THE ROOT OF EVIL
Author of "The Leopard's Spots," "The Clansman," "The One Woman," Etc.
Illustrated by George Wright
Garden City New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1911
All Rights Reserved, Including That of Translation into Foreign Languages, Including the Scandinavian
Copyright, 1911. by Thomas Dixon
Published, January, 1912
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF MY FATHER THE REVEREND THOMAS DIXON 1820-1909
BOOK I—THE SEED
I. A Star Boarder 3
II. Things Beyond Price 15
III. A Lovers' Quarrel 20
IV. Mr. Bivens Calls 33
V. An Issue is Forced 41
VI. The Forgotten Man 48
VII. A Vision 57
VIII. Struggle 64
IX. Despair 82
X. Groping 90
XI. Illumination 96
BOOK II—THE ROOT
I. An Old Perfume 110
II. An Intruder 123
III. A Straight Tip 127
IV. Every Man's Shadow 133
V. Gathering Clouds 143
VI. The Storm Breaks 153
VII. At the King's Command 162
VIII. A Ray of Sunlight 168
IX. Beneath the Skin 174
X. The Demigod 184
XI. The Lamp of Aladdin 187
XII. Temptation 201
XIII. The Forbidden Land 209
XIV. An Aftermath 221
XV. Confession 230
XVI. The Unbidden Guest 235
XVII. Some Inside Facts 242
XVIII. The Dance of Death 259
XIX. The Last Illusion 272
XX. The Parting of the Ways 287
XXI. A Plea for Justice 303
BOOK III—THE FLOWER
I. The Devil Smiles 315
II. Beside Beautiful Waters 321
III. The Tempter's Voice 333
IV. The Mockery of the Sun 348
V. A Trump Card 353
VI. Through Purple Curtains 366
VII. The Land of the Sky 374
VIII. The White Messenger 392
IX. The Eyes of Pity 402
X. An Epilogue 407
"He turned and saw Nan" Frontispiece
"'I was seeing a vision, little pal'" 104
"He hurled him down the steps" 180
"'I must save her. I must be cunning'" 284
"Nan looked at him in despair" 386
THE ROOT OF EVIL
LEADING CHARACTERS OF THE STORY
SCENE: New York and the Mountains of North Carolina
TIME: 1898 to 1907
JAMES STUART, a young Southerner in New York. NAN PRIMROSE, his fiancee. MRS. PRIMROSE, her mother. JOHN C. CALHOUN BIVENS, a millionaire. DR. HENRY WOODMAN, who loves his neighbour. HARRIET, his daughter. HIS MAJESTY, the King of America.
THE ROOT OF EVIL
Book 1—The Seed
A STAR BOARDER
At the end of a warm spring day in New York, James Stuart sat in the open window of his room on Washington Square, smiling. With a sense of deep joy he watched the trees shake the raindrops from their new emerald robes, and the flying clouds that flecked the Western sky melt into seas of purple and gold.
A huckster turned into Fourth Street, crying:
And the young lawyer laughed lazily.
The chatter of the sparrows, the shouts of children in the Square and the huckster's drawling call seemed the subtones of a strangely beautiful oratorio of nature into which every sound of earth had softly melted. Even the roar of the elevated trains on Sixth Avenue and the screech of their wheels as the cars turned the corner of the filthy street in the rear were music. A secret joy filled the world. Nothing could break its spell—not even the devilish incessant rattle of the machine hammers flattening the heads of the rivets on the huge steel warehouse of the American Chemical Company rising across the avenue. The music he heard was from within, and the glory of life was shining from his eyes.
Again the huckster's cry rang over the Square:
The dreamer closed his eyes and smiled. A flood of tender memories stole into his heart from the sunlit fields of the South. He had gone hunting wild strawberries with Nan Primrose on the hills at home in North Carolina the day he first knew that he loved her.
How beautiful she was that day in the plain blue cotton dress which fitted her superb young figure to perfection! How well he remembered every detail of that ramble over the red hills—he could hear now the whistle of a bob white sitting on the fence near the spring where they lunched, calling to his mate. As Nan nestled closer on the old stile, they saw the little brown bird slip from her nest in a clump of straw, lift her head, and softly answer.
"Look!" Nan had whispered excitedly. "There's her nest!"
He recalled distinctly his tremor of sympathetic excitement as her warm hand drew him to the spot. With peculiar vividness he remembered the extraordinary moisture of the palm of her hand trembling with eager interest as he counted the eggs—twenty beauties. But above all memories stood out one! As he bent close above her he caught for the first time in his life the delicate perfume of her dark rich hair and felt the thrill of its mystery.
"It's their little home, isn't it, Jim!" she exclaimed.
"I hope I can build as snug a nest for you some day, Nan!" he whispered gravely.
And when she stood silent and blushing, he made the final plunge. Looking straight into her dark eyes he had said:
"I love you, dear Nan!"
As she stood very still, looking down in silence, with a throb of fear and aching tenderness he dared to slip his arm around her waist and kiss the trembling lips. And then he noticed for the first time a deep red strawberry stain in the corner of her mouth. In spite of her struggles he laughingly insisted on kissing it away—a fact which led to his first revelation of her character—could he ever forget the glory and wonder of it! She had seized his arms, gasping for breath.
"Don't—don't, Jim—I can't stand that any more!" And then as a dreamy smile stole into her face she suddenly threw her own arms around his neck in passionate tenderness, returning with interest every kiss he had taken—
The man looked up and drawled his familiar cry.
"Yes—Yes!" he shouted. "Two boxes. Put them on the stoop—and keep the change!"
He threw the man a silver dollar, and the white teeth of the Italian signalled a smile of thanks as he bowed low, lifting his dirty cap in acknowledgment.
Nor was Nan's beauty merely a memory, it was the living presence, the source of the joy that filled his soul to overflowing to-day, for she had grown more beautiful than ever since her mother had moved to New York.
He had always believed that the real reason in the back of Mrs. Primrose's shallow head for this move to the North had been the determination to break his engagement and make a more brilliant marriage for Nan. And so when they left he followed.
The mother had always professed for him unbounded loyalty and admiration. But he had never been deceived. He knew that Mrs. Primrose lied as she breathed—politely, but continuously—by her involuntary muscles. Day and night since they had reached New York she had schemed for Nan. She had joined every society, club, and coterie into which she could buy, push, or manoeuvre her way. She had used her Revolutionary ancestry and high social standing in the old South as the entering wedge and had finally succeeded in forcing her way into at least one charmed circle of the rich and powerful through the Daughters of the American Revolution.
She had leased a house in the fashionable neighbourhood of Gramercy Park, and to meet the extraordinary expense, began a careful and systematic search for rich young men to whom she could let two floors. Stuart had seen through her scheme at once—especially as she had insisted with increasing protestations of love that the engagement be kept a secret until they were ready to marry.
He was sure in his heart that Nan had never joined in those plans of her mother, though he had wished that she might have shown a little more strength in resisting them. He trusted her implicitly, and yet she was so beautiful he couldn't see how any man with red blood in his veins could resist her. And he had spent two miserable years. Every time her mother had come near, purring and smiling, he had always expected to collide with a rival as he went out the door.
Well, he was going to win at last, and the world was full of music! He had the biggest surprise of life in store for Nan—something no true woman's heart could resist. He had succeeded after incredible difficulties in secretly building a cottage by the sea in Brooklyn. Its lawn sloped to the water's edge, and a trim boat lay nodding at the dock. He had been out of town two weeks—ostensibly on law business in Baltimore—in fact he had spent the time putting the finishing touches on this home. He had planted hedges, fruit trees, vines and flowers, and covered every bare inch of soil with fresh green sod. Neither Mrs. Primrose nor Nan had the faintest suspicion of what he had been doing. He had written several letters to Nan and a friend had mailed them in Baltimore.
To-morrow he would lead his sweetheart into this holy of holies of Life—the home Love had built. He could see now the smile of tenderness break over her proud face as he should hand her the keys and ask her to fix the wedding day.
No matter on what his eye rested, he could see only Beauty, Glory, Sunlight!
An assortment of idlers, tramps, and thieves had drifted into the Square and crowded its seats. A drunken woman, her slouchy black dress bedraggled and drenched from the rain, lurched across the walk, dropped on a bench and sat muttering curses at a carriage on the north side. He had often looked at those flashing windows in the millionaire's row beside Fifth Avenue and then at the grim figures of the human wolves and reptiles that crawled into the Square from below Fourth Street, and wondered what might happen if they should really meet. But to-day he gazed with unseeing eyes. There was on all the earth no poverty, no crime, no shame, no despair, no pain, no conflict. The splendour of the sunset was in his soul and the world was athrob with joy.
His reveries were broken by a timid knock on the door and a faint call:
"Come in!" he cried.
"You're not a bit glad to see me," the soft voice said. "I've been standing out there for ages!"
"Forgive me, Sunshine, I must have been dreaming," Stuart pleaded, leaping from his seat and seizing her hand. "I'm awfully glad to see you!"
"Then, don't call me that name again," she pouted.
"Because it's undignified. All nicknames are."
"But isn't it beautiful?"
"It would be if my hair wasn't red and I didn't have freckles and was older," she protested, looking away to hide her emotion.
"But your hair isn't quite red. It's just the colour of the gold in honeycomb," he answered, gently touching her dishevelled locks—"besides, those few little freckles are becoming on your pink and white skin—and you are nearly fifteen."
"Well, my hair is red enough to make me think you're teasing when you call me Sunshine," she replied demurely.
"Then I won't call you that any more. I'll just say, little pal—how's that?"
"That's better!" she said with a smile and sigh.
"Oh, Jim, I've been so dreadfully lonely since you were away! Where did you go? And why did you stay so long? And why didn't you write me more than one little letter? And why didn't you answer the one I wrote in reply?—You know I'm almost an orphan anyhow. Papa spends nearly all his time at the factory, the drug store, the dispensary, and visiting his patients. I declare, Jim, I'll die if you go away again. I just can't stand it." She dropped at last into a chair exhausted.
Stuart smilingly took her hand:
"Lonely, Miss Chatterbox—when that big father of yours worships the very ground you walk on!"
"Yes, I know he does, Jim, and I love him, too, but you've no idea how dreadfully still the house is when you are gone. Oh, say! I'll tell you what I want—tell me you'll do what I ask—promise me! Say you will!"
"What is it?"
"I want you to be a real boarder, and eat with us! And when Papa's gone, I'll sit at the head of the table, smile and pour your tea. You'll do it, won't you? Say yes—of course you will!"
"But, my dear child, your father don't take boarders——"
"But he will if I ask him. I'll beg and tease him till he gives in."
"Oh, I couldn't think of letting you put him to all that trouble."
"But it wouldn't be any trouble. You see I'd keep house for you!"
"That would be very nice, dear, but I'm sure your father would draw the line at a real boarder. I'd never have gotten this beautiful room with that big old-fashioned open fireplace in your home if it hadn't happened that our fathers fought each other in the war, and became friends one day on a big battle-field. You see, my father took such a liking to yours that I came straight to find him when I reached this big town. It's been a second home to me."
"Be our boarder and I'll make it a real home for you, Jim!" she pleaded.
"Ah!—you'll be making a real home some day for one of those boys I saw at your birthday party—the tall dark one I think?"
"No. He doesn't measure up to my standard."
"What ails him?"
"He's a coward. My hero must be brave—for I'm timid."
"Then it will be that fat blond fellow with a jolly laugh?"
"No, he's a fibber. My Prince, when he comes, must be truthful. It's so hard for me always to tell the truth."
"Then it will be that dreamy looking one of fifteen you danced with twice?"
"No, he's too frail. My hero must be strong—for I am weak. And he must have a big, noble ideal of life; for mine is very small—just a little home nest, and a baby, and the love of one man!"
Stuart looked at her intently while a mist gathered in his eyes:
"I'm not sure about that being such a very small ideal, girlie!"
"But oh, my, I've forgotten what I came running home for! Papa sent me to ask you to please come down to the factory right away. He wants to see you on a very important matter. It must be awfully important. He looked so worried. I don't think I ever saw him worried before."
"I'll go at once," Stuart said, closing the window and blowing a kiss to the girl as he hurried down the stairs.
He strode rapidly across town toward the Bowery, through Fourth Street, wondering what could have happened to break the accustomed good humour of the doctor.
"Worry's something so utterly foreign to his character," the young lawyer mused.
The doctor had long since retired from the practise of medicine as a profession, and only used it now as his means of ministering to the wants of his neighbours. His neighbours were a large tribe, however, scattered all the way from the cellars and dives of Water Street to the shanties and goat ranges of the Upper Harlem. Stuart had never met a man so full of contagious health. He was a born physician. There was healing in the touch of his big hand. Healing light streamed from his brown eyes, and his iron-gray beard sparkled with it. His presence in a sick-room seemed to fill it with waves of life, and his influence over the patients to whom he ministered was little short of hypnotic.
"Christian Science is no new doctrine, my boy," he had said one day in answer to a question about the new cult.
"I thought it was," Stuart answered in surprise.
"No. All successful physicians practise Christian Science. The doctor must heal first the mind. I can kill a man with an idea. So often I have cured him with an idea. If I can succeed with ideas, I do so. If there's no mind to work on, why then I use pills."
The young man stopped impatiently at Broadway, unable to cross. A little girl of ten, pale and weak and underfed, staggering under a load of clothing from a sweatshop on the East Side, had been knocked down trying to cross the street to deliver her burden to a Broadway clothier. A long line of cars stood blocked for a quarter of a mile, every car packed with human freight, every seat filled, every inch of standing room jammed with men and women holding to straps. Tired office boys even clung to the rear guards at the risk of death from a sudden collision with the car behind.
They were always crowded so at this hour. And yet Stuart recalled with a curious touch of irony the fate of the indomitable old man, Jake Sharp, who had fought for years to force this franchise for a public necessity through the city government. His reward was a suit of stripes, shame, dishonour, death. No one knew, or cared, or remembered it now. A new set of corrupt law makers took the place of the old ones, their palms still itching for money, money, money, always more money.
"And men who seek to serve the people must grease their itching palms or make way for those who will!" he muttered, fighting his way across. "A tough town—this, for a young lawyer with ideals. I wonder how long I'll hold out?"
Stuart found the doctor standing at the door of his factory, shaking hands and chatting with his employees as they emerged from the building at the close of a day's work. A plain old-fashioned brick structure just off the Bowery was this factory, and across the front ran a weatherbeaten sign which had not been changed for more than fifty years:
"HENRY WOODMAN, MANUFACTURING CHEMIST"
The doctor's father had established the business fifty-two years ago, and the son, who bore the father's name, had succeeded to its management on his death, which occurred just after the return of the younger man with his victorious regiment from their last campaign with Grant before Petersburg and Appomattox.
He had given up the practise of medicine after the war, and devoted himself to the business of which his father had been justly proud. The house of Henry Woodman had been a pioneer in the establishing of a trade in pure drugs. In the time of the elder Woodman, adulteration and humbug were the rule, not the exception, in the business.
Woodman's stalwart figure towered in the doorway above his employees as they passed into the street. For every man, boy, and girl he had a nod, a smile, or a pleasant word. It was plain to see that the employer in this case had made his business the way to the hearts of the people who served him.
He took Stuart's hand in his big crushing grip and whispered:
"Have you any engagement this evening?"
Stuart smiled and hesitated.
"A girl—I see!" laughed the doctor. "Well, I'll get through by nine o'clock. You can give me the three hours till then? It's a matter of importance, and I want your advice."
"My advice—you!" Stuart exclaimed.
"Yes. You're the brightest young lawyer I know in town. I've gotten along without lawyers so far, but I guess I'm in for it now. You can come with me?"
"Of course," Stuart answered hurriedly. "Forgive my apparent hesitation, doctor. I was just surprised at your worry. What's the matter?"
The older man was silent a moment and then slowly said:
"I'll tell you later. I wish to show you something before I ask your advice on a question of law; we must hurry. We will finish by nine and you will be a little late for dinner. But if she loves you, you can telephone and she will wait. It will be all right?"
"Of course, it will be all right—besides, she doesn't know yet that I've returned."
The doctor handed the young lawyer a letter which he opened and read hastily.
NO. 60 GRAMERCY PARK.
TO DR. HENRY WOODMAN,
Dear Sir: I must have an answer to the proposition of the American Chemical Company before noon to-morrow. After that hour the matter will be definitely closed.
JNO. C. CALHOUN BIVENS.
April 2, 1898.
Still looking at the letter he asked:
"What does it mean?"
"An ultimatum from the Chemical Trust. I'll explain to you when you've seen something of my work to-night. The first hour I want you to put in with me at the dispensary."
Stuart's eye rested on the embossed heading of the letter, "No. 60 Gramercy Park," and he slowly crushed the paper. It was the Primrose house, Nan's home! Her mother had succeeded.
Bivens, the new sensation in high finance, she had established as her star boarder in his absence! Bivens, his schoolmate at college—Bivens, the little razorback scion of poor white trash from the South who had suddenly become a millionaire!
His blood boiled with rage. He could see the soft, cat-like movements of Mrs. Primrose and hear her purring while she spun the web to entangle him with Nan. As he turned and followed the doctor, he laughed with sudden fierce determination.
THINGS BEYOND PRICE
The dispensary was Woodman's hobby. The old-fashioned drug store stood on a corner of the Bowery, and in the rear extension which opened on the side street, he had established what he had laughingly called his "Life Line," a free dispensary where any man needing medicine or a doctor's advice could have it without charge if unable to pay.
For ten years he had maintained the work at his own expense, out of the profits of his store. The happiest hours of his life he had spent here ministering to the wants of his neighbours. He had come to be more than consulting physician at the dispensary. He had become the friend and counsellor of thousands.
The waiting room was crowded, and the line extended into the street. On the doctor's entrance the shadows suddenly lifted. Men and women smiled and called his name. He waved a cheerful salutation and hurried to his place beside the assistant.
For two hours Stuart saw him minister with patience and skill to the friendless and the poor. For each a cheerful word, and the warm grasp of his big hand with the prescription. The young lawyer watched with curious interest the quickened step with which each one left. The medicine had begun to work before the prescription was filled. Waves of healing from a beautiful spirit had entered the soul, and drooping heads were suddenly raised.
When the last applicant had gone, Stuart turned to the doctor:
"And what is the proposition which the distinguished young head of the Chemical Trust has made you?"
"That I sell my business to them at their own valuation and come into the Trust—or get off the earth."
"And you wish my advice?"
"What figure did he name?"
"More than its cash value."
"Then you will accept, of course?"
"I would if there were not some things that can't be reckoned in terms of dollars and cents. If I take stock in the American Chemical Company I am a party to their methods, an heir to their frauds."
"Isn't fraud a rather harsh word, Doctor?"
"No. It's the truth."
Stuart smiled good-naturedly.
"Yet isn't the old regime of the small manufacturer and the retailer doomed? Isn't combination the new order of modern life? Will it pay you to fight a losing battle?"
"The man who fights for the right can't lose."
"Unless they fight trusts!" Stuart said smilingly. "Bivens is not a man of broad culture, but he is a very smooth young gentleman——"
"He's a contemptible little scamp!" snapped the older man. "When I took him into my drug store six years ago, he didn't have a change of clothes. Now he's a millionaire. How did he get it? He stole a formula I had used to relieve nervous headaches, mixed it in water with a little poisonous colouring matter, pushed it into the soda-fountain trade, made his first half-million, organized the American Chemical Company and blossomed into a magnate. And now this little soda-fountain pip threatens me with ruin unless I join his gang and help him rob my neighbours. It happens that I like my neighbours. And the more I see of this city, the more thrilling its life becomes, the more wonderful its opportunities. Opportunity means one thing to me—quite another to Bivens. The world he lives in is a small one. I live in God's big world. I belong to no class. I know them all from the lonely multimillionaire on Murray Hill to his equally lonely brother thief who crawls into his lair by the river. And I don't envy one more than another. My business is to heal the sick, not merely to make money. Thousands of children die at my very door every summer who could be saved by a single prescription if they could get it. That's the thought that grips me when I begin to figure the profits in this trade. I'm making a fair living. I don't want any more out of my neighbours. I've shown you some of them to-night."
"I'll never forget them," Stuart broke in.
"We used to cry over Uncle Tom's woes," the doctor continued. "And yet there are more than five million white people in America to-day who are the slaves of poverty, cruel and pitiless, who haven't enough clothes to keep warm, enough food to eat, and are utterly helpless and forsaken in illness. The black slave always had food and shelter, clothes and medicine. My business is to heal the sick—mind you! Shall I give it up to exploit them?"
"But could you not use your greater wealth for greater good if you joined the trust?" the lawyer asked.
"No. What we need to-day is not merely more money given to charity. We need more heart and soul, manhood and womanhood, given in heroic service. We need leaders whose voice shall rouse the conscience of the nation that Justice shall be done."
"But the point is, Doctor, are you sure that you are on the side of Justice in this big business battle that's now on between competition and combination?" asked the younger man, quietly.
"What do you mean?"
"Why, that your building over there has an honourable history, but it's old, a little shabby, and, judged by the standards of the new steel structures of the Trust that are rising over the city, out-of-date. Won't they make drugs more economically than you do and drive you to the wall at last? Isn't this new law of cooperation the law of progress—in brief, the law of God?"
"That remains to be proven. I don't believe it."
"Well, I do, and I think that if you fight, it will be against the stars in their courses——"
"I'm going to fight," was the firm response.
"And you wanted my advice," Stuart laughed.
The doctor smiled at his own inconsistency.
"Well, I know I'm right, and I wished you to back me up. The law is on my side, isn't it?"
"The written law, yes. But you are facing a bigger question than one of statutory law."
"So I am, boy, so I am! That's why I gave you a glimpse to-night of the world in which I live and work and dream."
"Bivens has put up to you a cold-blooded business proposition——"
"Exactly. And there are things that can't be bought and sold. I am one of them!" The stalwart figure rose in simple dignity, and there was a deep tremor in his voice as he paused.
"But I'm keeping you. It's nine o'clock—and somebody's waiting—eh, boy?"
"Yes," Stuart answered apologetically. "I'm afraid I've not been of much use to you to-night."
The doctor bent closer, smiling:
"I understand—of course! The angels are singing in your heart this evening the old song of life that always makes the world new and young and beautiful. Over all ugliness the veil of the mystery of Love! The only real things to-night for you—the throb of triumph within your heart, the hovering presence of a woman's face, the tenderness of her eyes, the tangled light in her hair, the smile on her lips, the thrill of her voice, the pride of her step, the glory of her form——"
"Yes," Stuart echoed with elation.
"And yet—it couldn't be measured in terms of barter and sale—could it?" The doctor gripped his hand tenderly in parting.
The smile died from the younger man's face and his answer was scarcely audible:
A LOVERS' QUARREL
It was half past ten before Stuart reached Gramercy Park. The wind had shifted to the southeast and a cold, drizzling rain, mixed with fog enveloped the city. Somehow the chill found his heart. The windows of Nan's room were dark. For the first time in his life he had called and found her out. He rang the door-bell in a stupor of disappointment. For just a moment the sense of disaster was so complete it was ridiculous.
A maid answered at last and ushered him into the dimly lighted parlour.
"Miss Nan is at home, Berta?" he asked eagerly.
The little Danish maid smiled knowingly:
"Na, but Meesis Primrose——"
With a groan Stuart sank to a chair. The maid turned up the lights and left the room. He looked about with astonishment. Things had been happening with a vengeance during his absence. The entire house had been redecorated. An oriental rug of dazzling medallion pattern was on the newly polished floor. Instead of the set of Chippendale mahogany the Primroses had brought from the South, a complete outfit of stately gilded stuff filled the room, and heavy draperies to match hung from the tall windows and folding doors.
On the table in the corner stood a vase filled with gorgeous red roses. The air was heavy with their perfume. It made him sick. The mother's velvet hand he saw at once. Of course she had not borrowed the money from Bivens. She was too shrewd for that. But she had borrowed it beyond a doubt, and she had evidently gone the limit of her credit without a moment's hesitation. He wondered how far she had gotten with Bivens. Could it be possible that Nan was with him to-night? No—preposterous! He heard the rustle of Mrs. Primrose's dress and saw the smile of treacherous joy slowly working into position on her plausible face before she entered the room.
She greeted him with unusual effusion:
"Oh, Jim, this is such a glorious surprise! Nan didn't expect you till morning and she will be heartbroken to have missed you even for a half hour. My dear, dear boy, you have no idea how lonely both of us have been without you the past two weeks."
"You missed me too, Mrs. Primrose?"
"Of course, I missed you, Jim! You've come to be like one of us."
She leaned close and purred the last sentence in the softest feline accents. Stuart felt his nerves quiver as the imaginary claws sank into his flesh, but he smiled back his grateful answer.
"It's so nice of you to say that."
"What's more natural? You know I've always loved you next to Nan."
She spoke with such fervour that Stuart shivered. It was sinister. She evidently felt sure of his ruin. He was too much dazed to find a reply, and she went on earnestly:
"We needed you here so much to help us fix up. We've had the good luck to rent our second floor to a young millionaire——"
"Mr. Bivens, yes——"
"Why, how did you know?" she asked with a start.
"Dr. Woodman has just received an important letter from him dated here, and he asked my advice about it."
"Where's Nan?" Stuart asked, with sudden anger in spite of his effort to keep cool.
"Why, she's giving a little box party at the theatre to-night——"
"And our mutual friend, Mr. John C. Calhoun Bivens, is presiding?"
"Why, Jim, how could you be so absurd," she protested indignantly. "I've been saving money for a month to give Nan this chance to return some courtesies she has received from rich friends. I need Mr. Bivens's money to pay the rent of this big house. But any attention on his part to Nan would be disgusting to me beyond measure."
"Yet he's the sensation in high finance just now," Stuart said, with an unconscious sneer. "They say he's destined to become a multi-millionaire."
"Come, come, Jim, it's not like you to be nasty to me. You know as well as I do his origin in North Carolina. His people are the veriest trash. He was at college with you——"
"And how did you know that?"
"Not from you, of course. You've never mentioned his name in your life. He told me."
"Oh, Bivens told you!"
"Yes, when I asked him if he knew you he told me with a touch of genuine pride that you were friends. He thinks you are going to be the greatest lawyer in New York. And I told him we'd known that for a long time."
Stuart turned his head to hide a smile.
"But of course he's not in Nan's social set. I told her the day he came that we would treat him politely but draw the line strictly on any efforts he may make to pass the limits of acquaintance. The men who associate with Nan must belong to her father's world—to your world, Jim—the world of good breeding and culture. I've dinned this into Nan's ears from babyhood. You know yourself it was the greatest joy of my life the day she told me of your love."
By a supreme effort Stuart suppressed a laugh and answered seriously:
"Your approval has always been an inspiration to me, Mrs. Primrose. I hope to prove myself worthy of it."
A carriage stopped at the door.
"There's Nan now!" the mother exclaimed, rising to go. "I'll leave you to surprise her, Jim."
Stuart heard the carriage door slam, and in a moment the girl he loved stood in the hall, the joy of an evening's perfect happiness shining in her great dark eyes. He watched her a moment, unobserved, as she laid aside her opera cloak and stood before the big mirror proudly and calmly surveying her figure.
Never had her beauty seemed to him so dazzling. The cream-coloured evening gown fitted her to perfection. She lifted her bare arms and touched an old silver brooch that gleamed in the mass of black hair, and smiled at the picture she saw reflected. The smile was one of conscious power. The corners of the full sensuous lips curved the slightest bit as the smile faded and a gleam of something like cruelty flashed from the depths of her eyes, as her head lifted. She turned sidewise to catch the full effect of the shining bare neck and shoulders, and stood an instant with her beautiful bosom rising and falling with conscious pride.
Stuart, unable to wait longer, was about to spring to her side when she caught the flash of his laughing face in the mirror and turned.
"Oh! you rascal! To surprise me like this!" she cried, with joyous laughter.
"In all your pride and vanity!"
"Well, need I apologize to-night, sir?" she asked, with a shrug of her beautiful shoulders.
"No. You're glorious. I don't blame you."
She seized both his hands, still laughing.
"You know how it is yourself? You do the same thing when your door is locked—now don't you?"
"You can't help being a little vain, Jim, any more than I can. You know you're a stunning-looking fellow. These Yankee girls all love you at first sight—the tall, straight, sinewy figure, strong and swift in every movement, the finely chiselled face, the deep-set, dark brown eyes under their heavy brows, that big masterful jaw and firm mouth——"
Stuart suddenly took her in his arms and kissed her into silence.
"Hush, Nan. I don't like the way you say that!"
"Why? Am I too modest?"
"No, too deliberate and coldly mistress of yourself. I wish you loved me a little more tumultuously, as I do you."
"Well, let me whisper then that your return to-night has made a perfect ending to a perfect day. Oh, Jim, I've been so happy to-night! Seated in that big stage box, I felt that I was somebody. This is the first really decent dress I've ever had in my life."
"You were just as beautiful in that blue cotton one, the day I first kissed you, Nan."
"I know you thought so, Jim. But the world wouldn't have said it——"
"They agreed with you. I could see it in the craning necks, the glances, the whispered comments, and the stare of mannerless men."
"And you were proud and happy!"
"Proud for your sake, Jim,—yes—and happy in your love."
Stuart's face clouded and he turned away, startled for the first time by a strange similarity in the tone of Nan's voice to her mother's.
The painful impression was suddenly broken by a quick touch of Nan's hand on his arm.
"Oh, Jim, I'm glad you came a day earlier. I've something to tell you, something wonderful—something that will bring our happiness near——" Her voice sank to the tenderest accents.
"What on earth——"
"You know Mr. Bivens—John C. Calhoun Bivens?"
"Yes," Stuart answered evenly, controlling himself with an effort.
"Well, he has taken our second floor, I had a long talk with him last week."
"But of course, goosie, it was business—all business. By the merest accident I learned that his big Trust, the American Chemical Company, needs another lawyer. They pay an enormous salary with all sorts of chances to get rich. They are making millions on millions. I told him that you were the very man for the place and that you were going to be the greatest lawyer in New York. Imagine my joy—when he not only agreed with me, but said he would double the salary if you would accept it. He thought you wouldn't, merely because you lived in the house of old Woodman with whom the Company may have a fight. I told him it was nonsense—that I knew you would accept. Of course, Jim, dear, I couldn't tell him why—I couldn't tell him what it meant to me, though I felt like screaming it in his face. You'll accept, of course?"
"You can't be so absurd!"
"Yes I can."
Stuart looked away in moody silence.
"Have you been receiving the attentions of this distinguished young millionaire, Nan?"
"I've been cultivating him."
"Yes, for your sake only—you big, handsome, foolish, jealous boy! You can't be in earnest when you say that you will refuse such an offer?"
"I am in earnest," was the grim reply.
"But why, why—why?"
"First, because I will not become the hireling of a corporation, to say nothing of this particular one headed by Mr. Bivens."
"Nonsense, Jim. You wouldn't be a hireling. You would lay the law down for them to follow."
"No. A modern corporation has no soul, and the man who serves this master must sell both body and soul for the wages he receives. I am a lawyer of the old school. My work is illumined by imagination. My business is to enforce justice in the relations of men."
"But some of the greatest lawyers in America are corporation attorneys——"
"All the reason more why I should keep clean. Lawyers once constituted our aristocracy of brain and culture."
"But, Jim, you could prevent injustice by your will and ability!"
"Nonsense, Nan. It's the kind of work you have to do. The very nature of it excludes an ideal. Its only standard is gold—hard, ringing metallic gold! I can't prostitute my talents to a work I don't believe in. A man's work is a revelation of what he is. And what he is will depend at last on what he does."
A frown of impatience had steadily grown in the girl's face and the curves of her lips hardened with sudden determination.
"But you mean to be rich and powerful, Jim?"
"If it comes with the growth of manhood and character, yes. But I will not degrade myself with work I hate, or take orders from men I despise. The world is already full of such slaves. I mean to make one less, not one more of them."
"You know I don't wish you to be degraded," Nan broke in, earnestly. "I want you to be great."
"Then, don't forget, sweetheart, that it's the great man who can be content now with a fair share of money. It requires more stamina, more character, more manhood to live a sane, decent life in this town to-day than it does to become a millionaire."
"But I want you to be ambitious, Jim!" the girl exclaimed, passionately.
"I am ambitious—for big things—the biggest things. For that reason it will take more than a child's rattle to satisfy me, though it's made of gold. I must have the real thing—the thing inside. I hope to have the applause of the world, but the thing I must have is the approval of my better self—can't you understand, Nan?"
Stuart paused and laid his hand gently on the girl's white round arm, and she turned with a start.
"I didn't hear your last sentence, Jim——"
"Of what were you thinking?"
"Of what a woman is always thinking. Consciously or unconsciously, of my home—whether it shall be a hovel or a palace."
"It all depends on whether Love is the builder——"
"It all depends on the man I marry," was the laughing answer. "I've always dreamed of you as a man of wealth and power. Your splendid talents mean this. When you came to New York I was more sure of you than ever. You've simply got to make money, Jim! Nothing else counts in the world to-day. I hate poverty—I fear it—I loathe it! Money is the badge of success, the symbol of power. Nothing else counts."
"And yet," the lover said, drawing closer, "I hold the touch of your little finger of greater value than all the gold on the earth or beneath it."
"Don't interrupt me, please, with irrelevant remarks," Nan cried, laughing in spite of herself. "Seriously, Jim—you must listen to me. I'm in dead earnest. There's no virtue in riding behind a donkey if you can own a carriage. There can be no virtue in shivering in a thin dress if you can wear furs. Even the saints all dream of a Heaven with streets of gold, chariots to ride in, and gleaming banquet halls! I'm just a practical saint, Jim. I want mine here and now. You must have money, if for no other reason, because I wish it!"
"Even if I enter a career of crime with Bivens as my master?"
"Come! Mr. Bivens is a devout member of the church. And you know that he's in dead earnest——"
"About getting to Heaven? Of course. That's simply his insurance policy against fire in the next world."
"Oh, don't talk nonsense, Jim. The possession of money is not a crime."
"No. Crime, Nan, is in the heart and its seed always springs from the soul. Its roots must always strike one soil to live—the selfish will to have what one wants regardless of the cost to others."
"Is it a crime," Nan asked, passionately, "to wish to live a life that's worth the struggle? You must take conditions as you find them."
"That's just it. I won't. I'd rather create new conditions and mould life. I'd rather lead, organize and inspire, than follow. I refuse to become a mere money-grubber, because I'm in love with Life."
"And you would be willing," the girl said dreamily, "to sacrifice the happiness of all those you love and all who love you to follow this whim?"
"Sacrifice your happiness? Why, the one purpose of my life is to make you happy——"
"Well, I can't be happy in poverty. The man I love must be rich. Oh, Jim, you shall be! Wealth is the only road now from the vulgar crowd—the only way to climb on top."
"But, suppose I don't wish to climb on the top of people?"
"You can't be such a fool!"
"But suppose I am? Money is the most obvious sign of success in a new crude world. Ours is no longer new, no longer crude or isolated. True civilization has always placed manhood above money. The only names in our history worth remembering—are there, because they did something else than make money. Washington was the richest man in America in his day. But nobody remembers this—why? Because it is of no importance. The men you call great would simply reduce life to the terms of a commercial dividend. Yet nothing pays that's really worth while."
"Jim, are you crazy?"
"It's true, dear. The lover who watches by the side of a stricken loved one and loses time and money—is he crazy? My father gave up his law practice to bend over my mother's bedside for six months. He was a giant in mind and body—she a poor little, broken, withered invalid. He lost money and clients and never regained them. Did it pay? Does anything that's born of love pay? Surely not children. I was always a dead expense. The biggest fee I ever received as a lawyer in New York was a shout of joy from a poor woman, whose boy I freed from a false charge of crime. She fell sobbing before me and actually kissed my feet."
"Oh, Jim, why can't you be practical? Why are you not willing to fight for a fortune—as other men——"
"Because, dear," he answered quickly and tenderly, "we haven't time—you and I. Life is too short. Love is too sweet. The fields are too green. The birds sing too sweetly. The treasures of earth are already mine, for Love has given me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to feel. Perhaps I'm just a little crazy by the standard of New York, but, dear, I thought you were my mate! Have you forgotten our old day dreams in the fields at home?"
"I've forgotten everything," she answered bitterly, "except that you are failing me when put to the first test. And it would be such a little thing for you to do."
"At the price of my self-respect—and you call this a little thing—great God!"
Nan rose with a sudden gesture of impatience.
"You refuse absolutely to consider this generous offer?"
"And you are not willing to let these romantic fancies wait until you've made your fortune?"
The girl spoke with cold deliberation.
"How can I wait to live? I'm twenty-six. I'll never have those glorious days of my young manhood again. My ears will never be so keen again or eyes so clear again. What is the use of years of preparation to live, if at last you don't know how?"
"And you are willing that the woman you love shall live in poverty while her more fortunate sisters laugh and dance in luxury?"
"The one joy of my life will be to gratify every reasonable wish of your body and soul."
"Yet the first reasonable wish I express, you refuse to consider."
"It would be suicide——"
"Oh, Jim, don't talk like a fool! Mr. Bivens says he would make you a millionaire in five years."
The blood suddenly rushed to Stuart's face, and the square jaws came together with a snap.
"That's very kind of Mr. Bivens, I'm sure. When I need his patronage, I'll take my place in line with other henchmen and ask for it. At present I'm paddling my own canoe."
Nan suddenly extended her hand.
He attempted to draw her into his arms.
"Not like that, Nan."
She repulsed him and repeated her cold dismissal:
"Nan, dear," he pleaded, "we've never parted in anger before. Of all the hours of my life this is one in which I—I—least dreamed of such a thing."
Without a word, she turned toward the stairs.
"Nan!" he called tenderly.
The proud white figure slowly mounted the first step. He seized his hat and coat and grasped the door, fumbling at the knob in rage.
A dress rustled and he turned, confronting Nan. Her face was scarlet and two tears were creeping down her checks. With a sob she threw herself into his arms.
"Forgive me, Jim!"
"Forgive me, dear, if I've seemed unreasonable," was the low answer.
"But you will think it over, won't you? just for my sake—just because I ask it—won't you?"
"Just because you ask it—yes, I will, dearest!"
He kissed her tenderly and walked home with a great sickening fear slowly creeping into his heart.
MR. BIVENS CALLS
Stuart waked next morning with a sense of hopeless depression. He had intended to make an engagement with Nan to visit the little home. It was impossible to suggest it in the mood he had found her. What strange madness had come over the woman he loved? They had never discussed money before. Bivens was the only explanation.
He dressed himself mechanically and went down stairs. A letter was on the hall rack which had been sent by a messenger. He broke the seal with nervous haste. It was from Bivens asking him to call his office telephone at eleven o'clock.
He tore the note into tiny pieces, stepped into the parlour and threw them into the grate. He stood for a moment gazing into the glowing coals in brooding anger. Slowly he became conscious of music. Some one was playing an old-fashioned Southern melody, and the tenderest voice accompanied the piano. He walked to the door of the music-room.
It was Harriet.
As he listened, the frown died from his face and the anger melted out from his heart. The music ceased. Harriet looked up with a start.
"Oh, Jim, I didn't know you were there!"
"It was beautiful, little pal."
"Yes, I knew you'd like that piece. I heard you humming it one day. That's why I got it."
"What a sweet voice you have, child, so clear, so deep and rich and full of feeling. I didn't know you could sing."
"I didn't either until I tried."
"You must study music," he said, with enthusiasm.
The girl clapped her hands and leaped to her feet, exclaiming:
"Will you be proud of me, Jim, if I can sing?"
"Indeed I will," was the earnest answer.
The laughing eyes grew serious as she slowly said:
"Then, I'll do my level best. I'm off—good-bye."
With a wave of her hand she was gone, and Stuart hurried to his office, whistling the old tune she had just sung.
What curious, sensitive things—these souls of ours! An idea enters and blackens the sky, makes sick the body, kills hope and faith. The soft strains of an old piece of music steals into the darkened spirit, the shadows lift, the sun shines, the heart beats with life and the world is new again.
On reaching his office on lower Broadway, Stuart rang Bivens's telephone, and the president of the American Chemical Company made an engagement to call at once.
Stuart would not have stooped to the trick of keeping his young millionaire visitor waiting, on imaginary business, but he was grateful for the timely call of a client who kept him in consultation for fifteen minutes while Bivens patiently waited his turn in the reception-room, his wealth and prestige all lost on the imperturbable office boy, who sat silently chewing gum and reading a serial.
The first view of Bivens was always unimpressive. He was short, thin, and looked almost frail at first glance. A second look gave the impression of wiry reserve force in his compact frame. His hair was jet black and thinning slightly on top which gave him the appearance of much greater age than he could really claim. His thin features were regular, and his face was covered with a thick black beard which he kept trimmed to a keen point on the chin. His most striking features were a high massive forehead, abnormally long for the size of his body, and a pair of piercing, bead-like black eyes. These eyes were seldom still, but when they rested on an object they fairly bored through it with their penetrating light.
He rarely spoke except to a purpose, and his manners were quiet, almost furtive. He had thus early in his career gained a nickname that was peculiarly significant in Wall Street. He was known as The Weasel.
His whole makeup, physical and mental, was curiously complex—a mixture of sobriety and greed, piety and cruelty, tenderness and indomitable will, simplicity of tastes with boundless ambition.
His friendship for Stuart and his deference to him personally and socially dated from their boyhood in North Carolina—and particularly from an incident which occurred in their college days. Bivens's father had been a notorious coward in the Confederate army and had at last deserted the service. A number of very funny stories about his actions in battle had become current everywhere. On Bivens's arrival at college, a particularly green freshman, Stuart had discovered a group of his classmates hazing him. They had forced the coward's son to mount a box and repeat to the crowd the funny stories about the "valour" of his father. The boy, scared half out of his wits, stood stammering and perspiring and choking with shame as he tried to obey his tormentors.
Stuart protested vigorously, and a fight ensued in which he was compelled to thrash the ring-leader and rescue the victim by force of arms. From that day Stuart was Bivens's beau-ideal of a gentleman. He had tolerated rather than enjoyed this friendship, but it was so genuine he couldn't ignore the little dark-eyed taciturn fellow who was destined to play so tremendous a role in his future life.
Bivens sat patiently waiting for the young lawyer, his black eyes gazing dreamily over the roofs of the houses. He was smoking a huge black cigar. He was always smoking. The brighter his eyes gleamed the harder he smoked until the fire-tipped tobacco seemed a spark from smouldering volcanoes somewhere below. The one overwhelming impression which Bivens's personality first gave was that he was made out of tobacco. His fingers were stained with nicotine, and his teeth yellow from it. He had smoked so fast and furiously the room was soon fog-bound. The boy looked up from his paper with a gasp and hastened inside to see if he could get rid of his obnoxious presence. In a moment he ushered out the client and showed Bivens into the office.
He shook hands quietly and took a seat beside Stuart's desk.
"Well?" said the lawyer at length.
"I've come to make you an important proposition, Jim," Bivens began slowly, while his restless eyes looked up at the ceiling, and he pulled at the point of his beard. "We need another attorney. The business of the company is increasing so rapidly our force can't handle it. I need a big man close to me. If you'll take the place I'll give you a salary that will ultimately be as big as the President gets in the White House. Twenty thousand to start with."
Stuart looked at his visitor curiously.
"Why do you want me, Cal? There are thousands of lawyers here who would jump at the chance. Many of them are better equipped for such work than I am."
"Because I know that you won't lie to me, you won't swindle or take advantage of me——"
"Why not?" Stuart asked with a smile. "Isn't that the game? Why shouldn't I learn the tricks?"
"Because it's not in you."
"I see. You want to capitalize my character and use me to ambush the other fellow?"
"That's one way to look at it—yes."
"But that's not the real reason you come to me to-day with this proposition—is it?"
"Not the only one. You know my friendship for you is genuine. You know there's not a man in New York for whom I'd do as much as I will for you if you'll let me. Isn't that true?"
"I believe it—yes. And yet—there must be another reason. What is it?"
"Does it matter? I've made you the offer. If the salary isn't enough, name your figure."
"You're not afraid of Woodman and wish to reach him through me?" Stuart continued, ignoring his last answer.
The ghost of a smile flitted around the shining little black eyes.
"Afraid?" he asked contemptuously. "I'm not even interested in him. The old fossil's a joke. He thinks he can stop the progress of the world to attend a case of measles in Mott Street."
The financier leisurely lifted his right hand, removed the cigar from his mouth, and struck the ashes lightly with his finger. Stuart noticed how small his hand, how delicately shaped, how smooth and careful its movements. Beyond a doubt it was the hand of an expert thief. And yet this man, by an accident of birth, was a devout member of the church and complied with the written laws of modern society.
Stuart was silent a moment, watching the dark masked face before him. At last he blurted out:
"Well, Cal, what's the real reason you make me this offer to-day?"
Bivens moved uneasily in his chair, fidgeted, hesitated and finally leaned close, speaking in a whisper:
"You can keep a little secret?"
"You ought to know that before making me such an offer."
"Yes. Yes, of course I know you will." Bivens paused and resumed his cigar. "The fact, is—Jim—I'm in love——"
Stuart cleared his throat to strangle an exclamation.
"In love?" he echoed in a tone of light banter.
"Hopelessly, desperately in love!"
"Then you need a minister, not a lawyer," Stuart said, with quiet sarcasm.
"It's no joke, old man," Bivens went on soberly. "It's the most serious thing I was ever up against. Fell in love at first sight."
"But where do I come into this affair?" Stuart interrupted, maintaining his self-control with an effort.
"Simple enough. The Primroses——"
"Oh, it's Miss Primrose?"
"Yes—Miss Nan. You see, they think the world of you. She said you grew up together in the same town. I was telling her about my business. I must have been bragging about what we were going to do. I was crazy, just looking at her. Her beauty made me drunk. I told her we needed a new attorney. She said you were the man. I told her I'd offer you the place. She seemed pleased. When I told her I was afraid you wouldn't take a place under my direction, she laughed at the idea—said she knew you would accept. And so you've got the whole truth now, Jim. You've got to accept, old man. I want to make her feel that her word is law with me. Don't you think that would please her?"
"It ought to please any woman," was the slow, thoughtful reply.
"Tell me, do you think I've got a chance with a girl like that? You know I've never gone with girls much. I'm timid and awkward. I don't know what to do or what to say. But my money will help, won't it?"
"Money always helps in this town, Cal."
"And it means so much to a woman too,—don't it?"
"Yes. Have you said anything to Miss Nan yet?"
"Lord, no! Haven't dared. Just get drunk looking at her every time I see her, but I couldn't open my mouth if I tried. I'm kinder shying up to the old lady to get her on my side. She seems awfully friendly. I think she likes me. Don't you think it a good plan to cultivate her?"
"By all means," was the dry reply.
"Say, for God's sake, Jim, help me. Take this attorneyship. It will please her and I'll make you rich. Come in with me and you'll never regret it. I know my folks were not your social equals in the old days down South. But you know as well as I do that money talks here. Have common sense. Look at things as they are. Come in with me and let's get at these Yankees. They left you and me cradles of poverty. They owe us something. Come in with me and we'll get it!"
There was no mistaking the genuineness of Bivens's feelings. Stuart knew that he felt deeply and sincerely every word that he uttered. The first rush of his anger had died away and he begun to realize the pathos of the little man's appeal. He forgot for the moment that he was a millionaire and had made his money by devious tricks with that smooth, delicately moulded hand. He only saw that Bivens, his old schoolmate, had unconsciously fallen into a trap. A word from him—the word he wished spoken, and the woman he loved would be lost. He had but to speak that word, accept the generous offer made in good faith, and every cloud between him and Nan would vanish! They could be married at once and the future was secure. All he had to do was to keep silent for the moment as to his real relations to Nan and compromise his sense of honour by accepting the wages of a man whose principles he despised. His decision was made without a moment's hesitation. It was yet the morning of life.
"I refuse the offer, Cal," he said firmly.
Bivens rose quickly and placed his smooth hand on his friend's.
"I won't take that answer now. Think it over. I'll see you again."
He turned and left the room before Stuart could reply.
The lawyer drew a photograph from his desk and looked at it, smiling tenderly.
"I wonder, Nan! I wonder!"
The smile slowly faded, and a frown clouded his brow. The lines of his mouth suddenly tightened.
"I'll settle it to-day," he said with decision, as he rose, took his hat and left for Gramercy Park.
AN ISSUE IS FORCED
It was noon when Stuart reached the Primrose house and Nan was again out. He received the announcement from her mother with a feeling of rage he could ill conceal.
"Where is she? I seem never to be able to find her at home."
"Now, don't be absurd, Jim. You know she would have broken any engagement to see you, had she known you were going to call to-day. She has only gone to the dressmaker's."
"How long will she be there?"
"Four hours at a dressmaker's——"
"And then she's going to the hair dressser's."
"She has an engagement for tea. I don't expect her home until seven. I'm awfully sorry."
"Of course, I understand, Mrs. Primrose," Stuart said with a light laugh, "I should have told her—but I didn't know until a few moments ago that I was coming."
"Nothing serious has happened, I hope?" she asked, with carefully modulated sympathy which said plainly that she hoped for the worst.
"No. Just say that I'll call after dinner."
"All right, Jim, dear," the mother purred. "I'll see that she's here if I have to lock the door."
Stuart smiled in spite of himself as he passed out murmuring:
It was useless to try to work. His mind was in a tumult of passionate protest. He must have this thing out with Nan once for all. Their engagement must be announced immediately.
He went to the Players' Club and lunched alone in brooding silence. He tried to read and couldn't. He strolled out aimlessly and began to ramble without purpose. Somehow to-day everything on which his eye rested and every sound that struck his ear proclaimed the advent of the new power of which Bivens was the symbol—Bivens with his delicate, careful little hand, his bulging forehead, his dark keen eyes! An ice wagon dashed by. It belonged to the ice trust. A big coal cart blocked the sidewalk. The coal trust was one of the first. The street crossing at Broadway and Twenty-third Street was jammed with a string of delivery waggons from the department stores whose growth had crushed a hundred small trades. The clang of the cars proclaimed the Street Railway Merger and a skyscraper called "The Flatiron" was just raising its giant frame on the little triangle where a half-dozen old-fashioned buildings had stood for generations. Across Madison Square the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company was tearing down a whole block, section by section, and a palace of white marble was slowly rearing its huge form. The passing of an era was plain. He could see the hand of the new mysterious power building a world before his very eyes. Strange he hadn't noticed it until Bivens's dark sneering face this morning, insolent in its conscious strength, had opened his eyes. What chance had his old friend Woodman against such forces?
Yet why should he resent them personally? He was young. The future was his—not the past. He didn't resent them. Of course not. What he did resent was the approach of the particular Juggernaut named John C. Calhoun Bivens toward the woman he loved. That Bivens should fall hopelessly and blindly in love with Nan at first sight was too stupefying to be grasped at once. She couldn't love such a man—and yet his millions and that slippery mother were a sinister combination. He congratulated himself that his interview with Bivens had put him in possession of a most important secret, and he would force the issue at once.
By evening he had thrown off his depression and met Nan with something of his old gaiety, to which she responded with a touch of coquetry.
"Tell me, Jim," she began with a smile of mischief in her eyes, "why you called at the remarkable hour of twelve noon, to-day? Am I becoming so resistless that work no longer has any charms? You must have something very important to say?" Her eyes danced with the consciousness of her advantage.
"Yes. I have, Nan," he answered soberly, taking her hand. "I want a public announcement of our engagement in to-morrow morning's papers."
"I mean it."
"But why? You know the one concession, the only one I have ever made to my mother's hostility to you, is that our engagement shall be kept a secret until we are ready to marry. We must play fair."
"I will, we are ready now."
Nan's voice broke into a ripple of laughter.
"Oh, are we?—I didn't know it."
"Yes, that's what I came to tell you," Stuart went on, catching her spirit of fun and pressing her hand. "I've arranged a little trip to the country to-morrow, and I'm going to convince you before we return. You can go?"
"Of course, I'm open to conviction."
"And you consent to the announcement?"
"No. You must convince me first. You've planned the trip for that purpose."
"Make the announcement to-night, dear! On my honour I promise to convince you to-morrow that we are ready. I've an argument that never fails—an argument no woman can resist."
"Not to-night, Jim," was the laughing reply.
"Can't you trust me, when I tell you that I've discovered something to-day that makes it necessary?"
The girl looked at him sharply.
"Now, I can't trust you at all! I've got to know the secret of your call this morning. What has happened since we parted last night?"
"I have seen Mr. Bivens."
Nan leaped to her feet, her face flushed, her voice ringing with triumph.
"And you did what I asked you—oh, you're a darling! Why did you tease me so last night? You accepted his offer?"
"You misunderstand, I didn't call on Bivens. He came to see me."
"And you refused! Oh, Jim, don't tell me you were so foolish!"
"I'm sorry to disappoint you, dear, but I had to—that's all."
The girl dropped into her seat with a sigh, while he went on:
"My interview with Bivens led to a most important and embarrassing discovery."
"Embarrassing—what do you mean? He offered you the position?"
"Yes, and finally confessed that he did it wholly to please you."
Nan's figure suddenly straightened.
"Indeed! I'm glad to hear that my wishes find favour somewhere!"
"Bivens further confided in me the fact that he is hopelessly and desperately in love with you."
A flash of anger mantled Nan's cheeks.
"That will do, Jim," she said in quiet cold tones. "Your joke has gone far enough."
"Joke! Do you think I could joke on such a subject?"
A smile began to play about the corners of the full lips.
"You don't mean it—really?"
"Certainly. He told me so in the plainest sort of blunt English. And you mean to say that you have not suspected it?"
"I never dreamed he was so easy!" Still smiling dreamily Nan crossed her hands over her knees and studied the pattern in the rug, ignoring the presence of her lover.
"Then you underestimate your powers."
Her eyes were laughing again mischievously.
"Let's not joke, Nan. It's too serious."
"Serious! I fail to see it."
"Can't you see that we must at once announce our engagement?"
The girl's lips curled with the faintest suggestion of sarcasm.
"I don't see it at all. You may be a good lawyer, but I fail to follow your logic."
Stuart rose with a gesture of anger.
"Come to the point, Nan. Let's not beat the devil around the stump any longer. You know as well as I do that you've been trying to flirt with this little insect——"
"Trying to flirt?"
"Trying? Don't you think I could if I wished without bungling the effort? What a poor opinion you hold of my talent."
"You know in your heart of hearts you despise Bivens."
"On the contrary, I vastly admire him. The man who can enter with his handicap this big heartless city and successfully smash the giants who oppose him is not an insect. I'd rather call him a hero. All women admire success."
"I see," Stuart replied with suppressed fury, "you enjoy your conquest."
"And why not?" she drawled, with lazy indifference.
Nan fixed her dark eyes on Stuart.
"How dare you use such a word to me?"
"Because it's true and you know it."
"True or false, you can't say it"—she rose deliberately—"you may go now!"
"Forgive me, dear," Stuart stammered in a queer muffled voice. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I was mad with jealousy."
"You may go," was the hard even answer.
"I can't go like this, dearest," he pleaded. "You must forgive me—you must! Look at me!"
She turned slowly, stared him full in the face for a moment without the quiver of an eyelid, her fine figure tense, erect, cold, as she quietly said:
"You are tiring me, Jim."
For an instant an impulse of overwhelming anger mastered him. He returned her look with one of concentrated rage and their eyes met in the first supreme clash of wills. For a moment he saw the world red, and caught in its glare something he had never seen in Nan before, a conscious cruelty and a joy in her power that was evil—a cruelty that could spring only from the deepest and most merciless self-worship. For the first time he saw a cold-blooded calculation behind her beautiful eyes, caught its accent in the richly modulated voice, and felt it in the smile which showed the white teeth—the smile of a woman who would pause at nothing to get what she wanted. The old savage impulse to strangle surged through his veins, and he was startled into the consciousness of his situation by the fierce grip of his finger nails in his fists clinched so tight they began to cut the flesh.
A blush of shame tinged his face as he tremblingly said:
"Please, dear, let's not part like this! I've suffered enough to-day. You're only teasing me. And I've acted like a fool. Say that you forgive me!"
"Our engagement is at an end, Mr. Stuart," was the quiet answer.
Before he could recover from the shock or utter a protest, she opened the door and he had passed out into the night.
THE FORGOTTEN MAN
The suddenness of his dismissal broke the strain under which Stuart had been labouring for hours. It was ridiculous. He began to laugh at the silliness of the whole thing—what an idiotic performance anyhow—these lovers' quarrels! He saw the comedy of it, ate a hearty supper, and went to bed firm in the conviction that he would see Nan again the next day.
But the morning came with a sense of growing uncertainty. It was raining. He would have enjoyed a storm, but it was just a drizzle with a penetrating dampness that found the marrow of his bones. He called a messenger and sent a note to Nan asking her to forget the ugly memory of the night before and fulfill her promise to go to the country when the rain ceased. If it continued to rain he would call at eight. He told the boy to wait for an answer. The messenger returned promptly and handed back his note unopened.
Of course she was bluffing. She knew she had the whip hand for the moment and meant to use it.
"Well, two can play this game," he muttered. "We'll see who wins!"
He turned to his work with grim resolution.
For two weeks the battle between pride and love raged in silence. Each day he rose with the hope of some sign from Nan, and each day hope died in a more desperate and sullen despair. At last he began to question the wisdom of his course. Should he not fight his battle at closer range? What if he were in reality engaged in a mortal combat with Bivens's millions for Nan's soul and body! The idea was too hideous to be thinkable. In his anger he had accused her of flirting with Bivens, but in his heart he didn't believe it. The personality of the little money-grubber made the idea preposterous. He was not only frail, insignificant, and unattractive physically, but he had personal habits which were offensive to Nan's feelings of refinement. His excessive use of tobacco was one thing he knew she could not tolerate. Tobacco was her pet aversion.
And yet the more he thought of the scene of their parting, the more sickening became the conviction that her anger at his use of an ugly word was merely a subterfuge to break their engagement. The perfidy and cruelty of such an act was too hideous for belief—yet if the thing were possible! He had left her to struggle alone with the first great temptation of life, and he began to feel that it was cowardly. He should have stood his ground and fought for his love.
He made up his mind to go at once and fight for his old place beside her on any terms she would grant. He seized his hat and opened the door. To his amazement Bivens was leisurely ascending the steps.
What on earth could he want? Was he making a social call without announcement, as was the habit of his village days in the South? At this moment Bivens was the last man he wished to encounter, yet a meeting seemed inevitable. He stepped into the parlour and sat down with resignation to await his entrance.
To his amazement he heard the maid say:
"This way, sir, Dr. Woodman asks you to wait for him in the library."
So Bivens was calling on his arch enemy by appointment. Stuart replaced his hat on the rack and returned to his room, determined to await the outcome of this extraordinary visit. That its significance was sinister he couldn't doubt for a moment. Little could he dream how fateful for his future life was the message the little dark man bore. Stuart closed his door with a sensation of foreboding, sat down and tried to read.
On Dr. Woodman's entrance, Bivens rose to greet him with unusual animation and unmistakable good will.
When the doctor grasped the outstretched hand a more striking contrast could scarcely be imagined—the one big, bluff, jovial, sunny, powerful and straight of figure as he was always straight in speech and manners—the financier, small and weak in body, his movements sinuous, flexible, with eyes that never looked at the man he was talking to, yet always seemed to be taking in everything in the room—eyes unusually dark, yet seemingly full of piercing light as from hidden fires beneath.
"Well, Bivens, what can I do for you? I understand from your note that the matter is important."
"Of the gravest importance to us both, Doctor," he answered with a smile. "For a peculiar personal reason I want us to get together and settle our differences."
"Are there any differences between us? You go your way and I go mine. You run your business to suit yourself and I'll do the same. The world's big enough for us both——"
"That just the trouble," Bivens interrupted. "It isn't. We are entering a new era of combination, merger, cooperation."
"Compulsory cooperation!" the doctor laughed.
"It may be so at last," the little man said soberly. "Certainly the old idea of competition is played out. We no longer believe that business men should try to cut each other's throats."
"Oh, I see," sneered the doctor, "they should get together, corral their customers, and cut their throats. That certainly is better for business, but how about the customers?"
"Business is business," was the grim answer.
"For beasts of the field, yes—but for men?"
"Still, you must recognize the fact that the drug trade is a business enterprise, not a charity organization."
"Even so, still I happen to know that within a stone's throw of my store swarms a population of a quarter of a million human beings so poor that only three hundred of them ever have access to a bathroom. The death rate of the children is 254 in a thousand. It should be about 20 in a thousand, if normal. I don't want any higher profits out of my customers. If I've got to fight I'd rather fight the trade than fight the people. I choose the lesser evil."
"But I don't ask you to do evil."
"You ask me to enter with you into a criminal conspiracy to suppress freedom of trade, and use fraud and violence if necessary to win——"
"Fraud and violence?" Bivens interrupted, smilingly.
"Certainly. What sort of merchandise does the 'organizer' of modern industry bring to market? Tricks and subterfuges in the form of printed paper called stocks which represent no value. From the moment a financier once tastes this blood he becomes a beast. With the first fierce realization of the fact that under modern legal forms he can coin money out of nothing by binding the burdens of debt on the backs of helpless millions, he begins to laugh at the laws of man and God."
"Come, come, Doctor, you must realize the fact that in the drug business we are bringing order out of chaos and at last putting the trade on a paying basis."
"But at what a price! You have closed mills instead of opening them, thrown out of work thousands, lowered the price paid for raw material, bringing ruin to its producers, increased the price charged for your products to the ruin of the consumer, and saddled millions of fictitious debts on the backs of their children yet unborn. Combine, yes, but why not pay the people whose wages you have stolen as well as the owners whose mills you have closed? If combination is so extremely profitable, it should bring some benefit to the millions who are consumers—not merely make millionaires out of a few men. Who is bearing the burden of this enormous increase of fictitious wealth? The people. The price of living has been increasing steadily with the organization of each industry into a trust. Where will it end?"
Bivens's eyes narrowed to the merest points of concentrated light, while an amused smile played about them as he listened patiently to the doctor's tirade. When at last the big figure towering above him paused for breath, he remarked quietly:
"The trust is here to stay, Doctor. Legislation against it is as absurd and futile as a movement to stop the tides. We will never pull down these big department stores or go back to the little ones. The skyscraper will not come down from the heavens merely because a belated traveller rails that his view of the stars has been obscured. You cannot make economy a crime, progress a misdemeanour, or efficiency a felony! If so, you can destroy the trusts."
"I'm not clear yet how it is to be done," was the passionate answer—"but as sure as God lives we are going to do something. The spirit of America is progressive, up hill, not down hill, mind you. At present we are putting wreckers in charge of Organization and famine producers in charge of Production. It can't last. At no period of the world's history have the claims of tyranny been so quickly seen and dared, as here and now. Nowhere and in no age has tyranny confronted such a people as ours with life and culture and ideals as high—a people so in love with liberty, so disciplined in its struggles! When the day comes that we shall be confronted with death or degradation, the young American will know how to choose. Patriotism with me is not an empty word. It is one of the passions of my life. I believe in this Republic. For the moment the people are asleep. But time is slowly shaping the issue that will move the last laggard. We are beginning dimly to see that there is something more precious in our life than the mere tonnage of national wealth—the spirit of freedom and initiative in our people! Shall they become merely the hired men of a few monied kings? Or shall the avenues of industry and individual enterprise remain open to their children? Is it more important to grow men or make money? Shall we transform the Republic into a huge money-stamping machine and turn its freemen into slaves who tend this machine, at the command of a master? The people will answer these questions!"
Bivens gave a cynical little chuckle.
"Then I'm sure we'll get the wrong answer, Doctor," was the response.
"They will get it right bye and bye. The nation is young. You say you believe in God. Well, see to it—a thousand years are but a day to Him! Among the shadows of eternity He is laughing at your follies. Nature in her long, slow, patient process is always on the side of Justice."
Bivens rose with a movement of impatience.
"I'm sorry you can't see your way to listen to any proposition from me, Doctor. I'm a practical man. I wish to incorporate your business into the general organization of the American Chemical Company on terms that will satisfy you——"
"Such terms can't be made, Bivens," the doctor said impetuously. "Your purpose is to squeeze money out of the people—the last dollar the trade will bear. That is your motto. I simply refuse. I refuse to devote my life to gouging out my neighbours' eyes to increase the profits of my trade. I put myself in his place, the place of the forgotten man, the consumer, the man you are organizing to exploit. The strong and the cunning can always take advantage of the weak, the ignorant, the foolish and generous. I have an imagination which makes vivid the sense of fellowship. I meet, in the crowds I pass, thousands of friends I never speak to, but the world is brighter because I've seen them."
"But if I don't see them?" the little black eyes mildly asked.
"Certainly! You can't see them. To you the city is merely a big flock of sheep to be sheared, while to me its myriad sounds are the music of a divine oratorio, throbbing with tears and winged with laughter! To you, the crowd are so many fools who may be buncoed out of their goods; while to me, some of their eyes, seen but for a moment, look into mine with infinite hunger and yearning, asking for friendship, comradeship, and love. And so, I call them my neighbours—these hurrying throngs who pass me daily. Because they are my neighbours, they are my friends. Their rights are sacred. I will not rob, maim, or kill them, and I will defend them against those who would!"
With the last sentence the stalwart figure towered above the little financier in a moment of instinctive hostility.
Bivens merely shrugged his shoulders and answered in measured, careful tones:
"Then I suppose I'll have to fight you whether I wish it or not?"
"Yes, and you knew that before you came here to-night. Your generous impulse for a settlement on my own terms is a shallow trick and it comes too late. I'm not fighting my own battle merely. I'm fighting for the people. You have heard that I am beginning a suit for damages against your Company——"
Bivens laughed in spite of himself, bit his lips, and looked at the doctor.
"I assure you I had heard nothing of such a suit, and now that I have it does not even interest me."
"Then may I ask the real reason for this urgent call and request for a compromise of our differences?"
"You may," was the cheerful response. "And I will answer frankly. I am engaged to be married to Miss Nan Primrose. The wedding is to occur in a few weeks. In some way she has learned of a possible conflict between your interests and mine, and asked me to settle them."
"And, may I ask, why? I don't even know Miss Primrose!"
"A woman's whim, perhaps. Possibly because our mutual friend, Mr. Stuart, lives in your home, and she feared to lose his friendship in the conflict which might ensue."
The doctor was silent a moment and glared angrily at his visitor.
"Bivens, you're a liar," he cried in a sudden burst of rage.
The dark face flushed and the slim little hand began to tremble.
"I am your guest, Doctor——"
"I beg your pardon, I forgot myself."
"I assure you," the little financier continued smoothly, "that my intentions were friendly and generous. My only desire was to help you and make you rich."
Again the doctor's eyes blazed with wrath and he completely lost his self-control.
"Damn you, have I asked for your help or patronage? Its offer is an insult! I want you to remember, sir, that I picked you up out of the streets of New York, ill, hungry, out of work, friendless, and gave you your first job."
Bivens, breathing heavily, turned in silence and hurried to the door. The doctor followed.
With his hand on the knob, the financier turned, his face black with hate and slowly said:
"I'll make you live to regret this interview, Woodman!"
With a contemptuous grunt, the doctor closed the door.
When Stuart heard the door close and Bivens's step die away on the pavement below, he came down to see the doctor, haunted by a strange vision. Through every day of his subsequent life the most trivial details of that hour stood out in his memory with peculiar and terrible vividness. From every shadow he saw Nan's face looking into his. He was not superstitious; this impression he knew was simply a picture burned into his tired brain by days and nights of intense longing. But what increased the horror of the fancy was the fact that the picture changed in quick succession, from the face of the living to the face of the dead. He closed his eyes at last and in sheer desperation felt his way down the last flight of stairs. The fiercer the effort he made to shut out the picture, the more vivid it became until he found himself shivering over the last persistent outline which refused to vanish at any command of his will. It was the ghost of Nan's face—old, white, pulseless, terrible in its beauty, but dead.
"Of what curious stuff we're made!" he exclaimed, pressing his forehead as if to clear the brain of its horrible fancy. He paused in the lower hall and watched for a moment a scene between father and daughter through the open door of the library.
Harriet had just bounded into the room and stood beside the doctor's chair with an arm around his neck and the other hand gently smoothing his soft gray hair. She was crooning over his tired figure with the quaintest little mother touches.
"You look so worn out, Papa dear—what have you been doing?"
"Something very foolish, I'm afraid, Baby—I've just refused a fortune that might have been yours someday."
"Why did you refuse it?"
"Because I didn't believe it was clean and honest."
"Then I shouldn't want it. I'd rather be poor."
The doctor placed both hands on the fair young face, drew it very close and whispered:
"Had you, dearie?"
"Why, of course I had!"
The big hands drew the golden head closer still and pressed a kiss on the young forehead.
"My husband will love me, won't he? I shall not mind if I'm poor," she went on, laughing, as Stuart entered the room.
"See, boy, how's she's growing, this little baby of mine!" the doctor exclaimed, wheeling her about for Stuart's inspection. "It's a source of endless wonder to me, this miracle of growth—to watch this child—and see myself, a big brute of a man—growing, growing, slowly but surely into the tender glorious form of a living woman—that's God's greatest miracle! Run now, girlie, and go to bed. I want to talk to Jim."
She paused a moment, smiling into Stuart's face and softly said:
"Good-night, Jim—pleasant dreams!"
Through all the riot of emotions with which that night ended and through the years of bitter struggle which followed, that picture was the one ray of sunlight which never faded.
"Well, my boy, I've just done a thing which I know was inevitable, but now that it's done I'm afraid I may have made a tragic mistake. Tell me if it's so. There may be time to retract."
"Bivens has threatened to ruin your business?"
"On the other hand, he has just offered to buy it at my own price."
"And you refused?"
"To sell at any price—but it's not too late to change my mind. I can call him back now and apologize for my rudeness. Tell me, should I do it?"
"Do you doubt that you're right in the position you've taken?"
"Not for a moment. But the old question of expediency always bobs up. I'm getting older. I'm not as old as this white hair would make me, but I feel it. Perhaps I am out-of-date. Your eyes are young, boy; your soul fresh from God's heart. I'm just a little lonely and afraid to-night. See things for me—sit down a moment."
The doctor drew Stuart into a seat and rushed on impatiently.
"Listen, and then tell me if I should follow that little weasel and apologize. I'll do it if you say so—at least I think I would, for I'm afraid of myself." He paused, and a look of pain clouded his fine face as his eye rested on a portrait of Harriet on the table before him.
"There are several reasons why you couldn't have a more sympathetic listener to-night, Doctor—go on."
"Grant all their claims," he began impatiently, "for the Trust—its economy, its efficiency, its power, its success—this is a free country, isn't it?"
"Well, I wish to do business in my own way—not so big and successful a way perhaps as theirs, but my own. I express myself thus. When I hint at such a thing to your modern organizing friend, that these enormous profits for the few must be paid out of the poverty of the many—against whom the strong and cunning are thus combining—a simple answer is always ready, 'Business is business,' which translated is the old cry that the first murderer shrieked into the face of his questioner: 'Am I my brother's keeper?'
"That's why I'm afraid of these fellows. The unrestrained lust for money is always the essence of murder, and the man or woman who surrenders to its spell will kill when put to the test. The law which holds burglary constructive murder is founded on an elemental truth. The man who puts on a mask, arms himself with revolver, knife, and dark lantern and enters my house to rob me of my goods will not hesitate to kill if a human life stands in the way of his success."
"I should not put it quite so strongly of these men——"
"I do. And I know I'm right. I saw murder in those black bead eyes of Bivens's to-night. Do you think he would hesitate to close a factory to increase a dividend if he knew that act would result in the death of its employees from weakness and hunger? Not for a minute. He hesitates only at a violation of the letter of the criminal code. What, then, is the difference between a burglar and a modern organizer of industry? Absolutely none."
"Understand me, boy, I'm not preaching any patent remedy for social ills. I'm not in a hurry. I can wait as God waits. But this question is with me a personal one. I simply hold the biggest thing on earth is not a pile of gold, stolen or honestly earned. The biggest thing on this earth is a man. Our nation is not rich by reason of its houses and lands, its gold or silver or copper or iron—but because of its men. I believe in improving this breed of men, not trying to destroy them. For that reason I refuse success that is not built on the success and happiness of others. I refuse to share in prosperity that is not the growth of prosperity."
"But if you sell your business to these men and retire, will you necessarily share in their wrong-doing?"
"In a very real and tragic sense, yes. I'm a coward. I give up the fight. I've been both a soldier and a merchant. Why does the world honour a soldier and despise a merchant? Because a soldier's business is to die for his country, and a merchant's habit is to lie for profit. Isn't old Ruskin right? Why should not trade have its heroes as well as war? Why shouldn't I be just as ready to die as a merchant for my people as I was on the field of battle?"
The doctor paused, and his eyes grew dim while Stuart bent closer and watched and listened as if in a spell. He realized that his old friend was not really asking advice, but that a great soul in a moment of utter loneliness was laid bare and crying for sympathy.
The doctor's voice took a tone of dreamy tenderness.
"I am just passing through this world once. I can't live a single day of it over again. There are some things I simply must do as I pass. They can't wait, and the thing that has begun to strangle me is this modern craze for money, money, money, at all hazards, by fair or foul means! In every walk of life I find this cancer eating the heart out of men. I must fight it! I must! Good food, decent clothes, a home, pure air, a great love—these are all any human being needs! No human being should have less. I will not strike down my fellow man to get more for myself while one human being on this earth wants as much."
Unconsciously the young man's hand was extended and grasped the doctor's.
"You'll never know," Stuart said with deep emotion, "how much I owe to you in my own life. You have always been an inspiration to me."
The patient gray eyes smiled.
"I'm glad to hear that to-night, my boy. For strange as it may seem to you, I've been whistling to keep up my courage. I'm going to make this fight for principle because I know I'm right, and yet somehow when I look into the face of my baby I'm a coward. I'm going to make this fight and I've a sickening foreboding of failure. But after all, can a man fail who is right?"
"I don't believe it!" was the ringing answer which leaped to Stuart's lips. "I've had to face a crisis like this recently. I was beginning to hesitate and think of a compromise. You've helped me."
"Good luck, my boy," was the cheery answer. "I was a poor soldier to-night myself until the little weasel told me an obvious lie and I took courage."
"Funny if Bivens should do anything obvious."
"Wasn't it? He pretended to have come in a mood of generosity—his offer of settlement inspired by love."
"The devil must have laughed."
"So did I—especially when he told me that he was engaged to be married."
"Engaged—to—be—married?" Stuart made a supreme effort to appear indifferent—"to whom?"
"To Miss Nan Primrose, a young lady I haven't the honour of knowing, and he had the lying audacity to say that he came at her suggestion."
Stuart tried to speak and his tongue refused to move.
"I was frank enough to inform him that he was a liar. For which, of course, I had to apologize. Well, you've helped me to-night, boy, more than I can tell you. It helps an old man to look into the eyes of youth and renew his faith. Good-night!"
The doctor began to lower the lights, and Stuart said mechanically:
In a stupor of blind despair he slowly fumbled his way up to his room, entered, and threw himself across the bed without undressing. It was one thing to preach, another to face the thing itself alone in the darkness.
Through the shadows of the long night he lay with wide staring eyes, gazing at the vision which would not vanish—the face of the woman he loved—cold, white, pulseless, terrible in its beauty, dead.
The longer Stuart wrestled with the problem of Nan's yielding to the lure of Bivens's gold the more hideous and hopeless it became. He cursed her in one breath, and with the next stretched out his arms in the darkness in desperate voiceless longing.
He rose at last and stood looking out his window on the moonlit Square. He began to feel that he had been to blame. Why had he allowed the foolish pride of a lovers' quarrel to keep them apart for two weeks? A clock in a distant tower struck three. The radiance of the massed lights of Broadway still glowed in the sky and dimmed the glory of the moon. The roar of the elevated trains sounded unusually loud and sinister. Perhaps because Bivens was on their board of directors. The whistle of their air brakes seemed to hiss his name. A crowd of revellers passed in a cab, with their feet out the windows, singing a drunken song. There was something sickening in the thought of this swiftly moving remorseless rush of a city's endless life. After all, was Nan worse than others—thousands of others caught in the merciless grip of its eternal spell?
The clock struck five, he looked out the window, startled by the first soft light of the dawn.
He came downstairs, let himself out of the front door and began to walk furiously. When at last he became conscious of his surroundings he had reached Central Park and was seated in the little summer house on a big pile of boulders near the Sixth Avenue entrance. The sun was rising. It was the first sunrise he had ever seen in New York. The effect on his imagination was startling. The red rays streaming through the park and the chirp of birds in the bushes were magic touches that transformed the world. He was back again in the South, where Nature is the one big fact of life, and the memories of the girl he had learned to love beside its beautiful waters again overwhelmed him.