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Title: Light-Fingered Gentry
Author: Phillips, David Graham
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 "Light-Fingered Gentry" ***

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[Illustration: NEVA.]



                            *LIGHT-FINGERED
                                GENTRY*


                                   BY

                        *DAVID GRAHAM PHILLIPS*

                AUTHOR OF "THE SECOND GENERATION," ETC.



                        D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
                                NEW YORK
                                 MCMVII



                          COPYRIGHT, 1907, BY
                        D. APPLETON AND COMPANY

                       COPYRIGHT, 1906, 1907, BY
                     THE PEARSON PUBLISHING COMPANY

                      _Published, September, 1907_



                               *CONTENTS*

CHAPTER

I.—A Matrimonial Mistake
II.—A Feast and a Fiasco
III.—"Only Cousin Neva"
IV.—The Fosdick Family
V.—Narcisse and Alois
VI.—Neva Goes to School
VII.—A Woman’s Point of View
VIII.—In Neva’s Studio
IX.—Master and Man
X.—Amy Sweet and Amy Sour
XI.—At Mrs. Trafford’s
XII.—"We Never Were"
XIII.—Overlook Lodge
XIV.—Woman’s Distrust—and Trust
XV.—Armstrong Swoops
XVI.—Hugo Shows His Mettle
XVII.—Violette’s Tapestries
XVIII.—Armstrong Proposes
XIX.—Two Telephone Talks
XX.—Boris Discloses Himself
XXI.—A Sensational Day
XXII.—A Duel After Lunch
XXIII.—"The Woman Boris Loved"
XXIV.—Neva Solves a Riddle
XXV.—Two Women Intervene
XXVI.—Trafford as a Dove of Peace
XXVII.—Breakfast al Fresco
XXVIII.—Foraging for Son-in-Law
XXIX.—"If I Married You"
XXX.—By a Trick
XXXI.—"I Don’t Trust Him"
XXXII.—Armstrong Asks a Favor



                        *LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS*


Neva . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

"She was giving Alois a free hand in planning surroundings"

"’I felt I must see you—must see you at once’"

"’You are my life, the light on my path’"



                        *LIGHT-FINGERED GENTRY*



                                  *I*

                        *A MATRIMONIAL MISTAKE*


Toward noon on a stifling July day, a woman, a young woman, left the
main walk through the deserted college grounds at Battle Field, and
entered the path that makes a faint tracing down the middle of Pine
Point.  That fingerlike peninsula juts far into Otter Lake; it is a
thicket of white pines, primeval, odorous. Not a ripple was breaking the
lake’s broad, burnished reach.  The snowy islets of summer cloud hung
motionless, like frescoes in an azure ceiling.  But among the pines it
was cool, and even murmurously musical.

In dress the young woman was as somber as the foliage above and around
her.  Her expression, also, was somber—with the soberness of the
ascetic, or of the exceedingly shy, rather than of the sad.  She seemed
to diffuse a chill, like the feel of a precious stone—the absence of
heat found both in those who have never been kindled by the fire of life
and in those in whom that fire has burned itself out.  There was not a
trace of coquetry in her appearance, no attempt to display to advantage
good points that ought to have been charms. She was above the medium
height, and seemed taller by reason of the singular conformation of her
face and figure.  Her face was long and slim, and also her body, and her
neck and arms; her hands, ungloved, and her feet, revealed by her
walking skirt, had the same characteristic; the line from her throat to
the curve of her bosom was of unusual length, and also the line of her
back, of her waist, of her legs.  Her hair was abundant, but no one
would have guessed how abundant, or how varied its tints, so severely
was it plaited and bound to her head.  Her eyes were of that long narrow
kind which most women, fortunate enough to possess them, know how to use
with an effect at once satanic and angelic, at once provoking and
rebuking passions tempestuous.  But this woman had somehow contrived to
reduce even those eyes to the apparently enforced puritanism of the rest
of her exterior.  She had the elements of beauty, of a rare beauty; yet
beautiful she was not.  It was as if nature had molded her for love and
life, and then, in cruel freakishness, had failed to breathe into her
the vital breath.  A close observer might have wondered whether this
exterior was not a mask deliberately held immobile and severe over an
intense, insurgent heart and mind.  But close observers are few, and
such a secret—if secret she had—would pass unsuspected of mere shallow
curiosity.

Within a few yards of the end of the peninsula she lifted her gaze from
the ground, on which it had been steadily bent.  Across her face drifted
a slight smile—cold, or was it merely shy?  It revealed the even edge of
teeth of that blue-white which is beautiful only when the complexion is
clear and fine—and her complexion was dull, sallow, as if from recent
illness or much and harassing worry.  The smile was an acknowledgment of
the salutation of a man who had thrown away a half-finished cigarette
and had risen from the bench at the water’s edge.

"How d’ye do, Neva," said he, politely enough, but with look and tone no
man addresses to a woman who has for him the slightest sex interest.

"How are you, Horace," said she, losing the faint animation her smile
had given her face.  Somewhat constrainedly, either from coldness or
from embarrassment, she gave him her hand.

They seated themselves on the bench with its many carvings of initials
and fraternity symbols.  She took advantage of his gaze out over the
lake to look at him; but her eyes were inscrutable.  He was a big,
powerful-looking man—built on the large plan, within as well as without,
if the bold brow and eyes and the strong mouth, unconcealed by his
close-cropped fair mustache, did not mislead.  At first glance he seemed
about thirty; but there were in his features lines of experience, of
firmness, of formed character, of achievement, that could not have come
with many less than forty years.  He looked significant, successful, the
man who is much and shall be more.  He was dressed more fashionably than
would be regarded as becoming in a man of affairs, except in two or
three of our largest cities.  In contrast with his vivid, aggressive
personality—or, was it simply because of shy, supersensitive shrinking
in his presence?—the young woman now seemed colorless and even bleak.

After a silence which she was unable or unwilling to break, he said,
"This is very mysterious, Neva—this sending for me to meet
you—secretly."

"I was afraid it might not be pleasant for you—at the house," replied
she hesitatingly.

His air of surprise was not quite sincere.  "Why not?" he inquired.
"There isn’t anyone I esteem more highly than your father, and he likes
me.  If he didn’t he would not have done all the things that put me
under such a heavy debt of gratitude to him."  His tone suggested that
he had to remind himself of the debt often lest he should be guilty of
the baseness of forgetting it.

"It was eighteen months yesterday," said she, "since you were—at the
house."

He frowned at what he evidently regarded as a disagreeable and therefore
tactless reminder.  "Really? Time races for those who have something to
do besides watch the clock."  Then, ashamed of his irritation, "I
suppose it’s impossible, in an uneventful place like this, to appreciate
how the current of a city like Chicago sweeps a man along and won’t
release him.  There’s so much to think about, one has no time for
anything."

"Except the things that are important to one," replied she.  "Don’t
misunderstand, please.  I’m only stating a fact—not reproaching you—not
at all."

"So, your father has turned against me."

"He has said nothing.  But his expression, when I happened to speak of
you the other day, told me it would be better for you not to come to the
house—at least, until we had had a talk."

"Well, Neva, I don’t feel I have any reason to reproach myself.  I’m not
the sort of man who stands about on the tail of his wife’s dress or sits
round the house in slippers.  I’m trying to make a career, and that
means work."

"Chicago is only six hours from Battle Field," she said with curiously
quiet persistence.

"When I got the position in Chicago," he reminded her with some
asperity, "I asked you to go with me. You refused."

"Did you wish me to go?"

"Did you wish to go?"

She was silent.

"You know you did not," he went on.  "We had been married nearly six
years, and you cared no more about me—"  He paused to seek a comparison.

"Than you cared for me," she suggested.  Then, with a little more energy
and color, "I repeat, Horace, I’m not reproaching you.  All I want is
that you be frank.  I asked you to come here to-day that we might talk
over our situation honestly.  How can we be honest with each other if
you begin by pretending that business is your reason for staying away?"

He studied her unreadable, impassive face.  In all the years of their
married life she had never shown such energy or interest, except about
her everlasting painting, which she was always mussing with, shut away
from everybody; and never had she been so communicative. But it was too
late, far too late, for any sign of personality, however alluringly
suggestive of mystery unexplored, to rouse him to interest in her.  He
was looking at her merely because he wished to discover what she was
just now beating toward.  "In the fall," he said, "I’m going to New York
to live.  Of course, that will mean even fewer chances of my
coming—here—coming home."

At the word "home," which she had avoided using, a smile—her secret
smile—flitted into her face, instantly died away again.  He colored.

"I heard you were going to New York," said she. "I saw it in the
newspapers."

"I suppose _you_ will not wish to—to leave your father," he resumed
cautiously, as if treading dangerous ground.

"Do you wish me to go?"

He did not answer.  A prolonged silence which she broke: "You see,
Horace, I was right.  We mustn’t any longer refuse to look our situation
squarely in the face."

His heart leaped.  When he got her letter with its mysterious, urgent
summons, a hope had sprung within him; but he had quickly dismissed it
as a mere offspring of his longing for freedom—had there ever been an
instance of a woman’s releasing a man who was on his way up?  But now,
he began to hope again.

"Ever since the baby was born—dead," she went on, face and voice calm,
but fingers fiercely interlocked under a fold of her dress where he
could not see, "I’ve been thinking we ought not to let our mistake grow
into a tragedy."

"Our mistake?"

"Our marriage."

He waited until he could conceal his astonishment before he said, "You,
too, feel it was a mistake?"

"I feared so, when we were marrying," she replied. "I knew it, when I
saw how hard you ere trying to do your ’duty’ as a husband—oh, yes, I
saw.  And, when the baby and the suffering failed to bring us together,
only showed how far apart we were, I realized there wasn’t any hope.
You would have told me, would have asked for your freedom—yes, I saw
that, too—if it hadn’t been for the feeling you had about father—and,
perhaps also—"  She paused, then went bravely on, "—because you were
ashamed of having married me for other reasons than love.  Don’t deny
it, please. To-day, we can speak the truth to each other without
bitterness."

"I shan’t deny," replied he.  "I saw that your father, who had done
everything for me, had his heart set on the marriage.  And I’ll even
admit I was dazzled by the fact that yours was one of the first and
richest families in the State—I, who was obscure and poor.  It wasn’t
difficult for me to deceive myself into thinking my awe of you was the
feeling a man ought to have for the woman he marries."  He seemed to
have forgotten she was there.  "I had worked hard, too hard, at
college," he went on.  "I was exhausted—without courage.  The obstacles
to my getting where I was determined to go staggered me.  To marry you
seemed to promise a path level and straight to success."

"I understand," she said.  Her voice startled him back to complete
consciousness of her presence. "There was more excuse for you than for
me."

"That’s it!" he cried.  "What puzzles me, what I’ve often asked myself
is, ’Why did she marry me?’"

"Not for the reason you think," evaded she.

"What is that?" he asked, his tone not wholly easy.

"It wasn’t because I thought you were going to have a distinguished
career."

This penetration disconcerted him, surprised him. And he might have gone
on to suspect he would do well to revise his estimate of her, formed in
the first months of their married life and never since even questioned,
had not her next remark started a fresh train of thought.  "So," she
said, with her faint smile, "you see you’ve had no ground for the fear
that, no matter how plainly you might show me you wished to be free, I’d
hold on to you."

"A woman might have other reasons than mere sordidness for not freeing a
man," replied he, on the defensive.

"She might _think_ she had."

"That is cynical," said he, once more puzzled.

"The truth often is—as we both well know," replied she.  Then, abruptly,
but with no surface trace of effort: "You wish to be free.  Well, you
are free."

"What do you mean, Neva?" he demanded, ashamed of the exultation that
surged up in him, and trying to conceal it.

"Just what I say," was her quiet answer.

After a pause, he asked with gentle consideration of strong for weak
that made her wince, "Neva, have you consulted with anyone—with your
father or brother?"

"I haven’t spoken to them about it.  Why should I?  Are not our
relations a matter between ourselves alone?  Who else could understand?
Who could advise?"

"What you propose is a very grave matter."

Again her secret smile, this time a gleam of irony in it.  "You do not
wish to be free?"

His expression showed how deeply he instantly became alarmed.  She
smiled openly.  "Don’t pretend to yourself that you are concerned about
my interests," she said; "frankness to-day—please."

"I’m afraid you don’t realize what you are doing," he felt compelled to
insist.  "And that is honest."

"You don’t understand me.  You never did.  You never could, so long as I
am your wife.  That’s the way it is in marriage—if people begin wrong,
as we did.  But, at least, believe me when I say I’ve thought it all
out—in these years of long, long days and weeks and months when I’ve had
no business to distract me."

"You are right," he said.  "We have never been of the slightest use to
each other.  We are utterly out of sympathy—like strangers."

"Worse," she replied.  "Strangers may come together, but not the husband
and wife whose interest in each other has been killed."  She gazed long
out over the lake toward the mist-veiled Wabash range before adding,
almost under her breath, "Or never was born."

"I have a naturally expansive temperament," he went on, as if in her
train of thought.  "I need friendship, affection.  You are by nature
reserved and cold."

She smiled enigmatically.  "I doubt if you know me well enough to
judge."

"At least, you’ve been cold and reserved with me—always, from the very
beginning."

"It would be a strange sort of woman, don’t you think, who would not be
chilled by a man who regarded everyone as a mere rung in his
ladder—first for the hand, then for the foot?  Oh, I’m not criticising.
I understand and accept many things I was once foolishly sensitive
about.  I see your point of view.  You feel you must get rid of whatever
interferes with your development.  And you are right.  We must be true
to ourselves.  Worn-out clothes, worn-out friends, worn-out ties of
every kind—all must go to the rag bag—relentlessly."

He did not like it that she said these things so placidly and without
the least bitterness.  He admitted they were true; but her wisdom jarred
upon him as "unwomanly," as further proof of the essential coldness of
her nature; he would have accepted as natural and proper the most
unreasonable and most intemperate reproaches and denunciations.  He
hardened his heart and returned to the main question.  "Then you really
wish to be free?"  He liked to utter that last word, to drink in the
clarion sound of it.

"That has been settled," she replied.  "We _are_ free."

"But there are many details——"

"For the lawyers.  We need not discuss them. Besides, they are few and
simple.  I give you your freedom; I receive mine—and that is all.  I
shall take my own name.  And we can both begin again."

He was looking at her now; for the first time in their acquaintance he
was beginning to wonder whether he had not been mistaken in assigning
her to that background of neutral-colored masses against which the few
with positive personalities play the drama of life. As he sat silent,
confused, she still further amazed him by rising and extending her hand.
"Good-by," she said.  "You’ll take the four-fifty train back to
Chicago?"

It seemed to him they were not parting as should two who had been so
long and, in a sense, so intimately, each in the other’s life and
thought.  Yet, what was there to be said or done?  He rose, hesitated,
awkwardly touched her insistent hand, reluctantly released it.
"Good-by," he stammered.  He had an uncomfortable sense of being
dismissed—and who likes summarily to be dismissed, even by one of whose
company he is least glad?

Suddenly, upon a wave of color the beauty that nature had all but given
her, swept, triumphant and glorious, into her face, into her figure.  It
was as startling, as vivid, as dazzling as the fair, far-stretching
landscape the lightning flash conjures upon the black curtain of night.
While he was staring in dazed amazement, the apparition vanished with
the wave of emotion that had brought it into view.

Before he could decide whether he had seen or had only imagined, she was
gone, was making her way up the path alone.  A sudden melancholy
shadowed him—the melancholy of the closed chapter, of the thing that has
been and shall not be again, forever.  But the exhilarating fact of
freedom soon dissipated this thin shadow.  With shoulders erect and
firm, and confident gait he strode toward the station, his mind gone
ahead of him to Chicago, to New York, to his future, his career, his
conquest of power.  An hour after his train left Battle Field, Neva
Carlin was to Horace Armstrong simply a memory, a filed document to be
left undisturbed under its mantle of dust.



                                  *II*

                         *A FEAST AND A FIASCO*


"There’ll be about six hundred of us," Fosdick had said.  "Do your best,
and send in the bill."

And the best it certainly was, even for New York with its profuse ideas
as to dispensing the rivers of other people’s money that flood in upon
it from the whole country.  The big banquet hall was walled with
flowers; there were great towering palms rising from among the tables
and so close together that their leaves intermingled in a roof.  Each
table was an attempt at a work of art; the table of honor was strewn and
festooned with orchids at a dollar and a half apiece; there was music,
of course, and it the costliest; there were souvenirs—they alone
absorbed upward of ten thousand dollars.  As for the dinner itself, the
markets of the East and the South and of the Pacific Coast had been
searched; the fish had come from France; the fruit from English
hothouses; four kinds of wine, but those who preferred it could have
champagne straight through.  The cigars cost a dollar apiece, the
boutonnières another dollar, the cigarettes were as expensive as are the
cigars of many men who are particular as to their tobacco.  Lucullus may
have spent more on some of his banquets, but he could have got no such
results. In fact, it was a "seventy-five a plate" dinner, though Fosdick
was not boasting it, as he would have liked; he was mindful of the
recent exposures of the prodigality of managers of corporations with the
investments of "the widow and the orphan and the thrifty poor."

Fosdick, presiding, with Shotwell on his right and Armstrong on his
left, swelled with pride in his own generosity and taste as he gazed
round.  True, the O.A.D. was to pay the bill; true, he had known nothing
about the arrangements for the banquet until he came to preside at it.
But was he not the enchanter who evoked it all?  He hadn’t a doubt that
his was the glory, all the glory—just as, when he bought for a large sum
a picture with a famous name to it, he showed himself to be greater than
the painter.  He prided himself upon his good taste—did he not select
the man who selected the costly things for him; did he not sign the
checks?  But most of all he prided himself on his big heart.  He loved
to give—to his children, to his friends, to servants—not high wages
indeed, for that would have been bad business, but tips and presents
which made a dazzling showing and flooded his heart with the warm milk
of human kindness, whereas a small increase of wages would be
insignificant, without pleasurable sensation, and a permanent drain.  Of
all the men who devote their lives to what some people call finance—and
others call reaping where another has sown—he was the most generous.  "A
great, big, beating human heart," was what you heard about Fosdick
everywhere.  "A hard, wily fighter in finance, but a man full of red
blood, for all that."

Having surveyed the magic scene his necromancy and his generosity had
created, he shifted his glance patronizingly to the man at his right—the
man for whom he had done this generous act, the retiring president of
the O.A.D., to whom this dinner was a testimonial.  As Fosdick looked at
Shotwell, his face darkened.  "The damned old ingrate," he muttered.
"He doesn’t appreciate what I’ve done for him."  And there was no
denying it.  The old man was looking a sickly, forlorn seventy-five, at
least, though he was only sixty-five, only two years older than Fosdick.
He was humped down in a sort of stupor, his big flat chin on his crushed
shirt bosom, his feeble, age-mottled hand fumbling with his napkin, with
his wineglass, with the knives, forks, and spoons.

"The boys are giving you a great send off," said Fosdick.  As Shotwell
knew who alone was responsible for the "magnificent and touching
testimonial," Fosdick risked nothing in this modesty.

Shotwell, startled, wiped his mouth with his napkin.

"Yes, yes," he said; "it’s very nice."

Nice!  And if Fosdick had chosen he could have had Shotwell flung down
and out in disgrace from the exalted presidency of the O.A.D., instead
of retiring him thus gloriously.  Nice!  Fosdick almost wished he
had—almost.  He would have quite wished it, if retiring Shotwell in
disgrace would not have injured the great company, so absolutely
dependent upon popular confidence.  Nice!  Fosdick turned away in
disgust.  He remembered how, when he had closed his trap upon Shotwell—a
superb stroke of business, that!—not a soul had suspected until the jaws
snapped and the O.A.D. was his—he remembered how Shotwell had met his
demand for immediate resignation or immediate disgrace, with shrieks of
hate and cursing.  "I suppose he can’t get over it," reflected Fosdick.
"Men blind themselves completely to the truth where vanity and
self-interest are concerned.  He probably still hates me, and can’t see
that I was foolishly generous with him.  Where’s there another man in
the financial district who’d have allowed him a pension of half his
salary for life?"

But such thoughts as these in this hour for expansion and good will
marred his enjoyment.  Fosdick turned to the man at his left, to young
Armstrong, whom he was generously lifting to the lofty seat from which
he had so forbearingly ejected the man at his right.  Armstrong—a huge,
big fellow with one of those large heads which show unmistakably that
they are of the rare kind of large head that holds a large brain—was as
abstracted as Shotwell.  The food, the wine before him, were untouched.
He was staring into his plate, with now and then a pull at his cropped,
fair mustache or a passing of his large, ruddy, well-shaped hand over
his fine brow.  "What’s the matter, Horace?" said Fosdick; "chewing over
the speech?"

Armstrong straightened himself with a smile that gave his face instantly
the look of frankness and of high, dauntless spirit.  "No, I’ve got that
down—and mighty short it is," said he; "the fewer words I say now, the
fewer there’ll be to rise up and mock me, if I fail."

"Fail!  Pooh!  Nonsense!  Cheer up!" cried Fosdick. "It’s a big job for
a young fellow, but you’re bound to win.  You’ve got _me_ behind you."

Armstrong looked uncomfortable rather than relieved. "They’ve elected me
president," said he, and his quiet tone had the energy of an inflexible
will.  "I intend to be president.  No one can save me if I haven’t it in
me to win out."

Fosdick frowned, and pursed his lips until his harsh gray mustache
bristled.  "Symptoms of swollen head already," was his irritated inward
comment.  "He’s been in the job forty-eight hours, and he’s ready to
forget who made him.  But I’ll soon remind him that I could put him
where I got him—and further down, damn him!"

"Some one is signaling you from the box straight ahead," said Armstrong.
"I think it’s your daughter."

As the young woman was plainly visible and as Armstrong knew her well,
this caution of statement could not have been quite sincere.  But
Fosdick did not note it; he was bowing and smiling at the occupants of
that most conspicuous box.  At the table of honor to the right and left
of him were the directors of the O.A.D., the most representative of the
leading citizens of New York; they owned, so it was said, one fifteenth
and directly controlled about one half of the entire wealth of the
country; not a blade was harvested, not a wheel was turned, not a pound
of freight was lifted from Maine to the Pacific but that they directly
or indirectly got a "rake off"—or, if you prefer, a commission for
graciously permitting the work to be done.  In the horseshoe of boxes,
overlooking the banquet, were the families of these high mightinesses,
the wives and daughters and sons who gave the mightiness outward and
visible expression in gorgeous display and in painstaking reproduction
of the faded old aristocracies of birth beyond the Atlantic.

Fosdick had insisted on this demonstration because the banquet was to be
not only a testimonial to Shotwell, but also a formal installation of
himself and his daughter and son in the high society of the plutocracy.
Fosdick had long had power downtown; but he had lacked respectability.
Not that his reputation was not good; on the contrary, it was
spotless—as honest as generous, as honorable as honest.  Respectability,
however, has nothing to do with honesty, whether reputed or real.  It is
a robe, an entitlement, a badge; it comes from associating with the
respectable, uptown as well as down.  Fosdick, grasping this fact, after
twenty years’ residence in New York in ignorance of it, had forthwith
resolved to be respectable, to change the dubious social status of his
family into a structure as firm and as imposing as his fortune.  His
business associates had imagined themselves free, uptown at least, from
his vast and ever vaster power; at one stroke he showed them the fatuous
futility of their social coldness, of their carefully drawn line between
doing business with him and being socially intimate with him, made it
amusingly apparent that their condescensions to his daughter and son in
the matter of occasional invitations were as flimsily based as were
their elaborate pretenses of superior birth and breeding.  He invited
them to make a social function of this business dinner; he made each
recipient of an invitation personally feel that it was wise to accept,
dangerous to refuse.  The hope of making money and the dread of losing
it have ever been the two all-powerful considerations in an aristocracy
of any kind.  Respectability and fashion "accepted."

So, Fosdick, looking across that resplendent scene, at the radiant faces
of his daughter and son, felt the light and the warmth driving away the
shadows of Shotwell’s ingratitude and Armstrong’s lack of deference. But
just as he was expanding to the full girth of his big heart, he chilled
and shrunk again.  There, beside his daughter, sat old Shotwell’s wife.
She was as cold as so much marble; the diamonds on her great white
shoulders and bosom seemed to give off a chill from their light.  She
was there, it is true; but like a dethroned queen in the triumphal
procession of an upstart conqueror.  She was a rebuke, a damper, a
spoiler of the feast.  She never had cared for old Shotwell; she had
married him because he was the best available catch and could give her
everything she wanted, everything she could conceive a woman’s wanting.
She had tolerated him as one of the disagreeable but necessary incidents
of the journey of life.  But Shotwell’s downfall was hers, was their
children’s.  It meant a lower rank in the social hierarchy; it meant
that she and hers must bow before this "nobody from nowhere" and his
children. She sat there, beside Amy, in front of Hugo, the embodiment of
icy hate.

"This damn dinner is entirely too long," muttered Fosdick, though he did
not directly connect his dissatisfaction with the cold stare from
Shotwell’s wife.

But Mrs. Shotwell was not interfering with the enjoyment of Amy and
Hugo.

If Fosdick had planned with an inquisitor’s cunning to put her to the
most exquisite torture, he could not have been more successful.  From
his box she had the best possible view of the whole scene; and, while
Shotwell had told her only the smallest part of the truth about his
"resignation," she had read the newspaper reports of the investigation
of the O.A.D. which had preceded his downfall, and, though that
investigation had changed from an attack on him to an exoneration, after
he yielded to Fosdick, she had guessed enough of the truth to know that
this "testimonial" to him was in fact a testimonial to Fosdick.

Hugo and Amy, the children of a rich man and unmarried, had long been
popular with all the women who had unmarried sons and daughters; this
evening they roused enthusiasm.  Everybody who hoped to make, or feared
to lose, money was impressed by their charms. Amy, who was pretty, was
declared beautiful; Hugo, who looked as if he had brains, though in fact
he had not, was pronounced a marvel of serious intellectuality. The
young men flocked round Amy; Hugo’s tour of the boxes was an ovation.
To an observant outsider, looking beneath surfaces to realities, the
scene would have been ludicrous and pitiful; to those taking part, it
seemed elegant, kindly, charming.  Mrs. Shotwell was almost at the
viewpoint of the outsider—not the philosopher, but he who stands hungry
and thirsty in the cold and glowers through the window at the revelers
and denounces them for their selfish gluttony. And by the way of chagrin
and envy she reached the philosopher’s conclusion.  "How coarse and
low!" she thought.  "New York gets more vulgar every year."

Amy, accustomed all her life to have anything and everything she wanted,
had been dissatisfied about the family’s social position and eager to
improve it; but the instant she realized they were at last "in the
push," securely there, she began to lose interest; after an hour of the
new adulation, she had enough, was looking impatiently round for
something else to want and to strive for.

Not so Hugo.  Society had seemed a serious matter to him from his
earliest days at college, when he began to try to get into the
fashionable fraternities, and failed.  He had been invited wherever any
marriageable girls were on exhibition; but he had noted, and had taken
it quickly to heart, that he was not often invited when such offerings
were not being made.  He had gone heavily into a flirtation with a young
married woman, as dull as himself.  It was in vain; she had invited him,
but her friends had not, unless she was to be there to take care of him.
He had attributed this in part to his father, in part to his married
sister—his father, who made occasional slips in grammar and was
boisterous and dictatorial in conversation; his sister, whose husband
kept a big retail furniture store and "looks the counter-jumper that he
is," Hugo often said to Amy in their daily discussions of their social
woes.  Now, all this worriment was over; Hugo, touring the boxes, felt
he had reached the summit of ambition.  And it seemed to him he had
himself brought it about—his diplomatic assiduity in cultivating "the
right people," the steady, if gradual, permeation of his physical and
mental charms.

Amy sent a note down to Armstrong, asking him to come to the box a
moment.  As he entered, Hugo was just leaving on another excursion for
further whiffs of the incense that was making him visibly as drunk, if
in a slightly different way, as the younger and obscurer members of the
staff of the O.A.D. downstairs.  At sight of Armstrong he put out his
hand graciously and said: "Ah—Horace—howdy?" in a tone that made it
difficult for Armstrong to refrain from laughing in his face.

"All right, Hugo," said he.

Hugo frowned.  For him to address one of his father’s employees by his
first name was natural and proper and a mark of distinguished favor; for
one of those employees to retort in kind was a gross impertinence. He
did not see just how to show his indignation, just how to set the
impudent employee back in his place.  He put the problem aside for
further thought, and brushed haughtily by Armstrong, who, however, had
already forgotten him.

"Just let Mr. Armstrong sit there, won’t you?" said Amy to the young man
in the seat immediately behind hers.

The young man flushed; she had cut him off in the middle of a sentence
which was in the middle of the climax of what he thought a most amusing
story.  He gave place to Armstrong, hating him, since hatred of an
heiress was not to be thought of.

"What is it you want so particularly to see me about?" Armstrong said to
her.

She smiled with radiant coquetry.  "Nothing at all," she replied.  "I
put that in the note simply to make sure you’d come."

Armstrong laughed.  "You’re a spoiled one," said he.  And he got up,
nodded friendlily to her, bowed to her Arctic chaperon and departed, she
so astonished that she could think of nothing to say to detain him.

Her first impulse was rage—that _she_ should be treated thus! she whom
_everybody_ treated with consideration!  Then, her vanity, readiest and
most tactful of courtiers, suggested that he had done it to pique her,
to make himself more attractive in her eyes.  That mollified her, soon
had her in good humor again.  Yes, he was as much part of her court as
the others; only, being shrewder, he pursued a different method.  "And
he’s got a right to hold himself dear," she said to herself, as she
watched him making his way to his seat at the table of honor.  Certainly
he did look as if he belonged at or near the head of the head table.

Soon her father was standing, was rapping for order.  Handsome and
distinguished, with his keen face and tall lean figure, his iron-gray
hair and mustache, he spoke out like one who has something to say and
will be heard:

"Gentlemen and ladies!" he began.  "We are gathered here to-night to do
honor to one of the men of our time and country.  His name is a
household word." (Applause.)  "For forty years he has made comfortable
an ever increasing number of deathbeds, has stood between the orphan and
the pangs of want, has given happy old age to countless thousands."
(Applause. Cries of "Good!  Good!")  "Ladies and gentlemen, we honor
ourselves in honoring this noble character. Speaking for the directors,
of whom I am one of the oldest—in point of service"—(Laughter.
Applause.)—"speaking for the directors, I say, in all sincerity, it is
with the profoundest regret that we permit him to partially sever his
official connection with the great institution he founded and has been
so largely instrumental in building up to its present magnificent
position.  We would fain have him stay on where his name is a guarantee
of honesty, security and success." (Cheers.)  "But he has insisted that
he must transfer the great burden to younger shoulders.  He has earned
the right to repose, ladies and gentlemen.  We cannot deny him what he
has earned.  But he leaves us his spirit."  (Wild applause.)  "Wherever
the O.A.D. is known—and where is it not known?"  (Cheers and loud
rattling of metal upon glass and china.)—"there his name is written high
as an inspiration to the young. He has been faithful; he has been
honest; he has been diligent.  By these virtues he has triumphed."
(Cheers.)  "His triumph, ladies and gentlemen, is an inspiration to us
all."  (Cheers.  Cries of "Whoope-ee" from several drunken men at the
far tables.)

"Let us rise, gentlemen, and drink to our honored, our honorable chief!"

The banqueters sprang to their feet, lifting their glasses high.  Old
Shotwell, his face like wax, rose feebly, stared into vacancy, passed
one tremulous hand over the big, flat, weak chin, sunk into his chair
again. Some one shouted, "Three cheers for Shotwell!"  Floor and boxes
stood and cheered, with much waving of napkins and handkerchiefs and
clinking of glasses.  It was a thrilling scene, the exuberant homage of
affairs to virtue.

"I see, ladies and gentlemen, that my poor words have been in the
direction of your thoughts," continued Fosdick.  "And now devolves upon
me the pleasant duty of——"

Here a beflowered hand truck, bearing a large rosewood chest, was
wheeled in front of the table of honor. The attendants threw back the
lid and disclosed a wonderful service of solid gold plate.  This
apparition of the god in visible, tangible form caused hysterical
excitement—cheers, shouts, frantic cranings and wavings from floor and
gallery.

"—The pleasant duty of presenting this slight token of appreciation from
our staff to our retiring president," ended Fosdick in a tremendous
voice and with a vast, magnanimous sweep of the arms.

Old Shotwell, dazed, lifted his chin from his shirt bosom, stared
stupidly at the chest, rose at a prod from his neighbor, bowed, and sat
down again.  Fosdick seated himself, nudged him under the table,
whispered hoarsely under cover of his mustache, "Get up.  Get up!
Here’s the time for your speech."

The old man fumbled in his breast pocket, drew out a manuscript, rose
uncertainly.  As he got on his feet, the manuscript dropped to the
floor.  Armstrong saw, moved around between Shotwell and his neighbor,
picked up the manuscript, opened it, laid it on the table at Shotwell’s
hand.  "Ladies and gentlemen," quavered Shotwell, in a weak voice and
with an ashen face, "I thank you.  I—I—thank you."

The diners rose again.  "Three cheers for the old chief!" was the cry,
and out they rang.  Tears were in Shotwell’s eyes; tears were rolling
down Fosdick’s cheeks; some of the drunken were sobbing.  As they sang,
"For he’s a jolly good fellow," Fosdick’s great voice leading and his
arm linked in Shotwell’s, Armstrong happened to glance down at the
manuscript. The opening sentence caught his eye—"_Fellow builders of the
Mutual Association Against Old Age and Death, I come here to expose to
you the infamous conspiracy of which I have been the victim._"  Before
Armstrong could stop himself, he had been fascinated into reading the
second sentence: "_I purpose to expose to you, without sparing myself,
how Josiah Fosdick has seized the O.A.D. to gamble with its assets,
using his unscrupulous henchman, Horace Armstrong, as a blind._"

Armstrong, white as his shirt, folded the manuscript and held it in the
grip a man gives that which is between him and destruction.  The singing
finished, all sat down again, Shotwell with the rest.  Had his mind
given way, or his will?  Armstrong could not tell; certain it was,
however, that he had abandoned the intention of changing the banquet
into about the most sensational tragedy that had ever shaken and torn
the business world.  Armstrong put the manuscript in his pocket.  "I’ll
mail it to him," he said to himself.

But now Josiah was up again, was calling for a "few words from my
eminent young friend, whom the directors of the O.A.D., in the wise
discharge of the trust imposed upon them by three quarters of a million
policy holders, have elected to the presidency.  His shoulders are
young, gentlemen, but"—here he laid his hand affectionately upon
Armstrong—"as you can see for yourselves, they are broad and strong."
He beamed benevolently down upon Armstrong’s thick, fair hair.  "Young
man, we want to hear your pledge for your stewardship."

Horace Armstrong, unnerved by the narrowly averted catastrophe, drew
several deep breaths before he found voice.  He glanced along first one
line, then the other, of the eminent and most respectable directors,
these men of much and dubious wealth which yet somehow made them the
uttermost reverse of dubious, made them the bulwarks of character and
law and property—of all they had trodden under foot to achieve
"success."  Then he gazed out upon the men who were to take orders from
him henceforth, the superintendents, agents, officials of the O.A.D.
"My friends," said he, "we have charge of a great institution.  With
God’s help we will make it greater, the greatest.  It has been one of
the mainstays of the American home, the American family.  It shall
remain so, if I have your coöperation and support."

And he abruptly resumed his seat.  There were cheers, but not loud or
hearty.  His manner had been nervous, his voice uncertain, unconvincing.
But for his presence—that big frame, those powerful features—he would
have made a distinctly bad impression. As he sat, conscious of failure
but content because he had got through coherently, old Shotwell began
fumbling and muttering, "My speech!  Where’s my speech!  I’ve lost it.
Somebody might find it.  If the newspapers should get it——"

But the dinner was over.  The boxes were emptying, the intoxicated were
being helped out by their friends, the directors were looking uneasily
at Fosdick for permission to join their departing families. Fosdick took
Shotwell firmly by the arm and escorted him, still mumbling, to the
carriage entrance, there turning him over to Mrs. Shotwell.

"He’s very precious to us all, madam," said Fosdick, indifferent to her
almost sneering coldness, and giving the old man a patronizing clap on
the shoulder. "Take good care of him."  To himself he added, "I’ll
warrant she will, with that pension his for his lifetime only."

And he went home, to sleep the sleep of a good man at the end of a good
day.



                                 *III*

                          *"ONLY COUSIN NEVA"*


Letty Morris—"Mrs. Joe"—was late for her Bohemian lunch.  She called it
Bohemian because she had asked a painter, a piano player and an actress,
and was giving it in the restaurant of a studio building. As her auto
rolled up to the curb, she saw at the entrance, just going away, a woman
of whom her first thought was "What strange, fascinating eyes!" then,
"Why, it’s only Cousin Neva"; for, like most New Yorkers, she was
exceedingly wary of out-of-town people, looking on them, with nothing to
offer, as a waste of time and money.  As it was, on one of those
friendly impulses that are responsible for so much of the good, and so
much of the evil, in this world, she cried, "Why, Genevieve Carlin!
What are _you_ doing _here_?"  And she descended from her auto and
rushed up to Neva.

"How d’ye do, Letty?" said Neva distantly.  She had startled, had
distinctly winced, at the sound of those affected accents and tones
which the fashionable governesses and schools are rapidly making the
natural language of "our set" and its fringes.

"Why haven’t you let me know?" she reproached. As the words left her
lips, up rose within herself an answer which she instantly assumed was
_the_ answer. The divorce, of course!  She flushed with annoyance at her
tactlessness.  Her first sensation in thinking of divorce was always
that it was scandalous, disgraceful, immoral, a stain upon the woman and
her family; but quick upon that feeling, lingering remnant of discarded
childhood training, always came the recollection that divorce was no
longer unfashionable, was therefore no longer either immoral or
disgraceful, was scandalous in a delightful, aristocratic way.  "But,"
reflected she, "probably Neva still feels about that sort of thing as we
all used to feel—at least, all the best people."  She was confirmed in
this view by her cousin’s embarrassed expression.  She hastened to her
relief with "Joe and I talk of you often.  Only the other day I started
a note to you, asking you when you could visit us."

She did not believe, when Neva told the literal truth in replying: "I
came to work.  I thought I wouldn’t disturb you."

"Disturb!" cried Mrs. Morris.  "You are so queer.  How long have you
been here?"

"Several weeks.  I—I’ve an apartment in this house."

"How delightful!" exclaimed Letty absently.  She was herself again and
was thinking rapidly.  A new man, even from "the provinces," might be
fitted in to advantage; but what could she do with another woman, one
more where there were already too many for the men available for idling?

"You must let me see something of you," said she, calmer but still
cordial.  "You must come to dinner—Saturday night."  That was Letty
Morris’s resting night—a brief and early dinner, early to bed for a
sleep that would check the ravages of the New York season in a beauty
that must be husbanded, since she had crossed the perilous line of
thirty.  "Yes—Saturday—at half-past seven.  And here’s one of my cards
to remind you of the address.  I must be going now. I’m horribly late."
And with a handshake and brush of the lips on Neva’s cheek, the small,
brilliant, blonde cousin was gone.

"What a nuisance," she was saying to herself. "Why _did_ I let myself be
surprised into attracting her attention?  Now, I’ll have to do something
for her—we’re really under obligations to her father—I don’t believe Joe
has paid back the last of that loan yet. Well, I can use her
occasionally to take Joe off my hands.  She looks all right—really, it’s
amazing how she has improved in dress.  She seems to know how to put on
her clothes now.  But she’s too retiring to be dangerous.  A woman who’s
presentable yet not dangerous is almost desirable, is as rare as an
attractive man."

The delusion of our own importance is all but universal—and everywhere
most happy; but for it, would not life’s cynicism broaden from the
half-hidden smirk into a disheartening sneer?  Among fashionable people,
narrow, and carefully educated only in class prejudice and pretentious
ignorance, this delusion becomes an obsession.  The whole hardworking,
self-absorbed world is watching them—so they delight in imagining—is
envying them, is imitating them.  Letty assumed that Neva had kept away
through awe, and that she would now take advantage of her politeness to
cling to her and get about in society; as Mrs. Morris thought of nothing
but society, she naturally felt that the whole world must be similarly
occupied.  She would have been astounded could she have seen into Neva’s
mind—seen the debate going on there as to how to entrench herself
against annoyance from her cousin.  "Shall I refuse her invitation?"
thought Neva.  "Or, is it better to go Saturday night, and have done
with, since I must go to her house once?"  She reluctantly decided for
Saturday night.  "And after that I can plead my work; and soon she’ll
forget all about me.  It’s ridiculous that people who wish to have
nothing to do with each other should be forced by a stupid
conventionality to irritate themselves and each other."

Saturday afternoon, each debated writing the other, postponing the
engagement.  Neva had a savage attack of the blues; at such times she
shut herself in, certain she could not get from the outside the cheer
she craved and too keen to be content with the cheer that would offer
shallow, wordy sympathy, or, worse still, self-complacent pity.  As for
Letitia, she was quarreling with her husband—about money as usual.  She
was one of those doll-looking women who so often have serpentine craft
and wills of steel.  Morris adored her, after the habit of men with such
women; she made him feel so big and strong and intellectually superior;
and her childish, clinging ways were intoxicating, as she had great
physical charm, she so cool and smooth and golden white and delicately
perfumed.  She always got her own way with everyone; usually her
husband, her "master," yielded at the first onset.  Once in a while—and
this happened to be of those times—he held out for the pleasure of
seeing her pout and weep and then, as he yielded, burst into a radiance
like sunshine through summer rain.  If she had had money of her own he
might have got a sudden and even shocking insight into the internal
machinery of that doll’s head; as it was, his delusion about the
relative intelligence and strength of himself and his Letty was intact.

Mrs. Joe did not share his enthusiasm for these "love-tilts"; she did
not mind employing the "doll game" in her dealings with the world, but
she would have liked to be her real self at home.  This, however, was
impossible if she was to get the largest results in the quickest and
easiest way.  So she wearily played on at the farce, and at times grew
heartsick with envy of the comparatively few independent—which means
financially independent—women of her set, and disliked her Joe when she
was forced to think about him distinctly, which was not often.  In
marriages where the spirit has shriveled and died within the letter,
habit soon hardens a wife to an amazing degree toward practical
unconsciousness of the existence of her husband, even though he be
uxorious.  Letty’s married life bored her; but she had no more sense of
degradation in thus making herself a pander, and for hire, than had her
husband, at the same business downtown.  She saw so many of the "very
best" women doing just as she did, using each the fittest form of
cajolery and cozening to wheedle money for extravagances out of their
husbands, that it seemed as much the proper and reputable thing as going
to bullfights seems to Spaniards, or watching wild beasts devour men,
women, and children seemed to the "very best" people of imperial Rome.
For the same reason, her husband did not linger upon the real meaning of
the phrase "legal adviser" whereunder the business of himself and his
brother lawyers was so snugly and smugly masked—the business of helping
respectable scoundrels glut bestial appetites for other people’s
property without fear of jail.

The quarrel had so far advanced that Saturday night was the logical time
for the climax in sentimental reconciliation.  However, Mrs. Morris
decided to endure a twenty-four hours’ delay and "get Neva over with."
She repented the instant Neva appeared.  "I had no idea she could be so
good looking," thought she, in a panic at the prospect of rivalry, with
desirable available men wofully scarce.  She swept Neva with a
searching, hostile glance.  "She’s really almost beautiful."

And, in fact, never before was Neva so good looking. Vanity is an air
plant not at all dependent upon roots in realities for nourishment and
growth.  Thus, she, born with rather less than the normal physical
vanity, had been unaffected by the charms she could not but have seen
had she looked at herself with vanity’s sprightly optimism.  Nor was
there any encouragement in the atmosphere of old-fashioned Battle Field,
where the best people were still steeped in medieval disdain of
"foolishness" and regarded the modern passion for the joy of life as
sinful.  Also, she was without that aggressive instinct to please by
physical charm which even circumvents the regulations of a chapter of
cloistered nuns.

Until she came to New York, she had given her personal appearance no
attention whatever, beyond instinctively trying to be as unobtrusive as
possible; and even in New York her concessions to what she regarded as
waste of time were really not concessions at all, were merely the result
of exercising in the most indifferent fashion her natural good taste, in
choosing the best from New York’s infinite variety as she had chosen the
best from Battle Field’s meager and commonplace stocks of goods for
women.  The dress she was wearing that evening was not especially grand,
seemed quakerishly high in the neck in comparison with Letty’s; for
Letty had a good back and was not one to conceal a charm which it was
permissible to display. But Neva, in soft silver-gray; with her hair,
bright, yet neither gold nor red, but all the shades between, framing
her long oval face in a pompadour that merged gracefully into a simple
knot at the back of her small head; with her regular features shown to
that advantage which regular features have only when shoulders and neck
are bared; and with her complexion cleared of all sallowness and
restored to its natural smooth pallor by the healthful air and life of
New York—Neva, thus recreated, was more than distinguished looking, was
beautiful.  "Who’d have thought it?" reflected Letty crossly.  "What a
difference clothes do make!"  But Neva was slender—"thin, painfully
thin," thought Mrs. Morris, with swiftly recovering spirits.  She
herself was plump and therefore thought "scrawniness" hideous, though
often, to draw attention to her rounded charms, she wailed piteously
that she was getting "disgracefully fat."

Neither of the men—her husband and Boris Raphael, the painter—shared her
poor opinion of Neva after the first glance.  Morris did not care for
thin women, but he thought Neva had a certain beauty—not the kind he
admired, but a kind, nevertheless.  Boris studied the young woman with
an expression that made Mrs. Joe redden with jealousy.  "You think my
cousin pretty?" said she to him, as they went down to dinner far enough
ahead of Neva and Morris to be able to talk freely.

"More than that," replied Boris, "I think her unusual."

"If you ever chance to see her in ordinary dress, you’ll change your
mind, I’m sorry to say," said Letty softly.  "Poor Neva!  Hers is a sad
case.  She’s one of the ought-to-bes-but-aren’ts."

"It’s my business to see things as they are," was the painter’s
exasperating reply.  "And I’d not in any circumstances be blind to such
a marvelous study in long lines as she."

"Marvelous!" Mrs. Morris laughed.

"Long face, long neck, long bust, long waist, long legs, long hands and
feet," explained he.  "It’s the kind of beauty that has to be pointed
out to ordinary eyes before they see it.  I can imagine her passing for
homely in a rude community, just as her expression of calm might pass
for coldness."

Mrs. Morris revised her opinion of Boris.  She had thought him a most
tactful person; she knew the truth now.  A man who would praise one
woman to another could never be called tactful; to praise
enthusiastically was worse than tactless, it was boorish.  "How
impossible it is," thought she, "for a man of low origin to rise wholly
above it."  She said, "I’m delighted that my cousin pleases you," as
coldly as she could speak to a man after whom everyone was running.

"I must paint her," he said, noting Letty’s anger, but indifferent to
it.  "If I succeed, everyone will see what I see.  If that woman were to
love and be loved, her face would become—divine!  Divinely human, I
mean—for she’s flesh and blood.  The fire’s there—laid and ready for the
match."

When he and Morris were alone after dinner he began on Neva again,
unaffected by her seeming incapacity to respond to his efforts to
interest her.  "I could scarcely talk for watching her," he said.  "She
puzzles me.  I should not have believed a girl—an unmarried woman—could
have such an expression."

"She’s not a girl," explained Morris.  "She has taken her maiden name
again.  She was Mrs. Armstrong—was married until last summer to the chap
that was made president of the O.A.D. last October."

"Never heard of him," said the artist.

"That shows how little you know about what’s going on downtown.  When
Galloway died—you’ve heard of Galloway?"

"I painted him—an old eagle—or vulture."

"We’ll say eagle, as he’s dead.  When he died, there was a split in the
O.A.D., which he had dominated and used for years—and mighty little he
let old Shotwell have, I understand, in return for doing the dirty work.
Well, Fosdick finally cooked up that investigation, frightened everybody
into fits, won out, beat down the Galloway crowd, threw out Shotwell and
put in this young Western fellow."

"What is the O.A.D.?"

"You must have seen the building, the advertisements everywhere—knight
in armor beating off specters of want.  It’s an insurance company."

"I thought insurance companies were to insure people."

"Not at all," replied Morris.  "That’s what people think they’re
for—just as they think steel companies are to make steel, and coal
companies to mine coal, and railway companies to carry freight and
passengers.  But all that, my dear fellow, is simply incidental.
They’re really to mass big sums of money for our great financiers to
scramble for."

"How interesting," said Raphael in an uninterested tone.  "Some time I
must try to learn about those things.  Then your cousin has divorced her
husband?  That’s the tragedy I saw in her face."

"Tragedy!" Morris laughed outright.  "There you go again, Boris.  You’re
always turning your imagination loose."

"To explore the mysteries my eyes find, my dear Joe," said Boris,
unruffled.  "You people—the great mass of the human race—go through the
world blindfold—blindfolded by ignorance, by prejudice, by letting your
stupid brain tell your eyes what they are seeing instead of letting your
eyes tell your brain."

"I never heard there was much to Neva Carlin."

"Naturally," replied Boris.  "Not all the people who have individuality,
personality, mind and heart, beat a drum and march in the middle of the
street to inform the world of the fact.  As for emotions—real
emotions—they don’t shriek and weep; they hide and are dumb.  I, who let
my eyes see for themselves, look at this woman and see beauty barefoot
on the hot plowshares.  And you—do not look and, therefore, see
nothing."

Morris made no reply, but his expression showed he was only silenced,
not convinced.  He knew his old friend Boris was a great painter—the
prices he got for his portraits proved it; and the portraits themselves
were certainly interesting, had the air that irradiates from every work
of genius, whether one likes or appreciates the work or not.  He knew
that the basis of Raphael’s genius was in his marvelous sight—"simply
seeing where others will not" was Boris’s own description of his gift.
Yet when Boris reported to him what he saw, he was incredulous.  "An
artist’s wild imagination," he said to himself.  In the world of the
blind, the dim-eyed man is king, not the seeing man; the seeing man—the
"seer"—passes for mad, and the blind follow those with not enough sight
to rouse the distrust of their flock.

When the painter returned to the drawing-room Neva was gone.  As his
sight did not fail him when he watched the motions of his bright, blond
little friend, Mrs. Joe, he suspected her of having had a hand in Neva’s
early departure.  And she thought she had herself.  But, in fact, Neva
left because she was too shy to face again the man whose work she had so
long reverenced.  She knew she ought to treat him as an ordinary human
being, but she could not; and she yielded to the impulse to fly.

"You must take me to sec your cousin," said he, his chagrin plain.

"Whenever you like," agreed Letty, with that elaborate graciousness
which raises a suspicion of insincerity in the most innocent mind.

"Thank you," said Boris.  And to her surprise and relief he halted
there, without attempting to pin her down to day and hour.  "He asked
simply to be polite," decided she, "and perhaps to irritate me a little.
He’s full of those feminine tricks."



                                  *IV*

                          *THE FOSDICK FAMILY*


In each of America’s great cities, East, West, South, Far West, a cliff
of marble glistening down upon the thoroughfare where the most thousands
would see it daily; armies of missionaries, so Fosdick liked to call
them, moving everywhere among the people; other armies of officers and
clerks, housed in the clifflike palaces and garnering the golden
harvests reaped by the missionaries—such was the scene upon which Horace
Armstrong looked out from his aerie in the vastest of the palaces o£ the
O.A.D.  And it inspired him.

Institutions, like individuals, have a magnetism, a power to attract and
to hold, that is quite apart from any analyzable quality or
characteristic.  Armstrong had grown up in the O.A.D., had preached it
as he rose in its service until he had preached belief in it into
himself—a belief that was unshaken by the series of damning exposures of
its Wall Street owners and users, and had survived his own discoveries,
as the increasing importance of his successive positions had forced the
"inside ring" to let him deeper and deeper into the secrets.  He had not
been long in the presidency before he saw that the whole system for
gathering in more and more policy holders, however beneficent incidental
results might be, had as its sole purpose the drawing of more and more
money within reach of greedy, unclean hands.  The fact lay upon the
surface of the O.A.D. as plain as a great green serpent sprawled upon
the ooze of a marsh.  Why else would these multimillionaire money
hunters interest themselves in insurance? And not a day passed without
his having to condemn and deplore—in his own mind—acts of the Fosdick
clique.  But morals are to a great extent a matter of period and class;
Armstrong, busy, unanalytic, "up-to-date" man of affairs, accepted
without much question the current moral standards of and for the man of
affairs.  And when he saw the inside ring "going too far," here and
there, now and then, he no more thought of denouncing it and abandoning
his career than a preacher would think of resigning a bishopric because
he found that his fellow bishops had not been made more than human by
the laying on of hands.

Where he could, Armstrong ignored; where he could not ignore—he told
himself that the end excused the means.

The busy days fled.  He had the feeling of being caught in a revolving
door that took him from bedtime to bedtime again without letting him out
to accomplish anything; and he was soon so well accommodated to the
atmosphere of high finance that he was breathing it with almost no
sensation of strangeness. When old Shotwell died—of "heart
failure"—Armstrong took out the undelivered speech.

The day after the "testimonial," he had decided that to read that speech
would be dangerously near to the line between honor and dishonor;
besides, it probably contained many things which, whether true or
prejudiced, might affect his peace of mind, might inflict upon his
conscience unnecessary discomforts.  A wise man is careful not to admit
to his valuable brain space matters which do not help him in the
accomplishment of his purposes.  Should he mail the manuscript to
Shotwell?  No.  That might tempt the old man to a course of folly and
disaster.  Armstrong hid the "stick of dynamite" among his private
papers.  But now, Shotwell was dead; and—well, he still believed in the
O.A.D.—in the main; but many things had happened in the months since he
came on from the West, many and disquieting things.  He felt that he
owed it to himself, and to the O.A.D., to gather from any and every
source information about the Fosdick ring.  He unfolded the manuscript,
spread it before him on the desk.

Eleven typewritten pages, setting forth in detail how Fosdick had slyly
lured Shotwell into committing, apparently alone, certain
"indiscretions" for which there happened to be legal penalties of one to
ten years in the penitentiary at hard labor; how Shotwell, thus
isolated, was trapped—though, as he proceeded to show, he had done
nothing morally or legally worse than all the others had done, the
Fosdick faction being careful to entangle in each misdeed enough of the
Galloway faction to make itself secure.  And all the offenses were those
"mere technicalities" which high finance permits the law to condemn only
because they, when committed in lower circles, cease to be justifiable
exceptions to the rule and become those "grave infractions of social
order and of property rights" which Chamber of Commerce dinners and bar
associations of corporation lawyers so strenuously lecture the people
about. And so, Shotwell had fallen.

Armstrong read the document four times—the first time, at a gallop; the
second time, line by line; the third time, with a long, thoughtful pause
after each paragraph; the fourth time, line by line again, with one hand
supporting his brow while the index finger of the other traced under
each separate word.  Then he leaned back and gazed from peak to peak of
the skyscrapers, stretching range on range toward harbor and river.  He
was not thinking now of the wrongs, the crimes against that mass of
policy holders, so remote, so abstract.  He was listening to a
different, a more terrible sound than the vague wail of that vague mass;
he was hearing the ticking of a death-watch.  For he had discovered that
Fosdick had him trapped in just the same way.

As a precaution?  Or with the time of his downfall definitely fixed?

Armstrong began to pace the limits of his big private room.  For a turn
or so it surprised him to find that he could move freely about; for,
with the thought that he was in another man’s power, had come a physical
sensation of actual chains and bolts and bars, of dungeon walls and
dungeon air.  In another man’s power!  In Fosdick’s power!  He, Horace
Armstrong, proud, intensely alive and passionately fond of freedom, with
inflexible ambition set upon being the master of men—he, a slave,
dependent for his place, for his authority, for his very reputation.
Dependent on the nod of a fellow man.  He straightened himself, shook
himself; he clenched his fists and his teeth until the powerful muscles
of his arms and shoulders and jaws swelled to aching, until the blood
beat in his skin like flame against furnace wall.

The door opened; he saw as he was turning that it was Josiah Fosdick; he
wheeled back toward the window because he knew that if he should find
himself full face to this master of his before he got self-control, he
would spring at him and sink his fingers in his throat and wring the
life out of him.  The will to kill!  To feel that creature under him,
under his knees and fingers; to see eyes and tongue burst out; to know
that the brain that dared conceive the thought of making a slave of him
was dead for its insolence!

"Good morning, my boy!" Josiah was saying in that sonorous, cheery voice
of his.  He always wore his square-crowned hard hat or his top hat well
back from his brow when he was under roof downtown; and he was always
nervously chewing at a cigar, which sometimes was lighted and sometimes
not.  Just now it was not lighted and the odor of it was to Armstrong
the sickening stench of the personality of his master.

"My master!" he muttered, and wiped the sweat from his forehead; with
eyes down and the look of the lion cringing before the hot iron in its
tamer’s hand he muttered a response.

"I want you to put my son Hugo in as one of the fourth vice-presidents,"
continued the old man, seating himself and cocking his trim feet on a
corner of the table.  "He must be broken to the business, and I’ve told
him he’s got to start at the bottom of the ladder."

Armstrong contrived to force a smile at this ironic pleasantry of his
master’s.  He instantly saw Josiah’s scheme—to have the young man
inducted into the business; presently to give him the dignity and honor
of the presidency, ejecting Armstrong, perhaps in discredit to justify
the change and to make it impossible for him to build up in another
company.

"You’ll do what you can to teach him the ropes?"

"Certainly," said Armstrong, at the window.

Fosdick came up close to him, put his hand affectionately on his
shoulder.  "You’ve grown into my heart, Horace.  I feel as if you were
another son of mine, as if Hugo were your younger brother.  I want you
to regard him as such.  I’m old; I’ll soon be off the boards.  I like to
think of you two young fellows working together in harmony.  It may be
that——"

Armstrong had himself well within the harness now. He looked calmly at
Fosdick and saw a twinkle in those good-natured, wicked eyes of his, a
warning that he had guessed Armstrong’s suspicion and was about to
counter with something he flattered himself was particularly shrewd.

"It may be I’ll want your present place for the boy, after a few years.
Perhaps it will be better not to put him there; again it may be a good
thing.  If I decide to do it, you’ll have a better place—something where
there’ll be an even bigger swing for your talents. I’ll see to that.  I
charge myself with your future."

Armstrong turned away, bringing his jaws together with a snap.

"You trust me, don’t you?" said Fosdick, not quite certain that
Armstrong had turned to hide an overmastering emotion of gratitude.

"I’d advise against making Hugo a vice-president just at present," said
Armstrong.

"Why?" demanded Fosdick with a frown.

"I think such a step wouldn’t be wise until after this new policy
holders’ committee has quieted down."

Fosdick laughed and waved his arm.  "Those smelling committees!  My boy,
I’m used to them. Every big corporation has one or more of ’em on hand
all the time.  The little fellows are always getting jealous of the men
who control, are always trying to scare them into paying larger
interest—for that’s what it amounts to.  We men who run things
practically borrow the public’s money for use in our enterprises. You
can call it stocks or bonds or mortgages or what not, but they’re really
lenders, though they think they’re shareholders and expect bigger
interest than mere money is worth.  But we don’t and won’t give much
above the market rate.  We keep the rest of the profits—we’re entitled
to ’em.  We’d play hob, wouldn’t we, lying awake of nights thinking out
schemes to enable John Jones and Tom Smith to earn thirty, forty, fifty
per cent on their money?"

"But this committee—"  There Armstrong halted, hesitating.

"Don’t fret about it, young man.  The chances are it’ll quiet down of
itself.  If it doesn’t, if it should have in it some sturdy beggar who
persists, why, we’ll hear from him sooner or later.  When we get his
figure, we can quiet him—put him on the pay roll or give him a whack at
our appropriation for legal expenses."

"But this committee—"  Armstrong stopped short—why should he warn
Fosdick?  Why go out of his way to be square with the man who had
enslaved him?  Had he not done his whole duty when he had refused to
listen to the overtures of the new combination against Fosdick?  Indeed,
was it more than a mere suspicion that such a combination existed?

"This committee—what?"

"You feel perfectly safe about it?"

"It couldn’t find out anything, if there was anything to find out.  And
if it did find out anything, what’d it do with it?  No newspaper would
publish it—our advertising department takes care of that.  The State
Government wouldn’t notice it—our legal department takes care of them."

"Sometimes there’s a slip-up.  A few years ago——"

"Yes," interrupted Fosdick; "it’s true, once in a while there’s a big
enough howl to frighten a few weak brothers.  But not Josiah Fosdick,
and not the O.A.D. We keep books better than we did before the big
clean-up.  A lot of good those clean-ups did!  As if anybody could get
up any scheme that would prevent the men with brains from running things
as they damn please."

"You’re right there," said Armstrong.  He had thought out the beginnings
of a new course.  "Well, if you put Hugo in, I suggest you give him my
place as chairman of the finance committee.  My strong hold is executive
work.  Let those that know finance attend to taking care of the money.
I want to devote myself exclusively to getting it in."

Armstrong saw this suggestion raised not the shadow of a suspicion in
Fosdick’s mind that he was trying to get rid of his share in the
responsibility for the main part of the "technically illegal" doings of
the controllers of the company.  "You simply to retain your _ex officio_
membership?" said he reflectively.

"That’s it," assented Armstrong.

"If you urge it, I’ll see that it is considered.  Your time ought all to
be given to raking in new business and holding on to the old.  Yes, it’s
a good suggestion. Of course, I’ll see that you get your share of the
profits from our little side deals, just the same."

"Thank you," said Armstrong.  He concealed his amusement.  In the
company there were rings within rings, and the profits increased as the
center was approached.  He knew that he himself had been put in a ring
well toward the outside.  His profits were larger than his salary, large
though it was; but they were trifling in comparison with the "melons"
reserved for the inner rings, were infinitesimal beside the big melon
Josiah reserved for himself, as his own share in addition to a share in
each ring’s "rake off."  The only ring Josiah didn’t put himself in was
the outermost ring of all—the ring of policy holders.  There was another
feature in which insurance surpassed railways and industrials.  In them
the controller sometimes had to lock up a large part of his own personal
resources in carrying blocks of stock that paid a paltry four or five or
six per cent interest, never more than seven or eight, often nothing at
all.  But in insurance, the controller played his game wholly with other
people’s money. Josiah, for instance, carried a policy of ten thousand
dollars, and that was the full extent of his investment; he held his
power over the millions of the masses simply because the proxies of the
policy holders were made out in blank to his creatures, the general
agents, whom he made and, at the slightest sign of flagging personal
loyalty, deposed.

Fosdick was still emitting compliment and promise like a giant
pinwheel’s glittering shower when the boy brought Armstrong a card.  He
controlled his face better than he thought.  "Your daughter," he said to
Fosdick, carelessly showing him the card.  "I suppose she’s downtown to
see you, and they told her you were in my office."

"Amy!" exclaimed Fosdick, forgetting his manners and snatching the card.
"What the devil does _she_ want downtown?  I’ll just see—it must be
important."

He hurried out.  In the second of Armstrong’s suite of three offices, he
saw her, seated comfortably—a fine exhibit of fashion, and not so
unmindful of the impression her elegance was making upon the furtively
glancing underlings as she seemed or imagined herself. At sight of her
father she colored, then tossed her head defiantly.  "What is it?" he
demanded, with some anxiety.  "What has brought _you_ downtown to see
me?"

"I didn’t come to see you," she replied.  "I sent my card to Mr.
Armstrong."

"Well, what do you want of him?" said Josiah, regardless of the presence
of Armstrong’s three secretaries.

"I’ll explain that to _him_."

"You’ll do nothing of the sort.  I can’t have my children interrupting
busy men.  Come along with me."

"I came to see Mr. Armstrong, and I’m going to see him," she retorted
imperiously.

Her father changed his tactics like the veteran strategist that he was.
"All right, all right.  Come in.  Only, we’re not going to stay long.

"I don’t want you," she said, laughing.  "I want him to show me over the
building."

"Lord bless my soul!" exclaimed Fosdick, winking at the three smiling
secretaries.  "And he the president!  Did anybody ever hear the like!"
And he took her by the arm and led her in, saying as they came, "This
young lady, finding time heavy on her hands uptown, has come to get you
to show her over the building."

Armstrong had risen to bow coldly.  "I’m sorry, but I really haven’t
time to-day," said he formally.

Fosdick’s brow reddened and his eyes flashed.  He had not expected
Armstrong to offer to act as his daughter’s guide; but neither had he
expected this tone from an employee.  "Don’t be so serious, young man,"
said he, roughness putting on the manner of good nature.  "Take my
daughter round and bring her to my office when you are through."

To give Armstrong time and the opportunity to extricate himself from the
impossible position into which he had rushed, Amy said, "What grand,
beautiful offices these are!  No wonder the men prefer it downtown to
the fussy, freaky houses the women get together uptown.  I haven’t been
here since the building was opened.  Papa made a great ceremony of that,
and we all came—I was nine.  Now, Mr. Armstrong, you can count up, if
you’re depraved enough, and know exactly how old I am."

Armstrong had taken up his hat.  "Whenever you’re ready, we’ll start,"
said he, having concluded that it would be impossible to refuse without
seeming ridiculous.

When the two were in the elevator on their way to the view from the top
of the building, Amy glanced mischievously up at him.  "You see, I got
my way," said she.  "I always do."

Armstrong shrugged and smiled stolidly.  "In trifles.  Willful people
are always winning—in trifles."

"Trifles are all that women deal in," rejoined she.


At the top, she sent one swift glance round the overwhelming panorama of
peak and precipice and canon swept by icy January wind and ran back to
the tower, drawing her furs still closer about her.  "I didn’t come to
see this," she said.  "I came to find out why you don’t—why you have cut
me off your visiting list.  I’ve written you—I’ve tried to get you on
the telephone.  Never did I humiliate myself so abjectly—in fact, never
before was I abject at all.  It isn’t like you, to be as good friends as
you and I have been, and then, all at once, to act like this—unless
there was a reason.  I haven’t many friends.  I haven’t any I like so
well as you—that’s frank, isn’t it?  I thought we were going to be
_such_ friends."  This nervously, with an air of timidity that was the
thin cover of perfect self-possession and self-confidence.

"So did I," said Armstrong, his eyes on hers with a steadiness she could
not withstand, "until I got at your notion of friendship.  You can have
dogs and servants, hangers-on, but not friends."

"What did I do?" she asked innocently.  "Gracious, how touchy you are."

In his eyes there was an amused refusal to accept her pretense.  "You
understand.  Don’t ’fake’ with me.  I’m too old a bird for that snare."

"If I did anything to offend you, it was unconscious."

"Perhaps it was—at the time.  You’ve got the habit of ordering people
about, of having everybody do just what you wish.  But, in thinking
things over, didn’t you guess what discouraged me?"

She decided to admit what could not be denied. "Yes—I did," said she.
"And that is why I’ve come to you.  I forgot, and treated you like the
others.  I did it several times, and disregarded the danger signals you
flew.  Let’s begin once more—will you?"

"Certainly," said Armstrong, but without enthusiasm.

"You aren’t forgiving me," she exclaimed.  "Or—was there—something
else?"

His eyes shifted and he retreated a step.  "You mustn’t expect much from
me, you know," said he, looking huge and unapproachable.  "All my time
is taken up with business.  You’ve no real use for a man like me.  What
you want is somebody to idle about with you."

"That’s just what I don’t want," she cried, gazing admiringly up at him.
And she was sad and reproachful as she pleaded.  "You oughtn’t to desert
me.  I know I can’t do much for you, but—  You found me idle and oh, so
bored.  Why, I used to spend hours in trying to think of trivial ways to
pass the time.  I’d run to see pictures I didn’t in the least care
about, and linger at the dressmakers’ and the milliners’ shops and the
jewelers’.  I’d dress myself as slowly as possible. You can’t
imagine—you who have to fight against being overwhelmed with things to
do.  You can’t conceive what a time the women in our station have.  And
one suggestion you made—that I study architecture and fit myself to help
in building our house—it changed my whole life."

"It was the obvious thing to do," said he, and she saw he was not in the
least flattered by her flattery which she had thought would be
irresistible.

"You forget," replied she, "that we women of the upper class are brought
up not to put out our minds on anything for very long, but to fly from
one thing to another.  I’d never have had the persistence to keep at
architecture until the hard part of the reading was finished.  I’d have
bought a lot of books, glanced at the pictures, read a few pages and
then dropped the whole business.  And it was really through you that I
got father to introduce me to Narcisse Siersdorf.  I’ve grown _so_ fond
of her!  Why is it the women out West, out where you come from, are so
much more capable than we are?"

"Because they’re educated in much the same way as the men," replied he.
"Also, I suppose the men out there aren’t rich enough yet to tempt the
women to become—odalisques.  Here, every one of you is either an
odalisque or trying to get hold of some man with money enough to make
her one."

"What is an odalisque?  It’s some kind of a woman, isn’t it?"

"Well—it’s of that sex."

"You think I’m very worthless, don’t you?"

"To a man like me.  For a man with time for what they call the
ornamental side of life, you’d be—just right."

"Was that why—the _real_ reason why—you stopped coming?"

"Yes."

He was looking at her, she at the floor, gathering her courage to make a
reply which instinct forbade and vanity and desire urged.  Hugo’s head
appeared in the hatchway entrance to the tower room.  As she was facing
it, she saw him immediately.  "Hello, brother," she cried, irritation in
her voice.

He did not answer until he had emerged into the room.  Then he said with
great dignity, "Amy, father wants you.  Come with me."  This without a
glance at Armstrong.

"Would you believe he is three years younger than I?" said she to
Armstrong with a laugh.  "Run along, Hugo, and tell papa we’re coming."

Hugo turned on Armstrong.  "Will you kindly descend?" he ordered, with
the hauteur of a prince in a novel or play.

"Do as your sister bids, Hugo," said Armstrong, with a carelessness that
bordered on contempt.  He was in no very good humor with the Fosdick
family and Hugo’s impudence pushed him dangerously near to the line
where a self-respecting man casts aside politeness and prudence.

Hugo drew himself up and stared coldly at the "employee."  "You will
please not address me as Hugo."

"What then?" said Armstrong, with no overt intent to offend.  "Shall I
whistle when I want you, or snap my fingers?"

Amy increased Hugo’s fury by laughing at him. "You’d better behave,
Hugo," she said.  "Come along."  And she pushed him, less reluctant than
he seemed, toward the stairway.

The three descended in the elevator together, Amy talking incessantly,
Armstrong tranquil, Hugo sullen. At the seventeenth floor, Armstrong had
the elevator stopped.  "Good-by," he said to Amy, without offering to
shake hands.

"Good-by," responded she, extending her hand, insistently.  "Remember,
we are friends again."

With a slight noncommittal smile, he touched her gloved fingers and went
his way.

There was no one in Fosdick’s private room; so, Hugo was free to ease
his mind.  "What do you mean by coming down here and making a scandal?"
he burst out.  "It was bad enough for you to encourage the fellow’s
attentions uptown—to flirt with him. You—flirting with one of your
father’s employees!"

Amy’s eyes sparkled angrily.  "Horace Armstrong is my best friend," she
said.  "You must be careful what you say to me about him."

"The next thing, you’ll be boasting you’re in love with him," sneered
her brother.

"I might do worse," retorted she.  "I could hardly do better."

"What’s the matter, children?" cried their father, entering suddenly by
a door which had been ajar, and by which they had not expected him.

"Hugo has been making a fool of himself before Armstrong," said Amy.
"Why did you send him after me?"

"I?" replied Fosdick.  "I simply told him where you were."

"But I suspected," said Hugo.  "And, sure enough, I found her flirting
with him.  I stopped it—that’s all."

Fosdick laughed boisterously—an unnatural laugh, Amy thought.  "Do light
your cigar, father," she said irritably.  "It smells horrid."

Fosdick threw it away.  "Horace is a mighty attractive fellow," he said.
"I don’t blame you, Mimi."  Then, with good-humored seriousness, "But
you must be careful, girl, not to raise false hopes in him.  Be
friendly, but don’t place yourself in an unpleasant position.  You
oughtn’t to let him lose sight of the—the gulf between you."

"What gulf?"

"You know perfectly well he’s not in our class," exclaimed Hugo, helping
out his somewhat embarrassed father.

"What is our class?" inquired Amy in her most perverse mood.

"Shut up, Hugo!" commanded his father.  "She understands."

"But I do not," protested Amy.

"Very well," replied her father, kissing her.  "Be careful—that’s all.
Now, I’ll put you in your carriage."  On the way he said gravely,
tenderly, "I’ll trust you with a secret—a part of one.  I know Armstrong
better than you do.  He’s an adventurer, and I fear he has got into
serious trouble, very serious. Keep this to yourself, Mimi.  Trust your
father’s judgment—at least, for a few months.  Be most polite to our
fascinating friend, but keep him at a safe distance."

Fosdick could be wonderfully moving and impressive when he set himself
to it; and he knew when to stop as well as what to say.  Amy made no
reply; in silence she let him tuck the robe about her and start her
homeward.



                                  *V*

                          *NARCISSE AND ALOIS*


When Amy thought of her surroundings again, she was within a few blocks
of home.  "I won’t lunch alone," she said.  "I can’t, with this on my
mind."  Through the tube she bade the coachman turn back to the
Siersdorf offices.

A few minutes, and her little victoria was at the curb before a
brownstone house that would have passed for a residence had there not
been, to the right of the doorway, a small bronze sign bearing the
words, "A. and N. Siersdorf, Builders."  Two women were together on the
sidewalk at the foot of the stoop.  One, Amy noted, had a curiously long
face, a curiously narrow figure; but she noted nothing further, as there
was nothing in her toilet to arrest the feminine eye, ever on the rove
for opportunities to learn something, or to criticise something, in the
appearance of other women. The other was Narcisse Siersdorf—a strong
figure, somewhat below the medium height, like Amy herself; a certain
remote Teutonic suggestion in the oval features, fair, fine skin and
abundant fair hair; a quick, positive manner, the dress of a highly
prosperous working woman, businesslike yet feminine and attractive in
its details.  The short blue skirt, for example, escaped the ground
evenly, hung well and fitted well across the hips; the blue jacket was
cut for freedom of movement without sacrificing grace of line; and her
white gloves were fresh.  As Amy descended, she heard Narcisse say to
the other woman, "Now, please don’t treat me as a ’foreign devil.’  If I
hadn’t happened on you in the street, I’d never have seen you."

"Really, I’ve intended to stop in, every time I passed," said the other,
moving away as she saw Amy approaching.  "Good-by.  I’ll send you a note
as soon as I get back—about a week."

"One of the girls from out West," Narcisse explained.  "We went to
school together for a while. She’s as shy as a hermit thrush, but worth
pursuing."

"You’re to lunch with me," said Amy.

Narcisse shook her head.  "No—and you’re not lunching with me, to-day.
My brother’s come, and we’ve got to talk business."

Amy frowned, remembering that those tactics were of no avail with
Narcisse.  "Please!  I want to meet your brother—I really ought to meet
him.  And I’ll promise not to speak."

"He’s a man; so he’d be unable to talk freely, with a woman there,"
replied Narcisse.  "You two would be posing and trying to make an
impression on each other."

"Please!"

They were in the doorway, Narcisse blocking the passage to the offices.
"Good-by," she said.  "You mustn’t push in between the poor and their
bread and butter."

Amy was turning away.  Her expression—forlorn, hurt, and movingly
genuine—was too much for Narcisse’s firmness.  "You’re not especially
gay to-day," said she, relentingly.

Amy, quick as a child to detect the yielding note, brought her flitting
mind back to Armstrong and her troubles.  "My faith in a person I was
very fond of has been—shaken."  There was a break in her voice, and her
bright shallow eyes were misty.

"Come in," said Narcisse, not wholly deceived, but too soft-hearted not
to give Amy the benefit of the doubt, just as she gave to whining
beggars, though she knew they were "working" her.  Anyhow, was not Amy
to be pitied on general principles, and dealt gently with, as a victim
of the blight of wealth?

Amy never entered those offices without a new sensation of pleasure.
The voluntary environment of a human being is a projection, a
reflection, of his inner self, is the plain, undeceiving index to his
real life—for, is not the life within, the drama of thought, the real
life, and the drama of action but the imperfect, distorted shadowgraph?
The barest room can be most significant of the personality of its
tenant; his failure to make any impression on his surroundings is
conclusive.  The most crowded or the gaudiest room may tell the same
story as the barest.  The Siersdorfs conducted their business in five
rooms, each a different expression of the simplicity and sincerity which
characterized them and their work.  There was the same notable absence
of the useless, of the merely ornamental, the same making of every
detail contributory both to use and to beauty.  One wearies of rooms
that are in any way ostentatious; proclamation of simplicity is as
tedious as proclamation of pretentiousness.  Those rooms seemed to
diffuse serenity; they were like the friends of whom one never tires
because they always have something new and interesting to offer.
Especially did there seem to be something miraculous about Narcisse’s
own private office.  It had few articles in it, and they unobtrusive;
yet, to sit in that room and look about was to have as many differing
impressions as one would get in watching a beam of white light upon a
plain of virgin snow.

"How _do_ you do it!" Amy exclaimed, as she seated herself.  She almost
always made the same remark in the same circumstances.  "But then," she
went on, "_you_ are a miracle.  Now, there’s the dress you’ve got
on—it’s a jacket, a blouse, a belt and a skirt.  But what have you done
to it?  How do you induce your dressmaker to put together such things
for you?"

"You have to tell a dressmaker what to do," replied Narcisse, "and then
you have to tell her how to do it. If she knew what to make and how,
she’d not stop at dressmaking long.  As I get only a few things, I can
take pains with them.  But you get so many that you have to accept what
somebody else has thought out, and just as they’ve thought it out."

"And the result is, I look a frump," said Amy, half believing it for the
moment.

"You look the woman who has too many clothes to have any that really
belong to her," replied Narcisse, greatly to Amy’s secret irritation.
"There’s the curse of wealth—too many clothes, to be well dressed; too
many servants, to be well served; too many and too big houses, to be
well housed; too much food, to be well fed."  Then to the office boy for
whom she had rung, "Please ask my brother if he’s ready."

Soon Siersdorf appeared—about five years younger than his sister, who
seemed a scant thirty; in his dress and way of wearing the hair and
beard a suggestion of Europe, of Paris, and of the artist—a mere
suggestion, just a touch of individuality—but not a trace of pose, and
no eccentricity.  He was of the medium height, very blond, with more
sympathy than strength in his features, but no defined weakness either.
A boy-man of fine instincts and tastes, you would have said; indolent,
yet capable of being spurred to toil; taking his color from his
surroundings, yet retaining his own fiber. He was just back from a year
abroad, where he had been studying country houses with especial
reference to harmony between house and garden—for, the Siersdorfs had a
theory that a place should be designed in its entirety and that the
builder should be the designer.  They called themselves builders rather
than architects, because they thought that the separation of the two
inseparable departments was a ruinous piece of artistic
snobbishness—what is every kind of snobbishness in its essence but the
divorce of brain and hand?  "No self-respecting man," Siersdorf often
said, "can look on his trade as anything but a profession, or on his
profession as anything but a trade."

During lunch Amy all but forgot her father’s depressing hints against
Armstrong in listening as the brother and sister talked; and, as she
listened, she envied.  They were so interested, and so interesting.
Their life revealed her own as drearily flat and wearily empty.  They
knew so much, knew it so thoroughly. "How could anyone else fail to get
tired of me when I get so horribly tired of myself?" she thought, at the
low ebb of depression about herself—an unusual mood, for habitually she
took it for granted that she must be one of the most envied and most
enviable persons in the world.

Narcisse suddenly said to her brother, "Whom do you think I met to-day?
Neva Carlin."  At that name Amy, startled, became alert.  "She’s got a
studio down at the end of the block," Narcisse went on, "and is taking
lessons from Boris Raphael.  That shows she has real talent, unless—"
She paused with a smile.

"Probably," said Alois.  "Boris is always in love with some woman."

"In love with love," corrected Narcisse.  "Men who are always in love
care little about the particular woman who happens to be the medium of
the moment."

"I thought she was well off," said Alois; and then he looked slightly
confused, as if he was trying not to show that he had made a slip.

Narcisse seemed unconscious, though she replied with, "There are people
in the world who work when they don’t have to.  And a few of them are
women."

"But I thought she was married, too.  It seems to me I heard it
somewhere."

"I didn’t ask questions," said Narcisse.  "I never do, when I meet
anyone I haven’t seen in a long time. It’s highly unsafe."

With studied carelessness Amy now said: "I’d like to know her.  She’s
the woman you were talking with at the door just now, isn’t she?"

"Yes," said Narcisse.

"She looked—unusual," continued Amy.  "I wish you’d take me to see her."

"I’ll be very glad to take you," Narcisse offered, on impulse.  "Perhaps
she’s really got talent and isn’t simply looking for a husband.
Usually, when a woman shows signs of industry it means she’s looking for
a husband, whatever it may seem to mean.  But, if Neva’s in earnest
about her work and has talent, you might put her in the way of an order
or so."

"I’ll go, any day," said Amy.  "Please don’t forget."

She departed as soon as lunch was over, and the brother and sister set
out for their offices—not for their work; it they never left.  "Pretty,
isn’t she?" said Alois.  "And extremely intelligent."

"She is intelligent in a scrappy sort of way," replied his sister.  "But
she neither said nor did anything in your presence to-day to indicate
it."

"Well, then—she’s pretty enough to make a mere man think she’s
intelligent."

"I saw you were beginning to fall in love with her," said the sister.

"I?  Ridiculous!"

"Oh, I know you better than you know yourself in some ways.  You’ve been
bent on marriage for several years now."

"I want children," said he, after a pause.

"That’s it—children.  But, instead of looking for a mother for children,
you’ve got eyes only for the sort of women that either refuse to have
children, or, if they have them, abandon them to nurses.  Let the Amy
Fosdick sort alone, Alois.  A cane for a lounger; a staff for a
traveler."

"You’re prejudiced."

"I’m a woman, and I know women.  And I have interest enough in you to
tell you the exact truth about them."

"No woman ever knows the side of another woman that she shows only to
the man she cares for."

"A very unimportant side.  Its gilt hardly lasts through the wedding
ceremony.  If you are going to make the career you’ve got the talent
for, you don’t want an Amy Fosdick.  You’d be better off without any
wife, for that matter.  You ought to have married when you were poor, if
you were going to do it.  You’re too prosperous now.  If you marry a
poor woman, you’ll spoil her; if you marry a rich woman, she’ll spoil
you."

"You’re too harsh with your own sex, Narcisse," said Alois.  "If I
didn’t know you so well, I’d think you were really hard.  Who’d ever
imagine, just hearing you talk, that you are so tender-hearted you have
to be protected from your own sentimentality? The real truth is you
don’t want me to marry."

"To marry foolishly—no.  Tell me, ’Lois, what could you gain by
marrying—say, Amy Fosdick?  In what way could she possibly help you?
She couldn’t make a home for you—she doesn’t know the first thing about
housekeeping.  The prosperous people nowadays think their daughters are
learning housekeeping when they’re learning to ruin servants by ordering
them about.  You say I’m harsh with my sex, but, as a matter of fact,
I’m only just."

"Just!" Alois laughed.  "That’s the harshest word the human tongue
utters."

"I’ve small patience with women, I will admit. They amount to little,
and they’re sinking to less. Girls used to dream of the man they’d
marry.  Now it’s not the man at all, but the establishment.  Their
romance is of furniture and carriages and servants and clothes.  A man,
any man, to support them in luxury."

"I’ve noticed that," admitted Alois.

"It’s bad enough to look on marriage as a career," continued Narcisse.
"But, pass that over.  What do the women do to fit themselves for it?  A
man learns his business—usually in a half-hearted sort of way, but still
he tries to learn a little something about it.  A woman affects to
despise hers—and does shirk it.  She knows nothing about cooking,
nothing about buying, nothing about values or quantities or economy or
health or babies or—  She rarely knows how to put on the clothes she
gets; you’ll admit that most women show plainly they haven’t a notion
what clothes they ought to wear.  Women don’t even know enough to get
together respectably clever traps to catch the men with. The men fall
in; they aren’t drawn in."

"Yet," said Alois, ironic and irritated, "the world staggers on."

"Staggers," retorted Narcisse.  "And the prosperous classes—we’re
talking about them—don’t even stagger on.  They stop and slide back—what
can be expected of the husbands of such wives, the sons and daughters of
such mothers?"

Narcisse was so intensely in earnest that her brother laughed outright.
"There, there, Cissy," said he, "don’t be alarmed—I’m not even engaged
yet."

Narcisse made no reply.  She knew the weak side of her brother’s
character, knew its melancholy possibilities of development; and she had
guessed what was passing in his mind as he and Amy were trying each to
please the other.

"You yourself would be the better—the happier, certainly—for falling in
love," pursued Alois.

"Indeed I should," she assented with sincerity. "But the man who comes
for me—or whom I set my snares for—must have something more than a
pretty face or a few sex-tricks that ought not to fool a girl just out
of the nursery."

No arrow penetrates a man’s self-esteem more deeply than an insinuation
that he is easy game for women.  But Alois was no match for his sister
at that kind of warfare.  He hid his irritation, and said
good-humoredly, "When you fall in love, my dear, it’ll be just like the
rest of us—with your heart, not with your head."

Narcisse looked at him shrewdly, yet lovingly, too. "I’m not afraid of
your marrying because you’ve fallen in love.  What I’m agitated about is
lest you’ll fall in love because you want to marry."

Alois had an uncomfortable look that was confession.



                                  *VI*

                         *NEVA GOES TO SCHOOL*


Boris let a week, nearly two weeks, pass before he went to see Miss
Carlin.  He thought he was delaying in hope that the impulse to
investigate her would wane and wink out.  He had invariably had this
same hope about every such impulse, and invariably had been
disappointed.  The truth was, whenever he happened upon a woman with
certain lines of figure and certain expression of eyes—the lines and the
expression that struck the keynote of his masculine nerves for the
feminine—he pursued and paused not until he was satisfied, sated, calm
again—or hopelessly baffled.  And as he was attractive to women, and
both adroit and reckless, and not at all afraid of them, his failures
were few.

In this particular case the cause of his long delay in beginning was
that he had just maneuvered his affair with the famously beautiful Mrs.
Coventry to the point where each was trying to get rid of the other with
full and obvious credit for being the one to break off. Mrs. Coventry
was stupid; even her beauty, changelessly lovely, bored and irritated
him.  But nature had given her in default of brains a subtle craftiness;
thus, she had been able to meet Boris’s every attempt to cast her off
with a move that put her in the position of seeming to be the one who
was doing the casting—and Boris had a feminine vanity in those matters.
At last, however, his weariness of his tiresome professional beauty and
his impatience to begin a new adventure combined to make him indifferent
to what people might say and think.  Instead of sailing with Mrs.
Coventry, as he had intended, he abruptly canceled his passage; and
while she was descending the bay on the _Oceanic_, he was moving toward
Miss Carlin’s studio.

"You have not forgotten me?" said he in that delightfully ingenuous way
of his, as he entered the large studio and faced the shy, plainly
dressed young woman from the Western small town.

"No, indeed," replied she, obviously fluttered and flattered by this
utterly unexpected visit from the great man.

"I come as a brother artist," he explained.  He was standing before her,
handsome and picturesque in a costume that was yet conventional.  He
diffused the odor of a powerful, agreeable, distinctly feminine perfume.
The feminine details of his toilet made his strong body and aggressive
face seem the more masculine; his face, his virile, clean, blond beard,
his massive shoulders, on the other hand, made his perfume, his plaited
shirt and flowing tie, his several gorgeous rings and his too neat boots
seem the more flauntingly feminine.  "What I saw of you," he proceeded,
"and what your cousin told me, roused my interest and my curiosity."

At "curiosity" his clear, boyish eyes danced and his smile showed even,
very white teeth and part of the interior of a too ruddy, too healthily
red mouth.  Like everything about him that was characteristic, this
smile both fascinated and repelled.  Evidently this man drew an intense
physical joy from life, had made of his intellect an expert extractor of
the last sweet drop of pleasure that could be got from perfectly
healthy, monstrously acute nerves.  When he used any nerve, any of those
trained servants of his sybarite passions, it was no careless, ignorant
performance such as ordinary mortals are content with.  It was a
finished and perfect work of art—and somehow suggestive of a tiger
licking its chops and fangs and claws and fur that it might not lose a
shred of its victim’s flesh.  But this impression of repulsion was
fleeting; the charm of the personality carried off, where it did not
conceal, the sinister side.  Because Boris understood his fellow beings,
especially the women, so thoroughly, they could not but think him
sympathetic, could not appreciate that he lured them into exposing or
releasing their emotions solely for his own enjoyment.

But Neva was seeing the artist so vividly that she was seeing the man
not at all.  Only those capable of real enthusiasm can appreciate how
keenly she both suffered and enjoyed, in the presence of the Boris
Raphael who to her meant the incorporeal spirit of the art she loved and
served.  He, to relieve her embarrassment and to give her time to
collect herself, turned his whole attention to her work—a portrait of
Molly, the old servant she had brought with her from Battle Field.

He seemed absorbed in the unfinished picture.  In fact, he was thinking
only of her.  By the infection to which highly sensitive people are
susceptible, he had become as embarrassed as she.  One of the chief
sources of his power with women was his ability to be in his own person
whatever the particular woman he was seeking happened to be—foolish with
the foolish, youthful with the young, wise with the sensible, serpentine
with the crafty, coarse with the grossly material, spiritual with the
high-minded.  He had all natures within himself and could show whichever
he pleased.

As he felt Neva’s presence, felt the thrill of those moving graces of
her figure, the passion that those mysterious veiled eyes of hers
inspired, he was still perfectly aware of her defects, all of them, all
that must be done before she should be ready to pluck and enjoy. It was
one of her bad mornings.  Her skin was rather sallow and her eyelids
were too heavy.  Since she had been in New York, she had adopted saner
habits of regular eating and regular exercise than she had had, or had
even known about, in Battle Field.  She was beginning to understand why
most people, especially most women, go to pieces young; and for the sake
of her work, not at all because she hoped for or wished for physical
beauty, she was taking better care of herself. But latterly she had been
all but prostrate before a violent attack of the blues, and had been
eating and sleeping irregularly, and not exercising.  Thus, only a Boris
Raphael would have suspected her possibilities as she stood there,
slightly stooped, the sallowness of her skin harmonizing drearily with
her long, loose dark-brown blouse, neutral in itself and a neutralizer.
He saw at a glance the secret of her having been able to deceive
everybody, to conceal herself, even from herself. He felt the
discoverer’s thrill; his blood fired like knight’s at sight of secret,
sleeping princess.  But he pretended to ignore her as a personality of
the opposite sex pole, knowing that to see her and know her as she
really was he must not let her suspect she was observed. He reveled in
such adventures upon soul privacy, not the least disturbed because they
bore a not remote resemblance to that of the spy upon a nymph at the
forest pool.  He justified himself by arguing that he made no improper
use of his discoveries, but laid them upon the high and holy altars of
art and love.

Far from being discouraged by the difficulties which Neva was that
morning making so obvious, he welcomed the abrupt change from the
monotonous beauty of Doris Coventry.  She had given him no opportunity
for the exercise of his peculiar talents.  With her the banquet was
ready spread; with this woman practically everything had to be prepared.
And what a banquet it would be!  When he had developed her beauty, had
made her all that nature intended, had taught her self-confidence and
the value of externals and had given her the courage to express the
ideas and the emotions that now shrank shyly behind those marvelous eyes
of hers—  How poor, how paltry, how tedious seemed such adventures as
that with Doris Coventry beside this he was now entering!

As if he were her teacher, he took up the palette and with her
long-handled brushes made a dozen light, swift touches—what would have
been an intolerable insolence in a less than he.  To be master was but
asserting his natural right; men hated him for it, but the women liked
him and it.

"Oh!" she cried delightedly as she observed the result of what he had
done.  Then, at the contrast between his work and her own, cried "Oh,"
again, but despondently.

"You must let me teach you," said he, as if addressing the talent
revealed in her picture.

"Do you think I could learn?" she asked wistfully.

He elevated his shoulders and brows.  "We must all push on until we
reach our limit; and until we reach it, we, nor no man, can say where it
is."

"But I’ve no right to _your_ time," she said reluctantly.

"I teach to learn.  I teach only those from whom I get more than I give.
You see," with his engaging boyish smile, "I have the mercantile
instinct."

She looked at him doubtfully, searching for the motive behind an offer,
so curious, so improbable in and of itself.  She saw before her now the
outward and visible form of the genius she revered—a very handsome man,
a man whose knowledge how to make himself agreeable to women must
obviously have been got by much and intimate experience; a man whose
sensuous eyes and obstreperous masculinity of thick waving hair and
thick crisp reddish beard, roused in her the distrust bred by ages on
ages of enforced female wariness of the male that is ever on conquest
bent and is never so completely conqueror as when conquered.  But this
primordial instinct, never developed in her by experience, was feeble,
was immediately silenced by the aspect of him which she clearly
understood—his look of breadth and luminousness and simplicity, the
master’s eye and the master’s air—the great man.

"You will teach me more than I you," he insisted.

"Why?" she managed to object, wondering at her own courage as much as at
his condescension—for such an offer from such a man was, she felt,
indeed a condescension.

"Because you paint with your heart while I paint rather with my head."

"But that is the greater."

"No.  It is simply different.  Neither is great."

"Neither?"

"Only he is supremely great who works with both heart and mind."

She showed how well she understood, by saying, "Leonardo, for example?"

Boris’s face was the devotee’s at mention of the god. The worldliness,
the aggressive animality vanished. "Leonardo alone among painters," said
he.  "And he reached the pinnacle in one picture only—the picture of the
woman he loved yet judged."

Her own expression had changed.  The least observant would have seen
just then why Boris, connoisseur, had paused before her.  She had
dropped her mask, had come forth as the shy beauties of the field lift
their heads above the snow in response to the sun of early spring.  For
the first time in her life she had met a human being to whom life meant
precisely what it had meant to her.  His own expression of exaltation
passed with the impulse that had given it birth; but she did not see.
He was for her Boris Raphael, artist through and through.  Instead of
suspicion and shrinking, her long narrow eyes, luminous, mysterious, now
expressed confidence; she would never again be afraid of one who had in
him what this man had revealed to her.  She had always seen it in his
work; she greeted it in the man himself as one greets an old, a stanch
friend, tested in moods and times of sorrow and trial.

He glanced at her, glanced hastily away lest she should realize how
close he had thus quickly got to her soul, shy and graceful and
resplendent as a flamingo. "You will let me teach you?" said he.

"I don’t understand your asking."

"Nor do I," replied he.  "All I know is, I felt I must come and offer my
services.  It only remains for you to obey your impulse to accept."

Without further hesitation she accepted; and there was firmly
established the intimate relations of master workman and apprentice,
with painting, and through painting the whole of life, as the trade, to
be learned. For, the arts are a group of sister peaks commanding the
entire panorama of truth and beauty, of action and repose; and to learn
of a master at any one of them is to be pupil to all wisdom.


Boris arranged with her to come three mornings a week to the atelier,
raftered and galleried, which he had made of the top stories of two
quaint old houses in Chelsea’s one remaining green square.  Soon he was
seeing her several afternoons also, at her apartment; and they were
lunching and dining together, both alone and in the company of artists
and the sort of fashionable serious-idle people who seek the society of
artists. The part of her shyness that was merely strangeness did not
long withstand his easy, sympathetic manner, his simplicity, his
adroitness at drawing out the best in any person with whom he took pains
to exert himself. It required much clever maneuvering before he got her
rid of the shyness that came from lack of belief in her power to
interest others.  The people out West, inexpert in the social art,
awkward and shy with each other, often in intimate family life even, had
without in the least intending it, encouraged her and confirmed her in
this depressing disbelief.  In all her life she had never been so well
acquainted with anyone as with Boris after a week of the lessons; and
with him, even after two months of friendship, she would suddenly and
unaccountably close up like a sensitive plant, be embarrassed and
constrained, feel and act as if he were a stranger. Self-confidence
finally came through others, not at all through him.  Her new
acquaintances, observant, sympathetic, quickly saw what Boris pointed
out to them; and by their manner, by their many and urgent invitations
and similar delicate indirect compliments, they made her feel without
realizing it that she was not merely tolerated for his sake, but was
sought on her own account.

We hear much of the effect of things internal, little of the far more
potent effect of externals.  Boris, frankly materialistic, was all for
externals.  For him the external was not only the sign of what was
within, but also was actually its creator.  He believed that character
was more accurately revealed in dress than in conversation, in manners
than in professions.  "Show me through a woman’s living place," he often
said, "and I will tell you more about her soul than she could tell her
confessor."  His one interest in Neva was her physical beauty; his one
object, to develop it to the utmost of the possibilities he alone saw.
But he was in no hurry.  He had the assiduous patience of genius that
works steadily and puts deliberate thought into every stroke.  He would
not spoil his creation by haste; he would not rob himself of a single
one of the joys of anticipation.  And his pleasure was enhanced by the
knowledge that if she so much as suspected his real design, or any
design at all, she would shut herself away beyond his reach.

"I want you as a model," said he one day, in the offhand manner he used
with her to conceal direct personal purpose.  "But you’ve got to make
changes in your appearance—dress—way of wearing the hair—all that."

She alarmed him by coloring vividly; he had no suspicion that it was
because she had been secretly using him as a model for several months.
"I’ve hurt your vanity?" said he.  "Well, I never before knew you had
that sort of vanity.  I fancied you gave the least possible attention to
your outside."

"I’ll be glad to help you in any way," she hastened to assure him.
"You’re quite wrong about my reason for not accepting at once.  It
wasn’t wounded vanity.... I don’t know whether I have much vanity or
not.  I’ve never thought about it."

He laughed.  "Well, you will have, when you’ve seen the picture I’ll
make.  What a queer, puritanic lot you Westerners are!"  He seated
himself at ease astride a chair, and gazed at her impersonally, as
artist at model in whom interest is severely professional. "I suppose
you don’t know you are a very beautiful woman—or could be if you half
tried."

"No, I don’t," replied she indifferently.  "What do you wish me to do?"

"To become beautiful."

"Don’t tease me," said she curtly.  "I hate my looks.  I never see
myself if I can help it."

He took the master’s tone with her.  "You will kindly keep this away
from the personal," reprimanded he.  "I am discussing you as a model.
I’ve no interest in your vanity or lack of it."

She resumed her place as pupil with a meek "I beg your pardon."

"First, I want you to spend time in looking at yourself in the glass and
in thinking about yourself, your personal appearance.  I want you to do
this, so that you may be of use to me.  But you really ought to do it
for your own sake.  If you are to be an artist, you must live.  To live
you must use to its fullest capacity every advantage nature has given
you.  The more you give others, the more you will receive.  It is not to
your credit that you don’t think about dress or study yourself in the
mirror.  The reverse.  If you are homely, thought and attention will
make you less so.  If you are beautiful, or could be—  What a crime to
add to the unsightliness of the world when one might add to its
sightliness!  And what an impertinence to search for, to cry for beauty,
and to refuse to do your own part."

"I hadn’t thought of it in that way," confessed she, evidently impressed
by this unanswerable logic.

He eyed her professionally through the smoke of his cigarette.  "If you
are to help me with the picture I have in mind, you’ll have to change
your hair—for the next few months.  Your way of wearing it, I
mean—though that will change the color too—or, rather, bring out the
color."

Neva colored with embarrassment, remembered she was but a model, braced
herself resolutely.

"For my purposes—  Just stand before that mirror there."  He indicated
the great mirror which gave him double the width of the atelier as
perspective for his work.  "Now, you’ll observe that by braiding your
hair and putting it on top of your head, you ruin the lines I wish to
bring out.  The beautiful and the grotesque are very close to each
other.  Your face and figure ought to be notable as an exhibit of
beautiful lengths.  But when you put your hair on top of your head, you
extend the long lines of neck and face too far—at least, for my
purposes."

"I see," said she, herself quite forgotten; for, his impersonal manner
was completely convincing, and his exposition of the principles of art
was as important as novel and interesting.

"Do your hair well down toward the nape of the neck—and loosely.
Somewhat as it was that night at the Morrises, only—more so."

"I’ll try it," she said with what sounded hopefully like the beginnings
of acquiescence.

"That’s better!" exclaimed he, in approval of her docile tone.  "And
keep on trying till you get it right. You’ll know.  You’ve got good
taste.  If you hadn’t, it’d be useless to talk these things to you.  The
thing is to bring out your natural good taste—to encourage, to educate,
instead of repressing it....  No, don’t turn away, yet.  I want you to
notice some color effects.  That dress you have on—  You always wear
clothes that are severely somber, almost funereal—quite funereal.  One
would think, to look at your garb, that there was no laughter anywhere
in you—no possibilities of laughter."

Neva’s laughing face, looking at him by way of the mirror, showed that
she was now in just the mood he wished.  "I want to make a very human
picture," he went on.  "And, while the dominant note of the human aspect
in repose is serious—pensive to tragic—it is relieved by suggestions of
laughter.  Your dress makes your sadness look depressed, resigned,
chronic.  Yet you yourself are strong and cheerful and brave.  You do
not whimper.  Why look as if you did, and by infection depress others?
Don’t you think we owe it to a sad world to contribute whatever of
lightness we can?"

She nodded.  "I hadn’t thought of that," said she.

"Well, don’t you think it’s about time you did? ... Now, please observe
that you wear clothes with too many short lines in their making—lines
that contradict the long lines of your head and body."

She whirled away from the mirror, hung her head, with color high and
hands nervous.  "Don’t, please," she said.  "You are making me miserably
self-conscious."

"Oh, very well."  He seemed offended, hurt.  "I see you’ve
misunderstood.  How can I get any good out of you as a model unless you
let me be frank? Why drag self, your personal feelings, to the fore?
That is not art."

A long silence, during which she watched him as he scowled at his
cigarette.  "I’m sorry," she exclaimed contritely.  "I’m both ungracious
and ungrateful."

"Vanity, I call it," he said, with pretended disdain. "Plain vanity—and
cheap, and altogether unworthy of you."

"Go on, please," she urged.  "I’ll not give you further trouble."  Then
she added, to his secret delight, "Only, _please_ don’t ask me to look
at myself before you—until—until—I’ve had a chance to improve a little."

"To go back to the hair again," pursued he, concealing his satisfaction
over his victory.  "My notion—for my picture—is much less severe than
you are habitually—in appearance, I mean.  The hair must be easy,
graceful, loose.  It must form a background for the face, a crown for
the figure.  And I want all the colors and shades you now hide away in
those plaits."  He surveyed her absently.  "I’m not sure whether I shall
paint you in high or low neck.  Get both kinds of dresses—along the
lines I’ve indicated....  Have them made; don’t buy those ready-to-wear
things you waste money on now....  I want to be able to study you at
leisure.  So, you’ll have to put aside that prim, puritanic costume for
a while.  You won’t mind?"

She had her face turned away.  She simply shook her head in answer.

"I know you despise these exterior things—so far as you personally are
concerned," he proceeded in a kindlier tone.  "I’ve no quarrel with
that.  My own views are different.  You pride yourself on being free
from all social ties or obligations——"

"Not at all," cried she.  "Indeed, I’m not so egotistical."

"Egotism!"  He waved it away.  "A mere word. It simply means human
nature with the blinds up.  And modesty is human nature with the blinds
down.  We are all egotists.  How is it possible for us not to be? Does
not the universe begin when we are born and end when we die?  Certainly,
you are an egotist.  But you are very short-sighted in your egotism, my
friend."

"Yes?"  She was all attention now.

"You want many things in the world—things you can’t get for
yourself—things you must therefore look to others to help you get.  You
want reputation, friendship, love, to name the three principal wants,
bread being provided for you.  Well—your problem is how to get them in
fullest measure and in the briefest time—for, your wants are great and
pressing, and life is short."

"But I must have them by fair means and they must be really mine.  I
don’t want what mere externals attract."

"Pish!  Tush!  Tommy rot!"  Boris left the chair, took the middle of the
floor and the manner of the instructor of a class.  "To get them you
must use to the best advantage all the gifts nature has given you—at
least, you will, if you are wise, I think.  Some of these gifts are
internal, some are external.  We are each of us encased in matter, and
we get contact with each other only by means of matter.  Externals are
therefore important, are they not?  To attract others, those of the kind
we like, we must develop our external to be as pleasing as possible to
them.  In general, we owe it to our fellow beings to be as sightly a
part of the view as we can.  In particular, we owe it to ourselves to
make the best of our minds and bodies, for our own pleasure and to
attract those who are congenial to us and can do us the most good."

"I shall have to think about that," said she, and he saw that she was
more than half converted.  "I’ve always been taught to regard those
things as trivial."

"Trivial!  Another word that means nothing. Life—this life—is all we
have.  How can anything that makes for its happiness or unhappiness be
trivial? You with your passion for beauty would have everything
beautiful, exquisite, except yourself!  What selfishness!  You don’t
care about your own appearance because you don’t see it."

She laughed.  "Really, am I so bad as all that?"

"The trouble with you is, you haven’t thought about these things, but
have accepted the judgment of others about them.  And what others?  Why,
sheep, cattle, parrots—the doddering dolts who make public opinion in
any given place or at any given time."

She nodded slowly, thoughtfully.

"Another point.  You are trying to have a career. Now, that’s something
new in the world—for women to have careers.  You face at best a hard
enough struggle. You must do very superior work indeed, to convince
anyone you are entitled to equal consideration with men as a worker.
Why handicap yourself by creating an impression that you are eccentric,
bizarre?"

Neva looked astonished.  "I don’t understand," said she.

"What is the normal mode for a woman?  To be feminine—careful of her
looks, fond of dress, as pleasing to the eye as possible.  Do you strive
to be normal in every way but the one way of making a career, and so
force people to see you’re a real woman, a well-balanced human being?"

Neva had the expression of one in the dark, toward whom light is
beginning to glimmer.

"A woman," proceeded he, the impersonal instructor, "a woman going in
for a career and so, laying herself open to suspicion of being
’strong-minded’ and ’masculine’ and all sorts of hard, unsympathetic,
unfeminine things that are to the mutton-headed a sign of want of
balance—a woman should be careful to remove that impression.  How?  By
being ultra-feminine, most fashionable in dress, most alluring in
appearance—  Do you follow me?"

"Perfectly," said Neva.  "You’ve given me a great deal to think
about....  Why, how blind we are to the obvious!  Now that I see it, I
feel like a fool."

"Use the same good taste in your own appearance that you use in bringing
out beauty in your surroundings.  Note that——"

Boris paused abruptly; his passion was betraying itself both in his eyes
and in his voice.  But he saw that Neva had, as usual, forgotten the
teacher in the lesson.  He felt relieved, yet irritated, too.  Never
before had he found a woman who could maintain, outwardly at least, the
fiction of friendship unalloyed with passion.  "She acts exactly as if
she were another man," said he discontentedly to himself, "except when
she treats me as if I were another woman."

He did not return to the subject of her appearance. And his judgment
that he had said enough—and his confidence in her good taste—were
confirmed a few days later.  She came in a new hat, a new blouse, and
with her hair done as he had suggested.  The changes were in themselves
slight; but now that her complexion had been cleared and taken on its
proper color—a healthy pallor that made her eyes sparkle and glow, every
little change for the better wrought marvels.  A good complexion alone
has redeemed many a woman from downright ugliness; Neva’s complexion now
gave her regular features and blue-white teeth and changeful, mysterious
eyes their opportunity.  The new blouse, one of the prettiest he had
ever seen, took away the pinched-in look across the shoulders to which
he had objected.  As for her hair, it was no longer a _mélange_ of light
brown and dark brown, but a halo of harmonizing tints from deepest red
to brightest gold, a merry playground for sunbeams.  He was astounded,
startled. "Why, she has really marvelous hair!" he muttered. Then he
laughed aloud; she, watching him for signs of his opinion, wore an
expression like a child’s before its sphinxlike teacher.  She echoed his
laugh.

"My advice about the mirror was not so bad, eh?" said he.

"No, indeed," replied she, with the first gleam of coquetry he had ever
seen.


Puzzling over her seeming unconsciousness of the, to him, all-important
fact that she was a woman and he a man, he decided that it must be a
deliberately chosen policy, the result of things she had heard about
him. He had always avoided talking of his conquests, though he
appreciated that it was the quick and easy road to a fresh conquest; but
it pleased him to feel that his reputation as a rake, a man before whom
women struck the flag at the first sign from him, was as great as his
fame for painting.  And it seemed to him that, if Neva had heard, as she
must, she could not but be in a receptive state of mind.  "That’s why
she’s on her guard," he concluded.  "She’s secretly at war with the
old-fashioned notions in which she was bred."

He could not long keep silent.  "Has somebody been slandering me to my
friend?" asked he abruptly, one day, after they had both been silently
at work for nearly an hour.

She paused, glanced at him, shook her head—a very charming head it was
now, with the hair free about her temples and ears and in a loose coil
low upon her neck.  "No," said she, apparently with candor.  "Why?"

"It seemed to me you were peculiar of late—distant with me."

"Really, it isn’t so.  You know I’d not permit anyone to speak against
you to me."

"But—well, a man of my sort always has a lot of stories going round
about him—things not usually regarded as discreditable—but you might not
take so lenient a view."

Her face turned toward her easel again, her expression unreadably
reserved.

"Not that I’ve been a saint," he went on.  "We who have the artistic
temperament—  What does that temperament mean but abnormal sensibility
of nerves, all the nerves?"

"That is true," assented she.

Then she was not so cold as she seemed!  She understood what it was to
feel.  "Of course," he proceeded, "I appreciate your ideas on those
subjects.  At least I assume you have the ideas of the people among whom
you were brought up."

She was silent for a moment.  Then she said, as if she were carefully
choosing her words, "I’ve learned that standards of morals, like
standards of taste, are individual.  There are many things about human
nature as I see it in—in my friends—that I do not understand.  But I
realize I deserve no credit for being what I am when I have not the
slightest temptation to be otherwise."

Silence again, as he wondered whether her remark was a chance shot or a
subtle way of informing him that, if he were thinking of her as a woman
and a possibility, he was wasting energy.  "What I wished to say," he
finally ventured, "was that I had the right to expect you to accept me
for what I am to you.  You cannot judge of what I may or may not have
been to anyone else, of what others may or may not have been to me."

"What you are to me," replied she earnestly, "I’ve no right, or wish, to
go beyond that."

"And," pursued he with some raillery, "don’t forget we should be
grateful for all varieties of human nature—the valleys that make the
peaks, the peaks that make the abysses.  What a world for suicide it
would be, if human nature were one vast prairie and life one long Sunday
in Battle Field....  What did you hear about me?"

"Nothing that interested me."

"Really?"  He could not help showing pique.

"Nothing that would have changed me, if I had believed."

"I warned you it might be true," he interrupted.

"True or false, it was not part of the Boris Raphael I admire and
respect."

He shifted his eyes, colored, was silenced.  He did not like her frank
friendliness; he did not want her respect, or the sort of admiration
that goes with respect. But he somehow felt cheap and mean and ashamed
before her, had a highly uncomfortable sense of being an inferior before
a superior.  He was glad to drop the subject.  "At least," reflected he,
"the longer the delay, the richer the prize.  She was meant for some
man.  And what other has my chance?"

And, meanwhile, following his instinct and his custom, he showed her of
his all-sided nature only what he thought she would like to see; time
enough to be what he wished, when he should have got her where he
wished—a re-creation for the gratification of as many sides of him as
she had, or developed, capacity to delight.



                                 *VII*

                       *A WOMAN’S POINT OF VIEW*


Narcisse, summoned by a telephone message, went to Fosdick’s house.  As
she entered the imposing arched entrance, Amy appeared, on the way to
take her dog for a drive.  "It’s father wants to see you," said she.
"I’ll take you to him, and go.  I’d send Zut alone, but the coachman and
footman object to driving the carriage with no one but him in it.
Fancy! Aren’t some people too silly in their snobbishness—and the upper
class isn’t in it with the lower classes, is it?"

"You don’t begin to know how amusing you are sometimes," said Narcisse.

"Oh, I’m always forgetting.  You’ve got ideas like Armstrong.  You know
him?"

"I’ve met him," said Narcisse indifferently.  "You say your father wants
to see me?"

Amy looked disappointed.  Her mind was full of Armstrong, and she wished
to talk about him with Narcisse, to tell her all she thought and felt,
or thought she thought and felt.  "There’s been a good deal of talk that
he and I are engaged," she persisted.  "You had heard it?"

"I never hear things of that sort," said Narcisse coldly.  "I’m too
busy."

"Well—there’s nothing in it.  We’re simply friends."

"I’m sorry," said Narcisse.

Amy bridled.  "Sorry!  I’m sure _I_ care nothing about him."

"Then, I’m glad," said Narcisse.  "I’m whatever you like.  Is your
father waiting for me?"

Narcisse liked old Fosdick—his hearty voice, his sturdy optimism, his
genial tolerance of all human weaknesses, even of crimes, his passion
for the best of everything, his careless generosity.  "It’s fine," she
often thought, "to see a man act about his own hard-earned wealth as if
he had found it in a lump in the street or had won it in a lottery."  He
seemed in high spirits that morning, though Narcisse observed that the
lines in his face looked heavier than usual.  "Sorry to drag you clear
up here about such a little matter," said he when they two were seated,
with his big table desk between them.  "I just wanted to caution you and
your brother.  Quite unnecessary, I know; still, it’s my habit to
neglect nothing.  I’m thinking of the two buildings you are putting up
for us—for the O.A.D. How are they getting on?  I’ve so much to attend
to, I don’t often get round to details I know are in perfectly safe
hands."

"We start the one in Chicago next month, and the one here in May—I
hope."

"Good—splendid!  Rush them along.  You—you and your brother—understand
that everything about them is absolutely private business.  If any
newspaper reporter—or anybody—on any pretext whatever—comes nosing
round, you are to say nothing.  Whatever is given out about them, we’ll
give out ourselves down at the main office."

"I’ll see to that," said Narcisse.  "I’m glad you are cautioning us.  We
might have given out something.  Indeed, now that I think of it, a man
was talking with my brother about the buildings yesterday."

Fosdick leaned forward with sudden and astonishing agitation.  "What did
he want?" he cried.

"Merely some specifications as to the cost of similar buildings."

"Did your brother give him what he asked for?" demanded the old man.

"Not yet.  I believe he’s to get the figures together and give them to
him to-morrow."

Fosdick brought his fist down on the table and laughed with a kind of
savage joy.  "The damned scoundrels!" he exclaimed.  Then, hastily,
"Just step to the telephone, Miss Siersdorf, and call up your brother
and tell him on no account to give that information."

Narcisse hesitated.  "But—that’s a very common occurrence in our
business," objected she.  "I don’t see how we can refuse—unless the man
is a trifler. Anyone who is building likes to have a concrete example to
go by."

"Please do as I ask, Miss Siersdorf," said Fosdick. "We’ll discuss it
afterwards."

Narcisse obeyed, and when she returned said, "My brother will give out
nothing more.  But I find I was mistaken.  He gave the estimates
yesterday afternoon."

Fosdick sank back in his chair, his features contracted in anger and
anxiety.  When she tried to speak, he waved her imperiously into
silence.  "I must think," he said curtly.  "Don’t interrupt!"  She
watched his face, but could make nothing definite of its vague
reflections of his apparently dark and stormy thoughts. Finally he said,
in a nearer approach to his usual tone and manner, "It’s soon remedied.
Your brother can send for the man.  You know who he was?"

"His name was Delmar.  He represented the Howlands, the Chicago drygoods
people."

"Um," grunted Fosdick, reflecting again; then, as if he had found what
he was searching for, "Yes—that’s the trail.  Well, Miss Siersdorf, as I
was saying, your brother will send for Delmar and will tell him there
was a mistake.  And he’ll give him another set of figures—say, doubling
or trebling the first set.  He’ll say he neglected to make allowance for
finer materials and details of stonework and woodwork—hardwood floors,
marble from Italy, and so forth and so forth.  You understand.  He’ll
say he meant simply the ordinary first-rate office building—and wasn’t
calculating on such palaces as he’s putting up for the O.A.D."

Narcisse sat straight and silent, staring into her lap.  Fosdick’s cigar
had gone out.  She had never before objected especially to its odor; now
she found it almost insupportable.

"You’d better telephone him," continued Fosdick. "No—I’ll just have the
butler telephone him to come up here.  We might as well make sure of
getting it straight."

Narcisse did not stir while Fosdick was out of the room, nor when he
resumed his seat and went on, "All this is too intricate to explain in
detail, Miss Siersdorf, but I’ll give you an idea of it.  It’s a
question of the secrecy of our accounts."

"But we know nothing of your company’s accounts, Mr. Fosdick," said she.
"You will remember that, under our contracts, we have nothing whatever
to do with the bills—that they go direct to your own people and are paid
by them.  We warned you it was a dangerous system, but you insisted on
keeping to it.  You said it was your long established way, that a change
would upset your whole bookkeeping, that——"

"Yes—yes.  I remember perfectly," interrupted Fosdick, all good humor.

"You can’t hold us responsible.  We don’t even know what payments have
been made."

"Precisely—precisely."

"It’s a stupid system, permit me to say.  It allows chances for no end
of fraud on you—though I think the people we employed are honest and
won’t take advantage of it.  And, if your auditors wanted to, they could
charge the company twice or three times or several times what the
building cost, and——"

"Exactly," interrupted Fosdick, an unpleasant sharpness in his voice.
"Let’s not waste time discussing that.  Let me proceed.  We wish no one
to know what our buildings cost."

"But—you have to make reports—to your stockholders—policy holders
rather."

"In a way—yes," admitted Fosdick.  "But all the men who have the
direction and control of large enterprises take a certain latitude.  The
average citizen is a picayunish fellow, mean about small sums.  He
wouldn’t understand many of the expenditures necessary to the conduct of
large affairs.  He even prefers not to be irritated by knowing just
where every dollar goes. He’s satisfied with the results."

"But how does he know the results shown him are the real results?  Why,
under that system, figures might be juggled to cheat him out of nearly
all the profits."

"The public is satisfied to get a reasonable return for the money it
invests—and _we_ always guarantee that," replied Fosdick grandly.

Narcisse looked at him with startled eyes, as if a sharp turn of the
road had brought her to the brink of a yawning abyss.  It suddenly
dawned on her—the whole system of "finance."  In one swift second a
thousand disconnected facts merged into a complete, repulsive whole.
So, _this_ was where these enormous fortunes came from!  The big fellows
inveigled the public into enterprises by promises of equal shares; then
they juggled accounts, stole most of the profits, saddled all the losses
on the investors.  And she had admired the daring of these great
financiers!  Why, who wouldn’t be daring, with no conscience, no honor,
and a free hand to gamble with other people’s money, without risking a
penny of his own!  And she had admired their generosity, their
philanthropy, when it was simply the reckless wastefulness of the thief,
after one rich haul and before another!  She saw them, all over the
world, gathering in the mites of toiling millions as trust funds, and
stealing all but enough to encourage the poor fools to continue sending
in their mites!  She read it all in Josiah’s face now, in the faces of
her rich clients; and she wondered how she could have been so blind as
not to see it before.  That hungry look, sometimes frankly there, again
disguised by a slimy over-layer of piety, again by whiskers or fat, but
always there.  Face after face of her scores of acquaintances among the
powerful in finance rose beside Josiah’s until she shrank and paled.
Under the slather of respectability, what gross appetites, what
repulsive passions! But for the absence of the brutal bruisings of
ignorance and drink, these facts would seem exhibits in a rogues’
gallery.

Josiah had no great opinion of the brains of his fellow men.  Women he
regarded as mentally deficient—were they not incapable of comprehending
business?  So, while he saw that Narcisse was not accepting his
statement as the honorable, though practical, truth he believed it to
be, he was not disturbed.  "I see you don’t quite follow me," he said
with kindly condescension. "Business is very complex.  My point is,
however, that our accounts are for our own guidance, and not for our
rivals to get hold of and use in exciting a lot of silly, ignorant
people."

Alois Siersdorf now entered and was effusively welcomed.  "What’s the
matter?" he exclaimed.  "Have I made a mess of some sort?"

"Not at all, my boy," said Fosdick, clapping him on the back.  "Our
rivals have got up an investigating committee—have set on some of our
policy holders to pretend to be dissatisfied with our management.  I
thought until yesterday that the committee was simply a haphazard
affair, got together by some blackmailing lawyer.  Then I learned that
it was a really serious attempt of a rival of mine to take the company
away from me.  They’re smelling round for things to ’expose’—the old
trick.  They think this is a rare good time to play it because the
damn-fool public has been liquored up with all sorts of brandy by
reformers and anarchists and socialists, trying to set it on to tear
down the social structure.  No man’s reputation is safe.  You know how
it is in big affairs.  It takes a broad-gage man to understand them.  A
little fellow thinks he sees thief and robber and swindler written
everywhere, if he gets a peep at the inside.  I don’t know what we’re
coming to, with the masses being educated just enough to imagine they
know, and to try to take the management of affairs out of the hands of
the substantial men."

With lip curling Narcisse looked at her brother, expecting to see in his
face some sign of appreciation of the disgusting comedy of Fosdick’s
cant; but he seemed to be taking Josiah and his oration quite seriously;
to her amazement he said, "I often think of that, Mr. Fosdick.  We must
have a stronger government, and abolish universal suffrage.  This thing
of ignorant men, with no respect for the class with brains and property,
having an equal voice with us has got to stop or we’ll have ruin."

A self-confessed thief trying to justify himself by slandering those he
had robbed, and angry with them because they were not grateful to him
for not having taken all their property—and her brother applauding!

"You’re right," said Fosdick, clapping him on the knee.  "I’ve been
trying to explain to your sister—though I’m afraid I don’t make myself
clear.  The ladies—even the smartest of them—are not very attentive when
we men talk of the business side of things. However, I suggested to her
that you recall those specifications you gave my enemies——"

"Is it possible!" exclaimed Siersdorf, shocked. "Yes—yes—I see—I
understand.  But I can straighten it all out.  I was rather vague with
Delmar.  I’ll send for him and tell him I was calculating on very
different kinds of buildings for him—something much cheaper——"

"Precisely!" cried Josiah.  "Your brother’s got a quick mind, Miss
Siersdorf."

Narcisse turned away.  Her brother had not even waited for Fosdick to
unfold his miserable chicane; his own brain had instantly worked out the
same idea; and, instead of in shame suppressing it, he had uttered it as
if it were honest and honorable!

"There’s another matter," continued Fosdick.  He no longer felt that he
must advance cautiously. Sometimes, persons not familiar with large
affairs, not accustomed to dealing under the conditions that compel
liberal interpretation of the moral code, had been known to balk, unless
approached gradually, unless led by gentle stages above narrow ideas of
the just and the right.  But clearly, the Siersdorfs, living in the
atmosphere of high finance, did not need to be acclimated. "It may be
this committee can get permission from the State Government to pry into
our affairs.  I don’t think it can; indeed, I almost know it can’t;
we’ve got the Government friendly to us and not at all sympathetic with
these plausible blackmailers and disguised anarchists.  Still, it’s
always well to provide for any contingency.  If you should get a tip
that you were likely to be wanted as witnesses you could arrange for a
few weeks abroad, and not leave anything—any books or papers—for these
scoundrels to nose into, couldn’t you?"

"Certainly," assented Siersdorf, with great alacrity.  "You may be sure
they’ll get nothing out of us."

"Then, that’s settled," said Fosdick.  "And now, let’s have lunch, and
forget business.  I want to hear more about those plans for Amy’s house
down in Jersey. She has told me a good deal, but not all."

"We can’t stop to lunch," interposed Narcisse, with a meaning look at
her brother.  "We must go back to the office at once."  And when she saw
that Fosdick was getting ready for a handshake, she moved toward the
door, keeping out of his range without pointedly showing what she was
about.  In the street with her brother she walked silently, moodily
beside him, selecting the softest words that would honestly express the
thoughts she felt she must not conceal from him.

"A great man, Fosdick," said Alois.  "One of the biggest men in the
country—a splendid character, strong, able and honorable."

"Why do you say that just at this time?" asked his sister.

Alois reddened a little, avoided meeting her glance.

"To convince yourself?" she went on.  "To make us seem less—less
dishonest and cowardly?"

He flashed at her; his anger was suspiciously ready. "I felt you were
taking that view of it!" he cried. "You are utterly unpractical.  You
want to run the world by copybook morality."

"Because I haven’t thrown ’Thou shalt not steal’ overboard?  Because I
am ashamed, Alois, that we are helping this man Fosdick to cover his
cowardly thief tracks?"

"You don’t understand, Cissy," he remonstrated, posing energetically as
the superior male forbearing with the inferior female.  "You oughtn’t to
judge what you haven’t the knowledge to judge correctly."

"He is a thief," retorted she bluntly.  "And we are making ourselves his
accomplices."

Alois’s smile was uncomfortable.  With the manner of a man near the
limit of patience with folly, he explained, "What you are giving those
lurid names to is nothing but the ordinary routine of business,
throughout the world.  Do you suppose the man of great financial
intellect would do the work he does for small wages?  Do you imagine the
little people he works for and has to work through, the beneficiaries of
all those giant enterprises, would give him his just due voluntarily?
He’s a man of affairs, and he works practically, deals with human nature
on human principles—just as do all the great men of action."

Narcisse stopped short, gazed at him in amazement. "Alois!" she
exclaimed.

He disregarded her rebuke, her reminder of the time when he had thought
and talked very differently. "Suppose," he persisted, "these great
fortunes didn’t exist; suppose Fosdick were ass enough to take a salary
and divide up the profits; suppose all these people of wealth we work
for were to be honest according to your definition of the word—what
then?  Why, millions of people would get ten or twelve dollars a year,
or something like that, more than they now have, and there’d be no great
fortunes to encourage art, to employ people like us, to endow colleges
and make the higher and more beautiful side of life."

"That’s too shallow to answer," said Narcisse sternly.  "You know
better, Alois.  You know it’s from the poor that intellect and art and
all that’s genuine and great and progressive come—never from the rich,
from wealth.  But even if it were not so, how can _you_ defend anything
that means a sacrifice of character?"  She stopped in the street and
looked at him. "Alois, _what_ has changed you?"

"Come," he urged rather shamefacedly.  "People are watching us."

They went on in silence, separated at the offices with a few constrained
words.  They did not meet again until the next morning—when he sought
her.  He looked much as usual—fresh, handsome, supple in body and mind.
Her eyes were red round the edges of the lids and her usually healthy
skin had the paleness that comes from a sleepless night.  "Well," he
said, with his sweet, conciliatory smile—he had a perfect disposition,
while hers was often "difficult."  "Do you still think I’m wrong—and
desperately wicked?"

"I haven’t changed my mind," she answered, avoiding his gaze.

He frowned; his face showed the obstinacy that passes current for will
in a world of vacillators.

"You’ve always left business to me," he went on. "Just continue to leave
it.  Rest assured I’ll do nothing to injure my honor in the opinion of
any rational, practical person—or the honor of the firm."

She was not deceived by the note of conciliation in his voice; she knew
he had his mind fixed.  She was at her desk, stiffly erect, gazing
straight ahead.  Her expression brought out all the character in her
features, brought out that beauty of feminine strength which the best of
the Greeks have succeeded in giving their sculptured heroines.  Without
warning she flung herself forward, hid her face and burst into tears.
"Oh, I _hate_ myself!" she cried.  "I’m nothing but a woman, after
all—miserable, contemptible, weak creatures that we are!"

He settled himself on the arm of her chair and drew her into his arm.
"You’re a finer person in every way than I am," he said; "a better brain
and a better character.  But, Cissy dear, don’t judge in matters that
aren’t within your scope."

"Do as you please," she replied brokenly.  "I’m a woman—and where’s the
woman that wouldn’t sacrifice anything and everything for love?"

She had, indeed, spent a night of horror.  She felt that what he had
done was frightful dishonor—was proof that he was losing his moral sense
and, what seemed to her worse, becoming a pander to the class for which
they did most of the work they especially prided themselves upon.  She
felt that, for his sake no less than for her own, she ought to join the
issue squarely and force him to choose the right road, or herself go on
in it alone.  But she knew that he would let her go. And she had only
him.  She loved him; she would not break with him; she could not.

"You know nothing about those buildings, anyhow," he continued.  "Just
forget the whole business. I’ll take care of it.  Isn’t that fair?"

"Anything!  Anything!" she sobbed.  "Only, let there be peace and love
between us."



                                 *VIII*

                           *IN NEVA’S STUDIO*


Shown into the big workroom of Neva’s apartment with its light softened
and diffused by skillfully adjusted curtains and screens, Narcisse
devoted the few minutes before Neva came to that thorough inspection
which an intelligent workman always gives the habitat of a fellow
worker.

"What a sensitive creature she is!" was the reminiscent conclusion of
the builder after the first glance round.  A less keen observer might
have detected a nature as delicately balanced as an aspen leaf in the
subtle appreciation of harmony and contrast, of light and shade.  And
there were none of the showy, shallow tricks of the poseur; for, the
room was plain, as a serious worker always insists on having his
surroundings. It appeared in the hanging of the few pictures, in the
colors of the few rugs and draperies, of walls, ceiling, furniture, in
the absence of anything that was not pleasing; the things that are not
in a room speak as eloquently of its tenant as do the things that are
there.

"Not a scrap of her own work," thought Narcisse, with a smile for the
shyness that omission hinted.

"Pardon my keeping you waiting," apologized Neva, entering in her long,
brown blouse with stains of paint.  "I was at work when you were
announced."

"And you had to hustle everything out of sight, so I’d have no chance to
see."

Neva nodded smiling assent.  "But I’m better than I used to be.  Really,
I am.  My point of view is changing—rapidly—so rapidly that I wake up
each morning a different person from the one who went to bed the night
before."

Narcisse was thinking that the Neva before her was as unlike the Neva of
their school days as a spring landscape is unlike the same stretch in
the bleak monotones of winter.  "Getting more confidence in yourself?"
suggested she aloud.  "Or are you beginning to see that the world is an
old fraud whose judgments aren’t important enough to make anyone
nervous?"

"Both," replied Neva.  "But I can’t honestly claim to be self-made-over.
Boris teaches me a great deal beside painting."

Narcisse changed expression.  As they talked on and on—of their work, of
the West, of the college and their friendship there, Neva felt that
Narcisse had some undercurrent of thought which she was striving with,
whether to suppress or express, she could not tell. The conversation
drifted back to New York, to Boris. There was something of warning in
Narcisse’s face, and something of another emotion less clearly defined
as she said with a brave effort at the rigidly judicial, "Boris is a
great man; but first of all a man.  You know what that means when a man
is dealing with a woman."

Neva’s lip curled slightly.  "That side of human nature doesn’t interest
me."

Narcisse, watching her closely, could not but be convinced that the
indifference in her tone was not simulated.  "Not yet," she thought.
Then, aloud, "That side doesn’t often interest a woman until she finds
she must choose between becoming interested in it and losing the man
altogether."

Neva looked at her with a strange, startled expression, as if she were
absorbing a new and vital truth, self-evident, astonishing.

"Boris has lived a long time," continued Narcisse. "And women have
conquered him so often that they’ve taught him how to conquer them."

"I don’t know much about him, beyond the painting," said Neva.  "And I
don’t care to know."

The silence that fell was constrained.  It was with tone and look of
shyness more like Neva than like herself that Narcisse presently went
on, "I owe a great deal to Boris.  He made me what I am....  He broke my
heart."

Neva gave her a glance of wonder and fear—wonder that she should be
confiding such a secret, fear lest the confidence would be repented.
Narcisse’s expression, pensive but by no means tragic, not even
melancholy, reassured her.  "You know," she proceeded, "no one ever does
anything real until his or her heart has been broken."

Neva, startled, listened with curious, breathless intentness.

"We learn only by experience.  And the great lesson comes only from the
great experience."

"Yes," said Neva softly.  She nodded absently. "Yes," she repeated.

"When one’s heart is broken ... then, one discovers one’s real self—the
part that can be relied on through everything and anything."

Neva, with studied carelessness, opened a drawer in the stand beside her
and began to examine the tips of a handful of brushes.  Her face was
thus no longer completely at the mercy of a possible searching glance
from her friend.

"Show me anyone who has done anything worth while," continued Narcisse,
"and I’ll show you a man or a woman whose heart has been broken—and
mended—made strong....  It isn’t always love that does the breaking.  In
fact, it’s usually something else—especially with men.  In my case it
happened to be love."

Neva’s fingers had ceased to play with the brushes. Her hands rested
upon the edge of the drawer lightly, yet their expression was somehow
tense.  Her eyes were gazing into—Narcisse wondered what vision was
hypnotizing them.

"It was ten years ago—when I was studying in Paris.  I can see how he
might not be attractive to some women, but he was to me."  Narcisse
laughed slightly.  "I don’t know what might have happened, if he hadn’t
been drawn away by a little Roumanian singer, like an orchid waving in a
perfumed breeze.  All Paris was quite mad about her, and Boris got her.
She thought she got him; but he survived, while she—  When she made her
way back to Paris, she found it perfectly calm."

"And you still care for him?" said Neva gently.

Narcisse laughed healthily.  "I mended my heart, accepted my lesson....
Isn’t it queer, how differently one looks at a person one has cared for,
after one is cured?"

"I don’t know," said Neva, in a slow, constrained way.  "I’ve never had
the experience."

After a silence Narcisse went on, "I’ve no objection to your repeating
to him what I’ve said.  It was a mere reminiscence, not at all a
confession."

Neva shook her head.  "That would bring up a subject a woman should
avoid with men.  If it is never opened, it remains closed; if it’s ever
opened, it can’t be shut again."

Narcisse was struck by the penetration of this, and proceeded to
reëxamine Neva more thoroughly.  Nothing is more neglected than the
revision from time to time of our opinions of those about us.  Though
character is as mobile as every other quantity in this whirling
kaleidoscope of a universe, we make up our minds about our acquaintances
and friends once for all, and refuse to change unless forced by some
cataclysm. As their talk unfolded the Neva beneath the surface, it soon
appeared to Narcisse that either she or Neva had become radically
different since their intimacy of twelve years before.  "Probably both
of us," she decided. "I’ve learned to read character better, and she has
more character to read.  I remember, I used to think she was one of
those who would develop late—even for a woman."

"It was stupid of me," she said to Neva, "but I’ve been assuming you are
just as you were.  Now it dawns on me that you are as new to me as if
you were an entire stranger.  You are different—outside and inside."

"Inside, I’ve certainly changed," admitted Neva. "Don’t you think we’re,
all of us, like the animals that shed their skins?  We live in a mental
skin, and it seems to be ours for good and all; but all the time a new
skin is forming underneath; and then, some fine day, the old skin slips
away, and we’re quite new from top to tip—apparently."

Narcisse’s expression was encouraging.

"That happened to me," continued Neva.  "But I didn’t realize it—not
completely—until the divorce was over and I was settled here, in this
huge wilderness where the people can’t find each other or even see each
other, for the crowd.  It was the first time in my life.  I could look
about me with the certainty I wasn’t being watched, peeped at, pressed
in on all sides by curious eyes—hostile eyes, for all curious eyes are
hostile. But you were born and brought up in a small town. You know."

"Yes," said Narcisse.  "Everybody lives a public life in a little town."

"Here I could, so to speak, stand in the sun naked and let its light
beat on my body, without fear of peepers and pryers."  She drew a long
breath and stretched out her arms in a gesture of enormous relief. "I
dare to be myself.  Free!  All my life I’d been shut in, waiting and
hoping some one would come and lead me out where there was warmth and
affection.  Wasn’t that vanity!  Now, I’m seeking what I want—the only
way to get it."

Narcisse’s face took on an expression of cynicism, melancholy rather
than bitter.  "Don’t seek among your fellow beings.  They’re always off
the right temperature—they either burn you or freeze you."

"Oh, but I’m not trying to get warmth, but to give it," replied Neva.
"I’m not merchandising.  I’m in a business where the losses are the
profits, the givings the gains."

"The only businesses that really pay," said Narcisse.  "The returns from
the others are like the magician’s money that seemed to be gold but was
only withered mulberry leaves.  Won’t you let me see some of your
work—anything?"

Neva drew aside a curtain, wheeled out an easel, on it her unfinished
portrait of Raphael.  At first glance—and with most people the first
glance is the final verdict—there seemed only an elusive resemblance to
Raphael.  It was one of those portraits that are forthwith condemned as
"poor likenesses."  But Narcisse, perhaps partly because she was
sympathetically interested in Neva’s work and knew that Neva must put
intelligence into whatever she did, soon penetrated to the deeper
purpose.  The human face is both a medium and a mask; it both reveals
and covers the personality behind.  It is more the mask and less the
medium when the personality is consciously facing the world.  A portrait
that is a good likeness is, thus, often a meaningless or misleading
picture of the personality, because it presents that personality when
carefully posed for conscious inspection.  On the other hand, a portrait
that is hardly recognizable by those who know best, and least, the
person it purports to portray, may be in fact a true, a profound, a
perfect likeness—a faithful reproduction of the face as a medium, with
the mask discarded.  The problem the painter attempts, the problem
genius occasionally solves but mere talent rarely, and then imperfectly,
is to combine the medium and the mask—to paint the mask so transparently
that the medium, the real face, shows through; yet not so transparently
that eyes which demand a "speaking likeness" are disappointed.

Neva, taught by Raphael to face and wrestle with that problem, was in
this secret unfinished portrait striving for his "living likeness" only.
She had learned that painting the "speaking likeness" is an unimportant
matter to the artist as artist—however important it may be to him as
seeker of profitable orders or of fame’s brassy acclaim so vulgar yet so
sweet.  She was not seeking fame, she was not dependent upon
commissions; she was free to grapple the ultimate mystery of art.  And
this attempt to fix Raphael, the beautiful-ugly, lofty-low, fine-coarse,
kind-cruel personality that walked the earth behind that
gorgeous-grotesque external of his, was her first essay.

"All things to all men—and all women, like the genius that he is," said
Narcisse, half to herself.  Then to Neva, "What does _he_ think of it?"

"He hasn’t seen it....  I doubt if I’ll ever show it to him—or to
anybody, when it’s finished."

"It does threaten to be an intrusion on his right of privacy," said
Narcisse.  "No, he’s not attracting you in the least as a man."

Neva looked amused.  "Why did you say that?"

"Because the picture is so—so impersonal."  She laughed.  "How angry it
would make him."

When Narcisse, after a long, intimacy-renewing, or, rather,
intimacy-beginning, stop, rose to go, she said, "I’m going to bring my
friend, Amy Fosdick, here some time soon.  She has asked me and I’ve
promised her.  She is very eager to meet you."

Instantly Neva made the first vivid show of her old-time shy constraint.
"I’ve a rule against meeting people," stammered she.  "I don’t wish to
seem ungracious, but——"

"Oh!" said Narcisse, embarrassed.  "Very well."

An awkward silence; Narcisse moved toward the door.  "I fear I’ve
offended you," Neva said wistfully.

"Not at all," replied Narcisse, and she honestly tried to be cordial in
accepting denial.  "You’ve the right to do as you please, surely."

"In theory, yes," said Neva, with a faint melancholy smile.  "But only
in theory."

Now unconsciously and now consciously we are constantly testing those
about us, especially our friends, to learn how far we can go in imposing
our ever aggressive wills upon them; and the stronger our own
personalities the more irritating it is to find ourselves flung back
from an unyielding surface where we had expected to advance easily.  In
spite of her sense of justice, Narcisse was irritated against Neva for
refusing.  But she also realized she must get over this irritation, must
accept and profit by this timely hint that Neva’s will must be
respected.  Most friendship is mere selfishness in masquerade—is mere
seeking of advantage through the supposedly blindly altruistic
affections of friends. Narcisse, having capacity for real friendship,
was eager for a real friend.  She saw that Neva was worth the winning.
And now that Alois was breaking away—  Stretching out her hands
appealingly, she said, "Please, dear, don’t draw away from me."

Neva understood, responded.  Now that Narcisse was not by clouded face
and averted eye demanding explanation as a right, she felt free to give
it.  "There’s a reason, Narcisse," said she, "a good reason why I shan’t
let Miss Fosdick come here and gratify her curiosity."

"Reason or no reason," exclaimed Narcisse, "forget my—my
impertinence....  I—I want—I need your friendship."

"Not more than I need yours," said Neva.  "Not so much.  You have your
brother, while I have no one."

"My brother!"  Tears glistened in Narcisse’s eyes.  "Yes—until he
becomes some other woman’s lover."  She embraced Neva, and departed
hastily, ashamed of her unwonted show of emotion, but not regretting it.



                                  *IX*

                            *MASTER AND MAN*


When Waller, the small, dark, discreet factotum to Fosdick, came to
Armstrong’s office to ask him to go to Mr. Fosdick "as soon as you
conveniently can," Armstrong knew something unusual was astir.

Fosdick rarely interfered in the insurance department of the O.A.D.
Like all his fellow financiers bearing the courtesy title of "captains
of industry," he addressed himself entirely to so manipulating the sums
gathered in by his subordinates that he could retain as much of them and
their usufruct as his prudence, compromising with his greediness,
permitted.  In the insurance department he as a rule merely noted
totals—results.  If he had suggestion or criticism to make, he went to
Armstrong.  That fitted in with the fiction that he was no more in the
O.A.D. than an influential director, that the Atlantic and Southwestern
Trunk Line was his chief occupation.

Armstrong descended to the third floor—occupied by the A.S.W.T.L. which
was supposed to have no connection with the purely philanthropic O.A.D.,
"sustainer of old age and defender of the widow and the orphan."  He
went directly through the suite of offices there to Fosdick’s own den.
Fosdick had four rooms.  The outermost was for the reception of all
visitors and the final disposition of such of them as the underlings
there could attend to.  Next came the office of the mysterious, gravely
smiling Waller, with his large white teeth and pretty mustache and the
folding picture frame containing photographs of wife and son and two
daughters on his desk before him—what an air of the home hovering over
and sanctifying the office diffused from that little panorama!  Many
callers supposed that Waller’s office was Fosdick’s, that Fosdick almost
never came down there, that Waller was for all practical purposes
Fosdick.  The third room was for those who, having convinced the outer
understrappers that they ought to be admitted as far as Waller,
succeeded in convincing Waller that they must be personally inspected
and heard by the great man himself.  In this third room, there was no
article of furniture but a carpet.  Waller would usher his visitor in
and leave him standing—standing, unless he chose to sit upon the floor;
for there was no chair to sit upon, no desk or projection from the wall
to lean against.  Soon Fosdick would abruptly and hurriedly enter—the
man of pressing affairs, pausing on his way from one supremely important
matter to another.  Fosdick calculated that this seatless private
reception room saved him as much time as the two outer visitor-sifters
together; for not a few of the men who had real business to bring before
him were garrulous; and to be received standing, to be talked with
standing, was a most effective encouragement to pointedness and brevity.

The fourth and innermost room was Fosdick’s real office—luxurious,
magnificent even; the rugs and the desk and chairs had cost the policy
holders of the O.A.D. nearly a hundred thousand dollars; the pictures,
the marble bust of Fosdick himself, the statuary, the bookcases and
other furnishings had cost the shareholders of the A.S.W.T.L. almost as
much more.

Armstrong found Fosdick talking with Morris, Joe Morris, who was one of
his minor personal counsel, and was paid in part by a fixed annual
retainer from the A.S.W.T.L., in part from the elastic and generously
large legal fund of the O.A.D.  As Armstrong entered, Fosdick said:
"Well, Joe, that’s all.  You understand?"

"Perfectly," said Morris.  And he bowed distantly to Armstrong, bowed
obsequiously to his employer and departed.

"What’s the matter between you and Joe Morris?" asked Fosdick, whose
quick eyes had noted the not at all obvious constraint.

"We know each other only slightly," replied Armstrong.  Then he added,
"Mrs. Morris is a cousin of my former wife."

"Oh—beg pardon for intruding," said Fosdick carelessly.  "Sit down,
Horace," and he leaned back in his chair and gazed reflectively out into
vacancy.

Armstrong seated himself and waited with the imperturbable, noncommittal
expression which had become habitual with him ever since his discovery
that he was Fosdick’s prisoner, celled, sentenced, waiting to be led to
the block at Fosdick’s good pleasure.

At last Fosdick broke the silence.  "You were right about that
committee."

Apparently this did not interest Armstrong.

"That was a shrewd suspicion of yours," Fosdick went on.  "And I ought
to have heeded it.  How did you happen to hit on it?"

Armstrong shrugged his shoulders.

"Just a guess, eh?  I thought maybe you knew who was back of these
fellows."

"Who is back of them?" asked Armstrong—a mere colorless, uninterested
inquiry.

"Our friends of the Universal Life," replied Fosdick, assuming that
Armstrong’s question was an admission that he did not know.  "They’ve
plotted with some of the old Galloway crowd in our directory to throw me
out and get control."  Fosdick marched round and round the room, puffing
furiously at his cigar.  "They think they’ve bought the governor away
from me," he presently resumed.  "They think—and he thinks—he’ll order
the attorney-general to entertain the complaints of that damned
committee."  Here Fosdick paused and laughed—a harsh noise, a gleaming
of discolored, jagged teeth through heavy fringe of mustache.  "I’ve
sent Morris up to Albany to see him.  When he finds out I’ve got a
certain canceled check with his name on the back of it, I guess—I
_rather_ guess—he’ll get down on that big belly of his and come crawling
back to me.  I’ve sent Morris up there to show him the knout."

"Isn’t that rather—raw?" said Armstrong, still stolid.

"Of course it’s raw.  But that’s the way to deal with fellows like
him—with most fellows, nowadays."  And Fosdick resumed his march.
Armstrong sat—stolid, waiting, matching the fingers of his big, ruddy
hands.

"Well, what do you think?" demanded his master, pausing, a note of
irritated command in his voice.

Armstrong shrugged his shoulders.  A disinterested observer might have
begun to suspect that he was leading Fosdick on; but Fosdick, bent upon
the game, had no such suspicion.

"I want your opinion.  That’s why I sent for you," he cried impatiently.

"You’ve got your mind made up," said Armstrong. "I’ve nothing to say."

"Don’t you think my move settles it?"

"No doubt, the governor’ll squelch the investigation."

"_Certainly_ he will!  And that means the end of those fellows’ attempt
to make trouble for us through our own policy holders."

"Why?" said Armstrong.

"Don’t you think so?"  Fosdick dropped into his chair.  "I’m not quite
satisfied," he said.  "Give me your views."

"This committee has made a lot of public charges against the management
of the O.A.D.  It may be that when you try to smother the investigation,
the demand will simply break out worse than ever."

"Pooh!" scoffed Fosdick.  "That isn’t worth talking about.  I was
thinking only of what other moves that gang could make.  The public
amounts to nothing.  The rank and file of our policy holders is content.
What have these fellows charged?  Why, that we’ve spent all kinds of
money in all kinds of ways to build up the company.  Now, what does the
average investor say—not in public but to himself—when the management of
his company is attacked along that line?  Why, he says to himself,
’Better let well enough alone.  Maybe those fellows don’t give me all my
share; but they do give me a good return for my money, as much as most
shareholders in most companies get.’  No, my dear Horace, even a rotten
management needn’t be afraid of its public so long as it gives the
returns its public expects.  Trouble comes only when the public _gets
less than it expected_."

Armstrong did not withhold from this shrewdness the tribute of an
admiring look.  "Still," he persisted, "the public seems bent on an
investigation."

"Mere clamor, and no backing from the press except those newspapers that
it ain’t worth while to stop with a chunk of advertising.  All the
reputable press is with us, is denouncing those blackmailers for
throwing mud at men of spotless reputation."  Fosdick swelled his chest.
"The press, the public, know _us_, believe in _us_.  Our directory reads
like a roll call of the best citizens in the land.  And the poor results
from that last big tear-up are still fresh in everybody’s mind.  Nobody
wants another."

A pause, then Armstrong: "Still, it might be better to have an
investigation."

"What!" exclaimed Fosdick.

"You say we’ve nothing to conceal.  Why not show the public so?"

"Of course we haven’t got anything to conceal," cried Fosdick defiantly.
"At least, _I_ haven’t."

"Why not have an investigation, then?"

That reiterated word "investigation" acted on the old financier like the
touch of a red-hot iron. "Because I don’t want it!" he shouted.  "Damn
it, man, ain’t I above suspicion?  Haven’t I spent my life in serving
the public?  Shall I degrade myself by noticing these lying, slandering
scoundrels?  Shall I let ’em open up my private business to the mob that
would misunderstand?  Shall I let them roll _me_ in the gutter?
No—sir—ree!"

"Then, you are against a policy of aggression? You intend simply to sit
back and content yourself with ignoring attacks."

Fosdick subsided, scowling.

"Suppose you allowed an investigation——"

"I don’t want to hear that word again!" said Fosdick between his teeth.

Armstrong slowly rose.  "Any further business?" he asked curtly.

"Sit down, Horace.  Don’t get touchy.  Damn it, I want your advice."

"I haven’t any to offer."

"What’d you do if you were in my place?"

This was as weak as it sounded.  In human societies concentrations of
power are always accidental, in the sense that they do not result from
deliberation; thus, the men who happen to be in a position to seize and
wield the power are often ill-equipped to use it intelligently.  Fosdick
had but one of the two qualities necessary to greatness—he could attack.
But he could not defend.  So long as his career was dependent for
success upon aggression, he went steadily ahead.  It is not so difficult
as some would have us believe to seize the belongings of people who do
not know their own rights and possessions, and live in the habitual
careless, unthinking human fashion.  But now that his accumulations were
for the first time attracting the attention of robbers as rich and as
unscrupulous as himself, he was in a parlous state.  And, without
admitting it to himself, he was prey to uneasiness verging on terror.
Our modern great thieves are true to the characteristics of the thief
class—they have courage only when all the odds are in their favor; let
them but doubt their absolute security, and they lose their insolent
courage and fall to quaking and to seeing visions of poverty and prison.

"What would you do?" Fosdick repeated.

"What do your lawyers say?"

Fosdick sneered.  "What do they always say? They echo _me_.  I have to
tell them what to do—and, by God, I often have to show ’em how to do
it."  The fact was that Fosdick, like almost all the admired "captains
of industry," was a mere helpless appetite with only the courage of an
insane and wholly unscrupulous hunger; but for the lawyers, he would not
have been able to gratify it.  In modern industrialism the lawyer is the
honeybird that leads the strong but stupid bear to the forest hive—and
the honeybird gets as a reward only what the bear permits.  "Give me
your best judgment, Horace," pursued Fosdick.

"In your place, I’d fight," said Armstrong.

"How?"

"I’d order the governor to appoint an investigating committee, made up
of _reliable_ men.  I’d appoint one of my lawyers as attorney to it—some
chap who wasn’t supposed to be my lawyer.  I’d let it investigate me,
make it give me a _reasonably, plausibly_ clean bill of health.  Then,
I’d set it on the other fellows, have it tear ’em to pieces, make ’em
too busy with home repairs to have time to stick their noses over my
back fence."

Fosdick listened, appreciated, and hated Armstrong for having thought of
that which was so obvious once it was stated and yet had never occurred
to him.

"Of course," said Armstrong carelessly, "there are risks in that course.
But I don’t believe you can stop an investigation altogether.  It’s
choice among evils."

"Well, we’ll see," said Fosdick.  "There’s no occasion for hurry.  This
situation isn’t as bad as you seem to think."

It had always been part of his basic policy to minimize the value of his
lieutenants—it kept them modest; it moderated their demands for bigger
pay and larger participation in profits; it enabled him to feel that he
was "the whole show" and to preen himself upon his liberality in giving
so much to men actually worth so little.  He was finding it difficult to
apply this policy to Armstrong.  For, the Westerner was of the sort of
man who not only makes it a point to be more necessary to those he deals
with than they are to him, but also makes it a point to force them to
see and to admit it. Armstrong’s quiet insistence upon his own value
only roused Fosdick to greater efforts to convince him, and himself,
that Armstrong was a mere cog in the machine. He sent him away with a
touch of superciliousness. But—no sooner was he alone than he rang up
Morris.

"Come over at once," he ordered.  "I’ve changed my mind.  I’ve got
another message for you to take up there with you."

It would have exasperated him to see Armstrong as he returned to his own
offices.  The Westerner had lost all in a moment that air of stolidity
under which he had been for several months masking his anxiety.  He
moved along whistling softly; he joked with the elevator boy; he shut
himself in his private office, lit a cigar and lay back in his chair and
stared at the ceiling, his expression that of a man whose thoughts are
delightful company.



                                  *X*

                        *AMY SWEET AND AMY SOUR*


Now that Fosdick saw how he could clear himself, and more, of those he
had been variously describing as pryers, peepers, ingrates, traitors and
blackmailers, he was chagrined that he had been so near to panic.  He
couldn’t understand it, so he assured himself; with nothing to conceal,
with hands absolutely clean, with not an act on the record that was not
legitimate, such as the most respectable men in the most respectable
circles not only approved but did—with these the conditions, how had he
been so upset?

"I suppose," he reflected, "as a man gets older, he becomes foolishly
sensitive about his reputation.  Then, too, the world is eager to twist
evil into everything—and I have so many in my own class who are jealous
of me, of my standing."

The silliest thing he had done, he decided, was that talk with the
Siersdorfs.  Why, if they were at all evil-minded, they might suspect he
was using those construction accounts for swindling purposes, instead of
making a perfectly legitimate convenience of them to adjust the
bookkeeping to the impossible requirements of law and public opinion.
"It’s an outrage," he thought, "that we can’t have the laws fixed so it
would be possible to carry on business without having to do things
liable to misconstruction, if made generally public.  But we can’t.  As
it is, look at the swindlers who have taken advantage of the laws we
absolutely had to have the legislature make."  Yes, it was a blunder to
take the Siersdorfs into his confidence—though the young man did show
that he had brains enough to understand the elements of large affairs.
Still, he might some time make improper use of the knowledge—unless——

Fosdick decided that thereafter the vouchers should pass through
Siersdorf’s hands, should have Siersdorfs O.K.  "Then, if any question
arises, it will be to his interest to treat confidential matters
confidentially.  Or, if he should turn against me, he’d be unable to
throw mud without miring himself."

And now Fosdick saw why he had instantly jumped for the Siersdorfs.
They alone were not personally involved in any of the "private business"
of the O.A.D. All the directors, all the officials, all the important
agents, were involved, and therefore would not dare turn traitor if they
should be vile enough to contemplate it.  But the Siersdorfs were
independent, yet perilously in possession of the means to make trouble.

"I must fix them," said Fosdick.  "I must clinch them."

Thus it came about that within a week Alois was helping the directors of
the O.A.D. to keep their accounts "adjusted"—was signing vouchers for
many times the amounts that were being actually expended upon the
building.  He hesitated before writing the firm name upon the first of
these documents.  On the face of it, the act did look—peculiar.  True,
it was a simple matter of bookkeeping; still, he’d rather not be
involved.  There seemed no way out of it, however. To refuse was to
insult Fosdick—and that when Fosdick was showing his confidence in and
affection for him. Also, it meant putting in jeopardy three big orders
in hand—the two office buildings and Overlook.

"It’d break Narcisse’s heart to have to give up doing Overlook," he said
to himself.  Yes, he would sign the vouchers; now that he felt he was
acting, at least in large part, for his dear sister’s sake, he had no
qualms.  Having passed the line, he looked back with amusement.  He
debating as a moral question a matter of business routine!  A matter
approved by such a character, such a figure as Josiah Fosdick!

Some of these "technically inaccurate" vouchers were before him when
Narcisse happened into his office. Though there was "nothing wrong with
them—nothing whatever," and though she would not have known it if there
had been, he instinctively slipped the blotting pad over them.

"What are you hiding there?" she teased innocently.  "A love letter?"

He frowned.  "You’ve got that on the brain," he retorted, with a
constrained smile.  "What do you want—now?"

"Amy’s here.  Have you time to go over the plans?"

"Yes—right away," said he, with quick complete change of manner.

She winced.  So sensitive had she become on the subject of her brother
and her friend that she was hurt by the most casual suggestion from
either of interest in the other.  Regarding her brother as irresistible,
she assumed that, should he ask Amy, he would be snapped in, like fly by
frog.  "Yet," said she to herself, "they’re utterly unsuited.  He’d
realize it as soon as he was married to her.  Why can’t a man ever see
through a woman until he’s had an affair with her and gotten over her?"

"Shall we look at the plans here or in your room?" he asked.

"I’ll send her here....  It won’t be necessary for me to come, will it?"

"No.  We’ll hardly get round to your part to-day," said Alois.  And Amy
went in alone, and spent the entire afternoon with Alois.  And most
attractive he made himself to Amy.  In his profession, he had many
elements of strength; he hated shams, had a natural sense of the
beautiful, unspoiled by the conventionalities that reduce most
architects to slavish copyists.  He did not think things fine simply
because they were old; neither did he think them ugly or stale for that
reason.  He knew how to judge on merit alone; and he had educated Amy
Fosdick to the point where she at least appreciated his views and ideas.
When a man gets a woman trained to that point, he thinks her a marvel of
independent intellect, with germs of genius—if she is at all attractive
to him physically.  He forgot that, until Amy had "taken up" the
Siersdorfs, she had been as enthusiastic about the barren and
conventional Whitbridge as she now was about them.  Appreciation is one
of the most deceptive qualities in the world, where it is genuine.
Through it we are all constantly disguising from ourselves and from
others our own mental poverty.

Usually appreciation is little more than a liking for the person whose
ideas we think we understand and share.  In Amy’s case, there was a good
deal of real understanding.  She had much natural good taste, enough to
learn to share in the amusement of Narcisse and Alois at the silly
imitations of old-world palaces her acquaintances were hastening to
house themselves in—palaces built for a forever departed era of the
human race, for a past people of a past and gone social order; she also
saw, when Alois pointed it out to her, the silliness of the mania for
antiques which in our day is doing so much to suffocate originality and
even good taste.  She learned to loathe the musty, fusty rags and
worm-eaten woods the crafty European dealers manufacture, "plant," and
work off on those Americans who are bent upon the same snobbishness in
art education that they are determined to have in the other forms of
education.  Encouraged by Narcisse and Alois, she came boldly out
against that which she had long in secret doubted and disliked.  She was
more than willing that they should build her a house suitable as a
habitation for a human being in the twentieth century—a house that was
ventilated and convenient and scientific. And she was giving Alois a
free hand in planning surroundings of spontaneous beauty rather than of
the kind that pleased the narrower and more precise fancy of a narrower
age, to which the idea of freedom of any sort was unknown.

[Illustration: "She was giving Alois a free hand in planning
surroundings."]

"Gracious!  It’s after half past four!" she exclaimed, as if she had
just become conscious of the fact, when in truth she had been
impatiently watching the clock by way of a mirror for nearly an hour.

"So it is!" said Alois, immensely flattered by her unconsciousness of
time.

"I want to take these plans with me—to show them to some one."

Alois felt that the "some one" was a man, and a very particular
friend—else, she would have spoken the name.  "Very well," he said,
faintly sullen.

"Don’t be disturbed," was her absent reply.  "I’ll take good care of
them."  She saw the change in him; but, not thinking of him as a man,
but as an intelligence only, she did not grasp the cause.  "Thank you so
much," she went on, "for being so patient with me. How splendid it must
be to have always with one a mind like yours—or Narcisse’s.  Well, until
to-morrow, or next day."  And, looking as charming as only a pretty
woman with a fortune can look to a man who wants both her and her
fortune, she left him desolate.

The "some one" was indeed a man.  But he—Armstrong—did not arrive until
half an hour after the appointed time.  She came into the small salon
into which he had been shown, her gloves, hat and wraps on and the big
roll of plans under her arm; and no one would have suspected that she
had been waiting for him since ten minutes before five and had spent
most of the time in primping.  "I’m all blown to pieces," she
apologized, as she entered.  "Have I kept you waiting?  I really
couldn’t help it."

"I just got here," said Armstrong.  "I, too, was late—business, as
always."  Which was true enough; but the whole truth would have been
that he forgot the appointment until its very hour.  "I’ll not keep you
long," he continued.  "I’ve got to dress for an early dinner."

She was so disappointed that she did not dare speak, lest she should
show her ill humor—and she knew Armstrong detested a bad disposition in
a woman.  She rang for tea; when the servants had brought it and were
gone, she began fussing with her coat.  He, preoccupied, did not see her
hinted signals until she said, "Please, do help me."

As he drew off the coat there floated to him a delightful perfume, a
mingling of feminine and flowers, of freshness and delicacy, a
stimulating suggestion of the sensuous refinements which a woman with
taste and the means can employ as powerful allies in her siege of man.
She looked up at him—her eyes were, save her teeth, her best feature.
She just brushed his arm in one of those seemingly unconscious,
affectionate-friendly gestures which are intended to be encouraging
without being "unwomanly."  "How is my friend to-day?" she inquired.

"So-so," replied he, taking her advances at their face value.

"You never come here unless I send for you, and you always have some
excuse for going soon."

He smiled good-natured raillery.  "How sure of yourself you feel!"

"Why do you say that?"

"Your remark.  You are always making that kind of remarks.  They’re
never made except by women who feel sure."

"But I don’t," protested she.  "On the contrary, I’m very humble—where
you’re concerned."  She gave him a long look.  "And you know that’s
true."

He laughed at her with his eyes.  "No.  I shan’t do it.  You’ll have
only your trouble for your pains."

She colored.  "What _do_ you mean?"

"That I won’t propose to you.  You’ve been trying to inveigle me into it
for nearly a year now.  But you’ll have to do without my scalp."

The big Westerner’s jesting manner carried his remark, despite its
almost insolent frankness.  Besides, what with Amy’s content with
herself and partiality for him, it would have been difficult for him to
offend her. Never before had she been able to lure him so near to the
one subject she wished to discuss with him.  "What conceit," cried she,
all smiles.  "You fancy I’ve been flirting with you.  I might have
known!  Men always misunderstand a woman’s friendship.  I suppose you
imagine I’m in love with you."

"Not in the least.  No more than I with you."

She looked crestfallen at this.  Whether a woman has much or little to
give a man, whether she wants his love or not, she always wishes to feel
that it is there waiting for her.  "Why do you imagine I wish you to ask
me to marry you?" she asked, swiftly recovering and not believing him.

He did not answer that.  Instead he said: "You came very near to getting
your way about a year ago. I had about made up my mind to marry you."

"To marry me," she echoed ironically.

"To marry you," he repeated in his attractive, downright fashion.

"Well—why didn’t you?"

"I decided I didn’t need you," said he, most matter-of-fact.  "I saw I’d
be repeating the blunder I made when I married before.  When I got out
of college, I was so discouraged by the prospect, I felt so weak without
money or influence, that I let myself drift into a great folly—for it is
a folly to imagine that money or influence are of any value in making a
career.  They’re the results of a career, not its cause.  Once more,
when I faced the big battle here in New York, I was fooled for a while
in spite of myself by the same old delusion. I saw that the successful
men all had great wealth, and I made the same old shallow mistake of
supposing their wealth gave them their success.  But I got back to the
sensible point of view very quickly."

"And so—I—escaped."

"Escaped is the word for it."

"You are flattering—to-day."

"That sarcasm because I did not so much as speak of your charms, I
suppose?"

"You might have said I was personally a little of a temptation."

"Why go into that?" rejoined he, with an intonation that gave her a
chance to be flattered, if she chose. "Of course, if I had decided I
needed you in my career, I’d have flung myself over ears into love.  As
it was, don’t you think my keeping away from you complimentary?"

This was the nearest he had ever come to an admission that she was
attractive to him; she straightway exaggerated it into a declaration of
love.  Very few women make or even understand a man’s clear distinction
between physical attraction and love; Amy thought them one and the same.

"You are so hard!" said she.  "I wonder at myself for liking you."  As
she spoke, she rapidly thought it out with the aid of her vanity; men
and women, in their relations with each other, always end by taking
counsel of vanity.  He wanted her; he had taken this subtle means to get
within her defenses and, without running the risk of a refusal, find out
whether he could get her, whether a woman of her wealth and position
would condescend to him.  It was with her sweetest, candidest smile that
she went on, "Now it is all settled.  You don’t want to marry me; you
aren’t in love with me.  I need not be afraid of any designs, mercenary
or otherwise.  At last, we can be real friends."

He reflected, then said with a judicial, impersonal air, "No matter how
well a man plays the game of man and man, he usually plays the game of
man and woman badly.  Why?  Because he thinks the conditions are
different.  He is deceived by woman’s air of guilelessness into
imagining he has the game all his own way."

"What has that got to do with what I said to you?" asked she, her color
a confession that the question was unnecessary.

He again laughed at her with his eyes.  "Why did you think it had?"

She pouted.  "You are in a horrible mood to-day."

He rose.  "Thanks for the hint."

She began to unroll the plans.

"Now, _there’s_ the man for you," said he, with a gesture toward her
bundle of blue prints.

"Who?"

"Siersdorf."

"If I had to choose, I’d prefer—even you."

"Siersdorf is adaptable and appreciative.  He’s good to look at, has a
good all-round mind, is extraordinary in his specialty.  You couldn’t do
better."

"I don’t want him," she cried impatiently.  "I prefer to suit myself in
marrying."  She stood before him, her hands behind her, the pretty face
tilted daringly upward.  "Are you trying to make me dislike you?"

He looked down at her; there was not a hint in his expression that her
dare was a temptation.  "I must be going," said he.

Tears gathered in her eyes, made them brilliant, took away much of their
natural hardness.  "Won’t you be friends?" she appealed.

He continued to look straight into her eyes until her expression told
him she knew he was not deceived by her maneuverings and strategies.
Then he said, "No," with terse directness of manner as well as of
speech.  "No, because you do not want friends.  You want victims."

In sudden anger she flung off her mask.  "I am a good hater," she
warned.  "You don’t want me to turn against you, do you?"

His face became sad and somewhat bitter.  There had been a time when
such a menace from a source so near his career would have alarmed him,
would have set him to debating conciliation.  But his self-confidence
had developed beyond that stage, had reached the point where a man feels
that, if any force from without can injure him, the sooner he finds it
out, the more quickly he will be able to make a career founded upon the
only unshakable ground, his own single strength.

"I’ve taken a great deal off you," she went on in a menacing tone, a
tone intended to remind him that he was an employee.  "You ought to be
more careful. I’m not all sweetness.  I can be hard and unforgiving when
I cease to like."

He laughed unpleasantly as vanity thus easily divested itself of its
mask of love.  "And to cross you is all that’s necessary to rouse your
dislike."

"That’s all," said she.  And now she looked like her father in his rare
exhibitions of his true self.  She had never deceived Armstrong
altogether.  But he was too masculine not to have lingerings of the
universal male delusion that feminine always and necessarily means at
least something of sweetness and tenderness.

"Shall we be friends?" she demanded sharply, imperiously.  At bottom,
she could not believe anyone would stand against the power that gave her
a scepter—the power of wealth.  "Friends, or—not?"

"As you please," replied he, bowing coldly.  And he went, his last look
altogether calm, not without a tinge of contempt.  He realized that he
had come there to put an end to his flirtation with her, to assert his
own independence, to free himself from the entanglement which his
temporary weakness of the first days in overwhelming New York had led
him into.  The swimmer, used only to pond or narrow river, is unnerved
for a moment when he finds himself in the sea; but if he knows his art,
he is soon reassured, because he discovers that no more skill is needed
for sea than for pond, only a little more self-confidence.

He was not clear of the house when she was saying to herself, "Hugo is
right about him.  Father must take him in hand.  He shall be taught his
place."



                                  *XI*

                          *AT MRS. TRAFFORD’S*


Armstrong felt that he had regained his liberty.

The principal feature of every adequate defense is vigorous attack; and,
so long as Amy was pretending to be and was thinking herself his friend,
was in fact as much his friend as it was possible for one to be who had
been bred to self-worship, Armstrong could take only lame, passive
measures against Fosdick.  But now—  In the oncoming struggle in which
he would get no quarter, he need give none.  Several times, as he was
dressing for dinner, a cynical smile played over his features. What a
queer game life was!  In other circumstances, that might easily have
come about, he and Amy would have plunged into a romantic love affair;
they would have been standing by each other against all the world, the
stronger in their love and devotion for the opposition. A few words, and
off flies her mask of sweetness, so deceptive that it almost deceived
herself, and away goes her pretense of friendship; the friends become
enemies, liking becomes hate.  No real change in either of them; each
just as likable as before; yet, what a difference!  It amused him.  It
saddened him.  "Probably at this very moment she’s edging her father on
to destroy me," he thought.  But that disturbed him not at all.  He had
no fear of enemies; he knew that they fling themselves against the gates
in vain, unless there are traitors within.

This break with Amy was most opportune.  He was dining at the Traffords
that evening; he could tell Trafford he would accept without any
reservations the long-standing invitation to enter the Atwater-Trafford
plot to seize the O.A.D.

Trafford was one of the rising stars in finance.  He originated in a
village in southern New Jersey where he was first a school teacher, then
a lawyer.  He spent many years in studying the problem of
success—success, of course, meaning the getting of a vast fortune. He
discovered that there were two ways to enormous wealth—by seizing an
accumulation amassed by some one else; by devising a trap that would
deceive or compel a multitude of people to contribute each his mite of a
few dimes or dollars.  The first way was the quicker, of course; but
Trafford saw that the number of multi-millionaires incapable of
defending at least the bulk of their wealth was extremely limited, and
that, of them, few indeed kept their wealth together so that one swoop
could scoop it all.  His mind turned to the other way. After carefully
examining the various forms of trap, he was delighted to discover that
the one that was easiest to use was also the best.  Insurance!  To get
several hundred thousand people to make you absolute trustee of their
savings, asking no real accounting; and all you had to do was to keep a
certain part of the money safely invested so that, when anybody died,
you could pay his heirs about what he had paid you, with simple
interest, or less, added.  Trafford studied the life insurance tables,
and he was amazed that nobody had ever taken the trouble to expose the
business.  He stood astounded before the revelation that the companies
must be earning, on "risks" alone, from ten to thirty per cent, this in
addition to what clever fellows on the inside must be doing in the way
of speculation; that policy holders got back in so-called dividends less
than five, usually less than four, often less than three per cent!

Trafford’s fingers twitched.  Rich?  Why, he would be worth millions!

He made choice among the different kinds of insurance.  The object was
to get a company that would draw in the greatest number of
"beneficiaries" and would have to pay the smallest proportion of
"benefits."  The greatest number were obviously the very poor; and, by
happy coincidence, the very poor could also be exploited more easily and
more thoroughly and with less outcry than any other class.  So, Trafford
made burial insurance his "graft."  He would play upon the horror the
poor have of Potter’s Field.

He began in a small way in Trenton; he presently had several thousand
policy holders, each paying ten cents a week to his agent-collectors.
As soon as a policy of this kind has run for several months, it is to
the advantage of both agent and company for it to lapse. Thus,
Trafford’s policies, obscurely worded, unintelligible to any but a
lawyer, read that the weekly payments must be made at the office of the
company; that an omission promptly to pay a single month’s dues made the
policy lapse; that a lapsed policy had no surrender value.  He was too
greedy at first, and Trenton was too small a place.  When it became "too
hot to hold him," he went to New York—New York with its vast, ignorant,
careless tenement population, with its corrupt government, with its
superb opportunities for floating and expanding a respectable grafting
scheme.

If he had stayed in Trenton, he would probably have gone to the
penitentiary.  But in New York he became ever richer, ever more
respectable; he attracted about him a group of eminently respectable
sustainers of church and society, always eager to get their noses into a
large, new trough of swill.  The Home and Hearth Mutual Defense Company
soon dwelt in a palace, built at a cost of many millions, every penny of
it picked from the pockets of ragged trousers and skirts; Trafford
himself dwelt in another and even more costly palace farther uptown,
built with the same kind of money.  He was a vestryman in the
fashionable Church of the Holy Family, a subscriber to all the
fashionable charities, an authority on the fashionable theories as to
the tenement house question and other sociological problems relating to
the slums.  And he thought as well of himself as did his neighbors.  Was
it _his_ business if the company’s collectors forgot to be accommodating
and to relieve the poor of the necessity of making their payments at the
offices?  Was it _his_ business if policies lapsed by the thousands, by
the tens of thousands, through the carelessness or ignorance of the
policy holders?  Look at the hundreds of thousands whose funeral
expenses were provided by the Home and Hearth!  Look at the charities he
subscribed to; listen to the speeches in behalf of charity and
philanthropy he made!  Did he not give the policy holders all that was
legally theirs?—at least, all that was _rightfully_ theirs under the
accepted business code; certainly, more than the law would have allowed
them, if laws could be made so that the good could carry on "practical"
business and yet the wicked not get undue license. Trafford had never
been a moral theorist.  He had accepted the code known as legal
morals—"the world’s working compromise with utopianism," he sonorously
called it.  As he expanded financially, he expanded morally; by the time
he became a high financier, he was ready for the broader code known as
financial morals—wherein allowances are made for all those moral
difficulties which the legal code, being of necessity of wider
application, cannot take into account.

A fine man was Trafford, with a face that the women and the clergy
called "sweet" and "spiritual," with a full gray beard, young eyes,
bright blue and smiling, iron-gray hair that waved a little, and the
dress of the substantial citizen.

His home life was beautiful.

He had made his first and false start with a school teacher—she had had
the first grade in the school where he taught the sixth grade.  She was
of about his own age, and indolent, and had never heard that a married
woman ought to keep herself up to the mark; she was, therefore, old at
thirty-two, and he still a mere boy in looks and in feeling.  She said
rather severe things when he so narrowly escaped disgrace during his
apprenticeship at Trenton; they quarreled, they separated.

In the boarding house where he first stopped in New York there was a
serious, shrewd, pretty girl, the daughter of the landlady and the niece
of one of the high dignitaries of the church.  Trafford induced his wife
to divorce him—before she discovered how swiftly and luxuriantly he was
putting forth bough and leaf in congenial New York.  He married the
niece of the church dignitary in the parlor of the boarding house; a
"most elegant function" it was pronounced by the boarders—and, as they
read all the "fashionable intelligence" and claimed kinship with various
fashionable people, they ought to have known.  The wedding was like the
bright dawn of a bright day—a somewhat cool, even frosty day, but
brilliant.  Neither Trafford nor the second Mrs. Trafford had much
affection in them.  Who knows, perhaps the marriage was the more
cloudless for that.  Instead of exploiting each other, as loving couples
too often do, they exploited their fellow beings, he downtown, she up.
As he grew, she grew.  As he became rich, she became fashionable; ten
years after that wedding, hardy indeed would have been the person who
would have dared remind her that she had once lived in a boarding house.

Conventionally, it is man’s chief business to get rich, woman’s chief
business to keep young looking; the Traffords were nothing if not
conventional. Mrs. Trafford appreciated that she lived in a land where
beauty in a woman counts more than seventy-five points in the hundred,
that she lived in a city where it counts at least ninety points in the
hundred.  She had no use for her charms beyond mere show—show, the sole
purpose of all she did and thought and was.  She took herself in hand,
after the true New York fashion, at Time’s first sign of malice.  She
had herself cared for from top to toe, and that intelligently—no
credulous prey to fake beautifiers was Lily Trafford.  When Trafford was
fifty-two, though he did not look so much by half a dozen years, his
wife was thirty-eight, and looked less than thirty.

Nor had she neglected her other duties as woman and wife.  Her husband
was rich; she had learned how to spend money.  The theory among those
who have no money "to speak of," and never had, is that everyone is born
with the knowledge how to spend money. In fact, there are thousands who
know how to make money where there are ten who know how to spend it. The
whole mercantile class fattens on the ignorance of this neglected
science—fattens by selling at high prices to those who do not know what
they want or how much they should pay.  Mrs. Trafford knew exactly what
she wanted—she wanted to be fashionable. She had fashion as an instinct,
as a passion.  She wanted the "latest thing" in mental and material
furnishings.  She cared nothing for knowledge; she was determined to
have culture, because culture was fashionable.  She had no ideas of her
own, and wanted none; she followed the accepted standards.  It was the
fashion to go to church; she went to church.  It was the fashion to be a
little skeptical; she was cautiously skeptical.  It was the fashion to
live in a palace; in a palace she lived.  She went to the fashionable
dressmakers and art stores and book stores.  She filled her house with
things recommended by the fashionable architects.  She had the plainest
personal tastes in food, but she ate three fashionable meals a day; and,
though she loved coffee with cream, took it with hot milk in the
mornings and black after lunch and dinner, because cream was
unfashionable.  Yes, Mrs. Trafford knew how to spend money.  The science
of spending money is getting what you want at as low a price as anybody
can get it.  Mrs. Trafford got exactly what she wanted, and got it with
no more waste than is inevitable in spending large sums with people who
lie awake of nights plotting to get more than they are entitled to.

As Armstrong looked round the salon into which he was shown, it seemed
to him he had never seen anything so magnificent or so stiff.  Trafford
was housed exactly like a king—and, like a king, he had the air of being
a temporary tenant of the magnificence about him.  It was the typical
great house—a crude, barbaric structure, an exhibition of wealth with no
individuality, no originality, ludicrous to the natural eye, yet
melancholy; for, from every exhibit of how little wealth buys there
protrudes the suggestion of how much it has deprived how many.  In such
displays the absence of price marks is a doubtful concession to canons
of taste which in no wise apply; the price mark would at once answer the
only question that forms in the mind as the glance roams.  The
Traffords, however, were as content as royalty in their uncomfortable
and unsightly surroundings; they had attained the upper class heaven.

"So glad you could come," said Mrs. Trafford graciously to Armstrong.
Her toilet was the extreme of the fashion, and without a glimmer of
individual taste.  "This is my small daughter."  And she smiled up at
the thin, pretty young woman beside her in diaphanous white over palest
yellow.  "We are to be six this evening," she went on.  "And Boris is
coming—you know Boris Raphael?"

"Never heard of him," said Armstrong.

Miss Trafford smiled broadly.  Mrs. Trafford was pained, and showed
it—not at her daughter’s smile, for it she did not see, but at
Armstrong’s ignorance of so important a fact in the current fashionable
fund of information.  Ignorance of literature, science, art, politics,
of everything of importance in the great world, would not have disturbed
Mrs. Trafford; but ignorance of any of the trivialities it was
fashionable to know—what vulgarity, what humiliation!  "He is _the_
painter of portraits," she explained.  "Everyone has him.  He gets
really fabulous prices."

"An American?" inquired Armstrong.

"I believe he was born here.  But, of course, he has spent his life
abroad.  We are so commercial.  No artist could develop here."

"Is there any place on earth where they don’t take all they can get?"
asked Armstrong.  "Does Raphael refuse ’fabulous prices’?"

Miss Trafford laughed.  Mrs. Trafford looked pained again.  "Oh—but the
spirit is different over there," she replied vaguely.

"Where the men won’t marry unless the girl brings a dowry?"

"The customs are different from ours," said Mrs. Trafford, patiently and
pleasantly.  "Raphael has done me a great honor.  He has asked to paint
me."

"Naturally, he’s on the lookout for all the jobs he can get," said
Armstrong, his mind really on his impending treaty with her
husband—arranging the articles, what he would give, what demand in
exchange. The instant the words were out he realized their inexcusable
rudeness.  He reddened and looked awkwardly big and piteously
apologetic.

Trafford, who had been stroking the huge deerhound on the tiger skin
before the fire, now burst in. "What’s that about Raphael?  Did my wife
tell you she has at last persuaded him to paint her picture?"

A miserable silence.  Miss Trafford had to turn away to restrain her
laughter.  Mrs. Trafford became white, then scarlet, then white again.

"The airs he’s putting on!" continued Trafford, unconscious.  "Why, they
tell me his father was a banana peddler and——"

"Mr. Raphael," announced the butler, holding aside one of the
ten-thousand-dollar portières.

"Oh—Raphael!" exclaimed Trafford, with enthusiasm.

"So glad you could come," said Mrs. Trafford, gracious and sweet.

"Miss Carlin," announced the butler.

Armstrong, studying Raphael’s face, which instantly attracted him,
wheeled toward the door at the sound of this name as if he had been shot
at from that direction.  He might not have been noted, had he not
straightway got a far greater shock.  In abandon of sheer amazement he
stared at the figure in the doorway—Neva, completely transformed in the
two years since he saw her.  The revolution in her whole mode of life
and thought had produced results as striking inwardly as outwardly.

In America, transformations usually cause, at most, only momentary
surprise; for almost everyone above the grade of day laborer, and not a
few there, changes his environment completely, not once but several
times in the lifetime, readjusting himself to his better or worse
circumstances.  After an interval one sees the man or the woman he has
known as poor and obscure; success has come in that interval, and with
it all the external and internal results of success.  Or, failure has
come, and with it that general sloughing away and decay which is the
inevitable consequence of profound discouragement; the American, most
adaptable of human beings, accepts defeat as facilely as victory.

In Neva’s case, however, the phenomenon was somewhat different.  It is
not often that circumstance drags an obstinately retiring person into
activity, breaks the shell and compels that which was hidden to become
open, to develop, to dominate.  The transformation of Neva seemed
somewhat as if a violet had become a tall-stemmed rose; it was, in fact,
no miracle of transubstantiation, but one of those perfectly natural
marvels, like the metamorphosis of grub into butterfly.  Armstrong had
seen the chrysalis, all unsuspicious of its true nature; now, with no
knowledge of the stages between, he was seeing the ethereal beauty the
chrysalis had so securely concealed. It must be said, however, that
Boris, though he had seen the day-to-day change, the gradual unfolding
of wing and color and grace, was almost as startled as the big,
matter-of-fact Westerner.  In the evolution of every living thing, there
comes a definite moment when the old vanishes and the new bursts forth
in full splendor—when bud ceases to be bud and is in a twinkling leaf or
bloom, when awkward boy or girl is all at once graceful youth, full
panoplied.  Neva, knowing she was to see Armstrong that night, had put
forth the last crucial effort, had for the first time spread wide to the
light her new plumage of body and soul.  And there stood in the doorway
of Trafford’s salon the woman grown, radiant in that luminous envelope
which crowns certain kinds of beauty with the supreme charm of mystery.

She paused an instant before Armstrong’s stare, which was disconcerting
the whole company.  In spite of her forewarned self-control, her eyes
sparkled and her cheeks flushed; that stare of his was the triumph of
which she had dreamed.  She came on to her hostess and extended her
hand.  Mrs. Trafford, who prided herself on being the "complete
hostess," equal to any emergency, for once almost lost her head;
something in Armstrong’s face, in his eyes, raised in her the dread of a
scene, and she showed it.  But Neva restored her—Neva, tranquil and
graceful, a "study in lengths" to delight the least observant eye now,
her faintly shimmering evening dress of pale gray leaving bare her
beautiful arms and shoulders and neck, and giving full opportunity to
the poise of her small head with its bright brown crown of thick, vital
hair; and her eyes, gleaming from the long, narrow lids, seemed at once
to offer and refuse the delights such words as youth and passion
conjure.

"I don’t wonder you can’t keep from staring," said Miss Trafford in an
undertone to Armstrong, with intent to recall him to himself.

With that, he did contrive to get himself together; Mrs. Trafford
introduced him to Neva, not without a nervous flutter in her voice.
Neva put her hand out to him.  "How d’ye do, Horace?" she said, with a
faint smile, neither friendly nor cold.

Armstrong took her hand without being able to speak.  Mrs. Trafford was
about to say, "You have met before," when it occurred to her that this
might precipitate the scene.  Dinner was announced; she paired her
guests—Lona with Armstrong, Neva with Trafford, she herself taking
Boris.

"Did you see him stare at her?" she asked, on the way to the dining
room.

Boris laughed unpleasantly.  "And so should I, in the circumstance,"
replied he.

"What circumstance?"

"Seeing such a beautiful woman so suddenly," he said, after just an
instant’s hesitation.

Mrs. Trafford looked shrewdly at him.  "Is it a scandal?" she asked, at
the same time sending a beaming glance at Armstrong who was entering the
door at the other end of the room with her daughter on his arm.

"Not at all," replied Boris.

The dinner went placidly enough.  Raphael had been almost as startled as
Armstrong when Neva appeared in the door of the salon, though he did not
show it.  Expert in women’s ways, he knew it was for some specific
reason that she had thus taken unprecedented pains with her toilet.  Why
had she striven to outshine herself?  Obviously because she wished to
punish the man who had so stupidly failed to appreciate her.  A
perfectly natural desire, a perfectly natural seizing of a not to be
neglected opportunity for revenge.  Still—Boris could not but wish she
had shown some such desire to dazzle him; he would have preferred that
she had been absolutely indifferent to the man of whom he often thought
with twinges of rakish jealousy.  He affected high spirits, was never
more brilliant, and helped Neva to shine by giving her every
encouragement and chance to talk and talk well.

In contrast to them, Armstrong was morosely silent; occasionally he
ventured a glance across the table at Neva, and each time into his face
came the expression that suggested he was suspecting his eyes or his
mind of playing him a wildly fantastic trick. So far as he could judge,
Neva was not at all disturbed by his presence.  Raphael went upstairs
soon after the women; he refused to be bored with the business
conversation into which Trafford had drawn Armstrong.

"Well," said Trafford, the moment Boris was out of the way, "what have
you decided to do?"

"I’ll go in with you," said Armstrong.

Trafford rubbed his hands and his eyes sparkled—like a hungry circuit
rider at sight of the heaping platter of fried chicken.  "Good!
Splendid!" he exclaimed.  He glanced at butler and waiters busy clearing
the sideboard; but they took no hints that would delay their freedom,
and Trafford did not dare give an order that would put them out of humor
and the domestic machinery out of gear.  "No matter," said he.  "This
isn’t the time to talk business.  We’ll arrange the details to-morrow.
Or, shall we adjourn to my study?"

"I’ll come to you in a few days when I have my plans formed," said
Armstrong.  "Wait till you hear from me."  He tossed his cigar into a
plate.  "Let’s go upstairs.  I must leave soon."

Meanwhile, Raphael, in the salon, had bent over Neva and had said in an
undertone, "You would like to leave?  You can have my cab—it’s waiting.
I’ll take yours when it comes."

"Thanks, no," answered Neva.  "I’m not the least in a hurry."

Her tone ruffled him.  His ears had been sentinels and his eyes scouts
from the instant he knew who Armstrong was and with one expert glance
took his measure mentally and physically.  He appreciated that the
female method in judging men is not at all like the male method, is
wholly beyond the comprehension of a man; still, he could not believe
that any man of the material, commercial type would attract a sincerely
artistic, delicate, spiritual woman like Neva Carlin.  He could not, as
an expert in mankind, deny to Armstrong a certain charm of the force
that in repose is like the mountain and in action is like the river.
"But," reasoned he, "she knows him through and through, knows him as he
is.  For her, he’s a commonplace tale that is told."

As Armstrong entered, his glance darted for Neva. It had first to meet
Raphael smiling friendlily and suggesting anything but the man on guard,
every nerve alert.  Armstrong frowned frank dislike.  He felt at a
disadvantage before this superelegantly dressed and delicately perfumed
personage.  While he was not without experience with women, he had known
only those who had sought him; his expertness was, thus, wholly in
receiving advances and turning them to such advantage as suited his
fancy, not at all in making overtures or laying siege.  He saw at once
that Boris was a master at the entire game of man and woman; he recalled
Neva’s passion for things artistic, her reverence for those great in
artistic achievement; despite his prejudice against Boris, he measured
him as a man of distinction and force.  It seemed to him that this
handsome master-painter, so masculine in feature and figure, so
effeminately dandified in dress and manner, this fascinating specimen of
the artistic sex that is the quintessence of both sexes, must have
hypnotized his wife.  Yes, his wife!  For, now that Neva’s revealed
personality inspired in him wonder, awe, desire, he began to think of
her as his property.  He had quit title under a misapprehension; he had
been cheated, none the less because the cheater happened to be himself.

Boris, ignoring his unfriendliness, advanced, engaged him, drew in Lona
Trafford.  Before he could contrive a move toward Neva, Boris had him
securely trapped in a far corner of the salon with Lona as his watchful
keeper, and was himself retreated in triumph to sit beside Neva.  So
thoroughly had Boris executed the maneuver, Armstrong was seated at such
an angle that he could not even see Neva without rudely twisting away
from Miss Trafford.  He did not appreciate that he was the victim of a
deliberate strategy.  But Miss Trafford did; and when she found herself
unable to fix his attention, she took a vengeful pleasure in keeping him
trapped, enjoying his futile struggles, his ill-concealed wrath, his
unconcealed jealousy.

That was a miserable half hour he passed; Lona talked of the painter and
Neva—"his latest flame—you know, he’s very inconstant—has the most
dreadful reputation.  Mamma wouldn’t let him speak half a dozen words to
me, unless she was there.  They do say that Miss Carlin is making a
saint of him—though, no doubt it’s a disguise that’ll be thrown off as
soon as—  I don’t admire that sort of man, do you, Mr. Armstrong?  I
like a simple, honest man—"  This with a look that said she regarded
Armstrong as such—"a man that doesn’t understand feminine tricks and the
ways to circumvent women."  There her cynical eyes smiled amusement at
Armstrong’s ruddy, lip-biting jealousy.

"It’s rather cold, so far from the fire," said Armstrong, rising.

Lona rose also; she saw that Neva was about to go.  "Just a minute,"
said she.  "Miss Carlin is leaving.  You can take the sofa as soon as
she’s out of the way."

Armstrong wheeled, left Miss Trafford precipitately. He was barely in
time to intercept Neva, on her way to the door with Trafford.  "Good
night, Horace," she said.  He could only stand and stare. For the first
time she looked directly at him, her eyes full upon his.  He remembered
that in the old days, when their eyes occasionally met thus, hers had
made him vaguely uncomfortable; he understood why, now. What was the
meaning of this look she was giving him—this look from long, narrow
lids, this look that searched him out, thrilled him with longing and
with fear?  He could not fathom it; he only knew that never before in
his entire singly intent, ambitious life had the thought occurred to him
that there might be some other worth while game than the big green
tables of finance, some other use for human beings than as pawns in that
game.  She drew her hand away from his confused, detaining grasp, and
was gone, leaving him an embarrassed, depressed, ludicrous figure, to be
later the jeer of his own sense of humor.

Before Trafford had time to return from escorting her to her cab,
Armstrong took leave.  A brief silence in the salon; then Mrs. Trafford
said to Raphael, "There is some mystery here, which I feel compelled to
ask you to explain.  You introduced Miss Carlin to me."  She noted her
daughter listening eagerly.  "Lona, you would better go.  Good night, my
child."

Boris looked the amusement this affectation roused in him.  "Don’t send
her away, Mrs. Trafford. The mystery is quite respectable.  Miss Carlin
used to be Mrs. Armstrong.  As there were no children, she took her own
name, when it became once more the only name she was entitled to."

"He divorced her!" exclaimed Mrs. Trafford, rearing.  "And you brought
her to _my_ house!"  She held it axiomatic that no woman would divorce a
well-appearing breadwinner of the highest efficiency.

"_She_ divorced _him_," corrected Raphael.

"I can’t believe it," replied Mrs. Trafford.  "If she did, he let her,
to avoid scandal."

"Not at all," protested Boris.  "They come from a state which has queer,
sentimental divorce laws, made for honest people instead of for
hypocrites. They didn’t get on well; so, the law let them go their
separate ways—since God had obviously not joined them."

"I must look into it," said Mrs. Trafford, with a frown at Raphael and a
significant side glance toward Lona.  "People in our position can’t
afford to——"

"I have the honor to wish you good evening," said Boris with a formal
bow.  And before she could recover herself, he was gone.

"You _have_ made a mess, mamma!" exclaimed Lona.

Mrs. Trafford seemed on the verge of hysterics. "Was there _ever_ a more
unfortunate evening!" she cried.  Then: "But he’d not have been so
touchy, if there wasn’t something wrong."

Trafford came sauntering in and she explained the situation to him.  He
flamed in alarm and anger, impatiently cut off her explanations with,
"You’ve got to straighten this, Lily.  If Armstrong should hear of it,
and be offended, it’d cost me—I can’t tell you how much!"

Mrs. Trafford looked as miserable as she felt. "I’ll send off a note
apologizing to Raphael this very night," she said.  "And in the morning
I’ll ask her to the opera.  Why didn’t you warn me?"

"Warn!" exclaimed Trafford, bustling up and down, and plucking at his
neat little beard.  "How was I to know?  But I supposed you’d understand
that we never have anybody—any man—here unless he’s of use.  It’s all
very well to be strict, Lily; but——"

"Let’s not talk about it," wailed his wife.  "I’ll do my best to
straighten it.  I shan’t sleep a wink to-night."

Lona—"the child"—slipped away, a smile on her lips—a cynical smile which
testified that the lesson in life as it is lived in the full stench of
"respectability," had not failed to impress her.



                                 *XII*

                           *"WE NEVER WERE"*


For the first time in Armstrong’s career, it was imperative that he
concentrate his whole mind; and, for the first time, he could not.  In
the midst of conferences with Trafford, with Atwater even, his attention
would wander; forgetful of his surroundings, he would stare dazedly at a
slim, yet not thin, figure, framed in the heavy purple and gold curtains
of a doorway—the figure of his former wife, of the recreated Neva, on
the threshold of Mrs. Trafford’s salon.  He had the habit of judging
himself impartially, and this newly developed weakness of character, as
strange in its way as the metamorphosis of Neva, roused angry
self-contempt; but the apparition persisted, and also his inability to
keep his thoughts off it.

Passion he understood, but not its compulsion, still less its tyranny.
Love—except love of mother and child—he regarded as a myth that foozled
only the foolish.  He had sometimes thought he would like a home, a
family; but a glance at the surface of the lives of his associates was
enough to put such sentimentalities out of his head.  He saw the
imbecilities of extravagance and pretense into which the wife and
daughters plunged as soon as the wealth of the head of the family
permitted, the follies into which they dragged the "old man"—how, in his
own home, just as downtown, he was not a man but a purse.  No, Armstrong
had no disposition to become the drudge and dupe of a fashionable
family.  So, in his life he had put woman in what he regarded as her
proper place of merest incident.  He spent a great deal of time with
women—that is, a great deal for so busy a man.  He liked women better
than he liked men because with them he was able to relax and lower his
guard, where with men he always had the sense of the game.  For
intelligence in women he cared not at all.  Beauty and a good
disposition—those were the requirements.  It was not as at a woman that
he looked at this unbanishable figure—not with the longing, thought he,
or even the admiration of the masculine for the feminine—simply with
wonder, a stupid stare, an endless repetition of the query, _Who_ is it?

His vanity of self-poise was even more hard pressed to explain why he
always saw, in sinister background to the apparition of Neva, the
handsome, dandified face of Boris, strong, sensual, triumphant.  He
recalled what Lona Trafford had said of the painter. Yes, that explained
it.  Neva, guileless, inexperienced in the ways of the world, was being
ensnared, all unsuspicious, by this rake.  And, even though she might,
probably would, have the virtuous fiber to stand out against him, still
she would lose her reputation. Already people must be talking about her;
so far as he could learn, no woman could associate with Raphael without
it being assumed that she was not wasting his time.  "The scented
scoundrel!" muttered Armstrong.  "Such men should be shot like mad
dogs."  This with perfect sincerity; with not a mocking suggestion that
he himself had been as active in the same way as his time and
inclination had permitted.

"Really, somebody ought to warn her," was naturally the next step.
"What the devil do her people mean by letting her come here alone?"
Yes, somebody ought to warn her.  Of course, he couldn’t undertake the
office; his motive might be misunderstood. Still, it ought to be done.
But—  "Maybe, he’s really in love with her—wants to marry her."  This
reflection so enraged him that he was in grave danger of discovering to
himself the truth about his own state of mind.  "Why not?" he hastily
retorted upon himself.  "What do I care?  I must be crazy, to spend any
time at all in thinking about matters that are nothing to me."

And he ordered the subject out of his mind.  He was not surprised to
discover that it had not obeyed him.  Now, hatred of Boris became a sort
of obsession with him.  He found in, or imagined into, his memory
picture of the painter’s face, many repellant evidences of bad
character.  Whenever he heard Raphael’s name, or saw it in a newspaper,
he paused irritably upon it; he was soon in the habit of thinking of him
as "that damned hound."  Nor did this development unsettle his
confidence in his freedom from heart interest in Neva; he was sure his
antipathy toward the painter was the natural feeling of the normal man
toward the abnormal.  "Where’s the man that wouldn’t despise a creature
who decks himself out with jewelry and wears rolling collars because he
wants to show off his throat, and scents himself like a man-chasing
woman?"

The longer he revolved it, the more clearly he saw the necessity that
she be warned—and the certainty that his warning would be misunderstood.
"I couldn’t speak of him without showing my feelings, and women always
misinterpret that sort of thing."  He looked up her address; and, as he
was walking to his hotel from the office in the late afternoon, or was
strolling about after dinner, developing his vast and complex scheme to
pile high the ruins of his enemies that he might rise the higher upon
them, he would find himself almost or quite at the entrance to the
apartment house where she lived.  "I think I must be going crazy," he
said to himself one night, when he had twice within two hours drawn
himself from before her door.  Then a brilliant idea came to him: "I’ll
go to see her, and end this.  To put a woman out of mind, all that’s
necessary is to give her a thorough, impartial look-over.  Also, in ten
minutes’ talk with her I can judge whether it would be worth while to
warn her against that damned hound."

And at five the very next day he sent up his card. "She’ll send down
word she isn’t at home," he decided.

He was astonished when the boy asked him into the elevator; he was
confused when he faced at her door old Molly who had lived with them out
in Battle Field.  "Step in, sir," she said stiffly, as if he were a
stranger, and an unwelcome one.  He entered with his head lowered and a
pink spot on either cheek. "What the devil am I doing here?" he
muttered. "Yes, I’m losing my mind."

He heard indistinctly a man’s voice in the room shut off by the curtains
at the far end of the hall—evidently she had a caller.  He went in that
direction. "Is this the right way?" he called, hesitating at the
curtain.

"Yes, here," came in Neva’s voice.  Had he not been expecting it, he
would hardly have recognized it, so vibrant now with life.

He entered—found her and Boris.  "I might have known _he’d_ be here," he
said to himself.  "No doubt he’s _always_ here."

He ignored Boris; Boris stared coldly at him. "You two have met before?"
said Neva, with a glance from one to the other, her eyes like those of a
nymph smiling from the dark, dense foliage round a forest pool.  "Yes, I
remember.  Let me give you some tea, Horace."

As she spoke that name, Boris set down his cup abruptly.  He debated
whether he should defy politeness and outsit the Westerner.  He decided
that to do so would be doubly unwise—would rouse resentment in Neva, who
had had the chance to ask him to spare her being left alone with her
former husband and had not; would give him an appearance of regarding
the Westerner as an important, a dangerous person. With a look in his
eyes that belied the smile on his lips, he shook hands with her.  "Until
Thursday," he said.  "Don’t forget you’re to come half an hour earlier."
And Armstrong was alone with her, was entirely free to give her the
"thorough, impartial lookover."

He saw his imagination had not tricked him at Trafford’s—his imagination
and her dress.  The change in her was real, was radical, miraculous,
incredible.  It was, he realized, in part, in large part, a matter of
dress, of tasteful details of toilet—hair and hands and skin not merely
clean and neat but thoroughly cared for.  This change, however, was
evidently permanent, was outward sign of a new order of thought and
action, and not the accident of one evening’s effort as he had been
telling himself.  Their eyes met and his glance hastily departed upon a
slow tour of the room; in what contrast was it to his own apartment,
which cost so much and sheltered him so cheerlessly.  "You are very
comfortable here," said he.  "That, and a great deal more."

"The Siersdorfs built this house," replied she. "They have
ideas—especially Narcisse."  He thought her wonderfully, exasperatingly
self-possessed; his own blood was throbbing fiercely and her physical
charms gave him the delicious, terrifying tremors of a boy on the brink
of his first love leap.

"What is it that women"—he went on, surprised by the steadiness of his
voice, "_some_ women—do to four walls, a floor, and ceiling, and a few
pieces of furniture to get a result like this?  It isn’t a question of
money.  The more one spends in trying to get it, the worse off he is."

"It seems to me," said she, "that, in arranging a place to live, the one
thing to consider is that it’s not for show or for company, but to live
in—day and night, in all kinds of weather, and in all kinds of moods.
Make it to suit yourself, and then it’ll fit you and be like you—and
those who care for you can’t but be pleased with it."

"It does resemble you—here," said he.  "And it doesn’t suggest a palace
or an antique store or a model room in a furniture display, or an
auction room.... You work hard?"

His glance had come back to her, to linger on the graceful lines of her
throat and slim, pallid neck, revealed by the rounding out of her
tea-gown.  Never before had he been drawn to note the details of a
woman’s costume.  He would not have believed garments could be
surcharged with all that is magnetic in feminine to masculine as was
this dress of cream white edged with narrow bands of sable.

"It would be impossible not to work, with Raphael to spur one on," was
her reply.  Her accent in pronouncing that name gave him the desire to
grind something to powder between his strong, white teeth. "The better I
know him, the more wonderful he seems," continued she, a gleam in her
eyes that would have made a Raphael suspect she was not unaware of the
emotion Armstrong was trying to conceal.  "I used to think his work was
great; but now it seems a feeble expression of him—of ideas he, nor no
man, could ever materialize for a coarse sense like sight."

"You don’t like his work, then?" said Armstrong, pleased.

Neva looked indignant.  "He’s the best we have—one of the best that ever
lived," exclaimed she.  "I didn’t mean his work by itself wasn’t great,
but that it seemed inadequate, compared with the man.  When one meets
most so-called great men—your great men downtown for example—one
realizes that they owe almost everything to their slyness, that they
steal the labor of the hands and brains of others who are superior to
them in every way but craft and unscrupulousness.  A truly great man, a
man like Boris Raphael, dwarfs his reputation."

Armstrong suspected a personal thrust, a contrast between him and Boris,
and was accordingly uncomfortable. "I’d like to see some of _your_
work," said he, to shift the subject.

"Not to-day.  I don’t feel in the mood."

"You mean, you think I wouldn’t care about it—that I never was
interested in that sort of thing."

"Perhaps," she admitted.

He laughed.  "There’s truth in that."  He was about to say, "I’m still
just as much of a Philistine as I used to be"; but he
refrained—something in her atmosphere forbade reminiscence or hint of
any connection whatever between their present and their past.

"You’re like Boris in one respect," she went on. "Nothing interests you
but what is immediately useful to you."

"He’s over head in love with you—isn’t he?" Armstrong blurted.

Her face did not change by so much as a shade. She gave not an outward
hint that she knew he had rudely flung himself against the barrier
between them, to enter her inmost life on his own ruthless terms of
masculine intolerance of feminine equality of right. She continued to
look tranquilly at him, and, as if she had not heard his question, said,
"You don’t go out home often?"

The rebuke—the severest, the completest, a woman can give a man—flooded
his face with scarlet to the line of his hair.  "Not—not often," he
stammered. "That is, not at all."

"Father and I visit with each other every few weeks," she continued.
"And I take the home paper."  She nodded toward a copy of the Battle
Field _Banner_, conspicuous on the table beside him.  "Even the
advertisements interest me—’The first strawberries now on sale at
Blodgett’s’—you remember Blodgett, with his pale red hair and pale red
eyes and pale red skin, and always in his shirt sleeves, with a
tooth-brush, bristle-end up, in his vest pocket?  And I read that Sam
Warfield and his sister Mattie ’Sundayed’ at Rabbit’s Run, as if I knew
and loved the Warfields."

This connecting of her present self with her past had the effect of
restoring him somewhat.  It established the bond of fellow-townsmen
between them.  "I too take the _Banner_," said he.  "It’s like a visit
at home.  I walk the streets and shake hands with the people.  I’m glad
I come from there—but I’m glad I came."

But he could not get his ease.  It seemed incredible, not, as he would
have expected, that they were such utter strangers, but that they had
ever been even acquaintances.  Not the present, but the past, seemed a
trick of the imagination upon his sober senses.  His feeling toward her
reminded him of how he used to regard her when he, delivering parcels
from his father’s little store, came upon her, so vividly representing
to him her father’s power and position in the community that he could
not see her as a person. While she continued to talk, pleasantly,
courteously, as to an acquaintance from the same town, he tried to brace
himself by recalling in intimate detail all they had been to each other;
but by no stretch of fancy could he convince himself of the truth.  No,
it was not this woman who had been his wife, who had dressed and
undressed before him in the intimacy of old-fashioned married life, who
had accepted his embraces, who had borne him a child.

When he rose to go, it was with obvious consciousness of his hands and
feet; and he more than suspected her of deliberately preventing him from
recovering himself.  "She’s determined I shan’t fail to learn my
lesson," he thought, as he stood in the outer hall, waiting for the
elevator, and recovering from his awkward exit.


A week, almost to the minute, and he came again.  She received him
exactly as before—like an old acquaintance.  She had to do the talking;
he could only look and listen and marvel.  "I certainly wasn’t so
stupid," he said to himself, "that I wouldn’t have noticed her if she
had had eyes like these, or such teeth, or that form, or that beautiful
hair."  He would have suspected that she had been at work with the
beauty specialists who, he had heard, were doing a smashing business
among the women, had he not seen that her manners, her speech, the use
of her voice, everything about her was in keeping with her new physical
appearance; she had expanded as symmetrically as a well-placed sapling.
The change had clearly come from within.  There was a new tenant who had
made over the whole house, within and without.

What seemed to him miracle was, like all the miracles, mysterious only
because the long chain of causes and effects between beginning and end
was not visible.  There probably never lived a human being to whom fate
permitted a full development of all his possibilities—there never was a
perfect season from seed-time to harvest.  The world is one vast exhibit
of imperfect developments, physical, mental, moral; and to get the
standard, the perfection that might be, we have to take from a thousand
specimens their best qualities and put them together into an impossible
ideal—impossible as yet.  For one fairly well-rounded human being,
satisfying to eye and mind and heart, we find ten thousand stunted,
blighted, blasted.  Each of us knows that, in other, in more favorable,
in less unfavorable circumstances, he would have been far more than he
is or ever can be.  But for Boris, Neva might have gone through life,
not indeed as stunted a development as she had been under the blight of
her unfortunate marriage, but far from the rounded personality,
presenting all sides to the influences that make for growth and
responding to them eagerly.  Heart, and his younger brother, Mind, are
two newcomers in a universe of force.  They fare better than formerly;
they will fare better hereafter; but they are still like infants exposed
in the wilderness.  Some fine natures have enough of the tough fiber
successfully to make the fight; others, though they lack it, persist and
prevail by chance—for the brute pressure of force is not malign; it
crushes or spares at haphazard.  Again, there are fine natures—who
knows? perhaps the finest of all, the best minds, the best hearts—that
either cannot or will not conform to the conditions.  They wither and
die—not of weakness, since in this world of the survival of the fittest,
the fit are often the weak, the unfit the strong.  All around us they
are withering, dying, like the good seed cast on stony ground—the good
minds, the good hearts, the men and women needing only love and
appreciation and encouragement, to shine forth in mental, moral, and
physical beauty.  Of these had been Neva.

Boris, with eyes that penetrated all kinds of human surfaces and
revealed to him the realities, had seen at first glance what she was,
what she could be, what she was longing and striving to be against the
wellnigh hopeless handicaps of shyness and inexperience and solitude.
For his own sybarite purposes, material and selfish, from mere wanton
appetite, he set his noble genius to helping her; and the creative
genius finds nothing comparable in interest to the development of the
human plant, to watching it sprout and put forth leaves, blossoms,
flowers, perfume, spread into an individuality.

Every day there was some progress; and now and then, as in all nature,
there were days when overnight a marvelous beautiful change had
occurred.  In scores on scores of daily conversations, between
suggestions or instructions as to painting, much of the time
consciously, most effectively and most often unconsciously, never with
patronage or pedantry, he encouraged and trained her to learn herself,
the world, the inner meaning of character and action—all that
distinguishes fine senses from coarse, the living from the numb, all
that most of us pass by as we pass a bank of wild flowers—with no notion
of the enchanting history each petal spreads for whoever will read.
Boris cleared away the weeds; he softened the soil; he gave the light
and the air access.  And she grew.

But Armstrong had no suspicion of this.  Indeed, if he had been told
that Boris Raphael, cynic and rake, had been about such an apparently
innocent enterprise, he would have refused to believe it; for the
Raphael temperament, the temperament that is soft and savage,
sympathetic to the uttermost refinement of delicacy and appreciation,
and hard and cruel as death, was quite beyond his comprehension.
Armstrong, looking at Neva, saw only the results, not the processes; and
he could scarcely speak for marvel, as he sat, watching and listening.
"May I come again?" he asked, when he felt he must stay no longer.

"I’m usually at home after five."

Her tone was conventional—alarmingly so.  With a pleading gesture of
both hands outstretched and a youthful flush and frank blue eyes
entreating, he burst out, "I have no friends—only people who want to get
something out of me—or whom I want to get something out of.  Can’t you
and I be friends?"

She turned abruptly away to the window.  It was so long before she
answered that he nerved himself for an overwhelming refusal of his
complete, even abject surrender with its apology for the past, the
stronger and sincerer that it was implied and did not dare narrow itself
to words.  When she answered with a hesitating, "We might try," he felt
as happy as if she had granted all he was concealing behind that request
to be tolerated.  He continued in the same tone of humility, "But your
life is very different from mine. I feared—  And you yourself—  I can’t
believe we were ever—anything to each other."

There was her opportunity; she did not let it slip. She looked straight
into his eyes.  "We never were," she said, and her eyes piercing him
from their long, narrow lids and deep shadowing lashes forbade him ever
to forget it again.

He returned her gaze as if mesmerized.  Finally, "No, we never were," he
slowly repeated after her. And again, "We never were," as if he were
learning a magic password to treasures beyond those of the Forty
Thieves.

He drew a long breath, bowed with formal constraint, and went; and as he
walked homeward he kept repeating dazedly, "We never were—never!"



                                 *XIII*

                            *OVERLOOK LODGE*


Overlook Lodge was Amy’s first real success at amusing those
interminable hours of hers that were like a nursery full of spoiled
children on a rainy day. Every previous device, however well it had
begun, had soon been withered and killed by boredom, nemesis of idlers.
Overlook was a success that grew.  It began tediously; to a person
unaccustomed to fixing the mind for longer than a few minutes, the
technical part of architecture comes hard.  But before many months
Overlook had crowded out all the routine distractions; instead of its
being a mere stop-gap between them, they became an irritating
interruption to its absorbing interest.  It even took the sharp edge off
her discomfiture with Armstrong; for interest is the mental cure-all.
She dreaded a return of her former state, when an empty hour would make
her walk the floor, racking her brains for something to do; she spun
this occupation out and out.  Narcisse Siersdorf lost all patience; the
patience of feminine with feminine, or of masculine with masculine, is
less than infinite. "We’ll never get anywhere," she protested.  "You
linger over the smallest details for weeks, and you make all sorts of
absurd changes that you know can’t stand, when you order them."

Narcisse did not comprehend the situation.  Who with so much to do that
the months fairly flash by, can sympathize with the piteous plight of
those who have nothing to do and all the time in the world to do it?
Alois was not so unsympathetic.  When the Overlook plans were begun, he
was away; but, soon after his return, Amy fastened upon him, and
presently he had abandoned all other business of the firm to his sister,
that he might devote himself to making this work "really great."

"Concentration’s the thing," said he to Narcisse, in excusing himself to
her—and to himself.  "Miss Fosdick has the true artistic spirit.  She is
willing to let me give full play to my imagination, and she interferes
only to help and to stimulate.  I feel I can afford to devote an unusual
amount of time and thought. When the work is done, it’ll be a monument
to us."

Narcisse gave him a queer glance, and her laugh was as queer as her
eyes.  He colored and frowned—and continued to dawdle with Amy over the
plans. It was not his fault, nor hers, that the actual work finally did
begin; it was the teasing of her father and Hugo about these endless
elaborations of preparation. "When Overlook is begun" became the family
synonym for never.  She and Alois suddenly started the work, and pushed
it furiously.

The site selected had nothing to recommend it but a view that was far
and away the most extensive and varied in that beautiful part of New
Jersey—mountains, hills, plains, rivers, lakes, wildernesses, villages,
farms, two cities—a vast sweep of country, like a miniature summary of
the earth’s whole surface.  But Overlook Hill was in itself barren and
shapeless. Many times, rich men in search of places where they could see
and be seen had taken it under consideration; but always the natural
difficulties and the expense had discouraged them.  Fosdick had bought
the site before investigating; he had been about to sell, when Amy took
Narcisse out there.  The builder instantly saw, and unfolded to Amy, a
plan for making the hill as wonderful in itself as in its prospect; and
that original inspiration of hers was the basis of all that was done.

When Amy and Alois did set to work, they at once put into motion
thousands of arms and wheels.  The day came when the whole hill swarmed
with men and carts, with engines and hoisting machines and steam diggers
and blasting apparatus; and the quiet valley resounded with the uproar
of the labor.  Amy took rooms at the little hotel in the village, had
them costlily refurnished, moved in with a cook and staff of servants;
Alois came out every morning, even Sundays.  The country people watched
the performance in stupefaction; it was their first acquaintance with
the audacities upon nature which modern science has made possible.  And
presently they saw a rugged cliff rise where there had been a
commonplace steep, saw great terraces, slopes, levels, gentle grades,
supersede the northern ascents of Overlook.  The army of workmen laid
hold of that huge upheaval of earth and rock and shaped it as if it had
been a handful of potter’s clay.

Near the base of the cliff ran the river; barges laden with stone began
to arrive—stone from Vermont and from Georgia, from Indiana, from Italy.
A funicular clambered up the surface of the cliff; soon its cars were
moving all day, bearing the stone to the lofty top of the hill; and
there appeared the beginnings of foundations—not of a house alone, but
of a dozen buildings, widely separated, and of terraces and lake bottoms
and bridges—for a torrent, with several short falls and one long leap,
was part of the plans. At the same time, other barges, laden with earth
and with great uprooted living trees, arrived in interminable
procession, and upon bare heights and slopes now began to appear patches
of green, clumps of wood. And where full-grown transplanted trees were
not set out, saplings were being planted by the hundreds.  As the stone
walls rose, sod was brought—acres of grass of various kinds; and
creepers and all manner of wild growing things to produce wilderness
effects in those parts of the park which were not to be constructed with
all the refinements of civilization.  These marvels of
nature-manufacture were carried on in privacy; for the very first work
had been to enclose the hill, from cliff edge round to cliff edge on the
other side, with a high stone wall, pierced by only two entrances—one,
the main entrance with wrought-iron gates from France, and a lodge; the
other, the farm or service entrance, nearer the village and the river.

Amy and Alois had begun as soon as the frost was out of the ground.  By
June they had almost all the trees planted.  The following spring, and
the transformation was complete.  Overlook Hill, as it had been for
ages, was gone; in its place was a graceful height, clad in a thousand
shades of green and capped by a glistening white bastionlike building
half hid among trees that looked as if they had been there a century at
least.  Indeed, except the buildings, nothing seemed new, everything
seemed to belong where it was, to have been there always.  The sod, the
tangle of creepers and underbrush on the cliff and in the ravines, the
cliff and the ravines themselves, all looked like the product of
nature’s slow processes.  The masonry, the roads, the drives—signs of
age and of long use.  One would have said that the Fosdicks were
building on an old place, a house better suited to modern conditions
than some structure, dating from Revolutionary days at least, which must
have stood in those venerable surroundings and had been torn down to
make room for the new.

"The buildings are going to look too new," said Alois.  And he proceeded
to have them more artfully weather-stained.

Narcisse had preached the superiority of small houses to Amy until she
had convinced her.  So, Overlook Lodge, while not so small as it looked,
was still within the sane limits for a private house.  And the interior
arrangements—the distribution of large rooms and less, of sunny rooms,
of windows, of stairways, of closets—were most ingenious.  No space was
wasted; no opportunity for good views from the windows or for agreeable
lines, without or within, was neglected.  Through and through it was a
house to be lived in, a house whose comfort obtruded and whose luxury
retired.

In the woodwork, in the finishing of walls and ceilings, in the
furniture, Alois followed out the general scheme of the appearance of an
old-established residence, a family homestead that had sent forth many
generations.  Before a stone had been blasted at Overlook, the furniture
and the woven stuffs were designed and manufacturing.  While the outer
walls of the house were finishing, the rooms were beginning to look as
if they had been lived in long.  There was nothing new-looking anywhere
except the plumbing; nothing old-looking, either.  The air was that of
things created full grown, things which have not had a shiny, awkward
youth and could not have a musty, rickety, rotten old age.

There came a day when the last rubbish was cleared, when the last
creeper was in leaf, the last flower in bloom, when the grass and the
trees seemed green with their hundredth summer, when the settees and
chairs and hammocks were on the verandas and porticos as if they had
been there for many a year, when no odor of fresh paint or varnish or
look of newness could be detected anywhere about the house—and the "work
of art" was finished.  Alois and Amy, in an automobile, went over every
part of the grounds, examined them from without and from within; then
they made a tour of the house, noting everything.  Changes,
improvements, could be made, would be made; but the work as a work was
finished. They seated themselves on a veranda overlooking the valley,
and listened to the rush of the torrent, descending through the ravines,
in banks of moss and wild flowers, to spring from the edge of the cliff.
Amy burst into tears.

"You’re very tired, aren’t you!" said Alois sympathetically.  There were
tears in his eyes.

"No, that isn’t it," she answered, her face hidden—she knew she didn’t
look at all well when she was crying.

"I understand," said he.  "There’s something tragic about finishing
anything.  It’s like bringing up a child, and having it marry and go
away."  He sighed.  "Yes, we’re done."

"I feel horribly lonely," she cried.  "I’ve lost my occupation.  It’s
the first great real sorrow of my life.  I wish we hadn’t been in such a
hurry!  We might have made it last a year or two longer."

"I wish we had!"

"You can’t wish it as I do.  You will go on and build other houses.  You
have a career.  It seems to me that _I’ve_ come to the very end."

"You don’t realize," he said hesitatingly, "that it was the personal
element in this that gave—that gives it its whole meaning, to me.  I was
working with you and—for you."

He glanced at her eagerly, but with a certain timidity, for some sign
that would encourage him.  A hundred times at least, in those months
when he had spent the whole of almost every day with her, he had been on
the point of telling her what was in his heart, why he was so tireless
and so absorbed in their task. But he had never had the courage to
begin.  By what he regarded as a malicious fatality, she had always
shifted the conversation to something with which sentiment would not
have harmonized at all.  Apparently she was quite unconscious that he
was a man; and how she could be, when he was so acutely alive to her as
a woman, he could not understand.  Sometimes he thought she was fond of
him—"as fond as a nice girl is likely to be, before the man declares
himself."  Again, it seemed to him she cared nothing about him except as
an architect.  Her wealth put around her, not only physically but also
mentally, a halo of superiority.  He could not judge her as just a
woman. He always saw in her the supernal sheen of her father’s millions.
He knew he had great talent; he was inordinately vain about it in a
way—as talented people are apt to be, where they stop short of genius,
which—usually, not always—has a true sense of proportion and gets no
pleasure from contrasting itself with its inferiors.  He would have been
as swift as the next man to deny, with honest scorn, that he was a
wealth worshiper; and as he was artist enough to worship it only where
it took on graceful forms, he could have made out a plausible case for
himself.  Amy, for example, was not homely or vulgar—or petty.  She had
good ideas and good taste and concealed the ugly part of her nature as
dexterously as by the arrangement of her hair she concealed the fact
that it was neither very long nor very thick.  Besides, in her
intercourse with Alois, there was no reason why any but the best side of
her should ever show.

Narcisse gave over trying to make him sensible where Amy was concerned,
as soon as she saw upon what he was bent.  "He wouldn’t think of her
seriously if she weren’t rich," she said to herself.  "But, since he is
determined to take her seriously, it’s better that he should be able to
delude himself into believing he loves her.  And maybe he does.  Isn’t
love always nine tenths delusion of some sort?"  So, she left him free
to go on with Amy, to love her, to win her love if he could.  But—could
he?  He feared not.  That so wonderful a creature, one who might marry
more millions and blaze, the brightest star in the heavens of
fashionable New York, should take him—it seemed unlikely.  "She ought to
prefer congeniality to wealth," thought he, "but"—with an unconscious
inward glance—"it’s not in human nature to do it."

As they sat there together in the midst of their completed work, he
waiting for some hopeful sign, she at least did not change the subject.
"Hasn’t what we’ve been doing had any—personal interest for you?" he
urged.

She nodded.  "Yes, I owe my interest in it to you," she conceded.  But
she went on to discourage him with, "We have been _such_ friends.
Usually, a young man and a young woman can’t be together, as have we,
without trying to marry each other."

"That’s true," assented he, much dejected.  Then, desperately, "That’s
why I’ve put off saying what I’m going to say until the work should be
done."

"Oh!" she exclaimed.  "Don’t say it, please—not now."

"But you must have known," he pleaded.

"I never thought of it," replied she with an air of frankness that
convinced him.

"Well—won’t you think of it—now?"

"Not to-day," was her answer, in the tone a woman uses when she is
uncertain and wishes to convince herself that she is certain.  She rose
and crossed to the edge of the veranda.

In such circumstances, when the woman turns her back on the man, it is
usually to signify that she has a traitor within, willing to yield to a
surprise that which could not be won by a direct assault; and, had
Alois’s love been founded in passion instead of in interest, he would
not have followed her hesitatingly, doing nothing, simply saying
stumblingly: "I don’t wish to annoy you.  But let me say one thing—Amy—I
love you, and to get you means life to me, and not to get you means the
death of all that is really me.  I think I could make you happy—you who
are so interested in what is my life work.  It must be our life work."

"I’ve thought of that," responded she softly. "But, not to-day—not
to-day."  A pause during which she was hoping, in spite of herself, that
he would at least insist.  When he remained silent and respectful, she
went on: "Don’t you think we may let father and Hugo come?"

"By all means.  Everything is ready."  And they went back to talking of
the work—of the surprise awaiting Fosdick.

Fosdick had gratified her and delighted himself by playing the fondly
indulgent father throughout the building of Overlook.  He had put the
widest limits on expense, he had asked no questions; he had let her keep
him ignorant of all that was being done.  It was a remarkable and most
characteristic display of generosity.  When a man earns a fortune by his
own efforts, by risking his own property again and again, he is rarely
"princely" in his generosity.  But with the men who grow rich by risking
other people’s money in campaigns against rival captains of finance and
industry who are also submitting to the fortunes of commercial war
little or nothing that is rightfully theirs, then the princely qualities
come out—the generosity with which the prince wastes the substance of
his subjects in luxury, in largesse, and in wars. Fosdick felt most
princely in relation to the properties he controlled.  Whatever he did,
if it was merely eating his breakfast or consulting a physician when he
was ill, he did it for the benefit of the multitude whose money was
invested in his various enterprises. Thus, when he took, he could take
only his own; when he gave, he was "graciously pleased" to give up his
own.

This simple, easy, and most natural theory reduced all divisions of
profits, losses, expenses, to mere matters of bookkeeping.  If his
losses or expenses were heavy, the dividends to policy holders and
stockholders must be small—clearly, he who had done his best and had
acted only for the good of others ought not to cripple or hamper his
future unselfish endeavors.  If the profits were large—why dribble them
out to several hundred thousand people who had done nothing to make
them, who did not deserve, did not expect, and would not appreciate?
No; the extra profits to the war-chest—which was naturally and of
necessity and of right in the secure possession of the
commander-in-chief. So, Fosdick, after the approved and customary manner
of the princely industrial successors to the princely aristocratic
parasites on mankind, was able to indulge himself in the luxury of
generosity without inflicting any hardship upon his conscience or upon
his purse.

The distribution of the cost of the new house had presented many nice
problems in bookkeeping.  Some of the expense—for raw materials,
notably—was merged into the construction accounts of the O.A.D. and two
railway systems; but the largest part was covered by the results of two
big bond deals and a stock manipulation.  This part appeared on the
records as an actual payment by Fosdick out of his own private fortune;
but on the other side of the ledger stood corresponding profits from the
enterprises mentioned, and these profits, on careful analysis, were seen
to have come from the fact that, when profits were to be distributed,
Fosdick the private person was in no way distinguishable from Fosdick
the trustee of the multitude.

If the old man had not had confidence in his daughter’s good sense and
good taste and in Siersdorf’s ability, he would not have given them the
absolutely free hand.  It was, therefore, with the liveliest
expectations that he took the train for Overlook. As he and Hugo
descended at the station, they looked toward Overlook Hill, so amazingly
transformed. "Well, you’ve certainly done _something_!" he exclaimed to
Amy, as she came forward to meet him. "Why, I’d not have known the
place.  Splendid! Superb!"  And he kissed her and shook hands warmly
with Alois.

On the way through the village in the auto, he gushed a stream of
enthusiasm and comment.  "That cliff, now—what a fine idea!  And the
cascade—why, you’ve doubled the value of real estate throughout this
region.  I must quietly gather in some land round here—  You are in on
that, Siersdorf.  The railway station must be improved.  I’ll see
Thorne—he’s president of the road and a good friend of mine—he’ll put up
a proper building—you must draw the plans, Siersdorf. This village—it’s
unsightly.  We must either wipe it out or make it into a model."

His enthusiasm continued at the boiling point until they ascended the
hill and had the first full view of the house.  Then his face lengthened
and he lapsed into silence.  Hugo was not so considerate.  "Do you mean
to tell me _this_ is the house?" demanded he of Amy.  "Why, it’s a
cottage.  How ridiculous to put such a climax to all these
preparations!"

Amy’s eyes flashed and she tossed her head scornfully.

Hugo continued to look and began to laugh. "Ridiculous!" he repeated.
"Don’t you think so, father?"

"It is hardly what I expected," confessed Fosdick. "It isn’t done yet,
is it, Amy?"

"Yes, it’s done," she said angrily.  "And it’s the best thing about the
place.  I don’t want you to say anything more until you’ve gone over it.
The trouble with you and Hugo is that your taste has been corrupted by
the vulgarity in New York.  You don’t appreciate the difference between
beauty and ostentation. Mr. Siersdorf has built a house for a gentleman,
not for a multimillionaire."

That silenced them; and in silence she led the way into and through the
house, by a route that would present all its charms and comforts in
effective succession.  She made no comments; she simply regulated the
speed of the tour, trusting to their eyes to show them what she could
not believe any eyes could fail to see.  At the veranda commanding the
most magnificent of the many views, she brought the tour to an end.  The
luncheon table was there, and she ordered the servants to bring lunch.
And a delicious lunch it was, ending with wonderful English
strawberries, crimson, huge, pink-white within and sweet as their own
fragrance—"grown on the place," explained Amy, "and this cream is from
our own dairy down there."

"I take it all back," said Fosdick.  "You and Siersdorf were right.  Eh,
Hugo?"

"It’s better than I thought," conceded Hugo. "There certainly is a—a
tone about the house that I’ve not often seen on this side of the
water."

"And there’s a comfort you’ve never seen on the other side," said Amy.
"You are satisfied, father?"

"Satisfied!" exclaimed Fosdick.  "I’m overwhelmed."

And when they had had coffee, which, Hugo said, reminded him of the Café
Anglais at Paris, Siersdorf took them for a second tour of the house,
pointing out the conveniences, the luxuries, the evidences of good
taste, expanding upon them, eulogizing them, feeling as he talked that
he had created them.  "A gentleman’s home!" he cried again and again.
"It’ll be a rebuke to all these vulgarians who are trying to show how
much money they’ve got.  Why, you never think, as you walk around here,
’How much this cost,’ but only, ’How beautiful it is, and how
comfortable.’  A house for a gentleman.  A gentleman’s _home_—that’s
what I call it."

At each burst of enthusiasm from her father, Amy beamed on Alois.  And
Alois was dizzy with happiness and hope.



                                 *XIV*

                      *WOMAN’S DISTRUST—AND TRUST*


Having got what she wanted of Alois, Amy now permitted her better nature
to reproach her for having absorbed him so long and so completely.  She
assumed Narcisse was blaming, was disliking, her for it; and, indeed,
Narcisse had been watching the performance with some anger and more
disgust.  Before Alois came upon the scene, and while Amy was still in
the first flush of enthusiasm for her new friend, Narcisse had begun to
draw back.  She saw that Amy, like everyone who has always had his own
way and so has been made capricious, was without capacity for real
friendship.  If she had thought Amy worth while, she would have held
her—for Narcisse was many-sided and could make herself so interesting
that few indeed would not have seemed tame and dull after her. But she
decided that Amy was not worth while; and to cut short Amy’s constant
attempts to interfere between her and her work, she emphasized her
positive, even aggressive, individuality, instead of softening it.
Servants, fortune-hunters, flatterers, the army of parasites that
gathers to swoop upon anyone with anything to give, had made Amy
intolerant of the least self-assertiveness; and to be a very porcupine
of prickly points; Narcisse had only to give way to her natural bent for
the candid.

For example, Narcisse had common sense—like most people of good taste;
for, is not sound sense the basis of sound taste, indeed the prime
factor in all sound development of whatever kind?  Now, there is nothing
more inflammatory than steadfast good sense. It rebukes and mocks us,
making us seem as stupid and as foolish as we fear we are.  Narcisse
would not eat things that did not agree with her; it irritated
self-indulgent Amy against her, when they lunched together and she
refused to eat as foolishly as did Amy. Again, Narcisse would not drive
when she could walk, because driving was as bad for health and looks as
walking was good for them.  Amy knew that, with her tendency to fat, she
ought never to drive.  But she was lazy, doted on the superiority
driving seemed to give, was nervous about the inferiority "the best
people" attached to a woman’s walking.  So she persisted in driving, and
ruffled at Narcisse for being equally persistent in the sensible course.
It is the common conception of friendship that one’s friend must do what
one wishes and is no friend if he does not; Amy felt that way about it.

Alois had come back from abroad just in time to save the Fosdick
architectural trade to the firm. Narcisse would soon have alienated
it—and would have been glad to see it go; in fact, since she had
realized where the Fosdick money came from, she with the greatest
difficulty restrained herself from bursting forth to Alois in
"impractical sentimentalities" which she knew would move him only
against herself.

Amy expected Narcisse’s enthusiasm toward Overlook to be very, very
restrained indeed.  "She must be jealous," thought Amy, "because she has
had so little to do with it, and I so much."  But she had to admit that
she had misjudged the builder.  It is not easy satisfactorily to praise
to anyone a person or a thing he has in his heart; the most ardent
praise is likely to seem cold, and any lapse in discrimination rouses a
suspicion of insincerity.  If Narcisse had not felt the beauty of what
her brother and Amy had done, she could not have made Amy’s enthusiasm
for her flame afresh, as it did.  Before Narcisse finished, Amy thought
that she herself had not half appreciated how well she and Alois had
wrought.  "But it would never have been anything like so satisfactory,"
said she in a burst of impulsive generosity, "if you hadn’t started it
all."

"I wish I could feel that I had some part in it," said Narcisse, "but I
can’t, in honesty."

And she meant it.  Those who have fertile, luxuriant minds rarely keep
account of the ideas they are constantly and prodigally pouring out.
Narcisse had forgotten—though Amy had not—that it was she who was
inspired by that site to dream the dream that her brother and Amy had
realized.  It was on the tip of Amy’s tongue to say this; but she
decided to refrain. "I probably exaggerate the influence of what she
said," she thought.  "We saw it together and talked it over together,
and no doubt each of us borrowed from the other"—let him who dares,
criticise this, in a world that shines altogether by reflected lights.

As the two young women talked on, the builder gradually returned to her
constrained attitude.  She saw that Amy was taking to herself the whole
credit for Overlook, was looking on Alois as simply a stimulant to her
own great magnetism and artistic sense, was patronizing him as a capable
and satisfactory agent for transmitting them into action.  And this made
her angry, not with Amy but with Alois.  "Amy isn’t to blame," she said
to herself.  "It’s his fault. To please her he has been exaggerating her
importance to herself, and he has succeeded in convincing her. She has
ended up just where people always end up, when you encourage them to
give their vanity its head."  She tried to devise some way of helping
her brother, of reminding Amy that he was entitled to credit for some
small part of the success; but she could think of nothing to say that
Amy would not misinterpret into jealousy either for herself or for her
brother. When she got back to the offices, she said to him:

"If I were you, I’d not let a certain young woman imagine she has _all_
the brains."

"What do you mean?" said he, clouding at once. He showed annoyance
nowadays whenever she mentioned the Fosdicks.

"She’ll soon be thinking you couldn’t get along without her to give you
ideas," replied Narcisse. "It’s bad all round—bad for the woman, bad for
the man—when he gets her too crazy about herself.  She’s likely to
overlook his merits entirely in her excitement about her own."

"You are prejudiced against her, Narcisse," said Alois angrily.  "And it
isn’t a bit like you to be so."

Narcisse, not being an angel, flared.  "I’m not half as prejudiced
against her as you’d be three months after you married her," she cried.
"But you’ll not get her, if you keep on as you’re going now. Instead of
showing her how awed you are by her, you’d better be teaching her that
she ought to be in awe of you, that it’s what _you_ give her that makes
her shine so bright."

And she fled to her own office, fuming against the folly of men and the
silliness of women, and thoroughly miserable over the whole situation;
for, at bottom she believed that such a woman as Amy must have feminine
instinct enough fairly to jump at such a man as Alois, if there was a
chance to attach him permanently; and, the prospect of Alois marrying a
woman who could do him no good, who was all take and no give, put her
into such a frame of mind that she wished she had the mean streak
necessary to intriguing him and her apart.

It was on one of the bluest of her blue days of forebodings about Alois
and Amy that Neva came in to see her; and a glance at Neva’s face was
sufficient to convince her that bad news was imminent.  "What is it,
Neva?" she demanded.  "I’ve felt all the morning that something rotten
was on the way.  Now, I know it’s here.  Tell me."

"Do you recall Mrs. Ranier?  She was at my place one afternoon——"

"Perfectly," interrupted Narcisse, "Amy Fosdick’s sister."

"She took a great fancy to you.  And when she heard something she
thought you ought to know, she came to me and asked me to tell you.  She
said she knew you’d be discreet—that you could be trusted."

"I liked her, too," said Narcisse.  "I think she can trust me."

"It’s about—about—those insurance buildings," continued Neva, painfully
embarrassed.  "I’m afraid I’m rather incoherent.  It’s the first time I
ever interfered in anyone else’s business."

"Tell me," urged Narcisse.  "I suppose it’s something painful.  But I’m
good and tough—-speak straight out."

"Mrs. Ranier’s husband is in the furniture business, and through that he
found out there’s a scandal coming.  She says those people downtown will
drag you and your brother in, will probably try to hide themselves
behind you.  She heard last night, and came early this morning.  ’Tell
her,’ she said, ’not to let her brother reassure her, but to look into
it—clear to the bottom.’"

Narcisse was motionless, her eyes strained, her face haggard.

"That’s all," said Neva, rising.  "I shouldn’t have come, shouldn’t have
said anything to you, if I had not known that Mrs. Ranier has the best
heart in the world, and isn’t an alarmist."

Narcisse faced Neva and pressed her hands, without looking at her.

"If there is anything I can do, you have only to ask," said Neva, going.
She had too human an instinct to linger and offer sympathy to pride in
its hour of abasement.

"There’s one thing you can do," said Narcisse, nervous and intensely
embarrassed.

Neva came back.  "Don’t hesitate.  I meant just what I said—anything."

Narcisse blurted it out: "Is Horace Armstrong a man who can be trusted?
Is he straight?"  Then, as Neva did not answer immediately, she hastened
on, "Please forget what I asked you.  It really doesn’t matter, and——"

Neva interrupted her with a frank, friendly smile. "Don’t be uneasy,"
she said.  "He and I are excellent friends.  He calls often.  I don’t
know a thing about him in a business way.  But—  Well, Narcisse, I’m
sure he’d not do anything small and mean."

"That’s all I wished to know."

A few minutes after Neva left, Narcisse, white but calm, sent for her
brother.  "How deeply have you entangled yourself in those fraudulent
vouchers?" she asked, when they were shut in together.

He lifted his head haughtily.  "What do you mean, Narcisse?"

"As we are equal partners, I have the right to know all the affairs of
the firm.  I want to see the accounts of those insurance buildings, at
once—and to know the exact truth about them."

"You left that matter entirely to me," replied he, sullen but uneasy.
"I haven’t time to-day to go into a mass of details.  It’d be useless,
anyhow.  But—I do not like that word you used—fraudulent."

She waved her hand impatiently.  "It’s the word the public will use,
whatever nice, agreeable expression for it you men of affairs may have
among yourselves. Have you signed vouchers, as you said you were going
to do?"

"Certainly.  And, I may add, I shall continue to sign them."

"Haven’t you heard that that investigation is coming?"

He gave a superior, knowing smile.  "Those things are always fixed up.
There’s a public side, but it’s as unreal as a stage play.  Fosdick
controls this particular show."

"So I hear," said she, with bitter irony.  "And he purposes to throw you
to the wild beasts—you and me."

Siersdorf laughed indulgently.  "My dear sister," he said, "don’t bother
your head about it."  The idea seemed absurd to him: Fosdick sacrifice
him, when they were such friends!—it was an insult to Fosdick to
entertain the suspicion.  "When the proper time comes," he continued, "I
shall be away on business—and the matter will be sidetracked, and
nothing more will be said about me.  Trust me.  I know what I am about."

"Yes, you will be away," cried she, suddenly enlightened.  "And the
whole thing will be exposed, and they’ll have their accounts so cooked
that the guilt will all be on you.  And before you can get back and
clear yourself, you will be ruined—disgraced—dishonored."

The situation she thus blackly outlined was within the possibilities;
her tone of certainty had carrying power.  A chill went through him.
"Ridiculous!" he protested loudly.

"You have put your honor in another man’s keeping," she went on.  "And
that man is a thief."

"Narcisse!"

"A thief!" she repeated with emphasis.  "They don’t call each other
thieves downtown.  They’ve agreed to call themselves respectabilities
and financiers and all sorts of high-flown names.  But thieves they are,
because they’re loaded down with what don’t belong to them, money they
got away from other people by lying and swindling.  Is your honor
_quite_ safe in the keeping of a thief?"

"Narcisse!" repeated Alois, wincing again at that terse, plain word,
rough and harsh, an allopathic dose of moral medicine, undiluted,
uncoated.

"_I_ don’t think so," she pursued.  "What precautions do you purpose to
take?"

He looked at her helplessly.  "If I say anything to Fosdick," said he,
"he will be justified in getting furiously angry.  He might think he had
the right to act as you accuse him of plotting."

"But you must do something."

He shook his head.  "I have trusted Fosdick," said he.  "I still think
it was wise.  But, however that may be, the wise course now certainly is
to continue to trust him."

"Trust him!" exclaimed Narcisse bitterly.  "I might trust a thief who
wasn’t a hypocrite—he might not squeal on a pal to save himself.  But
not a Fosdick.  A respectable thief has neither the honor of honest men
nor the honor of thieves."

"Prejudice!  Always prejudice, Narcisse."

"You will do nothing?"

"Nothing."  And he tried to look calm and firm.

She went into her dressing room with the air of one bent on decisive
action.  He could but wait.  When she came back she was dressed for the
street.

"Where are you going?" he demanded in alarm.

"To save myself and—you," she replied with a certain sternness.  It was
unlike her to put herself first in speech—she who always considered
herself last.

"Narcisse, I forbid you to interfere in this affair. I forbid you to go
crazily on to compromising us both."

She looked straight into his eyes.  "The time has come when I must use
my own judgment," said she.

And, with that, she went; he knew her, knew when it was idle to oppose
her.  Besides—what if she should be right?  In all their years together,
as children, as youths, as workers, he had always respected her
judgment, because it had always been based upon a common sense clearer
than his own, freer from those passions which rise from the stronger
appetites of men to befog their reason, to make what they wish to be the
truth seem actually the truth.

"She’s wrong," he said to himself.  "But she’ll not do anything foolish.
She’s the kind that can go in safety along the wrong road, because they
always keep a line of retreat open."  And that reflection somewhat
reassured him.

Narcisse went direct to Fosdick at his office.  As there was only one
caller ahead of her, she did not have long to wait in the anteroom
guarded by Waller of the stealthy, glistening smile.  "Mr. Fosdick is
very busy this morning," explained he.  It was the remark he always made
to callers as he passed them along; it helped Fosdick to cut them short.
"The big railway consolidation, you know?"

"No, I don’t know," replied Narcisse.

"Oh—you artists!  You live quite apart from our world of affairs.  But I
supposed news of a thing of such tremendous public benefit would have
reached everybody."

Narcisse smiled faintly.  She could not imagine any of these gentlemen,
roosted so high and with eyes training in every direction in search of
prey, occupying themselves for one instant with a thing that was a
public benefit, except in the hope of changing it into a "private snap."

"It’s marvelous," continued Waller, "how Fosdick and these other men of
enormous wealth go on working for their fellow men when they might be
taking their ease and amusing themselves."

"Amusing themselves—how?" asked she.

"Oh—in a thousand ways."

"I’m afraid they’d find it hard to pass the time, if they didn’t have
their work," said she.  "The world isn’t a very amusing place unless one
happens to have work that interests him."

"There’s something in that—there’s something in that," said Waller, in
as good an imitation as he could give of his master’s tone and manner.
It had never before occurred to him to question the current theory that,
while poor men toiled for bread and selfishness, rich men refrained from
boring themselves to death in idling about, only because they
passionately yearned to serve their fellow beings.

"Do you still teach a class in Mr. Fosdick’s Sunday school?"

"I’m assistant superintendent now," replied he.

"That’s good," said she, as if she really meant it. She was feeling
sorry for him.  He had worked so long and so hard, and had striven so
diligently to please Fosdick in every way; Fosdick had got from him
service that money could not have bought.  And the worst of it was,
Fosdick had never tried to find a money expression for it that was
anything like adequate, but had ingeniously convinced poor Waller he was
more than well paid in the honor of serving in such an intimate capacity
such a great and generous man.  The mitigating circumstance was that
Fosdick firmly believed this himself—but Narcisse that day was not in
the humor to see the mitigations of Fosdick.

And now Fosdick himself came hurrying in, eyes alight, strong face
smiling—"Miss Siersdorf—this is a surprise!  I don’t believe I ever
before saw you downtown—though, of course, you must have come."  He
looked at her with an admiration that was genuine. "Excuse an old man
for saying it, but you are so beautifully dressed—as always—and
handsome—that goes without saying.  Come right in.  You can have all the
time you want.  I know you—know you are a business woman.  Now, that man
who was just with me—Bishop Knowlton—a fine, noble man, with a heart
full of love for God and his fellows—but not an idea of the value of a
business man’s time.  Finally I had to say to him, ’I’ll give you what
you ask—and I’ll double it if you don’t say another word but go at
once.’"

They were now in the innermost room, and Fosdick had bowed her into a
chair and had seated himself.  "I came to see you," said Narcisse,
formal to coldness, "about the two office buildings—about the accounts
our firm has been approving."

"Oh, but you needn’t fret about them," said Fosdick, in his bluff,
hearty, offhand manner.  "Your brother is looking after them."

"Then they are all right?" she said, fixing her gaze on him.

"Why, certainly, certainly.  I have absolute confidence in your brother.
Have you seen Overlook?  Yes—of course—my daughter told me.  You
delighted her by what you said.  It is beautiful——"

"To keep to the accounts, Mr. Fosdick," Narcisse interrupted, "I am not
satisfied with our firm’s position in the matter."

"My dear young lady, talk to your brother about that.  I’ve a thousand
and one matters.  I really know nothing of details, and, as you are
perhaps aware, my interest in the O.A.D. is largely philanthropic.  I
can give but little of my time."

"I’ve come," said Narcisse, as he paused for breath, "to get from you a
statement relieving us from all responsibility as to those accounts, and
authorizing us to sign them as a mere formality, to expedite their
progress."

Fosdick laughed.  "I’d like to do anything to oblige you," said he, "but
really, I couldn’t do that.  You must know that I have nothing to do
with the buildings—with the details of the affairs of the O.A.D."

"You gave us the contracts," said Narcisse.

"Pardon me, _I_ did not give you the contracts. They were not mine to
give.  What you mean to say is that I used for you what influence I
have.  It was out of friendship for you and your brother."

There he touched her.  "We had every reason to believe that we got the
contracts solely because our plans were the most satisfactory," said she
coldly. "If we had suspected that friendship had anything to do with it,
we should certainly have withdrawn.  I assure you, sir, we feel under no
obligation—and my present purpose is to prevent you from putting
yourself under obligation to us."

"I don’t quite follow you," said Fosdick, most conciliatory.

"There has been some kind of—’bookkeeping,’ I believe you call it—in
connection with the payments for the work on those buildings.  If we
were to aid you in your—’bookkeeping,’ you would certainly be under
heavy obligations to us.  We cannot permit that."

Fosdick laughed with the utmost good nature.  "I see you misunderstood
some remarks I made to you and your brother one day at my house.
However, anything to keep peace among friends.  I’ll do as you wish."

His manner was so frank and so friendly, and his concession so
unreserved, that Narcisse was surprised into being ashamed of her
suspicions.  "I believe ’Lois is right," she said to herself.  "I’ve
been led astray by my prejudice."

Those shrewd old eyes of Fosdick’s could not have missed an opportunity
for advantage so plain as was written on her honest face.  He hastened
to score. "I’ll dictate it to Waller," said he, rising, "when he comes
in to round up the day.  You’ll get it in the early morning mail.
Good-by.  You don’t come to see us up at the house nearly often
enough—at least, not when I’m there."  He had opened the door. "Waller,
conduct Miss Siersdorf to the elevator. Good-by, again."

With nods and smiles he had cleared himself of her, easily, without
abruptness, rather as if she were hurrying him than he her.  And Waller,
quick to take his cue, had passed her into the elevator before she was
quite aware what was happening.  Not until she was on the ground floor
and walking toward the door did her mind recover.  "What have you
_got_?" it said, and promptly answered, "Nothing—for, what is a promise
from Josiah Fosdick?"  That seemed cynical, unjust; as Fosdick not only
was by reputation a man of his word, but also had always kept his word
with her.  But she stopped short and debated; and it was impossible for
her to shake her conviction that the man meant treachery.  "He’ll
sacrifice us," she said to herself, "if it’s necessary to save intact
the name and fame of Josiah Fosdick—or even if he should think it would
be helpful."  What were two insignificant mere ordinary mortals in
comparison with that name and fame, that inspiration to honesty and
fidelity for the youth of the land, that bulwark of respectability and
religion—for, as all the world knows, the eternal verities are kept
alive solely by the hypocrites who preach and profess them; if those
"shining examples" were exposed and disgraced, down would crash truth
and honor.  No, Josiah Fosdick was not one to hesitate before the danger
of such a cataclysm.  Further, she felt that he had been plotting while
he and she were talking and had found some way to pinion her and her
brother during the day he had gained.  "To-morrow morning," she decided,
"I’ll not get the paper, and it’ll be useless to try to get it.
Something must be done, and at once."

She turned back, reëntered the elevator.  "To Mr. Armstrong," she said.

Armstrong, whom she knew but slightly, received her with great courtesy,
and an evident interest that in turn roused her curiosity.  "It’s as if
he knew about our affairs," she thought.  To him she said, "I want to
see you a few minutes alone."

He took her into his inner room.  "Well, what is it?" he asked, with the
sort of abruptness that invites confidence.

She had liked what she had seen of him; her good impression was now
strengthened.  She thought there was courage and honesty in his face,
along with that look of experience and capacity which is rarely seen in
young faces, except in America with its group of young men who have
already risen to positions of great responsibility.  There was bigness
about him, too-bigness of body and of brow and of hands, and the eyes
that go with large ways of judging and acting—eyes at once keen and
good-humored.  A man to turn a shrewd trick, perhaps; but it would be
exceedingly shrewd, and only against a foe who was using the same
tactics.  Half confidences are worse than none, are the undoing weakness
of the timid who, though they know they must play and play desperately,
yet cannot bring themselves to play in the one way that could win.
Narcisse flung all her cards upon the table.

"I’ve got to trust somebody," she said.  "My best judgment is that that
somebody is you.  Here is my position."  And she related fully, rapidly,
everything except the source of her warning against Fosdick. She told
all she knew about the unwarranted vouchers A. & N. Siersdorf had been
approving—"at least, I think they are unwarranted," she said.  "We know
nothing about them."

"And why do you come to _me_?" said Armstrong when he had the whole
affair before him from the first interview with Fosdick to and including
the last interview.

"Because you are president of the O.A.D.," she replied.  "We have
nothing to conceal.  You are the responsible executive officer.  If you
do not know about these things, you ought to be told.  And I am
determined that our firm shall not remain in its present false
position."

Armstrong sat back in his chair, his face heavy and expressionless, as
if the mind that usually animated it had left it a lifeless mask and had
withdrawn and concentrated upon something within.  No one ever got an
inkling of what Armstrong was turning over in his mind until he was
ready to expose it in speech. When he came back to the surface, he
turned his chair until he was facing her squarely.  His scrutiny seemed
to satisfy him, for presently he said, "I see that you trust me," in his
friendliest way.

"Yes," she replied.

"It’s a great gift—a great advantage," he went on, "to make up one’s
mind to trust and then to do it without reserve....  I think you will
not falter, no matter what happens."

"No," she said.

"Well—you came to just the right person.  I don’t understand it."

"Woman’s instinct, perhaps."

He shook his head.  "I doubt it.  That’s simply a phrase to get round a
mystery.  No, your judgment guided you somehow.  Judgment is the only
guide."

Narcisse had been debating; she could not see how it could possibly do
any harm to mention Neva. "Before I came downtown," said she, "it
drifted into my mind that I might have to come to you.  So I asked Neva
Carlin about you."

"Oh!"  Armstrong settled back in his chair abruptly and masked his face.
"And what did she say?"

"That she was sure you wouldn’t do anything small or mean."

The big Westerner suddenly beamed upon her. "Well, she ought to know,"
said he with a blush and a hearty, boyish laugh.  Then earnestly: "I
think I can do more for you than anyone else in this matter—and I will.
You must say nothing, and do nothing.  Let everything go on as if you
had no suspicion."

"But, when Mr. Fosdick does not send me the authorization?"

"Wait a few days; write, reminding him; then let the matter drop."

She reflected; the business seemed finished so far as she could finish
it.  She rose and put out her hand. "Thank you," she said simply, and
again, with a fine look in her fine eyes, "Thank you."

"You owe me nothing," he replied.  "In the first place, I’ve done
nothing, and I can’t promise absolutely that I can do anything.  In the
second place, you have given me some extremely valuable information. In
return I merely engage not to use it to as great advantage as I might in
some circumstances."

In the entrance hall once more, she wondered at the complete change in
her state of mind.  She now felt content; yet she had nothing tangible,
apparently less than at the end of her interview with Fosdick—for he had
promised something definite, while Armstrong had merely said, "I’ll do
my best."  She wondered at her content, at her absolute inability to
have misgiving or doubt.



                                  *XV*

                           *ARMSTRONG SWOOPS*


About an hour after Narcisse left Fosdick, he sent for Westervelt, the
venerable comptroller of the O.A.D.  But Westervelt came before the
message could possibly have reached him.

Westervelt’s position—chief financial officer of one of the greatest
fiduciary institutions of a world whose fiduciary institutions have
become more important than its governments—would have made him in any
event important and conspicuous; but he was a figure in finance large
out of all proportion to his office.  He was one of the stock "shining
examples" of Wall Street.  If industry was talked of, what more natural
than to point to old Westervelt, for fifty years at his desk early and
late, without ever taking a vacation? If honesty was being discussed,
where a better instance of it than honest old Bill Westervelt, who had
handled billions yet was worth only a modest three or four millions?  If
fidelity was the theme, there again was old Bill with his long white
whiskers, refusing offer after offer of high stations because he was
loyal to the O.A.D.  Why, he had even refused the financial place in the
Cabinet!  If anyone had been unkind enough to suggest, in partial
mitigation of this almost oppressive saintliness, that old Bill had no
less than ninety-six relatives by blood and marriage in good to splendid
berths in the O.A.D.; that he had put his brother, his two sons and his
three sons-in-law in positions where they had made fortunes as dealers
in securities for the O.A.D. and its allied institutions; that a Cabinet
position at eight thousand a year, where such duties as were not
clerical consisted in obeying the "advice" of the big financial lords,
would have small charm for a man so placed that he was a real influence
in the real financial councils of the nation—if such suggestions as
these had been made, the person who made them would have been denounced
as a cynic, gangrened with envy.  If anyone had ventured to hint that,
in view of the truly monstrous increase in the expenses of the O.A.D.,
old Bill’s industry seemed to be bearing rather strange fruit for so
vaunted a tree, and that his fidelity ought to have a vacation while
expert accountants verified it—such insinuations would have been
repelled as sheer slander, an attempt to undermine the confidence of
mankind in the reality of virtue.  So great was Westervelt’s virtue that
he himself had come to revere it as profoundly as did the rest of the
world; it seemed to him that one so wholly right could do no wrong; that
evil itself, passing through the crucible of that white soul of his,
emerged as good.

Fosdick simply glanced at his old friend and associate as he entered.
"Hello, Bill," he exclaimed. "I was just going to send for you.  I want
the Siersdorfs suspended from charge of those new buildings. And give
the head bookkeeper of the real estate department a six months’
vacation—say, for a tour of the world."

But Westervelt had not heard.  He had dropped into a chair, and was
white as his whiskers, and the hand with which he was stroking them was
shaking. As he did not reply, Fosdick looked at him.  "Why, Bill, what’s
the matter?" he cried, friendly alarm in voice and face.  "Not sick?"

"I’ve been—suspended," gasped Westervelt.  "I—suspended!"

Josiah stared at him.  "What are you talking about?"

"Armstrong has just suspended me."

"Armstrong!" cried Fosdick.  "Why, you’re crazy, man!  He’s got no more
authority over you than he has over me."

"He sent for me just now," said Westervelt, "and when I came in he
looked savagely at me and said, ’Mr. Westervelt, you will take a
vacation until further notice.  I put it in that way to keep the scandal
from becoming public.  You can say you have become suddenly ill.  You
will leave the offices at once, and not return until I send for you.’"

Fosdick was listening like a man watching the fantastic procession of a
dream which not even the wild imagination of a sleeper could credit.
"You’re crazy, Bill," he repeated.

"I laughed at him," continued Westervelt.  "And then he said—it seems to
me I must really be crazy—but, no, he said it—’We have reason to believe
that the books are in wild, in criminal disorder,’ he said. ’I have
telegraphed for Brownell.  He will be here in the morning to take
charge.’"

Fosdick bounded to his feet.  "Brownell!  Why, he’s Armstrong’s old
side-partner in Chicago. Brownell!"  Fosdick’s face grew purple, and he
jerked at his collar and swung his head and rolled his eyes and mouthed
as if he were about to have a stroke.  Then he rushed to his bell and
leaned upon the button. Waller came into the room, terror in his face.
"Armstrong!" cried Fosdick.  "Bring him here—instantly!"

But it was full ten minutes before Waller could find and bring him.  In
that time Fosdick’s mind asserted itself, beat his passion into its
kennel where it could be kept barred in or released, as events might
determine.  "Caution—caution!" he said to Westervelt. "Let _me_ do all
the talking."

The young president entered deliberately, with impassive countenance.
He looked calmly at Westervelt, then at Fosdick.

"I suppose you know what I want to see you about, Horace," Fosdick
began.  "Sit down.  There seems to be some sort of misunderstanding
between you and Westervelt—eh?"

Armstrong simply sat, the upper part of his big frame resting by the
elbows upon the arms of his chair, a position which gave him an air of
impenetrable stolidity and immovable solidity.

When Fosdick saw that Armstrong was determined to hold his guard, he
went on, "It won’t do for you two to quarrel.  At any price we must have
peace, must face the world, united and loyal.  I want to make peace
between you two.  Westervelt has told me his side of the story.  Now,
you tell me yours."

"I suspended him, pending a private investigation—that’s all," said
Armstrong.  And his lips closed as if that were all he purposed to say.

Fosdick’s eyes gleamed dangerously.  "You know, you have no authority to
suspend the comptroller?" he said quietly.

"That’s true."

"Then he is not suspended."

"Yes, he is," said Armstrong.  "And on my way down here I looked in at
his department and told them he was ill and wouldn’t be back to-day."

Westervelt started up.  "How dare you!" he shrilled in the undignified
fury of the old.

"Bill, Bill!" warned Fosdick.  Then to Armstrong, "The way to settle it
is for Bill to go home for to-day.  In the morning, he will return to
his work as usual."

"Brownell will be here, will be in charge," said Armstrong.  "If
Westervelt returns, I’ll have him put out."

"Will you permit me to ask the why of all this?" inquired Fosdick.

"The man’s been up to some queer business," replied Armstrong.  "The
books have got to be straightened out, and it looks as if he’d have to
disgorge some pretty big sums."

Westervelt groaned and fell heavily back into his chair.  "That I should
live to hear such insults to me!" he cried, and the tears rolled down
his cheeks. Armstrong simply looked at him.

"You are mistaken, terribly mistaken, Horace," said Fosdick smoothly.
"You have been woefully misled."  He did not know what to do.  He dared
not break with Westervelt, the chief stay of his power over the staff of
the O.A.D.; yet neither did he dare, just then and over just that
matter, break with Armstrong.

"If Westervelt is innocent," replied Armstrong, "he ought to be laughing
at me—for, if he’s innocent, I have ruined myself."

"I know you have no honor, no pride," cried Westervelt.  "But have you
no sense of what honor and pride are?  After all my years of service,
after building high my name in this community, to be insulted by an
adventurer like you!  How do I know what you would cook up against me,
if you had control of the books?  Fosdick, we’ll have the board together
this afternoon, and suspend him!"

Fosdick saw the look in Armstrong’s face at this. "No, no, Bill," he
said.  "We must sleep on this.  By morning a way out will be found."

"By morning!" exclaimed Westervelt.  "I’ll not see the sun go down with
a cloud shadowing my reputation."

"Leave me alone with my old friend for a few minutes, Horace," said
Fosdick.

"Certainly," agreed Armstrong, rising.

"I’ll come up to see you presently," Fosdick called after him, as he was
closing the door.  The two veterans were alone.  Fosdick said, "That
young man is a very ugly customer, Westervelt.  We must go slowly if we
are to get rid of him without scandal."

"All we’ve got to do is to throw him out," replied Westervelt.  "What
reputable man or newspaper would listen to him?  And if he has hold of
the books for a few weeks, a few days even, he can twist and turn them
so that he will at least be stronger than he is now.  The stupendous
impudence of the man!  Why did you ever let him get into the company?"

"Bad judgment," said Fosdick gloomily.  "I had no idea he was so
short-sighted or so swollen with his own importance.  I saw only his
ability.  But we’ll soon be rid of him."

"Can it be that he has gotten wind of our plans about him?" said
Westervelt uneasily.

Fosdick waved his hand.  "Nobody knows them but you and I.  Impossible.
I haven’t even let Morris into that secret yet.  Armstrong’s quite sure
of his ground—and he must be kept sure.  When he goes, it must be with a
brand on him that will make him as harmless a creature as there is in
the world."

"But the books—he must not get hold of the books," persisted Westervelt.

"I’ll see to that.  Can you suggest any way to keep him quiet, except
pretending to give him his head at present?"

Westervelt reflected.  Suddenly he cried out, "No, Josiah; I can’t let
him—anyone—handle those books. They’re my reputation."

"But you have got them into good shape for the legislative
investigation, haven’t you?"

"Yes—certainly.  But there are the private books!"

"Um," grunted Fosdick.  "How many of them?"

"Three—beside the one I slipped into my pocket on my way down here.
They’re too big to take away."

"They must be destroyed," said Fosdick.  "Go now and get them.  Have
them carried down here at once."

Westervelt hurried away.  As he entered his office, he was astounded at
seeing Armstrong seated at a side desk, dictating to a stenographer.  At
sight of Westervelt, Armstrong started up and went to meet him. "You
ought not to be lingering here, Mr. Westervelt," he said, so that all
the clerks could hear.  "You owe it to yourself to take no such risk."

"I forgot a little matter," explained Westervelt confusedly.  And he
went uncertainly into his private office, had his secretary put the
three ledgers and account books together and wrap them up.  "Now," said
he, "take the package down to Mr. Fosdick’s office. I’ll go with you."

As they emerged into the outer room, he glanced furtively and nervously
at Armstrong; Armstrong seemed safely absorbed in his dictation.  Just
as the two reached the hall door, Armstrong, without looking up, called,
"Oh, by the way, Mr. Westervelt—just a moment."

Westervelt jumped.  "Go on with the books," said he in an undertone to
his secretary.  "I’ll come directly."

Armstrong was looking at the secretary now. "Just put down the package,
please," he said carelessly. "I wish to speak to the comptroller about
it."

The young man, all unsuspicious of what was below the smooth surface,
obediently put down the package. Armstrong drew Westervelt aside.  "You
are taking those three books, and the one I see bulging in your pocket,
down to Mr. Fosdick, aren’t you?"

"Yes," said Westervelt.

"Take my advice," said Armstrong.  "Don’t."

"It’s merely a little matter I wish to go over with him—a few minutes,"
stammered Westervelt.

"I understand perfectly," said Armstrong.  "But is it wise for you to
put yourself in _anybody’s_ power? Don’t hand all your weapons to a man
who could use them against you—and, as you well know, would do it if he
felt compelled.  I could stop you from making off with those books.  I’m
tempted to do it—curiously enough, for your own sake.  _I_ don’t need
them."

Westervelt was studying Armstrong’s frank countenance in amazement.  "He
expects me," he suggested uncertainly.

"Don’t leave the books with him," repeated Armstrong.  "Don’t put
yourself in his power."  He looked at Westervelt with an expression like
that of a man measuring a leap before taking it.  "Take the books home,"
he went on boldly.  "Fosdick has been cheating you for years.  I will
come to see you at your house to-morrow morning."  And he returned to
his dictation, leaving the old man hesitating in the doorway,
thoughtfully fumbling in his long white whiskers with slow, stealthy
fingers.

In the corridor, Westervelt said to his secretary, "I think I’ll work
over the matter at home.  I’m not so sick as they seem to imagine.  Jump
into a cab and drive up to my house, and give the package to my wife.
Tell her to take care of it."

When Fosdick saw him empty-handed, he was instantly ablaze.  "Has that
scoundrel——"

"No, no," explained his old friend, "I got the books, all right."

"Where are they?"

"I sent them uptown—up to my house."

"What the hell did you do that for?" cried Fosdick.

"I thought it best to have them where I could personally take care of
them," said Westervelt, his heart bounding with delight.  For Fosdick’s
unguarded tone had set flaming in him that suspicion which thoroughly
respectable men always have latent for each other, in circles where
respectability rests entirely upon deeds that in the less respectable or
on a less magnificent scale would seem quite the reverse of respectable.
They know how dear reputation is, how great sacrifices of friendship and
honor even the most honorable and generous men will make to safeguard
it.

"Well, well," said Fosdick, heaving but oily of surface, and not daring
to pursue the subject lest Westervelt should suspect him.  "You sent
them by safe hands?"

"By my secretary, and to my wife," said Westervelt.

They kept up a rather strained conversation for half an hour, chiefly
devoted to abuse of Armstrong—Westervelt’s abuse was curiously lacking
in heartiness, though Fosdick was too busy with his own thoughts to note
it.  He suddenly interrupted himself to say: "Oh, I forgot.  Excuse me a
moment."  And he went into the next room.  He was gone three quarters of
an hour.  When he came back, he said, with not very convincing
carelessness, "While I was out there talking with Waller, it occurred to
me that, on the whole, the books’d be safer in my vaults.  So I took the
liberty of sending him up to get them.  Your wife knows him."

Westervelt smiled in such a way that his white hair and beard and
patriarchal features combined in an aspect of beautiful benevolence.  "I
fear he won’t get them, Josiah," said he, chuckling softly.

"Then you’d better telephone her," said Fosdick.

"I have, Josiah," said his old pal, with a glance at the telephone on
Fosdick’s desk.

The veterans looked each at the other, Josiah reproachfully.  "Billy,
you don’t trust even me," he said sadly.

"I trust no one but the Lord, Josiah," replied Westervelt.



                                 *XVI*

                        *HUGO SHOWS HIS METTLE*


Fosdick did not go up to parley with the insurgent until after lunch,
until he had thought out his game.  He went prepared for peace, for a
truce, or for war.  "Horace," he began, "there are many phases to an
enterprise as vast as this.  You can’t run it as you would a crossroads
grocery.  You have got to use all sorts of men and measures, to adapt
yourself to them, to be broad and tolerant—and diplomatic.  Above all,
diplomatic."  And he went on for some time in this strain of commercial
commonplaces, feeling his way carefully.  "Now, it may be true—I don’t
know, but it may be true," he ended, "that Westervelt, in conducting his
part of the affairs, has taken wider latitude than perhaps might be
tolerated in a man of less strength and standing.  We must consider only
results.  On the other hand, it is just as well that we should know
precisely what his methods have been."

At this Armstrong’s impassive face showed a gleam of interest.  "That’s
what _I_ thought," said he.

"But it wouldn’t do—it wouldn’t do at all, Horace, for us to let an
outsider like Brownell, at one jump, into the secrets of the company.
Why, there’s no telling what he would do.  He might blackmail us, or
sell us out to one of our rivals."

"What have you to propose?" said Armstrong, impatient of these puerile
preliminaries.  Fosdick was as clever at trickery as is the cleverest;
but at its best the best trickery is puerile, once the onlooker, or even
the intended victim, is on the alert.

"We must give the accounts a thorough overhauling," answered Fosdick.
"But it must be done by our own people.  I propose the ordinary
procedure for that sort of thing—different men doing different parts of
it piecemeal, and sending their reports to one central man who collates
them.  In that way, only the one man knows what is going on or what is
found out."

"Who’s the man?" asked Armstrong.

"It struck me that Hugo, being one of the fourth vice-presidents and so
in touch with the comptroller’s department, would most naturally step
into Westervelt’s place while he was away."

"Certainly," said Armstrong cordially.  "Hugo’s the very person."

Fosdick had not dismissed Westervelt’s suggestion that Armstrong might
be countermining so summarily as he had led Westervelt to believe; he
did dismiss it now, however.  "The young fool," he decided, "just wanted
to show his authority."  To Armstrong he said, "You and Hugo can work
together."

"No, leave it to Hugo," said Armstrong.  "I am content so long as it is
definitely understood that I am not responsible.  Let the Executive
Committee meet and put Hugo formally in charge during Westervelt’s
absence."

Fosdick went up to Westervelt’s house to see him a few days later; to
his surprise the old bulwark of public and private virtue seemed
completely restored. And Fosdick, with a blindness which he never could
account for, was content with his explanation that he had been thinking
it over and had reached the conclusion that his interests were perfectly
secure, so long as he had the four books.  Without a protest he
acquiesced in the appointment of Hugo.  And so it came peacefully about
that Hugo, convinced that no one had ever undertaken quite so important
a task as this of his, set himself to investigating the whole financial
department of the O.A.D.  That is to say, he issued the orders suggested
by his father, issued them to subordinates suggested by his father, and
brought to his father the reports they made to him.

On the third or fourth day of Westervelt’s "illness," Fosdick caught a
cold which laid him up with a ferocious attack of the gout.  Most of the
reports which the subordinates brought to Hugo he did not understand;
but he felt that it was his duty to examine them, and spent about three
of the four hours he gave to business each day in marching his eye
solemnly down the columns of figures and explanations. And thus it came
about that he discovered Armstrong’s "crime"—twenty-five thousand
dollars, which had been paid to Horace Armstrong on his own order and
never accounted for; a few months later, a second item of the same size
and mystery; a few months later, a third; a fourth, a fifth, a sixth and
so on, until in all Armstrong had got from the company on his own order
no less than three hundred and fifty thousand dollars for which he never
accounted.  "A thief!" exclaimed Hugo.  "I might have known!  These
low-born fellows of no breeding, that rise by impudence and cunning,
always steal."

Hugo did not go to his father with his startling discovery of this
shameful raid on the sacred funds of the widows and orphans of the
O.A.D.  "I’ll not worry the governor when he’s ill," he reasoned.
"Besides, he’s far too gentle and easygoing with Armstrong.  No, this is
a matter for me to attend to, myself.  When it’s all over, the
governor’ll thank me. Anyhow, it’s time I showed these people downtown
that I understand the game and can play it."  And Hugo sent for
Armstrong.

Not to come to him at his office; but to call on him at his apartment on
the way downtown: "Dear Sir—Mr. Hugo Fosdick wishes you to call on him
at the above address at nine to-morrow morning"—this on his private
letter paper and signed by his secretary.

Hugo had taken an apartment in a fashionable bachelor flathouse a few
months after he became a fourth vice-president.  He was not ready to get
married.  There were only a few women—nine girls and two widows—in the
class he deemed eligible, that is, having the looks, the family, and the
large fortune, all of which would be indispensable to an aspirant for
his hand.  And of these eleven, none had as yet shown a sufficient
degree of appreciation.  Four treated him as they did the other men in
their set—with no distinguishing recognition of his superiority of mind
and body.  Five were more appreciative, but they were, curiously and
unfortunately enough, the least pleasing in the three vital respects.
However, while he must put off marriage until he should find his
affinity, there was no reason why he should continue in the paternal
leading strings; so, he set up an establishment befitting his rank and
wealth.  He took the large flat with its three almost huge general
rooms; and, of course he furnished it in that comfortless splendor in
which live those of the civilized and semicivilized world in whom
prosperity smothers all originality or desire for originality.  For Hugo
was most careful to do everything and anything expected of his "set" by
the sly middle-class purveyors who think out the luxuries and fashions
by which they live off the vanities and conventionalities of the rich.

When Armstrong appeared, Hugo had been shaved and bathed and massaged
and manicured and perfumed and dressed; he was seated at a little
breakfast table drawn near the open fire in the dining room, two men
servants in attendance—a third had ushered Armstrong in.  He was arrayed
in a gray silk house suit, with facings of a deeper gray, over it a long
grayish-purple silk and eiderdown robe.  He was in the act of lighting a
cigarette at the cut glass and gold lamp which his butler was holding
respectfully.

"Ah—Armstrong!" he said, with that high-pitched voice and affected
accent which makes the person who uses it seem to say, "You will note
that I am a real aristocrat."  Then to the butler, "I wish to be alone."

"Yes, sir," said the butler, with a bow.  The other servant bowed also,
and they left the room.

"Well, what is it, Fosdick?" said Armstrong, seating himself.

Hugo frowned at that familiarity, aggravated by the curt tone.  "I shall
not detain you long enough for you to be at the trouble of seating
yourself," said he.

Armstrong reflected on this an instant before he grasped what Hugo was
driving at.  Then he smiled. "Go on—what is it?" he said, settling
himself.

"I directed you to come here," said Hugo, "because I wished to avoid
every possibility of scandal. I assume you understood, as soon as you
got my note?"

Armstrong looked at him quizzically.  "And I came," said he, "because I
assumed you had some important, very private, message from your father.
I thought perhaps your father would be here."

"My father knows nothing of this," said Hugo. "I thought it more humane
to spare him the pain of discovering that a servant he regarded as
faithful had shamefully betrayed him."

"I might have known!" exclaimed Armstrong with good-natured disgust,
rising.  "So you brought me here to discuss some trifle about your
servants. Some day, if I get the leisure, my young friend, I’ll tell you
what I think of you.  But not to-day.  Good morning."

"Stop!" commanded Hugo.  As Armstrong did not stop, he said, "I have
discovered your thefts from the company."

Armstrong wheeled, blanched.  He looked hard at young Fosdick; then he
slowly returned to his chair. "I understand," he said, in a voice most
unlike his own.

"And I sent for you," continued Hugo triumphantly, "to tell you I will
permit you quietly to resign. You will write out your resignation at the
desk in the next room.  I shall present it to the Board, and shall see
that it is accepted without scandal or question.  Of course, so far as
you are able, you must make good your shortage.  But I shall not be hard
on you.  I appreciate that chaps like you are often tempted beyond their
powers of resistance."

By this time Armstrong was smiling so broadly that Hugo, absorbed though
he was in his own rôle of the philosophic gentleman, had to see it.  He
broke off, reddened, rose and drew himself to his full height—and a very
elegant figure he was.  Armstrong looked up at him from his indolent
lounge in the big chair. "Did you pose that before a cheval glass,
Hugo?" he said, in a pleasant, contemptuous tone.

"You will force me to the alternative," cried Hugo furiously.

Armstrong got up.  "Go ahead, old man," he said. "Do whatever you
please.  Better talk to your father first, though."  He glanced round.
"You’re very gorgeous here—too gorgeous for the hard-working, poor
people who pay for it.  I’ll have to interfere."  He smiled at Hugo
again, but there was an unpleasant glitter in his eyes.  "You are
suspended from the fourth vice-presidency," he went on tranquilly.  "And
you will vacate these premises before noon to-day.  See that you take
nothing with you that belongs to the O.A.D.  If you do, I’ll have you in
a police court.  Be out before noon.  Brownell will be up at that hour."

Hugo stood staring.  This effrontery was unbelievable. Before he could
recover himself, Armstrong was gone.  He sat down and slowly thought it
out. Yes, it was true, the flat had been taken nominally as an uptown
branch of the O.A.D. home office; much of the furniture had been paid
for by the company; several of the servants were on the pay roll as
clerks and laborers; yes, he had even let the O.A.D. pay grocery and
wine bills—was he not like his father—did not everything he did,
everything he ate and drank, contribute to the glory and stability of
the O.A.D.?  He was but following the established usage among the powers
that deigned to guard the financial interests of the people.  Perhaps,
he carried the system a little further, more frankly further, than some;
but logically, legitimately.  Still, Armstrong was president, had
nominally the authority to make things unpleasant for him.

He looked at the clock—it was ten; no time to lose. He rushed into his
clothes, darted into his waiting brougham and drove home.  The doctor
was with his father; he had to wait, pacing and fuming, until nearly
eleven before he could get admission.  The old man, haggard and
miserable, was stretched on a sofa-bed before the fire in his sitting
room.  "Well, what do you want?" he said sharply.

Hugo did not pause to choose words.  "I found in the books," said he,
"where Armstrong had taken three hundred and fifty thousand dollars from
us—from the company.  I thought I’d not worry you with it.  So I sent
for him to come to my rooms."

"What!" yelled Fosdick, getting his breath which had gone at the first
shock.  "What the damnation! You sprung _my_ trap!  You _fool_!"

"I ordered him to resign," Hugo hastened on. "And he refused, and
ordered me to vacate my rooms before noon—because the lease stands in
the name of the company.  And he suspended me as vice-president."

"Good, good!" shouted Fosdick, his thin, wire-like hair, his gaunt face,
his whole lean body streaming fury.  "Why has God cursed me with such a
son as this!  How dare you!  You wretched idiot!  You have ruined us
all!"

Hugo cowered.  Making full allowance for his father’s physical pain and
violent temper, there was still that in the old man’s face which
convinced Hugo he had made a frightful blunder.  "I’ll vacate," he said,
near to whimpering, "I’ll do whatever you say."

"Give me that telephone!" ordered the old man.

Fosdick got the O.A.D. building and Armstrong’s office.  And soon
Armstrong’s voice came over the wire. "Is that you, Armstrong—Horace—?
Yes, I recognize your voice.  This is Fosdick.  That fool boy of mine
has just told me what he did."

"Yes," came in Armstrong’s noncommittal voice.

"I want to say you did perfectly right in ordering him to vacate."

"Thanks."

"He’ll be out by the time you set.  His resignation as vice-president is
on the way downtown.  I’m sending him to apologize to you.  I want to do
everything, anything to show my deep humiliation, my deep regret."

No answer from the other end of the wire.

"Are you there, Horace?"

"Yes."

"Have I made myself clear?  Is there anything I can do?"

"Nothing.  Is that all?"

"Can you come up here?  It’s impossible for me to leave my
bedroom—simply out of the question."

"I’m too busy this morning."

"This afternoon?"

"Not to-day.  Good-by."

The ring-off sounded mockingly in the old man’s ear.  With an oath he
caught up the telephone apparatus and flung it at Hugo’s head.  "Ass!
Ass!" he shouted, shaking his cane at his son, who had barely dodged the
heavy instrument.  "Vacate that apartment! Take the first steamer for
Europe!  And don’t you show up in town again until I give you leave.
Hide yourself!  Ass!  Ass!"

Hugo scudded like a swallow before a tempest. "Is there any depth," he
said when he felt at a safe distance, "_any_ depth to which father
wouldn’t descend, for the sake of money—and drag us down with him?"  He
admitted that perhaps he had not acted altogether discreetly.  "I
oughtn’t to have roused Armstrong’s envy by letting him see my rooms."
Still, that could have been easily repaired.  Certainly, it wasn’t
necessary to grovel before an employee—"and a damned thief at that."  By
the time he reached his apartments, he was quite restored to favor with
himself.  He hurried the servants away, telephoned for a firm of packers
and movers to come at once.  As he rang off, a call came for him.  He
recognized the voice of Armstrong’s secretary.

"Is that Mr. Hugo Fosdick?  Well, Mr. Armstrong asks me to say that it
won’t be necessary for you to give up those offices uptown to-day, that
you can keep them as long as you please."

"Aha!" thought Hugo, triumphant again.  "He has come to his senses.  I
knew it—I knew he would!"  To the secretary he simply said, "Very well,"
and rang up his father.  It was nearly half an hour before he could get
him; the wire was busy.  At his first word, the old man said, "Ring off
there!  I don’t want to hear or see you.  You take that steamer
to-morrow!"

"Armstrong has weakened, father," cried Hugo.

"What!" answered the old man, not less savage, but instantly eager.

"He has just telephoned, practically apologizing, and asking me not to
disturb myself about the apartment.  I knew he’d come down when he
thought it over."

A silence, then his father said in a milder tone: "Well—you keep away
from the office.  Don’t touch business, don’t go near it, until I tell
you to.  And don’t come near me till I send for you.  What else did
Armstrong say?"

"Just what I told you—nothing more.  But when I see him, he’ll
apologize, no doubt."

"See that you don’t see him," snapped the old man. "Keep away from
anybody that knows anything of business.  Keep to that crowd of
empty-heads you travel with.  Do you understand?"

"Yes, father," said Hugo, in the respectful tone he never, in his most
supercilious mood, forgot to use toward the custodian and arbiter of his
prospects.



                                 *XVII*

                        *VIOLETTE’S TAPESTRIES*


Armstrong would not have protested Raphael’s favorite fling at the
financial district as "a wallow of dishonor"; and Boris’s description of
him as reeking the slime of the wallow was no harsher than what he was
daily thinking about himself.

The newspapers were shrieking for a "real cleaning of the Augean stables
of finance"; the political figureheads of "the interests" were solemnly
and sonorously declaiming that there must be no repetition of former
fiascos and fizzles, when nobody had been punished, though everybody had
been caught black-handed. The prosecuting officers were protesting that
the plea of the guilty that they were "gentlemen" and "respectable"
would not again avail.  So, Wall Street’s wise knew that the struggle
between Fosdick and Atwater was near its crisis.  Throughout the
"wallow" banks and trust companies, bond houses and bucket shops, all
the eminent respectabilities, were "hustling" to get weathertight.
Everyone appreciated that Fosdick and Atwater, prudent men, patron
saints of "stability," would be careful to confine the zone of war
strictly.  But—what would they regard as the prudent and proper limits
of this release and use of public anger?  Neither faction was afraid of
law, of serious criminal prosecution; however the authorities might be
compelled to side, they would not yield to popular clamor—beyond making
the usual bluff necessary to fool the public until it forgot.  But these
exposures which had now become a regular part of the raids of the great
men on each other’s preserves always tended to make the public shy for a
while; and the royalty, nobility, and gentry of the fashionable
hierarchy, had to meet the enormous expenses of their families, their
establishments, and their retinues of dependents, never less, ever more.
They could ill afford any cessation or marked slackening of the inflow
of wealth from the industrious and confiding, or covetous,
masses—covetous rather than confiding, since the passion of the average
man for gambling, for getting something for nothing, is an even larger
factor in the successful swindling operations of enthroned
respectability than is his desire for a safe, honest investment of his
surplus.  Finally, the uneasy upper classes remembered that usually
these exposures resulted in the sacrifice of some of them; an unlucky
financier or group of financiers was loaded down with the blame for the
corruption and, amid the execration of the crowd and the noisy
denunciation of fellow financiers, was sent away into the wilderness,
disgraced so far as a man can be disgraced in the eyes of
money-worshipers when he still has his wealth.  Rarely did the sacrifice
extend further than disgrace; still, that was no light matter, as it
meant lessened opportunities to share in the looting which was soon
resumed with increased energy and success.  The disgraced financier had
to live on what he had acquired before his disgrace, instead of keeping
that intact, and paying his expenses, and adding to his fortune, too,
out of fresh loot.

Altogether, it was wise to get good and ready—to "dress" the shelves and
the back of the shop as well as the windows and front cases; to destroy
or hide suspicious books and memoranda; to shift confidential clerks; to
distribute vacations to Europe among employees, open and secret, with
dangerous information and a tendency toward hysterical and loose talking
under cross-examination; to retain all the able lawyers, and all those
related by blood, marriage, or business to legislators, prosecuting
officers, and powerful politicians; to confer discreetly as to the exact
facts of certain transactions, "so that we may not make any blunders and
apparent contradictions on the witness stand."  And the lawyers—how busy
they were!  The aristocrats of the legal profession were as brisk as are
their humbler fellows on the eve of a "tipped-off" raid on a den of
"swell crooks."  In fact, the whole business had the air of a very cheap
and vulgar kind of crookedness; and the doings of the great men were
strange indeed, in view of their pose as leaders by virtue of
superiority in honest skill. An impartial observer might have been led
to wonder whether honest men had not been driven from leadership because
they would not stoop to the vilenesses by which "success" was gained,
and not because they were less in brain.  As for such conduct in men
lauded as "bold," "brave," "courageous beyond the power to quail"—it was
simply inexplicable.  The "dare-devil leaders" were acting like a pack
of shifty cowards engaged in robbing a safe and just hearing the heavy,
regular tread of a police patrol under the windows.

Armstrong was too absorbed in the game for much analysis or theorizing;
still, his lip did curl at the spectacle—and in part his sneer was
self-contempt.  "It’s disgusting," said he to himself, "that to keep
alive among these scoundrels and guard the interests one is intrusted
with, one must do or tolerate so many despicable things."  As that view
of the matter was the one which every man in the district was taking,
each to excuse himself to himself, there was not an uncomfortable
conscience or a shame-reddened cheek or a slinking eye.  Once a man
becomes convinced that his highest duty is not to himself, but to his
fellow man, the rest is easy; the greater his "self-sacrifice" of
honesty, decency, and self-respect for the sake of the public good—for
country or religion or "stability" or "to keep the workingman’s family
from starving"—the more sympathetic and enthusiastic is his conscience.

When the financial district was at the height of its activity in getting
weathertight for the approaching investigation, Fosdick shook off his
savage enemy, the gout, and got downtown again.  He went direct from his
carriage to Armstrong’s offices.  He greeted his "man" as cordially as
if he had not just been completing the arrangements by which he expected
to make Armstrong himself the first conspicuous victim of the
investigation.  And Armstrong received and returned the greeting with no
change in his usual phlegmatic manner to hint his feelings or his plans.

"About Hugo—" began Josiah.

Armstrong made a gesture of dismissal.  "That’s a closed incident.  Any
news of the committee?"

Josiah accepted the finality of Armstrong’s manner. "You show yourself a
man in ignoring the flappings and squawkings of that young cockatoo,"
said he cheerfully.  "As for the committee—  What do you think of Morris
for counsel?"

"You’ve decided on him?" said Armstrong.  His eyes wandered.

But Fosdick was not subtle, and thought nothing of that slight but, in
one so close, most significant sign of a concealing mind.  "It’s
settled," replied he. "Joe’s an honorable man.  Also, he’s tied fast to
us, and at the same time the public can’t charge that he’s one of our
lawyers.  I know, you and he—"  There Fosdick stopped.  He prided
himself on a most gentlemanly delicacy in family matters.

"He’ll take orders?" said Armstrong, with no suggestion that he either
saw cause for "delicacy" or appreciated it.

"I suppose he would, if it were necessary.  But, thank God, Horace, it
isn’t.  As I told him at my house last night, after the governor and I
had decided on him—I said to him: ’Joe, go ahead and make a reputation
for yourself.  We fear nothing—we’ve got nothing to hide that the public
has a right to know. Tear the mask off those damned scoundrels who are
trying to seize the O.A.D. and change it from a great bulwark of public
safety into a feeder for their reckless gambling.’"

"And what did he say?" inquired Armstrong—a simple inquiry, with no hint
of the cynical amusement it veiled.

"He was moved to tears, almost," replied Fosdick, damp of eye himself at
the recollection.  "And he said: ’Thank you, Mr. Fosdick, and you,
Governor Hartwell.  I’ll regard this commission as a sacred trust.  I’ll
be careful not to give encouragement to calumny or to make the public
uneasy and suspicious where there is no just reason for uneasiness and
suspicion; and at the same time I’ll expose these men who have been
prostituting the name of financier.’  You really ought to have heard
him."

An inarticulate sound came from behind the Westerner’s armor of stolid
apathy.

"Horace, he’s a noble fellow," continued Fosdick, assuming that his
"man" was sympathetic.  "And he knows the law from cover to cover.  He
has drawn some of our best statutes, and whenever I’ve got into a place
where it looked as if the howling of the mob was going to stop business,
I’ve always called on him to get up a statute that would make the mob
happy and not interfere with us, and he has never failed me. By the time
he’s fifty, he’ll be one of the strongest men in the country—the kind of
man the business interests ’d like to see in the White House.  If it
weren’t for that fool wife of his!  Do you know her?"

"No," replied Armstrong.

Fosdick decided that "delicacy" was unnecessary, as Armstrong was out of
the Carlin family.  "It’s all very well," said he, "for a young fellow
to go crazy about a girl when he’s courting.  But to keep on being crazy
about her after they’ve got used to each other and settled down—it’s
past me.  It defeats the whole object of marriage, which is to steady a
man, to take woman off his mind, and give him peace for his work. In my
opinion, there’s too much talk about love nowadays.  It ain’t decent—it
ain’t _decent_!  And it’s setting the women crazy, with so much idle
time on their hands.  Morris is stark mad about that wife of his, and
all he gets out of it is what a man usually gets when he makes a fool of
himself for a woman.  She thinks of nothing but spending money, and she
keeps him poor.  The faster he earns, the wilder she spends. I suppose
he thinks she cares for him—when working him is simply a business with
her."

If Fosdick had known what Mrs. Morris was about at that very hour, there
would have been even more energy in his denunciation of her.  As soon as
her husband had got home the previous night, he had confided to her the
whole of his new and dazzling opportunity—not only all that his secret
employer expected him to make of it but all that he purposed to make of
it. She was not a discreet woman; so, it was fortunate for him that her
listening when he talked "shop," as she called his career, was a
pretense.  She gathered only what was important to her—that he felt sure
of making a great deal out of the new venture.

He meant reputation; she assumed that he meant money.  She began to
spend it the very next day. Even as Josiah Fosdick was denouncing her,
she was in an art store negotiating for a set of medieval tapestries for
her salon.  As antiques, the tapestries were wonderful—wonderful, like
so large a part of the antiques that multimillionaires have brought over
for their houses and for the museums—wonderful as specimens of the
ingenuity of European handicraftsmen at forgery.  As works of art, the
tapestries were atrocious; as household articles, they were
dangerous—filthy, dust- and germ-laden rags.  But "everybody" was
getting antique tapestries; Mrs. Morris must have them.  She was an
interesting and much-admired representative of the American woman who
goes in _seriously_ for art.  To go in _seriously_ for art does not mean
to cultivate one’s sense of the beautiful, to learn to discriminate with
candor among good, not so good, not so bad, and bad.  It means to keep
in touch with the European dealers in things artistic, real and reputed;
to be the first to follow them when, a particular fad having been mined
to its last dollar, they and their subsidized critics and connoisseurs
come out excitedly for some new period or style or school. Mrs. Morris
was regarded as one of the first authorities in fashionable New York on
matters of art.  Her house was enormously admired; she was known to
every dealer from Moscow to the tip of the Iberian peninsula; and
incredible were the masses of trash they had worked off upon her and,
through her recommendations, upon her friends.

Her "amazing artistic discernment"—so Sunnywall, the most fashionable of
the fashionable architects, described it—was the bulwark of her social
position. Whenever a voice lifted against the idle lives of fashionable
people, how conclusive to reply, "Look at Mrs. Joe Morris—she’s typical.
She devotes her life to art.  It’s incalculable what she has done toward
interesting the American people in art."  She even had fame in a certain
limited way.  Her name was spoken with respect from Maine to California
in those small but conspicuous circles where possession of more or less
wealth and a great deal of empty time has impelled the women to occupy
themselves with books, pictures, statuary, furniture they think they
ought to like.  To what fantastic climaxes prosperity has brought the
old American passion for self-development!  The men, to shrewd and
shameless prostitution in the market-places; the women, to the
stupefying ignorance of the culture that consists in the mindless
repetitions of the slang and cant and nonsense of intellectual fakirs.

Mrs. Morris told her husband about the new tapestries at dinner.  That
was her regular time for imparting to him anything she knew he would be
"troublesome" about; and it was rapidly ruining his digestion.  She
chose dinner because the presence of the servants made it impossible for
him to burst out until the fact that the thing was done and could not be
undone had time to batter down his wrath.  Usually she spoke between
soup and fish—she spoke thus early that she might gain as much time as
possible.  So often did she have these upsetting communications to make
that he got in the habit of dreading those two courses as a
transatlantic captain dreads the Devil’s Hole; and on evenings when the
fish had come and gone with nothing upsetting from her, he had a sudden,
often exuberant rush of high spirits.

"I dropped in at Violette’s to-day for another look at those
tapestries," she began.

At "Violette’s" he paused in lifting the spoon to his lips; at
"tapestries" he pricked his ears—one of the greatest trials of his
wife’s married life was that independent motion of his ears, "just like
one of the lower animals or something in a side show," she often
complained.

"And I simply couldn’t resist," she ended, looking like a happy, spoiled
child.  He dropped the spoon with a splash.

"Do be careful, Joe," she remonstrated sweetly. "We can’t change the
dinner-cloth every night, and such frequent washing is _ruinous_.  I had
them sent home, and you’ll be entranced when you see them."

"Did you give Violette his original price?" he demanded, as his color,
having reached an apoplectic blue-red, began to pale toward the normal.

"He wouldn’t come down a cent.  And I don’t blame him."

Morris glowered at the butler and the footman. They went about their
business as if quite unconscious of the work of peace they were
doing—and were expected by their mistress to do.  Mrs. Morris talked on
and on, pretending to assume that he was as delighted with her purchase
as was she.  She discoursed of these particular tapestries, of
tapestries in general, of the atmosphere they brought into a house—"the
suggestion, the very spirit of the old, beautiful life of the upper
classes in the Middle Ages."  By the time dinner was over she had talked
herself so far away from the sordid things of life that the coarsest
nature would have shrunk from intruding them.  But on that evening
Morris was angry through and through.  When they left the dining room,
she said, "Now, come and look at them, dear."

"No," he said savagely.  He threw open the door of his study.  "Come in
here.  I want to talk to you."

She hesitated.  A glance at his fury-blanched face convinced her that,
if she made it necessary, he would seize her and thrust her in.  As the
door closed on them with a bang, the butler said to the footman,
"Letty’s done it once too often."

The footman tiptoed toward the door.  The butler stopped him with, "You
couldn’t hear bloody murder through that study door, and the keyhole’s
no good."

"Why didn’t he take her to her boudoir?" grumbled the footman.

She had indeed "done it once too often."  As soon as Morris had the door
locked he blazed down at her—she fresh and innocent, with her fluffy
golden hair and sweet blue eyes and dimples on either side of her pretty
mouth.  "Damn you!" he exclaimed through his set teeth.  "You want to
ruin me, body and soul—you vampire!"

Two big slow tears drenched her eyes.  "Oh, Joe!" she implored.  "What
have I done!  Don’t be angry with me.  It kills me!"  And she caught her
breath like a child trying bravely not to cry and put out her rosy arms
toward him, her round, rosy shoulders and bosom rising and falling in a
rhythmic swell.

"Don’t touch me!" he all but shouted.  "That’s part of your infernal
game.  Oh, you think I’m a fool—and so I am—so I am!  But not the kind
you imagine.  It hasn’t been your cleverness that has made me play the
idiot, but my own weakness."  He caught her by the shoulders.  "What is
it?" he cried furiously, shaking her.  "What’s the infernal spell I get
under whenever you touch me?"

"You love me," she pleaded, "as I love you."

"Love!" he jeered.  "Well, call it that—no matter.  Those tapestries
have got to go back—do you hear?"

"Yes—you needn’t shout, dear.  Certainly they’ll go back."

"You say ’certainly,’ but you’ve no intention of sending them back.  You
think this’ll blow over, that you’ll wheedle me round as you have a
hundred times. But I tell you, _this_ time, what I say _goes_!"

"What’s the trouble, Joe?  You were never like this before."

He was gnawing at his thin gray mustache and was breathing heavily.
"When I married you I was a decent sort of fellow.  I had a sense of
honor and a disposition to be honest.  You—you’ve made me into a bawd.
I tell you, not the lowest creature that parades the streets of the
slums is viler than I.  That’s what you and love—love!—have done for me.
My wife and love!  God, woman, what you have made me do to get money for
those greedy hands of yours! Now, listen to me.  You evidently didn’t
listen last night when I told you my plans.  No matter.  Here’s the
point.  I’m going to sell out once more—going to play the traitor for as
big stakes as ever tempted a man.  Then, I’ll make the career I once
dreamed of making, and you will be second to no woman in the land.  But,
no more extravagance."

"I always knew you’d be rich and famous," she cried, clasping her hands
and looking the radiant child.

"Famous, but not rich.  I’m not playing for money this time.  And we’re
not going to have much money hereafter.  I’ve thought it all out.  We’re
going to move into a smaller house; all your junk is to be sold, and
what little money it’ll bring we’ll put by."

She seemed to be freezing.  The baby look died out of her face.  Her
eyes became hard, her mouth cruel. "I don’t understand," she said.

"Yes, you do, madam," he retorted.  "You need not waste time in scheming
or in working your schemes.  I’ve thought it all out.  You were driving
me straight to ruin; and, when you got me there, if I hadn’t
conveniently died or blown my brains out, you’d have divorced me and
fastened on some one else. I think that, like me, you used to be decent.
You’ve been led on and on until you’ve come pretty near to losing all
human feeling.  Well, it’s to be a right about, this instant.  I’m going
back—and you’ve got to go back with me."

There was a note in his voice, an expression in his eyes that disquieted
her; but she had ruled him so long, had softened him from the appearance
of strength into plastic weakness so often, that she saw before her
simply a harder task than usual, perhaps the hardest task she had yet
had.

"I’ll be very busy the next few months," he went on.  "You must go
away—to your mother—or abroad—anywhere, so that I shan’t be tempted."

"I don’t want to leave you!" she cried.  "I want to stay and help you."

His smile was sardonic.  "No!  You shall go.  I’ve an offer for this
house, as it stands.  In fact, I’ve sold it."

She stared wildly.  "Joe!" she screamed.

"I’ve sold it," he repeated.

"To whom?"

His eyes shifted, and he flushed.  "To Trafford," he replied, with a
sullenness, a shamefacedness that would not have escaped her had she not
been internally in such a commotion that nothing from the outside could
impress her.

"But you couldn’t get a tenth what the things are worth, selling that
way."

"I got a good price," said he, his eyes averted. "Never mind what it
was."

"Why, the Traffords would have no use for this house.  They’ve got a
palace."

"He bought it," said Morris doggedly.

"I don’t believe it."

"He bought it; and I want you to tell everybody we sold at a loss—a big
loss.  You can say we’re thinking of living in the country.  Not a word
to anyone that’d indicate there’s any mystery about the sale."  This
without looking up.

She studied his face—the careworn but still handsome features, the bad
lines about the eyes and mouth, the splendid intellectuality of the
brow, a confused but on the whole disagreeable report upon the life and
character within.  "I think I do understand," she said slowly.  Then,
like a vicious jab, "At least, as much as I want to understand."

She strolled toward the door, sliding one soft, jeweled hand
reflectively over her bare shoulders.  She paused before a statuette and
inspected it carefully, her hands behind her back, her fingers slowly
locking and unlocking.  Presently she gave a queer little laugh and
said, "It wasn’t the house, it was _you_ Trafford bought."

A pause, then he: "He _thinks_ so."

Again a pause, she smiling softly up at the statuette. Without facing
him she said, "I must have my share, Joe."

He did not answer.

She waited a few minutes, repeated, "_I_ must have my share."

"Yes," he replied.

A pause; then, "Are you coming up to bed?"

"I shall sleep here."

She had passively despised him, whenever she had thought about him at
all in those years of his subservience to her.  For the first time she
was looking at him with a feeling akin to respect.

"Good night," she murmured sweetly.

"Good night," curtly from him.

The watching servants were astonished at her expression of buoyant good
humor, were astounded when she said with careless cheerfulness to the
butler, "Thomas, telephone Violette the first thing in the morning to
come for those tapestries he brought to-day.  Tell him I’ll call and
explain."



                                *XVIII*

                          *ARMSTRONG PROPOSES*


Armstrong lingered in the entrance to the apartment house where Neva
lived, dejection and irritation plain upon his features.  At no time
since he met her at Trafford’s had he so longed to see her; and the
elevator boy had just told him she was out.  The boy’s manner was
convincing, but Armstrong was supersensitive about Neva.

She had received him often, and was always friendly; but always with a
reserve, the more disquieting for its elusiveness.  And whenever he
tried to see her and failed, he suspected her of being unwilling to
admit him.  Sometimes the suspicion took the form of a belief it was a
_tête-à-tête_ with the painter which she would not let him interrupt.
Again, he feared she had decided not to admit him any more.  It would be
difficult to say which made him the gloomier—the feeling that he was, at
best, a distant second, or the feeling that he was not placed at all.
Never before in his relation with any human being, man or woman, had he
been so exasperatingly at a disadvantage as with her.  The fact that
they had been married, which apparently ought to have made it impossible
for her to maintain any barrier of reserve against him, once she had
accepted him as a friend, was somehow just the circumstance that
prevented him from making any progress whatever with her.  And this was
highly exasperating to a man of his instinct and passion and ability for
conquest and dominion over all about him, men as well as women.

"I’m making a fool of myself.  I’m letting her make a fool of me," he
thought angrily, as he stood in the entrance.  "I’ll not come again."
But he had made this same decision each time he was met with "Not at
home," and had nevertheless reappeared at her door after a few weeks of
self-denial.  So, he mocked himself even as he was bravely resolving.
He gazed up and down the street.  His face brightened. Far down the long
block, toward Fifth Avenue, he saw a slim, singularly narrow figure,
thin yet nowhere angular; beautiful shoulders and bust, narrow hips; a
fascinating simple dress of brown, a sable stole and muff, a graceful
brown hat with three plumes. "Distinguished" was the word that seemed to
him to describe what he could see, thus far.  As she drew near, he noted
how her clear skin, her eyes, her hair all had the sheen that proclaims
health and vivid life.  "But she would never have looked like this, or
have been what she is, if she had not got rid of me," he said to himself
by way of consolation.

"Won’t you take a walk?" he asked, when they met half way between the
two avenues.  The friendliness of her greeting dispelled his ill humor;
sometimes that same mere friendliness was the cause of a stinging
irritation.

"Come back with me," she replied.  "I’m always in at this time.
Besides, to-day I have an engagement—no, not just yet—not until Boris
comes.  Then, he and I are going out."

"Oh—Raphael!  Always Raphael."

"Almost always," said she.  "Almost every day—often twice a day,
sometimes three times a day."

His dealings with women had been in disregard and disdain of their
"feminine" methods; but he did know the men who use that same
indirection to which women are compelled because nature and the human
societies modeled upon its savage laws decree that woman shall deal with
men in the main through their passions.  He, therefore, suspected that
Neva’s frank declaration was not without intent to incite.  But, to
suspect woman’s motive rarely helps man; in his relations with her he is
dominated by a force more powerful than reason, a force which compels
him to acts of which his reason, though conscious and watchful, is a
helpless spectator. Armstrong’s feeling that Neva was not unwilling to
give herself the pleasure of seeing him jealous of Raphael did not help
him toward the self-control necessary to disappoint her.  Silent before
his rising storm, he accompanied her to the studio.  Alone with her
there, he said abruptly:

"Do you think any human being could fall in love with me?"

She examined him as if impartially balancing merits and demerits.  "Why
not?" she finally said.

"I’ve sometimes thought there was a hardness in me that repels."

"Perhaps you’re right," she admitted.  "You’ll probably never know until
you yourself fall in love."

"What is your objection to me?"

"Mine?"  She seemed to reflect before answering. "The principal one, I
think, is your tyranny. You crush out every individuality in your
neighborhood. You seem to want a monopoly of the light and air."

"Was that what used to make you so silent and shut up in yourself?"

She nodded.  "I simply couldn’t begin to grow. You wouldn’t have it."

"But now?" he said.

She smiled absently.  "It often amuses me to see how it irritates you
that you can’t—crowd me.  You do so firmly believe that a woman has no
right to individuality."

He was not really listening.  He was absorbed in watching her slowly
take off her long gloves; as her white forearms, her small wrists, her
hands, emerged little by little, his blood burned with an exhilaration
like the sting of a sharp wind upon a healthy skin——

"Neva, will you marry me?"

So far as he could see, she had not heard.  She kept on at the gloves
until they were off, were lying in her lap.  She began to remove her hat
pins; her arms, bare to the elbows, were at their best in that position.

"A year ago, two years ago," he went on, "I thought we had never been
married.  I know now that we have never been unmarried."

"And when did you make that interesting discovery?" inquired she, still
apparently giving her hat her attention.

"When I saw how I felt toward Raphael.  You think I am jealous of him.
But it is not jealousy.  I know you couldn’t fall in love with a fellow
that rigs himself out like a peacock."

The delicate line of Neva’s eyebrows lifted.  "Boris dresses to suit
himself," said she.  "I never think of it—nor, I fancy, does he."

"Besides," continued Armstrong, "you could no more fall in love with him
than you could at any other place step over the line between a nice
woman and the other kind."

"Really!"

"Yes—really!" he retorted, showing as much anger as he dared.  "My
feeling about Raphael is that he has no right to hang about another
man’s wife as he does.  And you feel the same way."

With graceful, sure fingers she was arranging her hair where it had been
pressed down by her hat. "That is amusing," she said tranquilly.  "You
must either change your idea of what ’nice woman’ means or change your
idea of me.  I haven’t the slightest sense of having been married to
you."

"Impossible!" he maintained.

"I know why you say that—why men think that. But I assure you, my
friend, I have no more the feeling that I am married than that I am
still sick because I had a severe illness once."

His mind had been much occupied by memories of their married days; their
dead child so long, so completely forgotten by him and never thought of
as a tie between him and his wife, had suddenly become a thing of
vividness, the solemn and eternal sealing of its mother to him.  Her
calm repudiation of him and his rights now seemed to him as unwomanly as
would have seemed any attempt on her part to claim him, had he not begun
to care for her.

"Don’t say those things," he protested angrily. "You don’t mean them,
and they sound horrible."

She looked at him satirically.  "You men!" she mocked.  "You men, with
your coarse, narrow ideas of us women that encourage all that is least
self-respecting in us!  I do not attach the same importance to the
physical side of myself that you do.  I try to flatter myself there is
more to me than merely my sex.  I admit, nature intended only that.  But
we are trying to improve on nature."

"I suppose you think you have made me ashamed because I am still in a
state of nature," he rejoined. "But you haven’t.  No matter what any man
may pretend, he will care for you in the natural way as long as you look
as you do."  And his glance swept her in bold admiration.  "As I said a
while ago, I’m not jealous of Raphael.  I’m jealous of all men.
Sometimes I get to thinking about you—that you are somewhere—with some
man, several men—their heads full of the ideas that steam in my head
whenever I look at you—and I walk the floor and grind my teeth in fury."

The color was in her cheeks, though her eyes were mocking.  "Go on," she
said.  "This is interesting."

"Yes—it must be interesting, and amusing, in view of the way I used to
act.  But that was your fault. You hid yourself from me then.  You
cheated me. You let me make a fool of myself, and throw away the best
there was in my life."

"You forget your career," said she.  "You aren’t a human being.  You are
a career."

"I suppose you—a woman—would prefer an obscurity, a nobody, provided he
were a sentimental, Harry-hug-the-hearth."

"I think so," she said.  "A nobody with a heart rather than the greatest
somebody on earth without one.  Heart is so much the most important
thing in the world.  You’ll find that out some day, when you’re not so
strong and self-reliant and successful."

"I have found it out," replied he.  "And that is why I ask you to marry
me."

"Ask me to become an incident in your career."

"No.  To become joint, equal partner in our career."

She shook her head.  "You couldn’t, wouldn’t have a partner, male or
female—not yet.  Besides it would be impossible for me to interest
myself in getting rich or taking care of riches or distributing them
among a crowd of sycophants."

"I’m not getting rich," replied he.  "I’m making a good salary, and
spending it almost all.  But I’m not making much, outside."

"I had heard otherwise.  They tell me your sort of business is about the
best ’graft’—isn’t that the word?—downtown, and that you are where you
can get as much as you care to carry away."

"Yes.  I _could_."

"But you don’t?  I knew it!"

Her belief in his honesty made him uncomfortable. "I didn’t say I was
different from the others—really different," he said hesitatingly.  That
very morning he had been forced to listen to a long series of reports on
complaints of O.A.D. policy holders—how some had been swindled by false
promises of agents whom he must shield; how others had been cheated on
lapsed or surrendered policies; how, in a score of sly ways, the "gang"
in control were stealing from their wards, their trusting and helpless
victims.  "I can’t, and don’t purpose to, deny," he went on to her,
"that I’m part of the system of inducing some other fellow to sow, and
then reaping his harvest, or most of it.  I don’t put it in my own barn,
but I do help at the reaping.  Oh, everything’s perfectly proper and
respectable—at least, on the surface.  But—well, sometimes I get
desperately sick of it all.  Just now, I’m in that mood; it brought me
here to-day.  There’s a row on down there, and it’s plot and
counterplot, move and check, all very exciting, but I—hate it!  Nobody’s
to blame.  It’s simply a system that’s grown up.  And if one plays the
game, why, he’s got to conform to the rules."

"_If_ one plays the game."

"What’s a man to do?  Go back to the farm and become a slave to a
railroad company or a mortgage? We can’t all be painters."

She glanced at him quickly with a sudden narrowing of the eyelids that
seemed to concentrate her gaze like a burning glass.  "I hadn’t thought
of that," said she.

"If you had to be either a sheep or a shearer, which would you choose?"

"Is that how it is?"

"Pretty nearly," was his gloomy reply.

A long silence, he staring at the floor, she watching him.  At last she
said, "Haven’t they—got—something on you—something they can use against
you?"

He startled.  "Where did you hear that?  What did you hear?" he
demanded, with an astonished look at her.

"I was lunching to-day with some people who know we used to be married,
but they don’t know we’re good friends.  They supposed I’d be glad to
hear of any misfortune to you.  And they said a mine was going to blow
up under you, and that you’d disappear and never be heard of again."

"You can’t tell me who told you?"

"No—unless it’s absolutely necessary.  It has something to do with an
investigating committee. You’re to be called quite suddenly and
something is to come out—something you did that will look bad—"  She
came to a full stop.

His face cleared.  "Oh—I know about that.  I’ve arranged for it."  His
mind was free to consider her manner.  "And you assumed I was guilty?"

"I didn’t know," she replied.  "I was sure you were no worse than the
rest of them.  If you hadn’t come to-day, I’d have sent you warning."

His eyes lighted; he smiled triumphantly.  "I told you!" he cried.  "You
see, you still feel that we’re married, that our interests are the
same."

She colored, but he could not be sure whether her irritation was against
herself or against him.  "You are very confident of yourself—and of me,"
said she ironically, and her eyes were laughing at him.  "And this is
the man," she mocked, "who less than three brief years ago was so eager
to be rid of me!"

"Yes," he admitted, with a brave and not unsuccessful effort at
brazening out what could not be denied or explained away.  "But you were
not the same person then that you are now."

"And whose fault was that?" retorted she.  "You married me when I was a
mere child.  You could have made of me what you pleased.  Instead,
you——"

"I admit it all," he interrupted.  "I married you—from a base motive,
though I can plead that I glamoured it over to myself.  Still, I owed it
to myself and to you to have done my level best with and for you.  And I
shirked and skulked."

She did not show the appreciation of this abjectness which he had,
perhaps unconsciously, expected. Instead, she laughed satirically, but
with entire good humor.  "How clever you think yourself, Horace," said
she, "and how stupid you think me.  That’s a very old trick, to try to
make a crime into a virtue by confessing it."

He hung his head, convicted.  "At least," he said humbly, "I love you
now.  If you will give me another chance——"

"You had as good a chance as a man could ask," she reminded him, without
the anger that would have made him feel sure of her.  "How you used to
exasperate me!  You assumed I had neither intelligence nor feeling.  You
were so selfish, so self-centered.  I don’t see how you can hope to be
trusted, even as a friend.  You shake me off; you see me again; find I
have been somewhat improved by a stay in New York; find I am not wholly
unattractive to others.  Your jealousy is roused.  No, please don’t
protest.  You see, I understand you perfectly."

"I deserve it," he said.

"Do you think a woman would be showing even the small good sense you
concede women, if she were to trust a man whose interest in her was
based upon jealousy of another man?"

"I’m not jealous of that damned, scented foreigner, with his rings and
his jeweled canes and his hand-kissing.  I know it must make your honest
American flesh creep to have him touch his lips to the back of your
hand."

Neva blazed at him.  "How dare you!" she cried, rising in her wrath.
"How dare _you_ stand in my house, in my presence, and insult thus the
best friend I ever had—the only friend!"

"Friend!" sneered Armstrong.  "I know all about the sort of friendship
that rake is capable of."

Neva was facing him with a look that blanched his face.  "You will
withdraw those insults to Boris," she said, in that low, even voice
which is wrath’s deadliest form of expression, "and you will apologize
to me, or you will leave here, never to return."

"I beg your pardon," he responded instantly.  "I am ashamed of having
said those things.  I—I ... It was jealousy.  I love you, and I can’t
bear to think of the possibility of rivalry."

"You are swift with apologies.  In the future, be less swift with
impertinence and insult," she answered, showing in manner, as well, that
she was far from mollified.  "As between Boris’s friendship and
professions of love from a man who only a little while ago neglected and
abandoned and forgot me——"

"For God’s sake, Neva," he pleaded.  "I’ve been paying for that.  And
now that you have shown me how little hope there is for me, I shall
continue to suffer.  Be a little merciful!"

His agitation, where usually there was absolute self-control, convinced
and silenced her.  Presently he said, "Will you be friends again—if I’ll
behave myself?"

She nodded with her humorous smile and flash of the eyes.  "_If_ you
behave yourself," replied she. "We were talking of—of Fosdick, was it
not?"

"Fosdick!"  He made a gesture of disgust. "That name!  I never hear it
or think of it except in connection with something repulsive.  It’s
always like a whiff from a sewer."

"And you were about to marry his daughter!" said she, with a glance of
raillery.

He reddened; anything that was past for him was so completely shut out
and forgotten that, until she reminded him, the sentimental episode with
Amy was as if it had not been.  "Where did you hear that?" he asked, his
guilty eyes lowering; for he felt she must have suspected why he had
thought of marrying Amy.

"Everybody was talking about it when I came to New York."

He was silent for a moment.  "Well," he finally continued, "she and I
are not even friends."  Into his eyes came the steely, ruthless look.
"Within a week I’m going to destroy Josiah Fosdick."  Then, in comment
on her swiftly changing expression, "I see you don’t like that."

"No," she replied bluntly.

"I’m going to do a public service," said he, absolutely unconscious of
the real reason why his threat so jarred upon her.  "I ought to have a
vote of thanks."

She could not tell him that it was not his condemnation of Josiah but
his merciless casting out of his friendship with Amy that revolted and
angered and saddened her.  If she did tell him, he, so self-absorbed and
so bent upon his own inflexible purposes that he was quite blind to his
own brutality, would merely think her jealous.  Besides, she began to
feel that her real ground for anger against him ought to be Josiah’s
fate, even if her femininity made the personal reason the stronger.  She
accordingly said, "You just got through telling me it was a system, and
not any one man’s fault."

Armstrong dismissed that with a shrug.  "I’m in his way, he’s in mine.
One or the other has to go down.  I’m seeing to it that it’s not I."
Then, angered by her expression, and by the sense of accusing himself in
making what sounded like excuse, he cried, "Say it!  You despise me!"

"It isn’t a judgment," she answered; "it’s a feeling."

"But you don’t know what the man has done."

"One should not ask himself, What has the other man done? but, What will
my self-respect let me do?"

He ignored this.  "Let me tell you," he said, with a return of the
imperious manner that was second nature to him nowadays.  "This man
brought me to New York because he found I knew how to manage the agents
so that they would lure in the most suckers—that’s the only word for it.
When I came, I believed the O.A.D. was a big philanthropic
institution—yes, I did, really!  Of course I knew men made money out of
it.  I was making money out of it, myself.  But I thought that, in the
main, the object was to give people a chance to provide against old age
and death."

"Yes, I remember," she said.  "You used to talk about what a grand thing
it was."

He laughed.  "Well, we do give ’em _some_ return for their money—if they
aren’t careless and don’t give us a chance to cheat them out of part or
all of it, under the laws we’ve been fixing up against them.  But we
never give anything like what’s their due.  I found I was little more
than a puller-in for a den of respectable thieves—that life insurance is
simply another of the devices of these oily rascals here in New
York—like all their big stock companies and bonding schemes and the rest
of it—a trick to get hold of money and use it for their own benefit.
Ours is the vilest trick of all, though—it seems to me.  For we play on
people’s heart strings, while the other swindles appeal chiefly to
cupidity."  He took a magazine from the table.  "Look here!"  He pointed
to an illustrated advertisement.  "It’s the ’ad’ of one of our
rivals—same business as ours.  See the widow with the tears streaming
down her cheeks, and the three little children clinging to her; see the
heap of furniture on the sidewalk—that means they’ve ejected her for not
paying the rent.  And the type says, ’This wouldn’t have happened if the
father had been insured in the Universal.’  Clever, isn’t it?  Well, the
men back of that company and those back of ours and, worst of all,
Trafford’s infamous gang, all get rich by stealing from poor old people,
from widows and orphans. That is Fosdick’s business—robbing dead bodies,
picking the pockets of calico mourning dresses."

It gave him relief and a sense of doing penance, to utter these truths
about himself and his associates that had been rankling in him.  As he
believed she knew nothing of business and as he thought her sex did not
reason but only felt, he assumed she would accept his own lenient view
of his personal part in the infamy, of his own deviations from the
"ideal" standards. Her expression disquieted him.  "The most respectable
people in the country are in it, in some branch of it," he hastened to
explain, without admitting to himself that he was explaining.  "You must
read the list of our directors."

Her silence alarmed him.  He wished he had not been so frank.  Recalling
his words he was appalled by their brutality; he could not deny to
himself that they stated the truth, and he wondered that he had not seen
that truth in its full repulsiveness until now. "Of course, they don’t
look at it that way," he went on.  "A man can get his conscience to
applaud almost anything he’s making money out of—the more money, the
easier."

"Then they do these things quite openly?" said Neva, in amazement.

"Openly?  Certainly not," replied Armstrong, with a slight smile at her
innocence.

"If they don’t do them openly, they know just what they’re about."

"No," he said, imperious and impatient.  "You don’t understand human
nature.  You don’t appreciate how men delude themselves."

His tone, its reminder of his intolerance of any independence of thought
in a woman, or in anyone around him for that matter, brought the color
to her cheeks.  "A man who does wrong, but thinks he is doing right, is
not ashamed," she answered.  "If he shuffles and conceals, you may be
sure he does not deceive himself, no matter how completely his pretense
deceives you."

There seemed to be no answer to this.  It made ridiculous nonsense of
the familiar excuse for reputable rascality, the excuse he had heard a
thousand times, and had accepted without question.  But it also somehow
seemed a home thrust through his own armor. With anger that was what he
would have called feminine in its unreasonableness, he demanded, "Then
you don’t think I have the right to tear Fosdick down?"

"If you are going to tear them all down, and yourself, too," was her
answer, slowly spoken, but firm.

He laughed ironically.  "That’s practical!"

"Does a thing have to be dishonorable and dishonest, to be practical?"

"From your standpoint, yes," he replied.  "At this very moment Fosdick
is chuckling over the scheme he thinks will surely disgrace me forever!
And you are urging me to let him disgrace me.  Is that what you call
friendship?  Is that your idea of ’heart’?"

She flushed, but rejoined undaunted, "You can juggle with your
conscience all you please, Horace—just like the other men downtown.  But
you know the truth, in the bottom of your heart, just as they do. And if
you rise by the way you’ve planned, you know that, when you’ve risen,
you’ll do just as he was doing."

"Then," said he, "your test of me is whether I’ll let you beg off this
old buzzard, Fosdick."

She made a gesture of denial and appeal.  "On the contrary, I’d despise
a man who did for a woman what he wouldn’t do for his own self-respect."
She was pale, but all the will in her character was showing itself in
her face.  "What is Fosdick to me?  Now that you’ve told me about him, I
think it’s frightful to send men to jail for stealing bread, and leave
such a creature at large.  But—as to you—"  Her bosom was rising and
falling swiftly—"as to you, I’m not indifferent.  You have stood for
strength and courage, for pride—for manliness.  I thought you hard and
cold—but brave—really brave—too brave to steal, at least from the
helpless, or to assassinate even an assassin. Now, I see that you’ve
changed.  Your ambition is dragging you down, as ambition always does.
And what an ambition!  To be the best, the most successful, at cheating
the helpless, at robbing the dead!"

As she spoke, his expression of anger faded.  When she ended, with
unsteady voice and fighting back the tears, he did not attempt to reply.
He had made of his face an impassive mask.  They were still silent, he
standing at the window, she sitting and gazing into the fire, when Molly
entered to announce Raphael.  He threw his coat over his arm, took up
his hat.  She searched his face for some indication of his thoughts, but
could find none.  He simply said, "I’ll think it over."



                                 *XIX*

                         *TWO TELEPHONE TALKS*


As Armstrong, at Fosdick’s house, was waiting in a small reception room
just off the front hall, he heard the old man on the stairs, storming as
he descended.  "It’s a conspiracy," he was shouting.  "You all want to
kill me.  You’ve heard the doctor say I’ll die if I don’t stop driving,
and walk.  Yet, there’s that damned carriage always at the door.  I
can’t step out that it isn’t waiting for me, and you know I can’t resist
if I see it.  It’s murder, that’s what it is."

"Shall I send the carriage away, sir?" Armstrong heard the butler say.

"No!" cried Fosdick, rapping the floor with his cane.  "No!  You know I
won’t send it away.  I’ve got to get some air, and it seems to me I
can’t walk."

By this time he was at the door of the reception room.  "Good morning,
Armstrong," he said with surly politeness.  "I’m sick to-day.  I suppose
you heard me talking to this butler here.  I tell you, things to drive
in are the ruin of the prosperous classes.  Sell that damn motor of
yours.  Never take a cab, if you can help it.  They’re killing me with
that carriage of mine.  Yes—and there’s that infernal cook—chef, as they
call him.  He’s trying to earn his salary, and he’s killing me doing it.
I eat the poison stuff—I can’t get anything else.  No wonder I have
indigestion and gout.  No wonder my head feels as if it was on fire
every morning.  And my temper—I used to have a good disposition.  I’m
getting to be a devil.  It’s a conspiracy to murder me."  There Fosdick
noted Armstrong’s expression.  He dropped his private woes abruptly and
said, with his wonted suavity, "But what can I do for you to-day?"

"I came to ask you to do an act of justice," replied the Westerner,
looking even huger and more powerful than usual, in contrast with the
other, whom age and self-indulgence were rapidly shriveling.

Armstrong’s calm was aggressive, would better have become a dictator
than a suitor.  It was highly offensive to Fosdick, who was rapidly
reaching the state of mind in which obsequiousness alone is tolerable
and manliness seems insolence.  But he reined in his temper and said,
smoothly enough, "You can always count on me to do justice."

"I want you to give me a letter, explaining that those three hundred and
fifty thousand dollars were drawn by me and paid over, at your order."

Fosdick stared blankly at him.  "What three hundred and fifty thousand
dollars?"

Armstrong’s big hands clenched into fists and he set his teeth together
sharply.  Each man looked the other full in the eyes.  Armstrong said,
"Will you give me the letter?"

"I don’t know what you’re talking about," replied Fosdick steadily.
"And don’t explain.  I can’t talk business to-day."

"I’ve come to you, Mr. Fosdick," continued Armstrong, "not on my own
account, but on yours.  I ask you to give me the letter, because, if you
do not, the consequences will be unfortunate—not for me, but for you."

"My dear Armstrong," said Fosdick, with wheedling familiarity of elder
to younger, "I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t want to
know. Look at me, and spare me.  Come for a drive.  I’ll set you down
anywhere you say.  Don’t be foolish, young man.  Don’t use language to
me that suggests threats."

"That is your final answer?  Is it quite useless to discuss the matter
with you?"

"I’m too sick to wrangle with business to-day."

"Then you refuse to give me the letter?"

"If my doctor knew I had let anybody mention business to me, he’d desert
me."

Without a further word Armstrong turned, left the room and the house.
Fosdick did not follow immediately.  Instead, he seated himself to
puzzle at this development.  "Hugo stirred him up about that, and he’s
simply trying to get ready for the committee," he decided.  "If he knew,
or even suspected, he’d act very differently.  He’s having his heart
broken none too soon.  I’ve never seen a worse case of swollen head. I
pushed him up too fast.  I’m really to blame; I’m always doing hasty,
generous things, and getting myself into trouble, and those I meant to
help.  Poor fool.  I’m sorry for him.  I suppose once I get him down in
his place, I’ll be soft enough to relent and give him something.  He’s
got talent.  I can use him, once I have him broken to the bit."

In came Amy, the color high in her cheeks from her morning walk.  She
kissed him on both cheeks. "Well, well, what do _you_ want?" said he.

"How do you know I want anything?" she cried.

"In the first place, because nobody ever comes near me except to get
something."

"Just as you never go near anybody except to take something," she
retorted, with a pull at his mustache.

Fosdick was amused.  "In the second place," he went on, "because you are
affectionate—which not only means that you want something, but also that
the something is a thing you feel I won’t give.  And you’re no doubt
right."

"What are you in such a good humor about?" said she.  "You were cross as
a bear in a swarm of bees, at breakfast."

"I’m not in a good humor," he protested.  "I’m depressed.  I’m looking
forward to doing a very unpleasant duty to-morrow."

His daughter laughed at him.  "You may be trying to persuade yourself
it’s unpleasant.  But the truth is, you’re delighted.  Papa, I’ve been
thinking about the entrance."

"Keep on thinking, but don’t speak about it," retorted he, frowning.

"Really—it’s an eyesore—so small, so out of proportion, so cheap——"

"Cheap!" exclaimed Fosdick.  "Why, those bronze doors alone cost
seventeen thousand dollars."

"Is _that_ all!" scoffed his daughter.  "Trafford’s cost forty
thousand."

"But I’m not a thief like Trafford.  And let me tell you, my child,
seventeen thousand dollars at four per cent would produce each year a
larger sum than the income of the average American family."

"But I’ve often heard you say the common people have entirely too much
money, more than they know how to spend.  Now—about the entrance.  Alois
and I——"

"When you marry Fred Roebuck, I’ll let you build yourself any kind of
town house you like," interrupted her father.

She perched on the arm of his chair.  "Now, really, father, you know you
wouldn’t let me marry a man it makes me shudder to shake hands with?"

"Nonsense—a mere notion.  You try to feel that way because you know you
ought to marry him."

"Never—never—_never_!" cried Amy, kissing him at each "never."
"Besides, he’s engaged to Sylvia Barrow.  He got tired of waiting for
me."

Fosdick pushed away from her.  "I’m bitterly disappointed in you," he
said, scowling at her.  "I’ve been assuming that you would come to your
senses. What would become of you, if I had as little regard for your
wishes as you have for mine?"

"Fred Roebuck was a nobody," she pleaded. "You despised him yourself.
Now, papa dear, I’m thinking of marrying a somebody, a man who really
amounts to something in himself."

"Who?" demanded Fosdick, bristling for battle.

"Alois Siersdorf."

Fosdick sprang up, caught her roughly by the arm.  "What!" he shouted.
"_What!_"

"A man you like and admire," Amy went on, getting her tears ready.  "He
_looks_ distinguished, and he _is_ distinguished, and is certain to be
more so. Besides, what’s the use of being rich, if one can’t please
herself when it comes to taking a husband?  I want somebody I won’t be
ashamed of, somebody I can live near without shuddering."  And the tears
descended in floods.

Her father turned his rage against Alois.  "The impudence of a fellow
like that aspiring to a girl in your position."

"But he hasn’t been impudent.  He’s been very humble and backward."

Josiah was busy with his own rage.  "Why, he’s got _nothing_!"

"Nothing but brains."

"Brains!" Fosdick snorted contemptuously. "Why, they’re a drug on the
market.  I can buy brains by the hundred.  Men with brains are falling
over each other downtown, trying to sell out for a song."

"Not brains like his," she protested.

"Better—a hundred times better.  Why, his brain belongs to me.  I’ve
bought it.  I have it whenever and for whatever I want."

"I—I love him, father," she sobbed, hiding her face in his shoulder.
"I’ve tried my best not to.  But I can’t live without him.  I—I—_love_
him!"

Fosdick was profoundly moved.  There were tears in his eyes, and he
gently stroked her hair.  She reached out for his hand, took it, kissed
it, and put it under her cheek—she hated to have anyone touch her hair,
which was most troublesome to arrange to her liking.  "Listen to me,
child," said the old man. "You remember when Armstrong was trying to
impose on your tender heart?  You remember what I said?  Was I not
right?  Aren’t you glad you took my advice?"

"But I never loved him—really," said Amy.

"And you don’t love Alois.  You couldn’t love one of our dependents.
You have too much pride for that. But, again I want to warn you.
There’s a reason—the best of reasons—why you must not be even friendly
with—this young Siersdorf.  I can’t explain to you. He’s an adventurer
like Armstrong.  Wait a few days—a very few days, Amy.  He has been
careful to let you see only the one side of him.  There’s another side.
When you see that, you’ll be ashamed you ever thought of him, even in
jest.  You’ll see why I want you to be safely established as the wife of
some substantial man."

"Tell me what it is, father."

"I tell nothing," replied Fosdick.  "Wait, and you will see."

"Is it something to his discredit?  If so, I can tell you right now it
isn’t true."

"Wait—that’s all.  Wait."

"But, father—after all he’s done for us, isn’t it only fair to warn
him?"

"Warn him of what?"

"Of what you say is going to happen."

"If you want to do yourself and me the greatest possible damage, you’ll
hint to him what I’ve said.  Do you understand?"

"It isn’t fair not to warn him," she insisted.  And she released herself
from his arms and faced him defiantly.  "I tell you, I love him,
father!"

"Was ever parent so cursed in his children!" cried Fosdick.  "I’m in the
house of my enemies.  I tell you, Amy, you are to keep your mouth
_shut_!"  He struck the floor sharply with his cane.  "I will be obeyed,
do you hear?"

"And I tell you, father," retorted Amy, "that I’m going to warn him.
He’s straight and honest, and he loves me and he has done things for me,
for us, that make us his debtor."

Fosdick threw up his arms in angry impotence. "Do your damnedest!" he
cried.  "After all, what can you tell him?  You can only throw him into
a fever and put him in a worse plight.  But I warn you that, if you
disobey me, I’ll make you pay for it.  I’ll cut off your allowance.
I’ll teach you what it means to love and respect a father."  And he
raged out of the house.

Even as her father went, Amy felt in the foundation of her defiance the
first tremors of impending collapse.  She rushed upstairs to the
telephone; she would not let this impulse to do the generous, no, simply
the decent, thing ooze away as her impulses of that sort usually did, if
she had or took time to calculate the personal inconvenience from
executing them.  After a rather common and most pleasing human habit,
she regarded herself as generous, and was so regarded, because she had
generous impulses; to execute them was, therefore, more or less
superfluous.  In this particular instance, however, she felt that
impulse was not enough; there must be action.

"Is it you?" came in Alois’s voice, just in time to stimulate her
flagging energy.  "I was about to call _you_ up."

"I must see you at once," said Amy, with feverish eagerness.  "I’ve got
something very, very important to say to you."  She hesitated, decided
that she must commit herself beyond possibility of evasion—"something
about an attempt to do you a great injury."

"Oh!"  His tone was curiously constrained; it seemed to her that there
was terror, guilt, in it. "Shall I come up?  I’ve just found out I must
sail for Europe at noon."

"At noon!  _To-day?_"

"In about two hours.  And I must say good-by to you.  It’s very sudden.
I haven’t even told my sister yet, though she’s in the next room, here."

"I’ll come down—that is—I’ll try to."  Amy felt weak, sick, sinking,
suffocating in a whirl of doubts and fears.  "You are going on
business?"

"Yes," came the answer in a voice that rang false. "On business.  I’ll
be away only a few weeks, I think."

"If I shouldn’t be able to come—good-by," said Amy.

"But I hope—  Let me come—  Wouldn’t that be better?"

Not a word about what she had said, when it ought to have put him into a
quiver of anxiety; certainly, his going abroad looked like knowledge,
guilt, flight. "No—no—you mustn’t come," she commanded.  "I’ll do my
best to get to you."  And she added, "We might simply miss each other,
if you didn’t wait there."

"Please—Amy!"

She shivered.  How far she had gone with him! And her father was right!
"Good-by," she faltered, hastily ringing off.


If she could have seen him, her worst suspicions would have been
confirmed; for his hair was mussed and damp with sweat, his skin looked
as if he were in a garish light.  He tried to compose himself, went in
where his sister was at work—absorbed in making the drawings of a new
kind of chimney-piece she had been thinking out.  "Cis," he said, in an
uncertain voice, "I’m off for Europe at noon."

She wheeled on him.  "Fosdick?"

He nodded.  "His secretary, Waller, was just here."

A few seconds during which he could feel the energy of her swift
thoughts.  Then, "Wait!" she commanded, and darted into her private
office, closing the door.

She was gone twenty minutes.  "The person I was calling up hadn’t got
in," she explained, when she returned.  "I had to wait for him.  You are
to stay here—you are not to go in any circumstances."

"I must go," was his answer in a dreary tone.  "I promised Fosdick, and
I daren’t offend him. Besides—well, it’s prudent."

"’Lois," said Narcisse earnestly, "I give you my word of honor, it would
be the very worst step you could take, to obey Fosdick and go.  I
promise you that, if you stay, all will be well.  If you go, you would
better throw yourself into the sea, midway, for you will ruin your
reputation—ours."

He dropped into a chair.  "My instinct is against going," he confessed.
"I’ve done nothing.  I haven’t got a cent that doesn’t belong to me
honestly.  But, Cis, I simply mustn’t offend Fosdick."

"Because of Amy?"

"Yes."

"If you go, you’ll have no more chance for her than—than a convict in a
penitentiary."

"You know something you are not telling me?"

"I do.  Something I can’t tell you."

He supported his aching head with his hands and stared long at the
floor.  "I’ll not go!" he exclaimed, springing to his feet suddenly.
"I’ve done nothing wrong.  I’ll not run away."

Narcisse had been watching him as if she were seeing him struggling for
his life in deep water before her very eyes.  At his words, at his
expression, like his own self, the brother she had brought up and
guarded and loved with the love that is deeper than any love which
passion ever kindled—at this proclamation of the victory of his better
self, she burst into tears.  "’Lois!  ’Lois!" she sobbed.  "Now I can be
happy again.  If you had gone it would have killed me."  And the tone in
which she said it made him realize that she was speaking the literal
truth.

The natural color was coming back to his face.  He patted her on the
shoulder.  "I’m not a weak, damn fool clear through, Cissy," cried he,
"though, I must say, I’ve got a big, broad streak of it.  You are sure
of your ground?"

"Absolutely," she assured him, radiant now, and so beautiful that even
he noted and admired.  But then, he was in the mood to appreciate her.
So long as the way was smooth, he could neglect her and put aside her
love, as we all have the habit of neglecting and taking for granted, in
fair weather, the things that are securely ours.  But, let the storms
come, and how quickly we show that we knew all the time, in our hearts,
whom we could count on, could draw upon for strength and courage—the
few, real friends—perhaps, only one—and one is quite enough, is legion,
if it be the right one.

"You’re not trusting to somebody else?" said he.

"Of course I am.  But he’s a real somebody, one I’d stake my life on.
’Lois, I know."

"That settles it," said he.  "But even if you weren’t sure, even if I
were certain the worst would overtake me, I’d not budge out of this
town.  As for Amy, if she’s what I think her, she’ll stand the test. If
not—  After all, I don’t need anybody but you, Cissy."

And he embraced and kissed her, and went back to his own part of the
offices, head high and step firm. He stirred round there uneasily for a
while, then shut himself in with the telephone and called up Fosdick’s
house.  "I wish to speak to Miss Fosdick," he said. Presently he heard
Amy’s voice.  "Well, Hugo?"

"It isn’t your brother," said Alois.  "It’s I."

"Oh!"  Her tone was very different—and he did not like it, though he
could not have said why.  "The servant," she explained, "said she
thought it was Hugo."

"I’ve changed my mind about going abroad.  You said you wanted to see me
about some matter.  I think—in fact, I’m sure—I know what you mean.
Don’t trouble; I’ll come out all right.  By the way, please tell your
father I’m not going, will you?"

"Father!" she exclaimed.  "Did _he_ want you to go?"

"I’d rather not talk about that.  It’s a matter of business.  Please
don’t give him the impression I told you anything.  Really, I
haven’t—have I?"

"Did father want you to go abroad?" insisted Amy.

"I can’t talk about it over the telephone.  I’ll tell you when I see
you—all about it—if you think you’d be interested."

"Please answer my one question," she pleaded. "Then I’ll not bother you
any more."

"Then—yes."  He waited for her next remark, but it did not come.  "Are
you still there?"

"Yes," came her answer, faint and strange.

"What is it?" he cried.  "What’s the matter?"

"Nothing.  Good-by—and—I’m _so_ glad you’re not going—oh, I can’t
express how glad—_Alois_!"

She did not give him the chance to reply.



                                  *XX*

                       *BORIS DISCLOSES HIMSELF*


Hugo, sitting to Boris for the portrait afterward locally famous as "The
Young Ass," fell into the habit of expatiating upon Armstrong.  His mind
was full of the big Westerner, the author of the most abject humiliation
of his life, the only one he could not explain away, to his own
satisfaction, as wholly some one else’s fault.  Boris humored him, by
discreetly sympathetic response even encouraged him to talk freely; nor
was Boris’s sole reason the undeniable fact that when Hugo was babbling
about Armstrong, his real personality disported itself unrestrained in
the features the painter was striving to portray.  The wisest parent
never takes a just measure of his child; and, while the paternal passion
is tardier in beginning than the maternal, it is full as deluding once
it lays hold.  Fosdick thought he regarded Hugo as a fool; also he had
fresh in mind proof that Hugo was highly dangerous to any delicate
enterprise.  Yet he confided in him that they would both be soon
signally revenged upon the impudent upstart.  He did not tell how or
when; but Hugo guessed that it would be at the coming "investigation."

A very few days after his father had told him, he told Boris.  What
possible danger could there be in telling a painter who hadn’t the
slightest interest in business matters, and who hadn’t the intellect to
understand them?  For Hugo had for the intellect of the painter the
measureless contempt of the contemptible.  Also, Boris patterned his
dress after the Continental fashions for which Hugo, severely and
slavishly English in dress, had the Englishman’s derisive disdain.
Boris listened to Hugo’s confidence with no sign, of interest or
understanding, and Hugo babbled on.  Soon, Boris knew more than did Hugo
of the impending catastrophe to the one man in the whole world whom he
did the honor of hating.

Hate is an unusual emotion in a man so tolerant, so cynical, at once
superior and conscious of it.  But, watching Armstrong with Neva,
watching Neva when Armstrong was about, Raphael had come to feel rather
than to see that there was some tie between them.  He had no difficulty
in imagining the nature of this tie. A man and a woman who have lived
together may, often do, remain entire strangers; but however constrained
and shy and unreal their intimacy may have been, still that intimacy has
become an integral part of their secret selves.  It is the instinctive
realization of this, rather than physical jealousy, that haunts and
harrows the man who knows his wife or mistress did not come to him
virgin, and that does not leave him until the former husband or lover is
dead.  Boris did not for an instant believe Neva could by any
possibility fall in love with Armstrong—what could she, the artistic and
refined, have in common with Armstrong, crude, coarse, unappreciative of
all that meant life to her?  A man could care without mental or heart
sympathy, and a certain kind of woman; but not a Neva, whose delicacy
was so sensitive that he, with all his expert delicacy of touch, all his
trained softness of reassuring approach, was still far from her.  No,
Neva could never love Armstrong.  But why did she not detest him?  Why
did she tolerate a presence that must remind her of repulsive hours, of
moments of horror too intense even to quiver?  "It is the feminine, the
feline in her," he reflected.  "She is avenging herself in the pleasure
of watching his torment."

That was logical, was consoling.  However, Boris was wishing she would
get her fill of vengeance and send the intruder about his stupid, vulgar
business.  Hugo’s news thrilled him.  "I hope the hulk will have to fly
the country," he said to himself.  He did not hope, as did Hugo, that
Armstrong would have to go to the penitentiary.  Such was his passion
for liberty, for the free air and sunshine, that he could not think with
pleasure of even an enemy’s being behind bolts and bars and the dank
dusk of high, thick prison walls. As several weeks passed without
Armstrong’s calling—he always felt it when Armstrong had been there—he
became as cheerful, as gay, and confident as of old.

But he soon began to note that Neva was not up to the mark.  "What is
it?" he at once asked himself in alarm whose deep, hidden causes he did
not suspect, so slow are men of his kind to accuse themselves of
harboring so vanity-depressing a passion as jealousy.  "Has he got wind
of his danger?  Has he been trying to work on her sympathies?"  He
proceeded to find out.

"What’s wrong, my dear?" asked he, in his gentle, caressing,
master-to-pupil way.  "You aren’t as interested as you were.  This
sunshine doesn’t reflect from your face and your voice as it should."

"I’ve been worried about a friend of mine," confessed she.  "There’s no
real cause for worry, but I can’t shake off a foreboding."

"Tell me," urged he.  "It’ll do you good."

"It’s nothing I can talk about.  Really, I’m not so upset as you seem to
imagine."

But a few moments later he heard a deep sigh.  He glanced at her; she
was staring into vacancy, her face sad, her eyes tragic.  In one of
these irresistible gusts of passion, he flung down his brushes, strode
up to her. "What has that scoundrel been saying to you?" he demanded.

She startled, rose, faced him in amazement.

"Boris!" she cried breathlessly.

The body that is molded upon a spirit such as his—or hers—becomes as
mobile to its changes as cloud to sun and wind.  Boris’s good looks
always had a suggestion of the superhuman, as if the breath of life in
him were a fiercer, more enduring flame than in ordinary mortals.  That
superhuman look it was that had made Neva, the sensitive, the
appreciative, unable ever quite to shake off all the awe of him she had
originally felt.  The man before her now had never looked so superhuman;
but it was the superhumanness of the fiend.  She shrank in fascinated
terror.  His sensuous features were sensuality personified; his rings,
his jeweled watch guard, his odor of powerful perfume, all fitted in
with his expression, where theretofore they had seemed incongruous.
"Boris!" she repeated. "Is that _you_?"

Her face brought him immediately back to himself, or rather to his
normal combination of cynical good-humored actuality and cynical
good-humored pose. The vision had vanished from her eyes, so utterly, so
swiftly, that she might have thought she had been dreaming, had it not
remained indelibly upon her mind—especially his eyes, like hunger, like
thirst, like passion insatiable, like menace of mortal peril.  It is one
thing to suspect what is behind a mask; it is quite another matter to
see, with the mask dropped and the naked soul revealed.  As she, too,
recovered herself, her terror faded; but the fascination remained, and a
certain delight and pride in herself that she was the conjurer of such a
passion as that.  For women never understand that they are no more the
authors of the passions they evoke than the spark is the author of the
force in the dynamite it explodes or of the ensuing destruction; if the
dynamite is there, any spark, rightly placed, will do the work.

"Yes, it’s I," replied Raphael, rather confusedly. He was as much
disconcerted by what he had himself seen of himself, as by having shown
it to her.  A storm that involves one’s whole being stirs up from the
bottom and lifts to the surface many a strange secret of weakness and of
wickedness, none stranger than the secrets of one’s real feelings and
beliefs, so different from one’s professions to others and to himself.
Raphael had seen two of these secrets—first, that he was insanely
jealous of Armstrong; second, that he was in love with Neva.  Not the
jealousy and the love that yet leave a man master of himself, but the
jealousy and the love that enslave.  In the silence that followed this
scene of so few words and so strong emotions, while Neva was hanging
fascinated over the discovery of his passion for her, he was gazing
furtively at her, the terror that had been hers now his.

He had been fancying he was leading her along the flower-walled path he
had trod so often with some passing embodiment of his passing fancy, was
luring her to the bower where he had so often taught what he called and
thought "the great lesson."  Instead, he was himself being whirled
through space—whither? "I love her!" he said to himself, tears in his
eyes and tears and fears in his heart.  "This is not like the others—not
at all—not at all.  I love her, and I am afraid."  And then there came
to him a memory—a vision—a girl whom he had taught "the great lesson"
years before; she had disappeared when he grew tired—or, perhaps it
would be more accurate to say, when he had exhausted for the time the
capacity of his nerves; for how can a man grow tired of what he never
had?—and the rake kills the bird for the one feather in its crest.  At
any rate, he sent her away; he was seeing now the look in her eyes, as
she went without a murmur or a sigh.  And he was understanding at last
what that look meant.  In the anguish of an emotion like remorse, yet
too selfish, perhaps, too self-pitying for remorse, he muttered,
"Forgive me.  I didn’t know what I was doing."

The vision faded back to the oblivion from which it had so curiously
emerged.  He glanced at Neva again, with critical eyes, like a surgeon
diagnosing stolidly his own desperate wound.  She was, or seemed to be,
busy at her easel.  He could study her, without interruption. He made
slow, lingering inventory of her physical charms—beauties of hair and
skin and contour, beauties of bosom’s swell and curve of arm and slant
of hip and leg.  No, it was not in any of these, this supreme charm of
her for him.  Where then?

For the first time he saw it.  He had been assuming he was regarding her
as he had regarded every other woman in the long chain his memory was
weaving from his experiences and was coiling away to beguile his days of
the almond tree and the bated sound of the grinding.  And he had
esteemed these women at their own valuation.  It was the fashion for
women to profess to esteem themselves, and to expect to be esteemed, for
reasons other than their physical charms. But Boris, searcher into
realities, held that only those women who by achievement earn
independence as a man earns it, have title to count as personalities, to
be taken seriously in their professions.  He saw that the women he knew
made only the feeblest pretense to real personal value other than
physical; they based themselves upon their bodies alone.  So, women had
been to him what they were to themselves—mere animate flesh.

He attached no more importance—beyond polite fiction—than did they
themselves to what they thought and felt; it was what men thought of
their persons, what feelings their persons roused in men—that is, in
him.  And he meted out to them the fate they expected, respected him the
more for giving them; when they ceased to serve their sole purpose of
ornament or plaything he flung them away, with more ceremony, perhaps,
but with no less indifference than the emptied bottles of the scent he
imported in quantity and drenched himself with.

But he saw the truth about Neva now—saw why, after the few first weeks
of their acquaintance, he had not even been made impatient by her bad
days—the days when her skin clouded, her eyes dimmed, her hair lost its
luster, and the color, leaving her lips, seemed to take with it the
dazzling charm of her blue-white teeth.  Why?  Because her appeal to his
senses was not so strong as her appeal to—  He could not tell what it
was in him this inner self of hers appealed to.  Heart?  Hardly; that
meant her physical beauty. Intellect?  Certainly not that; intellect
rather wearied him than otherwise, and the sincerest permanent longing
of his life was to cease from thinking, to feel, only to feel—birds,
flowers, perfumed airs, the thrill of winds among grasses and leaves,
sunshine, the play of light upon women’s hair, the ecstasy of touch
drifting over their smooth, magnetic bodies.  No, it was neither her
intellect nor her heart, any more than it was her loveliness.  Or,
rather, it was all three, and that something more which makes a man
happy he knows not why and cares not to know why.

"I would leave anyone else to come to her," he said to himself.  "And if
anyone else lured me away from her, it would be only for the moment; I
would know I should have to return to her, as a dog to its master."  He
repeated bitterly, mockingly, "As a dog to its master.  That’s what it
means to be artist—more woman than man, and more feminine than any woman
ever was."

He stood behind her, looking at her work.  "You’d better stop for
to-day," he said presently.  "You’re only spoiling what you did
yesterday."

"So I am," said she.

She put down palette and brushes with a sigh and a shrug.  When she
turned, he stood his ground and looked into her eyes.  "I’ve been
letting outside things come between me and my work," she went on,
pretending to ignore his gaze.

"You guessed my secret a few minutes ago?" he asked.

She nodded, and it half amused, half hurt him to note that she was
physically on guard, lest he should seize her unawares.

His smile broadened.  "You needn’t be alarmed," said he, clasping his
hands behind his back.  "I’ve no intention of doing it."

She was smiling now, also.  "Well," she said. "What next?"

"Why are you afraid?"

"I am not afraid."  She clasped her hands behind her, like his, looked
at him with laughing, level eyes; for he and she were of the same
height.  "Not a bit."

"Why were you afraid?" he corrected.  "You never were before."

She seemed to reflect.  "No, I never was," she admitted.  Her gaze
dropped and her color came.

"Neva," he said gently, "do you love me?"

She lifted her eyes, studied him with the characteristic half closing of
the lids that made her gaze so intense and so alluring.  He could not
decide whether that gaze was coquetry, as he hoped, or simply sincere
inquiry, as he feared.  "I do not know," she said.  "I admire and
respect you above all men."

He laughed, carefully concealing how her words had stung him.  "Admire!
Respect!"  He made a mocking little bow.  "I thank you, madam.  But—in
old age—after death—is soon enough for that cold grandeur."

"I do not know," she repeated.  "I had never thought about it until a
while ago—when you—when your expression—"  She dropped her gaze again.
"I can’t explain."

Coquetry or shyness?  He could not tell.  "Neva, do you love anyone
else?"

"I think—not," replied she, very low.

His eyes were like a tiger peering through a flower-freighted bush.
"You love Armstrong," he urged, softly as the purr before the spring.

She was gazing steadily at him now.  "We were talking of you and me,"
rejoined she, her voice clear and positive.  "If I loved you, it would
not be because I did not love some other man.  If I did not love you it
would not be because I did love some other."

There might be evasion in that reply, but there could be no lack of
sincerity.  "I beg your pardon," he apologized.  "I forgot.  The idea
that there could be such a woman as you is very new to me.  A few
minutes ago, I made a discovery as startling as when I first saw
you—there at the Morrises."

"How much I owe you!" she exclaimed, and her whole face lighted up.

But his shadowed; for he remembered that of all the emotions gratitude
is least akin to love.  "I made a startling discovery," he went on.  "I
discovered you—a you I had never suspected.  And I discovered a me I had
never dreamed of.  Neva, I love you.  I have never loved before."

She grew very pale, and he thought she was trembling. But when, with her
returning color, her eyes lifted to his, they were mocking.  "Why, your
tone was even better than I should have anticipated. You—love?" scoffed
she.  "Do you think I could study you this long and not find out at
least that about you?"

"I love you," he insisted, earnestly enough, though his eyes were
echoing her mockery.

"You could not love," affirmed she.  "You have given yourself out little
by little—here and there. You have really nothing left to give."

A man of less vision, of slower mind would have been able to protest.
But Boris instantly saw what she meant, felt the truth in her verdict.
"Nothing left to give?" he repeated.  "Do you think so?"

"I know it," replied she.

There are some words that sound like the tolling of the bells of fate;
those words of hers sounded thus to him.  "Nothing left to give," he
repeated.  Had he indeed wasted his whole self upon trifles?  Had he lit
his lamps so long before the feast that now, with the bride come, they
were quite burned out?  He looked at her and, like the vague yet vivid
visions music shows us and snatches away before we have seen more than
just that they were there, he caught a haunting glimpse of the beauty
supernal which he loved and longed for, but with his tired, blunted
senses could not hope to realize or attain....  The blasphemer’s
fate!—to kiss the dust before the god he had reviled....  He burst out
laughing, his hearty, sensuous, infectious laughter.  "I’m getting
senile," said he.  With a flash of angrily reluctant awe, "Or rather,
you have bewitched me."  He got ready to depart.  "So, my lady of joy
and pain, you do not love me—yet?" he inquired jestingly.

She shook her head with a smile which the gleam of her eyes from their
narrow lids and the sweeping lashes made coquettish.  "Not yet," replied
she, in his own tone.

"Well, don’t try.  Love doesn’t come for must. To-morrow?  Yes.  A new
day, a new deal."

They shook hands warmly, looked at each other with laughing eyes, no
shadow of seriousness either in him or in her.  "You are the first woman
I ever loved," said he.  "And you shall be the last.  I do not like this
love, now that I am acquainted with it."  The sunlight pouring upon his
head made him beautiful like a Bacchus, with color and life glittering
in his crisp, reddish hair and virile, close-cropped beard.  "I do not
feel safe when my soul’s center of gravity is in another person."  He
kissed her hand.  "Till to-morrow."

She was smiling, coloring, trying to hide the smile; but he could not
tell whether it was because she was more moved than she cared to have
him see, or merely because his curious but highly effective form of
adoration pleased her vanity and she did not wish him to see it.
"To-morrow," echoed she.

He bowed himself out, still smiling, as if once beyond the door he might
burst into laughter at himself or at her—or might wearily drop his merry
mask. Her last look that he saw was covertly inquiring, doubtful—as if
she might be wondering, Is he in earnest, does he really care, or was he
only imagining love and exaggerating the fancy to amuse himself and me?

Outside the door, he did drop his mask of comedy to reveal a face not
without the tragic touch in its somberness.  "Does she care?" he
muttered.  And he answered himself, "After all my experience! ...
Experience!  It simply puts hope on its mettle.  Do I not know that if
she loved she would not hesitate? And yet—  Hope!  You Jack-o’-lantern,
luring man deeper and deeper into the slough of despond.  I know you for
the trickster you are, Hope.  But, lead on!"

And he went his way, humming the "March of the Toreadors" and swinging
his costly, showy, tortoise-shell cane gayly.



                                 *XXI*

                          *A SENSATIONAL DAY*


When Fosdick, summoned by telephone, entered the august presence of the
august committee of the august legislature of the august "people of the
State of New York, by the grace of God free and independent," there
were, save the reporters, a scant dozen spectators.  The purpose of the
committee had been dwindled to "a technical inquiry with a view further
to improve the excellent laws under which the purified and at last
really honest managements of insurance companies and banks had brought
them to such a high state of honest strength."  So, the announcement in
the morning papers that the committee was to begin its labors for the
public good attracted attention only among those citizens who keep
themselves informed of loafing places that are comfortable in the cold
weather. Fosdick bowed with dignified deference to the committee; the
committee bowed to Fosdick—respectfully but nervously.  There were five
in the row seated behind the long oak table on the rostrum under the
colossal figure of Justice.  Furthest to the left sat Williams, in the
Legislature by grace of the liquor interests; next him, Tomlinson,
representing certain up-the-country traction and power interests; to the
right of the chairman were Perry and Nottingham, the creatures of two
railway systems.  The chairman—Kenworthy, of Buffalo—had been in the
Assembly nearly twenty years, for the insurance interests.  He was a
serious, square-bearded, pop-eyed little old man, most neat and
respectable, and without a suspicion that he was not the most honorable
person in the world, doing his full duty when he did precisely what the
great men bade.  Since the great capitalists were the makers and
maintainers of prosperity, whatever they wanted must be for the good of
all.  The fact that he was on the private pay rolls of five companies
and got occasional liberal "retainers" from seven others, was simply the
clinching proof of the fitness of the great men to direct—they knew how
properly to reward their helpers in taking care of the people.  There
are good men who are more dangerous than the slyest of the bad.
Kenworthy was one of them.

The committee did not know what it was assembled for.  It is not the
habit of the men who "run things" to explain their orders to
understrappers.  Smelling committees are of four kinds: There is the
committee the boss sets at doing nothing industriously because the
people are clamoring that something be done. There is the committee the
boss sends to "jack up" some interest or interests that have failed to
"cash down" properly.  There is the committee that is sent into doubtful
districts, just before election, to pretend to expose the other side—and
sometimes, if there has been a quarrel between the bosses, this kind of
committee acts almost as if it were sincere.  Finally, there is the
committee the boss sends out to destroy the rivals of his employers in
some department of finance or commerce.  This particular smelling
committee suspected it was to have some of the shortcomings of the
rivals of the O.A.D. put under its nostrils by its counsel, Morris; it
knew the late Galloway had owned the governor and the dominant boss, and
that Fosdick was supposed to have inherited them, along with sundry
other items of old Galloway’s power.  Again, the object might be purely
defensive.  There had been, of late, a revival of popular clamor against
insurance companies, which the previous investigation, started by a
quarrel among the interests and called off when that quarrel was patched
up, had left unquieted.  This committee might be simply a blindfold for
the eyes of the ass—said ass being the public with its loud bray and its
long ears and its infinite patience.

As Fosdick seated himself, after taking the oath, he noted for the first
time the look on all faces—as if one exciting act of a drama had just
ended and another were about to begin.  Out of the corner of his eye he
saw Westervelt and Armstrong, seated side by side—Westervelt, fumbling
with his long white beard, his eyes upon the twenty-thousand-dollar
sable overcoat lying across Fosdick’s knees; Armstrong, huge and stolid,
gazing straight at Fosdick’s face with an expression inscrutable beyond
its perfect calm. "He’s taking his medicine well," thought Fosdick. "For
Westervelt must have testified, and then, of course, he had his turn."

Morris, a few feet in front of him, was busy with papers and books that
rustled irritatingly in the tense silence.  Fosdick watched him
tranquilly, as free from anxiety as to what he would do as a showman
about his marionette.  Morris straightened himself and advanced toward
Fosdick.  They eyed each the other steadily; Fosdick admired his
servant—the broad, intelligent brow, the pallor of the student, the keen
eyes of the man of affairs, the sensitive mouth.  The fact that he
looked the very opposite of a bondman, at least to unobservant eyes, was
not the smallest of his assets for Fosdick.

"Mr. Fosdick," began the lawyer, in his rather high-pitched, but
flexible and agreeable tenor voice, "we will take as little of your time
as possible.  We know you are an exceedingly busy man."

"Thank you, sir," said Fosdick, with a dignified bend of the head.  A
very respectable figure he made, sitting there in expensive looking
linen and well cut dark suit, the sable overcoat across his knee and
over one arm, a top hat in his other hand.  "My time is at your
disposal."

"In examining some of the books of the O.A.D.—you are a director of the
O.A.D.?"

"Yes, sir.  I have been for forty-two years."

"And very influential in its management?"

"They frequently call on me for advice, and, as the institution is a
philanthropy, I feel it my duty always to respond."

Fosdick noted that a smile, discreet but unmistakably derisive, ran
round the room.  Morris’s face was sober, but the smile was in his eyes.
Fosdick sat still straighter and frowned slightly.  He highly
disapproved of cynicism directed at himself.

"In looking at some of the books with Mr. Westervelt a while ago,"
continued Morris, "we came upon a matter—several items—which we thought
ought to be explained at once.  We wish no public misapprehensions to
arise through any inadvertence of ours. So we have turned aside from the
regular course of the investigation, to complete the matter."

Fosdick’s face betrayed his satisfaction—all had gone well; Armstrong
was in the trap; it only remained for him to close it.  Morris now took
up a thin, well-worn account book which Fosdick recognized as the chief
of Westervelt’s four treasures.  "I find here," he continued, "fourteen
entries of twenty-five thousand dollars each—three hundred and fifty
thousand dollars, in all—drawn by the President of the O.A.D., Mr.
Armstrong here.  Will you kindly tell us all you know about those
items?"

Mr. Fosdick smiled slightly.  "Really, Mr. Morris," replied he, with the
fluency of the well-rehearsed actor, "I cannot answer that question, as
you put it. Even if I knew all about the items, I might not recognize
them from your too scanty description."

"We have just had Mr. Armstrong on the stand," said the lawyer.  "He
testified that he drew the money under your direction and paid it—the
most of it—in your presence to Benjamin Sigourney, who looked after
political matters for your company."

Fosdick’s expression of sheer amazement was sincerity itself.  He looked
from Morris to Armstrong. With his eyes and Armstrong’s meeting, he said
energetically, "I know of no such transaction."

"You do not recall any of the _fourteen_ transactions?"

"I do not recall them, because they never occurred. So far as I know,
the legislative business of the O.A.D. is looked after by the legal
department exclusively. I have been led to believe, and I do believe
that, since the reforms in the O.A.D. and the new management of which
Mr. Shotwell was the first head, the former reprehensible methods have
been abandoned.  It is impossible that Mr. Armstrong should have drawn
such amounts for that purpose.  You must—pardon me—have misunderstood
his testimony."

"Let the stenographer read—only Mr. Armstrong’s last long reply," said
Morris.

The stenographer read: "Mr. Armstrong: ’Mr. Fosdick explained to me that
the bills would practically put us out of business, except straight life
policies, and that they would pass unless we submitted to the blackmail.
As he was in control of the O.A.D., when he directed me to draw the
money, I did so.  All but two, I think, perhaps three, of the payments
were made to Sigourney in his presence.’"

"That will do—thank you," said Morris to the stenographer.

There was a pause, a silence so profound that it seemed a suffocating
force.  Morris’s clear, sharp tones breaking it, startled everyone, even
Fosdick.  "You see, Mr. Fosdick, Mr. Armstrong was definite."

"I am at a loss to understand," replied Fosdick, gray with emotion, but
firm of eye and voice.  "I am profoundly shocked—I can only say that, so
far as I am concerned, no such transaction occurred.  And I regret
exceedingly to have to add that if any such moneys were taken from the
O.A.D. they must have gone for other purposes than to influence the
Legislature."

"Then, you wish to inform the committee that to the best of your
recollection you did not authorize or suggest those drafts, and did not
and do not know anything about them?"

"I know nothing about them."

"But, Mr. Fosdick," continued Morris slowly, "we have had Mr. Westervelt
on the stand, and he has testified that he was present on more than half
a dozen occasions when you told Mr. Armstrong to draw the money, and
that on one occasion you yourself took the money when Mr. Armstrong
brought it from the cash department."

Fosdick stiffened as if an electric shock had passed through him.  For
the first time he lowered his eyes. Behind that veil, his brain was
swiftly restoring order in the wild confusion which this exploding bomb
had made.  There was no time to consider how or why Westervelt had
failed him, or how Morris had been stupid enough to permit such a
situation.  He could only make choice between standing to the original
programme and retreating behind a pretense of bad memory.  "I can always
plead bad memory," he reflected. "Perhaps the day can be saved—Morris
would have sent me a warning if it couldn’t be."  So he swept the faces
of the committeemen and the few spectators with a glance like an
unscathed battery.  "I am astounded, Mr. Morris," said he steadily.  "In
search of an explanation, I happen to remember that Mr. Armstrong was
recently compelled to relieve Mr. Westervelt from duty because of his
failing health—failing faculties."  His eyes turned to Westervelt with
an apologetic look in them—and Westervelt was, indeed, a pitiful figure,
suggesting one broken and distraught. Fosdick saw in the faces of
committeemen and spectators that he had scored heavily.  "I repeat,"
said he boldly, "it is impossible that any such transactions should have
occurred."

He was addressing Morris’s back; the lawyer had turned to the table
behind him and was examining the papers there with great deliberation.
Not a sound in the room; all eyes on Fosdick, who was quietly waiting.
"Ah!" exclaimed Morris, wheeling suddenly like a duelist at the end of
the ten paces.

Fosdick startled at the explosive note in his servant’s voice, then
instantly recovered himself.

"This letter—is it in your handwriting?"  Fosdick took the extended
paper, put on his nose-glasses, and calmly fixed his eyes upon it.  His
hand began to shake, over his face a dreadful, unsteady pallor, as if
the flame of life, sick and dying, were flaring and sinking in the last
flickerings before the final going-out.

"Is it your writing?" repeated Morris, his voice like the bay of the
hound before the cornered fox.

Fosdick’s hand dropped to his lap.  His eyes sought Morris’s face and
from them blazed such a blast of fury that Morris drew back a step.

Morris was daunted only for a second.  He said evenly, "It is your
handwriting, is it not?"

Fosdick looked round—-at Westervelt, whose wrinkled hand had paused on
his beard midway between its yellowed end and his shrunken, waxen face;
at Armstrong, stolid, statuelike; at the reporters, with pencils
suspended and eyes glistening.  He drew a long breath and straightened
himself again.  "It is," he said.

Morris extended his hand for the letter.  "Thank you," he said with
grave courtesy, as Fosdick gave it to him.  "I will read—’Dear Bill—Tell
A to draw three times this week—the usual amounts and give them to S.’
Bill—that is Mr. Westervelt, is it not? And does not A stand for
Armstrong?  And is not S, Sigourney, at that time the O.A.D.’s
representative in legislative and general political matters?"

"Obviously," said Fosdick, promptly and easily. "I see my memory has
played me a disgraceful trick. I am getting old."  He smiled
benevolently at Morris, then toward Westervelt.  "I, too, am losing my
faculties."  Then, looking at Armstrong, and not changing from kindly
smile and tone, "But my teeth are still good."

"You now remember these transactions?"

"I do not.  But I frankly admit I must have been mistaken in denying
that they ever occurred."

"I trust, Mr. Fosdick," said Morris, "your memory will not fail you to
the extent that you will forget you are on oath."

The muscles in Fosdick’s spare jaws could be seen working violently.
Morris was going too far, entirely too far, in realism for the benefit
of the public.  "Is it part of your privilege as examiner," said he,
with more than a suggestion of master-to-servant, "to insult an old man
upon his failing mind?"

"As none of these transactions was of older date than three years ago,"
replied Morris coldly, "and as the note bore date of only six months
ago—the week before Sigourney died—it was not unnatural that I should be
anxious about your testimony.  We do not wish false ideas, detrimental
to the standing of so notable and reputable a man as yourself, to get
abroad."

A titter ran around the room; Fosdick flushed and the storm veins in his
temples swelled.  He evidently thought his examination was over, for he
took a better hold on his coat and was rising from the chair. "Just a
few minutes more," said Morris.  "In the course of Mr. Westervelt’s
testimony another matter was accidentally touched on.  We feel that it
should not go out to the public without your explanation."

Fosdick sank back.  Until now, he had been assuming that by some
accident his plan to destroy Armstrong had miscarried, that Morris and
Westervelt, to save the day, had by some mischance been forced into a
position where they were compelled to involve him.  But now, it came to
him that Morris’s icily sarcastic tone was more, far more, arrogant and
insolent than could possibly be necessary for appearances with the
public.  The lawyer’s next words changed suspicion into certainty.  "We
found several other items, Mr. Fosdick, which we requested Mr.
Westervelt to explain—payments of large sums to your representatives—so
Mr. Westervelt testifies they are—and to your secretary, Mr. Waller, and
to your son—Hugo Fosdick.  He is one of the four vice-presidents of the
O.A.D., is he not?"

"He is," said Fosdick, and his voice was that of a sick old man.

"It was on your O.K. that one hundred thousand dollars were paid out to
furnish his apartment?"

"You mean the uptown branch of the O.A.D.?" said Fosdick wearily, his
blue-black eyelids drooped.

"Oh!  We will inquire into that, later.  But—take last year, Mr.
Fosdick.  Take this omnibus lease, turning over to corporations you
control properties in Boston and Chicago which cost the O.A.D. a sum,
two per cent. interest on which would be double the rental they are
getting from you.  Mr. Westervelt informs us that he knows you get
seventeen times the income from the properties that you pay the O.A.D.
under the leases they executed to you—you practically making the leases,
as an officer of the company, to yourself as another corporation.  My
question is somewhat involved, but I hope it is clear?"

"I understand you—in the main," replied Fosdick. "But you will have to
excuse me from answering any more questions to-day.  I did not come
prepared.  My connection with the O.A.D. has been philanthropic, rather
than businesslike.  Naturally, though perhaps wrongly, I have not kept
myself informed of all details."

He frowned down the smiles, the beginnings of laughter.  "But the record
is sound!" he went on in a ringing voice.  "The O.A.D. has cost me much
time and thought.  I have given more of both to it than I have to purely
commercial enterprises.  But moneymaking isn’t everything—and I feel
more than rewarded."

"We all know you, Mr. Fosdick," said Morris, with an air of satiric
respect.

"I ask you to excuse me to-day," continued the old man, in his
impressive manner.  "I wish to prepare myself.  To-morrow, or, at most,
in two or three days, I shall _demand_ that you let me resume the stand.
I have nothing to conceal.  Errors of judgment I may have committed.
But my record is clear."  He raised his head and his eyes flashed.  "It
is a record with which I shall soon fearlessly face my God!"

Josiah Fosdick felt that he was himself again.  His eyes looked out with
the expression of a good man standing his ground unafraid.  And he
smiled contemptuously at the faint sarcasm in Morris’s cold voice,
saying, "That is quite satisfactory—most satisfactory."

The committee rose; the reporters surrounded Fosdick. He was courteous
but firm in his refusal to say a word either as to the testimony he had
given or as to that he would give.  A dozen eager hands helped him on
with his coat, and he marched away, sure that he was completely
reëstablished—in the public esteem; his self-esteem had not been shaken
for an instant. The good man doubts himself; not the self-deceiving
hypocrite.  There was triumph in the long look he gave Morris—a look
which Morris returned with the tranquil shine of a satisfied revenge, a
revenge of payment with interest for slights, humiliations, insults
which the old tyrant had put upon him.  Long trafficking upon the
cupidity and timidity of men gives the ruling class a false notion of
the discernment of mankind and of their own mental superiority, as well
as moral.  It was natural that Fosdick should believe himself above
censure, above criticism even.  He returned to his office, like a king
upon whom the vulgar have sought to put indignities.  His teeth fairly
ached for the moment when they could close upon the bones of these
"insolent curs."

It was not until he set out for lunch that another view of the situation
came in sight.  As he was crossing Waller’s office, he was halted by
that faithful servant’s expression, the more impressive because it was
persisting in spite of hysterical efforts to conceal it and to look
serenely worshipful as usual.  "What is it, Waller?" he demanded.

"Nothing—nothing at all, sir," said Waller, as with a clumsy effort at
pretended carelessness he tossed into the wastebasket a newspaper which
Fosdick had surprised him at reading.

"Is that an afternoon paper?"

Waller stammered inarticulately.

Fosdick shot a quick, sharp glance at him.  "Let me see it."

Waller took the paper out of the basket, as if he were handling
something vile to sight, touch and smell.  "These sensational sheets are
very impudent and untruthful," he said, as he gave it to his master.

Fosdick spread the paper.  He sprang back as if he had been struck.
"God!" he cried.  "God in heaven!"

In the committee room, after the first unpleasantness, all had been
smooth, and there was not to his self-complacent security of the divine
right monarch the remotest suggestion of impending disgrace. Now—from
the front page of this newspaper, flying broadcast through the city,
through the country, shrieked, "Fosdick Perjures Himself!  The eminent
financier and churchman caught on the witness stand. Denies knowledge of
political bribery funds and is trapped!  Evades accusations of gigantic
swindles and thefts."

Disgrace, like all the other strong tragic words, conveys little of its
real meaning to anyone until it becomes personal.  Fosdick would have
said beforehand that the publication of an attack on him in the low
newspapers would not trouble him so much as the buzzing of a fly about
his bald spot.  He would have said that there was in him—in his
conscience, in his confidence in the approval of his God—a tower of
righteous strength that would stand against any attack, as unimperiled
as a skyscraper by a summer breeze.  But, with these huge, coarse voices
of the all-pervading press shrieking and screaming "Perjurer. Swindler!
Thief!" he shook as with the ague and turned gray and groaned.  He sat
down that he might not fall.

"God!  God in heaven!" he muttered.

"It’s infamous," cried Waller, tears in his eyes and anger in his voice.
"No man, no matter how upright or high, is safe from those wretches."

Fosdick gripped his head between his hands.  "It hurts, Waller—it
_hurts_," he moaned.

"Nobody will pay the slightest attention to it," said Waller.  "We all
know you."

But Fosdick was not listening.  He was wondering how he had been able to
delude himself, how he had failed to realize the construction that
could, and by the public would, be put upon his testimony.  Many’s the
thing that sounds and looks and seems right and proper in privacy and
before a few sympathetic witnesses, and that shudders in the full livery
of shame when exposed before the world.  Here was an instance—and he,
the shrewd, the lifelong dealer in public opinion, had been tricked at
his own trade as he had never been able to trick anyone else in half a
century of chicane.

"I want to die, Waller," he said feebly.  "Help me back into my office.
I can’t face anybody."


Into Armstrong’s sitting room, toward ten that night, Fosdick came
limping and shuffling.  Even had Armstrong been a "good hater" he could
hardly have withstood the pathos of that abject figure.  Being too
broadly intelligent for more than a spasm of that ugliest and most
ignorant of passions, he felt as if the broken man before him were the
wronged and he himself the wronger.  "But this man made a shameful,
treacherous, unprovoked attempt to disgrace me," he reminded himself, in
the effort to keep a just point of view for prudence’s sake.  It was
useless.  That ghastly, sunken face, those frightened, dim old eyes, the
trembling step—  If a long life of soul-prostitution had left Josiah
Fosdick enough of natural human generosity to appreciate the meaning of
Armstrong’s expression, he might have been able to change his crushing
defeat into what in the circumstances would have been the triumph of a
drawn battle.  But, except possibly the creative geniuses, men must
measure their fellows throughout by themselves.  Fosdick knew what he
would do, were he in Armstrong’s place.  He clutched at Armstrong’s hand
with a cringing hypocrisy of deference that made Armstrong ashamed for
him—and that warned him he dared not yet drop his guard.

"I’ve been trying to get you since three o’clock this afternoon," said
Fosdick.  "I had to see you before I went to bed."  He sank into a chair
and sat breathing heavily.  He looked horribly old.  "You don’t believe
I deliberately lied about that money, do you, Horace?"

"Is it necessary to discuss that, Mr. Fosdick? Hadn’t we better get
right at what you’ve come to see me about?"

"I’ve wired the governor.  He don’t answer. Morris refuses to see me.
Westervelt—it’s useless to see him—he has betrayed me—sold me out—he on
whom I have showered a thousand benefits.  I made that man, Horace, and
he has rewarded me.  That’s human nature!"

Armstrong recalled that, when he was winning over Westervelt by
convincing him of Fosdick’s perfidy to him, Westervelt had made the same
remark, had cried out that he loaned Fosdick the first five hundred
dollars he ever possessed and had got him into the O.A.D. "It seems to
me, Mr. Fosdick, that recriminations are idle," said he.  "I assume you
have something to ask or to propose.  Am I right?"

"Horace, you and I are naturally friends.  Why should we fight each
other?"

"You have come to propose a peace?"

"I want us to continue to work together."

"That can be arranged," said Armstrong.

"I hoped so!" Fosdick exclaimed.  "I hoped so!"

"But," proceeded Armstrong, seeing the drift of the thought behind that
quick elation, "let us have no misunderstanding.  You were permitted to
leave the witness stand when you did to-day because I wished you to have
one more chance to save yourself.  That chance will be withdrawn if you
begin to act on the notion that my forbearance is proof of my weakness."

"All I want is peace—peace and quiet," said Fosdick, with his new
revived hope and craft better hid. But Armstrong saw that it was
temperamentally impossible for Fosdick to believe any man would of his
own accord drop the sword from the throat of a beaten foe.

"You can have peace," continued Armstrong, "peace with honor, provided
you give a guarantee. You cannot expect me to trust you."

"What guarantee do you want?"

"Control of the O.A.D."

Fosdick’s feebleness fell from him.  He sprang erect, eyes flashing,
fists shaking.  "Never!" he shouted.  "So help me God, never!  It’s
mine.  It’s part of my children’s patrimony.  I’ll keep it, in spite of
hell!"

"You will lose it in any event," said Armstrong, as calm as Fosdick was
tempestuous.  "You have choice of turning it over to me or having it
snatched from you by Atwater and Trafford and Langdon."

"Atwater!" exclaimed Fosdick.

"When I found you had arranged to destroy me," explained Armstrong, "I
formed a counter-arrangement, as I wasn’t strong enough to fight you
alone."

"You sold me out!"

Armstrong winced.  Fosdick’s phrase was unjust, but since his talk with
Neva he was critical and sensitive in the matter of self-respect; and,
while his campaign of self-defense, of "fighting the devil with fire,"
still seemed necessary and legitimate, it also seemed lacking in
courage.  If Fosdick had crept and crawled up on him, had he not also
crawled and crept up on Fosdick?  "I defended myself in the only way you
left me," replied Armstrong.  "I formed an alliance with the one man who
could successfully attack you."

"So, it is Atwater who has bought the governor—and Morris—yes, and that
ingrate, Westervelt!"

"However that may be," replied Armstrong, "you will be destroyed and
Atwater will take the O.A.D. unless you meet my terms."  He was flushing
deep red before Fosdick’s look of recognition of a brother in chicane.

He knew Atwater was simply using him, would destroy him or reduce him to
dependence, as soon as Fosdick was stripped and ruined.  He felt he was
as fully justified in eluding the tiger by strategy as he had been in
procuring the tiger to defeat and destroy the lion that had been about
to devour him.  Still, the business was not one a man would preen
himself upon in a company of honest men and women.  And Fosdick’s look,
which said, "This man, having sold me out, is now about to sell out his
allies," hit home and hit hard.

But he must carry his project through, or fall victim to Atwater; he
must not let this melting mood which Neva had brought about enfeeble his
judgment and disarm his courage.  "If you refuse my offer," he said to
Fosdick, "the investigation will go on, and Atwater will get the O.A.D.
and take from you every shred of your character and much of your
fortune—perhaps all.  If you accept my offer, the investigation will
stop and you will retire from the O.A.D. peaceably and without having to
face proceedings to compel you to make restitution."

"How do I know you can keep your bargain?"

"I have the governor and Morris with me," replied Armstrong, frankly
exposing his whole hand. "They, no more than myself, wish to become the
puppets of the Atwater-Langdon-Trafford crowd."

Fosdick reflected.  Now that he knew the precise situation, he felt less
feeble.  Before Armstrong explained, he had been like a man fighting in
a pitch dark room against foes he could not even number.  Now, the light
was on; he knew just how many, just who they were; and, appalling though
the discovery was, it was not so appalling as that struggle in the pitch
dark.  "You evidently think I’m powerless," he said at last.  "But if
you press me too far, you will see that I am not.  For instance, you
_need_ me.  You must have me or fall into Atwater’s clutches.  You see,
I am far from powerless."

"But you forget," replied Armstrong, "you are heavily handicapped by
your reputation.  A man who has to fight for his good name is like a
soldier in battle with a baby on his arm and a woman clinging to his
neck.  How can you fight without losing your reputation?  The committee
is against you.  At Monday’s session, if you let matters take their
course, all that Westervelt’s books show of your profits from the O.A.D.
will be exposed—even the way you made it pay for the carpets on your
floors, for the sheets on your beds, for towels and soap and matches."

Armstrong would not have believed there was in Fosdick’s whole body so
much red blood as showed in his face.  "It’s a custom that’s grown up,"
he muttered shufflingly.  "They all do it—in every big company, more or
less, directly or indirectly."

"True enough," said Armstrong.  "But you’ll be the only one on trial.
If you accept my offer, you’ll be let alone.  Cancel the worst of those
leases, settle the ugliest accounts, all at comparatively trifling cost,
and the public will soon forget."

"And what guarantee do you give that the agreement would be carried
out?"

"My pledge—that’s all," replied Armstrong—and again he flushed.  He had
avoided specifically giving his word to the Atwater crowd when he formed
alliance with them; still, his "my pledge" had a hollow, jeering echo.
"It’s the only possible guarantee in the circumstances—and, as you are
solely responsible for the circumstances, Mr. Fosdick, I do not see how
you can complain."

Fosdick again reflected; the awful, deathly pallor, the deep scams, the
palsylike trembling came back. After a long wait, with Armstrong
avoiding the sight of him, he quavered, "Horace, I’ll agree to anything
except giving up the O.A.D."  There he broke down and wept.  "You don’t
know what that institution means to me.  It’s my child.  It’s my heart.
It’s my reason for being alive."

"Yes, it has been a source of enormous profit to you, Mr. Fosdick," said
Armstrong calmly, for his own strengthening more than to get Fosdick
back to facts.  "I appreciate how hard it must be to give up such a
source of easy wealth.  But it must be done."

"You don’t understand," mourned the old man. "You have no sentiment.
You do not _feel_ those hundreds of thousands, those millions of
helpless people—how they look up to me, how they pray for me and are
full of gratitude to me.  Do you think I could coldly turn over their
interests to strangers?  Why, who knows what might not be done with
those sacred trust funds?"

"If you persist in letting Atwater get control," said Armstrong, "I fear
those sacred trust funds will soon be larger by about two thirds of what
you regard as your private fortune.  I do not like to say these things;
you compel me, Mr. Fosdick.  It is waste of time and breath to cant to
me."

If Fosdick had had anything less at stake than his fortune, he would
have broken then and there with Armstrong.  As it was, his prudence
could not smother down the geyser of fury that boiled and spouted up
from his vanity.  "I must be mad," he cried, "to imagine that such
matters of conscience would make an impression on you."

Armstrong laughed slightly.  "When a man is in the jungle, is fighting
with wild beasts, he has to put forward the beast in him.  You tried to
ruin me—a more infamous, causeless attack never was made on a man.  You
have failed; you are in the pit you dug for me.  I am letting you off
lightly."  And now Armstrong’s blue eyes had the green gray of steel and
flashed with that furious temper which he had been compelled to learn to
rule because, once beyond control, it would have been a free force of
sheer destruction.  "If you had not been interceded for, you would now
be a pariah, with no wealth to buy you the semblance of respect.  Don’t
try me too far!  I do not love you.  I have the normal instinct about
reptiles."

At that very moment Fosdick was looking the reptile.  "Yes, I did try to
tear you down," he hissed. "And I’ll tell you why.  Because I saw your
ambition—saw you would never rest until you had robbed me and mine of
that which you coveted.  Was I not right?"

Armstrong could not deny it.  He had never definitely formed such an
ambition; but he realized, as Fosdick was accusing him, that had he been
permitted to go peacefully on as president, the day would have come when
he would have reached out for real power.

Fosdick went on, with more repression and dignity, but no less energy of
feeling, "I cannot but believe that God in His justice will yet hurl you
to ruin.  You are robbing me, but as sure as there is a God, Horace
Armstrong, He will bring you low!"

Well as Armstrong knew him, he was for the moment impressed.  The only
born monsters are the insane criminals; the monstrous among our powerful
and eminent and most respectable are by long and deliberate indulgence
in self-deception manufactured into monsters, protected from public
exposure by their position, wealth, and respectability.  We do not
realize any more than they do themselves, that they have become insane
criminals like the monsters-born.  There is a majesty in the trappings
of virtue that does not altogether leave them even when a hypocrite
wears them; also, Armstrong was more than half disarmed by his
new-sprung doubts whether he was wholly justified in meeting treachery
with treachery.  He surprised Fosdick by breaking the silence with an
almost deprecating, "I said more than I intended.  What you have done,
what I have done, is all part of the game. Let us continue to leave God
and morals—honesty and honor—out of it.  Let us be practical,
businesslike. You wish to save your reputation and your fortune. I can
save them for you.  I have given you my condition—it is the least I will
ask, or can ask.  What do you say?"

"I must have time to think it over," replied Fosdick.  "I cannot decide
so important a matter in haste."

"Quite right," Armstrong readily assented.  "It will not be necessary to
have your decision before noon to-morrow.  The committee has adjourned
until Monday.  That will give us half of Saturday and Sunday to settle
the plans that hang on your decision."

"To-morrow noon," said Fosdick, sunk into a stupor.  "To-morrow noon."
And he moved vaguely to the door, one trembling hand out before him as
if he were blind and feeling his way.  And, so all-powerful are
appearances with us, Armstrong hung his head and did not dare look at
the pitiful spectacle of age and feebleness and misery.  "He’s a
villain," said the young man to himself, "as nearly a
through-and-through villain as walks the earth.  But he’s still a man,
with a heart and pride and the power to suffer.  And what am I that I
should judge him?  In his place, with his chances, would I have been any
different?  Was I not hell-bent by the same route? Am I not, still?"

He walked beside Fosdick to the elevator, waited with him for the car.
"Good night," he said in a tone of gentlest courtesy.  And it hurt him
that the old man did not seem to hear, did not respond.  He wished that
Fosdick had offered to shake hands with him.

He went to Morris, expecting him at a club across the way, and related
the substance of the interview. Morris, who had both imagination and
sensibility, guessed the cause of his obvious yet apparently unprovoked
depression, guessed why he had been so tender with Fosdick.
Nevertheless he twitted him on his soft-heartedness: "The old
bunco-steerer hasn’t disgorged yet, has he?—and hasn’t the remotest
intention of disgorging.  So, my tears are altogether for the policy
holders he has been milking these forty years."  Then he added, "Though,
why careless damn fools should get any sympathy in their misfortunes
does not clearly appear.  As between knaves and fools, I incline toward
knaves.  At least, they are teachers of wisdom in the school of
experience, while fools avail nothing, are simply provokers and
purveyors to knavery."



                                 *XXII*

                          *A DUEL AFTER LUNCH*


In the respectable morning newspaper the Fosdicks took in, the facts of
Josiah’s latest public appearance were presented with those judicious
omissions and modifications which the respectable editor feels it his
duty to make, that the lower classes may not be led to distrust and
deride the upper classes.  Thus, Amy, glancing at headlines in search of
the only important news—the doings of "our set"—got the impression that
her father had had an annoying lapse of memory in testifying about
something or other before somebody or other.  But the servants took in a
newspaper that had no mission to safeguard the name and fame and
influence of the upper classes; probably not by chance, this newspaper
was left where its vulgar but vivid headlines caught her eye.

She read, punctuating each paragraph with explosions of indignation.
But when she had finished, she reread—and began to think.  As most of us
have learned by experience in great matters or small, truth is
rubberlike—it offers small resistance to the blows of prejudice, and, as
soon as the blow passes, it straightway springs back to its original
form and place.  Amy downfaced a thousand little facts of her own
knowledge as to where the money came from—facts which tried to tell her
that the "low, lying sheet" had revealed only a trifling part of the
truth.  But, when she saw her father, saw how he had suddenly broken,
his very voice emasculate and thin, she gave up the struggle to deceive
herself.  There is a notion that a man’s family is the last to believe
the disagreeable truth about his relations with the outside world.  This
is part of the theory that a man has two characters, that he can be a
saint at six o’clock in the morning and a scoundrel at six o’clock in
the evening, that he is honest at a certain street and number and a liar
and a thief at another street and number.  But the fact is that
character is the most closely woven and homogeneous of fabrics, and,
though a man’s family do not admit it publicly when the truth about him
is exposed, they know him all the time for what he really is. Amy knew;
her father’s appearance, indicating not that he was guilty but that he
was found out and was in an agony of dread of the consequences, threw
her into a hysteria of shame and terror.  She avoided the servants; she
startled each time the door bell rang; it might mean the bursting of the
real disgrace, for, in her ignorance of political conditions, she
assumed that arrest and imprisonment would follow the detection of her
father and probably Hugo in grave crimes.  She dared not face any of the
few that called; she would not even see Hugo.

On Sunday morning came a note from Alois—a love letter, begging to see
her.  She read it with tears flowing and with a heart swelling with
gratitude.  "He does love me!" she said.  "He must know we are about to
be disgraced, yet he has only been strengthened in his love."  Though
the actual state of the family’s affairs was vastly different from what
she imagined, though she would have been little disturbed had she known
that publicity was the only punishment likely to overtake persons so
respectable as Fosdick and his son, still the crisis was none the less
real to Amy.  In such crises the best qualities of human nature rise in
all their grandeur and exert all their power.  She sent off an immediate
answer—"Thank you, Alois—I need you—  Come at three o’clock.  Yours,
Amy."

When he came, she let him see what she wanted; how, with all she had
valued and had thought valuable transforming into trash and slipping
away from her, she had turned to him, to the only reality—to the love
that welcomes the storm which gives it the opportunity to show how
strong it is, how firmly rooted.  With his first stammering, ardent
protestations, she flung herself into his arms.  "I have loved you from
the beginning," she sobbed.  "But I didn’t realize it until I looked
round for some one to turn to.  You do love me?"

"I am here," he said simply, and there is nothing finer than was the
look in his eyes, the feeling in his heart.  "And we must be married
soon.  We must be together, now."

"Yes, yes—soon—at once," she agreed.  "And you will take me away, won’t
you?  Ah, I love you—I love you, Alois.  I will show you how a woman can
love."  And never had she been so beautiful, both without and within.

"As soon as you please," said he.  He was not inclined to interrogate
his happiness; but he was surprised at her sudden and unconditional
surrender.  He guessed that some quarrel about him with her father or
with Hugo had roused her to assert what he was quite ready to believe
had been in her heart all the time; or, it might be that she wished to
make amends for her father’s having planned to send him away when honor
commanded him to stay and guard his reputation. Had the cause of her
hysteria been real, or had he known why she was so clinging and so
eager, he would not have changed—for he loved her and was never
half-hearted in any emotion.  Though her money and her position were
originally her greatest attractions for him, his ideal of his own
self-respect was too high and too real for him to rest content until he
had forced love to put him under its spell.

When he left her she sent for Hugo and told him. Hugo went off like a
charge at the snap of the spark. "You must be mad!" he shouted.  "Why,
such a marriage is beneath you—is almost as bad as your sister’s.  It’s
your duty to bring a gentleman into the family."

She would not argue that; she would at any cost be forbearing with Hugo,
who must be in torture, if he was not altogether a fool—and sometimes
she thought he was.  She restrained herself to saying gently, "You don’t
seem to appreciate our changed position."

"What ’changed position’?  What are you talking about?" demanded Hugo,
rearing and beginning to stride the length of the room.

She did not answer; answer seemed unnecessary, when Hugo was so
obviously blustering to hide his real state of mind.

"You mean father’s testimony?" he said.  "What rot!  Why, nobody that is
anybody pays the slightest attention to that.  Everyone understands how
things are in finance and how vital it is to guard the secrets from
lying demagogues and the mob.  There isn’t a man of consequence, of high
respectability, on Manhattan Island, or in big affairs anywhere in the
country, who wouldn’t be in as difficult or more difficult a position,
if he happened to be cornered.  Everyone whose opinion we care anything
about is in the game, and this attack on us is simply a move of our
enemies."

"Deceive yourself, if you want to," replied Amy. "But I know I can’t get
married any too soon."

"And marrying a nobody, a mere architect, whose sister works for a
living.  You haven’t even the excuse of caring for him."

"Don’t be too sure about that!  In the last twenty-four hours I’ve
learned a great deal about life, about people.  Everybody talks of love,
and of wanting love.  But nobody knows what it really means, until he
has suffered.  Oh, Hugo, don’t be so hard! I need Alois!"  And there
were tears in her eyes.

Hugo tossed his head; but he was not unimpressed. "I’m sorry to see you
so weak," said he in a tone that was merely surly and therefore, by
contrast, kindly.  "Of course, it’s none of _my_ business.  But I don’t
approve it, I want you distinctly to understand."

"You won’t be disagreeable to Alois?"

"I don’t blame _him_," said Hugo.  "It’s natural he should be crazy to
marry you.  And, in his way, he isn’t a bad sort.  He’s been about in
our set long enough to get something of an air."  Hugo was thinking that
Amy had now lost young Roebuck, the only eligible in her train; that,
after all, since he himself was to be the principal heir to his father’s
estate, she was not exactly a first-class matrimonial offering and might
have to take something even less satisfactory than Alois, if she
continued to wait for the husband he could warm to.  "Go ahead, if you
must," was his final remark.  "I’ll not interfere."

This was equivalent to approval, and Amy, strengthened, moved upon her
father.  To her astonishment, he listened without interest.  She had to
say pointedly, "And I’ve come to find out whether you approve," before
he roused himself to respond.

"Do as you like," he said wearily, not lifting his eyes from the sheet
of paper on which he had been making aimless markings, when she
interrupted him.

"You wouldn’t object if I married—soon?"

"Don’t bother me," he flamed out.  "Do as you please.  Only, don’t fret
me.  And, no splurge!  I’m sick.  I want quiet."

Thus it came about that on the Thursday following the engagement, a week
almost to the hour from Fosdick’s tumble into his own carefully and
deeply dug pit, Amy married Alois Siersdorf, "with only the two families
present, because of Mr. Fosdick’s age and illness"; and at noon they
sailed away on the almost empty _Deutschland_.

Alois did not let his perplexity before Amy’s astounding docility
interfere with his happiness.  He saw that, whatever the cause, she was
in love with him, so deeply in love that she had descended from the
pedestal, had lifted him from his knees, had set him upon it, and had
fallen down meekly to worship. There were a few of "our people" on the
steamer—half a dozen families or parts of families, of "the push," who
were on their way to freeze and sneeze in the "warm" Riviera for the
sake of fashion.  Alois was delighted that Amy was so absorbed in him
that she would have nothing to do with them—this for the first three
days.  He had not believed her capable of the passion and the tenderness
she was lavishing upon him.  She made him hold her in his arms hours at
a time; she developed amazing skill at those coquetries of intimacy so
much more difficult than the enticements that serve to make the period
of the engagement attractive.  And he found her more beautiful, too,
than he had thought.  She was one of those women who are not at their
best when on public or semipublic view, but reserve for intimacy a charm
which explains the otherwise inexplicable hold they get upon the man to
whom they fully reveal and abandon themselves.

And Alois, in love with the woman herself now rather than with what she
represented to his rather material imagination, surprised her in turn.
She had thought him somewhat stilted, a distinctly professional man,
with too little lightness of mind—interesting, satisfactory beyond the
prosy and commonplace and patterned run of men she knew; but still with
a tendency to be wearisome if taken in too large doses.  She had to
confess that she had misjudged him.  He was no longer under the nervous
strain of trying to win her, was no longer handicapped by a vague but
potent notion that he would get more than he gave in a marriage with
her.  He revealed his real self—light-hearted, varied, most adaptable;
thoroughgoing masculine, yet with a femininity, a knowledge of and
interest in matters purely feminine, that made companionship as easy as
it was delightful.

They were in the full rapture of these agreeable surprises each about
the other when the representatives of "our set" began to insist upon
associating with them.  Amy shrank from the first advances; this only
made the bored fashionables the more determined. Even in her morbidness
about the lost reputation and the menace of prison, she could not
deceive herself as to the meaning of their persistent friendliness.  And
soon she was delighted by a third surprise.  She found that Hugo had
been right, and she absurdly wrong, about public opinion.  There might
be, probably was, a public opinion that misunderstood her father and
judged him by provincial, old-fashioned standards. But it was not _her_
public opinion.  All the people of her set were more or less involved,
directly or through their relations by blood and marriage, in
enterprises that necessitated what in the masses—the "lower classes" and
the "criminal classes"—would be called lying, swindling, and stealing;
they, therefore, had no fault to find with Fosdick.  Had he not his
fortune still?  And was he not impregnable against the mob howling that
he be treated as a common malefactor? Where, then, was the occasion for
Phariseeism?  Was it not the plain duty of respectable people to stand
firmly by the Fosdicks and show the mob that respectability was solidly
against demagogism, against attempts to judge the upper class by lower
class standards?  Yes; that was the wise course, and the safe course.
Why, even the public prosecutor, a suspiciously demagogical shouter for
"equal justice"—respectability appreciated that he had to get the
suffrages of the mob, but thought he went a little too far in demagogic
speech—why, even he had shown that the gentleman was stronger in him
than the politician.  Had he not, after a few days of silence, come out
boldly rebuking "the attempt to defame and persecute one of the
country’s most public-spirited and useful citizens, in advance of
judicial inquiry"?

Amy was amazed that she had been so preposterously unnerved by what she
now saw was literally nothing at all, a mere morbid phantasy.  But at
the same time, she was devoutly thankful that she had been deluded.
"But for that," said she to herself, "I might not have married ’Lois,
might have stifled the best, the most beautiful emotion of my life,
might have missed happiness entirely."  This thought so moved her that
she rose—it was in the dead of night—and went into his room and bent
over him, asleep, and kissed him softly.  And she stood, admiring in the
dim light the manliness and the beauty of his head, his waving hair, his
small, becoming blond beard.

"I love you," she murmured passionately.  "No price would have been too
dear to pay for you."


Meanwhile Fosdick was settling to the new conditions with a facility
that admirably illustrated the infinite adaptability of the human
animal.  The inevitable, however cruel, is usually easy to accept.  It
is always mitigated by such reflections as that it could not have been
avoided and that it might have been worse.  The more intelligent the
victim, the shorter his idle bewailings and the quicker his
readjustment—and Fosdick was certainly intelligent.  Also, among
"practical" men, as youth with its ardent courage and its enthusiasms
retreats and old age advances, there is a steady decay of self-respect,
a rapid decline of belief that in life, so brief, so unsatisfactory at
best, so fundamentally sordid, anything which interferes with comfort,
personal comfort, is worth fighting for; where a young man will
challenge an almost fanciful infringement of his self-respect, an old
man will accept with a resigned and cynical shrug the most degrading
conditions, if only they leave him material comfort and peace.

To aid old Fosdick in making the best of it, the sensational but
influential part of the press each morning and each afternoon girded at
him, at Morris and at the authorities, asking the most impertinent
questions, making the most disgusting demands.  Thus, the old man was
not permitted to lose sight or sound of the foaming-jowled bloodhounds
Armstrong was protecting him from.  And when he gave full weight to the
fact that Armstrong was also saving him from the
Atwater-Langdon-Trafford crowd, he ceased to hate him, began to look on
him as a friend and ally.

Now that Fosdick and Armstrong were on a basis on which he was compelled
to respect the young man, each began to take a more favorable view of
the other than he had ever taken before.  Rarely indeed is any human
being—any living being—altogether or even chiefly bad.  If the evil is
the predominant force in a man’s life, it is usually because of some
system of which he is the victim, some system whose appeal to appetite
or vanity, or, often, to sheer necessities, is too strong for the
natural instincts of the peaceful, patient human animal.  And even the
man who lives wholly by outrages upon his fellow men lives so that all
but a very few of his daily acts are either not bad, or positively good.
The mad beasts of creation, high and low, are few—and they are mad.  All
Fosdick’s strongest instincts—except those for power and wealth—were
decent, and some of them were fine.  It was not surprising that, with so
much of the genuinely good in him, he was able to delude himself into
believing there was reality behind his reputation as a philanthropic
business man.

The hard part of his readjustment was requesting those through whom he
had controlled the O.A.D. to transfer their allegiance to Armstrong.  It
is a tribute to Armstrong’s diplomacy—and where was there ever
successful diplomat who was not at bottom a good fellow, a sympathetic
appreciator of human nature?—it is a tribute to Armstrong’s diplomatic
skill that Fosdick came to look on this transfer—and to hasten it and to
make it complete—as the best, the only means of checking that "infamous
Atwater-Trafford gang."  He felt he was simply retreating one step
further into that shadow behind the throne of power in which he had
always been careful to keep himself pretty well concealed.  He felt—so
considerate and delicate was Armstrong—that he would still be a power in
the councils of the O.A.D.  He himself suggested that Hugo should retire
from the fourth vice-presidency "as soon as this thing blows over."

The public knew nothing of the transfer.  Even when one gang bursts open
the doors to fling another gang out, the public gets no more than a
hasty and shallow glimpse behind the façade of the great institutions
that exploit it and administer its affairs.  It was not let into the
secret that for the first time in the history of the O.A.D. its
president did preside, and that he not only presided but ruled as
autocratically as Fosdick had ruled, as some one man always does rule
sooner or later in any human institution.  But the
Atwater-Langdon-Trafford "gang" soon heard what was occurring, and, as
Armstrong had known that they must hear, he awaited results with not a
little anxiety.  Of Trafford he was not at all afraid—Trafford’s tricks
were the familiar common-places by which most men who get on in the
world of chicane achieve their success.  About Langdon, he was somewhat
more unquiet; but Atwater was the one he dreaded.  What was Atwater
doing, now that he realized—as he must realize—that he had been duped,
that Armstrong had used him to conquer Fosdick and was now facing him,
armed with Fosdick’s weapons and with youth and energy and astuteness;
that Morris and the governor were not his tools, as he had been
imagining, but Armstrong’s allies; that, instead of being about to
absorb the O.A.D., he might, should Armstrong force the fighting, lose
the great Universal, the greater Gibraltar Mutual, and the Hearth and
Home, which gathered in, and kept, the pennies of poverty?

A few days before the committee was to reassemble, Atwater telephoned
Armstrong, asking him to come to lunch with him.  Armstrong accepted and
drew a long breath of relief.  He knew that Atwater’s agents had been
sounding both the governor and Morris, had "persuaded" little Kenworthy
to pretend to be ill, and to put off the reassembling of the committee.
So, this invitation, this request for a face-to-face talk, must mean
that neither the governor nor Morris had yielded.

When Armstrong and Atwater met, each looked the other over genially but
thoroughly.  "I congratulate you, my young friend," said Atwater
heartily.  "I can admire a stroke of genius, even though it cuts my own
plans."

No reference from Armstrong to the fact that Atwater had planned to
destroy him as soon as he had used him to get the O.A.D.; no reference
from Atwater, beyond this smiling and friendly hint, to the fact that
Armstrong had allied himself with Atwater ostensibly to destroy Fosdick,
and had shifted just in time to outgeneral his ally.  Atwater was a
fine, strong-looking man of sixty and odd years, with the kindest eyes
in the world, and the wickedest jaw—in repose.  When he smiled, his
whole face was like his eyes.  He had a peculiarly agreeable voice, and
so much magnetism that his enemies liked him when with him.  He was a
man of audacious financial dreams, which he carried out with dazzling
boldness—at least, carried out to the point where he himself could "get
from under" with a huge profit and could shift the responsibility of
collapse to others.  He was a born pirate, the best-natured of pirates,
the most chivalrous and generous.  He was of a type that has recurred in
the world each time the diffusion of intelligence and of liberty has
released the energy of man and given it a chance to play freely.  Such
men were the distinction of Athens in the heyday of its democracy; of
Rome in the period between the austere and cruel republic of the
patricians and the ferocious tyranny of Cæsardom; of Bagdad and Cordova
after the Moslems became liberalized and before they became degenerate;
of Italy in the period of the renaissance; of France after the
Revolution and before Friedland infatuated Napoleon into megalomania.

During the lunch the two men talked racing and automobile and
pictures—Atwater had a good eye for line and color.  They would have
gone on to talk music, had there been time—for Atwater loved music and
sang well and played the violin amazingly, though he practiced only
about two hours a day, and that not every day.  But they did not get
round to music; the coffee and cigars were brought, and the waiters
withdrew.

"What is your committee going to do, when it gets together, day after
to-morrow?" said Atwater, the instant the door closed on the head
waiter.

"You’ll have to see Morris, to find out that," replied Armstrong.

Atwater smiled and waved his hand.  "Bother!" he retorted.  "What’s your
programme?"

"Morris is the man to see," repeated Armstrong. "I wouldn’t give up his
secrets, if I knew them."

"Our man up at Buffalo wires," continued Atwater, "that you have got
Kenworthy out of bed and completely cured.  So, you are going on.  And I
know you are not the man to wait in the trenches. Now, it happens that
Langdon and I have several matters on at this time—as much as we can
conveniently look after.  Besides, what’s to be gained by tearing up the
public again, just when it was settling down to confidence?  I like a
fight as well as any man; but I don’t believe in fighting for mere
fighting’s sake, when there are so many chances for a scrimmage with
something to be gained.  It ain’t good business.  The first thing we
know, the public is going to have some things impressed on it so deeply
that even its rotten bad memory will hold the stamp."

"I agree with you," said Armstrong.  "I love peace, myself.  But I don’t
believe in laying down arms while the other fellow is armed to the
teeth, and hiding in the bushes before my very door."

"That means me, eh?" inquired Atwater cheerfully.

"That means you," said Armstrong.  "And it isn’t of any use for you to
call out from the bushes that you’ve gone away and are back at your
plowing."

"But I haven’t gone away," replied Atwater; "I’m still in the bushes.
However, I’m willing to go.

"On what condition?"

"Give us the two first vice-presidents of the O.A.D. and the
chairmanship of the Finance Committee."

That meant practical control.  Armstrong knew that his worst
anticipations were none too gloomy. "And if we don’t?" said he.

"Our people have been collecting inside facts about the O.A.D., about
its management ever since you came on to take old Shotwell’s place—poor
old Shotwell!  If we are not put in a position where we can bring about
reforms in your management and a better state of affairs, we’ll have to
take the only other alternative.  We have the arrangements made to fire
a broadside from four newspapers to-morrow morning. And we’ve got it so
fixed that any return fire you might make would get into the columns of
only two newspapers—and one of them would discredit you editorially.
Also, we will at the same time expose your committee."  Atwater set out
this programme with the frankness of a large man of large affairs to one
of his own class, one with whom evasions, concealments, and
circumlocutions would be waste of time.

Armstrong smiled slightly.  "Then it’s war?" he said.

"If you insist."

"You know we’ve got the governor and the attorney-general?"

"But we’ve got the press, practically all respectability, and a better
chance with the Grand Jury and the judges."

Armstrong gazed reflectively into space.  "A good fight!" he said
judicially.  "If I were a very rich man I should hesitate to precipitate
it.  But, having nothing but my salary—and a _good, clean, personal_
record—I think I’ll enjoy myself.  I’ll not try to steal the credit of
making the fight, Mr. Atwater. I’ll see that you get all the glory that
comes from kicking the cover off hell."

"Speaking of your personal record," said Atwater absently.  "Let me see,
you were in the A. & P. bond syndicate, in the little steel syndicate
last spring, in two stock syndicates a couple of months ago.  Your
profits were altogether $72,356—I forget the odd cents.  And they tell
me you’ve sworn to three reports that won’t stand examination."

Armstrong lifted his eyebrows, drew at his cigar awhile.  "I see you’ve
been looking me up," he said, unruffled apparently.  "Of course," he
went on, "I shouldn’t expect to escape an occasional shot.  But they’d
hardly be noted in the general fusillade.  The Universal has been a mere
shell ever since you used it, in that traction reorganization which
failed—I’ve got a safe full of facts about it.  And Morris tells me he
can have mobs trying to hang Trafford and his board of directors for
their doings in the Home Defender."

Atwater smiled grimly.  "I’m sorry to say, Armstrong, we’d concentrate
on you.  Several of the strong men look on you as a dangerous person.
They don’t like new faces down in this part of the town, unless they
wear a more deferential expression than yours does.  Personally, I’d
miss you.  You’re the kind of man I like as friend or as foe.  But I
couldn’t let my personal feelings influence me or oppose the advice of
the leading men of finance."

"Naturally not," assented Armstrong.

"I’ve got to be off now," continued Atwater, rising.

"So have I," said Armstrong.

They went to the street door of the building, Atwater holding Armstrong
by the arm.  There, Armstrong put out his hand.  "Good-by, Mr. Atwater,"
he said; "I’ll meet you at Philippi."

"Think it over, young man, think it over," said Atwater, a friendly, sad
expression in his handsome, kind eyes.  "I don’t want to see you come a
nasty cropper—one that’ll make you crawl about with a broken back the
rest of your life.  Put off your ambitions—or, better still, come in
with us.  We’ll do more for you than you can do for yourself."

"Thank you," replied Armstrong ironically.

"Consult with your people.  The governor has almost weakened, and I’m
sure Morris will fall in line with whatever you do."

"You’ve got my answer," said Armstrong, unruffled in his easy good
nature.  "And I’ll tell you, Mr. Atwater, that if you do take the cover
off hell, I’ll see that it isn’t put on again until you’ve had a
look-in, at least."

"You know the situation too well to imagine you can win," urged Atwater.
"You must be thinking I’m bluffing."

"Frankly, I don’t know," replied Armstrong. "As you will lose so much
and I so little, I rather believe you are."

"Put that idea out of your mind," said Atwater; and now his face,
especially his eyes, gave Armstrong a look full into the true man, the
reckless and relentless tyrant, with whom tyranny was an instinct
stronger than reason.

"I have," was Armstrong’s quiet answer.

"Then—you agree?"

Armstrong shook his head, without taking his eyes off Atwater’s.

Atwater shrugged his shoulders.

"Fallen women have been known to reform," said Armstrong.  "But there’s
no recorded case of a fallen man’s reforming.  I find nothing to attract
me, Atwater, in the lot of the most splendid of these male Messalinas
you and your kind maintain in such luxury as officials, public and
private.  I belong to myself—and I shall continue to belong to myself."

Atwater’s smile was cynical; but there was the cordiality of respect in
the hand clasp he abruptly forced on Armstrong, as he parted from him.



                                *XXIII*

                       *"THE WOMAN BORIS LOVED"*


At last Neva had made a portrait she could look at without becoming
depressed.  For the free workman there is always the joy of the work
itself—the mingling of the pain which is happiness and the happiness
which is pain, that resembles nothing so much as what a woman
experiences in becoming a mother. But, with the mother, birth is a
climax; with the artist, an anti-climax.  The mother always sees that
her creation is good; her critical faculty is the docile echo of her
love.  With the artist, the critical faculty must be never so
mercilessly just as when he is judging the offspring of his own soul; he
looks upon the finished work, only to see its imperfections; how
woefully it falls short of what he strove and hoped.  The joy of life is
the joy of work—the prize withers in its winner’s hand.

After her first year under Raphael, Neva’s portraits had been
successful—more successful, perhaps, than they would have been if she
had had to succeed in order to live.  She suspected that her work was
overpraised; Raphael said not, and thought not, and his critical faculty
was so just that neither vanity nor love could trick it.  But when she
finished the portrait of Narcisse—Narcisse at her drawing table, her
face illumined from within—her eyes full of dreams, one capable yet
womanly hand against her smooth, round cheek, the background a hazed,
mysterious mirage of fairylike structures—when this portrait was done,
Neva looked on it and knew that it was good. "It might be better," said
she.  "It is far, far from best—even _my_ best, I hope.  But it is
good."

She did not let her master see it until she had made the last stroke.
Theretofore he had always said some word of encouragement the moment he
looked at any of her work submitted to him.  Now, he stood silent, his
eyes searching for flaws, instead of for merits. There was no mistaking
the meaning of that criticism; Neva thrilled until she trembled.  It was
the happiest moment of her life.

"I guess you’ve hit it, this time," he said at length. "Worse work than
that has lived—on its merits."

"I’m afraid I’ll never be able to do it again," she sighed.  "It seems
to me an accident."

"And so it was," replied he.  "So is all inspired work.  Yes, it’s an
accident—but that kind of accidents happen again and again to those who
keep good and ready for good luck."  He turned and, almost forgetting
the woman in the artist, put his hand affectionately, admiringly, on her
shoulder.  "And you—my dear—you have worked well."

"Not so well as I shall hereafter," replied she. "I’ve been discouraged.
This will put heart into me."

He smiled with melancholy.  "Yes—you’ll work better.  But not because
you’re less discouraged.  This picture gives you pleasure now.  Six
months hence it will be a source of pain every time you think of it.
There’s a picture I did about twelve years ago that has stretched me on
the rack a thousand times.  I never think of it without a twinge.  Why?
Because I feel I’ve never equaled it since.  They say I have—say it’s
far inferior to my later work.  But I know—and it galls."

The bell rang and presently Molly appeared with Raphael’s
man-of-all-work carrying a large canvas, covered.  "Ah—here it is!"
cried Boris, and when the two servants were gone, he said to Neva: "Now,
shut your eyes, and don’t open them till I tell you."

A few seconds, then he cried laughingly, "Behold!"  She looked; it was a
full-length portrait of herself.  She was entering a room, was holding
aside a dark purple curtain that was in daring, exquisite contrast with
her soft, clinging, silver-white dress, and the whiteness of her
slender, long, bare arms.  The darkness in which her figure, long and
slim and slight, was framed, the flooding light upon it as if from it,
the exceeding beauty of her slender face, of her dreaming, dazzled eyes,
all combining to suggest a soul, newly awakened from a long, long sleep,
and entering life, full equipped for all that life has for a mind that
can think and a heart that can love and laugh and weep—  It was Neva at
her best, Boris at his best.

He looked from the portrait to her, and back again.  "Not right," he
muttered discontentedly. "not yet.  However, I’ll touch it up here."
Then to her, "I want a few sittings, if you’ll take the trouble to get
out that dress."

She was gazing at his work with awe; it did not seem to her to be
herself.  "It is finished, now," said she to him.

"It will never be finished," he replied.  "I shall keep it by me and
work at it from time to time."  He stood off and looked at it lovingly.
"You’re mine, there," he went on.  "All mine, young woman."  And he took
one of her long brushes and scrawled "Boris" across the lower left
corner of the canvas.  "It shall be my bid for immortality for us both.
When you’ve ceased to belong to yourself or anyone, when you shall have
passed away and are lost forever in the abyss of forgotten centuries,
Boris’s Neva will still be Boris’s. And men and women of races we never
dreamed of will stand before her and say, ’She—oh, I forget her name,
but she’s the woman Boris loved.’"

A note in his mock-serious tone, a gleam in his smiling gaze made the
tears well into her eyes; and he saw them, and the omen put him in a
glow.  In his own light tone, she corrected, "_A_ woman Boris
_fancied_."

"_The_ woman Boris _loved_," he repeated.  "The woman he was never
separated from, the woman he never let out of his sight.  There are two
of you, now.  And I have the immortal one.  What do _you_ think of it?"

"There’s nothing left for the mortal one but to get and to stay out of
sight.  No one that once saw your Neva would take much interest in
mine."

"It’s a portrait that’s a likeness," said he.  "With you, the outside
happens to be an adequate reflection of the inside."  And he smiled at
her simplicity, which he knew was as unaffected as it always is with
those who think little about themselves, much about their surroundings.

"I wish I could see it," she said wistfully.

"You can see it in the face of any man who happens to be looking at
you."

But she had turned to her portrait of Narcisse and was eying it
disdainfully.  "I must hide that," she went on, "as long as yours is in
this room.  How clumsy my work looks—how painstaking and ’talented.’"
She wheeled it behind a curtain.

"None of that!  None of that!" he protested severely.  "Never depreciate
your own work to yourself.  You can’t be like me, nor I like you.  Each
flower its own perfume, each bird its own song.  You are a painter born;
so am I.  No one can be more."

"I know, I know," she apologized.  "I’m not as foolishly self-effacing
as when you first took me in hand, am I?"

"You make a braver front," replied he, "but sometimes I suspect it’s
only a front.  Will you give me a sitting this afternoon?"

"I’ll change to that dress, and tell Molly not to let anyone in."

She had been gone about ten minutes when the bell rang again.  Boris
continued to busy himself with paints and brushes until he caught
Armstrong’s voice. He frowned, paused in his preparations, and listened.

"Is Miss Genevieve at home?" Armstrong was saying.

To Boris’s astonishment, he heard the old woman answer, in a tone which
did not conceal her dislike for the man she was addressing, "Yes, sir.
Go into the studio.  She will be in shortly."

Armstrong entered, to find himself facing Raphael’s most irritating
expression—an amused disdain, the more penetrating for a polite pretense
of concealment.  "Come in, Mr. Armstrong," cried he.  "But you mustn’t
stay long, as we’re at work."

"How d’ye do," said Armstrong, all but ignoring him.  "Sorry to annoy
you.  But don’t mind me.  Go right on."  And he began to wander about
the room—Raphael had thrown a drape over his picture of Neva.  The
minutes dragged; the silence was oppressive. Finally Armstrong said,
"Miss Carlin must be dressing."

"Beg pardon?" asked Boris, as if he had not heard.

"Nothing," replied Armstrong.  "Perhaps I was thinking aloud."

Silence again, until Raphael, in the hope of inducing this untimely
visitor to depart, said, "Miss Carlin is getting ready for a sitting."

"You are painting her portrait?"

"Yes."

"That will be interesting.  I’d like to see how it’s done.  I’ll sit by
quite quietly.  You won’t mind me."

"I’m afraid you’ll have to go," replied the painter. "I’d not be
disturbed, but a spectator has a disastrous effect on the sitter."

"I see," said Armstrong.  "Well, I’ll wait until she comes.  Are you
just beginning?"

"No," replied Raphael curtly.

"Is that the portrait?" asked Armstrong, indicating the covered canvas.

Boris hesitated, suddenly flung off the cover.

"Ah!" exclaimed Armstrong, under his breath, drawing back a step.

He gazed with an expression that interested Boris the lover even more
than Boris the student and painter of human nature.  Since the talk with
Atwater, Armstrong had been casting this way and that, night and day,
for some means, any means, to escape from the sentence the grandee of
finance had fixed upon him; for he had not even considered the
alternative—to strike his flag in surrender.  But escape he could not
contrive, and it had pressed in upon him that he must go down, down to
the bottom.  He might drag many with him, perhaps Atwater himself; but,
in the depths, under the whole mass of wreckage would be himself—dead
beyond resurrection.  At thirty a man’s reputation can be shot all to
pieces, and heal, with hardly a scar; but not at forty.  Still young,
with less than half his strength of manhood run, he would be of the
living that are dead.  And he had come to see Neva for the last time,
after fighting in vain against the folly of the longing—of yielding to
the longing, when yielding could mean only pain, more pain.

And now that he had weakly yielded, here was this creation of the genius
who loved her, to put him quite down.  He was like one waking to the
sanity of reality from a dream in which he has figured as all that he is
not but longs to be.  "Even if there had been no one else seeking her,"
he said to himself, "what hope was there for me?  And with this man
loving her—  Whether she loves him as yet or not, she will, she must,
sooner or later."  Beside the power to evoke such enchantment as that
which lived and breathed before him, his own skill at cheating and lying
in order to shift the position of sundry bags of tawny dirt seemed to
him so mean and squalid that he felt as if he were shrinking in stature
and Raphael were towering.  At last, he was learning the lesson of
humility—the lesson that is the beginning of character.

"I’ll not wait," said he, in a voice that smote the heart of Boris, the
fellow being sensitive to feeling’s faintest, finest note.  "Say,
please, that I had to go."

Raphael astonished himself by having an impulse of compassion.  But he
checked it.  "He’d better go," he said to himself.  "Seeing her would
only increase his misery."  And he silently watched Armstrong move
heavily toward the door into the hall.  The big Westerner’s hand was on
the portière and his sad gray eyes were taking a last look at the
picture.  The faint rustle of her approach made him hesitate.  Before he
could go, she entered.  She was not in the silver-white evening dress
Raphael expected, but in the house dress she was wearing when he came.

"I’m just going," Armstrong explained.  "I shan’t interrupt your
sitting."

"Oh, that’s off for to-day," replied she.  "Now that I’ve had the
trouble of changing twice on your account, you’ll have to stop awhile.
Morning is better for a sitting, anyhow.  We shouldn’t have had more
than half an hour of good light."

Boris was tranquilly acquiescent.  "To-morrow morning!" he said, with
not a trace of irritation.

"If you can come at noon."

"Very well."

He covered the picture, which had been quite forgotten by all three in
the stress of the meeting of living personalities.  He had a queer
ironic smile as he pushed it back against the wall, took up his hat and
coat.

"You’re not going," she objected.

His face shadowed at her tone, which seemed to him to betray a feeling
the opposite of objection.  "Yes," said he—"since I can’t do this, I
must do something else.  I haven’t the time to idle about."

She colored at this subtle reflection upon her own devotion to work.
All she said was, "At noon to-morrow, then.  And I’ll be dressed and
ready."

When he heard the outer door close Armstrong said, "I understand now why
you like him."  He was looking at the draped easel with eyes that
expressed all he was thinking about Neva, and about Neva and Boris.

"You liked the picture?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied.  And there he stopped; his expression made her glance
away and color faintly.

"What’s the trouble?" she inquired with friendly satire.  "Have you lost
a few dollars?"

He lowered his head.  "Don’t," he said humbly. "Please—not to-day."

As he sat staring at the floor and looking somewhat shorn, yet a shorn
Samson, she watched him, her expression like a veil not thick enough to
hide the fact that there is emotion behind it, yet not thin enough to
reveal what, or even what kind of, emotion. Presently she went toward
the curtain behind which she had put her portrait of Narcisse.  "I don’t
think I’ve ever shown you any of my work, have I?" said she.

"No, but I’ve seen—almost everything."

"Why, you never spoke of it."

"No," he said.  Then he added, "I’ve always hated your work—not because
it was bad, but because it was good."

She dropped her hand from the curtain she had been about to draw aside.

"Let me see it," said he.  "All that doesn’t matter, now."

She brought out the portrait.  He looked in silence—he had hid himself
behind that impenetrable stolidity which made him seem not only
emotionless but incapable of emotion.  When he took his gaze from the
picture, it was to stare into vacancy.  She watched him with eyes
shining softly and sadly.  As he became vaguely conscious of the light
upon the dark path and stirred, she said with irresistible gentleness,
"What is it, Horace?"

"Blues—only the blues," replied he, rousing himself and rising heavily
from his chair.  "I must go. I’ll end by making you as uncomfortable as
I am myself.  In the mood I’m in to-day, a man should hide in his bed
and let no one come near him."

"Sit down—please," said she, touching his arm in a gesture of appeal.
She smiled with a trace of her old raillery.  "You are more nearly human
than I’ve ever seen you."

He yielded to the extent of seating himself tentatively on the arm of a
chair.  "Human?  Yes—that’s it.  I’ve sunk down to where I think I’d
almost be grateful even for pity."  The spell of good luck, of
prosperity without reverse, that had held him a mere incarnate ambition,
was broken, was dissolving.

She seated herself opposite, leaned toward him. "Horace," she said, "can
I help you?" And so soothing was her tone that her offer could not have
smarted upon the wound even of a proud man less humbled than he.

"It’s nothing in which you could be of the slightest assistance,"
replied he.  "I’ve got myself in a mess—who was ever in a mess that
wasn’t of his own making?  I jumped in, and I find there’s no jumping
out.  I might crawl out—but I never learned that way of traveling, and
at my age it can’t be learned."

"Whatever it is," she said, very slow and deliberate, "you must let me
help you bear it."

In the silence that followed, the possible meaning of her words
penetrated to him.  He looked at her in a dazed way.  "What did you
say—just now?" he asked.

"No matter what it is," she repeated, "we can and will bear it
together."

"Does that mean you _care_ for me?" he asked, as if stunned.

"It means I am giving you the friendship you once asked," was her
answer, in the same slow, earnest way.

"Oh," he said.  Then, as she colored and shrank, "I didn’t mean to hurt
you.  Yes, I want your friendship. It’s all—it’s more than I’ve the
right to ask, now.  You did well to refuse me, when I wanted you and
thought I had something to give in return."

"You didn’t want _me_," she replied.  "You wanted only what almost any
man wants of almost any woman. And you had nothing to give me in
return—for, I don’t want from any man only what you think is all a man
ought to give a woman, or could give her.  I am like you, in one way.  I
want all or nothing."

"Well—you’d get nothing, now, from me," said he with stolid bitterness.
"I’m done for.  I wouldn’t drag you down with me, even if you’d let me."
And he seized his hat and strode toward the door.  But she was before
him, barring the way.  "Drag me down!" she exclaimed.  "A few months
ago, when you asked me to marry you—then you did want to drag me down.
The name of wife doesn’t cover the shame of the plaything of passion.
Now——"

His stern face relaxed.  He looked down at her doubtfully, longingly.
It seemed to him that, if he were to try now, if he were to ask of her
pity what she had denied to his passion in his strength and pride, he
might get it.  The perfume of her bright brown hair intoxicated him; his
whole body was inhaling her beauty, which seemed to be flowing like the
fumes of ecstasy itself through her delicate, almost diaphanous
draperies of lace and silk and linen.  She had offered only friendship,
but passion was urging that she would yield all if he would but ask.
All!  And what would be the price?  Why, merely yielding to Atwater.  He
need not tell her until he had made terms with him, had secured
something of a future materially, perhaps a great future, for he could
make himself most useful to Atwater——

"No matter what it is," she said, "you can count on me."

—Yes, most useful to Atwater; and all would be well.  Trick her into
marrying him—then, compromise with Atwater—and all would be well.  He
thought he was about to stretch out his arms to take her, when suddenly
up started within him the will that was his real self.  "I can’t do it,"
he cried roughly.  "Stand away from the door!"

"Can’t—do—what?" she asked.

"Can’t give in to Atwater."  Rapidly he gave her an outline of the
situation.  Partly because he abhorred cant, partly because he was
determined not to say anything sounding like an appeal for her
admiration and sympathy, he carefully concealed the real reasons of
pride and self-respect that forbade him to make terms with Atwater.  "I
won’t bend to any man," he ended.  "I may be, shall be, struck down. But
I’ll never kneel down!"

She seemed bewildered by the marshy maze of trickery through which his
explanation had been taking her.  "It seems to me," she urged, "that if
you don’t make terms with Mr. Atwater, don’t return to what you
originally agreed to do, it’ll mean disgrace you don’t deserve, and
injury to the men who have stood by you."

"So it will," was his answer in a monotonous, exasperating way.
"Nevertheless—"  He shrugged his shoulders—"I can’t do it.  I’ve always
been that way.  I don’t know, myself, till the test comes, what I may do
and what I may not do."

Her eyes lowered, but he thought he could see and feel her contempt.
She left the door, seated herself, resting her head on her arms.  He
shifted awkwardly from one leg to the other.  He felt he had
accomplished his purpose, had done what was the only decent thing in the
circumstances—had disgusted her.  It was time to go.  But he lingered.

She startled him by suddenly straightening herself and saying, or rather
beginning, "If you really loved me——"

He, stung with furious anger, made a scornful gesture.  "Delilah!" he
cried.  "It’s always the same story.  Love robs a man of his strength.
You would use love to tempt me to be a traitor to myself.  Yes, a
traitor.  I haven’t much morality, or that sort of thing.  But I’ve got
a standard, and to it I must hold. If I yielded to Atwater, I should go
straight to hell."

"Ah," she exclaimed, as if the clouds had suddenly opened, "then you are
right, Horace.  You must not yield!  Why did you frighten me?  Why
didn’t you say that before?  Why did you pretend it was mere
stubbornness?"

"Because that’s what it is—mere stubbornness. Stubbornness—that’s my
manhood—all the manhood I’ve got.  I grant terms—I do not accept them."

His manner chilled, where his words would have had small effect.  And it
conveyed no impression of being an assumed manner; on the contrary, the
cold, immovable man before her seemed more like the Armstrong she had
known than the man of tenderness and passion.  Her words were braver
than her manner, and more hopeful, as she said, "You can’t deceive me,
Horace.  It must be that it is impossible to make honorable terms with
Atwater."

"As you please."

"You are, for some reason, trying to drive away my friendship.  Your
pride in your own self-sufficience——"

"You force me to be perfectly frank," he interrupted. "My love for you
is nothing but a passion. It has been tempting me to play the traitor to
myself. I caught myself in time.  I stand or fall alone.  You would
merely burden and weaken me."

She sat still and white and cold.  Without looking at her, he, in a
stolid, emotionless way, and with a deliberation that seemed to have no
reluctance in it, left her alone.

"Horace!" she cried, starting up, as the portière dropped behind him.

The only answer was the click of the closing outside door.  She sank
back, stared in a stupor at the shrine which the god had visited after
so many years—had visited only to profane and destroy.



                                 *XXIV*

                         *NEVA SOLVES A RIDDLE*


Next morning she sent Boris a note asking him not to come until
afternoon.  When he entered the studio he found her before the blazing
logs in the big fireplace, weary, depressed, bearing the unbecoming
signs of a sleepless night and a day crouched down in the house.  "We
must go and walk this off," said he.

"No," replied she listlessly.  "Nothing could induce me to dress."

He lit a cigarette, stretched himself at ease in a big chair opposite
her.  "You have had bad news—very bad news."

"I feel as if I had been ill—on the operating table—and the cocaine were
wearing off."

"Armstrong?"

Her answer was the silence of assent.

"When you told Molly not to let anyone in, yesterday, you excepted him?"

"Yes."

"I thought it over afterwards and decided that must be so."  Several
reflective puffs at the cigarette. Then, not interrogating, but
positively, "You care for him."

"Do I?" she said, as if the matter were doubtful and in any event not
interesting.

Boris drew a long breath.  "That’s why I’ve been unable to make a
beginning with you.  I ought to have seen it long ago, but I didn’t—not
until yesterday—not until I had solved the riddle of his being able to
get in."

"That’s rather a strong conclusion from such a trifling incident."

"Proof is proof enough—to a discerning mind," replied he.  A pause, she
staring into the fire, he studying her.  "Strange!" he went on,
suspiciously abstract and judicial.  "He’s a man I’d have said you
couldn’t care for."

"So should I," said she, to herself rather than to him.

He was more astonished and interested than he let appear.  "There’s no
accounting for caprices of the heart," he pursued.  "But it’s a fairly
good rule that indifference is always and hugely inflammatory—provided
it conveys the idea that if it were to take fire, there would be a flame
worth the trouble of the making."

She made no comment.

"And you came on here to win him back?"

"Did I?"

"A woman always does everything with a view to some man."  He smiled in
cheerful self-mockery. "And I deluded myself into believing you thought
only of art.  Yes, I believed it.  Well—now what?"

"Nothing," she said drearily.  "Nothing."

"You won, and then discovered you didn’t care?"

"No."  She made a gesture that suggested to him utter emptiness.  "I
lost," she said, as her hands dropped listlessly back to her lap.

Boris winced.  Usually a woman makes a confession so humiliating to
vanity, only to one whom, however she may trust and like him, she yet
has not the slightest desire to attract.  Then he remembered that it
might have a different significance, coming from her, with her pride so
large and so free from petty vanity that the simple truth about a
personal defeat gave her no sense of humiliation.

"I don’t know what to do next," she continued, thinking aloud.  "I seem
to have no desire to go on, and, if I had, there doesn’t seem to be any
path to go on upon.  You say I care for him.  I don’t know.  I only know
I seem to have needed him—his friendship—or, rather, my friendship for
him."

Boris smiled cynically.  But her words impressed him.  True friendship
was, as a rule, impossible between women and men; but every rule has
exceptions, and this woman was in so many other ways an exception to all
the rules that it might be just possible she had not fallen in love with
Armstrong’s strength of body and of feature and of will.  At any rate,
here was a wound, and a wound that was opportunity.  The sorer the
heart, the more eagerly it accepts any medicine that offers.  So Boris
suggested, with no apparent guile in his sympathy, "Why not go abroad
for a year—two years?  We can work there, and perhaps—I can help you to
forget."  Her expression made him hasten to add, "Oh, I understand.  I’m
merely the artist to you."

"_Merely_ the artist!  It’s because you are ’merely the artist’ that I
could not look on you as just a man."

Boris’s smile was sardonic.  "The women the men respect too highly to
love!  The men the women revere too deeply for passion!  Poor wretches."
The smile was still upon his lips as he added, "Poor, lonely wretches!"
But in his eyes she saw a pain that made her own pain throb in sympathy.

"We are, all, alone—always," said she.  "But only those like you are
great enough to realize it.  I can deceive myself at times.  I can dream
of perfect companionship—or the possibility of it."

"But not with me?"

"I don’t trust you—in that way," she replied. "I estimate your fancy for
me at its true value.  You see, I know a good deal of your history, and
that has helped me to take you—not too seriously as a lover."

"How you have misread!" said he, and no one could have been sure whether
he was in earnest or not under the manner he wore to aid him in avoiding
what he called the colossal stupidity of taking oneself solemnly.  "I’m
astonished at your not appreciating that a man who lives in and upon his
imagination can’t be like your sober, calculating, bourgeois friends who
deal in the tangible only.  Besides, since I’ve had you as a standard,
my imagination has been unable to cheat me.  I’ve even begun to fear
I’ll never be able to put you far enough into the background to become
interested again."

As he thus brought sharply into view the line of cleavage between their
conceptions of the relations of men and women, she drew back coldly.  "I
don’t understand your ideas there," said she, "and I don’t like them.
Anyone who lives on your theory fritters away his emotions."

"Not at all.  He makes heavy investments in education. He accumulates a
store of experience, of appreciation, of discrimination.  He learns to
distinguish pearl from paste.  It’s the habit of women of your kind to
become offended if men tell them the honest truth....  Doubtless,
Armstrong——"

"Don’t!  I don’t care to hear."

"You interrupt too quickly.  I question whether women interest him at
all, he’s so busy with his gambling.  Sensible man, happy man—to have a
passion for inanimate things.  What I was about to say is that you
women, with all your admiration for strength, are piqued and angered by
the discovery that a man who is worth while is stronger than any of his
passions, even the strongest, even love."

"When a woman gives, she gives all."

"Not a woman such as you are.  And that’s why I know you will recover,
will go on, the stronger and, some day, the happier for it.  The broken
bone, when it has healed, is stronger than one that has never been
broken—and the broken heart also.  The world owes its best to strong
hearts that have been broken and have healed."  He let her reflect on
this before he repeated, "You should go abroad."

"Not yet—not just yet."

"Soon," said he.  "It will be painful for you to stay here—especially as
the truth about him is coming out now."

"The truth!" she exclaimed.  Her look, like a deer that has just caught
the first faint scent and sound of alarm, warned him he had blundered.

"Oh, nothing new," replied he carelessly.  "You know the life of shame
they lead, downtown."

"But what of him?" she insisted.  She was sitting up in her chair now,
her face, her whole body, alert.

"I hear he went too far—or put a paw on prey that belonged to some one
of the lions.  So, he’s going to get his deserts.  Not that he’s any
worse than the others.  In fact, he’s the superior of most of
them—unless you choose to think a man who has remnants of decent
instinct left and goes against them is worse than the fellow who is
rotten through and through and doesn’t know any better."  Raphael
realized he was floundering in deeper and deeper with every word; but he
dared not stop, and so went floundering on, more and more confused.
"You’ll not sympathize with him, when the facts are revealed.  It’s all
his own fault."

A long pause, with him watching her in dread as she sat lost in thought.
Presently she came back, drew a long breath, said, "Yes, all and
altogether his own fault."

He felt enormously relieved.  "Come abroad!" he cried.  "Yours is simply
a case of a woman’s being irritated by indifference into some emotion
which, for lack of another name, she calls love.  Come abroad and forget
it all.  Come abroad!  Art is there, and dreams!
Paris—Italy—flowers—light—and love, perhaps.  Come—Neva!  Do you want
fame?  Art will give you that.  Do you want love?"  Her quickened
breath, her widening, wistful eyes made him boldly abandon the pretense
that he was lingering with her in friendship’s by-path, made him strike
into the main road, the great highway.  "I will give you love, if you’ll
not shut your heart against me.  You and I have been happy together,
haven’t we—in our work—happy many an hour, many a day?"

"Yes," she admitted.  "I owe you all the real happiness I’ve ever had."

"Over there, with all this far away and vague—over there, you would
quite forget.  And happiness would come.  What pictures we would paint!
What thoughts!  What dreams!  You still have youth—all of the summer,
all of the autumn, and a long, long Indian summer.  But no one has youth
enough to waste any of it.  Come, Neva.  Life is holding the brimming,
sparkling glass to your lips.  Drink!"

As he spoke, he seemed Life itself embodied; she could not but feel as
if soft light and sweet sound and the intoxicating odor of summer were
flooding, billow on billow, into the sick chamber where her heart lay
aching.

"If I can," she said.  And her glance made him think of morning sunbeams
on leaping waters.  "If I can....  What a strange, stubborn thing a
sense of duty is!"

"You’re really just as far from your father here as you would be there."

"I can’t explain," said she.  "I’ll think it over."

And he saw he would have to be content with that for the present.


About eleven that night Armstrong, his nerves on edge from long,
incessant pacing of the cage in which Atwater had him securely
entrapped, was irritated by a knock at his door.  "Come in!" he called
sharply.

He heard the door, which was behind him, open and close with less noise
than the hall boy ever made.  Then nothing but the profound silence
again.

"Well, what is it?" he demanded, turning in his chair—he was sitting
before an open fire.

He started up, instantly recognized her, though her figure was swathed
in an opera wrap, and the lace scarf over and about her head concealed
her features without suggesting intent.

"I was at the opera," she began.  "All at once—just before the last
act—I felt I must see you—must see you to-night.  I knew you’d not come
to me.  So, I had to come to you."  And she advanced to the middle of
the room.  As he made no movement toward her, said nothing, she flung
aside the scarf and opened her wrap with a single graceful gesture.  She
was in evening dress, and the upturned ermine of the collar of her wrap
made a beautiful setting for those slender white shoulders, the firm
round throat, the small, lightly poised head, crowned with masses of
bright brown hair.

He took her hand.  It was ice.  "Come to the fire," said he.

"I’m cold—with fright," she explained.  And then he noted how pale she
was.  "It wasn’t easy to induce the hall boy to let me up unannounced.
I told him you were expecting me."

She stretched one hand, one slender, round, bare arm toward the flames.
She put one foot on the fender, and his glance, dropping from the
allurement of the slim fingers, was caught by the narrow pale-gray
slipper, its big buckle of brilliants, the web of pale-gray translucent
silk over her instep——

"You’ve no business here," he said angrily.  "You must go at once."

"Not until I am warm."

He looked as helpless as he was.

"Won’t you smoke—please?" she asked, after a brief silence.

He took a cigarette from the box on the table, in mechanical obedience.
As he was lighting it, he felt that to smoke would somehow be a
concession.  He tossed the cigarette into the fire.  "You simply can’t
stay here," he cried.

"I simply can’t go," she replied, "until I am warm."

In his nervousness he forgot, lit a cigarette, felt he would look absurd
if he threw it away, continued to smoke—sullen, impatient.

"Ever since you left, yesterday," she went on, "I’ve been thinking of
what you said, or, rather, of how you said it.  And to-night, sitting
there with the Morrises, I saw through your pretenses."

He turned upon her to make rude denial.  But her eyes stopped him, made
him turn hastily away in confusion; for they gave him a sense that she
had been reading his inmost thoughts.

"Horace," she said, "you came to say good-by."

"Ridiculous," he scoffed, red and awkward.

"Horace, look at me."

His gaze slowly moved until it was almost upon hers, and there it
rested.

"You have made up your mind to get out of the world, if they defeat
you."

He laughed noisily.  "Absurd!  I’m not a romantic person, like your
friend Boris.  I’m a plain man of business.  We don’t do melodramatic
things.... Come!"  He took her scarf from the chair where she had
dropped it.  "You must go."

For answer she slipped off the cloak, deliberately lined a chair with
it, and seated herself.  "I shall stay," said she, "until I have your
promise not to be a coward."

He looked at her with measuring eyes.  She was very pale and seemed
slight and frail; her skin was transparent, her expression ethereal.
But the curve of her chin, though oval and soft, was as resolute as his
own.

[Illustration: "’I felt I must see you—must see you at once.’"]

"You asked for my friendship," she continued. "I gave it.  Now, the time
has come for me to show that my words were not an empty phrase....
Horace, you are in no condition to judge of your own affairs.  You live
alone.  You have no one you can trust, no one you can talk things over
with."

He nodded in assent.

"You must tell me the whole story.  Bring it out of the darkness where
you’ve been brooding over it. You can trust me.  Just talking about it
will give you a new, a clearer point of view."

"To-morrow—perhaps I’ll come to you," he said, his voice hushed and
strained.  "But you mustn’t stay here.  You’ve come on impulse——"

"Where her reputation’s concerned a woman never acts on impulse.  You
might not come to-morrow.  It must be to-night."  Her voice was as
strange as his had been, was so low that its distinctness seemed weird
and ghostly.  "Come, Horace, drop your silly melodramatics—for it’s you
that are acting melodrama. Can’t you see, can’t you feel, that I am
indeed your friend?"

He seated himself and reflected, she watching him. The stillness had the
static terror of a room where a soul is about to leave or about to enter
the world. It was not her words and her manner that had moved him,
direct and convincing though they were; it was the far subtler
revelation of her inmost self, and, through that, of a whole vast area
of human nature which he had not believed to exist.  Suddenly, with a
look in his eyes which had never been there before, he reached out and
took her hand.  "You don’t know what this means to me," he said in a
slow, quiet voice. And he released her hand and went to lean his
forehead against the tall shelf of the chimney-piece, his face hidden
from her.

She did not interrupt his thoughts and his emotions until he was
lighting a fresh cigarette at the table.  Then she said, "Now, tell
me—won’t you, please?"

"It’s a long story," he began.

"Don’t try to make it short," urged she.  And she settled herself
comfortably.

It took him an hour to tell it; they discussed it for an hour and a half
afterwards.  Whenever he became uneasy about the time, she quieted him
by questions or comments that made him feel her interest and forget the
clock.  At the last quarter before two, he rose determinedly.  "I’m
going to put you into a cab," said he.  "You have accomplished all you
came for—and more—a great deal more."

She made no attempt to stay on longer.  He helped her into her cloak,
helped her to adjust the scarf so that it would conceal her face.  They
were both hysterically happy, laughing much at little or nothing. He
rang for the elevator, then they dashed down the stairs and escaped into
the street before the car could ascend and descend again.  At the corner
where there was a cab stand, he drew her into the deep shadow of the
entrance to the church, took both her hands between his.  "It will be a
very different fight from the one I was planning when you came," said
he.

"And you’ll win," asserted she confidently.

"Yes, I’ll win.  At least, I’ll not lose—thanks to you, Neva."  He
laughed quietly.  "When I’m old, I’ll be able to tell how once the sun
shone at midnight and summer burst out of the icy heart of January."

She nodded gayly.  "Pretty good for a plain business man," said she.

Another moment and she was in the cab and away, he standing at the curb
watching with an expression that made the two remaining cabmen grin and
wink at each other by the light of the street lamp.



                                 *XXV*

                         *TWO WOMEN INTERVENE*


"If I could find some way of detaching Trafford from Atwater," Armstrong
had said to her as he was explaining.  "But," he had added, "that’s
hopeless. He’s more afraid of Atwater than of anybody or anything on
earth—and well he may be."  Neva seized upon the chance remark, without
saying anything to him.  She knew the Traffords well, knew therefore
that there was one person of whom his fear was greater than of Atwater,
and whose influence over him was absolute.  Early the following morning
she called the Traffords on the telephone.  Mrs. Trafford was in the
country, she learned, but would be home in the afternoon. Neva left a
message that she wished particularly to see her; at five o’clock she was
shown into the truly palatial room in which Mrs. Trafford always had
tea.

"Narcisse has just left," said Mrs. Trafford. "She’s been rummaging for
me in Letty Morris’s rag bag—you know, my husband bought it.  She has
found a few things, but not much.  Still, Letty wasn’t cheated any worse
than most people.  The trash!  The trash!"

Neva was too intent upon her purpose to think of her surroundings that
day; but she had often before been moved to a variety of emotions, none
of them approaching admiration or approval or even tolerance, by Mrs.
Trafford’s procession of halls and rooms in gilt and carving and
brocade, by the preposterous paintings, the glaring proclamation from
every wall and every floor and every ceiling of the alternately arid and
atrocious taste of the fashionable architects and connoisseurs to whom
Mrs. Trafford had trusted. As in all great houses, the beauties were
incidental and isolated, deformed by the general effect of coarse appeal
to barbaric love of the thing that is gaudy and looks costly.

"You aren’t going to move into Letty’s house?" said Neva absently.  She
was casting about for some not too abrupt beginning.

"Heavens, no!" protested Mrs. Trafford, in horror and indignation.
"John bought it—some time ago. I don’t know why."  She laughed.  "But I
do know he wishes he hadn’t now.  He wouldn’t tell me the price he paid.
I suspect he found out that he had made a bad bargain as soon as it was
too late.  There’s some mystery about his buying that house.  I don’t—"
Mrs. Trafford broke off.  Well as she knew Neva, and intimate and
confidential though she was with her, despite Neva’s reserve—indeed,
perhaps because of it—still, she was careful about Trafford’s business.
And Neva and Letty were cousins—not intimates or especially friendly,
but nevertheless blood relations.  "I suppose he’s ashamed of not having
consulted me," she ended.

"How is Mr. Trafford?" asked Neva.  "I haven’t seen him for months.  He
must be working very hard?"

"He _thinks_ he is.  But, my dear, I found the men out long, long ago,
in their pretense of hard work. They talk a great deal downtown, and
smoke and eat a great deal.  But they work very little—even those that
have the reputation of working the hardest. Business—with the upper
class men—is a good deal like fishing, I guess.  They spread their nets
or drop their hooks and wait for fish.  My husband is killing himself,
eating directors’ lunches.  You know, they provide a lunch for the
directors, for those that meet every day—and give them a ten- or
twenty-dollar gold piece for eating it.  It’s a huge dinner—a banquet,
and all that have any digestion left stuff themselves. No wonder the
women hold together so much better than the men.  If the men had to wear
our clothes, what sights they would be!"

Neva returned to the business about which she had come.  "They’re having
an investigating committee down there now, aren’t they?"

"Not to investigate their diet," said Mrs. Trafford. "There’d be some
sense in that.  I suppose it’s another of those schemes of the people
who haven’t anything, to throw discredit on the men who do the work of
the world.  Universal suffrage is a great mistake.  Only the propertied
class ought to be allowed to vote, don’t you think so?  Mr. Trafford
says it’s getting positively dreadful, the corruption good men have to
resort to, with the legislatures and with buying elections, all because
everybody can vote."

"I’ve not given the subject much thought," said Neva.  "I heard— Some
one was talking about the investigating committee—and said it was the
beginning of another war downtown."

Mrs. Trafford looked amused.  "I didn’t dream you had any interest in
that sort of thing.  I don’t see how you can be interested.  I never let
my husband talk business to me."

"Usually I’m not interested," said Neva, now fairly embarked and at
ease.  "But this particular thing was—different.  It seems, there are
two factions fighting for control of some insurance companies, and each
is getting ready to accuse the other of the most dreadful things.  Mr.
Atwater’s faction is going to expose Mr. Fosdick’s, and Mr. Fosdick’s is
going to expose Mr. Atwater’s."

Mrs. Trafford’s expression had changed.  "Neva, you’ve got a reason for
telling me this," said she.

"Yes," frankly admitted Neva.

"Why?"

"Because I thought you—Mr. Trafford—ought to be warned of what’s
coming."

"What _is_ coming?"

"I don’t know all the details.  But, among other things, there’s to be a
frightful personal attack on Mr. Trafford because he is one of Mr.
Atwater’s allies.  Mr. Atwater thinks, or pretends, he can prevent it;
but he can’t.  The attack is sure to come."

"They couldn’t truthfully say anything against Mr. Trafford," said his
wife, with a heat that was genuine, yet perfunctory, too.  "He’s human,
of course.  But I who have lived with him all these years can honestly
say that he spends his whole life in trying to do good.  He slaves for
the poor people who have their little all invested with his company."
Neva had not smiled, but Mrs. Trafford went on, as if she had: "I
suppose you’re thinking that sounds familiar. Oh, I know every man
downtown pretends he is working only for the good of others, to keep
business going, and to give labor steady employment, when of course he’s
really working to get rich, and—  Well, _somebody_ must be losing all
this money that’s piling up in the hands of a few people who spend it in
silly, wicked luxury.  Now, we have always frowned on that sort of
thing.  We—Mr. Trafford and I—set our faces against extravagance and
simply live comfortably. He often says, ’I don’t know what the country’s
coming to.  The men downtown, the leaders, seem to have gone mad.  They
have no sense of responsibility. They aren’t content with legitimate
profits, but grab, grab, until I wonder people don’t rise up.’  And he
says they will, though, of course, that wouldn’t do any good, as
things’d just settle back and the same old round would begin all over
again.  If people won’t look after their own property, they can’t expect
to keep it, can they?"

"No," assented Neva.  "Still—I sometimes wonder that the robbing should
be done by the class of men that does it.  One would think he wouldn’t
need to protect himself against those who claim to be the leaders in
honesty and honor.  It’s as if one should have to lock up all the
valuables if the bishop came to spend the night."

"There’s the shame of it!" exclaimed Mrs. Trafford. "Sometimes Trafford
tells me about the men that come here, the really fine, distinguished,
gentlemanly ones—well, if I could repeat some of the things to you!"

"I should think," suggested Neva, "it would be dangerous to have
business dealings with such men. If trouble came, people might not
discriminate."

Mrs. Trafford caught the under-meaning in Neva’s words and tone.  She
reflected a moment—thoughts that made her curiously serious—before
replying, "Sometimes I’m afraid my husband will get himself into just
that sort of miserable mess.  He is so generous and confiding, and he
believes so implicitly in some of those men whom I don’t believe in at
all.  Tell me, Neva, are you sure—about that attack, and about Mr.
Atwater’s being mistaken?"

"There isn’t a doubt of it," replied Neva. "Mr. Trafford ought not to
let anything anyone says to the contrary influence him."  And Mrs.
Trafford’s opinion of her directness and honesty gave her words the
greatest possible weight.

"I’m ever so much obliged to you, dear," said she. "It isn’t often one
gets a proof of real friendship in this walk of life."

"I didn’t do it altogether for your sake," replied Neva.  "It seemed to
me, from what I heard, that the men downtown were rushing on to do
things that would result in no good and much harm and—unhappiness. I
suppose, if evil has been done, it ought to be exposed; but I think,
too, that no good comes of malicious and vengeful exposures."

"Especially exposures that tend to make the lower classes suspicious and
unruly," said Mrs. Trafford.

Neva colored and glanced at the two strapping men-servants who were
removing the tea table.  But Mrs. Trafford was quite unconscious.  A few
years before, when the English foreign habit of thinking and talking
about "lower classes" was first introduced, she had indulged in it
sparingly and nervously.  But, falling in with the fashion of her set,
she had become as bold as the rest of these spoiled children of
democracy in spitting upon the parents and grandparents.  It no longer
ever occurred to her to question the meaning of the glib, smug, ignorant
phrase; and, like the rest, she did not even restrain herself before the
"lower classes" themselves.  It was a settled conviction with her that
she was of different clay from the working people, the doers of manual
labor, that their very minds and souls were different; the fact that
they seemed to think and act in much the same way as the "upper classes"
would have struck her, had she thought about it at all, as a phenomenon
not unlike the almost human performances of a well-trained, unusually
intelligent monkey.  Indeed, she often said, without being aware of the
full implication of the speech, "In how many ways our servants are like
us!"

Neva went away, dissatisfied, depressed, as if she were retreating in
defeat.  She felt that she had gained her point; she understood Mrs.
Trafford, knew that her dominant passion of spotless respectability had
been touched, that the fears which would stir her most deeply had been
aroused; Mrs. Trafford, worldly shrewd, would put her husband through a
cross-examination which would reveal to her the truth, and would result
in her bringing to bear all her authority over him.  And she knew that
Mrs. Trafford could compel her husband, where no force which Armstrong
could have brought to bear downtown would have the least effect upon
him.  "I think I’ve won," Neva said to herself; but her spirits
continued to descend.  Before the victory, she had thought only about
winning, not at all about what she was struggling for.  Now she could
think only of that—the essential.

Like almost all women and all but a few men, Neva was densely ignorant
of and wholly uninterested in business—the force that has within a few
decades become titanic and has revolutionized the internal as well as
the external basis of life as completely as if we had been whisked away
to another planet.  She still talked and tried to think in the old
traditional lines in which the books, grave and light, are still written
and education is still restricted—although those lines have as
absolutely ceased to bear upon our real life as have the gods of the
classic world.  It had never occurred to her that what the men did when
they went to their offices involved the whole of society in all its
relations, touched her life more intimately than even her painting.
But, without her realizing it, the idea had gradually formed in her mind
that the proceedings downtown were morally not unlike the occupation of
coal-heaver or scavenger physically.  How strong this impression was she
did not know until she had almost reached home, revolving the whole way
the thoughts that had started as Trafford’s bronze doors closed behind
her.

She recalled all Armstrong and others had told her about the sources of
Trafford’s wealth—Trafford, with his smooth, plausible personality that
left upon the educated palate an after taste like machine oil. From
Trafford her thoughts hastened on to hover and cluster about the real
perplexity—Armstrong himself—what he had confessed to her; worse still,
what he had told her as matter-of-course, had even boasted as evidence
of his ability at this game which more and more clearly appeared to her
as a combination of sneak-thieving and burglary.  And heavier and
heavier grew her heart.  "I have done a shameful thing," she said to
herself, as the whole repulsive panorama unrolled before her.

She was in the studio building, was going up in the elevator.  Just as
it was approaching her landing, Thomas, the elevator boy, gave a sigh so
penetrating that she was roused to look at him, to note his expression.

"What is it, Thomas?" she asked.  "Can I do anything for you?"

"Nothing—nothing—thank you," said Thomas. "It’s all over now.  I was
just thinking back over it."

She saw a band of crape round his sleeve.  "You have lost some one?" she
said gently.

"My father," replied the boy.  "He died day before yesterday.  And we
had to have the money for the funeral.  We’re all insured to provide for
that. And my mother went down to collect father’s insurance. It was for
a hundred and twenty-five dollars. We’d paid in a hundred and forty on
the policy, it had been running so long.  And when my mother went to
collect, they told her they couldn’t get it through and pay it for about
three weeks—and she had to have the money right away.  So, they told her
to go down to some offices on the floor below—it was a firm that’s in
cahoots with them insurance sharks.  And she went, and they give her
eighty-two dollars for the policy—and she had to take it because we had
to bury father right away.  Only, they didn’t give her cash.  They gave
her a credit with an undertaker—he’s in cahoots, too.  And it took all
the eighty-two dollars, and father was buried like a pauper, at that.  I
tell you, Miss Carlin, it’s mighty hard."  His voice broke.  "Them rich
people make a fellow pay for being poor and having no pull.  That’s the
way we get it soaked to us, right and left, especially in sickness or
hard luck or death."

Neva lingered, though she could not trust herself to speak.

"You wouldn’t think," Thomas went on, "that such things’d be done by
such a company as——"

"Don’t!" cried Neva, pressing her hands hysterically to her ears.  "I
mustn’t hear what company it was!"

And she rushed from the car and fled into her apartment, all unstrung.
At last, at last, she not merely knew but felt, and felt with all her
sensitive heart, the miseries of thousands, of hundreds of thousands,
out of which those "great men" wrought their careers—those "great men"
of whom her friend Armstrong was one!


Trafford reached home at half past six and, following his custom, went
directly to his dressing room. Instead of his valet, he found his
wife—seated before the fire, evidently waiting for him.  "Is the door
closed?" she said.  "And you’d better draw the curtain over it."

"Well, well," he cried, all cheerfulness.  "What now?  Have the servants
left in a body?"  It had been a banner day downtown, with several big
nets he had helped to set filled to overflowing, and the fish running
well at all his nets, seines, lines, and trap-ponds. He felt the jolly
fisherman, at peace with God and man, brimming generosity.

"I want to talk to you about that investigation," said his wife in a
tone that cleared his face instantly of all its sparkling good humor.

"Whatever started you in that direction?" he exclaimed.  "Don’t bother
your head about it, my dear. There’ll be no investigation.  Not that I
was afraid of it.  Thank God, I’ve always tried to live as if each
moment were to be my last."

"Mr. Atwater is going to attack Mr. Fosdick, isn’t he?"

Trafford showed his amazement.  "Why, where did you hear _that_?"

"And he thinks Mr. Fosdick and his friends won’t be able to retort,"
continued Mrs. Trafford.  "Well, he’s mistaken.  They are going to
retort.  And you are the man they’ll attack the most furiously."

Trafford sat down abruptly.  All the men who are able to declare for
themselves and their families such splendid dividends in cash upon a
life of self-sacrifice to humanity, are easily perturbed by question or
threat of question.  Trafford, with about as much courage as a white
rabbit, had only to imagine the possibility of being looked at sharply,
to be thrown into inward tremors like the beginnings of sea-sickness.

"It don’t matter," continued his wife, "whether you are innocent or not.
They are going to hold you up to public shame."

"Who told you this?"

"Neva."

"She must have got it from the Morrises—or Armstrong."

"She came here especially to tell me, and she would not have come if she
did not know it was serious."

"They sent her here to frighten me," said Trafford. "Yes, that’s it!"
And he rose and paced the floor, repeating now aloud and now to himself,
"That’s it!  That’s undoubtedly it."

"Tell me the whole story," commanded his wife, when the limit of her
patience with his childishness had been reached.  "You need an outside
point of view."

She had told Neva she never permitted Trafford to talk business with
her.  In fact, he consulted her at every crisis, both to get courage and
to get advice. He now hastened to comply.  "It’s very simple.  Some time
ago, a few of us who like to see things run on safe, conservative lines,
decided that Fosdick’s and Armstrong’s management of the O.A.D. was a
menace to stability.  Armstrong and Fosdick had quarreled.  It was
Armstrong who came to us and suggested our interfering.  I thought the
man was honest, and I did everything I could to help him and Morris."

"Including buying Morris’s house," interjected Mrs. Trafford, to prevent
him from so covering the truth with cant that it would be invisible to
her.

"That did figure in it," admitted Trafford, in some confusion.  "Then,
we found out they were simply using us to get control of the O.A.D. for
themselves.  So we—Atwater and Langdon and I—arranged quietly to drop
them into their own trap. We’ve done it—that’s all.  Next week we’re
going to expose them and their false committee; and the policy holders
of the O.A.D. will be glad to put their interests in the hands of men we
can keep in order. Fosdick and Armstrong can’t retaliate.  We’ve got the
press with us, and have made every arrangement. Anything they say will
be branded at once as malicious lies."

"What kind of malicious lies will they tell?"

"How should I know?"  And Trafford preened, with his small, precisely
clad figure at its straightest.

"But you do know," said Mrs. Trafford slowly and with acidlike
significance.

Trafford made no reply in words.  His face, however, was eloquent.

"You’ve been hypnotized by Atwater," pursued Mrs. Trafford.  "You think
him more powerful than he is.  And—he isn’t in any insurance company
directly, is he?"

"No."

"Mr. Langdon?"

"No—they keep in the background."  Trafford’s upper lip was trembling so
that she could see it despite his mustache.

"Then you’ll be right out in front of the guns. You—alone."

"There aren’t any guns."

"I’m surprised at you!" exclaimed his wife. "Don’t you know Horace
Armstrong better than that!"

"The treacherous hound!"

"He has his bad side, I suppose, like everybody else," said Mrs.
Trafford, who felt that it was not wise to humor him in his prejudices
that evening.  "His character isn’t important just now.  It’s his
ability you’ve got to consider."

"Atwater’s got him helpless."

"Impossible!" declared Mrs. Trafford, in a voice that would have been
convincing to him, had her words and his own doubts been far less
strong.  "You may count on it that there’s to be a frightful attack on
you next week.  Neva Carlin knew what she was about."

"There’s nothing they can say—nothing that anybody’d believe."  His
whiskers and his hair were combed to give him a resolute, courageous
air.  The contrast between this artificial bold front and the look and
voice now issuing from it was ludicrous and pitiful.

Mrs. Trafford flashed scorn at him.  "What nonsense!" she exclaimed.  "I
never heard of a big business that could stand it to have the doors
thrown open and the public invited to look where it pleased.  I doubt if
yours is an exception, whatever you may think."

"But the doors won’t be thrown open," he pleaded rather than protested.
"Our private business will remain private."

"Armstrong is going to attack you, I tell you. He’s not the man to fire
unless he has a shot in his gun—and powder behind it."

"But he can’t.  He knows nothing against me."  And Trafford seated
himself as if he were squelching his own doubts and fears.

"He knows as much about the inside of your company as you know about the
inside of his.  You can assume that."

Trafford shifted miserably in his chair.

"What reason have you to suppose that as keen a man as he is would not
make it his business to find out all about his rivals?"

"What if he does know?" blustered Trafford. "To hear you talk, my dear,
you’d think I ran some sort of—of a"—with a nervous little laugh—"an
unlawful resort."

"I know you wouldn’t do anything you thought was wrong," replied his
wife, in a strained, insincere voice.  "But—sometimes the public doesn’t
judge things fairly."

"People who have risen to our position must expect calumny."  He was of
the color of fear and his fingers and his mouth and his eyelids were
twitching.

"What difference would it make to Atwater and Langdon, if you were
disgraced?" she urged. "Mightn’t they even profit by it?"

At this he jumped up, and began to pace the floor. "You ought to be
ashamed of yourself!" he cried. "To put suspicion in my head against
these honorable men!"

"I want you to protect yourself and your family," she retorted
crushingly.  "The temptation to make a little more money, or a good deal
more, ought not to lead you to risk your reputation.  Look at the men
that were disgraced by that last investigation."

"But they had done wrong."

"They don’t think so, do they?  How do you know what some of the things
you’ve done will look like when they’re blazoned in the newspapers?"

"I’m not afraid!" declaimed Trafford, fright in his eyes and in his
noisy voice.

"No," said his wife soothingly.  "Of course, you’ve done nothing wrong.
You needn’t tell _me_ that. But it’s just as bad to be misunderstood as
to be guilty."

During the silence which fell he paced the floor like a man running
away, and she gazed thoughtfully into the fire.  When she spoke again it
was with a subdued, nervous manner and as if she were telling him
something which she wished him to think she did not understand.  "One
day I was driving in the East Side, looking after some of my poor.
There was a block—in the Hester Street market.  A crowd got around the
carriage, and a man—a dreadful, dirty, crazy-eyed creature—called out,
’There’s the wife of the blood-sucker Trafford, that swindles the poor
on burial insurance!’  And the crowd hissed and hooted at me, and shook
their fists.  And a woman spat into the carriage."  Mrs. Trafford paused
before going on: "I get a great many anonymous letters.  I never have
worried you about these things.  You have your troubles, and I knew it
was all false.  But——"

Her voice ceased.  For several minutes, oppressive and menacing silence
brooded over that ostentatious room.  Its costly comforts and costlier
luxuries weighed upon the husband and wife, so far removed from the
squalor of those whose earnings had been filched to create this pitiful,
yet admired, flaunting of vanity.  Finally he said, speaking almost
under his breath, "What would you advise me to do?"

Although she had long had ready her answer to that inevitable question,
she waited before replying. "Not to pull Atwater’s chestnuts out of the
fire for him," said she slowly.  "Stop the attack.  I’ve an instinct
that evil will come of it—evil to us.  Let Armstrong alone.  If he’s not
managing his business right, what concern is it of yours?  And if you
try to get it, what if, instead of making money, you lose your
reputation—maybe, more?  What does Atwater risk?  Nothing.  What does
Langdon risk?  Nothing. What do you risk?  Everything.  That’s not
sensible, is it?"

"But I can’t go back on Atwater," he objected in the tone that begs to
be overruled.  "Armstrong would attack me, anyhow, and I’d simply have
both sides against me."

She turned upon him, amazed, terrified.  "Do you mean to say you’ve got
no hold on Atwater?" she exclaimed.

"I am a gentleman, dealing with gentlemen," said he, with dignity.

She made a gesture of contempt.  "But suppose Atwater should prove not
to be a gentleman—what then?"

"He’d hesitate to play fast and loose with me," Trafford now confessed.
"He owes our allied institutions too many millions."

"Oh," she said, relieved.  Then—"And what precaution has he taken
against your deserting him?"

"None, so far as I know, except that he would probably join in
Armstrong’s attack.  But, my dear, you entirely misunderstand.  Atwater
and I have the same interests.  We——"

"I know, I know," she interrupted impatiently. "What I’m trying to get
at is how you can induce him to come to an agreement with Armstrong.
Can you think of no way?"

"I had never contemplated this emergency," he replied apologetically.
His conduct now seemed to him to have been headlong, imbecile.

"You must do something this very night," said his wife.  "There might be
a change of plan on one side or the other.  You must see that your
position, unprotected among these howling beasts, is perilous."

At that, Trafford fell to trembling so violently that, ashamed though he
was to have any human being, even his wife, see the coward in him, he
yet could not steady himself.  "I can offer Armstrong peace and a voice
in our company.  If he accepts, I can stop Atwater.  I can frankly show
him that I am not prepared to withstand an attack and that it is surely
coming.  He will not refuse.  He won’t dare. Besides—"  He stopped
suddenly.

"Besides—what?"

"It is upon me—upon my men—that Atwater relies to make the attack.  He
hasn’t the necessary information—at least, I don’t think he has."

Mrs. Trafford gave a long sigh of relief.  "Why didn’t you say that at
first?" she cried.  "All you have to do is to put Atwater off and make
terms with Armstrong."

"Atwater is a very dangerous man to have as an enemy."

"But he’s not a fool.  He’ll never blame you for saving yourself from
destruction."

Neither seemed to realize how much of their secret thought—thought not
clearly admitted even to their secret selves—was revealed in her using
that terrible word, and in his accepting it.

He glanced at his watch.  "I think I’ll go now."

"Yes, indeed," said she.  "This is the best time to catch them.  They’ll
be dressing for dinner."

And he hurried away.



                                 *XXVI*

                      *TRAFFORD AS DOVE OF PEACE*


As Trafford sprang from his cab at Armstrong’s hotel, Armstrong was just
entering the door. "Mr. Armstrong!  Mr. Armstrong!" he cried, hastening
after him.

The big, easy-going-looking Westerner—still the Westerner, though his
surface was thoroughly Easternized—turned and glanced quizzically down
at the small, prim-looking Trafford.  "Hello!  What do you want?"

"To see you for a few minutes, if it is quite convenient," replied
Trafford, still more nervous before Armstrong’s good-natured contempt.

"A very few minutes," conceded the big man. "I’ve a pressing
engagement."

They went up to his apartment.  As he opened the door, he saw a note on
the threshold.  "Excuse me," he said, picking it up, and so precipitate
that he did not stand aside to let Trafford enter first.  In the sitting
room he turned on the light, tore open the note and read; and Trafford
noted with dismay that, as he read, his face darkened.  It was a note
from Neva, saying that she had just got a telegram from home, that her
father was ill; she had scrawled the note as she and Molly were rushing
away to catch the train.  He glanced up, saw Trafford.  "Oh—beg
pardon—sit down."  And he read the note again; and again his mind
wandered away into the gloom.  Once more, after a moment or two, his
eyes reminded him of Trafford.  "Beg pardon—a most annoying message—  Do
sit down.  Have a cigar?"

"Not at present, thank you," said Trafford in his precise way,
reminiscent of the far days when he had taught school.

"Well—what can I do for you?" inquired Armstrong, adding to himself,
"This is Atwater’s first move."  But he was not interested; his mind was
on Neva, on the note that had chilled him—"unreasonably," he muttered,
"yet, she might have put in just the one word—or something."

Trafford saw that he had no part of Armstrong’s attention.  He coughed.

"If you can give me—" he began.

"Yes, yes," said Armstrong impatiently.  "What is it?  You can’t expect
me to be enthusiastic, exactly, about you, you know.  I didn’t expect
anything of the others; but I was idiot enough to think you weren’t
altogether shameless—you, the principal owner of the Hearth and Home!"
Armstrong’s sarcasm was savage.

"You are evidently laboring under some misapprehension, Mr. Armstrong,"
cried Trafford, pulling at his neat little beard, while one of his neat
little feet tapped the carpet agitatedly.

"Bosh!" said Armstrong.  "I know all about you. Don’t lie to me.  What
do you want?  Come to the point!"

There was a pink spot in each of Trafford’s cheeks. "I have been much
distressed," said he, "at the confusion downtown, at the strained
relations between interests that ought to be working together in harmony
for the general good."  Armstrong’s frown hastened him.  "I have come to
see if it isn’t possible to bring about good feeling and peace."

"You come from Atwater?"

"No—that is—Frankly, no."

Armstrong rose with a gesture of dismissal. "We’re wasting time.
Atwater is the man.  Unless you have some authority from him, I’ll not
detain you."

"But, my dear sir," cried Trafford, in a ferment to the very depths now,
because convinced by Armstrong’s manner that he was not dealing with a
beaten man but with one champing for the fray.  "You do not seem to hear
me," he implored.  "I tell you I can make terms.  In this matter Atwater
is dependent upon me."

"You’ve come about the attack he’s going to make on the O.A.D.?"

"Precisely.  I’ve come to arrange to stop it, to say I wish to make no
attack."

"You mean, you don’t wish to be attacked," rejoined Armstrong with a
cold laugh that made Trafford’s flesh creep.  "By the time Morris gets
through with you, I don’t see how you can possibly be kept out of the
penitentiary.  He has all the necessary facts.  I think he can compel
you to disgorge at least two thirds of what you’ve stolen and salted
away.  I don’t see where you got the courage to go into a fight, when
you’re such an easy target.  The wonder is you weren’t caught and sent
up years ago."

"This is strange language, very strange language," said Trafford in an
injured tone, and not daring to pretend or to feel insulted.  "I am
surprised, Mr. Armstrong, that you should use it in your own house."

"I didn’t ask you here.  You thrust yourself in," Armstrong reminded
him, but his manner was less savage.

"True, I did come of my own accord.  And I still venture to hope that
you will see the advantages of a peaceful solution."

"What do you propose?—in as few words as possible," said Armstrong,
still believing Trafford was trying to trifle with him, for some hidden
purpose.

"To call off our attack," Trafford answered, "provided you will agree to
call off yours.  To give you a liberal representation in our board of
directors, including a member of the executive committee."

Armstrong was astounded.  He could not believe that Trafford’s humble,
eager manner was simulated. Yet, these terms, this humiliating surrender
of assured victory—it was incredible.  "You will have to explain just
how you happened to come here," said he, "or I shall be unable to
believe you."

The pink spots which had faded from Trafford’s cheeks reappeared.  "It
was my wife," he replied. "She heard there was to be a scandal.  She has
a horror of notoriety—you know how refined and sensitive she is.  She
would not let me rest until I had promised to do what I could to bring
about peace."

Armstrong was secretly scorning his own stupidity. He had spent days,
weeks on just this problem of breaking up the combination against him,
of separating Trafford or Langdon from Atwater; and the simple, easy,
obvious way to do it had never occurred to him, who dealt only with the
men and disregarded the women as negligible factors in affairs.  To
Trafford he said, "You’ve not seen Atwater?"

"No, but I shall go to him as soon as I have some assurance from you."

Atwater—there was the rub.  Armstrong felt that the time to hope had not
yet come.  Still he would not discourage Trafford.  He simply said, "I
can’t give any assurance until I consult Morris."

"But, as I understand it—at least, his original motive was simply a
political ambition.  We can easily gratify that."

"He wants fireworks—something that’ll make the popular heart warm up to
him.  He has a long head. He wants some basis, at least, in popularity,
so that he won’t be quite at the mercy of you gentlemen, should you turn
against him."

"I see—I see," said Trafford.  "He was counting on the reputation he
would make as an inquisitor.  Yes, that would give him quite a push.
But—there ought to be plenty of other matters he might safely and even,
perhaps, beneficially, inquire into.  For instance, there is the Bee
Hive Mutual—a really infamous swindle.  I’ve had dealings with many
unattractive characters in the course of my long business career, Mr.
Armstrong, but with none so repellent in every way as Dillworthy.  He
has made that huge institution a private graft for himself and his
family.  He is shocking, even in this day of loose conceptions of
honesty and responsibility."

"Have you any facts?"

"Some, and they are at Mr. Morris’s disposal. But all he needs to do is
to send for the books of the Bee Hive.  I am credibly informed—you can
rely on it—that the Dillworthys have got so bold that they do not even
look to the books.  The grafting in that company is quite as extensive
and as open as in our large industrial and railway corporations—and, you
know, they haven’t profited by the lesson we in the insurance companies
had in the great investigation."

"Your proposal will content Morris, I think," Armstrong now said.  "As
the Dillworthys aren’t entangled with any of the other large interests,
showing them up will not cause a spreading agitation."  He laughed.
"There’s a sermon against selfishness! If old Dillworthy hadn’t been so
greedy, so determined to keep it all in the family, he wouldn’t be in
this position."

"There will be general satisfaction over his exposure," replied
Trafford.  "And it will greatly benefit, tone up, the whole business
world."

"Really, it’s our Christian duty to concentrate on the Busy Bee, isn’t
it?" said Armstrong sardonically. "Well—  Can you see Atwater to-night?"

"I’m going direct to his house.  But where shall I find you?  You said
you had an engagement."

Armstrong winced as if a wound had been roughly set to aching.  "I’ll be
here," he said gruffly.

"We might dine together, perhaps?  Atwater may be able to come, too."

"No—can’t do it," was Armstrong’s reply.  "But I’ll be here from half
past eight on."

Trafford, so much encouraged that he was almost serene again, sped away
to Atwater’s palace in Madison Avenue.  The palace was a concession to
Mrs. Atwater and the daughters.  They loved display and had the tastes
that always accompany that passion; they, therefore, lived in the
unimaginative and uncomfortable splendor of the upper class heaven that
is provided by the makers of houses and furniture, whose one thought,
naturally, is to pile on the cost and thus multiply the profits.

But Atwater had part of the house set aside for and dedicated to his own
personal satisfaction.  With the same sense of surprise that one has at
the abrupt transition of a dream from one phantasy to another resembling
it in no way except as there is a resemblance in flat contradictions,
one passed out of the great, garish, price-encrusted entrance hall,
through a door to the left into a series of really beautiful
rooms—spacious, simple, solidly furnished; with quiet harmonies of
color, with no suggestions of mere ornamentation anywhere.  The
Siersdorfs had built and furnished the whole house, and its double
triumph was their first success.  With the palace part they had pleased
the Atwater women and the crowd of rich eager to display; with the part
sacred to Atwater, they had delighted him and such people as formed
their ideas of beauty upon beauty itself and not upon fashion or
tradition or outlay.  Trafford was shown into a music room where Atwater
was playing on the piano, as he did almost every evening for an hour
before dinner.  It was a vast room, walls and ceilings paneled in
rosewood; there were no hangings, except at the windows valances of
velvet of a rosewood tint, relieved by a broad, dull gold stripe; a few
simple articles of furniture; Boris Raphael’s famous "Music" on the wall
opposite the piano, and no other picture; a huge vase of red and gold
chrysanthemums at the opposite side of the room to balance the painting;
Atwater at the piano, in a dark red, velvet house suit, over it a silk
robe of a somewhat lighter shade of red, as the room was not heated.

"Business?" he said, pausing in his playing, with a careless, unfriendly
glance at Trafford.

"I’ll only trouble you a moment," apologized the intruder.  His prim,
strait-laced appearance gave those surroundings, made sensuous by
Boris’s intoxicatingly sensuous picture, an air of impropriety, of
immorality—like a woman in Quaker dress among the bare shoulders, backs,
and bosoms of a ballroom.

"Business!" exclaimed Atwater, rising.  "Not in this room, if you
please."

He led the way to a smaller room with a billiard table in the center and
great leather seats and benches round the walls.  "Do you play,
Trafford?  Music, I mean."

"I regret to say, I do not," replied Trafford.

"Then you ought to get a mechanical piano. Music in the evening is like
a bath after a day in the trenches.  Try it.  It’ll soothe you, put you
into a better condition for the next day’s bout.  What can I do for
you?"

"I’ve come about the O.A.D. matter.  Atwater, don’t you think we might
lose more than we stand to gain?"

Atwater concealed his satisfaction.  Since his talk with Armstrong, he
had been remeasuring with more care that young man’s character, and had
come to the conclusion that he was entering upon a much stiffer campaign
than he had anticipated.  Atwater’s dealings were, and for years had
been, with men of large fortune—industrial "kings," great bankers, huge
investors.  Such men are as timid as a hen with a brood. They will fight
fiercely—if they must—for their brood of millions.  But they would
rather run than fight, and much rather go clucking and strutting along
peacefully with their brood securely about them.  To manage such men,
after one has shown he knows where the worms are and how they may be
got, all that is necessary is inflexible, tyrannical firmness.  Their
minds, their hearts, their all, is centered in the brood; personal
emotions, they have none—that is, none that need be taken into account.
Atwater ruled, autocratic, undisputed.  Who would dare quarrel with such
a liberal provider of the best worms?

But Armstrong’s personality presented another proposition.  Here was a
man with no fortune, not even enough to have roused into a fierce
passion the universal craving for wealth.  He had a will, a brain,
courage—and nothing to lose.  And he, still comparatively poor, had
succeeded in lifting himself to a position of not merely nominal but
actual power.  The misgivings of Atwater had been growing steadily. The
price of pulling down this man might too easily be far, far beyond its
profits.  "We shall have to come together for a finish fight sooner or
later—if I live," reasoned Atwater.  "But this is not the best time I
could have chosen.  He isn’t deeply enough involved. He isn’t helpless
enough.  I’m breaking my rule never to fight until I’m ready and the
other fellow isn’t."

Instead of answering Trafford’s pointed and anxious question, Atwater
was humming softly.  "I can’t get that movement out of my head," he
broke off to explain.  "I’m very fond of Grieg—aren’t you?"

"I know about music only in the most general way. My wife——"

"You let your women attend to the family culture, eh?" interrupted
Atwater.  "You originally suggested this war on Fosdick and Armstrong.
By the way, you heard the news this afternoon? Armstrong has thrown out
the whole executive staff of the O.A.D.—at one swoop—and has put in his
own crowd."

Trafford leaped in the great leather chair in which his small body was
all but swallowed up.  "Impossible!" he cried.  "Why, such a thing would
be illegal."

"Undoubtedly.  But—how many years would it be before a court can pass on
it—pass on it finally? Meanwhile, Armstrong is in possession."

"That completely alters the situation," said Trafford, in dismay.
"Atwater, it would be folly—madness!—for us to go on, if we could make a
treaty with Armstrong."

"I don’t agree with you," said Atwater, with perfect assurance now that
he saw that Trafford would not call his bluff by acquiescing.
"Trafford, I’m surprised; you’re losing your nerve."

"Using sound business judgment is not cowardice," retorted Trafford.  "I
owe it to my family, to the stability of business, not to encourage a
senseless, a calamitous war."

Atwater shrugged his shoulders.  "As you please. I feel that, in this
affair, your wishes are paramount.  But, at the same time, Trafford, I
tell you frankly, I don’t like to be trifled with.  Nor does Langdon."

"Perhaps Morris and Armstrong might be induced to turn their attention
elsewhere—say, to the Busy Bee.  Would you not feel compensated by
getting control there?"

"Not a bad idea," mused Atwater aloud.  "Not by any means a bad idea."
He reflected in silence. "If you could arrange that, it would be even
better than the plan you ask me to abandon at the eleventh hour."

"Then you agree?" said Trafford, quivering with eagerness.

"If we can get the Busy Bee.  I’ve had an eye on that chap Dillworthy,
for some time."

"I am much relieved," said Trafford, rising.  His face was beaming;
there was once more harmony between his expression and the aggressive,
unbending cut of his hair and whiskers.

Atwater looked at him sharply.  "You’ve seen Armstrong," he jerked out.

Trafford hesitated.  "I thought," he said apologetically, "it would be
best to have a general talk with Armstrong first—just to sound him."

"I understand."  Atwater laughed sarcastically. "And may I ask, if it
wasn’t the news of the upset in the O.A.D., what was it that set you to
running about so excitedly?"

Trafford gave a nervous cough.  "My wife—you know how refined and
sensitive she is—  She got wind of the impending scandal, and, being
very tender-hearted and also having a horror of notoriety, she urged me
to try to find a peaceful way out."

"Petticoats!" said Atwater, with derision, but tolerant.

"Not that I would have—" Trafford began to protest.

"No apology necessary.  I comprehend.  I’ve got them in the house."

Trafford laughed, relieved.  "The ladies are difficult at times," said
he, "but, how would we do without them?"

"I don’t know, I’m sure," said Atwater dryly. "I never had the good
fortune of the opportunity to try it.  What did Armstrong say, when you
sounded him?  I believe you called it ’sounding,’ though I suspect—  No
matter.  What did he say?"

"I think you may safely assume the matter is settled.  In fact,
Armstrong has shown a willingness to make peace."

"Rather!" said Atwater, edging his visitor toward the door.  "Good
night," he added in the same breath; and he was rid of Trafford.  He
went slowly back to the piano, and resumed the interrupted symphony
softly, saying every now and then, in a half sympathetic, half cynical
undertone, "Poor Dillworthy! Poor devil!"



                                *XXVII*

                         *BREAKFAST AL FRESCO*


Armstrong sent Neva a prompt telegram of sympathy and inquiry.  He got a
telegraphed reply—her thanks and the statement that her father was
desperately ill, but apparently not in immediate danger.  He wrote her
about the highly satisfactory turn in his affairs; to help him to ease,
he tried to dismiss herself and himself, but at every sentence he had to
stem again the feeling that this letter would be read where he was
remembered as the sort of person it made him hot with shame to think he
had ever been.  He waited two weeks; no answer.  Again he wrote—a
lover’s appeal for news of her.  Ten days, and she answered, ignoring
the personal side of his letter, simply telling how ill her father was,
what a long struggle at best it would be to save him.  Armstrong saw
that nursing and anxiety were absorbing all her time and thought and
strength.  He wrote a humble apology for having annoyed her, asked her
to write him whenever she could, if it was only a line or so.

Two more increasingly restless weeks, and he telegraphed that he was
coming.  She telegraphed an absolute veto, and in the first mail came a
letter that was the more crushing because it was calm and free from
bitterness.  "In this quiet town," wrote she, "where so little happens,
you know how they remember and brood and become bitter.  What is past
and forgotten for us is still very vivid to him and magnified out of all
proportion.  Please do not write again, until you hear from me."

Thus, he learned that his worst fears were justified. If she had shown
that, in the home atmosphere again, she was seeing him as formerly, he
could have protested, argued, appealed.  But how strive against her duty
to her sick, her dying father whose generous friendship he had
ruthlessly betrayed and whose life he had embittered?  He debated going
to Battle Field and seeing Mr. Carlin and asking forgiveness.  But such
an agitating interview would probably hasten death, even if he could get
admittance; besides, he remembered that Frederic Carlin, slow to
condemn, never forgave once he had condemned.  "He feels toward me as
I’d feel in the same circumstances.  I have got only what I deserve."
No judgments are so terrible as those that are just.

The state of Armstrong’s mind so preyed upon him that it affected even
his giant strength and health, and his friends urged him to take a
vacation.  He worked only the harder, because in work alone could he get
any relief whatever from the torments of his remorse and his baffled
love.  He became morose, given to bursts of unreasonable anger.
"Success is turning his head," was the general opinion.  "He’s getting
to be a tyrant, like the others."  In some moods, he saw the lessons of
gentleness and forbearance in the fate his selfish arrogance had brought
upon him; but it is not in the nature of men of strong individuality and
unbroken will to practice such lessons.  The keener his sufferings, the
bitterer, the harder he became.  And soon he began to feel that there
was nearly if not quite a quittance of the balance between him and the
man he had wronged.  He convinced himself that, if Neva’s father were
dead, he could speedily win her. "Meanwhile," he reflected, "I must take
my punishment"; and with the stolid, unwhimpering endurance of those
whose ancestors have through countless generations been schooled in the
fields, the forests, and the camps, he waited for the news that would
mean the end of his expiation.

Raphael, taking his walk in Fifth Avenue late one afternoon instead of
in Central Park, saw him in a closed motor in the halted mass of
vehicles at the Forty-second Street crossing.  Boris happened to be in
his happiest mood.  Always the philosopher, he was too catholic in his
interests and tastes to permit disappointment in any one direction or
even in many directions to close the other avenues to the joy of life.
There were times when he could not quite banish the shadows which the
thought of death cast over him—death, so exasperating to men of pride
and imagination because, of all their adversaries, it alone cannot be
challenged or compromised.  But on that day, Boris had only the sense of
life, life at its best, with the sun bright and not too warm, with the
new garb of nature and of womankind radiantly fresh, and the whole world
laughing because the winter had been vanquished once more.  As his
all-observing eyes noted Armstrong’s profile, his face darkened.  There
was for him, in that profile, rugged, stern, inflexible, a challenge of
the basis of his happiness.

In all his willful life Boris had never wanted anything so intensely, so
exclusively as he wanted Neva. Every man who falls in love with a woman
feels that he is her discoverer, that he has a property right securely
based upon discovery.  Raphael’s sense of his right to Neva was far
stronger; it was the creator’s sense.  Had he not said, "Let there be
beauty and light and capacity to give and receive love"?  And had not
these wonders sprung into existence before his magic?  True, the beauty
and the light and the power to give and to receive were different both
in kind and in degree from what he had commanded.  But that did not
alter his right.  And this Armstrong, this coarse savage who would take
away his Galatea to serve in a vulgar, sooty tent of barbaric commerce—
The very sight of Armstrong set all his senses on edge, as if each were
being assailed by its own particular abhorrence.

That day the stern, inflexible profile somehow struck into him the same
chill that always came at the thought of death with its undebatable
"must."  Yet there was in his pocket, at the very moment, warming his
heart like a flagon of old port, a long letter from Neva, a confidential
letter, full of friendly, intimate things about herself, her anxieties,
her hopes, and fears; and she asked him to stop off on his way to or
from his lectures before the Chicago art students.  "Narcisse is here,"
she wrote.  "She will be leaving about that time, she says, and if you
stop on your way, she and you can go back together.  How I wish I could
go, too!  Not until I settled down here did I appreciate what you—and
New York—had done for me.  Yet I had thought I did.  Do stop off here.
It will be so good to see you, Boris."

As he looked at Armstrong’s profile, he laid his hand on his coat over
the letter and remembered that sentence—"It will be so good to see you."
But the shadow would not depart.  That profile persisted; he could not
banish it.

When he descended from the train at the Battle Field station and saw
Neva, with Narcisse beside her in a touring car, he saw that ominous
profile, plain as if Armstrong were there, too.  This, though Neva’s
welcome was radiantly bright.  "What’s the matter, Boris?" cried
Narcisse, climbing to the seat beside the chauffeur before Neva could
prevent.  "Get in beside your hostess and cheer up.  You ought to look
like a clear sunrise.  The lecture was a triumph.  I read two whole
columns of it aloud to Neva and her father this morning.  No cant.  No
hypocrisy.  They agreed with me that your art ideas are like an island
in the boundless ocean of flap-doodle."

"My father used to sell bananas from a cart in Chicago," said Boris,
"and we lived in the cellar where he ripened them."

Neva glanced at him with quick sympathetic interest.  It was the first
time he had happened to speak of his origin.  "I always thought you were
born abroad," said she.

"I think not," replied he.  "I really don’t know at exactly what point I
broke into the world.  Those things matter so little.  Countries,
governments, races—they mean nothing to me.  I meet my fellow beings as
individuals."

There he caught Neva studying him with an expression so curious that he
paused.  She forestalled his question by plunging into an animated talk
about his lecture.  He was well content to listen, enjoying now the
surroundings and now the beauty of the woman beside him.  Both were
wonderfully soothing to him, filled him with innocent, virtuous
thoughts, made him envy, and half delude himself into fancying he wished
for himself, the joys of somnolescent, corpulent, middle-class life—the
life obviously led by the people dwelling in these flower-embedded
houses on either side of these shady streets.  He sighed; Neva laughed.
And he saw that she was laughing at him.

"Well, why not?" he demanded, knowing she understood his sigh.  But
before she could answer he was laughing at himself.  "Still, I like it,
for a change," said he.  "And—" he was speaking now in an
undertone—"with you I could be happy in such a place—always.  Just with
you; not if we let these stupid burghers in to fret me."

She laughed outright.  "I understand you better than you understand
yourself," said she.  "Change and contrast are as necessary to you as
air.  If you had to live here, you would commit suicide or become
commonplace....  And so should I."

"Not with a husband you loved and children you adored and a home you had
created yourself.  As the world expands, it contracts; as it contracts,
it expands.  From end to end the universe is not so vast as such a
love."

Neva, coloring deeply and profoundly moved, leaned forward.  "I’m sorry
you’re missing this," said she, lightly to Narcisse.  "Boris is
sentimentalizing about the vine-clad cottage with children clambering."

"It’s about time you quit and came in to settle down," called Narcisse.
"A few years more and you’ll cease to be romantic.  An old beau is
ridiculous."

Boris gave Neva a triumphant look.  "Narcisse votes yes," said he.

But they were arriving at the house.  As the motor ran up the drive
under the elms toward the gorgeous masses of forsythia about the
entrance steps, Boris’s eyes were so busy that he scarcely heard, while
Neva explained that her father was too weak to withstand the excitement
of visitors—"especially anyone distinguished.  We’re not telling him
you’re here.  He would feel it his duty to exert himself."

"Distinguished!" he exclaimed.  "In presence of these elms and this
house built for all time, and these eternal colors, how could mere
mortal be distinguished?"

It was not until the next morning that he had a chance to talk with her
alone.  He rose early and went out before breakfast.  He strolled
through the woods back of the house until he came to a pavilion with a
creek rushing steeply down past it toward Otter Lake. In the pavilion he
found Neva with a great heap of roses in her lap, another on the table,
another on the bench.  On her bright hair was a huge garden hat, its
broad streamers of pink ribbon flowing upon her shoulders.

She dropped her shears and watched him with the expression in her eyes
that he had surprised there, as they were coming from the station in the
motor. "May I ask," said he, "what is the meaning of that look?"

"Did you sleep well?" parried she.

"Without a dream."

"I don’t know," replied she—"Let us have breakfast here—you and I....
Washington!" she called.

There rose from a copse below, near the brim of the creek, a small
colored boy, barefooted, bareheaded, with no garments but a blue shirt
and a pair of blue cotton jean trousers.  She sent him off to the house
to tell them to bring breakfast.  And soon a maid appeared with a tray
whose chief burden was a heating apparatus for coffee and milk.

"I’ve heard you say you detested cold coffee," said Neva.  "Your frown
when I suggested breakfast out here was premature."

She scattered and heaped the roses into an odorous, dew-sprinkled mat of
green and pink and white, in the center of the rustic table.  Then she
served the coffee.  It was real coffee, and the milk was what is called
cream in many parts of the world.  "Brother Tom has a model farm," she
explained.  "These eggs were laid this morning."

"So they were," exclaimed Boris, as he broke one. His eyes were
sparkling; all that was best in his looks and in his nature was
irradiating from him.  Her sweet, lovely face, her delicate fresh
costume, the sight and odor of the roses, of the forest all round them,
the melody of the descending waters, and the superb coffee, crisp rolls,
and freshest of fresh eggs—  "You criticise me for my appreciation of
the sensuous side of life, my dear friend," said he.  "But, tell me, is
there anywhere anything more delicious, more inspiring than this
breakfast?"

"I never criticised you for loving the joys of the senses," cried she.
"Never!  We are too much alike there."

"What happiness we could have!" exclaimed he. "For do we not know how to
make life smooth and comfortable and beautiful, you and I?"

"Only too well," confessed she.  "I often think of it.  But——"

He waited for her to continue.  When he saw that she would not, but was
lost in a reverie, he said, "You promised you would think about our
going abroad. Have you thought?"

She nodded.

"You will go?"

She slowly shook her head.

"Why not?"

"I want to, but—I can’t."

"Why?"

He had paused in buttering a bit of roll.  Anyone coming up just then
would have thought he was looking at her, awaiting an answer to an
inquiry after salt or something like that.  She said: "Because I do not
love you."

He waved his knife in airy dismissal.  "A trifle! And so easily
overcome."

"Because I cannot love you, my dear."  She looked at him affectionately.

He balanced the bit of bread before his lips.  "Not that brotherly look,
please," said he.  "It—it hurts!"  He put the bread in his mouth.

She leaned forward and laid her hand on his.  "We are too much alike.
You are too subtle, too nervous, too appreciative, too changeable.  You
would soon cease to fancy you loved me.  I—it so happens—have never
begun to fancy I loved you.  That is fortunate for us both."

"Armstrong!" he exclaimed.  And suddenly, despite his ruddy coloring, he
suggested a dark Sicilian hate peering from an ambush, stiletto in
impatient hand.

"Don’t show me that side of you, Boris," she entreated.  "Whether it is
Armstrong or not, did I not say the fact that I don’t fancy I love you
is fortunate for us both?"

"You love Armstrong," he insisted sullenly.

"How can you know that, when I don’t know it myself?" replied she.  "As
I told you once before, the only matter that concerns you is that I do
not love you."  She spoke sharply.  Knowing him so well, she had small
patience with his childish, barbaric moods; she could not bear pettiness
in a man really and almost entirely great.  "Will you be yourself?" she
demanded, earnest beneath her smiling manner. "How can I talk to you
seriously if you act like a spoiled, bad boy?  If you’ll only think
about the matter, as I’ve been compelled to think about it, you’ll see
that you don’t really love me—that I’m not the woman for you at all.
We’d aggravate each other’s worst. What you need is a woman like
Narcisse."

"You are most kind," he said sarcastically.

"As she told you yesterday, you’ve got to settle down within a few years
or become absurd.  And she——"

"It is because of the women I have known that you will not give me
yourself," he said.  "Oh, Neva, I have never loved but you."  And in his
agitation he clasped her hands and, dropping into French, cried with
flaming eyes, "I adore you.  You are my life, the light on my path—my
star shining through the storm.  You make me tremble with passion and
with fear.  Neva, my love, my soul——"

She snatched her hands away.  She tried to look at him mockingly, but
could not.

"Neva, my girl," he said in English again.  "Do not wither my heart!"

"Boris," she answered gently, "I’ve tried to care for you as you wish me
to care.  I sent for you because I thought I had begun to succeed.  But
when I saw you again—  I liked you, admired you, more than ever, more
than anyone.  But my dear, dear friend, I cannot give you what you ask.
It simply will not yield."

He became calm as abruptly as he had burst into passion.  Taking his
heavily jeweled and engraved gold cigarette case from his pocket, he
slowly extracted a cigarette, lighted it with great deliberation, blew
out the match, blew out the lamp of the portable stove.  "Why?" he said
in a tone of pleasant bantering inquiry.  "Please tell me why you do not
and cannot love me."

She colored in confusion.

"Do not fear lest you will offend," urged he. "I ask impersonally.
Feminine psychology is interesting."

"I’d rather not talk about it."

"Let me help you," he persisted amiably, so amiably that she had to
remind herself of the sort of nature she knew he had, to quell a
suspicion of treachery under his smoothness.  "Because I am
too—feminine?" he went on.

She nodded hesitatingly.  Then, encouraged by his cynical, good-humored
laugh, "Though feminine doesn’t quite express it.  There isn’t enough of
the primitive man left in you for a woman of my temperament.  You have
been superrefined, Boris.  You are too understanding, too sympathetic
for a feminine woman like me.  There are two persons to you—one that
feels, one that reasons—criticises—analyzes—laughs. I couldn’t for a
moment forget the one that laughs—at yourself, at any who respond to the
you that feels.  I suppose you don’t understand.  I’m sure I don’t."

[Illustration: "’You are my life, the light on my path.’"]

"Vaguely," said he, somewhat absently.  "Who’d suspect it?"

"Suspect what?"

"That there was this—this coarse streak in _you_—this craving for the
ultramasculine, the rude, rough, aggressive male, inconsiderate, brutal,
masterful?"

"A coarse streak," she repeated, half in assent, half in mere
reflection.

He surveyed impersonally her delicately feminine charms, suggesting
fragility even.  "And yet," he mused aloud, "I should have seen it.
What else could be the meaning of those sharp, even teeth—of the long
slits through which your green-gray-brown-blue eyes look.  And your
long, slim, sensitive lines——"

The impersonal faded into the personal, the Boris that analyzed into the
Boris that felt.  The appeal of her beauty to his senses swept over and
submerged his pose of philosopher.  His eyes shone and swam, like lights
seen afar through a mist; the fingers that held the cigarette trembled.
But, as he realized long afterwards, he showed then and there how right
she was as to his masculinity.  For, his was the passive intensity of
the feminine, not the aggressive intensity of the male; instead of
forgetting her in the fury of his own baffled desire and seizing her, to
crush her until he had wrung some sensation, no matter what, from those
unmoved nerves of hers, he restrained himself, hid his emotion as
swiftly as he could, turned it off with a jest—"And I’ve let my coffee
grow cold!"  He was once more Boris of the boyish vanity that feared,
more than ridicule, the triumph of a woman over him.  He would rather
have risked losing her than have given her the opportunity to see and
perhaps enjoy her power.

Presently Narcisse came into view.  The lamp was relighted; the three
talked together; he was not alone with Neva again, made no attempt to
be.


That afternoon, just before the time for him and Narcisse to depart,
Neva took her in to say good-by to her father—a mere shadow of a wreck
of a man, whose remnant of vitality was ebbing almost breath by breath.
As they came from his room, it suddenly struck Narcisse how profoundly
Neva was being affected by her father’s life, now that his mortal
illness was bringing it vividly before her.  A truly noble character
moves so tranquilly and unobtrusively that it is often unobserved,
perhaps, rather, taken for granted, unless some startling event compels
attention to it.  Neva was appreciating her father at last; and Narcisse
saw what there was to appreciate.  No human being can live in one place
for half a century without indelibly impressing himself upon his
surroundings; Narcisse felt in the very atmosphere of the rooms he had
frequented a personality that revealed itself altogether by example, not
at all by precept; a human being that loved nature and his fellow
beings, lived in justice and mercy.

"How much it means to have a father like yours!" she exclaimed.

Neva did not reply for some time.  When she did, the expression of her
eyes, of her mouth, made Narcisse realize that her words had some
deeper, some hidden meaning: "If ever I have children," she said, "they
shall have that same inheritance from their father."  And presently she
went on, "I often, nowadays, contrast my father with the leading men
there in New York.  What dreadful faces they have! What tyranny and
meanness and trickery!  And, how wretched!  It is hard to know whether
most to pity or to despise them."

Narcisse knew instinctively that she meant Armstrong, and perhaps, to a
certain extent, Boris also. "We’ve no right to condemn them," said she.
"They are the victims of circumstances too strong for them."

"_You_ have the right," insisted Neva.  "You have been tempted; yet, you
are not like them.  You have not let New York enslave you, but have made
it your servant."

"The temptations that would have reached my weaknesses didn’t happen to
offer," replied she.  And there she sighed, for she felt the ache of her
wound—Alois.

But it was time to go.  Neva took them to the station; at the parting
Boris kissed her hand in foreign fashion, after his habit, with not a
hint of anything but self-control and ease at heart and mind, not even
such a hint as Neva alone would have understood.  She bore up bravely
until they were gone; then solitude and melancholy suddenly enveloped
her in their black fog, and she went back home like a traveler in a
desert, alone and aimless.  "He didn’t really care," she thought
bitterly, indifferent to her own display of selfishness in having
secretly and furtively wished for a love that would only have brought
unhappiness to him, since, try however hard, she could not return it.
"Does anyone care about anyone but himself? ... If I could only have
loved him enough to deceive myself.  He’s so much more worth while
than—than any other man I ever knew or ever shall know."



                                *XXVIII*

                       *FORAGING FOR SON-IN-LAW*


Narcisse had gone to Neva at Battle Field to get as well as to give
sympathy and companionship; to get the strength to tread alone the path
in which she had always had her brother to help her—and he had helped
her most of all by getting help from her.  She had assumed that her
brother would marry some day; she herself looked forward to marrying, as
she grew older and appreciated why children are something beside a
source of annoyance and anxiety.  But she had also assumed that he would
marry a woman with whom she would be friends, a woman in real sympathy
with his career.  Instead, he married Amy, stunted in mind and warped in
character and withered in heart by the environment of the idle rich.
She knew that the end of the old life had come; and it was to get away
from the melancholy spectacle of her new brother that, two months after
his return from the honeymoon, she went West for that visit with Neva.

"Amy has ruined him," she said, when she had been at Battle Field long
enough to feel free to open her heart wide.  "It’s only a question of
time; he will give up his career entirely."

And, like the beginning of the fulfillment of her prophecy, there soon
came a letter from him which she showed Neva.  With much beating round
the bush, he hinted dissolution of partnership.  It gave Neva the
heartache to read, and she hardly dared look at Narcisse.  "I’m afraid
you were right in your suspicions," she had to admit.

"Certainly I was right," replied Narcisse.  "But I’m not really so cut
up as you think.  Nothing comes unannounced in this world, thank heaven.
I’ve been getting ready for this ever since he told me they were
engaged."

"How brave you are!" exclaimed Neva.  "I know what you must feel, yet
you can hide it."

"I’m hiding nothing," Narcisse assured her. "I’ve lived a long time—much
longer than my birthdays show.  I’ve been making my own living since I
was thirteen—and it wasn’t easy until the last few years.  But I’ve
learned to take life as I take weather. There are sunny seasons, and
stormy seasons, and middling seasons.  When the sun shines, I don’t
enjoy it less, but rather more, because I know foul weather is certain
to come.  And when it does come, I know it won’t last forever."  There
were tears in her eyes, but through them she smiled dauntlessly. "And
the sun _will_ shine again—warm and bright and streaming happiness."

Neva’s own heart was suddenly buoyant.  "It will—it surely will!" she
cried.

"And," proceeded Narcisse, "my troubles are trifles compared with
Alois’s.  I know him; I know he’s unhappy.  If ever there was a man
cheated in a marriage, that man is my poor brother.  And he must realize
it by this time."

She had guessed close to the truth.  Alois and his bride had not been
honeymooning many weeks before he confessed to himself that he had
overestimated—or, perhaps, misestimated—her intellect.  Not that she was
stupid or ignorant; no, merely, that she lacked the originality he had
attributed to her.  He had pictured himself doing great work under her
inspiration, his own skill supplemented by her taste and cleverness in
suggesting and designing.  He found that she knew only what he or some
book had told her, that her enthusiasm for architecture was in large
part one of those amiable pretenses wherewith the female aids the
passions of the male to beguile him to her will.

But this discovery did not depress him.  No man ever was depressed by
finding out that his wife was his mental inferior, though many a man has
been pitched headlong into permanent dejection by the discovery of the
reverse.  She was more beautiful than he had thought, more loving and
more lovable—and those compensations more than made good the vanished
dream of companionship.  Soon, however, her intense affection began to
wear upon him.  Not that he liked it less or loved her less; but he saw
with the beginnings of alarm that he was on the way to being engulfed,
that he either must devote himself entirely to being Amy’s husband or
must expect to lose her.  It was fascinating, intoxicating, to be thus
encradled in love; but it was not exactly his notion of what was manly.

He talked of the work "they" would do, of the fame "they" would win; she
responded with rapidly decreasing enthusiasm, finally listened without
comment.  Once, when he was expanding upon this subject, with some
projected public buildings at Washington as the text, she suddenly threw
herself into his arms, and cried, "Oh, let Narcisse take care of those
things. We—you and I, dearest—have got only a little while to live.  Let
us be happy—happy—_happy_!"

"But you forget, you’ve married a poor man," he protested.  "We’ve got
our living to make."

"Oh—of course," said she.  "I’d hate for you to be anything but
independent."

"If I were, you’d soon lose respect for me, as I should for myself."

"Yes—you must work," she conceded.  "But not too hard.  You mustn’t
crowd _me_ aside."  She clasped her arms more tightly about his neck.
"I’d _hate_ you, if you made me second to anybody or anything.  I’m
horribly jealous, and I know I’d end by hating you."

The way to reassure her, for the moment, was obvious and easy; and he
took it.  They talked no more of "our" work until they got back to New
York. There, it was hard for him to find time to go to the office; for
she was always wanting him to do something with her, and as luck would
have it, the things he really couldn’t get out of doing without
offending her always somehow came in office hours.  Sometimes he had a
business appointment he dared not break; he would explain to her, and
she would try to be "sensible."  But she felt irritated—was he not her
husband, and is not a husband’s first duty to his wife?

"Why do you make so many appointments just when you know I’ll need you?"
she demanded.  "I believe you do it on purpose!"

He showed her how unreasonable this was, and she laughed at herself.
But her feeling at bottom was unchanged.  After much casting about for
some one to blame for this, to her, obvious conspiracy to estrange her
husband from her, she fixed upon Narcisse.  "She hates me because I took
him away from her," she thought; and when she had thought it often
enough, she was convinced.  Yes, Narcisse was trying to drift them
apart.  And she ought to be doubly ashamed of herself, because what
would the firm of A. & N. Siersdorf amount to but for Alois?  Narcisse
was, no doubt, clever in a way—but almost anybody who had to work and
kept at it for years, could do as well.  "Why, I, with no experience at
all, did wonders down at Overlook—better than Narcisse ever did
anywhere."  Indeed, had Narcisse really ever done anything alone? "She
has been living off Alois’s brains, and she’s trying to get him back."

That was all quite clear; also, a loving and watchful wife’s duty in the
circumstances.  She gave Alois no rest until he had agreed to break
partnership and take offices alone.  "When you’ve got your own offices,"
she cried, "what work we shall do!  You must go down early and stay
late, and I’ll have an office there, too."

So weak is man before woman on her knees and worshipful, Alois began
dimly to believe that his wife was, in a measure, right; that Narcisse
had been something—not much, but something—of a handicap to his genius;
that her prudence and everyday practicality had chained down his soaring
imagination.  He had no illusions as to the help Amy would give him;
there, she had not his vanity to aid her in deluding him.  But he felt
he owed it to himself to free himself from the partnership.  Anyhow,
something was wrong; something was preventing him from doing good
work—and it was just as well to see if that something was his sister.
"The sooner I discover just what I am, the better," he reasoned.  And he
had no misgivings as to the event.

Narcisse made the break easy for him.  When she came back from Neva’s,
she met him in her usual friendly way, and herself opened the subject.
"I think we’d better each go it alone," said she, as if she had not
penetrated the meaning of his letter.  "You’ve reached the point where
you don’t want to be bothered with the kind of things I do best.  What
do you say?"

"I had thought of that, too," confessed he.  "But I—  Do you really want
it, Cis?"

"No sentiment in business," replied she in her most offhand manner.  "If
each of us can do better alone, it’d be silly not to separate.  Anyhow,
where’s the harm in trying?"

"I was going to suggest that we take offices a little further uptown,"
he went on.  "We might do that, and keep on as we are for a while."

"No.  You move; let me keep these offices.  I’m like a cat; I get
attached to places."

And so it was settled.  "Narcisse Siersdorf, Builder," appeared where
"A. & N. Siersdorf, Builders," had been.  "Alois Siersdorf, Architect,"
appeared upon the offices, spacious and most imposing, in a small but
extravagantly luxurious bank building in Fifth Avenue, within a few
blocks of home—"home" being Josiah Fosdick’s house.


Amy insisted on their living "at home" because her father couldn’t be
left quite alone; and Alois sat rent and food free; he had made a
vigorous fight for complete independence in financial matters, but
nothing had come of it—he felt that it was ridiculous solemnly to give
Amy each month a sum which would hardly pay for her dresses.  "You are
too funny about money," she said.  "Why attach so much importance to it?
We put it all in together, and no doubt some months you pay more than
our share, other months less—but what of that?  You can’t expect me to
bother my head with horrid accounts.  And I simply won’t have you
talking such matters with the housekeeper—and who else is there?"

Alois grumbled, but gradually yielded.  He consoled himself with the
reflection that presently his business would pay hugely, and then the
equilibrium would be restored.  And after a while—an extremely short
while—he thought no more about the matter. This, in face of the fact
that the business did not expand as he had dreamed.  He was offered
plenty to do at first, for he had reputation and the rich were eager for
his services.  But he simply could not find time to attend to business;
he had to leave everything, even the making of plans, to assistants.
There were all sorts of entertainments to which he must go with
Amy—rides, coaching expeditions, luncheons, afternoon bridge parties,
week-end visits.  And often he was up until very late at balls; she
loved to dance, and he found balls amusing, too.  Indeed, he was well
pleased with all the gayety.  Everybody paid court to him; the husband
of an heiress, and a distinguished, a successful, a famous man, one
whose opinions in professional matters were quoted with respect.  And as
everybody talked and acted as if he were doing well, were rising
steadily higher and higher, he could not but talk and act and feel so,
himself—most of the time.  He knew, as a matter of theory, that success
of any kind, except in being rich, and that exception only for the
enormously rich, is harder to keep than to win, must be won all over
again each day.  But in those surroundings he could not feel this; he
seemed secure, permanent.

It was not long before all their world, except only her and him, knew he
had practically given up the profession of architect for that of
husband.  The outward forms of deference to the famous young architect
deceived him, enabled him to deceive himself; but his friends, in his
very presence, and just out of earshot, often in undertones at his
father-in-law’s table, were sneering or, what is usually the same thing,
moralizing.  "Poor Siersdorf!  How he has fagged out.  Well, was there
as much to him as some people said?  And they tell me he is living off
his wife."

When matters reach this pass, and when the man is really a man, the
explosion is not far off.  It came with the first bitter quarrel he and
Amy had.  She wished him to go away with her for two months; he wished
to go, and it infuriated him against himself that he had so far lost his
pride that he could even consider leaving his business when it needed
him imperatively.  He curtly refused to go; by degrees their discussion
became a wrangle, a quarrel, a pitched battle.  She was the first
completely to lose control of temper.  She cast about for some missile
that would hit hard.

"What does this business of yours amount to, anyhow?" she jeered.
"Sometimes, I can’t help wondering what would have become of you if you
hadn’t married me."

She didn’t mean it; she was hardly conscious that she was saying it
until the words were out.  She grew white and shrank before the damage
she knew she must have done.  He did not, could not, answer immediately.
When he did, it was a release of all that had been poisoning him for
months.

"You think that, do you?" he cried.  "I might have known!  You dare to
think that, when you are responsible!"

"That’s manly," she retorted, eager to extricate herself by putting him
in the wrong.

He strode to her; he was shaking with fury. "We’ll not talk about what’s
manly or womanly. Let’s look at the facts.  I loved you, and you took
advantage of it to ruin my career, to make it impossible for me to work,
to drive away my clients.  You have taken my reputation, my brain, my
energy.  And you dare to taunt me!  Men have killed women for less."

"Alois!" she sobbed.  "Don’t frighten me.  Don’t look—speak—like that!
Oh, I’m not responsible for what I say.  I know I’ve been selfish—it’s
all my fault. But what does anything matter except our happiness?
Forgive me.  You know why I’m so bad tempered now—so different from my
usual self."  And the sobs merged into a flood of hysterical tears.

The reference to her condition, to their expectations, softened him,
caused his anger at once to begin to change into bitter shame, a shame
to be concealed, to eat, acidlike, in and in and make a wound that would
never heal, but would grow in venom until it would torture him without
ceasing.

"I don’t want you to work," she wept.  "I want you all to myself.  Ah,
Alois, some time you’ll appreciate my love; you’ll realize that love is
better than a career.  And for you"—sob—"to reproach me"—sob, sob—"when
I thought you were as happy as I!"  A wild outburst of grief.

And he was consoling her, had her in his arms, was lulling her and
himself in the bright waves of the passion which she could always evoke
in him, as he in her. Never again did she speak of his dependent
position; it always made her flesh creep and chill to remember what she
had said.  But from that time she was distinctly conscious that he was a
dependent—and she no longer respected him.  From that time, he clearly
recognized his own position.  He thought it out, decided to make a bold
stand; but he felt he could not begin at once.  In her condition she
must not be crossed; he must go away with her, since go she must and go
alone she could not.  He would make a new beginning as soon as the baby
was born.


Meanwhile, his office expenses were heavy, and the money he had saved
before he was married was gone. He went into debt fast, terrifyingly
fast.  He borrowed two thousand dollars of Narcisse; he hoped it would
last, as usually Amy’s bills were all paid by her father.  But they were
away from Fosdick’s house, and she, thinking and knowing nothing about
money, continued to spend as usual.  He got everything on credit that
did not have to be paid for at once; but in spite of all his contriving,
when they reached New York again he was really penniless.  He went to
Narcisse’s office; she was out of town.  In desperation he borrowed five
hundred dollars from his brother-in-law.

Hugo loaned the money as if the transaction were a trifle that was
making no impression on him.  Like all those who think of nothing but
money, he affected to think nothing of it.  He noted Alois’s
nervousness, then his thin and harassed look.  "How do Amy and Alois
live?" he asked his father.

"Live?  What do you mean?" said Josiah. "Why, they’re perfectly happy.
What put such nonsense in your head?"

"Oh, bother!" exclaimed Hugo.  "Certainly they’re happy.  Amy’d be a
fool not to be happy with as decent a chap as he is.  I mean, how do
they get along about money?"

"He’s got a good business," said Fosdick.  "You know it as well as I
do."

"He used to have," replied Hugo.  "But he’s too busy with Amy to be
doing much else.  He’s always standing on her dress.  And he has no
partner."

"I don’t know anything about it," said Fosdick. "If Amy needed money,
she’d come to me."  Fosdick recalled that he had been paying even
heavier bills for her since she was married; but he had no mind to speak
of it to Hugo, as he did not wish Hugo to misunderstand. "You attend to
your own affairs, boy," he continued.  "Those two are all right."  And
he beamed benevolently.  He delighted in Amy’s happiness, felt that he
was entirely responsible for it.

But Hugo was not to be put off.  "Believe me, father, Alois is down to
bed-rock.  He can’t speak to Amy about it, or to you.  He’s a gentleman.
It’s up to you to do something for him."

"I guess looking after Amy does keep his time pretty well filled up,"
chuckled the old man, much amused.  "I’ll fix him a place in the
O.A.D.—something that’ll give him a good income and not take his mind
entirely off his job."

"Why not get Armstrong to make him supervising architect?  A big public
institution like that ought to pay more attention to cultivating the
artistic side.  He could think out and carry out some general plan
that’d harmonize to high standards all the buildings, especially the
dwelling and apartment houses they own in the provinces."  Hugo spoke of
the O.A.D. as "they" nowadays, though he still thought of it as "we."

"That’s a good idea, Hugo, as good as any other. I’ll see Armstrong
to-day.  I oughtn’t to have neglected putting Alois on the pay rolls.
I’ll give him something in the railway, too.  We’ll fix him up
handsomely.  He’s a fine young fellow, and he has made Amy happy.  You
don’t appreciate that, you young scoundrel, as we of the older
generation do."  And Hugo had to listen patiently to a discourse on
decaying virtue and honor and family life; for, like all decaying men,
Fosdick mistook internal symptoms for an exterior and universal
phenomenon, just as a man who is going blind cries, "The light is
getting dim!"

Fosdick did not forget.  Now that his attention was upon the matter, he
reproached himself severely for his oversight.  "I’ve been taking care
of scores of people, and neglecting my own.  But I’ll make up for it."
He ordered the president of the railway to put Alois on the pay rolls at
once with a salary of twelve thousand a year.  "You need somebody to
supervise the stations.  Everybody’s going in for art, nowadays, and we
want the best.  Mail him his first check to-day, with the notice of his
appointment."

In the full glow of generosity, he went up to see Armstrong.  They were
great friends nowadays. Since the peace, not a trace of cloud had come
between them; he was careful to keep his hands entirely off the O.A.D.;
Armstrong, on his side, gave the Fosdick railway and industrial
enterprises the same "courtesies" they had always enjoyed, except that
he charged them the current rate of interest, instead of the old special
rate.

"Horace," he began, "I suppose you’ll soon be organizing the
construction department on broader lines.  I’ve come to put in a good
word for my son-in-law.  I don’t need to say anything about his merits
as an architect.  As you know, there’s none better."

"None," said Armstrong heartily.  "Anything we want in his line, he’ll
get."

"Thanks.  Thanks.  My idea, though, was a little more definite.  I was
thinking you might want a man to pass on all buildings, plans,
improvements.  He could raise the value of the company’s
property—particularly the dwelling and apartment houses."

"That’s a valuable suggestion," said Armstrong. "And Siersdorf would be
just the man for the place. But will he take it?"

"I think so."

"But he’d have to be traveling about, most of the time.  He’d be in the
West and South, where we’re trying to get back the ground lost in those
big exposés. I shouldn’t think he’d care for that sort of life."

Fosdick was disconcerted.  "I suppose that could be arranged.  You
wouldn’t expect a man of Siersdorf’s caliber to go chasing about the
country like a retail drummer.  He’d have assistants for that, and
drawings and pictures and those sort of things could be forwarded to him
here."

"That would hardly do," replied Armstrong, like a man advancing
cautiously, but determined to advance.  "Then, there’s the matter of
pay.  The work would take all of his time, and we couldn’t afford much
of a salary.  I should say the job was rather for some talented young
fellow, trying to get a start."

"You’d simply waste whatever money you paid such a man," Fosdick
objected with a restraint of tone and manner that astonished himself.
"No, what you want is a high-class, a first-class, man at a good
salary—a first-class man’s salary."

"Say—how much?" inquired Armstrong.

"I was thinking twenty thousand a year—or, perhaps fifteen."  The lower
figure was an amendment suggested by the tightening of Armstrong’s lips.

Armstrong saw the point.  What Fosdick was after was a sinecure; a soft
berth for his son-in-law to luxuriate idly in; another and a portly
addition to the O.A.D’s vast family of "fixed charges."  "I’d like to
oblige you, Mr. Fosdick," said he, with the reluctance of a man taking a
new road where the passage looks doubtful and may be dangerous.  "And I
hate to deprive the O.A.D. of the chance to get Siersdorf’s services at
what is undoubtedly a bargain.  But, as you may perhaps have heard, I’m
directing all my efforts to lopping off expenses.  I’m trying to get the
O.A.D. on a basis where we can pay the policy holders a larger share of
the profits we make on their money. Perhaps, later on, I can take the
matter up.  But I hope you won’t press it at present."

The words were careful, the tone was most courteously regretful.  But
the refusal was none the less a slap in the face to a man like Fosdick.
"As you please, as you please," he said hurriedly, and with averted
eyes.  "I just thought it was a good arrangement all around....
Everything going smoothly?"

"So-so."

"Well, good day."

And he went, with a friendly nod and handshake that did not deceive
Armstrong.  He drove to the magnificent Hearth and Home Defender
building which Trafford and his pals had built for their own profit out
of their stealings from millions of working men and women and children
of the poorest, most ignorant class.  Trafford received his fellow adept
in the art of exploiting as Fosdick loved to be received; he did not let
him finish his request before granting it.  "An excellent idea,
Fosdick," he cried.  "I understand perfectly.  I’ll see that we get
Siersdorf at once.  Would fifteen thousand be too small?"

"About right, as a starter, I should say," was Fosdick’s judicial
answer.  "You see, the thing’s more or less an experiment."

"But certain to succeed," said Trafford confidently. "And, of course,
we’ll accept any arrangements Mr. Siersdorf may make about assistants.
We can’t expect him to give us all his time.  We’ll be quite content
with his advice and judgment.  You’ve put me under obligations to you."

Fosdick’s eyes sparkled.  As he went away, he said to himself, "Now,
there’s a big man, a gentleman, one who knows how to do business, how to
treat another gentleman.  I must put him in on something good."

And he did.



                                 *XXIX*

                          *"IF I MARRIED YOU"*


When Armstrong saw the announcement of Frederic Carlin’s death, he
assumed Neva would soon be in New York, to escape the loneliness of
Battle Field.  He let three weeks pass, after her brief but gentle and
friendly answer to his telegram of condolence.  Then, he wrote her he
was going to Chicago and wished to stop at Battle Field; she replied
that she would be glad to see him.  He took the first Westbound
express—the through limited which, at his request, dropped him at the
little town it had always before rushed past at disdainful speed.  The
respect with which he was treated, the deference of those who recognized
him at the station, the smallness and simplicity of the old town, all
combined to put the now triumphant and autocratic president of the
mighty O.A.D. in the mood to appreciate every inch of the dizzy depth
down from where he now blazed in glory to where he had begun, a barefoot
boy in jeans, delivering groceries at back doors and alley gates.  It
was not in Armstrong to condescend; but it is in the sanest of us poor
mortals, with our dim sense of proportion and our feeble sense of humor
where we ourselves are the joke, to build up a grandiose mood upon less
foundation of vanity of achievement than had Armstrong. The mood gave
him a feeling of confidence, of conquest impending, as he strode in at
the gate beside the drive into the Carlin place a full hour before he
was expected.  Memory was busy—not by any means altogether
unpleasantly—as he went more slowly up the narrow walk to the old square
stone house, with its walls all but hidden under the ivy, with its
verandas draped in honeysuckle, and its peaceful, dignified foreground
of primeval elms.  The past was not quite forgotten; but he felt that it
was completely expiated. He had paid for his ingratitude, his
selfishness, his blindness, his folly—had paid in full, with interest.

He ascended to the veranda before the big oak front doors.  The only
life in view was a hummingbird flitting and balancing like a sprite
among the honeysuckle blooms.  The doors, the windows on either side,
were open wide; he looked in with the future-focused eyes of the
practical man of affairs.  His past did not advance from those familiar
rooms to abash him.  On the contrary his eager gaze entered, searching
for his future.

"We must have, will have, a place like this near New York," thought he.
"Why not in New York? I can afford it."

He rang several times at long intervals; it was Neva herself who finally
came—Neva, all in black and, so it seemed to him, more beautiful than
ever.  That she was glad, more than glad, at sight of him was plain to
be seen in the color which submerged her pallor, in the swift lighting
up of her eyes, like the first flash of stars in the night sky.  But
there was in her manner, as well as in her garb, a denial of the impulse
of his impetuous passion; the doubts that had tormented him began to
bore into his mood of self-confidence.  She took him to the west
veranda, with its luminous green curtains of morning-glory.  She made
him seat himself in the largest and laziest chair there, all the while
covering the constraint with the neutral conversation which women
command the more freely, the more difficult the situation.  When the
pause came he felt that she had permitted it, that she was ready to
hear—and to speak.  The doubts had made such inroads upon his assurance
that his tone was less conclusive than he would have liked, as he began:

"Neva, I’ve come to take you back to New York."

Her expression, her manner brought vividly back to him that crucial talk
of theirs at the lake shore. Only, now the advantage was wholly with
her, where then it had been so distinctly on his side that he had pitied
her, had felt almost cowardly.  He looked at her impassive face,
impossible to read, and there rose in him a feeling of fear—the fear
every man at times has of the woman into whose hands his love has given
his destiny.

"Everything is waiting on you," he went on. "The way lies smooth before
us.  You have brought me good fortune, Neva.  My future—our future—is
secure.  With you to help me I shall go to the top. So—come, Neva!"  And
his heart filled his eyes.

She waited a moment before answering.  "If we should fail this time, it
would be the end, wouldn’t it?" she said.

"But we can’t fail!" he protested.  He was strong in his assurance once
more; did not her question imply that she loved him?

"We failed before, and we were younger and more adaptable."

"But now we understand each other."

"Do we?" she said, her eyes gravely upon him.

"How can you ask that!"

"Because so much depends on our seeing the truth exactly.  The rest of
our lives is at stake."

"Yes.  I can’t go on without you.  Can _you_ go on without me?"

"Each of us," she replied, "can go on without the other.  I can paint
pictures; you can make money. The question is, what will we mean to each
other if we go on together?  We aren’t children any more, Horace.  We
are a man and a woman full grown, experienced, unable to blind ourselves
even in our follies. And we aren’t simply rushing into an episode of
passion that will rage and die out.  If it were merely that, I shouldn’t
be asking you and myself questions. When the end came, we could resume
our separate lives; and, even if our experience had cost us dear instead
of helping us, still we could recover, would in time be stronger and
better for having had it.  But you offer me your whole self, your whole
life, and you ask me to give you mine.  You ask me to marry you."

He did not understand this; woman meant to him only sex, and the
difference between love and passion was a marriage ceremony.  He felt
that in what she said there lurked traces of the immorality of the woman
who tries to think for herself instead of properly selecting a proper
man and letting him do the thinking for both.  "I love you," said he,
"and there’s the whole story.  Love doesn’t reason; it feels."

"Then it ought never to get married," she said. "We tried marriage once
on the basis of husband and wife being absolute strangers to each other,
and at cross purposes."  She paused; he did not suspect it was to steady
her constantly endangered self-control. "And," she added, "I shall never
try that kind of marriage again.  Passion is a better kindler than
worldliness, but it is just as poor fuel."

"Neva!" he exclaimed.

"I couldn’t be merely your mistress, Horace.  I’d want _you_, and I’d
want you to take me, all of me. I’d want it to be our life, and not
merely an episode in our life.  Can’t you see what would come
afterwards—when you had grown calm about me—and I about you?  Can’t you
see that you’d turn back to your business and prostitute yourself for
money, while I’d turn perhaps to luxury and show and prostitute myself
to you for the means to exhibit myself?  Don’t you see it on every side,
there in New York—the traffic in the souls of men and women viler than
any on the sidewalks at night—the brazen faces of the men, flaunting
their shame, the brazen faces of the women, the so-called wives,
flaunting _their_ shame?"

"But you could never be like them," he protested.  "Never!"

"As strong women as I, stronger, have been dragged down.  No human being
can resist the slow, steady, insidious seduction of his daily
surroundings."

"I don’t understand this at all, Neva," he said, though his
ill-concealed anger showed that he did. Indeed, so angry was he that he
was almost forgetting his own warnings to himself of the injustice of
holding her responsible for anything she said in her obviously unstrung
condition.  He asked, "What have you to do with that sort of woman?"  He
hesitated, forced himself to go boldly on.  "Why do you compare me to
those men?  _I_ do not degrade myself."

She did not answer immediately, but looked away across the beds of
blooming flowers.  When she began again, she seemed calmer, under better
control.  "All the time I was in New York," she said, "the life
there—the real life of money getting and money spending—never touched me
personally until toward the last. Then—I saw what it really meant, saw
it so plainly that I can’t ever again hide the truth from myself. And
since I came away—out here—where it’s calm, and one thinks of things as
they are—where father and the other way of living and acting toward
one’s fellow beings, took strong hold of me——"

"But, Neva—you——"

"_Please_, let me finish," she begged, all excitement once more.  "It’s
so hard to say—so much harder than you think.  But I must—must—_must_
let you see what kind of woman I am, who it is you’ve asked to be your
wife.  As I remember my acquaintances in New York, _our_ friends, do you
know what I always feel?  I remember their palaces, their swarms of
servants, their jewels, their luxuries, the food they eat, the wine they
drink, all of it; and I wonder just whose dollar was stolen to help pay
for this or that luxury, just who is in want, how many are in want, that
that carriage might roll or the other automobile go darting about.  You
_know_ the men steal it; they don’t know from whom, and so they can
brazen it out to themselves."

"That is harsh—too harsh, Neva!"

She did not heed his interruption.  "They can brazen it out," she went
on, "because no one can or will come forward and say, ’Take off that new
string of pearls.  Your husband stole the money from me to-day to buy
it.’  He did steal it, but not that day, not directly from one person,
but indirectly from many who hardly, if at all, knew they were being
robbed.  That is what New York has come to mean to me these last few
weeks—my New York and yours—the people we know best."

"But we need not know _them_.  Have what friends you please."  He took
an air of gentleness, of forbearance with her.  He reminded himself that
she was overwrought by her father’s illness and death, that she was not
in condition to see things normally and practically; such hysterical
ideas as these of hers naturally bred and flourished in the miasmatic
soil and atmosphere of the fresh grave.

"Don’t you see it?" she cried desperately.  "I mean you—Horace—_you_,
that ask me to be your wife."

"Me!"  His amazement was wholly genuine.

"Yes—you!"  And she lost all control of herself, was seized and swept
away by the emotions that had grown stronger and stronger during her
father’s illness, and since his death had dominated her day and night in
her loneliness.  The scarlet of fever was in her cheeks, its flame in
her eyes.

"Yes, you, Horace," she repeated.  "Can’t you see I’d be worse than
uneasy about everything we bought, about every dollar we spent?  When
you left me to go downtown in the morning, I’d be thinking, ’Who is the
man I love going to rob to-day?’  And when you came back at night, when
your hands touched mine, I’d be shuddering—for there might be blood on
them!"  She covered her face.  "There _would_ be blood on them.
Happiness!  Why, I should be in hell!  And soon you’d hate me for what I
would be thinking of you, would despise me for living a life I thought
degrading."

If he had been self-analytic, he would have suspected the origin of the
furious anger that surged up in him.  "I see!" said he, his voice hard.
"If these notions," he sneered, "were to prevail among the women, about
all the strongest men in the country would lose their wives."

"That is not the question," she answered, maddened by his manner.  "I’m
only trying to make _you_ acquainted with _me_.  I don’t understand, as
I look at it, now that my eyes have opened, how a woman can live with a
man who kills hundreds, thousands with his railway, to make dividends,
or who lets thousands live in hovels and toil all the daylight hours and
half starve part of the year that he may have a bigger income. Oh, I
don’t know the morals of it or the practical business side of it.  And I
don’t want to know.  My instinct tells me it’s wrong, _wrong_.  And I
dare not have anything to do with it, Horace, or I’d become like those
women, those so-called respectable women, one sees driving every
afternoon in Fifth Avenue, with their hard, selfish faces.  Ah, I see
blood on their carriage wheels, the blood of their brothers and sisters
who paid for carriage and furs and liveries and jewels.  It would be
dreadful enough for the intelligent and strong—for men like you,
Horace—to take from the ignorant and weak to buy the necessities of
life.  But to snatch bread and shelter and warmth and education from
their fellow beings to buy vanities—  It isn’t American—it isn’t
decent—it isn’t brave!"

He saw that it would be idle to argue with her. Indeed, he began to
feel, rather than to see, that beneath her hysteria there was something
he would have to explore, something she was terribly in earnest about.
There was a long silence, she slowly calming, he hidden behind the mask
of that handsome, rugged face in which strength yielded so little for
grace. "Well, what are you going to do about it?" he said unemotionally.

"All I can," she replied.  "I can refuse to live that sort of life, to
live on human flesh and blood.  I know good people do it, people who are
better than I.  And if it seems right to them, why, I don’t judge them.
Only, it doesn’t seem right to me.  I wish it did.  I wish I could shut
my eyes again.  But—I can’t. My father won’t let me!"

He made a movement that suggested shrinking. But he said presently, "I
still don’t see where I come in.  In our business we don’t get money
that way."

"How do you get it?" she asked.

He stared, stolid and silent, at the floor.

"You told me once that——"

"In some moods I say things I don’t altogether mean....  I don’t moon
about the miseries I can’t possibly cure," he went on.  "I don’t
quibble; I act. I don’t criticise life; I live.  I don’t create the
world or make the law of the survival of the fittest; I simply accept
conditions I could not change.  As for this so-called stealing, even the
worst of the big men take only what’s everybody’s property and therefore
anybody’s."

"It seems to me," said she, "the question always is, ’Does this property
belong to me?’ and if the answer is ’No,’ then to take it is—"  She
paused before the word.

"To steal," he said bluntly.

She made no comment.  Finally he went on: "Let us understand each other.
You refuse to marry me unless I abandon my career, and sink down to a
position of no influence—become a nobody.  For, of course, I can’t play
the game unless I play it under the rules.  At least, I can think of no
way."

"I see I didn’t express myself well," she replied. "I’ve not tried to
make conditions.  I’ve simply shown you what kind of woman you were
asking to marry you—and that you don’t want her—that you want only the
part of me that for the moment appeals to your senses.  If I had married
you without telling you what was in my mind and heart would it have been
fair to you?"

He did not answer.

"Would it have been fair, Horace?"

"No," he said—a simple negative.

"You see that you do not want me—that you would find me more, far more,
of a drag on your career than I was before—a force pulling back instead
of merely a dead weight."

He was looking at her—was looking from behind his impenetrable mask.  He
looked for a long time, she now meeting his gaze and now glancing away.
At last he said, with slow deliberateness: "I see that I came seeking a
mistress.  Whether I want her as a wife, I don’t know.  Whether she
wants me as a husband—I don’t know."  He relapsed into thought which she
did not interrupt.

When he rose to go, he did not see how she flushed and trembled, and
fought down the longing to say the things that would have meant retreat.

"I feel," said he with a faint smile, "like a man who goes down to the
pier thinking he is about to take an outing for the day, and finds that
if he goes aboard he will be embarked for a life journey into new lands
and will never come back.  I never before really grasped what marriage
means."

She had always been fascinated by his eyes, which seemed to her to
contain the essence of all that attracted and thrilled and compelled her
in the idea, man.  As she stood touching the hand he extended, she had
never felt his eyes so deeply; never before had there been in them this
manly gentleness of respect and consideration.  And her faltering
courage took heart.

"I am going back to New York," he said.  "I want to look about me."

She looked straight and calm; but, through her hand, he felt that she
was vibrating like a struck, tense violin string.  "Some men want a
mistress when they marry," she went on, smiling-serious, "and some want
a housekeeper, and some a parlor ornament, and some a mother for their
children.  But very few want a wife.  And I"—she sighed.  "I couldn’t do
anything at any of the other parts, unless I were also the wife."

"I understand—at last," he said.  "Or rather, I begin to understand.
You have thought it out.  I haven’t—and I must."

She hoped he would kiss her; but he did not.  He reluctantly released
her hand, gave her a lingering look which she had not the vanity or the
buoyance rightly to interpret, then gazed slowly round the gardens,
brilliant, alluring, warm.  She stood motionless and tense, watching his
big form, his strong shoulders and forcefully set head as he crossed the
gardens, went down the walk and through the gate, to be hidden by the
hedge between the lawns and the street.  When the last echo of his firm
step had ceased in her ears, she collapsed into the chair in which he
had sat, and was all passion and tenderness and tears and longings and
fears.

"He thinks me cold!  He thinks me cold!" she cried.  "Oh, Father, why
won’t You let me be weak? Why can’t I take less than all?  Why can’t I
trust him, when I love him so!"



                                 *XXX*

                              *BY A TRICK*


By itself, Armstrong’s insult to Fosdick in refusing to "take care of"
his son-in-law would have been of small consequence, unpleasant reminder
of his shorn power and rude check to his benevolent instincts though it
was.  Fosdick was not likely, at least soon, to forget his lesson in the
wisdom of letting the big Westerner alone.  Also, Armstrong was useful
to him—not so useful as a tool in the same position would have been;
still, far more useful than a representative of some hostile interest.
But this insult was the latest and the rashest of a series of similar
insults which Armstrong had been distributing right and left with an
ever freer, ever bolder hand.  While he was "thinking over" Neva’s plain
talk with him, he, by more than mere coincidence, was experimenting with
a new policy which was in the general direction of the one he had
adopted as soon as he got control of the O.A.D.  It was a policy of
"anti-graft"; and once he had inaugurated it, once he had begun to look
about him in the O.A.D. for opportunities to stop the plundering, and
the pilfering as well, he had pushed on far beyond where he originally
intended to halt—as a strong man always does, whatever the course he
chooses.

Everyone belongs to some section or class.  He may quarrel with
individuals in that class, he may quarrel with individuals in another
class, or with the whole of it; but he may not break with the whole of
his own class.  Be he cracksman or financier or preacher or carpenter or
lawyer or what not, he must be careful not to get his own class, as a
class, against him.  If he does, he will find himself alone,
defenseless, doomed.  Armstrong belonged to the class financier; he had
been in finance all his grown-up life.  He stood for the idea financier
in the minds of financiers, in his own mind, in the public mind.  His
battles with his fellow-financiers, being within the class lines, had
strengthened him, had given him clear title to recognition as a power in
finance; he had been like the politician who fights his way through and
over his fellow politicians to a nomination or a boss-ship, like the
preacher who bears off the bishopric from his rivals, the doctor who
absorbs the patronage of the rich, the lawyer who succeeds in the
competition among lawyers for the position of chief pander to the
plutocratic appetite for making and breaking laws.

But this new policy of Armstrong’s was a policy of war on his own class.
Cutting down commissions, cutting out "good things," lopping off
sinecures, bisecting salaries—why, he was hacking away at the very
foundations of the dominance of his class!  No privileges, no
parasitism, no consideration for gentlemen, no "soft snaps," no
ornaments on the pay rolls—where were the profits to come from, the
profits that enabled the big fellows to fatten, that filled the crib for
their business and social hangers-on?  Reform, economy, stoppage of
waste, all these were excellent to talk about; and, within limits that
recognized the rights of the dominant classes, even might be practiced
without offense, especially by a fellow trying to make a reputation and
judiciously doing it at the expense of financiers who had lost their
grip and so could expect no quarter.  But to raise the banner of
"anti-graft" for a serious campaign—  Anarchy, socialism, chaos!

Armstrong had inaugurated and was pressing a war on his own class.  And
for whose benefit?  Not for his own; he wasn’t enriching himself—and
therein was a Phariseeism, an effort to pose as a censor of his class,
that alone would have made him a suspicious character.  He was fighting
his own class, was making traitorous, familicidal war for the benefit of
the common enemy—the vast throng of the people who hated the upper
classes, as everybody knew, and were impudently restless in their
God-appointed position of hewers of wood and drawers of water for the
financial aristocracy.  Were not the people weakening dangerously in
reverence for and gratitude to their superiors, the great and good men
who provided them with work, took care of their savings for them,
supported the church that guarded their souls and the medical profession
that healed their bodies, paid all the taxes, undertook all the large
responsibilities—and did this truly godlike work, supported this
Atlantean burden, in exchange for a trivial commission that brought no
benefit but the sorrows of luxury?  These were the ignoramuses Armstrong
was inflating, these the ingrates he was encouraging.  Already he had
doubled the dividends of the O.A.D., had made them a seeming rebuke to
the other insurance companies. Competition—yes!  But not the cutthroat,
wicked, ruinous competition that would destroy his own class, its
profits and its power.  If he were permitted to persist, the clamor for
so-called "honesty" might spread from policy holders to stockholders, to
wage earners, to the whole mass of the wards of high finance.  And they
might compel the upper class to grant them more money to waste in drink
and in wicked imitation of the luxury of their betters!

Armstrong was expelling himself from his own class—into what?  Except in
finance, high finance, what career was there for him?  He would be like
a politician without a party, like a general without an army, like a
preacher without a parish, like a disbarred lawyer.  His reputation
would be gone—for morality is a relative word, and by his conduct he was
convincing the only class important to him as a man of action that he
had not the morality of his class, that he could not be trusted with its
interests.  Every era, every race, every class has its own morality, its
own practical application of the general moral code to its peculiar
needs.  The class financier, in the peculiar circumstances surrounding
life in the new era, had its code of what was honest and what dishonest,
what respectable and what disreputable, what loyal and what disloyal.
Under that code his new course was disloyal, disreputable, was
positively dishonest.  It would avail him nothing, should other classes
vaguely approve; if his own class condemned, he was damned.

"A hell of a mess I’m getting into," reflected he, "with trying to play
one game by the rules of another."  He saw his situation clearly, but he
had no disposition to turn back.  "All in a lifetime!" he concluded with
a shrug.  "I’ll just see what comes of it.  Anything but monotony."  To
him monotony, the monotony of simply taking in and putting away for his
own use money confided to him, was the dullest of lives—and it was
beginning to seem the most contemptible—"like going through the pockets
of sleepers," said he to himself.

He saw the storm coming.  Not that there were any clouds or gusty winds;
the great storms, the cyclones, don’t come that way.  No, his sky was
serene all round; everything looked bright, brilliant.  But there was an
ominous stillness in the air—that dead, dead calm which fills an
experienced weather expert with misgivings.  Before the great storms
that explode out of those utter calms, the domestic animals always act
queerly; and, in this case, that sign was not lacking.  The big fellows
beamed on him, were most polite, most eager for his friendship.  Not so
the little fellows—the underlings, both in the O.A.D. and in its allied
banks and in the institutions of high finance into which Armstrong
happened to go. At sight of him they became agitated, nervous, stood
aloof, watched him furtively.

But he went his new way steadily, as if he did not know what was
impending.  It secretly amused him greatly to observe his directors.
The new board he had selected was composed of men of substantial
fortune, who were just outside high finance—business men, trained in
business methods.  But they had been agitated by what they had seen and
heard and read of the financiers—of the vast fortunes quickly made, of
the huge mysterious profits, of the great enterprises where the
financier risked only other people’s money, and stood to lose nothing if
the venture failed, kept all the profits if it succeeded.  They longed
for these fairylike lands where money grew on bushes and the rivers ran
gold.  And when they were invited into the directory of the O.A.D., they
thought they were at last sweeping through the gates from the real world
of business to the Hesperian Gardens of finance.  As they sat at the
meetings, hearing Armstrong and his lieutenants give accounts of
economies and safe investments and profits for the policy holders, each
felt like a child who had been led to believe it was going to a
Christmas festival and finds that it has been lured into a regular
session of the Sunday school.  Why, the honor and the director’s fees
were all there was in it!

Then there were the agents, the officials, the staff of the company,
high and low, far and near.  To the easy-going, golden days of finance
had succeeded these sober days of business.  Instead of generosity, free
flinging about of the money that came in so easily, there was now the
most rigid economy—"regular, damn, pinch-penny honesty," complained
Duncan, the magnificent agent at Chicago.  "I tell you frankly,
Armstrong, I’m going to get out.  It isn’t worth the while of a man of
my ability to work for what the company now allows."

"Sorry to lose you, old man," said Armstrong, "but we can’t allow any
secret rake-offs."

It was Duncan who precipitated the cyclone.  A cyclone at its start is a
little eddy of air which happens to be set whirling by a chance twist of
a sunbeam glancing from a cloud.  Millions of these eddies occur every
hour everywhere.  Only when conditions are just right does a cyclone
result, does the eddy continue to whirl, draw more and more air in
commotion, get a forward impulse that increases, until in an incredibly
short space of time destruction is raging over the land.  The conditions
in the O.A.D. were just right.  Armstrong was hated by the whole
personnel, at home and abroad, and hated as only the man is hated who
cuts his fellows off from "easy money."  And he had not a friend.
Throughout high finance, he was hated and feared; at any moment, as the
result of his doings, some other big institution, all other big
institutions might have to adopt his policy.  Directors, presidents,
officials great and small, all the recipients of the profits from the
system of using other people’s money as if it were your own, regarded
him as a personal enemy.  When Duncan said to one of his fellow agents,
"We must get that chap out," the right eddy had been started.

Within two weeks, Duncan was at the head of an association of agents
gathering proxies from the policy holders to oust the Armstrong régime.
Duncan and his fellow conspirators sent out a circular, calling
attention to the recent rise in the profits to policy holders.  "It is
evident," said the circular, "that there has been mismanagement of our
interests, and that the present powers have been frightened into giving
us a little larger part of our own.  We ought to have it all!  Send your
proxies to the undersigned, that the O.A.D. may be reorganized upon an
honest, democratic basis.  A new broom, a clean sweep!"

Duncan in person came to Armstrong with one of the circulars.  "There’s
nothing underhand about me," said he as he handed it to the president.
"Here’s our declaration of war."

Armstrong glanced at it, smiled satirically. "You’ve sent copies to the
newspapers also, haven’t you?" replied he.  "As you couldn’t possibly
keep the matter secret, I can’t get excited about your candor."  And he
tossed the circular on his desk.

"When you read it, you’ll see we’re fighting fair," said Duncan.

"I’ve read it," was Armstrong’s answer.  "One of my friends among the
agents sent me a copy a week ago—the day you drew it up."

Duncan began to "hedge."  "I don’t want you to have any hard feelings
toward me," said he.  "All the boys were hot for this thing, and I had
to go in with them."

"You were displaced as general Western agent this morning," said
Armstrong tranquilly.  "I telegraphed your assistant to take charge.  I
also telephoned him a memorandum of what you owe the company, with
instructions to bring suit unless you paid up in three days."

"It ain’t fair to single me out this way," cried Duncan.  "It’s
persecution."

"I haven’t singled you out," said Armstrong.  "I bounced the whole crowd
of you at the same time, and in the same way.  You charge me with
extravagance. Well, you see, I’ve admitted the charge and have begun to
retrench."

Duncan’s fat, round face was purple and his brown eyes were glittering.
"You think you’ve done us up," said he, with a nasty laugh.  "But you’re
not as ’cute’ as you imagine.  We provided against just that move."

"I see that your committee of policy holders to receive proxies are
dummies," replied Armstrong.  "I know all about your arrangements."

"Then you know we’re going to win."

Armstrong looked indifferent.  "That remains to be seen," said he.
"Good morning."

When Duncan had got himself out of the room, Armstrong laid the circular
beside the one he himself had written and sent to each of the seven
hundred thousand policy holders.  His circular was a straight-forward
statement of the facts—of how and why his policy of economy had stirred
up all the plunderers of the company, great and small.  It ended with a
request that proxies be sent direct to him, by those who wished the new
order to persist and did not wish a return to the old order with its
long-standing and grave abuses.  He compared the two circulars and
laughed at himself.  "Mine’s the unvarnished truth," thought he.  "But
it doesn’t sound as probable, as reasonable, as Duncan’s lies.  If the
policy holders do stand by me, it’ll be because most people are fools
and hit it right by accident.  Most of us are never so wrong as in our
way of being right.  The wise thing is always to assume that the crowd
that’s in is crooked."

If Armstrong had been a reformer, with the passion to reorganize the
world on his own private plan, and in the event of the world’s failure
to recognize his commission as vice-regent of the Almighty, ready to
denounce it as a hopeless case—if Armstrong had been a professional
regenerator, those would have been trying days for him.  The measures he
took that were the most honest and the most honorable were the very
measures that made the other side strong.  He had weeded out a multitude
of grafters and had shown an inflexible purpose to weed out the rest;
and so he had organized and made powerful the conspiracy to restore
graft.  He had attacked the men—the big agents—who were using their
influence with the policy holders to enable them to rob freely; and so
he had stirred up those traitors still further to cozen their victims.
He had cut down the enormous subsidies to the press, had cut off the
graft of the great financiers who were the powers behind the great
organs of public opinion; and so he had enlisted the press as an open
and most helpful ally of the conspirators.  The policy holders were told
by agents—whom they knew personally and regarded as their
representatives—that Armstrong was the "thieving tool of the Wall Street
crowd"; the policy holders read in their newspapers that "on the whole
the O.A.D. would probably benefit by a new management selected by the
body of the policy holders themselves."  It was ridiculous, it was
tragic.  Armstrong laughed, with a heavy and at times a bitter heart.
"I don’t blame the poor devils," he said.  "How are they to know?  I’m
the damn fool, not they—I who, dealing with men all these years, have
put myself in a position where I am appealing from the men who run the
people to the people, who always have been run and always will be."

Still, he began to hope against hope, as the proxies rolled in for
him—by hundreds, by thousands, by tens of thousands.  Most of the
letters accompanying the proxies justified his cynical opinion that the
average man is never so wrong as when he is right; the writers gave the
most absurd reasons for supporting him, not a few of them frankly saying
that it was to the best interest of the company to leave the control to
the man who was in with the powers of Wall Street!  But there were
letters, hundreds of them, from men and women who showed that they
understood the situation; and, curiously enough, most of these letters
were badly written, badly spelled, letters from so-called ignorant
people.  It was a striking exhibit of how little education has to do
with brains.  "I’ve always said," thought Armstrong, "that our rotten
system of education is responsible for most of the fools and all the
damn fools, but I never before knew how true it was."

And the weeks passed, and the annual meeting and election drew nearer
and nearer.  Instead of Armstrong’s agitation increasing, it disappeared
entirely. Within, he was as calm as he had all along seemed at the
surface.  It was an unexpected reward for trying to do the square thing.
He was eminently practical in his morals, was the last man in the world
to turn the other cheek, was disposed to return a blow both in kind and
in degree.  But he knew, also, that the calm he now felt was due to the
changed course, could never have been his in the old course.

On the morning of the great day, he stopped shaving to look into his own
eyes reflected in the glass. "Old man," said he aloud, "there’s much to
be said for being clean—reasonably, humanly clean.  It begins to have
compensations sooner than the preachers seem to think."


As Armstrong entered the splendid assembly chamber of the new O.A.D.
building, the first figure his eyes hit upon was that of Hugo Fosdick,
entering at the opposite door.  To look at him was like hearing a good
joke.  He was walking as if upon air, head rearing, lofty brow
corrugated, eyes rolling and serious, shoulders squared as if bearing
lightly a ponderous burden.  Of all the trifles that flash and wink out
upon the expanse of the infinite, the physically vain man seems the most
trivial.  The so-called upper classes, being condemned to think about
themselves almost all the time, furnish to the drama of life the most of
the low comedy, with their struttings and swellings and posings.  Those
who in addition to class vanity have physical vanity are the clowns of
the great show. Hugo was of the clowns—and he dressed the part, that
day.  He had on a tremendously loud tweed suit, a billycock hat of a
peculiar shade of brown to match, a huge plaid overcoat; he was wearing
a big, rough-looking chrysanthemum that seemed of a piece with his tie;
he diffused perfume like a woman who wishes to be known by the scent she
uses.  As he drew off his big, thick driving gloves, he gazed grandly
around. His eyes met Armstrong’s, and his haughty lip curled in a
supercilious smile.

"Did you come down in an auto?" some one asked him.

"No, not in an auto," he said in a voice intended to be heard by all.
"I drove down.  I’ve dropped the auto—it’s become vulgar, like the
bicycle.  It was merely a fad, and the best people soon exhausted it.
There’s no chance for individual taste in those mechanical things, as
there is in horses.  Anyone can get together the best there is going in
automobiles; but how many men can provide themselves with well turned
out traps—horses, harness, the men on the box, just as a gentleman’s
turnout should be?"

One of the Western men laughed behind his hand, and said, "Wot t’ hell!"
But most of the assembly gazed rather awedly at Hugo.  They would have
thought him ridiculous had he been presented to them as a
laugh-provoker; but, as he was presented as a representative of the "top
notch" of New York, they were respectfully silent and obediently
impressed.

And now, with Randall, a Duncan man, in the chair, the meeting
began—formalities, reading of reports to which nobody listened, making
of motions in which nobody was interested.  Half an hour of this, with
the tension increasing.  Duncan had dry-smoked three cigars, and the
corners of his fat mouth were yellow with tobacco stains; Hugo,
struggling hard for a gentleman’s _sang froid_, had half torn out the
sweat band of his pot hat, had bit his lip till it bled.  He was
watching Armstrong, was hating him and envying him—for the big Westerner
sat at the right of the chairman with no more trace of excitement on his
face than there is in the features of a bronze Buddha who has been
staring cross-legged into Nirvana for twenty-five centuries.

Nor did he rouse himself when the election began, though a nervous
shiver like an electric shock visibly shook every other man in the room.
His lieutenants proposed his list of candidates; Duncan’s men proposed
the "Popular" list; the voting began.  Barry, for Armstrong, cast
sixty-two thousand four hundred and fifteen votes—the proxies that had
come in for Armstrong in answer to his appeal and also the uncanceled
proxies of those he had had since the beginning of his term.  Duncan and
his crowd burst into a cheer, and in rapid succession nine of them cast
forty-three thousand and eleven votes.  Then they turned anxious eyes on
Hugo.  Armstrong, too, looked at him.  He could not understand.  Hugo’s
name was not on the Duncan list of persons to whom the "new broom"
proxies were to be sent.  Hugo, pale and trembling, rose.  He fixed
revengeful, triumphant, gloating eyes upon Armstrong and addressed him,
as he said to the chairman, "For Mr. Wolcott here, I cast for the
Popular, or anti-Armstrong ticket, the proxies of ninety thousand six
hundred and four policy holders."

Armstrong looked at Hugo as if he were not seeing him; indeed, he seemed
almost oblivious of his surroundings, as if he were absorbed in some
tranquil, interesting mental problem.  Silence followed Hugo’s
announcement, and the porters brought in and piled upon the huge table,
over against the now insignificant bundles of Armstrong’s proxies, the
packages which were the tangible demonstration of the overwhelming force
and power of his foes.  As the porters completed their task, the
spectacle became so inspiring to Duncan and his friends that they forgot
their dignity, and gave way to their feelings.  They yelled, they tossed
their hats; they embraced, shook hands, gave each other resounding slaps
upon the shoulders.  Hugo condescended to join in their jubilations,
never taking his eyes off Armstrong’s face.  Armstrong and Barry and
Driggs sat silent, Armstrong impassive, Barry frowning, Driggs gnawing
his mustache. Armstrong’s gaze went from face to face of these "policy
holders"; on each he saw written the basest emotions—emotions from the
jungle, emotions of tusk and claw.  The O.A.D. with all its vast
treasures was theirs to despoil—and they were clashing their fangs and
licking their savage chops in anticipation of the feast.  The vast
majority of the policy holders had been too indifferent to respond to
the appeal of either side—this, though the future of their widows and
their orphans was at stake!  Of those who had responded, the
overwhelming majority had declared against Armstrong.

He had long known it would be so and had resolved to accept the "popular
mandate."  But the gleam of those greedy eyes, the grate of that greedy,
gloating laughter, was too horrible.  "I _can’t_ let things go to hell
like this!" he muttered—and he leaned toward Driggs and said in an
undertone, "I’ve changed my mind.  Carry out my original programme."

Driggs suddenly straightened himself, and his face changed from gloom to
delight, then sobered into alert calmness.  Gradually the victors
quieted down. "Close the polls!" called Duncan.  "Nobody else is going
to vote."

"Before closing the polls, Mr. Chairman," said Driggs, "or, rather,
before the proxies offered by Mr. Fosdick are accepted, I wish to ask
Mr. Wolcott a question."  And he turned toward young Wolcott, a distant
relative and henchman of Duncan’s and one of the three men in whose
names stood all the "new-broom" proxies.

"How old are you, Mr. Wolcott, please?"

Wolcott stared at him, glanced at Hugo, at Duncan, grinned.  "None of
your business," drawled he. "I may say none of your damn business."

Driggs smiled blandly, turned to the chairman. "As a policy holder in
the O.A.D.," he said gently, "I ask that all the proxies on which the
name of Howard C. Wolcott appears be thrown out."

Duncan and Hugo sprang up.  "What kind of trick is this?" shouted Duncan
at Armstrong.

Armstrong seemed not to be listening, was idly twisting his slender gold
watch guard round his forefinger.

"By the constitution of the association," proceeded Driggs, "proxies
given to anyone under thirty years of age or to any committee any of
whose members is under thirty years are invalid.  I refer you to Article
nine, Section five."

"But Wolcott’s over thirty," bawled Duncan.

"I’m thirty-one—thirty-two the sixth of next month," blustered Wolcott.
"I demand to be sworn."

Driggs drew several papers from his pocket.  "I have here," he pursued,
"an official copy of Wolcott’s application for a marriage license, in
which he gives the date of his birth.  Also the sworn statement of the
physician who presided over his entrance into this wicked world.  Also,
an official copy of Wolcott’s statement to the election registrars of
Peoria, where he lives.  All these documents agree that Mr. Wolcott is
not yet twenty-nine."  Driggs leaned back and smiled benevolently at
Wolcott.  "I think Mr. Wolcott’s own testimony would be superfluous."

"This is infamous—infamous!" cried Hugo, hysterically menacing Armstrong
with his billycock hat and big driving gloves and crimson-fronted head.

"Of all the outrages ever attempted, this is the most brazen!" shouted
Duncan.

"Mr. Chairman," said Driggs, in that same gentle voice, not unlike the
purring of a stroked cat, "I believe the Constitution is self-executing.
As I understand it, all the proxies collected for the Duncan-Fosdick
party are on the same form—the one authorizing Wolcott and two others to
cast the vote.  Thus, the only legal votes cast are those for the
regular ticket."

"The election must be postponed!" Duncan screamed, waving his fists and
then beating them upon the table.  "This outrage must not go on."

The chairman, Randall, had been a Duncan man. He now fled to the
victors.  "There is no legal way to postpone, Mr. Duncan," he responded
coldly. "No other votes offering, I declare the polls closed. Shall we
adjourn until this day week, gentlemen, according to custom, so that the
tellers may have time to examine the vote and report?"

Armstrong spoke for the first time.  "Move we adjourn," he said, rising
like a man who is weary from sitting too long in the same position.
Barry seconded; the meeting stood adjourned.  Armstrong, followed by
Barry and Driggs, withdrew.

As soon as they had gone, Hugo blazed on Duncan. "You are responsible
for this!" he cried. "You damn fool!"

Duncan stared stupidly.  Then, by a reflex action of the muscles rather
than as the result of any order from his dazed brain, his great,
fat-cushioned fist swung into Hugo’s face and Hugo was flat upon his
back on the floor.

"Come on, boys," said Duncan.  "Let’s go have a drink and feel ourselves
for broken bones."



                                 *XXXI*

                         *"I DON’T TRUST HIM"*


Armstrong was now the man of the hour, the one tenant of the public
pillories who was sure of a fling from every passer.  The press shrieked
at him, the pulpit thundered; the policy holders organized into state
associations and threatened.  Those who had sent him proxies wrote
revoking them and denouncing him as having betrayed their confidence.
Those who had given the Duncan crowd their proxies wrote excoriating him
for taking advantage of a technicality to cheat them out of their rights
and to gain one year more of power to plunder.

"It’s a blistering shame!" cried Barry, wrought up over some
particularly vicious attack.  "It’s so infernally unjust!"

"I don’t agree with you," replied Armstrong, as judicial as his friend
was infuriate.  "The people are right; they simply are right in the
wrong way.  They think I’m part of the system of wholesale, respectable
pocket-picking that has grown up in this country. You can’t blame ’em.
And it does look ugly, my using that technical point to save myself."

"I suppose you wish you had stuck to your first scheme," said Barry,
sarcastic, "and had let the Duncan broom sweep the safes."

"No, I don’t repent," replied Armstrong. "When I decided to save the
policy holders in spite of themselves, I knew this was coming.  When you
try to save a mule from a burning stable, you’re a fool to be surprised
if you get kicked."

"You’re not going to pay any attention to these yells for you to
resign?" Barry asked, even more alarmed than he showed.

"No, I’ll not resign," said Armstrong.

"Then you ought to do something, ought to meet these charges.  You ought
to fight back."  Barry had been waiting for three weeks in daily
expectation; but Armstrong had not moved, had given no sign that he was
aware of the attack.

"Yes, it is about time, I guess," said he. "Beginning to-day, I am going
to clean out of the O.A.D. all that’s left of the old gang."

Barry looked at him as if he thought he had gone crazy.  "Why, Horace,
that’ll simply raise hell!" he said.  "We’ll be put out by force.  You
know what everybody’ll say."

Armstrong leaned back in his chair, put his big hands behind his head
and beamed on his first lieutenant. "It wouldn’t surprise me if we had
to call on the police for protection before the end of next week."

"The governor’ll be forced to act," urged Barry. "As it is, he’s
catching it for keeping his hands off."

"Don’t be alarmed.  Morris understands the situation.  We had a talk
last night—met on a corner and walked round in quiet streets for two
hours."

"He sent for you, did he?"

"Yes.  He was weakening.  But he’s all right again."

"Well, I don’t see the advantage in this new move, in making a bad
matter worse."

"The worse it gets, the quicker it’ll improve when the turn comes,"
Armstrong answered.  "I’ve got to get rid of the old gang—you know that.
They were brought up on graft.  They look on it as legitimate. They
never’ll be right again, and if a single one of them stays, he’ll rot
our new force.  So out they all go.  Now, as it’s got to be done, the
best time is right now, and have it over with.  I tell you, Jim," and
Armstrong brought his fist down on the desk, "I’m going to put this
company in order if I’m thrown into jail the day after I’ve done it!
But I ain’t going to jail.  I’m going to stay right here, and, inside of
six months, the crowd that’s howling loudest for my blood will be
sending me proxies and praying that I’ll live forever."

"I wish I could think so," muttered Barry gloomily.

"So you’ve lost confidence in me, too?" Armstrong said this with more
mockery than reproach. "It’s lucky I don’t rely on confidence in me to
get results, isn’t it?  Well, Jim——"

"Oh, I’ll stand by you, Armstrong, faith or no faith," interrupted
Barry.

"Thanks," said Armstrong, somewhat dryly. "But I’m bound to tell you
that the result will be just the same, whether you do or not.  If you
want to accept Trafford’s offer that you have taken under consideration,
don’t hesitate on my account."

Barry was scarlet.  "It was on account of my family," he stammered.  "My
wife’s been at me to——"

"Of course she has," said Armstrong.  "Don’t say any more."

"She’s like all the women," Barry insisted on saying.  "She likes luxury
and all that, and she’s afraid I’ll lose my hold, and she knows how
generous Trafford is."

"Yes," drawled Armstrong.  "This country is full of that kind of
generosity nowadays—generosity with other people’s money."

"The women don’t think about that side of it," said Barry.  "They think
that as pretty much everybody’s doing that sort of thing—everybody that
is anybody—why, it must be all right.  And, by gad, Horace, sometimes it
almost seems to me I’m a fool, a dumb one, to stick to the old-fashioned
ways.  Why be so particular about not taking people’s property when they
leave it around and don’t look after it themselves, and when somebody
else’ll take it, if I don’t—somebody who won’t make as good use of it as
I would?"

"The question isn’t whose property it is, but whose property it isn’t,"
said Armstrong.  "And, when it isn’t ours, why—I guess ’hands off’ is
honest—and decent."  And then he colored and his eyes shifted, as if the
other could read in them the source of this idea which he had thought
and spoken as if it were his own.

"That’s my notion, too," said Barry.  "I suppose I’ll never be rich.
But—"  His face became splendidly earnest—"by heaven, Armstrong, I’ll
never leave my children a dollar that wasn’t honestly got."

"We’re rowing against the tide, Jim.  You can’t even console yourself
that your children would rather have had the heritage of an honest name
than the millions.  And if you don’t leave ’em rich, they’ll either have
to plunge in and steal a fortune or become the servants of some rich man
or go to farming.  No, even independent farming won’t be open by the
time they grow up."

"Well, I’m going to keep on," replied Barry. "And so are you."

Armstrong laughed silently.  "Guess you’re right," said he.  "God knows,
I tried hard enough to turn my boat round and row the other way.  But
she would swing back.  Queer about that sort of thing, isn’t it?  I
wonder, Jim, how many of the men most of us look on as obscurities and
failures are in the background or down because there was that queer
something in them that wouldn’t let them subscribe to this code of
sneak, stab, and steal?  We’re in luck not to have been trampled clean
under—and our luck may not hold."

A few days, and Barry decided that their luck was in the last tailings.
Armstrong’s final move produced results that made the former tempests
seem mere fresh weather.  The petty grafters and parasites he now
dislodged in a body were insignificant as individuals; but each man had
his coterie of friends; each was of a large group in each city or town,
a group of people similarly dependent upon small salaries and grafting
from large corporations.  The whole solidarity burst into an uproar.
Armstrong was getting rid of all the honest men; he was putting his
creatures in their places, so that there might be no check on the flow
of plunder from the pockets of policy holders into his own private
pocket.  The man was the greediest as well as the most insolent of
thieves!  This was the cry in respectable circles throughout the
country—for his "victims" were all of "good" families, were the
relatives, friends, dependents of the leading citizens, each in his own
city or town.

"Don’t you think you’d better stop until things have quieted down a
bit?" asked Barry, when the work was about half done.

"Go right on!" said Armstrong.  "Tear up the last root.  We must stand
or fall by this policy.  If we try to compromise now, we’re lost.  The
way to cut off a leg is to cut it off.  There’s a chance to survive a
clean cut, but not a bungle."

A fortnight, and all but a few of his personal friends in the board of
directors resigned after the board had, with only nine negative votes,
passed a resolution requesting him to resign.  And finally, the policy
holders held a national convention at Chicago, and appointed a committee
of five to go to New York and "investigate the O.A.D. from garret to
cellar, especially cellar."

"Now!" cried Armstrong jubilantly, when the telegram containing the news
was laid before him.


On a Thursday morning the newspapers told the whole country about the
convention, the committee, the impending capture of "the bandit."  On
Saturday toward noon, Armstrong got a note: "I am stopping with
Narcisse.  Won’t you come to see me this afternoon, or to-morrow—any
time?—Neva."

He read the note twice, then tore it into small pieces and tossed them
into the wastebasket.  "Not I!" said he aloud, with a frown at the bits
of violet note paper.  Through all those weeks he had been hoping for,
expecting, a message from her—something that would help him to feel
there was in this world of enemies and timid, self-interested friends,
at least the one person who understood and sympathized.  But not a word
had come; and his heart, so hard when it was hard, and so sensitive when
it was touched at all, was sore and bitter.

Nevertheless, it was he and none other who appeared at five that
afternoon, less than a block from Narcisse’s house; and he wandered in
wide circles about the neighborhood for at least an hour before his
pride could shame him into dragging himself away. At three the next
afternoon he rang Narcisse’s bell. The man servant showed him into her
small oval gray and dull gold salon which Raphael once said was probably
the most perfect room in the modern world. Adjoining it was a
conservatory, the two rooms being separated only by an alternation of
mirrors and lattices, the lattices overrun with pink rambler in full
bloom—and in the mirrors and through the opposite windows Armstrong saw
the snow falling and lying white upon the trees and the lawns of the
Park.  In the center of the room was an open fire, its flue descending
from the ceiling, but so constructed that it and its oval chimney-piece
added to the effect of the room almost as much as the glimpses of the
conservatory, seen through the rambler-grown lattices.  And the scent
of-growing flowers perfumed the air.  These surroundings, this sudden
summer bursting and beaming through the snow and ice of winter, had
their inevitable effect upon Armstrong.  He was beginning to look
favorably upon several possible excuses for Neva. "She may not have
heard of my troubles," he reflected. "She doesn’t read the newspapers,
and people wouldn’t talk to her of anything concerning me."

She came in hurriedly, swathed in a coat of black broadtail, made very
simply, its lines following her long, slim figure.  The color was high
in her cheeks; from her garments diffused the freshness of the winter
air.  "I shouldn’t have been out," she explained, "but I had to go to
see some one—Mrs. Trafford, who is ill."

Then he noted that her face was thinner than when he last saw it, that
the look out of the eyes was weary. And for the moment he forgot his
bitterness over her "utter desertion" of him when he really needed the
cheer only a friend, a real friend, one beyond the suspicion of a
possibility of self-interest, can give; deserted him in troubles which
she herself had edged him on to precipitate.  "When did you come?" he
asked.

"Yesterday—yesterday morning.  You see I sent you word immediately."

He looked ironic.  "I saw in the newspaper this morning that Raphael
landed yesterday."

"He dined here last night," replied she.

He turned as if about to go.  "I can’t imagine why you bothered to send
for me," he said.

She showed that she was astonished and hurt. "Horace," she appealed,
"why do you say that?  I read about all those troubles."

"So, you did know!"  He gave an abrupt, grim laugh.  "And as you were
coming on to see Raphael, why, you thought you’d do an act of Christian
charity. Well, I wish I could oblige, but really, I don’t need charity."

She made no answer, simply sighed and drooped. When the country was
ringing with denunciations of him, "He will see the truth now," she had
said to herself, "now that the whole world is showing it to him instead
of only one person and she a woman."  Then, with the bursting of the
great storm over his single head, she dismissed all but the one central
truth, that she loved him, and came straightway to New York.

Well, here they were face to face; and as she looked at him in his
strength and haughtiness, she saw in his face, as if etched in steel,
inflexible determination to persist in the course that was making him an
object of public infamy, justly, she had to admit.  "The madness for
money and for crushing down his fellow beings has him fast," she
thought.  "There isn’t anything left in him for his good instincts to
work on."  She seated herself wearily.

"Let’s talk no more about it," she said to him.

"You’ve been reading the papers?" he asked.

"Yes—I read—all."

"It must have been painful to you," said he with stolid sarcasm.

She did not answer.  In this mood of what seemed to her the most
shameless defiance of all that a human being would respect if he had
even a remnant of self-respect, he was almost repellent.

"So," he went on, in that same stolid way, "you sent for me to revel in
that self-righteousness you paraded the last time I saw you.  Well, it
will chagrin you, I fear, to learn that the _scoundrel_ you tried to
redeem will escape from the toils again, and resume his wicked way."

"I wish you would go," she entreated.  "I can’t bear it to-day."

She was taking off her hat now, was having great difficulty in finding
its pins; its black fur brought out all the beauty of her bright brown
hair.  The graceful, fascinating movements of her head, her arms, her
fingers, put that into his fury which made it take the bit in its teeth.

"Are you and Raphael going to marry?" he demanded so roughly that she,
startled, stood straight up, facing him.  "Yes, I see that you are," he
rushed on.  "And it puts me beside myself with jealousy. But you would
be mistaken if you thought I meant I would have you, even if I could get
you.  What you said the last time I saw you, interpreted by what you’ve
done since, has revealed you to me as what I used to think you—a woman
incapable of love—not a woman at all.  You are of this new type—the
woman that uses her brain.  Give me the old-fashioned kind—the kind that
loved, without question."

She blazed out at him—at his savage, sneering voice and eyes.  "Without
question," she retorted, "and whether he was on the right side or the
wrong. Loved the man who won, so long as he won; was gladly a mere part
of the spoils of victory—that was the feature of her the poets and the
novel writers neglect to mention.  But it was important.  You like that,
however—you who think only of fighting, as you call it—though that’s
rather a brave name for the game you play, as you yourself have
described it to me and as the whole world now knows you play it.  You’d
have no use for the woman who really loves, the woman who would be proud
to bear a man’s name if she loved him, though it were black with
dishonor, provided he said, ’Help me make this name clean and bright
again.’  Why should not a woman be as jealous of dishonor in her husband
as he is of it in her?"

Narcisse entered, hesitated; then, seeing Armstrong hat in hand and
apparently going, she came on. "Hello," said she, shaking hands with
him.  She took a cigarette from the big silver box on the table, lit it,
held the box toward Armstrong.  "Smoke, and cheer up.  The devil is said
to be dying."

"Thanks, no, I must be off," replied Armstrong. He took a long look
round the room, ending at the rambler-grown lattices.  He bowed to
Narcisse.  His eyes rested upon Neva; but she was not looking at him,
lest love should win a shameful victory over self-respect and over her
feeling of what was the right course toward him if there was any meaning
in the words woman and wife.

When he was gone, Narcisse stretched herself out, extended her feet
toward the flames.  "What a handsome, big man he is," said she, sending
up a great cloud of cigarette smoke.  "How tremendously a man. If he had
some of Boris’s temperament, or Boris some of his, either would be
perfect."

A pause, with both women looking into the fire.

"After you left us last night," Narcisse continued, "Boris asked me to
marry him."

Neva was startled out of her brooding.

"I refused," proceeded Narcisse.  Another silence, then, "You don’t ask
why?"

"Why?"

"Because he’s in love with _you_.  He told me so. He made quite an
interesting proposition.  He suggested that, as we were both alone and
got on so well together and worked along lines that were sympathetic yet
could not cross and cause clashes, that—as the only way we could be
friends without a scandal was by marrying—why, we ought to marry."

"It seems unanswerable," said Neva.

"If you had been married, _and_ in love with your husband, I think I’d
have accepted."

"What nonsense!"

"Not at all," replied Narcisse.  "I don’t trust any man, least of all a
Boris Raphael; and I don’t trust any woman—not even you.  The time might
come when you would change your mind.  Then, where should _I_ be?"

"I’ll not change my mind."

"That’s beyond your control," retorted Narcisse. "But—when you marry, I
may risk it."

Neva’s thoughts went back to Armstrong.  Presently she vaguely heard
Narcisse saying, "I’ve got to put up a stiffer fight against this
loneliness.  Do you ever think of suicide?"

"I don’t believe any sane person ever does."

"But who is sane?  Solitary confinement will upset the steadiest brain."
She gazed strangely at Neva. "Look out, my dear.  Don’t _you_ act so
that you’ll sentence yourself to a life of solitary confinement. Some
people are lucky enough not to be discriminating. They can be just as
happy with imitation friendship and paste love as if they had the real
thing.  But not you—or I."

"There’s worse than being alone," said Neva.

Another silence; then Narcisse, still in the same train of thought, went
on, "Several years ago we made a house for a couple up on the West
Side—a good-looking young husband and wife devoted to each other and to
their two little children.  He lavished everything on her.  I got to
know her pretty well.  She was an intelligent woman—witty, with the
streak of melancholy that always goes with wit and the other keen
sensibilities.  I soon saw she was more than unhappy, that she was
wretched.  I couldn’t understand it.  A year or so passed, and the
husband was arrested, sent to the ’pen’—he made his money at a
disreputable business.  Then I understood.  Another year or so, and I
met her in Twenty-third Street.  She was radiant—I never saw such a
change.  ’My husband is to be released next month,’ said she, quite
simply, like a natural human being who assumes that everybody
understands and sympathizes.  ’And,’ she went on, ’he has made up his
mind to live straight.  We’re going away, and we’ll take a nice, new
name, and be happy.’"

Neva had so changed her position that Narcisse could not see her slow,
hot tears that are the sweat of a heart in torment.  To Narcisse, the
reason for that wife’s wretchedness was an ever-present terror lest the
husband should be exposed.  But Neva, more acutely sensitive, or
perhaps, because of what she had passed through, saw, or fancied she
saw, a deeper cause—beneath material terror of "appearances" the horror
of watching the manhood she loved shrivel and blacken, the horror of
knowing that the lover who lay in her arms would rise up and go forth to
prey, a crawling, stealthy beast.

To understand a human being at all in any of his or her aspects, however
far removed from the apparently material, it is necessary to understand
how that man or woman comes by the necessities of life—food, clothing,
shelter.  To study human nature either in the broad or in detail,
leaving those matters out of account, is as if an anatomist were to try
to understand the human body, having first taken away the vital organs
and the arteries and veins.  It is the method of the man’s income that
determines the man; and his paradings and posings, his loves, hatreds,
generosities, meannesses, all are either unimportant or are but the
surface signs of the deep, the real emotions that constitute the vital
nucleus of the real man.  In the material relations of a man or a woman,
in the material relations of husband and wife, of parents and children,
lie the ultimate, the true explanations of human conduct.  This has
always been so, in all ages and classes; and it will be so until the
chief concern of the human animal, and therefore its chief compelling
motive, ceases to be the pursuit of the necessities and luxuries that
enable it to live from day to day and that safeguard it in old age.  The
filling and emptying and filling again of the purse perform toward the
mental and moral life a function as vital as the filling and emptying
and refilling of heart or lungs performs in the life of the body.

Narcisse suspected Neva had turned away to hide some sad heart secret;
but it did not occur to her to seek a clew to it in the story she had
told.  She had never taken into account, in her estimate of Armstrong,
his life downtown—the foundations and framework of his whole being.
This though, under her very eyes, to the torture of her loving heart,
just those "merely material" considerations had determined her brother’s
downfall, while her own refusal of whatever had not been earned in honor
and with full measure of service rendered had determined her salvation.

In the "Arabian Nights" there is the story of a man who marries a woman,
beautiful as she in Solomon’s Song.  He is happy in his love for her and
her love for him until he wakens one night, as she is stealing from his
side.  He follows; she joins a ghoul at a ghoul’s orgy in a graveyard.
Next morning there she lies by his side, in stainless beauty.  Since her
father’s death, not even when Armstrong was before Neva and his
magnetism was exerting its full power over her, not even then could she
quite forget the other Armstrong whom she had surprised at his
"business."  She could no longer think of that "business" merely as
"doing what everybody has to do, to get on."  She had seen what
"finance" meant; she could not picture Armstrong without the stains of
the ghoul orgy upon him.

"And now," she thought despairingly, "he has broken finally and
altogether with honor and self-respect; has flung me out of his
life—forever!"


That night Narcisse took her to a concert at the Metropolitan.  Her mind
was full of the one thought, the one hatred and horror, and she could
not endure the spectacle.  The music struck upon her morbid senses like
the wailing and moaning of the poverty and suffering of millions that
had been created to enable those smiling, flashing hundreds to assemble
in splendor.  "I must go!" she exclaimed at the first intermission.  "I
can think only of those jewels and dresses, this shameless flaunting of
stolen goods—bread and meat snatched from the poor.  You know these
women round us in the boxes.  You know whose wives and daughters they
are.  Where did the money come from?"  She was talking rapidly, her eyes
shining, her voice quivering.  "Do you see the Atwaters there with Lona
Trafford in their box?  Do you know that Atwater just robbed a hundred
thousand more people of their savings by lying about an issue of bonds?
Do you know that Trafford steals outright one-third of every dollar the
poor people, the day laborers, intrust to him as insurance for their old
age and for their orphans?  Do you know that Langdon there robs a
million farmers of their earnings and drives them to the mortgage and
the tax sale and pauperism and squalor—all so that the Langdons may have
palaces and carriages and the means to degrade thousands into dependence
and to steal more and more money from more and more people?"

Narcisse’s eyes traveled slowly round the circle, then rested in wonder
on Neva.  "What set you to thinking of these things?" she asked.

"What always sets a _woman_ to thinking?"

When they reached home, Narcisse broke the silence to say, "After all,
it’s nobody’s fault.  It’s a system and they’re the victims of it."

"Because one has the chance to steal—that’s no excuse for his stealing,"
replied Neva, with a certain sternness in her face that curiously
reminded Narcisse of Armstrong.  "Nor is it any excuse that everyone is
doing it, and so making it respectable.  I’m going back home—back where
at least I shan’t be tormented by seeing these things with my very
eyes."

On impulse, perhaps tinged with selfishness, Narcisse exclaimed, "Neva,
why don’t you marry Armstrong?"

"Because I don’t trust him," replied she.  "One may love without trust,
but not marry."

"Yet," said Narcisse, "I’d marry Boris, though I never could trust
him—never!"

"If you had been married, you wouldn’t do it," replied Neva.  Then, "But
every case is individual, and everyone must judge for himself."

"You know best—about Armstrong."

"I should say I did!" exclaimed Neva bitterly. "There’s no excuse for my
folly—none!"



                                *XXXII*

                        *ARMSTRONG ASKS A FAVOR*


Neva, arranging to go West on the afternoon express, was stopped by a
note from Armstrong:

"I hope you will come to my office at eleven to-morrow. I beg you not to
refuse this, the greatest favor, except one, that I have ever asked."

At eleven the next morning she entered the ante-room to his office.  He
and his secretary were alone there, he walking up and down with a
nervousness Morton had never seen in him.  At sight of her, his manner
abruptly changed.  "I was afraid something would happen to prevent your
coming," he said as they shook hands.  He avoided her glance.  "Thank
you.  Thank you."  And he took her into his inner office.  "I have an
engagement—a meeting that will keep me a few minutes," he went on.
"It’s only in the next room here."

"Don’t hurry on my account," said she.

"I’ll just put you at this desk here," he continued, with a curious
elaborateness of manner.  "There are the morning’s papers—and some
magazines.  I shall be back—as soon as possible.  You are sure you don’t
mind?"

"Indeed, no," she replied, seating herself.  "This is most comfortable."

There were sounds of several persons entering the adjoining room.  "I’ll
go now," said he.  "The sooner I go, the sooner I shall be free.  You
will wait?"

"Here," she assured him, wondering that he would not let his eyes meet
hers even for an instant.

He went into the next room, leaving the door ajar, but not widely enough
for her to see or to be seen. She took up a magazine, began a story.
The sound of the voices disturbed her.  She heard enough to gather that
some kind of business meeting was going on, resumed the story.  Suddenly
she heard Armstrong’s voice.  She listened.  He, all of them, were so
near that she could hear every word.

"You will probably be surprised to learn, gentlemen," he was saying,
loudly, clearly, "that I have been impatiently awaiting your coming.
And now that you are here, I shall not only give you every opportunity
to examine the affairs of the O.A.D., but I shall insist upon your
taking advantage of it to the fullest.  I look to you, gentlemen, to end
the campaign of calumny against your association and its management."

Neva’s magazine had dropped into her lap.  She knew now why he had asked
her to come.  If only she could see!  But no—that was impossible; she
must be content with hearing.  She sat motionless, eager, yet in dread
too; for she knew that Armstrong had summoned her to his trial, that she
was to hear with her own ears the truth, the whole truth about him. The
truth!  Would it seem to her as it evidently seemed to him?  No matter;
she believed in him again.  "At least," she said, "he _thinks_ he’s
right, and the best man can get no nearer right than that."

If she could have looked into the next room, she would have seen two
large tables, men grouped about each.  At one were Armstrong and the
five committee-men, and the lawyer, Drew, whom they had brought with
them from Chicago to conduct the examination and cross-examinations.  At
the other sat a dozen reporters from the newspapers.

"I have told the gentlemen of the press," said Armstrong, "that my
impression was that the sessions of the committee were to be public.  It
is, of course, for you to decide."

Drew rubbed his long lean jaw reflectively.  "I see, Mr. Armstrong,"
said he, in a slow, bantering tone, "that you are disposed to assist us
to the extent of taking charge of the investigation.  Now, I came with
the notion that _I_ was to do that, to whatever extent the committee
needed leading."

"Then you do not wish the investigation to be public?" said Armstrong.

"Public, yes," replied Drew.  "But I doubt if we can conduct it so
thoroughly or so calmly, if our every move is made under the limelight."

"Before we go any further," said Armstrong, "there is a matter I wish to
bring to the attention of the committee, which it might, perhaps, seem
better to you to keep from the press.  If so, will you ask the reporters
to retire for a few minutes?"

"Now, _there’s_ just the kind of matter I think the press ought to
hear," said Drew.  "_We_ haven’t any secrets, Mr. Armstrong."

"Very well," said Armstrong.  "The matter is this: The campaign against
the O.A.D. and against me was instigated and has been kept up by Mr.
Atwater and several of his associates, owners and exploiters of our
rivals in the insurance business.  In view of that fact, I think the
committee will see the gross impropriety, the danger, the disaster, I
may say, of having as its counsel, as its guide, one of Mr. Atwater’s
personal lawyers?"

"That’s a lie," drawled Drew.

Armstrong did not change countenance.  He rested his gaze calmly on the
lawyer.  "Where did you dine last night, Mr. Drew?" he asked.

"This is the most impertinent performance I was ever the amused victim
of," said Drew.  "You are on trial here, sir, not I.  Of course, I shall
not answer your questions."

Farthest from Drew and facing him sat the chairman of the committee, its
youngest member, Roberts of Denver—a slender, tall man, with sinews like
steel wires enwrapping his bones, and nothing else beneath a skin tanned
by the sun into leather.  He had eyes that suggested the full-end view
of the barrel of a cocked revolver.  "Speak your questions to me, Mr.
Armstrong," now said this quiet, dry, dangerous-looking person, "and
I’ll put ’em to our counsel. Where _did_ you dine last night, Mr. Drew?"

Drew glanced into those eyes and glanced away. "It is evidently Mr.
Armstrong’s intention to foment dissension in the committee," said he.
"I trust you gentlemen will not fall headlong into his trap."

"Why do you object to telling us where you dined last night?" asked
Roberts.

"I can see no relevancy to our mission in the fact that I dined with my
old friend, Judge Bimberger."

"Ask him how long he has known Judge Bimberger," said Armstrong.

"I have known him for years," said Drew.  "But I have not seen much of
him lately."

"Then, ask him," said Armstrong to Roberts, "why it was necessary for
Mr. Atwater to give Bimberger a letter of introduction to him, a letter
which the judge sent up with his card at the Manhattan Hotel at four
o’clock yesterday afternoon."

Drew smiled contemptuously, without looking at either Armstrong or the
chairman.  "It was not a letter of introduction.  It was a friendly note
Mr. Atwater asked the judge to deliver."

"It had ’Introducing Judge Bimberger’ on the envelope," said Armstrong.
"There it is."  And he tossed an envelope on the table.

Drew sprang to his feet, sank back with a ghastly grin.  "You see, we
have a very clever man to deal with, gentlemen," said he, "a man who
stops at nothing, and is never so at ease as when he is stooping."

"Ask him," pursued Armstrong tranquilly, "how much he made in counsel
fees from Atwater, from the Universal Life, from the Hearth and Home
Defender, last year."

"I am counsel to a great many men and corporations," cried Drew,
ruffled.  "You will not find a lawyer of my standing who has not
practically all the conspicuous interests as his clients."

"Probably not," said Roberts dryly.  "That’s the hell of it for us
common folks."

"Ask him," said Armstrong, "what arrangements he made with Bimberger to
pervert the investigation, to make it simply a slaughter of its present
management, to——"

"Gentlemen, I appeal to you!" exclaimed Drew with great dignity.  "I did
not come here to be insulted.  I have too high a position at the bar to
be brought into question.  I protest.  I demand that this cease."

"Ask him," said Armstrong, "what he and Bimberger and Atwater and
Langdon talked about at the dinner last night."

"You have heard my protest, gentlemen," said Drew coldly.  "I am
awaiting your answer."

A silence of perhaps twenty seconds that seemed as many minutes.  Then
Roberts spoke: "Well, Mr. Drew, in view of the fact that the reporters
are present——"

Involuntarily Drew wheeled toward the reporters’ table, wild terror in
his eyes.  He had forgotten that the press was there; all in a rush, he
realized what those silent, almost effaced dozen young men meant—the
giant of the brazen lungs who would in a few brief hours be shrieking
into every ear, from ocean to ocean, the damning insinuations of
Armstrong.  He tried to speak, but only a rattling sound issued from his
throat.

"As the reporters are present," Roberts went on pitilessly—he had seen
too much of the tragic side of life in his years as Indian fighter and
cowboy to be moved simply by tragedy without regard to its cause—"I
think, and I believe the rest of the committee think, that you will have
to answer Mr. Armstrong’s grave charges."

Drew collected himself.  "I doubt if a reputable counsel has ever been
subjected to such indignities," said he in his slow, dignified way.  "I
not only decline to enter into a degrading controversy, I also decline
to serve longer as counsel to a committee which has so frankly put
itself in a position to have its work discredited from the outset."

"Then you admit," said Roberts, "that you have entered into improper
negotiations with parties interested to queer this investigation?"

"Such a charge is preposterous," replied Drew.

"You admit that you deceived us a few moments ago as to your relations
with this judge?" pursued Roberts.

Drew made no answer.  He was calmly gathering together his papers.

"I suggest that some one move that Mr. Drew’s resignation be not
accepted, but that he be dismissed."

"I so move," said Reed, the attorney-general of Iowa.

"Second," said Bissell, a San Franciscan.

The motion was carried, as Drew, head in the air, and features
inscrutably calm behind his dark, rough skin, marched from the room,
followed by several of the reporters.

"As there are two lawyers on the committee," said Roberts, "it seems to
me we had better make no more experiments with outside counsel."

The others murmured assent.  "Let Mr. Reed do the questioning,"
suggested Mulholland.  It was agreed, and Reed took the chair which Drew
had occupied, as it was conveniently opposite to that in which Armstrong
was seated.  The reporters who had pursued Drew now returned; one of
them said in an audible undertone to his fellow—"He wouldn’t talk—not a
word," and they all laughed.

"Now—Mr. Armstrong," said Reed, in a sharp, businesslike voice.

"I was summoned," began Armstrong, "as the first witness, I assume.  I
should like to preface my examination with a brief statement."

"Certainly," said Reed.  Roberts nodded.  He had his pistol-barrel eyes
trained upon Armstrong.  It was evident that Armstrong’s exposure of
Drew, far from lessening Roberts’s conviction that he was a bandit, had
strengthened it, had made him feel that here was an even wilier, more
resourceful, more dangerous man than he had anticipated.

"For the past year and a half, gentlemen," said Armstrong, "I have been
engaged in rooting out a system of graft which had so infected the
O.A.D. that it had ceased to be an insurance company and had become,
like most of our great corporations, a device for enabling a few
insiders to gather in the money of millions of people, to keep
permanently a large part of it, to take that part which could not be
appropriated and use it in gambling operations in which the gamblers got
most of the profits and the people whose money supplied the stakes bore
all the losses.  As the inevitable result of my effort to snatch the
O.A.D. from these parasites and dependents, who filled all the
positions, high and low, far and near, there has been a determined and
exceedingly plausible campaign to oust me.  Latterly, instead of
fighting these plotters and those whom they misled, I have been silent,
have awaited this moment—when a committee of the policy holders would
appear.  Naturally, I took every precaution to prevent that committee
from becoming the unconscious tool of the enemies of the O.A.D."

Armstrong’s eyes now rested upon the fifth member of the committee, De
Brett, of Ohio.  De Brett’s eyes slowly lowered until they were studying
the dark leather veneer of the top of the table.

"I think," continued Armstrong, "that I have gone far enough in
protecting the O.A.D. and myself and my staff which has aided me in the
big task of expelling the grafters.  I have here——"

Armstrong lifted a large bundle of typewritten manuscript and let it
fall with a slight crash.  De Brett jumped.

"I have here," said Armstrong, "a complete account of my stewardship."

De Brett drew a cautious but profound breath of relief.

"It shows who have been dismissed, why they were dismissed, each man
accounted for in detail; what extravagances I found, how I have cut them
off; the contrast of the published and the actual conditions of the
company when I became its president, the present condition—which I may
say is flourishing, with the expenses vastly cut down and the profits
for the policy holders vastly increased.  As soon as your committee
shall have vindicated the management, the O.A.D. will start upon a new
era of prosperity and will soon distance, if not completely put out of
business, its rivals, loaded down, as they are, with grafters."

Armstrong took up the bundle of typewriting and handed it to Reed.
"Before you give that document to the press," he went on, "I want to
make one suggestion.  The men who have been feeding on the O.A.D. are,
of course, personally responsible—but only in a sense.  They are,
rather, the product of a system. No law, no safeguards will ever be
devised for protecting a man in the possession of anything which he
himself neglects and leaves open as a temptation to the appetites of the
less scrupulous of his fellow men. These ravagers of your property, of
our property, are like a swarm of locusts.  They came; they found the
fields green and unprotected; they ate.  They have passed on.  They are
simply one of a myriad of similar swarms.  If we leave our property
unguarded again, they will return.  If we guard it, they will never
bother us again.  The question is whether we—you—would or would not do
well to publish the names and the records of these men.  Will it do any
good beyond supplying the newspapers with sensations for a few days?
Will the good be overbalanced by the harm, by the—if I may say so—the
injustice?  For is it not unjust to single out these few hundreds of
men, themselves the victims of a system, many of them the unconscious
victims—to single them out, when, all over the land, wherever there is a
great unguarded property, their like and worse go unscathed, and will be
free to swell the chorus of more or less hypocritical denunciations of
them?"

"We shall let no guilty man escape," said Roberts, eying Armstrong
sternly, "not even you, Mr. Armstrong, if we find you guilty."

"If there is any member of the committee who can, after searching his
own life, find no time when he has directly or indirectly grafted or
aided and abetted graft or profits by grafting—or spared relatives or
friends when he caught them in the devious but always more or less
respectable ways of the grafter—if there is such a one, then—" Armstrong
smiled—"I withdraw my suggestion."

"We must recover what has been stolen!  We must send the thieves to the
penitentiary!" exclaimed Mulholland.

"But you can do neither," said Armstrong.

"And why not?" demanded Reed.

"Because they have too many powerful friends. They own the departments
of justice here and at Washington.  We should only waste the money of
the O.A.D., send good money after bad.  As you will see in my statement
there, I have recovered several millions.  That is all we shall ever get
back. However, I shall say no more.  I am ready to answer any questions.
My staff is ready.  The books are all at your disposal."

"I think we had better adjourn now," said Reed, "and examine the papers
Mr. Armstrong has submitted—adjourn, say until Thursday morning.  And in
the meanwhile, we will hold the document, if the rest of the committee
please, and not give it to the press.  We must not give out anything
that has not been absolutely verified."

"I can’t offer the committee lunch here," said Armstrong.  "We have cut
off the lunch account of the O.A.D.—a saving of forty thousand a year
toward helping the policy holders buy their lunches."  And he bowed to
the chairman, and withdrew by the door by which he had entered.

"A smooth citizen," said Roberts, when the reporters were gone.

"Very," said De Brett, at whom he was looking.

"He’s that—and more," said Mulholland.  "He’s an honest man."

"We must be careful about hasty conclusions," replied Roberts.

"He is probably laughing at us, even now," said De Brett.

Roberts turned the pistol-barrel upon him again. "We’ve got to be a
damned sight more careful about prejudice against him," said he.

And De Brett hastily and eagerly assented.


In the next room the man who "is probably laughing at us, even now" was
standing before a woman who could not lift her burning face to meet his
gaze. But he, looking long at her, thought he saw that there was no hope
for him, and shut himself in behind his stolidity of the Indian and the
pioneer.

"Well," he said, "you don’t believe.  I was afraid it’d be so.  Why
should you?  I hardly believe in myself as yet."  And he turned to stare
out of the window.

She came hesitatingly, slid her arm timidly through his.  She entreated
softly, earnestly, "Forgive me, Horace."  Then in response to his quick
glance, "Forgive me, I won’t again, ever."

"Oh," was all he said.  But his tone was like the arm he put round her
shoulders to draw her close against his broad chest, the rampart of a
dauntless soul.  And as with one pair of eyes, not his nor hers, but
theirs, they gazed serenely down upon the vast panorama of snow-draped
skyscrapers, plumed like volcanoes and lifting grandly in the sparkling
air.



                                THE END



           *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *



                      *By DAVID GRAHAM PHILLIPS.*


*The Second Generation.*

Illustrated.  Cloth, $1.50.

"The Second Generation" is a double-decked romance in one volume,
telling the two love-stories of a young American and his sister, reared
in luxury and suddenly left without means by their father, who felt that
money was proving their ruination and disinherited them for their own
sakes.  Their struggle for life, love and happiness makes a powerful
love-story of the middle West.


"The book equals the best of the great story tellers of all
time."—_Cleveland Plain Dealer_.

"’The Second Generation,’ by David Graham Phillips, is not only the most
important novel of the new year, but it is one of the most important
ones of a number of years past."—_Philadelphia Inquirer_.

"A thoroughly American book is ’The Second Generation.’ ... The
characters are drawn with force and discrimination."—_St. Louis Globe
Democrat_.

"Mr. Phillips’ book is thoughtful, well conceived, admirably written and
intensely interesting.  The story ’works out’ well, and though it is
made to sustain the theory of the writer it does so in a very natural
and stimulating manner.  In the writing of the ’problem novel’ Mr.
Phillips has won a foremost place among our younger American
authors."—_Boston Herald_.

"’The Second Generation’ promises to become one of the notable novels of
the year.  It will be read and discussed while a less vigorous novel
will be forgotten within a week."—_Springfield Union_.

"David Graham Phillips has a way, a most clever and convincing way, of
cutting through the veneer of snobbishness and bringing real men and
women to the surface.  He strikes at shams, yet has a wholesome belief
in the people behind them, and he forces them to justify his good
opinions."—_Kansas City Times_.



                     *      *      *      *      *



                     *THE LEADING NOVEL OF TODAY.*


*The Fighting Chance.*

By ROBERT W. CHAMBERS.  Illustrated by A. B. Wenzell. 12mo.  Ornamental
Cloth, $1.50.

In "The Fighting Chance" Mr. Chambers has taken for his hero, a young
fellow who has inherited with his wealth a craving for liquor.  The
heroine has inherited a certain rebelliousness and dangerous caprice.
The two, meeting on the brink of ruin, fight out their battles, two
weaknesses joined with love to make a strength.  It is refreshing to
find a story about the rich in which all the women are not sawdust at
heart, nor all the men satyrs. The rich have their longings, their
ideals, their regrets, as well as the poor; they have their struggles
and inherited evils to combat.  It is a big subject, painted with a big
brush and a big heart.


"After ’The House of Mirth’ a New York society novel has to be very good
not to suffer fearfully by comparison. ’The Fighting Chance’ is very
good and it does not suffer."—_Cleveland Plain Dealer_.

"There is no more adorable person in recent fiction than Sylvia
Landis."—_New York Evening Sun_.

"Drawn with a master hand."—_Toledo Blade_.

"An absorbing tale which claims the reader’s interest to the
end."—_Detroit Free Press_.

"Mr. Chambers has written many brilliant stories, but this is his
masterpiece."—_Pittsburg Chronicle Telegraph_.



                     *      *      *      *      *



                      *A MASTERPIECE OF FICTION.*


*The Guarded Flame.*

By W. B. MAXWELL, Author of "Vivien."  Cloth, $1.50.

"’The Guarded Flame, by W. B. Maxwell, is a book to challenge the
attention of the reading public as a remarkable study of moral law and
its infraction.  Mr. Maxwell is the son of Miss M. E. Braddon (Mrs. John
Maxwell), whose novels were famous a generation ago, and his first book
’Vivien’ made the English critics herald him as a new force in the world
of letters.  ’The Guarded Flame’ is an even more astonishing production,
a big book that takes rank with the most important fiction of the year.
It is not a book for those who read to be amused or to be entertained.
It touches the deepest issues of life and death."—_Albany Argus_.

"The most powerfully written book of the year."—_The Independent_.

"’The Guarded Flame’ is receiving high praise from the critics
everywhere."—_Chicago Record-Herald_.

"This is a book which cannot fail to make its mark."—_Detroit News_.

"Great novels are few and the appearance of one at any period must give
the early reviewer a thrill of discovery. Such a one has come
unheralded; but from a source whence it might have been confidently
expected.  The author is W. B. Maxwell, son of the voluminous novelist
known to the world as Miss Braddon.  His novel is entitled ’The Guarded
Flame.’"—_Philadelphia Press_.

"The books of W. B. Maxwell are essentially for thinkers."—_St. Louis
Post-Dispatch_.



                     *      *      *      *      *



                     *A ROMANCE OF THE CIVIL WAR.*


*The Victory.*

By MOLLY ELLIOTT SEAWELL, author of "The Chateau of Montplaisir," "The
Sprightly Romance of Marsac," etc.  Illustrated.  Cloth, $1.50.


"With so delicate a touch and appreciation of the detail of domestic and
plantation life, with so wise comprehension of the exalted and sometimes
stilted notions of Southern honor and with humorous depiction of African
fidelity and bombast to interest and amuse him, it only gradually dawns
on a reader that ’The Victory’ is the truest and most tragic
presentation yet before us of the rending of home ties, the awful
passions, the wounded affections personal and national, and the
overwhelming questions of honor which weighed down a people in the war
of son against father and brother against brother."—_Hartford Courant_.

"Among the many romances written recently about the Civil War, this one
by Miss Seawell takes a high place.... Altogether, ’The Victory,’ a
title significant in several ways, makes a strong appeal to the lover of
a good tale."—_The Outlook_.

"Miss Seawell’s narrative is not only infused with a tender and
sympathetic spirit of romance and surcharged with human interests, but
discloses, in addition, careful and minute study of local conditions and
characteristic mannerisms.  It is an intimate study of life on a
Virginia plantation during an emergent and critical period of American
history."—_Philadelphia North American_.

"It is one of the romances that make, by spirit as well as letter, for
youth and high feeling.  It embodies, perhaps, the best work this author
yet has done."—_Chicago Record-Herald_.

"Aside from the engaging story itself and the excellent manner in which
it is told there is much of historic interest in this vivid word-picture
of the customs and manners of a period which has formed the background
of much fiction."—_Brooklyn Citizen_.



                   D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, NEW YORK



                     *      *      *      *      *



                *OTHER NOVELS BY DAVID GRAHAM PHILLIPS*

THE SECOND GENERATION
THE COST
THE DELUGE
THE MASTER ROGUE
THE SOCIAL SECRETARY
GOLDEN FLEECE
THE PLUM TREE
A WOMAN VENTURES





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