Part 3 out of 6
in earnest about anything, that on winning her I had staked myself, and
that myself was a wholly different person from what I had been imagining.
In a word, I sat face to face with that unfathomable mystery of
sex-affinity that every man laughs at and mocks another man for believing
in, until he has himself felt it drawing him against will, against reason,
and sense, and interest, over the brink of destruction yawning before his
eyes--drawing him as the magnet-mountain drew Sindbad and his ship. And I
say to you that those who can defy and resist that compulsion are not more,
but less, than man or woman; and their fancied strength is in reality a
deficiency. Looking calmly back upon my follies under her spell, I think
the better of myself for them. It is the splendid follies of life that
redeem it from vulgarity.
But--it is not in me to despair. There never yet was an impenetrable siege
line; to escape, it is only necessary by craft or by chance to hit upon the
moment and the spot for the sortie. "Ruined!" I said aloud. "Trapped and
trimmed like the stupidest sucker that ever wandered into Wall Street! A
dead one, no doubt; but I'll see to it that they don't enjoy my funeral."
A GENTEEL "HOLD-UP"
In my childhood at home, my father was often away for a week or longer,
working or looking for work. My mother had a notion that a boy should
be punished only by his father; so, whenever she caught me in what she
regarded as a serious transgression, she used to say: "You will get a
good whipping for this, when your father comes home." At first I used to
wait passively, suffering the torments of ten thrashings before the "good
whipping" came to pass. But soon my mind began to employ the interval more
profitably. I would scheme to escape execution of sentence; and, though my
mother was a determined woman, many's the time I contrived to change her
mind. I am not recommending to parents the system of delay in execution
of sentence; but I must say that in my case it was responsible for an
invaluable discipline. For example, the Textile tangle.
I knew I was in all human probability doomed to go down before the Stock
Exchange had been open an hour the next morning. All Textile stocks must
start many points higher than they had been at the close, must go steadily
and swiftly up. Entangled as my reserve resources were in the Coal deal, I
should have no chance to cover my shorts on any terms less than the loss
of all I had. At most, I could hope only to save myself from criminal
And now my early training in coolly and calmly studying how to avert
execution of sentence came into play. There is a kind of cornered-rat,
hit-or-miss, last-ditch fight that any creature will make in such
circumstances as mine then were, and the inspirations of despair sometimes
happen to be lucky. But I prefer the reasoned-out plan.
There was no signal of distress in my voice as I telephoned Corey,
president of the Interstate Trust Company, to stay at his office until I
came; there was no signal of distress in my manner as I sallied forth and
went down to the Power Trust Building; nor did I show or suggest that I had
heard the "shot-at-sunrise" sentence, as I strode into Roebuck's presence
and greeted him. I was assuming, by way of precaution, that some rumor
about me either had reached him or would soon reach him. I knew he had
an eye in every secret of finance and industry, and, while I believed my
secret was wholly my own, I had too much at stake with him to bank on that,
when I could, as I thought, so easily reassure him.
"I've come to suggest, Mr. Roebuck," said I, "that you let my
house--Blacklock and Company--announce the Coal reorganization plan. It
would give me a great lift, and Melville and his bank don't need prestige.
My daily letters to the public on investments have, as you know, got me
a big following that would help me make the flotation an even bigger
success than it's bound to be, no matter who announces it and invites
As I thus proposed that I be in a jiffy caught up from the extremely
humble level of reputed bucket-shop dealer into the highest heaven of high
finance, that I be made the official spokesman of the financial gods, his
expression was so ludicrous that I almost lost my gravity. I suspect, for
a moment he thought I had gone mad. His manner, when he recovered himself
sufficiently to speak, was certainly not unlike what it would have been
had he found himself alone before a dangerous lunatic who was armed with a
"You know how anxious I am to help you, to further your interests,
Matthew," said he wheedlingly. "I know no man who has a brighter future.
But--not so fast, not so fast, young man. Of course, you will appear as
one of the reorganizing committee--but we could not afford to have the
announcement come through any less strong and old established house than
the National Industrial Bank."
"At least, you can make me joint announcer with them," I urged.
"Perhaps--yes--possibly--we'll see," said he soothingly. "There is plenty
"Plenty of time," I assented, as if quite content. "I only wanted to put
the matter before you." And I rose to go.
"Have you heard the news of Textile Common?" he asked.
"Yes," said I carelessly. Then, all in an instant, a plan took shape in my
mind. "I own a good deal of the stock, and I must say, I don't like this
"Why?" he inquired.
"Because I'm sure it's a stock-jobbing scheme," replied I boldly. "I know
the dividend wasn't earned. I don't like that sort of thing, Mr. Roebuck.
Not because it's unlawful--the laws are so clumsy that a practical man
often must disregard them. But because it is tampering with the reputation
and the stability of a great enterprise for the sake of a few millions of
dishonest profit. I'm surprised at Langdon."
"I hope you're wrong, Matthew," was Roebuck's only comment. He questioned
me no further, and I went away, confident that, when the crash came in the
morning, if come it must, there would be no more astonished man in Wall
Street than Henry J. Roebuck. How he must have laughed; or, rather, would
have laughed, if his sort of human hyena expressed its emotions in the
From him, straight to my lawyers, Whitehouse and Fisher, in the Mills
"I want you to send for the newspaper reporters at once," said I to Fisher,
"and tell them that in my behalf you are going to apply for an injunction
against the Textile Trust, forbidding them to take any further steps toward
that increase of dividend. Tell them I, as a large stock-holder, and
representing a group of large stock-holders, purpose to stop the paying of
Fisher knew how closely connected my house and the Textile Trust had been;
but he showed, and probably felt no astonishment. He was too experienced in
the ways of finance and financiers. It was a matter of indifference to him
whether I was trying to assassinate my friend and ally, or was feinting at
Langdon, to lure the public within reach so that we might, together, fall
upon it and make a battue. Your lawyer is your true mercenary. Under his
code honor consists in making the best possible fight in exchange for the
biggest possible fee. He is frankly for sale to the highest bidder. At
least so it is with those that lead the profession nowadays, give it what
is called "character" and "tone."
Not without some regret did I thus arrange to attack my friend in his
absence. "Still," I reasoned, "his blunder in trusting some leaky person
with his secret is the cause of my peril--and I'll not have to justify
myself to him for trying to save myself." What effect my injunction would
have I could not foresee. Certainly it could not save me from the loss of
my fortune; but, possibly, it might check the upward course of the stock
long enough to enable me to snatch myself from ruin, and to cling to firm
ground until the Coal deal drew me up to safety.
My next call was at the Interstate Trust Company. I found Corey waiting for
me in a most uneasy state of mind.
"Is there any truth in this story about you?" was the question he plumped
"What story?" said I, and a hard fight I had to keep my confusion and alarm
from the surface. For, apparently, my secret was out.
"That you're on the wrong side of the Textile."
So it was out! "Some truth," I admitted, since denial would have been
useless here. "And I've come to you for the money to tide me over."
He grew white, a sickly white, and into his eyes came a horrible, drowning
"I owe a lot to you, Matt," he pleaded. "But I've done you a great many
favors, haven't I?"
"That you have Bob," I cordially agreed. "But this isn't a favor. It's
"You mustn't ask it, Blacklock," he cried. "I've loaned you more money now
than the law allows. And I can't let you have any more."
"Some one has been lying to you, and you've been believing him," said I.
"When I say my request isn't a favor, but business, I mean it."
"I can't let you have any more," he repeated. "I can't!" And down came his
fist in a weak-violent gesture.
I leaned forward and laid my hand strongly on his arm.
"In addition to the stock of this concern that I hold in my own name," said
I, "I hold five shares in the name of a man whom nobody knows that I even
know. If you don't let me have the money, that man goes to the district
attorney with information that lands you in the penitentiary, that puts
your company out of business and into bankruptcy before to-morrow noon.
I saved you three years ago, and got you this job against just such an
emergency as this, Bob Corey. And, by God, you'll toe the mark!"
"But we haven't done anything that every bank in town doesn't do every
day--doesn't have to do. If we didn't lend money to dummy borrowers
and over-certify accounts, our customers would go where they could get
"That's true enough," said I. "But I'm in a position for the moment where I
need my friends--and they've got to come to time. If I don't get the money
from you, I'll get it elsewhere--but over the cliff with you and your
bank! The laws you've been violating may be bad for the practical banking
business, but they're mighty good for punishing ingratitude and treachery."
He sat there, yellow and pinched, and shivering every now and then. He
made no reply. He was one of those shells of men that are conspicuous as
figureheads in every department of active life--fellows with well-shaped,
white-haired or prematurely bald heads, and grave, respectable faces;
they look dignified and substantial, and the soul of uprightness; they
coin their looks into good salaries by selling themselves as covers for
operations of the financiers. And how those operations, in the nude, as it
were, would terrify the plodders that save up and deposit or invest the
money the financiers gamble with on the big green tables!
Presently I shook his arm impatiently. His eyes met mine, and I fixed them.
"I'm going to pull through," said I. "But if I weren't, I'd see to it that
you were protected. Come, what's your answer? Friend or traitor?"
"Can't you give me any security--any collateral?"
"No more than I took from you when I saved you as you were going down with
the rest in the Dumont smash. My word--that's all. I borrow on the same
terms you've given me before, the same you're giving four of your heaviest
borrowers right now."
He winced as I thus reminded him how minute my knowledge was of the
workings of his bank.
"I didn't think this of you, Matt," he whined. "I believed you above such
"I suit my methods to the men I'm dealing with," was my answer. "These
fellows are trying to push me off the life raft. I fight with every weapon
I can lay hands on. And I know as well as you do that, if you get into
serious trouble through this loan, at least five men we could both name
would have to step in and save the bank and cover up the scandal. You'll
blackmail them, just as you've blackmailed them before, and they you.
Blackmail's a legitimate part of the game. Nobody appreciates that better
than you." It was no time for the smug hypocrisies under which we people
down town usually conduct our business--just as the desperadoes used to
patrol the highways disguised as peaceful merchants.
"Send round in the morning and get the money," said he, putting on a
resigned, hopeless look.
I laughed. "I'll feel easier if I take it now," I replied. "We'll fix up
the notes and checks at once."
He reddened, but after a brief hesitation busied himself. When the papers
were all made up and signed, and I had the certified checks in my pocket,
I said: "Wait here, Bob, until the National Industrial people call you
up. I'll ask them to do it, so they can get your personal assurance that
everything's all right. And I'll stop there until they tell me they've
talked with you."
"But it's too late," he said. "You can't deposit to-day."
"I've a special arrangement with them," I replied.
His face betrayed him. I saw that at no stage of that proceeding had I been
wiser than in shutting off his last chance to evade. What scheme he had in
mind I don't know, and can't imagine. But he had thought out something,
probably something foolish that would have given me trouble without saving
him. A foolish man in a tight place is as foolish as ever, and Corey was
a foolish man--only a fool commits crimes that put him in the power of
others. The crimes of the really big captains of industry and generals of
finance are of the kind that puts others in their power.
"Buck up, Corey," said I. "Do you think I'm the man to shut a friend in the
hold of a sinking ship? Tell me, who told you I was short on Textile?"
"One of my men," he slowly replied, as he braced himself together.
"Which one? Who?" I persisted. For I wanted to know just how far the news
was likely to spread.
He seemed to be thinking out a lie.
"The truth!" I commanded. "I know it couldn't have been one of your men.
Who was it? I'll not give you away."
"It was Tom Langdon," he finally said.
I checked an exclamation of amazement. I had been assuming that I had been
betrayed by some one of those tiny mischances that so often throw the best
plans into confusion.
"Tom Langdon," I said satirically. "It was he that warned you against me?"
"It was a friendly act," said Corey. "He and I are very intimate. And he
doesn't know how close you and I are."
"Suggested that you call my loans, did he?" I went on.
"You mustn't blame him, Blacklock; really you mustn't," said Corey
earnestly, for he was a pretty good friend to those he liked, as friendship
goes in finance. "He happened to hear. You know the Langdons keep a sharp
watch on operations in their stock. And he dropped in to warn me as a
friend. You'd do the same thing in the same circumstances. He didn't say a
word about my calling your loans. I--to be frank--I instantly thought of it
myself. I intended to do it when you came, but"--a sickly smile--"you
"I understand," said I good-humoredly. "I don't blame him." And I didn't
After I had completed my business at the National Industrial, I went back
to my office and gathered together the threads of my web of defense. Then
I wrote and sent out to all my newspapers and all my agents a broadside
against the management of the Textile Trust--it would be published in
the morning, in good time for the opening of the Stock Exchange. Before
the first quotation of Textile could be made, thousands on thousands of
investors and speculators throughout the country would have read my letter,
would be believing that Matthew Blacklock had detected the Textile Trust
in a stock-jobbing swindle, and had promptly turned against it, preferring
to keep faith with his customers and with the public. As I read over my
pronunciamiento aloud before sending it out, I found in it a note of
confidence that cheered me mightily. "I'm even stronger than I thought,"
said I. And I felt stronger still as I went on to picture the thousands on
thousands throughout the land rallying at my call to give battle.
ANITA BEGINS TO BE HERSELF
I had asked Sam Ellersly to dine with me; so preoccupied was I that not
until ten minutes before the hour set did he come into my mind--he or any
of his family, even his sister. My first impulse was to send word that I
couldn't keep the engagement. "But I must dine somewhere," I reflected,
"and there's no reason why I shouldn't dine with him, since I've done
everything that can be done." In my office suite I had a bath and
dressing-room, with a complete wardrobe. Thus, by hurrying a little over
my toilet, and by making my chauffeur crowd the speed limit, I was at
Delmonico's only twenty minutes late.
Sam, who had been late also, as usual, was having a cocktail and was
ordering the dinner. I smoked a cigarette and watched him. At business or
at anything serious his mind was all but useless; but at ordering dinner
and things of that sort, he shone. Those small accomplishments of his had
often moved me to a sort of pitying contempt, as if one saw a man of talent
devoting himself to engraving the Lord's Prayer on gold dollars. That
evening, however, as I saw how comfortable and contented he looked, with
not a care in the world, since he was to have a good dinner and a good
cigar afterward; as I saw how much genuine pleasure he was getting out of
selecting the dishes and giving the waiter minute directions for the chef,
I envied him.
What Langdon had once said came back to me: "We are under the tyranny of
to-morrow, and happiness is impossible." And I thought how true that was.
But, for the Sammys, high and low, there is no to-morrow. He was somehow
impressing me with a sense that he was my superior. His face was weak, and,
in a weak way, bad; but there was a certain fineness of quality in it,
a sort of hothouse look, as if he had been sheltered all his life, and
brought up on especially selected food. "Men like me," thought I with a
certain envy, "rise and fall. But his sort of men have got something that
can't be taken away, that enables them to carry off with grace, poverty or
the degradation of being spongers and beggars."
This shows how far I had let that attack of snobbishness eat into me. I
glanced down at my hands. No delicateness there; certainly those fingers,
though white enough nowadays, and long enough, too, were not made for fancy
work and parlor tricks. They would have looked in place round the handle
of a spade or the throttle of an engine, while Sam's seemed made for the
keyboard of a piano.
"You must come over to my rooms after dinner, and give me some music," said
"Thanks," he replied, "but I've promised to go home and play bridge.
Mother's got a few in to dinner, and more are coming afterward, I believe."
"Then I'll go with you, and talk to your sister--she doesn't play."
He glanced at me in a way that made me pass my hand over my face. I learned
at least part of the reason for my feeling at disadvantage before him. I
had forgotten to shave; and as my beard is heavy and black, it has to be
looked after twice a day. "Oh, I can stop at my rooms and get my face into
condition in a few minutes," said I.
"And put on evening dress, too," he suggested. "You wouldn't want to go in
a dinner jacket."
I can't say why this was the "last straw," but it was.
"Bother!" said I, my common sense smashing the spell of snobbishness that
had begun to reassert itself as soon as I got into his unnatural, unhealthy
atmosphere. "I'll go as I am, beard and all. I only make myself ridiculous,
trying to be a sheep. I'm a goat, and a goat I'll stay."
That shut him into himself. When he re-emerged, it was to say: "Something
doing down town to-day, eh?"
A sharpness in his voice and in his eyes, too, made me put my mind on him
more closely, and then I saw what I should have seen before--that he was
moody and slightly distant.
"Seen Tom Langdon this afternoon?" I asked carelessly.
He colored. "Yes--had lunch with him," was his answer.
I smiled--for his benefit. "Aha!" thought I. "So Tom Langdon has been fool
enough to take this paroquet into his confidence." Then I said to him: "Is
Tom making the rounds, warning the rats to leave the sinking ship?"
"What do you mean, Matt?" he demanded, as if I had accused him.
I looked steadily at him, and I imagine my unshaven jaw did not make my
"That I'm thinking of driving the rats overboard," replied I. "The ship's
sound, but it would be sounder if there were fewer of them."
"You don't imagine anything Tom could say would change my feelings toward
you?" he pleaded.
"I don't know, and I don't care a damn," replied I coolly. "But I do know,
before the Langdons or anybody else can have Blacklock pie, they'll have
first to catch their Blacklock."
I saw Langdon had made him uneasy, despite his belief in my strength. And
he was groping for confirmation or reassurance. "But," thought I, "if he
thinks I may be going up the spout, why isn't he more upset? He probably
hates me because I've befriended him, but no matter how much he hated me,
wouldn't his fear of being cut off from supplies drive him almost crazy?" I
studied him in vain for sign of deep anxiety. Either Tom didn't tell him
much, I decided, or he didn't believe Tom knew what he was talking about.
"What did Tom say about me?" I inquired.
"Oh, almost nothing. We were talking chiefly of--of club matters," he
answered, in a fair imitation of his usual offhand manner.
"When does my name come up there?" said I.
He flushed and shifted. "I was just about to tell you," he stammered. "But
perhaps you know?"
"That-- Hasn't Tom told you? He has withdrawn--and--you'll have to get
another second--if you think--that is--unless you--I suppose you'd have
told me, if you'd changed your mind?"
Since I had become so deeply interested in Anita, my
ambition--ambition!--to join the Travelers had all but dropped out of my
"I had forgotten about it," said I. "But, now that you remind me, I want my
name withdrawn. It was a passing fancy. It was part and parcel of a lot of
damn foolishness I've been indulging in for the last few months. But I've
come to my senses--and it's 'me to the wild,' where I belong, Sammy, from
this time on."
He looked tremendously relieved, and a little puzzled, too. I thought I was
reading him like an illuminated sign. "He's eager to keep friends with me,"
thought I, "until he's absolutely sure there's nothing more in it for him
and his people." And that guess was a pretty good one. It is not to the
discredit of my shrewdness that I didn't see it was not hope, but fear,
that made him try to placate me. I could not have possibly known then what
the Langdons had done. But-- Sammy was saying, in his friendliest tone:
"What's the matter, old man? You're sour to-night."
"Never in a better humor," I assured him, and as I spoke the words
they came true. What I had been saying about the Travelers and all it
represented--all the snobbery, and smirking, and rotten pretense--my final
and absolute renunciation of it all--acted on me as I've seen religion act
on the fellows that used to go up to the mourners' bench at the revivals. I
felt as if I had suddenly emerged from the parlor of a dive and its stench
of sickening perfumes, into the pure air of God's Heaven.
I signed the bill, and we went afoot up the avenue. Sam, as I saw with a
good deal of amusement, was trying to devise some subtle, tactful way of
attaching his poor, clumsy little suction-pump to the well of my secret
"What is it, Sammy?" said I at last. "What do you want to know that you're
afraid to ask me?"
"Nothing," he said hastily. "I'm only a bit worried about--about you and
Textile. Matt,"--this in the tone of deep emotion we reserve for the
attempt to lure our friends into confiding that about themselves which will
give us the opportunity to pity them, and, if necessary, to sheer off from
them--"Matt, I do hope you haven't been hard hit?"
"Not yet," said I easily. "Dry your tears and put away your black clothes.
Your friend, Tom Langdon, was a little premature."
"I'm afraid I've given you a false impression," Sam continued, with
an overeagerness to convince me that did not attract my attention at
the time. "Tom merely said, 'I hear Blacklock is loaded up with Textile
shorts,'--that was all. A careless remark. I really didn't think of it
again until I saw you looking so black and glum."
That seemed natural enough, so I changed the subject. As we entered his
house, I said:
"I'll not go up to the drawing-room. Make my excuses to your mother, will
you? I'll turn into the little smoking-room here. Tell your sister--and say
I'm going to stop only a moment."
Sam had just left me when the butler came.
"Mr. Ball--I think that was the name, sir--wishes to speak to you on the
I had given Ellerslys' as one of the places at which I might be found,
should it be necessary to consult me. I followed the butler to the
telephone closet under the main stairway. As soon as Ball made sure it was
I, he began:
"I'll use the code words. I've just seen Fearless, as you told me to."
Fearless--that was Mitchell, my spy in the employ of Tavistock, who was
my principal rival in the business of confidential brokerage for the high
financiers. "Yes," said I. "What does he say?"
"There has been a great deal of heavy buying for a month past."
Then my dread was well-founded--Textiles were to be deliberately rocketed.
"Who's been doing it?" I asked.
"He found out only this afternoon. It's been kept unusually dark. It--"
"Who? Who?" I demanded.
"Intrepid," he answered.
Intrepid--that is, Langdon--Mowbray Langdon!
"The whole thing--was planned carefully," continued Ball, "and is coming
off according to schedule. Fearless overheard a final message Intrepid's
brother brought from him to-day."
So it was no mischance--it was an assassination. Mowbray Langdon had
stabbed me in the back and fled.
"Did you hear what I said?" asked Ball. "Is that you?"
"Yes," I replied.
"Oh," came in a relieved tone from the other end of the wire. "You were so
long in answering that I thought I'd been cut off. Any instructions?"
"No," said I. "Good-by."
I heard him ring off, but I sat there for several minutes, the receiver
still to my ear. I was muttering: "Langdon, Langdon--why--why--why?" again
and again. Why had he turned against me? Why had he plotted to destroy
me--one of those plots so frequent in Wall Street--where the assassin
steals up, delivers the mortal blow, and steals away without ever being
detected or even suspected? I saw the whole plot now--I understood Tom
Langdon's activities, I recalled Mowbray Langdon's curious phrases and
looks and tones. But--why--why--why? How was I in his way?
It was all dark to me--pitch-dark. I returned to the smoking-room, lighted
a cigar, sat fumbling at the new situation. I was in no worse plight than
before--what did it matter who was attacking me? In the circumstances,
a novice could now destroy me as easily as a Langdon. Still, Ball's
news seemed to take away my courage. I reminded myself that I was used
to treachery of this sort, that I deserved what I was getting because
I had, like a fool, dropped my guard in the fight that is always an
every-man-for-himself. But I reminded myself in vain. Langdon's smiling
treachery made me heart-sick.
Soon Anita appeared--preceded and heralded by a faint rustling from soft
and clinging skirts, that swept my nerves like a love-tune. I suppose for
all men there is a charm, a spell, beyond expression, in the sight of a
delicate beautiful young woman, especially if she be dressed in those fine
fabrics that look as if only a fairy loom could have woven them; and when a
man loves the woman who bursts upon his vision, that spell must overwhelm
him, especially if he be such a man as was I--a product of life's roughest
factories, hard and harsh, an elbower and a trampler, a hustler and a
bluffer. Then, you must also consider the exact circumstances--I standing
there, with destruction hanging over me, with the sense that within a few
hours I should be a pariah to her, a masquerader stripped of his disguise
and cast out from the ball where he had been making so merry and so free.
Only a few hours more! Perhaps now was the last time I should ever stand
so near to her! The full realization of all this swallowed me up as
in a great, thick, black mist. And my arms strained to escape from my
tightly-locked hands, strained to seize her, to snatch from her, reluctant
though she might be, at least some part of the happiness that was to be
I think my torment must have somehow penetrated to her. For she was sweet
and friendly--and she could not have hurt me worse! If I had followed my
impulse I should have fallen at her feet and buried my face, scorching, in
the folds of that pale blue, faintly-shimmering robe of hers.
"Do throw away that huge, hideous cigar," she said, laughing. And she took
two cigarettes from the box, put both between her lips, lit them, held one
toward me. I looked at her face, and along her smooth, bare, outstretched
arm, and at the pink, slender fingers holding the cigarette. I took it as
if I were afraid the spell would be broken, should my fingers touch hers.
Afraid--that's it! That's why I didn't pour out all that was in my heart. I
deserved to lose her.
"I'm taking you away from the others," I said. We could hear the murmur
of many voices and of music. In fancy I could see them assembled round
the little card-tables--the well-fed bodies, the well-cared-for skins,
the elaborate toilets, the useless jeweled hands--comfortable, secure,
self-satisfied, idle, always idle, always playing at the imitation
games--like their own pampered children, to be sheltered in the nurseries
of wealth their whole lives through. And not at all in bitterness, but
wholly in sadness, a sense of the injustice, the unfairness of it all--a
sense that had been strong in me in my youth but blunted during the years
of my busy prosperity--returned for a moment. For a moment only; my mind
was soon back to realities--to her and me--to "us." How soon it would never
be "us" again!
"They're mama's friends," Anita was answering. "Oldish and tiresome. When
you leave I shall go straight on up to bed."
"I'd like to--to see your room--where you live," said I, more to myself
than to her.
"I sleep in a bare little box," she replied with a laugh. "It's like a
cell. A friend of ours who has the anti-germ fad insisted on it. But my
sitting-room isn't so bad."
"Langdon has the anti-germ fad," said I. She answered "Yes" after a pause,
and in such a strained voice that I looked at her. A flush was just dying
out of her face. "He was the friend I spoke of," she went on.
"You know him very well?" I asked.
"We've known him--always," said she. "I think he's one of my earliest
recollections. His father's summer place and ours adjoin. And once--I guess
it's the first time I remember seeing him--he was a freshman at Harvard,
and he came along on a horse past the pony cart in which a groom was
driving me. And I--I was very little then--I begged him to take me up, and
he did. I thought he was the greatest, most wonderful man that ever lived."
She laughed queerly. "When I said my prayers, I used to imagine a god that
looked like him to say them to."
I echoed her laugh heartily. The idea of Mowbray Langdon as a god struck me
as peculiarly funny, though natural enough, too.
"Absurd, wasn't it?" said she. But her face was grave, and she let her
cigarette die out.
"I guess you know him better than that now?"
"Yes--better," she answered, slowly and absently. "He's--anything but a
"And the more fascinating on that account," said I. "I wonder why women
like best the really bad, dangerous sort of man, who hasn't any respect for
them, or for anything."
I said this that she might protest, at least for herself. But her answer
was a vague, musing, "I wonder--I wonder."
"I'm sure _you_ wouldn't," I protested earnestly, for her.
She looked at me queerly.
"Can I never convince you that I'm just a woman?" said she mockingly. "Just
a woman, and one a man with your ideas of women would fly from."
"I wish you were!" I exclaimed. "Then--I'd not find it so--so impossible to
give you up."
She rose and made a slow tour of the room, halting on the rug before the
closed fireplace a few feet from me. I sat looking at her.
"I am going to give you up," I said at last.
Her eyes, staring into vacancy, grew larger and intenser with each long,
deep breath she took.
"I didn't intend to say what I'm about to say--at least, not this evening,"
I went on, and to me it seemed to be some other than myself who was
speaking. "Certain things happened down town to-day that have set me to
thinking. And--I shall do whatever I can for your brother and your father.
But you--you are free!"
She went to the table, stood there in profile to me, straight and slender
as a sunflower stalk. She traced the silver chasings in the lid of the
cigarette box with her forefinger; then she took a cigarette and began
rolling it slowly and absently.
"Please don't scent and stain your fingers with that filthy tobacco," said
I rather harshly.
"And only this afternoon you were saying you had become reconciled to my
vice--that you had canonized it along with me--wasn't that your phrase?"
This indifferently, without turning toward me, and as if she were thinking
of something else.
"So I have," retorted I. "But my mood--please oblige me this once."
She let the cigarette fall into the box, closed the lid gently, leaned
against the table, folded her arms upon her bosom and looked full at me.
I was as acutely conscious of her every movement, of the very coming and
going of the breath at her nostrils, as a man on the operating-table is
conscious of the slightest gesture of the surgeon.
"You are--suffering!" she said, and her voice was like the flow of oil upon
a burn. "I have never seen you like this. I didn't believe you capable
of--of much feeling."
I could not trust myself to speak. If Bob Corey could have looked in on
that scene, could have understood it, how amazed he would have been!
"What happened down town to-day?" she went on. "Tell me, if I may know."
"I'll tell you what I didn't think, ten minutes ago, I'd tell any human
being," said I. "They've got me strapped down in the press. At ten o'clock
in the morning--precisely at ten--they're going to put on the screws." I
laughed. "I guess they'll have me squeezed pretty dry before noon."
"So, you see," I continued, "I don't deserve any credit for giving you up.
I only anticipate you by about twenty-four hours. Mine's a deathbed
"I'd thought of that," said she reflectively. Presently she added: "Then,
it is true." And I knew Sammy had given her some hint that prepared her for
"Yes--I can't go blustering through the matrimonial market," replied I.
"I've been thrown out. I'm a beggar at the gates."
"A beggar at the gates," she murmured.
I got up and stood looking down at her.
"Don't _pity_ me!" I said. "My remark was a figure of speech. I want
no alms. I wouldn't take even you as alms. They'll probably get me down,
and stamp the life out of me--nearly. But not quite--don't you lose sight
of that. They can't kill me, and they can't tame me. I'll recover, and I'll
strew the Street with their blood and broken bones."
She drew in her breath sharply.
"And a minute ago I was almost liking you!" she exclaimed.
I retreated to my chair and gave her a smile that must have been grim.
"Your ideas of life and of men are like a cloistered nun's," said I. "If
there are any real men among your acquaintances, you may find out some
day that they're not so much like lapdogs as they pretend--and that you
wouldn't like them, if they were."
"What--just what--happened to you down town to-day--after you left me?"
"A friend of mine has been luring me into a trap--why, I can't quite
fathom. To-day he sprang the trap and ran away."
"A friend of yours?"
"The man we were talking about--your ex-god--Langdon."
"Langdon," she repeated, and her tone told me that Sammy knew and had
hinted to her more than I suspected him of knowing. And, with her arms
still folded, she paced up and down the room. I watched her slender feet in
pale blue slippers appear and disappear--first one, then the other--at the
edge of her trailing skirt.
Presently she stopped in front of me. Her eyes were gazing past me.
"You are sure it was he?" she asked.
I could not answer immediately, so amazed was I at her expression. I had
been regarding her as a being above and apart, an incarnation of youth
and innocence; with a shock it now came to me that she was experienced,
intelligent, that she understood the whole of life, the dark as fully as
the light, and that she was capable to live it, too. It was not a girl that
was questioning me there; it was a woman.
"Yes--Langdon," I replied. "But I've no quarrel with him. My reverse is
nothing but the fortune of war. I assure you, when I see him again, I'll be
as friendly as ever--only a bit less of a trusting ass, I fancy. We're a
lot of free lances down in the Street. We fight now on one side, now on the
other. We change sides whenever it's expedient; and under the code it's not
necessary to give warning. To-day, before I knew he was the assassin, I had
made my plans to try to save myself at his expense, though I believed him
to be the best friend I had down town. No doubt he's got some good reason
for creeping up on me in the dark."
"You are sure it was he?" she repeated.
"He, and nobody else," replied I. "He decided to do me up--and I guess
he'll succeed. He's not the man to lift his gun unless he's sure the bird
"Do you really not care any more than you show?" she asked. "Or is your
manner only bravado--to show off before me?"
"I don't care a damn, since I'm to lose you," said I. "It'll be a godsend
to have a hard row to hoe the next few months or years."
She went back to leaning against the table, her arms folded as before. I
saw she was thinking out something. Finally she said:
"I have decided not to accept your release."
I sprang to my feet.
"Anita!" I cried, my arms stretched toward her.
But she only looked coldly at me, folded her arms the more tightly and
"Do not misunderstand me. The bargain is the same as before. If you want me
on those terms, I must--give myself."
"Why?" I asked.
A faint smile, with no mirth in it, drifted round the corners of her mouth.
"An impulse," she said. "I don't quite understand it myself. An impulse
from--from--" Her eyes and her thoughts were far away, and her expression
was the one that made it hardest for me to believe she was a child of those
parents of hers. "An impulse from a sense of justice--of decency. I am the
cause of your trouble, and I daren't be a coward and a cheat." She repeated
the last words. "A coward--a cheat! We--I--have taken much from you, more
than you know. It must be repaid. If you still wish, I will--will keep to
"It's true, I'd not have got into the mess," said I, "if I'd been attending
to business instead of dangling after you. But you're not responsible for
She tried to speak several times, before she finally succeeded in saying:
"It's my fault. I mustn't shirk."
I studied her, but I couldn't puzzle her out.
"I've been thinking all along that you were simple and transparent," I
said. "Now, I see you are a mystery. What are you hiding from me?"
Her smile was almost coquettish as she replied:
"When a woman makes a mystery of herself to a man, it's for the man's
I took her hand--almost timidly.
"Anita," I said, "do you still--dislike me?"
"I do not--and shall not--love you," she answered. "But you are--"
"More endurable?" I suggested, as she hesitated.
"Less unendurable," she said with raillery. Then she added, "Less
unendurable than profiting by a-creeping up in the dark."
I thought I understood her better than she understood herself. And suddenly
my passion melted in a tenderness I would have said was as foreign to me
as rain to a desert. I noticed that she had a haggard look. "You are very
tired, child," said I. "Good night. I am a different man from what I was
when I came in here."
"And I a different woman," said she, a beauty shining from her that was as
far beyond her physical beauty as--as love is beyond passion.
"A nobler, better woman," I exclaimed, kissing her hand.
She snatched it away.
"If you only knew!" she cried. "It seems to me, as I realize what sort of
woman I am, that I am almost worthy of _you_!" And she blazed a look
at me that left me rooted there, astounded.
But I went down the avenue with a light heart. "Just like a woman," I was
saying to myself cheerfully, "not to know her own mind."
A few blocks, and I stopped and laughed outright--at Langdon's treachery,
at my own credulity. "What an ass I've been making of myself!" said I to
myself. And I could see myself as I really had been during those months
of social struggling--an ass, braying and gamboling in a lion's skin--to
impress the ladies!
"But not wholly to no purpose," I reflected, again all in a glow at thought
A WINDFALL FROM "GENTLEMAN JOE"
I went to my rooms, purposing to go straight to bed, and get a good sleep.
I did make a start toward undressing; then I realized that I should only
lie awake with my brain wearing me out, spinning crazy thoughts and schemes
hour after hour--for my imagination rarely lets it do any effective
thinking after the lights are out and the limitations of material things
are wiped away by the darkness. I put on a dressing-gown and seated myself
to smoke and to read.
When I was very young, new to New York, in with the Tenderloin crowd and
up to all sorts of pranks, I once tried opium smoking. I don't think I
ever heard of anything in those days without giving it a try. Usually, I
believe, opium makes the smoker ill the first time or two; but it had no
such effect on me, nor did it fill my mind with fantastic visions. On
the contrary, it made everything around me intensely real--that is, it
enormously stimulated my dominant characteristic of accurate observation.
I noticed the slightest details--such things as the slight difference in
the length of the arms of the Chinaman who kept the "joint," the number of
buttons down the front of the waist of the girl in the bunk opposite mine,
across the dingy, little, sweet-scented room. Nothing escaped me, and also
I was conscious of each passing second, or, rather, fraction of a second.
As a rule, time and events, even when one is quietest, go with such a rush
that one notes almost nothing of what is passing. The opium seemed to
compel the kaleidoscope of life to turn more slowly; in fact, it sharpened
my senses so that they unconsciously took impressions many times more
quickly and easily and accurately. As I sat there that night after leaving
Anita, forcing my mind to follow the printed lines, I found I was in
exactly the state in which I had been during my one experiment with opium.
It seemed to me that as many days as there had been hours must have elapsed
since I got the news of the raised Textile dividend. Days--yes, weeks, even
months, of thought and action seemed to have been compressed into those six
hours--for, as I sat there, it was not yet eleven o'clock.
And then I realized that this notion was not of the moment, but that I had
been as if under the influence of some powerful nerve stimulant since my
brain began to recover from the shock of that thunderbolt. Only, where
nerve stimulants often make the mind passive and disinclined to take part
in the drama so vividly enacting before it, this opening of my reservoirs
of reserve nervous energy had multiplied my power to act as well as my
power to observe. "I wonder how long it will last," thought I. And it made
me uneasy, this unnatural alertness, unaccompanied by any feverishness or
sense of strain. "Is this the way madness begins?"
I dressed myself again and went out--went up to Joe Healey's gambling place
in Forty-fourth Street. Most of the well-known gamblers up town, as well as
their "respectable" down town fellow members of the fraternity, were old
acquaintances of mine; Joe Healey was as close a friend as I had. He had
great fame far squareness--and, in a sense, deserved it. With his fellow
gamblers he was straight as a string at all times--to be otherwise would
have meant that when he went broke he would stay broke, because none of
the fraternity would "stake" him. But with his patrons--being regarded by
them as a pariah, he acted toward them like a pariah--a prudent pariah. He
fooled them with a frank show of gentlemanliness, of honesty to his own
hurt; under that cover he fleeced them well, but always judiciously.
That night, I recall, Joe's guests were several young fellows of the
fashionable set, rich men's sons and their parasites, a few of the big down
town operators who hadn't yet got hipped on "respectability"--they playing
poker in a private room--and a couple of flush-faced, flush-pursed chaps
from out of town, for whom one of Joe's men was dealing faro from what
looked to my experienced and accurate eye like a "brace" box.
Joe, very elegant, too elegant in fact, in evening dress, was showing a new
piece of statuary to the oldest son of Melville, of the National Industrial
Bank. Joe knew a little something about art--he was much like the art
dealers who, as a matter of business, learn the difference between good
things and bad, but in their hearts wonder and laugh at people willing to
part with large sums of money for a little paint or marble or the like.
As soon as Joe thought he had sufficiently impressed young Melville, he
drifted him to a roulette table, left him there and joined me.
"Come to my office," said he. "I want to see you."
He led the way down the richly-carpeted marble stairway as far as the
landing at the turn. There, on a sort of mezzanine, he had a gorgeous
little suite. The principal object in the sitting-room or office was a huge
safe. He closed and locked the outside door behind us.
"Take a seat," said he. "You'll like the cigars in the second box on my
desk--the long one." And he began turning the combination lock. "You
haven't dropped in on us for the past three or four months," he went on.
"No," said I, getting a great deal of pleasure out of seeing again, and
thus intimately, his round, ruddy face--like a yachtman's, not like a
drinker's--and his shifty, laughing brown eyes. "The game down town has
given me enough excitement. I haven't had to continue it up town to keep
my hand in."
In fact, I had, as I have already said, been breaking off with my former
friends because, while many of the most reputable and reliable financiers
down town go in for high play occasionally at the gambling houses, it isn't
wise for the man trying to establish himself as a strictly legitimate
financier. I had been playing as much as ever, but only in games in my own
rooms and at the rooms of other bankers, brokers and commercial leaders.
The passion for high play is a craving that gnaws at a man all the time,
and he must always be feeding it one way or another.
"I've noticed that you are getting too swell to patronize us fellows," said
he, his shrewd smile showing that my polite excuse had not fooled him.
"Well, Matt, you're right--you always did have good sound sense and a
steady eye for the main chance. I used to think the women'd ruin you, they
were so crazy about that handsome mug and figure of yours. But when I saw
you knew exactly when to let go, I knew nothing could stop you."
By this time he had the safe open, disclosing several compartments and a
small, inside safe. He worked away at the second combination lock, and
presently exposed the interior of the little safe. It was filled with a
great roll of bills. He pried this out, brought it over to the desk and
began wrapping it up. "I want you to take this with you when you go," said
he. "I've made several big killings lately, and I'm going to get you to
invest the proceeds."
"I can't take that big bundle along with me, Joe," said I. "Besides, it
ain't safe. Put it in the bank and send me a check."
"Not on your life," replied Healey with a laugh. "The suckers we trimmed
gave checks, and I turned 'em into cash as soon as the banks opened. I
wasn't any too spry, either. Two of the damned sneaks consulted lawyers
as soon as they sobered off, and tried to stop payment on their checks.
They're threatening proceedings. You must take the dough away with you, and
I don't want a receipt."
"Trimming suckers, eh?" said I, not able to decide what to do.
"Their fathers stole it from the public," he explained. "They're drunken
little snobs, not fit to have money. I'm doing a public service by
relieving them of it. If I'd 'a' got more, I'd feel that much more"--he
vented his light, cool, sarcastic laugh--"more patriotic."
"I can't take it," said I, feeling that, in my present condition, to take
it would be very near to betraying the confidence of my old friend.
"They lost it in a straight game," he hastened to assure me. "I haven't had
a 'brace' box or crooked wheel for four years." This with a sober face and
a twinkle in his eye. "But even if I had helped chance to do the good work
of teaching them to take care of their money, you'd not refuse me. Up town
and down town, and all over the place, what's business, when you come to
look at it sensibly, but trading in stolen goods? Do you know a man who
could honestly earn more than ten or twenty thousand a year--good clean
money by good clean work?"
"Oh, for that matter, your money's as clean as anybody's," said I. "But,
you know, I'm a speculator, Joe. I have my downs--and this happens to be a
stormy time for me. If I take your money, I mayn't be able to account for
it or even to pay dividends on it for--maybe a year or so."
"It's all right, old man. I'll never give it a thought till you remind me
of it. Use it as you'd use your own. I've got to put it behind somebody's
luck--why not yours?"
He finished doing up the package, then he seated himself, and we both
looked at it through the smoke of our cigars.
"It's just as easy to deal in big sums as in little, in large matters as in
small, isn't it, Joe," said I, "once one gets in the way of it?"
"Do you remember--away back there--the morning," he asked musingly--"the
last morning--you and I got up from the straw in the stables over at Jerome
Park--the stables they let us sleep in?"
"And went out in the dawn to roost on the rails and spy on the speed trials
of old Revell's horses?"
"Exactly," said Joe, and we looked at each other and laughed. "We in
rags--gosh, how chilly it was that morning! Do you remember what we talked
"No," said I, though I did.
"I was proposing to turn a crooked trick--and you wouldn't have it. You
persuaded me to keep straight, Matt. I've never forgotten it. You kept me
straight--showed me what a damn fool a man was to load himself down with a
petty larceny record. You made a man of me, Matt. And then those good looks
of yours caught the eye of that bookmaker's girl, and he gave you a job at
writing sheet--and you worked me in with you."
So long ago it seemed, yet near and real, too, as I sat there, conscious of
every sound and motion, even of the fantastic shapes taken by our upcurling
smoke. How far I was from the "rail bird" of those happy-go-lucky years,
when a meal meant quite as much to me as does a million now--how far from
all that, yet how near, too. For was I not still facing life with the same
careless courage, forgetting each yesterday in the eager excitement of each
new day with its new deal? We went on in our reminiscences for a while;
then, as Joe had a little work to do, I drifted out into the house, took
a bite of supper with young Melville, had a little go at the tiger, and
toward five in the clear June morning emerged into the broad day of the
streets, with the precious bundle under my arms and a five hundred-dollar
bill in my waistcoat pocket.
"Give my win to me in a single bill," I said to the banker, "and blow
yourself off with the change."
Joe walked down the street with me--for companionship and a little air
before turning in, he said, but I imagine a desire to keep his eye on his
treasure a while longer had something to do with his taking that early
morning stroll. We passed several of those forlorn figures that hurry
through the slowly-awakening streets to bed or to work. Finally, there came
by an old, old woman--a scrubwoman, I guess, on her way home from cleaning
some office building. Beside her was a thin little boy, hopping along on a
crutch. I stopped them.
"Hold out your hand," said I to the boy, and he did. I laid the five
hundred-dollar bill in it. "Now, shut your fingers tight over that," said
I, "and don't open them till you get home. Then tell your mother to do what
she likes with it." And we left them gaping after us, speechless before
this fairy story come true.
"You must be looking hard for luck to-day," said Joe, who understood this
transaction where another might have thought it a showy and not very wise
charity. "They'll stop in at the church and pray for you, and burn a
"I hope so," said I, "for God knows I need it."
A BREATHING SPELL
Langdon, after several years of effort, had got recognition for Textile
in London, but that was about all. He hadn't succeeded in unloading any
great amount of it on the English. So it was rather because I neglected
nothing than because I was hopeful of results that I had made a point of
telegraphing to London news of my proposed suit. The result was a little
trading in Textiles over there and a slight decline in the price. This fact
was telegraphed to all the financial centers on this side of the water, and
reinforced the impression my lawyers' announcement and my own "bear" letter
Still, this was nothing, or next to it. What could I hope to avail against
Langdon's agents with almost unlimited capital, putting their whole energy
under the stock to raise it? In the same newspapers that published my bear
attack, in the same columns and under the same head-lines, were official
denials from the Textile Trust and the figures of enormous increase of
business as proof positive that the denials were honest. If the public
had not been burned so many times by "industrials," if it had not learned
by bitter experience that practically none of the leaders of finance and
industry were above lying to make or save a few dollars, if Textiles had
not been manipulated so often, first by Dumont and since his death by his
brother-in-law and successor, this suave and cynical Langdon, my desperate
attack would have been without effect. As it was--
Four months before, in the same situation, had I seen Textiles stagger as
they staggered in the first hour of business on the Stock Exchange that
morning, I'd have sounded the charge, clapped spurs to my charger, and
borne down upon them. But--I had my new-born yearning for "respectability";
I had my new-born squeamishness, which led me to fear risking Bob Corey
and his bank and the money of my old friend Healey; finally, there was
Anita--the longing for her that made me prefer a narrow and uncertain
foothold to the bold leap that would land me either in wealth and power
or in the bottomless abyss.
Instead of continuing to sell Textiles, I covered as far as I could; and
I bought so eagerly and so heavily that, more than Langdon's corps of
rocketers, I was responsible for the stock's rally and start upward. When I
say "eagerly" and "heavily," I do not mean that I acted openly or without
regard to common sense. I mean simply that I made no attempt to back up my
followers in the selling campaign I had urged them into; on the contrary,
I bought as they sold. That does not sound well, and it is no better than
it sounds. I shall not dispute with any one who finds this action of mine
a betrayal of my clients to save myself. All I shall say is that it was
business, that in such extreme and dire compulsion as was mine, it was--and
is--right under the code, the private and real Wall Street code.
You can imagine the confused mass of transactions in which I was involved
before the Stock Exchange had been open long. There was the stock we had
been able to buy or get options on at various prices, between the closing
of the Exchange the previous day and that morning's opening--stock from all
parts of this country and in England. There was the stock I had been buying
since the Exchange opened--buying at figures ranging from one-eighth above
last night's closing price to fourteen points above it. And, on the debit
side, there were the "short" transactions extending over a period of nearly
two months--"sellings" of blocks large and small at a hundred different
An inextricable tangle, you will say, one it would be impossible for a
man to unravel quickly and in the frantic chaos of a wild Stock Exchange
day. Yet the influence of the mysterious state of my nerves, which I have
described above, was so marvelous that, incredible though it seems, the
moment the Exchange closed, I knew exactly, where I stood.
Like a mechanical lightning calculator, my mind threw up before me the net
result of these selling and buying transactions. Textile Common closed
eighteen points above the closing quotation of the previous day; if
Langdon's brother had not been just a little indiscreet, I should have been
as hopeless a bankrupt in reputation and in fortune as ever was ripped up
by the bulls of Wall Street.
As it was, I believed that, by keeping a bold front, I might extricate and
free myself when the Coal reorganization was announced. The rise of Coal
stocks would square my debts--and, as I was apparently untouched by
the Textile flurry, so far as even Ball, my nominal partner and chief
lieutenant, knew, I need not fear pressure from creditors that I could
I could not breathe freely, but I could breathe.
When I saw I was to have a respite of a month or so, I went over to the
National Industrial Bank with Healey's roll, which my tellers had counted
and prepared for deposit. I finished my business with the receiving teller
of the National Industrial, and dropped in on my friend Lewis, the first
vice-president. I did not need to pretend coolness and confidence; my
nerves were still in that curious state of tranquil exhilaration, and I
felt master of myself and of the situation. Just as I was leaving, in came
Tom Langdon with Sam Ellersly.
Tom's face was a laughable exhibit of embarrassment. Sam--really, I felt
sorry for him. There was no reason on earth why he shouldn't be with Tom
Langdon; yet he acted as if I had caught him "with the goods on him." He
stammered and stuttered, clasped my hand eagerly, dropped it as if it had
stung him; he jerked out a string of hysterical nonsense, ending with
a laugh so crazy that the sound of it disconcerted him. Drink was the
explanation that drifted through my mind; but in fact I thought little
about it, so full was I of other matters.
"When is your brother returning?" said I to Tom.
"On the next steamer, I believe," he replied. "He went only for the rest
and the bath of sea air." With an effort he collected himself, drew me
aside and said: "I owe you an apology, Mr. Blacklock. I went to the steamer
with Mowbray to see him off, and he asked me to tell you about our new
dividend rate--though it was not to be made public for some time. Anyhow,
he told me to go straight to you--and I--frankly, I forgot it." Then, with
the winning, candid Langdon smile, he added, ingenuously: "The best excuse
in the world--yet the one nobody ever accepts."
"No apology necessary," said I with the utmost good nature. "I've no
personal interest in Textile. My house deals on commission only, you
know--never on margins for myself. I'm a banker and broker, not a gambler.
Some of our customers were alarmed by the news of the big increase, and
insisted on bringing suit to stop it. But I'm going to urge them now to let
the matter drop."
Tom tried to look natural, and as he is an apt pupil of his brother's, he
succeeded fairly well. His glance, however, wouldn't fix steadily on my
gaze, but circled round and round it like a bat at an electric light. "To
tell you the truth," said he, "I'm extremely nervous as to what my brother
will say--and do--to me, when I tell him. I hope no harm came to you
through my forgetfulness."
"None in the world," I assured him. Then I turned on Sam. "What are you
doing down town to-day?" said I. "Are you on your way to see me?"
He flushed with angry shame, reading an insinuation into my careless
remark, when I had not the remotest intention of reminding him that his
customary object in coming down town was to play the parasite and the
sponge at my expense. I ought to have guessed at once that there was
some good reason for his recovery of his refined, high-bred, gentlemanly
super-sensibilities; but I was not in the mood to analyze trifles, though
my nerves were taking careful record of them.
"Oh, I was just calling on Tom," he replied rather haughtily.
Then Melville himself came in, brushing back his white tufted burnsides and
licking his lips and blinking his eyes--looking for all the world like a
cat at its toilet.
"Oh! ah! Blacklock!" he exclaimed, with purring cordiality--and I knew he
had heard of the big deposit I was making. "Come into my office on your way
out--nothing especial--only because it's always a pleasure to talk with
I saw that his effusive friendliness confirmed Tom Langdon's fear that I
had escaped from his brother's toils. He stared sullenly at the carpet
until he caught me looking at him with twinkling eyes. He made a valiant
effort to return my smile and succeeded in twisting his face into a knot
that seemed to hurt him as much as it amused me.
"Well, good-by, Tom," said I. "Give my regards to your brother when he
lands, and tell him his going away was a mistake. A man can't afford to
trust his important business to understrappers." This with a face free from
any suggestion of intending a shot at him. Then to Sam: "See you to-night,
old man," and I went away, leaving Lewis looking from one to the other as
if he felt that there was dynamite about, but couldn't locate it. I stopped
with Melville to talk Coal for a few minutes--at my ease, and the last man
on earth to be suspected of hanging by the crook of one finger from the
edge of the precipice.
I rang the Ellerslys' bell at half-past nine that evening. The butler faced
me with eyes not down, as they should have been, but on mine, and full
of the servile insolence to which he had been prompted by what he had
overheard in the family.
"Not at home, sir," he said, though I had not spoken.
I was preoccupied and not expecting that statement; neither had I skill,
nor desire to acquire skill, in reading family barometers in the faces of
servants. So, I was for brushing past him and entering where I felt I had
as much right as in my own places. He barred the way.
"Beg pardon, sir. Mrs. Ellersly instructed me to say no one was at home."
I halted, but only like an oncoming bear at the prick of an arrow.
"What the hell does this mean?" I exclaimed, waving him aside. At that
instant Anita appeared from the little reception-room a few feet away.
"Oh--come in!" she said cordially. "I was expecting you. Burroughs, please
take Mr. Blacklock's hat."
I followed her into the reception-room, thinking the butler had made some
sort of mistake.
"How did you come out?" she asked eagerly, facing me. "You look your
natural self--not tired or worried--so it must have been not so bad as you
"If our friend Langdon hadn't slipped away, I might not look and feel so
comfortable," said I. "His brother blundered, and there was no one to
checkmate my moves." She seemed nearer to me, more in sympathy with me than
"I can't tell you how glad I am!"
Her eyes were wide and bright, as from some great excitement, and her color
was high. Once my attention was on it, I knew instantly that only some
extraordinary upheaval in that household could have produced the fever that
was blazing in her. Never had I seen her in any such mood as this.
"What is it?" I asked. "What has happened?"
"If anything disagreeable should be said or done this evening here," she
said, "I want you to promise me that you'll restrain yourself, and not say
or do any of those things that make me--that jar on me. You understand?"
"I am always myself," replied I. "I can't be anybody else."
"But you are--several different kinds of self," she insisted. "And
please--this evening don't be _that_ kind. It's coming into your eyes
and chin now."
I had lifted my head and looked round, probably much like the leader of a
horned herd at the scent of danger.
"Is this better?" said I, trying to look the thoughts I had no difficulty
in getting to the fore whenever my eyes were on her.
Her smile rewarded me. But it disappeared, gave place to a look of nervous
alarm, of terror even, at the rustling, or, rather, bustling, of skirts in
the hall--there was war in the very sound, and I felt it. Mrs. Ellersly
appeared, bearing her husband as a dejected trailer invisibly but firmly
coupled. She acknowledged my salutation with a stiff-necked nod, ignored my
extended hand. I saw that she wished to impress upon me that she was a very
grand lady indeed; but, while my ideas of what constitutes a lady were at
that time somewhat befogged by my snobbishness, she failed dismally. She
looked just what she was--a mean, bad-tempered woman, in a towering rage.
"You have forced me, Mr. Blacklock," said she, and then I knew for just
what purpose that voice of hers was best adapted--"to say to you what I
should have preferred to write. Mr. Ellersly has had brought to his ears
matters in connection with your private life that make it imperative that
you discontinue your calls here."
"My private life, ma'am?" I repeated. "I was not aware that I had a private
"Anita, leave us alone with Mr. Blacklock," commanded her mother.
The girl hesitated, bent her head, and with a cowed look went slowly toward
the door. There she paused, and, with what seemed a great effort, lifted
her head and gazed at me. How I ever came rightly to interpret her look
I don't know, but I said: "Miss Ellersly, I've the right to insist that
you stay." I saw she was going to obey me, and before Mrs. Ellersly could
repeat her order I said: "Now, madam, if any one accuses me of having done
anything that would cause you to exclude a man from your house, I am ready
for the liar and his lie."
As I spoke I was searching the weak, bad old face of her husband for an
explanation. Their pretense of outraged morality I rejected at once--it was
absurd. Neither up town nor down, nor anywhere else, had I done anything
that any one could regard as a breach of the code of a man of the world.
Then, reasoned I, they must have found some one else to help them out of
their financial troubles--some one who, perhaps, has made this insult to me
the price, or part of the price, of his generosity. Who? Who hates me? In
instant answer, up before my mind flashed a picture of Tom Langdon and Sam
Ellersly arm in arm entering Lewis' office. Tom Langdon wishes to marry
her; and her parents wish it, too; he is the man she was confessing to me
about--these were my swift conclusions.
"We do not care to discuss the matter, sir," Mrs. Ellersly was replying,
her tone indicating that it was not fit to discuss. And this was the woman
I had hardly been able to treat civilly, so nauseating were her fawnings
"So!" I said, ignoring her and opening my batteries full upon the old man.
"You are taking orders from Mowbray Langdon now. Why?"
As I spoke, I was conscious that there had been some change in Anita. I
looked at her. With startled eyes and lips apart, she was advancing toward
"Anita, leave the room!" cried Mrs. Ellersly harshly, panic under the
command in her tones.
I felt rather than saw my advantage, and pressed it.
"You see what they are doing, Miss Ellersly," said I.
She passed her hands over her eyes, let her face appear again. In it there
was an energy of repulsion that ought to have seemed exaggerated to me
then, knowing really nothing of the true situation. "I understand now!"
said she. "Oh--it is--loathsome!" And her eyes blazed upon her mother.
"Loathsome," I echoed, dashing at my opportunity. "If you are not merely a
chattel and a decoy, if there is any womanhood, any self-respect in you,
you will keep faith with me."
"Anita!" cried Mrs. Ellersly. "Go to your room!"
I had, once or twice before, heard a tone as repulsive--a female
dive-keeper hectoring her wretched white slaves. I looked at Anita. I
expected to see her erect, defiant. Instead, she was again wearing that
"Don't judge me too harshly," she said pleadingly to me. "I know what is
right and decent--God planted that too deep in me for them to be able to
uproot it. But--oh, they have broken my will! They have broken my will!
They have made me a coward, a thing!" And she hid her face in her hands and
Mrs. Ellersly was about to speak. I could not offer better proof of my own
strength of will than the fact that I, with a look and a gesture, put her
down. Then I said to the girl:
"You must choose now! Woman or thing--which shall it be? If it is woman,
then you have me behind you and in front of you and around you. If it is
thing--God have mercy on you! Your self-respect, your pride are gone--for
ever. You will be like the carpet under his feet to the man whose creature
She came and stood by me, with her back to them.
"If you will take me with you now," she said, "I will go. If I delay, I am
lost. I shall not have the courage. And I am sick, sick to death of this
life here, of this hideous wait for the highest bidder."
Her voice gained strength and her manner courage as she spoke; at the end
she was meeting her mother's gaze without flinching. My eyes had followed
hers, and my look was taking in both her mother and her father. I had long
since measured them, yet I could scarcely credit the confirmation of my
judgment. Had life been smooth and comfortable for that old couple, as it
was for most of their acquaintances and friends, they would have lived and
died regarding themselves, and regarded, as well-bred, kindly people, of
the finest instincts and tastes. But calamity was putting to the test the
system on which they had molded their apparently elegant, graceful lives.
The storm had ripped off the attractive covering; the framework, the
reality of that system, was revealed, naked and frightful.
"Anita, go to your room!" almost screamed the old woman, her fury tearing
away the last shreds of her cloak of manners.
"Your daughter is of age, madam," said I. "She will go where she pleases.
And I warn you that you are deceived by the Langdons. I am not powerless,
and"--here I let her have a full look into my red-hot furnaces of wrath--"I
stop at nothing in pursuing those who oppose me--at nothing!"
Anita, staring at her mother's awful face, was shrinking and trembling
as if before the wicked, pale-yellow eyes and quivering, outstretched
tentacles of a devil-fish. Clinging to my arm, she let me guide her to the
door. Her mother recovered speech. "Anita!" she cried. "What are you doing?
Are you mad?"
"I think I must be out of my mind," said Anita. "But, if you try to keep me
here, I shall tell him all--_all_."
Her voice suggested that she was about to go into hysterics. I gently urged
her forward. There was some sort of woman's wrap in the hall. I put it
round her. Before she--or I--realized it, she was in my waiting electric.
"Up town," I said to my man.
She tried to get out.
"Oh, what have I done! What am I doing!" she cried, her courage oozing
away. "Let me out--please!"
"You are going with me," said I, entering and closing the door. I saw the
door of the Ellersly mansion opening, saw old Ellersly, bareheaded and
distracted, scuttling down the steps.
"Go ahead--fast!" I called to my man.
And the electric was rushing up the avenue, with the bell ringing for
crossings incessantly. She huddled away from me into the corner of the
seat, sobbing hysterically. I knew that to touch her would be fatal--or
to speak. So I waited.
As we neared the upper end of the park, I told my chauffeur, through the
tube, to enter and go slowly. Whenever a lamp flashed in at us, I had a
glimpse of her progress toward composure--now she was drying her eyes with
the bit of lace she called a handkerchief; now her bare arms were up, and
with graceful fingers she was arranging her hair; now she was straight and
still, the soft, fluffy material with which her wrap was edged drawn close
about her throat. I shifted to the opposite seat, for my nerves warned me
that I could not long control myself, if I stayed on where her garments
were touching me.
I looked away from her for the pleasure of looking at her again, of
realizing that my overwrought senses were not cheating me. Yes, there she
was, in all the luster of that magnetic beauty I can not think of even now
without an upblazing of the fire which is to the heart what the sun is to a
blind man dreaming of sight. There she was on my side of the chasm that had
separated us--alone with me--mine--mine! And my heart dilated with pride.
But a moment later came a sense of humility. Her beauty intoxicated me, but
her youth, her fineness, so fragile for such rough hands as mine, awed and
"I must be very gentle," said I to myself. "I have promised that she shall
never regret. God help me to keep my promise! She is mine, but only to
preserve and protect."
And that idea of _responsibility in possession_ was new to me--was
to have far-reaching consequences. Now that I think of it, I believe it
changed the whole course of my life.
She was leaning forward, her elbow on the casement of the open window of
the brougham, her cheek against her hand; the moonlight was glistening
on her round, firm forearm and on her serious face. "How far, far away
from--everything it seems here!" she said, her voice tuned to that soft,
clear light, "and how beautiful it is!" Then, addressing the moon and the
shadows of the trees rather than me: "I wish I could go on and on--and
never return to--to the world."
"I wish we could," said I.
My tone was low, but she started, drew back into the brougham, became an
outline in the deep shadow. In another mood that might have angered me.
Just then it hurt me so deeply that to remember it to-day is to feel a
faint ache in the scar of the long-healed wound. My face was not hidden as
was hers; so, perhaps, she saw. At any rate, her voice tried to be friendly
as she said: "Well--I have crossed the Rubicon. And I don't regret. It was
silly of me to cry. I thought I had been through so much that I was beyond
such weakness. But you will find me calm from now on, and reasonable."
"Not too reasonable, please," said I, with an attempt at her lightness. "A
reasonable woman is as trying as an unreasonable man."
"But we are going to be sensible with each other," she urged, "like two
friends. Aren't we?"
"We are going to be what we are going to be," said I. "We'll have to take
life as it comes."
That clumsy reminder set her to thinking, stirred her vague uneasiness in
those strange circumstances to active alarm. For presently she said, in a
tone that was not so matter-of-course as she had tried to make it: "We'll
go now to my Uncle Frank's. He's a brother of my father's. I always used to
like him best--and still do. But he married a woman mama thought--queer.
They hadn't much, so he lives away up on the West Side--One Hundred and
"The wise plan, the only wise plan," said I, not so calm as she must have
thought me, "is to go to my partner's house and send for a minister."
"Not to-night," she replied nervously. "Take me to Uncle Frank's, and
to-morrow we can discuss what to do and how to do it."
"To-night," I persisted. "We must be married to-night. No more uncertainty
and indecision and weakness. Let us begin bravely, Anita!"
"To-morrow," she said. "But not to-night. I must think it over."
"To-night," I repeated. "To-morrow will be full of its own problems. This
She shook her head, and I saw that the struggle between us had begun--the
struggle against her timidity and conventionality. "No, not tonight." This
in her tone for finality.
To argue with any woman in such circumstances would be dangerous; to argue
with her would have been fatal. To reason with a woman is to flatter
her into suspecting you of weakness and herself of strength. I told the
chauffeur to turn about and go slowly up town. She settled back into her
corner of the brougham. Neither of us spoke until we were passing Grant's
Tomb. Then she started out of her secure confidence in my obedience, and
exclaimed: "This is not the way!" And her voice had in it the hasty
"No," I replied, determined to push the panic into a rout. "As I told you,
our future shall be settled to-night." That in _my_ tone for finality.
A pause, then: "It _has_ been settled," she said, like a child that
feels, yet denies, its impotence as it struggles in the compelling arms of
its father. "I thought until a few minutes ago that I really intended to
marry you. Now I see that I didn't."
"Another reason why we're not going to your uncle's," said I.
She leaned forward so that I could see her face. "I can not marry you," she
said. "I feel humble toward you, for having misled you. But it is better
that you--and I--should have found out now than too late."
"It is too late--too late to go back."
"Would you wish to marry a woman who does not love you, who loves some one
else, and who tells you so and refuses to marry you?" She had tried to
concentrate enough scorn into her voice to hide her fear.
"I would," said I. "And I shall. I'll not desert you, Anita, when your
courage and strength shall fail. I will carry you on to safety."
"I tell you I can not marry you," she cried, between appeal and command.
"There are reasons--I may not tell you. But if I might, you would--would
take me to my uncle's. I can not marry you!"
"That is what conventionality bids you say now," I replied. And then I
gathered myself together and in a tone that made me hate myself as I
heard it, I added slowly, each word sharp and distinct: "But what will
conventionality bid you say to-morrow morning, as we drive down crowded
Fifth Avenue, after a night in this brougham?"
I could not see her, for she fell back into the darkness as sharply as if
I had struck her with all my force full in the face. But I could feel the
effect of my words upon her. I paused, not because I expected or wished
an answer, but because I had to steady myself--myself, not my purpose; my
purpose was inflexible. I would put through what we had begun, just as I
would have held her and cut off her arm with my pocket-knife if we had
been cast away alone, and I had had to do it to save her life. She was
not competent to decide for herself. Every problem that had ever faced
her had been decided by others for her. Who but me could decide for her
now? I longed to plead with her, longed to let her see that I was not
hard-hearted, was thinking of her, was acting for her sake as much as for
my own. But I dared not. "She would misunderstand," said I to myself. "She
would think you were weakening."
Full fifteen minutes of that frightful silence before she said: "I will go
where you wish." And she said it in a tone that makes me wince as I recall
I called my partner's address up through the tube. Again that frightful
silence, then she was trying to choke back the sobs. A few words I caught:
"They have broken my will--they have broken my will."
* * * * *
My partner lived in a big, gray-stone house that stood apart and commanded
a noble view of the Hudson and the Palisades. It was, in the main, a
reproduction of a French chateau, and such changes as the architect had
made in his model were not positively disfiguring, though amusing. There
should have been trees and shrubbery about it, but--"As Mrs. B. says," Joe
had explained to me, "what's the use of sinking a lot of cash in a house
people can't see?" So there was not a bush, not a flower. Inside--One day
Ball took me on a tour of the art shops. "I've got a dozen corners and
other big bare spots to fill," said he. "Mrs. B. hates to give up money,
haggles over every article. I'm going to put the job through in business
style." I soon discovered that I had been brought along to admire his
"business style," not to suggest. After two hours, in which he bought in
small lots several tons of statuary, paintings, vases and rugs, he said,
"This is too slow." He pointed his stick at a crowded corner of the shop.
"How much for that bunch of stuff?" he demanded. The proprietor gave him a
figure. "I'll close," said Joe, "if you'll give fifteen off for cash." The
proprietor agreed. "Now we're done," said Joe to me. "Let's go down town,
and maybe I can pick up what I've dropped."
You can imagine that interior. But don't picture it as notably worse than
the interior of the average New York palace. It was, if anything, better
than those houses, where people who deceive themselves about their lack of
taste have taken great pains to prevent any one else from being deceived.
One could hardly move in Joe's big rooms for the litter of gilded and
tapestried furniture, and their crowded walls made the eyes ache.
The appearance of the man who opened the door for Anita and me suggested
that our ring had roused him from a bed where he had deposited himself
without bothering to take off his clothes. At the sound of my voice, Ball
peered out of his private smoking-room, at the far end of the hall. He
started forward; then, seeing how I was accompanied, stopped with mouth
ajar. He had on a ragged smoking-jacket, a pair of shapeless old Romeo
slippers, his ordinary business waistcoat and trousers. He was wearing
neither tie nor collar, and a short, black pipe was between his fingers.
We had evidently caught the household stripped of "lugs," and sunk in the
down-at-the-heel slovenliness which it called "comfort." Joe was crimson
with confusion, and was using his free hand to stroke, alternately, his
shiny bald head and his heavy brown mustache. He got himself together
sufficiently, after a few seconds, to disappear into his den. When he came
out again, pipe and ragged jacket were gone, and he rushed for us in a
gorgeous velvet jacket with dark red facings, and a showy pair of slippers.
"Glad to see you, Mr. Blacklock"--in his own home he always addressed every
man as Mister, just as "Mrs. B." always called him "Mister Ball," and he
called her "Missus Ball" before "company." "Come right into the front
parlor. Billy, turn on the electric lights."
Anita had been standing with her head down. She now looked round with
shame and terror in those expressive blue-gray eyes of hers; her delicate
nostrils were quivering. I hastened to introduce Ball to her. Her impulse
to fly passed; her lifelong training in doing the conventional thing
asserted itself. She lowered her head again, murmured an inaudible
acknowledgment of Joe's greeting.
"Your wife is at home?" said I. If one was at home in the evening, the
other was also, and both were always there, unless they were at some
theater--except on Sunday night, when they dined at Sherry's, because many
fashionable people did it. They had no friends and few acquaintances.
In their humbler and happy days they had had many friends, but had lost
them when they moved away from Brooklyn and went to live, like uneasy,
out-of-place visitors, in their grand house, pretending to be what they
longed to be, longing to be what they pretended to be, and as discontented
as they deserved.
"Oh, yes, Mrs. B.'s at home," Joe answered. "I guess she and Alva
were--about to go to bed." Alva was their one child. She had been
christened Malvina, after Joe's mother; but when the Balls "blossomed out"
they renamed her Alva, which they somehow had got the impression was
At Joe's blundering confession that the females of the family were in no
condition to receive, Anita said to me in a low voice: "Let us go."
I pretended not to hear. "Rout 'em out," said I to Joe. "Then, take my
electric and bring the nearest parson. There's going to be a wedding--right
here." And I looked round the long salon, with everything draped for the
summer departure. Joe whisked the cover off one chair, his man took off
another. "I'll have the women-folks down in two minutes," he cried. Then to
the man: "Get a move on you, Billy. Stir 'em up in the kitchen. Do the best
you can about supper--and put a lot of champagne on the ice. That's the
main thing at a wedding."
Anita had seated herself listlessly in one of the uncovered chairs. The
wrap slipped back from her shoulders and--how proud I was of her! Joe
gazed, took advantage of her not looking up to slap me on the back and to
jerk his head in enthusiastic approval. Then he, too, disappeared.
A wait followed, during which we could hear, through the silence, excited
undertones from the upper floors. The words were indistinct until Joe's
heavy voice sent down to us an angry "No damn nonsense, I tell you. Allie's
got to come, too. She's not such a fool as you think. Bad example--bosh!"
Anita started up. "Oh--please--please!" she cried. "Take me away--anywhere!
This is dreadful."
It was, indeed, dreadful. If I could have had my way at just that moment,
it would have gone hard with "Mrs. B." and "Allie"--and heavy-voiced Joe,
too. But I hid my feelings.
"There's nowhere else to go," said I, "except the brougham."
She sank into her chair.
A few minutes more of silence, and there was a rustling on the stairs.
She started up, trembling, looked round, as if seeking some way of escape
or some place to hide. Joe was in the doorway holding aside one of the
curtains. There entered in a beribboned and beflounced tea-gown, a pretty,
if rather ordinary, woman of forty, with a petulant baby face. She was
trying to look reserved and severe. She hardly glanced at me before
fastening sharp, suspicious eyes on Anita.
"Mrs. Ball," said I, "this is Miss Ellersly,"
"Miss Ellersly!" she exclaimed, her face changing. And she advanced and
took both Anita's hands. "Mr. Ball is so stupid," she went on, with that
amusingly affected accent which is the "Sunday clothes" of speech.
"I didn't catch the name, my dear," Joe stammered.
"Be off," said I, aside, to him. "Get the nearest preacher, and hustle him
here with his tools."
I had one eye on Anita all the time, and I saw her gaze follow Joe as he
hurried out; and her expression made my heart ache. I heard him saying in
the hall, "Go in, Allie. It's O K"; heard the door slam, knew we should
soon have some sort of minister with us.
"Allie" entered the drawing-room. I had not seen her in six years. I
remembered her unpleasantly as a great, bony, florid child, unable to
stand still or to sit still, or to keep her tongue still, full of aimless
questions and giggles and silly remarks that she and her mother thought
funny. I saw her now, grown into a handsome young woman, with enough beauty
points for an honorable mention, if not for a prize--straight and strong
and rounded, with a brow and a keen look out of the eyes which it seemed
a pity should be wasted on a woman. Her mother's looks, her father's good
sense, a personality apparently got from neither, but all her own, and
unusual and interesting. No wonder the Balls felt toward her much as a pair
of barn-swallows would feel if they were to hatch out an eaglet. These
quiet, tame American parents that are always finding their suppressed
selves, the bold, fantastic, unadmitted dreams of their youth startlingly
confronting them in the flesh as their own children!
"From what Mr. Ball said,"--Mrs. Ball was gushing affectedly to Anita,--"I
got an idea that--well, really, I didn't know _what_ to think."
Anita looked as if she were about to suffocate. Allie came to the rescue.
"Not very complimentary to Mr. Blacklock, mother," said she good-humoredly.
Then to Anita, with a simple friendliness there was no resisting: "Wouldn't
you like to come up to my room for a few minutes?"
"Oh, thank you!" responded Anita, after a quick, but thorough inspection
of Alva's face, to make sure she was like her voice. I had not counted on
this; I had been assuming that Anita would not be out of my sight until we
were married. It was on the tip of my tongue to interfere when she looked
at me--for permission to go!
"Don't keep her too long," said I to Alva, and they were gone.
"You can't blame me--really you can't, Mr. Blacklock," Mrs. Ball began to
plead for herself, as soon as they were safely out of hearing. "After some
things--mere hints, you understand--for I'm careful what I permit Mr. Ball
to say before _me_. I think married people can not be too respectful of
each other. I _never_ tolerate _vulgarity_."
"No doubt, Joe has made me out a very vulgar person," said I, forgetting
her lack of humor.
"Oh, not at all, not at all, Mr. Blacklock," she protested, in a panic lest
she had done her husband damage with me. "I understand, men will be men,
though as a pure-minded woman, I'm sure I can't imagine why they should
"How far off is the nearest church?" I cut in.
"Only two blocks--that is, the Methodist church," she replied. "But I know
Mr. Ball will bring an Episcopalian."
"Why, I thought you were a devoted Presbyterian," said I, recalling how in
their Brooklyn days she used to insist on Joe's going twice every Sunday to
sleep through long sermons.
She looked uncomfortable. "I was reared Presbyterian," she explained
confusedly, "but you know how it is in New York. And when we came to live
here, we got out of the habit of church-going. And all Alva's little
friends were Episcopalians. So I drifted toward that church. I find the
service so satisfying--so--elegant. And--one sees there the people one sees
"How is your culture class?" I inquired, deliberately malicious, in my
impatience and nervousness. "And do you still take conversation lessons?"
She was furiously annoyed. "Oh, those old jokes of Joe's," she said,
affecting disdainful amusement.
In fact, they were anything but jokes. On Mondays and Thursdays she used
to attend a class for women who, like herself, wished to be "up-to-date on
culture and all that sort of thing." They hired a teacher to cram them with
odds and ends about art and politics and the "latest literature, heavy and
light." On Tuesdays and Fridays she had an "indigent gentlewoman," whatever
that may be, come to her to teach her how to converse and otherwise conduct
herself according to the "standards of polite society."
Joe used to give imitations of those conversation lessons that raised roars
of laughter round the poker table, the louder because so many of the other
men had wives with the same ambitions and the same methods of attaining
Mrs. Ball came back to the subject of Anita.
"I am glad you are going to settle with such a charming girl. She comes of
such a charming family. I have never happened to meet any of them. We are
in the West Side set, you know, while they move in the East Side set, and
New York is so large that one almost never meets any one outside one's own
set." This smooth snobbishness, said in the affected "society" tone, was
as out of place in her as rouge and hair-dye in a wholesome, honest old
I began to pace the floor. "Can it be," I fretted aloud, "that Joe's racing
round looking for an Episcopalian preacher, when there was a Methodist at
"I'm sure he wouldn't bring anything but a Church of England priest,"
Mrs. Ball assured me loftily. "Why, Miss Ellersly wouldn't think she was
married, if she hadn't a priest of her own church."
My temper got the bit in its teeth. I stopped before her, and fixed her
with an eye that must have had some fire in it. "I'm not marrying a fool,
Mrs. Ball," said I. "You mustn't judge her by her bringing-up--by her
family. Children have a way of bringing themselves up, in spite of damn
She weakened so promptly that I was ashamed of myself. My only apology for
getting out of patience with her is that I had seen her seldom in the last
few years, had forgotten how matter-of-surface her affectation and snobbery
were, and how little they interfered with her being a good mother and a
good wife, up to the limits of her brain capacity.
"I'm sure, Mr. Blacklock," she said plaintively, "I only wished to say what
was pleasant and nice about your fiancee. I know she's a lovely girl. I've
often admired her at the opera. She goes a great deal in Mrs. Langdon's
box, and Mrs. Langdon and I are together on the board of managers of the
Magdalene Home, and also on the board of the Hospital for Unfortunate
Gentlefolk." And so on, and on.
I walked up and down among those wrapped-up, ghostly chairs and tables and
cabinets and statues many times before Joe arrived with the minister--and
he was a Methodist, McCabe by name. You should have seen Mrs. Ball's look
as he advanced his portly form and round face with its shaven upper lip
into the drawing-room. She tried to be cordial, but she couldn't--her mind
was on Anita, and the horror that would fill her when she discovered that
she was to be married by a preacher of a sect unknown to fashionable
"All I ask of you," said I to him, "is that you cut it as short as
possible. Miss Ellersly is tired and nervous." This while we were shaking
hands after Joe's introduction.
"You can count on me, sir," said McCabe, giving my hand an extra shake
before dropping it. "I've no doubt, from what my young neighbor here
tells me, that your marriage is already made in your hearts and with all
solemnity. The form is an incident--important, but only an incident."
I liked that, and I liked his unaffected way of saying it. His voice had
more of the homely, homelike, rural twang in it than I had heard in New
York in many a day. I mentally doubled the fee I had intended to give him.
And now Alva and she were coming down the stairway. I was amazed at sight
of her. Her evening dress had given place to a pretty blue street suit
with a short skirt--white showing at her wrists, at her neck and through
slashings in the coat over her bosom; and on her head was a hat to match. I
looked at her feet--the slippers had been replaced by boots. "And they're
just right for her," said Alva, who was following my glance, "though I'm
not so tall as she."
But what amazed me most, and delighted me, was that she seemed to be almost
in good spirits. It was evident she had formed with Joe's daughter one of
those sudden friendships so great and so vivid that they rarely lived long
after the passing of the heat of the emergency that bred them. Mrs. Ball
saw it, also, and was straightway giddied into a sort of ecstasy. You can
imagine the visions it conjured. I've no doubt she talked house on the
east side of the park to Joe that very night, before she let him sleep.
However, Anita's face was serious enough when we took our places before
the minister, with his little, black-bound book open. And as he read in a
voice that was genuinely impressive those words that no voice could make
unimpressive, I saw her paleness blanch into pallor, saw the dusk creep
round her eyes until they were like stars waning somberly before the gray
face of dawn. When they closed and her head began to sway, I steadied her
with my arm. And so we stood, I with my arm round her, she leaning lightly
against my shoulder. Her answers were mere movements of the lips.
At the end, when I kissed her cheek, she said: "Is it over?"
"Yes," McCabe answered--she was looking at him. "And I wish you all
happiness, Mrs. Blacklock."
At that name, her new name, she stared at him with great wondering eyes;
then her form relaxed. I carried her to a chair. Joe came with a glass of
champagne; she drank some of it, and it brought life back to her face, and
some color. With a naturalness that deceived even me for the moment, she
smiled up at Joe as she handed him the glass. "Is it bad luck," she asked,
"for me to be the first to drink my own health?" And she stood, looking
tranquilly at every one--except me.
I took McCabe into the hall and paid him off.
When we came back, I said: "Now we must be going."
"Oh, but surely you'll stay for supper!" cried Joe's wife.
"No," replied I, in a tone that made it impossible to insist. "We
appreciate your kindness, but we've imposed on it enough." And I shook
hands with her and with Allie and the minister, and, linking Joe's arm in
mine, made for the door. I gave the necessary directions to my chauffeur
while we were waiting for Anita to come down the steps. Joe's daughter was
close beside her, and they kissed each other good-by, Alva on the verge of
tears, Anita not suggesting any emotion of any sort. "To-morrow--sure,"
Anita said to her. And she answered: "Yes, indeed--as soon as you telephone
me." And so we were off, a shower of rice rattling on the roof of the
brougham--the slatternly man-servant had thrown it from the midst of the
group of servants.
Neither of us spoke. I watched her face without seeming to do so, and by
the light of occasional street lamps saw her studying me furtively. At last
she said: "I wish to go to my uncle's now."
"We are going home," said I.
"But the house will be shut up," said she, "and every one will be in bed.
It's nearly midnight. Besides, they might not--" She came to a full stop.
"We are going--home," I repeated. "To the Willoughby."
She gave me a look that was meant to scorch--and it did. But I showed at
the surface no sign of how I was wincing and shrinking.
She drew farther into her corner, and out of its darkness came, in a low
voice: "How I _hate_ you!" like the whisper of a bullet.
I kept silent until I had control of myself. Then, as if talking--of a
matter that had been finally and amicably settled, I began: "The apartment
isn't exactly ready for us, but Joe's just about now telephoning my man
that we are coming, and telephoning your people to send your maid down
"I wish to go to my uncle's," she repeated.
"My wife will go with me," said I quietly and gently. "I am considerate of
_her_, not of her unwise impulses."
A long pause, then from her, in icy calmness: "I am in your power just now.
But I warn you that, if you do not take me to my uncle's, you will wish you
had never seen me."
"I've wished that many times already," said I sadly. "I've wished it from
the bottom of my heart this whole evening, when step by step fate has been