[Photo, from the play, of Shirley appealing to Mr. Ryder]
"Go to Washington and save my father's life."—Act III. Frontispiece.
THE LION AND THE MOUSE
A Story of American Life
NOVELIZED FROM THE PLAY BY
"Judges and Senators have been bought for gold; Love and esteem have never been sold."—POPE
* * * * *
SCENES FROM THE PLAY
* * * * *
GROSSET & DUNLAP
G.W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY
Entered at Stationers' Hall, London
Issued August, 1906
Chapter I Chapter II Chapter III Chapter IV Chapter V Chapter VI Chapter VII Chapter VIII Chapter IX Chapter X Chapter XI Chapter XII Chapter XIII Chapter XIV Chapter XV Chapter XVI
The Lion and the Mouse
There was unwonted bustle in the usually sleepy and dignified New York offices of the Southern and Transcontinental Railroad Company in lower Broadway. The supercilious, well-groomed clerks who, on ordinary days, are far too preoccupied with their own personal affairs to betray the slightest interest in anything not immediately concerning them, now condescended to bestir themselves and, gathered in little groups, conversed in subdued, eager tones. The slim, nervous fingers of half a dozen haughty stenographers, representing as many different types of business femininity, were busily rattling the keys of clicking typewriters, each of their owners intent on reducing with all possible despatch the mass of letters which lay piled up in front of her. Through the heavy plate-glass swinging doors, leading to the elevators and thence to the street, came and went an army of messengers and telegraph boys, noisy and insolent.
Through the open windows the hoarse shouting of news-venders, the rushing of elevated trains, the clanging of street cars, with the occasional feverish dash of an ambulance—all these familiar noises of a great city had the far-away sound peculiar to top floors of the modern sky-scraper. The day was warm and sticky, as is not uncommon in early May, and the overcast sky and a distant rumbling of thunder promised rain before night.
The big express elevators, running smoothly and swiftly, unloaded every few moments a number of prosperous-looking men who, chatting volubly and affably, made their way immediately through the outer offices towards another and larger inner office on the glass door of which was the legend "Directors Room. Private." Each comer gave a patronizing nod in recognition of the deferential salutation of the clerks. Earlier arrivals had preceded them, and as they opened the door there issued from the Directors Room a confused murmur of voices, each different in pitch and tone, some deep and deliberate, others shrill and nervous, but all talking earnestly and with animation as men do when the subject under discussion is of common interest. Now and again a voice was heard high above the others, denoting anger in the speaker, followed by the pleading accents of the peace-maker, who was arguing his irate colleague into calmness. At intervals the door opened to admit other arrivals, and through the crack was caught a glimpse of a dozen directors, some seated, some standing near a long table covered with green baize.
It was the regular quarterly meeting of the directors of the Southern and Transcontinental Railroad Company, but it was something more than mere routine that had called out a quorum of such strength and which made to-day's gathering one of extraordinary importance in the history of the road. That the business on hand was of the greatest significance was easily to be inferred from the concerned and anxious expression on the directors' faces and the eagerness of the employes as they plied each other with questions.
"Suppose the injunction is sustained?" asked a clerk in a whisper. "Is not the road rich enough to bear the loss?"
The man he addressed turned impatiently to the questioner:
"That's all you know about railroading. Don't you understand that this suit we have lost will be the entering wedge for hundreds of others. The very existence of the road may be at stake. And between you and me," he added in a lower key, "with Judge Rossmore on the bench we never stood much show. It's Judge Rossmore that scares 'em, not the injunction. They've found it easy to corrupt most of the Supreme Court judges, but Judge Rossmore is one too many for them. You could no more bribe him than you could have bribed Abraham Lincoln."
"But the newspapers say that he, too, has been caught accepting $50,000 worth of stock for that decision he rendered in the Great Northwestern case."
"Lies! All those stories are lies," replied the other emphatically. Then looking cautiously around to make sure no one overheard he added contemptuously, "The big interests fear him, and they're inventing these lies to try and injure him. They might as well try to blow up Gibraltar. The fact is the public is seriously aroused this time and the railroads are in a panic."
It was true. The railroad, which heretofore had considered itself superior to law, had found itself checked in its career of outlawry and oppression. The railroad, this modern octopus of steam and steel which stretches its greedy tentacles out over the land, had at last been brought to book.
At first, when the country was in the earlier stages of its development, the railroad appeared in the guise of a public benefactor. It brought to the markets of the East the produce of the South and West. It opened up new and inaccessible territory and made oases of waste places. It brought to the city coal, lumber, food and other prime necessaries of life, taking back to the farmer and the woodsman in exchange, clothes and other manufactured goods. Thus, little by little, the railroad wormed itself into the affections of the people and gradually became an indispensable part of the life it had itself created. Tear up the railroad and life itself is extinguished.
So when the railroad found it could not be dispensed with, it grew dissatisfied with the size of its earnings. Legitimate profits were not enough. Its directors cried out for bigger dividends, and from then on the railroad became a conscienceless tyrant, fawning on those it feared and crushing without mercy those who were defenceless. It raised its rates for hauling freight, discriminating against certain localities without reason or justice, and favouring other points where its own interests lay. By corrupting government officials and other unlawful methods it appropriated lands, and there was no escape from its exactions and brigandage. Other roads were built, and for a brief period there was held out the hope of relief that invariably comes from honest competition. But the railroad either absorbed its rivals or pooled interests with them, and thereafter there were several masters instead of one.
Soon the railroads began to war among themselves, and in a mad scramble to secure business at any price they cut each other's rates and unlawfully entered into secret compacts with certain big shippers, permitting the latter to enjoy lower freight rates than their competitors. The smaller shippers were soon crushed out of existence in this way. Competition was throttled and prices went up, making the railroad barons richer and the people poorer. That was the beginning of the giant Trusts, the greatest evil American civilization has yet produced, and one which, unless checked, will inevitably drag this country into the throes of civil strife.
From out this quagmire of corruption and rascality emerged the Colossus, a man so stupendously rich and with such unlimited powers for evil that the world has never looked upon his like. The famous Croesus, whose fortune was estimated at only eight millions in our money, was a pauper compared with John Burkett Ryder, whose holdings no man could count, but which were approximately estimated at a thousand millions of dollars. The railroads had created the Trust, the ogre of corporate greed, of which Ryder was the incarnation, and in time the Trust became master of the railroads, which after all seemed but retributive justice.
John Burkett Ryder, the richest man in the world—the man whose name had spread to the farthest corners of the earth because of his wealth, and whose money, instead of being a blessing, promised to become not only a curse to himself but a source of dire peril to all mankind—was a genius born of the railroad age. No other age could have brought him forth; his peculiar talents fitted exactly the conditions of his time. Attracted early in life to the newly discovered oil fields of Pennsylvania, he became a dealer in the raw product and later a refiner, acquiring with capital, laboriously saved, first one refinery, then another. The railroads were cutting each other's throats to secure the freight business of the oil men, and John Burkett Ryder saw his opportunity. He made secret overtures to the road, guaranteeing a vast amount of business if he could get exceptionally low rates, and the illegal compact was made. His competitors, undersold in the market, stood no chance, and one by one they were crushed out of existence. Ryder called these manoeuvres "business"; the world called them brigandage. But the Colossus prospered and slowly built up the foundations of the extraordinary fortune which is the talk and the wonder of the world to-day. Master now of the oil situation, Ryder succeeded in his ambition of organizing the Empire Trading Company, the most powerful, the most secretive, and the most wealthy business institution the commercial world has yet known.
Yet with all this success John Burkett Ryder was still not content. He was now a rich man, richer by many millions that he had dreamed he could ever be, but still he was unsatisfied. He became money mad. He wanted to be richer still, to be the richest man in the world, the richest man the world had ever known. And the richer he got the stronger the idea grew upon him with all the force of a morbid obsession. He thought of money by day, he dreamt of it at night. No matter by what questionable device it was to be procured, more gold and more must flow into his already overflowing coffers. So each day, instead of spending the rest of his years in peace, in the enjoyment of the wealth he had accumulated, he went downtown like any twenty-dollar-a-week clerk to the tall building in lower Broadway and, closeted with his associates, toiled and plotted to make more money.
He acquired vast copper mines and secured control of this and that railroad. He had invested heavily in the Southern and Transcontinental road and was chairman of its board of directors. Then he and his fellow-conspirators planned a great financial coup. The millions were not coming in fast enough. They must make a hundred millions at one stroke. They floated a great mining company to which the public was invited to subscribe. The scheme having the endorsement of the Empire Trading Company no one suspected a snare, and such was the magic of John Ryder's name that gold flowed in from every point of the compass. The stock sold away above par the day it was issued. Men deemed themselves fortunate if they were even granted an allotment. What matter if, a few days later, the house of cards came tumbling down, and a dozen suicides were strewn along Wall Street, that sinister thoroughfare which, as a wit has said, has a graveyard at one end and the river at the other! Had Ryder any twinges of conscience? Hardly. Had he not made a cool twenty millions by the deal?
Yet this commercial pirate, this Napoleon of finance, was not a wholly bad man. He had his redeeming qualities, like most bad men. His most pronounced weakness, and the one that had made him the most conspicuous man of his time, was an entire lack of moral principle. No honest or honourable man could have amassed such stupendous wealth. In other words, John Ryder had not been equipped by Nature with a conscience. He had no sense of right, or wrong, or justice where his own interests were concerned. He was the prince of egoists. On the other hand, he possessed qualities which, with some people, count as virtues. He was pious and regular in his attendance at church and, while he had done but little for charity, he was known to have encouraged the giving of alms by the members of his family, which consisted of a wife, whose timid voice was rarely heard, and a son Jefferson, who was the destined successor to his gigantic estate.
Such was the man who was the real power behind the Southern and Transcontinental Railroad. More than anyone else Ryder had been aroused by the present legal action, not so much for the money interest at stake as that any one should dare to thwart his will. It had been a pet scheme of his, this purchase for a song, when the land was cheap, of some thousand acres along the line, and it is true that at the time of the purchase there had been some idea of laying the land out as a park. But real estate values had increased in astonishing fashion, the road could no longer afford to carry out the original scheme, and had attempted to dispose of the property for building purposes, including a right of way for a branch road. The news, made public in the newspapers, had raised a storm of protest. The people in the vicinity claimed that the railroad secured the land on the express condition of a park being laid out, and in order to make a legal test they had secured an injunction, which had been sustained by Judge Rossmore of the United States Circuit Court.
These details were hastily told and re-told by one clerk to another as the babel of voices in the inner room grew louder, and more directors kept arriving from the ever-busy elevators. The meeting was called for three o'clock. Another five minutes and the chairman would rap for order. A tall, strongly built man with white moustache and kindly smile emerged from the directors room and, addressing one of the clerks, asked:
"Has Mr. Ryder arrived yet?"
The alacrity with which the employe hastened forward to reply would indicate that his interlocutor was a person of more than ordinary importance.
"No, Senator, not yet. We expect him any minute." Then with a deferential smile he added: "Mr. Ryder usually arrives on the stroke, sir."
The senator gave a nod of acquiescence and, turning on his heel, greeted with a grasp of the hand and affable smile his fellow-directors as they passed in by twos and threes.
Senator Roberts was in the world of politics what his friend John Burkett Ryder was in the world of finance—a leader of men. He started life in Wisconsin as an errand boy, was educated in the public schools, and later became clerk in a dry-goods store, finally going into business for his own account on a large scale. He was elected to the Legislature, where his ability as an organizer soon gained the friendship of the men in power, and later was sent to Congress, where he was quickly initiated in the game of corrupt politics. In 1885 he entered the United States Senate. He soon became the acknowledged leader of a considerable majority of the Republican senators, and from then on he was a figure to be reckoned with. A very ambitious man, with a great love of power and few scruples, it is little wonder that only the practical or dishonest side of politics appealed to him. He was in politics for all there was in it, and he saw in his lofty position only a splendid opportunity for easy graft.
He did not hesitate to make such alliances with corporate interests seeking influence at Washington as would enable him to accomplish this purpose, and in this way he had met and formed a strong friendship with John Burkett Ryder. Each being a master in his own field was useful to the other. Neither was troubled with qualms of conscience, so they never quarrelled. If the Ryder interests needed anything in the Senate, Roberts and his followers were there to attend to it. Just now the cohort was marshalled in defence of the railroads against the attacks of the new Rebate bill. In fact, Ryder managed to keep the Senate busy all the time. When, on the other hand, the senators wanted anything—and they often did—Ryder saw that they got it, lower rates for this one, a fat job for that one, not forgetting themselves. Senator Roberts was already a very rich man, and although the world often wondered where he got it, no one had the courage to ask him.
But the Republican leader was stirred with an ambition greater than that of controlling a majority in the Senate. He had a daughter, a marriageable young woman who, at least in her father's opinion, would make a desirable wife for any man. His friend Ryder had a son, and this son was the only heir to the greatest fortune ever amassed by one man, a fortune which, at its present rate of increase, by the time the father died and the young couple were ready to inherit, would probably amount to over six billions of dollars. Could the human mind grasp the possibilities of such a colossal fortune? It staggered the imagination. Its owner, or the man who controlled it, would be master of the world! Was not this a prize any man might well set himself out to win? The senator was thinking of it now as he stood exchanging banal remarks with the men who accosted him. If he could only bring off that marriage he would be content. The ambition of his life would be attained. There was no difficulty as far as John Ryder was concerned. He favoured the match and had often spoken of it. Indeed, Ryder desired it, for such an alliance would naturally further his business interests in every way. Roberts knew that his daughter Kate had more than a liking for Ryder's handsome young son. Moreover, Kate was practical, like her father, and had sense enough to realize what it would mean to be the mistress of the Ryder fortune. No, Kate was all right, but there was young Ryder to reckon with. It would take two in this case to make a bargain.
Jefferson Ryder was, in truth, an entirely different man from his father. It was difficult to realize that both had sprung from the same stock. A college-bred boy with all the advantages his father's wealth could give him, he had inherited from the parent only those characteristics which would have made him successful even if born poor—activity, pluck, application, dogged obstinacy, alert mentality. To these qualities he added what his father sorely lacked—a high notion of honour, a keen sense of right and wrong. He had the honest man's contempt for meanness of any description, and he had little patience with the lax so-called business morals of the day. For him a dishonourable or dishonest action could have no apologist, and he could see no difference between the crime of the hungry wretch who stole a loaf of bread and the coal baron who systematically robbed both his employes and the public. In fact, had he been on the bench he would probably have acquitted the human derelict who, in despair, had appropriated the prime necessary of life, and sent the over-fed, conscienceless coal baron to jail.
"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." This simple and fundamental axiom Jefferson Ryder had adopted early in life, and it had become his religion—the only one, in fact, that he had. He was never pious like his father, a fact much regretted by his mother, who could see nothing but eternal damnation in store for her son because he never went to church and professed no orthodox creed. She knew him to be a good lad, but to her simple mind a conduct of life based merely on a system of moral philosophy was the worst kind of paganism. There could, she argued, be no religion, and assuredly no salvation, outside the dogmatic teachings of the Church. But otherwise Jefferson was a model son and, with the exception of this bad habit of thinking for himself on religious matters, really gave her no anxiety. When Jefferson left college, his father took him into the Empire Trading Company with the idea of his eventually succeeding him as head of the concern, but the different views held by father and son on almost every subject soon led to stormy scenes that made the continuation of the arrangement impossible. Senator Roberts was well aware of these unfortunate independent tendencies in John Ryder's son, and while he devoutly desired the consummation of Jefferson's union with his daughter, he quite realized that the young man was a nut which was going to be exceedingly hard to crack.
"Hello, senator, you're always on time!"
Disturbed in his reflections, Senator Roberts looked up and saw the extended hand of a red-faced, corpulent man, one of the directors. He was no favourite with the senator, but the latter was too keen a man of the world to make enemies uselessly, so he condescended to place two fingers in the outstretched fat palm.
"How are you, Mr. Grimsby? Well, what are we going to do about this injunction? The case has gone against us. I knew Judge Rossmore's decision would be for the other side. Public opinion is aroused. The press—"
Mr. Grimsby's red face grew more apoplectic as he blurted out:
"Public opinion and the press be d——d. Who cares for public opinion? What is public opinion, anyhow? This road can manage its own affairs or it can't. If it can't I for one quit railroading. The press! Pshaw! It's all graft, I tell you. It's nothing but a strike! I never knew one of these virtuous outbursts that wasn't. First the newspapers bark ferociously to advertise themselves; then they crawl round and whine like a cur. And it usually costs something to fix matters."
The senator smiled grimly.
"No, no, Grimsby—not this time. It's more serious than that. Hitherto the road has been unusually lucky in its bench decisions—"
The senator gave a covert glance round to see if any long ears were listening. Then he added:
"We can't expect always to get a favourable decision like that in the Cartwright case, when franchise rights valued at nearly five millions were at stake. Judge Stollmann proved himself a true friend in that affair."
Grimsby made a wry grimace as he retorted:
"Yes, and it was worth it to him. A Supreme Court judge don't get a cheque for $20,000 every day. That represents two years' pay."
"It might represent two years in jail if it were found out," said the senator with a forced laugh,
Grimsby saw an opportunity, and he could not resist the temptation. Bluntly he said:
"As far as jail's concerned, others might be getting their deserts there too."
The senator looked keenly at Grimsby from under his white eyebrows. Then in a calm, decisive tone he replied:
"It's no question of a cheque this time. The road could not buy Judge Rossmore with $200,000. He is absolutely unapproachable in that way."
The apoplectic face of Mr. Grimsby looked incredulous.
It was hard for these men who plotted in the dark, and cheated the widow and the orphan for love of the dollar, to understand that there were in the world, breathing the same air as they, men who put honour, truth and justice above mere money-getting. With a slight tinge of sarcasm he asked:
"Is there any man in our public life who is unapproachable from some direction or other?"
"Yes, Judge Rossmore is such a man. He is one of the few men in American public life who takes his duties seriously. In the strictest sense of the term, he serves his country instead of serving himself. I am no friend of his, but I must do him that justice."
He spoke sharply, in an irritated tone, as if resenting the insinuation of this vulgarian that every man in public life had his price. Roberts knew that the charge was true as far as he and the men he consorted with were concerned, but sometimes the truth hurts. That was why he had for a moment seemed to champion Judge Rossmore, which, seeing that the judge himself was at that very moment under a cloud, was an absurd thing for him to do.
He had known Rossmore years before when the latter was a city magistrate in New York. That was before he, Roberts, had become a political grafter and when the decent things in life still appealed to him. The two men, although having few interests in common, had seen a good deal of one another until Roberts went to Washington when their relations were completely severed. But he had always watched Rossmore's career, and when he was made a judge of the Supreme Court at a comparatively early age he was sincerely glad. If anything could have convinced Roberts that success can come in public life to a man who pursues it by honest methods it was the success of James Rossmore. He could never help feeling that Rossmore had been endowed by Nature with certain qualities which had been denied to him, above all that ability to walk straight through life with skirts clean which he had found impossible himself. To-day Judge Rossmore was one of the most celebrated judges in the country. He was a brilliant jurist and a splendid after-dinner speaker. He was considered the most learned and able of all the members of the judiciary, and his decisions were noted as much for their fearlessness as for their wisdom. But what was far more, he enjoyed a reputation for absolute integrity. Until now no breath of slander, no suspicion of corruption, had ever touched him. Even his enemies acknowledged that. And that is why there was a panic to-day among the directors of the Southern and Transcontinental Railroad. This honest, upright man had been called upon in the course of his duty to decide matters of vital importance to the road, and the directors were ready to stampede because, in their hearts, they knew the weakness of their case and the strength of the judge.
Grimsby, unconvinced, returned to the charge.
"What about these newspaper charges? Did Judge Rossmore take a bribe from the Great Northwestern or didn't he? You ought to know."
"I do know," answered the senator cautiously and somewhat curtly, "but until Mr. Ryder arrives I can say nothing. I believe he has been inquiring into the matter. He will tell us when he comes."
The hands of the large clock in the outer room pointed to three. An active, dapper little man with glasses and with books under his arm passed hurriedly from another office into the directors room.
"There goes Mr. Lane with the minutes. The meeting is called. Where's Mr. Ryder?"
There was a general move of the scattered groups of directors toward the committee room. The clock overhead began to strike. The last stroke had not quite died away when the big swinging doors from the street were thrown open and there entered a tall, thin man, gray-headed, and with a slight stoop, but keen eyed and alert. He was carefully dressed in a well-fitting frock coat, white waistcoat, black tie and silk hat.
It was John Burkett Ryder, the Colossus.
At fifty-six, John Burkett Ryder was surprisingly well preserved. With the exception of the slight stoop, already noted, and the rapidly thinning snow-white hair, his step was as light and elastic, and his brain as vigorous and alert, as in a man of forty. Of old English stock, his physical make-up presented all those strongly marked characteristics of our race which, sprung from Anglo-Saxon ancestry, but modified by nearly 300 years of different climate and customs, has gradually produced the distinct and true American type, as easily recognizable among the family of nations as any other of the earth's children. Tall and distinguished-looking, Ryder would have attracted attention anywhere. Men who have accomplished much in life usually bear plainly upon their persons the indefinable stamp of achievement, whether of good or evil, which renders them conspicuous among their fellows. We turn after a man in the street and ask, Who is he? And nine times out of ten the object of our curiosity is a man who has made his mark—a successful soldier, a famous sailor, a celebrated author, a distinguished lawyer, or even a notorious crook.
There was certainly nothing in John Ryder's outward appearance to justify Lombroso's sensational description of him: "A social and physiological freak, a degenerate and a prodigy of turpitude who, in the pursuit of money, crushes with the insensibility of a steel machine everyone who stands in his way." On the contrary, Ryder, outwardly at least, was a prepossessing-looking man. His head was well-shaped, and he had an intellectual brow, while power was expressed in every gesture of his hands and body. Every inch of him suggested strength and resourcefulness. His face, when in good humour, frequently expanded in a pleasant smile, and he had even been known to laugh boisterously, usually at his own stories, which he rightly considered very droll, and of which he possessed a goodly stock. But in repose his face grew stern and forbidding, and when his prognathous jaw, indicative of will-power and bull-dog tenacity, snapped to with a click-like sound, those who heard it knew that squalls were coming.
But it was John Ryder's eyes that were regarded as the most reliable barometer of his mental condition. Wonderful eyes they were, strangely eloquent and expressive, and their most singular feature was that they possessed the uncanny power of changing colour like a cat's. When their owner was at peace with the world, and had temporarily shaken off the cares of business, his eyes were of the most restful, beautiful blue, like the sky after sunrise on a Spring morning, and looking into their serene depths it seemed absurd to think that this man could ever harm a fly. His face, while under the spell of this kindly mood, was so benevolent and gentle, so frank and honest that you felt there was nothing in the world—purse, honour, wife, child—that, if needs be, you would not entrust to his keeping.
When this period of truce was ended, when the plutocrat was once more absorbed in controlling the political as well as the commercial machinery of the nation, then his eyes took on a snakish, greenish hue, and one could plainly read in them the cunning, the avariciousness, the meanness, the insatiable thirst for gain that had made this man the most unscrupulous money-getter of his time. But his eyes had still another colour, and when this last transformation took place those dependent on him, and even his friends, quaked with fear. For they were his eyes of anger. On these dreaded occasions his eyes grew black as darkest night and flashed fire as lightning rends the thundercloud. Almost ungovernable fury was, indeed, the weakest spot in John Ryder's armour, for in these moments of appalling wrath he was reckless of what he said or did, friendship, self-interest, prudence—all were sacrificed.
Such was the Colossus on whom all eyes were turned as he entered. Instantly the conversations stopped as by magic. The directors nudged each other and whispered. Instinctively, Ryder singled out his crony, Senator Roberts, who advanced with effusive gesture:
"You're punctual as usual, Mr. Ryder. I never knew you to be late!"
The great man chuckled, and the little men standing around, listening breathlessly, chuckled in respectful sympathy, and they elbowed and pushed one another in their efforts to attract Ryder's notice, like so many cowardly hyenas not daring to approach the lordly wolf. Senator Roberts made a remark in a low tone to Ryder, whereupon the latter laughed. The bystanders congratulated each other silently. The great man was pleased to be in a good humour. And as Ryder turned with the senator to enter the Directors Room the light from the big windows fell full on his face, and they noticed that his eyes were of the softest blue.
"No squalls to-day," whispered one.
"Wait and see," retorted a more experienced colleague. "Those eyes are more fickle than the weather."
Outside the sky was darkening, and drops of rain were already falling. A flash of lightning presaged the coming storm.
Ryder passed on and into the Directors Room followed by Senator Roberts and the other directors, the procession being brought up by the dapper little secretary bearing the minutes.
The long room with its narrow centre table covered with green baize was filled with directors scattered in little groups and all talking at once with excited gesture. At the sight of Ryder the chattering stopped as if by common consent, and the only sound audible was of the shuffling of feet and the moving of chairs as the directors took their places around the long table.
With a nod here and there Ryder took his place in the chairman's seat and rapped for order. Then at a sign from the chair the dapper little secretary began in a monotonous voice to read the minutes of the previous meeting. No one listened, a few directors yawned. Others had their eyes riveted on Ryder's face, trying to read there if he had devised some plan to offset the crushing blow of this adverse decision, which meant a serious loss to them all. He, the master mind, had served them in many a like crisis in the past. Could he do so again? But John Ryder gave no sign. His eyes, still of the same restful blue, were fixed on the ceiling watching a spider marching with diabolical intent on a wretched fly that had become entangled in its web. And as the secretary ambled monotonously on, Ryder watched and watched until he saw the spider seize its helpless prey and devour it. Fascinated by the spectacle, which doubtless suggested to him some analogy to his own methods, Ryder sat motionless, his eyes fastened on the ceiling, until the sudden stopping of the secretary's reading aroused him and told him that the minutes were finished. Quickly they were approved, and the chairman proceeded as rapidly as possible with the regular business routine. That disposed of, the meeting was ready for the chief business of the day. Ryder then calmly proceeded to present the facts in the case.
Some years back the road had acquired as an investment some thousands of acres of land located in the outskirts of Auburndale, on the line of their road. The land was bought cheap, and there had been some talk of laying part of it out as a public park. This promise had been made at the time in good faith, but it was no condition of the sale. If, afterwards, owing to the rise in the value of real estate, the road found it impossible to carry out the original idea, surely they were masters of their own property! The people of Auburndale thought differently and, goaded on by the local newspapers, had begun action in the courts to restrain the road from diverting the land from its alleged original purpose. They had succeeded in getting the injunction, but the road had fought it tooth and nail, and finally carried it to the Supreme Court, where Judge Rossmore, after reserving his opinion, had finally sustained the injunction and decided against the railroad. That was the situation, and he would now like to hear from the members of the board.
Mr. Grimsby rose. Self-confident and noisily loquacious, as most men of his class are in simple conversation, he was plainly intimidated at speaking before such a crowd. He did not know where to look nor what to do with his hands, and he shuffled uneasily on his feet, while streams of nervous perspiration ran down his fat face, which he mopped repeatedly with a big coloured handkerchief. At last, taking courage, he began:
"Mr. Chairman, for the past ten years this road has made bigger earnings in proportion to its carrying capacity than any other railroad in the United States. We have had fewer accidents, less injury to rolling stock, less litigation and bigger dividends. The road has been well managed and"—here he looked significantly in Ryder's direction—"there has been a big brain behind the manager. We owe you that credit, Mr. Ryder!"
Cries of "Hear! Hear!" came from all round the table.
Ryder bowed coldly, and Mr. Grimsby continued:
"But during the last year or two things have gone wrong. There has been a lot of litigation, most of which has gone against us, and it has cost a heap of money. It reduced the last quarterly dividend very considerably, and the new complication—this Auburndale suit, which also has gone against us—is going to make a still bigger hole in our exchequer. Gentlemen, I don't want to be a prophet of misfortune, but I'll tell you this—unless something is done to stop this hostility in the courts you and I stand to lose every cent we have invested in the road. This suit which we have just lost means a number of others. What I would ask our chairman is what has become of his former good relations with the Supreme Court, what has become of his influence, which never failed us. What are these rumours regarding Judge Rossmore? He is charged in the newspapers with having accepted a present from a road in whose favour he handed down a very valuable decision. How is it that our road cannot reach Judge Rossmore and make him presents?"
The speaker sat down, flushed and breathless. The expression on every face showed that the anxiety was general. The directors glanced at Ryder, but his face was expressionless as marble. Apparently he took not the slightest interest in this matter which so agitated his colleagues.
Another director rose. He was a better speaker than Mr. Grimsby, but his voice had a hard, rasping quality that smote the ears unpleasantly. He said:
"Mr. Chairman, none of us can deny what Mr. Grimsby has just put before us so vividly. We are threatened not with one, but with a hundred such suits, unless something is done either to placate the public or to render its attacks harmless. Rightly or wrongly, the railroad is hated by the people, yet we are only what railroad conditions compel us to be. With the present fierce competition, no fine question of ethics can enter into our dealings as a business organization. With an irritated public and press on one side, and a hostile judiciary on the other, the outlook certainly is far from bright. But is the judiciary hostile? Is it not true that we have been singularly free from litigation until recently, and that most of the decisions were favourable to the road? Judge Rossmore is the real danger. While he is on the bench the road is not safe. Yet all efforts to reach him have failed and will fail. I do not take any stock in the newspaper stories regarding Judge Rossmore. They are preposterous. Judge Rossmore is too strong a man to be got rid of so easily."
The speaker sat down and another rose, his arguments being merely a reiteration of those already heard. Ryder did not listen to what was being said. Why should he? Was he not familiar with every possible phase of the game? Better than these men who merely talked, he was planning how the railroad and all his other interests could get rid of this troublesome judge.
It was true. He who controlled legislatures and dictated to Supreme Court judges had found himself powerless when each turn of the legal machinery had brought him face to face with Judge Rossmore. Suit after suit had been decided against him and the interests he represented, and each time it was Judge Rossmore who had handed down the decision. So for years these two men had fought a silent but bitter duel in which principle on the one side and attempted corruption on the other were the gauge of battle. Judge Rossmore fought with the weapons which his oath and the law directed him to use, Ryder with the only weapons he understood—bribery and trickery. And each time it had been Rossmore who had emerged triumphant. Despite every manoeuvre Ryder's experience could suggest, notwithstanding every card that could be played to undermine his credit and reputation, Judge Rossmore stood higher in the country's confidence than when he was first appointed.
So when Ryder found he could not corrupt this honest judge with gold, he decided to destroy him with calumny. He realized that the sordid methods which had succeeded with other judges would never prevail with Rossmore, so he plotted to take away from this man the one thing he cherished most—his honour. He would ruin him by defaming his character, and so skilfully would he accomplish his work that the judge himself would realize the hopelessness of resistance. No scruples embarrassed Ryder in arriving at this determination. From his point of view he was fully justified. "Business is business. He hurts my interests; therefore I remove him." So he argued, and he considered it no more wrong to wreck the happiness of this honourable man than he would to have shot a burglar in self-defence. So having thus tranquillized his conscience he had gone to work in his usually thorough manner, and his success had surpassed the most sanguine expectations.
This is what he had done.
Like many of our public servants whose labours are compensated only in niggardly fashion by an inconsiderate country, Judge Rossmore was a man of but moderate means. His income as Justice of the Supreme Court was $12,000 a year, but for a man in his position, having a certain appearance to keep up, it little more than kept the wolf from the door. He lived quietly but comfortably in New York City with his wife and his daughter Shirley, an attractive young woman who had graduated from Vassar and had shown a marked taste for literature. The daughter's education had cost a good deal of money, and this, together with life insurance and other incidentals of keeping house in New York, had about taken all he had. Yet he had managed to save a little, and those years when he could put by a fifth of his salary the judge considered himself lucky. Secretly, he was proud of his comparative poverty. At least the world could never ask him "where he got it."
Ryder was well acquainted with Judge Rossmore's private means. The two men had met at a dinner, and although Ryder had tried to cultivate the acquaintance, he never received much encouragement. Ryder's son Jefferson, too, had met Miss Shirley Rossmore and been much attracted to her, but the father having more ambitious plans for his heir quickly discouraged all attentions in that direction. He himself, however, continued to meet the judge casually, and one evening he contrived to broach the subject of profitable investments. The judge admitted that by careful hoarding and much stinting he had managed to save a few thousand dollars which he was anxious to invest in something good.
Quick as the keen-eyed vulture swoops down on its prey the wily financier seized the opportunity thus presented. And he took so much trouble in answering the judge's inexperienced questions, and generally made himself so agreeable, that the judge found himself regretting that he and Ryder had, by force of circumstances, been opposed to each other in public life so long. Ryder strongly recommended the purchase of Alaskan Mining stock, a new and booming enterprise which had lately become very active in the market. Ryder said he had reasons to believe that the stock would soon advance, and now there was an opportunity to get it cheap.
A few days after he had made the investment the judge was surprised to receive certificates of stock for double the amount he had paid for. At the same time he received a letter from the secretary of the company explaining that the additional stock was pool stock and not to be marketed at the present time. It was in the nature of a bonus to which he was entitled as one of the early shareholders. The letter was full of verbiage and technical details of which the judge understood nothing, but he thought it very liberal of the company, and putting the stock away in his safe soon forgot all about it. Had he been a business man he would have scented peril. He would have realized that he had now in his possession $50,000 worth of stock for which he had not paid a cent, and furthermore had deposited it when a reorganization came.
But the judge was sincerely grateful for Ryder's apparently disinterested advice and wrote two letters to him, one in which he thanked him for the trouble he had taken, and another in which he asked him if he was sure the company was financially sound, as the investment he contemplated making represented all his savings. He added in the second letter that he had received stock for double the amount of his investment, and that being a perfect child in business transactions he had been unable to account for the extra $50,000 worth until the secretary of the company had written him assuring him that everything was in order. These letters Ryder kept.
From that time on the Alaskan Mining Company underwent mysterious changes. New capitalists gained control and the name was altered to the Great Northwestern Mining Company. Then it became involved in litigation, and one suit, the outcome of which meant millions to the company, was carried to the Supreme Court, where Judge Rossmore was sitting. The judge had by this time forgotten all about the company in which he owned stock. He did not even recall its name. He only knew vaguely that it was a mine and that it was situated in Alaska. Could he dream that the Great Northwestern Mining Company and the company to which he had entrusted his few thousands were one and the same? In deciding on the merits of the case presented to him right seemed to him to be plainly with the Northwestern, and he rendered a decision to that effect. It was an important decision, involving a large sum, and for a day or two it was talked about. But as it was the opinion of the most learned and honest judge on the bench no one dreamed of questioning it.
But very soon ugly paragraphs began to appear in the newspapers. One paper asked if it were true that Judge Rossmore owned stock in the Great Northwestern Mining Company which had recently benefited so signally by his decision. Interviewed by a reporter, Judge Rossmore indignantly denied being interested in any way in the company. Thereupon the same paper returned to the attack, stating that the judge must surely be mistaken as the records showed a sale of stock to him at the time the company was known as the Alaskan Mining Company. When he read this the judge was overwhelmed. It was true then! They had not slandered him. It was he who had lied, but how innocently—how innocently!
His daughter Shirley, who was his greatest friend and comfort, was then in Europe. She had gone to the Continent to rest, after working for months on a novel which she had just published. His wife, entirely without experience in business matters and somewhat of an invalid, was helpless to advise him. But to his old and tried friend, ex-Judge Stott, Judge Rossmore explained the facts as they were. Stott shook his head. "It's a conspiracy!" he cried. "And John B. Ryder is behind it." Rossmore refused to believe that any man could so deliberately try to encompass another's destruction, but when more newspaper stories came out he began to realize that Stott was right and that his enemies had indeed dealt him a deadly blow. One newspaper boldly stated that Judge Rossmore was down on the mining company's books for $50,000 more stock than he had paid for, and it went on to ask if this were payment for the favourable decision just rendered. Rossmore, helpless, child-like as he was in business matters, now fully realized the seriousness of his position. "My God! My God!" he cried, as he bowed his head down on his desk. And for a whole day he remained closeted in his library, no one venturing near him.
As John Ryder sat there sphinx-like at the head of the directors' table he reviewed all this in his mind. His own part in the work was now done and well done, and he had come to this meeting to-day to tell them of his triumph.
The speaker, to whom he had paid such scant attention, resumed his seat, and there followed a pause and an intense silence which was broken only by the pattering of the rain against the big windows. The directors turned expectantly to Ryder, waiting for him to speak. What could the Colossus do now to save the situation? Cries of "the Chair! the Chair!" arose on every side. Senator Roberts leaned over to Ryder and whispered something in his ear.
[Pencil illustration of the meeting]
He had come to this meeting to-day to tell them of his triumph.—Page 46.
With an acquiescent gesture, John Ryder tapped the table with his gavel and rose to address his fellow directors. Instantly the room was silent again as the tomb. One might have heard a pin drop, so intense was the attention. All eyes were fixed on the chairman. The air itself seemed charged with electricity, that needed but a spark to set it ablaze.
Speaking deliberately and dispassionately, the Master Dissembler began.
They had all listened carefully, he said, to what had been stated by previous speakers. The situation no doubt was very critical, but they had weathered worse storms and he had every reason to hope they would outlive this storm. It was true that public opinion was greatly incensed against the railroads and, indeed, against all organized capital, and was seeking to injure them through the courts. For a time this agitation would hurt business and lessen the dividends, for it meant not only smaller annual earnings but that a lot of money must be spent in Washington.
The eyes of the listeners, who were hanging on every word, involuntarily turned in the direction of Senator Roberts, but the latter, at that moment busily engaged in rummaging among a lot of papers, seemed to have missed this significant allusion to the road's expenses in the District of Columbia. Ryder continued:
In his experience such waves of reform were periodical and soon wear themselves out, when things go on just as they did before. Much of the agitation, doubtless, was a strike for graft. They would have to go down in their pockets, he supposed, and then these yellow newspapers and these yellow magazines that were barking at their heels would let them go. But in regard to the particular case now at issue—this Auburndale decision—there had been no way of preventing it. Influence had been used, but to no effect. The thing to do now was to prevent any such disasters in future by removing the author of them.
The directors bent eagerly forward. Had Ryder really got some plan up his sleeve after all? The faces around the table looked brighter, and the directors cleared their throats and settled themselves down in their chairs as audiences do in the theatre when the drama is reaching its climax.
The board, continued Ryder with icy calmness, had perhaps heard, and also seen in the newspapers, the stories regarding Judge Rossmore and his alleged connection with the Great Northwestern Company. Perhaps they had not believed these stories. It was only natural. He had not believed them himself. But he had taken the trouble to inquire into the matter very carefully, and he regretted to say that the stories were true. In fact, they were no longer denied by Judge Rossmore himself.
The directors looked at each other in amazement. Gasps of astonishment, incredulity, satisfaction were heard all over the room. The rumours were true, then? Was it possible? Incredible!
Investigation, Ryder went on, had shown that Judge Rossmore was not only interested in the company in whose favour, as Judge of the Supreme Court, he had rendered an important decision, but what was worse, he had accepted from that company a valuable gift—that is, $50,000 worth of stock—for which he had given absolutely nothing in return unless, as some claimed, the weight of his influence on the bench. These facts were very ugly and so unanswerable that Judge Rossmore did not attempt to answer them, and the important news which he, the chairman, had to announce to his fellow-directors that afternoon, was that Judge Rossmore's conduct would be made the subject of an inquiry by Congress.
This was the spark that was needed to ignite the electrically charged air. A wild cry of triumph went up from this band of jackals only too willing to fatten their bellies at the cost of another man's ruin, and one director, in his enthusiasm, rose excitedly from his chair and demanded a vote of thanks for John Ryder.
Ryder coldly opposed the motion. No thanks were due to him, he said deprecatingly, nor did he think the occasion called for congratulations of any kind. It was surely a sad spectacle to see this honoured judge, this devoted father, this blameless citizen threatened with ruin and disgrace on account of one false step. Let them rather sympathize with him and his family in their misfortune. He had little more to tell. The Congressional inquiry would take place immediately, and in all probability a demand would be made upon the Senate for Judge Rossmore's impeachment. It was, he added, almost unnecessary for him to remind the Board that, in the event of impeachment, the adverse decision in the Auburndale case would be annulled and the road would be entitled to a new trial.
Ryder sat down, and pandemonium broke loose, the delighted directors tumbling over each other in their eagerness to shake hands with the man who had saved them. Ryder had given no hint that he had been a factor in the working up of this case against their common enemy, in fact he had appeared to sympathise with him, but the directors knew well that he and he alone had been the master mind which had brought about the happy result.
On a motion to adjourn, the meeting broke up, and everyone began to troop towards the elevators. Outside the rain was now coming down in torrents and the lights that everywhere dotted the great city only paled when every few moments a vivid flash of lightning rent the enveloping gloom.
Ryder and Senator Roberts went down in the elevator together. When they reached the street the senator inquired in a low tone:
"Do you think they really believed Rossmore was influenced in his decision?"
Ryder glanced from the lowering clouds overhead to his electric brougham which awaited him at the curb and replied indifferently:
"Not they. They don't care. All they want to believe is that he is to be impeached. The man was dangerous and had to be removed—no matter by what means. He is our enemy—my enemy—and I never give quarter to my enemies!"
As he spoke his prognathous jaw snapped to with a click-like sound, and in his eyes now coal-black were glints of fire. At the same instant there was a blinding flash, accompanied by a terrific crash, and the splinters of the flag-pole on the building opposite, which had been struck by a bolt, fell at their feet.
"A good or a bad omen?" asked the senator with a nervous laugh. He was secretly afraid of lightning; but was ashamed to admit it.
"A bad omen for Judge Rossmore!" rejoined Ryder coolly, as he slammed to the door of the cab, and the two men drove rapidly off in the direction of Fifth Avenue.
Of all the spots on this fair, broad earth where the jaded globe wanderer, surfeited with hackneyed sight-seeing, may sit in perfect peace and watch the world go by, there is none more fascinating nor one presenting a more brilliant panorama of cosmopolitan life than that famous corner on the Paris boulevards, formed by the angle of the Boulevard des Capucines and the Place de l'Opera. Here, on the "terrace" of the Cafe de la Paix, with its white and gold facade and long French windows, and its innumerable little marble-topped tables and rattan chairs, one may sit for hours at the trifling expense of a few sous, undisturbed even by the tip-seeking garcon, and, if one happens to be a student of human nature, find keen enjoyment in observing the world-types, representing every race and nationality under the sun, that pass and re-pass in a steady, never ceasing, exhaustless stream. The crowd surges to and fro, past the little tables, occasionally toppling over a chair or two in the crush, moving up or down the great boulevards, one procession going to the right, in the direction of the Church of the Madeleine, the other to the left heading toward the historic Bastille, both really going nowhere in particular, but ambling gently and good humouredly along enjoying the sights—and life!
Paris, queen of cities! Light-hearted, joyous, radiant Paris—the playground of the nations, the Mecca of the pleasure-seekers, the city beautiful! Paris—the siren, frankly immoral, always seductive, ever caressing! City of a thousand political convulsions, city of a million crimes—her streets have run with human blood, horrors unspeakable have stained her history, civil strife has scarred her monuments, the German conqueror insolently has bivouaced within her walls. Yet, like a virgin undefiled, she shows no sign of storm and stress, she offers her dimpled cheek to the rising sun, and when fall the shadows of night and a billion electric bulbs flash in the siren's crown, her resplendent, matchless beauty dazzles the world!
As the supreme reward of virtue, the good American is promised a visit to Paris when he dies. Those, however, of our sagacious fellow countrymen who can afford to make the trip, usually manage to see Lutetia before crossing the river Styx. Most Americans like Paris—some like it so well that they have made it their permanent home—although it must be added that in their admiration they rarely include the Frenchman. For that matter, we are not as a nation particularly fond of any foreigner, largely because we do not understand him, while the foreigner for his part is quite willing to return the compliment. He gives the Yankee credit for commercial smartness, which has built up America's great material prosperity; but he has the utmost contempt for our acquaintance with art, and no profound respect for us as scientists.
Is it not indeed fortunate that every nation finds itself superior to its neighbour? If this were not so each would be jealous of the other, and would cry with envy like a spoiled child who cannot have the moon to play with. Happily, therefore, for the harmony of the world, each nation cordially detests the other and the much exploited "brotherhood of man" is only a figure of speech. The Englishman, confident that he is the last word of creation, despises the Frenchman, who, in turn, laughs at the German, who shows open contempt for the Italian, while the American, conscious of his superiority to the whole family of nations, secretly pities them all.
The most serious fault which the American—whose one god is Mammon and chief characteristic hustle—has to find with his French brother is that he enjoys life too much, is never in a hurry and, what to the Yankee mind is hardly respectable, has a habit of playing dominoes during business hours. The Frenchman retorts that his American brother, clever person though he be, has one or two things still to learn. He has, he declares, no philosophy of life. It is true that he has learned the trick of making money, but in the things which go to satisfy the soul he is still strangely lacking. He thinks he is enjoying life, when really he is ignorant of what life is. He admits it is not the American's fault, for he has never been taught how to enjoy life. One must be educated to that as everything else. All the American is taught is to be in a perpetual hurry and to make money no matter how. In this mad daily race for wealth, he bolts his food, not stopping to masticate it properly, and consequently suffers all his life from dyspepsia. So he rushes from the cradle to the grave, and what's the good, since he must one day die like all the rest?
And what, asks the foreigner, has the American hustler accomplished that his slower-going Continental brother has not done as well? Are finer cities to be found in America than in Europe, do Americans paint more beautiful pictures, or write more learned or more entertaining books, has America made greater progress in science? Is it not a fact that the greatest inventors and scientists of our time—Marconi, who gave to the world wireless telegraphy, Professor Curie, who discovered radium, Pasteur, who found a cure for rabies, Santos-Dumont, who has almost succeeded in navigating the air, Professor Roentgen who discovered the X-ray—are not all these immortals Europeans? And those two greatest mechanical inventions of our day, the automobile and the submarine boat, were they not first introduced and perfected in France before we in America woke up to appreciate their use? Is it, therefore, not possible to take life easily and still achieve?
The logic of these arguments, set forth in Le Soir in an article on the New World, appealed strongly to Jefferson Ryder as he sat in front of the Cafe de la Paix, sipping a sugared Vermouth. It was five o'clock, the magic hour of the aperitif, when the glutton taxes his wits to deceive his stomach and work up an appetite for renewed gorging. The little tables were all occupied with the usual before-dinner crowd. There were a good many foreigners, mostly English and Americans and a few Frenchmen, obviously from the provinces, with only a sprinkling of real Parisians.
Jefferson's acquaintance with the French language was none too profound, and he had to guess at half the words in the article, but he understood enough to follow the writer's arguments. Yes, it was quite true, he thought, the American idea of life was all wrong. What was the sense of slaving all one's life, piling up a mass of money one cannot possibly spend, when there is only one life to live? How much saner the man who is content with enough and enjoys life while he is able to. These Frenchmen, and indeed all the Continental nations, had solved the problem. The gaiety of their cities, and this exuberant joy of life they communicated to all about them, were sufficient proofs of it.
Fascinated by the gay scene around him Jefferson laid the newspaper aside. To the young American, fresh from prosaic money-mad New York, the City of Pleasure presented indeed a novel and beautiful spectacle. How different, he mused, from his own city with its one fashionable thoroughfare—Fifth Avenue—monotonously lined for miles with hideous brownstone residences, and showing little real animation except during the Saturday afternoon parade when the activities of the smart set, male and female, centred chiefly in such exciting diversions as going to Huyler's for soda, taking tea at the Waldorf, and trying to outdo each other in dress and show. New York certainly was a dull place with all its boasted cosmopolitanism. There was no denying that. Destitute of any natural beauty, handicapped by its cramped geographical position between two rivers, made unsightly by gigantic sky-scrapers and that noisy monstrosity the Elevated Railroad, having no intellectual interests, no art interests, no interest in anything not immediately connected with dollars, it was a city to dwell in and make money in, but hardly a city to live in. The millionaires were building white-marble palaces, taxing the ingenuity and the originality of the native architects, and thus to some extent relieving the general ugliness and drab commonplaceness, while the merchant princes had begun to invade the lower end of the avenue with handsome shops. But in spite of all this, in spite of its pretty girls—and Jefferson insisted that in this one important particular New York had no peer—in spite of its comfortable theatres and its wicked Tenderloin, and its Rialto made so brilliant at night by thousands of elaborate electric signs, New York still had the subdued air of a provincial town, compared with the exuberant gaiety, the multiple attractions, the beauties, natural and artificial, of cosmopolitan Paris.
The boulevards were crowded, as usual at that hour, and the crush of both vehicles and pedestrians was so great as to permit of only a snail-like progress. The clumsy three-horse omnibuses—Madeleine-Bastille—crowded inside and out with passengers and with their neatly uniformed drivers and conductors, so different in appearance and manner from our own slovenly street-car rowdies, were endeavouring to breast a perfect sea of fiacres which, like a swarm of mosquitoes, appeared to be trying to go in every direction at once, their drivers vociferating torrents of vituperous abuse on every man, woman or beast unfortunate enough to get in their way. As a dispenser of unspeakable profanity, the Paris cocher has no equal. He is unique, no one can approach him. He also enjoys the reputation of being the worst driver in the world. If there is any possible way in which he can run down a pedestrian or crash into another vehicle he will do it, probably for the only reason that it gives him another opportunity to display his choice stock of picturesque expletives.
But it was a lively, good-natured crowd and the fashionably gowned women and the well-dressed men, the fakirs hoarsely crying their catch-penny devices, the noble boulevards lined as far as the eye could reach with trees in full foliage, the magnificent Opera House with its gilded dome glistening in the warm sunshine of a June afternoon, the broad avenue directly opposite, leading in a splendid straight line to the famous Palais Royal, the almost dazzling whiteness of the houses and monuments, the remarkable cleanliness and excellent condition of the sidewalks and streets, the gaiety and richness of the shops and restaurants, the picturesque kiosks where they sold newspapers and flowers—all this made up a picture so utterly unlike anything he was familiar with at home that Jefferson sat spellbound, delighted.
Yes, it was true, he thought, the foreigner had indeed learned the secret of enjoying life. There was assuredly something else in the world beyond mere money-getting. His father was a slave to it, but he would never be. He was resolved on that. Yet, with all his ideas of emancipation and progress, Jefferson was a thoroughly practical young man. He fully understood the value of money, and the possession of it was as sweet to him as to other men. Only he would never soil his soul in acquiring it dishonourably. He was convinced that society as at present organized was all wrong and that the feudalism of the middle ages had simply given place to a worse form of slavery—capitalistic driven labour—which had resulted in the actual iniquitous conditions, the enriching of the rich and the impoverishment of the poor. He was familiar with the socialistic doctrines of the day and had taken a keen interest in this momentous question, this dream of a regenerated mankind. He had read Karl Marx and other socialistic writers, and while his essentially practical mind could hardly approve all their programme for reorganizing the State, some of which seemed to him utopian, extravagant and even undesirable, he realised that the socialistic movement was growing rapidly all over the world and the day was not far distant when in America, as to-day in Germany and France, it would be a formidable factor to reckon with.
But until the socialistic millennium arrived and society was reorganized, money, he admitted, would remain the lever of the world, the great stimulus to effort. Money supplied not only the necessities of life but also its luxuries, everything the material desire craved for, and so long as money had this magic purchasing power, so long would men lie and cheat and rob and kill for its possession. Was life worth living without money? Could one travel and enjoy the glorious spectacles Nature affords—the rolling ocean, the majestic mountains, the beautiful lakes, the noble rivers—without money? Could the book-lover buy books, the art-lover purchase pictures? Could one have fine houses to live in, or all sorts of modern conveniences to add to one's comfort, without money? The philosophers declared contentment to be happiness, arguing that the hod-carrier was likely to be happier in his hut than the millionaire in his palace; but was not that mere animal contentment, the happiness which knows no higher state, the ignorance of one whose eyes have never been raised to the heights?
No, Jefferson was no fool. He loved money for what pleasure, intellectual or physical, it could give him, but he would never allow money to dominate his life as his father had done. His father, he knew well, was not a happy man, neither happy himself nor respected by the world. He had toiled all his life to make his vast fortune and now he toiled to take care of it. The galley slave led a life of luxurious ease compared with John Burkett Ryder. Baited by the yellow newspapers and magazines, investigated by State committees, dogged by process-servers, haunted by beggars, harassed by blackmailers, threatened by kidnappers, frustrated in his attempts to bestow charity by the cry "tainted money"—certainly the lot of the world's richest man was far from being an enviable one.
That is why Jefferson had resolved to strike out for himself. He had warded off the golden yoke which his father proposed to put on his shoulders, declining the lucrative position made for him in the Empire Trading Company, and he had gone so far as to refuse also the private income his father offered to settle on him. He would earn his own living. A man who has his bread buttered for him seldom accomplishes anything he had said, and while his father had appeared to be angry at this open opposition to his will, he was secretly pleased at his son's grit. Jefferson was thoroughly in earnest. If needs be, he would forego the great fortune that awaited him rather than be forced into questionable business methods against which his whole manhood revolted.
Jefferson Ryder felt strongly about these matters, and gave them more thought than would be expected of most young men with his opportunities. In fact, he was unusually serious for his age. He was not yet thirty, but he had done a great deal of reading, and he took a keen interest in all the political and sociological questions of the hour. In personal appearance, he was the type of man that both men and women like—tall and athletic looking, with smooth face and clean-cut features. He had the steel-blue eyes and the fighting jaw of his father, and when he smiled he displayed two even rows of very white teeth. He was popular with men, being manly, frank and cordial in his relations with them, and women admired him greatly, although they were somewhat intimidated by his grave and serious manner. The truth was that he was rather diffident with women, largely owing to lack of experience with them.
He had never felt the slightest inclination for business. He had the artistic temperament strongly developed, and his personal tastes had little in common with Wall Street and its feverish stock manipulating. When he was younger, he had dreamed of a literary or art career. At one time he had even thought of going on the stage. But it was to art that he turned finally. From an early age he had shown considerable skill as a draughtsman, and later a two years' course at the Academy of Design convinced him that this was his true vocation. He had begun by illustrating for the book publishers and for the magazines, meeting at first with the usual rebuffs and disappointments, but, refusing to be discouraged, he had kept on and soon the tide turned. His drawings began to be accepted. They appeared first in one magazine, then in another, until one day, to his great joy, he received an order from an important firm of publishers for six wash-drawings to be used in illustrating a famous novel. This was the beginning of his real success. His illustrations were talked about almost as much as the book, and from that time on everything was easy. He was in great demand by the publishers, and very soon the young artist, who had begun his career of independence on nothing a year so to speak, found himself in a handsomely appointed studio in Bryant Park, with more orders coming in than he could possibly fill, and enjoying an income of little less than $5,000 a year. The money was all the sweeter to Jefferson in that he felt he had himself earned every cent of it. This summer he was giving himself a well-deserved vacation, and he had come to Europe partly to see Paris and the other art centres about which his fellow students at the Academy raved, but principally—although this he did not acknowledge even to himself—to meet in Paris a young woman in whom he was more than ordinarily interested—Shirley Rossmore, daughter of Judge Rossmore, of the United States Supreme Court, who had come abroad to recuperate after the labours on her new novel, "The American Octopus," a book which was then the talk of two hemispheres.
Jefferson had read half a dozen reviews of it in as many American papers that afternoon at the New York Herald's reading room in the Avenue de l'Opera, and he chuckled with glee as he thought how accurately this young woman had described his father. The book had been published under the pseudonym "Shirley Green," and he alone had been admitted into the secret of authorship. The critics all conceded that it was the book of the year, and that it portrayed with a pitiless pen the personality of the biggest figure in the commercial life of America. "Although," wrote one reviewer, "the leading character in the book is given another name, there can be no doubt that the author intended to give to the world a vivid pen portrait of John Burkett Ryder. She has succeeded in presenting a remarkable character-study of the most remarkable man of his time."
He was particularly pleased with the reviews, not only for Miss Rossmore's sake, but also because his own vanity was gratified. Had he not collaborated on the book to the extent of acquainting the author with details of his father's life, and his characteristics, which no outsider could possibly have learned? There had been no disloyalty to his father in doing this. Jefferson admired his father's smartness, if he could not approve his methods. He did not consider the book an attack on his father, but rather a powerfully written pen picture of an extraordinary man.
Jefferson had met Shirley Rossmore two years before at a meeting of the Schiller Society, a pseudo-literary organization gotten up by a lot of old fogies for no useful purpose, and at whose monthly meetings the poet who gave the society its name was probably the last person to be discussed. He had gone out of curiosity, anxious to take in all the freak shows New York had to offer, and he had been introduced to a tall girl with a pale, thoughtful face and firm mouth. She was a writer, Miss Rossmore told him, and this was her first visit also to the evening receptions of the Schiller Society. Half apologetically she added that it was likely to be her last, for, frankly, she was bored to death. But she explained that she had to go to these affairs, as she found them useful in gathering material for literary use. She studied types and eccentric characters, and this seemed to her a capital hunting ground. Jefferson, who, as a rule, was timid with girls and avoided them, found this girl quite unlike the others he had known. Her quiet, forceful demeanour appealed to him strongly, and he lingered with her, chatting about his work, which had so many interests in common with her own, until refreshments were served, when the affair broke up. This first meeting had been followed by a call at the Rossmore residence, and the acquaintance had kept up until Jefferson, for the first time since he came to manhood, was surprised and somewhat alarmed at finding himself strangely and unduly interested in a person of the opposite sex.
The young artist's courteous manner, his serious outlook on life, his high moral principles, so rarely met with nowadays in young men of his age and class, could hardly fail to appeal to Shirley, whose ideals of men had been somewhat rudely shattered by those she had hitherto met. Above all, she demanded in a man the refinement of the true gentleman, together with strength of character and personal courage. That Jefferson Ryder came up to this standard she was soon convinced. He was certainly a gentleman: his views on a hundred topics of the hour expressed in numerous conversations assured her as to his principles, while a glance at his powerful physique left no doubt possible as to his courage. She rightly guessed that this was no poseur trying to make an impression and gain her confidence. There was an unmistakable ring of sincerity in all his words, and his struggle at home with his father, and his subsequent brave and successful fight for his own independence and self-respect, more than substantiated all her theories. And the more Shirley let her mind dwell on Jefferson Ryder and his blue eyes and serious manner, the more conscious she became that the artist was encroaching more upon her thoughts and time than was good either for her work or for herself.
So their casual acquaintance grew into a real friendship and comradeship. Further than that Shirley promised herself it should never go. Not that Jefferson had given her the slightest hint that he entertained the idea of making her his wife one day, only she was sophisticated enough to know the direction in which run the minds of men who are abnormally interested in one girl, and long before this Shirley had made up her mind that she would never marry. Firstly, she was devoted to her father and could not bear the thought of ever leaving him; secondly, she was fascinated by her literary work and she was practical enough to know that matrimony, with its visions of slippers and cradles, would be fatal to any ambition of that kind. She liked Jefferson immensely—more, perhaps, than any man she had yet met—and she did not think any the less of him because of her resolve not to get entangled in the meshes of Cupid. In any case he had not asked her to marry him—perhaps the idea was far from his thoughts. Meantime, she could enjoy his friendship freely without fear of embarrassing entanglements.
When, therefore, she first conceived the idea of portraying in the guise of fiction the personality of John Burkett Ryder, the Colossus of finance whose vast and ever-increasing fortune was fast becoming a public nuisance, she naturally turned to Jefferson for assistance. She wanted to write a book that would be talked about, and which at the same time would open the eyes of the public to this growing peril in their midst—this monster of insensate and unscrupulous greed who, by sheer weight of his ill-gotten gold, was corrupting legislators and judges and trying to enslave the nation. The book, she argued, would perform a public service in awakening all to the common danger. Jefferson fully entered into her views and had furnished her with the information regarding his father that she deemed of value. The book had proven a success beyond their most sanguine expectations, and Shirley had come to Europe for a rest after the many weary months of work that it took to write it.
The acquaintance of his son with the daughter of Judge Rossmore had not escaped the eagle eye of Ryder, Sr., and much to the financier's annoyance, and even consternation, he had ascertained that Jefferson was a frequent caller at the Rossmore home. He immediately jumped to the conclusion that this could mean only one thing, and fearing what he termed "the consequences of the insanity of immature minds," he had summoned Jefferson peremptorily to his presence. He told his son that all idea of marriage in that quarter was out of the question for two reasons: One was that Judge Rossmore was his most bitter enemy, the other was that he had hoped to see his son, his destined successor, marry a woman of whom he, Ryder, Sr., could approve. He knew of such a woman, one who would make a far more desirable mate than Miss Rossmore. He alluded, of course, to Kate Roberts, the pretty daughter of his old friend, the Senator. The family interests would benefit by this alliance, which was desirable from every point of view. Jefferson had listened respectfully until his father had finished and then grimly remarked that only one point of view had been overlooked—his own. He did not care for Miss Roberts; he did not think she really cared for him. The marriage was out of the question. Whereupon Ryder, Sr., had fumed and raged, declaring that Jefferson was opposing his will as he always did, and ending with the threat that if his son married Shirley Rossmore without his consent he would disinherit him.
Jefferson was cogitating on these incidents of the last few months when suddenly a feminine voice which he quickly recognised called out in English:
"Hello! Mr. Ryder."
He looked up and saw two ladies, one young, the other middle aged, smiling at him from an open fiacre which had drawn up to the curb. Jefferson jumped from his seat, upsetting his chair and startling two nervous Frenchmen in his hurry, and hastened out, hat in hand.
"Why, Miss Rossmore, what are you doing out driving?" he asked. "You know you and Mrs. Blake promised to dine with me to-night. I was coming round to the hotel in a few moments."
Mrs. Blake was a younger sister of Shirley's mother. Her husband had died a few years previously, leaving her a small income, and when she had heard of her niece's contemplated trip to Europe she had decided to come to Paris to meet her and incidentally to chaperone her. The two women were stopping at the Grand Hotel close by, while Jefferson had found accommodations at the Athenee.
Shirley explained. Her aunt wanted to go to the dressmaker's, and she herself was most anxious to go to the Luxembourg Gardens to hear the music. Would he take her? Then they could meet Mrs. Blake at the hotel at seven o'clock and all go to dinner. Was he willing?
Was he? Jefferson's face fairly glowed. He ran back to his table on the terrasse to settle for his Vermouth, astonished the waiter by not stopping to notice the short change he gave him, and rushed back to the carriage.
A dirty little Italian girl, shrewd enough to note the young man's attention to the younger of the American women, wheedled up to the carriage and thrust a bunch of flowers in Jefferson's face.
"Achetez des fleurs, monsieur, pour la jolie dame?"
Down went Jefferson's hand in his pocket and, filling the child's hand with small silver, he flung the flowers in the carriage. Then he turned inquiringly to Shirley for instructions so he could direct the cocher. Mrs. Blake said she would get out here. Her dressmaker was close by, in the Rue Auber, and she would walk back to the hotel to meet them at seven o'clock. Jefferson assisted her to alight and escorted her as far as the porte-cochere of the modiste's, a couple of doors away. When he returned to the carriage, Shirley had already told the coachman where to go. He got in and the fiacre started.
"Now," said Shirley, "tell me what you have been doing with yourself all day."
Jefferson was busily arranging the faded carriage rug about Shirley, spending more time in the task perhaps than was absolutely necessary, and she had to repeat the question.
"Doing?" he echoed with a smile, "I've been doing two things—waiting impatiently for seven o'clock and incidentally reading the notices of your book."
"Tell me, what do the papers say?"
Settling herself comfortably back in the carriage, Shirley questioned Jefferson with eagerness, even anxiety. She had been impatiently awaiting the arrival of the newspapers from "home," for so much depended on this first effort. She knew her book had been praised in some quarters, and her publishers had written her that the sales were bigger every day, but she was curious to learn how it had been received by the reviewers.
In truth, it had been no slight achievement for a young writer of her inexperience, a mere tyro in literature, to attract so much attention with her first book. The success almost threatened to turn her head, she had told her aunt laughingly, although she was sure it could never do that. She fully realized that it was the subject rather than the skill of the narrator that counted in the book's success, also the fact that it had come out at a timely moment, when the whole world was talking of the Money Peril. Had not President Roosevelt, in a recent sensational speech, declared that it might be necessary for the State to curb the colossal fortunes of America, and was not her hero, John Burkett Ryder, the richest of them all? Any way they looked at it, the success of the book was most gratifying.
While she was an attractive, aristocratic-looking girl, Shirley Rossmore had no serious claims to academic beauty. Her features were irregular, and the firm and rather thin mouth lines disturbed the harmony indispensable to plastic beauty. Yet there was in her face something far more appealing—soul and character. The face of the merely beautiful woman expresses nothing, promises nothing. It presents absolutely no key to the soul within, and often there is no soul within to have a key to. Perfect in its outlines and coloring, it is a delight to gaze upon, just as is a flawless piece of sculpture, yet the delight is only fleeting. One soon grows satiated, no matter how beautiful the face may be, because it is always the same, expressionless and soulless. "Beauty is only skin deep," said the philosopher, and no truer dictum was ever uttered. The merely beautiful woman, who possesses only beauty and nothing else, is kept so busy thinking of her looks, and is so anxious to observe the impression her beauty makes on others, that she has neither the time nor the inclination for matters of greater importance. Sensible men, as a rule, do not lose their hearts to women whose only assets are their good looks. They enjoy a flirtation with them, but seldom care to make them their wives. The marrying man is shrewd enough to realize that domestic virtues will be more useful in his household economy than all the academic beauty ever chiselled out of block marble.
Shirley was not beautiful, but hers was a face that never failed to attract attention. It was a thoughtful and interesting face, with an intellectual brow and large, expressive eyes, the face of a woman who had both brain power and ideals, and yet who, at the same time, was in perfect sympathy with the world. She was fair in complexion, and her fine brown eyes, alternately reflective and alert, were shaded by long dark lashes. Her eyebrows were delicately arched, and she had a good nose. She wore her hair well off the forehead, which was broader than in the average woman, suggesting good mentality. Her mouth, however, was her strongest feature. It was well shaped, but there were firm lines about it that suggested unusual will power. Yet it smiled readily, and when it did there was an agreeable vision of strong, healthy-looking teeth of dazzling whiteness. She was a little over medium height and slender in figure, and carried herself with that unmistakable air of well-bred independence that bespeaks birth and culture. She dressed stylishly, and while her gowns were of rich material, and of a cut suggesting expensive modistes, she was always so quietly attired and in such perfect taste, that after leaving her one could never recall what she had on.
At the special request of Shirley, who wanted to get a glimpse of the Latin Quarter, the driver took a course down the Avenue de l'Opera, that magnificent thoroughfare which starts at the Opera and ends at the Theatre Francais, and which, like many others that go to the beautifying of the capital, the Parisians owe to the much-despised Napoleon III. The cab, Jefferson told her, would skirt the Palais Royal and follow the Rue de Rivoli until it came to the Chatelet, when it would cross the Seine and drive up the Boulevard St. Michel—the students' boulevard—until it reached the Luxembourg Gardens. Like most of his kind, the cocher knew less than nothing of the art of driving, and he ran a reckless, zig-zag flight, in and out, forcing his way through a confusing maze of vehicles of every description, pulling first to the right, then to the left, for no good purpose that was apparent, and averting only by the narrowest of margins half a dozen bad collisions. At times the fiacre lurched in such alarming fashion that Shirley was visibly perturbed, but when Jefferson assured her that all Paris cabs travelled in this crazy fashion and nothing ever happened, she was comforted.