By David Graham Phillips
Author of The Cost, The Plum Tree, The Social Secretary, etc.
With Illustrations By George Gibbs
I MR. BLACKLOCK II IN THOSE DAYS AROSE KINGS III CAME A WOMAN IV A CANDIDATE FOR "RESPECTABILITY" V DANGER SIGNALS VI OF "GENTLEMEN" VII BLACKLOCK GOES INTO TRAINING VIII ON THE TRAIL OF LANGDON IX LANGDON AT HOME X TWO "PILLARS OF SOCIETY" XI WHEN A MAN IS NOT A MAN XII ANITA XIII "UNTIL TO-MORROW" XIV FRESH AIR IN A GREENHOUSE XV SOME STRANGE LAPSES OF A LOVER XVI TRAPPED AND TRIMMED XVII A GENTEEL "HOLD-UP" XVIII ANITA BEGINS TO BE HERSELF XIX A WINDFALL FROM "GENTLEMAN JOE" XX A BREATHING SPELL XXI MOST UNLADYLIKE XXII MOST UNGENTLEMANLY XXIII "SHE HAS CHOSEN" XXIV BLACKLOCK ATTENDS FAMILY PRAYERS XXV "MY WIFE MUST" XXVI THE WEAK STRAND XXVII A CONSPIRACY AGAINST ANITA XXVIII BLACKLOCK SEES A LIGHT XXIX A HOUSEWARMING XXX BLACKLOCK OPENS FIRE XXXI ANITA'S SECRET XXXII LANGDON COMES TO THE SURFACE XXXIII MRS. LANGDON MAKES A CALL XXXIV "MY RIGHT EYE OFFENDS ME" XXXV "WILD WEEK" XXXVI "BLACK MATT'S" TRIUMPH
I. MR. BLACKLOCK
When Napoleon was about to crown himself—so I have somewhere read—they submitted to him the royal genealogy they had faked up for him. He crumpled the parchment and flung it in the face of the chief herald, or whoever it was. "My line," said he, "dates from Montenotte." And so I say, my line dates from the campaign that completed and established my fame—from "Wild Week."
I shall not pause to recite the details of the obscurity from which I emerged. It would be an interesting, a romantic story; but it is a familiar story, also, in this land which Lincoln so finely and so fully described when he said: "The republic is opportunity."
One fact only: I did not take the name Blacklock.
I was born Blacklock, and christened Matthew; and my hair's being very black and growing so that a lock of it often falls down the middle of my forehead is a coincidence. The malicious and insinuating story that I used to go under another name arose, no doubt, from my having been a bootblack in my early days, and having let my customers shorten my name into Matt Black. But, as soon as I graduated from manual labor, I resumed my rightful name and have borne it—I think I may say without vanity—in honor to honor.
Some one has written: "It was a great day for fools when modesty was made a virtue." I heartily subscribe to that. Life means action; action means self-assertion; self-assertion rouses all the small, colorless people to the only sort of action of which they are capable—to sneering at the doer as egotistical, vain, conceited, bumptious and the like. So be it! I have an individuality, aggressive, restless and, like all such individualities, necessarily in the lime-light; I have from the beginning lost no opportunity to impress that individuality upon my time. Let those who have nothing to advertise, and those less courageous and less successful than I at advertisement, jeer and spit. I ignore them. I make no apologies for egotism. I think, when my readers have finished, they will demand none. They will see that I had work to do, and that I did it in the only way an intelligent man ever tries to do his work—his own way, the way natural to him!
Wild Week! Its cyclones, rising fury on fury to that historic climax of chaos, sing their mad song in my ears again as I write. But I shall by no means confine my narrative to business and finance. Take a cross-section of life anywhere, and you have a tangled interweaving of the action and reaction of men upon men, of women upon women, of men and women upon one another. And this shall be a cross-section out of the very heart of our life to-day, with its big and bold energies and passions—the swiftest and intensest life ever lived by the human race.
II. IN THOSE DAYS AROSE KINGS
Imagine yourself back two years and a half before Wild Week, back at the time when the kings of finance had just completed their apparently final conquest of the industries of the country, when they were seating themselves upon thrones encircled by vast armies of capital and brains, when all the governments of the nation—national, state and city—were prostrate under their iron heels.
You may remember that I was a not inconspicuous figure then. Of all their financial agents, I was the best-known, the most trusted by them, the most believed in by the people. I had a magnificent suite of offices in the building that dominates Wall and Broad Streets. Boston claimed me also, and Chicago; and in Philadelphia, New Orleans, St. Louis, San Francisco, in the towns and rural districts tributary to the cities, thousands spoke of Blacklock as their trusted adviser in matters of finance. My enemies—and I had them, numerous and venomous enough to prove me a man worth while—my enemies spoke of me as the "biggest bucket-shop gambler in the world."
Gambler I was—like all the other manipulators of the markets. But "bucket-shop" I never kept. As the kings of finance were the representatives of the great merchants, manufacturers and investors, so was I the representative of the masses, of those who wished their small savings properly invested. The power of the big fellows was founded upon wealth and the brains wealth buys or bullies or seduces into its service; my power was founded upon the hearts and homes of the people, upon faith in my frank honesty.
How had I built up my power? By recognizing the possibilities of publicity, the chance which the broadcast sowing of newspapers and magazines put within the reach of the individual man to impress himself upon the whole country, upon the whole civilized world. The kings of finance relied upon the assiduity and dexterity of sundry paid agents, operating through the stealthy, clumsy, old-fashioned channels for the exercise of power. I relied only upon myself; I had to trust to no fallible, perhaps traitorous, understrappers; through the megaphone of the press I spoke directly to the people.
My enemies charge that I always have been unscrupulous and dishonest. So? Then how have I lived and thrived all these years in the glare and blare of publicity?
It is true, I have used the "methods of the charlatan" in bringing myself into wide public notice. The just way to put it would be that I have used for honest purposes the methods of publicity that charlatans have shrewdly appropriated, because by those means the public can be most widely and most quickly reached. Does good become evil because hypocrites use it as a cloak? It is also true that I have been "undignified." Let the stupid cover their stupidity with "dignity." Let the swindler hide his schemings under "dignity." I am a man of the people, not afraid to be seen as the human being that I am. I laugh when I feel like it. I have no sense of jar when people call me "Matt." I have a good time, and I shall stay young as long as I stay alive. Wealth hasn't made me a solemn ass, fenced in and unapproachable. The custom of receiving obedience and flattery and admiration has not made me a turkey-cock. Life is a joke; and when the joke's on me, I laugh as heartily as when it's on the other fellow.
It is half-past three o'clock on a May afternoon; a dismal, dreary rain is being whirled through the streets by as nasty a wind as ever blew out of the east. You are in the private office of that "king of kings," Henry J. Roebuck, philanthropist, eminent churchman, leading citizen and—in business—as corrupt a creature as ever used the domino of respectability. That office is on the twelfth floor of the Power Trust Building—and the Power Trust is Roebuck, and Roebuck is the Power Trust. He is seated at his desk and, thinking I do not see him, is looking at me with an expression of benevolent and melancholy pity—the look with which he always regarded any one whom the Roebuck God Almighty had commanded Roebuck to destroy. He and his God were in constant communication; his God never did anything except for his benefit, he never did anything except on the direct counsel or command of his God. Just now his God is commanding him to destroy me, his confidential agent in shaping many a vast industrial enterprise and in inducing the public to buy by the million its bonds and stocks.
I invited the angry frown of the Roebuck God by saying: "And I bought in the Manasquale mines on my own account."
"On your own account!" said Roebuck. Then he hastily effaced his involuntary air of the engineer startled by sight of an unexpected red light.
"Yes," replied I, as calm as if I were not realizing the tremendous significance of what I had announced. "I look to you to let me participate on equal terms."
That is, I had decided that the time had come for me to take my place among the kings of finance. I had decided to promote myself from agent to principal, from prime minister to king—I must, myself, promote myself, for in this world all promotion that is solid comes from within. And in furtherance of my object I had bought this group of mines, control of which was vital to the Roebuck-Langdon-Melville combine for a monopoly of the coal of the country.
"Did not Mr. Langdon commission you to buy them for him and his friends?" inquired Roebuck, in that slow, placid tone which yet, for the attentive ear, had a note in it like the scream of a jaguar that comes home and finds its cub gone.
"But I couldn't get them for him," I explained. "The owners wouldn't sell until I engaged that the National Coal and Railway Company was not to have them."
"Oh, I see," said Roebuck, sinking back relieved. "We must get Browne to draw up some sort of perpetual, irrevocable power of attorney to us for you to sign."
"But I won't sign it," said I.
Roebuck took up a sheet of paper and began to fold it upon itself with great care to get the edges straight. He had grasped my meaning; he was deliberating.
"For four years now," I went on, "you people have been promising to take me in as a principal in some one of your deals—to give me recognition by making me president, or chairman of an executive or finance committee. I am an impatient man, Mr. Roebuck. Life is short, and I have much to do. So I have bought the Manasquale mines—and I shall hold them."
Roebuck continued to fold the paper upon itself until he had reduced it to a short, thick strip. This he slowly twisted between his cruel fingers until it was in two pieces. He dropped them, one at a time, into the waste-basket, then smiled benevolently at me. "You are right," he said. "You shall have what you want. You have seemed such a mere boy to me that, in spite of your giving again and again proof of what you are, I have been putting you off. Then, too—" He halted, and his look was that of one surveying delicate ground.
"The bucket-shop?" suggested I.
"Exactly," said he gratefully. "Your brokerage business has been invaluable to us. But—well, I needn't tell you how people—the men of standing—look on that sort of thing."
"I never have paid any attention to pompous pretenses," said I, "and I never shall. My brokerage business must go on, and my daily letters to investors. By advertising I rose; by advertising I am a power that even you recognize; by advertising alone can I keep that power."
"You forget that in the new circumstances, you won't need that sort of power. Adapt yourself to your new surroundings. Overalls for the trench; a business suit for the office."
"I shall keep to my overalls for the present," said I. "They're more comfortable, and"—here I smiled significantly at him—"if I shed them, I might have to go naked. The first principle of business is never to give up what you have until your grip is tight on something better."
"No doubt you're right," agreed the white-haired old scoundrel, giving no sign that I had fathomed his motive for trying to "hint" me out of my stronghold. "I will talk the matter over with Langdon and Melville. Rest assured, my boy, that you will be satisfied." He got up, put his arm affectionately round my shoulders. "We all like you. I have a feeling toward you as if you were my own son. I am getting old, and I like to see young men about me, growing up to assume the responsibilities of the Lord's work whenever He shall call me to my reward."
It will seem incredible that a man of my shrewdness and experience could be taken in by such slimy stuff as that—I who knew Roebuck as only a few insiders knew him, I who had seen him at work, as devoid of heart as an empty spider in an empty web. Yet I was taken in to the extent that I thought he really purposed to recognize my services, to yield to the only persuasion that could affect him—force. I fancied he was actually about to put me where I could be of the highest usefulness to him and his associates, as well as to myself. As if an old man ever yielded power or permitted another to gain power, even though it were to his own great advantage. The avarice of age is not open to reason.
It was with tears in my eyes that I shook hands with him, thanking him emotionally. It was with a high chin and a proud heart that I went back to my offices. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that I was about to get my deserts, was about to enter the charmed circle of "high finance."
That small and exclusive circle, into which I was seeing myself admitted without the usual arduous and unequal battle, was what may be called the industrial ring—a loose, yet tight, combine of about a dozen men who controlled in one way or another practically all the industries of the country. They had no formal agreements; they held no official meetings. They did not look upon themselves as an association. They often quarreled among themselves, waged bitter wars upon each other over divisions of power or plunder. But, in the broad sense, in the true sense, they were an association—a band united by a common interest, to control finance, commerce and therefore politics; a band united by a common purpose, to keep that control in as few hands as possible. Whenever there was sign of peril from without they flung away differences, pooled resources, marched in full force to put down the insurrection. For they looked on any attempt to interfere with them as a mutiny, as an outbreak of anarchy. This band persisted, but membership in it changed, changed rapidly. Now, one would be beaten to death and despoiled by a clique of fellows; again, weak or rash ones would be cut off in strenuous battle. Often, most often, some too-powerful or too-arrogant member would be secretly and stealthily assassinated by a jealous associate or by a committee of internal safety. Of course, I do not mean literally assassinated, but assassinated, cut off, destroyed, in the sense that a man whose whole life is wealth and power is dead when wealth and power are taken from him.
Actual assassination, the crime of murder—these "gentlemen" rarely did anything which their lawyers did not advise them was legal or could be made legal by bribery of one kind or another. Rarely, I say—not never. You will see presently why I make that qualification.
I had my heart set upon membership in this band—and, as I confess now with shame, my prejudices of self-interest had blinded me into regarding it and its members as great and useful and honorable "captains of industry." Honorable in the main; for, not even my prejudice could blind me to the almost hair-raising atrocity of some of their doings. Still, morality is largely a question of environment. I had been bred in that environment. Even the atrocities I excused on the ground that he who goes forth to war must be prepared to do and to tolerate many acts the church would have to strain a point to bless. What was Columbus but a marauder, a buccaneer? Was not Drake, in law and in fact, a pirate; Washington a traitor to his soldier's oath of allegiance to King George? I had much to learn, and to unlearn. I was to find out that whenever a Roebuck puts his arm round you, it is invariably to get within your guard and nearer your fifth rib. I was to trace the ugliest deformities of that conscience of his, hidden away down inside him like a dwarfed, starved prisoner in an underground dungeon. I was to be astounded by revelations of Langdon, who was not a believer, like Roebuck, and so was not under the restraint of the feeling that he must keep some sort of conscience ledgers against the inspection of the angelic auditing committee in the day of wrath.
Much to learn—and to unlearn. It makes me laugh as I recall how, on that May day, I looked into the first mirror I was alone with, smiled delighted, as an idiot with myself and said: "Matt, you are of the kings now. Your crown suits you and, as you've earned it, you know how to keep it. Now for some fun with your subjects and your fellow sovereigns."
A little premature, that preening!
III. CAME A WOMAN
In my suite in the Textile Building, just off the big main room with its blackboards and tickers, I had a small office in which I spent a good deal of time during Stock Exchange hours. It was there that Sam Ellersly found me the next day but one after my talk with Roebuck.
"I want you to sell that Steel Common, Matt," said he.
"It'll go several points higher," said I. "Better let me hold it and use my judgment on selling."
"I need money—right away," was his answer.
"That's all right," said I. "Let me give you an order for what you need."
"Thank you, thank you," said he, so promptly that I knew I had done what he had been hoping for, probably counting on.
I give this incident to show what our relations were. He was a young fellow of good family, to whom I had taken a liking. He was a lazy dog, and as out of place in business as a cat in a choir. I had been keeping him going for four years at that time, by giving him tips on stocks and protecting him against loss. This purely out of good nature and liking; for I hadn't the remotest idea he could ever be of use to me beyond helping to liven things up at a dinner or late supper, or down in the country, or on the yacht. In fact, his principal use to me was that he knew how to "beat the box" well enough to shake fairly good music out of it—and I am so fond of music that I can fill in with my imagination when the performer isn't too bad.
They have charged that I deliberately ruined him. Ruined! The first time I gave him a tip—and that was the second or third time I ever saw him—he burst into tears and said: "You've saved my life, Blacklock. I'll never tell you how much this windfall means to me now." Nor did I with deep and dark design keep him along on the ragged edge. He kept himself there. How could I build up such a man with his hundred ways of wasting money, including throwing it away on his own opinions of stocks—for he would gamble on his own account in the bucket-shops, though I had shown him that the Wall Street game is played always with marked cards, and that the only hope of winning is to get the confidence of the card-markers, unless you are big enough to become a card-marker yourself.
As soon as he got the money from my teller that day, he was rushing away. I followed him to the door—that part of my suite opened out on the sidewalk, for the convenience of my crowds of customers. "I'm just going to lunch," said I. "Come with me."
He looked uneasily toward a smart little one-horse brougham at the curb. "Sorry—but I can't," said he. "I've my sister with me. She brought me down in her trap."
"That's all right," said I; "bring her along. We'll go to the Savarin." And I locked his arm in mine and started toward the brougham.
He was turning all kinds of colors, and was acting in a way that puzzled me—then. Despite all my years in New York I was ignorant of the elaborate social distinctions that had grown up in its Fifth Avenue quarter. I knew, of course, that there was a fashionable society and that some of the most conspicuous of those in it seemed unable to get used to the idea of being rich and were in a state of great agitation over their own importance. Important they might be, but not to me. I knew nothing of their careful gradations of snobbism—the people to know socially, the people to know in a business way, the people to know in ways religious and philanthropic, the people to know for the fun to be got out of them, the people to pride oneself on not knowing at all; the nervousness, the hysteria about preserving these disgusting gradations. All this, I say, was an undreamed-of mystery to me who gave and took liking in the sensible, self-respecting American fashion. So I didn't understand why Sam, as I almost dragged him along, was stammering: "Thank you—but—I—she—the fact is, we really must get up-town."
By this time I was where I could look into the brougham. A glance—I can see much at a glance, as can any man who spends every day of every year in an all-day fight for his purse and his life, with the blows coming from all sides. I can see much at a glance; I often have seen much; I never saw more than just then. Instantly, I made up my mind that the Ellerslys would lunch with me. "You've got to eat somewhere," said I, in a tone that put an end to his attempts to manufacture excuses. "I'll be delighted to have you. Don't make up any more yarns."
He slowly opened the door. "Anita," said he, "Mr. Blacklock. He's invited us to lunch."
I lifted my hat, and bowed. I kept my eyes straight upon hers. And it gave me more pleasure to look into them than I had ever before got out of looking into anybody's. I am passionately fond of flowers, and of children; and her face reminded me of both. Or, rather, it seemed to me that what I had seen, with delight and longing, incomplete in their freshness and beauty and charm, was now before me in the fullness. I felt like saying to her, "I have heard of you often. The children and the flowers have told me you were coming." Perhaps my eyes did say it. At any rate, she looked as straight at me as I at her, and I noticed that she paled a little and shrank—yet continued to look, as if I were compelling her. But her voice, beautifully clear, and lingering in the ears like the resonance of the violin after the bow has swept its strings and lifted, was perfectly self-possessed, as she said to her brother: "That will be delightful—if you think we have time."
I saw that she, uncertain whether he wished to accept, was giving him a chance to take either course. "He has time—nothing but time," said I. "His engagements are always with people who want to get something out of him. And they can wait." I pretended to think he was expecting me to enter the trap; I got in, seated myself beside her, said to Sam: "I've saved the little seat for you. Tell your man to take us to the Equitable Building—Nassau Street entrance."
I talked a good deal during the first half of the nearly two hours we were together—partly because both Sam and his sister seemed under some sort of strain, chiefly because I was determined to make a good impression. I told her about myself, my horses, my house in the country, my yacht. I tried to show her I wasn't an ignoramus as to books and art, even if I hadn't been to college. She listened, while Sam sat embarrassed. "You must bring your sister down to visit me," I said finally. "I'll see that you both have the time of your lives. Make up a party of your friends, Sam, and come down—when shall we say? Next Sunday? You know you were coming anyhow. I can change the rest of the party."
Sam grew as red as if he were going into apoplexy. I thought then he was afraid I'd blurt out something about who were in the party I was proposing to change. I was soon to know better.
"Thank you, Mr.—Blacklock," said his sister. "But I have an engagement next Sunday. I have a great many engagements just now. Without looking at my book I couldn't say when I can go." This easily and naturally. In her set they certainly do learn thoroughly that branch of tact which plain people call lying.
Sam gave her a grateful look, which he thought I didn't see, and which I didn't rightly interpret—then.
"We'll fix it up later, Blacklock," said he.
"All right," said I. And from that minute I was almost silent. It was something in her tone and manner that silenced me. I suddenly realized that I wasn't making as good an impression as I had been flattering myself.
When a man has money and is willing to spend it, he can readily fool himself into imagining he gets on grandly with women. But I had better grounds than that for thinking myself not unattractive to them, as a rule. Women had liked me when I had nothing; women had liked me when they didn't know who I was. I felt that this woman did not like me. And yet, by the way she looked at me in spite of her efforts not to do so, I could tell that I had some sort of unusual interest for her. Why didn't she like me? She made me feel the reason. I didn't belong to her world. My ways and my looks offended her. She disliked me a good deal; she feared me a little. She would have felt safer if she had been gratifying her curiosity, gazing in at me through the bars of a cage.
Where I had been feeling and showing my usual assurance, I now became ill at ease. I longed for them to be gone; at the same time I hated to let her go—for, when and how would I see her again, would I get the chance to remove her bad impression? It irritated me thus to be concerned about the sister of a man into my liking for whom there was mixed much pity and some contempt. But I am of the disposition that, whenever I see an obstacle of whatever kind, I can not restrain myself from trying to jump it. Here was an obstacle—a dislike. To clear it was of the smallest importance in the world, was a silly waste of time. Yet I felt I could not maintain with myself my boast that there were no obstacles I couldn't get over, if I turned aside from this.
Sam—not without hesitation, as I recalled afterward—left me with her, when I sent him to bring her brougham up to the Broadway entrance. As she and I were standing there alone, waiting in silence, I turned on her suddenly, and blurted out, "You don't like me."
She reddened a little, smiled slightly. "What a quaint remark!" said she.
I looked straight at her. "But you shall."
Our eyes met. Her chin came out a little, her eyebrows lifted. Then, in scorn of herself as well as of me, she locked herself in behind a frozen haughtiness that ignored me. "Ah, here is the carriage," she said. I followed her to the curb; she just touched my hand, just nodded her fascinating little head.
"See you Saturday, old man," called her brother friendlily. My lowering face had alarmed him.
"That party is off," said I curtly. And I lifted my hat and strode away.
As I had formed the habit of dismissing the disagreeable, I soon put her out of my mind. But she took with her my joy in the taste of things. I couldn't get back my former keen satisfaction in all I had done and was doing. The luxury, the tangible evidences of my achievement, no longer gave me pleasure; they seemed to add to my irritation.
That's the way it is in life. We load ourselves down with toys like so many greedy children; then we see another toy and drop everything to be free to seize it; and if we can not, we're wretched.
I worked myself up, or rather, down, to such a mood that when my office boy told me Mr. Langdon would like me to come to his office as soon as it was convenient, I snapped out: "The hell he does! Tell Mr. Langdon I'll be glad to see him here whenever he calls." That was stupidity, a premature assertion of my right to be treated as an equal. I had always gone to Langdon, and to any other of the rulers of finance, whenever I had got a summons. For, while I was rich and powerful, I held both wealth and power, in a sense, on sufferance; I knew that, so long as I had no absolute control of any great department of industry, these rulers could destroy me should they decide that they needed my holdings or were not satisfied with my use of my power. There were a good many people who did not realize that property rights had ceased to exist, that property had become a revocable grant from the "plutocrats." I was not of those misguided ones who had failed to discover the new fact concealed in the old form. So I used to go when I was summoned.
But not that day. However, no sooner was my boy gone than I repented the imprudence, "But what of it?" said I to myself. "No matter how the thing turns out, I shall be able to get some advantage." For it was part of my philosophy that a proper boat with proper sails and a proper steersman can gain in any wind. I was surprised when Langdon appeared in my office a few minutes later.
He was a tallish, slim man, carefully dressed, with a bored, weary look and a slow, bored way of talking. I had always said that if I had not been myself I should have wished to be Langdon. Men liked and admired him; women loved and ran after him. Yet he exerted not the slightest effort to please any one; on the contrary, he made it distinct and clear that he didn't care a rap what any one thought of him or, for that matter, of anybody or anything. He knew how to get, without sweat or snatching, all the good there was in whatever fate threw in his way—and he was one of those men into whose way fate seems to strive to put everything worth having. His business judgment was shrewd, but he cared nothing for the big game he was playing except as a game. Like myself, he was simply a sportsman—and, I think, that is why we liked each other. He could have trusted almost any one that came into contact with him; but he trusted nobody, and frankly warned every one not to trust him—a safe frankness, for his charm caused it to be forgotten or ignored. He would do anything to gain an object, however trivial, which chanced to attract him; once it was his, he would throw it aside as carelessly as an ill-fitting collar.
His expression, as he came into my office, was one of cynical amusement, as if he were saying to himself: "Our friend Blacklock has caught the swollen head at last." Not a suggestion of ill humor, of resentment at my impertinence—for, in the circumstances, I had been guilty of an impertinence. Just languid, amused patience with the frailty of a friend. "I see," said he, "that you have got Textile up to eighty-five."
He was the head of the Textile Trust which had been built by his brother-in-law and had fallen to him in the confusion following his brother-in-law's death. As he was just then needing some money for his share in the National Coal undertaking, he had directed me to push Textile up toward par and unload him of two or three hundred thousand shares—he, of course, to repurchase the shares after he had taken profits and Textile had dropped back to its normal fifty.
"I'll have it up to ninety-eight by the middle of next month," said I. "And there I think we'd better stop."
"Stop at about ninety," said he. "That will give me all I find I'll need for this Coal business. I don't want to be bothered with hunting up an investment."
I shook my head. "I must put it up to within a point or two of par," I declared. "In my public letter I've been saying it would go above ninety-five, and I never deceive my public."
He smiled—my notion of honesty always amused him. "As you please," he said with a shrug. Then I saw a serious look—just a fleeting flash of warning—behind his smiling mask; and he added carelessly: "Be careful about your own personal play. I doubt if Textile can be put any higher."
It must have been my mood that prevented those words from making the impression on me they should have made. Instead of appreciating at once and at its full value this characteristic and amazingly friendly signal of caution, I showed how stupidly inattentive I was by saying: "Something doing? Something new?"
But he had already gone further than his notion of friendship warranted. So he replied: "Oh, no. Simply that everything's uncertain nowadays."
My mind had been all this time on those Manasquale mining properties. I now said: "Has Roebuck told you that I had to buy those mines on my own account?"
"Yes," he said. He hesitated, and again he gave me a look whose meaning came to me only when it was too late. "I think, Blacklock, you'd better turn them over to me."
"I can't," I answered. "I gave my word."
"As you please," said he.
Apparently the matter didn't interest him. He began to talk of the performances of my little two-year-old, Beachcomber; and after twenty minutes or so, he drifted away. "I envy you your enthusiasm," he said, pausing in my doorway. "Wherever I am, I wish I were somewhere else. Whatever I'm doing, I wish I were doing something else. Where do you get all this joy of the fight? What the devil are you fighting for?"
He didn't wait for a reply.
I thought over my situation steadily for several days. I went down to my country place. I looked everywhere among all my belongings, searching, searching, restless, impatient. At last I knew what ailed me—what the lack was that yawned so gloomily from everything I had once thought beautiful, had once found sufficient. I was in the midst of the splendid, terraced pansy beds my gardeners had just set out; I stopped short and slapped my thigh. "A woman!" I exclaimed. "That's what I need. A woman—the right sort of woman—a wife!"
IV. A CANDIDATE FOR "RESPECTABILITY"
To handle this new business properly I must put myself in position to look the whole field over. I must get in line and in touch with "respectability." When Sam Ellersly came in for his "rations," I said: "Sam, I want you to put me up at the Travelers Club."
"The Travelers!" echoed he, with a blank look.
"The Travelers," said I. "It's about the best of the big clubs, isn't it? And it has as members most of the men I do business with and most of those I want to get into touch with."
He laughed. "It can't be done."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Oh—I don't know. You see—the fact is—well, they're a lot of old fogies up there. You don't want to bother with that push, Matt. Take my advice. Do business with them, but avoid them socially."
"I want to go in there," I insisted. "I have my own reasons. You put me up."
"I tell you, it'd be no use," he replied, in a tone that implied he wished to hear no more of the matter.
"You put me up," I repeated. "And if you do your best, I'll get in all right. I've got lots of friends there. And you've got three relatives in the committee on membership."
At this he gave me a queer, sharp glance—a little fright in it.
I laughed. "You see, I've been looking into it, Sam. I never take a jump till I've measured it."
"You'd better wait a few years, until—" he began, then stopped and turned red.
"Until what?" said I. "I want you to speak frankly."
"Well, you've got a lot of enemies—a lot of fellows who've lost money in deals you've engineered. And they'd say all sorts of things."
"I'll take care of that," said I, quite easy in mind. "Mowbray Langdon's president, isn't he? Well, he's my closest friend." I spoke quite honestly. It shows how simple-minded I was in certain ways that I had never once noted the important circumstance that this "closest friend" had never invited me to his house, or anywhere where I'd meet his up-town associates at introducing distance.
Sam looked surprised. "Oh, in that case," he said, "I'll see what can be done." But his tone was not quite cordial enough to satisfy me.
To stimulate him and to give him an earnest of what I intended to do for him, when our little social deal had been put through, I showed him how he could win ten thousand dollars in the next three days. "And you needn't bother about putting up margins," said I, as I often had before. "I'll take care of that."
He stammered a refusal and went out; but he came back within an hour, and, in a strained sort of way, accepted my tip and my offer.
"That's sensible," said I. "When will you attend to the matter at the Travelers? I want to be warned so I can pull my own set of wires in concert."
"I'll let you know," he answered, hanging his head.
I didn't understand his queer actions then. Though I was an expert in finance, I hadn't yet made a study of that other game—the game of "gentleman." And I didn't know how seriously the frauds and fakirs who play it take it and themselves. I attributed his confusion to a ridiculous mock modesty he had about accepting favors; it struck me as being particularly silly on this occasion, because for once he was to give as well as to take.
He didn't call for his profits, but wrote asking me to mail him the check for them. I did so, putting in the envelop with it a little jog to his memory on the club matter. I didn't see him again for nearly a month; and though I searched and sent, I couldn't get his trail. On opening day at Morris Park, I was going along the passage behind the boxes in the grand stand, on my way to the paddock. I wanted to see my horse that was about to run for the Salmagundi Sweepstakes, and to tell my jockey that I'd give him fifteen thousand, instead of ten thousand, if he won—for I had put quite a bunch down. I was a figure at the tracks in those days. I went into racing on my customary generous scale. I liked horses, just as I liked everything that belonged out under the big sky; also I liked the advertising my string of thoroughbreds gave me. I was rich enough to be beyond the stage at which a man excites suspicion by frequenting race-tracks and gambling-houses; I was at the height where prodigalities begin to be taken as evidences of abounding superfluity, not of a dangerous profligacy. Jim Harkaway, who failed at playing the same game I played and won, said to me with a sneer one day: "You certainly do know how to get a dollar's worth of notoriety out of a dollar's worth of advertising."
"If I only knew that, Jim," said I, "I'd have been long ago where you're bound for. The trick is to get it back ten for one. The more you advertise yourself, the more suspicious of you people become. The more money I 'throw away' in advertising, the more convinced people are that I can afford to do it."
But, as I was about to say, in one of the boxes I spied my shy friend, Sammy. He was looking better than I had ever seen him. Less heavy-eyed, less pallid and pasty, less like a man who had been shirking bed and keeping up on cocktails and cold baths. He was at the rear of the box, talking with a lady and a gentleman. As soon as I saw that lady, I knew what it was that had been hiding at the bottom of my mind and rankling there.
Luckily I was alone; ever since that lunch I had been cutting loose from the old crowd—from all its women, and from all its men except two or three real friends who were good fellows straight through, in spite of their having made the mistake of crossing the dead line between amateur "sport" and professional. I leaned over and tapped Sammy on the shoulder.
He glanced round, and when he saw me, looked as if I were a policeman who had caught him in the act.
"Howdy, Sam?" said I. "It's been so long since I've seen you that I couldn't resist the temptation to interrupt. Hope your friends'll excuse me. Howdy do, Miss Ellersly?" And I put out my hand.
She took it reluctantly. She was giving me a very unpleasant look—as if she were seeing, not somebody, but some thing she didn't care to see, or were seeing nothing at all. I liked that look; I liked the woman who had it in her to give it. She made me feel that she was difficult and therefore worth while, and that's what alt we human beings are in business for—to make each other feel that we're worth while.
"Just a moment," said Sam, red as a cranberry and stuttering. And he made a motion to come out of the box and join me. At the same time Miss Anita and the other fellow began to turn away.
But I was not the man to be cheated in that fashion. I wanted to see her, and I compelled her to see it and to feel it. "Don't let me take you from your friends," said I to Sammy. "Perhaps they'd like to come with you and me down to look at my horse. I can give you a good tip—he's bound to win. I've had my boys out on the rails every morning at the trials of all the other possibilities. None of 'em's in it with Mowghli."
"Mowghli!" said the young lady—she had begun to turn toward me as soon as I spoke the magic word, "tip." There may be men who can resist that word "tip" at the race-track, but there never was a woman.
"My sister has to stay here," said Sammy hurriedly. "I'll go with you, Blacklock."
All this time he was looking as if he were doing something he ought to be ashamed of. I thought then he was ashamed because he, professing to be a gentleman, had been neglecting his debt of honor. I now know he was ashamed because he was responsible for his sister's being contaminated by contact with such a man as I! I who hadn't a dollar that wasn't honestly earned; I who had made a fortune by my own efforts, and was spending my millions like a prince; I who had taste in art and music and in architecture and furnishing and all the fine things of life. Above all, I who had been his friend and benefactor. He knew I was more of a gentleman than he could ever hope to be, he with no ability at anything but spending money; he a sponge and a cadger, yes, and a welcher—for wasn't he doing his best to welch me? But just because a lot of his friends, jealous of my success and angry that I refused to truckle to them and be like them instead of like myself, sneered at me—behind my back—this poor-spirited creature was daring to pretend to himself that I wasn't fit for the society of his sister!
"Mowghli!" said Miss Ellersly. "What a quaint name!"
"My trainer gave it," said I. "I've got a second son of one of those broken-down English noblemen at the head of my stables. He's trying to get money enough together to be able to show up at Newport and take a shy at an heiress."
At this the fellow who was fourth in our party, and who had been giving me a nasty, glassy stare, got as red as was Sammy. Then I noticed that he was an Englishman, and I all but chuckled with delight. However, I said, "No offense intended," and clapped him on the shoulder with a friendly smile. "He's a good fellow, my man Monson, and knows a lot about horses."
Miss Ellersly bit her lip and colored, but I noticed also that her eyes were dancing.
Sam introduced the Englishman to me—Lord Somebody-or-other, I forget what, as I never saw him again. I turned like a bulldog from a toy terrier and was at Miss Ellersly again. "Let me put a little something on Mowghli for you," said I. "You're bound to win—and I'll see that you don't lose. I know how you ladies hate to lose."
That was a bit stiff, as I know well enough now. Indeed, my instinct would have told me better then, if I hadn't been so used to the sort of women that jump at such an offer, and if I hadn't been casting about so desperately and in such confusion for some way to please her. At any rate, I hardly deserved her sudden frozen look. "I beg pardon," I stammered, and I think my look at her must have been very humble—for me.
The others in the box were staring round at us. "Come on," cried Sam, dragging at my arm, "let's go."
"Won't you come?" I said to his sister. I shouldn't have been able to keep my state of mind out of my voice, if I had tried. And I didn't try.
Trust the right sort of woman to see the right sort of thing in a man through any and all kinds of barriers of caste and manners and breeding. Her voice was much softer as she said: "I think I must stay here. Thank you, just the same."
As soon as Sam and I were alone, I apologized. "I hope you'll tell your sister I'm sorry for that break," said I.
"Oh, that's all right," he answered, easy again, now that we were away from the others. "You meant well—and motive's the thing."
"Motive—hell!" cried I in my anger at myself. "Nobody but a man's God knows his motives; he doesn't even know them himself. I judge others by what they do, and I expect to be judged in the same way. I see I've got a lot to learn." Then I suddenly remembered the Travelers Club, and asked him what he'd done about it.
"I—I've been—thinking it over," said he. "Are you sure you want to run the risk of an ugly cropper, Matt?"
I turned him round so that we were facing each other. "Do you want to do me that favor, or don't you?" I demanded.
"I'll do whatever you say," he replied. "I'm thinking only of your interests."
"Let me take care of them," said I. "You put me up at that club to-morrow. I'll send you the name of a seconder not later than noon."
"Up goes your name," he said. "But don't blame me for the consequences."
And my name went up, with Mowbray Langdon's brother, Tom, as seconder. Every newspaper in town published the fact, most of them under big black headlines. "The fun's about to begin," thought I, as I read. And I was right, though I hadn't the remotest idea how big a ball I had opened.
V. DANGER SIGNALS
At that time I did not myself go over the bills before the legislatures of those states in which I had interests. I trusted that work to my lawyers—and, like every man who ever absolutely trusted an important division of his affairs to another, I was severely punished. One morning my eye happened to light upon a minor paragraph in a newspaper—a list of the "small bills yesterday approved by the governor." In the list was one "defining the power of sundry commissions." Those words seemed to me somehow to spell "joker." But why did I call up my lawyers to ask them about it? It's a mystery to me. All I know is that, busy as I was, something inside me compelled me to drop everything else and hunt that "joker" down.
I got Saxe—then senior partner in Browne, Saxe and Einstein—on the 'phone, and said: "Just see and tell me, will you, what is the 'bill defining the power of sundry commissions'—the bill the governor signed yesterday?"
"Certainly, Mr. Blacklock," came the answer. My nerves are, and always have been, on the watchout for the looks and the tones and the gestures that are just a shade off the natural; and I feel that I do Saxe no injustice when I say his tone was, not a shade, but a full color, off the natural. So I was prepared for what he said when he returned to the telephone. "I'm sorry, Mr. Blacklock, but we seem unable to lay our hands on that bill at this moment."
"Why not?" said I, in the tone that makes an employee jump as if a whip-lash had cut him on the calves.
He had jumped all right, as his voice showed. "It's not in our file," said he. "It's House Bill No. 427, and it's apparently not here."
"The hell you say!" I exclaimed. "Why?"
"I really can't explain," he pleaded, and the frightened whine confirmed my suspicion.
"I guess not," said I, making the words significant and suggestive. "And you're in my pay to look after such matters! But you'll have to explain, if this turns out to be serious."
"Apparently our file of bills is complete except that one," he went on. "I suppose it was lost in the mail, and I very stupidly didn't notice the gap in the numbers."
"Stupid isn't the word I'd use," said I, with a laugh that wasn't of the kind that cheers. And I rang off and asked for the state capitol on the "long distance."
Before I got my connection Saxe, whose office was only two blocks away, came flustering in. "The boy has been discharged, Mr. Blacklock," he began.
"What boy?" said I.
"The boy in charge of the bill file—the boy whose business it was to keep the file complete."
"Send him to me, you damned scoundrel," said I. "I'll give him a job. What do you take me for, anyway? And what kind of a cowardly hound are you to disgrace an innocent boy as a cover for your own crooked work?"
"Really, Mr. Blacklock, this is most extraordinary," he expostulated.
"Extraordinary? I call it criminal," I retorted. "Listen to me. You look after the legislation calendars for me, and for Langdon, and for Roebuck, and for Melville, and for half a dozen others of the biggest financiers in the country. It's the most important work you do for us. Yet you, as shrewd and careful a lawyer as there is at the bar, want me to believe you trusted that work to a boy! If you did, you're a damn fool. If you didn't, you're a damn scoundrel. There's no more doubt in my mind than in yours which of those horns has you sticking on it."
"You are letting your quick temper get away with you, Mr. Blacklock," he deprecated.
"Stop lying!" I shouted, "I knew you had been doing some skulduggery when I first heard your voice on the telephone. And if I needed any proof, the meek way you've taken my abuse would furnish it, and to spare."
Just then the telephone bell rang and I got the right department and asked the clerk to read House Bill 427. It contained five short paragraphs. The "joker" was in the third, which gave the State Canal Commission the right "to institute condemnation proceedings, and to condemn, and to abolish, any canal not exceeding thirty miles in length and not a part of the connected canal system of the state."
When I hung up the receiver I was so absorbed that I had forgotten Saxe was waiting. He made some slight sound. I wheeled on him. I needed a vent. If he hadn't been there I should have smashed a chair. But there was he—and I kicked him out of my private office and would have kicked him out through the anteroom into the outer hall, had he not gathered himself together and run like a jack-rabbit.
Since that day I have done my own calendar watching.
By this incident I do not mean to suggest that there are not honorable men in the legal profession. Most of them are men of the highest honor, as are most business men, most persons of consequence in every department of life. But you don't look for character in the proprietors, servants, customers and hangers-on of dives. No more ought you to look for honor among any of the people that have to do with the big gilded dive of the dollarocracy. They are there to gamble, and to prostitute themselves. The fact that they look like gentlemen and have the manners and the language of gentlemen ought to deceive nobody but the callow chaps of the sort that believes the swell gambler is "an honest fellow" and a "perfect gentleman otherwise," because he wears a dress suit in the evening and is a judge of books and pictures. Lawyers are the doorkeepers and the messengers of the big dive; and these lawyers, though they stand the highest and get the biggest fees, are just what you would expect human beings to be who expose themselves to such temptations, and yield whenever they get an opportunity, as eager and as compliant as a cocotte.
My lawyers had sold me out; I, fool that I was, had not guarded the only weak plate in my armor against my companions—the plate over my back, to shed assassin thrusts. Roebuck and Langdon between them owned the governor; he owned the Canal Commission; my canal, which gave me access to tide-water for the product of my Manasquale mines, was as good as closed. I no longer had the whip-hand in National Coal. The others could sell me out and take two-thirds of my fortune, whenever they liked—for of what use were my mines with no outlet now to any market, except the outlets the coal crowd owned?
As soon as I had thought the situation out in all its bearings, I realized that there was no escape for me now, that whatever chance to escape I might have had was closed by my uncovering to Saxe and kicking him. But I did not regret; it was worth the money it would cost me. Besides, I thought I saw how I could later on turn it to good account. A sensible man never makes fatal errors. Whatever he does is at least experience, and can also be used to advantage. If Napoleon hadn't been half dead at Waterloo, I don't doubt he would have used its disaster as a means to a greater victory.
Was I downcast by the discovery that those bandits had me apparently at their mercy? Not a bit. Never in my life have I been downcast over money matters more than a few minutes. Why should I be? Why should any man be who has made himself all that he is? As long as his brain is sound, his capital is unimpaired. When I walked into Mowbray Langdon's office, I was like a thoroughbred exercising on a clear frosty morning; and my smile was as fresh as the flower in my buttonhole. I thrust out my hand at him. "I congratulate you," said I.
He took the proffered hand with a questioning look.
"On what?" said he. It is hard to tell from his face what is going on in his head, but I think I guessed right when I decided that Saxe hadn't yet warned him.
"I have just found out from Saxe," I pursued, "about the Canal Bill."
"What Canal Bill?" he asked.
"That puzzled look was a mistake, Langdon," said I, laughing at him. "When you don't know anything about a matter, you look merely blank. You overdid it; you've given yourself away."
He shrugged his shoulders. "As you please," said he. As you please was his favorite expression; a stereotyped irony, for in dealing with him, things were never as you pleased, but always as he pleased.
"Next time you want to dig a mine under anybody," I went on, "don't hire Saxe. Really I feel sorry for you—to have such a clever scheme messed by such an ass."
"If you don't mind, I'd like to know what you're talking about," said he, with his patient, bored look.
"As you and Roebuck own the governor, I know your little law ends my little canal."
"Still I don't know what you're talking about," drawled he. "You are always suspecting everybody of double-dealing. I gather that this is another instance of your infirmity. Really, Blacklock, the world isn't wholly made up of scoundrels."
"I know that," said I. "And I will even admit that its scoundrels are seldom made up wholly of scoundrelism. Even Roebuck would rather do the decent thing, if he can do it without endangering his personal interests. As for you—I regard you as one of the decentest men I ever knew—outside of business. And even there, I believe you'd keep your word, as long as the other fellow kept his."
"Thank you," said he, bowing ironically. "This flattery makes me suspect you've come to get something."
"On the contrary," said I. "I want to give something. I want to give you my coal mines."
"I thought you'd see that our offer was fair," said he. "And I'm glad you have changed your mind about quarreling with your best friends. We can be useful to you, you to us. A break would be silly."
"That's the way it looks to me," I assented. And I decided that my sharp talk to Roebuck had set them to estimating my value to them.
"Sam Ellersly," Langdon presently remarked, "tells me he's campaigning hard for you at the Travelers. I hope you'll make it. We're rather a slow crowd; a few men like you might stir things up."
I am always more than willing to give others credit for good sense and good motives. It was not vanity, but this disposition to credit others with sincerity and sense, that led me to believe him, both as to the Coal matter and as to the Travelers Club. "Thanks, Langdon," I said; and that he might look no further for my motive, I added: "I want to get into that club much as the winner of a race wants the medal that belongs to him. I've built myself up into a rich man, into one of the powers in finance, and I feel I'm entitled to recognition."
"I don't quite follow you," he said. "I can't see that you'll be either better or worse for getting into the Travelers."
"No more I shall," replied I. "No more is the winner of the race the better or the worse for having the medal. But he wants it."
He had a queer expression. I suppose he regarded it as a joke, my attaching apparently so much importance to a thing he cared nothing about. "You've always had that sort of thing," said I, "and so you don't appreciate it. You're like a respectable woman. She can't imagine what all the fuss over women keeping a good reputation is about. Well, just let her lose it!"
"Perhaps," said he.
"And," I went on, "you can have the rule about the waiting list suspended, and can move me up and get me in at once."
"We don't do things in quite such a hurry at the Travelers," said he, laughing. "However, we'll try to comply with your commands."
His generous, cordial offer made me half ashamed of the plot I had underneath my submission about the coal mines—a plot to get into the coal combine in order to gather the means to destroy it, and perhaps reconstruct it with myself in control. I made up my mind that, if he continued to act squarely, I would alter those plans.
"If you don't mind," Langdon was going on, "I'll make a suggestion—merely a suggestion. It might not be a bad idea for you to arrange to—to eliminate some of the—the popular features from your—brokerage business. There are several influential members of the Travelers who have a—a prejudice—"
"I understand," I interposed, to spare him the necessity of saying things he thought I might regard as impertinent. "They look on me as a keeper of a high-class bucket-shop." "That's about the way they'd put it."
"But the things they object to are, unfortunately, my 'strong hold,'" I explained. "You other big fellows gather in the big investors by simply announcing your projects in a dignified way. I haven't got the ear of that class of people. I have to send out my letters, have to advertise in all the cities and towns, have to catch the little fellows. You can afford to send out engraved invitations; I have to gather in my people with brass bands and megaphones. Don't forget that my people count in the totals bigger than yours. And what's my chief value to you? Why, when you want to unload, I furnish the crowd to unload on, the crowd that gives you and your big customers cash for your water and wind. I don't see my way to letting go of what I've got until I get hold of what I'm reaching for." All this with not a suspicion in my mind that he was at the same game that had caused Roebuck to "hint" that same proposal. What a "con man" high finance got when Mowbray Langdon became active down town!
"That's true," he admitted, with a great air of frankness. "But the cry that you're not a financier, but a bucket-shop man, might be fatal at the Travelers. Of course, the sacrifice would be large for such a small object. Still, you might have to make it—if you really want to get in."
"I'll think it over," said I. He thought I meant that I'd think over dropping my power—thought I was as big a snob as he and his friends of the Travelers, willing to make any sacrifice to be "in the push." But, while Matthew Blacklock has the streak of snob in him that's natural to all human beings and to most animals, he is not quite insane. No, the thing I intended to think over was how to stay in the "bucket-shop" business, but wash myself of its odium. Bucket-shop! What snobbery! Yet it's human nature, too. The wholesale merchant looks down on the retailer, the big retailer on the little; the burglar despises the pickpocket; the financier, the small promoter; the man who works with his brain, the man who works with his hands. A silly lot we are—silly to look down, sillier to feel badly when we're looked down upon.
VI. OF "GENTLEMEN"
When I got back to my office and was settling I to the proofs of the "Letter to Investors," which I published in sixty newspapers throughout the country and which daily reached upward of five million people, Sam Ellersly came in. His manner was certainly different from what it had ever been before; a difference so subtle that I couldn't describe it more nearly than to say it made me feel as if he had not until then been treating me as of the same class with himself. I smiled to myself and made an entry in my mental ledger to the credit of Mowbray Langdon.
"That club business is going nicely," said Sam. "Langdon is enthusiastic, and I find you've got good friends on the committee."
I knew that well enough. Hadn't I been carrying them on my books at a good round loss for two years?
"If it wasn't for—for some features of this business of yours," he went on, "I'd say there wouldn't be the slightest trouble."
"Bucket-shop?" said I with an easy laugh, though this nagging was beginning to get on my nerves.
"Exactly," said he. "And, you know, you advertise yourself like—like—"
"Like everybody else, only more successfully than most," said I. "Everybody advertises, each one adapting his advertising to the needs of his enterprises, as far as he knows how."
"That's true enough," he confessed. "But there are enterprises and enterprises, you know."
"You can tell 'em, Sam," said I, "that I never put out a statement I don't believe to be true, and that when any of my followers lose on one of my tips, I've lost on it, too. For I play my own tips—and that's more than can be said of any 'financier' in this town."
"It'd be no use to tell 'em that," said he. "Character's something of a consideration in social matters, of course. But it isn't the chief consideration by a long shot, and the absence of it isn't necessarily fatal."
"I'm the biggest single operator in the country," I went on. "And it's my methods that give me success—because I know how to advertise—how to keep my name before the country, and how to make men say, whenever they hear it: 'There's a shrewd, honest fellow.' That and the people it brings me, in flocks, are my stock in trade. Honesty's a bluff with most of the big respectables; under cover of their respectability, of their 'old and honored names,' of their social connections, of their church-going and that, they do all sorts of queer work."
"To hear you talk," put in Sam, with a grin, "one would think you didn't shove off millions of dollars of suspicious stuff on the public through those damn clever letters of yours."
"There's where you didn't stop to think, Sam," said I. "When I say a stock's going to rise, it rises. When I stop talking about it, it may go on rising or it may fall. But I never advise anybody to buy except when I have every reason to believe it's a good thing. If they hold on too long, that's their own lookout."
"But they invest—"
"You use words too carelessly," I said. "When I say buy, I don't mean invest. When I mean invest, I say invest." There I laughed. "It's a word I don't often use."
"And that's what you call honesty!" jeered he.
"That's what I call honesty," I retorted, "and that is honesty." And I thought so then.
"Well—every man has a right to his own notion of what's honest," he said. "But no man's got a right to complain if a fellow with a different notion criticizes him."
"None in the world," I assented. "Do you criticize me?"
"No, no, no, indeed!" he answered, nervous, and taking seriously what I had intended as a joke.
After a while I dragged in the subject. "One thing I can and will do to get myself in line for that club," I said, like a seal on promenade. "I'm sick of the crowd I travel with—the men and the women. I feel it's about time I settled down. I've got a fortune and establishment that needs a woman to set it off. I can make some woman happy. You don't happen to know any nice girls—the right sort, I mean?"
"Not many." said Sam. "You'd better go back to the country where you came from, and get her there. She'd be eternally grateful, and her head wouldn't be full of mercenary nonsense."
"Excuse me!" exclaimed I. "It'd turn her head. She'd go clean crazy. She'd plunge in up to her neck—and not being used to these waters, she'd make a show of herself, and probably drown, dragging me down with her, if possible."
Sam laughed. "Keep out of marriage, Matt," he advised, not so obtuse to my real point as he wanted me to believe. "I know the kind of girl you've got in mind. She'd marry you for your money, and she'd never appreciate you. She'd see in you only the lack of the things she's been taught to lay stress on."
"I couldn't tell you any more than I could enable you to recognize a person you'd never seen by describing him."
"Ain't I a gentleman?" I inquired.
He laughed, as if the idea tickled him. "Of course," he said. "Of course."
"Ain't I got as proper a country place as there is a-going? Ain't my apartment in the Willoughby a peach? Don't I give as elegant dinners as you ever sat down to? Don't I dress right up to the Piccadilly latest? Don't I act all right—know enough to keep my feet off the table and my knife out of my mouth?" All true enough; and I so crude then that I hadn't a suspicion what a flat contradiction of my pretensions and beliefs about myself the very words and phrases were.
"You're right in it, Matt," said Sam. "But—well—you haven't traveled with our crowd, and they're shy of strangers, especially as—as energetic a sort of stranger as you are. You're too sudden, Matt—too dazzling—too—"
"Too shiny and new?" said I, beginning to catch his drift. "That'll be looked after. What I want is you to take me round a bit."
"I can't ask you to people's houses," protested he, knowing I'd not realize what a flimsy pretense that was.
While we were talking I had been thinking—working out the proposition along lines he had indicated to me without knowing it. "Look here, Sam," I said. "You imagine I'm trying to butt in with a lot of people that don't know me and don't want to know me. But that ain't my point of view. Those people can be useful to me. I need 'em. What do I care whether they want to be useful to me or not? The machine'd have run down and rusted out long ago if you and your friends' idea of a gentleman had been taken seriously by anybody who had anything to do and knew how to do it. In this world you've got to make people do what's for your good and their own. Your idea of a gentleman was put forward by lazy fakirs who were living off of what their ungentlemanly ancestors had annexed, and who didn't want to be disturbed. So they 'fixed' the game by passing these rules you and your kind are fools enough to abide by—that is, you are fools, unless you haven't got brains enough to get on in a free-and-fair-for-all."
Sam laughed.. "There's a lot of truth in what you say," he admitted.
"However," I ended, "my plans don't call for hurry just there. When I get ready to go round, I'll let you know."
VII. BLACKLOCK GOES INTO TRAINING
This brings me to the ugliest story my enemies have concocted against me. No one appreciates more thoroughly than I that, to rise high, a man must have his own efforts seconded by the flood of vituperation that his enemies send to overwhelm him, and which washes him far higher than he could hope to lift himself. So I do not here refer to any attack on me in the public prints; I think of them only with amusement and gratitude. The story that rankles is the one these foes of mine set creeping, like a snake under the fallen leaves, everywhere, anywhere, unseen, without a trail. It has been whispered into every ear—and it is, no doubt, widely believed—that I deliberately put old Bromwell Ellersly "in a hole," and there tortured him until he consented to try to compel his daughter to marry me.
It is possible that, if I had thought of such a devilish device, I might have tried it—is not all fair in love? But there was no need for my cudgeling my brains to carry that particular fortification on my way to what I had fixed my will upon. Bromwell Ellersly came to me of his own accord.
I suppose the Ellerslys must have talked me over in the family circle. However this may be, my acquaintance with her father began with Sam's asking me to lunch with him. "The governor has heard me talk of you so much," said he, "that he is anxious to meet you."
I found him a dried-up, conventional old gentleman, very proud of his ancestors, none of whom I had ever heard of, and very positive that a great deal of deference was due him—though on what grounds I could not then, and can not now, make out. I soon discovered that it was the scent of my stock-tip generosity, wafted to him by Sammy, that had put him hot upon my trail. I hadn't gone far into his affairs before I learned that he had been speculating, mortgaging, kiting notes, doing what he called, and thought, "business" on a large scale. He regarded business as beneath the dignity and the intellect of a "gentleman"—how my gorge does rise at that word! So he put his great mind on it only for a few hours now and then; he reserved the rest of his time for what he regarded as the proper concerns of a gentleman—attending to social "duties," reading pretentious books, looking at the pictures and listening to the music decreed fashionable.
They charge that I put him "in a hole." In fact, I found him at the bottom of a deep pit he had dug for himself; and when he first met me he was, without having the sense to realize it, just about to go smash, with not a penny for his old age. As soon as I had got this fact clear of the tangle, I showed it to him.
"My God, what is to become of me?" he said, That was his only thought—not, what is to become of my wife and daughter; but, what is to become of "me!" I do not blame him for this. Naturally enough, people who have always been used to everything become, unconsciously, monsters of egotism and selfishness; it is natural, too, that they should imagine themselves liberal and generous if they give away occasionally something that costs them, at most, nothing more serious than the foregoing of some extravagant luxury or other. I recite his remark simply to show what manner of man he was, what sort of creature I had to deal with.
I offered to help him, and I did help him. Is there any one, knowing anything of the facts of life, who will censure me when I admit that I—with deliberation—simply tided him over, did not make for him and present to him a fortune? What chance should I have had, if I had been so absurdly generous to a man who deserved nothing but punishment for his selfish and bigoted mode of life? I took away his worst burdens; but I left him more than he could carry without my help. And it was not until he had appealed, in vain to all his social friends to relieve him of the necessity of my aid, not until he realized that I was his only hope of escaping a sharp comedown from luxury to very modest comfort in a flat somewhere—not until then did his wife send me an invitation to dinner. And I had not so much as hinted that I wanted it.
I shall never forget the smallest detail of that dinner—it was a purely "family" affair, only the Ellerslys and I. I can feel now the oppressive atmosphere, the look as of impending sacrilege upon the faces of the old servants; I can see Mrs. Ellersly trying to condescend to be "gracious," and treating me as if I were some sort of museum freak or menagerie exhibit. I can see Anita. She was like a statue of snow; she spoke not a word; if she lifted her eyes, I failed to note it. And when I was leaving—I with my collar wilted from the fierce, nervous strain I had been enduring—Mrs. Ellersly, in that voice of hers into which I don't believe any shade of a real human emotion ever penetrated, said: "You must come to see us, Mr. Blacklock. We are always at home after five."
I looked at Miss Ellersly. She was white to the lips now, and the spangles on her white dress seemed bits of ice glittering there. She said nothing; but I knew she felt my look, and that it froze the ice the more closely in around her heart. "Thank you," I muttered.
I stumbled in the hall; I almost fell down the broad steps. I stopped at the first bar and took three drinks in quick succession. I went on down the avenue, breathing like an exhausted swimmer. "I'll give her up!" I cried aloud, so upset was I.
I am a man of impulse; but I have trained myself not to be a creature of impulse, at least not in matters of importance. Without that patient and painful schooling, I shouldn't have got where I now am; probably I'd still be blacking boots, or sheet-writing for some bookmaker, or clerking it for some broker. Before I got to my rooms, the night air and my habit of the "sober second thought" had cooled me back to rationality.
"I want her, I need her," I was saying to myself. "I am worthier of her than are those mincing manikins she has been bred to regard as men. She is for me—she belongs to me. I'll abandon her to no smirking puppet who'd wear her as a donkey would a diamond. Why should I do myself and her an injury simply because she has been too badly brought up to know her own interest?"
And now I see all the smooth frauds, all the weak people who never have purposes or passions worthy of the name, all the finicky, finger-dusting gentry with the "fine souls," who flatter themselves that their timidity is the squeamishness of superior sensibilities—I see all these feeble folk fluttering their feeble fingers in horror of me. "The brute!" they cry; "the bounder!" Well, I accept the names quite cheerfully. Those are the epithets the wishy-washy always hurl at the strong; they put me in the small and truly aristocratic class of men who do. I proudly avow myself no subscriber to the code that was made by the shearers to encourage the sheep to keep on being nice docile animals, trotting meekly up to be shorn or slaughtered as their masters may decide. I harm no man, and no woman; but neither do I pause to weep over any man or any woman who flings himself or herself upon my steady spear. I try to be courteous and considerate to all; but I do not stop when some fellow who has something that belongs to me shouts "Rude!" at me to sheer me off.
At the same time, her delicate beauty, her quiet, distinctive, high-bred manner, had thrust it home to me that in certain respects I was ignorant and crude—as who would not have been, brought up as was I? I knew there was, somewhere between my roughness of the uncut individuality and the smoothness of the planed and sand-papered nonentity of her "set," a mean, better than either, better because more efficient.
When this was clear to me I sent for my trainer. He was one of those spare, wiry Englishmen, with skin like tanned and painted hide—brown except where the bones seem about to push their sharp angles through, and there a frosty, winter-apple red. He dressed like a Deadwood gambler, he talked like a stable boy; but for all that, you couldn't fail to see he was a gentleman born and bred. Yes, he was a gentleman, though he mixed profanity into his ordinary flow of conversation more liberally than did I when in a rage.
I stood up before him, threw my coat back, thrust my thumbs into my trousers pockets and slowly turned about like a ready-made tailor's dummy. "Monson," said I, "what do you think of me?"
He looked me over as if I were a horse he was about to buy. "Sound, I'd say," was his verdict. "Good wind—uncommon good wind. A goer, and a stayer. Not a lump. Not a hair out of place." He laughed. "Action a bit high perhaps—for the track. But a grand reach."
"I know all that," said I. "You miss my point. Suppose you wanted to enter me for—say, the Society Sweepstakes—what then?"
"Um—um," he muttered reflectively. "That's different."
"Don't I look—sort of—new—as if the varnish was still sticky and might come off on the ladies' dresses and on the fine furniture?"
"Oh—that!" said he dubiously. "But all those kinds of things are matters of taste."
"Out with it!" I commanded. "Don't be afraid. I'm not one of those damn fools that ask for criticism when they want only flattery, as you ought to know by this time. I'm aware of my good points, know how good they are better than anybody else in the world. And I suspect my weak points—always did. I've got on chiefly because I made people tell me to my face what they'd rather have grinned over behind my back."
"What's your game?" asked Monson. "I'm in the dark."
"I'll tell you, Monson. I hired you to train horses. Now I want to hire you to train me, too. As it's double work, it's double pay."
"Say on," said he, "and say it slow."
"I want to marry," I explained. "I want to inspect all the offerings before I decide. You are to train me so that I can go among the herds that'd shy off from me if I wasn't on to their little ways."
He looked suspiciously at me, doubtless thinking this some new development of "American humor."
"I mean it," I assured him. "I'm going to train, and train hard. I've got no time to lose. I must be on my way down the aisle inside of three months. I give you a free hand. I'll do just what you say."
"The job's out of my line," he protested.
"I know better," said I. "I've always seen the parlor under the stable in you. We'll begin right away. What do you think of these clothes?"
"Well—they're not exactly noisy," he said. "But—they're far from silent. That waistcoat—" He stopped and gave me another nervous, timid look. He found it hard to believe a man of my sort, so self-assured, would stand the truth from a man of his second-fiddle sort.
"Go on!" I commanded. "Speak out! Mowbray Langdon had on one twice as loud the other day at the track."
"But, perhaps you'll remember, it was only his waistcoat that was loud—not he himself. Now, a man of your manner and voice and—you've got a look out of the eyes that'd wake the dead all by itself. People can feel you coming before they hear you. When they feel and hear and see all together—it's like a brass band in scarlet uniform, with a seven-foot, sky-blue drum major. If your hair wasn't so black and your eyes so steel-blue and sharp, and your teeth so big and strong and white, and your jaw such a—such a—jaw—"
"I see the point," said I. And I did. "You'll find you won't need to tell me many things twice. I've got a busy day before me here; so we'll have to suspend this until you come to dine with me at eight—at my rooms. I want you to put in the time well. Go to my house in the country and then up to my apartment; take my valet with you; look through all my belongings—shirts, ties, socks, trousers, waistcoats, clothes of every kind. Throw out every rag you think doesn't fit in with what I want to be. How's my grammar?"
I was proud of it; I had been taking more or less pains with my mode of speech for a dozen years. "Rather too good," said he. "But that's better than making the breaks that aren't regarded as good form."
"Good form!" I exclaimed. "That's it! That's what I want! What does 'good form' mean?"
He laughed. "You can search me," said he. "I could easier tell you—anything else. It's what everybody recognizes on sight, and nobody knows how to describe. It's like the difference between a cultivated 'jimson' weed and a wild one."
"Like the difference between Mowbray Langdon and me," I suggested good-naturedly. "How about my manners?"
"Not so bad," said he. "Not so rotten bad. But—when you're polite, you're a little too polite; when you're not polite, you—"
"Show where I came from too plainly?" said I. "Speak right out—hit good and hard. Am I too frank for 'good form'?"
"You needn't bother about that," he assured me. "Say whatever comes into your head—only, be sure the right sort of thing comes into your head. Don't talk too much about yourself, for instance. It's good form to think about yourself all the time; it's bad form to let people see it—in your talk. Say as little as possible about your business and about what you've got. Don't be lavish with the I's and the my's."
"That's harder," said I. "I'm a man who has always minded his own business, and cared for nothing else. What could I talk about, except myself?"
"Blest if I know," replied he. "Where you want to go, the last thing people mind is their own business—in talk, at least. But you'll get on all right if you don't worry too much about it. You've got natural independence, and an original way of putting things, and common sense. Don't be afraid."
"Afraid!" said I. "I never knew what it was to be afraid."
"Your nerve'll carry you through," he assured me. "Nerve'll take a man anywhere."
"You never said a truer thing in your life," said I. "It'll take him wherever he wants, and, after he's there, it'll get him whatever he wants."
And with that, I, thinking of my plans and of how sure I was of success, began to march up and down the office with my chest thrown out—until I caught myself at it. That stopped me, set me off in a laugh at my own expense, he joining in with a kind of heartiness I did not like, though I did not venture to check him.
So ended the first lesson—the first of a long series. I soon saw that Monson was being most useful to me—far more useful than if he were a "perfect gentleman" with nothing of the track and stable and back stairs about him. Being a sort of betwixt and between, he could appreciate my needs as they could not have been appreciated by a fellow who had never lived in the rough-and-tumble I had fought my way up through. And being at bottom a real gentleman, and not one of those nervous, snobbish make-believes, he wasn't so busy trying to hide his own deficiencies from me that he couldn't teach me anything. He wasn't afraid of being found out, as Sam—or perhaps, even Langdon—would have been in the same circumstances. I wonder if there is another country where so many gentlemen and ladies are born, or another where so many of them have their natural gentility educated out of them.
VIII. ON THE TRAIL OF LANGDON
I had Monson with me twice each week-day—early in the morning and again after business hours until bed-time. Also he spent the whole of every Saturday and Sunday with me. He developed astonishing dexterity as a teacher, and as soon as he realized that I had no false pride and was thoroughly in earnest, he handled me without gloves—like a boxing teacher who finds that his pupil has the grit of a professional. It was easy enough for me to grasp the theory of my new business—it was nothing more than "Be natural." But the rub came in making myself naturally of the right sort. I had—as I suppose every man of intelligence and decent instincts has—a disposition to be friendly and simple. But my manner was by nature what you might call abrupt. My not very easy task was to learn the subtle difference between the abrupt that injects a tonic into social intercourse, and the abrupt that makes the other person shut up with a feeling of having been insulted.
Then, there was the matter of good taste in conversation. Monson found, as I soon saw, that my everlasting self-assertiveness was beyond cure. As I said to him: "I'm afraid you might easier succeed in reducing my chest measure." But we worked away at it, and perhaps my readers may discover even in this narrative, though it is necessarily egotistic, evidence of at least an honest effort not to be baldly boastful. Monson would have liked to make of me a self-deprecating sort of person—such as he was himself, with the result that the other fellow always got the prize and he got left. But I would have none of it.
"How are people to know about you, if you don't tell 'em?" I argued. "Don't you yourself admit that men take a man at his own valuation less a slight discount, and that women take him at his own valuation plus an allowance for his supposed modesty?"
"Cracking yourself up is vulgar, nevertheless," declared the Englishman. "It's the chief reason why we on the other side look on you Americans as a lot of vulgarians—"