Part 2 out of 6
"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
"Excuse me a moment, Blacklock," said he, rising with what was for him
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
"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
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.
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
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
"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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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.
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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."
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"But I barely know these people--socially. I never called there," I
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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."
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
"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!
"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
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
"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
She lowered her head. "It is true," she said. "It is low and vile, but it
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"I try to look on the bright side of things." said I, "even of human
"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
"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.
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 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
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
"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
"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
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
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
And I had staked up to, perhaps beyond, my limit of safety that Textile
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
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