, after I dismissed him
with a present of six months' pay, had given the newspapers the story--or,
rather, his version of the story--of my efforts to educate myself in the
"arts and graces of a gentleman."

"Mr. Monson says he wishes to see you particular, sir," said he.

"Well--I'll see him," said I. I despised him too much to dislike him, and I
thought he might possibly be in want. But that notion vanished the instant
I set eyes upon him. He was obviously at the very top of the wave. "Hello,
Monson," was my greeting, in it no reminder of his treachery.

"Howdy, Blacklock," said he. "I've come on a little errand for Mrs.
Langdon." Then, with that nasty grin of his: "You know, I'm looking after
things for her since the bust-up."

"No, I didn't--know," said I curtly, suppressing my instant curiosity.
"What does Mrs. Langdon want?"

"To see you--for just a few minutes--whenever it is convenient."

"If Mrs. Langdon has business with me, I'll see her at my office," said I.
She was one of the fashionables that had got herself into my black books by
her treatment of Anita since the break with the Ellerslys.

"She wishes to come to you here--this afternoon, if you are to be at home.
She asked me to say that her business is important--and very private."

I hesitated, but I could think of no good excuse for refusing. "I'll be
here an hour," said I. "Good day."

He gave me no time to change my mind.

Something--perhaps it was his curious expression as he took himself
off--made me begin to regret. The more I thought of the matter, the less I
thought of my having made any civil concession to a woman who had acted so
badly toward Anita and myself. He had not been gone a quarter of an hour
before I went to Anita in her sitting-room. Always, the instant I entered
the outer door of her part of our house, that powerful, intoxicating
fascination that she had for me began to take possession of my senses. It
was in every garment she wore. It seemed to linger in any place where she
had been, for a long time after she left it. She was at a small desk by the
window, was writing letters.

"May I interrupt?" said I. "Monson was here a few minutes ago--from Mrs.
Langdon. She wants to see me. I told him I would see her here. Then it
occurred to me that perhaps I had been too good-natured. What do you
think?"

I could not see her face, but only the back of her head, and the loose
coils of magnetic hair and the white nape of her graceful neck. As I began
to speak, she stopped writing, her pen suspended over the sheet of paper.
After I ended there was a long silence.

"I'll not see her," said I. "I don't quite understand why I yielded." And I
turned to go.

"Wait--please," came from her abruptly.

Another long silence. Then I: "If she comes here, I think the only person
who can properly receive her is you."

"No--you must see her," said Anita at last. And she turned round in her
chair until she was facing me. Her expression--I can not describe it. I can
only say that it gave me a sense of impending calamity.

"I'd rather not--much rather not," said I.

"I particularly wish you to see her," she replied, and she turned back to
her writing. I saw her pen poised as if she were about to begin; but she
did not begin--and I felt that she would not. With my mind shadowed with
vague dread, I left that mysterious stillness, and went back to the
library.

It was not long before Mrs. Langdon was announced. There are some women
to whom a haggard look is becoming; she is one of them. She was much
thinner than when I last saw her; instead of her former restless, petulant,
suspicious expression, she now looked tragically sad. "May I trouble you to
close the door?" said she, when the servant had withdrawn.

I closed the door.

"I've come," she began, without seating herself, "to make you as unhappy, I
fear, as I am. I've hesitated long before coming. But I am desperate. The
one hope I have left is that you and I between us may be able to--to--that
you and I may be able to help each other."

I waited.

"I suppose there are people," she went on, "who have never known what it
was to--really to care for some one else. They would despise me for
clinging to a man after he has shown me that--that his love has ceased."

"Pardon me, Mrs. Langdon," I interrupted. "You apparently think your
husband and I are intimate friends. Before you go any further, I must
disabuse you of that idea."

She looked at me in open astonishment. "You do not know why my husband has
left me?"

"Until a few minutes ago, I did not know that he had left you," I said.
"And I do not wish to know why."

Her expression of astonishment changed to mockery. "Oh!" she sneered. "Your
wife has fooled you into thinking it a one-sided affair. Well, I tell you,
she is as much to blame as he--more. For he did love me when he married me;
did love me until she got him under her spell again."

I thought I understood. "You have been misled, Mrs. Langdon," said I
gently, pitying her as the victim of her insane jealousy. "You have--"

"Ask your wife," she interrupted angrily. "Hereafter, you can't pretend
ignorance. For I'll at least be revenged. She failed utterly to trap him
into marriage when she was a poor girl, and--"

"Before you go any further," said I coldly, "let me set you right. My wife
was at one time engaged to your husband's brother, but--"

"Tom?" she interrupted. And her laugh made me bite my lip. "So she told you
that! I don't see how she dared. Why, everybody knows that she and Mowbray
were engaged, and that he broke it off to marry me."

All in an instant everything that had been confused in my affairs at
home and down town became clear. I understood why I had been pursued
relentlessly in Wall Street; why I had been unable to make the least
impression on the barriers between Anita and myself. You will imagine that
some terrible emotion at once dominated me. But this is not a romance;
only the veracious chronicle of certain human beings. My first emotion
was--relief that it was not Tom Langdon. "I ought to have known she
couldn't care for _him_," said I to myself. I, contending with Tom
Langdon for a woman's love had always made me shrink. But Mowbray--that
was vastly different. My respect for myself and for Anita rose.

"No," said I to Mrs. Langdon, "my wife did not tell me, never spoke of it.
What I said to you was purely a guess of my own. I had no interest in the
matter--and haven't. I have absolute confidence in my wife. I feel ashamed
that you have provoked me into saying so." I opened the door.

"I am not going yet," said she angrily. "Yesterday morning Mowbray and she
were riding together in the Riverside Drive. Ask her groom."

"What of it?" said I. Then, as she did not rise, I rang the bell. When the
servant came, I said: "Please tell Mrs. Blacklock that Mrs. Langdon is in
the library--and that I am here, and gave you the message."

As soon as the servant was gone, she said: "No doubt she'll lie to you.
These women that steal other women's property are usually clever at fooling
their own silly husbands."

"I do not intend to ask her," I replied. "To ask her would be an insult."

She made no comment beyond a scornful toss of the head. We both had
our gaze fixed upon the door through which Anita would enter. When she
finally did appear, I, after one glance at her, turned--it must have been
triumphantly--upon her accuser. I had not doubted, but where is the faith
that is not the stronger for confirmation? And confirmation there was in
the very atmosphere round that stately, still figure. She looked calmly,
first at Mrs. Langdon, then at me.

"I sent for you," said I, "because I thought that you, rather than I,
should request Mrs. Langdon to leave your house."

At that Mrs. Langdon was on her feet, and blazing. "Fool!" she flared at
me. "Oh, the fools women make of men!" Then to Anita: "You--you--But no, I
must not permit you to drag me down to your level. Tell your husband--tell
him that you were riding with my husband in the Riverside Drive yesterday."

I stepped between her and Anita. "My wife will not answer you," said I. "I
hope, Madam, you will spare us the necessity of a painful scene. But leave
you must--at once."

She looked wildly round, clasped her hands, suddenly burst into tears.
If she had but known, she could have had her own way after that, without
any attempt from me to oppose her. For she was evidently unutterably
wretched--and no one knew better than I the sufferings of unreturned love.
But she had given me up; slowly, sobbing, she left the room, I opening the
door for her and closing it behind her.

"I almost broke down myself," said I to Anita. "Poor woman! How can you be
so calm? You women in your relations with each other are--a mystery."

"I have only contempt for a woman who tries to hold a man when he wishes
to go," said Anita, with quiet but energetic bitterness. "Besides"--she
hesitated an instant before going on--"Gladys deserves her fate. She
doesn't really care for him. She's only jealous of him. She never did love
him."

"How do you know?" said I sharply, trying to persuade myself it was not an
ugly suspicion in me that lifted its head and shot out that question.

"Because he never loved her," she replied. "The feeling a woman has for
a man or a man for a woman, without any response, isn't love, isn't
worthy the name of love. It's a sort of baffled covetousness. Love means
generosity, not greediness." Then--"Why do you not ask me whether what she
said is true?"

The change in her tone with that last sentence, the strange, ominous note
in it, startled me,

"Because," replied I, "as I said to her, to ask my wife such a question
would be to insult her. If you were riding with him, it was an accident."
As if my rude repulse of her overtures and my keeping away from her ever
since would not have justified her in almost anything.

She flushed the dark red of shame, but her gaze held steady and unflinching
upon mine. "It was not altogether by accident," she said. And I think she
expected me to kill her.

When a man admits and respects a woman's rights where he is himself
concerned, he either is no longer interested in her or has begun to love
her so well that he can control the savage and selfish instincts of
passion. If Mowbray Langdon had been there, I might have killed them both;
but he was not there, and she, facing me without fear, was not the woman to
be suspected of the stealthy and traitorous.

"It was he that you meant when you warned me you cared for another man?"
said I, so quietly that I wondered at myself; wondered what had become of
the "Black Matt" who had used his fists almost as much as his brains in
fighting his way up.

"Yes," she said, her head down now.

A long pause.

"You wish to be free?" I asked, and my tone must have been gentle.

"I wish to free you," she replied slowly and deliberately.

There was a long silence. Then I said: "I must think it all out. I once
told you how I felt about these matters. I've greatly changed my mind since
our talk that night in the Willoughby; but my prejudices are still with me.
Perhaps you will not be surprised at that--you whose prejudices have cost
me so dear."

I thought she was going to speak. Instead she turned away, so that I could
no longer see her face.

"Our marriage was a miserable mistake," I went on, struggling to be just
and judicial, and to seem calm. "I admit it now. Fortunately, we are both
still young--you very young. Mistakes in youth are never fatal. But, Anita,
do not blunder out of one mistake into another. You are no longer a child,
as you were when I married you. You will be careful not to let judgments
formed of him long ago decide you for him as they decided you against me."

"I wish to be free," she said, each word coming with an effort, "as much
on your account as on my own." Then, and it seemed to me merely a truly
feminine attempt to shirk responsibility, she added, "I am glad my going
will be a relief to you."

"Yes, it will be a relief," I confessed. "Our situation has become
intolerable." I had reached my limit of self-control. I put out my hand.
"Good-by," I said.

If she had wept, it might have modified my conviction that everything was
at an end between us. But she did not weep. "Can you ever forgive me?" she
asked.

"Let's not talk of forgiveness," said I, and I fear my voice and manner
were gruff, as I strove not to break down. "Let's try to forget." And I
touched her hand and hastened away.

When two human beings set out to misunderstand each other, how fast and far
they go! How shut-in we are from each other, with only halting means of
communication that break down under the slightest strain!

As I was leaving the house next morning, I gave Sanders this note for her:

"I have gone to live at the Downtown Hotel. When you have decided what
course to take, let me know. If my 'rights' ever had any substance, they
have starved away to such weak things that they collapse even as I try to
set them up. I hope your freedom will give you happiness, and me peace."

"You are ill, sir?" asked my old servant, my old friend, as he took the
note.

"Stay with her, Sanders, as long as she wishes," said I, ignoring his
question. "Then come to me."

His look made me shake hands with him. As I did it, we both remembered the
last time we had shaken hands--when he had the roses for my home-coming
with my bride. It seemed to me I could smell those roses.




XXXII

LANGDON COMES TO THE SURFACE


I shall not estimate the vast sums it cost the Roebuck-Langdon clique
to maintain the prices of National Coal, and so give plausibility to
the fiction that the public was buying eagerly. In the third week of my
campaign, Melville was so deeply involved that he had to let the two others
take the whole burden upon themselves.

In the fourth week, Langdon came to me.

The interval between his card and himself gave me a chance to recover from
my amazement. When he entered he found me busily writing. Though I had
nerved myself, it was several seconds before I ventured to look at him.
There he stood, probably as handsome, as fascinating as ever, certainly as
self-assured. But I could now, beneath that manner I had once envied, see
the puny soul, with its brassy glitter of the vanity of luxury and show.
I had been somewhat afraid of myself--afraid the sight of him would stir
up in me a tempest of jealousy and hate; as I looked, I realized that
I did not know my own nature. "She does not love this man," I thought.
"If she did or could, she would not be the woman I love. He deceived her
inexperience as he deceived mine."

"What can I do for you?" said I to him politely, much as if he were a
stranger making an untimely interruption.

My look had disconcerted him; my tone threw him into confusion. "You keep
out of the way, now that you've become famous," he began, with a halting
but heroic attempt at his customary easy superiority. "Are you living up in
Connecticut, too? Sam Ellersly tells me your wife is stopping there with
old Howard Forrester. Sam wants me to use my good offices in making it up
between you two and her family."

I was completely taken aback by this cool ignoring of the real situation
between him and me. Impudence or ignorance?--I could not decide. It seemed
impossible that Anita had not told him; yet it seemed impossible, too, that
he would come to me if she had told him. "Have you any _business_ with
me?" said I.

His eyelids twitched nervously, and he adjusted his lips several times
before he was able to say:

"You and your wife don't care to make it up with the Ellerslys? I fancied
so, and told Sam you'd simply think me meddlesome. The other matter is the
Travelers Club. I've smoothed things out there. I'm going to put you up and
rush you through."

"No, thanks," said I. It seemed incredible to me that I had ever cared
about that club and the things it represented, as I could remember I
undoubtedly did care. It was like looking at an outgrown toy and trying
to feel again the emotions it once excited.

"I assure you, Matt, there won't be the slightest difficulty." His manner
was that of a man playing the trump card in a desperate game--he feels it
can not lose, yet the stake is so big that he can not but be a little
nervous.

"I do not care to join the Travelers Club," said I, rising. "I must ask you
to excuse me. I am exceedingly busy."

A flush appeared in his cheeks and deepened and spread until his whole body
must have been afire. He seated himself. "You know what I've come for," he
said sullenly, and humbly, too.

All his life he had been enthroned upon his wealth. Without realizing it,
he had claimed and had received deference solely because he was rich. He
had thought himself, in his own person, most superior; now, he found that
like a silly child he had been standing on a chair and crying: "See how
tall I am." And the airs, the cynicism, the graceful condescension, which
had been so becoming to him, were now as out of place as crown and robes on
a king taking a swimming lesson.

"What are your terms, Blacklock? Don't be too hard on an old friend," said
he, trying to carry off his frank plea for mercy with a smile.

I should have thought he would cut his throat and jump off the Battery wall
before he would get on his knees to any man for any reason. And he was
doing it for mere money--to try to save, not his fortune, but only an
imperiled part of it. "If Anita could see him now!" I thought.

To him I said, the more coldly because I did not wish to add to his
humiliation by showing him that I pitied him: "I can only repeat, Mr.
Langdon, you will have to excuse me. I have given you all the time I can
spare."

His eyes were shifting and his hands trembling as he said: "I will transfer
control of the Coal combine to you."

His tones, shameful as the offer they carried, made me ashamed for him.
For money--just for money! And I had thought him a man. If he had been a
self-deceiving hypocrite like Roebuck, or a frank believer in the right of
might, like Updegraff, I might possibly, in the circumstances, have tried
to release him from my net. But he had never for an instant deceived
himself as to the real nature of the enterprises he plotted, promoted and
profited by; he thought it "smart" to be bad, and he delighted in making
the most cynical epigrams on the black deeds of himself and his associates.

"Better sell out to Roebuck," I suggested. "I control all the Coal stock I
need."

"I don't care to have anything further to do with Roebuck," Langdon
answered. "I've broken with him."

"When a man lies to me," said I, "he gives me the chance to see just how
much of a fool he thinks I am, and also the chance to see just how much of
a fool he is. I hesitate to think so poorly of you as your attempt to fool
me seems to compel."

But he was unconvinced. "I've found he intends to abandon the ship and
leave me to go down with it," he persisted. "He believes he can escape and
denounce me as the arch rascal who planned the combine, and can convince
people that I foozled him into it."

Ingenious; but I happened to know that it was false. "Pardon me, Mr.
Langdon," said I with stiff courtesy. "I repeat, I can do nothing for you.
Good morning." And I went at my work as if he were already gone.

Had I been vindictive, I would have led him on to humiliate himself more
deeply, if greater depths of humiliation there are than those to which
he voluntarily descended. But I wished to spare him; I let him see the
uselessness of his mission. He looked at me in silence--the look of hate
that can come only from a creature weak as well as wicked. I think it
was all his keen sense of humor could do to save him from a melodramatic
outbreak. He slipped into his habitual pose, rose and withdrew without
another word. All this fright and groveling and treachery for plunder, the
loss of which would not impair his fortune--plunder he had stolen with many
a jest and gibe at his helpless victims. Like most of our debonair dollar
chasers, he was a good sportsman only when the game was with him.

That afternoon he threw his Coal holdings on the market in great blocks.
His treachery took Roebuck completely by surprise--for Roebuck believed in
this fair-weather "gentleman," foul-weather coward, and neglected to allow
for that quicksand that is always under the foundation of the man who has
inherited, not earned, his wealth. But for the blundering credulity of
rascals, would honest men ever get their dues? Roebuck's brokers had bought
many thousands of Langdon's shares at the high artificial price before
Roebuck grasped the situation--that it was not my followers recklessly
gambling to break the prices, but Langdon unloading on his "pal." As soon
as he saw, he abruptly withdrew from the market. When the Stock Exchange
closed, National Coal securities were offered at prices ranging from eleven
for the bonds to two for the common and three for the preferred--offered,
and no takers.

"Well, you've done it," said Joe, coming with the news that Thornley, of
the Discount and Deposit Bank, had been appointed receiver.

"I've made a beginning," replied I. And the last sentence of my next
morning's "letter" was:

"To-morrow the first chapter of the History of the Industrial National
Bank."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I have felt for two years," said Roebuck to Schilling, who repeated it to
me soon afterward, "that Blacklock was about the most dangerous fellow in
the country. The first time I set eyes on him, I saw he was a born
iconoclast. And I've known for a year that some day he would use that
engine of publicity of his to cannonade the foundations of society."

"He knew me better than I knew myself," was my comment to Schilling. And I
meant it--for I had not finished the demolition of the Coal combine when I
began to realize that, whatever I might have thought of my own ambitions,
I could never have tamed myself or been tamed into a devotee of dollars
and of respectability. I simply had been keeping quiet until my tools were
sharp and fate spun my opportunity within reach. But I must, in fairness,
add, it was lucky for me that, when the hour struck, Roebuck was not twenty
years younger and one-twentieth as rich. It's a heavy enough handicap,
under the best of circumstances, to go to war burdened with years; add the
burden of a monster fortune, and it isn't in human nature to fight well.
Youth and a light knapsack!

But--to my fight on the big bank.

Until I opened fire, the public thought, in a general way, that a bank was
an institution like Thornley's Discount and Deposit National--a place for
the safe-keeping of money and for accommodating business men with loans to
be used in carrying on and extending legitimate and useful enterprises. And
there were many such banks. But the real object of the banking business,
as exploited by the big bandits who controlled it and all industry, was
to draw into a mass the money of the country that they might use it to
manipulate the markets, to wreck and reorganize industries and wreck them
again, to work off inflated bonds and stocks upon the public at inflated
prices, to fight among themselves for rights to despoil, making the people
pay the war budgets--in a word, to finance the thousand and one schemes
whereby they and their friends and relatives, who neither produce nor help
to produce, appropriate the bulk of all that is produced.

And before I finished with the National Industrial Bank, I had shown that
it and several similar institutions in the big cities throughout the
country were, in fact, so many dens to which rich and poor were lured for
spoliation. I then took up the Universal Life, as a type. I showed how
insuring was, with the companies controlled by the bandits, simply the
decoy; that the real object was the same as the real object of the big
bandit banks. When I had finished my series on the Universal Life I had
named and pilloried Roebuck, Langdon, Melville, Wainwright, Updegraff, Van
Steen, Epstein--the seven men of enormous wealth, leaders of the seven
cliques that had the political and industrial United States at their mercy,
and were plucking the people through an ever-increasing army of agents.
The agents kept some of the feathers--"The Seven" could afford to pay
liberally. But the bulk of the feather crop was passed on to "The Seven."

I shall answer in a paragraph the principal charges that were made against
me. They say I bribed employees on the telegraph companies, and so got
possession of incriminating telegrams that had been sent by "The Seven" in
the course of their worst campaigns. I admit the charge. They say I bribed
some of their confidential men to give me transcripts and photographs
of secret ledgers and reports. I admit the charge. They say I bought
translations of stenographic notes taken by eavesdroppers on certain
important secret meetings. I admit the charge. But what was the chief
element in my success in thus getting proofs of their crimes? Not the
bribery, but the hatred that all the servants of such men have for them. I
tempted no one to betray them. _Every item, of information I got was
offered to me_. And I shall add these facts:

First, in not a single case did they suspect and discharge the "guilty"
persons.

Second, I have to-day as good means of access to their secrets as I ever
had--and, if they discharged all who now serve them, I should be able soon
to reestablish my lines; men of their stripe can not hope to be served
faithfully.

Third, I had offers from all but three of "The Seven" to "peach" on the
others in return for immunity. There may be honor among some thieves, but
not among "respectable" thieves. Hypocrisy and honor will be found in the
same character when the sun shines at night--not before.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was the sardonic humor of fate that Langdon, for all his desire to keep
out of my way, should have compelled me to center my fire upon him; that I,
who wished to spare him, if possible, should have been compelled to make of
him my first "awful example."

I had decided to concentrate upon Roebuck, because he was the richest and
most powerful of "The Seven." For, in my pictures of the three main phases
of "finance"--the industrial, the life-insurance and the banking--he, as
arch plotter in every kind of respectable skulduggery, was necessarily in
the foreground. My original intention was to demolish the Power Trust--or,
at least, to compel him to buy back all of its stock which he had worked
off on the public. I had collected many interesting facts about it, facts
typical of the conditions that "finance" has established in so many of our
industries.

For instance, I was prepared to show that the actual earnings of the Power
Trust were two and a half times what its reports to stock-holders alleged;
that the concealed profits were diverted into the pockets of Roebuck, his
sons, eleven other relatives and four of "The Seven," the lion's share
going, of course, to the lion. Like almost all the great industrial
enterprises, too strong for the law and too remote for the supervision
of their stock-holders, it gathered in enormous revenues to disburse
them chiefly in salaries and commissions and rake-offs on contracts to
favorites. I had proof that in one year it had "written off" twelve
millions of profit and loss, ten millions of which had found its way to
Roebuck's pocket. That pocket! That "treasury of the Lord"!

Dishonest? Roebuck and most of the other leaders of the various gangs,
comprising, with all their ramifications, the principal figures in
religious, philanthropic, fashionable society, did not for an instant
think their doings dishonest. They had no sense of trusteeship for this
money intrusted to them as captains of industry bankers, life-insurance
directors. They felt that it was theirs to do with as they pleased.

And they felt that their superiority in rank and in brains entitled them
to whatever remuneration they could assign to themselves without rousing
the wrath of a public too envious to admit the just claims of the "upper
classes." They convinced themselves that without them crops would cease
to grow, sellers and buyers would be unable to find their way to market,
barbarism would spread its rank and choking weeds over the whole garden of
civilization. And, so brainless is the parrot public, they have succeeded
in creating a very widespread conviction that their own high opinion of
their services is not too high, and that some dire calamity would come if
they were swept from between producer and consumer! True, thieves are found
only where there is property; but who but a chucklebrain would think the
thieves made the property?

Roebuck was the keystone of the arch that sustained the structure of
chicane. To dislodge him was the direct way to collapse it. I was about to
set to work when Langdon, feeling that he ought to have a large supply of
cash in the troublous times I was creating, increased the capital stock
of his already enormously overcapitalized Textile Trust and offered the
new issue to the public. As the Textile Trust was even better bulwarked,
politically, than the Power Trust, it was easily able to declare tempting
dividends out of its lootings. So the new stock could not be attacked in
the one way that would make the public instantly shun it--I could not
truthfully charge that it would not pay the promised dividends. Yet attack
I must--for that issue was, in effect, a bold challenge of my charges
against "The Seven." From all parts of the country inquiries poured in upon
me: "What do you think of the new Textile issue? Shall we invest? Is the
Textile Company sound?"

I had no choice. I must turn aside from Roebuck; I must first show that,
while Textile was, in a sense, sound just at that time, it had been
unsound, and would be unsound again as soon as Langdon had gathered in
a sufficient number of lambs to make a battue worth the while of a man
dealing in nothing less than seven figures. I proceeded to do so.

The market yielded slowly. Under my first day's attack Textile preferred
fell six points, Textile common three. While I was in the midst of
dictating my letter for the second day's attack, I suddenly came to a full
stop. I found across my way this thought: "Isn't it strange that Langdon,
after humbling himself to you, should make this bold challenge? It's a
trap!"

"No more at present," said I, to my stenographer. "And don't write out what
I've already dictated."

I shut myself in and busied myself at the telephone. Half an hour after I
set my secret machinery in motion, a messenger brought me an envelop, the
address type-written. It contained a sheet of paper on which appeared, in
type-writing; these words, and nothing more:

  "He is heavily short of Textiles."

It was indeed a trap. The new issue was a blind. He had challenged me to
attack his stock, and as soon as I did, he had begun secretly to sell it
for a fall. I worked at this new situation until midnight, trying to get
together the proofs. At that hour--for I could delay no longer, and my
proofs were not quite complete--I sent my newspapers two sentences:

  "To-morrow I shall make a disclosure that will
  send Textiles up. Do not sell Textiles!"




XXXIII

MRS. LANGDON MAKES A CALL


Next day Langdon's stocks wavered, going up a little, going down a little,
closing at practically the same figures at which they had opened. Then I
sprang my sensation--that Langdon and his particular clique, though they
controlled the Textile Trust, did not own so much as one-fiftieth of its
voting stock. True "captains of industry" that they were, they made their
profits not out of dividends, but out of side schemes that absorbed about
two-thirds of the earnings of the Trust, and out of gambling in its bonds
and stocks. I said in conclusion:

"The largest owner of the stock is Walter G. Edmunds, of Chicago--an honest
man. Send your voting proxies to him, and he can take the Textile Company
away from those now plundering it."

As the annual election of the Trust was only six weeks away, Langdon
and his clique were in a panic. They rushed into the market and bought
frantically, the public bidding against them. Langdon himself went to
Chicago to reason with Edmunds--that is, to try to find out at what figure
he could be bought. And so on, day after day, I faithfully reporting to
the public the main occurrences behind the scenes. The Langdon attempt to
regain control by purchases of stock failed. He and his allies made what
must have been to them appalling sacrifices; but even at the high prices
they offered, comparatively little of the stock appeared.

"I've caught them," said I to Joe--the first time, and the last, during
that campaign that I indulged in a boast.

"If Edmunds sticks to you," replied cautious Joe.

But Edmunds did not. I do not know at what price he sold himself. Probably
it was pitifully small; cupidity usually snatches the instant bait tickles
its nose. But I do know that my faith in human nature got its severest
shock.

"You are down this morning," said Thornley, when I looked in on him at his
bank. "I don't think I ever before saw you show that you were in low
spirits."

"I've found out a man with whom I'd have trusted my life," said I.
"Sometimes I think all men are dishonest. I've tried to be an optimist like
you, and have told myself that most men must be honest or ninety-five per
cent. of the business couldn't be done on credit as it is."

Thornley smiled, like an old man at the enthusiasm of a youngster. "That
proves nothing as to honesty," said he. "It simply shows that men can
be counted on to do what it is to their plain interest to do. The truth
is--and a fine truth, too--most men wish and try to be honest. Give 'em a
chance to resist their own weaknesses. Don't trust them. Trust--that's the
making of false friends and the filling of jails."

"And palaces," I added.

"And palaces," assented he. "Every vast fortune is a monument to the
credulity of man. Instead of getting after these heavy-laden rascals,
Matthew, you'd better have turned your attention to the public that has
made rascals of them by leaving its property unguarded."

Fortunately, Edmunds had held out, or, rather, Langdon had delayed
approaching him, long enough for me to gain my main point. The uproar
over the Textile Trust had become so great that the national Department
of Commerce dared not refuse an investigation; and I straightway began to
spread out in my daily letters the facts of the Trust's enormous earnings
and of the shameful sources of those earnings. Thanks to Langdon's
political pull, the president appointed as investigator one of those
rascals who carefully build themselves good reputations to enable them to
charge higher prices for dirty work. But, with my facts before the people,
whitewash was impossible.

I was expecting emissaries from Langdon, for I knew he must now be actually
in straits. Even the Universal Life didn't dare lend him money; and was
trying to call in the millions it had loaned him. But I was astounded when
my private door opened and Mrs. Langdon ushered herself in.

"Don't blame your boy, Mr. Blacklock," cried she gaily, exasperatingly
confident that I was as delighted with her as she was with herself. "I told
him you were expecting me and didn't give him a chance to stop me."

I assumed she had come to give me wholly undeserved thanks for revenging
her upon her recreant husband. I tried to look civil and courteous, but I
felt that my face was darkening--her very presence forced forward things I
had been keeping in the far background of my mind, "How can I be of service
to you, Madam?" said I.

"I bring you good news," she replied--and I noted that she no longer looked
haggard and wretched, that her beauty was once more smiling with a certain
girlishness, like a young widow's when she finds her consolation. "Mowbray
and I have made it up," she explained.

I simply listened, probably looking as grim as I felt.

"I knew you would be interested," she went on. "Indeed, it means almost as
much to you as to me. It brings peace to _two_ families."

Still I did not relax.

"And so," she continued, a little uneasy, "I came to you immediately."

I continued to listen, as if I were waiting for her to finish and depart.

"If you want, I'll go to Anita." Natural feminine tact would have saved her
from this rawness; but, convinced that she was a "great lady" by the
flattery of servants and shopkeepers and sensational newspapers and social
climbers, she had discarded tact as worthy only of the lowly and of the
aspiring before they "arrive."

"You are too kind," said I. "Mrs. Blacklock and I feel competent to take
care of our own affairs."

"Please, Mr. Blacklock," she said, realizing that she had blundered, "don't
take my directness the wrong way. Life is too short for pose and pretense
about the few things that really matter. Why shouldn't we be frank with
each other?"

"I trust you will excuse me," said I, moving toward the door--I had not
seated myself when she did. "I think I have made it clear that we have
nothing to discuss."

"You have the reputation of being generous and too big for hatred. That is
why I have come to you," said she, her expression confirming my suspicion
of the real and only reason for her visit. "Mowbray and I are completely
reconciled--_completely_, you understand. And I want you to be
generous, and not keep on with this attack. I am involved even more than
he. He has used up his fortune in defending mine. Now, you are simply
trying to ruin me--not him, but _me_. The president is a friend of
Mowbray's, and he'll call off this horrid investigation, and everything'll
be all right, if you'll only stop."

"Who sent you here?" I asked.

"I came of my own accord," she protested. Then, realizing from the sound of
her voice that she could not have convinced me with a tone so unconvincing,
she hedged with: "It was my own suggestion, really it was."

"Your husband permitted _you_ to come--and to _me_?"

She flushed.

"And you have accepted his overtures when you knew he made them only
because he needed your money?"

She hung her head. "I love him," she said simply. Then she looked straight
at me and I liked her expression. "A woman has no false pride when love is
at stake," she said. "We leave that to you men."

"Love!" I retorted, rather satirically, I imagine. "How much had your own
imperiled fortune to do with your being so forgiving?"

"Something," she admitted. "You must remember I have children. I must think
of their future. I don't want them to be poor. I want them to have the
station they were born to." She went to one of the windows overlooking the
street. "Look here!" she said.

I stood beside her. The window was not far above the street level. Just
below us was a handsome victoria, coachman, harness, horses, all most
proper, a footman rigid at the step. A crowd had gathered round--in those
stirring days when I was the chief subject of conversation wherever men
were interested in money--and where are they not?--there was almost always
a crowd before my offices. In the carriage sat two children, a boy and a
girl, hardly more than babies. They were gorgeously overdressed, after
the vulgar fashion of aristocrats and apers of aristocracy. They sat
stiffly, like little scions of royalty, with that expression of complacent
superiority which one so often sees on the faces of the little children of
the very rich--and some not so little, too. The thronging loungers, most
of them either immigrant peasants from European caste countries or the
un-disinfected sons of peasants, were gaping in true New York "lower class"
awe; the children were literally swelling with delighted vanity. If they
had been pampered pet dogs, one would have laughed. As they were human
beings, it filled me with sadness and pity. What ignorance, what stupidity
to bring up children thus in democratic America--democratic to-day,
inevitably more democratic to-morrow! What a turning away from the light!
What a crime against the children!

"For their sake, Mr. Blacklock," she pleaded, her mother love wholly hiding
from her the features of the spectacle that for me shrieked like scarlet
against a white background.

"Your husband has deceived you about your fortune, Mrs. Langdon," I said
gently, for there is to me something pathetic in ignorance and I was not
blaming her for her folly and her crime against her children. "You can tell
him what I am about to say, or not, as you please. But my advice is that
you keep it to yourself. Even if the present situation develops as seems
probable, develops as Mr. Langdon fears, you will not be left without a
fortune--a very large fortune, most people would think. But Mr. Langdon
will have little or nothing--indeed, I think he is practically dependent
on you now."

"What I have is his," she said.

"That is generous," replied I, not especially impressed by a sentiment, the
very uttering of which raised a strong doubt of its truth. "But is it
prudent? You wish to keep him--securely. Don't tempt him by a generosity he
would only abuse."

She thought it over. "The idea of holding a man in that way is repellent to
me," said she, now obviously posing.

"If the man happens to be one that can be held in no other way," said I,
moving significantly toward the door, "one must overcome one's
repugnance--or be despoiled and abandoned."

"Thank you," she said, giving me her hand. "Thank you--more than I can
say." She had forgotten entirely that she came to plead for her husband.
"And I hope you will soon be as happy as I am." That last in New York's
funniest "great lady" style.

I bowed, and when there was the closed door between us, I laughed, not at
all pleasantly. "This New York!" I said aloud. "This New York that dabbles
its slime of sordidness and snobbishness on every flower in the garden of
human nature. New York that destroys pride and substitutes vanity for it.
New York with its petty, mischievous class-makers, the pattern for the
rich and the 'smarties' throughout the country. These 'cut-out' minds and
hearts, the best of them incapable of growth and calloused wherever the
scissors of conventionality have snipped."

I took from my pocket the picture of Anita I always carried. "Are
_you_ like that?" I demanded of it. And it seemed to answer: "Yes,--I
am." Did I tear the picture up? No. I kissed it as if it were the magnetic
reality. "I don't care what you are!" I cried. "I want you! I want you!"

"Fool!" you are saying. Precisely what I called myself. And you? Is it
the one you _ought_ to love that you give your heart to? Is it the
one that understands you and sympathizes with you? Or is it the one whose
presence gives you visions of paradise and whose absence blots out the
light?

I loved her. Yet I will say this much for myself: I still would not have
taken her on any terms that did not make her really mine.




XXXIV

"MY RIGHT EYE OFFENDS ME"


Now that Updegraff is dead, I am free to tell of our relations.

My acquaintance with him was more casual than with any other of "The
Seven." From the outset of my career I made it a rule never to deal with
understrappers, always to get in touch with the man who had the final say.
Thus, as the years went by, I grew into intimacy with the great men of
finance where many with better natural facilities for knowing them remained
in an outer circle. But with Updegraff, interested only in enterprises west
of the Mississippi and keeping Denver as his legal residence and exploiting
himself as a Western man who hated Wall Street, I had a mere bowing
acquaintance. This was unimportant, however, as each knew the other well
by reputation. Our common intimacies made us intimates for all practical
purposes.

Our connection was established soon after the development of my campaign
against the Textile Trust had shown that I was after a big bag of the
biggest game. We happened to have the same secret broker; and I suppose it
was in his crafty brain that the idea of bringing us together was born. Be
that as it may, he by gradual stages intimated to me that Updegraff would
convey me secrets of "The Seven" in exchange for a guarantee that I would
not attack his interests. I do not know what his motive in this treachery
was--probably a desire to curb the power of his associates in industrial
despotism.

Each of "The Seven" hated and feared and suspected the other six with far
more than the ordinary and proverbial rich man's jealous dislike of other
rich men. There was not one of them that did not bear the ever-smarting
scars of vicious wounds, front and back, received from his fellows; there
was not one that did not cherish the hope of overthrowing the rule of Seven
and establishing the rule of One. At any rate, I accepted Updegraff's
proposition; henceforth, though he stopped speaking to me when we happened
to meet, as did all the other big bandits and most of their parasites and
procurers, he kept me informed of every act "The Seven" resolved upon.

Thus I knew all about their "gentlemen's agreement" to support the stock
market, and that they had made Tavistock their agent for resisting any and
all attempts to lower prices, and had given him practically unlimited funds
to draw upon as he needed. I had Tavistock sounded on every side, but found
no weak spot. There was no rascality he would not perpetrate for whoever
employed him; but to his employer he was as loyal as a woman to a bad
man. And for a time it looked as if "The Seven" had checkmated me. Those
outsiders who had invested heavily in the great enterprises through which
"The Seven" ruled were disposing of their holdings--cautiously, through
fear of breaking the market. Money would pile up in the banks--money paid
out by "The Seven" for their bonds and stocks, of which the people had
become deeply suspicious. Then these deposits would be withdrawn--and I
knew they were going into real estate investments, because news of booms
in real estate and in building was coming in from everywhere. But prices
on the Stock Exchange continued to advance.

"They are too strong for you," said Joe. "They will hold the market up
until the public loses faith in you. Then they will sell out at top-notch
prices as the people rush in to buy."

I might have wavered had I not been seeing Tavistock every day. He
continued to wear his devil-may-care air; but I observed that he was aging
swiftly--and I knew what that meant. Fighting all day to prevent breaks
in the crucial stocks; planning most of the night how to prevent breaks
the next day; watching the reserve resources of "The Seven" melt away.
Those reserves were vast; also, "The Seven" controlled the United States
Treasury, and were using its resources as their own; they were buying
securities that would be almost worthless if they lost, but if they
won, would be rebought by the public at the old swindling prices, when
"confidence" was restored. But there was I, cannonading incessantly from my
impregnable position; as fast as they repaired breaches in their walls, my
big guns of publicity tore new breaches. No wonder Tavistock had thinner
hair and wrinkles and a drawn look about the eyes, nose and mouth.

With the battle thus raging all along the line, on the one side "The Seven"
and their armies of money and mercenaries and impressed slaves, on the
other side the public, I in command, you will say that my yearning for
distraction must have been gratified. If the road from his cell were long
enough, the condemned man would be fretting less about the gallows than
about the tight shoe that was making him limp and wince at every step.
Besides, in human affairs it is the personal, always the personal. I soon
got used to the crowds, to the big head-lines in the newspapers, to the
routine of cannonade and reply.

But the old thorn, pressing persistently--I could not get used to that. In
the midst of the adulation, of the blares upon the trumpets of fame that
saluted my waking and were wafted to me as I fell asleep at night--in the
midst of all the turmoil, I was often in a great and brooding silence,
longing for her, now with the imperious energy of passion, and now with
the sad ache of love. What was she doing? What was she thinking? Now that
Langdon had again played her false for the old price, with what eyes was
she looking into the future?

Alva, settled in a West Side apartment not far from the ancestral white
elephant, telephoned, asking me to come. I went, because she could and
would give me news of Anita. But as I entered her little drawing-room,
I said: "It was curiosity that brought me. I wished to see how you were
installed."

"Isn't it nice and small?" cried she. "Billy and I haven't the slightest
difficulty in finding each other--as people so often have in the big
houses." And it was Billy this and Billy that, and what Billy said and
thought and felt--and before they were married, she had called him William,
and had declared "Billy" to be the most offensive combination of letters
that ever fell from human lips.

"I needn't ask if _you_ are happy," said I presently, with a dismal
failure at looking cheerful. "I can't stay but a moment," I added, and if I
had obeyed my feelings, I'd have risen up and taken myself and my pain away
from surroundings as hateful to me as a summer sunrise in a death-chamber.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, in some confusion. "Then excuse me." And she hastened
from the room.

I thought she had gone to order, or perhaps to bring, the tea. The long
minutes dragged away until ten had passed. Hearing a rustling in the hall,
I rose, intending to take leave the instant she appeared. The rustling
stopped just outside. I waited a few seconds, cried, "Well, I'm off. Next
time I want to be alone, I'll know where to come," and advanced to the
door. It was not Alva hesitating there; it was Anita.

"I beg your pardon," said I coldly.

If there had been room to pass I should have gone. What devil possessed
me? Certainly in all our relations I had found her direct and frank, if
anything, too frank. Doubtless it was the influence of my associations down
town, where for so many months I had been dealing with the "short-card"
crowd of high finance, who would hardly play the game straight even when
that was the easy way to win. My long, steady stretch in that stealthy and
sinuous company had put me in the state of mind in which it is impossible
to credit any human being with a motive that is decent or an action that is
not a dead-fall. Thus the obvious transformation in her made no impression
on me. Her haughtiness, her coldness, were gone, and with them had gone
all that had been least like her natural self, most like the repellent
conventional pattern to which her mother and her associates had molded her.
But I was saying to myself: "A trap! Langdon has gone back to his wife. She
turns to me." And I loved her and hated her. "Never," thought I, "has she
shown so poor an opinion of me as now."

"My uncle told me day before yesterday that it was not he but you," she
said, lifting her eyes to mine. It is inconceivable to me now that I could
have misread their honest story; yet I did.

"I had no idea your uncle's notion of honor was also eccentric," said I,
with a satirical smile that made the blood rush to her face.

"That is unjust to him," she replied earnestly.

"He says he made you no promise of secrecy. And he confessed to me only
because he wished to convince me that he had good reason for his high
opinion of you."

"Really!" said I ironically. "And no doubt he found you open wide to
conviction--_now_." This a subtlety to let her know that I understood
why she was seeking me.

"No," she answered, lowering her eyes. "I knew--better than he."

For an instant this, spoken in a voice I had long given up hope of ever
hearing from her, staggered my cynical conviction. But-- "Possibly she
thinks she is sincere," reasoned my head with my heart; "even the sincerest
women, brought up as was she, always have the calculator underneath; they
deny it, they don't know it often, but there it is; with them, calculation
is as involuntary and automatic as their pulse." So, I said to her,
mockingly: "Doubtless your opinion of me has been improving steadily ever
since you heard that Mrs. Langdon had recovered her husband."

She winced, as if I had struck her. "Oh!" she murmured. If she had been
the ordinary woman, who in every crisis with man instinctively resorts to
weakness' strongest weakness, tears, I might have a different story to
tell. But she fought back the tears in which her eyes were swimming and
gathered herself together. "That is brutal," she said, with not a touch of
haughtiness, but not humbly, either. "But I deserve it."

"There was a time," I went on, swept in a swift current of cold rage,
"there was a time when I would have taken you on almost any terms. A man
never makes a complete fool of himself about a woman but once in his life,
they say. I have done my stretch--and it is over."

She sighed wearily. "Langdon came to see me soon after I left your house,
and went to my uncle," she said. "I will tell you what happened."

"I do not wish to hear," replied I, adding pointedly, "I have been waiting
ever since you left for news of your plans."

She grew white, and my heart smote me. She came into the room and seated
herself. "Won't you stop, please, for a moment longer?" she said. "I hope
that, at, least, we can part without bitterness. I understand now that
everything is over between us. A woman's vanity makes her belief that a man
cares for her die hard. I am convinced now--I assure you, I am. I shall
trouble you no more about the past. But I have the right to ask you to hear
me when I say that Langdon came, and that I myself sent him away; sent him
back to his wife."

"Touching self-sacrifice," said I ironically.

"No," she replied. "I can not claim any credit. I sent him away only
because you and Alva had taught me how to judge him better. I do not
despise him as do you; I know too well what has made him what he is. But
I had to send him away."

My comment was an incredulous look and shrug. "I must be going," I said.

"You do not believe me?" she asked.

"In my place, would you believe?" replied I. "You say I have taught you.
Well, you have taught me, too--for instance, that the years you've spent on
your knees in the musty temple of conventionality before false gods have
made you--fit only for the Langdon sort of thing. You can't learn how to
stand erect, and your eyes can not bear the light."

"I am sorry," she said slowly, hesitatingly, "that your faith in me died
just when I might, perhaps, have justified it. Ours has been a pitiful
series of misunderstandings."

"A trap! A trap!" I was warning myself. "You've been a fool long enough,
Blacklock." And aloud I said: "Well, Anita, the series is ended now.
There's no longer any occasion for our lying or posing to each other.
Any arrangements your uncle's lawyers suggest will be made."

I was bowing, to leave without shaking hands with her. But she would not
have it so. "Please!" she said, stretching out her long, slender arm and
offering me her hand.

What a devil possessed me that day! With every atom of me longing for her,
I yet was able to take her hand and say, with a smile, that was, I doubt
not, as mocking as my tone: "By all means let us be friends. And I trust
you will not think me discourteous if I say that I shall feel safer in our
friendship when we are both on neutral ground."

As I was turning away, her look, my own heart, made me turn again. I caught
her by the shoulders. I gazed into her eyes. "If I could only trust you,
could only believe you!" I cried.

"You cared for me when I wasn't worth it," she said. "Now that I am more
like what you once imagined me, you do not care."

Up between us rose Langdon's face--cynical, mocking, contemptuous. "Your
heart is _his_! You told me so! Don't _lie_ to me!" I exclaimed.
And before she could reply, I was gone.

Out from under the spell of her presence, back among the tricksters and
assassins, the traps and ambushes of Wall Street, I believed again;
believed firmly the promptings of the devil that possessed me. "She would
have given you a brief fool's paradise," said that devil. "Then what
a hideous awakening!" And I cursed the day when New York's insidious
snobbishness had tempted my vanity into starting me on that degrading chase
after "respectability."

"If she does not move to free herself soon," said I to myself, "I will put
my own lawyer to work. My right eye offends me. I will pluck it out."




XXXV

"WILD WEEK"


"The Seven" made their fatal move on treacherous Updegraff's treacherous
advice, I suspect. But they would not have adopted his suggestion had
it not been so exactly congenial to their own temper of arrogance and
tyranny and contempt for the people who meekly, year after year, presented
themselves for the shearing with fatuous bleats of enthusiasm.

"The Seven," of course, controlled directly, or indirectly, all but a
few of the newspapers with which I had advertising contracts. They also
controlled the main sources through which the press was supplied with
news--and often and well they had used this control, and surprisingly
cautious had they been not so to abuse it that the editors and the public
would become suspicious. When my war was at its height, when I was
beginning to congratulate myself that the huge magazines of "The Seven"
were empty almost to the point at which they must sue for peace on my own
terms, all in four days forty-three of my sixty-seven newspapers--and they
the most important--notified me that they would no longer carry out their
contracts to publish my daily letter. They gave as their reason, not the
real one, fear of "The Seven," but fear that I would involve them in
ruinous libel suits. I who had _legal_ proof for every statement I
made; I who was always careful to understate! Next, one press association
after another ceased to send out my letter as news, though they had been
doing so regularly for months. The public had grown tired of the
"sensation," they said.

I countered with a telegram to one or more newspapers in every city and
large town in the United States:

"'The Seven' are trying to cut the wires between the truth and the public.
If you wish my daily letter, telegraph me direct and I will send it at my
expense."

The response should have warned "The Seven." But it did not. Under their
orders the telegraph companies refused to transmit the letter. I got an
injunction. It was obeyed in typical, corrupt corporation fashion--they
sent my matter, but so garbled that it was unintelligible. I appealed to
the courts. In vain.

To me, it was clear as sun in cloudless noonday sky that there could be but
one result of this insolent and despotic denial of my rights and the rights
of the people, this public confession of the truth of my charges. I turned
everything salable or mortgageable into cash, locked the cash up in my
private vaults, and waited for the cataclysm.

Thursday--Friday--Saturday. Apparently all was tranquil; apparently the
people accepted the Wall Street theory that I was an "exploded sensation."
"The Seven" began to preen themselves; the strain upon them to maintain
prices, if no less than for three months past, was not notably greater; the
crisis would pass, I and my exposures would be forgotten, the routine of
reaping the harvests and leaving only the gleanings for the sowers would
soon be placidly resumed.

Sunday. Roebuck, taken ill as he was passing the basket in the church of
which he was the shining light, died at midnight--a beautiful, peaceful
death, they say, with his daughter reading the Bible aloud, and his lips
moving in prayer. Some hold that, had he lived, the tranquillity would have
continued; but this is the view of those who can not realize that the tide
of affairs is no more controlled by the "great men" than is the river led
down to the sea by its surface flotsam, by which we measure the speed and
direction of its current. Under that terrific tension, which to the shallow
seemed a calm, something had to give way. If the dam had not yielded where
Roebuck stood guard, it must have yielded somewhere else, or might have
gone all in one grand crash.

Monday. You know the story of the artist and his Statue of Grief--how
he molded the features a hundred times, always failing, always getting
an anti-climax, until at last in despair he gave up the impossible and
finished the statue with a veil over the face. I have tried again and again
to assemble words that would give some not too inadequate impression of
that tremendous week in which, with a succession of explosions, each like
the crack of doom, the financial structure that housed eighty millions of
people burst, collapsed, was engulfed. I can not. I must leave it to your
memory or your imagination.

For years the financial leaders, crazed by the excess of power which the
people had in ignorance and over-confidence and slovenly good-nature
permitted them to acquire, had been tearing out the honest foundations on
which alone so vast a structure can hope to rest solid and secure. They
had been substituting rotten beams painted to look like stone and iron.
The crash had to come; the sooner, the better--when a thing is wrong, each
day's delay compounds the cost of righting it. So, with all the horrors of
"Wild Week" in mind, all its physical and mental suffering, all its ruin
and rioting and bloodshed, I still can insist that I am justly proud of my
share in bringing it about. The blame and the shame are wholly upon those
who made "Wild Week" necessary and inevitable.

In catastrophes, the cry is "Each for himself!" But in a cataclysm, the
obvious wise selfishness is generosity, and the cry is, "Stand together,
for, singly, we perish." This was a cataclysm. No one could save himself,
except the few who, taking my often-urged advice and following my example,
had entered the ark of ready money. Farmer and artisan and professional man
and laborer owed merchant; merchant owed banker; banker owed depositor. No
one could pay because no one could get what was due him or could realize
upon his property. The endless chain of credit that binds together the
whole of modern society had snapped in a thousand places. It must be
repaired, instantly and securely. But how--and by whom?

I issued a clear statement of the situation; I showed in minute detail how
the people standing together under the leadership of the honest men of
property could easily force the big bandits to consent to an honest, just,
rock-founded, iron-built reconstruction. My statement appeared in all the
morning papers throughout the land. Turn back to it; read it. You will say
that I was right. Well--

Toward two o'clock Inspector Crawford came into my private office, escorted
by Joe. I saw in Joe's seamed, green-gray face that some new danger had
arisen. "You've got to get out of this," said he. "The mob in front of our
place fills the three streets. It's made up of crowds turned away from the
suspended banks."

I remembered the sullen faces and the hisses as I entered the office that
morning earlier than usual. My windows were closed to keep out the street
noises; but now that my mind was up from the work in which I had been
absorbed, I could hear the sounds of many voices, even through the thick
plate glass.

"We've got two hundred policemen here," said the inspector. "Five hundred
more are on the way. But--really, Mr. Blacklock, unless we can get you
away, there'll be serious trouble. Those damn newspapers! Every one of them
denounced you this morning, and the people are in a fury against you."

I went toward the door.

"Hold on, Matt!" cried Joe, springing at me and seizing me, "Where are you
going?"

"To tell them what I think of them," replied I, sweeping him aside. For my
blood was up, and I was enraged against the poor cowardly fools.

"For God's sake don't show yourself!" he begged. "If you don't care for
your own life, think of the rest of us. We've fixed a route through
buildings and under streets up to Broadway. Your electric is waiting for
you there."

"It won't do," I said. "I'll face 'em--it's the only way."

I went to the window, and was about to throw up one of the sunblinds for
a look at them; Crawford stopped me. "They'll stone the building and then
storm it," said he. "You must go at once, by the route we've arranged."

"Even if you tell them I'm gone, they won't believe it," replied I.

"We can look out for that," said Joe, eager to save me, and caring nothing
about consequences to himself. But I had unsettled the inspector.

"Send for my electric to come down here," said I. "I'll go out alone and
get in it and drive away."

"That'll never do!" cried Joe.

But the inspector said: "You're right, Mr. Blacklock. It's a bare chance.
You may take 'em by surprise. Again, some fellow may yell and throw a stone
and--" He did not need to finish.

Joe looked wildly at me. "You mustn't do it, Matt!" he exclaimed. "You'll
precipitate a riot, Crawford, if you permit this."

But the inspector was telephoning for my electric. Then he went into the
adjoining room, where he commanded a view of the entrance. Silence between
Joe and me until he returned.

"The electric is coming down the street," said he.

I rose. "Good," said I. "I'm ready."

"Wait until the other police get here," advised Crawford.

"If the mob is in the temper you describe," said I, "the less that's done
to irritate it the better. I must go out as if I hadn't a suspicion of
danger."

The inspector eyed me with an expression that was highly flattering to my
vanity.

"I'll go with you," said Joe, starting up from his stupor.

"No," I replied. "You and the other fellows can take the underground route,
if it's necessary."

"It won't be necessary," put in the inspector. "As soon as I'm rid of you
and have my additional force, I'll clear the streets." He went to the door.
"Wait, Mr. Blacklock, until I've had time to get out to my men."

Perhaps ten seconds after he disappeared, I, without further words, put on
my hat, lit a cigar, shook Joe's wet, trembling hand, left in it my private
keys and the memorandum of the combination of my private vault. Then I
sallied forth.

I had always had a ravenous appetite for excitement, and I had been in
many a tight place; but for the first time there seemed to me to be an
equilibrium between my internal energy and the outside situation. As I
stepped from my street door and glanced about me, I had no feeling of
danger. The whole situation seemed so simple. There stood the electric,
just across the narrow stretch of sidewalk; there were the two hundred
police, under Crawford's orders, scattered everywhere through the crowd,
and good-naturedly jostling and pushing to create distraction. Without
haste, I got into my machine. I calmly met the gaze of those thousands,
quiet as so many barrels of gunpowder before the explosion. The chauffeur
turned the machine.

"Go slow," I called to him. "You might hurt somebody."

But he had his orders from the inspector. He suddenly darted ahead at full
speed. The mob scattered in every direction, and we were in Broadway, bound
up town full-tilt, before I or the mob realized what he was about.

I called to him to slow down. He paid not the slightest attention. I leaned
from the window and looked up at him. It was not my chauffeur; it was a man
who had the unmistakable but indescribable marks of the plain-clothes
policeman.

"Where are you going?" I shouted.

"You'll find out when we arrive," he shouted back, grinning.

I settled myself and waited--what else was there to do? Soon I guessed we
were headed for the pier off which my yacht was anchored. As we dashed on
to it, I saw that it was filled with police, both in uniform and in plain
clothes. I descended. A detective sergeant stepped up to me. "We are here
to help you to your yacht," he explained. "You wouldn't be safe anywhere in
New York--no more would the place that harbored you."

He had both common sense and force on his side. I got into the launch. Four
detective sergeants accompanied me and went aboard with me. "Go ahead,"
said one of them to my captain. He looked at me for orders.

"We are in the hands of our guests," said I. "Let them have their way."

We steamed down the bay and out to sea.

       *       *       *       *       *

From Maine to Texas the cry rose and swelled:

"Blacklock is responsible! What does it matter whether he lied or told the
truth? See the results of his crusade! He ought to be pilloried! He ought
to be killed! He is the enemy of the human race. He has almost plunged
the whole civilized world into bankruptcy and civil war." And they turned
eagerly to the very autocrats who had been oppressing them. "You have the
genius for finance and industry. Save us!"

If you did not know, you could guess how those patriots with the "genius
for finance and industry" responded. When they had done, when their program
was in effect, Langdon, Melville and Updegraff were the three richest men
in the country, and as powerful as Octavius, Antony and Lepidus after
Philippi. They had saddled upon the reorganized finance and industry of the
nation heavier taxes than ever, and a vaster and more expensive and more
luxurious army of their parasites.

The people had risen for financial and industrial freedom; they had paid
its fearful price; then, in senseless panic and terror, they flung it away.
I have read that one of the inscriptions on Apollo's temple at Delphi was,
"Man, the fool of the farce." Truly, the gods must have created us for
their amusement; and when Olympus palls, they ring up the curtain on some
such screaming comedy as was that. It "makes the fancy chuckle, while the
heart doth ache."




XXXVI

"BLACK MATT'S" TRIUMPH


My enemies caused it to be widely believed that "Wild Week" was my
deliberate contrivance for the sole purpose of enriching myself. Thus they
got me a reputation for almost superhuman daring, for satanic astuteness at
cold-blooded calculation. I do not deserve the admiration and respect that
my success-worshiping fellow countrymen lay at my feet. True, I did greatly
enrich myself; but _not until the Monday after Wild Week_.

Not until I had pondered on men and events with the assistance of the
newspapers my detective protectors and jailers permitted to be brought
aboard--not until the last hope of turning Wild Week to the immediate
public advantage had sputtered out like a lost man's last match, did I
think of benefiting myself, of seizing the opportunity to strengthen myself
for the future. On Monday morning, I said to Sergeant Mulholland: "I want
to go ashore at once and send some telegrams."

The sergeant is one of the detective bureau's "dress-suit men." He is by
nature phlegmatic and cynical. His experience has put over that a veneer
of weary politeness. We had become great friends during our enforced
inseparable companionship. For Joe, who looked on me somewhat as a mother
looks on a brilliant but erratic son, had, as I soon discovered, elaborated
a wonderful program for me. It included a watch on me day and night, lest,
through rage or despondency, I should try to do violence to myself. A fine
character, that Joe! But, to return, Mulholland answered my request for
shore-leave with a soothing smile. "Can't do it, Mr. Blacklock," he said.
"Our orders are positive. But when we put in at New London and send ashore
for further instructions, and for the papers, you can send in your
messages."

"As you please," said I. And I gave him a cipher telegram to Joe--an order
to invest my store of cash, which meant practically my whole fortune, in
the gilt-edged securities that were to be had for cash at a small fraction
of their value.

This on the Monday after Wild Week, please note. I would have helped the
people to deliver themselves from the bondage of the bandits. They would
not have it. I would even have sacrificed my all in trying to save them in
spite of themselves. But what is one sane man against a stampeded multitude
of maniacs? For confirmation of my disinterestedness, I point to all those
weeks and months during which I waged costly warfare on "The Seven," who
would gladly have given me more than I now have, could I have been bribed
to desist. But, when I was compelled to admit that I had overestimated my
fellow men, that the people wear the yoke because they have not yet become
intelligent and competent enough to be free, then and not until then did I
abandon the hopeless struggle.

And I did not go over to the bandits; I simply resumed my own neglected
personal affairs and made Wild Week at least a personal triumph.

There is nothing of the spectacular in my make-up. I have no belief in
the value of martyrs and martyrdom. Causes are not won--and in my humble
opinion never have been won--in the graveyards. Alive and afoot and armed,
and true to my cause, I am the dreaded menace to systematic and respectable
robbery. What possible good could have come of mobs killing me and the
bandits dividing my estate?

But why should I seek to justify myself? I care not a rap for the opinion
of my fellow men. They sought my life when they should have been hailing me
as a deliverer; now, they look up to me because they falsely believe me
guilty of an infamy.

My guards expected to be recalled on Tuesday. But Melville heard what
Crawford had done about me, and straightway used his influence to have me
detained until the new grip of the old gang was secure. Saturday afternoon
we put in at Newport for the daily communication with the shore. When the
launch returned, Mulholland brought the papers to me, lounging aft in a
mass of cushions under the awning. "We are going ashore," said he. "The
order has come."

I had a sudden sense of loneliness. "I'll take you down to New York," said
I. "I prefer to land my guests where I shipped them."

As we steamed slowly westward I read the papers. The country was rapidly
readjusting itself, was returning to the conditions before the upheaval.
The "financiers"--the same old gang, except for a few of the weaker
brethren ruined and a few strong outsiders, who had slipped in during the
confusion--were employing all the old, familiar devices for deceiving and
robbing the people. The upset milking-stool was righted, and the milker was
seated again and busy, the good old cow standing without so much as shake
of horn or switch of tail. "Mulholland," said I, "what do you think of this
business of living?"

"I'll tell you, Mr. Blacklock," said he. "I used to fuss and fret a good
deal about it. But I don't any more. I've got a house up in the Bronx,
and a bit of land round it. And there's Mrs. Mulholland and four little
Mulhollands and me--that's my country and my party and my religion. The
rest is off my beat, and I don't give a damn for it. I don't care which
fakir gets to be president, or which swindler gets to be rich. Everything
works out somehow, and the best any man can do is to mind his own
business."

"Mulholland--Mrs. Mulholland--four little Mulhollands," said I
reflectively. "That's about as much as one man could attend to properly.
And--you are 'on the level,' aren't you?"

"Some say honesty's the best policy," replied he. "Some say it isn't. I
don't know, and I don't care, whether it is or it isn't. It's _my_
policy. And we six seem to have got along on it so far."

I sent my "guests" ashore the next morning.

"No, I'll stay aboard," said I to Mulholland, as he stood aside for me to
precede him down the gangway from the launch. I went into the watch-pocket
of my trousers and drew out the folded two one-thousand-dollar bills I
always carried--it was a habit formed in my youthful, gambling days. I
handed him one of the bills. He hesitated.

"For the four little Mulhollands," I urged.

He put it in his pocket. I watched him and his men depart with a heavy
heart. I felt alone, horribly alone, without a tie or an interest. Some of
the morning papers spoke respectfully of me as one of the strong men who
had ridden the flood and had been landed by it on the heights of wealth
and power. Admiration and envy lurked even in sneers at my "unscrupulous
plotting." Since I had wealth, plenty of wealth, I did not need character.
Of what use was character in such a world except as a commodity to exchange
for wealth?

"Any orders, sir?" interrupted my captain.

I looked round that vast and vivid scene of sea and land activities. I
looked along the city's titanic sky-line--the mighty fortresses of trade
and commerce piercing the heavens and flinging to the wind their black
banners of defiance. I felt that I was under the walls of hell itself.

"To get away from this," replied I to the waiting captain. "Go back down
the Sound--to Dawn Hill."

Yes, I would go to the peaceful, soothing country, to my dogs and horses
and those faithful servants bound to me by our common love for the same
animals. "Men to cross swords with, to amuse oneself with," I mused; "but
dogs and horses to live with." I pictured myself at the kennels--the joyful
uproar the instant instinct warned the dogs of my coming; how they would
leap and bark and tremble in a very ecstasy of delight as I stood among
them; how jealous all the others would be, as I selected one to caress.

"Send her ahead as fast as she'll go," I called to the captain.

As the _Albatross_ steamed into the little harbor, I saw Mowbray
Langdon's _Indolence_ at anchor. I glanced toward Steuben Point--where
his cousins, the Vivians, lived--and thought I recognized his launch at
their pier. We saluted the _Indolence_; the _Indolence_ saluted
us. My launch was piped away and took me ashore. I strolled along the path
that wound round the base of the hill toward the kennels. At the crossing
of the path down from the house, I paused and lingered on the glimpse
of one of the corner towers of the great showy palace. I was muttering
something--I listened to myself. It was: "Mulholland, Mrs. Mulholland and
the four little Mulhollands." And I felt like laughing aloud, such a joke
was it that I should be envying a policeman his potato patch and his fat
wife and his four brats, and that he should be in a position to pity me.

You may be imagining that, through all, Anita had been dominating my mind.
That is the way it is in the romances; but not in life. No doubt there are
men who brood upon the impossible, and moon and maunder away their lives
over the grave of a dead love; no doubt there are people who will say that,
because I did not shoot Langdon or her, or myself, or fly to a desert or
pose in the crowded places of the world as the last scene of a tragedy,
I therefore cared little about her. I offer them this suggestion: A man
strong enough to give a love worth a woman's while is strong enough to live
on without her when he finds he may not live with her.

As I stood there that summer day, looking toward the crest of the hill,
at the mocking mausoleum of my dead dream, I realized what the incessant
battle of the Street had meant to me. "There is peace for me only in the
storm," said I. "But, thank God, there is peace for me somewhere."

Through the foliage I had glimpses of some one coming slowly down the
zigzag path. Presently, at one of the turnings half-way up the hill,
appeared Mowbray Langdon. "What is he doing here," thought I, scarcely able
to believe my eyes. "Here of all places!" And then I forgot the strangeness
of his being at Dawn Hill in the strangeness of his expression. For it was
apparent, even at the distance which separated us, that he was suffering
from some great and recent blow. He looked old and haggard; he walked like
a man who neither knows nor cares where he is going.

He had not seen me, and my impulse was to avoid him by continuing on toward
the kennels. I had no especial feeling against him; I had not lost Anita
because she cared for him or he for her, but because she did not care for
me--simply that to meet would be awkward, disagreeable for us both. At the
slight noise of my movement to go on, he halted, glanced round eagerly,
as if he hoped the sound had been made by some one he wished to see. His
glance fell on me. He stopped short, was for an instant disconcerted; then
his face lighted up with devilish joy. "You!" he cried. "Just the man!" And
he descended more rapidly.

At first I could make nothing of this remark. But as he drew nearer and
nearer, and his ugly mood became more and more apparent, I felt that he was
looking forward to provoking me into giving him a distraction from whatever
was tormenting him. I waited. A few minutes and we were face to face, I
outwardly calm, but my anger slowly lighting up as he deliberately applied
to it the torch of his insolent eyes. He was wearing his old familiar
air of cynical assurance. Evidently, with his recovered fortune, he had
recovered his conviction of his great superiority to the rest of the human
race--the child had climbed back on the chair that made it tall and had
forgotten its tumble. And I was wondering again that I, so short a time
before, had been crude enough to be fascinated and fooled by those tawdry
posings and pretenses. For the man, as I now saw him, was obviously shallow
and vain, a slave to those poor "man-of-the-world" passions--ostentation
and cynicism and skill at vices old as mankind and tedious as a treadmill,
the commonplace routine of the idle and foolish and purposeless. A clever,
handsome fellow, but the more pitiful that he was by nature above the uses
to which he prostituted himself.

He fought hard to keep his eyes steadily on mine; but they would waver and
shift. Not, however, before I had found deep down in them the beginnings
of fear. "You see, you were mistaken," said I. "You have nothing to say to
me--or I to you."

He knew I had looked straight to the bottom of his real self, and had seen
the coward that is in every man who has been bred to appearances only. Up
rose his vanity, the coward's substitute for courage.

"You think I am afraid of you?" he sneered, bluffing and blustering like
the school bully.

"I don't in the least care whether you are or not," replied I. "What are
you doing here, anyhow?"

It was as if I had thrown off the cover of a furnace. "I came to get the
woman I love," he cried. "You stole her from me! You tricked me! But, by
God, Blacklock, I'll never pause until I get her back and punish you!"
He was brave enough now, drunk with the fumes from his brave words. "All
my life," he raged arrogantly on, "I've had whatever I wanted. I've let
nothing interfere--nothing and nobody. I've been too forbearing with
you--first, because I knew she could never care for you, and, then, because
I rather admired your pluck and impudence. I like to see fellows kick their
way up among us from the common people."

I put my hand on his shoulder. No doubt the fiend that rose within me, as
from the dead, looked at him from my eyes. He has great physical strength,
but he winced under that weight and grip, and across his face flitted the
terror that must come to any man at first sense of being in the angry
clutch of one stronger than he. I slowly released him--I had tested and
realized my physical superiority; to use it would be cheap and cowardly.

"You can't provoke me to descend to your level," said I, with the easy
philosophy of him who clearly has the better of the argument.

He was shaking from head to foot, not with terror, but with impotent rage.
How much we owe to accident! The mere accident of my physical superiority
had put him at hopeless disadvantage; had made him feel inferior to me as
no victory of mental or moral superiority could possibly have done. And I
myself felt a greater contempt for him than the discovery of his treachery
and his shallowness had together inspired.

"I shan't indulge in flapdoodle," I went on. "I'll be frank. A year ago, if
any man had faced me with a claim upon a woman who was married to me, I'd
probably have dealt with him as your vanity and what you call 'honor' would
force you to try to deal with a similar situation. But I live to learn, and
I'm, fortunately, not afraid to follow a new light. There is the vanity of
so-called honor; there as also the demand of justice--of fair play. As I
have told her, so I now tell you--she is free to go. But I shall say one
thing to you that I did not say to her. If you do not deal fairly with her,
I shall see to it that there are ten thorns to every rose in that bed of
roses on which you lie. You are contemptible in many ways--perhaps that's
why women like you. But there must be some good in you, or possibilities of
good, or you could not have won and kept her love."

He was staring at me with a dazed expression. I rather expected him to show
some of that amused contempt with which men of his sort always receive a
new idea that is beyond the range of their narrow, conventional minds. For
I did not expect him to understand why I was not only willing, but even
eager, to relinquish a woman whom I could hold only by asserting a property
right in her. And I do not think he did understand me, though his manner
changed to a sort of grudging respect. He was, I believe, about to make
some impulsive, generous speech, when we heard the quick strokes of
iron-shod hoofs on the path from the kennels and the stables--is there
any sound more arresting? Past us at a gallop swept a horse, on his
back--Anita. She was not in riding-habit; the wind fluttered the sleeves of
her blouse, blew her uncovered hair this way and that about her beautiful
face. She sped on toward the landing, though I fancied she had seen us.

Anita at Dawn Hill--Langdon, in a furious temper, descending from the house
toward the landing--Anita presently, riding like mad--"to overtake him,"
thought I. And I read confirmation in his triumphant eyes. In another
mood, I suppose my fury would have been beyond my power to restrain it.
Just then--the day grew dark for me, and I wanted to hide away somewhere.
Heart-sick, I was ashamed for her, hated myself for having blundered into
surprising her.

She reappeared at the turn round which she had vanished. I now tooted that
she was riding without saddle or bridle, with only a halter round the
horse's neck--then she had seen us, had stopped and come back as soon as
she could. She dropped from the horse, looked swiftly at me, at him, at me
again, with intense anxiety.

"I saw your yacht in the harbor only a moment ago," she said to me. She was
almost panting. "I feared you might meet him. So I came."

"As you see, he is quite--intact," said I. "I must ask that you and he
leave the place at once." And I went rapidly along the path toward the
kennels.

An exclamation from Langdon forced me to turn in spite of myself. He was
half-kneeling, was holding her in his arms. At that sight, the savage in
me shook himself free. I dashed toward them with I knew not what curses
bursting from me. Langdon, intent upon her, did not realize until I sent
him reeling backward to the earth and snatched her up. Her white face, her
closed eyes, her limp form made my fury instantly collapse. In my confusion
I thought that she was dead. I laid her gently on the grass and supported
her head, so small, so gloriously crowned, the face so still and sweet and
white, like the stainless entrance to a stainless shrine. How that horrible
fear changed my whole way of looking at her, at him, at her and him, at
everything!

Her eyelids were quivering--her eyes were opening--her bosom was rising and
falling slowly as she drew long, uncertain breaths. She shuddered, sat up,
started up. "Go! go!" she cried. "Bring him back! Bring him back! Bring
him--"

There she recognized me. "Oh," she said, and gave a great sigh of relief.
She leaned against a tree and looked at Langdon. "You are still here? Then
tell him."

Langdon gazed sullenly at the ground. "I can't," he answered. "I don't
believe it. Besides--he has given you to me. Let us go. Let me take you to
the Vivians." He threw out his arms in a wild, passionate gesture; he was
utterly unlike himself. His emotion burst through and shattered pose and
cynicism and hard crust of selfishness like the exploding powder bursting
the shell. "I can't give you up, Anita!" he exclaimed in a tone of utter
desperation. "I can't! I can't!"

But her gaze was all this time steadily on me, as if she feared I would go,
should she look away. "I will tell you myself," she said rapidly, to me.
"We--uncle Howard and I--read in the papers how they had all turned against
you, and he brought me over here. He has been telegraphing for you. This
morning he went to town to search for you. About an hour ago Langdon came.
I refused to see him, as I have ever since the time I told you about at
Alva's. He persisted, until at last I had the servant request him to leave
the house."

"But _now_ there's no longer any reason for your staying, Anita," he
pleaded. "He has said you are free. Why stay when _you_ would really
no more be here than if you were to go, leaving one of your empty dresses?"

She had not for an instant taken her gaze from me; and so strange were her
eyes, so compelling, that I seemed unable to move or speak.

But now she released me to blaze upon him--and never shall I forget any
detail of her face or voice as she said to him: "That is false, Mowbray
Langdon. I told you the truth when I told you I loved him!"

So violent was her emotion that she had to pause for self-control. And I?
I was overwhelmed, dazed, stunned. When she went on, she was looking at
neither of us. "Yes, I loved him, almost from the first--from the day he
came to the box at the races. I was ashamed, poor creature that my parents
had made me! I was ashamed of it. And I tried to hate him, and thought I
did. And when he showed me that he no longer cared, my pride goaded me into
the folly of trying to listen to you. But I loved him more than ever. And
as you and he stand here, I am ashamed again--ashamed that I was ever so
blind and ignorant and prejudiced as to compare him with"--she looked at
Langdon--"with you. Do you believe me now--now that I humble myself before
him here in your presence?"

I should have had no heart at all if I had not felt pity for him. His face
was gray, and on it were those signs of age that strong emotion brings to
the surface after forty. "You could have convinced me in no other way," he
replied, after a silence, and in a voice I should not have recognized.

Silence again. Presently he raised his head, and with something of his old
cynicism bowed to her.

"You have avenged much and many," said he. "I have often had a presentiment
that my day of wrath would come."

He lifted his hat, bowed to me without looking at me, and, drawing the
tatters of his pose still further over his wounds, moved away toward the
landing.

I, still in a stupor, watched him until he had disappeared. When I turned
to her, she dropped her eyes. "Uncle Howard will be back this afternoon,"
said she. "If I may, I'll stay at the house until he comes to take me."

A weary, half-suppressed sigh escaped from her. I knew how she must be
reading my silence, but I was still unable to speak. She went to the horse,
browsing near by; she stroked his muzzle. Lingeringly she twined her
fingers in his mane, as if about to spring to his back! That reminded me of
a thousand and one changes in her--little changes, each a trifle in itself,
yet, taken all together, making a complete transformation.

"Let me help you," I managed to say. And I bent, and made a step of my
hand.

She touched her fingers to my shoulder, set her narrow, graceful foot upon
my palm. But she did not rise. I glanced up; she was gazing wistfully down
at me.

"Women have to learn by experience just as do men," said she forlornly.
"Yet men will not tolerate it."

I suppose I must suddenly have looked what I was unable to put into
words--for her eyes grew very wide, and, with a cry that was a sigh and a
sob, and a laugh and a caress all in one, she slid into my arms and her
face was burning against mine.

"Do you remember the night at the theater," she murmured, "when your lips
almost touched my neck?--I loved you then--Black Matt--_Black Matt_!"

And I found voice; and the horse wandered away.

       *       *       *       *       *

What more?

How Langdon eased his pain and soothed his vanity? Whenever an old
Babylonian nobleman had a misfortune, he used to order all his slaves to be
lashed, that their shrieks and moans might join his in appeasing the god
who was punishing him. Langdon went back to Wall Street, and for months he
made all within his power suffer; in his fury he smashed fortunes, lowered
wages, raised prices, reveled in the blasts of a storm of impotent curses.
But you do not care to hear about that.

As for myself, what could I tell that you do not know or guess? Now that
all men, even the rich, even the parasites of the bandits, groan under
their tyranny and their taxes, is it strange that the resentment against me
has disappeared, that my warnings are remembered, that I am popular? I
might forecast what I purpose to do when the time is ripe. But I am not
given to prophecy. I will only say that I think I shall, in due season, go
into action again--profiting by my experience in the futility of trying to
hasten evolution by revolution. Meanwhile--

As I write, I can look up from the paper, and out upon the lawn, at a
woman--what a woman!--teaching a baby to walk. And, assisting her, there
is a boy, himself not yet an expert at walking. I doubt if you'd have to
glance twice at that boy to know he is my son. Well--I have borrowed a leaf
from Mulholland's philosophy. I commend it to you.




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