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Title: White Ashes
Author: Kennedy, Sidney R. (Sidney Robinson), 1875-, Noble, Alden Charles, 1880-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "White Ashes" ***

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WHITE ASHES

by

KENNEDY-NOBLE

[Transcriber's note: Full names--Sidney R. Kennedy, Alden C. Noble.]



New York
The MacMillan Company
1912
All rights reserved
Copyright, 1912,
by The MacMillan Company.
Set up and electrotyped.  Published April, 1912.



TO

NATALIE STANTON KENNEDY

THIS BOOK

IS INSCRIBED BY THE AUTHORS

SIDNEY R. KENNEDY

ALDEN C. NOBLE



WHITE ASHES


CHAPTER I

On the top floor of one of the lesser office buildings in the insurance
district of lower New York, a man stood silent before a map desk on
which was laid an opened map of the burned city.  No other man was in
the office, for this was on a Sunday; but it would not have mattered to
the man at the map had the big room presented its usual busy
appearance.  All that went on about him would have passed his notice;
he only gazed stolidly from the map to the newspaper with flaring
headlines, and from newspaper back to map, trying to gauge the measure
of his calamity.

The morning papers had been able to print nothing save the bare facts
that the fire had started near a large hotel, had spread with appalling
rapidity to the adjacent buildings, and getting beyond the control of
the fire department was sweeping southward under a wind of thirty miles
an hour.  The afternoon extras, however, gave fuller--and
graver--details.  The central business section of the city was entirely
in ruins, and the conflagration had as yet shown no sign of a stay.

Sunday though it was, in many of the greater insurance offices on
William Street the executives had gathered and were endeavoring to
calculate the effect of this catastrophe on their assets.

But in the office on the top floor, where the man stood alone, there
was no longer any doubt.  Whether the fire was checked or whether it
swept onward mattered now to him not at all; he was looking into the
eyes of ruin utter and absolute. . . .  But this, perhaps, is
premature, since before this day was to arrive much water was to flow
under many bridges, and it is with the flowing of some of that water
that this story has to deal.


About five o'clock, Charles Wilkinson called, as he often did, through
inclinations in which the gastronomic and the amatory were about evenly
divided.  Long since, after a series of titanic but perfectly hopeless
struggles, he had abandoned all direct attempts to borrow money from
his opulent step-uncle; subsequent efforts to achieve indirectly the
same result by a myriad of methods admirably subtle and of marked
ingenuity had resulted only in equal failure.  To be sure, there had
never been any really valid reason why his endeavors should have been
successful unless as compensation for years of patient labor.  He
conceived his esteemed relation as a sort of safe-deposit box, to a
share of whose contents he was entitled if he could contrive to open
it.  Farther back in the quest, he had approached Mr. Hurd with the
dash and confidence of a successful burglar, but of late the pursuit
had lapsed to a mere occasional half-hearted fumble at the combination.

However, he often came to tea.  Tea was something--tangibly of no great
importance, but from Wilkinson's viewpoint a sop to his self-respect in
the reflection that he was getting it from old man Hurd.  Besides, it
kept the proximity established.  Charles was as simple an optimist as a
frankly predatory young man could be; some day the vault door might
quite unexpectedly swing open, and it would be highly desirable to be
close at hand and to have an intimate knowledge of the exits.  Mr. Hurd
was his only rich relation, and the step-nephew clung to him with
tentacles of despair.

Tea at John M. Hurd's was something,--comparatively a more vital factor
to Wilkinson, who lived in a cheap boarding house, than to its other
partakers,--and Isabel Hurd was something more.

He felt a sincere admiration for Isabel, and his admiration had the
substantial foundation of real respect.  It happened that his
step-cousin was what is kindly called a nice girl, but Wilkinson's
regard passed hurriedly across any pleasing personal qualities she
might have possessed.  To him she was the daughter of a magnate who
lived in a large house on Beacon Street and whose traction company gave
its stockholders (whatever else might be said of its passengers) very
little cause for complaint.  To a young man whose creditors would have
harried him nearly mad but for the fact that for several years past he
had been able to secure scarcely any credit from any one, Isabel
assumed the calm and quiet attractiveness of a well-managed national
bank.  And had she seriously considered marrying him, she could have
confidently relied on his loyalty so long as Mr. Hurd could sign his
name to a check.  This reflection might not have been a flattering one
to her, but it should have been a comforting one.  Had it been beauty
that first attracted him, he might have wavered after the freshness
faded, but the chance that the Massachusetts Light, Heat, and Traction
Company would be obliged to discontinue its liberal dividends was so
remote as to be negligible.  And Wilkinson, at all events, was
consistent.

Barnes, the stout butler, assisted him to remove his overcoat and took
his hat, and he stepped unannounced into the drawing room.

John M. Hurd's drawing room reflected the substance of its master in so
far that it appeared to represent lavish resources.  In the rather dim
light, the deep rose tapestry curtains, the really beautiful rugs on
the highly polished floor, the heavy, stately furniture, and the big
central crystal chandelier all made for dignity.  Even the broad-framed
pictures on the wall, although there were two or three old masters
among them, looked above suspicion.  Miss Hurd was seated near the
window, talking to two young men who seemed on terms of informality in
the house.

"Shall we have tea?" she asked, when her step-cousin had seated himself.

"By all means--but I hope you don't mean it literally," replied
Wilkinson, promptly.  "Tea, by all means, if necessary to preserve the
conventionalities, but especially anything and everything else you
like."  He turned to Bennington Cole.  "I feel rather proud of my
success in this establishment, Benny.  A year ago Isabel would have
handed you out nothing except a couple of anemic sugar wafers with the
cup; now you can get English muffins and all kinds of sandwiches and
éclairs--which is at least a little better."

"Congratulate you," said Cole, with a laugh.

"Oh, I haven't finished," Wilkinson went on.  "The next step in my
missionary movement will be a popular demand for chicken salad.  That's
a big forward step---you eat it with a fork--and from there it will be
an easy gradation up the _carte du jour_ until finally I triumph in the
introduction of real food, so that when you ask for tea in this house
you will get a full portion of porterhouse steak and French fried
potatoes.  But don't think me hypercritical, Isabel," he added.  "Even
now I can usually manage to part from you without reeling, faint with
hunger, down your front steps and collapsing at their feet--I should
say foot."

"I'm extremely relieved to hear you say so," replied the girl.

The third young man, who alone of the three wore a frock coat, and who
retained on his hand his left glove while his right was laid smoothly
across his knee, now entered the conversation.

"You talk as though you were really hungry, Charlie," he said.

"Well, I am, rather," the other rejoined.  "And I can tell you, Stan,
that if you lived in my boarding house, you never could have completed
that charming still-life effect of the platter of fish that I recently
saw in your studio.  You would have eaten your model before you could
have finished the picture."

"Why don't you change your boarding house, Charlie, if it's so bad?"
Miss Hurd inquired.

"I did," her cousin replied.  "Of boarding houses within my sadly
circumscribed means there is a very wide but strictly numerical choice.
They are all exactly alike, you understand.  I changed once, twice,
twenty, forty times.  I grew positively dizzy caroming from one
inferior boarding house to another.  You would have thought I was
trying a peripatetic preventative for dyspepsia.  Finally the mental
strain of remembering where to go home at night became so irksome that
I decided to leave bad enough alone and stay where I was--one eleven
Mount Vernon Place--at the sign of the three aces.  It's no worse, you
see, than anywhere else--it's merely a matter of living down to my
painfully limited income.  But," he added thoughtfully, "I sincerely
wish some philanthropist would put me to the trouble of moving again."

The two men laughed at Wilkinson's frank exposition, but his cousin
frowned a little.

"I wish father would do something for you," she said.  "There are so
many things he could do if he chose."

"He was good enough to offer me a job as conductor on one of his street
cars, the last time I mentioned the subject," the other responded
cheerfully.  "But I told him that the company's system of espionage was
reputed to be so nearly perfect that I doubted whether I could make the
position pay--that is, pay as it ought.  And you know, Isabel," he
added, "that with all due respect to my esteemed relation, he's
exceedingly awkward to get anything out of.  Can either of you
gentlemen," he turned to the others, "suggest anything along these
lines?  I would be willing to pay a liberal commission."

"Well," said the painter, "if he wanted to buy a Caneletto cheap, I
know where you could pick one up for him.  It would rather damage my
reputation to recommend him to buy it, but you could do it all right,
Charlie.  Guaranteed authentic by European experts--they're easily
fixed.  And if he didn't like the Caneletto, you could get him a very
fair Franz Hals--by the same artist."

Miss Hurd, whose feelings had not been in the least lacerated by the
reference to her parent's notable eccentricity of retentiveness, but
who had been amused at the suggestion, interposed.

"I'm afraid it couldn't be done," she said.  "Louis von Glauber passes
on every picture that father buys."

"That settles _that_, then," Pelgram rejoined.

"Well, Benny, anything to suggest?" Wilkinson inquired.

"I don't know," said Cole, slowly.  The germ of an idea had flashed on
him.  "I don't know," he repeated.  The impecunious one regarded him
attentively.

"My dear Benny, an unconvincing prevarication is of less practical
value than--" he began, but he was interrupted by the appearance of a
young lady who came through the doorway.

The three men rose quickly, and even the languid face of Stanwood
Pelgram took on a look of a little sharper interest than he had so far
shown.  From the tea table Miss Hurd cordially greeted the newcomer.

"Tea, Helen?" she asked.  "You're quite late.  What have you been
doing?"

"Thank you, Isabel," the other replied.  "Quite strong, and with sugar
and lemon--both."  She sat down and commenced to pull off her long
gloves.  "I've been helping Cousin Henrietta Lyons select wall papers
for her new apartment.  I still live, but I've had a very trying time."

"Was it so difficult?" Bennington Cole asked politely.  He did not know
her very well.

"Well," responded Miss Maitland, "I can think of nothing more difficult
than selecting wall papers--excepting, perhaps, Cousin Henrietta Lyons.
As I picked out her papers, I think I'm entitled to abuse her," she
explained with some feeling.  "Wall papers in themselves are bad
enough."  She paused.

"Well, they ought to be," Wilkinson cheerfully put in, adroitly
diverting the attack from Miss Lyons.  "I understand that most of them
are designed by individuals who have failed to succeed as sign painters
on account of color-blindness, or by draughtsmen who have lost their
positions because of the paramount influence of epilepsy on their work."

"I should estimate that they have about twenty-eight thousand samples
at Heminway and Shipman's," the girl continued.  "Cousin Henrietta
possesses a fine old spirit of thoroughness which made it necessary for
us to see them all.  We sat on a red plush sofa while a truly affable
young man kept flopping the sheets of samples over the back of an
easel.  That is, he was truly affable for an hour or two; after that he
grew a little reticent.  At first some of the samples interested me.
There was one design of a row of cockatoos, each one standing on a
wreath of lilacs, that was fascinating, and I liked one that looked
like a flock of nectarines hiding in the interstices of a steam
radiator.  The young man made encouraging suggestions at first, but at
the last, scarcely,--although I was so nearly stupefied that I doubt
whether I would have heard him even if he had said what he really
thought."  She took up her cup.  "But the walk here did me a lot of
good--I walked fast."

"Where your cousin made her mistake," Wilkinson observed, "was in going
in for wall papers at all.  She should have abandoned the idea of
papering her walls, and retained our talented friend, Stanwood Pelgram,
to paint them, instead.  A splendid conception!  How I should like to
have attended the pirate view of Miss Lyons's flat, when the last coat
of distemper had dried on the parlor ceiling and Stanwood had put the
affectionate finishing touches on the decorative panel portrait of
Lucretia Borgia in the oval above the kitchen stove!  The whole thing
would have been a magnificent and unusual symbol of the triumph of
paint over paper--a new and vivid illustration of the practical value
of true art."

"Oh, nonsense, Charlie!" said Pelgram, much annoyed at being made the
rather vulnerable subject of Wilkinson's humor.

His tormentor was delighted at perceiving his victim writhe and went
gayly on.

"But unhappily our Stanwood is so impractical.  Probably he would have
declined the commission.  Atmospheric envelopes slowly en route to the
dead letter office of dream pastels demand his whole attention.
Painting is crass; he mildly cameos.  Tonal nuances--shades of
imperceptible difference in the shadowy debatable land between things
colored exactly alike--claim his earnest interpretation.  When he
rarely speaks, it is usually an important contribution to the world's
artistic knowledge on some such subject as 'The Influence of Rubens'
Grandmother on his Portraits of his Second Wife' or 'The True Alma
Mater of Alma Tadema.'"

The artist, whose round smooth face was pink with rage, almost choked,
but was wholly unable to reply.  That he should be made the gross butt
of a man such as Wilkinson was bad enough, but that this should take
place in the presence of ladies--and especially of Helen Maitland--was
almost unendurable.

Miss Maitland, seeing the flames approaching the magazine with alarming
rapidity, hastily started a back-fire, adapting Wilkinson's style to
her purpose with a success which--repartee not being her strongest
point--astonished even herself.

"Charlie's views on art," she said to the smoldering Pelgram, "are
always interesting because they are so wholly free and natural.  Most
art critics are checked and biased by having studied their subject and
formed certain fixed impressions which are bound to come to the surface
in their criticisms; some critics are influenced by having gone so far
as to look at meritorious pictures in an endeavor to analyze and
appreciate them intelligently; but Charlie labors under no such
restraints.  Once he went into the Louvre, but it was to get out of the
rain.  Except for an acute sense of smell, he could not detect an oil
painting from a water color, even if he should try; and except for an
abnormal self-confidence he would hesitate in the first step of
criticism--a careful consideration of the value of the canvas as
compared with that of the frame.  It is therefore because Charlie is
the only self-admitted art critic who knows nothing whatever of the
subject, that his opinions are so interesting, for they are sure to be
absolutely impartial and free from all bias of every kind.  But where
he heard of Alma Tadema is a puzzle to me, unless that name has been
utilized by the manufacturer of some new tooth powder or popular cigar
that has failed to attract my notice in the street car advertisements,"
she concluded thoughtfully.

The harassed artist turned with a look of almost abject canine
gratitude toward his defender.  Intervention from any source was
welcome, but Miss Maitland's unexpected appearance as his belligerent
partisan lifted him with a single swing from the abysmal humiliation of
ridicule to the highest summit of hope.  Helen had always been polite
to him, but never before had she warmed to his outspoken defense.  She
had usually expressed an interest in his work, but as a matter of fact
some of it was worthy of her quite impersonal interest.  In his own
set, men accustomed to formulate their opinions with complete
independence and considerable shrewdness frequently remarked that Stan
was an awful ass, but he could paint some.  This was the common last
analysis, the degree of qualifying favor being measured in each case by
the comparative pause between the last two words and the accent and
inflection upon the ultimate.

And even among those who considered Pelgram's asinine qualities plainly
predominant, there was an admission of his certain artistic readiness,
a cleverness in his grouping, a superficial dexterity in his brush
work, a smartness and facility in the method of his pursuit of false
gods.  The irrepressible Wilkinson had struck true to the mark of his
weaknesses, but something could well be said for the unhappy poseur in
whom his shaft had quivered.  Some one had observed that Pelgram
regarded the appearance of his person and of his studio as of more
serious importance than that of his canvases, but his commissions
withal came in sufficient numbers to permit his extensive indulgence in
bodily and domestic adornment.  Granting him to be an ass, he certainly
was a reasonably successful one, and he was even generally held to be a
talented one.

For all his work was cursed by his indecision, he was surprisingly
steady along the line of personal relations.  At one time he would
devote himself wholly to the production of exotic-looking pastels; at
another time to nothing but the strangest of nocturnes in which the
colors were washed on in a kind of sauce so thin that the frames,
instead of being placed on easels, had to be laid flat on table tops in
order to keep the pictures from running off their canvases onto the
floor while being painted.  But with people, his first likes and
dislikes were definite and usually final, and this quality of personal
consistency had come to a fixed focus on Helen Maitland.

Helen, for her part, had never given him any other encouragement than
to express her approval of some of his pictures that she honestly
liked, but Pelgram needed no other encouragement.  His cosmos bulged
with ego of such density that he and his pastels and nocturnes were
crowded together in it indistinguishably.  Admiration of his work was
necessarily admiration of himself.  It was only a question of degree.
With an extraordinary manifestation of good taste and common sense,
amounting almost to inspiration, he had some time since decided that he
would like to marry Miss Maitland, but his admiration for her was so
deep that his self-assurance was shaken to the point of hesitation.
Thus far he had not ventured to speak, but his heart bounded at her
swift defense of him and her effective attack on Wilkinson.

In the brief pause, while Wilkinson was rallying his forces for another
charge on Pelgram's tonal battlements, John M. Hurd entered the room.

Mr. Hurd was a thickset man with a firm, clean-shaven jaw and a face
furrowed by deep lines, but with eyes that oddly enough looked
comparatively youthful and capable not only of appreciating humor, but
even of manufacturing it.  He appeared to be a man who, by the exercise
of his pronounced talent for commercial strategy, could drive, without
an atom of pity, his opponent into a corner, but who, after penning him
there, could take an almost boyish amusement in watching the
unfortunate's futile efforts to escape.  The magnate was dressed in a
dark cutaway coat with gray trousers, a pear-shaped turquoise pin
adorned his black tie, and his dress fully reflected the solid
respectability of the directors' meeting from which he had just come.

He took up his position, standing with his back to the window, stirring
the sugar in the cup of tea which his daughter had given him.  His
entrance had snapped the tension between his impecunious step-nephew
and the painter.

"Well, how are you all?" he remarked genially.  "Really, Isabel, you
have quite a salon.  How is the portrait going, Helen?--or should I
have asked the artist and not the subject?  Glad to see you, Cole--is
the fire insurance business good?  Do you know, I made quite a lot of
money out of insurance last year--had it figured out recently."

"In what way, sir?" Cole politely inquired, anticipating the answer.

"By not insuring anything," replied Mr. Hurd, with a short laugh.
"Hello, Charlie, had a busy day?"

As Wilkinson's extreme disinclination for industry of any legitimate
sort was well known to all the party, Mr. Hurd's innocently expressed
but barb-pointed question brought a general smile, and Pelgram
permitted himself the luxury of a suggestive cough.

"Well, no, Uncle John," replied the young man addressed, half
apologetically.  "Physically, to-day has been on the whole rather
restful; however, my active mind has been running as usual at top
speed," he added.

Mr. Hurd felt inclined to concede the activity of his nephew's mind, in
so far that he had never known its headlong flight to be delayed by
contact with an idea--that is to say, an idea of any particular value.
Still, in the presence of the rest he spared his young relative, merely
remarking dryly and in a manner intended to create the impression of
closing the incident with the honors on his own side, "I dare say if
your mind runs long enough, Charlie, it will eventually be elected."

This rejoinder had no definite meaning, but that fact in itself made
any retort comparatively difficult, and Wilkinson merely helped himself
in silence to another sandwich.

Presently Bennington Cole announced that he must be going on, as he had
an appointment with an out-of-town insurance agent who was leaving
Boston that evening, and soon afterward Miss Maitland took her
departure, escorted by Pelgram.  Then Wilkinson went, having executed
as much havoc as he could among the comestibles, and Isabel was left
with her father.  Mr. Hurd lit a cigar and looked thoughtfully at his
daughter.

"Splendid appetite that young feller has," he observed, nodding toward
the large tray which stood almost nude of food.

The girl moved a little uneasily in her chair.

"Now, father," she protested, "you shouldn't be so hard on Charlie.
He's really in a very embarrassing position.  He's never had a chance
to show what he could do if he found something he liked and was suited
for.  He's as clever and amusing as he can be, but he just naturally
isn't practical and no one has ever been able to make him so, and you
yourself are so absolutely practical in everything that you can't
excuse the lack of it in any one else.  But he's really all right."

Mr. Hurd looked sharply up, and the lines around his eyes came a little
closer together.

"You don't mean that you're interested in him--seriously, do you?" he
said.

"Oh, no," replied his daughter.  "Not at all--that way."

The traction magnate smiled indulgently, with manifest relief.

"I don't want to criticize your analysis of character, Isabel," he
said, "but I think you're dead wrong on one point.  In my opinion Mr.
Charles Wilkinson is one of the most practical young men of my
acquaintance."

Meanwhile Miss Maitland and her companion had crossed the Common, and
when they came to Boylston Street the shop windows were all alit and
the street lamps began to shine.  It was the close of a cool September
day, and a sharp wind whipped the skirt of Pelgram's frock coat around
his legs and flecked the blood into the girl's cheeks as she stepped
briskly westward, swinging along easily while her rather stout and soft
escort, patting the walk with his cane, kept up with some little
difficulty.  As often as he dared, the artist glanced at her, and with
hope kindled by gratitude, he thought her never so attractive.  And no
matter what might be said of the eccentricity of his artistic taste in
pursuit of the ideal, his selection of the real was indisputably sound;
Miss Maitland was well worth the admiration of any man.

As they came to Portland Street, waiting at the crossing for a
motor-car to pass, Pelgram quite suddenly said, "I wish I could paint
you here and just as you are looking now."

The girl flushed a little.  The compliment was conventional enough, but
there was a tone in his voice that she had never heard before and that
carried its meaning clearly.

"Thank you.  Is it because the atmosphere and background would be so
ugly--wind and iron and dead leaves and raw brick walls and hideous
advertising signs--and I should seem attractive by comparison?"

Her companion looked thoughtfully ahead, as they crossed the street and
went on.

"No, not that," he said, more gravely than usual.  "You don't need any
comparison, but all this isn't really so bad.  Perhaps the things you
mention are ugly in themselves, but a certain combination of them
caught at a certain moment can well be worthy of a painting, and I
think we have that moment now.  Beauty makes a more pleasant model for
the artist--that is why I would have liked you in the foreground--but
beauty is not the only province of art.  If it were, no painter, for
example, would find anything to occupy him in the foul stream that
washes the London wharves--as some critic has said.  Yet a great many
beautiful pictures have come from the London wharves, and one, at
least, could come from Boylston Street."

The girl was interested.  Behind his intolerable pastels and nuances
and frock coats and superficial pose the man actually had ideas; it was
a pity they showed so seldom.  And she wished he would confine himself
to the abstract.  She could tolerate his aerial monologues on art even
when his pose seemed to her superficial and almost silly, for
occasionally he said something which was not only clever in sound, but
which, to her thinking, rang true.  But on the personal side he was
becoming unpleasantly aggressive.  She regarded him with admittedly
mixed feelings, and she was not at all sure just how well she liked
him, but she felt quite certain that she did not wish to have him ask
her to marry him.

When they came to the door of her apartment in Deerfield Street, where
she lived with her mother, he held her hand perceptibly longer than was
necessary in saying farewell.

"You will come to the studio Thursday morning at eleven?" he said
tenderly.

"Yes, certainly," Miss Maitland answered in a matter-of-fact tone.

He hesitated.

"I never wanted to do anything well so much as I want to do your
portrait well.  I want to make your portrait by far the finest thing
that I have ever done--or that I ever shall do," he said.  "Truly
beautiful--and truly you."

"That is extremely good of you," replied the girl in a perfectly level
voice, manifesting no more emotion than she would have displayed had he
dramatically announced that he purposed executing her likeness on
canvas and that he intended to use oil paints of various colors.
"Good-by," she added, and the door closed behind the artist.

Charles Wilkinson, returning from the Hurds' to his boarding house,
opened the front door with his latch key and stepped into the dingy
hall.  On a small table beside the hatrack lay the boarders' mail.  He
picked out three envelopes addressed to him, walked upstairs, and
entered his room.  Seating himself in the only comfortable chair the
apartment afforded, he gloomily regarded the three missives.

The first bore on its upper left-hand corner the mark of his tailor, a
chronic creditor, once patient, then consecutively surprised, annoyed,
amazed, and of late showing signs of extreme exasperation accompanied
by threats; at the end of the gamut the contents of this would be more
vivacious reading than merely the monotonous and colorless repetition
of an account rendered.  The second was from his dentist, a man spurred
to fury, whose extraction of two wisdom teeth had been of trifling
difficulty in comparison with the task of extracting from his patient
the amount named in his bill, and who had found in Wilkinson's mouth no
cavity comparable in gravity with that apparently existing in his bank
balance.  The third envelope carried the name of a firm of lawyers not
unknown to the man addressed--a firm that specialized in the collection
of bad debts; Wilkinson looked at this longer than at either of the
others, for he was ignorant of its contents.  Then, without opening any
one of the three, he thoughtfully took out his fountain pen.

Crossing out his own Mount Vernon Place address from all three
envelopes, he readdressed the tailor's communication in an alien hand
to the Hotel Bon Air, Augusta, Georgia.  On the dentist's missive he
inscribed "Auditorium Annex, Chicago, Illinois."  Over the lawyer's
letter he hesitated a moment, and then boldly wrote "Chateau Frontenac,
Quebec, P. Q."  This would at least be a grateful reprieve.  After five
days all these epistles would be returned to their senders, who would
probably not question the fact that their failure to reach him had not
been purely accidental.  Moreover his credit with this trio would
positively be improved by the impression that his resources were at any
rate sufficient to enable him to travel far and to stop at well-known
hotels.

After he had dropped the three envelopes into the post-box it occurred
to him that he might just as well--perhaps even better--have sent all
three to the same place, but even allowing liberally for the
incorrectness of this detail, Mr. Hurd's opinion of his step-nephew
seemed in a fair way of being justified.



CHAPTER II

It occurred to Mr. Smith that no one has ever determined the precise
idea upon which the Boston and Manhattan Railroad bases its schedules
with its infrequent adherence thereto and customary deviation
therefrom.  Numberless ingenious theories have been advanced from time
to time by untold thousands of exasperated patrons of the line;
opinions of all colors, all temperatures, all degrees of light and
shade have been volunteered, many with a violence that lends
conviction, but all in vain.  The thing remains as secret, as
recondite, as baffling as ever.  Good Bostonians regard attempts to
solve the problem as not only futile but impertinent--almost
blasphemous--accepting it as a factor in the general inscrutability
which veils the world, and are content to let it remain such.

From these reflections it is patent that this large patience, this
Oriental calm, had not yet come to Mr. Richard Smith of New York, who
felt a certain irritation somewhat modified by amusement as he sat
looking out of the car window at an apathetic brakeman who languidly
gazed down the shining rails.  For no cause that could be guessed, the
train had now been resting nearly half an hour.  The colored porter had
ceased to perform prodigies by shutting between the upper berth and the
wall three times as many blankets, mattresses, board partitions, and
other paraphernalia as one would have thought the space could possibly
contain, and was sitting in the corner section reflectively chewing a
toothpick.  There appeared to be a distressing lack of interest in the
train on the part of all its proximate officials; no one seemed ready
to alter the status quo.

Only a few miles to the eastward the roofs of Boston and the golden
dome of the Capitol glittered in the morning sun, and there were the
bright rails stretching clean and straight up to the very gates of the
city.  Railroading was a silly business anyway, thought Smith.  An
express train should be consistent, and not suddenly decide to become a
landmark instead of a mobile and dynamic agent.  He almost wished he
had taken his ticket by the Fall River boat--as he probably would have
done had he been a Bostonian.

"Without reference to its political aspect," he reflected, "I believe
strongly in water.  I might have been deeply disturbed if there had
been a ground swell or a cross sea going around Point Judith, but I
wouldn't have been threatened with approaching senile decay en route."

Smith was from New York.  The elderly Bostonian who shared his section
had thought so from the first.  He had guessed it when Smith took out
for the second time his watch and replaced it with a snap; he had felt
his belief strengthened when his fellow traveler raised the sash and
looked impatiently up the idle track; and he had dismissed all doubt
when Smith, conversing with the apathetic brakeman, crisply indicated
his desire to return from a study of still life to the moving picture
show for which he had paid admission.  The elderly Bostonian had
observed many New Yorkers, but it had never ceased to be a source of
surprise to him why they all should be so incessantly restless with an
electric anxiety to be getting somewhere else.  To his own thinking one
place was very much the same as another,--with the exception of
Boston,--and a comfortable inertia was by no means to be condemned.  If
people were waiting for one, and one didn't appear, they merely waited
a little longer--that was all.  If eternity was really eternity, there
was exactly as much time coming as had passed.  In any event no
well-regulated New England mind would permit itself to become disturbed
over so small a matter.

Smith, guessing perhaps something of this from his companion's placid
face, felt a momentary embarrassment at his own impatience.

"I've an engagement at ten o'clock," he remarked, somewhat
apologetically, to his conservative neighbor.  "Do you suppose this
train is going to let me keep it?"

The gentleman addressed cautiously expressed the opinion that if no
further malign influences were felt, and the train were presently to
start, the remainder of the journey would occupy comparatively little
time.

And so in due course it came to pass as the elderly Bostonian had
predicted, clearly proving--if Smith had been open to accept
proof--that the Oriental method of reasoning is the most comfortable,
whatever may be said of its efficiency.  He had left home at eleven on
the night before, and he arrived at the offices of Silas Osgood and
Company, 175 Kilby Street, at exactly half an hour before eleven in the
morning.

The exercise of walking up from the South Station, although the walk
was a short one, had wholly dispelled the irritation of the delay, so
that his smile was as genuine as ever when Mr. Silas Osgood held out
his courtly hand in welcome  It would have been a very bitter mood that
could have withstood the Bostonian's greeting.

"We were looking for you a little earlier in the morning," he said,
when the first greetings were over.  "You come so seldom nowadays that
we feel you ought to come as early as possible."

Smith laughed.

"If you'd said that to me when I had been waiting two hours somewhere
just the other side of North, East, West, or South Newton, I would have
probably snarled like a dyspeptic terrier.  Now, seeing you, sir, I can
blandly reply that I came via Springfield and that the train was a
trifle late."

"Exceedingly courteous, I am sure, for one not a native," agreed the
other, smiling.  "I am advised that the train has been known to be
delayed."

"Well, I'm here now, anyway," Smith rejoined, "and very glad to be.  It
must be six weeks since I saw the good old gilded dome on the hill, and
six weeks seems a long time--or would, if they didn't keep me pretty
busy at the other end."

The two men were by this time in Mr. Osgood's private office, and the
closing door shut out the click of typewriters and the other sounds of
the larger room outside.  As Mr. Osgood seated himself a trifle stiffly
in his wide desk chair, Smith looked at him affectionately.  The
reflection came into his mind that the old gentleman was just a little
older than when they had last met, and the thought gave a pang.

Silas Osgood was nearing his seventieth year.  A long life of kindly
and gentle thinking, of clean and correct living, had left him at this
age as clear-eyed and direct of gaze as a child, but the veins showed
blue in the rather frail hands, and the face was seamed with tiny
wrinkles.  Mr. Osgood had been in business in the fire insurance world
of Boston for almost half a century.  He was as well known as the very
pavement of Kilby Street, that great local artery of insurance life,
and the pulse of that life beat in him as strongly as his own.

To be an insurance man--and by that is meant primarily a fire insurance
man--is in New England no mean or casual thing.  South, West, in the
newer and more open lands, where traditions are fewer and there is less
time for the dignities and observance of the amenities of commerce,
fire insurance takes its chance with a thousand other roads to an
honest dollar.  If a Western lawyer has a few spare hours, he hangs out
an insurance sign and between briefs he or his clerk writes policies.
The cashier of the Farmers' State Bank in the prairie town ekes out his
small salary with the commissions he receives as agent for a few
companies.  If a grist-mill owner or a storekeeper has a busy corner of
two Southern streets where passers-by congregate on market day, he gets
the representation of a fire company or two, and from time to time
sends in a risk to the head office, whose underwriters go nearly
frantic in endeavoring to decipher the hidden truth in the dusty
reports of these well-intentioned amateurs.

But it is not so in New England.  In New England fire insurance reaches
its proudest estate.  It is a profession, and to its true votaries
almost a religion.  Its sons have, figuratively speaking, been born
with a rate book in one hand and a blank proof-of-loss clutched tightly
in the other.  And in the mouth a silver spoon or not, as the case
might be, but in any event a conclusive argument for the superior
loss-paying ability and liberality in adjustment of the companies they
respectively represent.  They are fire insurance men by birth,
education, and tradition--they and their fathers before them.  Four
generations back, Silas Osgood's family had been supported by the staid
old English public's fear of fire.  Three generations in Massachusetts
had been similarly preserved from the pangs of hunger.  Likenesses of
all four were hanging on the wall of Mr. Osgood's office; as to
identity the first two were highly questionable, but their uniforms in
the old prints showed up fresh and bright.  In those old days gentlemen
only, men of education and station, whose judgment and courage were
beyond question, were intrusted with the responsibility of fighting the
flames.  It is hard to say why this important and exciting work should
no longer attract the same sort of men to its service.

Hanging beside the four generations were the commissions of the fire
companies locally represented in the Osgood office.  Stout old
companies they were, too, for the most part; one of the older ones was
well in the second century of its triumph over fire and the fear of
fire and the ashes thereof; this was a foreign company which Osgood
held for old sake's sake.  The other commissions bore American
signatures, most of them well known and well esteemed.  On the wall
right above where Smith sat was the gold seal of his own company, the
Guardian, and against the seal the inexplicable hieroglyph which served
Mr. James Wintermuth for his presidential signature.  Then there was
the great white sheet with the black border which set forth to all the
world by these presents that Silas Osgood and Company were the duly
accredited agents of the Atlantic Fire Insurance Company of Hartford,
Connecticut.  The narrow placque of the old Birmingham Indemnity of
Birmingham, England, looked like a calling card beside the Atlantic's
flamboyant placard.

Smith, seeing Mr. Osgood's look fixed for a moment on the parchment
above his head, said inquiringly, "How long is it that you have
represented the Guardian in Boston?"

The older man smiled reflectively and turned his eyeglass in his hand
as he spoke.

"It was the year after the big fire when I first took the Guardian into
my office.  You are a close enough student of the game to know that
that was just about forty years ago."

Smith nodded.

"Before Richard Smith was born.  But I remember the date.  Who
appointed you as agent?"

Mr. Osgood pointed to the scrawl at the foot of the framed commission.

"My old friend, James Wintermuth," he said.  He paused a moment.  "I
can almost see him now as he looked when he came to call on me--in the
old office farther down the street.  Tall and quick-tempered, and you
can imagine how strong in the fingers he was in those days!  I recall I
used to keep my glove on when I shook hands with him.  He was a fine
young chap, was James.  Perhaps a _little_ too hasty for us
conservative New Englanders, but--"  He broke off, a half-smile on his
lips.

Smith remained silent.

"It's a fault you young New Yorkers are apt to have," the Bostonian
presently went on.  "Most of you are a trifle aggressive for us over
here--just a bit radical."

The other laughed good-naturedly.

"I myself should say that my honored chief had lived down his
radicalism long ago.  It's lucky for Silas Osgood and Company that
there is a little of it left somewhere in the company, for the
President convalesced from his attack of radicalism in eighteen
eighty-five or thereabouts and has never been threatened with a relapse
or a recurrence.  You may criticize us, sir, but you will have to admit
that unless there was a little radicalism in my own department, the
Guardian would never have accepted the lines and the liability in this
down-town district that you have sent us and are sending us now.  I
hope I'm conservative enough, but with all due respect to Mr.
Wintermuth, what he calls conservatism often strikes me as dry rot."

He stopped, laughing again.

"This is not an explosive protest," he said.  "It is merely the result
of having traveled on the conservative Boston and Manhattan, which
would turn a phlegmatic Pennsylvania Dutchman into a Nihilist."

Then both men laughed together, and turned their attention to the
business before them, Mr. Osgood's pale silver head close beside
Smith's brown one.

In the outer office typewriters clicked, clients hung over desks, and
the traffic of a busy morning proceeded.  It was just about twelve
o'clock when the clerks nearest the door stopped their work for a brief
minute to look up and smile, for Charles Wilkinson, whenever he came to
that office, timed his arrival with a skill that was perfectly
understood by all.  Mr. Wilkinson beamed blandly over the map counter,
and still more blandly inquired whether Mr. Bennington Cole was in.
Mr. Cole was, it appeared, at his desk, and Mr. Wilkinson required no
one to show him the way.

"Hello, Benny," he said cheerfully.  "You hardly expected to see me
here to-day, did you?  But I'm the early bird, all right.  The
excessively shy and unseasonable habits of the matinal worm never
appealed favorably to me, but we have to have him once in a while, so
here I am.  You know what for, don't you?  Or do you?"

Cole surveyed his visitor dispassionately.

"I fancy I can guess," he replied.

"No, upon my word," the other rejoined with spirit; "you do me a grave
injustice, Benny.  I've already had luncheon--that is to say, I've just
had breakfast.  You can more fully appreciate the significance of my
call when I tell you that I came to you directly from the breakfast
table.  No, sir, the object of this visit is strictly business."

Bennington Cole gravely buttoned up his coat and thrust both hands into
his pockets.

Mr. Wilkinson smiled buoyantly.

"Benny, you've a delightful surprise in store for you," he said.
"Having astonished you by telling you that I was not open to an
invitation to lunch, I am going to follow it up by assuring you that I
do not intend to suggest the extension of even the paltriest of
pecuniary accommodations.  I am after bigger game."

Cole's suspicion melted into a semblance of interest.

"You don't mean--" he began.

"Yes, but I do, though," said the other.  "That's the precise meaning
of this pious pilgrimage at this ungodly hour.  I want to find out
where you keep that worm.  Yesterday afternoon, at the Hurds', you had
an idea.  You know you did--you can't conceal it from my piercing sense
of penetration.  And your idea had the ring of real currency when you
accidentally dropped it.  So I'm here to collaborate, that's all."

Mr. Osgood's junior partner looked around at the clerks, who hastily
resumed their interrupted duties.

"Come in here," he said to the visitor, and he led his guest into an
inner office next to Mr. Osgood's own, and closed the door behind him.

"I _did_ have an idea," he conceded, as he motioned Wilkinson to a
seat, "and it was an idea that had several things to recommend it.  But
it was a business proposition, and if you will pardon my saying so,
Charlie, you are not the kind of a collaborator I would choose, if I
were doing the choosing."

"But you're not, my boy," replied the other, unabashed.  "I'm doing the
choosing, myself, and I choose you.  Your idea was palpably based on
separating my barnacled connection from some of the ghastly pile of
glittering gold that he has taken, five cents at a time, from the
widows, orphans, blind, halt, and lame who patronize his trolley lines.
Elucidate forthwith, Benny--in the vernacular, unbelt.  I am listening."

Cole was reflecting.  No one knew better than he how little regard John
M. Hurd really felt for this mercurial youth.  Yet Mr. Hurd had
resisted with entire success all other means of approach.  After all,
family connections counted for something, even with the retentive old
trolley magnate.  So when at last he spoke, it was with the
determination to show a part of his hand, at least, to Wilkinson.

"Mr. Hurd is President of the Massachusetts Light, Heat, and Traction
Company," he began.

His visitor smiled affably.

"There is a popular impression to that effect," he admitted.

"Silas Osgood and Company and--" he paused a moment--"Bennington Cole
are in the fire insurance business.  The Massachusetts Light, Heat, and
Traction Company carries no fire insurance on any of its properties.
Well," he said sharply, "do you begin to see how you come into this?"

"See what?" asked Wilkinson, blankly.

"The insurable value of the various properties of the company must
amount to six or eight million dollars.  The average rate on those
properties would probably be about seventy-five cents per hundred
dollars a year for insurance.  That would make a premium of say fifty
thousand dollars per annum.  The commission to the insurance broker who
handled that line--who could secure it and control it--would be ten per
cent of fifty thousand, or five thousand dollars.  Half that amount--I
am doing these sums for you so that you can catch the idea--would be
twenty-five hundred--without any risk to yourself and every year of
your life.  Do you think the game worth a try?"

Wilkinson sat up with eager interest.

"Why half?  Why not both halves?" he inquired.

The other man spread his hands before him in a gesture as well
recognized among elder peoples as it is to-day.

"Naturally I would expect half for originating the scheme, drawing up
the schedule in its proper form, securing the lowest rate, and placing
the line with the various companies.  You couldn't do those things, you
know; it takes knowledge of the business."

His visitor once more sat back in his chair.

"And all I have to do is to get Uncle John to take out an insurance
policy on his trolley cars!  A mere nothing!  I'm astonished that you
offer me so much as half--for so simple an office.  Really, Benny, you
are losing your faculties.  I can almost see them evaporating.  Yes,
the time will come when some one of our mutual friends, driving past
the Meadow Creek Paresis Club, where Dr. McMullen receives certain
amiable but not entirely responsible persons, will behold you hanging
cheerily by one hand from the pergola roof with a vacuous smile on your
twitching lips, and will say to me sadly: 'Charlie, you knew him,
didn't you, in the old days, when his mind was as keen and bright as an
editor's knife?'  And with chastened melancholy I will respond: 'Yes,
George, it is true.  And moreover I was with him on the day when his
mind commenced to give way.  The day he offered me a full half of the
spoils of my own--what do you call it?--oh, yes, arbalest.'"

Cole laughed, and not altogether pleasantly.

"Well, if you can get John M. to carry insurance, I'll see that you are
not disappointed in the terms of our agreement."

"Do you know, Benny, somehow I'd rather have it in writing.  Suppose we
say one third to you and two thirds to me.  After all, I need the
money, you see, and you don't."

"Aren't we counting our chickens a good while before they have emerged
from the incubator?" the other suggested.

"Very likely," Wilkinson readily agreed.  "But I find that if I ever
indulge in that diverting form of mathematics it has to be before the
hatching.  The little yellow rascals never stay around long enough
afterward to permit themselves to be counted."

Bennington Cole slowly picked up a pen and drew toward him a sheet of
paper; more slowly still he wrote what he described as a gentleman's
agreement between Charles Wilkinson and himself.  That young man sat
back and studied the face of his associate with shrewd, half-shut eyes.
Presently Cole stopped writing.

"I fancy this will serve," he said.

"Read the Machiavellian document," demanded Wilkinson, placidly.  And
Cole read.

"'Agreement between Bennington Cole and Charles Wilkinson.  Said
Bennington Cole agrees that if said Charles Wilkinson shall secure
control of the fire insurance of the Massachusetts Light, Heat, and
Traction Company, said Bennington Cole shall handle such account to the
best of his ability and shall pay to said Charles Wilkinson two thirds
of all brokerage commissions received thereby.'"

Said Charles Wilkinson reached for the paper.

"It seems to be in order," he said presently.  "Sign it and date it,
Benny, and bring in old Stewpan there to witness it.  This is a
business proposition, and I know how such things ought to be handled."

It was duly signed and duly witnessed by the aged and anemic cashier of
the Osgood office, and Mr. Wilkinson placed it carefully in his
pocketbook.  Then he rose with alacrity.

"I'm sure you'll pardon my insistence on this little technicality," he
said smoothly; "but you business men, you professional men, are so
shrewd, so very alert and quick of mind, that a comparative novice like
myself is mere wax in your strong, deft fingers. . . .  And now to
cipher out some way to secure the golden apple which hangs so close to
hand, yet so very dragon-guarded."

"That's your work," rejoined Cole.  "I won't attempt to offer
suggestions.  Nearly every insurance broker in Boston has at one time
or another had a go at John M. Hurd.  Boring him to death has been
unsuccessfully tried several times, but as you are in the family, you
may of course have superior facilities to any of your predecessors.
Blackmail might accomplish something.  But really I can't help you any,
Charlie.  If I had any plan, I'd deserve to hang from your friend's
pergola roof for giving it to you instead of using it myself.  I guess
this is where you begin to do a little hard thinking."

"What marvelous incisiveness you possess, Benny," his friend commented.
"It is an uplift to hear you.  But you see thinking is quite in my
line.  Any one who has had to think as hard as I how to keep the lean
white wolf of the Green Mountains--or vice versa--from my shifting
doorstep, certainly need not tremble before the necessity of thought.
But I have learned this--when I want to get something I don't know how
to get, I invariably regard it the height of sapience to go and ask
some one who does know how.  In this case I can ask without going, for
the very man is here at hand."

"I've already told you that I can assist you no further," said Cole.
"I've given you the idea.  You'll have to do the rest, yourself."

"Oh, I wasn't thinking of you," Wilkinson rejoined coolly.  "I meant a
man of perhaps not better, but certainly rather broader, experience.  I
shall go for advice to Mr. Silas Osgood."

And he opened the door and disappeared through it before Cole could
voice a protest.  He would have much preferred that the senior partner
know nothing of the scheme unless it should take concrete form by its
success.  If Wilkinson by any chance should secure the traction
company's insurance, the business should properly be handled by the
firm of Silas Osgood and Company, and not by Bennington Cole
individually.  However, the mischief was already done, for he could
hear Charles' cheerful voice greeting the two men in the other office.
Rather reluctantly he followed.

He found Wilkinson sitting easily on the arm of a chair, talking
rapidly and confidentially to Mr. Osgood, who regarded him with
indulgence but wonder, as one who might come suddenly on a charming
lady lunatic.

"I don't think I know your friend," Wilkinson was saying, _sotto voce_,
in Mr. Osgood's ear.  Then, as Cole entered, Smith rose to shake hands,
and the introduction was made.

"Mr. Smith, General Agent of the Guardian of New York--Mr. Wilkinson."

"Delighted to meet you, Mr. Smith." He turned to the elder man.  "Mr.
Osgood, I've come to see you on a matter of business--an important
matter upon which I wish your advice.  And I not only wish it, but I
need it, as you will appreciate when I tell you that my occupation for
the next few weeks, months, or years--as the case may be--will consist
in endeavoring to extort a little money from Mr. John M. Hurd."

Cole coughed.

"A most expressive cough, my dear Benny, and the interpretation is
clearly that there is no innovation about such a battle of wits.  But,
Mr. Osgood, there is a difference."  He looked inquiringly at Cole.
"By the way, is there any reason why we should not speak freely before
Mr. Smith?"

"Mr. Smith is a Company man; he will do nothing to disturb your plan,"
said Cole.  "Go ahead, now you've started."

Wilkinson proceeded.

"I am about to take charge of insuring all the properties of the
Massachusetts Light, Heat, and Traction Company, John M. Hurd,
President," he announced.

Mr. Osgood permitted himself a slight smile.

"My dear young friend," he said, "you have given yourself a life
sentence at hard labor."

Wilkinson sat down.

"All the better reason why I need assistance," he rejoined.  "I need
everybody's assistance.  But only to get started.  When I'm started
properly I can look after myself."

"My boy," said the veteran underwriter, kindly, "I have known John M.
Hurd since he was thirty years old.  I knew him when what is now the
Massachusetts Light, Heat, and Traction Company consisted of two cars,
four horses, and three miles of single track.  And he never carried a
dollar of insurance then, and he never has since.  I have seen the
brightest brokers in Boston go into his office and come out in anywhere
from three to twenty minutes; and not one of them ever got anything at
all for his pains.  Better give it up, my boy; you'll save yourself
more or less trouble, and the result will be the same."

The young man laughed.

"There's one point of dissimilarity that I see already," he replied.
"The time of the brightest brokers in Boston is valuable; mine is not.
Really, you're not very encouraging, but I didn't expect you to be.  I
know my step-uncle, and I'm prepared for a stiff and extensive
campaign.  All I'm asking for is a detonator--something to start the
action, you know, or something novel in the way of an explosive.
Perhaps an adaptation of one of those grenades that the Chinese pirates
throw when they want to drive their victims suffocating into the sea.
I realize that there isn't much use engaging Uncle John with ordinary
Christian weapons; he's practically bomb-proof."

"I am afraid," said Mr. Osgood, slowly, "that I am not very expert in
the manufacture of noxious piratical chemicals.  You will have to seek
your inspiration elsewhere."

Smith turned to Wilkinson.  Heretofore the representative of the
Guardian had taken no part in the conversation.

"Would you mind stating, without quite so many figures of speech, just
what you want?" he asked quietly.

"Certainly.  What I want is something, some handle which will get me
John M. Hurd's attention just long enough to make him listen to me.  If
I can get him to listen, I stand a chance."

"You say he carries no fire insurance on any of the trolley
properties?" the New Yorker inquired thoughtfully.

"No," replied Mr. Osgood.  "He has a small insurance fund--perhaps
thirty or forty thousand dollars.  He pays into this each year a part
of what his insurance would cost him, and out of this fund is paid what
losses the company sustains.  And we must confess that so far the
scheme has worked well.  His losses have been much less than he would
have paid in premiums to the companies."

"A fund--yes.  That is all well and good, unless there is a great
congestion of value at some single point, or at a very few points.
Tell me, how much value is there in that main car barn on Pemberton
Street--the new one next to the power plant?"

"Probably over a half a million dollars--at night, when the cars are
all there," said Cole.

"And with the power house almost a million, then?"

"Almost," Cole agreed.

Smith rose and walked over to the window; the others watched him in
silence.  "What kind of people hold the stock of the traction company?"
he asked suddenly.

"I fancy Mr. Hurd himself swings a very big block," Cole answered.
"And his directors have a good deal.  It's easily carried--the banks up
here will loan on it almost up to the market value."

Smith still looked thoughtfully out the window.

"And I presume the directors and other stockholders take advantage of
that fact?" he inquired.

"Oh, yes," Mr. Osgood replied.  "We have a lot of it as collateral for
loans in the Charlestown Trust Company, of which I am a director."

"And is it actively traded in on the Exchange?" the New Yorker
continued.

"No.  Odd lots mainly, from time to time.  But the price is remarkably
steady.  It is regarded about as safe as a bond."

Smith returned to the seated group.

"Gentlemen," he said, "banks do strange things at times, but they are
usually grateful for information when it is of value.  They have
probably never taken the trouble to find out whether the Massachusetts
Light, Heat, and Traction was properly protected against a fire--by
which I mean a big fire; they probably have assumed that it was.  If it
were to become known in financial circles that their insurance fund was
forty thousand dollars and that they stood to lose one million dollars
if there were a big fire in Pemberton Street to-night, how many of
those borrowers do you think would be asked by the banks to reduce
their loans or to substitute in part other collateral of a less
speculative sort?  It might even affect the price of the stock on the
Exchange rather unfortunately.  Some of those directors might have an
unpleasant half-hour."

He paused.  Wilkinson's face expressed the most eager attention.

"And I want to say to you, gentlemen, that a general fire in the
congested section of this city is in my opinion not so improbable a
thing as you Bostonians imagine.  The conflagration hazard in Boston's
congested district is not a thing one can exactly calculate, but it
would be difficult to overestimate its gravity. . . .  There's your
grenade, Mr. Wilkinson."

Wilkinson leaped to his feet.

"I see it," he cried.  "Leave it to me.  It's as good as done.  It's
merely a question of time."

"What are you going to do?" asked Cole, curiously.

Wilkinson made for the door.

"Do?" he cried.  "Do?  I'm going to load the grenade.  Gentlemen, good
morning."



CHAPTER III

Isabel Hurd sat bolt upright on the stiff and blackly austere divan,
and surveyed her friend with mingled surprise and concern.

"My dear Helen," she protested, "to my certain knowledge you have seen
your cousin only twice this summer, and surely it would not hurt you to
go to her reception."

"I disagree with you," replied Miss Maitland.  "If there is any equity
in social obligations, it would decidedly hurt me."

"Why, what do you mean?"

"Well, just because I take the trouble to watch a certain person select
her wall paper, is that any valid reason why I should shed upon that
person the effulgence of my eyes?  Not that I am a sufferer from
effulgent eyes and need the services of an oculist--I'm only
quoting--but it seems to me awfully one-sided.  I hate Cousin
Henrietta's receptions--dull, poky affairs--where Mrs. Parkinson weeps
into her teacup and the Misses Pyncheon are apt--most apt--to recite a
little Browning.  I detest receptions, anyway, and if I have to go to
any more of them I shall scream.  If you suggest my going to any,
Isabel, I shall scream at you!"

Miss Hurd smiled a superior smile.

"Why, my dear child," she said, "you know perfectly well that I don't
care an atom whether you go to your Cousin Henrietta's or not.  But I
never knew you were so down on receptions.  I hope you haven't
forgotten that next month you promised to receive with mother and me at
ours."

Helen wavered a moment, then obstinately continued.

"Yes, I have.  I've forgotten it absolutely.  If I ever said it, I must
have been suffering from febrile lesions,--if there are any such
things,--and I hereby wave the promise aside with the magnificent
gesture of a satrap ordering somebody to execution."

Isabel no longer smiled; her answer was a little acid and very distinct.

"Of course, if you don't want to help mother and me, no one will compel
you to, my dear.  Do precisely as you like; do not think of us in any
way--we can easily get some one else."

Miss Maitland looked quickly up, and saw that there was a suspicious
brightness in her friend's eyes, whereby she understood that Isabel
felt actually hurt by her diatribe against the social dragon and his
works--at least when his works were interwoven with Isabel's own
concerns.  And because Helen was tender-hearted under all her social
armor, and because she and Isabel were fonder of one another than one
would have thought possible, considering the diversities between them,
she was smitten with swift compunction and hastily withdrew so much of
her protest as touched her friend.

"You are a silly person, but a dear," she said contritely; "and I
didn't really mean what I said about receptions--at least, about yours.
But I meant every word about Cousin Henrietta."

A slight shadow of doubt lingered in Isabel's eyes, and Helen, seeing
it, crossed quickly over to the divan and kissed her lightly on the
cheek.  The olive branch was accepted and peace restored.

"All the same," Miss Maitland presently went on, "there are times, I
confess, when I get so tired of some of the things I do that I feel as
though I couldn't possibly do them again."

Isabel nodded understandingly.

"Is there anything in particular that you are so tired of?" she
insinuatingly asked.

"Yes, Miss Portia, there is.  And furthermore you know as well as I do
what that something is."

"I would hesitate to mention it," said Miss Hurd, with a smile.

"Well, I wouldn't.  On the contrary I freely and unqualifiedly announce
that I am excessively tired of a thousand things, most of which begin
with P.  I am tired of portraits and portrait painters; I am tired of
posing and of poseurs; I am tired of palettes and paint; I am tired
of--" she stopped, breaking off a little suddenly.

"Well, complete it.  You are tired of Pelgram, I suppose," said Isabel,
composedly.

"Pelgram, then.  Yes, I am," the other girl admitted.

Her friend raised her eyebrows, and glanced at her somewhat curiously.

"You don't have to marry him, you know," she remarked in a
matter-of-fact tone.

"Of course I don't," Helen replied quickly.  "But I have to sit to him
four times a week until that unspeakable portrait is finished.  And
it's my belief that it never will be finished.  He won't even let me
look at it now.  It's my opinion that he's doing like Penelope, and
destroying every night what he has accomplished during the day.  I
would never have promised to have it done if I had suspected what I was
in for.  And if it were for any one else but old Aunt Mary Wardrop, I'd
back out now."

Isabel regarded her sympathetically.  A portrait was bad enough without
the added embarrassment of an amatory artist.

"Is he really as difficult as that?" she asked.

"Even more difficult.  He's more difficult than anything
conceivable--except analytical trig," she added reflectively.

"Don't mix art, psychology, and mathematics, or you will certainly get
into trouble," said her friend.  "And really, if I were you, I would
try to forget that I had been 'higher' educated.  It's enough to give
one the creeps to hear a perfectly normal girl talk of analytical
trig--whatever that may be--if there is such a thing."

Helen laughed.

"I'm not actually sure, myself, that there is.  For, as I remember it
now, it deals almost exclusively with imaginary or worse than imaginary
quantities.  I remember distinctly that _i_ with the acute accent meant
the square root of minus one--and stood for 'imaginary' on the face of
it.  That was right at the start, and the farther you went the farther
from reality you found yourself.  But I don't remember anything of the
subject--only the name--I wouldn't dream of being so Bostonian as that."

"Well, it's almost as bad merely to refer to it," said Miss Hurd.
"Especially when you know that I never could pass beginner's algebra."

The two girls laughed together.  It was perfectly true that Isabel, who
was keen almost to the point of brilliance in the application of
mathematics to such practical matters as finance and real life, had
never academically been anything but a hopeless dunce, while Helen, who
had penetrated so far into the upper occult that the mind shuddered to
follow, was notoriously incapable of making her personal accounts
balance within fifty per cent.  It was an understood situation that
always amused them both.

They had been friends all their lives, these two, or so nearly all
their lives that the residue was hardly worth consideration.  As each
was now nearing the middle twenties, it must have been almost a full
generation since they had been presented to one another.  It was at the
respective ages of six and five that little Miss Maitland and little
Miss Hurd had been discreetly conveyed to the decorous Back Bay
Kindergarten which was known to all Bostonians of a certain class as
the "Child's Cultural Institute" of Miss Dorcas Kingsbury.  It was
there they met, under the watchful eye and the eagle espionage of Miss
Dorcas.  That good lady was not distinguished for her social graces,
but her introduction of these two small maids was an instant success.
It has subsequently been established, by hesper light so to speak, that
the bond which first united the two was their chastened and wide-eyed
mutual marveling at six long black cockscrew curls which marked--for
only by a figure of speech could they have been said to adorn--the
lateral aspects of Miss Dorcas's chignon.  Forth they jutted, these
remarkable structures, from cul-de-lampes above the lady's ears, and
thence they descended, three toward the right shoulder, three toward
the left.  But their most astonishing quality was their buoyancy, their
resiliency, which made them vital and active things, and not mere
soulless parts of an ordered design.

At all events the two little newcomers, cowering somewhat under the
glittering gaze of their preceptress, drew for protection close to one
another, small hand found small hand, and a friendship was cemented
which the swirling years had proved unable to break.

Their later experiences at this fountain of learning served only to
draw them closer still.  Many a time, in later years, would they smile
together, remembering incidents that had happened in the square old red
brick house with the green blinds, and the orderly terrible courtyard
with the straight narrow seats set bolt upright against a speechless
wall, and the little green pump that only grown-up persons were
permitted to touch; remembering, too, the long low-backed benches in
the schoolroom, row after row to the end of the low-ceiled room, and
the tiny gray blackboard, and the painful corner behind the stove where
recalcitrant pupils were stood, awaiting the approach of tardy
contrition or increased mental attainments; remembering, above all, the
grave, kind face of the teacher herself, Miss Dorcas Kingsbury--of
_the_ Kingsburys--reduced in her middle age to conducting a "cultural
institute," but as undeviating and inflexible in her idea of duty as
was the very line of her uncompromising brow.  Not bad training for
small girls, that of Miss Dorcas; Helen and Isabel would not have
changed it, in their memories at least, for the fairest lane of
learning in the world.

Time went on and gradually carried them beyond the pale of Miss
Dorcas's influence and over the horizon beyond the sight of her curious
curls.  But the school-girl lovers had become friends--which was of
much more consequence.  They stayed together as they grew, although in
intellectual concerns Helen soon left Isabel behind.  A year the elder,
she was also the more dominant, and had always taken the lead in their
mutual affairs.  Isabel, who had a will of her own, did not always
follow; but there was never any struggle for precedence, and Helen's
unselfishness prevented her from ever assuming an unpleasant autocracy.

It would have been difficult, at any rate, to associate anything
unpleasant with Miss Maitland.  She was tall, well over the middle
height, and her hair was of that uncompromising blackness that made one
think of things Amazonian--or would have done so had not her deep
violet eyes softened the effect in a peculiarly attractive manner.  It
was no wonder that poor Pelgram fluttered about so compelling a flame,
and Isabel, as she looked at her friend, thought for the thousandth
time that if she were a man--well, it was a little hard to say what she
would do in that remote contingency, but she felt certain, at all
events, that she would adore Helen.

As a matter of fact no young lady in all Boston seemed less likely to
become a man in the next or any subsequent incarnation.  There are
Bostonian persons of the female kind who could with readiness be
conceived as turning into men without any sea-change or especially
startling biological transmutation.  But Isabel was not one of them.
Small and dainty, she was of the gold-and-white, essentially feminine
type.  She lived alone with her parents in the solid old-fashioned
house on the north side of the Common, almost under the shadow of the
State House dome.  It made very little difference to Isabel where she
lived, and since her father would never consider moving to any other
locality nor rebuilding the rather patriarchal homestead which he had
occupied for twenty-five years, it was just as well that the daughter
was so complaisant.  She, moreover, was the only person who looked upon
John M. Hurd with a clear understanding of his habits of thought.  She
could herself accomplish things with him, when her way did not conflict
too directly with his own, but she gained her points first by
concentrating her attack on the matters really of import to her, and
second by taking her way whenever she saw an avenue open, notifying her
somewhat surprised parent afterward that she had done so.

"Father once told me a story," Isabel had said, "of a man who went to a
railroad president about a culvert he wanted to build under the
railroad track, and the president told him that he should have built
his culvert first and asked permission afterwards.  And I invariably
say now, if father protests against any of my performances, that he
never should have told me that story.  And he usually gives a kind of
growl which I have always interpreted to mean that all is well."

Isabel had a little money of her own, but she never used the income.
Instead, she put it in the bank and lived on her allowance.  She was
not John M. Hurd's daughter for nothing.  Her mother, a stiff, lean,
gray woman with a tremendous capacity for being both busy and
uncomfortable and making every one around her share the latter feeling,
had little or nothing to do with Isabel or her friends.  She was the
typical Puritan, the salt of a somewhat dour earth, and how Isabel ever
came into her household would be difficult to say.  The mother had much
undemonstrative affection for her daughter, but no understanding and
less sympathy.  She could never accustom herself to the girl's habit of
facing every problem when it had to be faced but not before; she
herself was used to spying trouble afar off, rushing forth with a sort
of fanatical desperation, and falling upon its breast.  John M. Hurd
had selected her for her sterling and saving qualities, and he had
always found her all he could have wished.  From her daughter's
viewpoint she left much to be desired, at least in the capacity of a
confidante, and this prerogative had long since been assumed by Miss
Maitland.

That young lady, more reserved than Isabel, usually preferred to
receive rather than to bestow confidences.  Only in unusual cases, such
as the one now under contemplation, was Helen moved to such downright
speech.  But in this instance she acknowledged the presence of an
irritation alien to her customary serenity, and unconsciously she hit
on conversation as a soothing influence.  Thus it chanced that the talk
was still on Pelgram when the doorbell rang and the butler announced
that Mr. Wilkinson was calling.

"I believe I could write a manual of artistic courtship," concluded
Miss Maitland, "with a glossary embracing every shade of every color of
an artist's mood.  Charlie Wilkinson was absurd, of course, the other
day, with his 'nuances,' but he was amazingly near the truth at the
same time, for all that.  Isabel, I'm sick and tired of nuances--I
confess it freely."

"Well," said her friend, soothingly, "here is Charlie now.  He ought to
be a fine antidote, for Heaven knows he hasn't a nuance in his entire
anatomy."

Mr. Wilkinson entered.

"My dear Isabel," he said reproachfully, as he shook hands, "I couldn't
help hearing most of what you were just saying about me, and I assure
you that I feel deeply flattered, but at the same time a little hurt.
I dislike to be denied the possession of anything, even an abstract
quality, whether I want it or have any use for it or not.  Miss
Maitland, I bid you an exceedingly good day, and venture to express the
hope that you will concede that latent in my anatomy I may have a
liberal share of that something--the name of which I failed to
catch--although I may perhaps have up to now given no evidence of its
possession."

"You would do much better, Charlie," said his hostess, with a laugh,
"if you announced with all the emphasis at your command that you had
none of this particular quality concealed about your person.  Whatever
it was, Helen just said that she never wanted to see or hear of such a
thing again."

"Miss Maitland," said the visitor with due solemnity, "I assure you
that whatever else I may be, I am as free from the taint of this
unmentionable attribute as a babe unborn.  Isabel, you will bear me out
in this?"

"I feel sure of it," Helen replied smilingly.  "In fact, I should have
exonerated you even without inside information of any sort.  Really,
I'm awfully glad you've come.  Here we are, two lone dull girls, hungry
to be amused.  Be as chivalrous as you can in our distressing state."

"You two lone girls lonely!" retorted Mr. Wilkinson.  "Ridiculous!
That is certainly a fine ground on which to seek sympathy from me!  I
forget who it is has the proverb, 'Never pity a woman weeping or a cat
in the dark.'  And I am reminded of it when I look at you two.  You and
my fair cousin, when you have one another to talk to, are just about as
much in need of sympathy as a tiger is of tea . . .  Speaking of tea--"
he turned to Isabel with bland inquiry in his face, after a hasty
glance about the room to make sure that no ulterior preparations had
been made.  "I am anxious," he explained, "to see what progress has
been made since last I inculcated my theories as to edibles--and
detrimentals."

Isabel rose with a sigh.

"I see that I shall have to go and superintend the matter personally,"
she said, "for the customs of years are too strong to be utterly
overcome all at once.  I can only dimly conjecture Peter's dismay if he
were asked to pass the Hamburger steak to Mr. Wilkinson, yet that is
the shadowy future awaiting him."

With a laugh she vanished through the doorway, and the visitor seated
himself solemnly across from Miss Maitland, whom he then proceeded to
regard with a gloomy eye.

"It is a fearful strain on one's comic spirit to have it suddenly
cooled," he said.  "It makes it liable to crack, and then when you beat
on it you get nothing but a dull stodgy sound.  I feel that there are
times when my ebullience, my wealth of genteel diablerie, my flow of
_jeux d'esprit_ astonish even myself, but those times are never the
ones when my hostess says, in effect: 'Charlie, you can be such an
awful idiot when you want to that I wish you'd be one now--go on,
there's a dear!'--which was substantially what you said to me.  I don't
mind telling you that it's very upsetting."

"Oh, I'm awfully sorry," Miss Maitland replied.  "I didn't mean to.  I
should be simply heart-broken if your spring of divertissement should
ever run dry--especially if you held me in any way responsible.
Charlie serious!  Good heavens!  And yet, on second thought, would it
not have a certain piquant lure, gained from its utter strangeness,
which would be simply overwhelming?  Try it and see.  No audience was
ever more expectant."

Wilkinson's gloom melted in meditation.

"Do you know," he said thoughtfully, "that there has never been in your
attitude toward me the regard and genuine respect--I may almost say the
reverence--that I could wish to see there.  If it were not such a
perfectly horrible thing to say, I should say that you do not
understand me.  As it chances--though you would be surprised to learn
it--there is at this moment a mighty problem working out, or trying to
work out, its solution in my brain.  You tell me to be serious, and
since I want the advice of every one, including those whose advice is
of problematic value, I will be.  And who knows but when you see me
engaged, or about to engage, in practical, cosmic matters, swinging
them with a gigantic intellectual force, your veneration for me may
develop with remarkable rapidity?"

"Who knows, indeed?  Go ahead--you have my curiosity beautifully
sharpened, at any rate, before a word is said."

Wilkinson cleared his throat and bent forward with an air of
concentration, meant to indicate that he was marshaling his ideas.
Then he said in a hushed and confidential tone: "What do you know of
trolley systems?"

Miss Maitland looked at him in surprise.

"Goodness, Charlie!" she said; "I know there are such things--the term
is perfectly familiar.  I have always supposed that trolley cars were
part of trolley systems, but I should hesitate to go very far beyond
that statement."

The young man nodded gravely.

"You are right.  Your information, so far as it extends, is absolutely
correct, but it hardly goes far enough.  Trolley cars belong to trolley
companies which operate trolley systems.  That's very well put, don't
you think?"

"Very.  Go on--I'm awfully interested."

"I'll put it a little more simply.  The scientific attitude is too
difficult to maintain.  And besides, that was just about as far as I
could go scientifically, anyway.  I had much better deal with concrete
facts--or with what I hope to convert into them.  Don't you agree?
Although I felt rather well in my academic habiliments."

"Much better," Miss Maitland promptly agreed.  "And there would be the
additional advantage that I would quite likely know what you were
talking about, which would not be at all a certainty if you insisted on
retaining your scientific manner."

"It's this way, then," said her companion.  "It's this way.  John M.
Hurd, Isabel's father, my step-uncle, Mrs. Hurd's husband--John M.
Hurd, in short, is the President of the most important trolley system
in this vicinity, the Massachusetts Light, Heat, and Traction Company.
He is also, ex-officio, chairman of the board of directors, and except
for some dynamos, cars, conductors, tracks, and other equipment, he is
the trolley system."

"That sounds like Mr. Hurd," the girl acknowledged.

"Now I must ask you another leading question," the other continued.
"What do you know about fire insurance?"

"Well, I ought to know a little about it," replied Helen, "considering
the fact that my uncle, Mr. Osgood, has one of the leading fire
insurance agencies in Boston.  Whenever there's a big fire he's always
quoted as 'Silas Osgood, the veteran underwriter, said so and so.'"

"You will pardon me," said Mr. Wilkinson, "if my legal method of
thought calls to your attention that 'ought to know' and 'do know' are
not in all cases coincident.  My original question was, 'What do you
know about fire insurance?'"

"Not as much as I ought, I'm afraid," Helen confessed.  "Uncle Silas
belongs to the school which believes in locking his business in the
safe when he leaves the office, and as he never mentions it, I know
very little about it--though I don't at all care for your legal method
of establishing my ignorance."

"A true gentleman ignores a lady's embarrassments.  Fire insurance, to
put it briefly, is indemnity against losses by fire.  Companies do it.
You pay them a little money called a premium--no connection with
trading stamps--and when your house burns down they pay you a
tremendous amount.  It's a remarkable idea."

"It certainly sounds so, as you put it."

"The personal application is this: John M. Hurd owns a trolley system
which ought to be insured for five or six million dollars if it was
insured at all.  But it isn't.  And it is my life work to make him put
on that insurance, and make him do it in a way that will count--for me,
you understand."

"But how do you expect to convince him?" asked the girl.  "If he never
has insured the system, the chances are that he doesn't believe in
insurance, or that he doesn't think the system is likely to burn up, or
that he has some other good reason for not insuring it."

"That's exactly why I'm asking your advice," her companion replied.
"Probably you are correct in all three of your conjectures.  What I
want is some way to make him do something that he doesn't believe in
and from which he never expects to get his money back and that he has
some other perfectly proper argument for turning down--and make him do
it, just the same.  Eventually he's _got_ to do it--it's a case of
sheer necessity--for me."

"Why don't you ask Isabel?  I think I hear her coming."

And Isabel entered, the teakettle boiling in her wake.  As she
dispensed the material concomitants, the conversation went on.

"We have been talking about fire insurance and trolley systems," said
Helen.  And she summarized Wilkinson's remarks for her friend's
benefit.  Isabel listened with interest but skepticism.

"If you really expect father to insure anything, Charlie, I'm afraid
you will be disappointed," she said frankly.  "I hope you're not
serious about it."

"Serious!  I should think I was!  I would naturally be just a little
serious about something on which depended the life, liberty, and
pursuit of happiness of Charles S. Wilkinson, Esquire.  It is a matter
of most vital necessity, I assure you--nothing less.  And now having
acquainted you with the salience of the situation, I will allow you a
period for reflection undisturbed by pleasantries or philosophic
observations from myself which might conceivably divert the currents of
your minds.  Meanwhile _I_ shall devote this period to an intelligent
appreciation of Isabel's compendious and soul-satisfying tea."

The two girls looked blankly at one another.

"My dear Charlie," Miss Hurd said, "it is very painful to have to
overturn the family water cooler on your ambitious young hopes, but are
you aware that for thirty years my mother--or her representative--has
carried the silver upstairs every night because as a family we did not
believe in insuring it?  Burglary insurance, life insurance, fire
insurance--father has never paid a dollar for any one of them.  And do
you happen to recall the line of my distinguished parent's jaw?  If I
were you, Charlie, I would try to insure somebody else's trolley
system."

Wilkinson shook his head sadly.

"No, that won't do, Isabel.  John M. is the only relative I have who
owns a trolley system, or much of anything else.  Most of the other
systems are insured already, anyway, and the people who own them
undoubtedly insure them through their own connections--I was about to
say poor relations.  No, my only hope is here, and it grieves me
deeply, Isabel, to see you take so pessimistic a view.  Nevertheless, I
am not downcast; I will arise buoyantly to ask whether you cannot do
better?--whether you cannot devise some expedient whereby the heart of
your worthy father may be melted and become as other men's hearts.  I
don't demand a permanent or even a protracted melting--all I ask is a
temporary thaw, just long enough to let me extract a promise from him
to let me insure those car barns and power houses.  Then he can revert
to adamant and be--and welcome, so far as I am concerned.  Now, Miss
Maitland, have you nothing to suggest?"

"Wouldn't it be more satisfactory to succeed by your own ideas and
devices?" Helen inquired.

"All very pretty, my plausible girl, but what if one has no ideas or
devices?  That is very nearly my case, and it is a hard one.  I've only
one real shot in my locker, and if that doesn't reach its mark, I'm
lost."

"And what is that?" Helen and Isabel asked almost simultaneously.

"In my single way I will endeavor to answer both these interrogations
at once.  It is, then, the suggestion of a man I met in the office of
Silas Osgood and Company, a man by the wild, barbaric, outré name of
Smith.  Richard Smith, I believe.  And his suggestion--I tell it to you
in confidence, relying on your honor not to steal my stolen
thunder--was, very briefly, to put before my distinguished relation the
sad, disheartening effect it would have on the popularity of the
trolley stock in the banks and on the stock exchange if it became
generally noised abroad that the road carried no insurance and
maintained no proper insurance fund.  What do you think of that?"

"I begin to see," said Isabel, thoughtfully.  "People have bought the
stock and banks have lent money on it without knowing whether the
property was protected by insurance or not?"

"On the contrary, rather assuming that it was.  Your father's antipathy
to insurance is a little unusual, you know.  So far no one has ever
made a point of bringing it strongly before the public.  And banks and
stock markets are queer things--and confidence is jarred with singular
ease.  There are a number of pretty important men in this town who
would dislike to have some of their loans called or to have
Massachusetts Light, Heat, and Traction drop ten or fifteen points.  Of
course this needn't happen--and for a preventative, apply to Charles
Wilkinson, Esquire, restorer of lost confidences."

Helen spoke.

"Whose idea was this, did you say?" she asked.

"His name was Smith," said Wilkinson, soberly.

Helen started to ask another question; then changed her mind, and was
silent.  What surprised her was the fact that she found herself
interested, sharply interested, in the problem Charles had presented.
She was, in fact, more interested than she had been in anything for
some time.  She was astonished to find this to be so.  She had always
been under the impression, common enough among the more sheltered of
her class, that business was a thing in which only the men who carried
it on could possibly be absorbed.  Yet here she had been interested to
the exclusion of all else in a matter that was of absolutely no
aesthetic value and with the terms and locale of which she was quite
unfamiliar.  As it had been presented to her and she had tried, at
Charles's demand, to find a way out for him--she stated the problem
over more clearly--she admitted feeling a trifle piqued when she racked
her brain for a solution only to find it barren of expedients and a
hopeless blank.  Yet this chance acquaintance of Charlie's had
apparently hit on _his_ expedient casually enough.  Once more she
restrained the impulse to ask another question, although she scarcely
knew why she did so, and she remained silent until, a few moments
later, she was roused by the departure of the satiated Wilkinson.

"Wish me luck," he said, as he turned to go.  "More depends upon this
than you pampered children of luxury can ever guess.  Isabel, I
congratulate you on the educational advance of your butler.  Miss
Maitland, I am your very devoted."

The curtains of the drawing room shut him from sight and sound, except
the faint rumor of his descending feet upon the steps.



CHAPTER IV

There are, in the side streets of many if not all the greater cities of
the civilized world, shops where skilled artisans are busily at work in
the manufacture of "antiques"--antique furniture, antique rugs or
brasses or clocks or violins.  The ingenious persons engaged in this
reprehensible activity have developed their skill to such a point that
it seems probable that fully half their deceit never comes to light at
all, and it is certain that their products rarely suffer much by
contrast with the things which they seek to imitate.  It is only when
the maker of the original was a great master that his modern
counterfeiter fails--and not always then.

It is, at first thought, a strange business--not so strange that men
should give their lives to it as that there should be so much demand
for a purely apocryphal product.  Looked at more carefully, however,
the oddness disappears, and these men are found to be catering to a
most legitimate appetite--an appetite which had its origin deep in the
early mind of the race, even though it is now, perhaps, passing from
the control of one of man's senses into that of another.

Latinism, as a creed, is dead, or dying.  There are not many Latinists
left, find the pessimistic, melancholy folk who found all the beauty of
the world in "youth and death and the old age of roses" have appeared,
probably never to return.  Latinism was a flavor of the soul, and the
modern soul rarely, if ever, assumes that flavor.  What Latinism did,
however, was to teach the appreciation of the dignity of time, the
beauty of the passing years, and their enriching effect on things and
men.  This quality is now extant as a matter of taste, a mental
attribute, and it is widely conceived to be a sign of cultivation to
"pooh-pooh whatever's fresh and new" in favor of something which has at
least the appearance of age with or without the richness and mellowness
thereof.  After all, the mellowness is the essence; if the years merely
age without mellowing a thing, they have done it no good; the same
thing new is the more desirable article.

The larger and more important a thing is, the less effect the years
have upon it, and the more difficult becomes the task of the
enterprising workman who seeks to simulate the wrinkles time would
leave.  In the case of cities, the task is practically hopeless.  There
is only one way for a city to attain the beauty and the haunting charm
of age, and that is to wait patiently until time has finished his slow
work.  It is hard to wait, and a new city is a crude and painful thing.
One can easily imagine the older cities looking scornfully or pityingly
down upon it, themselves secure in the grim or the delicate beauty of
their age.  Only once in many generations does a city rise which
achieves a character, an individuality, without waiting for the
lingering years to bestow it.  It happens so seldom as to come almost
into the realm of the miraculous.  Yet to him who for the first time
sees New York at night, or as the declining sun sets ten thousand roofs
for the moment aflame--a miracle seems not more wonderful than this.

There are miles on miles of roofs in many a town, stretching away
beyond the reach of sight; there is, especially in the great cities of
the old world, an immensity of movement which is at once alien and akin
to the great movements of earth and sea; there are cities which seem
great because of the multiplicity of things--men and ships and creeds
and costumes which jostle one another in every market place.  New York
has all these things--yet they do not explain New York--they are almost
inconsiderable elements in the greater thing that is the city itself.
Wherein the essence lies--whether it is the purely superficial aspect
of it, the imaginative daring of its architecture, or some deeper and
more subtle thing--no man can surely say.

There are strewn about in a thousand niches of the city little groups
of buildings which seem to have assembled themselves, by some lonesome
impulse, into communities.  Primarily, of course, these groupings are
ethnological, these cities within a city being originally created
largely by the timidity of strangers in a strange land.  There are
little Italys, and Chinatowns, and diminutive Bohemias, all swung
together by the action of this great centripetal force of loneliness.
The buildings in these communities, inflexible enough in all conscience
as regards design, contrive none the less to take on in some way a
character and appearance peculiar to their inhabitants; this may be a
matter only of red Turkey turbans flapping in the breeze, or perhaps of
the haunting aroma of some national staple of food--but certainly it is
there.  Scattered through Manhattan, from the Battery to the Bronx,
these five centers are witnesses as they stand to the effect of
circumstance on bricks and mortar.  And that there should be this
visible effect is no doubt natural enough, for the difference between
nation and nation is a salient thing.  It would be far stranger were it
to fail of effect even on so unimpressionable a thing as a six-story
red-brick tenement house.

There are forces, however, which prove themselves hardly less potent
than this force of fellow-nationality, but which would at first thought
be denied any vital molding power over people or over things.  These
are the trades, and--less distinctive in their outward aspects, at
least--the professions.  It is not odd that a fishing village or a
mining camp should take on a certain character unique to itself, but
surely one would not expect a lawyer to impress on his environment a
stamp so unmistakable that one could say, observing it from without,
"In this building lawyers plot."  Superficially there would be said to
be scant difference between a lawyer and a broker or a real estate
dealer or an insurance man.  Yet in New York City, where communities of
these professions mesh and intermesh and overlap, there are still
streets which are, and which could be, to a trained eye, the habitat of
financiers alone, and where at once all other wayfarers are seen to be
interlopers, or at best mere visitors at a fair.

Such a street is Wall Street, and such is Broad.  And on the eastern
rim of this same zone runs a street which, despite the countless
changes that the years untiringly bring, could not possibly be mistaken
for anything but what it is, the great aorta of the fire insurance
world.  William Street is as distinctly a fire insurance street as any
street could possibly be distinctive of its profession.

Scattered along the intersecting ways, but lining William Street from
Pine to Fulton, are gathered the fire insurance companies and the
brokers, respectively the sellers and the buyers of insurance.  There
you will find the homes of the big alert New York companies whose lofty
steel and granite buildings stand as fit monuments to their strength
and endurance and enterprise, and the United States headquarters of the
dignified but aggressive British fire offices whose risks are scattered
over every portion of the earth where there is property to insure, and
the metropolitan departments of the great corporations that have made
the name of Hartford, Connecticut, almost symbolic of fire insurance.
There are also the agencies, in each of which from one to a dozen
smaller companies have intrusted their local underwriting to some
agency firm.  There too are the offices of the world's leading
reinsurance companies, most of them German or Russian, who accept their
business not from agents or property owners, but entirely from other
insurance companies.  There are the elaborately equipped offices of the
local inspection and rating bureau maintained by all the companies, and
there are the offices of the dealers in automatic sprinklers, fire
alarms, extinguishers, and hose.  And throughout the whole district the
buildings are honeycombed with the almost countless brokers--from firms
who transact as much business as a large insurance company down to
shabby men who have failed to succeed in other lines and who eke out an
existence on the commissions from an account or two handed them in
friendship or in charity--all of them the busy intermediaries between
the insurers and the insured.

From morning till night these insurance men throng William Street, most
of them representing the brokers who feed the business into the great
machine.  And it is no wonder that the street is thronged, for the
amount of detail requisite for every insurance effected is surprisingly
great.  Let us suppose that Brown, owning a building, desires to insure
it.  He sends his order to Jones, a broker who has solicited the
business.  Jones's clerk enters up the order and makes out a slip
called a binder, which is an abbreviated form of contract insuring the
customer until a complete contract in the form of a policy can be
issued.  This binding slip is given to a clerk called the placer, whose
duty it is to place the risk, or in other words to secure the
acceptance of the insurance by some company or companies.  The placer
then goes into the street, returning when his binder is completed by
the acceptance of the amount desired, the name of each company with the
amount assumed and the initials of its representative being signed in
the spaces left for that purpose.  Forms must then be prepared by the
broker to suit the conditions of the risk and delivered to the
companies, the rate schedule must be scrutinized to see whether in any
way a lower rate can be obtained, and as soon as possible the policies
themselves must be secured and delivered to the assured.  The premium
must then be collected and remitted, less the broker's commission, to
the companies.  And the broker's duty does not end even here.  He must
watch the risk for changes in occupancy, protect his client's interests
in the event of a loss, and constantly fight like a tiger before the
rating bureau to reduce the rate lest some alert rival offer his
customer better terms.

All this detail is quite smoothly transacted, supposing the business to
be in the companies' opinion desirable, but when the risk offered is
what the street terms a "skate" or a "target," there is a sudden halt,
and the completion of the binder becomes a more difficult matter.  Then
the really astute placer has a chance to demonstrate his efficiency.
It is his function to persuade with winged words his adversary, the
company's local underwriter or "counterman," that the stock of cheap
millinery belonging to the Slavonic gentlemen with the unfortunate
record of two fires of unknown origin and two opportune failures is
even more desirable--at the rate--than the large line on the
substantial office building which he half exhibits, holding
suggestively back.  It is his duty to place all his business, not the
good alone, and generally he succeeds in eventually doing so, although
some binders become tattered and grimy with age and from having been
handed futilely back and forth over the company counters.  The owner of
many a Fifth Avenue dwelling would be surprised could he know that the
insurance on his property had been utilized to force on some reluctant
company a small line covering the sewing machines in Meyer Leshinsky's
Pike Street sweatshop.  Many an ingenious placer has had the binders of
his very worst risks--that he had been totally unable to cover--freshly
typewritten every morning in order to convey the impression that the
order had that moment been secured by his firm and that the hesitating
counterman to whom it was being presented with elaborate indifference
was the first--the best friend of the placer--to whom the line had been
offered.

On an eligible corner on the west side of William Street, at the very
center of the Street's activity, stood, in the year 1912, a gray stone
structure of dignified though scarcely decorative appearance.  On the
stone slabs each side of the doorway, old style brass letters
proclaimed--if so modest an announcement could be termed a
proclamation--that here were the offices of

  THE GUARDIAN FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY
      OF THE
  CITY OF NEW YORK


Over this portal gray walls rose to the height of eight stories.  Such
was the headquarters, from an external aspect, of one of the oldest,
safest, and best of local companies, which invariably, for brevity, was
known to friends and foes alike as "The Guardian of New York."

Entering the somewhat narrow vestibule, the visitor found himself in a
small and gloomy hall, confronted by two debilitated grille elevator
doors which seemed sadly to need oiling, the elevators behind which
carried conservatively and without precipitancy those who wished to
ascend.  The two individuals who directed the leisurely progress of
these cars were elderly men who, like most of those in the Guardian's
employment, had been in the service of the company since it moved into
the "new" building.  This migration had occurred about the time that
torch-light parades were marching up Broadway to the rhythmic cheers
for "Blaine!  Blaine!  James G. Blaine!"  It is a melancholy truth that
in a generation and a half eyes grow dim and limbs falter, but in the
opinion of the Guardian's management the fact that a man was no longer
as young as he had once been was no valid reason, unless he were
actually incompetent, why he should not be allowed to continue doing
the best he could.  President Wintermuth himself had once been
considerably younger, and he knew it.  He called all his old employees
by their first names, and unless there rose a question of fidelity, he
would no sooner have thought of discharging one of them than he would
have thought of going home and discharging his wife.  Some of the older
ones, indeed, antedated Mr. Wintermuth himself, and still regarded him
with the kindly tolerance of the days when they were the _cognoscenti_,
and he the neophyte, learning the ropes at their hands.

One of the oldest in tenure, but a man incurably young for all that,
was James Cuyler, the head of the company's local department, in charge
of all the business of the Metropolitan District, and an underwriter as
well known to the fraternity as the asphalt pavement of the street.
The Guardian's local department, which occupied the entire first floor
of the building, except the elevator space, was a busy place from nine
o'clock till five on ordinary days and from nine till one on Saturdays.
Hour after hour, day after day, year after year, Mr. Cuyler stood
behind his long map counter, his genial but penetrating eye instantly
assessing each man that approached, sifting with quick glance the
business offered, and detecting almost automatically any trick or
"joker" in that which his visitors presented.  Most of the men across
the counter naturally were brokers or their placing clerks, armed with
binders on risks of all kinds, some good and many more bad, for the
good risks are usually snapped up in large amounts by the first
companies to whom they are taken, but the bad ones make their weary and
often fruitless tour of the entire street.  All of them, the good and
bad alike, the placers commonly presented to Mr. Cuyler with a bland
innocence which deceived that astute veteran not at all.  The purpose
of the average broker was to induce the Guardian to accept his chaff
with as little wheat as he could possibly bestow, while Mr. Cuyler's,
on the contrary, was to take the wheat and the wheat alone.  The chaff
he declined in three thousand manners, in every case fitting his
refusal to the refused one, always bearing in mind that that worthy's
affections must not be permanently and hopelessly alienated.

"John," he would say with a smile, "I'll write thirty-five thousand on
that fireproof building for you, but I can't take that rag stock.  I'd
like to help you out, you understand, but I simply can't touch the
class.  Two years ago I wrote an accommodation line for Billy
Heilbrun--some old junk shop in Sullivan Street--and she smoked for a
total loss in about a month, and I can still recall the post-mortem I
had with the President."

And under cover of this painful but purely fictitious incident he would
whisk away the binder on the fireproof building, returning it signed
with one and the same movement, and smiling a smile of chastened sorrow
over his inability to assist his friend with the undesirable rag
offering.  Or else the office would see him lean forward impressively,
and say, in a hushed whisper, across the counter: "Now, Mr. Charles
Webb, you're wasted in the insurance business.  If you have the cold
nerve to offer me that old skate that's been turned down by every
company from the Continental down to the Kickapoo Lloyds--well, you
ought to be in the legislature, that's where you ought to be!"

"But here's something to go with it--to sweeten it up," the unabashed
Mr. Webb would probably protest, producing another risk of equally
detrimental description.  Then Mr. Cuyler would turn.

"Harry," he would say, "put on your hat and take Mr. Webb back to his
office.  He's not himself; the heat is too much for him."

And Mr. Webb would smile--and be lost.

There are very few positions which make greater demands upon one's
judgment, one's diplomacy, and one's temper than this one which Mr.
Cuyler had filled so long and so inimitably.  To pick a man's pocket of
all its contents, deliberately selecting those of sufficient value to
retain and throwing the remainder back in his face, is a matter for
fine art, for the broker must not be angered or a good connection is
lost to the office.

And there are artists in both galleries.  There are placers who have
all the fine frenzy of a starving poet in a midnight garret, men who
would make the fortune of a country hotel if they would but write for
it a single testimonial advertisement, men whose flow of persuasive
talk is almost hypnotic, whose victims are held just as surely as ever
was Wedding Guest--and with this difference, that while that classic
personage merely turned up late to the ceremony, these charmed men
listen to the siren tongue until they find themselves doing things
which may very readily--if fate is unkind and the risk burns--cost them
their repute and their positions as well.

When such a Pan-Hellenic meeting occurred, Mr. Cuyler rose to his
highest triumphs.  It was perhaps a frame celluloid goods factory in
Long Island City, which some soul-compelling voice had just finished
describing, accoutering the grisly thing in all the garments of verbal
glory.  One gathered that the Guardian's fate hung on the acceptance of
this translucent risk, that it was a prize saved from the clutches of a
hundred grasping competitors and brought to the counter of the Guardian
like a pure white lamb to the altar of the gods.  When it was all over,
and nothing was wanting except Mr. Cuyler's signature to the
binder--then Mr. Cuyler came into his own.

"Joe," the organ note would start--"Joe, that looks as if it might be a
first-rate risk of its class, and some folks think it's not a bad
class, too, when the hazards are properly arranged.  I've always
thought myself that the bad record on celluloid workers was largely
accidental.  And I don't see how I can turn down anything that comes
from your office--I guess I'll have to help you out with a small line,
anyway.  Where's your binder?  Wait a second, though.  Let me look at
that map again--I forgot my exposing lines.  Well! we seem to be pretty
full in that block--eighty-five, ten, twelve-five, sixteen--by Jove!
I'm afraid I'll have to pass that up, after all--I didn't think I had
so much around there.  Awfully sorry, old man; I'd take it for you if I
could for any man in the world."

And the binder was affably passed back over the counter.  But when, as
probably developed at this point, Mr. Cuyler was advised that his
remarks bore convincing traces of the proximity of an active
steam-radiator and that the broker knew perfectly well that the
Guardian hadn't a dollar at risk within three blocks--it was then that
the real contest began.  Celluloid was a mighty hazardous article--was
Joe aware that in New York State alone the losses had been nearly three
times the premiums on the class?  Perhaps this was accidental, but it
was a fact just the same.  But after all, what else could one expect?
Celluloid was very much like gun-cotton--made out of practically the
same constituents--and only a little less dangerous to handle.  It also
appeared that celluloid works all over the country had for the last
year been _unusually_ disastrous to the underwriters, and that the
President himself had written a letter on the subject to the various
rating bureaus.  Honestly, it would be more than Cuyler, with all his
extreme desire to oblige, would dare do--to tell the old man that the
local department had written a celluloid factory.  His good friend, the
caller, Mr. Cuyler felt certain, would not wish to see the venerable
hairs of the Guardian's local secretary trampled into the dust by the
infuriate heels of the board of directors, led by the outraged
President Wintermuth himself.  No, he was extremely sorry, but he
simply--could not--take--the risk.

And take it he would not.  Such was James Cuyler.  For thirty years he
had stood at the Guardian's local threshold, fidelity personified, a
watch-dog extraordinary that could not have been duplicated in all
watchdogdom.  He had but one superstition and but one grievance.

His superstition was that he would not allow a customer to enter the
office after the clock struck the first blow of five.  At that moment,
if no employee was at hand, he himself would step out from behind the
counter, close the door, and turn the key in the lock.  And the best
friend of the office could not have gained admission once the key was
turned.

"Why do I do it?" he would say.  "My boy, at about half-past five P.M.
on June fourteenth, eighteen eighty-nine, I was alone in the office,
and Herman White, who used to be placer for Schmidt and Sulzbacher,
came in with a ten thousand dollar line on coffee in one of those
Brooklyn shorefront warehouses.  I guess all the other offices must
have shut up, for Herman never gave me anything he didn't have to.  He
banged on the door, and I let him in, and the risk was all right and we
were wide open, and I took his ten thousand. . . .  And about twenty
minutes later, as I stood on the front deck of the Wall Street
ferryboat crossing the river, the flames burst out of the roof of that
warehouse, and we paid nine thousand two hundred and thirty-seven
dollars for that coffee. . . .  This office closes at five P.M."

This was his superstition, and he lived up to it with absolute
consistency.  His one grievance was not quite so deep, which probably
explained his lesser insistence upon it.  This grievance was simply
that the conservative policy of the company would not let him accept
more than a fraction of what he would have wished to write on the
island of Manhattan.  Like all men who constantly live in the presence
of a peril and grow thus to minimize it, Mr. Cuyler had grown to think
and to feel that New York, _his_ New York, could never have a serious,
sweeping fire, a conflagration.  This being so, and the local business
being profitable, to write so small an amount in the city was
equivalent to throwing money sinfully away.  Why, companies not half so
large were doing double the Guardian's business, and with golden
results.  But only at long intervals did he permit himself the luxury
of articulately bemoaning his fate, for in spite of his own conviction
he felt that any implied criticism of his chief was disloyal.
Occasionally, however, his feelings would overcome him, and then he
would burst forth into a hurricane of lamentations.

"The finest town in the country," he would say; "and look at what we
write!  I could double our income in a week if the old man would let
me.  But he won't.  He keeps talking 'conflagration hazard' and 'keep
your lines down in the dry goods district' and 'aggregate liability,'
and I can't get him to loosen up a particle.  He always says we have
enough at risk now.  Enough at risk!  Look at what the company writes
in Boston!  Why, the Guardian must have half as much at risk in the
congested district of Boston as I write here!  And Boston!  Of all
towns in the world!"

Mr. Cuyler was not a Bostonian.

It was perfectly true; Mr. Wintermuth was not a strictly consistent
underwriter, and perhaps some day he would adopt Mr. Cuyler's
viewpoint.  And then, the flood-gates open, the local secretary would
come into his metropolitan own.  Certainly, if the Guardian's line in
Boston was safe, its liability in New York was small indeed.  But the
Boston business had always shown a profit, and James Wintermuth and
Silas Osgood had grown up together in the insurance world; and so for
the present the Boston line would stand.  And it was impossible to
satisfy Mr. Cuyler,--he was continually moaning about the restrictions
under which he labored,--and so it was likely that nothing would be
done in New York, either.  James Wintermuth was a conservative man.

One could have told it at his first glance about the President's
office, on the top floor of the Guardian building.  In the first place,
the office, although it was located in the sunniest corner of the
building, preserved nevertheless a kind of cathedral gloom.  Dark
shades in the windows reduced the light across Mr. Wintermuth's
obsolete roll-top desk to never more than that of a dull afternoon.  No
impertinent rays of the sun could further fade the faded rug which
clothed the center of the room.  On the wall hung likenesses of the
former heads of the company, now long since in their graves.  Over the
desk was an old print of the Lisbon earthquake; the germaneness of this
did not at once appear,--in fact, it never appeared,--but the picture
had always hung there, and in Mr. Wintermuth's opinion that was ample
cause and justification.

Only in the corner, almost out of sight behind the desk, was the room's
single absolute incongruity.  There the surprised visitor saw, reposing
quietly in its shadowy retreat, a hundred pound dumb-bell.  This was
the President's sole remaining animal joy, the presence of this
dumb-bell.  He rarely touched it now, although the colored janitor's
assistant scrupulously dusted it each morning, but it was an agreeable
reminder of the days when the old lion was young and when his teeth,
metaphorically speaking, were new and sharp.  For years it had been his
custom to lift this ponderous object three times above his head before
opening his mail in the morning--and he would never hire a field man or
inspector who could not do likewise.

Now, of course, these trials of strength were over for Mr.
Wintermuth--and what he no longer did himself he asked none other to
do.  But there the relic lay, a substantial memorial of Spring in the
veins.  Once in a while, at long intervals, Smith, in whom the old man
had a sort of shamefaced pride, would eye the thing respectfully.

"Put it up, Richard," Mr. Wintermuth would direct; "I used to do it
every morning for twenty years."  And Smith--with considerable
effort--would put it up.

"I'd never have let you go to work for the Guardian, when you came and
struck me for a position, if you hadn't been able to do that, my boy,"
said the President, reflectively.

And Smith would listen patiently to the oft-told tale.  He was
sincerely fond of the old autocrat, and able to bear with his growing
acerbity better than he could have done had he not known the real
spirit of the man.  During the past year or two it seemed to Smith that
his chief was showing his age more plainly than ever before.  He was
still under sixty-five, but he was coming to live more than ever in the
past, and was growing more and more impervious to the new ideas and new
methods which modern conditions constantly brought.

"The greatest trouble with the old man is," as Cuyler was heard to say
on one occasion, "he has the 4 per cent bond habit."

It was perfectly, true.  What was safe and what was sure appealed more
strongly to James Wintermuth with the passage of every year.  Not for
him were the daring methods of those companies who employed their
resources in tremendous plunges in and out of the stock market, not for
him the long chances in which most of his competitors gloried.  The
Guardian was doing well enough.  Its capital of $750,000 was ample; its
surplus of $500,000 very respectable; its premium income of a million
and three quarters perfectly adequate, in Mr. Wintermuth's opinion.
And the stockholders, receiving dividends of 12 per cent per annum,
lean years and fat alike, never audibly complained.

In appearance the Guardian's President upheld the best traditions of
the old school from which he sprang.  Above middle height, his erect
figure gave him still much the air of a cavalier.  His acute black eyes
and trim white mustache made him certain to attract notice wherever he
went--a fact of which he was not wholly unconscious.  Even now, when
gradually, almost imperceptibly, the springiness was fading from his
step, he seemed a strong and virile man.  His directors, most of them
his contemporaries and whose insurance knowledge was limited to what
they had learned on the Guardian directorate, trusted and believed in
him with absolute implicitness.  Any act on behalf of the company, when
done by the President, they promptly ratified; and indeed they had for
many years made it palpable to the meanest intelligence that they
considered James Wintermuth the head, brain, heart, and all the other
vital organs of the company which they--nominally--directed.  In short,
James Wintermuth _was_ the Guardian.

There was in all the Street one man alone who would have taken
exception to this analysis--and he kept his opinion securely locked in
his secretive, his very secretive brain.  This man was F. Mills
O'Connor, Vice-President of the Guardian.



CHAPTER V

"Turn up Providence Two," said Mr. O'Connor.  As the gentleman in
question appeared at his office door en route to the map desk, his
asperity of manner seemed to Herbert, the map clerk, even more
pronounced than usual, and his voice was fully accordant.  It was never
a dulcet organ, at best; but its owner rarely felt that his business
transactions could be assisted by the employment of flute notes; when
he did, he sank his tones to a confidential whisper intended to flatter
and impress his auditor, and it usually seemed to serve the purpose.
But with his map clerks and his subordinates generally he gave free
play to his natural raucousness, and he probably acted upon excellent
judgment.

Herbert, whose eye and ear from long practice had grown to detect the
exact degree of urgency in every call, with the agility of his
Darwinian ancestry quickened by his native wit, dashed over to the desk
under which the Rhode Island maps reposed.  He swung the big gray-bound
volume up onto the broad, flat counter with all the skill of a
successful vaudeville artist, and none too soon, for he who had
demanded it was at his elbow.

"What page do you want, Mr. O'Connor?" asked Herbert.

The Vice-president glanced at the daily report he held in his hand, and
turned back the yellow telegraph blank that was pinned to it.

"Sheet one fifty-six," he said shortly.  "No--one _fifty_-six.  That
will do."  He turned to a boy.  "Find out for me if Mr. Wintermuth is
in his office."

The boy, whose name was Jimmy, sped off, soliloquizing as he went:
"Gee, there must be somethin' up to get O'C. as hot as that!"  Arrived
at the opposite end of the big room, he reconnoitered for a view of the
President's office.  By virtue of some little strategy he presently
managed to catch sight of Mr. Wintermuth, seated at his desk, pen in
hand, in his most magisterial attitude, listening judicially to the
remarks of some visitor.  Jimmy, who was no fool, recognized the
stranger as the business manager of an insurance paper about half whose
space was given to articles highly eulogistic of certain insurance
companies whose advertisements, by some singular coincidence,
invariably appeared further on in the publication.  From the position
of the two Jimmy deduced that the conversation was not likely to be
terminated very soon, and dashed back to Mr. O'Connor with that
intelligence.  The Vice-President was still studying the many-colored
sheet.

"Busy, eh?  Well, leave that map turned up, and let me know as soon as
he is at liberty."  And he strode back to his own office and shut the
door with a slam that disturbed the serene spectacles of Mr. Otto
Bartels, who was sedulously studying a long row of figures on a
reinsurance bordereau.

Mr. Bartels was Secretary of the Guardian, and his office adjoined that
of the Vice-president.  Mr. Bartels, who was very short and stout, and
very methodical, and Teutonic beyond all else, looked up with mild
surprise in his placid eyes and the hint of something on his face which
in a more mobile countenance would have been an expression of gentle
remonstrance.  His place was lost, in the column he was scanning, by
the dislodgment of his spectacles, which he wore well down toward the
lower reaches of his nose--it would have been out of place to speak of
that organ as possessing an end or a tip, for it was much too bulbous
for any such term to fit.  Taking the spectacles with both hands, he
replaced them at their wonted angle, and with that phantom of
disapproval still striving for expression and outlet among his
features, he resumed his employment.

Otto Bartels was a discovery of Mr. Wintermuth's, many years before,
when that gentleman occupied a less conspicuous position with the
corporation of which he was now long since the head.  One day, sitting
at his desk, he looked up to observe a youth who stood gravely
regarding him in silence for at least three minutes before his speech
struggled near enough the surface to make itself audible.  It appeared
that the stranger was in need of a position, that he was accurate,
though not quick at figures, and that he would begin work for whatever
wage was found proper.  He was given a trial in the accounts
department, and for five years his sponsor heard no more of him.  At
the end of that time he found that his protégé had worked up to the
position of assistant chief clerk.  Three years later the drinking
water of the New Jersey suburb where he resided terminated the earthly
career of the chief clerk, and Bartels became chief clerk, managing the
department as nearly as was humanly possible without speech of any
kind.  And when, twenty years from the time the Guardian saw him first,
Otto Bartels found himself authorized to write Secretary after his
flowing signature, it was an appointment inevitable.  He had simply
pushed his way out of the crowd by grace of his unremitting
thoroughness, his industry, which was really not especially creditable,
as nothing but work ever occurred to him, and a gratifying inability to
make errors of detail.  He knew the name of every agent on the
company's list, when each one was expected to pay his balances, and how
much in premiums each annually reported.  He never wrote letters, for
it was impossible for him to dictate to a stenographer; he rarely took
a vacation, for he had nowhere to go and nothing to do outside the
office; he never engaged in discernible social intercourse of any sort,
for he had never known how to begin.  Such was the methodical man who
so efficiently kept the books and records of the Guardian.  He knew and
cared nothing about underwriting, regarding the insurance operations of
the company as a possibly important but purely secondary consideration.
In Mr. Bartels's opinion the company's records were the company.

The underwriting department of the Guardian occupied, with the
officers' quarters, the upper two floors of the rather narrow building.
On the top floor were the East and the South, under the immediate
supervision of Smith, the General Agent, and the offices of Mr.
Wintermuth, Mr. O'Connor, and Mr. Bartels.  The President occupied the
southeast corner and the two others the northeast end, while Smith's
desk was out in the open office, with the maps and files and survey
cases and his subordinates under his eye.

On the floor below Assistant-Secretary Wagstaff held forth; he was in
charge of the Western Department, which comprised the states from Ohio,
Kentucky, and Tennessee westward to the coast.  Mr. Wagstaff was a
competent, careful, unimaginative, unambitious man who did his work
from day to day.  He enters this story virtually not at all; be it
enough to say that he had a red mustache and a bald, bright head and
wore shoes with cloth tops.  He took good care of his territory, and if
he never made much money for the company, he never lost any.  So much
for Edgar Wagstaff.

Before returning to the top floor, however, one character in Mr.
Wagstaff's entourage must be brought majestically forward into view.
This dignified personage was Jenkins, the clerk of the Pacific Coast
accounts.  Mr. Jenkins was, in his youth, a mathematician of remarkable
promise.  His dexterity with arithmetic and algebra was such that his
family began to think that could this ability at figures be translated
into terms of Wall Street there might be a Napoleon of finance bearing
the proud if somewhat homely name of Jenkins.  But unfortunately it
seemed otherwise to the fates, for Mr. Jenkins, with advancing years,
found his Napoleonic onrush irresistibly diverted toward pleasant
byways frequented in the golden age by one Bacchus, god of wine.
Apparently the disinclination for the dusty road of duty had resulted
in much satisfaction and no lasting damage to Bacchus, but far
otherwise was it with Jenkins.  He fared as conscientiously in
Bacchus's footsteps as he could, but his was not the true Bacchanalian
temperament.  Under the influence of the grape Jenkins, instead of
becoming gay, waxed ever more portentous and sublime.  When he was
almost sober, say of a Friday afternoon, he was grave, merely creating
the impression that some long-past tragedy had clouded his life.  When
he was by way of being what one may denominate half-interested, his
face assumed the saturnine expression of an ancient misanthrope, but
when at last he reached the full flower of his magnificent endeavors,
the silent severity of his countenance became so forbidding and
sinister as to freeze the smile from the lips of a happy child.  By his
face you might know him, but it would of necessity be by the face
alone, for so perfect was his control of his dominated limbs that never
a quiver betrayed him, and no degree of saturation seemed to affect at
all the impeccable footing of his columns.

A spiral staircase connected the seventh and eighth floors of the
Guardian building, constructed for the convenience of the clerks who
had to do with several departments.  It was near the top of this
staircase that Smith had his desk, in the center of the maelstrom.
Smith strongly believed in being in the center of things, and from
where he sat he could overlook every foot of the space occupied by the
Eastern Department.  As he was supervisor, he intended to
supervise--wherein lay one of the chief sources of his value.

"Jimmy, bring me the _Journal of Commerce_," he said to the invaluable
and ubiquitous one.

"Mr. O'Connor's got it on his desk, sir," replied that youth, almost
breathlessly.  Speed in action had so demanded equivalent celerity in
diction that often speech came badly second in endurance, causing him
to sputter and gasp for completed utterance.

"Well, go and see if he isn't through with it," Smith directed.  "I
haven't seen the losses yet this morning."

Almost immediately, a modern Manhattan Mercury, Jimmy was again at his
side.

"No, sir--he says he's still usin' it," he reported.

"Bring it to me when he's finished," Smith closed the matter, devoting
himself to other things.  Those requiring his attention were numerous
enough, but first of all came an interruption in the shape of a caller.

All manner of men come into the agency department of an insurance
company.  Smith's field covered the whole Atlantic Coast and Gulf
sections of the country, and the agents from these states alone made
quite an army, and any one of these agents was likely at any time to
appear from a bland blue sky, completely upsetting the General Agent's
continuity of work.  Then there were the placers from the brokerage
firms, offering out-of-town risks which most of them had personally
never seen and knew little or nothing about, and whose descriptive
powers were all the greater for being unhampered by any blunt facts, a
few of which are so often fatal to a successful rhetorical ascension.
Then there were the various clients of the company who came straggling
in to have a New York City policy transferred to cover for six days at
Old Point Comfort, or to ask whether the presence of a Japanese
heater--size two by three and one half inches--would destroy the
validity of their policy; and there was the lady whose false teeth fell
into the kitchen stove while she was putting on a scuttle of coal, and
who thought the company should reimburse her for the loss under her
policy which covered all her personal effects and wearing apparel; and
then there was the suspicious individual who called to make sure that
his premium had been properly transmitted to the company, for the local
agent in his town has strange ways and looked very peculiar when
accepting the money.

These and a hundred others, all in the way of business; and in addition
there were the shifting atoms of humanity who float in and out of the
office buildings of a great city, pensioners for the most part on
either the bounty or the carelessness of busy men--waifs in the
industrial orbit who gain their living by various established or
ingenious variations of the more indirect forms of brigandage.  There
were men selling books that probably no one in the world would ever
wish to buy or to read; women soliciting funds for charitable
institutions which might or might not exist; salesmen positively
enthusiastic in their desire to give the Guardian the benefit of their
patent pencil sharpeners, or gas crowns, or asbestos window shades, or
loose-leaf ledgers, or roach powder of peculiar pungency and
efficiency.  Of course the elevator attendants were supposed to
distinguish between the sheep and the goats, and to let only legitimate
callers ascend, but the discretionary power of the Ethiopian is
scarcely subtle--or at least such was the case with the Guardian's
staff of watchdogs--and as a result many a visitor reached the floor
where Smith presided only to have his disguise fall from him at his
first word and to be politely ejected by the invaluable Jimmy, who was
accustomed to accompany the gentle strangers as far as the street door
in order that there might be no misapprehension on their part.

This particular morning Smith disposed with more or less ease of
several claimants to his attention, before he was finally brought to a
pause by the appearance of Mr. Darius Howell of Schuyler, Maine, who
had come to New York in connection with his potato business, and who
had incidentally decided to call at the office of the Guardian which he
also had the honor locally to represent.  Years before, Smith had once
visited Schuyler, and at that time had met the small, grizzled
individual who now stood before him.  He had not, however, the
slightest idea of the identity of his visitor, and waited a brief
moment for a clew to aid him.

"You don't remember me, I reckon," said the caller.  "I remember you,
though, Mr. Smith.  My name is Darius--"

"Howell," said Smith, instantly, getting up to shake hands.  Of all the
agents reporting to him there was only one Darius.  "I remember you
very well.  I hope you haven't come to tell me that Schuyler has burned
up.  Come in and sit down.  It must be five years since I've seen you."

"Six years come next July," agreed the other, cautiously.  It would
have been impossible for him to admit the simplest proposition without
some sort of qualification; he never had done so, and there seemed no
valid reason to suppose that he ever would.

"And how is Schuyler coming along?" inquired the General Agent, with
decided deference to the conventionalities of such interviews.

"Oh, so so," replied the man from Maine.  "There ain't been much change
up there since you was there.  That is, not what you'd really call a
change.  How's things with you?  The company still pays dividends, I
see."

Mr. Howell was the owner of four shares of the company's stock.

"Doing all right," Smith responded.  "The Guardian believes in making
haste slowly, you know; we don't go ahead very fast, but we keep
plugging along.  Mr. Wintermuth feels it's always best to be on the
safe side.  Occasionally it's discouraging when we see some competitor
build up an income in three or four years as big as ours that it's
taken three or four generations to establish, but when we read some
morning that our enterprising friends have had to reinsure their
liability with some stronger concern and retire from business because
their losses have caught up to them, we don't feel quite so badly.
Personally I think we could travel a little faster, and I'd like to see
our premiums twice what they are now.  And I hope you'll double them
this year in Schuyler, anyway."

"Maybe so, but you never can tell.  Business is liable to slack up just
when you think it's going along all right.  And there ain't been any
new building in Schuyler of any account for two years back but Dodge's
feed mill and the new Union School.  You've got a line on both of them."

At this point their conversation was interrupted because of the
departure of the persistent gentleman, who had been closeted with Mr.
Wintermuth.  As the door closed on him, Jimmy disappeared around the
corner and thrust his head and fore quarters, so to speak, into
O'Connor's open doorway.

"Th' President's at liberty now," he announced.

Without replying, the Vice-President picked up the _Journal of
Commerce_ and the daily report with the yellow telegram affixed to it,
and strode over, past Smith's desk, to the office of his chief.

"Can you come out and look at the map a minute, sir?" he asked
respectfully.

"Certainly.  What is it?  A loss?" replied Mr. Wintermuth, noticing the
telegraph slip as he rose from his chair and followed O'Connor toward
the map counter.

"Yes," said the Vice-president.  He was passing the desk of the General
Agent, and he took care that his remark might be overheard.  "And it
looks to me like something we ought not to have had."

"What's that?" rejoined the older man, quickly.  "We're not accepting
business that we shouldn't write, are we?  What is it?  And who passed
it?"

"Smith seems to have approved the line," O'Connor said slowly.
"Herbert, I thought I told you to leave that Providence map out for me."

"It's right there, sir," said the map clerk; "right where you left it,
sir."

"Here's the risk," said the Vice-president, pointing it out to his
superior with every sign of decent regret.  "It seems to be a mattress
factory, a class we never write. . . .  Smith appears to have passed
it--there's his initial.  Of course, he may have had some special
reason for--"

Mr. Wintermuth interrupted him.

"Herbert, ask Mr. Smith if he will not step this way for a moment,
please."

To the man from Maine the General Agent said: "You'll excuse me for a
minute?"

And Darius Howell, with astonishing definiteness, replied: "Sure--go
ahead."

Smith found his two officers awaiting him by the open map.  From the
expression on O'Connor's face he suspected that that gentleman had
discovered something not displeasing to him, and unconsciously he found
his own shoulders squaring themselves as though for a conflict.

"We have here," began the President, slowly, "a loss at Providence on a
risk which Mr. O'Connor seems to think we should not have written."

"Where is the risk, sir?" Smith asked quietly.

"Here.  Here is the daily report.  It is approved by you. . . .
Probably there is something about the risk which does not appear on the
face of it.  Do you remember the circumstances?"

Smith looked the daily report over carefully.  It certainly showed the
risk, just as plainly as the map also showed it, to be a mattress
factory, a class prohibited by the Guardian, and there were Smith's own
interwoven initials.  Then, suddenly, at the sight of the hieroglyph,
he remembered.  "Why, you passed this line yourself, Mr. O'Connor," was
on his lips to say.  But he did not say it.  For by the cold light in
the eyes of the Vice-President he knew that course useless.

"I remember the risk," he said, addressing himself to Mr. Wintermuth.
"It was a direct line of our local agents, and they were very anxious
to have us take a small amount.  It was accepted as an accommodation,
and I reinsured one half, as you see, sir.  Is it a bad loss?"

"Reported total," replied the other, turning over the telegram.  "My
boy, you're usually so careful, I don't understand how you came to put
through such business.  You ought at least to have referred it to Mr.
O'Connor or myself."

Smith glanced again at the Vice-president, but that gentleman remained
silent, and the General Agent again swallowed what was on his tongue to
utter.

"Yes, sir, I should have done so," he substituted.

Mr. Wintermuth continued: "We cannot write such risks as that and hope
to make an underwriting profit.  They say I am a believer in 4 per cent
bonds--perhaps I am, but I am _not_ a believer in 4 per cent mattress
factories."  The old gentleman softened his criticism with a smile.

But to Smith, feeling rather than seeing the half-hidden satisfaction
of the Vice-president, the President's kindly manner proved of little
comfort.  For Smith and O'Connor knew that the line in question had
been submitted to O'Connor, and that in view of the competition of
several very liberal companies in the Providence agency, the
Vice-president had authorized its acceptance.  With his wonted caution,
however, he had refrained from putting himself on record, other than
orally.

"Reinsure half, and put it through, Smith," he had directed; and Smith
had done so.

In cases where his own security was involved, Mr. F. Mills O'Connor was
an exceedingly cautious man.  Looking before he leaped was with him
almost a passion; and if he expected to leap on a Thursday, it was
generally estimated that he began his preliminary looking on Monday of
the week before.

He was a large, clean-shaven, dark-haired man of indeterminate age.  By
his profession at large he was little known, but in the Guardian office
he was very well known indeed and excellently understood, and an
appreciation of his character and qualities truthfully set down by the
observant Jimmy or by Herbert, the map clerk, would never have been
selected by the O'Connor family as satisfactory material for a
flattering obituary notice.

It appeared likely, however, that it would be a long time before his
obituary would be written.  He was probably, at this time, a year or
two the other side of forty, and his care of himself was unimpeachable,
for he guarded his health as carefully as he did his other assets.  He
had become Vice-President and underwriting head of the company several
years before this story opens, and it seemed probable that he would
hold that position indefinitely--or perhaps it would be nearer the
truth to say until some more advantageous position lay open to him.

Mr. O'Connor was what is commonly termed a cold proposition, and if
there was any sentiment in him it was so carefully secreted that for
ordinary purposes it was non-existent.  Yet he was not unpopular.  When
he so desired, he could assume a spurious geniality so closely
resembling the genuine article that few persons, and none of his
agents, ever discovered the difference.  And his business efficiency
was commonly taken for granted.

Indeed, there was but one man in the insurance fraternity who assessed
Mr. O'Connor at very nearly his proper value, and that man O'Connor
disliked and feared as vividly as his rather apathetic nature would
admit.  The one man was Smith.  Whoever might sail the seas in ships of
illusion regarding the Vice-president of the Guardian, Smith saw the
facts clear and looked at them squarely.

The principal cause of Smith's own position in the company was his own
vitality and industry, but next to that was the fact that Mr.
Wintermuth had originally given him a chance and then declined to
permit any one to impede his natural progression.  This attitude was
due principally to the President's conviction of his own ability to
judge men.  Having once made up his mind, he allowed no one to tell him
anything about any of his employees.  He always said: "I watch the boys
myself, and what I can't see I don't want to know."  In the old days
what he did not see was of no especial importance to the Guardian
Insurance Company, but the eyes of an old lion grow also old.  Yet the
habit remained, and thus all Mr. O'Connor's efforts to discredit his
ambitious young assistant had so far fallen on ears stone-deaf and
hermetically sealed.  But the Vice-president could never forgive the
younger man for looking at him with so unimpressed a gaze, and never
missed an opportunity to show his prejudice to their mutual chief.

There had been several incidents of a similar nature previous to the
mattress factory loss, where Smith had been either indirectly advised
or permitted by O'Connor to take a certain course, only to find himself
excoriated when the risk burned or the outcome proved otherwise
disastrous.  Only a short time before, Smith had been sent into New
York State, acting under vice-presidential order of procedure, to
straighten out the Guardian's relations with the local division of the
Eastern Conference.  The Eastern Conference was an organization to
which most of the leading companies belonged.  Its function was the
orderly regulation of all matters affecting its members' relations with
their agents.  Theoretically its primary purpose was to prevent the
overcompensation of some agents at the expense of others.  If it did
not always succeed in doing this, it did at least succeed in making
extremely embarrassing the lot of any company operating outside of its
organization.  It was everywhere an arbitrary body, and its New York
State branch was perhaps the least disciplined of any of its
constituent parts, and was moreover suspected of favoring some of its
own members at the expense of others.  President Wintermuth, loyal to
his associates, but patient only up to a certain point, had of late
begun to consider that his company was decidedly in the latter class.
It was easy to see that a diplomat's hand was needed to accomplish what
Smith was sent to accomplish, and Smith could be a diplomat of parts
when the need arose; but his instructions from Mr. O'Connor had left
him so little latitude that he was obliged to return without securing
any positive action of any sort.

"They will take the matter up at the next meeting," he reported.

O'Connor transmitted this report to the President with an expression of
disappointment.

"We ought to have had that thing fixed up.  And if it had been handled
right, it would have been fixed up now," he said.

Whereat the President, with one of his flashes of clear vision, replied
suavely, "And who gave Smith his instructions?"

It was only a chance shot on Mr. Wintermuth's part, but it went
straight to the mark, and it rankled.  O'Connor knew--or felt
reasonably sure--that Smith had not mentioned the matter to any one but
himself, yet the chief had struck unerringly the nail's head.  And all
this endeared Smith but little to the man who had never liked him.

It is none too comfortable to work for a man who will covertly begrudge
you your successes and indifferently conceal his satisfaction at your
mistakes; for the stoutest hearted it is a discouraging business.  This
Smith found it, and he would have found it still more discouraging had
it not been for the exuberance of his enthusiasm for his profession and
his healthy appetite for most real things that came his way--real work,
real pleasures, real sport, and perhaps a few real follies.  Many
times, after a bad hour spent in a futile defense against the only
half-perceptible hostility of O'Connor, he would find himself seriously
questioning whether he would not do more wisely to leave the Guardian
and hazard a new fortune in another field.  Yet all the while he knew
that this course of speculation was idle and a waste of time and
cerebral tissues.  He was a Guardian man, and with the Guardian he was
going to stay--unless the Company itself took a different view.  Of
course there was a time coming when Mr. Wintermuth would lay down his
badge of office, but before that time much would occur.  Sufficient
unto that day would be its own evil, without enhancing it by imaginary
additions.  So Smith stood by his post, but there was at times an
expression in his face which gave F. Mills O'Connor himself cause for
careful consideration.

But to Darius Howell, somewhat awkwardly saying good-by at the
Guardian's door, Smith's smile was as sunny as the skies of Schuyler,
Maine.  For troubles often turned out to be largely imaginary, while
Darius was indubitably real.



CHAPTER VI

Promptly at nine o'clock in the morning of every business day for fifteen
years, Hannibal G. Pelgram, uncle of Stanwood Pelgram, had seated himself
at his desk in the office of the Pelgram Plumbers' Supply Company, and it
was rarely that he left before his stenographer had begun to show signs
of impatience and anxiety.  But in the sixteenth year of his reign his
liver, which up to that time had acted with the most commendable
regularity, began to develop alarming eccentricities of behavior.  Mr.
Pelgram became gradually less certain in his attendance, and finally his
struggle with the refractory liver ended in the victory of that
inconspicuous but important organ, and he passed peacefully away at a
German spa in the course of taking a cure which would very likely have
killed him even had he been in perfectly normal health.

His will began by the customary direction to his executor to pay his just
debts and funeral expenses--exactly as though the executor was assumed to
be a thoroughly unscrupulous person who, although not benefiting himself
in the least by his dishonesty, would try in every possible way to evade
settlement with all the dead man's legitimate creditors, including the
undertaker.  Then he left a small bequest to a faithful cook and another
to an endowed retreat for tuberculous Baptists which already had more
money than it could hope ever to use.  The residue, consisting
principally of stock in the Plumbers' Supply Company, went to Stanwood,
with the earnest wish that his nephew enter and eventually assume the
direction of the business with which the family name had been so long and
so honorably identified.

Stanwood received the news with modified rapture.  He was grateful for
financial independence, but the idea of taking up the bathtub business
struck him with dismay.  So with prudent forethought he sought out Amory
Carruth, a lawyer of his acquaintance; and to him explained his dilemma.
It required some measure of specious ingenuity to explain his errand as
he wished; but Mr. Carruth, being used to squirming legatees, understood
and came to the point with a candor which made Pelgram wince.  After
first flippantly suggesting that the plumbing business would at least
afford Pelgram the chance to indulge his taste in porcelains, he eased
the artist's mind by a phrase as soothing as it was noncommittal.

"You can follow your uncle's will as regards the disposition of his
property.  That part is sane enough.  Whether it was equally sagacious,
equally sane, to try to plunge you into the plumbing business is not so
clear.  We are, therefore, clearly justified if we say that he knew how
he wished to dispose of his estate, but his mental condition was such
that his legatee felt justified in modifying--in some degree--certain of
his requests."

This apologetic theory was finally accepted.  Dawes, the manager, whose
surplus income had gone into the bank rather than into his liver,
purchased the estate's interest, and on the proceeds Stanwood had now for
five years been conducting his elaborate studio on Copley Square.

The completion of Miss Maitland's portrait was marked by one of the
artist's characteristic functions.  By any person in the ordinary walks
of life it would have been called a tea, but Pelgram preferred to
denominate it a private view.  Every time he completed a work that he
considered of real importance--relatively more often than modesty might
have prescribed--he celebrated the birth of the masterpiece by one of
these oddly termed baptisms in tannin.  Possibly they were entitled to be
called views, as the opus bravely challenged the tea table in popularity,
and occasionally won by superior powers of endurance over a necessarily
limited supply of edibles, but certainly the privacy was questionable, as
to each one of them Stanwood invited nearly every one who might be
expected to come.

Fortunately not a large proportion of these actually turned up.  Some
came because they were under obligations to the artist, and some because
he was under obligations to them; some from vague curiosity, and others
from sheer ignorance.  Those who appeared at such a one as this, where
the portrait of a young girl was displayed, were roughly limited to a few
easily identified classes.  There was centrally the young girl herself,
and then there were the members of her family, all radiant except the
purchaser of the picture, who customarily showed traces of sobriety and
skepticism.  There were one or two prospective patrons lured to the trap;
some ephemeral sycophants, volunteer or mercenary; a few idle fellow
artists who enjoyed seeing a colleague make what they considered to be an
exhibition of himself; some inevitable people who went everywhere they
were asked, especially when there was a prospect of something to eat; and
a few puzzled and lonely-looking souls who could furnish no explanation
of their attendance, did not stay very long, and never came a second time.

At this view the role of sycophants was to be played by two young girls
who had taken up self-cultivation as a sort of fad, and had somehow
become obsessed with the curious idea that art such as was found in
Pelgram's studio could assist them in their commendable pursuit of
culture.  Their host was consequently delighted when, at an early hour,
Miss Heatherton and Miss Long arrived, as they had promised to do.  Their
manifest adoration would produce an admirable spot light in which he
might stand during the function, but more than that, he hoped that Helen
herself would be impressed by the deep regard in which these fair
disciples evidently held him and his work.  Miss Heatherton was to pour
the tea, and Miss Long was to distribute the thin lettuce sandwiches
which formed its somewhat unsubstantial accompaniment.

Miss Heatherton's initial remark demonstrated the fact that, despite her
plunge into what her family considered a dangerous part of Bohemia, she
had managed to preserve intact her adherence to the traditional in
conversational matters.  When Pelgram escorted her to the tea table, she
bleated a pathetic protest against his positive inhumanity in placing her
where the great work was invisible.

"Oh, Mr. Pelgram, you are really cruel!  Eleanor, don't you think he
might have put me where I could sit and look at that beautiful portrait,
and not down here at the other end of the room?"

Miss Long, a tall girl with large liquid eyes and a weak red mouth,
languidly murmured a sympathetic assent, and their host smiled
deprecatingly, but with an inward glow of satisfaction; such a remark was
obviously not inspired by the exact truth, but it was nevertheless
pleasant to hear.

"Ah, Miss Heatherton," he replied, "perhaps after all it is better as I
have ordered it.  For its little hour the picture should reign with its
sovereignty unquestioned, while if you were near by--" he broke off
meaningly, and Miss Long rewarded his compliment with a bovine glance of
rapture, while Miss Heatherton looked modestly down at the teapot.  Even
to an unaesthetic person the arrangement seemed very good indeed, but
rather for the more practical reason that the proximity of food and drink
would very likely have distracted the attention of some of the more
hungry visitors to such a degree that the work of art might have been
comparatively ignored.

The next to arrive were Isabel Hurd and Wilkinson.  Wilkinson had not
been invited, but on hearing his cousin say that she was starting for the
studio, he promptly announced that he would accompany her.  He knew that
Pelgram disliked him intensely, but he did not feel the slightest
hesitation on that account in accepting the artist's hospitality, and in
fact quite enjoyed the prospect of a dash into the enemy's country.  To
be sure, he saw little chance of loot except a trifling modification of
his chronic afternoon hunger; but Isabel's society was desirable, and
Pelgram appealed vividly to his sense of the ludicrous.  His reception
was all he could have hoped; his host greeted him with outward
affability, but when he extended his hand from the black velvet cuff with
the handkerchief tucked into it, his face expressed the hidden anguish of
anticipated ridicule to such a degree that Wilkinson felt his visit
already justified.

"It is very good of you to come," said the artist, with a forced smile.
"I had no idea you were interested in art."

"Oh, but I am, though," returned the other, confidently.  "I have no idea
what it is, but I'm very much interested in it.  And every one says I
have the artistic temperament in the highest degree.  By the way, what is
art, anyway?  No one ever told me."

Pelgram gave a preliminary cough, and glanced hastily about the room, but
calculating that his audience would be larger later on, he restrained
himself.

"What is art?" he slowly repeated, half-closing his eyes and smiling
mystically on his guests.  "What is art?"  Miss Long hung breathlessly on
his words.

As, however, he seemed more interested in the question than apt to reply
to it, Wilkinson moved on toward Miss Heatherton and the tea table, while
his place was taken by Miss Maitland and her mother, who had just come
into the room.

The studio was presently quite full, and conversation rose to a shriller
pitch.  The talk was mostly of art.  Catch phrases indicative of
informality and intimacy with the manufacture of the beautiful were
recklessly flung about.  The pace quickened.  The operations of Miss
Heatherton and Miss Long threatened speedily to be terminated because of
exhausted resources as well as insufficient space.  It was warmer, and
there was a queer mixed odor of tea, roses, and paint.  John M. Hurd,
greatly relieved after he discovered that he was not immediately expected
to buy anything, was recounting with animation to a fat man in a frock
coat how the basis of the family fortune had been laid by Mr. Hurd's
grandfather whose one life rule was never to invest his money in anything
west of Albany, New York.  One of Pelgram's colleagues had pinned Miss
Maitland into a corner and was raptly telling her how great an influence
a certain old master of whom she had never heard had exerted on the work
of an extraordinarily talented young man from Fall River whose name and
pictures alike were entirely unknown to her.

Pelgram went by with his arm familiarly passed through that of a
phlegmatic-looking young Chinaman whom he led up to Miss Maitland's
portrait.  Ling Hop had been cook on a yacht, when an artistic friend of
Pelgram's and a parasite of the yacht's owner had discovered one day that
the guardian of the galley was a fair draughtsman with some little
imagination; and much to his own surprise the Oriental had been snatched
from the cook stove and thrust into the artistic arena.  It was lucky for
him that his scene was set in Boston, which is always sympathetically on
edge to embrace exotic genius.  In a society delicately attuned to
intellectual harmonies from all sources, however strange or weird, the
success of a Chinaman possessing the slightest facility with the brush
was assured from the first.  His industrious compatriots in the local
laundries, themselves more impassionate critics, doubtless regarded Ling
Hop as an impudent charlatan; but Boston in its most restricted and
exclusive sense looked at his work with interest and respect, though
sadly without humor.  The guest stood silently before the portrait,
scanning it earnestly, almost with anxiety, blinking his almond eyes
behind his shell-rimmed glasses.  As, however, he did not know enough
about the technique of painting to offer a sensible appreciation, he
wisely confined himself to a very few vaguely eulogistic monosyllables,
which seemed greatly to gratify the artist.

"Ah," said Ling Hop, "delicate--delicate!" the adjective being pronounced
with a haunting repetition of its most melodious letter.  Years of more
or less familiarity with the English language had not been able to efface
his racial penchant for the labial.  One might naturally suppose that to
compress a native alphabet of some one hundred and twenty-six letters
into one of twenty-six would result in much confusion and some
inexplicable preferences, but no one has ever been able to point out why
the functions of the extra hundred should have to be assumed by the
letter "l" alone.

But to Pelgram the vague liquid sound fell dulcetly on the ear, and by
Miss Long and Miss Heatherton no flaw in this art criticism could be
discerned.  And the artist, glancing about him, saw with gratification
that, in addition to the two young ladies, there had by some vague
current of motion been swept into his immediate vicinity human flotsam to
the extent of perhaps half a dozen irresponsible souls, ignorant that
their immediate fate was to be not guests, but auditors.

"Do you feel that?  I strove for it," he said in a clear, penetrating
voice, calculated to attract the attention, if not the interest, of those
even outside the charmed though widening circle.  "I strove for just
that, feeling that here, above all, it was the one desideratum.  At times
I feared--" he turned to the impassive Mongolian a puckered
forehead--"that I might be sacrificing somewhat of the virile.  But no!
I said--surely I can sacrifice all things, all considerations, save one."

"You were right," said Ling Hop, cryptically, feeling that he was called
upon to say something, but still with that faint adumbration of the
inevitable letter.

"In these days of strange, wild gods, in whose temples the heathen riot
in flames and flares and orgies of color, it seems to me incumbent upon
the saner among the craft to cling perhaps closer than ever to the great
canons that the great masters have set forth for us.  What do these new
men worship?  Color--color--blobs and blotches of raw, crude color!  They
think of nothing else, these barbarians.  Let drawing, arrangement,
construction even, go--they say--and with bloodshot eyes they dance in
one wild debauch of life and light!  It is not art!"

Casting an imperceptibly alert eye to right and left, Pelgram saw that he
was now in possession of the maximum audience he was likely to achieve.
In a near-by corner, blockaded by three attentive gentlemen who seemed
much less interested in art than in nature, sat Miss Maitland, within
easy though obstructed earshot.  She could hardly help hearing, and with
an inward sigh of satisfaction the artist gave himself over utterly to
the exordium which for some inexplicable reason formed the nucleus of his
idea of a properly conducted studio affair.  He felt that he was going to
be very eloquent, and he felt reasonably secure from interruption, for no
one in that company would have the temerity to question, on his own
hearthstone, his pronunciamentos.  No one,--except perhaps the
irrepressible Wilkinson,--and it was with the greatest relief that he
beheld Charlie safely out of hearing and engaged in rapt converse with
Isabel.

"Yes, those of us who believe, who still hold the immortal things sacred,
have a great trust vested in us.  It is for us, the few still faithful,
to keep the lustral fires pure from defilement by the unbelievers.  What
would the great draughtsmen of old, the great true colorists among the
masters, say if we should betray them to the wild, criminal vagaries of
these falsest of false prophets?"

He turned savagely upon Ling Hop, who replied, with entire truth, and
with a certain feeling for caution which showed that he could be trusted
in any crisis:--

"Yes.  What?"

"They swarm with muddy feet through the safest, surest halls of art of
all time.  They do not hesitate to say that arrangement--arrangement!--is
not a necessity in a work of art.  They say construction is not vital.
They care nothing of whether nature at the moment is right or
wrong--whether there is a combination of circumstances worthy of
reproduction--but they throw their pictures on the canvas in any way they
chance to come.  And what pictures!  Raw, flaunting things, with no care
given to balance, none to line, none to color!  It would be
unbelievable--if it were not true."

Miss Heatherton, on whom his inspired gaze at this juncture rested,
closed her eyes, as though she feared to disturb even by a glance the
continuity of this astonishing harangue.  At the footstool of Olympus sat
Miss Long, in patient ecstasy.

"These painters--anarchists of the craft, I call them--would force us to
leave off painting quiet interiors," continued Pelgram, lowering his
voice with mournful impressiveness, "because, forsooth, interiors are
inane, undramatic things unless relieved by color!  Not _our_ color, but
the bright, blazing color that roars and raves.  Still-lifes they condemn
unless they swim in seas of pure emotion.  For with them color is
emotion, emotion color. . . .  To be sure, _we_ know better, but I repeat
that a heavy charge is on us.  We must march loyally forward, keeping our
banners high.  We must go on painting a modest lady, dressed in dark
blue, sitting on a gray chair with a shiny wooden floor beneath her--to
show that these things can sometimes make an artistic harmony worthy of
being translated for all time into a picture that shall never die.  What
if this has been done ten thousand times before?  The old gods are
jealous gods, and at the ten thousandth time they take their own at last."

"Yes.  At last," said Ling Hop, observing that a response was expected of
him.

Pelgram turned to the portrait.

"And this!--portrait painting!--to which all the masters finally turn.
What would _they_--these colorists--make out of portrait painting?"

Evidently his mind recoiled from the thought, for he turned aside with a
gesture of resignation.  And Miss Long and Miss Heatherton were never to
know what horrid fate awaited portrait painting at _their_ hands, for
from the rim of the circle came the cheerful voice of Wilkinson:--

"Money, old chap, money.  That's what they'd make out of portrait
painting.  And after all, that's the only satisfactory standard of
success, established for every school of art--what will the picture
bring?  Now isn't that so?"

Pelgram's upper lip drew viciously back from his teeth; Wilkinson,
pleasantly advancing, smiled with content; the flotsam had floated away
as noiselessly as youth; and the artist, collecting his forces to reply,
saw that, except for the two rapt sycophants at his elbow, he was alone.
He laughed a short laugh.

"With many, no doubt it is," he snapped.

His adversary continued his placid progress down the room until he
reached the tea table, where immediately he could be heard inquiring
whether the diminutive "arrangements in green and white" were intended
for lettuce sandwiches.

Pelgram glanced quickly toward where Miss Maitland still sat, surrounded
by her attentive friends.  It seemed hardly likely that she could have
missed Charlie's distressing incursion into a monologue to which he had
not been invited, but the girl seemed so wholly occupied that the painter
took heart.  His ruffled self-esteem preened itself anew, and he moved
circuitously toward the object of his concern in as disinterested a
manner as he could assume.  At the sight of their host, the other members
of Miss Maitland's group took occasion inconspicuously to drift away,
being moved either by hunger or by good nature or by fear lest the
monologue recommence.  All but one obtuse youth who neither stirred nor
displayed any tendency so to do.

"Before you go I want to show you that full length of Mrs. Warburton,"
the artist suggested pointedly to Helen.  Her only attitude was affable
resignation; she accepted the inevitable as gracefully as possible, and
they strolled across the end of the studio to an alcove where a number of
canvases stood coyly awaiting beholders.  Several tall potted plants
nearly hid the alcove from the studio at large, and Pelgram noted with
satisfaction that the remaining guests were mostly grouped about
Wilkinson at the other end.  He turned, to gain time for thought, to the
pile of frames in the corner, and presently pulled forth the portrait of
which he had spoken.

"Not so interesting an arrangement as I made of you," he commented.

"I might just as well have been a sandwich," was the girl's immediate
thought, but she replied politely, "No."

"I would certainly have been hopelessly lacking in talent of any sort if
I had not been able to do something really fine from the chance you
offered me," he went on.

Feeling quite uncomfortable and not knowing exactly what to say to this,
Helen said nothing.  The artist, assuming that her silence implied her
permission for him to continue, cleared his throat for what he felt
should be a master effort.

"Miss Maitland," he said, regarding her gravely, "it is naturally not for
me to say, but I sincerely believe that your portrait is a work of real
merit.  And whatever slight ability I may possess has of course been
freely spent on it.  But there is something else to consider--there is
ability, but there is also the element of inspiration, and whatever I may
have lacked in the one you have bountifully given me in the other.  If
others should think the portrait a success, I must thank not myself but
you.  And beyond the success of the picture itself, which at best can
only be for a day, you have given me what no one ever gave me before--you
must know what that may be."

"You are entirely welcome, I'm sure," his visitor replied, in
considerable embarrassment.  It was not exactly what she meant to say,
and the egotism of the artist immediately misconstrued it.

"Helen," he said, "the painting of your portrait has been a perilous
adventure for me.  Up to the time I began it, I lived in a world alone,
and I thought only of my art.  My model was always a thing wholly
subordinate; after the picture was completed I never cared whether I ever
saw the subject again.  But as you came here day after day, my art seemed
of less importance, and you came forward more and more.  And finally I
have found that nothing matters--nothing counts--but you."

Miss Maitland did not answer.  She was conscious only of wondering
whether she were going to be able to escape from that alcove before she
had expressed to her host her actual opinion of him and all his works,
and she rather feared her powers of repression would prove unequal to the
occasion.  And her opinion of him was at its nadir.  With unerring
maladroitness Pelgram had chosen the time of all others when his star was
burning with its feeblest flame.  She continued to sit passively, while
the waves of the artist's eloquence rolled over her.

"I will not ask you if you love me--it is enough to tell you that I love
you more than all the world.  But can you not give me one single word of
hope?"

He paused expectantly.

Helen hesitated.  Still persisted the naughty longing to break forth and
say her will, but she knew it would be wrong.  After all, there had been
in Pelgram's plea as much genuine sincerity as there could be in anything
of his, and she felt that her wish to be utterly candid was a childish
and unworthy one.

"Mr. Pelgram," she said at length, "if I should give you any hope, it
would be unjust and unkind to you, for I feel that I could never care for
you in the way you wish me to.  I respect your ability, but that is not
enough.  Please do not speak of this again.  You are an artist, and there
ought to be for you enough in the world to keep you happy--even without
me."

Pelgram grew a little pale.  To him, who had such difficulty in being
real, this was very real.  And seeing it, the girl softened.

"I'm sorry," she said.  "I'm really more sorry than I can tell you."

And then she had cause for repentance, for the artist, with an effort,
drew all his pride to aid him.  And his proud mood was by no means his
best.  The only redeeming feature of the valedictory was that finally it
was over.

Helen, looking a trifle jaded, walked homeward under the escort of Isabel
and Wilkinson.  She was quite silent, and Isabel, suspecting trouble,
said little for her part.

Not so Charlie, who held forth fluently, with the exhilaration one feels
on coming out of a hot church and dashing off in a touring car.

"Well," he said, "certain unfriendly persons have studiously circulated
the impression that I am eligible for the Paresis Club--a chucklehead, in
fact.  But you will have to admit that I never give Private Views.  You
must concede that I do not inflict on my friends my opinions about crude
color.  Why, there must be several hundred things I don't do!"

"Thank Heaven you don't!" remarked Miss Maitland.



CHAPTER VII

It was one minute before eleven when the card of Mr. Charles Wilkinson
was borne gingerly, by a large youth from South Framingham who served
as door boy, into the presence of Mr. Hurd.  That gentleman, reading
the bit of pasteboard with a grunt which might have been indicative of
any one of a dozen invidious sentiments, opened the proximate corner of
his mouth.

"Send him in," came from the brief orifice.

A moment later Mr. Wilkinson stood in the presence of his prey.  Or
perchance--but no, this was to be Marengo, not Waterloo--and above all,
not Moscow.  Something of this was in his eyes when he lifted them to
meet those of his distinguished relation.

"Are you at liberty for a few moments?" he soberly inquired.  He took
care to delete every vestige of animation from his tone and manner, and
so radical a change did this effect that his step-uncle blinked.  A man
as keen as John M. Hurd could not be blind to a mutation so great.  He
looked Mr. Wilkinson over with more care than he had ever employed
before, for he recognized at once that this was no ordinary visit.

"I am as much at liberty as I am likely to be," he replied
noncommittally.

His visitor wistfully and somewhat suggestively eyed a chair, but made
no move to be seated.  He felt that, no matter how the interview was to
close, punctiliousness should begin it.

"Be seated," said Mr. Hurd, briefly.

"I have come to see you, sir," his young relative began, feeling his
way cautiously, "with reference to a matter that I have never mentioned
to you, although I have been studying it for some time.  Perhaps you
may be of the opinion that if it were of paramount importance I could
have presented it to you without a long preliminary investigation.  But
each of us has to work in his own way, and this affair was of a sort in
which I had little or no previous experience.  The result was that it
has taken me a considerable time to formulate my idea, and I want you
to give it a fair opportunity to sink in, so to speak, before you reach
any decision."

With his curiosity somewhat stirred, his hearer grunted a qualified
assent.

"I have, of course, fortified myself by the possession of
facts,--actual facts, sir,--and without them I should not have
trespassed on your time, for I must tell you at once that my
proposition concerns itself with the fire insurance of the
Massachusetts Light, Heat, and Traction Company."

The knowledge that this was probably the most perilous point in his
passage would have caused Wilkinson to hurry past with all possible
speed, but his uncle interrupted him with a grim laugh.

"That need give you no concern, my young friend," he said curtly, "for
the company does not carry any insurance."

A trace of Mr. Wilkinson's normal impudence returned momentarily to his
tone when he replied:--

"My dear sir, didn't I say that I had made a long preliminary
investigation of this?  You can scarcely hold my intelligence at so low
a figure as to think that I didn't know _that_ fact.  That's why I'm
here--because I _do_ know it."

It may have been the effect of the return to the normal in his
step-nephew's tone, or it may have been merely Mr. Hurd's business
method, which expelled his next remark from sardonic lips.

"Then you need but one more fact to make your knowledge of the subject
complete, and that I will now give you.  Not only does my company carry
no insurance, but it never intends or expects to.  Is there anything
else this morning?"

Charlie smiled calmly, unmoved.

"Now we are ready to begin, sir.  You have disbelieved in insurance so
strongly and so long that such a remark was exactly what I expected you
to make.  In fact, I should have been not only surprised, but
positively embarrassed, had you not made it.  Now, I repeat, we are
ready to talk business.  And I have your promise to listen to my plan."

It did not occur to the magnate that he had made no such promise, until
Wilkinson was well launched; after that, he forgot about it.

"Did any one ever call to your attention, sir, the fact that the
statistics show that the fire losses on traction schedules in the
Eastern states exceed the insurance premiums on those schedules by
nearly thirty-five per cent?"

Mr. Hurd shook his head shortly.

"I did not know it."

Wilkinson did not know it either, but it could not be disproved, and
served excellently as a gambit.

"And I am not interested in other traction companies' fires," added his
uncle.

"No, of course not.  But the law of average works in the end.  Your
properties are subject to exactly the same conditions and hazards as
others, and in the end the Massachusetts Light, Heat, and Traction
Company will incur more in losses than it would ever have to pay in
premiums.  In the long run the average wins.  So far you have been
surprisingly fortunate, and that is another reason why you should begin
now to insure.  The law of average is perfectly inexorable, and every
year of low losses brings you nearer the big losses that are bound to
come.  You've been gambling, and now is the time to play safe."

"Perhaps, my boy," Mr. Hurd replied with amusement, "you believe these
things that you quote so glibly.  Perhaps not.  Let us assume that you
do.  Therefore let me ask you this: if the insurance companies pay more
losses than they get in premiums on traction schedules, why don't they
cut off this loss by ceasing to insure them?  Hey?"

"Oh, lots of them do," Wilkinson returned easily.  "A few of the others
may have had a streak of luck for a few years, just as you have had,
but the rest take it all in the day's work, think that the rates may go
up on account of the bad record of the class and then it would be an
advantage to have the business on their books, or else they try to make
it up on other better paying classes.  And besides, they have the use
of the money which is paid in premiums during good years when losses
are light."  Not for nothing had he listened to the painstaking
explanations of Cole, and whatever his eccentricities, Charlie had a
native shrewdness hardly second to that of old John M. himself.
Perhaps the older man was thinking of this when he next spoke.

"Then it has probably occurred to you that the Massachusetts Light,
Heat, and Traction Company can do the same thing--and does.  I use the
interest and profits of my insurance fund which I have accumulated by
not paying premiums, to pay losses.  How about that?"

"That would be all right if your properties were widely enough
distributed.  But they're not.  Some day you'll get a big loss, which
will wipe out your interest, profits, and fund all together for twenty
years.  Your fund's all right for cars that burn on the road or for
small fires; but what if something big went?  And the insurance money
would come in very nicely when you most needed it.  You'd have trouble
enough on your hands without having to go out and raise money, too, if
your new Pemberton Street barn should burn up with half a million
dollars' worth of cars in it--which it is quite possible it may do at
almost any time."

"What!  The new barn?" said the magnate, incredulously.  "Why, my boy,
that barn is the latest thing in fireproof construction!  There isn't a
stick of wood in that building from cellar to attic."

"And the cars, are they fireproof, too?"

John M. Hurd looked up sharply.

"No," he said slowly.  "No, I don't suppose they are. . . .  Still,
there's nothing to set the cars afire.  They're safe enough in that
building.  Nothing can happen to them there."

"The building itself is not located on a desert island in the middle of
the Atlantic Ocean," said his nephew, thoughtfully.  "It _might_ be
exposed to a serious fire in some of the neighboring buildings--that
big paper-box factory, for example, across the alley to the south.
There _might_, in fact,"--he paused--"there _might_ be a general fire
in that part of Boston."

"A conflagration, you mean?  Nonsense!  Boston is safe as a church."

"Probably safer than St. Stephen's, out in Cambridge, that burned to
the ground last week," returned his visitor, with a smile.

"To be sure," said Mr. Hurd, hastily.  "But there'll never be a big,
sweeping fire in Boston."

"Why not?  There was one once."

"Forty years ago.  That's no criterion.  Things are very different now.
This is a modern city we're talking about--half the buildings down town
are fireproof or nearly so.  Modern cities don't burn the way older
ones did."

"Baltimore did, as you may recall; also San Francisco.  And they were
modern--as modern as Boston.  There _are_ people--not Bostonians, of
course--who would consider them more so."

"Come now, do you mean to tell me any one honestly believes there is
any danger of another really big fire here?" rejoined Mr. Hurd, almost
contemptuously; but under the surface Charlie believed that his
attitude of contempt was more or less assumed.  He believed he had made
a distinct impression, and it was therefore almost with a gambler's
instinct that he brought forth his trump card.

"I tell you, sir," he said, with all the impressiveness he could
command, "that the best technical engineers--not alarmists, but men who
are careful students of such things--agree that the danger here is as
great as in any of the big cities of the United States.  The
conflagration hazard in the congested district of Boston is not a thing
one can exactly calculate, but it would be difficult to overestimate
its gravity."

Mr. Hurd regarded him with amazement.

"Would you mind repeating that?" he asked at length.

"Certainly not, since I know it to be true.  I say that the
conflagration hazard in the congested district of Boston is not a thing
one can exactly calculate, but it would be difficult to overestimate
its gravity."

The traction magnate walked slowly to the window, and looked out.  On
the sunny pavements below him people were going back and forth on their
various concerns.  Around the corner came the familiar delivery wagon
of a well-known dealer in wholesale groceries.  Somehow the sight of
these common things restored to Mr. Hurd his ordinary tranquillity of
mind, which he now saw had been disturbed by the astonishing utterances
of his plausible young relation.  He smiled rather grimly when he
thought of how near he had come to being impressed by what Charlie had
said.  Of course, there could be nothing in it; certainly not, from
such a source.  It was the old John M. Hurd who turned again to face
his visitor, who with but one card left to play awaited breathlessly
but with outward nonchalance the effect of his cherished speech.

"Well, I've enjoyed talking this over with you, Charlie," the older man
said with candor.  "There's something in what you say, too.  Perhaps
our insurance fund isn't as large as it ought to be.  But I couldn't
consider carrying insurance for the Massachusetts Light, Heat, and
Traction Company.  And why are you so interested in this, all of a
sudden, anyway?"

"Partly philanthropic and partly mercenary," said his nephew, easily.
"Philanthropic, because I would like to do something of real benefit to
the most distinguished member of my family--who least needs my
assistance; mercenary, because I need the money.  I rather expect you
to let me have charge of the placing of this insurance, sir."

"Well, Charlie, I don't mind saying that you've made a better
impression than any of these other insurance men that occasionally get
into my office, and if I were going to take out insurance on the
traction properties, I believe I'd let you make your commission on it.
But I'm not.  And now I must ask you to excuse me."

"Oh, I've not quite finished," returned Wilkinson.  As he was in for it
now, he would see it through.  "I think you're making a mistake, sir;
and there are still one or two aspects of the matter which you have not
considered."

"And what may they be?" inquired his uncle.  "Please remember I'm a
busy man."

His visitor reflected briefly.  He did not know whether to play his
last card slowly and carefully or to slam it face upward with enough
force to make the table rattle.  He decided on the latter method; after
all, to succeed with John M. Hurd one did well to make him blink.

"There _is_ such an institution as the Stock Exchange," he said blandly.

Mr. Hurd looked at him.

"Massachusetts Traction has been considered a very substantial
security," Wilkinson went on, "so safe that its market value fluctuates
very little, and so well regarded that the banks generally accept its
stock as collateral at very nearly its market value.  They accept it as
a matter of course because they know its dividends are fully earned and
paid regularly, and they have confidence in your management and don't
go into the details.  Your company has no bonded indebtedness; the
bonds were all converted into stock years ago; if it was bonded, the
bondholders would compel you to insure, whether you wished to or not.
Perhaps the banks have forgotten that you are not forced to carry
insurance, and are taking it for granted that you are exercising
ordinary prudence along this line and insuring just the same.
Suppose--only suppose--the intelligence should become diffused among
certain gentlemen of State Street that you are likely to lose three
quarters of a million dollars by fire if your new Pemberton Street car
barn should go and the power house adjoining it be seriously damaged,
and to meet such a loss you had an insurance fund of thirty thousand
dollars.  Do you suppose your stock would be quite so popular as
collateral as it is now?"

He paused for a reply, but none came.

"Of course none of the directors of the company ever borrow money on
that stock. . . .  Need I say more, sir?"

It was evident that there was no need.  If there were any of the
directors who did _not_ borrow money on the stock, Mr. Hurd could not
think of them offhand.  Once more he walked to the window, and this
time he looked long and thoughtfully out over the level roofs.

"Your point is not badly taken.  And in one thing you are probably
right--State Street, if left to itself, would never raise the
question," he said, half to himself.  But Wilkinson's reply was ready
and obvious.

"There are so many thoughtless people," he said softly.  "One never can
tell when such news might leak out."

His uncle surveyed him sternly.  But Charlie's cryptic gaze met his
uncle's, undisturbed.

"Some one _might_ tell," he gently observed, and said no more.

It was some time before Mr. Hurd raised a thoughtful yet somewhat
amused face to that of his caller.

"I'll consider the matter," he said tersely.

"I thank you, sir," replied Charles, with graceful humility, which he
dared assume since his case seemed won.  And a moment later South
Framingham's one time pride watched his exit through the grille gate
into the descending elevator.

As Wilkinson started blithely across the Common, he caught sight of a
familiar figure advancing along one of the diagonal paths.  He
quickened his already jocund step to meet Miss Maitland at the
intersection of their ways.

"Whither away so briskly this hungry noon?" he inquired with
enthusiasm.  "If it were not for the fact that I am in search of some
one to ask me to luncheon, I would ask you to come and lunch with me."

"Then if I were really quite hungry, which I am after an hour in this
autumn air, I should decline your gallant invitation with regret, and
say that I am on my way to lunch with Uncle Silas at the Club."

Charlie was on the point of telling her his news--but changed his
intent.  After all, his were incubator chickens at best, and perhaps it
would be wiser to postpone a public enumeration of them.  So he merely
replied, "I trust you will have a pleasant luncheon."

"The same to you, and many of them--consecutively," replied the girl,
with a laugh.

"Now, that's what I call a friendly speech," rejoined her escort, and
the two went their separate ways.

At the club whose billiard players have the almost unique privilege
between masse shots of regarding at close range the tombstones of an
aristocratic cemetery, Helen and her uncle were comfortably lingering
over their demi-tasses before Mr. Osgood's guest gave speech to the
thoughts within her.

"You are a dear to give me this luncheon," she began.

The old gentleman bowed a courtly head.

"I have been envied, I think, by all my more youthful fellow members
here," he said.  "And that is very pleasant, even when one might be
supposed to have passed the age of vanity."

"Thank you, Uncle Silas.  No one of your fellow members could have said
a nicer thing than that."  She fingered her coffee cup.  "But I had a
reason for inviting myself--practically--to lunch with you.  I want to
ask your advice."

"I'm afraid I should be inclined in advance to let you do exactly as
you liked, my child," said the other, with a smile.  "But what is it?
I hope it's not trouble of any sort."

"No--it's not trouble, exactly," his niece responded.  "It's more
like--well, like dissatisfaction.  I am awfully tired of being a
perfectly useless person, with no definite end and aim.  You don't
suppose it's because I see every day the girls coming down to work, on
the Massachusetts Avenue cars, do you?  I went a little while ago to my
doctor's because I thought perhaps there was something the matter with
me, and he suggested a change of air, but I think he mixed up the cause
with the effect.  Perhaps I do need a change, but it's a change of
interests and a change of what I see and hear and talk about."

"Commonly termed a vacation," said Mr. Osgood.

"Yes, a vacation--that's it.  Not a vacation from _doing_ anything,
because I've done nothing, but a vacation from the atmosphere I've been
living in."

"You mean the artistic atmosphere?" her uncle asked.  "You are a little
tired of--"

"I'm more than a little--I'm horribly tired of imitations and poses and
make-believes.  I want to see things and people who really live, who
don't exist by the light of crimson-shaded globes and spend their days
dreaming about impressions and arrangements and tones and shadows."

Helen wound up this diminutive tirade with quite a little flourish, and
Mr. Osgood looked thoughtfully across the table at her.

"Why don't you run down to New York?" he suggested.  "I'm sure your
Aunt Mary Wardrop would be delighted to have you come for a visit."

"Yes.  I thought of that.  I should like to go there, and I had almost
decided to.  But can't you suggest something for me to _do_?  Aunt
Mary's principal occupation is abusing the _nouveaux riches_, and one
merely has to agree with her, which is not at all difficult.  If I had
anything to _do_ here, I'd rather stay than go.  Of course New York is
quite a change from Boston--there can be no doubt about that.
But--don't you see what I mean, Uncle Silas?"

"I think I do--somewhat, my dear.  You are a little restless, and you
think that because the things you do are small they are less real.
That is not so--small things can be made very interesting if one does
them with enthusiasm.  Take my own business, for example.  It is
possibly just a 'business' to you, like any other, but that is because
you have not seen it from the inside.  To me it is absolutely vital.  I
don't know of another business so interesting."

"Really!" the girl answered.  "I thought it was just getting people to
buy insurance policies, very much as you would have gotten them to buy
sugar if you had been in the grocery business.  If it's so interesting,
why couldn't I come down to your office and learn about it?  I'm sure I
could be of some use--I'm quite quick at figures."

"I fear you'd be disappointed," said Mr. Osgood.  "I'm afraid I must
admit that adding up columns of figures is very much the same in one
business as in another.  And as I said, to find the real interest you
should see a business from the inside.  My office is not the
inside--it's only part way in.  The real inside, the center of the web,
is the home office of some big company.  I'm only a local agent, you
understand; you would only see one phase of the business in my office.
But if you went to New York, I could arrange that you might visit the
home office of one of the New York companies, if you would like."

"I think I would," said Miss Maitland.

"Then I will give you a letter to Mr. James Wintermuth, one of my
oldest and closest friends and the head of the Guardian Fire Insurance
Company of New York.  And some morning, if you find time hanging heavy
on your hands, you can go down to William Street.  And if you don't
arrive before ten o'clock, I think Mr. Wintermuth will be pleased to
show you something real--and something which has not a purple shadow in
its possession."

"Then you really think it would be a good thing for me to go to New
York?" his niece asked.

"Decidedly.  I'd write your aunt to-day, if I were you.  Now that she
has your portrait, she would probably like a chance to compare it with
the original."

"On the contrary, she may think, that having so recent a copy, the
original would be superfluous."

"I fancy I'd risk it," her uncle returned, with a smile, as they rose
from the table.

And so it was arranged.  Helen's mother entered her expected protest,
and was promptly overruled.  Trunks were packed and letters were
written; among them one by Silas Osgood to James Wintermuth.  And at
length, as September was drawing to a close, Miss Maitland boarded the
Knickerbocker Limited one day, and the town of her nativity was
speedily left behind her.

On the very afternoon of her departure the office of the Massachusetts
Light, Heat, and Traction Company was the scene of an unusual, and, to
most of the participants, a disquieting conference.  The shimmering
face of the big, dark, mahogany table reflected many a perplexed
expression, and its substantial supports found their impeccable varnish
menaced by a number of restless and uneasy boots.  The directors of the
company, assembled for their monthly meeting, found that, instead of
the customary conventionality of procedure, a thing strangely
impertinent and unexpected demanded their surprised attention.

Ordinarily these meetings were simple in the extreme, being merely
ratifications of what the President had done and approvals of what he
said he purposed to do.  To the somewhat bored group of representative
financial figureheads around the table Mr. Hurd would read a sheet of
figures telling how many million miles the company had carried one
passenger during the previous month--such reports are always reduced to
absurdities--and would inform them of such plans as he chose to intrust
to their confidence, and would then suggest the declaration of the
usual dividend.  To this the directors would unanimously assent.  Then
they punctiliously received each man his golden eagle, and a motion to
adjourn closed the ceremony.

To-day had come an astonishing innovation in procedure.  Instead of
suavely instructing them what they should vote to do, Mr. Hurd was
behaving in a most oddly uncharacteristic fashion.  He was asking their
advice.  This amounted to a _bouleversement suprême_ of the usual order
of things, and it was no wonder that there was disquietude among his
hearers.

"It has been represented to me," he had tersely said, "that if a large
fire should involve our Pemberton Street barn and power house,
notwithstanding the presumably fireproof construction of those
buildings, we should quite likely incur a much larger loss than we
would find it convenient to pay at a time when additional financing
might be somewhat embarrassing.  I am therefore laying before you
gentlemen the question of doing what we have never previously done, and
carrying fire insurance on our properties.  I prefer not to advise you,
and suggest an open discussion of the matter."

Mr. Hurd sat down; his directors surveyed one another and the situation
with concern.  Could the old man be losing his grip, or was this merely
a transient eccentricity?  In the debate which followed the President
took no part; only once, in answer to a question by Mr. Jonas Green,
much the most penurious man at the table, as to what had brought the
question up at the present time, Mr. Green being an enthusiastic
exponent of the doctrine of _laissez faire_ when any additional
expenditure was proposed, Mr. Hurd made reply:--

"It is represented to me that if it became public knowledge that we
carry no insurance, banking and financial institutions generally may
come to feel that our conservatism is open to criticism and that they
are rating our stock somewhat too highly as collateral.  It is
intimated that some of us might conceivably be annoyed by requests to
substitute in part other collateral or somewhat reduce loans secured by
Massachusetts Traction stock."

"But so far as the banks are concerned, we're in exactly the same
position we've always been.  How is the fact we don't insure going to
become public knowledge now any more than in the past?" persisted Mr.
Green.

"It is suggested that news spreads--if not of its own volatility, at
least with only the most trifling assistance.  And that, I take it,"
concluded Mr. Hurd, "will be supplied."

Mr. Green's face grew almost purple.

"Why!" he exclaimed, "that's--that's pretty close to blackmail!"

The President's lips half concealed the merest trace of a smile.

"Possibly," he assented.  "But I am inclined to think it is business."

The controversy continued.  And Mr. Hurd, listening, found himself more
and more moved to austere amusement by the effect of Charlie's suave
proposal.  When he had placed the matter before the directorate, it was
because he himself had not made up his mind on the question of its
desirability.  He had slowly come to feel that his personal prejudice
against carrying insurance should not be made forcibly to apply to the
policy of a corporation, in which many others were interested, and he
felt that he would prefer to shift the responsibility on this point to
the gentlemen who presumably were paid for deciding just such things.
And as he listened, he found growing upon him the hope that Charlie's
plan would be adopted.  This hope, unexpressed, was so utterly out of
keeping with what he had supposed to be his convictions that he
strangled it without a qualm.  It was, he supposed, dead, when he sat
up at the further request of Mr. Jonas Green to answer a few additional
queries.

"Tell me," said Mr. Green, "do you honestly believe there's a particle
of danger of a big fire in this city?  Pooh!"  He dismissed the subject
almost contemptuously.

Some odd chord of recollection stirred in Mr. Hurd.  Almost
unconsciously he responded:--

"The best technical engineers--not alarmists, but men who are careful
students of such things--agree that the conflagration hazard in the
congested district of Boston is not a thing one can exactly calculate,
but it would be difficult to overestimate its gravity."

The sounding syllables passed from his lips with a faint, far echo
which he found vaguely but unidentifiably familiar.  But into the group
around the long table the utterance fell with cryptic, crucial
solemnity.  Only Mr. Green, stubbornly contentious to the last, and
thinking anxiously of both horns of the dilemma at once, found voice or
will to reply.

"You don't say so!" he said feebly.

"I do," Mr. Hurd coolly rejoined.  "And now, gentlemen, the motion is
in order: Shall the Massachusetts Light, Heat, and Traction Company
insure its properties against loss by fire?"

And when the motion was put, there was no dissenting voice.

Of this somewhat unprecedented meeting the close at least was normal.
But Mr. Jonas Green grasped his ten dollar gold piece more firmly than
ever as he passed through the doorway.



CHAPTER VIII

One of the most inexplicable things in human nature is, commonly, the
stuff out of which other people carve their fetiches.  A philosopher is a
man who can understand the incomprehensible selections by other men of
the objects of their adoration.  But philosophers are uncommon.

To Helen Maitland, leaving Fifth Avenue at Fifty-ninth Street and
straying northwestward into the early autumn splendor of the Park, it
seemed as though for the first time she could understand the viewpoint of
those unidentified myriads to whom New York is a fetich; and as she
walked on beneath the trees soon to lay aside their valedictory robes,
she appreciated most fully those to whom Central Park is a fetich within
a fetich, a guarded flame within the inmost chamber of the shrine.

Partly the spell was that of Autumn, that grave, melodious season; and as
Helen went forward, her mind lingered on the "tragic splendor" at whose
"mute signal, leaf by golden leaf, crumbles the gorgeous year."

In the past she had never been inordinately fond of New York.  In common
with most of her fellow Bostonians, she had found it too big, too noisy,
too garish, and too unfriendly.  To her it was iron and stone and dust
and the tumult of a harsh and heartless unceasing struggle.  But now,
under the alchemic hand of Autumn, she found herself thrilling to the
town as never before had she thought possible.  Only two days had elapsed
since her departure from Boston, but it seemed to her now that she was a
participant in some slow-moving pageant, not a hostile critic in the
audience, but a minor actor in an unfamiliar yet strangely familiar play.
Even the hurrying throng of people who confronted her, when at length she
sought again the street on her way homeward, seemed less hostile and
alien, less inimical to her and her mood than ever before.  As she went
southward on the street car--for her careful New Englandism forbade her
taking a taxicab in sunny weather--she found herself reflecting with a
smile that Boston in her recollection was an astonishing distance away.
She also detected with surprise a very slight irritation at the intense
preoccupation of the thronging thousands in their own concerns and their
utter carelessness of her and hers.

As a matter of fact she had no concerns of her own, or at least none
whose vitality would gain attention.  And suddenly her friendly sense of
being a part of this flowing life dissolved sourly into mockery.  She was
in it and not of it--again the hostile critic.  And then it occurred to
her that perhaps momentarily she was a little lonely.  And her utter
impotence in this huge careless city heightened this feeling.  She could
make no headway against the current of this life.  The remarkable
persistent vitality of the thing around her made her feel totally
unimportant and quite helpless.  The feeling was far from pleasant, but
it was salutary, and stimulus for the first remedy at hand, and the
natural depression of impotence did not overcome the exhilaration of
curiosity.

When she reached Washington Square again, she said something of this to
Miss Wardrop, who nodded comprehendingly.

"Every one feels that way for a time," she said; "it's like sitting out a
cotillion by one's self.  What you need is something or somebody to pull
you into the whirl."

"I suppose that is so," agreed the girl,--"but where am I to find it--or
him?  I don't know anybody who is in.  Of course I have Uncle Silas's
letter to Mr. Wintermuth, but I didn't really know whether I'd have the
courage to use it or not."

"Who may Mr. Wintermuth be?" demanded her aunt.

"A friend of Uncle Silas, and the President of the Guardian Fire
Insurance Company."

"Fire Insurance?  A fire insurance company?  Wait one moment.
Jenks. . . .  Jenks!  Bring me that envelope from the mantelpiece. . . .
No," she added, "my policy is not in the Guardian.  I thought perhaps it
might be."

"What is the matter?" inquired her niece.  "Have you had a fire?"

"Yes, I have," returned her aunt, "or rather Jenks has.  He burned off
the lamp shade from my reading lamp.  And Jane Vanderdecken says because
he did it out of sheer clumsiness I cannot ask the company to pay for it."

Helen remembered the shade in question, which had been in the eyes of all
save its owner a horror upon horrors, a mausoleum preserving, apparently
for all time, the ghastly glories of a dead era of alleged ornamentation.
So it was with dubious sympathy that she said:--

"I don't know whether Jane Vanderdecken is right or not."

"You can go and find out.  Mr. What's-his-name can tell you, even if it
isn't his company that will have to pay."

And in this way it came about that Helen found herself, not many days
later, descending from the Elevated Station at Cortlandt Street, and
turning her steps eastward toward William Street.  It was half-past ten
when she found herself before a portal on which were the words: The
Guardian Fire Insurance Company of the City of New York.

Intrusting herself to the deliberate conveyance of the elevator, she
arrived eventually at the top floor, and to a clerk near the door she
expressed her desire to see Mr. James Wintermuth.  One of the principal
assets of this employee was his readiness to assume an expression, when
any one inquired for the President, suggestive that in his opinion such a
desire could scarcely be expected by the visitor to be gratified, and he
was also supposed to decide by inquiry or intuition whether he should so
far intrude on Mr. Wintermuth's privacy as to present the stranger's
name.  He had come to be uncommonly adept at this, but the spectacle of
this dark-eyed young woman was quite beyond the gamut of his routine
experience.  In a sort of charmed coma he surveyed the visitor, and found
himself starting to inform the President of her arrival without a
preliminary inquisition even to the extent of inquiring the nature of her
business with that gentleman.  Accordingly, after the briefest of
intervals she found herself ushered into the office of an elderly
gentleman who rose courteously to welcome her.

"Miss Maitland, I think.  You are the niece of Silas Osgood of Boston?"
he inquired.  "Mr. Osgood wrote that I might expect to see you here."

The girl handed him the letter.

"Here are my credentials," she said, with a smile.  "I am also an envoy
extraordinary from my aunt, Miss Wardrop, on a diplomatic mission
connected with the burning of a long-cherished but doubtfully valuable
lamp shade!"

"Won't you sit down, please?  You will pardon me if I read your uncle's
letter?" Mr. Wintermuth responded.

Helen assented, and the other leisurely read the few lines the letter
contained.  In the interim the visitor glanced about the room to
apprehend the setting of the scene into which she was now come.
Presently her host spoke.

"I gather from what your uncle says that you have come not to call on an
old friend of his, but to look at maps and daily reports and surveys, and
find out what a fire insurance company is really like.  And although I am
quite old enough to be your father, I would really much rather you had
come to see me," he remarked pleasantly.

"If I had known you before, I undoubtedly would have done so," the girl
smilingly returned.

"Times have changed since I was a youngster," Mr. Wintermuth went on.  "I
presume all elderly people say so, and I am afraid we are apt to make it
at once a refrain and a lament, but nevertheless it is true.  Forty years
ago young ladies did not feel any interest in business such as fire
insurance, or if they did they kept it to themselves.  But," he added, "I
am the gainer in this work of time, to-day at least, for it brings me the
pleasure of a call from you."

"I'm afraid my interest is rather sudden and hasn't any very deep
foundation," his visitor admitted.  "I haven't felt it very long.  Uncle
Silas has been a fire insurance man ever since I can remember, but I
never knew what he was actually doing, and I never tried to learn.  But
now I really would like to find out, and that is what brings me to you.
I have lived in a kind of unreal atmosphere, and I'm trying now to learn
about something absolutely practical.  I hope it won't bore you too
awfully to have things shown to some one who will undoubtedly have to ask
the meaning of everything she sees."

"Not in the least," the old gentleman assured her.  "I shall give you an
instructor who likes to explain things."  He pressed a button under his
desk.  "Ask Mr. Smith to come here," he said to the boy who responded.

"Yes, sir.  Excuse me, sir, but Mr. O'Connor is going to Baltimore and he
says he'd like to see you a minute before he goes."

"Ask him to come in.  Miss Maitland, let me present Mr. O'Connor, our
Vice-President.  Miss Maitland is the niece of Mr. Silas Osgood, and she
has come to look over our offices."

"Very pleased to meet you," said O'Connor.  "Sorry I haven't time to help
show you around, myself.  I see now that I was wrong when I decided to go
to Baltimore to-day.  I felt a little doubtful right along, and now I'm
sure I should have stayed here."

Helen thought that he spoke a trifle too glibly, but she made a civil
reply, and turned to the window while O'Connor received some final advice
from his chief.  When the door closed behind him she turned once more,
and as she did so she became aware of a young man who stood in the
doorway looking expectantly at Mr. Wintermuth.

"Ah, you are here, Richard," said the President.  "Miss Maitland, this is
Mr. Smith.  Miss Maitland is Mr. Silas Osgood's niece, and she wants to
know how the Guardian runs its business.  Do you think you can show her?"

"I think I can," replied the younger man, pleasantly.  Then, turning to
the girl, he said, "I shall at least be very glad indeed to try."

Mr. Wintermuth then went on to tell what Smith should show the visitor,
and while he was doing this the two younger people looked at one another,
Helen swiftly and Smith with a steadier glance.  To him she seemed a girl
of unusual charm, but whether this could have been guessed from his
manner was problematic.

Helen, with discreet but none the less comprehensive scrutiny, saw before
her a man of thirty-three or four years, erect of figure, with a
clean-shaven face and gray eyes.  One thing she noticed about him was a
certain odd immobility of carriage, which was not in any way to be
mistaken for lassitude or lethargy; on the contrary, it reminded her of a
coiled spring.  He was somewhat above the middle height, and he had
rather lean hands, and he wore no jewelry except an unobtrusive scarf
pin--thus far had Helen's assessment proceeded when a question from Mr.
Wintermuth recalled her.

"Would you like to start now to look us over?"

"If it is quite convenient to you," replied the girl, a shade stiffly.
This impassive young man, who seemed quite different from any one she had
met in her Boston set, was a little out of her calculations.  She knew it
was unreasonable to expect Mr. Wintermuth himself to act as cicerone, but
just the same she was not entirely certain that she did not resent being
so definitely turned over to this youthfully unexpected substitute.
Probably Mr. Otto Bartels would have been initially more acceptable to
her.

"Show Miss Maitland everything--begin at the beginning, and don't leave
anything out," said the President, and dismissed them both with a
fatherly wave of the hand as he pressed the button that summoned his
stenographer.

Smith looked keenly at the girl as they walked slowly out into the
office; he was wondering what her object might be in this pilgrimage.
His mind flitted briefly over the ideas of muck-raking reporters and
inquisitive lady novelists; yet surely this self-possessed but quiet
young lady suggested nothing of either class, and besides, a niece of
Silas Osgood's could scarcely deserve suspicion.  At the same time,
detecting in her manner what impressed him as a slightly Bostonian
attitude of mental hauteur, Smith remained wary.

"This is the Eastern Department," he said, stopping before the first long
map desk that stretched along the whole side of the room.  Helen assented
politely to this information, and the young man led the way through the
other departments.  Through the lower floors they went, Smith sketching
briefly the function of each department as they passed it.

"Here is the City Department," he said, as they reached the ground floor;
and for a little while they stood and watched Cuyler in his traffic with
the brokers.  He was engaged in a spirited argument with a very small and
somewhat soiled person who insistently thrust upon Mr. Cuyler what that
gentleman had obviously no intention of accepting.  Risk after risk was
declined, and the turns and _ripostes_ were fast and furious.

Finally the soiled placer presented a binder which called for five
thousand dollars to cover Jacob Warbalowsky on his stock of artificial
flowers and feathers while contained on the fourth loft of a six-story
factory building which Mr. Cuyler knew to be of cheap and light
construction, dirty and hazardous throughout, and each floor but one of
which was tenanted by a concern whose name indicated that its
pyromorality, so to speak, was to say the least questionable.  Mr. Cuyler
quite distinctly recalled, scanning the names of the tenants in the card
cabinet which gave the occupation and tariff rate of each, that a few
years before, the concern on the third floor, having manufactured a stock
of raincoats which it found impossible to sell, had been strongly
suspected of disposing of its goods to the fire insurance companies
instead of to the retail trade by the simple expedient of the double gas
jet.  This popular device was as follows.  The proprietor, who was
detained at his office after his employees had gone home, would, when he
himself departed, leave two gas jets turned on, one at each end of the
factory, one burning (as usual) and the other unlit.  Long enough
afterward so as to establish an alibi and remove all suspicion from
himself, the escaping gas would meet the flame, and there would be an
explosion and a fire which usually resulted in the desired destruction of
the useless but fully insured merchandise.  The cause of the fire could
almost always be traced to a leaky gas jet, for which, of course, the
assured was not responsible.

Mr. Cuyler, regarding the names of the tenants, noticed that the top
floor was occupied by a maker of automobile accessories, named Pendleton.
He turned cheerfully back to the placer.

"Phil, I'd like to help you out," he said, "but I can't write anything in
that building.  I know it's hard to get.  Why, my brother-in-law's
factory is on the top floor, and only last Sunday, when I saw him up at
the house, he asked me if I wasn't going to loosen up and put the
Guardian on for a small line.  His broker can't get anywhere near enough
to cover him.  And I had to tell him nay, nay.  You couldn't really
expect me to do something for you, Phil, that I couldn't do for one of my
own family."

The soiled placer removed a cigarette butt from his mouth, and threw it
on the floor with a gesture of extreme impatience.

"Your brother-in-law like hell!" he remarked, quite disregarding the
presence of Miss Maitland in the background.  "What kind of a fairy story
are you trying to put across on me?  I suppose you're claiming that
Pendleton, the automobile man, is your brother-in-law.  Well, he moved
out about a month ago.  The card hasn't been changed yet, but the firm in
there now is a bunch of Kikes that make boys' pants--Lipper, Loeb, and
Kahn.  I saw their sign when I went up to get this order from
Warbalowsky.  Which of them did your sister marry?"

Mr. Cuyler was momentarily discomfited, but his presence of mind almost
immediately returned.

"All three," he said calmly to his excited adversary.  "All three.  You
just saw the sign, you say.  You didn't meet any of them personally, did
you?  Well, you couldn't have."

"Why, what do you mean?" asked the astonished placer, pausing in the act
of lighting a fresh cigarette.

"Why, Phil," said Mr. Cuyler, kindly, "my sister married a man named
Reginald Whitney.  His name isn't his fault.  And he is a manufacturer of
boys' pants.  Now, Phil, you understand local conditions as well as
nearly any one I know, and I ask you: What chance of success would a
boys' pants manufacturer named Reginald Whitney have?  Absolutely none.
He therefore operates under the name of Lipper, Loeb, and Kahn, and I
don't mind saying he is doing very well, but I hope he won't stay long in
that building, for some of that bunch of crooks under him--I don't mean
Warbalowsky, you understand--will probably touch off the place some night
and leave him with a total loss and only forty per cent insurance to
value."

While this controversy was going on, Smith, watching his companion
shrewdly, saw the light of real interest for the first time dawn in her
eye.  And when Cuyler finished, she laughed outright, and the two
returned to the elevator the better for one shared amusement.

"I suppose Mr. Cuyler was--embroidering the truth a little?" queried
Helen, comprehendingly.

"He never had a sister in his life!" nodded her escort, cheerfully.

"I'm afraid, Mr. Smith," Helen said as they regained the top floor, "that
I don't really understand the first principles of fire insurance well
enough to appreciate what you have shown me.  It's a humiliating
admission, but I must make it.  I don't believe you began near enough the
bottom--with the elementary, one-syllable things."

The underwriter surveyed her thoughtfully but with covert approval.  Wary
though he was, like all idealists, regarding the things near to his soul,
it now for the first time struck him that he wished very much that Miss
Maitland should understand what meant so much to him.  And he felt that
he could make her understand; hitherto it had not seemed so.

"I wonder if I could really show you," he answered, half to himself, and
there was something in his tone that made the girl reply, "I wish you
would try."

"Let's start all over, then," said Smith, buoyantly.  "We'll begin right
here.  Now, this is a map desk in which the maps are kept and on top of
which they are laid out when in use.  The map desk is really the home of
underwriting, just as the stage is of the drama.  And just as there are
stage conventions, certain things which are taken for granted, such as
the idea that a character on the stage cannot escape over the footlights
into the audience--that there is an imaginary blank wall between the
audience and the players--so we have our conventions and symbols in the
maps."  He called for Boston One, which the map clerk laid instantly open
at his elbow.  It was a large volume bound in gray canvas, perhaps two by
three feet in dimensions, and weighing several pounds.  Smith turned to a
page which showed some of the blocks surrounding the Common, and Miss
Maitland bent close to look.  "All these little colored objects represent
buildings, red for brick and yellow for frame; and they are drawn on a
scale of fifty feet to the inch.  We get so accustomed to them that
automatically we grow to visualize the buildings themselves from these
diagrams.  See, there is the State House on top of the hill; there's
Beacon Street; there's--"

"Beacon Street!  Where is number forty-five?  I want to see what that
looks like."

"What number did you say?" inquired Smith.

"Forty-five."

"There it is."

"Why, so it is!  What is that queer little wiggle sticking out of the
front?"

"It looks like a bay window in the front room of the second floor.  Is
there one in that house?"

"Yes. . . .  Have you got Deerfield Street in this map?"

Smith found the place.

"Number?" he asked again.

"Here it is," the girl said amusedly.  "That is where I live.  Now let me
see how much visualizing you can do on that.  Let me see how nearly right
you can get it.  And why is it brown instead of red?"

"With pleasure," said the underwriter, with a smile.  "In the first
place, it is brown because it is of steel and concrete fireproof
construction.  It is an eight-story and basement apartment building with
a tile roof and a short mansard of tile in front only.  There are two
sections, cut off from one another except for a metal-clad door in the
basement.  The elevator is at the right as you enter; the stairway runs
around it.  There are two light courts, one front and one rear, both with
stairway fire escapes.  Which is your apartment?"

"West front, on the fourth floor."

"You have probably seven rooms, with four windows along the street side
and four on the court.  Well," he finished, laughing, "is that
sufficiently visualized?"

"You have told me nearly everything except where we have our piano,"
Helen returned.  "I don't suppose your diagram would show that?"

"Well, no.  That wouldn't interest us as a rule, and besides, people move
pianos so often.  We don't try to keep them all located."

Smiling together, and better friends than they had yet been, the two
turned from the map of Boston.

"Here," said Smith, "are the other maps of the Eastern Department, from
Maine to Maryland, Rhode Island to Ohio.  Also Canada--Halifax, Quebec,
Montreal.  Over at the other end of the room are the Southern cities,
Atlanta, New Orleans, St. Augustine--with some of the old Spanish houses
still standing.  Do you know it strikes me there is something Homeric,
something epic, about a map desk.  You can turn to any building in any
city on the continent, at a moment's notice.  I can show you the Old
South Church, or Fraunce's Tavern in New York where Washington bade his
generals good-by, or Montcalm's headquarters at Quebec before Wolfe
scaled the heights.  Or you can see the Peace Conference Hotel outside
Portsmouth, or the Congressional Library in Washington, or the new
Chinatown in San Francisco, or the great shops of the Pennsylvania
Railroad at Altoona, or even the site of the arena at Reno, Nevada, where
Mr. Johnson separated Mr. Jeffries from the heavy-weight title of the
world."

So engrossed was Smith that he did not notice the almost imperceptible
withdrawal of his auditor.  Among her Boston friends there was no one who
spoke of prize fights; even Charles Wilkinson, whose conversational
reservations were certainly few, ignored the prize ring.  Smith went
unconsciously on, but for his hearer, for the time at least, the spell
was snapped.  Still, she listened.  He told her more of what the maps
showed--how they indicated the location and size of the water mains in
the streets, of the hydrants, the fire department houses, even the fire
alarm boxes--everything, in short, which the fire underwriter desired to
contemplate when passing on a risk submitted for the company's approval.
By this time they had reached the other end of the big room and were
close to O'Connor's office.

"I really must have taken you on a walk of several miles," said Smith,
contritely; "and if you are going to let me continue this monologue, I
may at least let you sit down.  Suppose we go in here; Mr. O'Connor has
just left town, and we may as well use his office."

Again Miss Maitland hesitated, although not sufficiently to attract her
companion's notice.  She was not accustomed to interviews in private
offices with strange young men.  But she entered, and Smith behind her,
and the glass door closed on them both, shutting out the sound of the
clicking typewriters.  Helen seated herself with her back to the window.

"Go on," she said.  "I want to hear everything."

Smith went on.

Briefly but clearly he sketched the foundations of insurance.  How, in
more primitive times, when a man's house burned, his neighbors used to
provide him with materials and come to help him rebuild; but this proved
onerous, and instead a communal fund for the purpose of assisting fire
sufferers was established.  The modern insurance company had gradually
come to assume the management of this fund and eventually to undertake
the function of insuring against fire.  But the people were still the
arbiters of the fire cost, and the companies merely barometrically
reflected the condition of the community as to fires.  When fires are
numerous and costly, the price of insurance must advance.  Insurance is a
tax which the companies collect in premiums from the many and pay out in
losses to the few.  But the idea remains the same.

"That is interesting," said the girl.  "Now will you think me very stupid
if I ask you to explain what all the terms mean as you go along?  You
spoke a moment ago of underwriting: I don't know what underwriting is.  I
thought big loans and stock issues and things of that sort were
underwritten.  Is this the same?"

"So they are, but this is another matter.  Fire underwriting is a thing
all to itself--_sui generis_.  Similarly, a fire underwriter is a person
like no other--at all events he likes to persuade himself that he is.
And frequently he succeeds."

Smith smiled at his own reflection.

"A fire underwriter, to be a real one," he went on, "should be a chemist,
financier, mechanic, lawyer, engineer, and diplomat, and a dash of a
clairvoyant, too.  He should know everybody's business, including his
own.  Consider what he is expected to know: there is no class of industry
which can dispense with insurance."

"Except the Massachusetts Light, Heat, and Traction Company," interposed
Helen, quickly.

"That is true up to the present time," Smith assented; "but their wisdom
in having done so is not sufficiently proved, and Mr. Charles Wilkinson,
whom I met in your uncle's office, is in hopes of being able to change
their ideas on that subject.  But I have my doubts if he will succeed,
from what is said of Mr. Hurd."

"I think Mr. Wilkinson spoke of having met you," the girl said
carelessly; which was positive disingenuousness, for she remembered very
well indeed.  And here she sat, talking to the man whose suggestion, as
Charles quoted it, had roused her interest in the business.  Helen was
not sufficiently Oriental to find anything predestined in this meeting,
but it nevertheless seemed a little odd.  Abruptly she spoke, to rid her
of her own thoughts.

"Mr. Hurd believes in carrying his own risk--isn't that the expression?"

"Absolutely.  No life-long fire insurance man could have phrased it more
correctly."

"I'm afraid it was mere plagiarism.  I think Mr. Wilkinson used it."

"Credit withdrawn," said Smith.  "What were we talking about?  Oh,
yes--about underwriters.  Now, the fire underwriter has to pass upon the
danger of every risk whose insurance is offered to his company.  The
company, of course, makes its underwriting or trade profit--or hopes to
do so--by receiving more money in payment of premiums than it has to
disburse, after deducting expenses, in losses.  It must therefore accept
its business as scientifically as possible.  It must know how much money
to risk--that is, how large a policy to write--on every class of risk in
the world.  When a line on a foundry and machine shop comes in, let us
say, from Silas Osgood and Company, the underwriter is supposed to know
how much premium, or rate, the risk should pay, and how many dollars the
company can safely hold."

"But I thought you said Uncle Silas sent you the risk.  Doesn't he also
determine the amount the company takes?"

"The amount for which the policy is issued; but he is merely the agent.
He exercises his best judgment, but the home office underwriter is the
court of last resort.  Generally speaking, the agent secures the business
and offers it to the company for its acceptance.  If, when it comes, the
underwriter feels that the rate of premium is not commensurate with the
hazard, he writes the agent, 'Rate too low: please cancel.'  And there is
where his diplomacy comes in.  The agent, who must now get back the
policy from the assured, must not be offended, or his more desirable
business will be placed in some rival and more liberal company.  If, on
the other hand, the rate of premium seems adequate, but the amount at
risk is too great, the underwriter reinsures or cedes a part of his line
to another company, paying it a proportionate part of the premium, and
holds only what he thinks safe.  And here is where his judgment is
needed.  The company has what it calls its idea of line--which means that
it doesn't want to lose more than a certain amount, say five thousand
dollars, in any ordinary fire. . . .  I'm not boring you?"

"Oh, no," said Helen.  "I'm following it all."

"Well, then, what the underwriter is supposed to do is to decide, from
the kind of risk he is asked to insure, how much the Company can write,
and still not be liable for a greater loss than five thousand dollars in
any ordinary fire."

"How can he do it?"

"By knowing his business.  When he passes on a foundry, for example, he
ought to know, first, the fire record of foundries in general; second,
what rate of premium they ought in general to pay; and third, what the
dangers, or, as we call them, hazards, are.  By looking at the map he
must be able to tell where the fire is most likely to start--where, in
other words, fires usually do start in foundries.  Probably it will be
the cupola charging platform or the core ovens.  Then he can closely tell
from the construction of that particular foundry, considering also the
protection, extinguishing appliances, public water pressure, nearness of
the fire department, and fifty other considerations, how much of the
whole plant would burn--probably.  If only half, then he feels safe in
writing ten thousand dollars on the risk, since only half of it is likely
to be destroyed by one fire."

"I don't see how you can tell."

"Well, most companies have quite elaborate line sheets to assist their
underwriters in determining how much to hold on various classes of risks,
but between you and me, you _can't_ tell surely.  But you do the best you
can, and the ablest underwriter is the man who tells the closest.  A
really good underwriter should know the hazards of all the ordinary risks
in the world, and be able to tell you offhand what is the danger point in
a brewery, a playing-card factory, a paper mill, a public school, a
shovel works, a Catholic church, a chemical laboratory--every sort and
kind of risk.  Of course he has surveys, made by inspectors, to help him,
showing details the map fails to show, such as the location of your
piano, and where the hazards lie and how they are cared for.  But
inspectors are fallible, and he must _know_--everything."

"You make my head whirl," Helen said.  "To know everything!  It sounds
colossal.  Do you know everything?"

Smith laughed.

"No," he replied.  "Decidedly not.  I'm afraid I know only a very small
proportion of what I ought.  But the big men of the business do.  There
is one man who I verily believe is perfectly familiar with every kind of
risk in the United States.  If there is a chemical process he doesn't
know or can't find out about, I'll eat the thing myself.  He knows every
explosive mixture, every fulminate, every sort or manner of dust, paste,
or grease which burns or explodes of itself."

"But that one man must be a genius!  What does the average man do?
Doesn't he need some one to help him in all this?  It sounds like such a
terrific undertaking to keep track of so many things.  Doesn't it make
your own head swim at times?"

"Well," said Smith, "of course there are a thousand and one things in the
nature of aids to the underwriter--things whose proper action he doesn't
directly control, although he has to keep a father's eye on them to see
that they don't run amuck."

"Such as what?" asked the girl.

"The inspectors I spoke of, for one thing; the map makers who make the
pretty brown buildings in Deerfield Street; the rate makers who go around
applying schedules to buildings, and from the various hazards of
construction, occupancy, and exposure fixing the rate which the schedule
brings out; the stamping bureaus that check the rates as the agents send
through the business.  And then there are the field men, called special
agents, who travel from agency to agency, appointing and discontinuing
agents, straightening out difficulties, adjusting losses, and making
themselves generally useful.  All these the underwriter has to help him,
as well as information such as building inspections by cities, police
regulations, fire alarm systems, municipal rules and vagaries of all
sorts--oh, a category of things as long as one's arm, which of course an
underwriter doesn't actually himself supervise, but whose accuracy he
must be able to estimate--and often repair if they get out of order and
cease to run smoothly."

"But--" said the girl, slowly.

"But what?" Smith asked.

"But isn't it awfully technical, this business?  I had an idea that fire
insurance was done principally by clerks writing endlessly in large
books.  That's what they always seem to be doing in Mr. Osgood's office.
And now you tell me it's like this.  This is absolutely different from
what I thought it was, and it seems incredibly difficult, but--"

"Well, but what?" demanded her companion.

"Well, then--it seems to me a little dry.  Or perhaps not exactly that,
but a little too scientific, too technical.  Not so vivid, so vital--"

She stopped short at the expression of Smith's face.



CHAPTER IX

"Not vital!" he exclaimed, getting out of his chair and facing her.
"Not vital!  Really, Miss Maitland, what can you call vital?  Fire
insurance is as vital as anything in the world of business to-day--or
in any world that I know anything about."  He paused, and some of the
indignation went out of his eyes.  "I beg your pardon," he said more
gently.  "I had thought I was making you understand."

"You were--you were," Helen hastened to assure him; but he shook his
head.

"Not if you think, after all, that fire insurance isn't vital."

"I'm afraid I chose my word badly.  What I meant, perhaps, was that it
wasn't picturesque.  It isn't that, is it--as the word is generally
understood?"

"You mean it isn't building bridges over boiling chasms three thousand
feet below in the Andes river bottoms; it isn't leading ragged armies
of half-baked South American natives against a mud stockade; it isn't
shooting African animals and dining on quinine and hippopotamus liver.
No, there's none of the soldier of fortune business about it.  But
vital!  My heavens! what do you call vital?"

"I don't know," said the girl, humbly.  She was somewhat abashed before
this flare her words had so suddenly lighted.  And she felt honestly
contrite, for she saw she had hurt an ideal that was very close and
real to the man before her.

At the sound of her reply Smith came to himself.

"I really beg your pardon--again," he said, with a little tremor in his
voice.  "I didn't appreciate what I was doing, or I wouldn't have blown
up with a report like a nitroglycerine storehouse.  Will you excuse me?"

Helen looked squarely at him.

"Yes--I will," she said, "on one condition."

"And what is that?"

"That you blow up again.  I would really like to see it just as you do,
and that is much the best way--carry me along with you."

The underwriter looked momentarily away; then his eyes rested on her
thoughtfully.

"All right.  I'll do it," he said.  "I'll make it so plain to you that
you can't escape it.  I'll hold you with my glittering eye till you
cannot choose but hear," he quoted, with a smile.

"I do not choose but hear," Miss Maitland said.

Smith was silent for a long minute.

"The picturesque things are all very well in their way," he said.
"Revolutions and railway building and all that.  Let us take railway
building for example--I was once in the construction department of a
big railroad, myself.  But every one can't get into that department,
and even there, there is a good deal of routine and very little thrill.
It's only once in a lifetime, practically, that a man gets his chance
to build the suspension bridge that swings a mile above the chasm.
With most railroad builders one day's work is pretty much like
another's.  Not much excitement, except at long intervals.  To plan
what you must do is interesting, of course, but the execution is
generally a long grind."

"Yes," Helen assented; "I fancy that would be so."

"It is so.  But even if it were not, the kind of obstacles that must be
surmounted are very much the same, year in and year out.  You ford
quicksands; you evade granite hillsides; you fight walking delegates.
What I mean is that the set of obstacles doesn't change much, and the
environment of the railway constructor is always about the same.  But
that is not so with the underwriter.  One moment he is in the
construction camp of the road builder, and the next in the palace of
the city banker; one moment he is in an Idaho sawmill, and the next in
a New England college chapel; one moment he is in a Florida orange
grove, and the next in a salmon cannery on the Oregon coast.  Ten
thousand businesses pass before his eyes, and he must be alert to the
local conditions affecting every one.  There is no fixed environment
for the underwriter."

The girl interrupted him.

"That may be true.  But there is no work of original construction about
it, is there?  Can you compare the vitality of your business with that
of the men who create their own ideas?  There is no routine about that.
And after all, isn't that more vital than anything else can be?"

"Yes," said Smith, "I presume it is.  Certainly it is for the genius;
probably even for any man of high and true talent, a man able to lose
himself in his own creation.  Undoubtedly that is the only real elixir
of life, the only ineffable exaltation.  But isn't that carrying your
argument out too far?  We can scarcely set a standard for creative
geniuses--there are too few of them.  You spoke of the men who create
their own ideas.  How many of them are there?  There are thousands of
near-authors, near-musicians, near-artists, near-poets, who are
painfully remote from the genuine article.  Do you understand what I
mean?"

"Oh, yes.  And that is so.  I myself have at least seen that."

"Of course it is so.  And do you suppose these second-rate creators get
the real thrill?  Not they.  In their hearts they know they are frauds,
impostors, dilettantes at best.  There is no vitality to their grip on
things, and they know it.  They deal with the spurious and fustian from
cradle to grave.  Why, I myself know innumerable people that spend
their lives in trying to persuade themselves into thinking they are
doing something worth while!"

Mentally the girl winced; the words went home so close to Pelgram, who
had been in her own mind.  It was this very feeling of protest, for
which Smith now found voice, that had sickened her of Pelgram.

"Such people get little out of life," the underwriter went on,
"probably first because they are constantly uneasy in the knowledge
that they are charlatans, and second because they do not have anything
real, anything alive, to face.  They deal in half-tones, in nuances--"

Nuances!  Was the man clairvoyant?  He had suggested that an
underwriter ought to be.  Helen felt that this channel had been pursued
far enough.

"No one defends dilettanteism as such," she said.

"One can, though, easily enough, if one wishes," Smith promptly
responded.  "After all, to do things for the love of doing them is the
right way.  But they must be the right things, and to get the full
taste out of anything one must have faced real dragons to attain it.
There is no lack of dragons in the insurance business.  You're fighting
them all the time.  If it isn't against time to keep your premiums up,
it's against fate to keep your losses down.  And of course all your
days you're fighting on not one but a thousand battle lines to keep
your rivals from getting your business away from you.  Now your little
artist, your semi-creator, hasn't anything like that.  So long as he
lives he hasn't any real facts to face."

"No; I suppose not," said the girl, slowly.

"The same trouble, or very nearly the same, exists for your soldier of
fortune.  To be sure, he faces facts--there can be no doubt about
that--but they are facts he deliberately seeks, and not the actual
obstacles that the world rolls up before him.  He gets color and
excitement all right, but the quality of the self-constructed
excitement isn't quite so fine; in fact, after a while it begins to
pall on one.  Then, too, a man wearies of doing things that serve no
useful end and that get nowhere; he begins to feel awkward and
superfluous in the whole scheme of things.  And these soldiers of
fortune don't really _do_ anything, they merely put on the canvas a few
bold strokes that attract ephemeral attention but which their
successors promptly paint out, and they leave the world precisely where
it was before they entered it or carried on their living."

"But isn't that much the same with you, too?  Fire insurance doesn't
_get_ anywhere, does it?  Of course it's more useful to provide people
with fire insurance than with South American revolutions, but after all
it isn't indispensable.  The world could move, couldn't it," she said
diffidently, "without fire insurance?  At least it did so for a good
many centuries."

"The modern world couldn't," Smith said promptly.  "Insurance is one of
the things that the world, having had, could not do without.  You do
not perhaps realize the trend of the world to-day.  It is no longer
military; it is along commercial lines.  Napoleon and Wellington to-day
would be capitalists, either bankers or merchants or manufacturers, and
their battles would be fought with money, not men.  The world is ruled
by commerce and trade--and where would trade be without fire insurance?
Nowhere.  The foundation of modern trade is credit.  Without credit, no
trade--or either petty trade limited to cash transactions or trade
carried on by great millionaires or trusts who are above the fear of
fire--although it is doubtful if there are any such.  But for ordinary
people, take credit away and trade is at an end."

"How is that?  I don't understand," the girl said.

"Business to-day is transacted mainly on borrowed money.  Jones, who
keeps a corner grocery store, hasn't enough money to buy groceries
because his customers don't pay him until the end of the month.  So he
goes to White and Company, who are wholesale grocers, and buys his
stock on credit.  But do you suppose White and Company would let him
have those groceries if it were not for insurance?  Certainly not;
that's their only protection.  If Jones's store burned with that stock
before it was sold, and there was no insurance, who would lose?  Not
Jones--White and Company could force him into bankruptcy, but that
wouldn't collect their bill.  As I said, trade would be impossible,
except cash trade and that in the grip of interests so vast that the
ordinary run of fire losses wouldn't count."

"I never thought of that before," the girl remarked.

"Would the cotton grower ship his cotton north to the New England mills
or to Liverpool if he couldn't insure it in transportation?  No; he
wouldn't dare take the risk.  His cotton would remain on his plantation
until some venturesome buyer came, paid him cash, and carried it away
with him.  We should go back to the commercial dark ages."

"You have crushed me, Mr. Smith," Helen said with a smile.  "I will
admit that insurance is indispensable."

"I was in hopes that you would admit it, not because you were crushed,
but because you saw."

"I think I'm beginning to see," she answered.

The underwriter regarded her a little doubtfully; then a whimsical
smile crossed his lips, making him singularly youthful and--Helen
noted--singularly attractive.  By a sudden change of thought he turned
toward the window.

"A seaport city is a wonderful thing," he said.  "Here come the keels
of the world, bringing the tribute of the seven seas.  It is a fine
place to work, Miss Maitland, this down town New York within sight of
the water and the water front.  Even if you seldom get time to look at
it, you have the feeling that it is there.  There is never a minute,
summer or winter, night or day, when those keels are not bringing
argosies home to these old docks.  Merely to walk along the shore front
is as though one were in touch with all the world."

"I've seen some of it in Boston," said the girl; "but Boston is not the
port it used to be."

"There are places in the world, they say--Port Said is one of them and
the Café de la Paix in Paris is another--where all things and all
people come soon or late.  Those places must be the most interesting in
the world."

"You have never been abroad?" the girl asked.

"No; I never had time.  I have to get my world travel, world
strangeness, world movement, as I can.  And I get it pretty well, here
in this office."

"Here!  What do you mean?"

"We photograph it all, day by day."

"Oh," said Helen, "you mean you get it all from the maps you showed me?"

"Partly that.  That is, the maps are part of it.  They make the stage,
the setting where the insurance drama is played.  But the characters
come on the stage through the medium of plain sheets of printed paper
known as daily reports.  The daily report is the link that unites this
office to the throbbing life of a thousand cities around us."

"And what is a daily report?  Certainly the name of it doesn't sound
romantic."

"No, it doesn't.  And yet the daily report is as vital a document as
there is in the world."

"In what way?  I never heard of it before."

"You never asked Mr. Osgood.  He has sent us many thousand.  As you
know, the company receives its business from agents, scattered all
through the country, at most of the important and a large number of
unimportant points.  In New England alone this company has nearly two
hundred agents, each one writing policies when people apply for
insurance."

"Does Uncle Silas write policies?  I thought the companies themselves
did that."

"No.  Mr. Osgood has a young man in his office--his name is Reed--who
does nothing else.  And every time a policy is written by Mr. Reed and
signed by Mr. Osgood or Mr. Cole and delivered to the assured, this
peculiar document, the daily report, is made up and sent in to this
office.  It is really a complete description of the policy which has
just been written."

"But there must be thousands!"

"Of course.  One for every policy every agent issues.  We get more than
two hundred a day in this office."

"That's why Uncle Silas said I ought to go to a home office to see
things properly.  That's what he meant--it's the center of everything.
I begin to understand."

Smith, glancing at her, perceived that there was no question of her
interest now.

"Here they come, the daily reports," he continued, "and we open
them--dailies from Chicago, San Antonio, Butte, Lenox, Jersey City,
Tampa, Bangor.  Dailies in English, a few in Spanish, quite a number in
French, for a few of our Canadian agents speak nothing else.  This
current of dailies flowing through this office, never ceasing day in
and day out, year after year, is like the current of the blood tending
back to the heart, like the response of the nerves to the pulse-beat,
reporting at the brain, bringing news of the body's health, even down
to the fingers' ends.  And we sit here, like a spider in a web, drawing
all the world."

"What do they tell you?" asked the girl, absorbedly.

"Everything;--or nearly all.  Is a trust in the making?  We know of it
here, when we see the ownership of scattered factories change to a
common head.  Is prohibition gaining ground in the South?  We can tell
by the shut-down endorsements on brewery and distillery policies and by
the increasing losses on saloons whose owners can make no further
profit.  Is there a corner in wheat or coffee or cotton?  We follow the
moves in the struggle by the ebb and flow of insurance in the big
warehouses and elevators and compresses.  Is the automobile market
overstocked?  Our rising loss ratio gives the reply.  Are hard times
coming?  We can tell it when the merchants begin to cut down their
insurance, which means their stocks as well, buying what they need from
day to day.  Is the panic over?  We learn it by a rush of new dailies,
buildings in course of construction, new and costly machinery
introduced in factories, increased insurance all along the line."

"It sounds almost uncanny," said Helen, slowly.  "Can you really learn
all these things in this way?"

"Not all, of course, or at least not always, by any means, for the
Guardian is only one of many companies, and only a small part, a
fraction of one per cent, of the country's business comes to us.  But
we learn a great deal; much of it along rather surprising lines.  I
learned yesterday, for example, that the scandal which has been
suspected to exist between the fair but probably frail Mazie Dupont and
her manager is undoubtedly a matter of fact."

"How could you find that out?" Helen was amazed to find herself asking.
The actress was a celebrity, to be sure, yet Miss Maitland, in her own
self-analysis, should hardly have evinced curiosity regarding the
details of her private life.

"Ownership of pretty country house up the Hudson transferred from his
name to hers.  Endorsement on our policy," replied Smith.  "Of course
that's not proof, but its pretty good presumptive evidence.  We get
similar cases every day.  Here's a millionaire gets caught the wrong
side of the stock market and needs money.  We know it because his
hundred thousand dollar Franz Hals goes to the art dealer's to be sold,
or some big mercantile building that he owns is mortgaged to the
Universal Savings Bank.  Endorsement for our daily report.  So they go."

"Well, I shall be afraid to have our furniture insured ever again after
this," said the girl, with a laugh.

"Insure it with the Guardian, and I myself will see that your family
skeletons are kept safely out of sight in the closets where they
belong."

"That's very nice of you."

"I'm afraid, though, that your insurance wouldn't be very interesting,
as regards sensation," the underwriter went on.  "But there are lots of
people the investigation of whose insurance affairs is in the field of
a first-class detective agency.  There are people, as you may or may
not know, who make their living by having fires.  These fires are
fraudulent, of course, but fraud is very hard to prove.  We can never
secure a witness, for no one applies a match to his shop while any one
is looking on; and with only circumstantial evidence and an individual
pitted against a rich corporation, the jury generally gives the firebug
the benefit of the doubt.  Most of these people put in a claim for
goods supposed to have been totally burned but which in reality they
never possessed or which have been secretly removed just before the
fire.  Usually they have a fraudulent set of books, too, to back up
their claim; and we have to keep a close watch all the time for birds
of that feather."

"But how can you?"

"Oh, we have a pretty complete fire record compiled from loss
experiences sent by every company to the publisher.  All companies
subscribe to this record.  If a man has several suspicious-looking
fires, nobody will insure him.  If he gets such a bad fire reputation
in one town that he can't get insurance there, he moves somewhere else,
but the record keeps track of him, and finally he has to turn
honest--or change his name."

"Do many of them do that?"

"Not so many as you'd think.  You see, it's not so easy to disguise
one's personality.  The La Mode Cloak and Suit Company may turn out to
be our old friend Lazarus Epstein; but we have the service of the
principal commercial agencies to aid us in becoming better acquainted
with our policyholders.  And any one who has no rating in these
commercial agencies we investigate very thoroughly, making our local
agent tell us all he knows of the man, and sending for a full detailed
report by the commercial agency besides.  Even then we occasionally get
caught with a crook, but not often.  The Guardian is very careful; if
all other companies were equally so, there would be fewer firebugs in
business."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, many companies rely wholly on their agents; they don't send for
these special reports, and the result is that they get caught for a
dishonest loss, and the crook who is smart enough to make the agent
think he is straight gets away with it.  Thus encouraging the
impostors."

"But are not the commercial agency men fooled too?"

"Oh, yes, they're only human; but at least you have two sources of
information to draw on--and three, if the man has a fire record.  By
the time we've finished we are apt to know a good deal about our
policyholder, here at the home office, and sometimes we learn very
strange things--sometimes humorous and sometimes quite the reverse."

He stopped, and Miss Maitland, seeing his pause, hesitated with the
question she had been about to put.

"I wonder if you'd care to hear about a case that came to my notice
yesterday," he said.

"I would very much," the girl replied.

"You know these commercial agency reports are by no means what I should
term models of English prose style.  They are usually about as dull and
dry documents as any I know in the manner of their presentation of
facts.  Their authors have about as much need for imagination as the
gentlemen who compile city directories and telephone books; beside them
articles in the Encyclopaedia Britannica are yellow journalism.  All
the same, they deal with facts, and facts can be more tragic than any
romantic fiction ever produced.  This case I speak of was simply the
story of a harness maker who lived in Robbinsville, a small town up in
the center of New York State.  A little while ago our local agent wrote
a policy on this man's stock, and because he had no rating showing his
financial responsibility, the underwriter who passes on New York State
business sent for a detailed report, which after some delay came to us
yesterday."

Again he paused, and there was silence in the little office until he
resumed.

"The rating said--and the manner of it showed that the reporter felt
the poignancy of his words--that the harness maker was bankrupt.  For
nearly fifty years he had kept a harness shop in that same little town,
and competition by a younger, more aggressive man had taken away a good
many of his customers, his money had gone in ordinary living expenses,
his assets had shrunk to almost nothing, and his liabilities had
increased to fifteen hundred dollars, which to him might just as well
have been a million, and now all he could do was to throw himself on
the mercy of his creditors.  Which he did."

"And what did they do?" said Helen, in a low voice.

"This is what the old man said--the commercial agency reporter gave it
just as the old man said it: 'I have sold harness in this town since I
was twenty years old.  Now you say I am bankrupt.  I want to do what is
right.  I don't want to cheat any man.  I don't know where the money
has gone.  You gentlemen must do what is best.  But I hope you can make
some arrangement by which I can keep my business.  I have had it so
many, so many years.  It probably won't be for much longer anyhow.  But
we don't want to go on the town--my wife and I.  A man and his wife
ought not to go on the town when he's worked honest all his life and is
willing to work still.'"

Smith rose abruptly, and turned toward the window.  "I've heard of
'Over the Hills to the Poorhouse' and similar things," the underwriter
went on, after a moment, not looking at the girl, "but this somehow
seemed different.  Perhaps it was its unexpectedness, or finding it in
such a way.  Do you know," he said, "I felt as though I'd like to write
a check for fifteen hundred dollars and send it to that old harness
maker up in Robbinsville, just to give him one more chance."

He turned at the touch of a light hand on his arm.

"I'd like to go halves with you," said a voice which Helen's Boston
acquaintances would hardly have recognized as hers.

"It's a go," said Smith.  "I can't afford it; but five or six hundred
dollars in actual cash would probably straighten things out pretty
well, and if the creditors don't grant the extension to give the old
fellow enough to carry him the rest of the way--by Jove, we'll finance
the harness business, you and I!"

"You can count on me for my half.  Shake hands on the bargain!" cried
Helen, in the exhilaration following emotion sustained, and Smith
gravely took her hand in his own.  For a moment they stood side by side
looking out on the East River which O'Connor's office overlooked, and
for a space neither spoke.  Then Helen returned somewhat sedately to
her seat, and demurely spoke to Smith's back:--

"Well, my present interest in the fire insurance business is all that
its most ardent champion could wish."

The underwriter turned back to her.

"I'm awfully glad if I haven't bored you," he said.  "I've been holding
forth like a vendor at a county fair.  But I didn't mean to do it."

"You know you haven't bored me," she replied.  "But I must be going
now.  I thank you very much for the trouble you have taken with my
education.  I hope it will not turn out to be altogether barren."

"I hope it will not," returned Smith, politely.

She was about to turn to the door.  The underwriter made no move.

"Shall I say good-by now?" she asked.

"Here better than elsewhere.  Good-by."

And then, to her subsequent surprise, Helen found herself saying:--

"I am stopping with my aunt, Miss Wardrop, at thirteen Washington
Square, North.  If you and I are to go into the harness business
together, I hope you will come--and bring your price lists and things,
won't you?"

"Thank you.  I will surely come," the underwriter answered simply.

It was not until she found herself once more mounting the steps of her
aunt's house that Miss Maitland recollected the lamp shade.



CHAPTER X

There have been in half a century many and significant changes in
Washington Square.  Of the buildings that defied time fifty years ago,
not many remain.  On the East especially, where Waverley Place--once
more picturesquely called Rag Carpet Lane--links the Square to
Broadway, the traditional brick structures have all been replaced by
modern loft-buildings, almost as sober but far less austere.  Elsewhere
around the Square the old-time residences only here and there survive,
encroached upon more and more by the inroads of modernity.  Only along
Washington Square North, east and west of Fifth Avenue, has there been
consistent and effective resistance to the tidal march of progress; and
it was east of the Avenue and in the immediate shadow of the New that
Miss Mary Wardrop had lived for more than three generations.

Now there remained only three of what must not long ago have been a
considerable community--those that dwelt on Washington Square at the
time when Central Park was being made or when Lincoln called for a
quarter of a million volunteers and in prompt and patriotic answer the
Northern regiments passed through cheering crowds down Broadway.

Miss Wardrop herself, being by far the most dominant of the three,
shall be mentioned first.  The second was her ancient butler, whose
surname--and apparently his only name--was Jenks, which was always
pronounced with ever so slight a tendency toward him of the Horse
Marines.  And the third, who, like Miss Wardrop, still retained
possession of the family mansion, was Mr. Augustus Lispenard, bachelor,
aged--in the morning--nearly eighty, although later in the day, when
the ichor in his veins began to course more briskly, his appearance was
that of an uncommonly well-preserved man of sixty or thereabouts.  His
residence adjoined that of Miss Wardrop, but there had never been any
intimacy between the two households.  For this there were a number of
reasons, but the paramount one was the fact that Mr. Lispenard was
descended from one of the oldest houses among the Knickerbockers, and
as such it was extremely difficult for him to become aware of any one
not sprung with equal selectness.  The Wardrops had arrived on the
Square at the comparatively recent period of Miss Mary's babyhood--and
even now Miss Mary was only sixty or so.

Miss Helen Maitland remembered very well the occasion of her first
meeting with the distinguished personage who lived next door.  It had
occurred on the first visit she had made her aunt, when she was but a
small girl, yet Helen had found few things in after years to etch
themselves more sharply upon her recollection.  It had been in the
holiday season, and, Helen's mother having been sent South by the
inclemencies of the Boston weather, the child had been left with Miss
Wardrop over the Christmas time.  On New Year's Day, wide-eyed, she had
beheld the elaborate, old-world, decorous preparations made by Jenks
under the eye of his mistress, and with delight she had learned that,
while she could not--nor indeed did she wish to--attend the New Year's
reception herself, she was to be allowed a seat of vantage above stairs
where part, and the most interesting part, of the reception hall lay
open to her view.

Miss Wardrop rigidly preserved the old custom as to New Year's
calls--preserved even the old blue punch-bowl, which Jenks filled with
a decoction of haunting and peculiar excellence; and the dress wherein
the hostess received had done duty on more New Years' Days than its
owner liked always to recall.

Peering down through the mahogany railings that fenced her eyrie from
the world, the youthful Miss Maitland had watched, starry-eyed, a
function which in essentials had not altered in very many years.  Its
hostess had grown more gray, but no less alert, had changed in years
more than in age.  And it was with a courtly bow, which also had not
varied in angle or courtliness, that little Miss Maitland saw Mr.
Augustus Lispenard bend low over Miss Wardrop's hand.

A small, slight man was Mr. Lispenard, very erect, very straight of
eyebrow, keen of glance, precise of speech.  His extraordinary black
eyes peered out from beneath his level brows in a disquietingly
observant manner.  One felt immediately that one's hands and feet were
peculiarly large and awkward, or one's last remark hopelessly banal, or
one's birthplace in some cheap and innominate region outside of
Manhattan.  So long as Miss Wardrop remained under forty, Mr. Lispenard
had held aloof.  Perhaps he feared that by calling on a maiden lady
under forty he might arouse hopes which, however chaste, could not, in
the nature of things, be fulfilled, he being what he was, a
Knickerbocker.  But after this danger mark was past, and perhaps
stimulated by the removal of almost the last of the other patriarchal
residents of the Square, he called one New Year's afternoon, and
gravely presented the compliments of the season to the woman to whom he
now spoke for the first time in his life.

There was nothing vindictive about Miss Wardrop.  She appreciated his
viewpoint, and bade him welcome as naturally as though they had been
friends for years.  And thereafter Mr. Lispenard was an irregular but
always gladly received caller in the parlor separated from his own by
little more than twelve inches of brick and mortar.

In the days when Miss Mary was growing up to childhood, Mr. Lispenard
had been one of those who had marched down Broadway in 1861, not to
return for four long years.  South of the Potomac he had acquired many
vivid and remarkable experiences of which no one had ever heard him
speak, and also a pension, incredibly small, which he received in
silent dignity each month and equally without comment turned over to a
rascally body servant who had run away from more battles than one would
have conceived to be possible.  This sturdy retainer, having served a
short time in Mr. Lispenard's troop and performed him some trifling
services, had ten years after the war turned up with a calm and most
surprising assumption of his old commander's responsibility for his
entire existence, and since that time had lived on his ex-lieutenant's
bounty.

One of the chief attractions, in Helen's eyes, of her aunt's old house
in Washington Square was the chance of a call or two from Mr.
Lispenard.  After her third or fourth visit he grew friendly with her,
in fact vastly more friendly than he ever became with her aunt.  And
she, for her part, found this elderly aristocrat all the more
fascinating for finding him in New York, through the rushing
progressiveness of which he seemed to move in a kind of stately,
romantic twilight.

"My dear child," were her aunt's first words after Helen's latest
arrival, "you have missed by a single day a call from our next-door
neighbor."

"Well, if he doesn't come again," replied the girl, with a smile, "I'll
scandalize the dear old man nearly to death by going and calling on him
myself."

And this, a few days later, she actually did, to the carefully
concealed elation of Mr. Lispenard's elderly housekeeper, who, after
ushering Miss Maitland into the high-ceiled parlor, betook herself to
the region below stairs, where she definitely expressed herself to the
cook.

"Sure it's a divil the masther is wid the ladies till this very
day--and him only about four minutes inside of eighty!"

"A lady calling, is it?" inquired the cook, with interest.

"Sure--a young wan.  It's the ould bhoys have the way wid them, after
all's said and done."

Meanwhile in the old-fashioned reception room with its tinkly crystal
chandelier aquiver, as it were, in sympathetic excitement, the old
gentleman was greeting his young guest.

"Old age!" he said, with a smile of half-mock ruefulness.  "Old age!
When ladies come to call on us, we understand, we old beaux, that it is
because we are no longer considered dangerous.  Yet the bitterness of
that knowledge, were it twice as bitter as it is, would be more than
offset by my honor and pleasure in receiving you."

Helen beamed on him for reply, and his swift, penetrating eyes observed
her.

"You have grown up to be beautiful, my child," observed old Mr.
Lispenard.  "There is nothing about you of this new generation, which I
hate.  Indeed, if you would wear crinolines and a curl of that dark
hair on your shoulder, you would be quite perfect."

His young caller blushed a little, but she laughingly retorted:--

"Did you say you had ceased to be dangerous?  No one of my generation
could have said that.  You will turn my head, sir--and isn't that being
dangerous?  For the heads of my generation, the new generation, as you
call it, are not easy to turn."

"No.  True enough," said Mr. Lispenard, nodding with cynical approval.
"Their heads are on so tight there is no turning them; no flexibility
about the young people to-day.  The maids are sad enough, but the young
men are worse.  Gallants is what we used to call young men, but they
make none to-day that could answer to that term.  Gallants!  There is
no more courtesy in the land than among the fishes below sea!"

Helen felt inclined to defend her contemporaries, but as she looked at
the old aristocrat before her and contrasted his manner with that of
some of the men in her own set, she did not know quite what to say.
Pelgram's poses seemed cheap and shallow, and Charlie Wilkinson's
free-and-easy carriage might have its virtues, but it certainly was not
marked by dignity, nor did it make particularly for respect.

"They have no reverence for age, none for the great things, the great
days that some of us remember.  I confess that I do not like them.  I
am quite an old man, and for some years past I have met scarcely a
young man whom my mother would have permitted in her drawing room."

"I know what you mean," Helen said thoughtfully; "and in one way, at
least, I'm afraid you're right.  But don't you think that most of the
difference is on the surface, and the young people of to-day are not
really so irreverent as they appear to be?  The fashion now is toward
plain, blunt unaffectedness; reverence is a polish of manners which
implies insincerity, and the young men who are really reverent are most
of them ashamed of it and work all the harder to conceal it."

"They are not obliged to overexert themselves," replied Mr. Lispenard.
"But perhaps you are right, my dear.  I admit that I am out of sympathy
with the younger generation.  They might possess a thousand virtues,
and I could see none of them."

"I'm of the younger generation," said his visitor, with humorous
apologeticalness.  "I hope you won't be too hard on it."

"One of its few virtues--that it numbers you among its members," her
host gallantly rejoined.  "But they are not all like you--or there
would be fewer bachelors in your town of Boston."

Helen laughed outright.

"No bachelor yet have I unmade," she replied, somewhat enigmatically.

"Indeed?" said Mr. Lispenard.  "I may not think very highly of the
young men of to-day, but my opinion of them is not so low as that.
Come, now--I am an old gentleman and the model of reticence--I will
never tell.  I'll wager you a box of roses against anything you like
that you had a proposal no later than last week.  Perhaps you even came
to New York to escape him."

Considering that Pelgram's studio tea was barely a week in the past,
Helen's face betrayed her confusion.

"_Touché_!" said her host, with a laugh.  "Really, I may have to revise
in part my idea of modern young men.  After all, they're not blind."

Helen found that time passed quickly during her first few days in New
York.  Miss Wardrop was a self-sufficient personage, with a decided
opinion upon everything in heaven and on earth, and a preference no
less decided for that opinion over those held by others.  She had,
however, a great fondness for her niece, whom she honored, as she
expressed it, by making not one iota of change in her menage or habits
on account of the presence of her visitor.

"It would be a poor arrangement for both of us if I were to put myself
out for you," she had once explained to the girl.  "I would be certain
to regret having done so; and if I did, so would you.  So I will pay
you the compliment of going on precisely as though you weren't here."

So she continued to breakfast in bed at the conservative hour of ten
o'clock; continued to superintend the rehabilitation of two rooms on
the second floor which Jenks, to his rheumatic distress, was
redecorating in accordance with the latest whim of his mistress;
continued in all things to order her life exactly as she had ordered it
for twenty years.

It was now the very end of September, and autumn was more than ever in
the air.  There was none of the chill ocean breath which in Boston had
already begun to make itself unpleasantly evident, and Helen found the
keenest enjoyment in walking about the city, which heretofore she had
seen principally from the windows of street cars and taxicabs.

It was about three o'clock of a Saturday afternoon at the close of her
second week in New York that she started northward up Fifth Avenue,
casting, as she turned, one backward look at the beauty of the
Washington Arch, white in the sunshine.  She herself, after the first
few blocks, took the west side of the avenue, for the afternoon sun was
unexpectedly warm.  When she came to Fourteenth Street, she paused to
allow the passage of a number of street cars and other vehicles which
were figuratively champing their bits till the Jove-like person in blue
set them free to move.  And as she stood there, she became aware of a
voice behind her, which said:--

"You have chosen a beautiful day for a walk, Miss Maitland," and
turning, she faced Mr. Richard Smith of the Guardian.

"Why, how do you do!" the girl said, holding out her hand with frank
cordiality.  "I'm very glad to see you.  Would it flatter you if I said
I was thinking of you this morning?"

"It would," said Smith, soberly.  "It does not do to flatter me.  I
don't get over it easily.  I don't go so far as to forbid it, you
understand, to those who know me, but I recognize it as being as
seductive and alluring and dangerous as any delightful but deadly drug,
and I usually flee from it accordingly."

"Well, there's really no reason why you should flee from it now--unless
it is a pecuniary reason," said Miss Maitland, smiling.  "But in case
you should start to escape, perhaps I had better modify my statement
and say that I was actually thinking of that old harness maker and
wondering when you were coming to tell me about ways and means of
keeping him in business."

"I had hoped to do so before this," the other replied.  "I wrote the
Guardian agent at Robbinsville on the same day you visited the office,
but I've had nothing to report until to-day."

"And have you now?  What is it?"

"This morning I received a letter from our agent.  He said that the
creditors had held a protracted meeting, and there was one irritating
old party who kept suggesting that the poorhouse was the inevitable
solution; but finally arrangements were made by which our old friend
can keep his shop as long as he lives.  They trusteed the business, I
believe."

Helen was silent, and for a little space the two walked forward without
a word.  At last the girl lifted her eyes to Smith's a little wistfully.

"I'm glad he can keep his shop," she said; "and yet in one way I'm
rather sorry that the creditors agreed.  I would have liked to have
helped the old man, myself, and I think it would have been rather good
fun to have financed a harness business."

"Yes; it would," Smith rejoined, with a laugh.  "But I confess I'm a
little relieved.  I'm afraid that for me it would have meant attaching
another mortgage to the old homestead, which already looks like a
popular bill board, it is so plastered with prior liens."

The girl did not know exactly what answer to make to this, so she made
none.  Smith presently went on.

"But I'm sure he would like to know that you would have assisted him if
it had been necessary.  If I am ever anywhere near Robbinsville, I
shall make a point to see him and tell him."

"Why, I had nothing to do with it!" said the girl.  "It was entirely
your plan--I merely said I'd go halves with you."

"Yes.  But I would really have never done anything by myself," Smith
replied frankly.  "And for a very good reason.  But in any event the
old man would be much more interested in thinking it was you."

"If I am ever in Robbinsville, I shall see that he knows the real
facts," said Miss Maitland, with a slight flush in her cheeks.

"Here is Twenty-third Street," the underwriter said abruptly.  "Where
are you bound for, if I may ask?"

"Nowhere in particular," the girl answered.  She stopped.  "Isn't that
a wonderful sight, now, in the sunlight?"  She indicated the white
tower of the Metropolitan Life building, pointing far up into the clear
blue of the eastern sky, across Madison Square.

"Wonderful indeed," agreed Smith, so thoughtfully that his companion
glanced at him.  "By the way, you didn't happen to be here half a
century ago, did you?" he asked whimsically.

"No," said Miss Maitland.  "If I had been anywhere, it would have been
around Back Bay, I presume."

"Then you miss part of this.  Unless you had been here then, you can't
appreciate how marvelous all this is now," he went on.  "Of course I
wasn't here either; but I am a New Yorker, and I know how it used to
look."

"Do you?" she asked with interest.  "And how did it look then?"

"Well, suppose we go back another ten years and make it sixty in all.
There was no tower there and no Flatiron building here beside us.  And
there was no open square before us.  Oh, it was open, but not a
square--more of a prairie.  Broadway came up and intersected Fifth
Avenue just as it does to-day.  But on this Flatiron corner there stood
just one thing.  And what do you suppose that was?"

"I couldn't imagine."

"One solitary, lonesome lamp post.  And over there, on the site of that
monstrous building, was the little frame structure that gave the Square
its name--the Madison cottage.  And that was the only building to be
seen."

"The only one!  But when was this?"

"In the fifties--in fact, up to eighteen fifty-eight, when they began
to put up the Fifth Avenue Hotel on the same ground.  Next year that
was finished, and in eighteen sixty came the Prince of Wales and
honored it by leading the grand march in its great dining hall."

They had crossed Twenty-third Street by this time, and were standing on
the memorable corner.  An electric bus whirred by on the east side of
Broadway, and Smith drew Helen's notice to it.

"On a post that stood near here," he said, "there used to be a sign
that read, 'Buses every four minutes.'  And if you wanted to go down
town, there was exactly one other way besides taking a bus, and that
was to walk."

"And that was quite enough," declared Miss Maitland.

"Well, it served, anyway," Smith conceded.

They walked on up the Avenue.  Finally the girl broke a long pause.

"I was thinking," she said slowly, "that I would like to have you meet
Mr. Augustus Lispenard."

"And who is he, may I ask?"

"Well, he is an old gentleman who lives on Washington Square, and you
will probably never see one another, but he seems to love New York more
than anything in the world--and you seem to, also."

"Well . . . it's my town," confessed her companion.  "That is, it's not
my native town, for I was born out in Iowa, but I've lived here nearly
all my life.  And it's a good town.  Even a Bostonian will have to
admit that," he added laughingly.

"Yes--I admit it," said the Bostonian.  And it struck her that her
admission came more readily than it ever before could have come.  "By
the way," she returned, more conventionally, "I'm afraid I must be
taking you out of your way.  What would you have done if you hadn't
been kind enough to act as my guide this afternoon?" she inquired
carelessly.

Smith looked across at her.

"To tell the truth, I was thinking of going to the ball game up at the
Polo Grounds," he said promptly; "but I didn't leave the office soon
enough.  I'm very much interested in this present series."

"You're interested in lots of things, I should say," his companion
commented.  "Fire insurance and New York I have found out already.  And
here is something else.  Are you really interested in baseball?"

"I certainly am," said Smith; "and I think every one else ought to be,
if he or she has any interest in this country of ours."

Helen glanced at him in surprise.

"What possible connection can those two things have?" she asked.

"Oh, it's not a thing you can understand unless you've seen it.  From
the way you speak, I presume you've never seen a game of professional
baseball."

"No," Miss Maitland replied with docility, "I'm afraid I never have.
I've been to a few college games--Harvard mostly--but I've never seen a
professional game.  Is it very different?"

"Absolutely.  You ought to go to one.  You can't really understand the
United States of America until you do."

"Are you serious?  I'm afraid you're just joking with me."

"Not at all.  Why, do you know that baseball is the most American thing
in America?  And it's about the only wholly American thing, as we like
to think of America.  There is only one other place besides the ball
ground where the spirit of genuine democracy shows itself, and that is
in politics.  There you will find the high and low together--the judge
putting off his ermine and getting down from the bench elbow to elbow
with Tom Radigan, the East Side barkeep, when the Patrick J. O'Dowd
Association of the Eighty-eighth Assembly District gives its annual
outing or its ball.  But that's not true democracy because it's very
largely selfish--inspired by the desire of votes.  Now baseball--that's
different.  Inspired by no desire but to see a good game--and for the
home team to win.  Nowhere else in the world can you see democracy in
its fine flower--at its best.  There you can see them all--judges and
dock rats, brokers and bricklayers, cotillion leaders and truck
drivers, historians and elevator starters, lawyers and the men they
keep out of jail, college boys, grocers, retired capitalists, and the
lady friends of the whole collection.  You'll find them all there.  Oh,
you ought to go to a game yourself.  Then you'd understand."

It seemed to Miss Maitland that this Smith was a very unusual person.
And his enthusiasms were strangely contagious.  Fire insurance, New
York, and now baseball, things in none of which had she ever felt more
than a flicker of interest, suddenly, seen through his eyes, assumed a
reality, a vital quality she had never dreamed they could possess.  Was
it all the difference in point of view?

"It isn't because baseball in my opinion does more real good than all
the socialistic documents put out by high-browed agitators will ever
do," Smith was continuing, "that I go to it.  Not at all.  I go to it
because I like it, and because I like to yell."

"Do you yell?" asked Miss Maitland of Boston.

"You do--that is, I do," said Smith, tersely.  "At all events, when
things go our way."

"And don't you think I would be likely to--yell?"

"Well, hardly, at first," the underwriter answered.  "After a while,
probably.  If you'd like to go and see, though, whether you'd yell or
not, I should like awfully to take you."

Thinking the matter over afterward, Helen was at a loss to discover why
she had so readily accepted this somewhat unusual invitation.  To see
this young man at an office on a matter of business was all very well;
it was one thing to meet him casually on the street and walk with him a
few blocks up the Avenue--but it was decidedly another to promise she
would accompany him to a professional baseball game.  Baseball, of all
things!  Yet she had accepted, and on the whole she could not seem to
be quite sorry that she had.  But it would never do to tell Aunt Mary.
Yet Miss Wardrop must of course be told.  Helen was twenty-five years
of age and her own mistress, but Boston in the blood dies hard.

It was moribund, however, on the afternoon that Smith called to escort
her northward to the field where those idols of Gotham, the Giants,
were indulging in a death grapple with their rivals from Chicago in the
closing series of the year, with the National League pennant hanging on
its result.  Her companion had, to be sure, called formally and in due
order upon Miss Wardrop and her niece on an evening of the intervening
period, so that Helen felt her sharp New England sense of the
proprieties lulled to a state of pleasing and comfortable coma.

The elevated train which took them to the grounds was jammed to the
very doors with cheerfully suffering humanity, and Miss Maitland, most
of whose previous experience with crowds had been with those decorous
gatherings in the subway beneath the Common, regarded the struggling
multitude with covert dismay.

"If you should find the elbows of the populace unduly insinuated into
you, don't worry," her companion advised.  "It will merely be part of
your general education.  Getting back to the soil is nowhere beside the
democratic experience you are about to enjoy," he added.

"I--I didn't expect to be quite as democratic as that," the girl said.

"Well, I'll try to see that the more intimate personal demonstrations
are spared you," her escort reassured her.

Presently they left the train, and passing down the platform they
joined the crowd that was now forcing its slow course along the
inclosed runway which led to the Polo Grounds.  There was considerable
jostling, much talking and laughter, deep trampling and shuffling of
many feet.  At last Smith reached the window before which for some five
minutes he stood in line.

"Of course I could have gotten box seats," he explained as he purchased
two score cards; "but I wanted you to get this thing in its entirety."

"You are the doctor," replied Miss Maitland, cheerfully; at which form
of acquiescence her companion regarded her in such surprise that she
burst into a laugh.

"I heard that just now," she confessed; "and it seemed to fit the case.
You know you are really prescribing this game as a cure for acute
Bostonitis."

"Right!" said he, laughing, "I fancy I was.  But I didn't mean to be
unpleasantly Aesculapian."

"You weren't," she said.  "And do you know, I think you were correct.
Even if you didn't consciously prescribe this as a remedy, I myself
admit--or I almost admit--that I was feeling the need of a tonic a
little different from any I had ever tried at home.  And I believe this
is it."

Surely it was.  They reached their seats, which they found back of
first base, and sat down between neighbors of uncommon parts.  Next to
Helen was a large red man of Hibernian extraction, with a long upper
lip tamed but little by civilization or by razor; on his head he wore a
dilapidated cloth cap; he was, to appearances, driver for an ice
company or a brewery.

At Smith's elbow was a small, black-haired Jew with a pock-marked face.
In front of them were four people who could have been the shipping
clerk for a hardware house, his fiancée, who presided conceivably over
a switchboard in some uptown hotel, a gentleman who looked like a
college professor and who was probably night clerk in a drug store, and
lastly a chunky and well-fed person who, from his turning at once to
the cotton reports, could probably be put down as holding some
responsible position in a Wall Street house.  The farther the eye
strayed, the more motley became the array, the more difficult any
generalization.

"It's really useless," said Smith, guessing the girl's thought.  "If
any one's missing, it's because he's home sick in bed.  Now, tell me
how much you need to be told."

Nearly everything, it seemed; so for the next ten minutes her companion
held forth in a compendious but concise exordium on the great American
game.  During this interim the huge concrete stands filled entirely,
and the populace began to spill over onto the field.

"That means ground rules--hit into the crowd good for only two bases,"
said several critics, for the general information of an ambient air
fully as well informed as the speakers.

Down on the field the interesting machinery was in process of
oiling--the batting and fielding practice of either side in turn, the
pitchers lazily warming up, the motley crew on the side lines in their
amusing and alert play of high-low.  Helen, fascinated by the players'
movements, the accurate interception of stinging grounders, the
graceful parabolas of long flies to the deep outfield, as well as by
the spectacle of the orderly base and coaching lines laid out on the
smooth, close-clipped greensward, watched as though in a new medium of
sight.  This was little like anything she had ever seen.

A yell from ten thousand throats announced that the Giants'--and the
crowd's--favorite was to pitch.  Another yell, though less in volume,
indicated that the opposing pitcher also was named and approved, not
from any delight in the selection, but merely that the choice was made.
The umpires in their sober blue uniforms took their places; the home
team went into the field; the pitcher picked up the new white ball and
settled his foot firmly on the slab--and the game was on.

It can serve no useful purpose now, when that game is done and its
year's pennant determined, to play over the two hours' traffic of it.
Suffice it to say that the tide of battle rose and fell sufficiently to
keep forty thousand delirious spectators on their feet at least one
quarter of the time.  Nothing of Oriental calm about the crowd that
day; nothing of passive acceptance of whatever the Fates might have in
store.  Every soul within that enclosure was a rabid partisan, bound up
in the fortune of the fray; and if the concentrated desire of forty
thousand minds could avail aught, the home team should certainly have
felt the psychic urge.

But apparently they did not, or perhaps the opposing cohorts felt a
far-off urge more potent still, for the game wore on to the seventh
inning with the home team still one run behind.

"Seventh inning; everybody up!" twenty thousand informed the other
twenty thousand.  And everybody rose, the forty thousand almost as one
man.

"Now then, you Tim!" shrieked a voice behind Helen's ear.  And Tim
responded with a two-base hit to the left field crowd.  Another sharp
crack of the ball against the bat, and men running at lightning speed,
one to first base, one desperately rounding third and toward the home
plate with the run needed to tie the score.  But the Chicago team were
busy as well.  As from a catapult the ball shot home to the catcher,
waiting astride the rubber.

A flash, a slide, a cloud of dust.  Then the umpire, flapping a
flippant thumb skyward.  Then a berserker roar of rage, a pandemonium
of fury beside which Babel was a soundless desert.  And from
leather-like lungs four inches from Helen's ear, in a voice which could
have brought the glad news from Ghent to Aix without leaving the
first-named city at all, came:--

"Hey, you big wart!  The bush for yours!"

But the umpire thus unflatteringly described and assigned was obdurate,
the run did not count, and the game went on.  However, it was won in
that inning by the combination of two more safe hits, and the checked
paeans rang their fill.  If there was a heart in all that great
amphitheater not beating to the tune of the forty thousand, it must
have been some unfortunate outlander who could only watch, reserving
his own delirium until some more fortunate era beneath more friendly
stars.

But at last, when all was over and the great crowd reluctantly
dissolved, swarming the diamond, Smith and Miss Maitland sought the
exit in silence.

"When it puts one in such intimate touch with forty thousand of your
fellow beings," said Smith, reflectively, "it seems worth while, now
and then, to be what is commonly termed a low-brow."

"Is it really worth while," asked Helen, "to be anything else?"



CHAPTER XI

If Mr. Edward Eggleston Murch had had nothing to do but attend the
meetings of the various boards of which he was a director, his time
would still have been reasonably well employed and he would have
enjoyed an income sufficient at least to keep him in cigars of the
standard to which his eminence entitled him.  Mr. Murch's private
secretary held a position requiring quick-wittedness and suavity in no
common degree.  Hardly a day went by that the ring of the phone did not
serve as preamble for some such colloquy as this:

"Hello.  Mr. Murch's office?"

"Yes."

"Mr. Murch in?"

"No.  Can I do anything for you?"

"The W., T., and G. have called their annual meeting for election of
officers on Friday the sixth.  How about ten-thirty?  Is that all right
with Mr. Murch?"

"Wait a minute.  Ten-thirty, you said?  No, Mr. Murch has the
International Corkscrew meeting at ten.  Can't they push W., T., and G.
into the afternoon?"

"I'll let you know later.  Good-by."

And later it was arranged to suit Mr. Murch.  If there were a pie in
Mr. Murch's vicinity which Mr. Murch's finger was not in, it was, if
not proof positive, strong circumstantial evidence that the pie was of
a most inferior order of succulence; and Mr. Murch was a fairly good
judge, being himself chairman of the finance committee of the United
States Pie Company.  He was a director in two banks, three trust
companies, several railroads, at least four mining companies of the
immensely profitable kind whose stock is never offered to the general
public, besides innumerable industrial and general commercial concerns
of every sort, color, and description, the sole similarity between them
being their translucent money-making attributes.  He was, on the other
hand, a trustee of an art museum which was liberally assisted by
contributors other than Mr. Murch, whose assistance was administrative
rather than pecuniary; and he was on the executive committee of a
charity organization society which under his astute management bade
fair to be more than self-supporting, and there was really no valid
reason to the contrary, for it transacted a very considerable business
in sawed and split wood which it sold at current prices after paying
each of its unfortunate employees twenty-two cents and an indescribably
bad dinner for eight hours' hard work in the wood yard.  Mr. Murch was
also interested in a chain of blue-front restaurants, and a line of
South American freighters, and last but not least, he was the heaviest
stockholder and most potent factor in the management of the Salamander
Fire Insurance Company.

The Salamander was as exactly the antithesis of the Guardian as it was
possible to conceive.  Where the Guardian was conservative, the
Salamander was ultra-radical; where the Guardian wrote a million and
three quarters yearly in premiums, the Salamander, though its surplus
was rather less than that of the other company, wrote nearly two
millions and a half.  In short the Salamander gambled, and played to
win, and as a matter of fact it usually did win by sheer audacity.  It
had never made any money out of its underwriting, that real test of
company efficiency; but four years out of five the daring manipulation
of its assets in Wall Street--politely termed the slight rearrangement
of some of its investments--yielded it a handsome profit.  Its dividend
rate was more than twice that of the Guardian, and in some years, when
losses were heavy, it failed to earn its dividend and was obliged to
take the money for its payment out of its already narrow surplus.

The President of the Salamander was an obliging, disingenuous, rather
weak individual of Mr. Murch's own selection.  His name was Wellwood,
and the less said of his character and attainments the better.  Mr.
Wellwood's mastery of the conditions of his business had never been
especially deep, and during the past year a swelling penchant for fast
horses, and indeed for acceleration of all kinds, had rather gotten the
better of him.  And Mr. Murch, concernedly going over the figures which
showed the present condition of the Salamander's finances, felt a chill
of doubt striking into his usually impassive veins.

"You've been losing money for the company faster than I can make it,"
he said coldly to Wellwood.

"Well, it's been an awfully bad year--losses have been terrific,"
stammered the underwriting executive, anxious to placate the god of his
car.

"They're all bad years with you.  Leave these papers with me; I want to
go over them again."

Wellwood slunk out.  The presidency of the Salamander, involving as it
did occasional interviews of a nature similar to this with Mr. Murch,
was no sinecure.  Mr. Wellwood frequently debated whether it would not
be better to listen to the siren voices of the agricultural weeklies
with their alluring refrain of "back to the soil"; but the facilities
for his favorite dissipations were painfully inadequate in the rural
districts, and besides he was a city man born and bred, and while he
knew how to take hold of a shovel, he would probably have stood askance
and aghast before a scythe.  So he hung on, hoping against hope for
something--almost anything--to happen.  To be sure his own comparative
incompetence was to blame for the company's underwriting record, but
that was a matter beyond his control.

It was perhaps an hour after Mr. Wellwood's departure when the card of
another caller was brought to Mr. Murch by the efficient office boy.

"Show him in," he said.

A man in a light fall overcoat entered the room, nodding to the
capitalist as he did so, but turning back almost immediately to attend
to the cautious closing of the door.

"Sit down, won't you?" said Mr. Murch, carelessly.  He raised his eyes
to the door.  "Anybody out there?" he inquired.  "I mean any one that
knows you?"

"No," the caller replied.

"Well, it doesn't matter about any one but Wellwood.  But it would be
better not to have him know anything about your having been here."

"Why?  What do you care?" queried the other.

"No need of superfluous friction and unpleasantness, that's all.  If
we--agree, he'll find out everything soon enough; if we don't, no call
to excite him."

"No doubt you're right," assented the visitor, lightly.  He had by this
time removed his overcoat and laid it over the arm of a convenient
couch.  He then selected a chair near Mr. Murch's own but facing that
gentleman squarely, and sat down.

"Well, I'm ready to talk business," he said.

"And I," rejoined the other, easily.  But he made no move to begin.
After a strategic pause wherein it was made clear that he was
determined not to open the conversation, his caller began to speak.

"Looking over the figures, I see," he suggested.

"Just running through them.  They don't seem so bad, on the whole--in
fact, rather better than I expected.  Wellwood hasn't done so badly
this year, after all, considering how heavy the losses have been all
over the country--especially in the South."

The other did not reply.  Each man fully understood that the other was
temporizing, hoping to gain whatever advantage might accrue from
letting the other make the initial play.  But Mr. Murch was the older
and the less nervous, and had himself better in hand.  Finally the
visitor spoke.

"Well, I don't suppose you sent for me merely to tell me that," he said
abruptly.  "Go ahead--make your proposition; there's no use beating
about the bush between us."  He picked up an ornamental paper cutter
from the capitalist's desk and examined it with exaggerated care.

Mr. Murch took his time.  He reflectively bit the end off a long cigar,
and reached for a match box.

"I'm not sure that my mind's sufficiently made up to put a definite
proposal up to you," he said, striking the match thoughtfully.  "As I
say, Wellwood hasn't been doing so badly--comparatively.  And it hurts
a company to make a change in its presidency--it disturbs the whole
organization, especially when an outsider is brought in over the heads
of all the subordinates.  We have several promising men that might be
disaffected by such a move.  No, I don't believe I'm decided, at this
time, on such radical action."

"Then I'll come again, when you do decide," said the other, and
promptly rose to his feet.

In essence all this very much resembled the way an Algerian curio
merchant conducts a bargain.

"Still, it would do no harm to talk the situation over a little
to-day," suggested Mr. Murch.

The other man sat down again.

"Look here," he said, "you know what I'm here for.  You're looking for
a man to take charge of the management of the Salamander.  You've
looked into the affairs of the company and you know there isn't any one
in that office--Wellwood or any of his understudies--that really knows
his business.  Now you think I'm the man you want, but it's your
opener.  It's for you to say what you expect done, and how much you'll
give to get it done.  You tell me that, and I'll tell you first whether
I think I'm able to do it, and second whether I'll take it at your
price."

For Mr. F. Mills O'Connor was sufficiently shrewd to anticipate that
the presidency of the Salamander would be an empty honor unless it
could be gained on terms which would free its incumbent from the
immediate yoke of Mr. Murch.  O'Connor did not intend to be a second
Wellwood, with Old Man of the Sea Murch riding him to the grave.

The wisdom of his outspoken decision was proven by the altered tone in
which the capitalist now said:--

"All right, Mr. O'Connor.  No time like the present.  We'll go into it."

And for nearly two hours they went into it.  They discussed the subject
of fire insurance from top to bottom; the amount of premium a company
could safely accept in comparison to its resources, lines in
conflagration districts, reinsurance treaties, relations with various
unions, boards, and conferences, and underwriting in its relation to
finance.

"So far as I can gather--and it's the general impression," said the
Guardian official, "the Salamander has lost most of its money in the
big cities.  And you know as well as I do that the hope of making any
money for the company consists in the chance of getting a profitable
business from such cities as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago,
and St. Louis.  I don't believe your five-year record shows a dollar's
profit from any one of those places, yet nearly every well managed
company has taken good money out of them.  Wellwood knows it.  He knows
the kind of business he gets doesn't pay, but he doesn't know where or
how to get the kind that does pay."

"Perhaps that may be so," agreed Mr. Murch, cautiously.

"Well, I do know where to get it," rejoined his visitor, "and I also
know--what is much more vital and to the point--_how_."

"And how is that?" inquired his host with innocent curiosity.

"When you've made your proposition, I'll tell you," said the other,
with a smile.  "I'll amplify at the proper time."

"Oh, very well, then," replied the capitalist, apologetically.  "Very
well."  But at this last sticking point he temporized again.  His
caller gave him no help, but waited in silence until he was ready.

"Mr. O'Connor," said Mr. Murch, "I have a high opinion of your
underwriting ability.  It is pretty well understood that you have had
immediate charge of the underwriting of the Guardian for some years
past, and they have been much more profitable years for your company
than for ours."

He paused.

"The figures show that," said the other man.

"I do not conceal from you the fact that we are not wholly satisfied
with Mr. Wellwood's operations.  I have talked the matter over
unofficially with two or three of my fellow directors, and I believe
they would ratify officially the offer which I am going to make you.
This offer is made upon certain agreements, restrictions, and
presumptions.  It is made contingent on your ability to carry out these
agreements--in short, to deliver the goods."

"I understand," said O'Connor, with composure.

"The offer of which I speak is based on your taking the presidency of
the Salamander, with a five-year contract, at a salary of twenty
thousand dollars a year.  You will be required to purchase as a matter
of good faith--backing your entry, as it were--a certain amount of the
company's stock; indeed, I presume you would wish to do so, and that is
a feature that can be easily arranged.  And we, of the Salamander, want
a man qualified to turn the company into a money maker, and who can
assure us at the same time of a reasonable increase in our premium
income--say in the five years, from two and a half up to three
millions."

O'Connor smiled rather cynically.

"You don't want much, do you?" he observed.  "Those are modest
requests."

"And," continued Mr. Murch, disregarding the interruption, "we wish to
be assured by reasonable show of proof that the new business will be of
a class that will be more profitable than the old--in other words, that
it will not increase the company's present loss ratio."

"Which is quite high enough already," commented the other, dryly.

"In short, Mr. O'Connor, we must be assured not only that you can
secure this increase in income, but we feel that we are entitled to be
shown where it is likely to come from, and how you are going to stop
the loss on our present business, before the matter goes before our
directorate."

The Guardian's Vice-President rose, and stood looking down at Mr. Murch
from across the table.

"You need me, Mr. Murch," he said.  "I don't have to tell you that.
You're supposed to be an expert in picking winners, although you made a
bad break on Wellwood.  I'm the right man for your job, and you knew it
when you sent for me.  And your offer is a handsome one--I'll admit
that.  I'll admit it so willingly that I'll come out and lay my
cards--and yours--on the table.  I'll put it to you straight."

"Yes?" replied the capitalist, inquiringly.

"Yes.  What you mean is this.  I've had charge of the underwriting of
the Guardian for seven years.  Many of its best agents look on me as
the company; the Guardian is just a name, but the man they do business
with is F. Mills O'Connor, and I'll guarantee that a lot of the best of
them will keep on doing business with me, no matter with what concern
I'm associated.  Now the Guardian has as fine a class of big city
business on its books as any company of its size in the field, and I'll
bet that in the big cities, where you've lost your money, its business
is not only better but larger than the Salamander's.  In New York and
Boston and Philadelphia you couldn't beat it to save your life.  What
you want to know is whether I can get equally good stuff for the
Salamander, and I want to tell you that I can.  And in some pretty
important places I can get the identical business, you understand.  You
want to know how I'm going to get it.  Well, what I just told you about
a lot of agents keeping on with F. Mills O'Connor is one factor, but
there are several others, and I'd rather not mention them until I take
charge.  But you need have no fear that they cannot be successfully
utilized.  Do I make myself clear?"

Mr. Murch smiled a deprecatory smile.

"Quite," he said.  "In fact, you put it a little more bluntly than I
had expected."

"Well, then, if you want to ratify this arrangement at the next meeting
of your board, it will be all right with me, and moreover I'll
guarantee you personally that within a year the Salamander will be
taking over the Guardian's business in at least three of the principal
cities of the United States."

"The next meeting is on Monday," said Mr. Murch.

"Very well.  Ratify it then, but keep it strictly under cover for two
months.  If I hear from you that the deal has gone through, I'll start
laying my wires.  This is the first of October.  Don't let anything out
until the first of December.  Then I'll resign, and come to the
Salamander the first of the new year--possibly before that."

"How so?"

"Oh, I've a notion that when I resign, Mr. Wintermuth will say that I
needn't remain the customary thirty days; I fancy he'll let me out at
once."

A smile, none too pleasant, crossed the lips of the Guardian official.
Business was business, of course, and a man was entitled to use his
personal influence to advance himself; but he scarcely relished the
idea of practically looting the company for which he had worked for a
good many years.  O'Connor's fiber was not of the tenderest, but he had
his intervals of conscientiousness, when his brain saw the correct
ethics, even if his hand did not always follow.

Mr. Murch got up from his chair.

"I'll call you on the phone Monday, after our meeting," he said.

"I shall be at the office until five."

They parted.

Criminologists assert, from many years' observation of many men in many
lands, that no man positively desires to become a criminal.  So little
does the average man wish it, that it is usually difficult, even in the
case of the most confirmed lawbreaker, to persuade him that he actually
is or has been criminal in intent, no matter what his acts may have
been.

This state of affairs is equally true in those higher grades of society
where instincts are less passionate.  Just as the man who kills his
king or his father holds himself absolutely innocent of any wrong
intent, so the unhappy parasite who steals his wife's earnings for
drink, or the bookkeeper who makes away with the contents of the firm's
cash drawer in order to play the races, believes himself to be
unfortunate only, and more sinned against than sinning.  No matter how
much of a scoundrel a man may be, his self-analysis brings him far
short of the correct degree of turpitude.

Mr. O'Connor was not a villain or a criminal.  He was not, according to
the standard of many, a dishonest man.  But he was not an honest one.
He had several weaknesses, the chief among which was venal ambition;
and of courage, that quality which makes all other qualities seem just
a little tawdry and futile, he had none except in a broad, physical
sense.  He was not, of course, afraid of the dark, but he was decidedly
afraid of James Wintermuth; and when on Monday noon the telephone rang
at the call of Mr. Murch, it is not too much to say that he was
momentarily shaken.

"Suppose you drop around to the Club in about twenty minutes," was the
suave suggestion of the man at the other end of the line.

"For a moment," the Guardian's Vice-President agreed hastily.  "For a
moment," he repeated, as he replaced the receiver on its hook.  It were
much better that he and Mr. Murch be not seen together in public until
the meat was ready for the fire.  And so it was the briefest of
interviews that took place between them in the big smoking room.  A few
words, concluding with a handshake and a "Congratulate you, Mr.
President," and the incident was closed.  Even had the lynx eyes of
Simeon Belknap himself perceived this meeting, he could hardly have
found significance in the episode.  And an event in the insurance world
without significance to Mr. Belknap was a rara avis indeed.

Mr. O'Connor betrayed that night, aside from his customary lack of the
refinements of courtesy, the first indication of human weakness that
his household had noted for some time past.  For a considerable part of
the night he lay awake, tossing about in his bed until his
long-suffering wife thought he must be ill.

"Is anything the matter?" came her solicitous voice through the dark
doorway.  And her husband answered irritably:--

"No.  Don't bother about me.  I'm all right."

Whether this nocturnal disquiet was the last throe of an expiring sense
of honor and decency, or whether it was ambition burning in the blood,
it is impossible to say.  Quite likely it was a little of each.  Mr.
Wintermuth had been a good friend to O'Connor; still, a man must needs
look first after his own interest; no one was apt to butter his bread
for him.  Sophistry old as the world.

Nevertheless, when morning dawned, the travail of the night had left no
mark on Mr. O'Connor's brow.  His wife, accustomed from many years of
sky searching to look for trouble there, saw the unwrinkled expanse and
took heart.  Her husband answered her polite morning inquiries with
sufficient attention, although he was palpably preoccupied and in no
mood for casual conversation.

The fact was that his mind was made up and his plan of campaign chosen,
and he was now bending all his thought and energies upon the manner and
details of attack.  There was no time to lose, and the iron would never
be hotter than now.  Accordingly, when he had disposed of the
accumulation of morning mail at his desk, he walked thoughtfully over
to President Wintermuth's office.  In response to that gentleman's
invitation he entered and seated himself near the desk, holding in his
hand a number of papers pinned together.  From his expression it would
have seemed that disquieting reflections occupied his mind.

"What's the matter?  Loss?" inquired his chief, taking the cue O'Connor
had proffered.

"No," said the Vice-President, slowly.  He glanced down at the papers
that he held.  "Mr. Wintermuth," he said, "what is your opinion of--or
no, let me put it another way: how deeply are we committed to the
Eastern Conference?"

"What do you mean--how deeply are we committed?"

"Just that.  We were among the original subscribers to the Eastern
Conference agreement, as you are aware.  What I want to know is whether
we are bound to a more rigid observance of its rules than other
companies that are members of it."

"We are not, sir," returned the President.  "Of course we are not.  Why
do you ask?"

"Well, sir, I hardly like to say so, but for a long time I have
been growing to feel that our strict adherence to our obligations
was affecting our business unfavorably at some points.  In other
words, I have been growing more and more sure that we are too
honest--comparatively."

"How is that?  How is that?" said Mr. Wintermuth, sharply.

"Perhaps I should say that some of our associates in the Conference are
not quite honest enough, at least in the construction they put upon
_their_ pledges."

"You will have to be more specific, sir," returned the President,
somewhat sternly.

"Very well, sir; I will be as specific as you please.  Bluntly, then, I
know that at least three of the leading Conference companies are
violating the conditions of the Conference agreement, which they are
pledged to observe, in no less than four cities in New England, and
probably a dozen in New York and Pennsylvania.  Some of them are in
agencies where the Guardian is represented, and it's hurting us.  I
know it to be a fact."

"But I thought we went into this recently in New York State.  I
remember there was a lot of talk about crookedness, and Smith went up
to find out what was going on.  We made some charges, didn't we?  And
didn't we get a satisfactory answer?"

"Satisfactory, I presume, to the companies that made it.  And possibly
satisfactory to Smith, who seemed to me at the time, I confess, a
little too easily satisfied for a man with his eyes open.  But not to
me.  I wasn't satisfied at all, or rather I was entirely satisfied in
my own mind that we were being sacrificed to our own uprightness."

"What companies are these that are breaking their pledges?  How are
they doing it?  And where?"

"Mr. Wintermuth, I am absolutely convinced that three Conference
companies in the Nolan agency, who represent us at Syracuse, are paying
at least ten per cent excess commission on preferred business without
going through the formality of demanding even a receipt for it.  I know
it to be a fact that at Trenton, New Jersey, the special agent of one
of the biggest American companies--also a Conference member--makes a
monthly visit for the purpose of putting into the agent's hands spot
cash equal to the amount of the agent's illegitimate excess commissions
for that month.  The agent deducts his regular commission in his
account, and gets this additional amount in cash, so that he gets a
good deal more than what we can pay him under the rules.  Is it any
wonder, then, that our business is dropping off in these offices?  And
these are two cities only.  I could name a dozen.  That is why I asked
you how deeply we were committed to the Conference."

The President rose, his eyes flashing.

"If these are facts capable of substantiation, we will be committed
only until our resignation can take effect.  I believe it takes thirty
days' notice for a company to terminate its membership.  If these cases
are typical of others, and you can prove them, exactly thirty-one days
later the Eastern Conference will lack one of its charter members."

"Oh, I can prove them, all right.  Proof is pretty easily
secured--circumstantial evidence enough to hang a man with any jury.
But I didn't really think you'd look at it in quite this light, sir.  I
had not come to the point of recommending that the company withdraw
from the Conference.  It struck me that before we made that move,
certain expedients might be tried."

"Expedients?  Such as what, sir?"

"Well, I thought possibly you might be willing to--meet a few of these
most open cases of competition with similar methods--"

He stopped, at the expression of his chief's face.

"You thought, did you, that because these men, my competitors, have no
respect for their publicly pledged word, I would be willing to be
equally indulgent.  Mr. O'Connor, you have served a long time under me,
and I am surprised at you!  When James Wintermuth gets to the point
where he is unable to live up to his promises, it will be time for him
to quit.  We are not in that business, sir."

The Vice-President summoned a forced smile to his lips.

"I think you misunderstood me, sir," he replied smoothly.  "I would not
myself suggest special commission deals at these places.  Of course I
agree with you that we should always respect our pledges.  But at the
same time it struck me that--"

"I don't want to hear what struck you," retorted Mr. Wintermuth, with
unwonted asperity.  "Let me see the proofs--I will take the necessary
action.  Is that what you have there--those papers?"

"One or two of them, sir.  My principal ones naturally come from word
of mouth.  For example, I have talked with responsible men who have
seen the Trenton agent's bank deposit slips for certain sums, dated,
month after month, coincidently with the visit of a certain special
agent.  I can give you all the proofs any one could wish--if you need
any more after what you have in your hand."

Mr. Wintermuth turned to his desk to indicate that the interview was
over and he wished to be alone.  And it was a well-satisfied
conspirator who retired to his own office.  Privately reflecting that
the deed was as good as done, Mr. O'Connor returned almost instantly to
his ruling passion of caution.  Now to conceal or to make vague as far
as possible his own intent in the matter.

"Ask Mr. Smith to step here a moment," he said to Jimmy, and a shadow
of a smile crossed his face.  The idea of using Smith to help serve as
a foil for himself had an element of grim humor to which Mr. O'Connor
was not entirely blind.  Smith, of all men, by all means.

With a troubled expression on his face he turned to meet his
subordinate.

"I've been talking to the chief about the crooked work in the
Conference," he said.  "Trenton and Syracuse and some of the rotten
spots.  I'm afraid I made it a little strong.  I swear I didn't imagine
he'd take the thing so much to heart or I believe I'd have kept still
entirely."

"What did you tell him for?" asked the General Agent, not especially
impressed.

"Well, I was getting pretty tired of seeing some of those fellows put
it over us, and I thought perhaps he'd let us fight fire with--well,
fireworks.  Instead of which, he flew up to the ceiling.  He wants to
get out."

"Get out?  Out of the Eastern Conference?" Smith inquired with more
interest.

"Yes.  And such a move might be justified, strictly speaking, but it
seems to me a little extreme--just a little uncalled for.  There are a
few crooked companies in every agreement, concerns that take advantage
of the good faith of the rest--like the Protection of Newark--but after
all, even under present conditions, we're getting about as much
business as we're entitled to, and pretty nearly as much as we're
willing to write.  What do you think?"

Smith looked sharply at his superior officer.

"Why do you put it up to me?" he asked.  "If the President has decided
to get out, that settles it--out we go."

"Oh, he hasn't absolutely decided.  I thought I'd tell you about it, in
case he asked you what you thought."

"I see," replied the General Agent, thoughtfully, and said no more.

"Well?" queried O'Connor, expectantly, after a moment.

"If he asks me, I'll tell him what I think.  Is that all, sir?"

"Yes, that's about all."

The Vice-President, gazing a trifle uneasily at Smith's departing back,
somehow felt that he could not flatter himself on having done what he
wished toward the covering of his tracks.  But, as it chanced, Mr.
O'Connor's elaborate mechanism for befogging his trail was entirely
wasted, for the President, so far as could be learned, said not a thing
on the subject to anybody.  He took home the papers O'Connor had left
him, and studied them, presumably alone, for several days.  He did not
seek to cross-examine O'Connor's witnesses.  From something that
gentleman had said, he had gained the impression that outside parole
evidence would probably be prejudiced, and he felt that the documents
in his possession were sufficient to govern his verdict.  He conceived
that here was a matter for calm, deliberate judgment, for the exercise
of the critical, judicial faculty, which he felt he possessed in a high
degree.  This was not precisely vanity; it was rather the long habit of
undisputed dicta.  He felt that here was an excellent opportunity for
justifying his reputation for independence of decision and action.

So Mr. Wintermuth, pondering in silence for nearly a fortnight, left
his Vice-President stretched on the rack of uncertainty without a
glance in his direction.  To all the tentative efforts O'Connor made to
reopen the subject, his chief returned a curt refusal.  There was
nothing to do but to wait, and O'Connor, with increasingly bad grace,
waited.

Not until the close of the second week was his suspense ended, and then
not by any intimation from headquarters.  Mr. Wintermuth had acted
overnight, and had given his verdict directly to the press; and thus it
was that the Vice-president, opening one morning the _Journal of
Commerce_ to the insurance page, found himself confronted by the
headline:--

"Guardian Quits the Conference."

Mr. O'Connor sank back into his chair with a sigh of relief, and
carefully read and reread the article from beginning to end.  It was
very brief, stating simply that Mr. Wintermuth had sent to the
Conference the resignation of the Guardian, for "reasons which could be
better imagined than discussed," and proposed henceforward to conduct
the operations of the company without reference to any "unequally
restrictive restrictions."

It was with positive buoyancy that the Vice-president delivered the
paper into the hands of Jimmy, for its processional through the office.



CHAPTER XII

It was late afternoon in the drawing room of Miss Wardrop's house in
Washington Square.  The short November dusk was fading into night, and
outside in the old Square, the street lights gleamed in the frosty air.
In the fireplace, before which two people were sitting, a wood fire
crackled, throwing fantastic shadows about the old room.

Dinner at Miss Wardrop's was at half after seven.  Just why Mr. Smith
should have considered it necessary to drop in, on his way home from
the Guardian, could no doubt have been better explained had his face
not been shaded by his hand.  The face in the room best worth seeing,
however, was not so shaded, and Smith manifested no displeasure at the
fact.  He himself sat on the chimney seat, and he appeared to be less
talkative than usual.  His reticence may or may not have been
understood by Miss Maitland, but if it were, she chose to pretend
otherwise.

"Why are you so very silent?" she finally asked.  "Do you know, it
isn't at all flattering.  One might think your thoughts were a thousand
miles away from here."

"Well, perhaps some of them are," Smith confessed.  "And I must really
ask your pardon for thinking far away, when I am with you.  And yet,"
he smiled slightly, "perhaps you also came in as an important factor in
the background of those far-off thoughts."

"If you are trying to stimulate my curiosity, you have been quite
successful," said Miss Maitland, and she waited expectantly.

"Do you remember Mr. O'Connor, the Vice-President of the Guardian?"
Smith asked abruptly.

"Yes.  He was the one, wasn't he, who came into Mr. Wintermuth's office
for a minute?"

"Yes."

"You say he is Vice-president of the company?  Is he a great friend of
yours?  Perhaps my first impression was wrong, but I don't believe I
liked Mr. O'Connor very much--not nearly so much as that amusing Mr.
Cuyler, or nice, polite Mr. Wintermuth, or queer, silent Mr. Bartels."

"Well, between you and me, I don't believe your first impression was
far from correct.  I don't like O'Connor much, myself," said Smith.
"More than that, I know he is unfriendly to me.  But that is not the
point.  The point is that he is up to something, and I don't know what
it is.  And I've got to find out what it is.  That's what I was
thinking of."

"What kind of a thing do you mean?  And what has he done to make you
think so?" the girl asked.

"He has succeeded in persuading the President to take the Guardian out
of the Eastern Conference.  And I can't figure out why.  He's got some
ulterior motive, but I can't guess what it is."

"What is the Eastern Conference?"

"It's a sort of association of insurance companies doing business in
New England, New York, and other Atlantic states.  Most of the best
companies belong to it.  It's a sort of offensive and defensive
alliance.  It keeps down the general expense of conducting business by
limiting the rate of commission its members can pay to any agent, and
it supplies inspections to its members and does a lot of other things.
But it really isn't a question of what the Conference does for its
members so much as a question of what it may do to the Guardian, if the
Guardian gets out.  There's considerable quiet coercion about such a
union, you see--the Conference companies can make it very interesting
for an outsider, if they choose to do so.  And after a company has been
operating on the inside for a good many years, it's hard to jump the
fence and make so radical a change.  It upsets your organization."

"But why should the Conference try to make you belong?  And will they
attempt to hurt you if you resign?"

"I don't know.  Possibly not.  That will soon be seen.  But what I
can't fathom is why O'Connor, after all these years, should now lay his
wires to get the Guardian out.  He never does an important thing like
that for nothing; he's got some idea in the back of his head.  I feel
certain of that from the elaborate pains he took to make me think it
was not at his instigation that the thing was done.  But I know better,
for I know O'Connor."

"Haven't you any clew at all?"

"Not really.  They're all too vague.  I can't for the life of me see
what O'Connor has to gain by getting the Guardian out of the
Conference.  What good can it possibly do him personally?"

"I feel sure you'll hit on the correct solution at last," Helen said
thoughtfully, "because I have a distinct remembrance that one of your
chance shots went right to the mark when Charlie Wilkinson was trying
to get Mr. Hurd to insure his street car company.  Charlie thought it
was tremendously clever of you.  It was the first time I had ever heard
of you."

Smith looked at her quickly.  Feeling rather than seeing the glance,
the girl hastily continued:--

"I wonder whether Mr. Hurd ever decided to carry insurance."

"I wonder, too," the underwriter agreed, with amusement.  "If cool
nerve counts for anything, your friend Wilkinson ought to have come out
all right.  I must ask Mr. Osgood about it the next time I go to
Boston."

"If he does succeed, I'm sure he'll feel it was quite largely due to
your suggestion.  And that is why I think you'll eventually solve the
mystery of Mr. O'Connor's conduct."

"I wish I could believe it.  But I seem to be as far away as when I
began to speculate.  The only things I can think of don't appear to me
to be reasonable."

"What are some of them?  Could I understand them?"

"Better than I, very likely.  Since I've gotten you so far into this
horribly businesslike affair, I may as well go all the way through.  As
I said, I can't see how O'Connor can personally get any advantage out
of this in any conceivable way, so long as he stays with the Guardian."

"But suppose he himself resigned--what then?  Or don't people ever
leave the Guardian?"

"Oh, minor employees, of course--they're always shifting about.  But no
one of any importance has left the company, except by old age or death,
for a good many years.  Nobody knows exactly why, but it's a good
company, and every one just stays.  And besides, if O'Connor got out to
go with some one else, what good would this move have done him?"

"Isn't it just possible that he has gotten the impression the company
has treated him badly, and he is trying to do something to hurt it
before he leaves?"

"Pure malignance?  Hardly that.  And besides, if that were so, why
should Mr. Wintermuth accept his suggestion?  No, I can't believe that
is it."

"What could Mr. O'Connor do, supposing that he left the Guardian and
went with some other company?"

"That's another thing.  As things are now, I don't see how he could do
much to hurt us.  It would be a bit awkward for us, I don't mind
saying, if he went with some Conference company, for some of the
insiders are none too scrupulous in their methods against
non-Conference competitors.  Of course, if the Conference should pass a
separation rule--but no, that's impossible."

"What is a separation rule?"

"Why, it's a kind of boycott.  The Conference might pass a rule
reducing the commission of any agent who also represented
non-Conference companies.  You see, most agents represent several
companies--a good, big agency may perhaps represent fifteen or
twenty--and the Conference companies are in the majority in most of the
agencies where the Guardian is represented.  It would mean that those
agents would have to choose between resigning us and having their
commissions reduced, and there is very little doubt as to which course
they would take.  The Conference might even forbid its companies to be
represented at all in mixed agencies--where both Conference and
non-Conference companies were located--and then those agents would
either have to throw us out or lose the bulk of their companies."

"But couldn't they get other non-Conference companies to fill up their
agencies and keep the Guardian?"

"No--hardly.  There are only a few really high-class companies on the
outside.  And most of the agents couldn't afford to change.  They would
simply have to let us go; and that would mean that we'd have to make
our agency plant practically all over again."

"And that would be hard to do, I suppose?"

"It would be just about equivalent to building a new company, for the
company's agents are the company."

"But you say it's impossible they should pass this rule.  Why?"

"Several reasons.  It's pretty arbitrary--it looks a little like a
combination in restraint of trade, although company organizations in a
lot of states have separation rules.  But I doubt whether the Eastern
Conference has the backbone to put such a rule in effect.  Besides,
it's scarcely worth while as things now stand--almost all the good
companies are in the Conference, and as for the rest, they're either
used to them or they feel they're hardly worth bothering about."

"But the Guardian is, isn't it?"

"Yes," said Smith, thoughtfully, "I suppose it is.  Still, what good
would it do O'Connor?  That's what I keep coming back to, because I'm
absolutely certain he wouldn't have put this thing through without some
personal end in sight."

"Might not he be disinterested, for once?"

"Not O'Connor," said Smith, dryly.  "But good heavens! haven't we
talked intrigues and cabals and plots long enough?  There are one or
two other things in life, you know--I've hardly given you a chance to
speak, and I've been holding forth like an unsuccessful detective
reporting to his superior officer."

And the conversation drifted into other channels.

A great city is a wonderful place in a thousand ways, not the least of
which is its magical influence upon human relationships.  Perhaps its
mere size, the multiplicity of its sights and sounds, its effect of
isolating an individual in the midst of an almost impenetrable
throng--perhaps these things are chiefly responsible.  But it is
certain that, in common with the desert and the sea, a city like London
or Paris or New York carries in its very atmosphere a sense of almost
devotional reality, of almost the pure essence of life.  In the very
shrine of the unreal and the artificial, reality grips with a power
elsewhere unknown.  Beyond all the curious striving for the immaterial,
the sense of the utter futility of that very effort becomes wholly
clear.  Follies and affectations may be sought with added fervor for
the mind and the body, but the want of them is stilled in the soul.

Since this is so, in the very home of conventions and conventionalities
these artificial ideas become more palpably ridiculous.  Surrounded by
needless man-made fetters, one sees them to be inane.  The wind that
blows between the worlds blows in the world's great cities, and it
blows, for their lovers at least, the cobwebs from the heart.  What is
natural is seen to be right, and what is real is seen to be true.

To Smith, lover of his city as he was, these truths were peculiarly
obvious; and to Helen Maitland, seeing them largely from the angle of
Smith's vision, they became the truth no less.  She remembered with
some surprise her quite recent dislike of New York, and her even more
recent chill of distaste and dread, when she came from the Park, which
had checked for the moment the liking she felt springing to life.  Of
course it was loneliness; but here was a man who had told her that New
York's loneliness was one of its greatest charms, and who regarded the
apparent heartlessness of the city as one of its most inspiring tonics.
Somehow, and apparently most naturally, she found it was coming to seem
so to her.

If a man wishes to interest a woman, he does well to speak to her of
his enthusiasms; and if he desires to alienate her interest, he will do
well to forget them.  Smith, who cared deeply for New York, and who was
moving unconsciously along the sunny way that led to Helen Maitland,
found that never two enthusiasms welded so readily as these.  Part of
this, no doubt, was due to the city's own influence, but probably the
greater part was due to his own genuine understanding and affection for
the town itself.

And Helen had not been the readiest of converts, for in the first
place, coming as she did from Boston, her sympathies were not with the
larger city.  She had found its confusion rather tiresome, its
contrasts perhaps a little crude, its poverty somewhat distressing, and
its wealth a trifle vulgar.  With Smith, a new viewpoint was hers, and
her old conceptions, which now seemed hopelessly provincial, melted
like mist before the sun.

Smith knew his city as a maestro knows his instrument, and their
voyages together were like incursions into an enchanted space where
time was not.  He seemed to know exactly what had been in every nook
and corner of the town at every period of its career.  Once they stood
on Broadway near Columbia University, on whose granite wall was fixed
the plate which told of Washington's muster upon those very heights;
and Smith had built up for her, not as an historian, but as an actor in
the drama, the picture before her eyes.  He showed her the old Jumel
Mansion farther up town, and they went back together a century and a
half to all the strange sights those old halls had seen.

Perhaps the softest spot in Smith's sympathies was held by the
Knickerbockers--those sturdy old citizens who seemed all of them
somehow to have taken something of the mold of their redoubtable leader
and the greatest of them all, Peter Stuyvesant.  Smith was familiar
with them all, from Peter down.  And old Minuit, the Indian, selling
his island for a song, was so much a matter of reality to Smith that
Helen came to believe in him also as a real individual.

"There he is now!" Smith once suddenly remarked, as they turned a
corner and found themselves almost in the arms of an exceptionally
spirited cigar-store figure.

"Who?" Helen had asked in surprise.

"Why, old Peter Minuit himself, in the very act of reaching for the
proceeds," Smith explained.  For which piece of simple levity it is to
be feared that he was neither properly ashamed nor adequately rebuked.

It was in the old city, below Twenty-third Street, that the work of
time had been most diverse.  Here four full eras had left their
mark--the aboriginal, the early Dutch, the English-American, and lastly
the modern age of granite canyons and sky-seeking towers and marvels of
high air and below ground.  Smith knew all four, and if one knows where
to search, there are plenty of interesting relics of the first three
still to be found.  He knew how the southern end of Manhattan looked
when Hendrick Hudson moored the Half Moon in the lower harbor; and
where the shore line lay when the old Dutch keels with their high poops
and proud pennons rode at anchor in the river; and again later on when
the English flag had replaced the Dutch, and the towering masts of
frigates and brigs and schooners made with their threaded rigging a
constant etching of the water front.

He guided Helen through old streets where a century's relics still
persisted and where one could still find an occasional cornerstone
which the flight of a hundred hurrying years had not displaced.  He was
familiar with most of the old street names,--how West Broadway was once
Chapel Street,--many of them long since abandoned for modern
changelings far less effective.  For the first time Helen realized the
origin of the name of "Bouwerie," and how far into New York's and the
nation's traditions reached some of the mossy gravestones in Trinity
Churchyard.

The city, during the progress of the Civil War, of which Helen had
heard Augustus Lispenard speak, was clearer in her vision than ever
before, for Smith's grandfather had marched down Broadway in '61, and,
unlike Mr. Lispenard, he had not come back.

"They were just starting Central Park," Smith said; "because I have
heard mother say often that her father's letters from the front asked
several times how the Park was getting along."

"It seems odd, doesn't it?  I had always looked on the Park as
something which must always have been where it is," Miss Maitland
commented.  "But I suppose there must have been a beginning some time."

Now all these wanderings and this companionship could not go wholly for
naught.  Smith was not at all a sentimental person, and Miss Maitland
was not in search of emotional adventure, but they were on hazardous
ground, and it was hazardous because it was very pleasant to them both.

Miss Mary Wardrop was a lady in whom discretion was held in but
lukewarm esteem.  Had this not been so, she would have doubtless
interposed, for convention's sake at least, in the swiftly developing
friendship between her niece and this young insurance man.  But Miss
Wardrop had long since ceased to care what the world said, and her
satisfaction with her own views was sufficient to permit her ignoring
those who disagreed with them.  She saw nothing objectionable in Smith,
and if she speculated on the affair at all, she probably reflected that
Miss Maitland was now twenty-five years old and if she didn't know her
own mind at that age, it didn't much matter what happened to her.

So Smith, who was blandly ignorant of the fact that propriety as
strictly measured in Boston would have been aghast at his candid manner
of following his inclinations, met with no obstacles save from Miss
Maitland herself.  She, it is true, now and again drew back when it
seemed to her that their friendship was perhaps progressing too
rapidly; but she was not used to men like Smith.  There was nothing of
the Puritan about him, nothing of the false idea that if a thing is
pleasant, it must therefore be somehow sinful.  On the contrary, Smith
believed that with a normal person the gratification of wishes was the
natural result of their possession.  If he felt hungry, he ate; if he
wanted to see Helen, he went and saw her.  Against this hopeless lack
of affectation ordinary feminine weapons were badly blunted; in fact,
they came to strike Miss Maitland as rather silly.  After all, if he
wished to see her, why shouldn't he do so?  The mere fact that he had
seen her the day before was not germane.  The one germane thing would
have been a lack of inclination on her part to see Smith--and curiously
enough, this lack did not manifest itself.

Thus it was that only a few days after their long talk about O'Connor,
the same fire saw them together once more.  It was Thanksgiving Eve.

"Please don't tell me you have any engagement to-night," said Smith;
"for by almost superhuman effort and influence I have managed to
reserve a table for three at the Café Turin at eight o'clock.  May I
call the Honorable Jinks and request Miss Wardrop to come and be
invited to dine with me?"

"You might try," said Miss Maitland, smiling.

"Then I will."

When the dignified Jenks had limped upward on his mission, the
conversation took another turn.

"You are looking very cheerful to-night," Helen remarked.

"More so than I usually do when you see me?"

"More so than the last time I saw you, at all events.  Does this mean
that you have correctly solved the O'Connor mystery?  You really got me
very much interested in it."

"No, I haven't solved it.  But I have a clew--the one you gave me.  If
it is the right one, we shall learn very soon."

On the stairs came the sound of Jenks's returning feet, followed a
moment later by the rumor of Miss Wardrop's own approach.

"Good evening," she greeted Smith.

"I've come to ask you a favor," he answered.  "I once happened to save
the life of a head waiter, and he has now repaid the obligation by
reserving a table for me to-night at the Café Turin, and I want you and
Miss Maitland to come and dine with me."

Miss Wardrop wavered; she looked at her niece inquiringly.

"Then you'll come," Smith said.

The old lady laughed.

"Apparently I will, if Miss Maitland has no other plan for the evening."

Helen signified that she had none; and thus it was that eight o'clock
found them seated in an eligible corner of the big, gay restaurant,
watching the animated holiday crowd, and themselves in no somber or
taciturn mood.

A restaurant may be the resort of strange people, but it is an
institution of peculiar attractiveness, for all that.  All the other
tables in the room were occupied by merry parties, jewels and demigems
glinted back a thousand lights, men and women of society and out of it
laughed and talked, there was the clink of a myriad of glasses, the
hurrying of anxious and expectant waiters, the tinkle of silverware on
china, mingled with the ignored strains of an orchestra invisible and
sufficiently remote not to dictate offensively the tempo of mastication
of the diners.  It was nothing if not a cosmopolitan gathering.  In the
crowd were, to judge from appearances, foreigners of many races; but
all were masquerading as citizens of the world.

"A conglomerate crew," Smith observed.  "They like to convey the
impression that last week they dined on the terrace at Bertolini's in
Naples, or at Claridge's, or Shepheard's at Cairo, or the Madrid in the
Bois, or the Poinciana; while as a matter of fact most of them are like
myself and get into this sort of game about twice a year."

"Where do you suppose they all come from?" Miss Wardrop inquired.  She
affected the newer haunts of modern society very little, and this sort
of gathering was strange to her.

"Nobody knows," said her host, lightly.  "Rahway, Yonkers, Flushing.
Probably Harlem would actually account for the majority, if my theory
is correct that most of them are as new to this as I am myself."

"Why don't you include Boston in your humble category?" Miss Maitland
asked, laughing.

"Because I would be surprised if there were another Bostonian in this
room this evening."

"But why do you think so?" the girl persisted.

"Oh, this isn't their style; they don't like this sort of business.
No, I'll wager you three macaroons against a lump of sugar that you are
the only child of the Back Bay in this place to-night."

"Done!" declared the girl.

"How can the question be decided?" Miss Wardrop inquired.  "I don't see
how you can either of you prove your contention."

"I will show you," replied her niece.  She turned to a waiter, hovering
paternally near by, and said, "Will you please go over to that third
table where the very light-haired young lady in the blue gown is
sitting, and say to the young gentleman whose back is turned toward us
that Miss Maitland wishes to speak with him?"

Smith turned, in time to see the young gentleman in question rise at
the waiter's message, cast a look at Miss Maitland, and then come
cheerfully forward.

"Do you know, I never dine at a place where I hope and expect--and
select--to be absolutely unknown, without meeting anywhere from five to
nineteen friends, relations, and acquaintances of various degrees of
intimacy," he said, shaking hands.  "I'm really delighted to see you,
Helen--upon my word, I am; but I sincerely hope you are discretion
itself."

"Mr. Wilkinson," said the girl, introducing him to her aunt; and with
the briefest of glances at Smith, she added, "of Boston."

"I remember Mr. Smith," said Charlie, easily.  "There is an epic
quality of justice in his being here, because he is indirectly
responsible for my presence.  At least," he explained, turning to
Smith, "if you hadn't made a certain pregnant suggestion of the
susceptibility of a trolley magnate to the opinion of the stock
market--"

"You don't mean--?" Helen exclaimed.

"As sure as eggs is incubator's children!  They hatched.  My esteemed
uncle listened to my siren voice--and here I am on a celebration trip!
By the way," he said to the underwriter, "I asked Bennington Cole,
who's handling the schedule for me, to put as much of it as he could in
your company."

"That's very good of you," Smith replied; "but it will be a
comparatively trifling amount, I'm afraid.  The Guardian has just about
as much as it is willing to risk in the congested district of Boston,
and Silas Osgood and Company are under instructions to keep our
liability down to its present amount and take little new business."

"I congratulate you, Charlie," Helen said.  "But why did you come here,
hoping to be unknown?  Is it your beautiful lady?  Is she some one you
shouldn't know?"

"Well, hardly that.  She's not precisely an undesirable citizen--she's
all right enough--but you scarcely want to meet her, I'm afraid.  You
see, Isabel went South and left me in the lurch, and I had to celebrate
somehow--hence Amye."

"Amye?" said Smith, with amusement.

"Yes.  With an ultimate 'e.'  Amye Sinclair on the program; Minnie
Schottman in the Hoboken family Bible.  She's a nice girl but a trifle
unintellectual.  She threw me a papier maché orchid once in Boston."

"Young man," said Miss Wardrop, speaking for the first time, "are you a
typical example of the young men of to-day?"

"I am," Wilkinson promptly answered.  "I am energetic, entertaining, an
opportunist, a eudaimonist, and a baseball fan.  Yes, I think I may
concede I am typical.  Do you agree with me, Helen?"

"I always agree with you, Charlie," said the girl, with a smile.  "What
possible good would it do me if I didn't?"

"Oh, you could--but you'll excuse me, I'm sure.  I see the waiter is
preparing to serve my table with real food, which is something I have a
confessed predilection for.  Good-by--I'm perfectly charmed to have
seen you all."

And Mr. Wilkinson returned to Amye and the Cotuits.

"Don't look so scandalized, Aunt Mary," said Helen to her relation.
"He is really much less abandoned than he would have people believe;
and I think Isabel will bring him out all right yet.  I rather fancy
she has decided to."

"Isabel Hurd, you mean?" responded Miss Wardrop.  "You don't mean to
say so!  But, bless your heart, I'm not scandalized--I've heard boys
talk before.  Still, if your friend Isabel knows what she is about, she
won't stay South too long; she'll come North and let Amye go back to
Hoboken."

"Probably she will.  But I have not seen the three macaroons which I
won with such ease and finesse."

"Waiter," said Smith, disregarding the fact that they had not finished
the entrée, "bring three macaroons--exactly three--right away."

An expression of slight mystification appeared on the broad brow of the
waiter, but he was inured to eccentric gastronomic requests, and
fulfilled this one with his accustomed dignity.

"There!" said Smith.  "There's my bet paid, though strictly speaking
you couldn't have held me for it, since you were betting on a
certainty."

"May I pass the spoils?" replied the girl, with a laugh.

The memory of those three macaroons had to stand Smith in the stead of
other things for the last days of November.  On his arrival at the
office on the morning following Thanksgiving Day, Mr. O'Connor
requested him to go down to Baltimore on company business requiring
some little time to transact, and not until after the first of December
did he set foot again in New York.

He arrived at about eight o'clock in the morning; and as he was obliged
to go home first, he did not reach William Street until nearly ten.  As
he entered the Guardian office, he was aware that something unusual had
happened.  Business seemed somehow to have been oddly interrupted.
Around the map desks and file cases little groups of clerks were
gathered, talking in low tones.

Smith watched them in silence for a moment, and as no one volunteered
to enlighten him as to what had occurred, he walked over to Mr.
Bartels's office and went in.

"What's the matter here this morning?  Is there a conflagration
anywhere?" he asked the stolid personage at the desk, who barely ceased
his figuring to make response:--

"Go and see the boss.  He and O'Connor have had a quarrel--funny
business--I don't know anything about it, that's all."

Smith went.  Mr. O'Connor was in his room, busily engaged at his desk;
the table beside him was heaped high with papers and books, which was
an unusual sight, for O'Connor was a methodical man and the room was
customarily bare of litter.  The General Agent walked thoughtfully over
to the other side of the office, and glanced through the President's
door.  Mr. Wintermuth was walking up and down, his hands behind him and
his face a little flushed.  Smith hesitated, then deliberately opened
the door and entered.

"Good morning, sir.  I have--" he began, but his chief, with an
expression in which anger was still the predominant characteristic,
said abruptly:--

"Do you know what has happened?"

"No, sir, I do not."

"Mr. O'Connor has tendered his resignation, as Vice-President of the
Guardian!"

Smith stood still a long minute without answering, and then he saw
suddenly and clearly all that for so many weeks the darkness had hidden
from him.

"And did you accept his resignation, sir?" he asked at last.

The President turned swiftly to face the question.

"He tendered his resignation as of December thirty-first.  I told him
his resignation was accepted as of nine-forty-five this morning.  And I
told him to pack up his stuff and get out of here and never show
himself in the Guardian office again."



CHAPTER XIII

In the course of his extended career Mr. Wintermuth had been called
upon to face many serious and unexpected crises.  Conflagrations; rate
wars; eruptions of idiotic and ruinous legislation adopted by state
senates and assemblies composed of meddlesome agriculturalists, saloon
keepers, impractical young lawyers, and intensely practical old
politicians;--all these he had lived through not once, but often, and
had always piloted the Guardian's bark to port in safety.  In fact, he
had done this with such aplomb that long ago he had dismissed from his
mind such a thing as the possibility of a wave insurmountable.

In his first flush of anger against O'Connor's betrayal--for by Mr.
Wintermuth the action of his Vice-President could not otherwise be
regarded--he had but one thought, and that was to make O'Connor's act
recoil upon his own head.  At that time, however, he was still in
ignorance of the full scope of the betrayal, and when the element of
bitter personal resentment had largely faded out, his pride and dignity
reasserted themselves and bade him choose a different course.  Let
O'Connor go his way--inevitably justice would overtake him.  After all,
the first duty was to the company, and the first thing to be done was
to fill O'Connor's place.

The cardinal principle of Mr. Wintermuth's administration of the
Guardian, during all the years he had been chief executive, had been
that all vacancies be filled by promotion of the company's own men.
All those who occupied positions of responsibility with the Guardian
had come up from the ranks, and it was one of the President's favorite
themes for self-congratulation that it had always been possible to fill
every opening without going outside the home office.

Unfortunately, however, of late years the current flowing toward the
top had been rather clogged by the unusual pertinacity of the
incumbents of important places.  O'Connor, Bartels, Wagstaff--for years
undisturbed all these had held their positions.  Even Smith, the
youngest man to occupy a place of trust, had been in his present
capacity for quite a while.  And the natural result of this was that
new material in the company, or at least material capable of
advancement and development, was painfully scarce.

Bartels was not an underwriter at all, but an accountant, and it was
inconceivable that he would ever be anything else.  Wagstaff, who
supervised the Southern and a part of the Western field, was a good
enough machine man, capable in a routine way and within his
limitations, but helpless outside them; he had no initiative, wholly
lacked dash and imagination, and it was out of the question that he be
given charge of the general underwriting of the company, even under
such a chief as Mr. Wintermuth.  Cuyler, the head of the local
department, was a city underwriter pure and simple; his knowledge and
his interest stopped short where the jurisdiction of the New York
Exchange ended; he knew no more, nor did he care for anything else.

There remained but one possibility--Smith.  And Smith was very young.
There had been few or no cases in the annals of fire insurance where
the underwriting of such a company as the Guardian had been placed in
the hands of a man scarcely turned thirty.  Mr. Wintermuth, going over
the situation carefully, began to wish that he had looked a little
farther into the future.  A sharp sense of indecision came disagreeably
to him, and very reluctantly he reached the conclusion that he did not
quite know what to do.

By his order a special meeting of the directors had been called for the
next morning, and for the intervening hours he possessed his soul in
what patience he could command.  If the reflection occurred to him that
perhaps it would have been wiser to retain O'Connor until his successor
could be selected, he dismissed it at once.  The company would have to
go on as best it could without a vice-president until such time as the
proper man could be found.

It was ten-thirty to the minute when Mr. Wintermuth took the chair and
looked about the table at his board.  Eleven directors in all,
including the President, were in attendance; and although no one except
Mr. Wintermuth knew why they had been called together, there was an
undercurrent of concern among those present.  This was soon
crystallized, for Mr. Wintermuth's opening words wakened the active
interest and lively perturbation of every man.

"Gentlemen," he said, "this meeting has been called as the result of my
having received the following letter.  'James Wintermuth, Esq., and so
forth--I hereby tender my resignation as Vice-President of the Guardian
Fire Insurance Company of New York, to take effect on December
thirty-first or on such earlier date as may suit your convenience.
Signed, F. Mills O'Connor.'  That is the letter, and so far as I am
concerned, that closes the matter, except for the vote whereby I ask
you gentlemen to confirm my action in accepting Mr. O'Connor's
resignation--as of yesterday morning."

There was no discussion, and the vote was taken.

"Now," continued Mr. Wintermuth, "the office of Vice-president has been
declared vacant, and I will request your consideration of the filling
of the vacancy.  As you know, it has always been the policy of the
Guardian to fill all vacancies, official and otherwise, by the
promotion of its own men.  It is my own belief that this is the only
satisfactory and in fact the only honorable system.  But Mr. O'Connor's
resignation was so unexpected as to leave us unprepared--perhaps more
so than we should have been--and it now seems as though a deviation
from our usual course might be forced upon us."

He then very briefly acquainted them with the qualities of the men
under O'Connor in much the same way that he had reviewed them in his
own mind.  The directors listened in silence.  In short, silence was
their only possible attitude, for the contingency which now confronted
them was one which took them wholly by surprise.

"To sum up the situation," Mr. Wintermuth concluded, "there is only one
man now in the employ of the company who is qualified to fill the
vice-presidency, and that is Richard Smith, our present General Agent."

He hesitated.  Personally he would have been glad to go farther and
recommend Smith for the position, but in his own mind he was not
convinced of the wisdom of this.

"Isn't he pretty young?" inquired Mr. Whitehill, of Whitehill and
Rhodes, the large real estate operators, who sat at Mr. Wintermuth's
right.

"Yes, he is.  I'm afraid he's almost too young," was the frank reply.

"How old is he, anyway?" another director asked.

"Thirty-two or thereabouts, I believe.  But he's had good training."

"He won't do," said Mr. Whitehill, tersely.  "The man for that job
ought to be more seasoned--at least forty.  Don't you agree with me?"

"I'm afraid I do," the President conceded, rather reluctantly.  "At
least I am afraid that Smith, good underwriter as he is, needs--as you
say--a little more seasoning before being given so responsible a
position."

"What's the alternative?" inquired Mr. Griswold, from the other end of
the table.

"The alternative," answered Mr. Wintermuth, "is one which I like little
better.  It is to go outside and hire an underwriter from somewhere
else."

"Do you know a good man--one we could get?"

"There are always plenty available if you look in the right place--and
back up your invitation with a sufficient monetary inducement," said
the President, a trifle caustically.  "Little as I myself fancy the
idea, it seems to me that it is what we shall have to do.  Unless," he
added, "you gentlemen should decide to risk giving Smith a chance."

"I'm in favor of going outside," Mr. Whitehill announced.  "I've met
Smith, and he's a nice clean-cut young fellow, but it would be an
injustice to put him in such a place and expect him to make good.  He's
too much of a kid for such a job with a company like the Guardian."

There was a murmur, whether of approval or of passive acquiescence
could not be told.

"Thirty-five is the minimum age for the President of the United
States," suggested Mr. Wintermuth, detachedly.

"Well, thirty-five is quite young enough," retorted Mr. Whitehill.
"Give the boy a few years' time.  I say, hire an underwriter outside."

The President turned to face the table.

"I take it, then, that it is the wish of the Board that the company's
rule regarding office promotions be waived in this instance.  But we
must remember--as I have always maintained--that it has a discouraging
effect on loyalty and ambition, to import material to fill important
places.  However, it is for you gentlemen to decide."

"Have you thought of anyone for the position?" inquired one.

"Not seriously," responded the President.  "I have scarcely had time.
There are of course plenty of men we might get, but I have really not
felt like considering the question of their relative desirability
before submitting the matter to you."

"I heard a speech last week," said Mr. Griswold, "by some man who
wanted to reduce the fire waste of the whole country.  It was delivered
before the Chamber of Commerce in Plainfield, New Jersey, where I
live--I occasionally attend their meetings.  He's got something to do
with a Chicago company.  I think his name is Lyon.  He impressed me as
being a clever talker.  Do you know anything about him?"

"Oh, yes," replied Mr. Wintermuth, with a smile.  "You mean Charles
Lyon.  He is President of the Liberty Fire--quite a new company.  He
_is_ a clever talker--they say he can talk a bird out of a tree.  To
have organized the Liberty and gotten it started with real cash paid in
was a distinct personal achievement.  But I'm afraid he's a better
promoter than an underwriter; the Liberty has been losing money at an
astonishing rate ever since it actually commenced to write business.
If he succeeds in cutting the fire waste of the country in two, his own
company may survive and may even share in the benefits, although
probably not to a disproportionate extent.  But I'm afraid he's too
much of a philanthropist--a little too unselfish for us.  We want an
underwriter, not a philanthropist--some one more interested in keeping
down the losses of the Guardian Fire Insurance Company than those of
the United States of America.  And I imagine that Lyon at present would
stick to the Liberty anyway, although I fancy he will be open for a new
position before very long."

"Well, I move that the President be empowered to hunt up the most
likely candidate he can find for Mr. O'Connor's position," said Mr.
Whitehill, and the motion was carried.  An adjournment was taken for a
week, or until such time as Mr. Wintermuth should have a candidate
ready for consideration.

There was one decided drawback to the successful accomplishment of the
task to which Mr. Wintermuth now addressed himself.  This was the fact
that the Guardian was not disposed to pay exorbitantly for an
underwriting head.  It was willing to pay a reasonable salary, but it
was not a corporation of unlimited resources or gigantic income, and
the expense ratio had perforce to be considered.  Plenty of men whose
names occurred to the President would have been competent and in every
way eligible, but they were men of recognized standing in the
profession, and already occupied positions of trust.  It is not often
that highly capable men are open to change without unusual inducement,
and Mr. Wintermuth, scanning the ranks of possibilities, found them
dishearteningly scanty.  All the men he wanted, he knew perfectly well
could not be detached from their present allegiances, and the men who
were detachable he didn't want.  Moreover, it had been a good many
years since Mr. Wintermuth had been actively at work in the field.  The
men with whose character and ability he was most familiar were too
advanced in age; the younger generation he did not know.

Virgil and several others of the early classic authors have commented
upon the surprising swiftness with which common rumor travels.  If its
speed was provocative of comment in those bygone days, which lacked
most of the accelerating features now found on every hand, it should
certainly fare far faster at the present time.  At any rate, no tidings
ever spread through the subliminal Chinese empire, warning of Magyar
hordes beyond the Wall, with greater celerity than the news of Mr.
Wintermuth's quest through the insurance world.  The waves of it rolled
echoing from office to office, from special agent to special agent,
from city to city.

Like vultures out of an empty sky came the effects.  Circumspect as Mr.
Wintermuth had been, keeping the object of his search as secret as
might be, it was not more than four days before he was driven ruefully
to reflect that he might just as well have put an advertisement in the
paper.  Apparently everybody in the insurance world, including
especially the insurance editor of the paper in which he did not
advertise, knew he had decided to go outside his own office for a
managing underwriter; and apparently every person within reach had some
one--usually himself--to recommend for the position.  Mr. Wintermuth
finally found it necessary to deny himself to aspiring applicants who
besieged his office, and went out on a still hunt in the lanes and
byways where he was less likely to meet people with axes to grind.  It
was on one of these excursions, in a most natural and unpremeditated
manner, that he found himself confronted by Mr. Samuel Gunterson.

Mr. Gunterson had, it was true, been suggested as a possibility, but
through an outside source which Mr. Wintermuth felt sure was most
unlikely to have been stimulated to the suggestion by the person most
interested.  The President was in a mood of despondency, incidental to
the painful discovery of how frail a tissue of truth most of the
recommendations of his applicants' supporters usually possessed.  He
had spent four days investigating the records of men whose names,
enthusiastically presented to him, proved to be the only commendable
thing about them.  Now, after this discouraging experience, he hailed
the prospect of independent selection with relief.  It was with much
lightened depression that he recognized that Mr. Gunterson was
not--actively, at least--endeavoring to secure for himself the Guardian
appointment, but seemed, on the contrary, quite well contented in his
present position, and Mr. Wintermuth settled down to overtures with
almost his customary cheerfulness.

Mr. Samuel Gunterson was, at this period of his highly variegated
underwriting career, some forty-six years of age.  A life whose private
character no journal had as yet been tempted to divulge had left no
trace upon the impassive contour of his face nor on the somber dignity
of his bearing.  He was of middle height, and somewhat stout, his hair
was iron-gray, and he carried himself with a sort of restrained or
reflective optimism, as though he forced himself to be cheerful and
companionable at the cost of untold anguish to an inner ego that no one
knew.  It was an effective carriage, and few people attempted to take
liberties with its possessor.

During his experience in the fire insurance business Mr. Gunterson had
contrived to become connected with and separated from more different
concerns than could be readily computed.  He had averaged somewhat
better than one change bi-yearly, and the history of his peregrinations
could never have been written, for no one but himself could have
furnished the necessary material, and on all matters concerning himself
Mr. Gunterson was as cryptic as were the Delphic oracles of old.  He
chose to consider himself a victim of an astonishing series of
circumstances, and in a certain sense this was true, although the
circumstances were largely of his own creation.  Good companies and
bad, established concerns and promoters' flotations, auspicious
ventures and forlorn hopes--he had been associated with them all, and
from each one he emerged with untroubled calm while the unhappy
machine, its steering gear usually crippled by his hand alone, went
plunging downhill over the cliff into the soundless waters of oblivion.

Mr. Gunterson had been either President or underwriting manager of the
Eureka Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, whose demise scarcely surprised
those who were aware that its remarkable popularity with its agents was
mainly due to the willingness with which it accepted their bad business
in almost unlimited quantities; of the Florida Fire and Marine, whose
annual premium income of about eight times the amount warranted by its
resources attracted the thoughtful attention, although scarcely the
respect, of some of the leading underwriters in New York; of the United
of Omaha, whose heavy investment in the bonds of a subsequently
exploded copper company promoted by Mr. Gunterson's brother-in-law
precipitated its insolvency even before its underwriting losses could
overtake it; of the Planters of Oklahoma, which the Insurance
Commissioner of Massachusetts one day examined with the interesting
discovery that its liabilities were nearly three times its assets; and
of the Constitution Fire of Washington, D.C., which ceased to issue
policies by request of the United States Government.  From each of
these unfortunate endeavors Mr. Gunterson had emerged with unblemished
reputation, and even enhanced gravity and authority due to his wider
experience, and with his air of slightly melancholy urbanity diminished
not at all.

Four years prior to the time when fate led Mr. Wintermuth to his door,
he had been the nerve if not the brains of the general agency of Hill
and Daggett of William Street, representing in an extensive territory a
fleet of some seven small companies with more sporting spirit than
assets, and his astute helmsmanship had resulted in running all seven
soundly and irrevocably upon the rocks.  From the wreck he emerged, in
the first lifeboat to leave, with his broad white brow as untroubled
and serene as ever.  The collapse, however, left him without visible
means of support, so he took a short trip abroad, returning in a month
or two as the American manager of a large German company which was just
entering the United States.

It is doubtful by what, if any, method these Continental-European
companies select their representatives in this country.  Ability and
probity seem to be regarded lightly--as scarcely worth careful
investigation.  But no well-known man whose lack of success has left
unimpaired his fluency of speech need despair.  So long as new foreign
companies continue to establish American branches and appoint managers,
any amiable detrimental with sufficient verbosity may secure for
himself a comfortable berth.  Mr. Gunterson had now for almost two
years been in charge of the United States business of the
Elsass-Lothringen on a loss ratio so surprisingly satisfactory that he
himself was absolutely at a loss to explain it.  For the first time in
a considerable period he felt himself to be in a strong strategic
position, and he received Mr. Wintermuth in what only his extreme
courtesy prevented from being an offhand manner.  It was obvious that
he had no intention nor desire to meet any one halfway.

Now Mr. Wintermuth had always held that a man too anxious to change his
affiliations was no proper man for the Guardian, and this indifference
of Mr. Gunterson pleased him.  It further developed that Mr. Gunterson
had at last, in the Elsass-Lothringen, found almost what he had always
been seeking; his company gave him an entirely free hand,--a highly
desirable thing for an underwriting manager,--and he did not know
whether he should ever care about looking for anything else.  At the
psychological moment he nonchalantly displayed to Mr. Wintermuth's
interested gaze his twenty-two per cent loss ratio for the
Elsass-Lothringen, but in the next breath, recalling a few recent
preliminary tremors unpleasantly suggestive of other catastrophes
through which he had passed, and not to overlook a link in his
entangling chain, he stated that after all, though, he was an American,
and intimated that as such he sometimes felt he would a little rather
devote himself to the interests of an American underwriting
institution.  Only occasionally did he have this feeling--still, it was
there, and he must needs admit it.

Such was the man to whom Mr. Wintermuth had come, and to whom he
ultimately extended an invitation to present himself for the
consideration of the Guardian's directorate.  And Mr. Gunterson,
uneasily suspecting that the structure of the German institution might
at any moment collapse at some quite unexpected point, and calculating
that he might secure the managerial berth for his equally inefficient
brother-in-law, and thus keep the salary in the family, cautiously
accepted the invitation.  So this was the man who, a few days later,
faced the full board, who with affable confidence in his own abilities
won over even the somewhat skeptical Whitehill, and who was, on the
ninth day of December, 1912, elected Vice-President and underwriting
manager of the Guardian Fire Insurance Company of New York.

He guaranteed to free himself from his Teutonic engagements and
alliances in time to join the Guardian by the first of January.  Suave
and profound, with his grave glance suggesting unutterable depth, he
bowed himself out of the presence of Mr. Wintermuth and the other
directors.  And the ruminative elevator carried to the street level the
best satisfied man in New York.

At once the appointment was made public, and newspapers and individuals
alike refrained from expressing what the better informed among them
feared and expected.  Mr. Wintermuth heard nothing on every hand but
flattering comments on his own acumen, and praises of the sterling
qualities and experience of his new appointee.  In fact, the insurance
press as a whole spoke of Mr. Gunterson almost as kindly as though he
had died, and it was--unofficially--understood that Mr. O'Connor
realized that he had made a great mistake.  Mr. O'Connor, however,
having with considerable satisfaction moved into the Salamander's big
room with "President" in brass letters on the door, ably restrained any
irritation he may have felt.  Privately he assured Mr. Murch that
things could not have turned out better if he had ordered them himself.

"Gunterson is the very man for our purposes," he said.  "He's a stuffed
shirt if there ever was one.  I couldn't have made a better
appointment--for us--myself.  We can bleed the Guardian of every
desirable agent they've got, and he won't know how to stop us."

And Mr. Murch, smiling, suggested that the bleeding begin as soon as
possible.

In the Guardian itself, opinion was divided.  No one in the office knew
much, if anything, about the new underwriter, and most of the men were
inclined, in view of Mr. Wintermuth's recommendation, to take him at
his own assessed valuation.  But not so Wagstaff, and not so Smith.
Wagstaff because it hung in his memory how, many years before, this
same Gunterson had by rather questionable methods worsted him in a
transaction affecting a schedule of cotton compresses in Georgia; Smith
because he believed Mr. Gunterson to be a fraud of such monumental
proportions that he deserved a place among the storied charlatans of
the world.

His company and its reputation being more to Smith than almost anything
else, he felt this thing very nearly in the light of a tragedy.
Gloomily regarding the prospect, all he could see ahead was trouble and
disgrace.  And he knew that his own hands were tied.  He was of course
only an employee of the company, which could select as officers whom it
chose, and any protest from him would very properly be disregarded--and
worse than that, he would naturally and inevitably be suspected of
speaking once for the company and twice for himself.

It was a rather troubled face that in spite of himself he presented in
Washington Square North an evening or two after that eventful ninth of
December.

"What is the matter with you?  You look too discouraged for words,"
Helen told him, when the conversation was barely begun.

"Do I show it as plainly as that?" he replied, somewhat ruefully.
"Well, I'll admit that, funereal as I may look, it's not a circumstance
to the way I feel.  That's partly why I came here--to see you and be
cheered up."

Somewhere down in the still, chill Boston archives of Miss Maitland's
supposedly well-schooled emotions a little quiver awoke and stirred.
This was quite without warrant or suggestion from the girl herself, and
she strove to convince herself that no stir had been felt.
Unfortunately, however, she had received that day a letter from her
mother bringing her to a decision which she must now convey to the man
before her, and she felt a flash of almost reckless curiosity to see
how he would receive it.

"If I were a horrible egotist," she said lightly, "I should think that
a little part of your depression came from anticipating that I was
going to tell you I am going back home next week."

Smith looked at her in silence.  He looked at her until she felt the
pause and broke again into speech.

"You see, I have to get back to be with mother at Christmas, and there
are a lot of things to do before then--" she began, but he interrupted
her.

"I said I came here to be cheered up--and that is what you tell me!" he
said.  "I came up here half hoping to be soothed back into my customary
optimism--and this is what I get!  This is certainly an accursed month
in an accursed year!"

It occurred to Helen that, regarding the matter strictly from a
standpoint of gallantry, the year wherein a young man met her and
successfully won her friendship should not properly be termed in all
ways and wholly accursed.  She scarcely felt like pointing this out,
however; and the compliment of Smith's real concern at her departure
would compensate for a little gaucherie of expression.  As though he
had read her thought, Smith spoke again, this time with all trace of
the sardonic gone from his tone.

"I beg your pardon--I didn't mean that," he said.  "It has been a fine
year.  I won't revile it just because it ends with a double
catastrophe.  How soon do you expect to leave?"

"The end of next week, I think," the girl answered.  There was an
expression in his eyes which she did not quite understand, and
therefore distrusted; and she hurriedly turned the conversation into
another channel.

"If you flatter me by regarding my departure as one catastrophe, what
is the other?" she asked.  "What has happened?  Is it something to do
with O'Connor?"

"Well, it's all part of the same thing, I suppose," he said.  "I had
almost forgotten O'Connor, though, since Gunterson drove him out of my
head."

"Who or what is Gunterson, please?"

Smith told her.

"If O'Connor can get the Eastern Conference to put through a separation
rule now, we're absolutely helpless," he concluded.  "Gunterson
wouldn't have the vaguest idea of what to do--and wouldn't let any one
else tell him.  I can pretty nearly see the Guardian, under Samuel
Gunterson's suicidal direction, setting sail with all flags flying, and
heading straight for the bottom of the sea."

Helen could think of nothing to say.

"And you are leaving for Boston!" Smith added.  "Well, it looks to me
as though I might be out of a job before long, and perhaps I'll come up
to Boston and strike your Uncle Silas for one.  I think Mr. Osgood
always rather liked me.  And Boston's a pretty good town--or will be
after next week."

He spoke a little bitterly, for it seemed that the possibility he
mentioned was perhaps not so remote, after all.  Even if the Guardian
survived the staggering load of its Vice-President, he felt that he
could not serve very long under such a man as Gunterson.  And if such a
thing should come to pass, he would be in no position to hope as he was
now hoping, or to dream as he was now dreaming.  Yet, after all, no
wall that was ever built can shut out dreams.



CHAPTER XIV

The second day of January, 1913, was marked by the installation of
Samuel Gunterson as underwriting head of the Guardian and by the
announcement of a radical separation rule by the combined companies of
the Eastern Conference.  Each was likely to have a far-reaching effect.

Smith read the news with stolid eyes.  He did not credit O'Connor with
having had sufficient influence to carry the separation act through the
Conference, but all that the astute President of the Salamander had
hoped for, and in anticipation of which had laid his plans, had come to
pass--the Guardian was out of the Conference, the separation rule was
to take effect almost immediately--and Gunterson was at the wheel.
Smith well knew what a leverage would be used against his company.  He
was still brooding over the fateful item when Mr. Wintermuth sent for
him.

"Have you met your new chief yet?" asked the President, in a friendly
manner.

"Yes," said the other, shortly.  He held out the paper.  "Have you seen
this yet?" he inquired, in turn.

"_The Journal of Commerce_?  No.  Is there anything especial in it?"

For answer Smith laid the paper open on the desk, pointing silently to
the item which meant so much to the Guardian--and to every company
outside the Conference.

Mr. Wintermuth adjusted his glasses and read the article carefully.

"Well, well!" he said thoughtfully.  "So they passed it, after all!  I
never believed they would dare.  It's a little too much like a
boycott--it gives them too much the appearance of a combination in
restraint of trade.  Tariff and rate-making associations are proper and
necessary, but to attempt to dictate to agents what companies they
shall not represent--or at any event penalize them for so doing--is
going pretty far.  No, I didn't think they'd dare."

"Three months ago perhaps they wouldn't have," Smith suggested.  "It
looks like a reprisal aimed at us, more than any one else.  All the
other outsiders are old hands and can take care of themselves, but we
haven't gotten acclimated--we're liable to have a bad time.  And I
think I know who accelerated the whole movement, sir."

"Yes--I understand whom you mean," said the President, compressing his
lips.  "No doubt this was part of his plan.  Well, you seem to have
followed this thing pretty closely, Richard--what do you think we had
better do?"

"Isn't that rather a matter for Mr. Gunterson to decide now, sir?  I
don't want him to start with the idea that I am trying to dictate the
underwriting policy of the company.  Of course, I have my own idea of
what would best serve the interest of the company to do--although in
some ways I'd hate to see us do it."

"And what may it be?"

"Go back into the Conference."

"What!  Go limping back with our tail between our legs?  Put O'Connor
in a position where he could say that we were strong enough to go out
and stand alone when he was with us, but after he left we were too weak
to stick it out?  Never!  I won't go back into the Eastern Conference,
if it costs the Guardian every agency in the field. . . .  Boy, ask Mr.
Gunterson if he will be so good as to step here a moment."

In the brief interval before the new Vice-President put in his
dignified appearance, neither of the occupants of the office spoke.

"Ah, Mr. Gunterson.  Good morning once more.  You know Mr. Smith, our
General Agent, I believe?"

Mr. Gunterson bowed with urbanity.  Courtesies exchanged--a matter of
some little time--the President again spoke.

"Did you notice, in this morning's _Journal_, that the Eastern
Conference has passed a separation rule, Mr. Gunterson?  I do not know
whether you are aware that the Guardian is not a member of the
Conference; shortly before the resignation of your predecessor we
withdrew--largely upon his recommendations.  There is no reasonable
doubt that at the time Mr. O'Connor believed such a rule would go into
effect, and very likely he was more or less instrumental in getting it
adopted.  At all events it is clear that he wanted us to get out, and
here we are--out!  And almost any time, now, we are likely to be put
out of nearly every agency in the East where Conference companies
predominate--which means ninety per cent of our agencies."

"I see," observed Mr. Gunterson, sagely.  "I see."

"Now the question is: what are we going to do?  Mr. Smith here advises
that we confess our inability to operate in an open field without the
invaluable assistance of our late Vice-president, and go back into the
Conference.  By merely sacrificing our self-respect we could save our
Eastern agency plant.  I have put you in charge of the underwriting of
the Guardian, Mr. Gunterson, and I would like your advice on this."

The attitude to be assumed by the Vice-president was too obvious to be
creditable to his sense of perception.

"I would not give them the satisfaction of seeing us reverse our policy
and confess ourselves defeated--surrender before a gun was fired.  We
can fight and win," said Mr. Gunterson, promptly.

It was rudimentary cleverness; a babe could have perceived what reply
Mr. Wintermuth desired.

"Good!" said that gentleman, much encouraged.  "I'm glad to hear you
say so.  That's exactly the way I feel about it, myself.  I'll see
O'Connor damned before I'll let him think he has forced our hand.  I
think your attitude is quite correct, Mr. Gunterson--I like the way you
begin."

"Thank you, sir," said the Vice-president, modestly; then,
deprecatingly nodding toward Smith:--

"Probably from a strictly conservative viewpoint Mr. Smith's advice is
good.  And the Guardian is a conservative company.  But a little
properly placed radicalism is not a bad thing at times--is not that
true, Mr. Wintermuth?"

To which Mr. Wintermuth assented with a smile.

"At all events the fight, if there is one, will be confined to the
smaller places.  They can't touch us in the big cities, can they?"
pursued Mr. Gunterson, following up his advantage.

"No," said Smith, shortly.  "The rule won't affect us here in New York,
nor in Boston, nor Philadelphia, nor Buffalo, nor Baltimore.  At least
those places, and some others, have always been excepted cities--making
their own rules.  Unless the local agents through the local boards vote
for separation, we're safe there.  I'd hate to see a fight started in
those towns, though."

"You seem a little reluctant to get into any controversy, Richard,"
said Mr. Wintermuth, kindly.  "To be sure, you haven't been through so
many as we have.  But sometimes it is necessary to fight--and fight
hard, too."

"He has not weathered as many storms as you, sir," Gunterson
interpolated with a smile.  "Nor," he added, "as many as I myself,
perhaps."

"Perhaps not," said Smith, dryly.  "Is there anything else you want of
me, sir?" he turned to the President.  "If not, I guess I'll get back
to my mail."

"Go ahead," returned his chief.  "Mr. Gunterson and I will plan this
thing out together."

And Smith left the office with as much numb despondency in his heart as
he had ever felt in his thirty-odd years.  He knew--what the others did
not seem fully to appreciate--that there was an animus in this attack
of O'Connor's which would stick at nothing.  He saw, or he believed he
saw, the excepted cities of Boston, Philadelphia, and the rest, under
the polite coercion of the Eastern Conference, passing similar
separation rules of their own.  He foresaw the Guardian forced out of
Graham and Peck's agency in Philadelphia, out of the Silas Osgood
office in Boston, and losing its long established connections in other
cities where the Guardian's business was as well selected and
profitable as that of any company of them all.  He looked gloomily down
a long vista of losses and disappointments, and it appeared to him
there could naturally be but one end.  However, it was no doing of his.
He was there to obey orders and to transact the company's business as
the management desired it to be done, and in the press of other
crowding matters he was glad to forget everything but the tasks before
him.

The days succeeding the Conference announcement brought very little in
the way of further developments.  So still was the insurance stage,
indeed, that Mr. Gunterson began to think that there would be no
trouble, after all, and Smith to speculate on the ominous stillness and
on what new moves would flash from behind this seeming curtain of
inaction.

Almost at the very time of this speculation on his part, a train was
carrying toward Boston no less a person than F. Mills O'Connor of the
Salamander.  Almost at the very hour of a Tuesday morning, when Mr.
Gunterson was gravely assuring Mr. Wintermuth that he believed he would
be able, in spite of the Eastern Conference, to preserve the company's
agency force without the loss of a single important agent, Mr.
O'Connor, after more or less indirect preliminary conversation, was
presenting his desires quite bluntly to Mr. Silas Osgood.

"To be perfectly frank, Mr. Osgood, the Salamander has never gotten the
premium income it should get from Boston, and worse than that, it has
always lost money.  Now you've got a place for us in your office, and
it's the Guardian's place.  No--hold on a minute--let me finish.  I
know that Mr. Wintermuth is an old friend of yours, but Mr. Wintermuth
is about finished with the fire insurance business.  Now you know that
your relations with Gunterson, who is a hopeless incompetent, will
never be satisfactory, and you also know that Gunterson will probably
put the company out of business within two years.  You appreciate also
that the Salamander is a bigger company than the Guardian--it has twice
the Guardian's premium income--"

"And half the Guardian's surplus," interrupted Mr. Osgood, softly.

"No matter about the surplus.  Edward E. Murch and his people are back
of us, we've got the premium income, and we're in the game to stay,
while you as a practical insurance man know, no matter how far your
sympathies may go in the opposite direction, that the days of the
Guardian are numbered.  I'm offering you the chance to take on one of
the livest companies in the field to-day in place of a concern that's
headed for oblivion by the most direct route.  It's a chance I would
jump at if I were in your place, but I understand the sentimental
consideration enters in,--it does credit to your heart, Mr. Osgood, and
I respect you for it,--and in view of all that sort of thing I came
here prepared to give you certain inducements to switch the Guardian's
business to the Salamander."

"Inducements?  Of what sort do you mean?" inquired Mr. Osgood, mildly,
although his face was a little flushed.

"Well, increased latitude on lines and classes--a larger authorization
in the congested district--those are some things.  Possibly also," he
suggested delicately, "a little extra allowance--let us say an
entertainment fund--to be used in cultivating brokers with an
especially desirable business."

"But," said Mr. Osgood, "we are members of the Boston Board.  We cannot
offer any greater inducements to brokers than any of our fellow members
offer."

O'Connor saw his suggestion had not been taken kindly.

"Of course not," he agreed.  "Although I know one Boston agent who once
a month plays cards with his best broker, and curiously enough he
always loses exactly five per cent of that broker's account with him
for the previous month.  Such things are sickening--and they put at a
disadvantage those of us who live up to our agreements.  But I don't
suppose any Board could make a rule preventing an agent from taking a
good customer out to dinner and perhaps the theater once in a
while--that was all I meant to suggest."

Mr. Osgood, who felt considerable doubt as to this innocent limitation,
rose.

"I presume you would like my decision, Mr. O'Connor," he said, in a low
voice.

"Why, yes--as soon as convenient--the sooner the better," the other man
replied easily.

"Well, then, I will give it to you now," said the Bostonian.  "Mr.
O'Connor, I am an old man; I have lived in this city for nearly seventy
years, and during those years I do not think I ever made a bargain
which I would have been ashamed for the world to have seen.  I am too
old to begin to be either disloyal or dishonest now--for I do not see
what else you can call what you have proposed but disloyalty to my
friend Mr. Wintermuth and his company and dishonesty to my associates
in the Boston Board.  If I thought you intended to insult me, I would
ask you to leave my office, but I do not think you intended your
proposal as an insult, for I do not believe that by your own code you
are doing anything which that code would condemn."

His visitor started to voice a protest, but the other man stopped him.

"Let me finish," he said.  "I have known your former chief, Mr.
Wintermuth, considerably more than half my lifetime.  When I resign the
Boston agency of the Guardian, it will be either at his request or
because my day in the insurance world is over and I can no longer give
the company a sufficient business.  That is all.  And now, Mr.
O'Connor, I do not ask you to leave my office, but I hope you will
never come into it again so long as I am here."

The President of the Salamander got to his feet, and his eyes narrowed.

"All right, Mr. Osgood," he said.  "Don't worry--I won't stay where I'm
not wanted.  But my offer was made in good faith, it would have been
advantageous to your firm, and I'm sorry you turned it down.  I wanted
to give you a chance, in a way that I admit would have been a good
thing for me, to keep your own office organization intact--for the
impression seems to be gaining ground that the Boston Board will pass a
separation rule, and in that event you will have to give up the
Guardian agency, anyway."

The Bostonian turned back to his desk.

"That is too remote a contingency for me to discuss with you," he
replied, somewhat curtly.  "Good-day, sir."

"Good-day, Mr. Osgood," said F. Mills O'Connor.  He paused at the
threshold.  "I don't believe you've heard the last of this yet," he
remarked, as he closed the door behind him.

It is a common saying with regard to any especially clever criminal:
what a great man he would have made of himself if only he would have
applied all this cleverness to legitimate ends!  This is probably
untrue in nine cases out of every ten, and perhaps in even a larger
ratio, for the successful crook is successful only along crooked lines;
his mind will work only in forbidden channels; it needs the spice and
flavor of the illicit to stimulate its brilliancy.  Let him address
himself to a legitimate problem, ethical or commercial, and his
efficiency evaporates--or rather it is non-existent.

Although not a criminal, F. Mills O'Connor was, to a limited degree, a
demonstration of this fact.  Mr. O'Connor had been competent but never
particularly clever along strictly legitimate lines; it was always and
only along ways just a little devious, a little tricky, a little
sophistical, that his acumen mounted above the ordinary.  His greatest
successes with the Guardian had always been gained by methods which had
been kept secret from his chief, for Mr. Wintermuth's keen sense of
business honor would have prevented the fruition of every one.

He was now in the right company.  The Salamander took its key from its
leading director, and Mr. Murch's code of ethics briefly consisted of a
belief that it was advisable to "stay inside the law"--unless he were
absolutely certain that transgression would be undiscoverable or
unpenalized.  Into this scheme of things Mr. O'Connor fitted like water
in a skin.  Hence one need not have been astonished, half an hour
later, had he overheard one end of a conversation conducted from Mr.
Bennington Cole's private phone in the office of Silas Osgood and
Company.

"Yes--this is Mr. Cole."

"Yes--I know who is speaking."

"Yes--I presume I could come over.  Young's Hotel, did you say?"

"I understand.  Room forty-three.  I'll be there in about twenty
minutes."

In twenty minutes room forty-three saw Mr. Cole being suavely greeted
by Mr. O'Connor, and then it proceeded to furnish the scene for a
little drama of business intrigue that would have been very interesting
to an audience of law-abiding Conference companies who believed in
living up to their pledges.

In the course of this undivulged conversation it developed that Mr.
O'Connor was satisfied with what had just gone before; that Mr. Osgood
had done exactly what both O'Connor and Cole had expected he would do,
making it possible for Cole, by the proper playing of his cards, to
succeed almost immediately to the management of the Osgood agency, and
that aided thereto by the fact that the scrupulous Mr. Osgood would
doubtless hesitate to interfere in any way with any act of his
successor, the fuse was all laid for the introduction of the Salamander
into the Osgood office by means of the passage of a separation rule in
Boston at the very next meeting of the local board.  The interview must
have been a satisfactory one, for Cole's step, as he walked back to
Kilby Street, was buoyant, and Mr. O'Connor bore himself as a deeply
satisfied man.

Among the local agents in Boston there had never been any marked
sentiment either for or against the adoption of a separation scheme.
Some of the agents believed in it and some did not; but as most of the
principal offices represented, with a few unimportant exceptions, only
Conference companies, it had never been really a vital issue up to the
time Mr. O'Connor came to Boston for the Salamander.  By what means he
contrived to bring the agents into line will never be known.
Undoubtedly the time was precisely ripe, and he had the very
influential cooperation of many of the strongest Conference companies.
At all events, however he went to work, that way proved efficacious.
The passage of the rule through the Board was assured.  After its vote
on the coming Wednesday, no agent in Boston representing a Conference
company could, at the expiration of thirty days, continue to represent
an outsider.

The effect that such a rule would have on the local interests of the
Guardian was at once apparent.  Representing, as the Osgood office did,
a number of Conference companies, three of which it had represented
almost as long as the Guardian, Mr. Osgood would have no practical
choice.  It was a case of one against the rest--and naturally the one
would fall.  Of all this, however, Mr. Osgood himself knew nothing as
yet, save for the vague menace conveyed by O'Connor's valedictory
address.  Of this also the Boston insurance fraternity at large knew
almost nothing, for the matter was to be jammed through the Board, and
those behind it were sworn to secrecy.

Outside the inner ring who were back of the move, only one man in
Boston caught wind of the matter which now only waited the coming of
Wednesday to take its place among the rules of the Boston Board.  This
man was Mr. Francis Hancher of the Boston _Index_, the most alert
insurance-news gatherer of New England.  If anything of moment went on
in the insurance world that centers in Boston, without coming under the
attention of the inquisitive Mr. Hancher, it had to wear felt slippers
and move about only at night.  He had as unerring an instinct for
insurance news as any ward boss for graft, and he was a man of humanity
and bonhomie besides.  Into his ears came the first faint rumors of
things astir, and he began to work on the almost impalpable scent.
Silently he worked, craftily, without arousing suspicion in the minds
of those he questioned.  Bit by bit, fragment by fragment, he gathered
the makings of a Story, until at last, on the Saturday morning before
the fateful Wednesday, he happened into the office of Silas Osgood and
gained the last link in his chain.

"What's new?" was his greeting to Mr. Osgood.

"Could there be anything new that you do not know?" replied the other,
with a smile.

"I see O'Connor's in town," said Hancher, abruptly, and his interest
quickened when he saw the sudden change of Mr. Osgood's expression.
"You've seen him, I suppose?" the journalist pursued nonchalantly.

"Yes," Mr. Osgood rather stiffly admitted.

Mr. Hancher took a sudden resolution.  He drew up his chair a little
closer, and leaned forward.

"I think you'd better tell me what he's here for--all you know about
it," he said bluntly.  "You know me--I won't use what you tell me
unless I have your permission.  And I've got an idea that you ought to
know what's going on."

"I would very greatly prefer that it should not become common
knowledge," Mr. Osgood replied with some hesitation; "but I may tell
you, Mr. Hancher, that Mr. O'Connor came to see me with a proposal that
we take the agency of the Salamander and turn over the Guardian's
business to them.  I told him--were you going to say anything?"

"No.  That's it, then.  Go on--what did you tell him?"

"I told him no.  I didn't care to consider the matter," said the older
man, simply.

"Mr. Osgood," said the other, "you've given me what I need to make what
I suspected stand on a solid bottom.  I can see the motive now for
what's being done.  It's the fact that O'Connor wants the Guardian's
business.  Now, I want to tell you something--or rather ask you
something.  Do you think your refusal to consider his proposition
closed up the whole business completely?"

"Well, no," Mr. Osgood replied; "I suppose not.  In fact, when he left,
he rather intimated that I might look for further developments."

"That was temper," Hancher commented judicially.  "Not good judgment,
at all.  Ordinarily he'd never have said such a thing.  But he meant
it, all right--you can believe that.  If he can't get the Guardian
business one way, he'll try it another.  And the second way he has
chosen is this--after the meeting of the Boston Board next Wednesday
you will be obliged to choose between resigning either the Guardian or
all your other companies."

"You mean that a separation rule will be put through?" Mr. Osgood
inquired quickly.

"Surest thing you know," the journalist declared.  "That is, unless
somebody puts a little sand on the slide pretty all-fired soon.  I say,
Mr. Osgood,--I'm a non-combatant, but I like to see fair play,--why
don't you write the Guardian people?--or wire them?  I think this is
something your friend Wintermuth ought to know."

Mr. Osgood reached toward the button that summoned his stenographer,
and then drew back his hand.

"No," he said slowly.  "What's the use?  If it's decided, I can't stop
it.  And I fancy the best of my fighting days are over.  That's for the
younger men to do.  I'll talk to Cole about it, and see what he thinks
we'd better do."

The journalist glanced at him somewhat skeptically.

"Well, you needn't fight, yourself--let the Guardian people attend to
that.  And if you take my advice, you'll write Wintermuth.  Good-by."

Mr. Osgood wrote, and on Monday morning his letter came to the hand of
Mr. Wintermuth, whose eye brightened at the sight of his friend's
signature.  But there was no pleasure in his tone when a moment later
he sent for Mr. Gunterson.

"Look here," he said, "I'm afraid these Eastern Conference people mean
trouble.  We've been assuming that the excepted cities were
safe--nothing could happen there.  Well, I don't believe they're as
safe as we thought.  Read what Osgood says about Boston.  Boston! where
we've got as fine a business as any company of our size in the field.
Look at that!"

With a dignified reticence Mr. Gunterson took the letter, and in a rich
silence he perused it.  Then, with a calm smile, he gave his decision.

"Mr. Osgood's evident alarm may be well founded--perhaps not.  But at
all events, I believe our interests at Boston should be protected by
some one of authority, and I shall go up myself on the five o'clock
this afternoon."

On the five o'clock Mr. Gunterson left New York, and at a seasonable
hour on Tuesday morning he started forth upon his travels from his
Boston hotel.  In search of a target at which he could aim, he went
first to Mr. Osgood, to ask his aid in locating that target.  Mr.
Osgood, who had hoped that Mr. Wintermuth himself would come, felt a
tremor of premonitory dismay at the sight of this deputy; and his
subsequent talk with Mr. Gunterson did nothing to allay his
apprehension.  In fact, it was his covert reflection that if Hancher
was right, it was all over; the man whom Wintermuth sent was of no
assistance.

In point of truth, it _was_ all over.  It was barely possible that a
strong and determined man could have effected something had he known
how to set about it--but Mr. Gunterson did not know how.  No hack actor
suddenly confronted with a strange and difficult part felt more inept
than he.  He conceived that within him was the power to deliver a
tremendous blow--but he could not find its mark.  Aimlessly he
consulted his acquaintances along Kilby Street.  The agents of the
influential Conference companies, primed to resist interviews, greeted
him affably, congratulated him on his new connection, and blandly
denied all knowledge of any radical move in process.  That night Mr.
Gunterson, having accomplished absolutely nothing, returned to his
hotel with an uneasy feeling of dissatisfaction with the day.

Wednesday came.  Gunterson, hesitant, undecided, in need of help, early
sought his only ally, Mr. Osgood.  At the door of their offices he met
Mr. Osgood and Mr. Cole on their way to the meeting of the Board.  The
Vice-President of the Guardian fell meekly into step.  At the Board
rooms the agents were gathered; the meeting came to order; the order of
business began.  After the transaction of a few routine affairs Mr.
Spence of Spence and Hardiwick rose and moved that the Eastern
Conference separation rule be extended to cover Boston.  His motion was
seconded.  There was no debate, and the only speaker was cut short by a
call for the question.

In the chorus of ayes, Mr. Osgood's negative went unheard and unnoted.
The motion was carried almost unanimously, Cole not voting, but
permitting the senior partner to cast the vote for the firm.  And all
this time there sat at Mr. Osgood's side the restless but impotent form
of Mr. Gunterson.  Twice he started to speak, and then repressed
himself, his face a little flushed with helpless shame.  Beside Mr.
Osgood he sat until the meeting concluded, and not a word did he say.

The meeting adjourned.  In the hum of conversation Mr. Osgood turned to
his junior partner.

"I'm through, Ben.  You will have to go on without me.  I cannot
dismember my whole office organization; but James Wintermuth is one of
my oldest and dearest friends, and when Silas Osgood and Company resign
the Guardian--some one else must be in command."

Cole did not answer.  The three moved slowly toward the door, and there
in the doorway stood the author of their perplexity and distress.
O'Connor saw them coming, and held out his hand to the veteran
underwriter.

"How do you do, Mr. Osgood," he said.  "I hope you don't bear any ill
will to me for what has just happened.  I said I thought the rule would
go through, and you can see for yourself that it was passed almost
unanimously.  Perhaps we may be able to do business together after all.
Let us consider this as two sensible business men.  Of course I'm glad
the rule went through; but please don't think that I did it.  I don't
own the Boston Board."

The other man regarded him steadily.

"Probably you are right, Mr. O'Connor," he replied.  "I do not seem to
have correctly estimated the sentiment of to-day.  No doubt you used
your influence on the side of your company's interests.  But I do not
care to do business with you, sir--on that point my mind is unchanged."

"Well, I'm sorry you feel that way about it," said the other, with the
good nature which as victor he could afford to maintain.  "Good-day,
Mr. Osgood."

Mr. Osgood passed through the doorway, but Gunterson, following him,
smitten with vague valor and sudden fury, turned.

"You--you!" was all he said, at a loss for words in his anger, and the
President of the Salamander met him with a smile of humorous contempt.

"Why, hello!" he said, "here's Gunterson!  Come to Boston to find a new
agent, I suppose.  So did I, to tell the truth.  Good luck, old man."

Mr. Gunterson turned his back on his tormentor, and passed on.  He
could think of no appropriate retort.  But the situation could not be
saved by any degree of repartee.  Boston had voted for separation;
Silas Osgood and Company must resign the Guardian; and Samuel Gunterson
had made a humiliating failure of his quest.

Into his throbbing brain, however, a new idea had come, suggested by
O'Connor's taunt.  A new agent!  Why not?  If the Osgood office,
consisting largely of Conference companies, was obliged to resign the
Guardian, there must be some other agency where non-Conference
companies predominated and where he could place the Guardian upon the
withdrawal of a Conference company.  After all, the Osgood office was
not the only good agency in Boston.  A new vigor fortified him--he
would find an agent for the Guardian who should excel the Osgood
connection as the sun outshines the moon.

In one office of perhaps more notoriety than prominence, though Mr.
Gunterson knew it not, at that very moment the matter was being
discussed.

"Well, Jake," said Sternberg, of Sternberg, Bloom, and McCoy, "they've
passed it."

"What did I tell you?" demanded Jake Bloom.  "Didn't I tell you them
Conference companies would get what they wanted?  They got it, all
right.  Now the question is, what do we get out of it?"

"What do you mean?" asked Sternberg, slowly.  He was large and bald,
and had a dead-white, soft-looking, pock-marked face, while Bloom was
short, black, and untidy.

"Well, I mean for one thing, the Guardian gets thrown out of the Osgood
agency.  They're on the street.  Why shouldn't we get 'em?"

"Sure!  Why not?" Sternberg rejoined with enthusiasm.  "We've got to
get some one else in here before long or we'll be up in the air.  I'm
afraid we've been salting some of our people too hard.  It sort of
jarred me when the Spokane left us.  We've got to do something pretty
quick.  Now, how will we get at Gunterson?  He don't know us."

"And a blame good thing he don't," said McCoy, with perfect frankness.
"A swell chance we'd have of landing the Guardian if we'd had the
Elsass-Lothringen!  There's no use of talking--we've been writing too
freely.  We must cut out the skates.  Now, let's get together and land
Gunterson."

"That's all right, too.  But if we cut out the skates, what'll we have
left?  Anyhow, the main question is how'll we land Gunterson?"
Sternberg persisted.  The mind of this large man moved as slowly as a
house in a small town being transported from one lot to another by one
mule, a rope, and a windlass.  McCoy's mind more resembled the agile
and evasive flea.

"I bet my cousin Billy Gallagher knows him.  Come to think of it, Billy
was special agent up here for the Florida Fire and Marine at the time
Gunterson was running them.  We can square Billy all right, and I
believe Billy can put it over."

"It looks like a cinch to me," said Bloom, lighting a cigarette.

"It is," said McCoy, briefly.

It was.  And so it came about that in the forenoon of the following day
a solemn trio of men, two Hebrews and an Irishman, were bowing a polite
welcome to the distinguished Vice-President of the Guardian of New
York, who, in company with his friend Mr. Gallagher, now an independent
loss adjuster, had honored them with a call.  Mr. Gunterson confessed
that he was considering a change in the Guardian's Boston
representation; he had not gone so far as to commit himself, but he was
looking around--of course among the few agents with whom non-Conference
companies predominated.

It had been agreed by the trio that McCoy should do the talking for the
firm, and McCoy came from an island where the art of persuasive
conversation is far from extinct.

"Well, Mr. Gunterson, I want to say right off the reel that Sternberg,
Bloom, and McCoy would like very much to take on the Guardian.  The
Guardian's got a good name, and its policy sells well; and in the last
few weeks, especially--" he threw out suggestively.

"What's the last few weeks got to do with it?" inquired the innocent
and obliging visitor.

"Well, I meant the company's desirability from the agent's point of
view.  You see, they've never had a really broad-gauge man directing
their underwriting before you took charge.  Nice people, but narrow,
you understand--not a company that an agent would feel drawn to.
O'Connor never had no nerve--or if he did, Wintermuth never let him
show it.  Now, no really progressive agent can do business with a petty
piker.  To get the best results you've got to let your agent run his
field.  Take your time, make the best appointment you can, and then
give your agent a free hand--that's the only way to get a liberal
income and make money too."

To these sage but scarcely original observations Sternberg and Bloom
gravely assented.

"In case you found a place for us in your office, what kind of an
income do you think we might expect?" Mr. Gunterson asked.

"Well, we wouldn't take you at all unless we could satisfy you,"
replied McCoy.  "And I swear I don't quite see how we could take on
another company just now.  How much are you getting now from Osgood?
Well, if we couldn't do better than that, we'd rather pass you
up--although I don't know of any company that looks better to me than
the Guardian under its present management.  How about it, Jake?"

Mr. Bloom considered deeply.

"New business of the class this office writes is hard to get," he said
thoughtfully.  "It don't fall off the trees into your lap.  But we
might do it if we gave up a couple of our smaller companies.  If we
threw out the German National and the Spokane Fire, we might do
something."

The two companies named had removed their policies and supplies from
the office only the previous day, their respective special agents,
after an underwriting experience too painful to describe, having
descended in grief and rage upon their Boston representatives when
patience had ceased to be a virtue and self-preservation had become the
salient motive.

"There's thirty thousand apiece, easy--say sixty thousand the first
year.  Yes, we could let them two go, and if you were in any kind of
way liberal--if you wrote a fair line in the congested district--we
could guarantee you sixty thousand, and I believe we'd make it
seventy-five."

Mr. Gunterson calculated this with deliberation.  It was a great deal
more than the Guardian had been receiving from Silas Osgood and
Company; it sounded too good to be real.

"What kind of a record have you had?" he asked cautiously.

"Record?  Well, good for some of our companies and not so good for
others.  We've had some pretty hard knocks, but we don't write
practically nothing but first-class business, and of course we write
pretty good-sized lines; and when some sprinkled risk or a brick
apartment house or a wool storage warehouse makes a total loss, it hits
us pretty hard.  Still, if you keep on taking on the best business,
you're bound to make money in the long run.  I suppose we turn down two
thirds of what's offered to us over the counter."

"What commission would you expect?" Mr. Gunterson inquired.

"Whatever you're paying now is all right with us," McCoy responded
promptly.  "And we'll guarantee you a liberal increase in premiums the
first year."

The heart of the Guardian's Vice-President swelled in his breast when
he anticipated O'Connor's chagrin over this development.

"The Spokane's man is in town," Bloom said, as if by an afterthought.
"Put it in the form of a contract, Mr. Gunterson, and I'll notify him
to-day that we're holding his supplies subject to his order."

The contract was promptly drawn, signed, and witnessed, each party
retaining a copy, and Samuel Gunterson, with the sting of defeat
removed by this brilliant achievement, and with his self-esteem and
confidence wholly restored, turned blithely toward the South Station on
his way to New York.



CHAPTER XV

Contemporary historians point out that in Egypt, more than four
thousand years ago, those who bore bad tidings to the reigning monarch
were in the habit of meeting death so swiftly that they could scarcely
have been incommoded by the circumstance.  In fact, they had all the
satisfaction of inevitable demise with none of the discomforts
necessarily attendant on lingering annihilation.

Mr. Samuel Gunterson, returning from Boston with the signed contract of
Sternberg, Bloom, and McCoy, presently found himself in the position of
sensing all the restlessness and unhappiness of an expiring frame with
no hope of an early easement by carefree and cheerful decease.  For the
news of his first important agency appointment was received by William
Street in a manner not at all calculated to flatter the man who had
made it.  Of the numerous opinions expressed or unexpressed, ranging
from polite incredulity to unholy joy or open contempt, the only
quality which all these opinions held in common was their invidiousness.

The appointment received perhaps its most kindly treatment from those
most directly concerned.  Mr. Wintermuth did not know anything about
Sternberg, Bloom, and McCoy--in fact, he had never heard of them.  And
so, when Mr. Gunterson, in his most convincing rhetoric; explained the
merits of the new agents and the increased income which he felt
confident the Guardian would receive, the President gave his assent,
merely expressing his deep regret at concluding his business relations
with Silas Osgood.

"But Mr. Osgood is retiring from the firm, anyway," said Mr. Gunterson.

"Indeed?  I am glad to hear it," said Mr. Wintermuth.

With which comment the matter came to its discussion's end between
them.  Nor did the President learn for a long time the real truth
regarding his Boston appointees, for with increasing years he had grown
increasingly difficult of access and intolerant of ideas conceived on
the outside and not in accord with his own.  The men who once could
have come to him and frankly told him that the Guardian's Boston
appointment was a colossal blunder were, like himself, grown insensibly
out of the true current of underwriting affairs, while those who knew
the truth lacked either the purpose or the opportunity to lay before
him the exact state of affairs.

Among those who could not carry out their inclinations was Smith, for
he saw very little of Mr. Wintermuth in these early days of the
premiership of Gunterson; and he felt, moreover, that the President,
knowing his opinion of Mr. Gunterson, would be inclined to discount his
criticism on matters connected with the administration of the
Vice-President.  So Mr. Wintermuth lived in ignorance until the results
began to show on the surface--which was not a far day.

From William Street, however, the busy and irreverent Street, soon came
the slings and arrows which pierced even Mr. Gunterson's almost
impregnable self-esteem.  Only a few days after his return he overheard
a conversation between Mr. Cuyler and a placer, in the Guardian's own
office, which showed how the Street regarded the Boston appointment.

"Sorry, but I can't take that, Eddy; we don't write the shoe polish
manufacturers at all--there's too much naphtha used, and they all burn
eventually," were the words that caught his attention, and in the
shadow of the door he waited for the reply.

"Ah, come off, now--loosen up!  I know the Guardian does write the
class, for this same concern's got a factory in Boston and I got a
Guardian policy on it only yesterday.  That's why I'm giving you this.
Your Boston agents, Sternberg, Bloom, and McCoy, place the Boston end
for us.  What's the matter--don't your agents have any prohibited list,
or do you let them do things you can't do in your own office?"

"Eddy," said Mr. Cuyler, sternly, "you're talking nonsense.  I tell you
we don't write the class in my department, and I don't believe the
agency department does.  The Boston firm you mention has just been
appointed, and probably they don't know our underwriting policy yet."
He handed back the binder.

The placer, realizing that the decision was final, and irritated at the
declination of a risk which he had found impossible to place elsewhere,
laughed loudly.

"Don't know your underwriting policy, hey?  Well, they don't need
to--they've got an underwriting policy of their own.  Do you know what
it is?  It's to take a line on anything that's not actually on fire.
They're the slop bucket of Boston, the standard lemon of Kilby Street;
they've got a loss ratio of three thousand per cent, and they've burnt
the hide off every company that's ever touched them.  You make me
tired.  You're a fine, consistent bunch, you are--to pose as a
conservative company in New York and write every skate in Boston
through Sternberg, Bloom, and McCoy!  All right--good-by."

And in his exit his coat sleeve almost brushed against the man in the
hall who in his haste and folly had appointed Sternberg, Bloom, and
McCoy to represent the Guardian in the good city of Boston.

This was but the beginning.  After this overture the stings and slurs
came thick and fast.  It seemed to the dismayed Vice-President that
every one in New York took delight in recalling to publicity some
detail discreditable to his Bostonian discovery.  From all over the
East he began to receive applications for agencies from men whom even
he knew to be unworthy of trust; and he realized that he had encouraged
their approach like vultures on the unhappy Guardian.  Within a
fortnight of making the Boston appointment he had seriously considered
revoking it; but this would have necessitated the admission of his
initial error, and he lacked the courage to carry out his better
judgment.  So, with a shrug of his mental shoulders and a cynical
reflection that good luck might perhaps avert the results of his
imprudence, he let the matter stand.

But good luck failed to materialize, and it was not long before the
expected began to happen.  Sternberg, Bloom, and McCoy's business
appeared outwardly passable, but curiously enough it almost always
seemed--after the loss--that the risk was one on which the company
should never have been committed.  And there were two unpleasant
incidents where the Guardian was "caught on a binder"--where the loss
occurred before the agents could issue the policy or report the
acceptance of the risk to the New York office; and though Smith
investigated these, and in each case was obliged to hold the agents
blameless, the experience left an unfortunate impression.  However,
Sternberg, Bloom, and McCoy undoubtedly controlled an unusually large
volume of business.  If losses were heavy, so were premiums, and the
relatively small losses which naturally attend a growing business where
no policy has been in force more than a month or two, postponed, for a
time at least, the worst of the evil days.  But long before they came
the heavens had grown dark with trouble in numerous other quarters.

The general ruling of the Conference, providing that, except under
almost impossible qualifications and with reduced compensation, no
agent could continue to represent both Conference and non-Conference
companies, was now in effect.  And it seemed as though never before had
there been such precision and unanimity in Conference methods; and
Smith, gloomily regarding the grim spectacle of the Guardian's decline,
could only curse under his breath the act of O'Connor that had brought
about this state of affairs.

Certainly there was no hesitancy about the Conference campaign, and the
results became at once apparent in the non-Conference offices.  Hardly
a day passed which failed to bring to the Guardian the resignation of
one or more of its agents, with none to take their places except the
vultures, many of whom Mr. Gunterson remembered to have assisted in
accelerating the downfall of some of the other underwriting
institutions with which he had been connected.  With a chill of dismay
he read of what a splendid opening awaited the Guardian in the general
agency of Henry Trafalgar and Company of Memphis, or Bates and Newsome
of Atlanta.

From the Guardian's own agents the letters of resignation were very
much alike, for the company was popular in a modest way, and most of
the writers had represented it for many years.

"We are notified by the committee in charge of this district," they
wrote, "that in order to secure the customary graded commission scale
we must resign our non-Conference companies.  We are extremely sorry to
let the Guardian go, but the difference to us financially is such that
we would not feel justified in declining the Conference offer."

And so, one after one, they went.  Many an agent wrote bitterly
attacking the Conference procedure and asking whether the Guardian
could not arrange to take care of his entire business, and stating that
if this could be done he would retain the Guardian and let the others
go.  This, however, in nearly every case was out of the question, and
eventually all these agencies went with their fellows.  During the
first month of the new year almost one hundred agents, some of them
among the most satisfactory and profitable of the Guardian's plant, had
been compelled to resign.  The income from these agencies reached to
the neighborhood of one hundred thousand dollars annually, and Mr.
Wintermuth began to take decided notice of his strategic position.

Of course, whenever an agency was lost, there was the possibility of
replacing the company in some non-Conference office; but this was not
so easy a matter.  The non-Conference agents were principally lower
grade, cut-rate concerns, and not of the standard either professionally
or financially to which the Guardian was accustomed.  The company's
field men, continually confronted by the discouraging task of finding
in a town a satisfactory agent, when none existed save in Conference
offices, became disheartened.  Their letters to the home office
indicated their demoralization and Mr. Gunterson could not think how to
direct their campaigns for them.

At this juncture the hand on the reins needed to be both delicate and
firm, and the hand of Mr. Gunterson, while it may have had its moments
of inflexibility, was never delicate.  And it was firm with less and
less frequency as the days went by.  Never any too well convinced, at
the bottom of his heart, of the soundness of any course he elected to
pursue, the apparent necessity of sitting helplessly in his office and
watching his agency plant disintegrate before his eyes robbed him of
much of the assurance that had always been one of his predominant
factors.  Outwardly his manner remained as impressive as ever, but it
was retained with an ever increasing difficulty.

In this dark hour his only sustaining reflection was that this rule,
which was working such havoc among the Guardian's smaller agencies, did
not apply to the larger cities whence came a large proportion of the
company's premium income.  Boston, of course, with a local rule even
more radical than that of the field generally, had gone the way of the
small towns; but in New York separation was out of the question since
most of the important companies maintained their own local departments,
dispensing with agents altogether; in Philadelphia the local
underwriters had never been able to agree among themselves on any
drastic measures and there seemed no likelihood of a change; while in
Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore soothingly sepulchral silence and
calm reigned.

As the month of January gave place to the briefest of his brothers, a
temporary lull in hostilities appeared to have arrived.  Mr. Gunterson,
drawing a long breath, was wondering if it could be possible that the
worst of the tempest had passed, when eruptions from three craters
burst forth almost simultaneously, and by the light of their flames it
was seen that all which had gone before was of minor moment compared to
that which was now to come.

It was about the third week in February that a Conference war was
declared in Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Baltimore.  In the ears of Mr.
Gunterson the triple detonation rang terribly, like the very voice of
doom, and it was with the desperation of hopelessness that he addressed
himself to the solution of this new problem.

He no longer trusted himself as direct mediator; his Boston experience
had cured him of all personal meddlesomeness; it was much more
dignified to remain quietly in New York directing the efforts of his
subordinates and criticizing them when they failed to accomplish the
impossible.  He did not care to expose himself to another Sternberg,
Bloom, and McCoy triumvirate.  So he sat in his office, dictating
letters and giving endless pieces of impracticable advice to special
agents who inwardly cursed; and to Mr. Wintermuth he bore weirdly
distorted versions of situations and crises beyond any power of his to
unravel or even to explain.

Even on matters of fact he was pleasingly vague.

"How many agencies have we lost?" the President demanded on one
occasion.

"Really, I could hardly say exactly," Mr. Gunterson responded.  "You
see, some that haven't actually resigned have stopped sending us
business--to any extent.  But," he added, "we can more than make up
such losses in income when our new appointments show the full results
of their business."

"How long do you calculate that's going to take?" abruptly inquired the
usually courteous Mr. Wintermuth.

Mr. Gunterson did not know, but he was decidedly of the opinion that it
could not be very long before the tide was stemmed.

But as the days went by the tide continued to run in the same
direction.  Baltimore, threatening dire things, hung trembling in the
balance; Buffalo had already gone over to the enemy; Philadelphia was
as yet hesitating before the final irrevocable leap.  So February wore
away, and March entered.

James Wintermuth was more disturbed than he had been at any time
covered by what was now a good and had once been a miraculous memory.
His company had so long been his pride, his reliance, his solace, and
almost his gospel that he had grown to think of it as a sort of fixed
star, whose light perhaps might be exceeded by some larger and more
pretentious luminary, but which would nevertheless shine steadily on,
beyond the fear of any cosmic upheaval.

Now he beheld it not only overclouded, but even menaced--beheld its
light in danger of being dimmed if not utterly extinguished.  It was
absurd, it was tragic, it was unbelievable--yet it was so.  And when he
was confronted with the fact, there crept back into the old gentleman's
heart something of his old fire, as well as a slow, brooding sense of
angry injury against the men or forces responsible for his present
difficulties.  His elder resentment was of course against O'Connor, who
was taking advantage in every way of the Guardian's misfortunes; but as
the palpably weakening hold of the company brought him more closely in
touch with its underwriting affairs, as the questionable losses from
Boston and other similar agencies began to arrive in faster and faster
succession, and he clearly perceived the weakness and incapability of
Gunterson's management, his irritation rightly directed itself more and
more against the luckless Vice-President.

One other thing of recent occurrence had shaken--perhaps out of
proportion to its consequences--what little confidence he still felt in
the judgment of his underwriting manager.  That related to the attempt
of Mr. Gunterson to inject his advice into the Guardian's affairs
financial.  Early in February he had suggested to Mr. Wintermuth the
advisability of purchasing for the Guardian some bonds of an embryonic
steel company then erecting a plant in Alabama.  Mr. Gunterson knew
personally some of the people back of this, the bonds seemed remarkably
cheap, and the bonus in common stock made the proposition in his
opinion decidedly attractive.  Mr. Wintermuth's investigation of the
concern and its prospectus had quickly convinced him that its officers
were of far more capability in the industry of disposing of what, by a
polite extension of the term, might be called securities than in
manufacturing steel, and a skeptical investing public evidently reached
the same conclusion, for within a month after Mr. Gunterson's friendly
suggestion, the Birmingham Bessemer Steel Corporation was in the hands
of a receiver, who, after some hesitation, issued a statement to the
effect that the bondholders might eventually realize fifteen cents on
every dollar they had paid in.

On the second day of March an unusual thing happened.  Mr. Cuyler
entered the elevator and mounted to the top floor of the Guardian
building, crossing the floor toward Mr. Wintermuth's office.

"Hello!  What are you doing up here?" Smith inquired, knowing the stars
must be strangely out of their courses to attract Mr. Cuyler to this
unaccustomed altitude.  A true local department man is always
uncomfortable, never at home, above the grade floor.  "Has the
Sub-Treasury or the Aquarium made a total loss, or what's the matter?"
he cheerfully proceeded.

"No," said Cuyler, sourly.  And without further answer he passed on
into the President's room.

"Good-afternoon, Mr. Cuyler," said the President, amiably, but the
local secretary with a glum face stopped him.

"Well, we've lost O'Brien," he said.

"What's that?" demanded the other.  "Lost O'Brien?  What do you mean?
Not O'Brien of One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street?"

"That's the man.  The best branch manager we ever had--the man we kept
when the Exchange made us close all our branch offices but one.  Well,
he's thrown us."

"Thrown us!  O'Brien?  Why, he's been with us for fifteen years!  Tell
me about this at once, sir."

"There's nothing to tell, or nothing much," replied the local
secretary, bitterly.  "The business he's been giving us has been
dropping off,--we haven't got a new risk out of him in a month and
we've been losing a lot of our renewals,--and yesterday Charlie saw his
placer going into the Salamander office with a bundle of binders."

"The Salamander?  O'Connor!"

"Yes, sir, O'Connor.  So to-day I went around to the restaurant where
he eats when he comes down town.  He was there."

"O'Brien, you mean?  Well, what did he say?"

"He said," replied Cuyler, slowly, "that he had no complaint to make of
the way we'd treated him, but that the Salamander was offering him
facilities which we didn't offer him, and he felt obliged to do
something for them."

"He means they're paying him excess brokerage or something of that
sort," said Mr. Wintermuth, acidly.

"Yes, I suppose so, but of course that's a thing you can't say unless
you're in a position to prove it.  Anyhow, he's gone--and about twenty
thousand dollars worth of preferred business with a thirty per cent
loss ratio for ten years has gone with him."

The President rose and walked up and down his office.  This was
bringing the fight to his very door, with a vengeance.

"What can we do about it?" he said, stopping in front of Cuyler and
fixing on that dismayed person a vaguely furious gaze.

"I don't know.  I suppose we'll have to hunt around and dig up another
branch manager in O'Brien's place.  It'll take a lot of hunting,
though.  You don't pick up a business like that every day in the week."

The President could make no better suggestion, and in this instance he
did not call the Vice-President into conference.

"Do the best you can, then," he said shortly; "and let me know how
you're getting along."

Mr. Cuyler descended gloomily to his proper milieu, and took up the
task of finding a branch office manager to replace the recreant
O'Brien.  But agents like O'Brien were few, and most of the best of
them had their own old-established connections with other companies.
Again, the Guardian's reputation for conservatism made Cuyler's task
the harder.  One or two, after considering the matter, were frightened
away by their dread lest the Guardian accept nothing but their more
desirable risks, making it all the more difficult for them to place
those that were not so desirable.  The Guardian's local secretary had
as wide an acquaintance as any man on the Street, but he found himself
confronted by an exceedingly difficult problem.

Meanwhile a branch manager must be secured.  The company's local income
was dropping behind in a way that had not happened within the memory of
man.  In this state of affairs it was not long before Cuyler again
sought Mr. Wintermuth, and this time the advice of Mr. Gunterson was
solicited.

It had been nearly a week since Mr. Gunterson had been impaled upon any
very serious dilemma, and in this interval he had regained much of his
shaken confidence, so that he addressed himself to the solution of Mr.
Cuyler's difficulties with much of his pristine assurance.

"Why not get Joe Darkner?  He's got a fine class of business and a lot
of it," he suggested at once.

"Yes, but he's sewed up body and soul with the National of Norway,"
Cuyler responded shortly.

"Well, what's the matter with Hart and Leith?"

"Nothing but East Side stuff.  Besides, they're dead ones--won't last
out the year," replied the local underwriter, somewhat impatiently.  As
though he had not canvassed such obvious possibilities as these!

"Why not try Schermerhorn and Snow?" was Mr. Gunterson's next
suggestion.

The President broke into the discussion.

"They've been uptown managers of the Inland for twenty years.  And Snow
is a big stockholder in the company.  We would be wasting our time to
approach them."

There was a hint of contempt in his tone.  A man who volunteered
helpful advice about a difficult situation without being in possession
of the most rudimentary information bearing on it was hardly worthy of
serious attention.  Perhaps the keen ear of the Vice-President detected
this, for he flushed slightly, and was silent for a moment.

"I'll give the matter my attention," he said reassuringly to Cuyler.
"I'm a little out of touch with local affairs, but I know plenty of
first-rate uptown brokers, and I guess I can locate us to good
advantage.  I'll see you about it later."

And he made his majestic exit.

The matter being now under his august advisement, it might have been
supposed that relief was in sight and a new and desirable connection as
good as made.  But in less than a week from the time of this
conversation Mr. Cuyler again sought the President, and the expression
of his face could not have been misinterpreted.

"Well, what's the matter now?" Mr. Wintermuth inquired, as the local
underwriter seated himself.

"Who do you think is gone now?" said Cuyler, abruptly.

"Who?" demanded his superior officer.

"Jenkinson--and Hammond, Dow, and Company."

"Gone!" repeated the President, slowly.  The brokers in question were
known to be on the most friendly terms with the company, and it was
generally supposed that the first choice of most of their business went
to the Guardian.  "Gone!  What do you mean?  Nothing has happened to
either of those people!  What are you talking of?"

"I mean they're gone, so far as the Guardian is concerned.  We've taken
as much as ten thousand a year from each of those offices.  And now
O'Connor's got them."

The President looked at him in silence.

"I knew something was the matter, and to-day I saw O'Connor and
Jenkinson at lunch, laughing and talking as familiar as though they'd
been friends for years.  It's no use, sir--he's going after every
really good broker that we've got attached to us."

"But the Salamander can't take care of all their business.  Why, those
two firms must do business with nearly every office on the Street,
anyway."

"The Salamander will take all the best of the business we get now, or
most of it, and help them out, I suppose, on a lot of tough risks that
I've never been willing to write.  O'Connor's a plunger, you know, when
he's got a gambling company back of him.  It looks to me as if we'd
only get what he left--targets, and big lines where Jenkinson and
Hammond Dow have enough to go round."

Mr. Cuyler's oldest friend had never seen him more troubled than at
this moment.  So deep, in fact, was his gloom that the President put
aside his own concern to try to reassure his old counterman.  In this
he succeeded not at all; Mr. Cuyler's dejection was settled.

"What about a branch manager in place of O'Brien?" inquired Mr.
Wintermuth at length, thinking at least to change the subject, and
hoping to touch a brighter theme.  Mr. Cuyler's face darkened still
further, if such a thing were possible.

"Nothing doing," he said inelegantly but comprehensively.

"Hasn't Mr. Gunterson--?" the President began, but he stopped short.
"What's that?" he asked sharply.  "What were you going to say?"

"I guess I'd better not say it," responded the local underwriter with
deliberation.

"Go ahead," said his chief.

"Well, then," the other answered, "I was going to say 'To hell with
Gunterson!'"

Mr. Wintermuth leaned back in his chair, with his eyes fixed on his
subordinate.

"Cuyler," he said, "Mr. Gunterson is your superior officer, and that
was an entirely improper thing for you to say.  But I've known you,
Cuyler, for forty years, and I don't mind telling you that that is
exactly what I have been wanting to say about Mr. Gunterson for the
last three weeks."

A rueful smile broke through the gloom of both.

"Well, I'm glad you feel the same way about it, and I'm glad I got it
out of my system; but I don't see that it helps things much, does it?"
the local underwriter replied.

"I'm not so sure of that," said Mr. Wintermuth.  "It helps me, and
possibly the assistance will spread to the whole situation later on."

Meanwhile the gentleman who was thus summarily consigned to the
infernal regions was doing his vague utmost to cope with three
situations at once, any one of which would have been entirely beyond
his capabilities to control.  New York, Philadelphia, and the Eastern
field as a whole,--each was a problem in itself, and each was getting
farther and farther out of hand.  The Guardian's field men were
demoralized, beholding the fine agency plant of their company crumble
and melt away while they stood helpless to hold it together.  And Mr.
Gunterson, when asked for remedies, could reply only in nebulous words
of even more crepuscular and doubtful pertinence.  New York was
admittedly beyond him, and Philadelphia, harkening to siren voices that
promised great things, was presently to vote on the separation rule for
that city.

It is a depressing business, this watching the burning of one's own
ancestral house, the sinking of one's proudest ship of all the fleet.
It was altogether too much for Mr. Wintermuth.  For nearly a week he
was missing from the office, and no man at the Guardian knew of his
whereabouts.  With the decline in volume of the company's business, the
amount of routine work in the office became unbearably, demoralizingly
light.  The map clerks loafed and the bookkeepers joked with one
another.  Smith found time hanging heavy on his hands; but by Mr.
Gunterson's orders he stayed at his desk, although he could have done
much, had he been permitted to go out among his agents in the field, to
stem the tide.

In the local department the atmosphere was charged with the contagious
mourning of Mr. Cuyler, who with funereal face sat contemplating the
shrinkage of his business.  For with the loss of his branch manager and
his two best brokers, there was a deficit in his premium returns which
he could not overcome.  And certainly his melancholy countenance did
not attract business; it was a bold placer indeed who tried with quip
and banter to secure Mr. Cuyler's acceptance of a doubtful risk.  His
world was awry, and all who ran might read it.  His brow became
unpleasantly corrugated, his smile a thing of the past.  If Mr.
O'Connor had wanted evidence of the success of his local campaign, he
could have gained it from one look at Mr. Cuyler.

Above stairs, however, doom being still a matter of immediate prospect
rather than a thing accomplished, Mr. Gunterson still held forth,
maintaining a sort of fictitious calm.  At times he was even cheerful,
and did his best to rally his dazed and despondent subordinates.  But
Bartels, seeing slip away accounts of agents he had audited for twenty
years, was in a state of stubborn, uncompromising rage which closely
resembled the dementia of a dumb animal, and Mr. Gunterson could do
nothing with him.  Still the Vice-President struggled manfully to keep
his head above water, to seem cheerful and optimistic.  He came from
his room one morning, and spoke briskly to Smith.

"I notice that some of your clerks leave their hats around loose
instead of hanging them up," he said.  "That should not be allowed in a
well-conducted office.  Please give the necessary orders."

Smith looked at him.  This was the closest Mr. Gunterson had come to
real contact with the vital problems before him.  A company in his
charge was disintegrating under his hesitant and futile hand--and he
talked about clerks' hats which should properly be hung up!

"Yes, sir," said Smith, quietly.  "I'll speak about it."

The weeks followed one another with intolerable slowness.  March began,
and dragged its weary length along, and still the darkness increased in
the Guardian's skies.  From Boston the Sternberg, Bloom, and McCoy
losses were beginning to come with the frequency and regularity of the
shots from a rapid-fire gun.  The East was thoroughly disorganized, and
even the West, apparently by some subtle psychological influence, was
beginning to experience a sympathetic slump.  Philadelphia still hung
on, the local agents not having been able to agree on any plan of
compensation for separating its Conference sheep from their alien goat
associates.

Mr. Wintermuth, silent and noncommittal, had returned to the office,
but took little part in the conduct of his company's underwriting
affairs.  And in this manner March wore itself almost out--and it
seemed as though the Guardian's span of life were growing rapidly
shorter.

On the last day of the month there was a meeting of the directors in
the closed room off the President's own.  It was a short meeting, and
Mr. Wintermuth did the most of the talking, while Mr. Whitehill, who
had advocated the election of Mr. Gunterson, had little to say.  And so
it befell that the directors, after voting him salary in advance for a
liberal term, accepted the resignation from the Guardian of Samuel
Gunterson; and to fill the vacancy so created, there was unanimously
elected to be Vice-President and under-writing manager, Richard Smith.



CHAPTER XVI

Smith took office at nine o'clock on the first business day of April.
The fifteen minutes following were spent by him in patiently listening
to Mr. Wintermuth's diagnosis of the various ills with which the
Guardian was afflicted, related supposedly for his education.  When the
first pause was reached, the new Vice-President said:--

"I've followed things pretty carefully, sir; and with what you have
just told me I think I know about where we stand.  We're certainly in
bad shape at present, from the agency standpoint, but it's by no means
hopeless.  And financially we seem to be well off.  I looked over the
statement Mr. Bartels gave me last night, and since the first of the
year some of our investments must have appreciated handsomely; I see
that Ninth National Bank stock is selling away above the valuation we
put on it in our statement."

"Yes; it is thought that some of the Duane Trust Company people are
trying to buy a controlling interest," the President responded more
cheerfully.

"But of course that is not in my province," Smith continued.  "The
question with me is what immediate action to take with reference to the
agency plant.  Now, Boston is gone--there's no hurry there.  Buffalo is
lost, too.  It seems unlikely that New York will get in any deeper
trouble this week or next--although of course you can't tell.  But
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh need attention right away."  He glanced at
the small clock on Mr. Wintermuth's desk.  "If you'll excuse me, sir,"
he said, "I think I can make the ten o'clock on the Pennsylvania.  I
brought my suitcase down here, thinking that I might want to start in a
hurry."

"Go ahead, my boy.  Good luck," said his chief.

And so Smith caught the ten o'clock express from the Pennsylvania
station, leaving behind him in the Guardian office an elderly gentleman
in whose breast an undefined cheerfulness had awakened.  But it was to
neither Philadelphia nor Pittsburgh that the Vice-President's ticket
read; he had taken a ticket to Harrisburg.

Many years before, the Attorney-General of the state of Pennsylvania
had been a famous football player at the state university; whether his
gridiron career had any bearing on his legal equipment or not was a
question, but it certainly did not make him a worse man.  His name was
James K. Prior, he stood six feet one, and weighed two hundred pounds.

Mr. Prior was a believer in modern government, although in fighting his
way up to the attorney-generalship he had seen enough of the
Pennsylvania variety to have given a lesser optimist his doubts.  He
also believed in modern business conditions, and so far as he properly
could, he officially encouraged what he regarded as being legitimate
commercial combinations.  But he did not believe in trusts.  He had
followed local legislation long enough to be very sure that there was
in it far too much sophistry and too little equity, and he was a strong
upholder of what he termed fair play, whether it came peacefully along
statutory lines or whether it had to be jerked raw from the shambles of
a hundred confused and specious lawyer-made laws.

All in all, he made an active and satisfactory attorney-general.

Now it chanced that during the last session of an unusually prolific
legislature a political opponent of Mr. Prior's had contrived to secure
the passage of a bill designed to give a certain latitude to certain
rather questionable combinations of capital, known in the vernacular as
trusts.  Senator McGaw, Mr. Prior's antagonist, had managed this bit of
special legislation very craftily indeed.  The bill was so innocently
worded as to disarm the most vigilant and radical trust-buster; it
appeared as though its purpose was exactly the reverse of that for
which it had been subtly designed; in fact, in an excessive effort to
avert suspicion a couple of clauses had found their way into this
document which gave Mr. Prior some of the keenest pleasure of his
career.

"You are perfectly safe in signing that bill, Governor," he had said to
the State's chief executive, who had asked his advice in the matter.
"I'll bet my professional reputation that the courts will hold that it
gives us more than it takes away.  McGaw's people think it ties the
State's hands from proceeding against concerns which operate in
restraint of trade by restricting their distributing centers.  Instead
of which we'll have them on the hip--that section four went a little
too far.  Just let one of them try to keep his product exclusively in
the hands of his sole distributers, and I give you my word I'll have
the responsible officer of that concern in jail!  Go ahead and sign the
bill, Governor--it's all right with me."

It was the draft of this bill, now signed and recently become a law,
which occupied the attention of Smith during a large part of the ride
from New York to Harrisburg.  And the more he studied it, the more
hopeful became his expression.  And it was with the most buoyant of
steps that he made his way from Harrisburg station to the office of Mr.
Prior.  To that distinguished gentleman he sent in a card whereon he
added after his name two things: first, "Vice-President Guardian Fire
Insurance Co. of New York," and second, by a whimsical but considered
afterthought, "I saw you kick that goal from the field against Cornell."

Mr. Prior was thoroughly inured to conversing with corporation
executives,--they were no novelty to him,--presumably, therefore, it
was the second memorandum which caused Smith to be ushered almost
immediately into the presence of the Attorney-General, who regarded his
visitor with a good-humored smile on his clean-shaven lips.

"Mr. Smith, I presume?" he inquired.

"Yes, sir," the other answered.

"I gather from this card," Mr. Prior pursued, glancing at it, "that you
remember having seen me--elsewhere."

"When I was fifteen years old," Smith replied.  "And I've been to a
good many games since, but I don't think I ever saw any one else kick a
goal from the field at a mean angle on the forty-yard line with a stiff
wind quartering against him."

"Perhaps not--at least in the last two minutes of play," the
Attorney-General agreed reflectively; and the New Yorker could easily
pardon this embellishment.

It was some little time later when Mr. Prior somewhat reluctantly
returned to things mundanely legal so far as to ask his caller's
business.

Smith explained.

When, on the following afternoon, he walked into President Wintermuth's
office, if there was in his manner a certain undertrace of elation, it
must be forgiven him, for this, his first stroke in his broad horizon,
seemed thus far up to every expectation of success.

"Well, what did you do?" was Mr. Wintermuth's greeting, as he looked up
to find Smith before him.

"The Attorney-General of Pennsylvania," said Smith slowly, "is going
into court to-morrow to ask for an injunction, alleging conspiracy and
restraint of trade, forbidding the Eastern Conference from enforcing a
separation rule anywhere within the boundaries of the state."

"What's that?" said the President, sharply.  "A restraining order, you
say?"

"Yes.  Mr. Prior, the Attorney-General, thinks he will have little
trouble in securing a temporary injunction.  Later on he will move to
make this permanent, and there will doubtless be a fight on that; but
he thinks he can beat them under the new Anti-Trust Law.  In the
meantime it ties up the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh boards, and I think
we can get back most of the smaller Pennsylvania agents we've lost.
Most of them are well disposed toward us; other things being equal,
they'd be glad to restore the status quo, and none of them are anxious
to be made joint defendants with the Conference companies in a
conspiracy suit."

Mr. Wintermuth said nothing for a long minute; then his face broke into
almost the first sincere smile which had been seen on it since the
opening of the year.

"That's very well done--a good idea and well executed, Richard," he
said.

"Thank you, sir," said Smith.

There was more discussion to follow, and the two went over the
situation as a whole more fully than had been hitherto possible.

"Of course," Smith pointed out, "this is just a beginning.  But
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are safe--that's something.  And Baltimore
will never dare make a move after this, for Maryland always follows
Pennsylvania.  No, our chief problem at present is New York and New
England."

"Yes," agreed the older man.  His face darkened.  "Boston!  How about
Boston?  What can we do up there?"

"I don't know," returned Smith, slowly.  "But there's one thing we can
do, and do at once.  We can close the Sternberg, Bloom, and McCoy
agency.  We can decapitate that crew in forty-eight hours, and with
your permission I'll go up there and do it myself."

"Go ahead," said the President.

That night Mr. Wintermuth enjoyed the first peaceful rest for almost
three months.  Smith, on the contrary, perhaps through his anxiety to
put his Boston agency house in order, remained sleepless far into the
small, still hours.  Nevertheless he departed next day for Boston on
the three o'clock express, arriving in Boston at eight, although he
might as well have taken a later train, for it was certain that neither
Sternberg, Bloom, nor McCoy would be apt to remain in their offices
until that hour of night.  Doubtless it was for this reason that he
left the train at the Huntington Avenue station and turned west toward
Deerfield Street.

Fifteen minutes later he was waiting in the reception hall of an
apartment house, the construction of which he had once, in the Guardian
office at New York, quite minutely described for the edification of a
certain young lady visitor.  In due course of time he was conveyed to
the proper floor, and a moment later found himself shaking hands with
the identical young lady.

"Mother, this is Mr. Richard Smith of New York, a friend of Uncle
Silas, of whom I told you."

Smith found himself bowing to a little gray lady whose manner was so
gentle that he unconsciously lowered his voice in speaking to her.  She
was dressed all in gray, and her hair was gray, and the silvery lights
that glistened in it moved through the folds of a tiny lace object
which might, had it been developed, have proved to be a cap.  To call
so filmy and nebulous a thing a garment of any kind was perhaps absurd;
but if this premise was once granted, it would have been correct to say
that Mrs. Maitland clung to caps.  Certainly no article could have
better suited her, and in her single person she had done almost as much
as all the rest of Boston to revivify a dying but delightful
institution.

The little lady, for all her mildness of manner and appearance, proved
to be as wide awake as any one of the three.  She even found a way to
discover, without Smith's being aware of it, whether he possessed the
typical New Yorker's attitude toward her native city.  Mrs. Maitland
lived in the firm and fixed belief that all New Yorkers, dwelling as
they did in a restless and artificial milieu of restaurants and
theaters and dollars, had for Boston and Bostonians a kind of
patronizing pity.  The fact that she herself regarded New Yorkers in
very much the same light had never occurred to her.

Smith, however, was not a typical New Yorker.  He had too real and
intense an interest in all created things to fear Mrs. Maitland's
gently suspicious inquisition.  In addition to this he was so genuinely
interested in at least one of the Bostonians before him that he
naturally and easily escaped the pitfalls into which another might have
tumbled.  So thoroughly, indeed, did he win approval and disarm
suspicion that before very long he had his reward in being left, before
the small but cheerful fire, with the daughter of the house.

This tactful withdrawal did not lessen the attraction of Mrs. Maitland
in Smith's eyes, and it was with real admiration in his tone that he
said to Helen:--

"I think your mother is charming."

"I have thought so," returned Helen, with assumed loftiness, "for
thirty or forty years."

"So long?" queried Smith, thoughtfully.  "That merely goes to show how
one can be deceived."

"Deceived!" said Miss Maitland.  "Unless you mean self-deception, I
would like an explanation of that remark."

But her visitor said that in his opinion to explain anything, however
occult, to a Bostonian, savored of intellectual impudence, and was, at
the least, a piece of presumption of which he hoped he should never be
guilty.

"And yet I can remember," said the girl, laughing, "an occasion when
explanations _were_ made to a young lady from Boston--and explanations
that took some time, too.  I--even I--can bear witness to that."

"My life," Smith rejoined, "has been like that of a candidate for
office, such that he who runs may read--and he need not necessarily be
a ten-second sprinter, either.  Only one dark, shameful page is in it,
and that is the record of the day when I talked deaf, dumb, and blind
the helpless stranger within the Guardian's gates."

"Are you really sorry?" Helen asked more seriously.

Smith looked at her.

"It has been more than three months since you left New York," he said.
"I have been glad of it--and sorry for it--every day of that time."

"And which are you now?" inquired the girl, with interest.

"If I should start on that subject, I should probably regret it.
Hadn't we better talk of something else?"

"As you wish," Helen returned lightly.  "But you can at least tell me
about the Guardian, and what has been happening since I left.  In an
occasional letter which I have received from an insurance friend of
mine in New York, there has never been a word about his company."

"Your correspondent no doubt wanted to be cheerful when he wrote to,
you, and for that reason it has been necessary for him to omit all
reference to the Guardian's affairs."

"But I heard indirectly about them, just the same--from Uncle Silas.  I
know of course that he retired from the active management of Silas
Osgood and Company because he was humiliated and chagrined at being
obliged to resign the agency of his old friend Mr. Wintermuth's
company, and I know that, although he would not interfere with Mr. Cole
after Mr. Cole took charge of the business, he disapproved of Mr.
Cole's accepting the agency of the Salamander."

"Well, if you know as much as that, you know that our suspicions of Mr.
O'Connor proved all too true.  He not only engineered the scheme to get
us out of the Eastern Conference, but after we got out he has tried to
steal all our best agents and business for his own company, and, thanks
to the lack of any resistance on our part, he has been able in many
cases to succeed."

"But why didn't you resist?  I don't quite understand.  Couldn't
anybody--couldn't you stop him?"

"I--I didn't have a chance," answered Smith.

"Indeed?  And why not?" continued his inquisitor.

"From the series of pointed questions you are putting me, I might
almost imagine I was being interviewed by the representative of a
muck-raking magazine," countered her visitor, in covert concern.

"From the lack of actual information in your replies one might almost
imagine you were," Helen cordially agreed.  "Now are you going to
answer my inquiry?"

"Well, the Guardian directors selected another man to take charge of
its underwriting affairs, and we didn't hit it off very well--naturally
he did things in his own way."

"I know," said the girl, nodding her head; "Mr. Gunterson."

"Good heavens!" said the young man, "is there any use in my attempting
to give information to some one who already has it all?  If you know
all about this and what has gone on, why ask me?"

"I wanted to hear what you'd say.  It is a natural desire, I'm sure,
and you ought to be willing to help gratify it.  You see, you are
responsible for my interest in the affairs of your insurance company,
and you have almost a parental responsibility."

"How is Wilkinson?" said Smith, engagingly.

"Presently it may be that the conversation can be diverted to Mr.
Wilkinson.  But not now."

"Well, then, to go back to the affairs of the Guardian, how is Mr.
Osgood?  It's rather dangerous for a man who's been in harness so long
to get out of it so suddenly.  It's not good for a man--in my opinion."

"More adroit--for I really want to tell you about Uncle Silas.  But
business first--then pleasure."

"Well," said her visitor, with resignation, "go ahead, Miss Portia."

"I wish to know all about what happened in the Guardian while Mr.
Gunterson was in charge," said Helen, simply.

And finally, with a few evasions which were immediately detected and
some omissions which were possibly suspected, Smith told the story of
the decline of the Guardian.

"So Mr. Gunterson left," commented the girl, when all was said.  "What
happened then?"

"Why, that's substantially all, to date," returned the New Yorker,
dishonestly; "except that I've been sent up here to see what I can do
to improve our position in Boston."

"Ah!  Who sent you?  Who is in charge of the Guardian now?" continued
Miss Maitland, calmly.

"Mr. Wintermuth, of course," replied her victim.

"And under Mr. Wintermuth?  Has no one been elected to fill Mr.
Gunterson's place?"

"Well, you see, Mr. Gunterson only resigned a few days ago.  Boards of
directors don't as a rule move very rapidly.  There hasn't really been
a great deal of time."

"Who has been elected to fill Mr. Gunterson's place?"

"Are you under the impression that--?"

"Do you wish me to say it again?  Who has been elected Vice-President
of the Guardian?"

"A man," said her visitor slowly, "by the name of Smith."

Helen leaned back in her chair in mock exhaustion.

"That was certainly awfully difficult," she said, with a little laugh
of triumph.  "I thought you would never admit it."

"I suppose you'd have found it out sometime, anyway," Smith said
philosophically.

"No, you're wrong," his companion denied, "for the very good and simple
reason that I already knew it."

"You knew it!  And yet you put me through this cross-examination?"

Helen nodded complacently.

"Uncle Silas told me this afternoon."

"But how did he know?  No announcement has been made."

"Mr. Wintermuth wrote him."

"Well," said Smith, "no ring master with a long, cracking whip ever
made a reluctant poodle jump through a series of hoops in a more
professional manner than you put me through my little story."

"Yes," said Helen, demurely.  Then, growing suddenly more serious, she
said, "And won't you let me congratulate you, Mr. Vice-President?"

"I will," said Smith.  "There is no one I know by whom I would rather
be congratulated."

He took in his own her offered hand, and for just a moment an enchanted
silence abode in the room.  Then, with no effort on Smith's part to
detain her, Helen withdrew her hand.

"Now I can tell you about Uncle Silas and Charlie Wilkinson," she said.
"And both are so interesting as topics that I hardly know where to
begin."

"Begin with Mr. Osgood, please," her visitor suggested.

"Very well, then.  I have been seeing quite a little of Uncle Silas
lately.  After he turned over the management of his business to
Bennington Cole, it seems as if he hardly knew what to do with himself.
For many years he has been such a busy man that this leisure has left
him at a loss to pass his time.  So he has been playing around with me
to some extent.  We have had lots of long talks together; among other
subjects we have even discussed you."

"So I learn," Smith responded.

"Don't be saturnine," the girl rejoined.  "Seriously, though, while
I've enjoyed Uncle's Silas's society, I don't believe this idleness is
good for him.  In fact, I'm rather worried about him--I think having
nothing to do makes him despondent, for it makes him feel as though his
day's work was over.  And there's no reason why it should be.  He's not
really old, although he looks rather frail, and I believe he'd be
better and happier if he went back into business now."

"Why doesn't he, then?" the other asked.  "He still retains his
interest in the agency, doesn't he?"

"Yes, I believe so.  But it's largely a matter of pride with him.  He
retired because it was necessary for the firm to resign the Guardian,
and I doubt whether he would go back unless it could be arranged that
the Guardian go back too.  Can't you arrange it?"

"Well, hardly--that is, right away," Smith replied.  "Present
conditions are about the same as when the company left the Osgood
agency, but I feel more encouraged, myself, to believe there may be a
way around.  I'll call on Mr. Osgood to-morrow the first thing I
do--no, the second."

"What is the first?--if I may ask."

"To close the agency of our present Boston representatives, Messrs.
Sternberg, Bloom, and McCoy.  And now tell me the news about Mr.
Charles Wilkinson, the hero of the Hurd trolley schedule."

"Mr. Wilkinson is about to extend his responsibilities in connection
with the Hurd family."

"You don't mean that old John M. Hurd was so impressed that he--?"

"Quite another thing.  Undoubtedly Mr. Hurd was impressed with Mr.
Wilkinson's talents as an insurance broker, but scarcely to the extent
of desiring him for a son-in-law."

"A son-in-law!  You mean--"

"That Charlie got a trolley schedule and a fiancée out of the same
family."

"Well, well!  So Miss Hurd is going to marry Wilkinson!  Well, she'll
acquire an ingenious and enterprising husband, at any rate.  And what
does John M. say?"

"Not a great deal--he's quite laconic, as usual.  But what little he
says is very much to the point.  He says he had supposed a daughter of
his would have more sense.  However, since she hasn't, he can merely
state that he withholds his consent to the match.  Isabel's of age, and
if she chooses to marry Charlie she can do so, but without approval or
assistance from her father."

"Meaning," said Smith, "an unpleasant codicil in the paternal last will
and testament, providing that instead of a previous bequest, his
beloved daughter be paid two hundred dollars a month as long as she
lives.  What does Wilkinson say to Mr. Hurd's attitude?  One might
gather that it would make a certain difference with him, for, although
Miss Hurd is certainly very attractive, I somehow gained the general
impression that your friend Charlie had a very clear eye on the main
chance."

"Isabel doesn't seem a bit disturbed, for I think she anticipated her
father's point of view; and as for Charlie, seeing that his chief
source of income at present depends wholly on the favor of a man who is
angry enough to disinherit his daughter for wanting to marry him--well,
one would expect that Charlie would be depressed, or at least
thoughtful.  But not at all.  He's in the highest of spirits, and says
that the mere rumor that he is going to marry into the Hurd family will
establish a line of credit good enough to last ten years."

"But really--isn't the young man a bit mercurial?"

"Oh, awfully!  To tell the truth, I was a little surprised when Isabel
took him, for under her society manner she's very sensible and
self-controlled.  And yet Charlie's very attractive and amusing and
really clever at times, and she is just the kind of girl that ought to
take hold of him and tactfully make him amount to something.  She'll be
the best thing in the world for him."

"I wonder why a man almost always falls in love either with a girl who
is just the sort or not at all the sort he should have selected.  It's
always one or the other--never any middle course.  I wonder what kind
of girl you would say was just the sort for me."

"One would have to know a man extremely well to venture a suggestion on
such a point, don't you think?" Miss Maitland parried.

"Perhaps," Smith agreed.  "And after all, since I can't myself say
exactly what sort of girl would be most perfectly suited to my special
peculiarities, it would be a little unreasonable to expect any one else
to do so."

His companion gave a suppressed sigh of relief that a subject which
might have developed elements of high hazard seemed now to be avoided.
She was not quite sure what she thought of the man before her, but she
knew that he seemed strong and vital and sincere.  From Mr. Osgood she
had learned that other people of considerable discrimination held a
like opinion.

It was quite strange.  Superficially, introspection would have led her
to believe that she would have been attracted by some one nearer to her
own enthusiasms, her own breeding, her own ideals.  This young man was
alien to her in birth, and his education had been along totally
different lines, and logically they should not have been in sympathy
one with the other, for he made her ideals seem somehow bloodless and
her enthusiasms sterile and hardly worth while.  It was certainly
perplexing, for after three months in which she had not seen him, the
attraction he exercised upon her had not noticeably lessened.  She
oddly felt that it would have been more considerate in Smith had he
reappeared a little weaker and less vivid than her remembrance of him.

Nevertheless she was distinctly glad to see him again.  That was a fact
to be faced, and when, at parting, he inquired whether Boston would be
scandalized if he were to call again the following evening, since he
would probably have to leave on the next day, she found herself
impelled to yield so ready an assent that she felt swift need to
disguise it.  Yet she gave him the answer he wished.

Next morning Smith's first visit was to Mr. Gunterson's discoveries.
Only one of the partners, Mr. Bloom, had reached the office at the time
the representative of the Guardian was announced, and it became
necessary to wait until Mr. Sternberg and Mr. McCoy arrived.  This they
presently did, and a brief meeting took place in the same room in
which, three months before, this precious trio had signed a Guardian
contract with Samuel Gunterson.  But the present interview was far less
meandering and much more to the point than its predecessor.

"Gentlemen," said Smith, "the jig is up.  I've come here to close your
agency for the Guardian."

The three partners looked at him.  Sternberg was first to recover the
power of speech.

"Why, Mr. Smith," he said unctuously, "you're acting very hasty!  Do
you think this is fair and just to us?  We haven't had enough of a
tryout to really count."

"And I bet you we're giving you fifty per cent more business than
Osgood did," Jake Bloom broke in.  "Just because we've been a little
unfortunate right on the go-off on a few losses is no reason for
closing us up.  You're making a mistake to leave us.  Give us a year at
least--we'll make good for you."

"The losses you've got through this office is on business any company
would be glad to write," interposed McCoy.  "Any company would take it
right over again."

"I'm sorry," responded the New Yorker; "but in accordance with the
conditions of our contract, either party can terminate it at any time,
and I consider it best to take this action for my company.  I regret
that it is necessary, but there is no alternative.  If it's a mistake,
we all have to make mistakes now and then, and I guess I'll choose this
for mine."

Sternberg, Bloom, and McCoy regarded him in hostile silence.

"Furthermore," Smith continued, "the Guardian feels that it would
prefer to cancel all policies written through your agency.  I hope that
this can be arranged without trouble to your firm."

Bloom laughed, and directed a stream of tobacco juice into a convenient
cuspidor.

"Sure it can, Mr. Smith," he said, "because this firm absolutely
declines to have nothing to do with it.  If you want any policies
canceled, cancel 'em yourselves."

"Well," said Smith, "if we cancel all these policies we will
undoubtedly inconvenience the brokers that placed the business with
you, and they'll come back at you.  Now I tell you what I'll do.  If
you'll cancel these policies and replace the lines in one or more of
your other companies, I won't demand any return commission.  By just
substituting other policies you can square yourselves with the brokers
and make a double commission besides.  Isn't that fair?"

The three partners looked at one another inquiringly.

"That seems all right," Sternberg finally said.  "But you're making a
mistake to leave us, Mr. Smith.  I tell you that straight.  No one else
can give you what we can."

Probably the last statement was absolutely true, but it did not alter
the New Yorker's decision.

"Well, we won't go into that," he said.  "I shall expect our canceled
policies to come along as soon as you can get at them.  Meanwhile,
please give me your commission of authority and unused policies
forty-one twenty-seven to forty-five hundred inclusive.  You can send
back the rest of the supplies by express collect, or destroy them."

A few minutes later, Smith, with a large bundle under each arm, might
have been seen leaving the office of his late agents and making
straight for an express office from where he shipped the Guardian's
supplies back to New York.  To Mr. Wintermuth he sent a telegram which
read concisely, "Closed Sternberg, Bloom, and McCoy agency.  Smith."
He then sought a telephone booth.

"Hello.  Is this Mr. Silas Osgood?  Yes, I'd like very much to see you.
That's very good of you to say so.  Yes, last evening--I called for a
few minutes.  Can't you take lunch with me at the Touraine?  Good--in
about half an hour."

It was a very cordial meeting between the two, and when they sat down
to luncheon in a peaceful corner where their talk would be
uninterrupted, Mr. Osgood was more alert and cheerful than the veteran
underwriter had been since the bleak day when O'Connor and the Eastern
Conference moved on Boston; and as Smith went on, his companion's
manifest pleasure increased.

"So I think I am justified in saying that even if the courts do not
absolutely hold the separation feature illegal, they will come so close
to it that the Superintendent of Insurance will take a hand," Smith
said.  "I'm mighty glad you didn't sell your interest in the agency,
for I believe that things are going to break our way, and when it's
possible for the Guardian to go back into the Osgood agency, I hope to
see Silas Osgood in command--opening the front door to let us in."

"I'll open the door to admit myself and the Guardian together--I'd
rather have it that way," the older man replied.  "But I hope that this
can be accomplished before very long.  I dislike idleness intensely.
When I was in the harness I often thought I had too much to do; but any
excess amount is better than nothing at all.  How long do you suppose
all this will take?  I expect to spend the summer in Europe--do you
suppose that it can be fought out within a year?"

"It's rather hard to say," the other responded.  "There appears to be
no clear-cut law under which we can proceed directly, as we did in
Pennsylvania.  I suppose you heard that the Attorney-General over there
had taken up our battle for us.  Still, it ought not to take a year
here.  Meanwhile my hands are rather tied here in Boston.  I can't
appoint another agent, because it wouldn't be fair to close up his
agency and go over to Silas Osgood and Company when you were ready to
take us.  Meanwhile the Guardian will be doing no business at all in
Boston, and I hate to be getting no premium income whatever out of the
town, but I guess I'll have to be patient.  You haven't any one to
suggest, have you, that would give us exclusively a suburban business
so that he wouldn't interfere with your congested district lines when
we appointed you?"

Mr. Osgood reflected for a moment.

"That sounds like a difficult question to answer," he said; "but I
believe I know such a man.  There is a very live young fellow named
Greenwood who has a nice business out toward Dorchester mostly.  He's a
sort of protégé of mine, and if I had remained in the agency I think I
should have offered him a junior partnership.  He doesn't represent any
company except as a sub-agent.  If you appointed him, his risks
wouldn't conflict at all with ours later on.  Perhaps, even, I might
carry out my original intention toward him."

"An excellent idea," Smith said.  "When do you suppose we could go and
see this Mr. Greenwood?"

"I think," said Silas Osgood, with a smile, "that we could go this
afternoon."



CHAPTER XVII

Mr. James Wintermuth had just finished a luncheon of such unusual
proportions that evidently it had attracted the respectful attention of
the Down Town Association's waiter who usually served him, and who of
late had grown almost to despair of being able ever again to bring his
client anything more substantial than a half portion of crab-flake
salad.

"Nice day, sir," the waiter suggestively remarked, as if Mr.
Wintermuth's appetite were in some curious way governed wholly by the
vagaries of the weather.

"Yes," agreed his patron, with almost a touch of embarrassment; "a very
nice day, indeed."

Mr. Wintermuth was feeling uncommonly cheerful, and the cause of it was
quite largely the oblong yellow missive then reposing on his desk.  He
knew he would have to wait a day or two before he could learn the
details of Smith's doings in Boston, but it was at least a relief to
feel that some decisive action was being taken.

When, two days later, Smith returned, his report seemed eminently
satisfactory to his chief.

"I'm not a lawyer, so I can't tell you exactly what kind of court
proceedings will have to be brought," he said; "but so far as I can
make out it's a sort of action for conspiracy against the companies
belonging to the Eastern Conference, joining them all as defendants.
The Insurance Commissioner of Massachusetts comes in, too, in some way,
and I believe that under the state law as recently amended we will
finally win out."

"Finally!" said the President.  "That sounds rather remote.  How long
do you expect it will take?  Protracted litigation is both expensive
and unsatisfactory."

"Oh, it won't cost us anything; the Insurance Commissioner nominally
brings the suit, as I understand it, and I'm sure it won't take more
than a year.  But in the meantime I feel positive that we will suffer
no further annoyance or injury in New England.  We've already lost
about all the agents that could be shaken loose, and with this suit
pending I fancy the Conference will go very slow before forcing the
issue further--for fear of civil actions for damages from all the
non-Conference companies if we win our conspiracy case."

"That sounds reasonable."

"It is.  So I really think we need not worry much about New England for
a while.  I fancy I managed to stiffen up the backbone of Crowell,
who's a first-class field man, and I'm going to circularize the local
agents, telling them the facts."

Mr. Wintermuth looked at Smith thoughtfully.

"All right, Richard; go ahead," he said.  "I am quite content to leave
it in your hands."

"Now for New York," pursued Smith, inclining his head in acknowledgment
of his superior's commendation.  "In New York State we shall have to
accomplish our purpose mainly by means of bluffing, to put it plainly,
for I can't find any law that covers the point; but perhaps we won't
need a law.  Mr. Ferguson, the Superintendent of Insurance, is, as you
know, not unalterably opposed to being nominated for Governor this
fall.  He has listened before now to the siren voice, and Albany seems
very attractive to him.  And this is an anti-combination year.  I don't
think he'll need much persuasion to be convinced that much credit and
capital will be gained by a spirited attack on something that more than
faintly resembles a trust."

"That correctly describes the Eastern Conference, in its present
activities," said Mr. Wintermuth.  "But what do you expect Mr. Ferguson
to do?"

"Oh, I haven't any idea," said his subordinate, with a smile.  "He
hasn't any law on his side; but as you are aware, his office carries
with it very arbitrary and radical powers, and if he thinks that he can
climb into the Governor's chair over the prostrate body of the Eastern
Conference, he'll find some excuse to sandbag it and make it a stepping
stone.  He'll do something all right, or I miss my guess."

"Probably you are right, Richard."

"The next thing I do will be to go up to see him and talk it over.  New
York's an important factor with us to-day.  With a little watching
Pennsylvania and Maryland will take care of themselves.  New England is
safe to hold its own, I think.  I believe we've covered the high spots,
sir."

"How long have you been Vice-President of the Guardian, Mr. Smith, if I
may ask?" inquired the head of the institution in a tone of
affectionate raillery mixed with genuine pride.

"Oh, about a week," said Smith, laughing; "but I've been sitting around
so long, spoiling for a chance to do something, that there's several
months' stored-up energy which I've got to get out of my system."

"Well, I hope you get around to the local department pretty soon," said
Mr. Wintermuth.  "Poor Cuyler has worried himself nearly sick, and the
city business has been hit very hard; premiums are away off for the
year so far."

"Yes; I want to talk that over with you, too.  But I think Mr. Ferguson
comes first."

"Very well, Richard; use your own judgment," said his chief.  "So far,
I think you have done good work for us."

"I'm glad you're satisfied, and I'll try to keep it up, I assure you,"
said Smith.  He hesitated a moment.  "But there is one phase of all
this thing which I haven't forgotten and which I don't think you have,
either, and that is how we came originally to be dragged out of the
Conference and exposed to all these attacks."

"I have not forgotten it," said Mr. Wintermuth, stiffly; "but I think
there can be no advantage in discussing it."

"I beg your pardon, sir, but I do not agree with you in that--and for
this reason," rejoined the other.  "Just one man is responsible for
most of our trouble.  He caused us to resign from the Conference, he
tried to steal our agents and our business when we were out and
succeeded in some pretty important cases, he got our branch manager
away from us, and alienated some of our best local brokers, and--I have
no proof of this last and perhaps I should not discredit my
predecessor--but I can't help feeling that he induced some mutual
friends of yours and his to suggest Mr. Gunterson's name to you."

"No," said the President, shaking his head.  "The man who mentioned
Gunterson to me is a real friend of mine--it was merely his judgment
that was at fault."

"Well, I'm glad to hear it," the other responded.  "But the point is
this: is O'Connor likely to stop now?  That's what we've got to
consider."

"It is no particular concern of mine what Mr. O'Connor does or where he
stops," said the President, with magnificent but impractical dignity.

"Well, it is of mine," Smith retorted, "because I want to know what
he's going to do next.  O'Connor has played several very shabby tricks
on you and on the Guardian--things that must, even in his own eyes,
seem discreditable.  The fact that we know what a rascal he is doesn't
help us much if we just sit here with our hands folded.  And the fact
that at last we have begun to defend ourselves will not endear us to
him the more--on the contrary it will make him even more vicious toward
us.  No, he won't stop where he is; we shall hear from him again."

Smith was possibly correct in his conclusion; but for the moment all
was very quiet along the Salamander battle front--if battle front it
were.  So he went off to interview the vigilant and ambitious Ferguson;
and for four days the home office saw him no more.

In the many years during which the Guardian had conducted its sane and
conservative business life, it had gathered into its grasp a great many
desirable adjuncts and aids to the smooth and proper operation of a
first-class fire insurance company.  Its agency plant, while not one of
the largest, was second to none in the character and ability of the
agents themselves; its force of office and field men was adequate; even
its stationery was simple and dignified and well adapted to the
ordinary uses of the management.

Perhaps at no time had Mr. Wintermuth's good fortune served him better
than when he secured the Guardian's principal reinsurance treaty.
Nearly every large company has contracts with one or more reinsurance
companies, usually foreign, and whenever an agent writes a policy for a
greater amount than his company thinks it prudent to hazard on the risk
in question, it cedes to one or more of these reinsurers such a
proportion of the risk as it feels disinclined to retain, paying to the
reinsurers an equal proportion of the original premium.  The larger the
policies a company is willing to write, the higher the esteem in which
it is held by its agents, as a rule; and the Guardian had always,
thanks to the excellent reinsurance facilities it enjoyed, been able to
take care of very liberal lines on all acceptable classes of business.
Moreover, since the treaty company paid the Guardian for its proportion
of the premium a higher rate of commission than the Guardian paid the
agent who wrote the risk, the transaction was profitable to the
Guardian.  The reinsurance company could afford to pay the higher
commission, because it had no expensive agency plant to maintain, it
did not need conspicuous offices, it employed no field men or
inspectors, and in fact, except for the inevitable losses, this
commission paid for the business was its only important expense.

Mr. Wintermuth had, in the mist of years past, discovered on one of his
trips abroad a reinsurance company rejoicing in the name of the
Karlsruhe Feuer Rückversicherungs Gesellschaft, or more briefly, the
Karlsruhe Reinsurance Company.  With the managing director of this
worthy institution he had taken the unspeakable waters at an almost
obsolete German spa, and although the waters did him no good, the
reinsurance treaty that he incidentally arranged with Mr. August
Schroeder made a very satisfactory termination of the treatment.  It
was a masterly contract--for Mr. Wintermuth--and its acceptance by Mr.
Schroeder only showed that his experience with American business was
very limited or that the waters had sapped his vitality to a degree
more than was perceptible.  It allowed the Guardian to do almost
everything it pleased, restricted it not at all, never protested any
action however unexpected, waived every possible right and privilege,
paid a liberal commission and a share of the profits besides--in short,
it was an ideal treaty and one which was the admiration of those few
privileged characters who knew its merits.  Nevertheless it had also
proved to be a good contract for the Karlsruhe, for such business as
the Guardian ceded had paid a modest but unfailing return to its
Teutonic connection year after peaceful year.

One can therefore only faintly conjecture Mr. Wintermuth's surprise and
genuine anguish upon receiving, one bright April morning, a
communication in German, which, being translated by Mr. Otto Bartels
with something more than his customary stolidity, proved to read,
stripped of all superfluous verbiage, substantially as follows:

"The managing director of the Karlsruhe, in accordance with the
conditions of the contract, hereby gives six months' notice of the
termination of the reinsurance arrangements now existing between the
Karlsruhe and the Guardian."

When, the following day, Smith returned, Mr. Wintermuth's first
greeting was silently to hand him this letter.  The younger man, with a
little assistance from the President's recollection of Bartels's
translation, managed to decipher the tangled German, and sat for a long
minute without speaking.

"Why do you suppose they're canceling?  And why didn't we get this
through their London managers, I wonder?--they're the people we've done
business with for the last ten years," he said at length.

"What difference does it make?"

"None, perhaps.  Still, it strikes me as rather odd.  Almost as though
some one had planned that this should look as though it emanated from a
point less in touch with William Street than London is."

"Then you think--?"

"Who else could it be but O'Connor?  And these German underwriters are
perfect babes in the wood--they're just idiotic enough to cancel a
profitable contract merely to take on an experimental one with a bigger
premium income in its place.  Now, nobody outside the office knew the
conditions of our contract with the Karlsruhe--except O'Connor.  No,
there's no question about it.  He probably offered them a little better
commission arrangement and a bigger business--and they fell for it."

"Very likely that is so," agreed Mr. Wintermuth.

"The only question now is: what can we do?" Smith continued.

"Schroeder has been dead six years.  And I don't know the present
managing director at all; I've never even seen this man that signed the
letter."

"It would have done us no good if you had known him," said the younger
man, slowly.  "This is a cut and dried affair.  All we can do now is to
look for another treaty.  We must try to get a contract as good as the
one we have with the Karlsruhe."

"I'm afraid we can never do it," the President responded.

"Perhaps not--and again, perhaps we can.  Still, I admit it won't be
easy."  He fell thoughtfully silent.

"Cuyler tells me he's lost another broker--Spencer and Carrick have
begun to drop their expirations with us," remarked Mr. Wintermuth, with
an irrelevance that was more apparent than real.

"Does he think the Salamander's getting them?" Smith inquired, his eyes
narrowing.

The older man nodded.

The other rose from his chair.

"I think," he said deliberately, "that I will go and see Mr. F. Mills
O'Connor.  I will give him just one chance to let up in this campaign
of his and restrict his energies to ordinary business competition; and
then, if he refuses, I will ask you and the other directors of the
Guardian to let me open things up and fight him on his own ground, if
it costs us every dollar of prospective profit for the next three
years."

Mr. Wintermuth's face assumed an expression of manifest concern.

"Don't be hasty, Richard," he said quickly; "the fault with all you
younger men is that you're apt to go too fast.  I myself have
confidence in you, you understand, but I don't know that I could
promise the support of the directors for any campaign of reprisals.
I'm afraid the idea of spending three years' prospective profit
wouldn't strike them with any degree of favor."

His perturbation was so sincere that Smith turned back in the doorway
to reassure him.

"Well, don't worry," he said lightly.  "Probably my remarks will so
abash Mr. O'Connor that he will immediately promise to be good.  I
guess I'll try it on, anyway."

Fresh in his determination, he went straight to the Salamander office,
and it was but a moment later that he found himself confronting the man
he had come to see.

"Mr. Smith, I believe," said O'Connor, neutrally.  "Won't you sit down?"

"Mr. O'Connor, I feel quite sure," said the other, taking the proffered
seat.

"Yes.  And to what do I owe the pleasure of this call?" responded the
President of the Salamander, swinging around in his chair to face his
visitor.

"If I can take up a few minutes of your time, there are quite a number
of things I'd like to say, and a few that with your permission I will."

O'Connor waved his hand for the desired assent.

"Go ahead," he said.

"Mr. O'Connor," said Smith, "you owe your position in the fire
insurance world to the Guardian of New York more than to any one other
influence, and your recent acts seem to show that you've forgotten your
obligation.  You committed the Guardian to withdrawing from the Eastern
Conference, for one thing, and after the company got out, you took
advantage of its position to raid its agency plant for the benefit of
the Salamander."

"That's most of it nonsense--but what if I did?" asked O'Connor, curtly.

"I am merely here to ask your personal assurance that from now on you
will discontinue your active efforts directed especially against my
company."

The other man looked at him.

"That's cool enough, I'm sure.  And what'll you do if I don't grant
your surprising request?"

"If you do not, the Guardian will be obliged to take such steps to meet
you as seem advisable.  So far we've been entirely on the defensive;
but we are going to protect our interests, and if the best way to
protect them necessitates a complete change of tactics from the
defensive to the aggressive, we shall make that change.  And if we do,
I give you warning that we can make things unpleasantly interesting for
you and your company."

O'Connor laughed, toying with a pencil.

"We don't want to be forced to attack you," Smith continued, "and I
admit we would far rather not; but I warn you that if we are unfairly
injured, the man responsible will be held personally liable.  You
understand what 'personally liable' means, don't you?"

The President of the Salamander did not reply for a moment, but Smith
saw a flush come into his face when he answered.

"Pshaw! you're talking of things you know nothing about.  I haven't
injured your company--you've done it yourselves.  If you don't like it,
being outside the Conference, why in the devil don't you go back?  I'll
propose the Guardian for membership, myself, and you'll be reinstated
within two weeks.  I haven't done anything that any business man
wouldn't have done.  Some agents have decided that they'd rather
represent the Salamander than the Guardian; in my opinion that's only
the exercise of good judgment.  If people prefer to give risks to us
rather than you, they've a right to exercise the privilege of their
choice.  My feeling toward the Guardian is exactly what it has always
been.  If Mr. Wintermuth thinks he's been unfairly treated or that he
has a grievance against me, let him come to me with it himself, and I
will be glad to show him that he is wrong.  But I don't care to go into
the matter any further with any one else."

"That is your answer, then?" Smith asked.

"Yes--it is," the other responded shortly.

Smith turned to the door.

"Sure you've nothing further to add?" he asked, his hand on the knob.

"Nothing whatever," said the President of the Salamander, and he turned
back to his desk.

"I'm afraid we'll have to fight," Smith reported to his chief.
"O'Connor says," he added, with legitimate malice, "that if you imagine
you have a grievance and will come to the office of the Salamander, he
will graciously consent to give you a hearing."

Mr. Wintermuth looked up, and a flash of his pristine shrewdness
gleamed in his eye.

"You're saying that--putting it that way to get me into a controversy
with the Salamander people, Richard," he said.

"Yes," admitted Smith, honestly; "but I wouldn't do it if I didn't
believe that eventually we'll have to fight that man on his own ground,
and beat him, too, before he'll leave us alone to conduct our business."

"Perhaps that is so."

"Then you'll let me close in on him when it becomes necessary?" the
other persisted.

"Possibly," said Mr. Wintermuth, cautiously; and more he would not say.

During the next few days Smith found himself a very busy man.  There
were a thousand and one matters demanding his attention, for in the
three months' regime of his predecessor many things had come to loose
ends.  All through Conference territory agents had to be reassured;
there were certain legal preparations to be made; definite instructions
for a new plan of campaign had to be given to field men and office
force.  Smith found very little time to consider the two questions
which most interested him--of which one was the next probable move of
O'Connor and the other the securing of a new reinsurance contract.

To be sure this latter task was officially assumed by Mr. Wintermuth,
but Smith felt reasonably certain that ultimately he himself would have
to find the treaty.  And this would not be an easy task, unless he
should resort to the obvious and fashionable method of consulting Mr.
Simeon Belknap and abiding by his selection on his own terms; and since
the market was limited and Mr. Belknap's facilities in these delicate
and complicated matters were unique, his services naturally were not
cheaply held.  Smith, with youthful self-confidence, decided that he
himself would make a preliminary canvass of the reinsurance market; and
so, when the first rush of new duties had abated, and his legal affairs
were safely in the hands of counsel, and the interrupted agency machine
of the Guardian was beginning to turn normally once more, he undertook
this matter of a new reinsurance contract with all the energy at his
command.

The one man in New York, aside from the eminent Mr. Belknap, who was
the most powerful figure in reinsurance affairs and who best understood
the situation on both sides of the Atlantic, was a solid, silent,
almost venerable Teuton by the name of Scheidle.  Mr. Scheidle occupied
an anomalous position, but one of absolute authority, since he had been
for many years the United States Manager of no less than three of the
largest foreign reinsurance companies.  He was unsociable, apparently
uninterested in anybody save possibly himself, and disinclined to be
lured by any call or beckoning whatsoever from his William Street
office.  An outsider would have said that most of his time was employed
in crossing the ocean, for it seemed as though the _Journal of
Commerce_ reported every few days either his arrival or departure.
Perhaps he reserved his loquacity for his native land, but at all
events he exchanged in New York no converse with any one save in the
strictest necessities of business; he had no intimates except a few
anonymous Teutons as difficult of access as himself.  He positively
declined to make new friends, and it was evident that he had all the
friends he desired to have; and in the same way he declined to consider
any new business proposals, as all his companies were long established
and all were in possession from numerous treaty contracts of premium
incomes sufficiently large to satisfy their conservative manager.

This was the man that Smith, after careful deliberation, set himself to
ensnare.  But unfortunately, the more extended became his researches,
the more impregnable appeared the cloudy barriers which Mr. Scheidle
had raised between himself and the English-speaking world.  At the end
of a week of consistent effort Smith found himself precisely where he
was when he began.

And then, just as his chances of success seemed faintest, the whole
scroll suddenly unrolled itself before him.  A chance inquiry of Mr.
Otto Bartels provoked an answer of gutturals not especially euphonious
in themselves, but which fell with vast and soothing solace on Smith's
troubled sense.

"Sure do I know him," said Mr. Bartels.  "Except when he goes to
Germany, with him I play pinochle on Tuesdays always."

Smith surveyed him, speechless.

"To-day is Tuesday," he said at last.  And for the next half hour he
proceeded to explain to Mr. Bartels exactly what it was that Mr.
Scheidle now had a chance to do for his old friend with whom for so
many years he had played his nocturnal pinochle on Tuesdays always.

"You'd have saved me a lot of trouble if you'd ever said you knew
Scheidle," Smith remarked after the explanation was concluded.

"I would have said if any had asked," replied Mr. Bartels, simply.
However, the same commendable reticence being a characteristic of all
his human relations, there really was no cause for Smith's criticism.

Mr. Bartels, moreover, now that he knew what he was expected to do and
had his duty set plain before his methodical feet, advanced along the
desired way in a most encouraging manner, and with considerable
celerity.  So successful was he in his negotiations with Mr. Scheidle
that not long afterward he was able to bring Smith the most welcome of
tidings.

"He says that one of his companies has a treaty with the Majestic of
Cincinnati, and he has lost money by it.  The Majestic gives him bad
business.  He will perhaps cancel this contract, and that leaves a
place for another."

"The next time I want anything, I'll come to you first," said Smith,
cheerfully.  "Now I'll go and see the chief and ease his mind--and also
find out what terms he is willing to make with Scheidle."

Mr. Wintermuth proved to be no stickler for terms; his anxiety to
replace the lost treaty was too great.  And Mr. Scheidle, after
analyzing and studying the results of the business which the Guardian
had ceded to the Karlsruhe, made a very fair offer.  And so the
Imperial Reinsurance Company of Stettin, with assets nearly twice as
great as the once lamented Karlsruhe, agreed to pay as much commission
to the Guardian as the Karlsruhe paid, on an almost equally liberal
form of agreement.

It was only a short time after this matter had been so satisfactorily
arranged that Smith met one morning at the office door the gloomy face
of the once optimistic and combative Cuyler.  The mind of the young
Vice-President had been so cheerfully inclined by the events of the
last fortnight that he had almost forgotten there still was depression
in the world.

"For heaven's sake!" he said, stopping the disconsolate one, "you don't
mean to say that you start in a pleasant day feeling the way you look?"

"Yes, of course I do, and why shouldn't I?" returned the misanthrope.
"Business all shot to pieces; the only chance of getting back the
brokers we've lost is to open up a little and fire off a few roman
candles, and the old man won't let me do that; and no sign of a good
branch manager.  What more do you want?"

He eyed Smith so hostilely that the younger man, for all his regard for
the veteran, felt inclined to laugh.

"Well, that sounds pretty bad," he agreed; "but absolutely nothing
warrants a face as sad as yours.  Those are simply a number of
misfortunes that may be overcome, but your face implies a regular
catastrophe.  I don't see how a broker dares to tackle you; I wouldn't,
if I were a broker."

"Oh, it's all very well to be cheerful, if you can," retorted the
other, gloomily; "but I've been a good many years building up this
local business, and I admit I can't take much enjoyment in watching it
float out the door and disappear down the street."

"No, one would hardly expect you to," Smith conceded.  "But cheer up,
just a little.  I've been waiting for the directors' meeting to tackle
the local situation, and you know they meet to-day."

This was the first directors' meeting since that at which Smith had
been chosen Vice-President.  Had there been in the minds of those who
had voted for him any doubt of his dynamic force and ability to cope
with the situation before him, that doubt must have been dispelled by
the brief but satisfactory report upon what had been done, presented to
them by Mr. Wintermuth.  Upon the conclusion of this there was a pause,
and Mr. Whitehill spoke.

"That's a good statement, and I think our Vice-president is to be
congratulated on taking hold of things in such an energetic and
business-like way.  We shall of course ratify the action Mr. Smith has
taken on these matters; and now I want to ask Mr. Smith what he thinks
our prospects are and what he has in mind for the immediate future."

There were two things Smith wanted, neither of which could he get alone
and unaided; and accordingly he went to the point with the utmost
directness.

"I believe that we have passed a kind of crisis and that things are
fairly well started, gentlemen," he said.  "I see no reason why the
Guardian should not go on and continue to be the successful
underwriting institution it has always been, and certainly I shall try
my hardest to make it so.  I am very much obliged to Mr. Whitehill for
his expression of confidence in me.  Now, there are two things which
you gentlemen can give me and for which I ask you to-day.  One is
authority to double our liability on Manhattan Island, and the other is
an uptown branch manager."

Smith stopped, glancing at Mr. Wintermuth and rather apprehensive of
the reply he might receive.  But all that gentleman answered was:--

"We've always tried to keep down our liability in Manhattan--especially
in the lower end, between Chambers and Twenty-third Street."

"Yes," said Smith; "and I believe, sir, we've kept it down too far.  In
the last ten years the construction has been greatly improved, a high
pressure water supply has been introduced, the fire department is
bigger and more efficient, and yet our liability is very little greater
in the dry goods district, for example, than it was ten years ago."

"That's true," the President agreed.  He turned to the other directors.
"I think perhaps that in our city business we may have been a little
too conservative, but I have always preferred to err on that side, if I
erred at all.  I should not oppose a rather more liberal policy in New
York."

"Thank you," Smith replied.  "Mr. Cuyler and I will take care that the
company does not get involved for dangerous amounts in any well defined
district, and I hope that the larger part of our increased business
will be uptown.  And it will, if we can secure the right branch
manager."

"But how can we help you there?" another director asked.  "None of us
is familiar with insurance conditions."

"I thought," the other said, "that some of you might have influence
with some of the better uptown agencies.  The competition for that
class of business is tremendous.  Mr. Wintermuth, Mr. Cuyler, and I all
know most of these people, but a mere acquaintance is nothing--to get
into a first-rate office and get their best business means that you've
got to have a strangle hold on the agent--nothing less will do."

Mr. Whitehill leaned back in his chair.

"I don't know exactly what constitutes a strangle hold," he said with a
smile; "but there's one firm up town that handles all my trustee
business, and I think they would hardly like to disoblige me.  I fancy
the commissions on it must amount to rather a handsome amount, year in
and year out.  And I think they must have an agency, because once or
twice I've noticed their name signed to policies they've sent me."

"Who are they?" another director asked.  "Perhaps Mr. Wintermuth or Mr.
Smith may know them."

"Evans and Jones," replied Mr. Whitehill.

The President and his young subordinate looked at one another.  Even
Mr. Wintermuth, who for some years past had given little attention to
the details of the local business, knew that the firm in question was
one of high standing.

"Of One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street?" Smith asked.

"Yes.  You know them?  They have an agency, then?"  Mr. Whitehill
responded.

"They certainly have," replied the other.  "They are as desirable
agents as there are up town, and they represent the Essex of England,
the Austrian National, and," he glanced at his chief, "the Salamander
of New York."

Mr. Wintermuth found no words.

"Now, Mr. Whitehill," said Smith, "they are the people we want as
branch managers.  Our interests would be safe in their hands.  But to
take us and do us justice they would probably have to resign one of the
companies they now represent.  Do you think your influence with them is
sufficient to get them to do that?"'

Mr. Whitehill smiled somewhat grimly.

"My boy," he said, "I don't like to extol my personal influence; but if
I asked Evans and Jones anything within the bounds of reason and they
declined to do it, I admit that I should be surprised--very much
surprised."

This was the reason why, on a busy corner of the Street, only a week
later, two men came to a stop face to face, the elder regarding the
younger with a malignity that was indifferently concealed.

"Well, how's the boy underwriter?" said a sneering voice.  "You think
you turned a pretty trick when you took my branch manager, eh?"

"I told you we'd have to get back at you," the other replied.  "But,"
he added, "I should hardly think it would be a subject you'd care to
discuss."

The blood came into the face of the first speaker.

"Well, I do, just the same," he said; "and I want to tell you that
you've gone too far.  You've made a personal matter of ordinary
competition.  All right--have it as you like.  But you take it from me,
this fight's just started, and I'm going to see it through, and I'll
get you and your Guardian yet."

"Is that all you wish to say?" Smith queried in a level tone.

"Yes," said O'Connor, shortly; "that's all.  Remember it."

And he turned toward the office of the Salamander.



CHAPTER XVIII

"27 Deerfield Street.

"DEAR MR. SMITH,--You never come to Boston any more, do you?  Or when
you come, do you see some other lady?  Assuming for the sake of
argument that you don't come, I can't help feeling rather relieved, for
if you ever thought my mind at all above the deadest dead level of my
sex--a sex that most gentlemen either secretly or openly believe to be
vastly inferior mentally to their own, anyway--you would receive a
fearful shock if you should arrive and see me now.  For no girl could
more enthusiastically have thrown herself into the combination of
things with which the comic papers most dearly love to associate the
conventionally idiotic feminine--clothes and weddings.  In this case
the wedding has not yet occurred, but the clothes are in one way or
another occurring nearly every twenty minutes; and far from being
ashamed of my interest in such petty and ephemeral things, I have
actually enjoyed the campaign--in which I have taken both an active and
advisory part--toward completing a trousseau for the prospective bride.

"However, one thing gives me courage to confess this to you, and that
is that I have merely followed out my natural tastes and inclinations,
and I think you have a theory that anything absolutely natural has a
right to exist.  I hope I'm not wrong and that you really have such a
theory, for it has cheered me up quite a lot, because I don't believe
any one ever took a more vivid interest in clothes than I have done for
the last ten days.

"I suppose by this time you are thinking I have talked so much about it
that I must be acquiring this trousseau for myself, but such is not the
case.  The bride-to-be is Isabel, who has finally decided to marry
Charlie Wilkinson at once, and without waiting longer for a change
which may never occur.  Miss Hurd, who inherits some of her father's
sagacity, has always acted on the theory that if you consistently
neglect to do things which absolutely have to be done, some one else
will always do them for you,--and in this affair I am the some one
else, doing most of the real work while Isabel placidly speculates on
whether her father will or won't relent at the eleventh hour.

"I could save her the trouble of her speculations, for I know John M.
pretty well, and the number of times he has changed his mind in the
course of his life cannot be more than six!  But Isabel argues that he
reversed his decision once before on a matter in which the ingenious
Mr. Wilkinson figured, and so he may do again.  But up to now there are
no signs of any such happy conclusion, for Mr. Hurd stands on his
promise that if Isabel marries Charlie, her doom will be on her own
head, so to speak.  He has more than once thrown out the fine old
conventional paternal threat--'not one penny, and so forth'--which
would give me, I admit, far more concern than it seems to occasion
either of the interested parties.

"Certainly Mr. Hurd has thus far given an excellent imitation of a very
fair grade of adamant, as Charlie puts it.  He concedes nothing that he
doesn't have to.  He says Isabel is of age and can legally marry whom
she pleases, but if she pleases to marry Charles Wilkinson, the Hurds'
roof shall not be the scene of the function.  Charlie's obvious retort
to this was that this didn't cause him very much disappointment, as Mr.
Hurd's or any one else's roof seemed a curious and somewhat
inappropriate place for a marriage ceremony, anyway, and he didn't
think the prospect of himself and his ushers being obliged to reach the
altar by crawling out of a scuttle would lend to the occasion a dignity
strictly in accordance with his well-known reputation for always doing
things in correct form.

"So the pair of them are now trying to decide whether to have a church
ceremony or to run away--practically--and be married without any
society annex whatever to the affair.  I myself rather favor the
latter, but Charlie is quite keen for the church.  He is really very
proud of Isabel, and so far as I can make out he would like a big
wedding to advertise, as it were, his achievement in getting her.  And
then he adds as usual that his tailor and other similar friends ought
to be considered, and the more important the function the firmer his
future credit will be.

"Meanwhile time flies, and poor Mrs. Hurd is torn by conflicting
desires.  All her life, you see, she has subordinated herself to every
whim and opinion of her husband and repressed every natural inclination
and desire.  How you would love her!  And now she finds to her surprise
that her natural affection for her daughter is in danger of taking her
off her feet.  I really believe there have been some painful scenes
between the poor lady and John M.--and there may be some more if Mrs.
Hurd's newly awakened self-assertiveness grows more positive and Mr.
Hurd remains inflexible.

"Through all of this I keep the comparatively noiseless tenor of my
way, and plots, counterplots, and cabals seethe deliciously round me.
I've been having a simply splendid time, and I've discovered that the
actual cause of my enjoyment is the most primitive one imaginable,--I
love a romance, and a real romance ought to end in a wedding, just as
this one is presently going to do.  I can hear your comment on this:
'Good heavens! that Maitland girl is exactly like all the rest!'  Well,
perhaps I am; cut my acquaintance if you wish--but I have confessed the
truth to you.

"Charlie is much improved, I think.  He is as cheerful and as
inconsequent as ever, and his plans for the future seem to me, although
I am not a practical woman of business, more sketchy than well defined.
Sometimes, after listening to him, I have come to the conclusion that
even so attractive a quality as absolute optimism can be overdone, and
that the principle of never crossing a bridge before you come to it can
reasonably be modified by observing before you actually get to the
water whether there is any bridge at all or whether you will have to
swim for the opposite bank.  However, one saving grace is the fact that
Charlie seems genuinely in love with Isabel, if I know any of the
signs, and in contemplating the future he even talks of going to work,
if the need should ever arise for that radical departure from his whole
life scheme.  Of course, as says, he probably wouldn't do it, but that
he should even think of it he conceives to be a sign of inherent
nobility.

"Were it not for this excitement, I am afraid Boston would be a little
dull.  I am reluctant to put such a confession in writing, for some one
has quite truly remarked that to say of any place that it is dull is
too often a confession of one's own dullness, but I am going to be
honest about it.  Do you suppose it is because New York, after being
denied by me so long, will have its hour?--or is this a permanent
thing?  Somehow I cannot get away from the feeling that Boston is small
and narrow and cold.  Perhaps it is because of the wonderful life that
thrills through almost everything in New York--even through the things
one dislikes.  But I don't expect you to answer that, because I don't
believe you dislike anything thoroughly characteristic of New York; I
remember you once took me to a Broadway musical comedy and said you
enjoyed it.

"It is a long time since you were in Boston.  Are you likely to come
here again within a month or two?  If not, I wish you would write me
all the news of the Guardian and all about the great legal fight which
you and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are waging against the
octopus.  I try to keep in touch with it through Uncle Silas, who of
course is intensely interested and who seems another man of late, but
he has not your gift of explaining in words of one syllable.  Have you
ever thought of getting out a textbook of 'First Principles' of
anything, for juvenile intellects of all ages?  I am not wholly making
fun.

"Yours faithfully,

"HELEN MAITLAND."


"It is," wrote Smith in reply, "one of the most soothing things
imaginable for a person who is about to admit a human weakness to find
his confession forestalled.  Just as I had determined to confess to you
my possession of frailties entirely incompatible with the conception of
Richard Smith in the eyes of his ordinary acquaintances, I received
your letter.  It was with the delight of the reprieved client of a
painless dentist that I read your admission that when such vital things
as trousseaux and weddings are in question, you are very much like
other girls--and perhaps even a little more so.

"I really breathe a huge sigh of relief.  And with positive
cheerfulness I can now proceed to divulge the secrets I have learned
about one Richard Smith, Esquire, in the months which have elapsed
since a certain traveler from the Far East--relatively--returned home
from New York.  As my somewhat cryptic rhetoric may not be clear, and
appreciating your fondness for words of one syllable, permit me to
state that this means you.

"Self-satisfaction, self-absorption, self-sufficiency, have had a
sobering shock.  For I find that for the full and perfect enjoyment of
my city I myself am no longer enough.  I need company--curiously, one
specific and particular individual whom, having once named, I need not
name again.

"Do you suppose all this can be a sort of vanity?  Do you think it was
my delight in the sound of my own voice, booming through the crowded
streets I love like the bittern across his lonely marshes, that makes
me wish you would abandon even such thrilling traffic as trousseau
planning, and come back and let me boom some more?  For I have found it
truth absolute that New York with Miss Maitland in it is a better place
than the same city peopled only by Richard Smith--and some millions of
others.  Do you object to my telling you this?  If your mood is
unusually Bostonian when you receive this letter, you will very likely
hurl the fragments of it into an ashcan omitted from the map of the
brown building on Deerfield Street.  However, I am counting heavily on
the mood and influence of the approaching wedding to help me out.

"For nobody--that is, no real girl--is inflexible when there is a
wedding in the air, and your letter only proves you are a real
girl--which I always thought you to be.  And I'm awfully glad you are!
Only think how icily unhuman you would seem if you could hold yourself
superior even to a wedding, and especially to one so romantic as this
of Miss Hurd's promises to be, with all the melodramatic settings of a
possible elopement, a distracted mother, and the thunderously raging
paternal parent of the disinherited heiress to add zest to the
occasion!  If you remained unmelted by all this, my next visit to
Boston--which I am sorry to say cannot occur as soon as I would like to
have it--would almost certainly see my calls confined to insurance
agents and lawyers--or perhaps to the mythical other person referred to
in your letter.

"For the other person is purely mythical, as you must some day know.
Only in Deerfield Street is there the type of brown building that
irresistibly attracts me.  So beware of stray rings at the doorbell,
for any moment it may be I.  Do you believe in telepathy?  And if so,
do you believe in it sufficiently to think it can ring a doorbell all
the way from New York to Boston?  If you do, listen--and you can hear
it now!

"You asked me about the onslaught upon the octopus, and I am happy to
say that things are going as well as the most ardent muck-raker on the
most active fifteen-cent reform magazine could wish.  The suit has been
put on the calendar for trial in Massachusetts, and in New York State
the Superintendent of Insurance is causing more trouble than we
ourselves could possibly have created.  There haven't been any actual
results yet, but the moral effect for us has been immense.  The Eastern
Conference people are no fools, and they can read the Mene-tekel on the
wall even if they don't know Assyrian.

"If you have talked with Mr. Osgood, you doubtless know that we are
agreed on our Boston plans.  At the proper time he is to go back into
his office, taking the Guardian back with him--and probably the first
thing he will do after taking charge again will be to resign the
Salamander.  Meanwhile we sit as tight as a couple of dynamite
conspirators--and at present the Guardian appoints no Boston
representative and accepts no Boston business except from a few
suburban agents.

"Elsewhere things are looking very much more cheerful than when I saw
you; and when the rush begins to let up a bit, I shall have no
difficulty at all in persuading myself that a conference with Mr.
Osgood and our Boston attorneys is necessary.  Until then I must do my
best to forget that New York is less delightful under some conditions
than--others.

"I hope you will be good enough to write me all about the wedding of
Miss Hurd and Wilkinson.  Somehow I cannot help regarding it as a
fundamentally humorous happening--I think the picture of Wilkinson as a
man of responsibilities in any actual sense is probably the cause of my
amusement.  But I wish them both the very best of luck, and if you
think it a suitable match, I am quite willing to accept your judgment.
Wilkinson always seemed to me to look quite happy and contented, and it
is the popular belief that any young bachelor of such an appearance
needs a woman to take care of him.

"Do you remember the old print of the Madison Cottage that we
discovered in the print room of the Library one afternoon?  I found a
copy of it in a second-hand book shop down town a few days ago.  In
case you don't object to having it I am "inclosing it herewith," as we
say in our office correspondence a hundred times a week.  Except that
the people to whom we send the inclosures usually don't want them, and
I am hoping that you will care something about this.

"Very sincerely yours,

"RICHARD SMITH."


It was at the close of a pleasant afternoon in the good town of Boston,
only a few days after the arrival of this letter, that two girls and a
young man rather hastily descended the front steps of a certain
substantial and dignified dwelling in the Back Bay district.  That
something a little out of the ordinary had occurred might have been
guessed from the expression of guilt on the faces of certainly two and
perhaps all three of them, and possibly by the half-embarrassed
alacrity with which the young man escorted his companions down the
steps.  No one of them apparently cared even to glance back at the
building they had just left, although its occupancy was as respectable
as its appearance indicated; and each one seemed oddly reluctant to
look at either of the others.  It was not until their feet stood
soundly on the flagged sidewalk and the house was well behind them that
the tension snapped and the young man spoke.

"Well, Isabel," said he, "I'm awfully glad I've done it, but that
ceremony was certainly terrific.  I believe that to go through such a
thing twice in a span of life would unhinge a mind like mine, whose
hinges creak slightly at times, anyway."

"Very well, Charlie," responded the young lady addressed, smiling.  "I
think I can arrange that you shan't have to, for the Hurds are a
notoriously long-lived family."

"But what was so terrific about it, Charlie?" inquired the other young
lady.  "It didn't seem to me to differ much from any other marriage
ceremony--and you must have heard dozens at one time or another."

"Oh, I suppose I have," was the reply; "but somehow that man made me
feel like a worm--and a worm that's only by the most extraordinary luck
managed to keep out of jail.  I felt like a cheap political hack
accepting the nomination for an important office that I was perfectly
certain I couldn't fill acceptably."

"Well, he did look a trifle severe--not very cheerful," conceded Miss
Maitland.

"Cheerful!  He looked about as cheerful as a firm believer in infant
damnation during a bad attack of dyspepsia.  But never mind."  He
turned to the other girl.  "Now that it's all over, how does it feel,
Isabel, to be Mrs. Charles Sylvester Wilkinson?"

"I really don't know," said his wife, considering a moment.  "It's the
Sylvester part that seems most unfamiliar.  I had honestly almost
forgotten that you had such a decorative middle name.  And when I was
told that some one called Charles Sylvester had endowed me with all his
worldly goods, I admit I felt somewhat surprised."

"You would have been even more so if, at the same time, you had been
given a list of them," replied the bridegroom.  "I think--to go back to
the Archbishop--" he said reflectively, "that the trouble with that man
was that he was too high-church.  Now my leanings have never been
toward high-churchness.  Ordinarily my inclinations toward church at
all are discernible with difficulty.  My enthusiasm regarding it is
continually, under normal conditions, at low ebb.  And this, I take it,
makes me a low-churchman."

"It's a most encouraging sign, to see you embracing any kind of
ritual," said Miss Maitland.  "Isabel, I have hopes of him yet."

"That is very good of you," replied the bride, smiling amiably at her
lord and master--to speak academically.

"Very strange feeling it gives one to be so suddenly married in this
way--without any of the conventional preliminaries," Wilkinson
continued.  "I always imagined that when my time was come, while the
grape scissors and sets of Jane Austen and cut glass berry bowls were
pouring in on my happy fiancée, I should have one last, lonely,
sentimental hour set apart for maiden meditations and twilight
reflections over my dead life and half-forgotten past.  Also to recover
from the effects of my ushers' dinner.  An ushers'--girls, have either
of you ever given or even attended an ushers' dinner?"

His companions' reply was a laughing negative.

"Well," said the young man, gravely, "to have escaped giving an ushers'
dinner is assuredly worth an almost innumerable number of pairs of
grape scissors and several entire editions of Jane Austen.  Yes, I am
certainly to be congratulated, for an ushers' dinner should be shunned
like the Bubonic plague.  To begin with, the cost is simply colossal.
The food, of course, counts for practically nothing, and the drink is
only an incidental, though a large one.  But repairing the broken
furniture, and repapering and redecorating the room in which the
function has been held, and purchasing another piano in place of the
one which your guests have playfully torn to pieces--those are a few of
the things that count."

"They sound as though they did," agreed Miss Maitland.

"Moreover," Wilkinson continued, "if the dinner is given at the club to
which you belong, you always put the board of governors in an awkward
position, for at their next meeting after your entertainment they can
never agree on whether to expel you outright or merely suspend you for
three years, and quite often there is bad feeling created by these
dissensions; while if you hold the affair at a public restaurant, you
risk the friendly ultimate intervention of the police.  And then the
favors!  Why should I present several gentlemen with pearl stick pins,
when I have none myself?  To be sure I might give my best man the
ticket for mine, and he could redeem it whenever he had four dollars,
but generally speaking, the answer is in the interrogative."

"On the whole, then," said his bride, "you ought to be reconciled for
the loss of your twilight reflections."

"When I look into your eyes I am repaid for everything!  There!" he
turned to Helen, "could any one have said a perfect thing more
perfectly?"  And Miss Maitland agreed that, although his grammar might
have been criticized, his sentiment and delivery were flawless.

"Well, it's over now, so I'm glad you accept it gracefully," she said.
"You're committed, temporarily at least--unless you wish to start for
Nevada at once."

"Really, Helen, I think it's most indelicate of you to refer to such a
possibility," the other girl remarked.  "I've only been married fifteen
minutes, and to be deserted by one's husband even within a week or two
is not considered flattering."

"No, I think I'll stay," Wilkinson replied.  "But if I were to start
West at all, I should say the sooner the better to avert the wrath of
your esteemed but irascible parent."

"I think father has said all he has to say; he expressed himself most
thoroughly," Isabel rejoined thoughtfully.

"I should say he did!" her husband agreed.  "With elaborate precision,
if I may so express it.  He told me enough about my family and
antecedents to make me wholly ashamed to belong to them.  His
presentation of myself was simply masterful; it would have moved one of
his own trolley cars; I didn't wonder a bit that he objected to me as a
son-in-law.  In fact, I told him that had I known all these things I
should have sought a fitting helpmate from the State Reformatory, but
that I could not withdraw--my word was pledged."

"What did he say to that?" Helen asked, with amusement.

"He intimated that, as I seemed susceptible to reason, perhaps his
daughter also might be.  But I assured him that he failed to calculate
correctly my undeniable personal charm--that I was an acquired taste,
but one for which there was no cure."

"An odd one, but mine own?" suggested Isabel.

"That was not quite the idea I intended to convey, but I am bound to
admit it was just about the way it seemed to strike your respected
parent.  That is, he said, 'I suppose if she's been idiotic enough to
decide to marry you, it would be impossible to bring her to her senses
now.'  I cordially assented."

"Do you know, I believe I really _am_ married," Isabel said
reflectively; "for I certainly object most decidedly to my father's way
of talking to you.  Heavens!  If I have to go through life resenting
the things people say of my husband, I shall certainly lead a checkered
career."

"It is the common lot of wives," remarked her husband philosophically.
"But here we are, hard by the gilded food bazaar wherein a head waiter
with drawn butterknife guards a table for three, reserved in my name.
We are about fifteen minutes early, but personally I could look with
resignation on the idea of nourishment."

"The voice of returning nature," said Helen, with a laugh.  "Charlie
married is the same man, in one respect at least, that we have always
known.  Isabel, you may be disturbed over what people say about your
husband, but you will never need to be disturbed at his lack of
appetite."

"The main disturbance will be in providing for it," Wilkinson
responded.  "The securities I own bring me in a revenue of thirty
dollars a year.  That is two dollars and a half a month, or about eight
cents a day.  I read only yesterday an article about some ingenious
person who contrived to support life on something like that sum, but my
recollection is that his menu consisted almost entirely of peanut
butter--of which I am not particularly fond--and besides that, there
was only one of him, while there are two of us."

"Yes, that's true," Miss Maitland conceded.

"I had begun to think I had gotten financially on my feet, when my
father-in-law turned over that trolley insurance to me, but he says
he'll see me considerably below the equator before he gives me the
renewal of it.  Deeply do I regret that I did not succeed in getting
him to take out three-year policies."

"Why wouldn't he?"

"Well, he just wouldn't.  And I was unwilling to force the matter for
fear of losing entirely that coy and canny fish.  I did get him,
though, to let me rewrite the line last month, so as to include some
property not at first insured, and that ties it up until next April.
And maybe before next April comes around, the hard-hearted John M. will
have relented toward his gifted son-in-law, and all will be well.
Meanwhile we will live on our principal."

"Meanwhile we will do nothing of the sort," said Mrs. Wilkinson, with a
smile.  "I may not have inherited all father's talent for finance,
Charlie, but there are one or two things I know enough not to do, and
that is one of them."

"Madam," said her husband, sternly, "there is in your speech a hint of
definite purpose which is at once encouraging and disquieting to me.
May I ask if your plan contemplates the labor of your consort?  Do I
make myself clear?  In other words, are you suggesting that I shall go
to work?"

"It may come to that," smiled his wife.

"Well, well!  Charles Wilkinson a wage earner!"  He shook his head
silently, and the trio walked on.

It had been arranged that Helen was to dine with them.  The sudden
marriage, which had been forced by a swift access of hostility on the
part of John M. Hurd, had left little time for preparations, but the
dinner was merry enough, and the health of the bride and groom was
pledged with the utmost fidelity to tradition; and after that, Charles
and Isabel escorted their guest home, and left her at the door of the
apartment on Deerfield Street.

Mrs. Maitland found her daughter but silent company the rest of that
evening, and at a comparatively early hour the Maitland apartment grew
dark.  In Mrs. Maitland's room all was quiet, and in due course,
presumably, sleep; but Helen found that slumber was alien to her eyes.
So, opening her window to the little breeze that came hinting of summer
although speaking of spring, she looked out wide-eyed into the starry
night.

It was warm, even for the time of year, and the cool breath of the
ocean which Boston knows so well was not in the air.  Instead the
breeze moved slowly in from the westward, bringing the imagined odor of
apple blossoms from unseen orchards.  The city's sounds were dying to a
mere rumor of sound.  Now and again a light went out suddenly in some
window of a near-by building; the reflection of the street lamps on the
night became more and more clear.  For a long time Helen gazed out into
the darkness.

Across the water to the northward shone the lights on the Cambridge
shore.  Seeing them her memory went back to the time when first she had
really seen New York by night.  Smith had volunteered to show her the
night city as it should be seen, and never was she to free her
imagination from the sight.  They had gone first to the South Ferry, in
the gathering dusk, and taking boat for Brooklyn had witnessed from its
rear deck the golden pageant of the thousand lighted buildings of the
lower city--had watched them gleam in a thousand ripples across the
dark river, ripples that lay and moved like silver and golden serpents
along the water.  Back presently they had turned, approaching once more
the stately towers that touched the sky, and this time they had sought
a new angle.  Over to the Jersey shore their blunt-nosed ferryboat had
taken them, and thence north along the river to Twenty-third Street,
seeing the gold and velvet-black city slide southward as in a dream.

On all this Helen was now indefinitely reflecting, and of the man with
whom she had seen it first she perhaps thought a little.  But those
were oblique thoughts, and hardly worth the name.  All the experiences
and impressions of the day--Isabel's departure from home, the wedding,
the grave face of the old minister, the silence of the dim room in the
parsonage, Charlie's subsequent comments, the dinner _à trois_--all
these mingled in her mind, and somehow seemed a part of the great night
into which she gazed.

Yet there was an undercurrent of vague dissatisfaction in her
reflections.  All these things were true and vital, and she had been
only a spectator, a visitor at the fair.  Life had surged around her,
but had touched her not at all, or lightly at best.  Unconsciously her
thoughts toward the sleeping city were as though she offered herself to
it and to the life that bound it and swept through its veins.
Presently, across the water, a clock began to strike the
hour--midnight--and softened by the distance, the chimes came gently
across the intervening space.

Helen roused herself a moment: midnight!  Yet the blood that flushed
her cheeks showed that sleep for her was still afar off.  And so she
sat, unmoving, while in the darkness above her the myriad stars moved
slowly in their majestic courses.



CHAPTER XIX

The bringing of order out of chaos is one of the most interesting and
also one of the most satisfying employments a person can have.
Likewise it is usually one of the most exhausting, if the chaos has
been really chaos and the order be really order.  But the satisfaction
of seeing, as the clouds break and the skies clear, the salient outline
of the thing appear as it ought to appear is sufficient compensation
for all the effort.  Even if the work be no more elevated than washing
up a trayful of soiled china, a certain thrill is there at the
successful completion of the task; and the greater the Augean stable,
the purer is the pleasure of him who cleans it.

When in the spring of this, his most eventful year, Smith had taken
charge of the slipping, wavering, demoralized Guardian, the stable of
Augeas there confronting him would perhaps have dismayed a less
enthusiastic and a less determined man.  Everything was at loose ends;
under the shiftless hand of Gunterson even the fine insurance machine
built up by Mr. Wintermuth in his best constructive days had suddenly
grown to creak painfully in its joints.  The heads of departments,
seeing no inspiring or even efficient leadership above them, had become
discouraged, and there had been no one to brace their failing spirits.
Mr. Cuyler and Mr. Bartels in particular had felt the altered fortunes
of the company more keenly than they had felt any business crisis in
all their previous experience.

When Mr. Cuyler had witnessed his local business, his pride and his
life, the fixed star of his professional soul, begin slipping away, his
gloom, as has been told, was not to be lifted.  But the case of Mr.
Bartels was even more sad.  Year after year had that painstaking
official made up the current statement of the company's position, to be
presented in silence to Mr. Wintermuth on the first business day of
every month.  Year after year had he carried this balance sheet to his
chief and stolidly waited for the word of satisfaction which was always
forthcoming, save in exceptional cases.  For there had come to be a
kind of sacred formula about it, and if that formula failed to
materialize, the world was all awry for Mr. Bartels, until another
month put matters right once more.  And this, so placidly prosperous
had the Guardian been, the succeeding month had seldom failed to do.

"Holding our own, Otto?" the President would inquire.

"Poohty good; losses is bad but premiums is up some, too," Mr. Bartels
would usually reply; and Mr. Wintermuth, appreciating the impossibility
of ever reaching a loss ratio low enough to meet the approval of his
Teutonic subordinate, would scan the statement with little fear of the
result.  And then, after another little exchange of courtesies, this
monthly playlet would end.

When the Guardian had first met the rough water, Mr. Bartels had not
been able to understand that anything was amiss--that anything could be
amiss--with the company whose inconspicuous prosperity had been an
axiom of the Street.  When, on the first day of February, he had taken
off his first summary of January results, a little cloud of puzzled
suspicion had gathered in his still blue eyes.  After carefully
checking his own figures he had rung for Dunham, the chief accountant,
and it had been a querulous and angry summons.

"Here, dese figures is all wrong.  You have January premiums pretty
near fifteen per cent behind last year.  Fix 'em."

But Dunham, chill as the Matterhorn, assured the excited little man
that the figures were quite correct and that he had checked them twice
to make certain.

"But--but--" said Bartels in bewilderment, "we cannot be going
backwards like that!  We have never gone back like that in January."

"Until this year," incautiously rejoined the other.

"No; nor this year, neither!" cried Mr. Bartels; and only his own
thrice repeated checking of the premium sheets would convince him.
Shaking a puzzled and resentful head, he at last sought his chief; with
a hang-dog air he handed over his statement, and with heavy heart he
waited for the President to speak.

Speech was longer than usual in coming.

"Not quite so good?" the President said at last.

"No," said Mr. Bartels.  "Rates must be off, I guess?"

"No, Otto," returned Mr. Wintermuth, slowly.  "It's not a rate war.  It
is that we have had to give up some of our agencies in the East on
account of the Conference separation rule.  I am afraid we shall have
to expect a certain decrease for a little while until things get
readjusted.  But it won't last; you needn't worry about that."

Unfortunately, however, it did last; and not only that, but it became
more and more marked with each succeeding month.  With the third
statement, when the greatest inroads had been made into the Guardian's
business, Mr. Bartels became like a living sepulcher.  So heavy and sad
was the heart he carried in his breast that not all the consoling words
of his chief could stir him.

"I have seen agencies whose accounts I have passed for twenty years
fall away to almost nothing or nothing at all.  From Silas Osgood I get
no March account; from Jones and Meers I get none.  Every month for
fifteen years have I written Jones and Meers to correct their adding;
now I write them not at all."  And there were many more.

Finally, when at last it dawned upon Mr. Bartels's Bavarian mind that
the Guardian was really in peril and that unless something were done
quickly, a large part of the remainder of the agents in the East would
follow those already gone, his blind anger and resentment knew no
bounds.  He could not, however, understand the real facts in the case,
and no one ever took the trouble fully to explain them to him.  So his
impotent rage, lacking a target whereat to aim it, became even blinder.
He was like a child, being unjustly punished for some wrong which he
had not committed, and which he could in no way comprehend.  The
thought of facing his chief with a semiannual statement made up of a
series of months like these, was more than he could bear.  Fortunately
he was not to be called upon to do so, for Mr. Gunterson left the
Guardian when the fat was all but in the fire, and another turn was
given to affairs.

And the year now just closing had been a busy year for Mr. Richard
Smith.  During the most of it he had worked nearly twelve hours a day,
and spent a liberal share of the balance in laying his plans.  Now, and
only now,--as the year 1913 was drawing to a close,--had he time to
draw a full breath and look about him.

His Augean stable, if not wholly clean, was at least free from the more
dangerous impurities.  The Guardian was not yet, it was true, clear of
all possibility of disaster; but the tide had been turned, and with
strict care there was no further need to fear shipwreck.  In
Pennsylvania, in Maryland, in New York,--in short, practically
everywhere save in Massachusetts, where the fight was still in the
courts,--separation had received its deathblow, while robbed of this
advantage the Conference companies could do little or nothing to harm
the Guardian.  And in justice to them it must be said that none of them
apparently manifested any abnormal desire to do so, excepting always
the Salamander, whose hostility increased in geometrical ratio with the
Guardian's recovery of strength and prestige.  Most of the agencies
which had been lost under Mr. Gunterson's management were either
restored to the company's lists, or else their places had been taken by
others of equal or superior quality.

Out in the field the special agents had under Smith's aggressive
direction recovered their courage and carried out with striking success
the details of his campaign.  At the few points where the company's
loss record had been consistently bad, Smith either kept the Guardian
out altogether or made an appointment on such a basis that the agent's
profits would be small unless the company itself made money through
that agency.  Being free and not bound by Conference restrictions, he
was able at many points to improve his company's position.  And when,
in the early days of the coming January, Mr. Bartels should approach
his annual statement, it seemed probable that it would show little
diminution in the Guardian's resources.  The statement would be helped,
too, by the fact that the value of some of the securities owned by the
company, chiefly considerable blocks of bank and anthracite railroad
stocks, had appreciated very handsomely during the year.  And Mr.
Cuyler, thanks to the increased conflagration line and to the large
business he was securing from his new branch manager, was making a
record so good that he could scarcely believe the figures which he
himself had compiled.

All in all, the showing would be by no means a discreditable one.  It
had been a remarkable task; and Smith, now that he came to look back on
it, remembering the black days of the reign of Gunterson the Unready,
could himself only wonder mildly at the way all these things had come
about.  In the midst of the satisfaction which he could not help but
feel, there was always a genuine sense of amazement at the facile way
in which Fate had played into his hand.  If he had any doubts, however,
no one else confessed to any.  Mr. Wintermuth frankly gave to his young
underwriter the proper share of credit for the results that had been
brought about.  All this was pleasant, but it was also earned.

In these months of activity, activity unusual even for Smith, who was
customarily a busy man, there had been for him only one personal
diversion.  This was his growing friendship with Helen Maitland; and to
this relationship Smith had by this time come to turn as a lost Arab
turns to a chance-discovered oasis.  Through the days of Gunterson's
administration he had not had heart to write Helen or even to think of
her--to his darkened vision she seemed increasingly far away.  But this
could not last, and when the tide turned, he presently found himself
writing to her almost as to another self, and found himself awaiting
her letters as filling one of the most vital needs of his life.  There
was a name for this, but as yet he was not prepared to use it, and if
Helen were prepared, certainly no hint of any such readiness showed
through her diction.

Because men no longer go abroad, as in medieval times, hewing their way
to glory and romance with sword and mace, it is no sure sign that the
flower has fallen from romance's tree.  Merely because that flower now
blooms perhaps more quietly, less flamboyantly than it used to bloom in
purple and gold, is no reason to think that it does not bloom at all.
The singers of world songs find voice to-day, just as they always have,
and no lack of all the panoply of old-time chivalry and war can make a
friendship slipping into love less than a beautiful and wondrous thing.
It is perhaps in some ways to be regretted that the inspiring bombast
of the elder days is no longer in vogue--the grandiloquent arrogance
that led a man to tie a lady's ribband to his arm and proclaim on fear
of sudden death her puissance of beauty throughout the world.  This is
perhaps unfortunate; but through added reticence beauty really suffers
no wrong.

Smith, although he had not as yet formulated his precise wishes or
intentions as regards Helen, still knew that he desired a house
professionally in order before he allowed himself to think of another
kind of house.  The Guardian was his company, and the Guardian must be
placed in a haven where storms could come not, before he would feel
that his charge was sufficiently relaxed to allow of his dreaming
dreams.

It was with this idea that, as the old year was drawing to a close, he
approached Mr. Wintermuth with a definite project in view.

"We are not going to have such a bad year, after all," he began.

"I fancy we shall come through pretty well," the President agreed.
"Although it didn't look much like it at the start."

"No," said Smith; "it didn't.  But do you know, sir, that in one way
we're not making as much of a profit as we should?"

"In what way do you mean, Richard?" inquired his chief.

"Not in the underwriting," replied the younger man.  "I'm not going to
suggest increasing our lines or opening up any more than we have.  But
I don't think it would hurt us if we opened up a little financially."

"How so?  In what way?"

"Well, our investments are in high-class securities, but they're not
liquid enough.  We've always bought with the intention of holding what
we buy forever.  Now, we've got an exceptionally good finance
committee; Mr. Griswold in particular is regarded as one of the
strongest and shrewdest men in Wall Street."

"Yes; I know he is," Mr. Wintermuth conceded.

"And there's really no good reason why we shouldn't benefit by his
judgment.  Now, you know as well as any one that the money to be made
out of underwriting, pure and simple, is comparatively little.  You
know that in the long run, even with the most ably managed companies,
expenses and losses together just about eat up all the premiums
received--that less than a dozen first-class companies doing a national
business have an underwriting balance on the right side for the last
ten-year period."

"I admit that unfortunately such is the case."

"Therefore the only chance a company has to make money is from the use
of money--from the use of its premiums between the time they are
received and the time they are paid out in losses.  And as this is
really our only chance, we ought to take every advantage--and make as
much of an investment profit as we possibly can."

"I trust you do not mean to suggest that we use the Guardian's assets
for purposes of speculation," Mr. Wintermuth remarked.

"Certainly not--unless it is speculating to take advantage of what
foresight and knowledge of conditions our finance committee possesses.
I do not suggest buying on margin or selling what we haven't got.  But
I do suggest that we carry more liquid assets and a bigger cash balance
than we have ever done, so as to be able to take advantage of
opportunities that may present themselves.  Now, take our Ninth
National Bank stock, for instance.  The Duane Trust Company crowd are
trying to buy the control, and the stock's higher than it's ever been.
In my opinion the block we hold is worth more to the Duane people than
it is to us; I'd let them have it."

"Why, we've had that stock for twenty years!" the President said.

"Well, we've probably had it long enough," said his subordinate, with a
smile.  "At least I'd like to have Mr. Griswold's opinion on the point.
And you certainly will never lose much by getting out of a security at
the highest price it's touched in that entire period."

"Perhaps not.  I will speak to Griswold about it," said Mr. Wintermuth.

"I am not a financier, and all this is somewhat outside my province,"
Smith went on; "but I think we ought to follow more closely the trend
of modern business methods.  We hold far more than we need of solid
railroad bonds that net us four per cent on our investment.  With very
little extra risk I am sure we can secure a good deal larger return."

It was a rather daring speech to make, for four per cent first-mortgage
railroad bonds had been Mr. Wintermuth's idea of finance for almost a
generation.  It spoke well for his confidence in his Vice-President
that he did not regard the remark as an impertinence.

"That may be true, Richard," he said mildly, "although I have held to
the contrary for twenty years.  Still, times change, and to-day you may
be right."

"I think I am, sir," returned Smith, respectfully.  "At any rate, why
shouldn't the question be laid before the directors?"

"We could do that," agreed Mr. Wintermuth, with, it must be confessed,
a covert feeling of relief.  After all, the assimilation of new ideas
is not the most painless of processes, whatever the age of the
assimilator.

"There's no meeting before the January one, is there?"

"No.  January fifth--dividend meeting.  But that's comparatively soon.
I'll lay it before the board at that time."

"Thank you, sir," said his subordinate, rising; "and I think that at
least one person present will approve a little more elastic financial
policy for the Guardian."

"Mr. Richard Smith?" inquired the President.

"Oh, yes.  But I was thinking of Mr. Griswold."

"Well, we shall see," rejoined Mr. Wintermuth; and the conversation
concluded.

The year 1914 dawned clear and cold.  There had been an almost daily
snowfall in New York during Christmas week; and although the street
cleaning squad had labored stoutly, a little dusky whiteness still
persisted in the less frequented corners of the city.  This had come
near to being the undoing of Mr. Jenkins, the main reliance of the
Pacific Coast accounts and otherwise of considerable importance in the
period of stress and toil known as "statement time."

At the beginning of every year comes this period to every company--the
time when the accounts department becomes, instead of an active thorn
in the company's flesh, the real, essential hub of the whole wheel; the
time when the adding machines are never still and the rooms resound
with the rustle and stir of a thousand sheets of figures, swung
ceaselessly over by practiced and hasty thumbs; when the lights burn
late every night for two weeks on end, and the laboring bookkeepers see
their families only by cinematographic glances between newspaper and
coffee cup in the cold gray mornings.

This time was now come; and the Guardian's men, under the silent but
none the less strenuous urging of Mr. Bartels, had begun the grind
which could end only when the annual statement of the company was in
the printers' hands with proof initialed and approved by Otto Bartels,
Secretary.  And this, taken in conjunction with the cold weather and
heavy snowfall, had fairly undone the honor and the reputation of Mr.
Jenkins.  For the unusual cold and the night work together had betrayed
him into potations even beyond his wont, the slippery pavements had
proven very baffling to his dignified tread--and the snowy signet upon
the back of his topcoat spoke to a delighted office all too plainly
that at last the alcoholic equilibrist par excellence had fallen.

This, however, embarrassing as it was to the individual in question,
did not seriously delay the work of the department, which was well
under way by the time the directors came together in their private
office, to declare the semiannual dividend which for many years the
Guardian had undeviatingly paid.  A trial balance, from gross figures,
had been drawn off, so that the President was able to report with
reasonable exactitude on the condition of the company.  The dividend
was promptly declared, and this was followed by a more or less informal
discussion among the gentlemen around the big table.

"The increase in our surplus seems due mostly to the rise in value of
some of our securities," Mr. Whitehill commented; "but the underwriting
showing is much better for the last six months than for the first.  I
think our friend, Mr. Smith, is to be congratulated; and at the same
time I want to ask what he thinks of our prospects for the coming year."

"Well, from the underwriting viewpoint," Smith answered, "there is no
reason why this year should not be better than last, and several
reasons why it should; but if you will pardon the presumption of my
going outside of my own department, I think our chance for an increased
profit lies more along financial than insurance lines."

"Mr. Smith thinks," said Mr. Wintermuth, "that there has not been a
sufficient flexibility in our investments--that we could do better with
a larger cash balance and more liquid--or easily liquidated--assets."

"And so we could," said Mr. Griswold.  He leaned forward with more
interest than he had yet shown.  "I have felt for some time," he
continued, "that our management of our resources was substantial and
safe, but--without wishing to reflect on our President, whose
conservatism has been a tower of strength to us--I have also felt we
were financially just a little old-fashioned."

"What would you suggest that we do?" inquired the President.  "My mind
is entirely open on the subject."

"Let me see the statement," said Mr. Griswold.  He regarded it
carefully through his glasses.  "Well," he said, "there are several
items on this, representing securities of which I advised the purchase.
This Schuylkill and Susquehanna Railroad and this Ninth National Bank."

"Ninth National--that's the bank the Duane crowd is trying to buy,
isn't it?" asked another director.

"Yes.  It's higher now than it has been for twenty years," said Mr.
Wintermuth.

"And a great sight more than it's worth," Mr. Griswold commented.  "If
it were mine, I'd get out at the present price.  And I'd get out of
Schuylkill and Susquehanna, too.  I don't want to be quoted on this,
you understand, but there's no reason for its selling at 160 except the
expectation of an extra dividend, and in my opinion all this talk of an
extra dividend is just rubbish.  I believe if we sold what we have
to-morrow, we could get it back within six months, if we wanted, at
135."

The gentlemen around the table were visibly impressed, as Mr.
Griswold's reputation for sagacity in such matters was more than
metropolitan.

"Well, I move that the Finance Committee be empowered to recommend the
sale of any of our securities," said another well-intentioned director.
"And that on their recommendation the securities be sold," he added
somewhat lamely.

"The Finance Committee doesn't need any such resolution passed," said
Mr. Griswold, with a laugh.  "If I'm not greatly mistaken, it's always
had such powers.  But I'm glad to learn that it is now the desire of
the directorate that we should use them."

It was only a few days after this that Smith, having stopped on his way
home to see a Pittsburgh man who always put up at the Waldorf, met Mr.
Griswold in the lobby of that hotel.

"Well, our Ninth National stock is sold," remarked that gentleman,
casually.  "Four ninety-two."

"Good!" said the underwriter.  "I think we're well out."

"So do I," returned the other.  "By the way, did you notice the market
to-day?"

"No."

"Closed weak.  Schuylkill and Susquehanna off two points and a half."

"Too bad we didn't get out of that, too," said Smith.  "I remember you
said it was too high."

"It still is," returned the financier, dryly.  "But we got out.  We
sold every share we had, at the opening, this morning."

Smith looked at him.

"You mean--?" he asked.

"I mean that a good big cash balance is often a handy thing to have.
And just now I'd rather have cash than stocks.  I don't mean there's
going to be a panic, or anything like that, but everything's very high.
They may go some higher, but they'll certainly go a good deal lower.
And I don't think that we'll have to wait very long.  Good-night--glad
to have seen you."

"Good-night," replied Smith, thoughtfully.



CHAPTER XX

In the Deerfield Street apartment a young man stood waiting with
perhaps less calm than was strictly Oriental.  This could no doubt be
attributed to the fact that he anticipated with distinct pleasure the
coming of somebody, while a true Oriental never really anticipates
anything--or if he does, the thought gives him no delight.

But Smith, as he sat in the straight-backed chair, felt very glad
indeed that he was about to see the somebody for whom he was waiting.
The time which had elapsed since his most recent trip to Boston had
somehow gone with unconscionable slowness, and the medium of the mails
had proved an alternative means of communication only measurably
compensating.  He had, in short, discovered that a great deal of his
life was concerned with the girl whose footsteps were now to be heard
advancing down the hall.

"I'm awfully glad to see you," said Miss Maitland.

"And I you," returned the visitor; and if the words carried only the
conventionalities, each found a way to make them more significant.

"Mother will be in to welcome you," the girl continued.  "It's a
compliment she doesn't pay everyone," she added, with a smile.  "She
doesn't care, as a rule, for young gentlemen visitors.  By the way, we
have plenty of time, have we not, before we need to start?"

"Fully twenty minutes," he answered.  "I guess I'm absurdly early, but
I thought I ought to give the young lady an opportunity to get
acquainted with me before starting out alone with me in a taxi."

"Are we ever acquainted with any one?" the girl parried; and a moment
later the conversation shifted to meet the entrance of Mrs. Maitland.

Shortly before eight o'clock they set forth for the theater.  It was
the evening of the twenty-first of February, and the following day,
Sunday, was also a holiday in memory of a great man.  It was of him
that they chanced to speak, almost on entering their conveyance.

"I'm glad to-morrow is a holiday," said Smith.  "After a party on the
previous night it is always soothing to think one isn't obliged to get
up at any particular hour in the morning.  But I don't suppose that
point of view would appeal to you."

"No," said his companion, with a laugh.  "I much prefer having
something particular to get up for.  But as I seldom have, I presume
that's merely another way of saying that every one wants what one
hasn't got.  I fancy if I had to appear punctually at breakfast every
morning, I'd appreciate holidays a great deal more than I do now."

"I used to think we had too many.  That was because it tears things up
so abominably in an insurance office to get two or three days' work
slammed at you at once.  But I'm reconciled now.  And if we celebrate
for any one, we certainly ought to do so for George."

"Seriously speaking, why?" Helen asked.  "Probably I should be ashamed
of myself, but I've never been able to get up as much enthusiasm for
him as I feel I should.  Can you tell me any way of doing so?"

"I can tell you how I came to, at all events," said her companion.
"The story may not be so romantic, but it made more of a hit with me
than the account of the same heroic gentleman nearly freezing to death
at Valley Forge, or standing up in a boat while he crossed the
Delaware, which is a silly thing to do, even for a hero.  Nothing of
that sort.  But somewhere--I forget just where--I ran across the
account of a little episode which showed me that the General was a man
of real ability, after all."

"What was it?" asked the girl, with interest.

"Well, it seems that some earnest society of antiquaries had been
digging up the back yards of Rhode Island and making idiots of
themselves generally in an effort to prove that the Vikings came to
America."

"But they did come, didn't they?" Helen interrupted.

"Of course they did; but it wasn't known in Washington's time.
However, somebody with a vein of enterprise or malice had salted a
Viking mine, so to speak, and under the auspices--and the pay--of the
society had contrived to exhume a stone tablet on which were some
extremely apropos inscriptions, proving exactly what the amiable old
gentlemen desired to prove."

"About the Vikings?"

"Yes.  Well, the discovery of this tablet made a deep impression.  The
society held meetings and passed resolutions and went through all kinds
of ponderous and absurd conventionalities, culminating in asking
General Washington--at that time I don't believe he was President--to
make a speech.  He came over from Boston, and they showed him the
tablet.  And after he had looked it carefully over, he casually called
their attention to the fact that the inscription, which was supposed to
have been cut in the eleventh century, contained script characters
which appeared in no northern alphabet prior to the sixteen hundreds.
And what is more, when they looked it up, they found that he was right."

"That is really very interesting," Helen said.

"It gave me a respect for him that I'd never had before, anyway,"
rejoined Smith.  "Think of the old General knowing anything at all
about Icelandic sagas--and the offhand way he picked out the
anachronism and smashed it in the eye.  No--so far as I am concerned,
he is entitled to his holiday.  Long may it wave--especially as I hope
to see you, if you'll let me, while if it were an ordinary business day
I should probably have to devote myself to certain distinguished legal
gentlemen."

"How is the lawsuit progressing?" asked the girl.

Smith surveyed her doubtfully.

"Have you seen Mr. Osgood recently?" he inquired suspiciously.  "One
time, you remember, you made me tell a long story all of which you knew
perfectly well before I began."

"No--honestly," Helen laughingly denied.  "I have hardly seen Uncle
Silas for two or three weeks, and the last time we met, he said nothing
about it."

"Well, then, in confidence it is my hope and belief that unless our
present expectations fall through with a sickening thud, another month
or two will see the Guardian and your uncle back in the office that
neither of them should ever have left."

"Not really!" said the girl, delighted.

"I have no longer any real doubt of it," Smith said seriously.  "It can
hardly fail now.  I don't mind saying to you that it's about time, too.
The Conference has made a good fight; but they were beaten from the
start, and they know it now.  And I'll be very glad to see some Boston
business coming in to us again, I can assure you."

"Haven't you been getting any this last year?"

"Only a little, principally suburban business through a small agent
named George Greenwood.  Of course we got a lot through Sternberg,
Bloom, and McCoy, but it was so bad that I canceled nearly every policy
they wrote for us.  All the Guardian has left in the down-town district
is some building business--a few lines written by the Osgood office for
three or five years, and which haven't expired yet.  And there aren't
many of them, for Cole switched some into the Salamander, and besides,
we always tried to keep our congested district business on an annual
basis.  If Boston burned to-morrow, I don't believe the Guardian would
lose more than a hundred thousand dollars."

"That sounds to me like quite a loss."

"So it is, but it's only a small fraction of what most companies have
at risk here.  I'm really not sure but that a year ago we didn't have
more than we should.  I certainly know a lot of companies that would
sit up and take notice with a vengeance if a big fire ever did occur."

"Do you think one likely?" asked Helen.  "It makes one shudder just a
little to think of it."

"No--probably not.  Still, there's really no reason why one shouldn't
happen here as well as elsewhere.  And big fires are certain to happen
somewhere.  The city's improving right along, but it's still got its
possibilities."

"Yes," said the girl.  "For now that I come to think of it, I remember
that the conflagration hazard in the congested district is not a thing
one can precisely calculate, but it would be difficult to overestimate
its gravity.  Isn't that so?"

Smith looked at her, turning in the taxi to do so.  By the flash of a
street lamp that they were passing he could see she was smiling
whimsically.

"Where did you get that?" he demanded.

"Don't you recall?" she rejoined.  "Whether it's greatly to his credit
or not, I can't judge, but certainly he himself hath said it."

"That's true," her companion admitted, with a laugh.  "I remember now.
But how in the world did you happen to?"

"Should an humble apprentice--an ignorant pupil--forget the first pearl
of wisdom that fell from the master's lips?  It was the first speech of
Mr. Richard Smith that I ever heard repeated--the first time I ever
heard his name mentioned."

"If I'd had any idea it would have lived so long, I certainly would
have tried to say something more eloquent," the other returned.
"However, I still stand by the sentiment.  And incidentally, I don't
mind saying that if Boston is going to burn, I hope it does so inside
of the next two or three months--before Mr. Osgood puts the Guardian
back with a half a million dollars' liability scattered about down
town."

"Don't talk of so terrible a possibility as the burning of Boston,"
said the girl.  "There has been one very great fire here.  Surely there
will never be another."

"Surely not," agreed Smith.  "At least for the sake of your fellow
citizens and my fellow underwriters I cordially hope not.  But here we
are, apparently."

The taxi was coming to a stop across the street from the Aquitaine, and
in front of the theater where already a crowd was congregating.  The
avenue between the theater itself and the Common was filled with cabs
and motor cars moving spasmodically about under the autocracy of a
large mounted policeman whose voice easily defied the whirring motors.
In the raw northeast wind there was the unpleasant smell and oily smoke
of burnt-out gasolene.

Smith and Helen, disembarking at the curb, managed to avoid the worst
of the mêlée; and presently, when their coats were checked and out of
the way, they reached their seats just as Christopher Sly began his
opening speech.  The prologue soon played itself through, and the
house, now completely filled, burst audibly into speech, as though a
long departed sense had been suddenly and miraculously restored.  From
all sides the swelling tide surged forth, and Helen listened for a
moment before she herself spoke.

"You would certainly suppose that no one of them had been allowed to
speak for the last five years, wouldn't you?" she asked.

"Oh, well," Smith answered, "perhaps every one of them has some one
he's as glad to talk to as I am to you.  Although, come to think of it,
I hear several voices not possessed by my sex, and I don't know but
that I would really rather listen to you."

"But you won't have the opportunity," the girl rejoined.  "No, this is
your party, and you must be as agreeable and entertaining as you
possibly can.  You may begin by telling me all about the actors
to-night.  Why does the star choose to play such a part as old Sly?  It
surely isn't the star part, is it?"

"It is the tradition--or years ago it used to be.  Very few actors do
it now; in fact, this is the first time I've seen the star play it for
years.  It's well done, too, and I haven't seen it well done since old
George Clark had his last curtain.  This man is a good man."

"He is indeed.  I noticed in the _Transcript_ he was English.  Is she
his wife?  I gathered that she was."

"Yes.  They've been playing together in London for several years now,
and this is their first trip to America.  I fancy that he is the real
brains and ability of the combination, and her reputation seems mainly
to rest on adding obedience and decorative embellishment to his
effects.  And she certainly is decorative, don't you think?"

"Yes--in a certain way.  Tell me--do they always play Shakespeare?  I
was in London two years ago, but I don't recall hearing anything about
them at that time.  I should think I would if they'd been there."

"That's odd.  I should surely have thought you'd have heard of them.
They've been well known over there for some years.  I suppose, though,
they play the provinces, like every one else.  No, they don't play
Shakespeare all the time, by any means; they couldn't do it and live."

"You mean that they couldn't get audiences?  Why, some actors do.
Mantell, for instance--and Sothern and Marlowe.  They seem to go on
year after year, and they must be at least moderately successful, or
they wouldn't keep it up."

"Mantell ought to; he is a real actor--of the traditional school, of
course--but great, all the same.  It has always seemed to me that his
Lear was one of the fine performances of the stage to-day.  But even
Mantell has to travel halfway across the country every season; he
couldn't stay in New York--no, nor in intellectual and appreciative
Boston, either.  And I doubt whether a man would fare much better
trying to play nothing but Shakespeare in London.  No, this man can
play virtually anything; he made his first big hit--in recent years,
that is--playing Maldonado in Pinero's 'Iris.'"

"But go back to Sothern and Marlowe.  They go on Shakespearing, world
without end."

"If you can call it Shakespeare.  I have never been able to see much in
their way of doing it.  Marlowe does some things well, but I confess
that to see her now as Juliet is too great a strain on me.  As for
Sothern, he's a good romantic actor, but not a Shakespearean one."

"They play this---'The Taming of the Shrew'--do they not?  It seems to
me they were here last spring."

"Quite likely.  I think they try.  One wet and miserable night I went
to see.  But remembering, as I did, the immortal Katherine of Rehan and
the hardly less magnificent Petruchio of Skinner, I never should have
gone.  There was only one redeeming feature."

"What was that?"

"When the scene comes, watch how this man carries Katherine off.
That's one great test.  See if he backs her up onto a bench; see if he
guides her premeditated fall to the precise center of equilibrium of
his shoulders; see if he staggers painfully off with his knees
tottering, almost flapping beneath him.  By heavens, I have seen
Skinner abduct a one hundred and sixty pound Katherine with as little
effort as if she had been a wicker basket full of eggshells!"

"Is this dramatic criticism?" asked Helen, maliciously.

"Perhaps not of the academic brand," admitted Smith, laughingly; "but I
believe it's good sound criticism just the same.  If a man is going to
play the swashbuckler, I like to see him able to swash his buckle.  But
seriously, I shouldn't have objected to that one bad piece of business
if it hadn't seemed to me that the whole performance was out of key and
wrong.  But here's the curtain going up."

The curtain rose on Signor Baptista's house, and for the next half hour
farce comedy supreme held the audience in its grasp.

"Katherine is very good, don't you think?" queried Helen, when once
more the inane wanderings of the orchestra began to compete with the
conversation.

"Very good indeed; I like her rages."

"I have always been sorry that I never saw Ada Rehan; every one who
ever saw her says just as you do that no one could equal her."

"I'm sure no one could.  I have seen her sit with her hands in her lap
and tears--genuine tears--streaming down her cheeks for very rage when
Petruchio harries her in this act.  Heavens! but she was in a fine
fury!  Do you know that the only objection I ever had to this play was
that I grew sorry for Katherine--sorry to see her proud neck bent to
any yoke, so to speak."

"She is made finally to like it, though."

"Yes; she is--in the play.  But I never could more than half believe
that she actually liked it, for all that.  Oh, I've no doubt it's wrong
to prefer ungoverned wrath to sane and controlled sobriety; but she was
so magnificent in her savagery that it seemed a shame she had to be
tamed at all.  Like the lions and the other animals that they train to
jump through hoops, you miss something, you know; some splendid essence
has evaporated, and I for one am sorry to watch it go."

"They tell me," said the girl, demurely, "that under the proper
conditions and auspices young ladies are secretly glad to be
subjugated."

"I suppose they have it naturally--cradle of the race, and all that
sort of thing.  Just the same, I still continue to prefer Katherine in
her first state."

"You speak of her as though she were an etching."

"She suggests one, in that gown she wore in the last act--or would,
except for the color."

"From that rather supercilious remark I should gather that you do not
admire colored etchings."

"Hybrid affairs, don't you think?"

But before this subject could be pursued, the play once more resumed
the center of the stage.

It is the immortal prototype of farce comedy, this play of the "Taming
of the Shrew."  In the hands of a lesser author it would have lost its
comedy and degenerated purely into farce, restricting itself to more
ignoble aims and to a more indulgent public.  For farce, after all, is
farcical, and the mood for its appreciation is not one which is
sympathetic to any great or moving thing.  And in the hands of
interpreters less than intelligently fine, the play may still descend
into the lower class; but this cannot be done without degrading it
beyond any likeness to its real self.

Played rightly, however, Petruchio becomes not a brawler, not a kind of
damn-my-eyes bully and braggart, but a practical idealist, a man who,
happening by chance upon a creature of stupendous undirected power,
sets himself to the direction of that power toward nature's, if not
humanity's, ends.  At the first he cares nothing for Katherine save
that the rumor of her fire and spirit has pleased his wild fancy.  And
never is there the faintest hint of the sentimentalist about him; his
is never the softness of the lover, but rather the careful prudence of
the utilitarian.  Yet he unstintedly admires Katherine; this is somehow
felt to be so by his rather pompous implication that he would hardly be
taking all this trouble about the woman were she not the makings of a
royal mate, fit even for his sky-wide vision and heart and humor.

Perhaps in Elizabethan days most of this was lost; possibly during the
author's own life the play assumed rather the wild gayety and license
of a farce, and all the comedy had to wait in abeyance for the years to
bring it into its own.  Undoubtedly very few, if any, of the auditors
of Shakespeare's time felt the compunction to which Smith confessed
when the pride of a proud woman was seen dragged at a man's chariot
wheel.  What the women of those days thought about it is not so
certain, but probably it was pretty much what they think to-day.
Certainly Helen's expressed view was in approximate accordance with the
presumably unexpressed opinion of Elizabethan ladies; and to this, in
the intermission before the last act, Smith called her attention.

"Do you realize that your belief that Katherine was pleased at being
conquered is not at all modern?--it's absolutely medieval."

"Well, we are all medieval--quite largely--are we not?"

"Possibly--in spots.  When the girl of to-day is not overpoweringly
advanced, perhaps she is quite far behind.  But I should hardly have
expected so distinctly a medieval opinion from you."

"Heavens! why not?  I sound horribly Bostonian.  Am I so hopelessly
advanced that you can credit me with no human sentiments at all?"

"Well, that," said Smith, "was scarcely my thought."

"It sounded very much like it.  However, I'm glad if I were mistaken."

"You know very well," said her companion, in a lower voice, "what I
think of you.  I think--"

"Oh, but I don't--really," Helen quickly parried.  This was getting
hazardous; the conversation must be switched at once.  "No matter what
you think of me, you are almost sure to be quite mistaken.  But some
things I am willing to confess.  And one of them, which may be very
primitive, is this--that just because I myself am not a wild,
tigress-like creature is no indication that I cannot realize how she
would feel.  Is it, now?"

Smith said nothing for a long moment.

"I'm very glad that you feel that way about it," he said at last,
rather to himself, however, than to her.  And for the rest of the
intermission he hardly spoke.

It was by this time about half-past ten.  Here and there in the house a
vacated seat showed that some hopeless and inveterate commuter had felt
the call of his homeward street car or train.  Never in Boston can an
entire audience remain to the close of an entertainment; the lure of
the thronging, all-pervading suburb is too strong.  Helen, idly
watching the exodus of these prudent or sleepy citizens, heard outside
what might have been the warning bell that called them forth.  She
directed Smith's attention to the coincidence.

"They have to go home, you know; and that sounds like the signal they
obey."

"It sounds to me like a fire engine," said her companion.

But further speculation was cut short by the sight of "A Road," where
presently was to be seen the old man who was so oddly mistook for a
"young, budding virgin," and on which soon beat the doubtful rays of
the "blessed sun"--or moon, as the case might be.  The intermission
between the last two scenes of the act was a brief one only--the mere
moment required for the rising of a scene curtain upon the banquet hall
of Katherine's father.  But during that little interval, two things
came to Smith's notice; the first being the sound of vague noises in
the outside world, and the second the peculiar behavior of a man in
evening clothes at the extreme side of the stage aperture.

The seats which the two occupied were in the lower rows of the parquet,
close under the right-hand stage box; and from where they sat it was
thus possible to look into the wings on the opposite side of the stage.
It was in the little opening between the proscenium and the curtain
that the man in evening dress unexpectedly appeared.  His appearance
caught Smith's eye, and he watched curiously to see what was to follow.
In his hand this person held a watch at which he glanced hastily, and
then made two steps to come before the footlights.  But just as he was
nearly clear of the scenes, some one out of sight in the wing evidently
summoned him, for he stopped short, and then turned back.  After a
brief colloquy, in which the watch was again consulted, he retired, and
a moment later the curtain went up.

It seemed to Smith, watching closely, his curiosity aroused by this
half-seen and wholly uncomprehended episode, that the actors in the
last act were playing under the pressure of an odd excitement, a sort
of suppressed anxiety and haste.  It seemed to him they hurried through
their lines, and the messengers to the brides came back with an
electric promptness more to be desired in real life than in the
circumstances of the play.

Finally the whole was done--all except Katherine's final address to the
ladies, and this took but a brief moment.  Smith, listening tensely to
sounds from without, turned and spoke to Helen; and as the curtain fell
they started quickly up the aisle.  Their seats chanced to be open to
the side aisle of the house, and a moment later Smith was handing his
check to the cloakroom attendant, with a "Hurry up, please"--and a
lubricant to celerity.

The applause was still to be heard in the theater, but after one brief
bow the actors appeared no more, and the house began to empty.  By this
time Smith had reclaimed the wraps, and he and Helen, ready for the
open air, moved out through the lobby and onto the sidewalk in front of
the theater.

On the sidewalk there was a curious tone of constrained excitement.
Evidently something much out of the ordinary had happened--or was
happening.  People stood in groups, staring northward up Tremont
Street; and almost all the passers-by, as though impelled by a
nameless, inexplicable force that could not be controlled, were
hurrying in the same direction.  An ambulance with clattering gong
dashed by.  The urgent crowds, pouring out of the big theater, were
pressing Smith and Helen toward the curb.

"Come on," said the New Yorker, "something's up; let's get out of
this."  He took the girl's arm, and they crossed Boylston Street and
made their stand on the opposite, less crowded walk that edged the
Common.

On the sidewalk about them knots of people were eagerly talking, all
looking northward as though drawn by the same magnetic force.  And as
Smith and his companion raised their eyes, they saw in the northern sky
an ugly crimson glare that seemed to widen and grow brighter even in
the moment as they watched it.  From far up Tremont Street, carried by
the wind, came an odd murmur of confused noises, and nearer by the
sharper sounds of clanging bells and the clatter of galloping horses'
feet on the pavement.  The crowds were hurrying up the walk, and out in
the street, where it was less crowded, men were running in the same
direction.  The trolley cars seemed to have been blocked; none were
coming from the north.

"Great Scott!  That must be something terrific!" Smith said, and he
felt the beat of his heart perceptibly quicken.

But before he had time to make any further remark, from directly behind
them came with the electric unexpectedness of a sharp thunder clap one
loud cry, compelling, exigent, almost barbaric.

"Fire!" it said.  "Fire!"



CHAPTER XXI

In the eastern sky abode only the pale gold reflection of the city's
lights.  To the westward, across the Common, the soft blackness under
the stars descended even to the treetops.  But the attention of Smith
and Helen, gazing north on Tremont Street, was fixed on the unsteady
glow of threatening, reddish light thrown up against the absorbing
fabric of the air.

"Good heavens!  Just look at that!" Smith said, pointing.

"It must be a very bad fire--don't you think so?" inquired the girl.

"It looks from here like a corker.  It's certainly bad enough to make
it well worth seeing," he returned.  "Do you want to telephone your
mother that you're going?"

"Are we going, then?" asked Helen.

"To the fire?" demanded her companion.  "Of course we are going.  Fires
are my business, besides being the greatest spectacles in the world.
Let's go over to the Aquitaine, and we'll telephone."

A few minutes later they came out again; Smith motioned to the driver
of a taxi.

"Get in," he said to Helen.  "You shall ride to the fire like a lady,
in a cab."

As he spoke he noted how the wind was blowing the girl's hair about her
face, and for just an instant he gave that vision its individual due.

"Take us as near the fire as you can get," he directed the chauffeur.

From Boylston Street up Tremont to its intersection with Beacon is a
ride of barely two minutes.  It seemed as though almost no time had
elapsed before the taxi came to a stop beside the Palmer House.  The
two occupants descended; Smith paid the man; the vehicle slid off into
space beyond their ken.  And at that very moment their eyes sprang to
where, barely a block away, great tongues of red fire licked above a
wide building's roof--and all else but that thing faded into nothing.

"This way," said the New Yorker, tersely.  They crossed School Street,
continuing up Tremont until they were opposite the old King's Chapel
Burial Ground.  From this point, over the top of the City Hall, they
could see the flames riding high in air above a big five- and
seven-story building.

"My God!  That must be Black's Hotel!" said a voice in the crowd behind
them.

"Sure, that's what it is," volunteered a policeman who was keeping the
fire lines.

"Were any lives lost?" Smith asked.

"No.  Every one got out all right.  It didn't start in the hotel.
They're very careful, and they have a fine fire drill, anyway.  There
was plenty of time to warn every one."

Out of the north came a crisp wind.  Not content with blowing, as it
had done before, Helen's hair about her ears, it also whipped her
skirts urgently about her.  Smith calculated this wind, and shook his
head dubiously.

"Twenty-five miles an hour, I should think," he said.  "Rather bad
night for a big fire.  I wonder if we can get a little closer."

From where they stood it seemed that the fire was in the heart of the
block bounded by Court Square, Court, School, and Washington Streets.
The north half of this block was occupied chiefly by Black's Hotel, one
of the best-known hostelries in New England, and the south half by the
newspaper plant of the Boston _News_ and by several smaller buildings.
Between the two sections of the block ran a narrow lane known as
Williams Court; and at the time when Smith and Helen became spectators,
the fire was pouring from every window of the big hotel and proving
triumphant over all efforts to keep it from leaping the almost
imperceptible southern barrier.

"How long has this been going?" Smith asked the policeman.

"About an hour and a half, I guess.  I've been here since quarter to
ten."

"Do you suppose we could go through the lines?" Smith inquired.  "I've
got a New York fire badge."

"All right for you, sir--I'll pass you on it--but not for the lady."

This did not admit of an argument.

"Now, aren't you sorry you brought me?" asked the girl.

"Well, no," said her companion.  "Hardly--yet.  Let's try a little
strategy."

In front of them School Street was filled with wild turmoil.  Here were
hose carts and gray, snaky hose lines stretching along the pavement in
weird, curves and spurting tiny streams from imperfect couplings; here
were firemen rushing excitedly back and forth, hoarsely calling orders
which no one seemed to hear.  Along the curb were chemicals, hook and
ladders, patrols, all of them now stripped of their apparatus; while at
every corner beside a hydrant, each one chugging steadily away like the
regular, vibrant pulse from some giant heart, were the fire engines.
Out of their funnels poured a steady flare of cinders and smoke; on the
pavement beneath them the embers lay crimson; and the scarlet flashes,
whenever the fire doors were opened, showed the glowing furnaces within.

Retracing their steps toward Tremont Street, Smith and Helen skirted
the Tremont Temple, then east along Bosworth until they came to
Province Street.  Up this narrow passage, which passes as such only by
a courtesy peculiarly Bostonian, they went, finding themselves
presently back almost where they had started, but at a point of vantage
whence they could see the western face of the fire, which was now
beginning to threaten hungrily westward toward the stout old stone
walls of the City Hall.

And now the building of the Boston _News_, although protected by a
system of automatic sprinklers, was thoroughly ablaze, as was the Miles
Block immediately fronting City Hall Avenue.  It was from this last
building that the City Hall stood in jeopardy.

In Province Street, protected from the surge of activities beyond, the
onlookers could watch most of the fight to save the old building.  And
a gallant fight it was, for the space between the fire and the coping
of the old stone structure's eastern wall was a scant thirty feet.
Fortunately, however, the wind was blowing almost directly from the
north, and this gave the firemen a chance.  From the movements of the
department and the snatches of orders which could occasionally be
heard, Smith gathered that a similar struggle was going on in at least
three directions from the blazing block.  To west, to south, and to
east the flames were leaning, and the narrow streets made the task of
holding them additionally hazardous.

Meanwhile the heat, even in Province Street, had become intense.
Together with the other onlookers, Smith and Helen found it necessary
to take refuge in the doorways and behind an angle of a building which
projected slightly beyond the rest of the row, from which point they
looked forth in turn, shading their faces and eyes with their hands.
All at once, looking upward, they saw a cloud of smoke suddenly replace
the glare directly north.  The next moment a dull sound from the Miles
Block was heard, and Smith saw its western cornice sway.

"We'd better get out of this, quick," he said.  "A wall fell then--the
west wall of that building there.  That ought to save the City Hall, if
they handle it right; but it'll make this alley too hot to hold us.
Come on!"

Side by side the two hurried back with the crowd along the narrow way.
Their departure was taken none too soon.  Behind them they could feel a
wave of heat radiated from the ruins of the burning structure; it
forced its way even through the little street down which they were
retreating, and they could feel the hot blast upon their backs.

"Something more must have fallen then," said Smith; but he did not turn
his head.  Instead he took the girl's arm with a firmer grip, and they
continued swiftly on their way until they came safely into Bromfield
Street and out of the pursuing wave of heat.

"Let's cross over to Washington," Smith said.

On Washington Street, at first, little could be distinguished, and the
police were none too gently forcing the crowds even farther back.  But
a block to the north, at School Street, which only a moment before
these two had just quitted, there was to be seen a wild confusion.
Fire engines were here, too, chugging at every hydrant, and the passage
was fairly clogged with hose and apparatus of all sorts, with nervous
horses, and shouting, swearing, excited men.  As Smith looked closer he
saw that the firemen were no longer entering School Street to the west
from Washington; they were being driven back instead.  And a moment
later he saw also a lieutenant raise his arm in a signal.

"There comes an ambulance," he said gravely,

"What is it?  What do you suppose has happened?" Helen anxiously asked.

"Fireman hurt, undoubtedly.  Unless I miss my guess, somebody was
caught when that wall fell.  That must have been what caused the wave
that chased us down that alley.  See!--they're bringing them out!"

Three times the stretcher moved back and forth across Washington
Street.  At last the ambulance drove away.

"All it could carry," commented Smith, grimly.

It was now evident that the department was being forced out of School
Street.  The wall which had fallen had entirely blocked the narrow
passage, and the heat from the blazing ruin was so intense that no man
could even obliquely face it.  It was also clear that a hard struggle
would be necessary to prevent the fire from leaping eastward across
Washington Street.

Northward along the street from behind them, clanging its gong with
insistence, came now a chief's wagon, its black horses plunging
forward, open of nostril, reckless of all.  Standing erect in his
place, this man took an instant survey of the situation, and then began
shouting orders to his subordinates in a way that seemed somehow to
make itself felt above the uproar.

"He must have come around from the other side," said Smith.  "Now he's
taking charge in front."

However so, the effect of his instructions could be noted almost at
once.  Several of the engines withdrew into Milk Street; others moved
northward along Washington; still others southward, but all away from
the now threatened point, which was the southwest corner of Washington
and School Streets.  It was plain that all efforts were to be directed
toward preventing the fire from jumping east of this, and it was with
this purpose that the street was being cleared--the decks cleared for
action.  And well might they be, for on the eastern corners, directly
across from this point of highest hazard, were two buildings, each an
object of peculiar interest and even reverence to Bostonians.  One of
these was the Old South Church; the other the home of the Boston
_Transcript_--palladia both.

"Clear the street--get those people out of the way," came the abrupt
order, and Smith and Helen found themselves hastily retreating toward
Tremont Street, where for a few moments at least they might hope to be
undisturbed.

Not so.  Tremont Street was now all that Washington had been a few
minutes before; and with a tremendous crowd of onlookers the two found
themselves steadily forced back and out into the Common.  In the space
before Tremont Temple the fire fighters seemed thick as bees, and from
their manner Smith knew that they were dealing with a situation very
close at hand.

"I bet anything that the Palmer House has caught," he said to Helen.

"You're dead right, Bill," called a voice in answer.  "The whole School
Street front's going.  This is a _fire_, that's what it is--take it
from me."  The voice trailed off into the whirlpool of sounds, but
Smith had heard all that he needed to know.

"This is more than a fire," he said gravely, his lips close to the
girl's ear.  "It is a conflagration.  With a thirty-mile wind like
this, blowing right into the heart of the city, no one can tell where
it will stop.  We had better go home."

"Go home!  Why, what time is it?" asked his companion in surprise.
"We've only just gotten here!"

"We have been here," said Smith, consulting his watch, "just about an
hour and a half.  It is now twenty minutes to one."

"Twenty minutes to one?" exclaimed Helen.  "My mother will certainly
think we're lost.  But I hate to go.  It is magnificent, even if it is
terrible."

"Yes," said the other.  "Just the same, Deerfield Street is the best
place for you.  I wonder if there's a cab in sight."

As it developed, there was none.

"Let us try the subway, then," the New Yorker went on.  "Perhaps the
cars are still running in there."

It was a silent couple that made its belated way home to Deerfield
Street.  Helen's eyes were bright with excitement and her face was
flushed; but Smith was almost too preoccupied to notice the added
brilliance which this gave to the girl's beauty.  He parted from her at
the door of the Maitlands' apartment.

"You had better go to sleep as soon as you can," he said.  "Try to
forget all about this business.  To-morrow afternoon, when it's over,
I'll come around, if I may, and tell you all I know about it."

"I shall be home to-morrow afternoon," the girl replied.  "But what are
you going to do now?"

"Oh, I expect I shall go back to the fire for a while," he said
carelessly; "but I don't intend to stay up all night.  Don't worry.
I'll see you to-morrow about four--or earlier, if there's anything of
importance to tell you.  Good-night."

The door closed on him.

Meanwhile, furiously driven by the wind out of the north, the fire had
taken a giant's dimensions for its own.  Shortly after one o'clock the
entire block between Tremont and Washington, School and Bromfield was
one vast seething furnace from whose throat the fire burst now
southward and upward with a roar.  The wind was bringing its element of
peril to add to the conflagration's own; it caught the white heat from
the blazing mass of buildings and started it sweeping southward in a
devastating wave of superheated fluid air.

As the man on the Common had said, this was a fire--but rather was it
Fire, the essence of the god, the very burning breath of Loki.  The
city was in the hand of something greater than chance and more sinister
than circumstance.

But the firemen did not realize this.  When Smith found himself once
more approaching the northern end of the Common, he could see that the
fire had changed its humor.  It was no longer a gambler, dicing with
the fire fighters to determine whether it should live or die; it had
taken on surety and become a tyrant, an absolute dictator, a
juggernaut--and it would not pause now till all its grim play was
played, or its humor changed, or some breath mightier than its own
should quell it.  But the firemen did not see this.

They were working like madmen now, facing a thousand hazards, unseeing
yet noticing all, undirected save by words which they could hardly hear
and even more hardly comprehend.  There was not, however, even for
their stout hearts, any longer the faintest hope of meeting their enemy
face to face.  The heated blast, borne on the wind's wings, entirely
prevented that.  All that the department could endeavor now to do was
to restrict the conflagration's lateral spread, to keep the daemon in
the track he had chosen, and not allow him to stray to east or west.
But they reckoned without his whimsy.

There was a stray puff of wind to westward; there was a sudden cry of
men mortally hurt, of horses suddenly tortured.  Out from the windows
of the Phipps Building a flood of flame sprang west; expelled from the
tottering structure by some inward impulse, perhaps by an explosion of
smothered air, this sheet of heat and flame, of unburned and burning
gases, leaped Tremont Street as a rabbit leaps a ditch.  Simultaneously
the Tremont Street face of the old Park Street Church burst into flame,
and along the rear of the buildings which fringed the ancient burial
ground the fire crept.  Under the eaves of these buildings it ran, and
a moment later the line of brick structures on Park Street was briskly
ablaze, and once more the fire fighters' flank had been turned.

Quickly this westward adventure proceeded.  So unexpected had been this
attack that it was some time before the department could adjust its
front.  Tremont Street, moreover, which was now untenable, held much
apparatus, and most of this was burned where it stood.  Straight up the
slope toward Beacon Street and toward the gold dome of the State House
the fire errantly went.  Blank walls between buildings seemed to make
little difference to it; what it could not pierce it ran around.  Only
at the extreme end of the burial ground did it pause.  Here a
seven-story fireproof building confronted it, and proved equal to the
task.  Against the solid walls of this barrier the impetuous visitor
beat in vain, and then, just as suddenly as he had begun his foray, he
subsided.  The final sputter of his dying, under the hose streams of
his foes, sounded for all the world like a chuckle.  It was as if this
wandering creature had signified that he had accomplished his purpose
in giving the department a good scare, and that he might as well stop.
The firemen stood for a moment to catch breath, gazing on the havoc
wrought by this wild half hour; then, coiling up their hose, they went
to await new orders.

It was now almost two o'clock.  The fire had been burning for four
hours; it had completely destroyed two entire city squares and part of
a third, and its course was manifestly just begun.  To the north and
west it had strayed as far as it was to go, for the north wind made it
impossible for it to spread farther in that direction, and its westward
swing, as has just been seen, had been checked.  The unrestrained main
line of the conflagration was therefore almost due south, following the
direction of the wind's impulsion, but also it tended toward the east,
since all great fires strive, fanlike, to open out.  This tendency on
the west the Common effectually vitiated, and the firemen's plan of
campaign was proportionately simplified.

The obvious course now to be pursued was to mass the opposing forces
along the east flank of the conflagration, restricting so far as
possible its spread in that direction, for since the wind made it
impossible to face the fire, no hope lay in direct opposition save
perhaps through the thunderous agency of dynamite.  On these lines the
defense set to work anew.

After a thrilling struggle Old South Church had been saved; the
concentration of the fire fighters around its corner had been
efficacious.  The stout old structure which had survived so many years
of winters out of the east had survived one peril more.  Its brick
walls stood with their paint cracked and split, its tower tottered,
scorched and feeble, but the building itself was intact.  Score one to
Boston, and to the indomitable forces battling for her preservation.

Not without a fearful cost, however, had this victory been gained, for
the east side of Washington Street, from the _Transcript_ down, was now
a flowing field of raging flame.  Here there were no fireproofs to give
momentary obstacles; one risk, it is true, had automatic sprinklers
inside and out, but the water from these, while it lasted, only added
steam to the confusion and fuel to the fire, while the great roof tank
in its falling tore out the very heart of the stricken building.
Hawley Street, farther on, was no barrier at all to a fire of such fury
as this, and the unprotected windows at the rear of the Franklin Street
row added their helpless nakedness to a situation in which nothing was
a buckler.

Very orderly, irresistible without vagary, now became the fire's
progress.  Terrible in its absolute precision, in its measured advance
down the wind, this implacable river of flame rolled down the city.
Far ahead of the actual fire itself ran its fatal forerunner, the sheet
of gases and superheated air, sometimes level, sometimes high lifted at
the whim of the breeze, but always fierce, always southward, always
with annihilation in its grip.  There was no staying this deadly force
and no facing it; farther than any hose stream could reach sped this
outrider in advance of the devastating thing whose messenger it was.

Men from the United States Navy Yard at Charlestown were dynamiting
buildings along Summer Street now, in the hope of gaining a respite by
reducing the amount of fuel in the path of the main advance.  The air
was heavy with smoke, with the odor of charred embers and burning wood
and merchandise, and the shock of the dynamiting added new heaviness to
an almost unbreathable element.  So acrid had the atmosphere become
that the men in the front ranks of the struggle were compelled to
breathe through rags and handkerchiefs soaked in water.  Many men
dropped where they stood, to be dragged back by their comrades and
revived by the ambulance surgeons.

Franklin Street proved no more of a southern barrier than had the
others before it.  On the corner of Hawley Street stood an eight-story
fireproof, sprinklered building, filled principally with crockery.
Upon this the conflagration advanced as relentlessly as fate.  Long
before the flames themselves had reached it, the windows broke under
the heat of the advancing gases, and little fires began to appear on
the upper floors.  Soon all the windows were alight, and this building
too shook beneath the force which there was no escaping.  Its frame, to
be sure, stood bravely up, and after the fire was still to be seen,
almost intact, a tribute to its maker and design; but its contents,
alas, were not fireproof, and proved pabulum most welcome to the
element which welcomed almost all things.

The firemen along the eastern fringe had been laboring with
desperation.  It was the seventh hour of steady battle, and many of
them were almost overcome by exhaustion; but those who faltered found
their places taken by others, and the unequal struggle went on.  At
this point Smith, with his fire-line badge pinned to his coat in case
of challenge, was turning his hand to anything which seemed to need the
doing.  A solid wall of fireproofs along Arch Street had held the fire
from spreading eastward there, but as Franklin Street was passed in the
southward sweep, the eastward urging was not wholly to be denied.  At
five o'clock in the morning the four faces of Winthrop Square were all
involved, and the buildings along Devonshire Street had begun to yield.
Over at Washington and Tremont Streets the fire had now spread as far
south as Bedford--and the wind was still blowing steadily.

Gradually, for the last half hour, the velvet blackness of the upper
sky had been fading; gradually the sparks, as they mounted unceasingly,
had begun to seem less luminous; and the waves of smoke which had been
rising all night into the upper air became for the first time a little
dark against the sky.  All night had this smoke been flung up from the
burning city, and always had it seemed white or reddish or dirty brown,
as it rose; all night had the air hung close in its smoky pall, seeming
to shut in the sad theater wherein this drama was being played; all
night had the fire been torch and lantern and moon and stars to those
who faced the fire.

Now, dimly across the eastern sky, was spread the first faint hint of a
wondering dawn.  Far out over the harbor a lightening could be seen, a
prescience of day, and a ghostly half light, like that in a dim
cathedral, replaced the flame-lit darkness.  There were mists above the
water, and the light gained progress slowly; still, it gained, and
presently the salt sea odors came rolling in from the bay.  The water
turned from black to silver-gray, the shadows faded silently into
nothingness, the hush that precedes daybreak seemed trying to steal
into the tortured air.  And men's eyes, turning from the flame and
smoke and crashing walls, gave hopeless welcome to the Day.



CHAPTER XXII

The morning broke upon a sight almost beyond imagination.  Through the
darkness none had been able or had cared to see the city save in
fragmentary glimpses, caught by the fierce light that flared and fell.
Now, in the gray dawn, the city as a whole appeared beneath a smoky
cowl, looking mightier and more austere than ever under the shadow of
this dreadful visitation.  All sectional sights aforetime had been of
single streets, of squares, of stray purlieus--but now appeared the
wide, sweeping stretch of the myriad roofs, the sturdy strength of
brick and steel, the compelling magnitude and silent, massive power of
the whole.

In the north, where all was safe, the sky was fairly clear; but where
the fire took its way the smoke haze hung grim and close.  From the
east the scene was a striking one.  Along the water front of Fort Point
Channel were the buildings gray and red; down Summer Street, which lay
like a canyon between walls of brick and stone, white steam and smoke
rode in a seething mist, lighted at odd times and places by keen
flashes of crude red fire; over the roofs wavered more steam and smoke,
floating in some places like level banners which flapped in the wind,
while in others it seemed to wrap itself in dirty folds about some
skeleton of what had yesterday been a building.  At various points, and
suggested by the premonitory roar of dynamite, rose black, sinister
columns of the densest smoke mingled with the dust of shattered
buildings, like the pictured outburst of some volcanic crater; and
through and behind and implicitly within all this the Fire moved upon
its way.

It was about half-past seven in the morning when it was seen that all
efforts to check the flames at Summer Street had failed.  Along the
north side of that thoroughfare lay the tumbled ruins of the dynamited
buildings, destroyed in a hopeless hope, for the remedy had been too
homeopathic and the disease too swift.  Indeed, it almost seemed as
though the razing of these structures had merely made more easy the
progress of that river of unconsumed gases and air which the steady
wind drove undeviatingly forward upon the windows and the roofs which
the conflagration had not yet reached.  It was very much as though this
flood of invisible heat and destruction contained the sharp-shooters
before an army's van; it was like the cavalcade that rode before a
Roman Emperor's triumph two thousand years ago; like the flight of
arrows which preceded the thunderous charge of English heavy soldiery
on Continental battle grounds.

In the little triangle between three streets just west of Dewey Square
stood a solidly built, compact group of five- and six-story structures,
one of them of fire-proof construction.  This triangle, by a vagary,
now proved to be a crucial point.  If this could be saved, probably so
also could the whole block to the south of Summer Street; but if it
could not, then that block too was doomed, and there was grave danger
beside lest the district east of Federal Street be also involved.  So
on this precious spot the combined forces of defense concentrated.  In
Fort Point Channel four fireboats gave their powerful pumps to aid the
engines; the firemen, hanging close to their work, sent stream after
stream of water against the attacking flame.

It was in vain.  After the most desperate endeavors, this little group
went to join the rest, the only fruit of victory being that Federal
Street found itself the eastern barrier, the fire north of Summer
Street having been checked at that point.  Small triumph that! for the
buildings west of Dewey Square were now thoroughly ablaze--and the
South Station was in danger.

In the open space known as Dewey Square, which is really nothing but
the momentary widening of Atlantic Avenue at its intersection with
Summer, the elevated railroad has its tracks.  These, raised some
twenty feet above the street, extend north and south along the western
face of the South Station; there is a station at Essex Street, with
stairways leading into the great depot itself.  It was this elevated
structure which now proved to be the compelling menace.

Suddenly, in what manner it could not be said, there was seen to be a
serpent of flame swiftly stealing along the Elevated's track.  A tiny
frill of fire, under a feathery cloud of smoke, ran down the wooden
ties; sharp crackling sounds were heard; and a moment later the frame
roof of the raised depot burst into light.  One would hardly have
thought that there was here sufficient fuel to jeopardize greatly the
stout stone walls of the South Station itself; even to the firemen,
skilled in such matters, risking their heads to drench those walls with
water from a dozen lines of hose, the hazard, while grave, seemed far
from hopeless.  But this was not a day of reason nor of precedents.  As
the clock in the great facade showed five minutes before nine, the
western eaves of the South Station caught.

In this building, which is one of the busiest of the world's terminals,
was little inflammable material save that which was movable.  The
structure was built almost entirely of brick and stone and steel.  Much
of the steel work, to be sure, was not so protected as to render it
fireproof; yet in the building there would ordinarily have been scant
fuel for an ordinary fire.  But this was not an ordinary fire.  Along
the western side of the structure, where were baggage rooms, offices,
and the like, this irreverent intruder found congenial occupation.  In
not more than twenty minutes this entire side of the Station was
ablaze, and the flames had begun to eat their way upward to the vast
iron roof of the train shed, which hung in a tremendous arch some
eighty feet above the base of rail.  Stretching north and south down
the full length of this mighty shed stood at the summit of the arch a
raised lantern, or texas.  Supporting the weight of this roof, wide
spans of steel branched, curving upward from the walls at east and
west--and it was one of these walls whose integrity was now so bitterly
beset.

A great fire makes its own fuel; it finds food where no food seems to
be; stone walls crumble like sugar before it; it devours iron like dry
wood, and plays wild pranks with steel.  To its grisly power and its
reckless humor the Station was now to bear witness.

The west wall had begun to crumble, and cracked and spalled by the
intense heat, not alone of the direct fire, but also by radiation from
the burning risks to westward, the stone was giving way.  Down part of
its length, where the cross walls came, it stood stoutly; but elsewhere
it began gradually to weaken.  Here and there a doorway broke into what
might have been a solid section; in one or two cases arches crumbled;
in many others inside walls or beams or stairways, falling, carried
down with them another modicum of the long wall's resistive power.

Atlantic Avenue near the station was now untenable, and the fire
fighters were divided.  Part of them were north, but most of them were
south of this latest scene in the play.  The disaster here had done
more than any other single occurrence in the progress of the
conflagration to demoralize the department and spread dismay in its
ranks.  It may have been the fact that this great building had been
held to be safe beyond a doubt; it may have been merely that these men
had for nearly twelve hours been achieving and repeating the
impossible, the heroic, and that this last blow had been more than they
could bear.  Their faces were gray beneath the smoke and grime, their
eyes stung and smarted almost unendurably from the heat and smoke and
their long vigil; and now for the first time since this whirling
maelstrom had engulfed them, they were finding the opportunity to
realize that human endurance is not supernal.

There was another reason why they realized this now, and that was that
the bitterness of this last defeat had, for the moment, broken their
hearts.  So long as they had fought with a gambler's chance, with the
barest hope of success, it was easy to forget they were hungry, were
weary unto death, were human at all.  But under the numbing stroke of
this last setback, they suddenly felt all these things.

The most heart-breaking thing, perhaps, in human experience is
impotence in the face of trying need.  A man can stand well enough the
ordinary vicissitudes of life; but to be confronted with an exigency
that finds and leaves him utterly helpless is enough to crush the
bravest spirit.  The Irish soldiery that four times tried to scale
Marye's Heights, which were not for scaling by any mortal men, felt
this bitterness, and the mere memory of them preserves the image for
the world.  It is this same feeling that makes the injured football
player cry like a child after he is recalled to the sidelines, and that
makes a man in the grip of an undertow give up and sink.  It is because
they are called upon to combat forces against which their mightiest
muscular efforts are as futile as the flirting of a fan in jeweled
fingers.

Nowhere is this more terribly felt than by men facing a great fire; for
here not only have they to deal with a power out of all proportion to
humanity, but they confront a power perverse, saturnine, malignant,
diabolic.  A conflagration is wantonly cruel; not content with the
simple panoply of its might, it summons to its aid the evil whims of an
enraged elephant.  It plays, like a kitten, with hope before it crushes
and kills it.  The spectacle of a building soaked and saturated in
water from the nozzles of a score of hose lines, with the flames driven
back from it by the sustained heroisms of a hundred men--and then the
spectacle of that building leaping suddenly into light in not one but a
dozen places--this is a thing no man can endure, if many times
repeated, and this is what these men had been enduring for ten hours.
They had done all that men could do--more than men could do--and it was
not enough.  At that moment all they wanted in the world was the
privilege of lying down, never to rise.

Long hours before, shortly after midnight, when it had become certain
that help would be needed, the wires had carried to the nearby cities
Boston's appeal for aid.  As far as Portland and Worcester and
Providence the call had then gone forth; and later on the urgent word
had been flashed to Springfield, Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, and
New York.  The New England cities had loyally responded; their engines
and their men were even now scattered along the battle line and doing
brave service.  But these weary men by the South Station had not seen
them; they found it almost impossible to believe that they were not
alone and without aid in this titanic but hopeless task.  Help might
have come, their aching brains reflected--but not to them.  For them
there had been no help in sea or sky.  Gathered together in the yards
below the station, they silently watched it burn.

Of a sudden there came a lurch, a swift sagging of the arch supports at
the western face of the arches; the roof quivered a little, then was
still.  It could now, from the open end, be seen that the supports in
several places were wrenched loose from the wall; the steel spans hung
free in air, while white smoke lifted unceasingly toward the summit of
the vast shed.  On the tracks the cars were burning briskly.  Presently
it could also be seen that the south end of the roof was bending of its
own weight.  It bent first just a little--then more.  Then for a long
moment it hung motionless, or with but the faintest quiver of
vibration.  Then, out of the sightless cavern came the screeching sound
of metal scraping upon metal--a wild sound, like the torture of some
inarticulate thing; a dull, grinding noise followed, and at last, out
of the steaming furnace which the lower part of the train shed was now
become, came the dull roar of some great weight falling.

With a crack like that of a gigantic express rifle the western end of
the great roof arches pitched down to earth; weakened at the angle,
loosened from their laterals, the big roof spans lurched heavily
downward.  A thrill seemed to run through the whole structure; the
roof, strained now to an impossible angle, hung breathless above the
abyss.  Then slowly, almost in majesty, but with a sound like the
crashing fall of a giant tree, the great arch tottered and fell.

On the tracks beneath the shed the cars which there had been no time to
remove continued to burn cheerfully, in no wise dismayed by this
terrible descent.  And far out in the yards, blocked by a mass of
salvaged rolling stock, stood a panting Mogul locomotive which had
traveled the last fifty miles in something less than fifty minutes, and
behind it lay the special train of the New York City Fire Department.

Were it not for the preponderance of the trivial in the affairs of
life, all women and nearly all men would believe in Fate.  This is
borne out by the evidence of great men, who are fatalists one and
all--or who were so until these modern, ultrapsychologic days in which
overthinking is held to be so dangerously near a vice.  Those persons
now whose ears are close laid to the breathing of the world all believe
in Fate.  Not negatively, not foolishly, not in the manner which sets
forth that what will be, will be, and any opposing effort is therefore
futile; but in the way of the true philosopher, of the man who can look
upon the ruin or the loss of all that he held dear, and realize that
what is to him a tragedy must, in some light cruelly hidden from him,
be conserving some higher, some more inscrutable end.

This is the better fatalism; and the closer one approaches the
primitive realities, the nearer this kind of fatalism he comes.
Looking on the naked face of life or the crude fact of death, it is
obvious to all save the most frivolous that these things were meant to
be so.  As the Aryan saying has it, looking forward there are a dozen
ways, looking backward on the way each man has traveled, there is but
one.  Crude tragedy carries with it its own conviction of
predestination.  It would be absurd to suggest that Togral Beg killed
thirteen million people by accident or by an extraordinary succession
of chances.  Admit there is such an element as chance, and between it
and Fate is room for a thousand doubts.  It is natural enough for men
who deal with the tiny, circling ball of a roulette wheel or with the
turn of playing cards to deny any power higher than chance; but how of
Napoleon, dicing for empires without end?--and how of Columbus, sailing
indomitably westward into the wheel of the sun?--how of Shan Tung,
surveying the rotting corpses of seven times seven cities of Chinamen
slain by the Tartar sword?--and how of Boston, on this February
morning, looking white-faced on its own ruin, a ruin which,
furthermore, seemed scarcely begun?  Whether Fate be Fate or not,
Boston believed in it that day.

Only one thing now tended to lift the gloom from the outlook, and this
was the fact that the fire seemed to have spread as far from east to
west as it was possible for it to do.  The Common on the west, and on
the east side the Fort Point Channel, held its destructive sweep
apparently safe.  To be sure, there was just the possibility that where
the Common ended, the corner of Tremont and Boylston might be turned
and the flames swing west once more; but this, in view of the lower
heights of buildings and the fact that the wind had now shifted and was
blowing toward the east rather than the west of south, seemed unlikely.
Moreover, the combined departments of Charlestown, Cambridge, Lynn, and
a dozen other places were massed along Tremont Street to prevent this
very thing.  It was, however, a significant commentary on the
hopelessness of the situation when men could find comfort in the
reflection that a strip of city a half mile wide was alone exposed to
the direct path of destruction.

Smith had been in the lower yards of the South Station at the time the
train shed fell; he had waited only a short time after that, working
for a hot quarter hour to save some of the cars not yet exposed to the
shed fire.  The method adopted was one suggested by a lieutenant of
militia from Braintree; his plan, since no locomotives were for the
moment available, was to fix bayonets, stick them in the woodwork of
the car sides, and then, forty men pushing at once, the car would be
rolled out of danger.  Dozens of passenger coaches were saved in this
way.  When the bulk of the close work here was done, the New Yorker
turned westward, taking care to keep well south of the burning zone.

"How far south on Tremont has it got?" he asked a passing stranger on
Kneeland Street.

"About to the end of the Common," the man replied, without slackening
his pace.

"By Jove! the Aquitaine'll be going next," reflected Smith.  "I might
as well retrieve my suitcase.  It's the only one I own."

On his way back to the fire from Deerfield Street, the night before, he
had stopped at the hotel, changed his evening clothes for a business
suit, and left his suitcase in his room.  It had not occurred to him
that the fire might spread as far as that.  Now, his interest quickened
by a touch of amused fear lest he might already be too late, he turned
toward the hotel with faster tread.

The scene at the Aquitaine was one of the utmost panic and confusion.
Only a little way to the north the firemen had been blowing up
buildings in another futile effort to check the fire which would not be
checked, and the dynamiting, coupled with the close approach of the
fire itself, had demoralized most of the hotel attendants.  Almost all
the guests had long since taken their belongings and departed.
Porters, waiters, and clerks alike were engaged in collecting whatever
in the building could be moved and carrying it to trucks which were
backed along the curb to receive the property and bear it to a place of
safety.

No one was at the desk; Smith found his own key.  The elevator was
piled full of salvaged furniture and curtains, and he walked up to his
room on the fifth floor.  There he collected his belongings and
returned to the office.  Thinking to himself that he would defer paying
his bill until there was some one in a mental condition capable of
receipting it, he went forth into the street, suitcase in hand.

"Where now?" he thought.  The answer was not difficult.  There was only
one place where he wanted to go, and he had promised to go there.

To Deerfield Street, then, he went.  There he found two anxious women
whose questions he answered as best he could, and whom, after an hour's
rest, he left, having promised that he would warn them if by any chance
the conflagration turned in their direction.  Warmed at heart, and much
refreshed by the luncheon they had insisted on his taking, he left the
Maitlands, and turned once again toward the path of the fire.

It had been nearly thirty hours since he had slept; and he found his
eyes hot and dry and heavy in his head.  Whether it was the smoke he
had breathed, or the steady strain of the long night, or the lack of
sleep and sheer fatigue, he did not know; but he found developing in
his brain a strange, numb sense of remoteness, a want of coordination
and identity between it and his body.  In remembering this day, he was
always afterwards to associate it with a smell of stale smoke in his
nostrils and a vague dimness of sight.  Even the thousand vivid
incidents of the great conflagration were always to come back to him
with this haunting sense of unreality, the feeling that it was not
actually he but some one else who had witnessed and shared and lived
through them--some one not alien, yet not wholly kin to himself.  The
gray and ochre smoke haze, and the diffused heat, and the sense of
intimate danger long faced and hence grown hardly noted, clouded and
filmed the facts, the colors, and the emotions of this day in the dim
light of a dream.

They were wild facts, too; great deeds; and glorious colors, which
would have been worth a clearer recollection.  The color of the
midnight sky, its velvet blackness shot with crimson gleams.  The waves
of smoke, now like densest ink pouring up from some unseen funereal
funnel--now blindingly white, flung like the plume of Navarre above the
tumult of the fray.  The tall, cold buildings standing almost defiantly
in the winter air, lifting their immobile fronts to face the
onrush--and the same buildings a little later, when the flames had
passed, leaving only gnawed skeletons and heaped and smoldering ruins
in their wake.  The grim and terrible anguish of twisted steel girders
that lay writhen like petrified snakes among the ashes, or lifted their
tortured length to reach some last hold on sanity at the wall which
they had once helped maintain.  Great heaps and piles of ashes, and
half-consumed beams and crushed and broken brick, lying in smoldering
humility, punctuated by stray relics and remnants of an unburned
world--pieces of furniture, by some miracle left unharmed, or
bric-a-brac of some more than usual inanity.  Fireproof buildings
through which the flood of destruction had passed, burning all that was
burnable, and leaving the gaunt frames naked in the air, their
exteriors perhaps scorched and defaced, but with their vast strength
unshaken and undismayed.  The thousand sounds and odors of the fearful
night and of the slow dawn; the fire whistles shrilling through the
wintry air, the gongs on truck and cart adding their clangor to the mad
mellay, the shouts of men, the bawling of orders, the screams of
frightened women, the uncanny sound of the mewing of an imprisoned cat
in a window, whose instinct told it what its sense could not.  The
hammer of horses' hoofs on the stones of the street, with the sparks
flung out to left and right beneath the flying feet; the steady
chug-chug of the tireless engines with their fireboxes seething
white-hot in the effort to hold the steam to its figure on the gauge.
The far shock and the dull boom of dynamiting that was like the rumor
of a distant heavy cannonade.  Then the men, the leagued enemies
against this arch conspirator--the thousand heroisms of these men who
contended without fear against unbeatable odds; the stark, cold bravery
that is a thing outside of human experience save in some sublimated
essence such as this--men who spanned impossible gaps, bore impossible
weights, scaled unscalable heights, died incredibly heroic and
unutterably tragic deaths, and who did these preposterous things as
simply and unquestioningly as a child falling to sleep.  The bitter
humors of this prank of fate--the things shattered which should have
been whole, the things preserved which no hand but that of error had
ever created.  The ruthless mixture of the farcical and the pathetic;
the fire horse struck to earth by a falling wall, screaming in
anguish--and the coal heaver, carrying hurriedly toward safety a gilt
and white ormolu clock.  And behind all this the swaying, eddying,
swirling, but inexorably onward movement of the Fire, and the muffled
drum beat that served it for a pulse; behind all this the Fire's voice,
the low, purring, sinister roar which never ceased and which was deeper
than the sound of any surges on any shore; behind all this the valley
of the shadow, with its grim processional of life and fear and death, a
processional spurred and driven to a speed which never slackened, under
the wind which for twenty hours had hardly tired, but had blown so
steadfastly that to the people of the city it seemed to be what in
reality it must have been--the breath of God out of the north.



CHAPTER XXIII

It was nearly nine o'clock in the evening when there came a ring at the
Maitlands' doorbell.  It had not been the easiest waiting in the world,
that of the two women in the half-deserted apartment building through
the long night and longer day.  Helen would have preferred to go out of
doors, feeling that there she could see and follow, at a distance at
least, the progress of the conflagration; but Mrs. Maitland in a
strange and unlooked-for obstinacy absolutely declined to leave the
apartment or to permit her daughter to do so.

"I don't know anything about fires, but if this one starts in this
direction I want to be here, and not away somewhere," she repeated to
her daughter's urging; nor could she be induced to take any other
viewpoint.  So in their rooms they remained, and their only news from
without was transmitted to them from the servants and visitors to the
building.  The telephone was out of commission, and Helen felt as
though she were marooned in full sight of a civilization with which she
could not communicate and which afforded her no benefits.

It had been past one o'clock in the morning when Smith had brought her
home from the fire.  Long after that the excitement had kept her awake;
but she had fallen asleep at last, and wakened again only when it was
broad day.  It was, however, to be one of the longest days in her
calendar, and by noon she felt as though she had been waiting for years
in expectation of she did not know what.  She tried to read, but found
it impossible to fix her attention on the book.  She began to run over
some operatic scores on the piano, but the sound seemed to ring so
oddly that she gave up this also.  Between her mother and herself
conversation languished--and thus the slow hours wore on.  She could
not but think how infinitely more desirable it was to be out in the
streets, even though that might mean a certain amount of physical
danger, than to remain in unsatisfactory helplessness thus.  If it be
woman's heritage to wait, that heritage certainly did not appeal to
Helen on this occasion.  It is doubtful if it ever appeals to any one.

Only two incidents of relief had marked the passage of the dragging
hours.  The first was when Smith had called, in the morning, to leave
his suitcase and to promise to return in case the fire should come
dangerously near; the second was a visit from Mr. Silas Osgood.  This
latter call occurred in the middle of the afternoon, when the suspense
of doing nothing at all had become almost intolerable and the nerves of
both women had come almost to the snapping point, and they both
consequently greeted him with even more than their usual affection.

"I'm so glad you've come, Uncle Silas, I can hardly speak!" Helen said;
and her mother's welcome, while somewhat less extreme in expression,
was equally sincere.

"I tried to get you on the telephone, but I couldn't, so I thought I'd
better come and see how you were getting on," Mr. Osgood explained.
"I'm glad you're all right.  This is a fearful thing, a terrible
business!  Nobody knows where it may end."

"Tell us about it--everything," the girl demanded.  "We have really
heard nothing all day.  What we have heard has been chiefly what we
could learn from the servants, and they understand so little of what is
actually happening."

"I have been out near the Public Gardens," said her uncle; "and though
I couldn't see much, I probably could see almost as much as though I
had been a good deal nearer.  On the whole, things seem very favorable.
I would not go so far as to say that the end is in sight; but in a
certain sense the fire is under control, and I believe that the worst
is over at last."

"How far does it extend now?"

"Well, they have managed to prevent its getting across Tremont Street;
in fact, they have held it on both east and west.  You see, most of the
railroad yards below the South Station were cleared in time, and that
left little or no fuel on the east side.  The fire now, instead of
having a clean sweep from the Common to the Channel, has a path barely
half that width.  It is now as far south as Oak Street, and Hollis
Street west of that."

"Dear me!  Has the good old Hollis Theater gone, then?"

"I don't see how it could very well have escaped.  But it wasn't a very
attractive theater, though, anyway.  Why do you ask about it?  They
have needed a new building there for a long time."

"Yes--but some of the happiest evenings I have ever had were there.  It
isn't the upholstery of the seats or the mural decorations or what the
theater looks like, but what you hear there.  Don't you think that a
theater gets to retain some of its traditions and its greatest
associations?  It sounds as though I were an old woman; but every time
I go there, I seem to feel that the theater remembers, just as I do,
the thrills that its walls have known."

"Would you rather it had been left to be torn down, then?" inquired her
uncle, with a smile.

"Well, possibly not.  That would be worse than this.  Perhaps it is
better to 'give her to the God of Storms,' after all."

"Perhaps," agreed Mr. Osgood, gently.

For a half an hour longer they talked, and he told them as much as he
knew of what already had been destroyed, and what the final reckoning
would unclose.  He spoke as cheerfully as he could, but Helen, watching
him closely, saw that back of this there was a profound sadness.

"Is it so very terrible, Uncle Silas?" she asked at last, laying her
hand affectionately on his sleeve.

"Very.  It is as bad as it could be, my child," he answered.  "Bad for
Boston--bad for us all.  I have been through this sort of calamity
before; but that was many years ago.  I did not mind it so much when I
was a young man.  It is different now."

"But surely the city can survive it, can it not?"

"Yes--the property loss, no doubt; and I am glad to say that very few
lives have been lost.  But it is a fearful catastrophe.  The city is
crippled--shaken to its very heart!  Think of the hundreds of families
driven into the streets, the businesses wrecked, the uncountable number
of men left without employment, even if the fire cease at once!"

A new idea had come to Helen.

"What difference will it make to Silas Osgood and Company?" she asked,
with some hesitation.  "It won't injure your firm, will it?"

"Oh, to a certain extent, temporarily, but nothing to be troubled
about.  Of course the local agent does not have to pay any part of his
companies' losses.  But--" he paused.

"But what?" asked the girl.

"Well, I have been in the business so long, my dear, that I have come
to look at this sort of thing more from the standpoint of my companies
than my own.  I am ashamed--yes, sorry and ashamed--to have my city
hurt my companies so sorely."

"But you couldn't have helped it--it isn't your fault," said Mrs.
Maitland, somewhat mystified, but guessing a little of what he felt.

"No," said Mr. Osgood, slowly; "I couldn't have helped it.  But if it
had to happen in Boston, I'm sorry it didn't wait until I was through."

"Then I hope it would be never!" Helen said, a little incoherently; but
the point was plain.

"On the business side there is only one feature that cheers me,"
continued Mr. Osgood, "and that is the fact that my old friend James
Wintermuth and his company, the Guardian of New York, are practically
out of it all."

"How do you mean--out of it?" Helen's mother asked.

"You see, the Guardian, when it had to leave my office, lost all its
local business.  A good deal of it was naturally in this very part of
the city which is burning.  They undoubtedly have some term lines still
in force,--policies written for three or five years,--but not many.
They will escape with a very light loss indeed--whereas two years ago
this conflagration would have involved them for an amount such as not
many companies would care to meet."

"Then there must be other companies now who will lose more in this fire
than they can pay?"

"Without a doubt.  There has never been a fire of this magnitude that
has not absolutely ruined many of the smaller companies.  It takes
either a very strong or a very conservative insurance company to
weather a great conflagration.  After each of our big city fires in
this country many and many a company has found that after it paid its
losses there would be nothing left to carry it to further
existence--capital and surplus were both wiped out.  And it must be
said to their credit that most of them, at a time like this, pay every
cent they owe, even if they have to go out of business directly
afterwards."

"But if they haven't enough money to pay their losses?  Suppose their
capital and surplus isn't sufficient?"

"Then they either fail, and the receiver pays what he can to each
claimant, or else they call upon their stockholders--assess them.  Once
in a while you will find a company refusing to pay, on the ground that
so great a calamity is an act of God, which no indemnity was ever
designed or intended to cover.  Quite a few foreign companies took this
stand after the San Francisco earthquake-fire; but the leading
companies, American and foreign, paid dollar for dollar.  The smaller
fry tried to compromise a bit; but most of them eventually made pretty
fair settlements, in the main.  We'll see what they'll do in Boston."

"After the fire is out."

"Yes; and I really must go now, for I'm very anxious to see how they're
handling it."

"It was very good of you to come."

"I'll come again, if there is anything of consequence to report.  I'm
certain you'll be all right here.  You haven't worried too much, have
you?"

"Well, the waiting has been pretty bad," the girl confessed.

"Then don't worry any more, either of you, for if there should be the
slightest danger, I'll come back at once."

Helen hesitated a moment.

"Mr. Smith promised to come and 'save us,' if we needed saving," she
said, with the merest trace of a flush.

"Ah," replied her uncle, slowly.  "Then I think we may safely leave
your rescue to him.  I will come as a reporter only.  Good-by."

From the time of his departure there had been no visitor from the
outside world until Smith's ring came as the clock made ready to strike
nine.  Helen herself opened the door, as the maid had gone downstairs
for further enlightenment from the authorities below; and Miss Maitland
found herself confronted by a man whom at first she hardly recognized,
so hollow-eyed, so weary, and withal so grimy did he look.  Her little
start at seeing him was noted by Smith, and he guessed the reason for
it.

"Don't be alarmed," he said, with a shadow of his old smile.  "Under
all the disguises it's really I.  I know that I must look like a
dissipated coal heaver, but I flatter myself that you'll be glad to see
me, just the same, for I came to tell you that the danger is over--the
fire is practically out."

"Then you must come in and let me get you something to eat," said the
girl.

"Thank you very much, but I don't think I will.  Somehow I don't seem
to feel very hungry.  But I'm horribly sleepy.  I don't believe I was
ever so sleepy in my life.  So good-night."

But she stood with her back to the door.

"Where did you intend to go?" she demanded.  "The hotels that are not
burned are probably filled to the brim.  Besides, your clothes are
here.  You can't go away.  You must stay here."

"That's awfully kind of you, to offer to take me in," the other
rejoined; "but you cannot house a disreputable chimney sweep.
Besides--"

But she did not give him any opportunity to complete the sentence.

"Don't be absurd; you're usually quite sensible.  Mother and I had it
all decided hours ago.  You're to stay with us.  Your room is all ready
for you--and your bath," she added.

He acknowledged the touch with an appreciative but weary smile.

"Well, then, if you really don't mind, I'll take you up," he said.

"Will you have supper first?"

"Thanks, no--nothing but sleep.  I'm ashamed of being so fearfully
tired--you must excuse me.  But I don't believe any man can stay awake
indefinitely."

"No, I don't believe any man can," Helen agreed.

It was ten o'clock the next day when Smith opened his eyes once more
upon a normal world.  The sun was shining brightly, but it was some
moments before he could assure himself that he was actually awake
again.  The twelve hours' sleep, during which apparently not one muscle
had he stirred, had gone far to repair the ravages of thirty-six hours'
steady wakefulness, and a cold bath did the rest.  The two ladies were
found to be in the dining room, still absorbed in the morning edition
of a newspaper whose building had escaped the sweep of the
conflagration.

"Why, it's only half-past ten!" was Helen's greeting.  "I didn't expect
you so early.  Mother suggested that we wait breakfast for you; but I
said it would be much closer your wishes if we waited lunch instead."

"Well, I think I must have condensed an enormous amount of sleep into
the last twelve hours," said Smith; "for I feel as well as ever.  Tell
me what has happened--I see you have the papers."

"What is going to happen is also important--your breakfast," the girl
responded.  "Go over there, where you see that napkin sitting
expectantly on its haunches, and Marie will be in directly."

"Thank you.  I hope you won't be scandalized at my appetite.  Is the
fire entirely out?"

"Yes--practically.  Here's the paper."

"That's very good of you.  You'll pardon me if I just look at the
headlines?"

"Of course."  And for a few moments there was little conversation in
the sunny dining room.

"And now will you do me a favor?" said Miss Maitland.

Smith looked at her; a long moment.

"I will do anything in the world for you," he said, "except one thing."

The girl flushed a little.

"I want you to take me out to the fire," she responded.

The other looked at her in surprise.

"Why, of course," he said.  "I never thought of doing anything else.
If my calculations are correct, it will take me exactly as long to
finish those three pieces of toast as for you to get ready.  Better
wear old clothes--it may be pretty dirty."

Five minutes later they descended to the street.

"Why, it's been snowing!" said Smith, in surprise.

A light fall of snow covered sidewalk and lawns; there were few men
this day with sufficient leisure to sweep away snow.  As the two went
northward through the bright morning, they walked for the most part in
silence.  All seemed very still, for there were no street cars moving,
and most of the customary confusion of a city's streets was oddly
hushed.  Few people were abroad, at least along where their path lay;
it was almost as though they were passing through a deserted city.

"Look at that," Smith said once.  "I don't believe you were ever on
this corner when you couldn't see a single person."

"Where do you suppose every one is?" asked Helen, curiously.

"At the ruins.  Do you know, this reminds me of one of the strangest
things I ever saw."

"What was that?" the girl inquired, turning toward him.

"The only absolutely deserted town in America--at least I think it must
be the only one.  I never heard any one speak of another.  But I know
this one exists, for I saw it myself."

"Where is it?  I never heard of such a thing.  It sounds like
Herculaneum or some of those Assyrian cities where they are always
digging up statues and tablets and things."

"But this isn't a buried town.  It's a real town, built perhaps twenty
or thirty years ago; and it's located out in northern Indiana.  And a
perfectly nice little town, with brick stores and a couple of paved
streets and other advantages.  Everything--except inhabitants.  No one
lives there."

"Why not?  Is this really true?"

"True as gospel.  I saw it myself.  I walked through the deserted
streets.  And a rather uncanny feeling it gave me, too."

"Was it unhealthy?  Why did the people leave?"

"I haven't the vaguest idea," said Smith; and as he answered he raised
his arm to point eastward along the street they had that moment
reached.  Following the direction in which he was pointing, Helen saw a
thin line of smoke rising feebly from a pile of débris upon the ground.
Near by were similar piles, sullenly smoldering.

"There's where they stopped it," said Smith.

They walked quickly along until they came to the very corner on which
the last ebbing wave of the sea of fire had turned.  This corner was at
the intersection of Shawmut Avenue with the railroad's right of way.
Over the tracks at this point was a raised steel bridge, and to this
they now directed their steps.  At the end of the bridge they stopped.
The bridge was elevated sufficiently so that they could see a
considerable distance northward, and for some moments they stood and
looked in silence at the sight which lay beyond them.

It was something which is only to be seen once in the course of an
ordinary lifetime--the complete ruin of the integral part of a great
city.  With something too remote yet too bitterly real for any words
gripping at her heart, Helen stood looking out over a scene such as she
never could have imagined.  Here was ruin incarnate, desolation
supreme; this was the bitter tragedy of that which once was great
turned suddenly into pitiful nothingness before her very eyes.

In the foreground, at their feet, lay the heaped débris of the bricks,
timbers, and contents of a whole row of dynamited buildings--the
sacrificed buildings which by their own destruction had checked the
conflagration at the last.  There they lay, still smoldering or blazing
in some places, utterly still and lifeless in others, with stray beams
and bits of cornice or of tin roofing, twisted into weird shapes,
sticking out at odd angles.  Here and there unconsumed and hardly
damaged articles that had been contained in these buildings lay
unheeded; for here where the flames had died, they had not destroyed
everything combustible, as they had seemed to do almost everywhere
else.  On the west side of Shawmut Avenue, where the houses still stood
intact, a few men were to be seen; these were the state militiamen in
their fatigue uniforms, patrolling the ruins.  Smith called Helen's
attention to them.

"Why are they there?" she asked.

"To watch the vultures gathering for the feast.  See!  There goes one
of them now--over there to the left."

Helen looked; skulking along in the shadow of a ruined wall was a
shabby, rough-looking man who stole swiftly out of sight behind a pile
of rubbish.

"One of the scavengers.  They come almost automatically after every
great disaster--fire, flood, battle, or pestilence.  Ghouls, you
understand, from heaven knows where.  That man's great-grandfather
probably robbed the dead grenadiers of the Legion of Honor at Waterloo."

"Thieves?" said the girl, in horror.

"Worse than thieves.  Vandals, body-snatchers, murderers, if it came to
that.  The kind of man who'd cut the finger off a dying woman to get
her wedding ring.  Unpleasant, isn't it?  Well, the militia are under
orders to shoot them on sight, if caught in the act.  But let's go a
little farther on; I think we can get a better view from farther north."

"Wait," said his companion.  "I am not ready to go--yet."

Smith heeded her voice, and for another unnoted interval they stood
agaze upon their little eminence.

Far to the northward the scene of ruin stretched away.  Almost as far
as the eye could reach was only the shadow, the terrible and disfigured
skeleton of what had been the city.  Everywhere were smoldering piles
with occasional tongues of sullen, orange flame and their myriad
threads of smoke trailing upward in the still air like Indians' signal
fires.  Here was a brick building, apparently hardly touched or harmed,
lifting its lonely height over its prostrate neighbors.  Here a partly
burned structure, gutted but still erect, stood like a grim,
articulated skeleton, a gaunt scarecrow against the skyline.
Everywhere were mounds and hollows, hills and valleys, so that the
natural contour of the earth, unseen now these hundred years, once more
appeared.  And over it all, everywhere that the fire had wholly burned
out, lay the heart-breaking beauty and whiteness of the snow, and of
the ashes under the snow.

"How terribly white it is!" said Helen, in a low voice.

Smith only nodded.  Feeling her mood, he left her to speak when she was
ready, and presently she did so.

"Shall we go now?" she asked.

"Suppose we do.  I want to show you, if I can--and to see myself--what
is left of the shopping and hotel and theater district.  There can't be
much left."

They turned back in the way they had come, for Tremont Street above
this point was no thoroughfare.  By a somewhat circuitous route at last
they reached the corner of the Common; and here, at the edge of the
great throng of curious onlookers, they paused.

"There's where I didn't sleep last night," said Smith.

The Hotel Aquitaine, such as it was, stood gauntly staring at them from
its dozens of empty windows.  The building itself was intact, but every
piece of inflammable material in its contents seemed to have been wiped
out of existence as utterly as though made of tissue paper.  With a
little shudder Helen turned away, and they moved onward.

For all Smith's fire-line badge, they were not permitted to enter the
patrolled district, and they could only join the throng which was
circling about the outskirts.  This was not a very inspiring nor even a
very interesting thing, although the people for the most part were
oddly silent, seeming to have been numbed by the extent of the
disaster.  Helen found before very long that she had seen enough.

"What a fearful crowd!  I think I'd rather go where there aren't quite
so many people," she told Smith.

"All right--wait until I see what happened to Jordan's store; then
we'll go."

Five minutes later they were heading back southward in the direction of
their bridge.

"It is beyond words, isn't it?" observed Smith.  "There is nothing at
all adequate that a man can say when he is confronted by such a thing
as this, and almost nothing that he can do."

"Isn't there something, though?" the girl asked.  "There must be
hundreds of people homeless, without food or money or anything!  Cannot
we do anything to help them?"

"No doubt," said the man.  "Individually we could scarcely be of much
assistance; but I fancy that the local charity organizations or the Red
Cross would see that any contribution went where it would do the most
good."

Only a few minutes later they found where one of these institutions had
opened temporary headquarters in an old church.

"Let us go in," said Miss Maitland.

As they entered they saw that the church was filled with refugees, come
in to escape the cold.  They were most of them sitting in groups,
talking eagerly to one another.  Some were lying asleep, stretched out
full length on the pews.  A woman was going about, serving hot coffee
and soup and bread.  The refugees ate hungrily, but on the faces of
almost all of them rested the same dispirited look of dazed wonder.
Apparently they were chiefly foreigners, the majority Italians, and it
was evident that they had lost everything they had possessed.  Helen
stood watching them with a sad heart from the back of the church, and
Smith, looking at her, saw that her eyes were full of tears.  He laid
his hand gently on her arm.  "Please don't," he said gravely.  But he
understood.

"But it seems so unfair for them to have lost everything," the girl
said.  "They had so little to lose."

She turned her face to his.

"There is no answer to that," he said; "but we can help them a little."

To the woman in charge they gave what they could afford to give, and
turned toward home.  It was nearly four o'clock, and Mrs. Maitland
might be growing anxious about their safety.  They walked forward in a
silence which neither wished to break.

It was soon broken, however, by a chance occurrence.  They were passing
by an open street on the edge of the burned district.  Across the
street, under a none too steady wall, a woman whose distress had
evidently touched the good nature of the militiaman patrolling the
other end of the block was hunting about among heaps of débris,
searching for things which might perhaps have been spared by the
flames.  On top of the house wall was a battered stone coping, which,
as Smith and Helen paused, gave a sudden lurch and seemed about to
fall.  The woman, her head bent, saw nothing; but Smith, with a
startled exclamation, started quickly forward.

"Look out there!" he called sharply.  "Come away from that wall!"

The woman, with her back turned, paid no attention to the
warning--probably did not even hear him.  The coping, poised on the
wall's edge, swayed perilously.  If it fell, there would be one less of
the indigent and helpless for the relief committees to support.  With a
half angry exclamation Smith sprang forward.

On his sleeve he felt the quick pressure of a hand.  At the same moment
the crouching woman, having finished her search, or perhaps moved by an
instinct of danger, walked slowly on, and out from under the wall.  The
coping did not fall.

Smith turned to find the girl's fingers closed tight upon his arm, and
in her eyes something he had never seen before.  She stood still a
moment, and when at last she withdrew her hand, she spoke in a voice so
low that he could barely catch the words.

"Why did you do that?"

"She didn't see the coping," he said, as naturally as he could.

"It might have fallen--on you!"

"Yes," he said; "I suppose it might.  But you see, it didn't."

"It might have killed you," she said, still in a low voice.

Smith turned abruptly, and looked at her.

"How much would you have cared, Helen?" he asked.

Even at this moment the trammels of her ancestry were on her; she made
no answer.

"How much would you have cared, dear?" he asked again, gently.

Then at last she raised her eyes, and met his fairly.

"More than anything--more than everything in the world," she said.

The early gray February twilight was closing in upon them when they
left the lifted bridge.  They had been there long, yet as they turned
to go, Helen gave one backward look.  There, spread away across the
stricken plain, she saw for the last time the prostrate thing which
yesterday had been the living city; and over it, like the winding linen
of a shroud, lay the white ashes in the snow.



CHAPTER XXIV

On the top floor of the Salamander office in William Street a man stood
silent before a map desk on which was laid an open map of the city of
Boston.  It was late in the afternoon, and the level rays of the
declining sun came in redly at the window.  The man standing at the
desk did not notice them; he was looking stolidly from map to
newspaper, from newspaper to map, as from the hysterical and
conflicting accounts of the conflagration he tried to measure the
extent of the calamity.

The morning papers had told but little, since they had gone to press
when the fire was only a few hours old; and as the day was Sunday, and
a holiday, there had been available only a few of the usual flock of
evening sheets which begin to appear in New York shortly after
breakfast.  With one of these by his elbow, in the fading light of the
late February day, F. Mills O'Connor stood, stonily and with hard eyes,
gazing at ruin.

He was alone in the office, since the one other person who had been
with him had, under instructions, departed.  This was George McGee, the
Salamander's map clerk for New England.  There was no reason whatever
why George should have visited William Street on a Sunday; nevertheless
Mr. O'Connor, on arriving, had found him standing aimlessly and
undecided in front of the door.

"What do you want here?" he had said to George, coldly.

"Nothing.  That is, I came over from Brooklyn to see if any one wanted
anything.  I thought maybe somebody would be down, and they'd need some
one to help take off the lines, sir."

"Well, I don't need any help.  You can go," said the other.

"I didn't know.  We've got a lot of business in that part of Boston,
sir.  I know where all the dailies are filed.  You'll need me if you're
going to go over the lines, sir."

O'Connor considered.

"Well, come up, then," he said ungraciously.  "We'll have to walk up;
there's no steam on."

It was then three o'clock.  At not later than a quarter to four Mr.
O'Connor had definitely determined that unless the report of the
conflagration's extent had been exaggerated beyond all human connection
with the facts, the Salamander had sustained a loss in Boston which was
considerably greater than its resources would permit it to pay.  In
other words, if the printed account were even remotely true, the
Salamander was, as the phrase has it, insolvent.  To put it even more
shortly, the company was ruined.  Facing this fact and its string of
entailed consequences, the man most directly interested was silent so
long that his youthful assistant became nervous.

"Pretty bad loss, ain't it?" he asked sympathetically.

O'Connor looked at him unseeingly.  In his busy mind he was running
through an imaginary calculation.  It was somewhat as follows:
Salamander's net liability in the section of Boston presumably
destroyed, $600,000--Salamander's net surplus available for payment of
losses, $400,000.  Inevitably the problem ended: Salamander's
impairment of capital, $200,000.  And the fire was still burning.
Boston could be rebuilt, but could the Salamander?

He turned on the clerk beside him with the savage and melodramatic
gesture of an irritated musical comedy star, and the boy recoiled
before him.

"That's all.  You can go home," he said curtly.

Two minutes later he was left alone in the silent office.

At the best of times there was in the nature of Mr. Edward Eggleston
Murch not overmuch genuine urbanity.  Urbanity of the surface he had,
of course; he called on it at need in very much the same way that he
called on his stenographer.  But of true courtesy or consideration Mr.
Murch's makeup was singularly and flawlessly free.  On the contrary he
could, on occasion, summon to his face a congealment and to his eye a
steely gleam which nobody admired but which all respected.  Ordinarily
this was either for his inferiors, or for those unfortunates who had
come to cross purposes with him, or for those who had made blunders
costly to him that his most glacial manner was reserved; but every one
about the Salamander office knew of it, either by hearsay or by actual
experience.  Mr. O'Connor was removed from all danger of running
counter to the Salamander's leading stockholder, so long as the company
continued to make money.  But what might now happen, Mr. O'Connor did
not care to consider--and yet the topic engrossed his attention so
deeply that darkness surprised him still adrift on the waters of this
sea of doubt.

Not until the swift winter nightfall recalled him to himself did he
remember the world around him; and when at last he groped his way down
the long flights of dusky stairs to the street, his was the slow and
inelastic step of a beaten man.

Mr. Murch had spent the holiday and the week-end at the country place
of a fellow financier.  To this retired spot news penetrated with
decorum and conservatism.  One was in no danger, at Holmdale, of acting
on premature information, for all information which reached this
sequestered Westchester chateau did so in the most leisurely and placid
manner.  For this very reason Mr. Murch shunned Holmdale and resorted
to many a subterfuge to avoid the acceptance of divers invitations to
sojourn beneath the medieval roof of its host, who happened to be a man
whom even Mr. Murch hesitated to offend.  In the present case, when on
returning to New York early Monday morning he learned that one of the
most terrible losses in fire insurance annals had occurred without his
knowledge, it did not tend to sweeten his temper.

He did not go to his own office, but with a grim face started directly
for the building of the Salamander.  Once within its portals he
immediately entered Mr. O'Connor's room.  Mr. O'Connor was seated at
his desk, with a pile of daily reports before him.

"How much do we lose in Boston?" the visitor demanded.

The President of the Salamander had been in the building during most of
the past twenty-four hours, taking off the lines in the burned district
on a special bordereau.  Neither the Osgood office nor his special
agent could be reached on the long distance telephone; and the
newspaper accounts, even thus long after the fire, were still painfully
vague and somewhat rhetorically hysterical.  They talked much of the
"devouring element," and the word "lurid" frequently occurred; but no
reporter had been sufficiently practical to bound the burned district
or to state specifically what buildings had or had not been spared.
Still, they told enough.  To the meanest intelligence it was patent
that a tremendous catastrophe had taken place, that most of the section
from School Street south to the railroad was leveled, and virtually
everything therein was totally destroyed--except the fireproof
buildings, which were still standing, scorched and shaken, stripped
clean of combustible contents, but not fatally damaged.

O'Connor had the list in his hand.  In his heart now was the calm
absence of feeling which marks the man who has abandoned hope.

"I should estimate our net liability in the burned district at about
$700,000," he said unemotionally.

Mr. Murch leaned forward in his chair.

"And the net surplus of the company is--?" he asked menacingly.

"You know what it is.  It's half a million, roughly."

"Well, will you tell me what in the devil you mean by putting this
company in a position to lose more money than it has clear?"

O'Connor, beyond caring now, actually smiled.

"Fortunes of war, Mr. Murch.  You wanted a leading position in Boston,
if you'll remember.  I gave it to you."

"I didn't want any such position as my present one," rejoined Mr.
Murch, in frigid tones.

"I didn't either, if you come to that," retorted O'Connor, promptly.

The financier's irritation was increased by this unexpectedly reckless
attitude on the part of the man who should, he felt, be abased in
sackcloth before him.  He regarded the other with surprise, through his
indignation.

"You take this remarkably coolly, I should say," he remarked.

"There's no use in getting excited--the eggs are smashed now.  But just
the same," returned O'Connor, with a flash of spirit, "I'm just as sore
about this as if I owned every dollar of Salamander stock there is on
the books."

The mention of the unit of currency reminded his companion of something
else.

"What do you suppose the market is doing?" he said.

"I haven't the slightest idea," replied the other.

Murch lifted the receiver from the telephone at his elbow.

"Hello: give me Broad nine nine seven six.  Is this Atwater and
Jenkins?  Give me Mr. Atwater--this is Mr. Murch speaking.  That you,
Billy?  How's the market?"

He replaced the receiver with a snap.

"Everything off at the opening.  Bad slump in Maryland Traction and P.
N. T."

"It ought to go off some more when the fire companies in general start
liquidating.  There will have to be a big unloading to raise the amount
of cash necessary to pay those Boston losses.  I suppose, though, the
British companies will send the money across--they usually do, and
that'll help a little.  That's the worst of these fires--they hit you
going and coming.  Suppose we lose seven hundred thousand; well, before
we get through we'll have to sell eight or nine hundred thousand
dollars' worth of securities, at present prices, to pay it."

"How much cash have we on deposit?" Mr. Murch inquired.

O'Connor handed him the last weekly statement in silence.  The fact
that the other man had expressed no definite intention was to him
encouraging.  It might be that all was not over yet.

"Roughly, our surplus," commented the financier.  "Now, how about our
other assets?  Stocks and miscellaneous securities, $1,500,000.  Only
it won't be a million and a half by the time we get rid of them.
Probably a couple of hundred thousand less.  Encouraging, isn't it?  In
other words, this fire is going to cost us $900,000 before we're
through.  And the present question is, how are we to get through?"

O'Connor looked him over with an appraising glance.

"Well, the Salamander has paid good dividends for years," he said.
"Probably more than most companies would have thought it prudent to
pay--they'd have put a larger amount into surplus to take care of such
a smash as this.  And I've made the company a better money-maker on the
underwriting side than it's ever been before--you'll admit that, I
think.  There's no reason why we shouldn't go on.  My suggestion would
be to assess the stock."

He awaited the answer nervously, toying with a penholder, not daring to
glance at the other man.  He did not have to wait long.

"Not much!" said Mr. Murch, coldly.  "I'm going to get out of this as
fast as I can, and I'm going to stay out, you understand.  No more fire
insurance business for me.  It's the only business I ever made a
complete mess of.  The Salamander would have done better if they had
never issued a policy--if they had merely let me invest their money for
them.  Now the next question is, how to get out.  You are an insurance
man and supposed to be a competent one--possibly you can tell me how to
set about it."

"Do you mean to liquidate the Salamander--close up the company?"

"Whatever one does to extricate himself from this kind of a hole.
What's the usual method?"

"The usual method," replied O'Connor, his face somewhat flushed at the
other man's tone, "is for the stockholders to authorize an assessment
on their stock, and continue.  That apparently does not appeal to you;
and if I understand you correctly, you wish to terminate operations and
wind up the company."

"Exactly so.  You catch my meaning perfectly."

"There are two ways, then," the other said.  "One is to let the risks
in force expire, paying the losses as they occur; that will take about
five years.  The other, which is the usual way, is to pay some other
company to assume the liability on all our outstanding policies--to
reinsure us.  We pay a lump sum, and the other company pays the losses
as the risks expire, instead of our doing so."

"I see the idea.  But what company would do that?  And wouldn't it cost
a small fortune to get any one to?  And isn't this a bad time to
approach any company with such a proposition?"

"No, I don't think so.  Some company might be glad to get hold of a
large amount of cash which it could use to pay its own Boston losses,
and then it could pay the losses on our outstanding business, which
would come along gradually for several years, out of its own normal
profits in that time."

Mr. Murch looked at O'Connor with more respect.

"That sounds plausible.  How much would it cost--in round numbers?"

"Our reinsurance reserve is about $1,500,000.  I should think a company
might be found to take it over for about two thirds of that sum.  You
see, we have a valuable agency plant and a good business, and although
you want to get rid of it, it would be considered by most companies as
well worth having.  The company that took over our risks wouldn't let
them expire; that company would hold on to them and secure them on
renewal."

"How can this be arranged?" Mr. Murch inquired.

It was like cutting off his right hand to reply, O'Connor reflected,
but he did so.

"Mr. Simeon Belknap usually manages such matters," he said.  "Naturally
he doesn't manage them for nothing; but he does the trick, and he's
much the best man for it.  He has probably engineered four fifths of
the important reinsurance deals that have gone through in this country.
No one has ever discovered why these things gravitate so unerringly to
him--but they do.  He will undoubtedly be pleased to find you a
reinsurer for the Salamander."

He rose from his seat.  It was perfectly evident that the game was
over, and only the tumult and shouting remained to die away.  But Mr.
Murch was not entirely through.

"Suppose we ask Mr. Belknap to come and talk it over," he proposed.

O'Connor shook his head.

"Don't do it.  It would hurt your market.  If he were seen coming in
here at this time, the whole Street would know we were in trouble and
getting ready to quit.  It would be better to make an appointment with
him somewhere else."

"As you say," agreed Murch.  "Please arrange one for us as soon as
possible."

"All right," said the man whom this operation would leave bare of
position and prestige alike.  "I'll get him on the phone at once."

It was late that afternoon when a three-cornered interview took place
in a down-town office somewhat outside the customary espionage of
William Street.  Most of the talking was done by Mr. Simeon Belknap,
who talked crisply and to the point.

"The figures you have given me, Mr. Murch," he said, "indicate that the
Salamander's capital is impaired to the probable extent of several
hundred thousand dollars.  I assume from your coming to me in this way,
that you have decided that it is not worth while trying to put the
company on its feet.  Is that correct?"

"How much would it cost to keep going?" asked the financier, bluntly.

"I should think you would have to assess your stock one hundred and
fifty dollars a share.  Yes, it would take $750,000 to put the
Salamander in a position to continue in business with proper resources."

"Eliminate that possibility from the discussion," said Mr. Murch,
tersely; and O'Connor's last faint hope died.

"There remains, then, to find some company willing to take over your
outstanding business.  Your present reinsurance reserve is about
$1,500,000.  Your available assets over capital, including your real
estate and everything, will bring approximately $1,800,000.  Mr.
O'Connor tells me you will pay in Boston about $700,000.  This leaves
you $1,100,000.  For this sum, or perhaps a little less, you can
probably reinsure all your business now in force, leaving you, let us
say, with your capital stock intact and perhaps $100,000 over."

"In other words," said Mr. Murch, "we'll get for our liquidated stock
about 120;--stock which sold last week at 210!"

"Precisely.  If I can get you a reinsurer on the terms I mentioned.
And I think you'll be getting out pretty well.  You're impaired right
now, you know."

Mr. Murch's financial vanity was touched.

"After all," he said, with an effort, "I probably averaged only 150 for
mine.  I've got pretty fair dividends on it for some time.  That'll get
me out pretty nearly even.  Well, Mr. Belknap, if you can arrange to
reinsure the Salamander on those terms, go ahead."

"The directors of the company--?" said Belknap, suggestively.

"I either own or control a majority of the stock," replied Mr. Murch.

There was no more to be said.  The President and the majority
stockholder of a corporation whose days were numbered walked back to
the office with hardly a word spoken between them.

These were troublous times in William Street.  The Salamander was not
the only company which had been hard hit in Boston.  Many of the
smaller underwriting institutions were tottering very close to the
wall.  Already two failures were known; a dozen others were suspected.
But in Boston, where the stricken city lay impatiently waiting, most of
the companies already had men on the ground, adjusting and paying
claims.  The Boston insurance district had fortunately been left
untouched, so that the local records were intact, making the work of
the adjusters much simpler than it would otherwise have been.

Whence was the money to come--this golden flood which now began to pour
from a hundred coffers into the empty pockets of the sufferers?  The
large companies, for the most part, were paying without discount or
delay, and the line of claimants at the Boston offices and adjustment
bureaus never ceased.  In New York, in London, in Hartford, wherever
insurance companies had their home offices, securities were being
converted into cash to meet this tremendous demand.  And the golden
stream that flowed toward Boston knew no stop.

Of all the companies doing a general business in the East, the Guardian
had come through least scathed, its withers unwrung.  Thanks to the
raiding of its Boston business by the Salamander, the Guardian's loss,
which was confined wholly to three-year and five-year lines unexpired,
would not much exceed, according to Smith's computation, $100,000, even
if all its claims were adjusted as total.

Smith's first work on reaching the home office had been to compute the
actual liability of the Guardian; his second was a similar calculation
for a corporation in which he had no financial interest whatever.  He
was engaged in this task when Mr. Wintermuth entered the office.

"Ah, Richard," said his chief, "I'm glad to see you safe.  An insurance
man in a fire is like a duck in a pond; but I'm glad to see you here,
just the same.  A terrible calamity!--a really terrible calamity!  How
much did we get?  Wagstaff estimated it at one hundred and forty
thousand, but of course we can't tell how far the fire actually went."

"He was pretty close to my figures," said Smith, with a smile.  "It was
a terrible calamity, sir, but not so terrible as if the Guardian had a
half a million loss--instead of $107,500 at the outside limit."

"Are those the figures you have there?" inquired the President,
glancing at the list on his subordinate's desk.

"No.  I sent that list with the daily reports to the loss department.
This is another one--even more interesting on some accounts.  This is a
list of the lines we didn't get."

"Ah!  You mean--?" said Mr. Wintermuth.

"These are the lines that we have lost since we went out of the Osgood
office."

"Indeed!  What is the total?" asked the other man, with interest.

"I haven't quite finished, but I should say it would come close to
$350,000."

"Which I suppose the Salamander got.  I don't like to rejoice in other
men's misfortunes, Richard, but there is a certain element of justice
in that," said the older man, gravely.

"What interests me is, how much more than that they got," Smith
returned.  "Don't forget that Cole is clever, but not the careful
underwriter Mr. Osgood is, and that O'Connor was out to make a record
for premium income.  If the Salamander's loss up there is less than
$600,000, I shall be surprised."

"Their surplus isn't as much as that, is it?  That will impair them."

"On the first of January their surplus was a little less than half a
million."

"Oh, well," Mr. Wintermuth returned, "I suppose they'll assess their
stockholders.  That man Murch will probably get up an underwriting
syndicate to handle it."

"But suppose he doesn't.  Suppose they decide to reinsure and quit.
Murch has the reputation of being a bad loser," said Smith, slowly.

His chief looked at him.

"Let them reinsure, then.  But how does that affect us?" he said.

"Why shouldn't we reinsure them?" said the Vice-President.

"What!" exclaimed Mr. Wintermuth.  "What's that you say?"

"I say," returned Smith, "that the Salamander is far more likely to
reinsure than to stand a heavy assessment.  And we want that business
of theirs.  We have a little score to settle with the Salamander, sir."

"Yes, yes," admitted the President.  "O'Connor has treated us very
badly; still, it has worked out very fortunately for us.  And at any
rate," he added, "I do not believe in allowing personal animus to
govern one's business acts or policy."

It was a sounding phrase, although not quite new.

"Neither do I," said Smith, promptly; "but this is more than an act of
poetic justice.  Of course there's a certain satisfaction in finding
that one of the packages stolen from us contained a bomb which blew up
the burglar--but how much more appropriate it would be if the same
explosion hurled the rest of the stolen property into the hands of the
original and rightful owners.  And besides that, the Salamander
business is well worth putting on our books--and there's a lot of it."

"Yes.  Too much, in fact," said his chief.  "Our resources are not
sufficient to permit our taking on such a load."

"I admit that," replied the younger man.  "We will have to increase our
capital a half a million.  And now's the time to get it.  We can issue
it at 200, which is rather less than the present stock is selling for,
and the premium will take care of our surplus when we take on this new
business.  I believe our stockholders will back us up.  While other
companies are asking their stockholders for more money to pay their
Boston losses, we are asking ours to put us in the first rank of
underwriting institutions in the United States."

Mr. Wintermuth looked at the young man before him, a long, grave look.

"Richard," he said at last, "I am fond of you, and I suppose that
having no son of my own to be proud of, I am proud of you, too.  But
sometimes you make me feel a hundred years old."

"You needn't," answered Smith, affectionately, "for you've taught me
almost all I know.  If I am a little more aggressive than I might be,
perhaps you were too, at my age.  The question is, what is to the best
interest of the Guardian?"

"That is a question," said Mr. Wintermuth, "for the directors to
decide."

"Of course," returned the other.  "But I should be surprised if our
directorate didn't take a broad and liberal view of it.  Immediately
following this conflagration, when so much insurance capital has been
wiped out, there will be a need for more.  We will need our share, for
we're going to do a bigger business.  Even if we don't take over the
Salamander or some other company, we're going to swing a much heavier
premium income this year than last."

"Well," said the President, "since you have brought up the question, I
should fail in my duty to the company if I should let an opportunity
for extending our business pass by without submitting the matter to the
directors.  If you find that the Salamander business is for sale, and
they want us to make a bid for it, I will call a special meeting of the
board and lay the facts before our friends."

It was not for some little time that there was any palpable result of
the meeting, when secured, for neither Smith nor Mr. Simeon Belknap was
a man to hurry a matter to the prejudice of his interests.  Following
his conference with O'Connor and Mr. Murch, Mr. Belknap spent parts of
several days moving quietly and almost imperceptibly about on
investigations of his own.  It was not every company which had
facilities for extending its premiums some three million dollars a
year; and besides that, most of them were being kept so busy in Boston
that they had no leisure to consider so large a proposition.

Both Smith and Mr. Wintermuth were by this time aware that Mr. Belknap
was handling the Salamander's affairs, and the Vice-President kept on
that gifted gentleman as close an espionage as he could contrive to
keep.  After observing him casually engage in conversation three
prominent underwriting executives, any one of whom might be supposed to
be in a position to take over the Salamander, Smith determined to take
the bull by the horns.  On the third day after the directors' meeting
he took pains to meet Mr. Belknap and similarly to engage him in casual
conversation.

When, a little later, they adjourned from the Club to Mr. Belknap's
office, the matter was practically settled, subject to the ratification
of the directorates of both companies.

The Boston conflagration was not quite two weeks a thing of the past
when Mr. Belknap signified that he had succeeded in his task of
securing on satisfactory terms a purchaser for the Salamander, and if
the necessary executives of that company would be in Mr. Murch's office
at two-thirty that afternoon, he would bring the contracts for
signature.

Over the telephone Mr. Murch said: "All right.  Bring them."  To his
secretary he said: "Ask Mr. O'Connor to be here at two-thirty this
afternoon."

At two-thirty Mr. O'Connor appeared.

"Hello--glad to see you," said Mr. Murch, urbanely.  Now that the
matter was coming out with such a comparatively favorable color, he saw
no reason to abandon the amenities.  In the first flush of anger they
had suffered somewhat, but that was all over.

"Good-day," returned O'Connor, shortly.  He had been out on the Street
for three days, trying to catch the scent of some foreign reinsurance
company ignorant of his impending change, so that his fall might not
seem too humiliatingly flat, when the news should be wired every agent
of the Salamander to cease writing.  He had met, however, with no
success, so he cannot be blamed if his response to Mr. Murch was a
trifle lacking in enthusiasm.

"You're prompt," proceeded that gentleman, ignoring his visitor's lack
of cordiality.  "I'm glad you're on time, for Mr. Belknap just
telephoned that he was on his way here with the contracts and the
representative of the company that's taking us over."

"Did he say what company it was?" inquired O'Connor, with the first
gleam of interest he had shown.

"I don't believe I asked him.  There seems to be a lot of secrecy about
these deals, and I didn't care a hang, myself, anyway.  He said it was
a thoroughly responsible company, and our policyholders would be fully
protected.  They'll be here in a minute."

"I wonder what company it is," the other man said, reflectively, half
to himself.

"You'll know in a moment, because, unless I'm wrong, the boy is
bringing Belknap's card now."

The boy entered with the card in question.

"Ask them to come in," said Mr. Murch.

O'Connor stood looking out the window.  His gaze wandered over the
well-known roofs of the buildings along William Street, and a momentary
pang shot through him to think that under those roofs to-morrow there
would be no place for him, and that his venture was all to begin again.
He no longer felt any sense of grievance, any animosity against Murch.
He was merely wondering vaguely at Fate, and at this latest whim of
hers.  So deep was he in his reverie that he scarcely noticed the
entrance of the expected callers until he heard a voice that recalled
him to actualities.

"Mr. Murch, let me make you acquainted with Mr. Smith," Belknap was
saying; and O'Connor turned sharply back from the window.

To Mr. Belknap's courteous greeting he gave little heed, but like a
charmed canary before a cobra his look rested on the second man of the
pair.  This was a young man with level, gray eyes, who nodded slightly
and cheerfully said:--

"How do you do, Mr. O'Connor."

No word said O'Connor; his eyes neither lowered nor turned aside their
fascinated gaze.  Each of the four men stood still, waiting for the
little drama to end: a long minute.

"Here are the papers, Mr. Murch," said the intermediary, at last,
turning to the financier.

"All right; let me look over them," said the other.

Five minutes later the Salamander had ceased to exist.



CHAPTER XXV

The March winds blustered over Boston, and the cold salt smell of the
ocean was borne tempestuously in upon the shivering city.  Chill and
keen out of the northeast came the air that hinted not at all of
spring, but urgently of winter.  The people in the streets walked
briskly, with no laggard steps; they were accustomed to this sort of
untimely treatment from the New England climate, and they had no
intention of being betrayed thereby into pondering over southern lands
or sunny vineclad hillsides where summer always lingered.  Boston might
not be climatically Utopian, but there was at all events something
virile, something manly and admirable about a sort of weather for which
no other good word could be used.

Between the tall buildings in Kilby Street, where now for three weeks
the current of the insurance world had been flowing with quickened,
almost feverish pulse, the activity on this blustering day in middle
March was undiminished.  Of the hastily arranged adjustment offices
which the magnitude of the conflagration had made necessary, nearly all
had been given up, and the comparatively few uncompleted adjustments of
losses were now being handled through the regular offices.

It had been a titanic task, that of adjusting fire losses extending in
the aggregate to between one and two hundred millions of dollars--for
there were some indications that the Boston property damage would reach
the latter figure.  But after three weeks of steady work, when the
lines of claimants before the adjusters' doors had hardly slackened a
moment, the worst was over.  Three fourths of the claims had been
settled; satisfactorily to all concerned by the larger and more
responsible companies; on a basis of offered compromise by those
institutions tottering on the brink of insolvency; dubiously, or with
craven and flagrant unfairness by the stricken "wildcats," the
irresponsible undergrounders of America and Europe.  For every great
fire unearths the fact that there are always companies who will gladly
accept premiums,--often at surprisingly low rates,--although they are
only mildly addicted to the payment of losses.  And every conflagration
also uncovers the fact that there are many penny-wise citizens who
purchase this class of indemnity.  A great fire cleans, as nothing else
does, the fire insurance stage of all but the fittest.

From this calamity, the greatest which had ever visited the city,
Boston had, after a timeless period of uncomprehending and demoralized
helplessness, leaped anew into activity and life.  From all over the
country, almost from all over the world, the need of the stricken city
was met by a magnificent and human response.  A vast catastrophe
becomes nearly worth while by virtue of the humanity it discovers.
Food, clothing, money--all were donated with lavish hands, and aid was
rushed to Boston by a hundred trains.  In comparison with the area
burned over, the number of people made homeless was not great; and in
three weeks the city had somehow managed to drink up and absorb this
surplus without leaving a sign.

Life had now begun to move more normally again; and already the city's
gaze went forward toward what was to be, rather than backward at what
had been.  But in a certain Kilby Street office two men were talking,
one of whom still looked somewhat gloomily back, while the other, with
a smile of transcendent optimism, was engaged in the cosmic process of
turning Boston's holocaust into a fiery but triumphant feather for his
own cap.

"Has that draft come in yet, Benny?" he was demanding.

"Came this morning," answered Cole, a trifle sourly.  "Here it is."

"Would you mind letting me have it?  Thanks.  This is the last one,
isn't it?  They're all here now?"

"Yes," said Cole, curtly; "this is the last."

"If you'll give me a large envelope, I'll take them with me, then,"
returned the first speaker.  "With a golden touch like Midas of old
will I go forth into the presence of my distinguished relation.  Benny,
you are a base soul with no instincts above the commercial.  You do not
appreciate the situation.  We are rapidly approaching what is vulgarly
termed the psychological moment.  If you had any more feeling than a
dying invertebrate, you would want to come along and witness the
ceremony, which is entirely private and visitors admitted by card only."

"Thanks, but I don't care to," said Cole, shortly.

Since the change which came over the complexion of matters in his
world, Cole was much less assured and less assertive than before.  The
receipt this morning of the Salamander's final and largest loss draft
marked the last public connection between that company and the Osgood
office.  The Salamander had reinsured, and the news of its fall was
abroad on the streets of Boston as in New York, the insurance talk of
all the towns.  O'Connor, temporarily at least, had disappeared, and no
man knew what chasm had swallowed him up.  So far as Osgood and Company
were concerned, he and his company were both dead issues; and once more
in the old office in the corner Mr. Osgood could be seen in his wonted
place.

Immediately following the conflagration Mr. Osgood had quietly resumed
his authority as active head of the firm; and the Guardian, having
taken over the Salamander's unburned business, which was in reality its
own, once more acknowledged as its Boston representatives Messrs. Silas
Osgood and Company.  Of course the separation rule of the Boston Board
was still nominally in force; but with the legal decision pending there
was no disposition on the part of any agency or of any company to force
an action of any sort.  In the face of a matter so great as the
conflagration had been, the smaller things, the lesser animosities,
were allowed to slip peacefully into forgotten limbo.  In due time the
separation rule, its chief protagonist discredited and gone none knew
where, would be repealed, either under legal compulsion or without.
When that day came, the Guardian would be back in the position it had
always enjoyed until Mr. O'Connor played--and lost--his meteoric game.

In Mr. Cole's office, meanwhile, the small pile of checks and drafts
was being counted over with scrupulous care by Mr. Wilkinson.

"They seem to be in order," he said.  "Three hundred and fifty-five
thousand, six hundred and eighty-seven dollars and fifty-two cents.
Benny, a thought strikes me!  Why should not an insurance broker get a
commission on losses as well as premiums?  It seems to me that that is
a very reasonable idea--I wonder it has never occurred to anybody
before."

"You get your commission when the line is rewritten, of course," Cole
responded.  "What more do you want?"

"Why, that's so; I hadn't thought of that.  I presume that such an
operation will be more or less lucrative--unless my sagacious though
unwilling father-in-law executes his sometime threat."

"Oh, I don't believe even John M. Hurd would be such a jackal without
benefit of clergy as to do that."

"Well, perhaps not.  Do you think of anything else, Benny, before I
depart?"

"Absolutely nothing.  And for heaven's sake get out!--I'm busy, and you
lend an atmosphere of inertia to the whole place."

"And yet," returned Mr. Wilkinson, suavely, rising, nevertheless,--"and
yet this is, in the plebeian phrase of the world of trade, my busy day.
To be sure I have other occasional days when I handle transactions that
run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars; but I don't mind
admitting to you that these usually take place in the last ineffable
hour of slumber preceding the dawn.  But to-day--to-day it is true!
Benny, I will go to the length of buying you a drink, a short and
frugal drink."

"At eleven A.M.?  Not for me," responded Cole.  "Run along."

"I go," rejoined the other, gracefully, and the door swung shut behind
his debonaire retreat.

A few minutes later to the youth from South Framingham he spoke
nonchalantly:--

"Mr. Hurd?"

The calm presumption of that rising inflection seemed to indicate the
absence of all doubt as to whether Mr. Hurd would receive him.  The
South Framingham scion regarded him with bovine gaze.

"Yes, I guess he's in," he said dubiously.

"Then tell him, if you please, that Mr. Charles Wilkinson wishes to see
him on a matter of important business."  The sentence ended so
incisively that South Framingham blinked.  Any display of emotion more
significant was not, perhaps, to be expected.  The messenger and his
message started vaguely toward the door of Mr. Hurd's private office,
and for an awkward moment no sound came forth.

"He says to come in," said South Framingham, reappearing.

"With alacrity but dignity," said Charles to himself; and found himself
in another moment in the presence of Mr. Hurd.  The traction magnate
did not rise.  He laid the paper which he had been reading on the desk
before him, and looked fixedly across it at the intruder.

"Good-morning, sir," said Mr. Wilkinson, cheerfully.

Mr. Hurd's response to this greeting could only be denominated a grunt,
but his visitor had no desire to force an issue of cordiality, so,
waiving the doubtful courtesy of this reply, he continued:--

"Mrs. Hurd is well, I trust?"

"Mrs. Hurd is quite well, thank you.  Did you come here through any
apprehension about her health?" inquired the gentleman at the desk,
with some degree of asperity to be detected in his tone by one as well
acquainted with him as was Charlie.  "I understood from my clerk that
you came on business."

"And so I did," said the unruffled Wilkinson, "although I always
endeavor that business and courtesy shall not necessarily exclude one
another."

The financier looked sharply at the young man; but he felt that he was
scarcely in a position to take offense at such a commendable statement.

"My business," continued the visitor, "deals with one of the best
single pieces of business you ever did for the Massachusetts Light,
Heat, and Traction Company."

"Is the loss finally closed up?" said Mr. Hurd, curtly.

His son-in-law stood dramatically before him; he slipped his left hand
into the inner breast pocket where reposed the documents with which his
coup was to be made.

"Mr. Hurd," he said impressively, "you permitted me to place the
insurance on your trolley system because I convinced you that it ought
to be insured.  Do you recall what I said about the conflagration
hazard in the congested district of Boston?  Well, I won't repeat it,
but until I called it to your notice you had never given it serious
consideration.  And even after the schedule was placed, you said that
another year you would not carry insurance.  You may also recall that
you withheld your consent to a certain marriage, which I proposed to
contract with a member of your family, and which--"

"Stick to the matter in hand," suggested the traction magnate, tartly.

"I am doing so, because the point I want to make is this.  On both
these matters, if you'll pardon my saying so, you were equally wrong.
You were afraid that as a son-in-law all my entries would be on the
wrong side of your ledger.  Well, I don't believe I'll overdraw my
account with you for some little time, Mr. Hurd, for I hand you
herewith--as we say to our stenographers--to the order of the
Massachusetts Light, Heat, and Traction Company, checks and drafts to
the amount of three hundred and fifty-five thousand, six hundred and
eighty-seven dollars and fifty-two cents, in payment of the loss on
your Pemberton Street car barn and power house and a few minor items.
Here they are, and, to use a colloquialism, I want to rub them in.  Not
to glorify my own acumen or to minimize yours,--you showed good
judgment to insure your property,--but to prove to you that you made a
mistake about me."

"A mistake?" said the other man.

"A colossal mistake.  Your only objection to me as a son-in-law was on
financial grounds.  Show me, if you can, any young man you could have
picked out as a husband for your daughter, who within a few months
could have saved your company three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
No, Mr. Hurd, you've done me a very great injustice.  And now, I'm
going to ask two things of you."

"And what are they?" inquired Mr. Hurd.

"The first is your order for rewriting the schedule on the traction
properties.  We'll take up the second when we've finished that."

John M. Hurd gave a half hitch in his chair, and turned his face toward
the window, the very casement out of which he had gazed on the day when
the fate of Mr. Wilkinson's scheme was first decided.  Thoughtfully he
looked out and down the busy street.  His visitor, by way of gently
stimulating his reverie, laid the companies' loss drafts within an inch
of his unmoving fingers.  Unconsciously those fingers, which had
through the long years acquired an inalienable tendency toward the
acquisition of legal tender in whatever form proffered--those fingers
slowly, almost automatically, but irrevocably, closed upon the little
packet.

It seemed as though, from the contact, a soothing hint of balsam-laden
pines, of comfort and satisfaction for the soul, must have proceeded
from those oblong papers.  Charlie, keenly watching, beheld the stony
countenance in front of him, as if permeated by some ineffable warmth,
stir and become human.  The miracle of Galatea was worked in this face
before the very gaze of him who had dispensed the beneficent influence.
The grim lines around the mouth lost their inflexible rigor; and
slowly, unwillingly, almost shamefacedly there stole into the hard old
visage the hint, the wraith, the shadow of a smile.

Wise in his generation, Wilkinson left the work to the magic and
sovereign forces now at play; he did not risk marring the alchemy by a
single word.  After a moment which seemed an hour he found himself once
more confronted by the direct observation of his step-uncle.

"You can have your trolley schedule," said John M. Hurd.  "You are
certainly entitled to it.  What else you want I dare say I can
guess. . . .  Suppose you bring Isabel up to Beacon Street this
afternoon to take tea with her mother--and me."

If Mr. Wilkinson cut a pigeon wing in the outer office, it was only the
scion of South Framingham whose amazement is recorded.  John M. Hurd,
still smiling faintly, sat reflectively eyeing the little pile of
checks which his visitor had left, until at last he rang for his
cashier.

"Endorse these and have them deposited immediately, Mr. Walsh," he said.

Meanwhile the telephone wires were buzzing under Mr. Wilkinson's
energetic advertisement of the latest society note.

"Extry!  Extry!" he announced to Isabel.  "All about the reconciliation
of trust magnate with beautiful though erring daughter!  Extry!  All
about the soothing and emollient influence of a little packet of
stamped paper!  No, I've not gone suddenly insane, and I'll come home
about four, for we are due for tea at the residence of Mr. and Mrs.
John M. Hurd."

To Deerfield Street, also, the glad word presently went, to meet there
the sincere congratulations of Miss Helen Maitland, who held the other
end of the jubilant telephone.

"You'd better come, too, Helen.  We'll stop for you.  I really think it
would be much smoother if you were along.  And besides, Charlie says we
ought to get father on record before a witness in case a conservative
turn takes him again."

"I was rather expecting to have tea here," Miss Maitland confessed,
after a moment's hesitancy.  "Yes, Mr. Smith said he would probably
come.  Very well--I will bring him along, if you'd really like to have
him, with great pleasure.  You'll call for us, Isabel?  Au revoir,
then."

It was shortly after five o'clock when the Hurds' butler opened the
front door to admit a company of four.  These intruders, waiting no
bidding and ignoring altogether the fact that one of their number had
been forbidden the house, made their cheerful way, headed by Mrs.
Wilkinson, into the drawing room, there to greet with effusive welcome
a stern-faced, elderly lady, who met them with a broad smile, but who
almost instantly, to her own infinite surprise and discomfiture, burst
into tears.  These rapidly abated, when there was heard a sound in the
hall, a sound which the quick ears of Mr. Wilkinson distinguished at
once.

"The lion comes!" he murmured in Isabel's ear; and an involuntary hush
descended upon the company.  Thud, thud, thud--the firm steps
approached; the arras was drawn back by a deliberate hand; and into the
drawing room, his manner as easy and composed as ever, came Mr. Hurd.
Two steps he made inside the room, then stopped.  His glance instantly
comprehended the little company, and just for a moment the old, cold
light shot into his eye.  But it was only for a moment.

"My dear Isabel, I am very glad to see you home again."

The greeting which the financier would have extended to his other
guests was lost forever in the impulsive rush which landed Mrs.
Wilkinson in her father's arms.  Any regret which may have lingered was
banished in the shock of this impact; and it was a resigned parent who
emerged from this embrace to resume his corner in the reunited world.

It remained for his son-in-law to pronounce the valedictory over the
vanishing fragments of the family breach.

"Mr. Hurd, ever since the day you flung in my astounded face my
character and attainments, depicted in simple but effective words of
one syllable, I have felt that there was not only force, but a good
deal of truth, in your pungent observations.  As I remember telling you
at the time, had I appreciated the disgraceful facts as you summed them
up, I could only in justice to Isabel have joined my efforts to your
own in endeavoring to prevent so fatal an alliance.  But it was too
late.  And now that the thing is done, the child of Mr. Hurd, having
inherited some of that gentleman's fixity of purpose and tenacity of
idea, is still of the opinion--Isabel, even if I am wrong, please do
not contradict me--that she needs the stimulus of my desultory presence
to keep her en rapport with life.  Isabel has come to find strangely
piquant the sensation of uncertainty as to the approaching meal.  She
has come to feel that certainty in such a matter is a species of
bourgeoisie.  At all events we are now Mr. and Mrs. Wilkinson; and
however deeply we regret the lack of enthusiasm in that connection of
my esteemed father-in-law, I can only suggest to him that, although
probably no one in the world has as poor an opinion of me as he has, if
he keeps that opinion to himself there is no reason why the world in
general should ever learn the truth.  Certainly it shall be my life
work to prevent it; and maybe when in the years to come I am passing
the plate in some far suburban tabernacle of worship, all will be
forgotten.  Helen, may I trouble you to hand me those sandwiches?"

Mr. Hurd emitted a dry chuckle.

"For the honor of the family, Charlie, I'll never tell," he said.

It was dark when at last Miss Maitland, under the escort of Smith,
started homeward toward Deerfield Street.  And even then, not so
directly homeward lay their course as the hour might have warranted.
By an impulse which neither resisted, their footsteps turned
southeastward toward the place where they had first viewed the land of
the fire's reaping.  On the steel bridge over the railroad tracks they
found themselves at last.

"We didn't really intend to come here, did we?" asked the girl, with a
smile.

"Somebody must have intended it," argued her companion; "although I
confess that my part in it seemed entirely a passive one.  Still, it is
a good place to come, excepting for the cinders which fly into one's
eyes--as one did then."

Northward, under the pale light of the stars, the barren acres
stretched away till they reached the point where the builded city
recommenced.  The wind, fallen to a breeze, brought still a faint hint
of smoke out of the ground, as though in insistent reminiscence of the
fire's breath.  On the edge of this zone gleamed the city's lights, and
Smith was vaguely reminded of the lights on the Jersey shore as he
could see them from his window.

"Do you remember the night you showed me the lights of New York?" asked
Helen, softly.

"I shall never stop remembering it," he answered.  "Some day, when I
get to be so valuable or valueless that I can be spared from the
Guardian, we will go and see the lights of all the other cities of the
world.  Shall we?"

"There will be none like yours--like ours."

"As there are no lights for me like those within your eyes."

"But I thought we were going to Robbinsville!" said the girl, "to see a
harness shop."

"We will go there, too," he answered.  "Oh, life will be all too short
for you and me!"

It was some time later when the little bridge was left once more to the
cinders and to itself.  Behind the backs of the two who walked slowly
homeward, the plain, which once had been a city, lay gray-black in its
ashes beneath the black and gold of the cloud-flecked sky.





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ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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