Part 4 out of 6
forcing me on to do things that are even more hateful to me than to you.
For they not only make me hate myself, but make you hate me, too." I laid
my hand on her arm and held it there, though she tried to draw away.
"Anita," I said, "I would do anything for you--live for you, die for you.
But there's that something inside me--you've felt it; and when it says
'must,' I can't disobey--you know I can't. And, though you might break
my heart, you could not break that will. It's as much my master as it is
"We shall see--to-morrow," she said.
"Do not put me to the test," I pleaded. Then I added what I knew to be
true: "But you will not. You know it would take some one stronger than your
uncle, stronger than your parents, to swerve me from what I believe right
for you and for me." I had no fear for "to-morrow." The hour when she could
defy me had passed.
A long, long silence, the electric speeding southward under the arching
trees of the West Drive. I remember it was as we skirted the lower end
of the Mall that she said evenly: "You have made me hate you so that it
terrifies me. I am afraid of the consequences that must come to you and
"And well you may be," I answered gently. "For you've seen enough of me to
get at least a hint of what I would do, if goaded to it. Hate is terrible,
Anita, but love can be more terrible."
At the Willoughby she let me help her descend from the electric, waited
until I sent it away, walked beside me into the building. My man, Sanders,
had evidently been listening for the elevator; the door opened without my
ringing, and there he was, bowing low. She acknowledged his welcome with
that regard for "appearances" that training had made instinctive. In the
center of my--our--drawing-room table was a mass of fresh white roses.
"Where did you get 'em?" I asked him, in an aside.
"The elevator boy's brother, sir," he replied, "works in the florist's shop
just across the street, next to the church. He happened to be down stairs
when I got your message, sir. So I was able to get a few flowers. I'm
sorry, sir, I hadn't a little more time."
"You've done noble," said I, and I shook hands with him warmly.
Anita was greeting those flowers as if they were a friend suddenly
appearing in a time of need. She turned now and beamed on Sanders. "Thank
you," she said; "thank you." And Sanders was hers.
"Anything I can do--ma'am--sir?" asked Sanders.
"Nothing--except send my maid as soon as she comes," she replied.
"I shan't need you," said I.
"Mr. Monson is still here," he said, lingering. "Shall I send him away,
sir, or do you wish to see him?"
"I'll speak to him myself in a moment," I answered.
When Sanders was gone, she seated herself and absently played with the
buttons of her glove.
"Shall I bring Monson?" I asked. "You know, he's my--factotum."
"_I_ do not wish to see him," she answered.
"You do not like him?"
After a brief hesitation she answered, "No." Not for worlds would she just
then have admitted, even to herself, that the cause of her dislike was her
knowledge of his habit of tattling, with suitable embroideries, his lessons
I restrained a strong impulse to ask her why, for instinct told me she had
some especial reason that somehow concerned me. I said merely: "Then I
shall get rid of him."
"Not on my account," she replied indifferently. "I care nothing about him
one way or the other."
"He goes at the end of his month," said I.
She was now taking off her gloves. "Before your maid comes," I went on,
"let me explain about the apartment. This room and the two leading out of
it are yours. My own suite is on the other side of our private hall there."
She colored high, paled. I saw that she did not intend to speak.
I stood awkwardly, waiting for something further to come into my own head.
"Good night," said I finally, as if I were taking leave of a formal
acquaintance at the end of a formal call.
She did not answer. I left the room, closing the door behind me. I paused
an instant, heard the key click in the lock. And I burned in a hot flush of
shame that she should be thinking thus basely of me--and with good cause.
How could she know, how appreciate even if she had known? "You've had to
cut deep," said I to myself. "But the wounds'll heal, though it may take
long--very long." And I went on my way, not wholly downcast.
I joined Monson in my little smoking-room. "Congratulate you," he began,
with his nasty, supercilious grin, which of late had been getting on my
"Thanks," I replied curtly, paying no attention to his outstretched hand.
"I want you to put a notice of the marriage in to-morrow morning's
"Give me the facts--clergyman's name--place, and so on," said he.
"Unnecessary," I answered. "Just our names and the date--that's all. You'd
better step lively. It's late, and it'll be too late if you delay."
With an irritating show of deliberation he lit a fresh cigarette before
setting out. I heard her maid come. After about an hour I went into the
hall--no light through the transoms of her suite. I returned to my own part
of the flat and went to bed in the spare room to which Sanders had moved my
personal belongings. That day which began in disaster--in what a blaze of
triumph it had ended! Anita--my wife, and under my roof! I slept with good
conscience. I had earned sleep.
"SHE HAS CHOSEN!"
Joe got to the office rather later than usual the next morning. They told
him I was already there, but he wouldn't believe it until he had come into
my private den and with his own eyes had seen me. "Well, I'm jiggered!"
said he. "It seems to have made less impression on you than it did on us.
My missus and the little un wouldn't let me go to bed till after two. They
sat on and on, questioning and discussing."
I laughed--partly because I knew that Joe, like most men, was as full of
gossip and as eager for it as a convalescent old maid, and that, whoever
might have been the first at his house to make the break for bed, he was
the last to leave off talking. But the chief reason for my laugh was that,
just before he came in on me, I was almost pinching myself to see whether I
was dreaming it all, and he had made me feel how vividly true it was.
"Why don't you ease down, Blacklock?" he went on. "Everything's smooth. The
business--at least, my end of it, and I suppose your end, too--was never
better, never growing so fast. You could go off for a week or two, just as
well as not. I don't know of a thing that can prevent you."
And he honestly thought it, so little did I let him know about the larger
enterprises of Blacklock and Company. I could have spoken a dozen words,
and he would have been floundering like a caught fish in a basket. There
are men--a very few--who work more swiftly and more surely when they know
they're on the brink of ruin; but not Joe. One glimpse of our real National
Coal account, and all my power over him couldn't have kept him from showing
the whole Street that Blacklock and Company was shaky. And whenever the
Street begins to think a man is shaky, he must be strong indeed to escape
the fate of the wolf that stumbles as it runs with the pack.
"No holiday at present, Joe," was my reply to his suggestion. "Perhaps the
second week in July; but our marriage was so sudden that we haven't had the
time to get ready for a trip."
"Yes--it _was_ sudden, wasn't it?" said Joe, curiosity twitching his
nose like a dog's at scent of a rabbit. "How _did_ it happen?"
"Oh, I'll tell you sometime," replied I. "I must work now."
And work a-plenty there was. Before me rose a sheaf of clamorous telegrams
from our out-of-town customers and our agents; and soon my anteroom was
crowded with my local following, sore and shorn. I suppose a score or more
of the habitual heavy plungers on my tips were ruined and hundreds of
others were thousands and tens of thousands out of pocket. "Do you want me
to talk to these people?" inquired Joe, with the kindly intention of giving
me a chance to shift the unpleasant duty to him.
"Certainly not," said I. "When the place is jammed, let me know. I'll jack
It made Joe uneasy for me even to talk of using my "language"--he would
have crawled from the Battery to Harlem to keep me from using it on him.
So he silently left me alone. My system of dealing face to face with the
speculating and investing public had many great advantages over that of all
the other big operators--their system of hiding behind cleverly-contrived
screens and slaughtering the decoyed public without showing so much as the
tip of a gun or nose that could be identified. But to my method there was
a disadvantage that made men, who happened to have more hypocrisy and less
nerve than I, shrink from it. When one of my tips miscarried, down upon me
would swoop the bad losers in a body to give me a turbulent quarter of an
Toward ten o'clock, my boy came in and said: "Mr. Ball thinks it's about
time for you to see some of these people."
I went into the main room, where the tickers and blackboards were. As I
approached through my outer office I could hear the noise the crowd was
making--as they cursed me. If you want to rile the true inmost soul of the
average human being, don't take his reputation or his wife; just cause
him to lose money. There were among my speculating customers many with
the even-tenored sporting instinct. These were bearing their losses with
philosophy--none of them had swooped on me. Of the perhaps three hundred
who had come to ease their anguish by tongue-lashing me, every one was
a bad loser and was mad through and through--those who had lost a few
hundred dollars were as infuriated as those whom my misleading tip had cost
thousands and tens of thousands; those whom I had helped to win all they
had in the world were more savage than those new to my following.
I took my stand in the doorway, a step up from the floor of the main room.
I looked all round until I had met each pair of angry eyes. They say I can
give my face an expression that is anything but agreeable; such talent as
I have in that direction I exerted then. The instant I appeared a silence
fell; but I waited until the last pair of claws drew in. Then I said, in
the quiet tone the army officer uses when he tells the mob that the machine
guns will open up in two minutes by the watch: "Gentlemen, in the effort to
counteract my warning to the public, the Textile crowd rocketed the stock
yesterday. Those who heeded my warning and sold got excellent prices. Those
who did not should sell to-day. Not even the powerful interests behind
Textile can long maintain yesterday's prices."
A wave of restlessness passed over the crowd. Many shifted their eyes from
me and began to murmur.
I raised my voice slightly as I went on: "The speculators, the gamblers,
are the only people who were hurt. Those who sold what they didn't have are
paying for their folly. I have no sympathy for them. Blacklock and Company
wishes none such in its following, and seizes every opportunity to weed
them out. We are in business only for the bona fide investing public, and
we are stronger with that public to-day than we have ever been."
Again I looked from coward to coward of that mob, changed from three
hundred strong to three hundred weak. Then I bowed and withdrew, leaving
them to mutter and disperse. I felt well content with the trend of
events--I who wished to impress the public and the financiers that I had
broken with speculation and speculators, could I have had a better than
this unexpected opportunity sharply to define my new course? And as
Textiles, unsupported, fell toward the close of the day, my content rose
toward my normal high spirits. There was no whisper in the Street that
I was in trouble; on the contrary, the idea was gaining ground that I
had really long ceased to be a stock gambler and deserved a much better
reputation than I had. Reputation is a matter of diplomacy rather than of
desert. In all my career I was never less entitled to a good reputation
than in those June days; yet the disastrous gambling follies, yes, and
worse, I then committed, formed the secure foundation of my reputation
for conservatism and square dealing. From that time dates the decline of
the habit the newspapers had of speaking of me as "Black Matt" or "Matt"
Blacklock. In them, and therefore in the public mind, I began to figure as
"Mr. Blacklock, a recognized authority on finance," and such information as
I gave out ceased to be described as "tips" and was respectfully referred
to as "indications."
No doubt, my marriage had something to do with this. Probably one couldn't
borrow any great amount of money in New York directly and solely on
the strength of a fashionable marriage; but, so all-pervading is the
snobbishness there, one can get, by making a fashionable marriage, any
quantity of that deferential respect from rich people which is, in some
circumstances, easily convertible into cash and credit.
I searched with a good deal of anxiety, as you may imagine, the early
editions of the afternoon papers. The first article my eye chanced upon was
a mere wordy elaboration of the brief and vague announcement Monson had put
in the _Herald_. Later came an interview with old Ellersly.
"Not at all mysterious," he had said to the reporters. "Mr. Blacklock found
he would have to go abroad on business soon--he didn't know just when. On
the spur of the moment they decided to marry." A good enough story, and
I confirmed it when I admitted the reporters. I read their estimates of
my fortune and of Anita's with rather bitter amusement--she whose father
was living from hand to mouth; I who could not have emerged from a forced
settlement with enough to enable me to keep a trap. Still, when one is
rich, the reputation of being rich is heavily expensive; but when one is
poor the reputation of being rich can be made a wealth-giving asset.
Even as I was reading these fables of my millions, there lay on the desk
before me a statement of the exact posture of my affairs--a memorandum made
by myself for my own eyes, and to be burned as soon as I mastered it. On
the face of the figures the balance against me was appalling. My chief
asset, indeed my only asset that measured up toward my debts, was my Coal
stocks, those bought and those contracted for; and, while their par value
far exceeded my liabilities, they had to appear in my memorandum at their
actual market value on that day. I looked at the calendar--seventeen days
until the reorganization scheme would be announced, only seventeen days!
Less than three business weeks, and I should be out of the storm and
sailing safer and smoother seas than I had ever known. "To indulge in vague
_hopes_ is bad," thought I, "but not to indulge in _a_ hope, especially
when one has only it between him and the pit." And I proceeded to plan on
the not unwarranted assumption that my Coal hope was a present reality.
Indeed, what alternative had I? To put it among the future's uncertainties
was to put myself among the utterly ruined. Using as collateral the Coal
stocks I had bought outright, I borrowed more money, and with it went still
deeper into the Coal venture. Everything or nothing!--since the chances in
my favor were a thousand, to practically none against me. Everything or
nothing!--since only by staking everything could I possibly save anything
The morality of these and many of my other doings in those days will no
doubt be condemned. By no one more severely than by myself--now that the
necessities which then compelled me have passed. There is no subject on
which men talk and think, more humbug than on that subject of morality. As
a matter of fact, except in those personal relations that are governed by
the affections, what is morality but the mandate of policy, and what is
policy but the mandate of necessity? My criticism of Roebuck and the other
"high financiers" is not upon their morality, but upon their policy, which
is short-sighted and stupid and base. The moral difference between me and
them is that, white I merely assert and maintain my right to live, they
deny the right of any but themselves to live. I say I criticize them;
but that does not mean that I sympathize with the public at large in its
complainings against them. The public, its stupidity and cupidity, creates
the conditions that breed and foster these men. A rotten cheese reviling
the maggots it has bred!
In those very hours when I was obeying the imperative law of
self-preservation, was clutching at every log that floated by me regardless
of whether it was my property or not so long as it would help me keep my
head above water--what was going on all round me? In every office of the
down town district--merchant, banker, broker, lawyer, man of commerce or
finance--was not every busy brain plotting, not self-preservation but
pillage and sack--plotting to increase the cost of living for the masses of
men by slipping a little tax here and a little tax there on to everything
by which men live? All along the line between the farm or mine or shop
and the market, at every one of the toll-gates for the collection of
_just_ charges, these big financiers, backed up by the big lawyers and
the rascally public officials, had an agent in charge to collect on each
passing article more than was honestly due. A thousand subtle ways of
levying, all combining to pour in upon the few the torrents of unjust
wealth. I laugh when I read of laboring men striking for higher wages.
Poor, ignorant fools--they almost deserve their fate. They had better be
concerning themselves with a huge, universal strike at the polls for lower
prices. What will it avail to get higher wages, as long as the masters
control and recoup on the prices of all the things for which those wages
must be spent?
I lived in Wall Street, in its atmosphere of the practical morality of
"finance." On every side swindling operations, great and small; operations
regarded as right through long-established custom; dishonest or doubtful
operations on the way to becoming established by custom as "respectable."
No man's title to anything conceded unless he had the brains to defend it.
There was a time when it would have been regarded as wildly preposterous
and viciously immoral to deny property rights in human beings. There may
come a time--who knows?--when "high finance's" denial of a moral right
to property of any kind may cease to be regarded as wicked; may become a
generally accepted canon, as our Socialist friends predict. However, I
attempt no excuses for myself; I need them no more than a judge in the Dark
Ages needed to apologize for ordering a witch to the stake. I could no
more have done differently than a fish could breathe on land or a man
under water. I did as all the others did--and I had the justification of
necessity. Right of might being the prevailing code, when men set upon
me with pistols, I met them with pistols, not with the discarded and
antiquated weapons of sermon and prayer and the law.
And I thought extremely well of myself and of my pistols that June
afternoon, as I was hurrying up town the moment the day's settlement on
'Change was finished. I had sent out my daily letter to investors, and its
tone of confidence was genuine--I knew that hundreds of customers of a
better class would soon be flocking in to take the places of those I had
been compelled to teach a lesson in the vicissitudes of gambling. With a
light heart and the physical feeling of a football player in training, I
sped toward home.
Home! For the first time since I was a squat little slip of a shaver the
word had a personal meaning for me. Perhaps, if the only other home of mine
had been less uninviting, I should not have looked forward with such high
beating of the heart to that cold home Anita was making for me. No, I
withdraw that. It is fellows like me, to whom kindly looks and unsought
attentions are as unfamiliar as flowers to the Arctic--it is men like me
that appreciate and treasure and warm up under the faintest show or shadowy
suggestion of the sunshine of sentiment. I'd be a little ashamed to say how
much money I handed out to beggars and street gamins that day. I had a home
to go to!
As my electric drew up at the Willoughby, a carriage backed to make room
for it. I recognized the horses and the coachman and the crest.
"How long has Mrs. Ellersly been with my wife?" I asked the elevator boy,
as he was taking me up.
"About half an hour, sir," he answered. "But Mr. Ellersly--I took up his
card before lunch, and he's still there."
Instead of using my key, I rang the bell, and when Sanders opened, I said:
"Is Mrs. Blacklock in?" in a voice loud enough to penetrate to the
As I had hoped, Anita appeared. Her dress told me that her trunks had
come--she had sent for her trunks! "Mother and father are here," said she,
without looking at me.
I followed her into the drawing-room and, for the benefit of the servants,
Mr. and Mrs. Ellersly and I greeted each other courteously, though Mrs.
Ellersly's eyes and mine met in a glance like the flash of steel on steel.
"We were just going," said she, and then I felt that I had arrived in the
midst of a tempest of uncommon fury.
"You must stop and make _me_ a visit," protested I, with elaborate
politeness. To myself I was assuming that they had come to "make up and be
friends"--and resume their places at the trough.
She was moving toward the door, the old man in her wake. Neither of them
offered to shake hands with me; neither made pretense of saying good-by
to Anita, standing by the window like a pillar of ice. I had closed the
drawing-room door behind me, as I entered. I was about to open it for them
when I was restrained by what I saw working in the old woman's face. She
had set her will on escaping from my loathed presence without a "scene;"
but her rage at having been outgeneraled was too fractious for her will.
"You scoundrel!" she hissed, her whole body shaking and her
carefully-cultivated appearance of the gracious evening of youth swallowed
up in a black cyclone of hate. "You gutter-plant! God will punish you for
the shame you have brought upon us!"
I opened the door and bowed, without a word, without even the desire to
return insult for insult--had not Anita evidently again and finally
rejected them and chosen me? As they passed into the private hall I
rang for Sanders to come and let them out. When I turned back into the
drawing-room, Anita was seated, was reading a book. I waited until I saw
she was not going to speak. Then I said: "What time will you have dinner?"
But my face must have been expressing some of the joy and gratitude that
filled me. "She has chosen!" I was saying to myself over and over.
"Whenever you usually have it," she replied, without looking up.
"At seven o'clock, then. You had better tell Sanders."
I rang for him and went into my little smoking-room. She had resisted her
parents' final appeal to her to return to them. She had cast in her lot
with me. "The rest can be left to time," said I to myself. And, reviewing
all that had happened, I let a wild hope send tenacious roots deep into me.
How often ignorance is a blessing; how often knowledge would make the step
falter and the heart quail!
BLACKLOCK ATTENDS FAMILY PRAYERS
During dinner I bore the whole burden of conversation--though burden I did
not find it. Like most close-mouthed men, I am extremely talkative. Silence
sets people to wondering and prying; he hides his secrets best who hides
them at the bottom of a river of words. If my spirits are high, I often
talk aloud to myself when there is no one convenient. And how could my
spirits be anything but high, with her sitting there opposite me, mine,
mine for better or for worse, through good and evil report--my wife!
She was only formally responsive, reluctant and brief in answers,
volunteering nothing. The servants waiting on us no doubt laid her manner
to shyness; I understood it, or thought I did--but I was not troubled.
It is as natural for me to hope as to breathe; and with my knowledge of
character, how could I take seriously the moods and impulses of one whom I
regarded as a childlike girl, trained to false pride and false ideals? "She
has chosen to stay with me," said I to myself. "Actions count, not words or
manner. A few days or weeks, and she will be herself, and mine." And I went
gaily on with my efforts to interest her, to make her smile and forget the
role she had commanded herself to play. Nor was I wholly unsuccessful.
Again and again I thought I saw a gleam of interest in her eyes or the
beginnings of a smile about that sweet mouth of hers. I was careful not to
overdo my part.
As soon as we finished dessert I said: "You loathe cigar smoke, so I'll
hide myself in my den. Sanders will bring you the cigarettes." I had myself
telephoned for a supply of her kind early in the day.
She made a polite protest for the benefit of the servants; but I was firm,
and left her free to think things over alone in the drawing-room--"your
sitting-room," I called it, I had not finished a small cigar when there
came a timid knock at my door. I threw away the cigar and opened. "I
thought it was you," said I. "I'm familiar with the knocks of all the
others. And this was new--like a summer wind tapping with a flower for
admission at a closed window." And I laughed with a little raillery, and
she smiled, colored, tried to seem cold and hostile again.
"Shall I go with you to your sitting-room?" I went on. "Perhaps the cigar
"No, no," she interrupted; "I don't really mind cigars--and the windows are
wide open. Besides, I came for only a moment--just to say--"
As she cast about for words to carry her on, I drew up a chair for her.
She looked at it uncertainly, seated herself. "When mama was here--this
afternoon," she went on, "she was urging me to--to do what she wished.
And after she had used several arguments, she said something I--I've been
thinking it over, and it seemed I ought in fairness to tell you."
"She said: 'In a few days more he'--that meant you--'he will be ruined. He
imagines the worst is over for him, when in fact they've only begun.'"
"They!" I repeated. "Who are 'they'? The Langdons?"
"I think so," she replied with an effort. "She did not say--I've told you
her exact words--as far as I can."
"Well," said I, "and why didn't you go?"
She pressed her lips firmly together. Finally, with a straight look into my
eyes, she replied: "I shall not discuss that. You probably misunderstand,
but that is your own affair."
"You believed what she said about me, of course," said I.
"I neither believed nor disbelieved," she answered indifferently, as she
rose to go. "It does not interest me."
"Come here," said I.
I waited until she reluctantly joined me at the window. I pointed to the
steeple of the church across the way. "You could as easily throw down that
steeple by pushing against it with your bare hands," I said to her, "as
'they,' whoever they are, could put me down. They might take away my money.
But if they did, they would only be giving me a lesson that would teach me
how more easily to get it back. I am not a bundle of stock certificates or
a bag of money. I am--here," and I tapped my forehead.
She forced a faint, scornful smile. She did not wish me to see her belief
of what I said.
"You may think that is vanity," I went on. "But you will learn, sooner or
later, the difference between boasting and simple statement of fact. You
will learn that I do not boast. What I said is no more a boast than for a
man with legs to say, 'I can walk.' Because you have known only legless
men, you exaggerate the difficulty of walking. It's as easy for me to make
money as it is for some people to spend it."
It is hardly necessary for me to say I was not insinuating anything against
her people. But she was just then supersensitive on the subject, though
I did not suspect it. She flushed hotly. "You will not have any cause to
sneer at my people on that account hereafter," she said. "I settled
"I was not sneering at them," I protested. "I wasn't even thinking of them.
And--you must know that it's a favor to me for anybody to ask me to do
anything that will please you--Anita!"
She made a gesture of impatience. "I see I'd better tell you why I did not
go with them to-day. I insisted that they give back all they have taken
from you. And when they refused, I refused to go."
"I don't care why you refused, or imagined you refused," said I. "I am
content with the fact that you are here."
"But you misunderstand it," she answered coldly.
"I don't understand it, I don't misunderstand it," was my reply. "I accept
She turned away from the window, drifted out of the room--you, who love or
at least have loved, can imagine how it made me feel to see _Her_
moving about in those rooms of mine.
While the surface of my mind was taken up with her, I must have been
thinking, underneath, of the warning she had brought; for, perhaps half or
three-quarters of an hour after she left, I was suddenly whirled out of
my reverie at the window by a thought like a pistol thrust into my face.
"What if 'they' should include Roebuck!" And just as a man begins to defend
himself from a sudden danger before he clearly sees what the danger is, so
I began to act before I even questioned whether my suspicion was plausible
or absurd. I went into the hall, rang the bell, slipped a light-weight coat
over my evening dress and put on a hat. When Sanders appeared, I said: "I'm
going out for a few minutes--perhaps an hour--if any one should ask." A
moment later I was in a hansom and on the way to Roebuck's.
* * * * *
When Roebuck lived near Chicago, he had a huge house, a sort of crude
palace such as so many of our millionaires built for themselves in the
first excitement of their new wealth--a house with porches and balconies
and towers and minarets and all sorts of gingerbread effects to compel the
eye of the passer-by. But when he became enormously rich, so rich that his
name was one of the synonyms for wealth, so rich that people said "rich as
Roebuck" where they used to say "rich as Croesus," he cut away every kind
of ostentation, and avoided attention.
He took advantage of his having to remove to New York where his vast
interests centered; he bought a small and commonplace and, far a rich man,
even mean house in East Fifty-Second Street--one of a raw, and an almost
dingy looking row at that. There he had an establishment a man with
one-fiftieth of his fortune would have felt like apologizing for. To his
few intimates who were intimate enough to question him about his come-down
from his Chicago splendors he explained that he was seeing with clearer
eyes his responsibilities as a steward of the Lord, that luxury was sinful,
that no man had a right to waste the Lord's money.
The general theory about him was that advancing years had developed
his natural closeness into the stingiest avariciousness. But my notion
is he was impelled by the fear of exciting envy, by the fear of
assassination--the fear that made his eyes roam restlessly whenever
strangers were near him, and so dried up the inside of his body that his
dry tongue was constantly sliding along his dry lips. I have seen a convict
stand in the door of his cell and, though it was impossible that any one
could be behind him, look nervously over his shoulder every moment or so.
Roebuck had the same trick--only his dread, I suspect, was not the officers
of the law, even of the divine law, but the many, many victims of his
merciless execution of "the Lord's will."
This state of mind is not uncommon among the very rich men, especially
those who have come up from poverty. Those who have inherited great wealth,
and have always been used to it, get into the habit of looking upon the
mass of mankind as inferiors, and move about with no greater sense of peril
than a man has in venturing among a lot of dogs with tails wagging. But
those who were born poor and have risen under the stimulus of a furious
envy of the comfortable and the rich, fancy that everybody who isn't rich
has the same savage hunger that they themselves had, and is ready to use
similar desperate methods in gratifying it. Thus, where the rich of the
Langdon sort are supercilious, the rich of the Roebuck sort are nervous and
often become morbid on the subject of assassination as they grow richer and
The door of Roebuck's house was opened for me by a maid--a man-servant
would have been a "sinful" luxury, a man-servant might be the hireling
of plotters against his life. I may add that she looked the cheap
maid-of-all-work, and her manners were of the free and fresh sort that
indicates a feeling that as high, or higher, wages, and less to do could
be got elsewhere.
"I don't think you can see Mr. Roebuck," she said.
"Take my card to him," I ordered, "and I'll wait in the parlor."
"Parlor's in use," she retorted with a sarcastic grin, which I was soon to
So I stood by the old-fashioned coat and hat rack while she went in at the
hall door of the back parlor. Soon Roebuck himself came out, his glasses on
his nose, a family Bible under his arm. "Glad to see you, Matthew," said he
with saintly kindliness, giving me a friendly hand. "We are just about to
offer up our evening prayer. Come right in."
I followed him into the back parlor. Both it and the front parlor were
lighted; in a sort of circle extending into both rooms were all the
Roebucks and the four servants. "This is my friend, Matthew Blacklock,"
said he, and the Roebucks in the circle gravely bowed. He drew up a chair
for me, and we seated ourselves. Amid a solemn hush, he read a chapter from
the big Bible spread out upon his lean lap. My glance wandered from face to
face of the Roebucks, as plainly dressed as were their servants. I was able
to look freely, mine being the only eyes not bent upon the floor.
It was the first time in my life that I had witnessed family prayers.
When I was a boy at home, my mother had taken literally the Scriptural
injunction to pray in secret--in a closet, I think the passage of the Bible
said. Many times each day she used to retire to a closet under the stairway
and spend from one to twenty minutes shut in there. But we had no family
prayers. I was therefore deeply interested in what was going on in those
countrified parlors of one of the richest and most powerful men in the
world--and this right in the heart of that district of New York where
palaces stand in rows and in blocks, and where such few churches as there
are resemble social clubs for snubbing climbers and patronizing the poor.
It was astonishing how much every Roebuck in that circle, even the old
lady, looked like Roebuck himself--the same smug piety, the same underfed
appearance that, by the way, more often indicates a starved soul than
a starved body. One difference--where his face had the look of power
that compels respect and, to the shrewd, reveals relentless strength
relentlessly used, the expressions of the others were simply small and
mean and frost-nipped. And that is the rule--the second generation of a
plutocrat inherits, with his money, the meanness that enabled him to hoard
it, but not the scope that enabled him to make it.
So absorbed was I in the study of the influence of his terrible
master-character upon those closest to it, that I started when he said:
"Let us pray." I followed the example of the others, and knelt. The audible
prayer was offered up by his oldest daughter, Mrs. Wheeler, a widow.
Roebuck punctuated each paragraph in her series of petitions with a
loudly-whispered amen. When she prayed for "the stranger whom Thou has led
seemingly by chance into our little circle," he whispered the amen more
fervently and repeated it. And well he might, the old robber and assassin
by proxy! The prayer ended and, us on our feet, the servants withdrew;
then, awkwardly, all the family except Roebuck. That is, they closed the
doors between the two rooms and left him and me alone in the front parlor.
"I shall not detain you long, Mr. Roebuck," said I. "A report reached me
this evening that sent me to you at once."
"If possible, Matthew," said he, and he could not hide his uneasiness, "put
off business until to-morrow. My mind--yours, too, I trust--is not in the
frame for that kind of thoughts now."
"Is the Coal organization to be announced the first of July?" I demanded.
It has always been, and always shall be, my method to fight in the open.
This, not from principle, but from expediency. Some men fight best in the
brush; I don't. So I always begin battle by shelling the woods.
"No," he said, amazing me by his instant frankness. "The announcement has
Why did he not lie to me? Why did he not put me off the scent, as he might
easily have done, with some shrewd evasion? I suspected I owed it to
my luck in catching him at family prayers. For I know that the general
impression of him is erroneous; he is not merely a hypocrite before the
world, but also a hypocrite before himself. A more profoundly, piously
conscientious man never lived. Never was there a truer epitaph than the one
implied in the sentence carved over his niche in the magnificent mausoleum
he built: "Fear naught but the Lord."
"When will the reorganization be announced?" I asked.
"I can not say," he answered. "Some difficulties--chiefly labor
difficulties--have arisen. Until they are settled, nothing can be done.
Come to me to-morrow, and we'll talk about it."
"That is all I wished to know," said I, with a friendly, easy smile. "Good
It was his turn to be astonished--and he showed it, where I had given not a
sign. "What was the report you heard?" he asked, to detain me.
"That you and Mowbray Langdon had conspired to ruin me," said I, laughing.
He echoed my laugh rather hollowly. "It was hardly necessary for you to
come to me about such a--a statement."
"Hardly," I answered dryly. Hardly, indeed! For I was seeing now all that I
had been hiding from myself since I became infatuated with Anita and made
marrying her my only real business in life.
We faced each other, each measuring the other. And as his glance quailed
before mine, I turned away to conceal my exultation. In a comparison of
resources this man who had plotted to crush me was to me as giant to
midget. But I had the joy of realizing that man to man, I was the stronger.
He had craft, but I had daring. His vast wealth aggravated his natural
cowardice--crafty men are invariably cowards, and their audacities under
the compulsion of their ravenous greed are like a starving jackal's dashes
into danger for food. My wealth belonged to me, not I to it; and, stripped
of it, I would be like the prize-fighter stripped for the fight. Finally,
he was old, I young. And there was the chief reason for his quailing. He
knew that he must die long before me, that my turn must come, that I could
dance upon his grave.
"MY WIFE MUST!"
As I drove away, I was proud of myself. I had listened to my death sentence
with a face so smiling that he must almost have believed me unconscious;
and also, it had not even entered my head, as I listened, to beg for mercy.
Not that there would have been the least use in begging; as well try to
pray a statue into life, as try to soften that set will and purpose. Still,
many a man would have weakened--and I had not weakened. But when I was
once more in my apartment--in our apartment--perhaps I did show that there
was a weak streak through me. I fought against the impulse to see her
once more that night; but I fought in vain. I knocked at the door of her
sitting-room--a timid knock, for me. No answer. I knocked again, more
loudly--then a third time, still more loudly. The door opened and she stood
there, like one of the angels that guarded the gates of Eden after the
fall. Only, instead of a flaming sword, hers was of ice. She was in a
dressing-gown or tea-gown, white and clinging and full of intoxicating
hints and glimpses of all the beauties of her figure. Her face softened as
she continued to look at me, and I entered.
"No--please don't turn on any more lights," I said, as she moved toward the
electric buttons. "I just came in to--to see if I could do anything for
you." In fact, I had come, longing for her to do something for me, to show
in look or tone or act some sympathy for me in my loneliness and trouble.
"No, thank you," she said. Her voice seemed that of a stranger who wished
to remain a stranger. And she was evidently waiting for me to go. You will
see what a mood I was in when I say I felt as I had not since I, a very
small boy indeed, ran away from home; I came back through the chilly night
to take one last glimpse of the family that would soon be realizing how
foolishly and wickedly unappreciative they had been of such a treasure
as I; and when I saw them sitting about the big fire in the lamp-light,
heartlessly comfortable and unconcerned, it was all I could do to keep back
the tears of strong self-pity--and I never saw them again.
"I've seen Roebuck," said I to Anita, because I must say something, if I
was to stay on.
"Roebuck?" she inquired. Her tone reminded me that his name conveyed
nothing to her.
"He and I are in an enterprise together," I explained. "He is the one man
who could seriously cripple me."
"Oh," she said, and her indifference, forced though I thought it, wounded.
"Well," said I, "your mother was right."
She turned full toward me, and even in the dimness I saw her quick
sympathy--an impulsive flash instantly gone. But it had been there!
"I came in here," I went on, "to say that--Anita, it doesn't in the least
matter. No one in this world, no one and nothing, could hurt me except
through you. So long as I have _you_, they--the rest--all of them
together--can't touch me."
We were both silent for several minutes. Then she said, and her voice was
like the smooth surface of the river where the boiling rapids run deep:
"But you _haven't_ me--and never _shall_ have. I've told you
that. I warned you long ago. No doubt you will pretend, and people will
say, that I left you because you lost your money. But it won't be so."
I was beside her instantly, was looking into her face. "What do you mean?"
I asked, and I did not speak gently.
She gazed at me without flinching. "And I suppose," she said satirically,
"you wonder why I--why you are repellent to me. Haven't you learned that,
though I may have been made into a moral coward, I'm not a physical coward?
Don't bully and threaten. It's useless."
I put my hand strongly on her shoulder--taunts and jeers do not turn me
aside. "What did you mean?" I repeated.
"Take your hand off me," she commanded.
"What did you mean?" I repeated sternly. "Don't be afraid to answer."
She was very young--so the taunt stung her. "I was about to tell you," said
she, "when you began to make it impossible."
I took advantage of this to extricate myself from the awkward position in
which she had put me--I took my hand from her shoulder.
"I am going to leave you," she announced.
"You forget that you are my wife," said I.
"I am not your wife," was her answer, and if she had not looked so
childlike, there in the moonlight all in white, I could not have held
myself in check, so insolent was the tone and so helpless of ever being
able to win her did she make me feel.
"You are my wife and you will stay here with me," I reiterated, my brain on
"I am my own, and I shall go where I please, and do what I please," was her
contemptuous retort. "Why won't you be reasonable? Why won't you see how
utterly unsuited we are? I don't ask you to be a gentleman--but just a man,
and be ashamed even to wish to detain a woman against her will."
I drew up a chair so close to her that to retreat, she was forced to sit
in the broad window-seat. Then I seated myself. "By all means, let us be
reasonable," said I. "Now, let me explain my position. I have heard you and
your friends discussing the views of marriage you've just been expressing.
Their views may be right, may be more civilized, more 'advanced' than mine.
No matter. They are not mine. I hold by the old standards--and you are
my wife--mine. Do you understand?" All this as tranquilly as if we were
discussing fair weather. "And you will live up to the obligation which the
marriage service has put upon you."
She might have been a marble statue pedestaled in that window seat.
"You married me of your own free will--for you could have protested to
the preacher and he would have sustained you. You tacitly put certain
conditions on our marriage. I assented to them. I have respected them.
I shall continue to respect them. But--when you married me, you didn't
marry a dawdling dude chattering 'advanced ideas' with his head full of
libertinism. You married a man. And that man is your husband."
I waited, but she made no comment--not even by gesture or movement. She
simply sat, her hands interlaced in her lap, her eyes straight upon mine.
"You say let us be reasonable," I went on. "Well, let us be reasonable.
There may come a time when woman can be free and independent, but that time
is a long way off yet. The world is organized on the basis of every woman's
having a protector--of every decent woman's having a husband, unless she
remains in the home of some of her blood-relations. There may be women
strong enough to set the world at defiance. But you are not one of
them--and you know it. You have shown it to yourself again and again in
the last forty-eight hours. Your bringing-up has kept you a child in real
knowledge of real life, as distinguished from the life in that fashionable
hothouse. If you tried to assert your so-called independence, you would be
the easy prey of a scoundrel or scoundrels. When I, who have lived in the
thick of the fight all my life, who have learned by many a surprise and
defeat never to sleep except with the sword and gun in hand, and one eye
open--when I have been trapped as Roebuck and Langdon have just trapped
me--what chance would a woman like you have?"
She did not answer or change expression.
"Is what I say reasonable or unreasonable?" I asked gently.
"Reasonable--from _your_ standpoint," she said.
She gazed out into the moonlight, up into the sky. And at the look in her
face, the primeval savage in me strained to close round that slender white
throat of hers and crush and crush until it had killed in her the thought
of that other man which was transforming her from marble to flesh that
glowed and blood that surged. I pushed back my chair with a sudden noise;
by the way she trembled I gaged how tense her nerves must be. I rose and,
in a fairly calm tone, said: "We understand each other?"
"Yes," she answered. "As before."
I ignored this. "Think it over, Anita," I urged--she seemed to me so like a
sweet, spoiled child again. I longed to go straight at her about that other
man. I stood for a moment with Tom Langdon's name on my lips, but I could
not trust myself. I went away to my own rooms.
I thrust thoughts of her from my mind. I spent the night gnawing upon the
ropes with which Mowbray Langdon and Roebuck had bound me, hand and foot. I
now saw they were ropes of steel--and it had long been broad day before I
found that weak strand which is in every rope of human make.
THE WEAK STRAND
No sane creature, not even a sane bulldog, will fight simply from love of
fighting. When a man is attacked, he may be sure he has excited either fear
or cupidity, or both. As far as I could see, it was absurd that cupidity
was inciting Langdon and Roebuck against me. I hadn't enough to tempt them.
Thus, I was forced to conclude that I must possess a strength of which I
was unaware, and which stirred even Roebuck's fears. But what could it be?
Besides Langdon and Roebuck and me there were six principals in the
proposed Coal combine, three of them richer and more influential in finance
than even Langdon, all of them except possibly Dykeman, the lawyer or
navigating officer of the combine, more formidable figures than I. Yet none
of these men was being assailed. "Why am I singled out?" I asked myself,
and I felt that if I could answer, I should find I had the means wholly
or partly to defeat them. But I could not explain to my satisfaction even
Langdon's activities against me. I felt that Anita was somehow, in part at
least, the cause; but, even so, how had he succeeded in convincing Roebuck
that I must be clipped and plucked into a groundling?
"It must have something to do with the Manasquale mines," I decided. "I
thought I had given over my control of them, but somehow I must still have
a control that makes me too powerful for Roebuck to be at ease so long as I
am afoot and armed." And I resolved to take my lawyers and search the whole
Manasquale transaction--to explore it from attic to underneath the cellar
flooring. "We'll go through it," said I, "like ferrets through a ship's
As I was finishing breakfast, Anita came in. She had evidently slept well,
and I regarded that as ominous. At her age, a crisis means little sleep
until a decision has been reached. I rose, but her manner warned me not to
advance and try to shake hands with her.
"I have asked Alva to stop with me here for a few days," she said formally.
"Alva!" said I, much surprised. She had not asked one of her own friends;
she had asked a girl she had met less than two days before, and that girl
my partner's daughter.
"She was here yesterday morning," Anita explained. And I now wondered how
much Alva there was in Anita's firm stand against her parents.
"Why don't you take her down to our place on Long Island?" said I, most
carefully concealing my delight--for Alva near her meant a friend of mine
and an advocate and example of real womanhood near her. "Everything's ready
for you there, and I'm going to be busy the next few days--busy day and
She reflected. "Very well," she assented presently. And she gave me a
puzzled glance she thought I did not see--as if she were wondering whether
the enemy was not hiding new and deeper guile under an apparently harmless
"Then I'll not see you again for several days," said I, most businesslike.
"If you want anything, there will be Monson out at the stables where he
can't annoy you. Or you can get me on the 'long distance.' Good-by. Good
And I nodded carelessly and friendlily to her, and went away, enjoying
the pleasure of having startled her into visible astonishment. "There's
a better game than icy hostility, you very young, young lady," said I to
myself, "and that game is friendly indifference."
Alva would be with her. So she was secure for the present and my mind was
free for "finance."
At that time the two most powerful men in finance were Galloway and
Roebuck. In Spain I once saw a fight between a bull and a tiger--or, rather
the beginning of a fight. They were released into a huge iron cage. After
circling it several times in the same direction, searching for a way out,
they came face to face. The bull tossed the tiger; the tiger clawed the
bull. The bull roared; the tiger screamed. Each retreated to his own side
of the cage. The bull pawed and snorted as if he could hardly wait to get
at the tiger; the tiger crouched and quivered and glared murderously, as if
he were going instantly to spring upon the bull. But the bull did not rush,
neither did the tiger spring. That was the Roebuck-Galloway situation.
How to bait Tiger Galloway to attack Bull Roebuck--that was the problem I
must solve, and solve straightway. If I could bring about war between the
giants, spreading confusion over the whole field of finance and filling all
men with dread and fear, there was a chance, a bare chance, that in the
confusion I might bear off part of my fortune. Certainly, conditions would
result in which I could more easily get myself intrenched again; then, too,
there would be a by no means small satisfaction in seeing Roebuck clawed
and bitten in punishment for having plotted against me.
Mutual fear had kept these two at peace for five years, and most
considerate and polite about each other's "rights." But while our country's
industrial territory is vast, the interests of the few great controllers
who determine wages and prices for all are equally vast, and each plutocrat
is tormented incessantly by jealousy and suspicion; not a day passes
without conflicts of interest that adroit diplomacy could turn into
ferocious warfare. And in this matter of monopolizing the coal, despite
Roebuck's earnest assurances to Galloway that the combine was purely
defensive, and was really concerned only with the labor question, Galloway,
a great manufacturer, or, rather, a huge levier of the taxes of dividends
and interest upon manufacturing enterprises, could not but be uneasy.
Before I rose that morning I had a tentative plan for stirring him to
action. I was elaborating it on the way down town in my electric. It shows
how badly Anita was crippling my brain, that not until I was almost at my
office did it occur to me: "That was a tremendous luxury Roebuck indulged
his conscience in last night. It isn't like him to forewarn a man, even
when he's sure he can't escape. Though his prayers were hot in his mouth,
still, it's strange he didn't try to fool me. In fact, it's suspicious. In
Suspicious? The instant the idea was fairly before my mind, I knew I had
let his canting fool me once more. I entered my offices, feeling that the
blow had already fallen; and I was surprised, but not relieved, when I
found everything calm. "But fall it will within an hour or so--before I can
move to avert it," said I to myself.
And fall it did. At eleven o'clock, just as I was setting out to make my
first move toward heating old Galloway's heels for the war-path, Joe came
in with the news: "A general lockout's declared in the coal regions. The
operators have stolen a march on the men who, so they allege, were secretly
getting ready to strike. By night every coal road will be tied up and every
mine shut down."
Joe knew our coal interests were heavy, but he did not dream his news meant
that before the day was over we would be bankrupt and not able to pay
fifteen cents on the dollar. However, he knew enough to throw him into
a fever of fright. He watched my calmness with terror. "Coal stocks are
dropping like a thermometer in a cold wave," he said, like a fireman at a
sleeper in a burning house.
"Naturally," said I, unruffled, apparently. "What can we do about it?"
"We must do something!" he exclaimed.
"Yes, we must," I admitted. "For instance, we must keep cool, especially
when two or three dozen people are watching us. Also, you must attend to
your usual routine."
"What are you going to do?" he cried. "For God's sake, Matt, don't keep me
"Go to your desk," I commanded. And he quieted down and went. I hadn't been
schooling him in the fire-drill for fifteen years in vain.
I went up the street and into the great banking and brokerage house of
Galloway and Company. I made my way through the small army of guards,
behind which the old beast of prey was intrenched, and into his private
den. There he sat, at a small, plain table, in the middle of the room
without any article of furniture in it but his table and his chair. On the
table was a small inkstand, perfectly clean, a steel pen equally clean, on
the rest attached to it. And that was all--not a letter, not a scrap of
paper, not a sign of work or of intention to work. It might have been the
desk of a man who did nothing; in fact, it was the desk of a man who had
so much to do that his only hope of escape from being overwhelmed was to
despatch and clear away each matter the instant it was presented to him.
Many things could be read from the powerful form, bolt upright in that
stiff chair, and from the cynical, masterful old face. But to me the
chief quality there revealed was that quality of qualities, decision--the
greatest power a man can have, except only courage. And old James Galloway
He respected Roebuck; Roebuck feared him. Roebuck did have some sort
of conscience, distorted though it was, and the dictator of savageries
Galloway would have scorned to commit. Galloway had no professions of
conscience--beyond such small glozing of hypocrisy as any man must put on
if he wishes to be intrusted with the money of a public that associates
professions of religion and appearances of respectability with honesty.
Roebuck's passion was wealth--to see the millions heap up and up. Galloway
had that passion, too--I have yet to meet a multi-millionaire who isn't
avaricious and even stingy. But Galloway's chief passion was power--to
handle men as a junk merchant handles rags, to plan and lead campaigns of
conquest with his golden legions, and to distribute the spoils like an
autocrat who is careless how they are divided, since all belongs to him,
whenever he wishes to claim it.
He pierced me with his blue eyes, keen as a youth's, though his face was
seamed with scars of seventy tumultuous years. He extended toward me
over the table his broad, stubby white hand--the hand of a builder, of a
constructive genius. "How are you, Blacklock?" said he. "What can I do
for you?" He just touched my hand before dropping it, and resumed that
idol-like pose. But although there was only repose and deliberation in his
manner, and not a suggestion of haste, I, like every one who came into that
room and that presence, had a sense of an interminable procession behind
me, a procession of men who must be seen by this master-mover, that they
might submit important and pressing affairs to him for decision. It was
unnecessary for him to tell any one to be brief and pointed.
"I shall have to go to the wall to-day," said I, taking a paper from
my pocket, "unless you save me. Here is a statement of my assets and
liabilities. I call to your attention my Coal holdings. I was one of the
eight men whom Roebuck got round him for the new combine--it is a secret,
but I assume you know all about it."
He laid the paper before him, put on his nose-glasses and looked at it.
"If you will save me," I continued, "I will transfer to you, in a block,
all my Coal holdings. They will be worth double my total liabilities within
three months--as soon as the reorganization is announced. I leave it
entirely to your sense of justice whether I shall have any part of them
back when this storm blows over."
"Why didn't you go to Roebuck?" he asked without looking up.
"Because it is he that has stuck the knife into me."
"I don't know. I suspect the Manasquale properties, which I brought into
the combine, have some value, which no one but Roebuck, and perhaps
Langdon, knows about--and that I in some way was dangerous to them through
that fact. They haven't given me time to look into it."
A grim smile flitted over his face. "You've been too busy getting married,
"Exactly," said I. "It's another case of unbuckling for the wedding-feast
and getting assassinated as a penalty. Do you wish me to explain anything
on that list--do you want any details of the combine--of the Coal stocks
"Not necessary," he replied. As I had thought, with that enormous machine
of his for drawing in information, and with that enormous memory of his for
details, he probably knew more about the combine and its properties than I
"You have heard of the lockout?" I inquired--for I wished him to know I
had no intention of deceiving him as to the present market value of those
"Roebuck has been commanded by his God," he said, "to eject the free
American labor from the coal regions and to substitute importations of
coolie Huns and Bohemians. Thus, the wicked American laborers will be
chastened for trying to get higher wages and cut down a pious man's
dividends; and the downtrodden coolies will be brought where they can enjoy
the blessings of liberty and of the preaching of Roebuck's missionaries."
I laughed, though he had not smiled, but had spoken as if stating colorless
facts. "And righteousness and Roebuck will prevail," said I.
He frowned slightly, a sardonic grin breaking the straight, thin, cruel
line of his lips. He opened his table's one shallow drawer, and took out a
pad and a pencil. He wrote a few words on the lowest part of the top sheet,
folded it, tore off the part he had scribbled on, returned the pad and
pencil to the drawer, handed the scrap of paper to me. "I will do it," he
said. "Give this to Mr. Farquhar, second door to the left. Good morning."
And in that atmosphere of vast affairs speedily despatched his consent
without argument seemed, and was, the matter-of-course.
I bowed. Though he had not saved me as a favor to me, but because it fitted
in with his plans, whatever they were, my eyes dimmed. "I shan't forget
this," said I, my voice not quite steady.
"I know it," said he curtly. "I know you." I saw that his mind had already
turned me out. I said no more, and withdrew. When I left the room it was
precisely as it had been when I entered it--except the bit of paper torn
from the pad. But what a difference to me, to the thousands, the hundreds
of thousands directly and indirectly interested in the Coal combine and its
strike and its products, was represented by those few, almost illegible
scrawlings on that scrap of paper.
Not until I had gone over the situation with Farquhar, and we had signed
and exchanged the necessary papers, did I begin to relax from the
strain--how great that strain was I realized a few weeks later, when
the gray appeared thick at my temples and there was in my crown what
was, for such a shock as mine, a thin spot. "I am saved!" said I to
myself, venturing a long breath, as I stood on the steps of Galloway's
establishment, where hourly was transacted business vitally affecting
the welfare of scores of millions of human beings, with James Galloway's
personal interest as the sole guiding principle. "Saved!" I repeated, and
not until then did it flash before me, "I must have paid a frightful price.
He would never have consented to interfere with Roebuck as soon as I asked
him to do it, unless there had been some powerful motive. If I had had my
wits about me, I could have made far better terms." Why hadn't I my wits
about me? "Anita" was my instant answer to my own question. "Anita again.
I had a bad attack of family man's panic." And thus it came about that I
went back to my own office, feeling as if I had suffered a severe defeat,
instead of jubilant over my narrow escape.
Joe followed me into my den. "What luck?" asked he, in the tone of a mother
waylaying the doctor as he issues from the sick-room.
"Luck?" said I, gazing blankly at him.
"You've seen the latest quotation, haven't you?" In his nervousness his
temper was on a fine edge,
"No," replied I indifferently. I sat down at my desk and began to busy
myself. Then I added: "We're out of the Coal combine. I've transferred our
holdings. Look after these things, please." And I gave him the checks,
notes and memoranda of agreement.
"Galloway!" he exclaimed. And then his eye fell on the totals of the stock
I had been carrying. "Good God, Matt!" he gasped. "Ruined!"
And he sat down, and buried his face and cried like a child--it was then
that I measured the full depth of the chasm I had escaped. I made no such
exhibition of myself, but when I tried to relight my cigar my hand trembled
so that the flame scorched my lips.
"Ruined?" I said to Joe, easily enough. "Not at all. We're back in the
road, going smoothly ahead--only, at a bit less stiff a pace. Think, Joe,
of all those poor devils down in the mining districts. They're out--clear
out--and thousands of 'em don't know where their families will get bread.
And though they haven't found it out yet, they've got to leave the place
where they've lived all their lives, and their fathers before them--have
got to go wandering about in a world that's as strange to them as the
surface of the moon, and as bare for them as the Sahara desert."
"That's so," said Joe. "It's hard luck." But I saw he was thinking only of
himself and his narrow escape from having to give up his big house and all
the rest of it; that, soft-hearted and generous though he was, to those
poor chaps and their wives and children he wasn't giving a thought.
Wall Street never does--they're too remote, too vague. It deals with
columns of figures and slips of paper. It never thinks of those
abstractions as standing for so many hearts and so many mouths, just as the
bank clerk never thinks of the bits of metal he counts so swiftly as money
with which things and men could be bought. I read somewhere once that
Voltaire--I think it was Voltaire--asked a man what he would do if, by
pressing a button on his table, he would be enormously rich and at the
same time would cause the death of a person away off at the other side of
the earth, unknown to him, and probably no more worthy to live, and with
no greater expectation of life or of happiness than the average sinful,
short-lived human being. I've often thought of that as I've watched our
great "captains of industry." Voltaire's dilemma is theirs. And they don't
hesitate; they press the button. I leave the morality of the performance to
moralists; to me, its chief feature is its cowardice, its sneaking, slimy
"You've done a grand two hours' work," said Joe.
"Grander than you think," replied I. "I've set the tiger on to fight the
"Galloway and Roebuck?"
"Just that," said I. And I laughed, started up, sat down again. "No, I'll
put off the pleasure," said I. "I'll let Roebuck find out, when the claws
catch in that tough old hide of his."
A CONSPIRACY AGAINST ANITA
On about the hottest afternoon of that summer I had the yacht take me down
the Sound to a point on the Connecticut shore within sight of Dawn Hill,
but seven miles farther from New York. I landed at the private pier of
Howard Forrester, the only brother of Anita's mother. As I stepped upon the
pier I saw a fine-looking old man in the pavilion overhanging the water. He
was dressed all in white except a sky-blue tie that harmonized with the
color of his eyes. He was neither fat nor lean, and his smooth skirt was
protesting ruddily against the age proclaimed by his wool-white hair. He
rose as I came toward him, and, while I was still several yards away,
showed unmistakably that he knew who I was and that he was anything but
glad to see me.
"Mr. Forrester?" I asked
He grew purple to the line of his thick white hair. "It is, Mr. Blacklock,"
said he. "I have the honor to wish you good day, sir." And with that he
turned his back on me and gazed out toward Long Island.
"I have come to ask a favor of you, sir," said I, as polite to that hostile
back as if I had been addressing a cordial face. And I waited.
He wheeled round, looked at me from head to foot. I withstood the
inspection calmly; when it was ended I noted that in spite of himself he
was somewhat relaxed from the opinion of me he had formed upon what he had
heard and read. But he said: "I do not know you, sir, and I do not wish to
"You have made me painfully aware of that," replied I. "But I have learned
not to take snap judgments too seriously. I never go to a man unless I have
something to say to him, and I never leave until I have said it."
"I perceive, sir," retorted he, "you have the thick skin necessary to
living up to that rule." And the twinkle in his eyes betrayed the man who
delights to exercise a real or imaginary talent for caustic wit. Such men
are like nettles--dangerous only to the timid touch.
"On the contrary," replied I, easy in mind now, though I did not anger him
by showing it, "I am most sensitive to insults--insults to myself. But you
are not insulting _me_. You are insulting a purely imaginary, hearsay
person who is, I venture to assure you, utterly unlike me, and who
doubtless deserves to be insulted."
His purple had now faded. In a far different tone he said: "If your
business in any way relates to the family into which you have married, I do
not wish to hear it. Spare my patience and your time, sir."
"It does not," was my answer. "It relates to my own family--to my wife and
myself. As you may have heard, she is no longer a member of the Ellersly
family. And I have come to you chiefly because I happen to know your
sentiment toward the Ellerslys."
"I have no sentiment toward them, sir!" he exclaimed. "They are
non-existent, sir--nonexistent! Your wife's mother ceased to be a Forrester
when she married that scoundrel. Your wife is still less a Forrester."
"True," said I. "She is a Blacklock."
He winced, and it reminded me of the night of my marriage and Anita's
expression when the preacher called her by her new name. But I held his
gaze, and we looked each at the other fixedly for, it must have been, full
half a minute. Then he said courteously: "What do you wish?"
I went straight to the point. My color may have been high, but my voice
did not hesitate as I explained: "I wish to make my wife financially
independent. I wish to settle on her a sum of money sufficient to give her
an income that will enable her to live as she has been accustomed. I know
she would not take it from me. So, I have come to ask you to pretend to
give it to her--I, of course, giving it to you to give."
Again--we looked full and fixedly each at the other. "Come to the house,
Blacklock," he said at last in a tone that was the subtlest of compliments.
And he linked his arm in mine. Halfway to the rambling stone house, severe
in its lines, yet fine and homelike, quaintly resembling its owner, as a
man's house always should, he paused. "I owe you an apology," said he.
"After all my experience of this world of envy and malice, I should have
recognized the man even in the caricatures of his enemies. And you brought
the best possible credentials--you are well hated. To be well hated by the
human race and by the creatures mounted on its back is a distinction, sir.
It is the crown of the true kings of this world."
We seated ourselves on the wide veranda; he had champagne and water
brought, and cigars; and we proceeded to get acquainted--nothing promotes
cordiality and sympathy like an initial misunderstanding. It was a good
hour before this kind-hearted, hard-soft, typical old-fashioned New
Englander reverted to the object of my visit. Said he: "And now, young man,
may I venture to ask some extremely personal questions?"
"In the circumstances," replied I, "you have the right to know everything.
I did not come to you without first making sure what manner of man I was
to find." At this he blushed, pleased as a girl at her first beau's first
compliment. "And you, Mr. Forrester, can not be expected to embark in the
little adventure I propose, until you have satisfied yourself."
"First, the why of your plan."
"I am in active business," replied I, "and I shall be still more active.
That means financial uncertainty."
His suspicion of me started up from its doze and rubbed its eyes. "Ah! You
wish to insure yourself."
"Yes," was my answer, "but not in the way you hint. It takes away a man's
courage just when he needs it most, to feel that his family is involved in
"Why do you not make the settlement direct?" he asked, partly reassured.
"Because I wish her to feel that it is her own, that I have no right over
He thought about this. His eyes were keen as he said, "Is that your real
I saw I must be unreserved with him. "Part of it," I replied. "The rest
is--she would not take it from me."
The old man smiled cynically. "Have you tried?" he inquired.
"If I had tried and failed, she would have been on the alert for an
"Try her, young man," said he, laughing. "In this day there are few people
anywhere who'd refuse any sum from anybody for anything. And a woman--and a
New York woman--and a New York fashionable woman--and a daughter of old
Ellersly--she'll take it as a baby takes the breast."
"She would not take it," said I.
My tone, though I strove to keep angry protest out of it, because I needed
him, caused him to draw back instantly. "I beg your pardon," said he. "I
forgot for the moment that I was talking to a man young enough still to
have youth's delusions about women. You'll learn that they're human, that
it's from them we men inherit our weaknesses. However, let's assume that
she won't take it: _Why_ won't she take your money? What is there
about it that repels Ellersly's daughter, brought up in the sewers of
fashionable New York--the sewers, sir!"
"She does not love me," I answered.
"I have hurt you," he said quickly, in great distress at having compelled
me to expose my secret wound.
"The wound does not ache the worse," said I, "for my showing it--to
_you_." And that was the truth. I looked over toward Dawn Hill whose
towers could just be seen. "We live there." I pointed. "She is--like a
guest in my house."
When I glanced at him again, his face betrayed a feeling of which I doubt
if any one had thought him capable in many a year. "I see that you love
her," he said, gently as a mother.
"Yes," I replied. And presently I went on: "The idea of any one I love
being dependent on me in a sordid way is most distasteful to me. And since
she does not love me, does not even like me, it is doubly necessary that
she be independent."
"I confess I do not quite follow you" said he.
"How can she accept anything from me? If she should finally be compelled by
necessity to do it, what hope could I have of her ever feeling toward me as
a wife should feel toward her husband?"
At this explanation of mine his eyes sparkled with anger--and I could not
but suspect that he had at one time in his life been faced with a problem
like mine, and had settled it the other way. My suspicion was not weakened
when he went on to say:
"Boyish motives again! They show you do not know women. Don't be deceived
by their delicate exterior, by their pretenses of super-refinement. They
affect to be what passion deludes us into thinking them. But they're clay,
sir, just clay, and far less sensitive than we men. Don't you see, young
man, that by making her independent you're throwing away your best chance
of winning her? Women are like dogs--like dogs, sir! They lick the hand
that feeds 'em--lick it, and like it."
"Possibly," said I, with no disposition to combat views based on I knew not
what painful experience. "But I don't care for that sort of liking--from a
woman, or from a dog."
"It's the only kind you'll get," retorted he, trying to control his
agitation. "I'm an old man. I know human nature--that's why I live alone.
You'll take that kind of liking, or do without."
"Then I'll do without," said I.
"Give her an income, and she'll go. I see it all. You've flattered her
vanity by showing your love for her--that's the way with women. They go
crazy about themselves, and forget all about the man. Give her an income
and she'll go."
"I doubt it," said I. "And you would, if you knew her. But, even so, I
shall lose her in any event. For, unless she is made independent, she'll
certainly go with the last of the little money she has, the remnant of a
The old man argued with me, the more vigorously, I suspect, because he
found me resolute. When he could think of no new way of stating his
case--his case against Anita--he said: "You are a fool, young man--that's
clear. I wonder such a fool was ever able to get together as much property
as report credits you with. But--you're the kind of fool I like."
"Then--you'll indulge my folly?" said I, smiling.
He threw up his arms in a gesture of mock despair. "If you will have it
so," he replied. "I am curious about this niece of mine. I want to see her.
I want to see the woman who can resist _you_."
"Her mind and her heart are closed against me," said I. "And it is my own
fault--I closed them."
"Put her out of your head," he advised. "No woman is worth a serious man's
"I have few wants, few purposes," said I. "But those few I pursue to the
end. Even though she were not worth while, even though I wholly lost hope,
still I'd not give her up. I couldn't--that's my nature. But--_she_ is
worth while." And I could see her, slim and graceful, the curves in her
face and figure that made my heart leap, the azure sheen upon her
petal-like skin, the mystery of the soul luring from her eyes.
After we had arranged the business--or, rather, arranged to have it
arranged through our lawyers--he walked down to the pier with me. At the
gangway he gave me another searching look from head to foot--but vastly
different from the inspection with which our interview had begun. "You are
a devilish handsome young fellow," said he. "Your pictures don't do you
justice. And I shouldn't have believed any man could overcome in one brief
sitting such a prejudice as I had against you. On second thought, I don't
care to see her. She must be even below the average."
"Or far above it," I suggested.
"I suppose I'll have to ask her over to visit me," he went on. "A fine
hypocrite I'll feel."
"You can make it one of the conditions of your gift that she is not to
thank you or speak of it," said I. "I fear your face would betray us, if
she ever did."
"An excellent idea!" he exclaimed. Then, as he shook hands with me in
farewell: "You will win her yet--if you care to."
As I steamed up the Sound, I was tempted to put in at Dawn Hill's harbor.
Through my glass I could see Anita and Alva and several others, men and
women, having tea on the lawn under a red and white awning. I could see her
dress--a violet suit with a big violet hat to match. I knew that costume.
Like everything she wore, it was both beautiful in itself and most becoming
to her. I could see her face, could almost make out its expression--did I
see, or did I imagine, a cruel contrast to what I always saw when she knew
I was looking?
I gazed until the trees hid lawn and gay awning, and that lively company
and her. In my bitterness I was full of resentment against her, full of
self-pity. I quite forgot, for that moment, _her_ side of the story.
BLACKLOCK SEES A LIGHT
It was next day, I think, that I met Mowbray Langdon and his brother Tom in
the entrance of the Textile Building. Mowbray was back only a week from his
summer abroad; but Tom I had seen and nodded to every day, often several
times in the same day, as he went to and fro about his "respectable" dirty
work for the Roebuck-Langdon clique. He was one of their most frequently
used stool-pigeon directors in banks and insurance companies whose funds
they staked in their big gambling operations, they taking almost all the
profits and the depositors and policy holders taking almost all the risk.
It had never once occurred to me to have any feeling of any kind about Tom,
or in any way to take him into my calculations as to Anita. He was, to
my eyes, too obviously a pale understudy of his powerful and fascinating
brother. Whenever I thought of him as the man Anita fancied she loved, I
put it aside instantly. "The kind of man a woman _really_ cares for,"
I would say to myself, "is the measure of her true self. But not the kind
of man she _imagines_ she cares for."
Tom went on; Mowbray stopped. We shook hands, and exchanged commonplaces
in the friendliest way--I was harboring no resentment against him, and I
wished him to realize that his assault had bothered me no more than the
buzzing and battering of a summer fly. "I've been trying to get in to see
you," said he. "I wanted to explain about that unfortunate Textile deal."
This, when the assault on me had burst out with fresh energy the day after
he landed from Europe! I could scarcely believe that his vanity, his
confidence in his own skill at underground work could so delude him. "Don't
bother," said I. "All that's ancient history."
But he had thought out some lies he regarded as particularly creditable to
his ingenuity; he was not to be deprived of the pleasure of telling them.
So I was compelled to listen; and, being in an indulgent mood, I did not
spoil his pleasure by letting him see or suspect my unbelief. If he could
have looked into my mind, as I stood there in an attitude of patient
attention, I think even his self-complacence would have been put out of
countenance. You may admire the exploits of a "gentleman" cracksman or
pickpocket, if you hear or read them with only their ingenuity put before
you. But _see_ a "gentleman" liar or thief at his sneaking, cowardly
work, and admiration is impossible. As Langdon lied on, as I studied
his cheap, vulgar exhibition of himself, he all unconscious, I thought:
"Beneath that very thin surface of yours, you're a poor cowardly
creature--you, and all your fellow bandits. No; bandit is too grand a word
to apply to this game of 'high finance.' It's really on the level with the
game of the fellow that waits for a dark night, slips into the barn-yard,
poisons the watch-dog, bores an auger-hole in the granary, and takes to his
heels at a suspicious sound."
With his first full stop, I said: "I understand perfectly, Langdon. But I
haven't the slightest interest in crooked enterprises now. I'm clear out
of all you fellows' stocks. I've reinvested my property so that not even a
panic would trouble me."
"That's good," he drawled. I saw he did not believe me--which was natural,
as he knew nothing of my arrangement with Galloway and assumed I was
laboring in heavy weather, with a bad cargo of Coal stocks and contracts.
"Come to lunch with me. I've got some interesting things to tell you about
A few months before, I should have accepted with alacrity. But I had lost
interest in him. He had not changed; if anything, he was more dazzling than
ever in the ways that had once dazzled me. It was I that had changed--my
ideals, my point of view. I had no desire to feed my new-sprung contempt by
watching him pump in vain for information to be used in his secret campaign
against me. "No, thanks. Another day," I replied, and left him with a curt
nod. I noted that he had failed to speak of my marriage, though he had not
seen me since. "A sore subject with all the Langdons," thought I. "It must
be very sore, indeed, to make a man who is all manners, neglect them."
My whole life had been a series of transformations so continuous that I had
noted little about my advance, beyond its direction--like a man hurrying up
a steep that keeps him bent, eyes down. But, as I turned away from Langdon,
I caught myself in the very act of transformation. No doubt, the new view
had long been there, its horizon expanding with every step of my ascent;
but not until that talk with him did I see it. I looked about me in Wall
Street; in my mind's eye I all in an instant saw my world as it really was.
I saw the great rascals of "high finance," their respectability stripped
from them; saw them gathering in the spoils which their cleverly-trained
agents, commercial and political and legal, filched with light fingers from
the pockets of the crowd, saw the crowd looking up to these trainers and
employers of pickpockets, hailing them "captains of industry"! They reaped
only where and what others had sown; they touched industry only to plunder
and to blight it; they organized it only that its profits might go to
those who did not toil and who despised those who did. "Have I gone mad in
the midst of sane men?" I asked myself. "Or have I been mad, and have I
suddenly become sane in a lunatic world?"
I did not linger on that problem. For me action remained the essential of
life, whether I was sane or insane. I resolved then and there to map a new
course. By toiling like a sailor at the pump of a sinking ship, I had taken
advantage to the uttermost of the respite Galloway's help had given me. My
property was no longer in more or less insecure speculative "securities,"
but was, as I had told Langdon, in forms that would withstand the worst
shocks. The attacks of my enemies, directed partly at my fortune, or,
rather, at the stocks in which they imagined it was still invested, and
partly at my personal character, were doing me good instead of harm. Hatred
always forgets that its shafts, falling round its intended victim, spring
up as legions of supporters for him. My business was growing rapidly; my
daily letter to investors was read by hundreds of thousands where tens of
thousands had read it before the Roebuck-Langdon clique began to make me
famous by trying to make me infamous.
"I am strong and secure," said I to myself as I strode through the
wonderful canyon of Broadway, whose walls are those mighty palaces of
finance and commerce from which business men have been ousted by cormorant
"captains of industry." I must _use_ my strength. How could I better
use it than by fluttering these vultures on their roosts, and perhaps
bringing down a bird or two?
I decided, however, that it was better to wait until they had stopped
rattling their beaks and claws on my shell in futile attack. "Meanwhile," I
reasoned carefully, "I can be getting good and ready."
Their first new move, after my little talk with Langdon, was intended
as a mortal blow to my credit Melville requested me to withdraw mine and
Blacklock and Company's accounts from the National Industrial Bank; and the
fact that this huge and powerful institution had thus branded me was slyly
given to the financial reporters of the newspapers. Far and wide it was
published; and the public was expected to believe that this was one more
and drastic measure in the "campaign of the honorable men of finance to
clean the Augean Stables of Wall Street." My daily letter to investors next
morning led off with this paragraph--the first notice I had taken publicly
of their attacks on me:
"In the effort to discredit the only remaining uncontrolled source of
financial truth, the big bandits have ordered my accounts out of their
chief gambling-house. I have transferred the accounts to the Discount and
Deposit National, where Leonidas Thornley stands guard against the new
order that seeks to make business a synonym for crime."
Thornley was of the type that was dominant in our commercial life before
the "financiers" came--just as song birds were common in our trees until
the noisy, brawling, thieving sparrows drove them out. His oldest son was
about to marry Joe's daughter--Alva. Many a Sunday I have spent at his
place near Morristown--a charming combination of city comfort with farm
freedom and fresh air. I remember, one Sunday, saying to him, after he had
seen his wife and daughters off to church: "Why haven't you got rich? Why
haven't you looked out for establishing these boys and girls of yours?"
"I don't want my girls to be sought for money," said he, "I don't want my
boys to rely on money. Perhaps I've seen too much of wealth, and have come
to have a prejudice against it. Then, too, I've never had the chance to get
I showed that I thought that he was simply jesting.
"I mean it," said he, looking at me with eyes as straight as a
well-brought-up girl's. "How could my mind be judicial if I were personally
interested in the enterprises people look to me for advice about?"
And not only did he keep himself clear and his mind judicial but also
he was, like all really good people, exceedingly slow to believe others
guilty of the things he would as soon have thought of doing as he would
have thought of slipping into the teller's cage during the lunch hour and
pocketing a package of bank-notes. He gave me his motto--a curious one:
"Believe in everybody; trust in nobody."
"Only a thief wishes to be trusted," he explained, "and only a fool trusts.
I let no one trust me; I trust no one. But I believe evil of no man. Even
when he has been convicted, I see the mitigating circumstances."
How Thornley did stand by me! And for no reason except that it was as
necessary for him to be fair and just as to breathe. I shall not say he
resisted the attempts to compel him to desert me--they simply made no
impression on him. I remember, when Roebuck himself, a large stock-holder
in the bank, left cover far enough personally to urge him to throw me over,
he replied steadfastly:
"If Mr. Blacklock is guilty of circulating false stories against commercial
enterprises, as his enemies allege, the penal code can be used to stop him.
But as long as I stay at the head of this bank, no man shall use it for
personal vengeance. It is a chartered public institution, and all have
equal rights to its facilities. I would lend money to my worst enemy, if he
came for it with the proper security. I would refuse my best friend, if he
could not give security. The funds of a bank are a trust fund, and my duty
is to see that they are employed to the best advantage. If you wish other
principles to prevail here, you must get another president."
That settled it. No one appreciated more keenly than did Roebuck that
character is as indispensable in its place as is craft where the situation
demands craft--and is far harder to get.
I shall not relate in detail that campaign against me. It failed not so
much because I was strong as because it was weak. Perhaps, if Roebuck and
Langdon could have directed it in person, or had had the time to advise
with their agents before and after each move, it might have succeeded.
They would not have let exaggeration dominate it and venom show upon its
surface; they would not have neglected to follow up advantages, would not
have persisted in lines of attack that created public sympathy for me.
They would not have so crudely exploited my unconventional marriage and
my financial relations with old Ellersly. But they dared not go near the
battle-field; they had to trust to agents whom their orders and suggestions
reached by the most roundabout ways; and they were busier with their
enterprises that involved immediate and great gain or loss of money.
When Galloway died, they learned that the Coal stocks with which they
thought I was loaded down were part of his estate. They satisfied
themselves that I was in fact as impregnable as I had warned Langdon. They
reversed tactics; Roebuck tried to make it up with me. "If he wants to see
me," was my invariable answer to the intimations of his emissaries, "let
him come to my office, just as I would go to his, if I wished to see him."
"He is a big man--a dangerous big man," cautioned Joe.
"Big--yes. But strong only against his own kind," replied I. "One mouse can
make a whole herd of elephants squeal for mercy."
"It isn't prudent, it isn't prudent," persisted Joe.
"It is not," replied I. "Thank God, I'm at last in the position I've been
toiling to achieve. I don't have to be prudent. I can say and do what I
please, without fear of the consequences. I can freely indulge in the
luxury of being a man. That's costly, Joe, but it's worth all it could
Joe didn't understand me--he rarely did. "I'm a hen. You're an eagle," said
Joe's daughter, staying on and on at Dawn Hill, was chief lieutenant, if
not principal, in my conspiracy to drift Anita day by day further and
further into the routine of the new life. Yet neither of us had shown by
word or look that a thorough understanding existed between us. My part was
to be unobtrusive, friendly, neither indifferent nor eager, and I held to
it by taking care never to be left alone with Anita; Alva's part was to
be herself--simple and natural and sensible, full of life and laughter,
mocking at those moods that betray us into the absurdity of taking
ourselves too seriously.
I was getting ready a new house in town as a surprise to Anita, and I took
Alva into my plot. "I wish Anita's part of the house to be exactly to her
liking," said I. "Can't you set her to dreaming aloud what kind of place
she would like to live in, what she would like to open her eyes on in the
morning, what surroundings she'd like to dress in and read in, and all
Alva had no difficulty in carrying out the suggestions. And by harassing
Westlake incessantly, I succeeded in realizing her report of Anita's dream
to the exact shade of the draperies and the silk that covered the walls. By
pushing the work, I got the house done just as Alva was warning me that she
could not remain longer at Dawn Hill, but must go home and get ready for
her wedding. When I went down to arrange with her the last details of the
surprise, who should meet me at the station but Anita herself? I took one
glance at her serious face and, much disquieted, seated myself beside her
in the little trap. Instead of following the usual route to the house, she
turned her horse into the bay-shore road.
"Several days ago," she began, as the bend hid the station, "I got a letter
from some lawyers, saying that an uncle of mine had given me a large sum
of money--a very large sum. I have been inquiring about it, and find it is
I braced myself against the worst. "She is about to tell me that she is
leaving," thought I. But I managed to say: "I'm glad to hear of your luck,"
though I fear my tone was not especially joyous.
"So," she went on, "I am in a position to pay back to you, I think, what my
father and Sam took from you. It won't be enough, I'm afraid, to pay what
you lost indirectly. But I have told the lawyers to make it all over to
I could have laughed aloud. It was too ridiculous, this situation into
which I had got myself. I did not know what to say. I could hardly keep
out of my face how foolish this collapse of my crafty conspiracy made me
feel. And then the full meaning of what she was doing came over me--the
revelation of her character. I trusted myself to steal a glance at her; and
for the first time I didn't see the thrilling azure sheen over her smooth
white skin, though all her beauty was before me, as dazzling as when it
compelled me to resolve to win her. No; I saw her, herself--the woman
within. I had known from the outset that there was an altar of love within
my temple of passion. I think that was my first real visit to it.
"Anita!" I said unsteadily. "Anita!"
The color flamed in her cheeks; we were silent for a long time.
"You--your people owe me nothing" I at length found voice to say. "Even if
they did, I couldn't and wouldn't take _your_ money. But, believe me,
they owe me nothing."
"You can not mislead me," she answered. "When they asked me to become
engaged to you, they told me about it."
I had forgotten. The whole repulsive, rotten business came back to me. And,
changed man that I had become in the last six months, I saw myself as I had
been. I felt that she was looking at me, was reading the degrading
confession in my telltale features.
"I will tell you the whole truth," said I. "I did use your father's and
your brother's debts to me as a means of getting _to_ you. But, before
God, Anita, I swear I was honest with you when I said to you I never hoped
or wished to win you in that way!"
"I believe you," she replied, and her tone and expression made my heart
leap with indescribable joy.
Love is sometimes most unwise in his use of the reins he puts on passion.
Instead of acting as impulse commanded, I said clumsily, "And I am very
different to-day from what I was last spring." It never occurred to me how
she might interpret those words.
"I know," she replied. She waited several seconds before adding: "I, too,
have changed. I see that I was far more guilty than you. There is no excuse
for me. I was badly brought up, as you used to say, but--"
"No--no," I began to protest.
She cut me short with a sad: "You need not be polite and spare my feelings.
Let's not talk of it. Let us go back to the object I had in coming for you
"You owe me nothing," I repeated. "Your brother and your father settled
long ago. I lost nothing through them. And I've learned that if I had never
known you, Roebuck and Langdon would still have attacked me."
"What my uncle gave me has been transferred to you," said she, woman
fashion, not hearing what she did not care to heed. "I can't make you
accept it; but there it is, and there it stays."
"I can not take it," said I. "If you insist on leaving it in my name, I
shall simply return it to your uncle."
"I wrote him what I had done," she rejoined. "His answer came yesterday. He
"Approves it!" I exclaimed.
"You do not know how eccentric he is," she explained, naturally
misunderstanding my astonishment. She took a letter from her bosom and
handed it to me. I read:
"DEAR MADAM: It was yours to do with as you pleased. If you ever find
yourself in the mood to visit, Gull House is open to you, provided you
bring no maid. I will not have female servants about.
"You will consent now, will you not?" she asked, as I lifted my eyes from
this characteristic note.
I saw that her peace of mind was at stake. "Yes--I consent."
She gave a great sigh as at the laying down of a heavy burden. "Thank you,"
was all she said, but she put a world of meaning into the words. She took
the first homeward turning. We were nearly at the house before I found
words that would pave the way toward expressing my thoughts--my longings
"You say you have forgiven me," said I. "Then we can be--friends?"
She was silent, and I took her somber expression to mean that she feared I
was hiding some subtlety.
"I mean just what I say, Anita," I hastened to explain. "Friends--simply
friends." And my manner fitted my words.
She looked strangely at me. "You would be content with that?" she asked.
I answered what I thought would please her. "Let us make the best of our
bad bargain," said I. "You can trust me now, don't you think you can?"
She nodded without speaking; we were at the door, and the servants were
hastening out to receive us. Always the servants between us. Servants
indoors, servants outdoors; morning, noon and night, from waking to
sleeping, these servants to whom we are slaves. As those interrupting
servants sent us each a separate way, her to her maid, me to my valet, I
was depressed with the chill that the opportunity that has not been seen
leaves behind it as it departs.
"Well," said I to myself by way of consolation, as I was dressing for
dinner, "she is certainly softening toward you, and when she sees the new
house you will be still better friends."
* * * * *
But, when the great day came, I was not so sure. Alva went for a "private
view" with young Thornley; out of her enthusiasm she telephoned me from the
very midst of the surroundings she found "_so_ wonderful and _so_
beautiful"--thus she assured me, and her voice made it impossible to doubt.
And, the evening before the great day, I, going for a final look round,
could find no flaw serious enough to justify the sinking feeling that came
over me every time I thought of what Anita would think when she saw my
efforts to realize her dream. I set out for "home" half a dozen times at
least, that afternoon, before I pulled myself together, called myself an
ass, and, with a pause at Delmonico's for a drink, which I ordered and then
rejected, finally pushed myself in at the door. What, a state my nerves
Alva had departed; Anita was waiting for me in her sitting-room. When she
heard me in the hall, just outside, she stood in the doorway. "Come in,"
she said to me, who did not dare so much as a glance at her.
I entered. I must have looked as I felt--like a boy, summoned before
the teacher to be whipped in presence of the entire school. Then I was
conscious that she had my hand--how she had got it, I don't know--and that
she was murmuring, with tears of happiness in her voice: "Oh, I can't
"Glad you like your own taste," said I awkwardly. "You know, Alva told me."
"But it's one thing to dream, and a very different thing to do," she
answered. Then, with smiling reproach: "And I've been thinking all summer
that you were ruined! I've been expecting to hear every day that you had
had to give up the fight."
"Oh--that passed long ago," said I.
"But you never told me," she reminded me. "And I'm glad you didn't,"
she added. "Not knowing saved me from doing something very foolish."
She reddened a little, smiled a great deal, dazzlingly, was altogether
different from the ice-locked Anita of a short time before, different as
June from January. And her hand--so intensely alive--seemed extremely
comfortable in mine.
Even as my blood responded to that electric touch, I had a twinge of
cynical bitterness. Yes, apparently I was at last getting what I had so
long, so vainly, and, latterly, so hopelessly craved. But--_why_ was
she giving it? Why had she withheld herself until this moment of material
happiness? "I have to pay the rich man's price," thought I, with a sigh.
It was in reaching out for some sweetness to take away this bitter taste in
my honey that I said to her, "When you gave me that money from your uncle,
you did it to help me out?"
She colored deeply. "How silly you must have thought me!" she answered.
I took her other hand. As I was drawing her toward me, the sudden pallor of
her face and chill of her hands halted me once more, brought sickeningly
before me the early days of my courtship when she had infuriated my pride
by trying to be "submissive." I looked round the room--that room into which
I had put so much thought--and money. Money! "The rich man's price!" those
delicately brocaded walls shimmered mockingly at me.
"Anita," said I, "do you _care_ for me?"
She murmured inaudibly. Evasion! thought I, and suspicion sprang on guard,
"Anita," I repeated sternly, "do you care for _me_?"
"I am your wife," she replied, her head drooping still lower. And
hesitatingly she drew away from me. That seemed confirmation of my doubt
and I said to her satirically, "You are willing to be my wife out of
gratitude, to put it politely?"
She looked straight into my eyes and answered, "I can only say there is no
one I like so well, and--I will give you all I have to give."
"Like!" I exclaimed contemptuously, my nerves giving way altogether. "And
you would be my _wife_! Do you want me to _despise_ you?" I
struck dead my poor, feeble hope that had been all but still-born. I rushed
from the room, closing the door violently between us.
Such was our housewarming.
BLACKLOCK OPENS FIRE
For what I proceeded to do, all sorts of motives, from the highest to the
basest, have been attributed to me. Here is the truth: I had already pushed
the medicine of hard work to its limit. It was as powerless against this
new development as water against a drunkard's thirst. I must find some new,
some compelling drug--some frenzy of activity that would swallow up my self
as the battle makes the soldier forget his toothache. This confession may
chagrin many who have believed in me. My enemies will hasten to say: "Aha,
his motive was even more selfish and petty than we alleged." But those who
look at human nature honestly, and from the inside, will understand how I
can concede that a selfish reason moved me to draw my sword, and still
can claim a higher motive. In such straits as were mine, some men of my
all-or-none temperament debauch themselves; others thresh about blindly,
reckless whether they strike innocent or guilty. I did neither.
Probably many will recall that long before the "securities" of the
reorganized coal combine were issued, I had in my daily letter to investors
been preparing the public to give them a fitting reception. A few days
after my whole being burst into flames of resentment against Anita, out
came the new array of new stocks and bonds. Roebuck and Langdon arranged
with the under writers for a "fake" four times over-subscription, indorsed
by the two greatest banking houses in the Street. Despite this often-tried
and always-good trick, the public refused to buy. I felt I had not been
overestimating my power. But I made no move until the "securities" began to