BY WILLIAM DANA ORCUTT
AUTHOR OF "THE SPELL," "THE FLOWER OF DESTINY," "ROBERT CAVELIER," ETC.
"Give me where I may stand, a lever long enough, and a fulcrum strong enough, and I will move the world."—ARCHIMEDES.
TO MY MOTHER
ELLEN DANA ORCUTT
"SUPREME IN THE STRENGTH OF ASSERTING THAT WHICH IS EVER WOMAN'S CREED—JUSTICE AND RIGHT," THIS VOLUME IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED
The girl leaned forward impulsively from the leisurely moving victoria and looked back at the automobile which whizzed by the carriage, along the maple-lined road leading from Washington to Chevy Chase; then she as suddenly resumed her former position when she discovered that the young man, who was the only occupant of the motor-car, had slowed down and was gazing back at her.
"How impertinent!" she exclaimed, flushing, addressing herself rather than the older woman beside her. "Of course, it couldn't be Allen; but if it wasn't, why was he looking back at me? Did you recognize him, Eleanor?"
"Who's impertinent?" queried Patricia, who sat between them and exercised a ten-year-old sister's prerogative.
Mrs. Gorham was quietly amused. "Which question shall I answer first, Alice—and who is 'Allen' supposed to be?"
It was the girl's turn to sense the situation. "How ridiculous!" she laughed. "Of course you wouldn't know. Allen Sanford and I used to play together when we were children in Pittsburgh. I haven't seen him since we moved away after mamma died; but that really looked like him. I wonder if by any chance it could be?"
"Oh, Alice, he's coming back," announced Patricia from her point of vantage on her knees, and a moment later the same automobile, driven at a speed at which the most conscientious of traffic guardians could not complain, passed them slowly at the left. The young man made an effort to conceal the fact that he was surveying the girl in the victoria, but Alice cut short his suspense.
"It is! it is!" she cried, eagerly; and with the recognition made certain the boy shut off his power, and, springing out of the car, was beside her before even the discreet coachman could draw up to the curb.
"I thought I couldn't be mistaken—" he began.
"But you weren't sure," Alice finished for him. "You were trying to remember a little girl with a pigtail down her back and horrid freckles all over her face—now, weren't you?"
"If that's the way you really looked, I evidently wasn't as fussy about such things then as I am now," he laughed. "All I remember is that you were the dandiest little playmate I ever had."
The unexpected compliment caused Alice to turn quickly to Mrs. Gorham.
"This is Allen Sanford, Eleanor; and this, Allen, is my mother, sister, and dearest friend all in one."
"And my name's Pat," added the child, refusing to be ignored and holding out her hand cordially.
The boy was even more embarrassed by the unexpected meeting with the second Mrs. Gorham than to find Alice developed into so lovely and fascinating a young woman. He had always thought of Alice's step-mother, when he had thought of her at all, as of a type entirely different from this slender, attractive woman only a few years older than Alice herself. There was a self-possession about Mrs. Gorham, a quiet dignity, which made the difference in their ages seem greater than it really was; yet, had he not known, Allen would have thought them sisters. His father was sceptical when he heard of Gorham's second marriage: "It's bigamy, that's what it is," were Stephen Sanford's words. "Gorham is married to his business. Everything he touches turns into gold. Business to him is what a great passion for a woman would be to one man, or a supreme friendship to another; but the lever which moves Robert Gorham is neither love nor steel; it is cold, hard cash."
All this flashed through Allen's mind in that brief moment of silence after the introduction, but the thoughts of at least one of the two women had been equally active. To Alice this chance meeting recalled a time in her life sanctified by the loss of her mother, later made easier to look back upon by the rare sympathy which had existed from the first between herself and the sweet, tactful woman who had come into her life, filling the aching void and awakening her to a new interest in her surroundings. She and Allen had been "chums" in those early days, and it gratified her to discover that the boy whom she had admired in a childish way had become a young man so agreeable to look upon and so little changed, except in growth, from the lad she remembered. His six feet of height carried him to a greater altitude than of old, his well-developed arms and shoulders showed a physical strength which his youth had not promised, but his face wore the same frank, care-free, irresponsible and good-natured expression which had made him beloved by all his acquaintances and taken seriously by none.
Allen's smile returned before he found his voice, and was so infectious that Alice, Mrs. Gorham, and Patricia were also smiling broadly.
"It's awfully good to see you again, Alice," he said, with a sincerity which could not be doubted; "and to meet you, too, Mrs. Gorham, not forgetting Lady Pat." And then, as if in explanation, "You see, as Alice says, she and I were pals when we were youngsters in Pittsburgh, and I can't realize that now she's grown up into such a—"
"Do you remember the games of baseball we used to play together?" Alice interrupted.
"Indeed I do," he responded. "She could throw a ball overhand just like a boy," Allen continued, turning to Mrs. Gorham lest he seem to discriminate in his attentions.
"She can't do it now, but I can," Patricia remarked, with an air of superiority, subsiding as Alice glanced meaningly at her.
"And once you thrashed Jim Thatcher for calling me a tomboy. Oh, I looked upon you as a real story-book hero!"
"I suspect that's the only time on record." Allen laughed again consciously. "That's one epithet I haven't had hurled at me enough times to make me nervous." He looked at the horses critically. "You don't suppose there's any chance of a runaway here to give me another opportunity, do you?"
"How about the football games, and the races at New London?" Alice asked.
"What do you know about those?"
"I read all about everything in the papers. Your father was so proud that he told my father and every one about your college record; so, you see, your friends had no difficulty in keeping posted."
"My father was proud of me?" Allen demanded, in genuine astonishment. "Haven't you gotten things a little mixed? That doesn't sound like the pater at all. He didn't boast any of my record in my studies, did he?"
"Father didn't say." Alice leaned forward mischievously. "Did you get your degree cum laude, Allen?"
"Not exactly," he answered, frankly. "Cum difficultate would be more like it; but I got it, anyhow."
"And what have you been doing since?" Mrs. Gorham asked.
"I went abroad right after Commencement."
"To perfect yourself in the languages?"
"Well"—the boy hesitated—"that may have been the pater's intention, but he didn't state it audibly. As a matter of fact, I perfected myself in running an automobile more than anything else, but I had a corking good time."
"And now what? You see how inquisitive I am," Alice said.
"And now"—he repeated it after her—"I want to go into business, and the pater says diplomacy for mine. We've had lots of arguments over it, until we finally compromised it just as we usually do—by my doing it his way. So here I am in Washington, awaiting my country's call, ready to steer the great U.S.A. through any old international complication they can scare up. But I mustn't keep you and Mrs. Gorham here any longer. It is just fine to see you again."
"You will come and see us at the hotel," Mrs. Gorham said, warmly seconded by Alice. "Won't you dine with us to-morrow evening? Mr. Gorham will be glad to hear about you from yourself."
To-morrow evening seemed far away to Allen, so he supplemented Mrs. Gorham's invitation by a suggestion that they take a motor ride with him the following afternoon, which brought the time of their meeting that much nearer.
For some little time after Allen's machine had disappeared Alice and Mrs. Gorham continued their drive in silence, and it was Patricia who spoke first.
"Isn't he the grandest thing?" she remarked. "He's just like one of King Arthur's knights. And he called me 'Lady Pat.'"
"You dear child," Eleanor cried, impulsively pressing the little form to her.
"That is exactly what I ought to be," Alice said, abruptly. "Just think how pleased father would be."
"What ought you to be that you are not, my dear?" Mrs. Gorham inquired, surprised.
"Why, a boy like Allen just ready to start off on a business career. That's about the only disappointment father has ever experienced, not having a son to succeed him. You know as I do how much it would mean to him to 'found a house,' as he calls it. I've seen him looking at Pat and me so many times with an expression in his eyes which I understood, and it has hurt me all through that I couldn't have been the son he longed for. The aggravating part of it all is that nothing interests me so much as business. I must have inherited father's love for it. I adore listening to him when he is discussing some great problem with Mr. Covington. It seems to me the grandest thing in the world to be able to influence people, and to create or expand industries and actually to accomplish results."
Mrs. Gorham understood the girl's mood and knew that it was wiser to let her run on without interruption.
"I don't feel the same about other things," Alice continued, pausing from time to time as she became more introspective. "I'm fond of poetry, of course, but I can't understand how any one can be satisfied to do nothing else but write poems; I admire art, but with my admiration for the artist's work there's a real pity for the man because he is debarred from the world of action. If I were a man I would have to do something which had a physical as well as an intellectual struggle in it, with a reward at the end to be striven for which was not expressed alone in the praise of the world—it would have to be power itself."
"I would rather be a damosel," Patricia put in.
"You are your father's own daughter, Alice," Mrs. Gorham said, as the girl ceased speaking. "You could not be his child and feel otherwise."
"But that makes it all the harder," Alice rebelled. "It doesn't give me any chance to do the things I want to do. I must
'Sigh and cry And still sit idly by.'"
The drive was coming to an end, and Mrs. Gorham was unwilling to leave the conversation at just this point. "There is another side to all this, Alice dear, which you mustn't overlook," she said, seriously. "It is woman's part to inspire rather than to do, and the fact that it is often the more difficult role to play perhaps makes it the nobler part, after all. The world sings of the bravery of men who go forth to battle; we older women know that it takes no less courage to let them go and to content ourselves in our impotency, while they are spurred on by the excitement which is denied to us. Those of us whom experience has tested know this, but this realization cannot yet have come to you."
Patricia sighed, deeply, "Oh, yes, mamma Eleanor; this waiting is awful."
"You mean that we must accept the situation as best we may and accomplish our results by proxy?" Alice queried, still rebellious.
Mrs. Gorham smiled at the girl's interpretation. "No, dear," she insisted; "I am not willing to admit that ours is a position of self-abnegation. We women are denied the privilege of doing, but we mustn't be unmindful of the blessing which is given in exchange. To me it is infinitely more satisfying to know that we are the inspiration which urges men on to do what they could not do without us."
"Of course that's one way of putting it," Alice admitted, interested yet not convinced; "but, just the same, I'd rather be the one to receive the inspiration than the one to give it."
On reaching the comfortable apartment occupied by the Gorhams at the hotel, they found that Mr. Gorham had already returned, accompanied by his first vice-president, John Covington, and that they were engaged in close conversation. Mrs. Gorham took Patricia with her to her room, but Alice immediately joined the two men.
"We have nearly finished our interview, Alice," her father said, suggestively, after a smile of greeting.
"Please let me sit here and listen," she begged. "I am so interested in it all."
Gorham acquiesced with a shrug of his shoulders which the girl saw and felt.
"I don't know but that we have covered the situation, anyway," he said to Covington. "I shall see Kenmore to-morrow, and if he can be persuaded to join us, the Consolidated Companies will be just that much strengthened. You had better return to New York to-night to keep your eye on the coffee situation, and I will telephone you if I need you here after I see the Senator."
The two men offered a striking contrast in their personalities. Robert Gorham was a large man, about fifty years of age, whose whole bearing, when at rest, suggested the idealist rather than the man of action. His head was large and intellectual, his chin strong, his mouth firm, conveying at once an impression of strength and of impenetrable depth—an inner being which defied complete analysis. Behind the impassive exterior there was a suggestion of latent reserve force, but it was not until some thought or word penetrated below the surface that the real man was revealed. Then it was that the impassive face lighted up, that the quiet gray eyes flashed fire, that the head bent forward decisively, and the strong-willed, large-brained leader of men stood forth.
Covington, on the other hand, ten years Gorham's junior, was slight, though tall, and was always, in manner, speech, and dress, most carefully adjusted. He was an organizer of men, as Gorham was the organizer of companies. Gorham worked so quietly that his purpose seemed to accomplish itself; Covington won his success by a pitiless force which left flotsam in its wake. Gorham was beloved and trusted, Covington was respected for his abilities but dreaded by his subordinates. It had been necessary for Gorham to supplement himself with a man who possessed the genius of taking hold of the individual organizations assimilated by the Consolidated Companies, and amalgamating those engaged in similar lines into perfect, economic wholes; and Covington's rare service had proved the wisdom of Gorham's selection.
Covington noted Alice's disappointment when her father cut short their interview upon her entrance, though Gorham himself was entirely oblivious to it.
"I'll tell you all about it when we meet next time," he said to her in a low tone as he was leaving. "It is always an inspiration to me to talk these matters over with you."
Alice smiled gratefully but started at the word he used. This man, acknowledged by her father to be one of the cleverest in the business world, said that she was an "inspiration" to him. Could this be possible! This, then, was what Eleanor had meant, this was woman's mission. But still, she insisted to herself, she would rather be the recipient than the giver.
As Covington left the room Gorham turned to Alice. "Now I can give myself wholly to you," he said, holding out his arms affectionately.
"Why did you stop talking with Mr. Covington as soon as I came in?" Alice asked, reproachfully. "Was it a private matter?"
"No indeed," he laughed, patting her affectionately on the head; "it was just plain business."
"But I wanted to hear it," she persisted.
"It would have meant nothing to you," her father answered. "If you had been my son that would be different, but a woman's sphere is outside the business world. Leave that to the men. Now tell me what has happened to-day."
Alice knew her father too well to persist further. "Eleanor and I met Allen Sanford while we were out driving this afternoon," she said.
"Did you?" he asked, with interest. "I knew he was in Washington and should have told you. His father wrote me about him last week, and I was planning to invite him here. How has he developed since we used to know him?"
"Splendidly," Alice answered. "He's a big strapping fellow with the same handsome, happy face. I should have known him anywhere. He wants to get started in business, and his father wants him to go into the diplomatic service."
"So Stephen wrote me." Gorham laughed quietly, turning to his wife, who had entered a moment before with Patricia. "The boy's father is the worst enemy he has. He has thoroughly spoiled him all his life, and now expects him to do great things. He scores him because he has no initiative, and the first time the youngster tries to exercise it by expressing his preference for business instead of diplomacy, Stephen calls him obstinate and ungrateful. Now he wants me to talk with Allen and persuade him that his father is right."
"If you are not otherwise engaged you'll have a chance to-morrow evening," remarked Mrs. Gorham; "we have invited him to dine with us."
"Good; I shall be glad to see the boy, and can acquit myself of my obligation to his father at the same time. Hello, Mistress Patricia," he added, catching the child in his arms. "What has my little tyrant been up to?"
"Call me 'Lady Pat,'" she said, grandly. "He named me that."
"Who did?" her father asked, his mind diverted from the previous conversation.
"Mr. Sanford." Patricia rolled her eyes impressively. "Oh, he's the grandest thing! He must be a prince in disguise."
"That isn't what his father calls him," laughed Gorham.
"What are you going to advise him?" Eleanor asked.
"I can't tell until I see him and discover how much imagination he has."
"Imagination?" his wife queried.
"Yes; is that a new idea to you? Ability never asserts itself to its utmost unless fed by the imagination, and I don't know yet whether Allen possesses either. Success in any line depends upon the extent of a man's power of imagination."
"Then why don't poets make business successes? They have imaginative ideas," argued Alice, thinking of her remarks upon this subject earlier in the afternoon.
"True"—Gorham smiled at her earnestness—"great poets are inspired, but rarely, if ever, do they apply those inspirations to practical purposes. That is why they so seldom enter business, and still more rarely succeed if they do."
His face sobered as the idea took firmer possession of him.
"I differ from the poet only in that I make use of my imaginative ideas in solving the great business problems of the present and the future instead of in forming rhymes and metres. To do this I must command unlimited resources; but what does money mean except the opportunity to gratify ideals? With this I can force my imagination to produce utilitarian results."
This would have been Robert Gorham's exposition of his conception of the Archimedes lever, as opposed to that which Allen Sanford had heard his father give. To Gorham the power of the lever depended upon the strength of the imaginative ideals, and the "cold, hard cash" was simply the necessary fulcrum upon which the lever rested.
"The proposition is too gigantic for me even to comprehend."
The Hon. Mr. Kenmore, member of the United States Senate, laid down the bulky prospectus of the "Consolidated Companies," and looked up into his caller's genial face.
Gorham flicked the ash from his cigar and smiled good-naturedly. "That is, perhaps, a natural statement, Mr. Kenmore," he replied, deliberately. "I am not surprised that you find it difficult to comprehend the vast possibilities of our enterprise; yet its success, already established, must convince you that no good argument can be advanced against its practicability."
"But see what it contemplates!" The Senator again took the prospectus in his hand and opened the pages. "You propose to control the building and the manufacturing of the world," he continued, reading aloud from the prospectus, "and all the allied trades, to construct and deal in all kinds of machinery, to carry on any other kinds of businesses, to acquire patents and concessions, to erect and maintain gas and electric works, to enter into any arrangement with any government, to promote companies, to lend money—"
"It is summed up in that last clause," Gorham interrupted, quietly; "'to do all such other things as are incidental or conducive to the attainment of the above objects.' You see, I know the articles by heart. May I ask you to glance over the names of the present stockholders?"
Gorham handed a leather-covered record-book to his companion and then walked to the window, where he quietly smoked his cigar, looking out on the broad avenue while the Senator scanned the names written in the small volume. He appeared indifferent to the smothered exclamations which escaped involuntarily from Kenmore's lips as the latter's eye passed on from page to page, and for the time being he seemed more deeply interested in the people passing below on the street. His calmness was in striking contrast to the Senator's growing excitement.
"By George!" Kenmore exclaimed at length, rising and advancing toward the window. "This list of names is even more extraordinary than your stupendous plans."
"Does not each one explain the other?" asked Gorham.
"But how did you ever persuade such men as these to lend themselves to any enterprise—no matter how attractive? Why, there is hardly an omission—the leaders of the world in finance, politics, diplomacy, literature, art, and science."
"There are many omissions, as you would discover if you examined the list more carefully," Gorham answered; "not the least of which is the name of the Hon. Mr. Kenmore!"
"I know, I know," the Senator replied, impatiently; "but how did you get them?"
Gorham looked at his questioner attentively for a moment before he answered. "The proposition itself appeals to that human instinct which is more or less developed in us all—self-interest—"
"But that, my dear sir, is nothing more or less than—"
Gorham held up a protesting hand. "Let me save you from using so ugly a word as you have in mind, Senator. You are fully justified in having this thought suggest itself to you—such is the business code of morals of to-day. Yet I consider myself an idealist, and the whole plan on which the Consolidated Companies is based a moral one. I must have succeeded in convincing these men, whose characters are admittedly above reproach, or they could not have been persuaded to become associated with our corporation."
"Idealism, monopoly, and self-interest seem ill-mated partners, Mr. Gorham."
"Must monopoly and self-interest always be translated into selfishness and oppression?"
"As far as I have observed they always have been," Kenmore asserted.
"Perhaps so; but must they necessarily be so exercised? Is it not possible to control these human instincts to the extent of producing beneficent results?"
The Senator considered. "I cannot conceive it to be even within the bounds of possibility."
"Then, unless I can convince you to the contrary, I shall cheerfully withdraw my proposition," Gorham replied, with decision. "You will admit, I feel sure, that were I to eliminate self-interest the great consolidation which we are discussing could not exist."
"Will you also admit the possibility—I do not yet say probability—of conducting an organization such as the Consolidated Companies along lines which might be for the public good?"
"Provided the public received the benefits of such economies as your consolidations effected."
"Precisely—or even a part of these economies. Now, many of our stockholders, whose names you see on that list, are in positions of trust. Our directors have endeavored to select only those whose reputations guarantee the honorable observance of their responsibilities."
"Then how can they serve the Consolidated Companies?"
"Let me explain more clearly," Gorham continued. "A franchise for a street railway expires—here in Washington, in Chicago, in London, or in Vienna. Those who are influential in awarding the new franchise are among our stockholders. It is to their self-interest, truly, to place the franchise in the hands of the Consolidated Companies, but it is also to the best interests of the public, who, after all, are most concerned, because the Companies is equipped with men and funds to give them greater efficiency or cheaper transportation than any smaller organization could possibly afford to do. In awarding us the franchise, therefore, these officials are in no way proving themselves false to their trust."
Gorham studied the half-averted face of his companion carefully before he proceeded. "Do you follow me?"
"Perfectly, although not wholly sympathetically," the Senator replied.
Gorham smiled at Kenmore's frankness. "Suppose a government requires a loan of, say, fifty million pounds sterling," he continued. "Here in this little book you will find the names of practically all the financial heads of the governments of the world. You will also find here the leading figures in the world of finance. What is more natural than that the Consolidated Companies be asked to negotiate the loan, to the distinct advantage of both parties and of the Companies itself? Incidentally I might say that we shall eventually establish an international bank which will further simplify details. If it is a matter of building bridges, we have among our stockholders the officials who will award the contracts and the engineers best fitted to execute them. Acting as a medium for both creator and producer, and in serving their mutual self-interest, the Consolidated Companies can easily become the greatest patron of the arts, both fine and mechanical, that the world has ever seen,—and all this, with profit to itself. Could anything be simpler?"
"You are prepared to build navies and also submarines to destroy them?"
"'To do all such other things as are incidental or conducive to the attainment of the above objects,'" quoted Gorham; "but our energies are always exerted in constructive directions."
The Senator became absorbed in his own thoughts and was silent for several moments.
"I don't see yet how those men were persuaded to associate themselves with your corporation," he said, more to himself than to his companion. "The vast business advantages which it already possesses are quite apparent, but I cannot reconcile the conflict which must exist between the dual capacities of your stockholders as individuals and as public officials or officers of trust. Without intending to cast reflections upon any name I have seen, I can scarcely resist asking myself if every man has his price."
"I claim he has," Gorham stated.
The Senator turned upon him sharply. "Then my first impressions of the principles of your enterprise were correct. I beg—"
"Please hear me out, Senator," Gorham urged. "I believe implicitly that what I have just said is true, yet I venture to repeat to you that I consider myself an idealist and an optimist. A man's 'price' has come to be associated with money. I know this phase—what business man does not? But beyond this, are there not far subtler influences, which in one form or another draw every man away from the course he would naturally steer for himself as surely as the iron deflects the magnet's needle? Ambition influences an honorable legislator apparently to condone acts which he knows are wrong, that he may gain a Governor's chair, from which position he can more surely crush out the evils he has always recognized and abhorred. I do not say that all our stockholders are influenced by the guarantee I have given them that a franchise or a concession awarded to the Consolidated Companies means an advantage to the people they serve, but I have at least convinced them by word and act of my own sincerity, and of the possibility of so conducting the Companies that these results can be obtained. I do not even say that every public official who co-operates with us is actuated by the highest motives in giving the Consolidated Companies special privileges, but I do say that he may properly be so actuated—and the public receives the benefits."
"But think of the power which this corporation must eventually possess, and the powerlessness of any individual or organization, business or otherwise, to oppose it."
"Why should they wish to oppose it?" Gorham continued. "As I have said, the combinations suggested can but result in economies in production and consequent reductions in the living expenses of the masses."
"Yet you would hardly suggest that the Consolidated Companies has been launched as a philanthropic enterprise?"
Gorham's smile returned. "Not primarily, yet the people have already been benefited in no small degree. It is entirely possible to conduct it along lines which will reduce the cost of all public utilities and necessities, and yet secure large financial returns to the Companies."
"I was thinking—" Kenmore began, and then stopped.
"Well?" Gorham encouraged, interrogatively.
"I was thinking what an easy thing it is to mistake a temptation for an opportunity."
"Or the reverse," Gorham remarked, significantly, flushing slightly. "Does it not all depend upon the basis on which the corporation is administered?"
As the Senator ventured no reply, Gorham continued, with more feeling than he had as yet displayed:
"You and I, Mr. Kenmore, are familiar with the contention made by our great captains of industry that they are entitled to the vast fortunes which they have amassed as a return for the benefits which the public enjoys as a result of their energy and the risks they have taken. They have opened up new sections of the country, provided transportation facilities which were previously lacking, or have increased those which already existed; they have multiplied industries which promoted increase in population and trade, and have thus largely contributed to the prosperity enjoyed by the communities themselves and by the country at large."
"All of which the Consolidated Companies claims to be doing, or about to do, upon a scale which makes similar past achievements seem insignificant," interrupted Kenmore.
"Yes," Gorham assented, "but with a fuller appreciation that these accomplishments are not the results alone of individual ability, but far more of the exercise of the corporate power placed in its hands, not for its unlimited personal gain, but intrusted to it by law for public advantage. The law confers upon a corporate organization a power far beyond that which any individual himself could obtain; it enables him to make use of capital which thousands have contributed, toward whom he stands in a relation of trust, and without whom he could not accomplish the individual triumphs which become so magnified in his own mind, and for which he demands so great a recompense. The Consolidated Companies considers itself bound to use franchise privileges and corporate organization for the equal benefit of all those who contribute of their capital, with due regard for those public interests which corporations are created to serve, and to rest content with a fair return upon its own capital and a reasonable compensation for their services, on the part of the officers of the enterprises of which it assumes the responsibility and direction."
"How long do you think the Consolidated Companies can be run upon such altruistic principles?"
"As long as Robert Gorham remains its president and as long as those men whose names you have seen there remain its directors. This is my pledge. When the Consolidated Companies, intrusted with the power, credit, and resources of the many corporations which are and will be included in it, but which are not agencies of its own creation and do not belong to it, begins to take advantage of these for personal profit beyond legitimate return upon investment and fair compensation for services rendered, it will be guilty of a gross betrayal of trust. When it issues securities in excess of the requirements of its business and manipulates them for its own profit; when it makes use of its power, its funds, or its credit in enterprises which are not for the equal benefit of all who have contributed to its capital or in the interest of the public, which gives it its power; when it employs its profits so as to affect the market value of securities and then speculates in these for its own advantage,—then it will be flagrantly abusing a power which has been given to it in trust, and its unique position in the business world will be destroyed."
There was another long silence, which this time was not broken until the Senator was quite ready to speak. When the moment came the question was asked abruptly:
"How much can you consistently tell me of any of the corporation's transactions? I know of them, of course, by hearsay, but I should be glad to receive more intimate information."
"Nothing, without assurances of your serious interest, provided I can demonstrate to your satisfaction the strength of the facts I have mentioned; everything when you care to give me these assurances."
The Senator winced. He had expected to meet a man with whose type he was perfectly familiar, to explain to him that the private affairs of the Hon. James Kenmore, business or otherwise, were always kept entirely distinct from his political life, and to dismiss him with merely the courtesy demanded by the unusually strong letters which had introduced him. But Robert Gorham did not belong to the expected type. There were no earmarks of the promoter about him, in spite of the fact that the enterprise of which he stood as the head and front was in reality the most gigantic piece of promotion engineering the world had seen. On the contrary, Gorham was the refined man of affairs, confident in himself and in the certainty of his strength. And as for dismissal, the Senator realized that his caller had already made himself the dominant power.
"You wish me to subscribe for stock in this corporation to the extent of a hundred thousand dollars?"
"I am empowered by our directors to offer you the opportunity to subscribe for that amount."
The Senator passed over the obvious correction.
"Why am I selected by your directors rather than others of my colleagues whose names I do not observe upon that list?"
"Because we consider your position in the United States Senate to be one of increasing importance, and of value to the Companies," Gorham answered, frankly.
"Why has the specific amount of my desired subscription been so carefully stipulated?"
"Because your investment in the Consolidated Companies must be heavy enough in its relation to your personal fortune to make the success of the corporation a matter of real concern to you."
"Are these amounts, then, uniform in size?"
"Not at all. A hundred thousand dollars to you may be no more than five thousand to some other stockholder, and no less, on the other hand, than half a million to a third. In every case the amount of the subscription is carefully considered."
"Your directors have made a preliminary estimate of my financial standing?"
Kenmore smiled incredulously. "Would it be asking too much to inquire what the inventory, made by your experts, shows?"
"One million two hundred thousand," Gorham responded, promptly. "Except for your unfortunate investment in the Arizona oil-wells a year ago, it might have been half a million more—a loss which your fortunate connection during the past three years as a special partner in the well-known banking-house of Gilroy and Company has more than made up."
The Senator sprang excitedly to his feet. "By George! sir, by what power or authority do you make yourself aware of my private affairs down practically to the last penny?"
"I apologize, Senator, if I answered your question too literally," Gorham replied, quietly.
"But how do you know it?"
"I neglected to state that the secret-service department of the Consolidated Companies excels in efficiency that of any government. You can readily appreciate its importance."
"And you know with equal minuteness the financial condition of every man on that list?"
Gorham nodded. "Yes; and of every individual, corporation, business house, and government wherever it is of any value to us to know it."
Kenmore again relapsed into silence. He was experiencing a larger number of new sensations during his conference than he remembered ever having had aroused by any previous discussion. He was angry with himself for having permitted the interview, he was incensed by the proposition itself and the apparent unassailability of the Companies, he was annoyed by Gorham's good manners and his complete self-control. Never once had this man, who appeared to have his finger upon the pulse of the world, allowed his attitude even to approach enthusiasm. He simply presented facts, and then allowed them to tell their own story.
"You are at liberty, sir, to acquaint me with the transactions of the Consolidated Companies," the Senator finally remarked.
"Probably a few specific cases will suffice," Gorham responded, as if expecting to receive Kenmore's permission. "You will remember, perhaps, the apparently insurmountable complications which arose over the placing of the recent loan of fifty million dollars to the Chinese government, for their currency reforms and other necessary improvements. As soon as the Consolidated Companies assumed the responsibility of the negotiations, all international bickerings ceased, for the Chinese, French, German, English, and American financiers knew that the loan would be handled to the advantage of all. I could cite, perhaps, a hundred cases of similar importance, would time permit. As for the present, you are aware that England is building several great men-of-war to restore its navy to its previous supremacy. The contracts for this work have been placed in the hands of the Consolidated Companies. Our political strength was tested in a small way two years ago in causing a cessation of hostilities between Austria and her neighbors. We shall be strong enough before the war cloud gathers too heavily over England and Germany to prevent the grievous calamity which threatens these nations. Shall I give you other data?"
"But the Consolidated Companies separates the world into two parts—" the Senator began.
"Precisely—into those who are stockholders and those who are not. Both are benefited by the existence of the corporation. But is there any question as to which is the more favored class?"
"None whatever," Kenmore replied, with decision.
"Then may I call to-morrow to learn in which class you decide to place yourself?" Gorham asked, as he rose and slipped into his overcoat.
"No," the Senator replied, after a moment's thought. "I will send my secretary to you to arrange the matter of taking over stock to the amount of one hundred thousand dollars in the Consolidated Companies—Unlimited!"
If punctuality is a virtue presaging business success, Allen gave evidence, the following afternoon, of a brilliant future. Previously, he had made no criticism of the condition in which his motor-car was delivered to him at the garage, but this time the men found him strangely unreasonable. The brasses had to be repolished, the hood opened up, and the dust wiped from the long-neglected creases, and every detail was inspected with a carefulness which created comment.
"Goin' to sell his car," one of the men remarked, sententiously, to which sage comment his companion nodded acquiescence.
In spite of the delay thus caused, Allen shut off his power in front of the hotel entrance at exactly the appointed hour. He bounded into the lobby, and a few moments later was ushered into the elevator and guided to the Gorhams' apartment.
"Why, it's Riley!" the caller exclaimed, enthusiastically, as the door was opened for him by Mr. Gorham's aged retainer—"it's the same Riley who used to box my ears when I tramped over his flower-beds in Pittsburgh."
The old man regarded the visitor attentively. "Shure it's Misther Allen Sanford, grown out iv his short pants into a fine young man, so he has." A broad grin replaced the questioning expression on his face. "I did box ye'er ears good, didn't I, sor? but go along wid yer, th' trouble ye made me, ye an' Miss Alice a-traipsin' over me flower-beds." Then, with a sigh: "Ah, sor, I remimber it as if 'twas yisterday. Miss Alice's mother was livin' thin, God rist her soul. Thank ye, sor, f'r remimberin' me. I'll call Mrs. Gorham an' Miss Alice."
It was the girl who appeared first, greeting Allen with frank cordiality.
"Eleanor will be ready in a moment," she said. "Isn't this the greatest coincidence?" she continued. "Yesterday at this time I had no idea you were within a thousand miles, and now it seems as if we might almost be back in Pittsburgh again, living the same childish life and playing the same games."
"It was certainly a dandy coincidence for me," Allen agreed, "but I don't quite follow you back to the kid games we played."
"Why, Allen!" Alice reproached him, "have you forgotten the motor rides you and I took with wash-tubs, turned upside down, for seats, and the remnant of your express-wagon for a steering-wheel? My! how fast we used to go!"
"That's so!" he admitted. "I'd forgotten all about it. You used to look great sitting on that tub."
"Freckles and all?"
"I didn't remember the freckles, either, until you spoke of them. You were a little corker, even then."
"Even then?" Alice repeated, without intending to.
"No one has told you that you've gone backward in looks, has he?" Allen laughed, looking straight into her face. Then he continued: "There's one other game we played, which I haven't forgotten: Do you remember how we used to keep house together? You were Mrs. Allen Sanford then, and we had everything fixed up—"
Alice sobered. "I—I think I have forgotten that one," she said. "Isn't it ridiculous what games children do play?"
"But the motor-car game has come true," he insisted, "and you'll look just as good to me sitting in the real car, as you used to on top of that tub. And as for the other—"
"How long Eleanor is taking!" she interrupted; "I'll run and find her." With which she disappeared, returning almost immediately, accompanied by Mrs. Gorham.
"I shan't be asked again, if I keep you waiting so long, shall I?" Eleanor apologized.
"The appointed time always arrives at the same moment that Mrs. Gorham does," Allen replied.
"So!" Eleanor was frankly surprised by the boy's gallantry. "If this is a sample, I must agree with your father that diplomacy is your natural field. It would be a pity to waste that in a business office."
"Don't you join the opposition, Mrs. Gorham," he said, seriously. "I'm going to have a hard enough time with the pater as it is. Now, if you're ready, shall we start? It isn't going to be the most sociable arrangement in the world, with me driving the car, but we'll go slowly, which will give us a chance to visit."
With Fort Meyer as the objective point, Allen took the road through Rock Creek Park to Chevy Chase, feeling attracted, perhaps unconsciously, because it was there he had renewed this acquaintance which promised to end the ennui he had experienced during the weeks he had spent in Washington. Slowing his speed down to a point requiring the least attention, he was able to converse with his guests. Alice had said little since they left the hotel, but at last she found an opportunity to free her mind.
"Eleanor wasn't serious in what she said about your going into diplomacy, Allen. Any ability a man has in that line is just as valuable in business."
Mrs. Gorham laughed as she turned to Alice. "Has that been troubling you, my dear?" Then to Allen: "You touched on a very live wire when you said what you did yesterday, Mr. Sanford. Alice thinks that a man who chooses anything but a business career is blind to what life offers him."
"You do too, don't you, Allen?" the girl asked.
"Why—yes," he answered. "I haven't exactly analyzed it, but I know I'd rather go into business than into the diplomatic service."
"But you must have some reason for it," she urged.
"I have—I don't want to spend my life in other countries. Little old New York is good enough for me. I have lots of friends there, and that's where I'd like to settle down."
"New York is a hard place for a young man to start his career," said Mrs. Gorham. "You will find there an absolute intolerance for the man in the making. New York demands the finished product."
"But you don't have to start in New York," Alice added. "You could make your success in some other city, and then come to New York if you wanted to."
Allen became unusually thoughtful as the conversation progressed.
"Gee!" he said; "I knew that I wanted to go into business, but I didn't realize how much there was to think over before doing it."
"But it's worth all the time and thought you can give to it," the girl said, enthusiastically. "I can't imagine anything grander than to stand at the threshold of the world ready to enter the battle of life, to struggle with the obstacles and to conquer them. Think, Allen—just think of what you have before you, while we girls never get any such chance at all."
"Yes." Allen hesitated, carried off his feet by the intensity of the words and the rapt expression of her face. "Yes, I guess it is grand, though it never struck me just that way before. I say!—" he continued, after a moment's pause, "you're an enthusiast on this business question, aren't you?"
"Could she be Robert Gorham's daughter and not be an enthusiast?" Mrs. Gorham asked.
"If father would only let me, I know I could make a success in business," Alice continued. "I watch him, when he least suspects it; I study the papers which he leaves around, and sometimes it seems as if I just must be a boy, and get into the thick of it."
"What a funny idea!" Allen remarked. "I never thought girls cared anything about business."
"But it's no use," she bemoaned. "I've got to be a girl whether I like it or not; but you haven't any such handicap."
"Haven't I?—you forget the pater."
"If you felt as strongly about it as I do, you could persuade him."
"Have you—met the pater?" he asked, significantly.
Alice smiled for a moment, and then became serious again. "If you have determination enough to succeed in business, Allen, the same characteristic will win out with your father."
The boy did not know quite what to answer. Stephen Sanford insisted that the only reason Allen showed a preference for business was because he knew his father had set his heart on a different career for him. It may have been merely an unconscious assertion of his budding manhood which rebelled against having his life-work laid out for him without consultation, just as his governess used to lay out his clothes. At all events, from his very nature, Allen had not considered the matter as seriously as he now saw Alice had done, and he was entirely unequal to the task of holding up his end of the discussion. So, after a few moments' silence, during which she watched him with eager expectancy, he turned his face toward her, and grinned broadly.
"I'm mighty glad you are a girl," he said, irrelevantly; "and I'm mighty glad you can't go into business."
Alice was disappointed on his account, but she chose to reply only to his reference to her.
"Of course," she pouted. "You men are all alike. You're selfish and unsympathetic. You want all the interesting things for yourselves, and—some of you—don't even know why you want them."
"I really believe you're getting personal." Allen laughed. "Don't knock; come right in. Now, to heap coals of fire upon your head, I'll tell you what I'll do, Alice; I'll divide chances with you, beginning with the first."
"Do you mean to say you haven't had even a first chance yet?"
He nodded cheerfully. "Not a single first, to say nothing of doubtful seconds."
"Then it's because you haven't tried," she asserted.
"Of course; but that doesn't mean that some one else hasn't tried. I've been the dutiful son, waiting for 'papa' to show him that the paternal way is the only way; but even the pater hasn't proved a blooming success in that line. The real trouble is that the old man is too conscientious. Just as the President gets all worked up and just crazy to send me as minister plenipotentiary to the Republic of Zuzu, the pater coughs guiltily, and murmurs, 'Oh, yes; he's a good boy, if he is my son, but he hasn't been brought up in my school,' and shows by every movement that he knows he's passing off a gold brick. Then, of course, the whole game is up."
"Why doesn't he take you into his own business?" Mrs. Gorham asked.
"Jealousy or judgment; can't say which."
"Do be serious, Allen," Alice insisted. "I don't believe you have any strong feelings about it anyway. No wonder your father gets out of patience with you if you talk to him about it as you do to us."
"Oh, he gets out of patience, all right," Allen admitted, "but it's simply because he can't refute my arguments. He talks about what he was doing at my age, but I tell him my record is a whole lot better than his. He couldn't afford to go to college, while I could, and at the same proud point in our careers I was successfully touching him for five hundred a month, while he was with great difficulty earning a hundred and fifty, on which he supported a family. But the pater—well, the pater has a way of looking at things which is all his own."
"There is absolutely no use expecting to talk business with you," the girl declared. "Father won't discuss it with me, and you won't be serious at all, and I know Mr. Covington is really laughing at me all the time, even though he tries to make me think that he looks upon me as a very business-like young woman."
"Who is Mr. Covington?" Allen asked, bluntly, inwardly resenting the fact that any one except her father was as intimate with Alice as the words indicated.
"He's father's right-hand man in the Consolidated Companies. If you could once see him and father at work and hear them talk you would understand the fascination of it."
"Then you like business conversation?" The boy found it difficult to comprehend.
"Better than anything else in the world."
Allen became really serious. "If that's the case," he said, emphatically, "I'm going to become a man of affairs, just to give you that pleasure."
Alice clapped her hands with delight. "What are you going to do?" she asked.
He turned so blank a face to the expectant one he saw before him that the seriousness could no longer be preserved. The vacuity turned into a smile, and the smile into a broad grin.
"I guess I lose if I have to answer that question now," he admitted, frankly; "but you keep your eye on Willie and the push-ball, and watch the professor change him into a big roaring captain of industry. Then you shall talk business with him as much as you like, and he won't make you feel that he's laughing at you, as that Mr.—, what's his name, does."
"Good for you, Allen!" the girl cried, really pleased by the clumsily expressed compliment.
"So all is settled now except the pater, and I'm almost launched on my career," Allen replied. "Now suppose we take up your case. What have you been doing all these years?"
"Well," said Alice, smiling, "the history of my life is yet to be written, but the main facts up to the present are that I have safely passed through school and most of my other childhood diseases; that I had my coming-out ball in New York last winter; that I am happy, and—most important of all—that I have Eleanor."
She took Mrs. Gorham's hand affectionately in hers as she spoke, and Allen needed nothing more to demonstrate the strength of the bond which existed between the two. It was not the affection between mother and daughters, or between sisters, or friends, but rather the best of all three merged and purified by the yearning each had felt for that which now each had found.
The conversation during the ride back to the hotel was in lighter vein, in which Allen showed greater proficiency. Alice's interest in him was mingled with a disappointment that the years had not made him older and less irresponsible. She felt herself distinctly his senior, yet she also felt a confidence in his unexpressed ability. To Mrs. Gorham the passages-at-arms between the two children, as she would have called them, were refreshing. She knew that each was being benefited by coming in contact with a different nature. Alice's serious side needed the leaven of a lighter viewpoint on life; Allen's buoyancy was already being tempered by her ambition. This was why, when Alice asked her later, in their apartment, "Don't you think Allen needs a little of that 'inspiration' you spoke of?" she had kissed the girl, and answered without hesitation, "Yes, dear; and you are just the one to give it to him."
"Then this is my chance to enter business by proxy?" Alice asked again; and Mrs. Gorham, smiling quietly to herself, had answered, "Perhaps."
After his interview with Senator Kenmore, Gorham walked rapidly down the slight incline from the Senators' office building to the hotel, where the clerk passed out to him a handful of letters and telegrams. In the lobby, unseasonably crowded by the extra session of Congress, he nodded cordially to three or four men who obviously courted recognition, and ascended in the elevator to his apartment.
"You don't know Gorham?" queried one of the men, turning to his friend—"wonderful man, wonderful organizer, head of the great Consolidated Companies. Thought the Consolidated Companies a myth? Well, well! That's a great compliment to the man and his methods. You'll know both well enough before long. But that's characteristic of Gorham—moves along so quietly that you think he's doing nothing; then you wake up and find that his corporation has tucked away a big government contract you thought you'd tied up yourself. Better keep your eye on Gorham and the Consolidated Companies."
"There you are, daddy!" cried a welcoming voice as Gorham threw open the door, the words being quickly followed by a rustle of skirts and an enthusiastic embrace. "I'm so glad you're back early. You know Allen is coming to dinner, and couldn't we all go to the theatre afterward?"
Alice released her father partially, but still held one of his hands in each of her own. Hat, letters, and telegrams had already fallen in confusion upon the floor, as the result of the girl's onslaught. She caught the look, half amusement, half dismay, upon his face.
"Never mind, daddy dear," she continued, reassuringly; "I'll pick them all up in a moment. You will go with us to the theatre, won't you?"
Gorham looked significantly at the telegrams and the letters on the floor.
"Let me see," he said, doubtfully. "I really ought to work on these papers after dinner. How can I do that and go with you, Puss? There's a problem for you!—unless I could use Riley for a secretary," he continued, jocosely. "That's the only capacity he hasn't served in. Where is he, anyway?"
"Couldn't I help you?" she asked, quickly, without answering his question. "You don't know how much I'd like to. And I'm sure I could," she added, with confidence.
"Tut, tut!" Gorham stroked the soft fair hair affectionately, but discreetly. "Little girls shouldn't concern themselves with such matters."
The girl released him, and, dropping on her knees, gathered up the fallen missives. Instead of handing them to her father, she sat back and looked up seriously into his face.
"Girls are no good, anyhow," she rebelled. "If you would only give me the chance, I know I could help you in lots of ways, and then I'd feel that I was worth something. I just can't stand it to sit around all the time and have things done for me. Oh, why wasn't I a boy!"
"Come, come." Gorham raised her gently to her feet, noting the tears in her eyes, and drew her to him. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, dear; but business and battle are meant for men. The Amazons in ancient history didn't change the order of things, did they? You should be proud to be just what you are. Now give me my letters. There's some one else I want to see, you know."
"She's waiting for you," Alice replied, simply, looking into his face with comprehension. "She's the sweetest thing, daddy," the girl continued. "One moment she is so wise that she seems old enough to be my truly mother; and then again so young and sympathetic as to be just an older sister. I can't tell you how much she does for me every day, or how completely she understands me."
"You and I are mighty lucky to have Eleanor, Alice," Gorham replied, feelingly. "We should both be very grateful to her, dear."
"I am grateful, daddy; and I love her better every day. There's Riley; he'll help you get ready for the theatre."
Gorham made no answer, but patted his daughter's cheek affectionately as he turned from her to the genial face of his valet and general factotum. The old man had been in Gorham's family for forty years, and his loyalty to "Misther Robert" had steadily increased during the period which had elapsed since "Old Gorham," as his original master had been known in Pittsburgh, delivered him over to his son as a part of the house and household effects which constituted the paternal wedding present. Now, ten years Gorham's senior, he still adopted an attitude at once protective and admiring, enjoying that intimacy which is the reward of a lifelong service of loyalty.
"Miss Alice wishes me to go to the theatre to-night, Riley," Gorham remarked as the man relieved him of his coat.
"Yis, sor; 'twill do ye good, Misther Robert—ye wid so manny grand plans in ye'er head. 'Twill do ye good, sor."
"But I have so much to do, Riley," Gorham protested. "The more items I cross off my daily memorandum, the more I find left there to be done."
"Yis, sor; that's right, sor—I know it's right; it's just like th' Widow Cruse's oil jug in th' Bible, sor. But th' widow come out all right, Misther Robert, and ye'll do th' same. I'll have ye'er things ready f'r ye in a minnit, sor."
If Riley was in the conspiracy for the theatre-party, Gorham realized that opposition would be futile, so he turned into his wife's room.
"I thought I heard voices in the hall," Mrs. Gorham greeted her husband, affectionately. "You have returned early, which will give us a little visit together before dinner-time. Has the day been satisfactory?"
Gorham did not reply at once. He held her face between his hands, looking down into the depth of her eyes with a strength of feeling which she could but sense. There was an expression of expectancy, an unspoken desire that she should recognize something which as yet she had failed to see. There was a tenseness which would have frightened her except for the tenderness which accompanied it.
"Why do you look at me like that, Robert?"
"Because I love you, Eleanor," he replied at length. "Isn't that an admission for a man of my age to make? I know it always, but there are times when I must tell you so. Don't call it weakness, dear, or sentimentality. There is a relief which I could never explain in turning from these battles with men and with events to your companionship, which demanded nothing from me except myself."
"Nothing except yourself?" Mrs. Gorham smiled, reassured. "What more could one ask or give? Now that you have confessed, I must do likewise: I simply count the moments every day until you come, but I never should have dared to tell you for fear you would laugh at me. What would this callous world say if it discovered that the great Robert Gorham and his insignificant wife were really in love with each other! But I am so thankful for it, dear. What do the years mean unless they add to one's power to love?"
"The thankfulness is mine, Eleanor," Gorham replied; "but I shan't let you speak of 'the years' at twenty-six. Wait until you add twenty-five more to them and reach my dignified estate."
"It is experience which adds the years, my Robert; and this almost gives me the right to priority."
"I know, I know," her husband replied, drawing her gently to him. "Do you never forget it?"
"You and the dear girls have softened the past into a memory which I can at least endure," she continued, "and you fill the present with so much happiness that I rarely have time to look backward."
"Alice spoke just now of how much you had been to her, and it started something moving in my own heart. That is probably what led me to speak as I did."
"Alice is a darling," Mrs. Gorham replied, happy beyond words at the double tribute received from father and daughter. "Just now she is passing through what seems to her to be a crisis, and she needs assistance from us both."
Gorham looked at her in surprise. "A crisis?" he asked.
"Yes, Robert; and the responsibility is yours: you have passed on to her, as directly as heredity can do it, that love of business which has made you what you are. You have been denied a son, but whether you wish it or not your daughter naturally possesses those very business instincts which you would have been proud to recognize in your son."
"You amaze me," Gorham replied. "Alice is forever trying to persuade me to let her help me and all that, but I have attributed it simply to an affectionate desire on her part to be of service to me."
"It is more than that—there is the reflection of yourself in the girl's soul which demands expression."
"But it would be absurd for her to do anything of that kind."
"Why so? I don't mean for her to go into a business office, of course. But could you not gratify her by explaining certain problems which she could grasp, and then give her an opportunity to work them out herself in some minor personal matter of which you have so many?"
"It seems ridiculous to me," Gorham said, after a moment's silence, "but I will think it over carefully. I am disappointed, I admit, that neither one of my children, especially Alice, should have been a son to perpetuate my name and to continue my work; but that was not to be, and my daughters are all that I could ask."
"They are indeed," she assented, feelingly. "I believe Alice realizes your disappointment and actually reproaches herself, poor child, for not being what you wished."
"Oh, no!" he protested. "I must set her right on that at once. I admit my disappointment, but that does not lessen my appreciation of my blessings. You and the girls are everything to me—and you have given me more than a son in your wonderful conception—the Consolidated Companies is your child, Eleanor, for without your suggestion of an organization founded upon an altruistic basis I should never have thought of creating this corporation which is now certain to be the greatest power the world has seen."
"You give me too much credit, Robert. That was simply a chance suggestion; it was your master mind which gave it life."
"It is yours, none the less," Gorham insisted; "and this great corporation may be the means of giving me my son and successor, after all."
It was Eleanor's turn to show surprise, but he did not wait for the question which was on her lips.
"It is my hope that Alice may marry Covington," he continued, "and I see no reason why this should not be. She is, of course, a free agent, but I think Covington will have little difficulty in winning her. He has an attractive personality, and I know that she already admires and respects him. He is a man of rare ability and is my natural successor."
"There seems to be no logical obstacle," Eleanor admitted; "but her heart is yet to be awakened."
"As far as that is concerned," Gorham said, decisively, "Alice will not altogether disregard my wishes in the matter; and the awakening will be all the healthier if the child is guided."
"We must never do more than guide her," Eleanor said, apprehensively.
"I don't intend to. Now tell me something of this youngster who seems to have made quite an impression on my entire family."
Mrs. Gorham smiled as her mind reverted to the afternoon. "We had a charming ride," she said. "Allen has an over-developed bump of humor which encourages him to be irresponsible, but he is a likable boy and I enjoyed him."
"Probably all he needs is a smaller allowance and a greater necessity."
"I judge he isn't likely to get either from his father. As you know, Mr. Sanford insists on his becoming a diplomat, while he prefers to go into business. This naturally interested Alice, and they had a most amusing discussion about it. He really doesn't know why he prefers business, but Alice has helped him to crystallize his ideas. In fact, she has quite fired his ambition. I think you will enjoy your conversation with him at dinner to-night, Robert, for he is really most ingenuous, and a bit of advice from you will help him just now, even if he doesn't measure up to your standard of business capacity."
"You think me a stern master, don't you, Eleanor?" Gorham pressed the hand he held in his.
"It would be unfair to judge him by yourself. Boys of to-day are not having the early training that fell to your lot, and their latent ability is just that much slower in showing itself. You see so much of the serious side of life, it will be diverting to hear the frank expressions of one of the younger generation. I am curious to know what you think of him."
"I couldn't take him into the Consolidated Companies," Gorham said, flatly.
"That isn't what I mean," his wife hastened to reply. "You don't think this a disregard of your desire not to have me refer to business?"
"No, dear; I understand, and shall be glad to talk with the boy. I hope you also understand as clearly why I have had to take this seemingly arbitrary position. My day is filled with problems which require nerve and confidence in my own judgment in order to carry them through. I must let no one influence this judgment, and even a suggested preference from those I love might do it. More than this, my brain is clearer each day when I can claim an evening with you and Alice, with no intruding thoughts of business detail. Now I must send a few telegrams to clear the way for the theatre this evening. You really want me to go with you?"
"Alice has set her heart on it, and as for me—well, you know how little any evening means to me unless we are together."
"Then I will send Riley to see about the seats."
"But before you do that, I have a complaint to make."
Gorham smiled at the expression on his wife's face, half serious, half humorous.
"Who is the culprit?"
"Riley," she replied.
"Riley?" her husband repeated. "Good heavens, don't tell me that you and Riley have been having trouble!"
"Not trouble, exactly; but really, Robert, he treats me as if I were a child."
"No!" Gorham assumed an incredulity he did not feel. "Tell me all about it."
"It is too absurd to speak of, but I was really annoyed with him for the moment. He actually wouldn't let me go shopping this morning—he said I was too tired, and absolutely refused to order a cab."
Gorham laughed. "Well, wasn't he right?"
"That isn't the question. Even a privileged servant ought not to presume too far."
Gorham did not speak for a moment. "Do you know, Eleanor," he said at length, "that idea regarding Riley never entered my head before. He was the bloody tyrant of my childhood, and I would have incurred even my much-dreaded father's wrath rather than risk a disagreement with Riley. Actually, if he had disapproved, I question whether I should have dared to marry you! Even now I can feel my old-time trembling coming on at the thought of reproving him because he prevented you from overdoing. He would consider me an ingrate for not recognizing that it was done in my best interests, and I should positively lose caste."
Mrs. Gorham laughed in spite of her temporary chagrin in the face of her husband's genuine discomfiture, which he tried to conceal by the lightness of his words. She wondered at the extremes he manifested—quiet but firm and immovable as the rock of Gibraltar in his business dealings, unaggressive and yielding in all which had to do with his home life. She hastened to withdraw her complaint.
"Don't worry about Riley," she laughed. "The next time I want to do something of which he doesn't approve, I'll have it done before he knows anything about it."
"You don't think I'm supporting Riley against you, do you?"
"No, indeed," Eleanor replied, smiling; "I understand your feelings about him."
Gorham drew a sigh of relief. "I always want you to bring everything to me, Eleanor—everything, no matter how slight, which worries you. You will always do that, won't you?"
"Of course"; Mrs. Gorham looked up quickly.
"You always have, haven't you, dear?"
"Why, yes, Robert; do you doubt it?"
"Sometimes I have a feeling that there might have been something in those sad years of yours which I could make lighter if you shared it with me."
"You have made everything lighter and brighter," she replied, gratefully, yet without directly answering his question.
Patricia would also have made complaints of Riley had she not considered herself entirely competent to cope with the situation. The child's disappointment at being left behind had made this a trying day for the whole family, and Eleanor's delay in joining Alice and Allen for the ride had been caused by her efforts to straighten matters out before leaving Patricia alone for the afternoon with the declaration of open warfare still in force between her and the old man. Nine times out of ten, Patricia played the tune to which Riley danced, but this was the tenth, and an older understanding would have heeded the signals of the approaching storm.
"I don't say she has more iv it than other childern," Riley explained to Mrs. Gorham; "but th' divvle is in 'em all. Go 'long wid ye'er ride, Missus Gorham, an' lave her ter me. 'Tis th' firm hand I'll be afther showin' her, but th' tinder wan, like I done wid her fa-ather forty year ago. Ye lave her ter me, ma'm."
So the motor-party set out with one member of it uncertain of what might happen during her absence; but there was no uncertainty in Patricia's mind. She watched the departure of the car from the window, and then slammed the door, knowing well that the noise would arouse all sorts of apprehensions in Riley's soul. A vigorous knock soon rewarded her efforts.
"Come in," she called, innocently.
Riley stood in the doorway, with a hand resting on each hip, astonished into silence by the peaceful scene before him. Patricia was seated in the middle of the bed, completely surrounded with pillows, and fanning herself nonchalantly.
"Phwat made ye slam th' dure?" he demanded.
"Did it slam?" she asked. "It must have been the draught. There's an awful draught around this apartment—haven't you noticed it, Riley?"
"I haven't noticed nuthin' excep' that ye are a bad little gurl."
"It's the 'divvle' in me—coming out, isn't it, Riley? That's what you told mamma Eleanor, and you ought to know."
"Shure, I ought ter know, an' I do know."
"I thought you did." Patricia smiled sweetly. "But if a person has the 'divvle' in him, it is much better to let it get out."
"'Twud take more room than there is here ter let it all out iv ye," retorted the irate Riley.
"You are no gentleman, Mr. Riley, to speak to a lady like that," she said, severely. "You may go now."
"Will ye be th' good gurl if I lave ye by yersel'?"
"How do I know if it's all out of me?"
"Shure, it oughter be," he declared, in despair. "Will ye thry?"
"Certainly, I'll try." Patricia was demureness itself. "If anything happens, it will be the 'divvle's' fault, so you mustn't hold me responsible."
"It's ye'er own divvle, ain't it?—ye can make it do what ye want."
"I don't know," protested Patricia. "I didn't even know I had a 'divvle.' It was you who discovered it; and people who discover things have to be responsible for them, don't they?"
Riley shook his head in desperation. His arguments were exhausted, and all that was left to him was retreat.
"I wuddent be that child's gov'ness f'r all th' money in th' world," he muttered, as he shuffled through the hall. "An' ter think they lift her home fr'm ch'ice. 'Twas th' lucky day f'r Miss Mary—but I wish her here."
Finding the coast clear, Patricia moved the scene of her activity to the reception-room. Here she undertook to put into execution the latest idea which had struck her fancy, which was nothing less than a medieval tournament on as elaborate a scale as the properties at hand would permit. The hotel had not been furnished with an eye to contests of chivalry, but chairs, turned wrong-side up and covered with table-cloths, made richly caparisoned steeds; and Patricia's imagination easily supplied the riders.
At first the Knights and their horses were ranged together at one end of the room.
"You are Front-de-B[oe]uf," the child announced, laying her hand upon the first overturned chair; "and you are Bois-Guilbert, and you Malvoisin. We ought to have some others, but there aren't any more table-covers."
Then she moved Front-de-B[oe]uf into the centre of the arena.
"You stay there 'til I get my shield and lance," she said, and the war-like Knight made no protest.
Patricia next appeared with an open umbrella dexterously held in front of her, and a heavy cane belonging to her father in her hand. Front-de-B[oe]uf may have been intimidated by the militant figure which approached him, but he stood his ground bravely.
"I'm the Disinherited Knight," Patricia announced to the assembled multitude, pausing a moment to receive their enthusiastic plaudits.
"Largesse, largesse, gallant Knights!" she cried, boldly. "That means that I'm bigger than any one else," she explained. "Love of the Ladies—Glory to the Brave!"
With this ample notice of her intentions, the Disinherited Knight charged Front-de-B[oe]uf with a frenzy which resulted in his utter disgrace. The trappings were torn from his steed by the fury of the onslaught, the horse itself was overthrown, and Patricia surveyed the carnage with the utmost satisfaction.
"We shall meet again, I trust, where there is none to separate us," she said, solemnly.
A truce was declared while she dragged Bois-Guilbert into the lists.
"To all brave English hearts and to the confusion of foreign tyrants," was the war-cry, and in a moment more Bois-Guilbert had shared the fate of his predecessor. This time, however, the Disinherited Knight did not escape unscathed, as the front foot of the adversary's steed made a dismal rent in her umbrella shield.
Malvoisin alone remained, and he in turn took his stand against the redoubtable champion. But Malvoisin, contrary to history as Patricia knew it, proved the most stubborn adversary of the three. The heralds had not properly cleared away the debris from the tilting-field, so when the Disinherited Knight forced Malvoisin back, Bois-Guilbert supported him from behind. Patricia had found the other two so yielding that she was unprepared for this unexpected defence, and the result of her attack was the complete demolition of the umbrella and a bad fall for herself, in the course of which her lance struck the glass door of a bookcase standing near.
The noise of the fall, together with the crash of glass, brought Riley rushing to the room. Patricia recognized his indignation without need of explanation. Forgetful of her bump, she again seized the cane, and repeating her cry, "To the confusion of foreign tyrants," she charged the old man with such vigor that he stepped aside with astonishing agility, allowing her to pass him into the hall. This was all that the now thoroughly frightened Patricia desired to accomplish. Dropping the cane, she rushed into the bedroom, and retreated underneath the bed, whither she well knew Riley's infirmities would not permit him to follow.
"Come out o' there," the old man commanded, close behind her.
"It's lovely under here," the child answered; "I'd rather stay."
"Phwat in th' name o' Hiven have ye been doin'?"
"Playing tournament, Riley," came back the voice from under the bed. "It's a splendid game. Do you want to learn it some time?"
"'Tis mesel' has sumthin' to learn ye," he retorted. "Come out o' there, I say."
"I couldn't think of it. I'm tired."
"Well, ye oughter be—smashin' up th' furnichure, an' makin' a noise like a wake. Wait 'til I gits hold iv ye."
"You are a foreign tyrant, Riley—I shall never yield to you."
"Furrin fiddlesticks—I'll lave th' whole mess f'r ye'er mother ter see when she gits home, d'ye mind."
"All right, Riley; I'll wait for her here."
Again the old man retreated, his indignation increasing as he waited for the return of the motor-party. Mrs. Gorham was given no opportunity even to remove her wraps before she was solemnly led to the scene of the disaster. Allen and Alice followed close behind, ignorant of the nature of the calamity, but feeling certain by Riley's manner that it was a serious one. They gazed for a moment at the wreck before them.
"What has happened, Riley?" Eleanor cried, anxiously.
"It looks as if a vacuum-cleaner had been at work," volunteered Allen.
The old man's emotions were so strong that he could scarcely speak.
"What has happened?" again demanded Eleanor.
"Miss Pat," was all that Riley could articulate.
"But where is she—has she been hurt?"
"No, ma'am; but she done it. She's under th' bed in ye'er room."
The entire party rushed to the bedroom, not knowing what they might find. Mrs. Gorham knelt on the floor and raised the counterpane. There lay the Disinherited Knight, fast asleep, exhausted from her first jousting victories.
"Pat!" cried Eleanor, "are you all right?"
"Hello, mamma Eleanor," she answered, sweetly; "is Riley after you, too?"
Mr. Gorham studied Allen carefully during dinner. What Eleanor had told him of the boy interested him, and his intimate knowledge of Stephen Sanford's personality made him a more sympathetic adviser than might otherwise have been the case. Allen, too, was distinctly attracted by Gorham, though his eyes rested more often on the girl facing him across the small table, who seemed even more lovely to him now, in a soft, clinging gown of exquisite texture. His memory of Gorham had been indistinct, but he had heard so much of him through his father and others during these intervening years that he was prepared to see a man who would intimidate him by his severity and awe him by the manifestation of his greatness. In fact, associating business success with his father's manners and methods, Allen had come to believe that force meant noise and bluster, and that firmness stood for an intolerance of discussion. But here, in the midst of his family, Robert Gorham displayed a side of his nature which Stephen Sanford had never seen; yet Allen was no less conscious of the man's power. The boy was more quick to sense than he was to analyze, and it was not until he had left the Gorhams, some hours later, that he was able to satisfy his silent query as to what was reminiscent in the strength behind Gorham's genial face and cordial bearing. The thought took him back to his college days, and the course in ancient history which, strange to say, he had enjoyed most of all—to the old-time Roman emperors, born to command, and indifferent to the criticism or the commendation of the world in which they labored, made up of the lesser men they dominated.
The conversation at the dinner-table soon turned to Allen's experiences in Europe, and his naive manner of telling about them afforded no little amusement.
"I like everything in London except the telephone," he explained. "It's easy enough to blow in the hot air, but it takes a whole lot of experience on the flute to make the proper connections with your fingers. And to get a number—well, it's a joke, that's what it is."
"Is it really worse than our service?" asked Alice.
"Worse? Why, ours is a direct line without a switchboard compared with theirs. I gave it up altogether after my experience trying to get Crecy & Brown—you know them, Mr. Gorham. I dropped into the office of one of the pater's correspondents and asked to use their telephone. One of the clerks offered to help me out, and I let him.
"'I say, miss,' began the clerk, 'put me through to Crecy & Brown, will you?' Then a few moments went by. 'Oh! thank you very much,' was his reply, and he restored the receiver noisily to its position on the rack. 'They have no telephone,' he said.
"I looked at him a moment, then I said as calmly as I could, 'and yet they say the English are slow.'
"'Do they?' he replied, good-naturedly. 'I don't think I quite follow you.'
"'Why, they have taken that telephone out since four o'clock yesterday afternoon. In America it would have required several days.'
"'Oh, you're joking,' he laughed; 'they couldn't have taken it out since then, you know.'
"'But they have,' I said, boldly, making a noise like the pater. 'I called them up myself at that time yesterday.'
"Then he rang the central office again. 'I say, miss, the gentleman is really positive that Crecy & Brown have a telephone, you know.'
"Some more minutes passed by, and again the clerk said, 'Oh, thank you very kindly,' and he put the receiver back.
"'They have no telephone,' he said.
"'There you are,' I cried, 'it has been taken out since four o'clock yesterday afternoon. It's simply wonderful!'
"'You Americans are such bally jokers,' the clerk said. 'They really couldn't have done that, you know.'
"'But they have! I still insist.'
"Then the Englishman went into a trance for a moment. 'I believe you think they have a telephone, after all,' he declared.
"'I really do,' I admitted.
"'Well, we'll soon find out,' the clerk cried, with an awful burst of speed, striking a bell upon his desk.
"'George,' he said to the boy, 'run around to Crecy & Brown's, will you, and see if they have a telephone.'
"I sat there for twenty minutes, discussing the weather, the Derby winner, and all the other favorite English subjects before the boy came back.
"'Yes, sir,' the boy reported, 'Crecy & Brown have a telephone, sir. Their number is 485 Gerard, sir.'
"The clerk got me the number this time, and I did fairly well. Then I sat down.
"'Did you want to call another number?' he asked me.
"'No, not two in the same day,' I said; 'but over in America we always pass out something to the operator when she gives us wrong information like that—just for the good of the service.'
"'I suppose I ought to reprimand her,' the clerk admitted—'call her down, as you would say.'
"'If you don't, I will,' I told him.
"'Oh, I had much better do it,' he replied, hastily, taking the receiver in his hand.
"'I say, miss,' he chirped, 'that number you just gave me, 485 Gerard, is Crecy & Brown, you know, the one you said had no telephone. Rather a good joke on you, isn't it, miss?' Then he slammed the receiver on its hook.
"'There!' he said, 'I think that will hold her for a while, as you say in your country!'
"Wouldn't you think that would have just mortified her to death?"
Alice laughed. "If you were ambassador to England, Allen, you could change all that. Perhaps that's the niche for you, after all."
"What's a 'niche'?" demanded Patricia, taking advantage of the first opportunity to join in the conversation.
"What do you think it is, dear?" Mrs. Gorham asked, smiling.
"I think an itch is an awful feeling; why do you want him to have that?" Patricia replied, sinking into obscurity at the laugh which her definition evoked.
Her father, who had been an interested listener thus far, came to her rescue, and took advantage of Alice's remark to turn the conversation in the direction he had previously determined upon.
"You haven't heard from your father recently, I judge?" he said.
"I have an idea that the pater has overlooked me," Allen replied; "he's been so busy with other things."
"Why don't you fall in with his ambition to make a diplomat of you?"
"Well—I suppose the strongest reasons are those which I can't put into words, Mr. Gorham, but one that seems pretty good to me is that I don't think I'm fitted for it."
"I'm too optimistic, I think, to make a good diplomat. If a man's a gentleman, and treats me square, I'm apt to think he's all right—and, from what I hear, in diplomacy the one who fools the others the most times is the best fellow. Isn't that right?"
"Some people would tell you that the same thing holds true in business."
"I know; but in business there seems to be something more tangible to work on. Of course I don't know anything about it, but I think I could make a better show selling bonds or cotton than ententes cordiales."
"Have you made any effort to secure a position?"
"Not yet, Mr. Gorham. The pater would be more than peeved if I didn't wait for him and his diplomatic expectations. But if he doesn't get busy pretty soon, I think I'll hike it over to New York, and see what's doing."
Gorham smiled in spite of the boy's earnestness. "Surely your father would realize how much in earnest you are if you talked to him as you're talking to me now."
"Father always looks upon me as a joke," Allen continued. "He made his own way, you see, and then, because he was rich, he didn't want me to endure the hardships which really made him what he is. He gave me plenty of money all the way through Harvard, and ever since, in fact; yet he is always wondering why I lack 'initiative.' He's been mighty generous, and I appreciate it all, but don't you think it's one thing to build your own character and economize because you have to, and another to economize when you know you don't have to? I guess that's my complaint."
"He was very proud of what you did at college," Gorham said. "I never used to meet him without hearing about some of your athletic triumphs."
"I suspect it is you who call them triumphs," Allen replied; "that doesn't sound like the pater to me. Of course, some of the things I did in college seemed worth while at the time; I tried for the football team, and I made it—by hard work, with a hundred other fellows doing their best to push me back on the side lines; I tried for the crew, and I made it; I rowed two years at New London, and there was some work about that. I'm afraid I made athletics my vocation and studies my avocation, but I tried to do what I undertook as well as I knew how, and some of the boys still think I'm pretty good in certain lines."
"Life is scarcely a football-field, my boy," Gorham remarked, sententiously. "The world of business admits of no vacuum. It is the survival of the fittest, and work is the great secret of success."
"I know what a 'vacuum' is, anyway," Patricia was recovering from her temporary chagrin.
"Now is your chance to square yourself," said her father, turning to her, kindly.
"I learned that at school last winter," the child continued, proudly: "a 'vacuum' is the place where the Pope lives when it is vacant."
"There, Allen," laughed Gorham, "you have no excuse for not understanding my statement."
"Not in the least. Lady Pat has explained my whole difficulty! But, after all, Mr. Gorham, don't you think there are some things about business and football which are the same?" pleaded Allen, when Patricia was again quieted, his attitude with Mr. Gorham being quite different from the one he had affected with Alice. "I've often tried to think what I'd do if I ever got started, and I've said to myself that when I came up against the other fellow I'd just grit my teeth and say, 'That confounded Eli shan't get through'; and I'm pretty certain that he'd find something in his way before he got the contract I was after."
Gorham was distinctly interested in the boy's intensity. "Suppose I write a line to your father and suggest that he take active steps to get you started somewhere."
"Please don't," Allen said, quickly. "I'll write him myself at once. If you do it, he'll think I haven't got the spunk. Perhaps I can put it strong enough so he will realize that I'm tired of killing time running about in my motor-car."
"I thought your father told me you had lost your license, for speeding."
The boy grinned guiltily. "'Allen Sanford, owner,' lost his license, but 'A. Sanford, chauffeur,' is still allowed to run a car." Then turning to Mrs. Gorham: "You didn't realize you were riding with a chauffeur to-day, did you?"
"You had two licenses?"
"I couldn't possibly get along without them here in Washington. I guess you don't know how wise these police guys are."