"I should like to, but that would be unfair to you. It might deprive you of an opportunity to ask someone else."
"I shall ask no one else. I shall not attend the affair at all, unless I am privileged to escort you. If I may, I will call to-morrow evening, and every evening, until you can give me your decision."
There was a certain masterfulness in his manner and utterance, which seemed to leave no chance for further discussion. So Barbara simply said:
"Very well. I'll be ready to answer you to-morrow evening. I suppose I am ready now, but you wish me to wait, and it shall be so."
Duncan hurriedly took his leave. Perhaps he feared that if he stayed longer, the girl might make her "no" a final one. Otherwise he hoped for a better outcome.
When he had gone, poor little Bab sat for a time in bewilderment. She still could not understand why such a man as Guilford Duncan—whom everybody regarded as the "coming man" in Cairo—should have chosen her, instead of some other, as the recipient of his invitation. She could not still a certain fluttering about her heart. She was full of joy, and yet she was sorely grieved that she must put aside what seemed to her a supreme opportunity to be happy for a time.
It was always her way, when any emotion pleased or troubled her, to go to her friend, Mrs. Richards, for strength and soothing. So, now she suddenly sprang up, put on her hat and wraps, and hurried to her one friend's home. The distance was so small that she needed no escort, particularly as Robert, who happened to be at the gate, could see her throughout the little journey. And she knew that the faithful negro boy would wait there until her return.
"You are all in a flurry, child," said her friend, for greeting. "What is it about? Do you come to me for advice, or sympathy, or consolation?"
For Mrs. Richards knew of Duncan's visit, and with a shrewd woman's wit she guessed that Barbara's disturbance of mind was in some way connected with that event.
"No," answered the girl. "I didn't come to consult you—at least I think I didn't—it is only that something has happened, and I want to tell you about it."
"Very well, dear. Go on."
"Oh, it's nothing very important. I don't know why I feel about it as I do, but——"
"Perhaps if you tell me what it is, I may help you to solve your riddles. What is it?"
"Why, only that Mr. Guilford Duncan has asked me to go with him to the party next week."
"Well, go on. I see nothing strange in that."
"Why—don't you understand, it is Mr. Duncan, and he has asked me."
"I see nothing yet to wonder at," calmly replied her friend. "Indeed, it seems to be quite natural. I have understood Mr. Duncan to be a gentleman of uncommonly good taste. If he has made up his mind to attend the dance, why shouldn't he choose for his partner, the best, the dearest, and most charming girl in the city? Of course you are going?"
"Why, no, of course I can't. I told him so, but he urged me to postpone a final decision till to-morrow evening. I thought that would be useless, and that the delay might make him miss a chance to engage some other girl; but he insisted that he wasn't going at all unless I would go with him, so just because he seemed to wish it, I promised to wait till to-morrow evening before saying a final 'no.' Somehow you simply have to do what Mr. Duncan wants you to do, you know."
"Mr. Guilford Duncan is rising rapidly in my estimation," answered Barbara's friend. "I have understood that he is a man of good sense and good taste. Obviously he deserves that high repute. Your 'no' must be 'yes,' Bab."
"Oh, but that's impossible!"
"I don't see it."
"Why, you know I can't afford a gown."
"I still don't see it. It's to be a fancy dress affair, I believe?"
"Yes, of course."
"Then you can go in any character you like. You've your drab-gray dress, and it's as fresh as new. I'll go over to your house and alter it for you. Then with a white cape of Bishop's lawn, and a white cap and apron, we'll make you into the most charming little Quaker maiden imaginable. The character will just suit you, because you suit it. That matter is settled. Go home now and go to bed, and you mustn't dream of anything but 'yes.'"
So the good woman fended off thanks, and sent the happy girl home with an enhanced sense of the value of friendship.
THE COMING OUT OF BARBARA
There was a flutter throughout the ballroom when Guilford Duncan, in the costume of Hamlet, ushered in Barbara Verne, in her Quaker-maid's dress. The impulses behind the flutter were various, but surprise was the dominant one.
Nobody had expected the reserved young Virginian to attend the function. Nobody had dreamed of seeing Barbara Verne there. Still more certainly, nobody had expected Duncan to escort "the daughter of his landlady," as one of the chattering mammas spitefully called Barbara.
"Upon my word, the girl is pretty, when she's made up that way," said another.
"She is more than pretty," quietly interposed Mrs. Will Hallam; "she is the most beautiful girl in the room. And she is far less 'made up' than any of the rest. Her costume is simplicity itself. I'm glad the dear girl is here."
The gracious lady presently beckoned to Duncan, who promptly responded. Then taking some pains that those about her should hear every word, she said:
"Thank you, Duncan, for bringing Barbara, and my sincerest congratulations on your good taste. I was just saying, when I caught your eye, that she is the most beautiful girl in the room, and certainly she is the most charming. You must bring her to me for a greeting and congratulations, when the first set is over. There goes the music, now. Don't stop to answer me."
Mrs. Hallam's little speech, and the marked favor she showed to Barbara throughout the evening, rather stimulated, than checked, the malicious chatter of the half dozen women who were disposed, on behalf of their daughters, to feel jealous of Bab. But they were at pains that Mrs. Hallam should not hear them. For that lady was conspicuously the social queen of the city and, gracious as she was, she had a certain clever way of making even her politest speeches sting like a whip-lash when she was moved to rebuke petty meanness of spirit.
"What on earth can young Duncan mean?" asked one of them when the group had placed distance between themselves and Mrs. Hallam, "by bringing that girl here? She isn't in society at all."
"I should say not. And Duncan is such an aristocrat, too."
"Perhaps that's it. Maybe he has done this by way of showing his contempt for Cairo society."
"Oh, no," answered another. "He's simply amusing himself, like the male flirt that he is. He has paid marked attention to half a dozen lovely girls in succession, and now he brings Barbara Verne here just to show them how completely he has dropped them."
In the mean while Duncan was behaving with the utmost discretion. After the first set was over, he danced with one after another of the young women upon whom he had lavished so much of "marked attention" as may be implied from one, or at most two, formal calls upon each.
But this circumspection did not stop the chatter.
"Wonder if Mrs. Hallam means to take the girl up? It would be just like her to do that, she's so fond of Duncan, you know; if she does——"
"Pardon me, but unless Mrs. Hallam has placed her character in your hands for dissection, ladies, I must ask you not to discuss it further."
That utterance came from Captain Will Hallam, who happened to be standing by the wall, very near the woman who had last spoken. It was like a thunderbolt in its effect, for there was not one of the gossips whose husband's prosperity was not in some more or less direct way in Will Hallam's hands.
Instantly he turned and walked away to where Barbara shyly sat in a corner, while half a dozen young men stood and talked with her. For whatever the matrons might think, the young men all seemed eager for Barbara's favor, and were making of her the belle of the evening by their attentions.
To the astonishment of all of them, Hallam asked Barbara for her dancing card. Nobody had ever heard of the great man of business dancing. He was middle-aged, absorbed in affairs, and positively contemptuous of all frivolities. He had come to the party only to bring his wife. He had quickly gone away again, and he had now returned only to escort Mrs. Hallam home. Nevertheless, he asked Barbara for her card and, finding it full, he turned to Duncan, saying:
"I see that the next set is yours, Duncan. Won't you give it up to me, if Miss Barbara permits?"
Half a minute later the music began again and, to the astonishment of the whole company, Captain Will Hallam led out the demure little Quakeress, and managed to walk through a cotillion with her, without once treading on her toes.
That was Captain Will Hallam's way of emphasizing his displeasure with the gossips, and marking his appreciation of Barbara. It was so effective as to set the whole feminine part of the community talking for a week to come. But of this the secluded girl heard not a word. The only change the events of the evening made in the quiet routine of her life was that all the best young men in the town became frequent callers upon her, and that thereafter she was sure to receive more than one invitation to every concert, dance, or other entertainment, as soon as its occurrence was announced.
But enough of the gossip reached Guilford Duncan's ears to induce angry resentment and self-assertion on his part.
"I told you how it would be, Duncan," said Mrs. Will Hallam to him not long afterwards. "But I'm glad you did it. It was the manly, as well as the kindly thing to do."
"Thank you," the young man answered. "I mean to do more of the same sort."
He did not explain. Mrs. Hallam was in need of no explanation.
A NEW ENEMY
It was about this time that Guilford Duncan managed to make a new enemy, and one more powerful to work him harm, upon occasion, than all the rest whom he had offended.
Napoleon Tandy, president of the X National Bank,—whose name had been first popularly shortened to "Nap Tandy" and afterwards extended again into "Napper Tandy,"—was the only man in Cairo who had enough of financial strength or of creative business capacity to be reckoned a rival of Captain Will Hallam, or his competitor in commercial enterprises.
He had several times tried conclusions with Hallam in such affairs, but always with results distinctly unsatisfactory to himself. Or, as Hallam one day explained to Duncan, "He has got a good deal of education at my hands, and he has paid his tuition fees."
Tandy was not yet past middle age, but he was always called "Old Napper Tandy," chiefly because of certain objectionable traits of character that he possessed. He was reputed to be the "meanest man in Southern Illinois." He was certainly the hardest in driving a bargain, the most merciless in its enforcement. He was cordially hated and very greatly feared. Cold, self-possessed, shrewd, and utterly selfish, his attitude toward his fellow men, and toward himself, was altogether different from that of his greater competitor, Hallam. He felt none of Hallam's "sporting interest," as Duncan called it, in playing the game of commerce and finance. He was quick to see opportunities, and somewhat bold in seizing upon them, but no thought of popular or public benefit to accrue from his enterprises ever found lodgment in his mind. He had put a large sum of money into the Through Line of freight cars, but he had done so with an eye single to his own advantage, with no thought of anything but dividends. He had contemptuously called Duncan "a rainbow chaser," because that young man had spoken with some enthusiasm of the benefits which the cheapening of freight rates must bring to the people East and West.
"Well, he has a mighty good knack of catching his rainbows, anyhow," answered Hallam; "and you'd better not let the idea get away with you that he isn't a force to be reckoned with. He's young yet, and very new to business, but you remember it was he who first suggested the Through Line, and worked it out."
In brief, Napper Tandy was a very greedy money-getter, and nothing else. He hated Hallam with all that he had of heart, because Hallam was his superior in the conduct of affairs, and because Hallam had so badly beaten him in every case of competitive effort, and perhaps because of some other things.
On his part, Will Hallam, without hating, cordially detested the man whom he had thus beaten and made afraid.
Nevertheless, these two never quarreled. Each of them was too worldly wise to make an open breach with one whose co-operation in great affairs he might at any time need.
"I never quarrel with a man," said Hallam to Duncan, by way of explaining the situation. "I never quarrel with a man till he is in the poor-house. So long as he's at large I may need him any day. It doesn't pay for a man to cut off his own fingers."
So between these two there was always an outward semblance of peace, even when war was on between them, and it frequently happened that they were closely associated in enterprises too large for either to conduct so well alone.
On the night of the ball, Hallam took Duncan aside and said to him:
"I wish you'd take the seven o'clock train this morning and go up to the mines for a few days. Everything there seems to be at sixes and sevens. I can't make head or tail out of it all. All I know is that the confounded mine is losing a good many thousands of my dollars every month. I want you to go up and make a thorough investigation. If you can't find a way out I'll shut up the hole in the ground and quit."
Captain Hallam knew, of course, that Duncan could not get much sleep that night, but he had long ago learned that Guilford Duncan utterly disregarded personal comfort whenever duty called, and so he had no hesitation in thus ordering his young lieutenant to take an early morning train on the heels of a night of dancing.
"Perhaps you'd better go up there with me," suggested Duncan.
"No, that would embarrass matters. I've been up several times, and I want you to bring a fresh mind to bear upon the trouble. I'll telegraph the people there to put everything at your command. I want you to study the situation and make up your mind, just as if the whole thing belonged to you. Part of it does, you know, and more of it shall, if you find a way out. If the thing can be made to go, I'll give you ten more of the hundred shares, in addition to the five you already own. Good-night, and good-bye till you're ready to report."
Captain Will Hallam had recently bought this coal mine on a little branch railroad in the interior of Illinois. He had not wanted to buy it, but had done so by way of saving a debt. The mine had been badly constructed at the beginning, and latterly it had been a good deal neglected. There were other difficulties, as Duncan soon discovered, and the coal resources of the property had never been half developed. In recognition of his services in examining titles and other matters connected with the purchase, Hallam had given the young man five per cent. of the company's stock. He was thus, for the first time, working in part for himself, when he was sent to study the situation.
Quietly, but insistently, in face of the surly opposition of the superintendent, who was also styled chief engineer, Duncan looked into things. It was true, as the superintendent sullenly said, that this young man knew nothing of coal mining; but it was also true, as Duncan answered, that he knew how to learn.
And he did learn. He learned so much that after three or four days, he sent a telegram to Captain Will Hallam, saying:
Give me a perfectly free hand here or call me home. I must have all the authority you possess or I can be of no use. Answer by telegraph.
For response, Will Hallam telegraphed:
Consider yourself the whole thing. I give you complete and absolute authority. Hire or discharge men at will. Order all improvements you think best. Draw on the bank here for any sum you need. Only make the thing go if you can.
Telegraphing was much more expensive in those days—forty years ago—than it is now. And yet in neither of these dispatches was there any seeming effort to spare words. That was Captain Will Hallam's rule and practice. His frequent instruction to all his subordinates ran somewhat in this wise:
"Never save a word in telegraphing at the risk of being misunderstood. Mistakes are the most costly luxuries that a man can indulge in. Never forget that we live in the Nineteenth Century."
In that spirit Captain Will sent a dozen other telegrams that day, addressed to all the different men at the mines who had even the smallest pretension to authority. In each of them he said:
Guilford Duncan represents me fully and absolutely. His authority is unlimited. Obey him or quit. Obey him with all good will. Help him if you can, and in every way you can. There must be no interference, no kicking, no withholding of information. These are orders.
Thus armed, Duncan set to work in earnest.
"Why isn't your output of coal larger than it is?" he asked of Davidson, the superintendent.
"I can't make it larger under the circumstances."
"What are the circumstances? What difficulties are there in the way? You have miners enough, surely."
"Well, for one thing, the mine is badly ventilated. Many of the best galleries are filled with choke-damp, and must be kept closed."
"Why don't you improve the ventilation? As an engineer you ought to know how to do that much."
"It isn't feasible, as you would know, Mr. Duncan, if you knew anything about mining."
"Oh, never mind my ignorance. It is your knowledge that I'm concerned about just now. Do I understand you to say that a mine lying only seventy-five feet or so below the surface cannot be ventilated?"
"I suppose it might be if the business could afford the expense."
"The business can and will afford any expense that may be necessary to make it pay. If you know enough of engineering to devise a practicable plan for ventilating the mine, I'll furnish you all the money you need to carry it out."
He had it in mind to add: "If you don't know enough for that, I'll find a more competent engineer," but he kept his temper and refrained.
"Twouldn't be of any use," answered Davidson, after a moment. "We're producing more coal now than we can market."
"How is that? I don't understand. Your order book—which I looked over to-day—shows orders a full month ahead of shipments, besides many canceled orders, countermanded because not filled promptly enough to satisfy the customers. You're superintendent as well as engineer. I wish you'd try to clear up this puzzle."
"Oh, it's simple enough. The railroad people won't furnish us cars enough. I could ship a hundred carloads to-morrow if I had the cars, but I haven't got 'em, and I can't get 'em."
"Do you mean that you are offering coal as freight to this railroad, and the road is refusing it?"
"Yes, that's about it. I've asked for cars and can't get 'em, except a few each day."
"Do the other mines along this little branch railroad have the same trouble?"
"There is only one other mine on this line."
"Well, does it encounter the same difficulty in marketing its coal?"
"No—at least not to so great an extent. You see somebody there is standing in with the railroad people. I suppose they've had a little block of stock given to them—the railroad people, I mean. So the Quentin mines get all the cars they want, and we get only their leavings."
"Well, now, Mr. Davidson, I give you this order: Set to work at once and bring out every ton of coal you've got ready in the mine. There'll be cars here to haul it when you get it ready. Good-night, Mr. Davidson. I'll talk with you another time about the other matters. I have a good deal to do to-night, so I can't talk further with you now."
Davidson went out after a grudging "good-night." Duncan did not yet know or suspect, though he was presently to find out, that to Davidson, also, the proprietors of the rival mine were paying a little tribute, as a reward for silence and for making trouble.
Duncan sat for an hour writing letters. The typewriting machine had not been invented at that time, and even if it had been Duncan would have preferred to write these letters himself.
One of them was addressed to the General Freight Agent of the little railroad on which the mine was situated. It read as follows:
Within six days I shall have one hundred car loads of coal at the mouth of this mine, ready for shipment upon orders. After that time I shall have about sixty car loads ready for shipment each day. Please see to it that an adequate supply of cars to move this freight are side-tracked here on time.
Duncan signed that letter with all needed circumspection. The signature read:
For the Redwood Coal and Iron Company; Guilford Duncan, Manager and Attorney at Law and in Fact for the Company.
That subscription was intended as an intimation.
When on the next afternoon the General Freight Agent, who had several times met Duncan at Captain Hallam's house, read the letter, his attention was at once attracted—precisely as Guilford Duncan had intended that it should be, by the elaborate formality of the signature.
"So Hallam's got that smart young man of his at work, has he?" the Freight Agent muttered. "Well, we'll see what we can do with him." But he deliberately waited till nine o'clock that night before responding. Then opening the telegraph key at his elbow, he called Duncan, and Duncan, who had learned telegraphing, as he had learned many other things, as a part of his equipment for work, promptly went to his key and answered the call. The General Freight Agent spelled out this message:
"Simply impossible to furnish cars you ask. Haven't got them."
"The Quentin mine gets all cars needed. We demand our share and I shall insist upon the demand."
The reply came:
"I tell you we can't do it. I'll run down to your place to-morrow or next day and explain."
"Don't want explanations," answered Duncan. "I want the cars."
"But we simply can't furnish them."
"But you simply must."
"What if I refuse?"
"Then I'll adopt other measures. But you won't refuse."
"Because I know too much," answered Duncan. "I shall send to you by special messenger, on the train that will pass here within an hour, a letter making a formal tender of the freight. I make that tender by telegraph now, and you may as well accept it in that way. Your road is a chartered common carrier. Your lawyers will advise you that you cannot refuse freight formally tendered to you for carriage, unless you can show an actual inability; in that case you must show that you are doing your best by all shippers alike; that you are treating them with an equal hand. You perfectly well know you are not doing that. You know you have cars in plenty. You know you are deliberately discriminating against this mine, and in favor of its rival. I make formal demand, on behalf of the company I represent, for all cars needed for the shipment of this freight. If they are not forthcoming, as you say they will not be, I give notice that I will dump the coal by the side of your loading side-track and leave it there at your risk. Good-night." And Duncan shut off the telegraph instrument and devoted himself to the preparation of his letter of demand.
It should be explained that the young man was not "making a bluff"—in the figurative phrase of that time and country—when he telegraphed in this way to the General Freight Agent. He had his facts well in hand. As soon as Davidson's intimation had come to him to the effect that the railroad officials were "standing in" with the proprietors of the Quentin mine, he had telegraphed for Joe Arnold to come to him by a train that would arrive at midnight. Joe Arnold was a detective of rare gifts and, incidentally, a reporter on a Chicago newspaper. Captain Will Hallam often had occasion to employ Joe, and thus Duncan had come into acquaintance with the young man's peculiar abilities for finding out things. Joe Arnold had an innocent, incurious, almost stupid countenance that suggested a chronic desire for sleep rather than any more alert characteristic. He had a dull, uninterested way of asking questions which suggested the impulse of a vacuous mind to "keep the talk going," rather than any desire to secure the information asked for. Indeed, when he asked a question and it was not promptly answered, he always hastened to say:
"Oh, it's of no consequence, and it's none of my business."
But before he quitted the presence of the man to whom the question had been put, Joe Arnold usually had his answer.
To this man, when he came by the midnight train, Duncan said:
"I must know who are the stockholders in the Quentin mine—both those of record and those whose names do not appear on the stock books. If possible I must know also what each stockholder actually paid for his shares. You must hurry. I must have this information by noon to-morrow. You'll need to use money perhaps. Here's stake for expenses. Come back on the noon train to-morrow."
And Joe Arnold came back, bringing with him quite all the information that Guilford Duncan wanted, and considerably more. For he brought with him transcripts of all the correspondence that had passed between the railroad people and the mine proprietors, including a dispatch which the General Freight Agent had sent a little after midnight that morning to Napoleon Tandy, saying:
Hallam has got that sharp young fellow Duncan at work and, as you are aware, he knows his business and his rights. I'm afraid he'll make a formal proffer of freight and a demand for cars. I wish you could come here, but of course you can't so long as you wish your stockholdings in that mine down there and your relations with us to be kept secret. Please telegraph any instructions you may wish.
That dispatch, of course, had been sent not from the mines, but from the General Freight Agent's office in another town. But there were always men in those days who were deeply interested to learn what was going on among the masters of finance, and one of these over-curious ones was a certain telegraph operator. It was his practice to take off the wires whatever dispatches there might be passing between Napper Tandy and the railroad people.
Thus it came about that Joe Arnold brought to Guilford Duncan a mass of accurate and detailed information which enabled him to take the high hand in his telegraphic controversy with the General Freight Agent, when that person, late in the evening, called him up on the wire in answer to his letter, received the night before. Thus was Duncan armed, cap-a-pie, for the telegraphic controversy. And thus it came about that during the next six days there were a hundred cars shunted to Redwood side-tracks, where they were rapidly loaded with the coal output of the Redwood mine.
AN OLD FRIEND
From that hour forth the Redwood mine became a paying property and, as Guilford Duncan liked to think, one which was contributing its share to the public benefit and the welfare of the people.
But Duncan's work there had only begun. Having solved the problem of shipping coal as fast as the miners could dig it, he gave his attention next to the equally pressing problem of increasing output. In the solution of that a great help unexpectedly came to him.
He was sitting late one night over the books and correspondence, when, near midnight, a miner sought speech with him.
He bade the man enter and, without looking up from the papers he was studying, asked him to take a seat. Still without taking his eyes from the papers, he presently asked of the man, who had not accepted the invitation to sit:
"Well, sir, what can I do for you?"
"Nothing," answered the man. "I came to serve you, not to ask service."
The voice seemed familiar to Duncan—almost startlingly familiar. He instantly looked up and exclaimed:
"Why, it's Dick Temple!"
"Yes," answered the other. "You and I quarreled very bitterly once. The quarrel was a very foolish one—on my side."
"And on mine, too!" responded Duncan, grasping his former enemy's hand. "Let us forget it, and be friends."
"With all my heart. It was in that spirit that I came hither to-night—I want to render you a service."
Meanwhile Duncan had almost forced the miner into a chair.
"Tell me," he said, "how is it that you——"
"That I'm a miner? You think of me as an educated engineer, eh? Well, that's a long story and not at all so sad a one as you might suppose. I'll tell you all about it at another time. But it can wait, while there are some other things that should be said now—things that vitally affect the affairs you have in charge."
"It is very good of you to come to me with suggestions, and they will be very welcome, I assure you, and very helpful, I've no doubt. For I have faith in your skill as an engineer."
"My skill still remains to be proved," answered the other with the merest touch of sadness in his utterance. "But, at any rate, I've had the very best engineering education that the schools can give. Never mind that—and never mind me. I didn't come here to talk of myself. I want to talk to you about this mine."
"Good. That is what I am here for. Go on."
"Well, everything here is wrong. With your readiness of perception you must have seen that for yourself. With the general management I have nothing to do. I'm only one of the miners. But there is a problem of ventilation here that ought to be solved, and I have come simply to offer a solution, in the interest of the company that pays my wages and still more in the interest of the miners. Two of them were killed by choke-damp a little while ago, four of them are now ill from the same cause, while all of them are earning less than they should because the best and most easily accessible headings are closed."
"Is there any very serious difficulty involved in the problem of ventilating the mine?"
"None whatever—at least no engineering difficulty."
"Just what do you mean?"
"I prefer not to say."
"Perhaps I can guess," said Duncan. "I have myself discovered a very serious difficulty in the personal equation of Mr. Davidson. He does not want to ventilate the mine—he has his own reasons, of course. That difficulty shall no longer stand in the way. I shall eliminate it at once. Go on, please, and tell me of the engineering problem."
"It scarcely amounts to a problem. The mine lies only about seventy-five feet below the surface. At its extreme extension the depth is considerably less, because of a surface depression there. What I suggest is this: Dig a shaft at the extreme end, thus making a second opening, and pass air freely through the mine from the one opening to the other. The cost will be a mere trifle."
"But will the air pass through in that way?"
"Not without help. But we can easily give it help."
"How? Go on. Explain your plan fully."
"Well, we have here three or four of those big fans that the government had made for the purpose of ventilating the engine rooms and stoke holes of its ironclads. They utterly failed and were sold as junk. Captain Hallam bought a lot of them at the price of scrap iron, and sent them out here. Davidson tried one of them and reported utter failure as a result. The failure was natural enough, both in the case of the ironclads and in that of the mine."
"Why, in both cases an attempt was made to force air down into spaces already filled with an atmosphere denser than that above. That was absurdly impossible, as any engineer not an idiot should have known."
"And yet you think you can use these fans successfully in ventilating the mine?"
"I do not think—I know. If Mr. Davidson will permit me to explain——"
"Never mind Davidson. If this experiment is to be tried you shall yourself be the man to try it. Go on, please."
"But, Duncan, I simply mustn't be known in the matter at all."
"I have a wife to care for. I can't afford to be discharged. Besides, the miners like me and they think they have grievances against Davidson. If he were to discharge me—as he certainly would if I were to appear in this matter—the whole force would go on strike, no matter how earnestly I might plead with them not to do so. I don't want that to happen. It would be an ill return to the company that gave me wages when it was a question of wages or starvation with me. Worse still, it would mean poverty and suffering to all the miners and all their helpless wives and children. No, Duncan, I must not be known in this matter, or have anything to do with the execution of the plans I suggest. I want you to treat them as your own; suggest them to Davidson, and persuade him to carry them out. In that way all of good and nothing of harm will be done."
"Why, then, haven't you suggested your plans to Davidson?"
"I have, and he has scornfully rejected them. Coming from you he may treat them with a greater respect."
"Now, before we go any further, Dick—for I like to call you by the old nickname that alone I knew before our foolish quarrel came to separate us—before we go any further, let me explain to you that I am absolute master here. My word is law, to Mr. Davidson as completely and as absolutely as to the old fellow who scrubs out this office—or doesn't scrub it, for it's inexcusably dirty. Davidson can no more discharge you than he can discharge me. I don't know yet what I shall do with Davidson. But at any rate he has no longer the power to discharge you, so you need have no fear in that direction. Go on, now, and tell me how you purpose to ventilate the mine. I'm mightily interested."
"Thank you," said Temple. "My plan is perfectly simple. You can't force air down into a mine with any pump that was ever invented, or any pump that ever will be devised by human ingenuity. But you can easily and certainly draw air out of a mine. And when there are two openings to the mine—one at either end—if you draw air out at one end fresh air will of itself rush in at the other end to take its place. My plan is to sink a shaft at the farther end of the mine, and to build an air-tight box at the surface opening, completely closing it, except for an outflow pipe. Then I shall put one of the big ironclad fans into that box upside down. When it is set spinning it will suck air out of the mine, and fresh air will rush in at the main shaft to take the place of the air removed."
Duncan was intensely interested. Very eagerly he bent forward as he asked:
"You are confident of success in this?"
"More than confident. I'm sure."
"More than quite sure; I'm absolutely certain. I've tried it."
"Tried it? How?"
"I've reconstructed the mine in miniature. I've made a little fan whose suction capacity is in exact proportion to that of the big fan which I propose to use in the mine. I have fully experimented, and I tell you now, Guilford Duncan, that if you permit me to carry out the plan, I'll create a breeze in that mine which will compel you to hold on to your hat whenever you go into the galleries."
Duncan rarely showed excitement. When he did so, it was in ways peculiar to himself. At this point he rose to his feet, and with an unusually slow and careful enunciation, said:
"Go to work at this job early to-morrow morning, Dick—or this morning, rather, for it is now one o'clock. Your wife is Mary, of course?"
There was a choking sound in Duncan's voice as he uttered the words.
"Yes, of course," answered the other, instinctively grasping Duncan's hand and pressing it in warm sympathy.
"Will you bear her a message from me?"
"Yes, any message you are moved to send."
"Tell her that Guilford Duncan has appointed you sole engineer of these mines, with full salary, and that if you succeed in the task you have undertaken, a far better salary awaits you."
Temple hesitated a moment and at last resumed his seat before answering. Then he said:
"This is very generous of you. I will go to her now, and deliver your message. She will be very glad. She was in doubt as to how you would receive me. But may I come back? Late as it is, I have a good deal more to say to you—about the mine, of course. You and I used often to talk all night, in the old days, long ago, before—well before we quarreled."
"Go!" answered Duncan with emotion. "Go! Tell Mary what I have said. Then come back. One night's sleep, more or less, doesn't matter much to healthy men like you and me."
DICK TEMPLE'S PLANS
When Richard Temple returned to the office of the mining company, his always cheerful face was rippling with a certain look of gladness that told its own story of love and devotion. Had he not borne good tidings to Mary? Had he not, for the first time in months, been able to stand before her in another character than that of a working miner, and to offer her some better promise of the future than she had known before?
Not that Mary ever thought of her position as one unworthy of her womanhood, not that she had ever in her innermost heart allowed herself to lament the poverty she shared with him, or to reproach him with the obscurity into which her life with him had brought her. Richard Temple knew perfectly that no shadow of disloyalty had ever fallen upon Mary Temple's soul. He knew her for a wife of perfect type who, having married him "for better or for worse," had only rejoicing in her loving heart that she had been able to accept the "worse" when it came, to make the "better" of it, and to help him with her devotion at a time when he had most sorely needed help.
He knew that his Mary was not only content, but happy in the miner's hut which had been her only home since her marriage, and which, with loving hands, she had glorified into something better to the soul than any palace is where love is not.
O, good women! All of you! How shall men celebrate enough your devotion, your helpfulness, your loyalty, and your love? How shall men ever repay the debt they owe to wifehood and motherhood? How shall civilization itself sufficiently honor the womanhood that alone has made it possible?
But while Richard Temple knew that there was never a murmur at her lot in Mary's heart any more than there was complaining upon her lips, he knew also how earnestly she longed for a better place in the world for him, how intensely ambitious she was that he should find fit opportunity and make the most of it in the way of winning that recognition at the hands of men which her loving soul knew to be his right and his due.
It was with gladness, therefore, that he had gone to her after midnight with his news. It was with joy that he had wakened her out of her sleep and told her of the good that had come to him.
She wept as she sat there on the side of her bed and listened while the moonlight, sifting through the vines that she had trained up over the window of the miner's hut, cast a soft fleecy veil over her person, in which Temple thought an angel might rejoice. But her tears were not born of sorrow. They were tears of exceeding joy, and if a drop or two slipped in sympathy from the strong man's eyes and trickled down his cheeks, he had no cause to be ashamed.
When he re-entered the company's office, Temple stood for a moment, unable to control the emotion he had brought away from Mary's bedside. When at last he regained mastery of himself, he took Duncan's hand and, pressing it warmly, delivered Mary's message:
"Mary bids me say, God bless you, Guilford Duncan. She bids me say that two weeks ago to-night a son was born to us; that he has been nameless hitherto; but that to-night, before I left, she took him from his cradle and named him Guilford Duncan Temple."
It is very hard for two American men to meet an emotional situation with propriety. They cannot embrace each other as women, and Frenchmen, and Germans do, and weep; a handclasp is all of demonstration that they permit themselves. For the rest, they are under bond to propriety to maintain as commonplace and as unruffled a front as stoicism can command. So, after Guilford Duncan had choked out the words: "Thank you, old fellow, and thank Mary," he turned to the table, pushed forward the pipes and tobacco, and said:
"Let's have a smoke."
* * * * *
"Now tell me the rest of it," said Duncan, after the pipes were set going. "About the mine, I mean."
"Well, it all seems simple. There are two hundred and seventy blind mules in the mine——"
"Blind? What do you mean?"
"Blind; yes. Not one of them has seen the light of day since he entered the mine, and some of them have been there for more than a dozen years. Living always in the dark, they have lost the power to see."
"Go on. What were you going to say?"
"Why, that those mules represent an investment of twenty or twenty-five thousand dollars, all absolutely needless. Their use involves also a wholly unnecessary expense for stablemen, feed, and general care, while the yearly deaths among them add heavily to the profit and loss account, on the loss side. Not one of those mules is needed in the mine. The work they do can be better done at one-tenth the cost—yes, it can be done at no cost at all; while if the mules are brought out and sold, they will bring from twenty to twenty-five thousand dollars."
"Go on. Explain. What do the mules do, and how is their work to be done without them?"
"They do just two things; they haul coal to the bottom of the inclined shaft, where it must be reloaded—at wholly unnecessary expense—in order to be hauled by machinery up the incline to the surface. Half the time they are employed in hauling water. The mine, you must understand, declines from the foot of the shaft to the end of the main heading. The very lowest level of all is there, where I propose to put in a ventilating shaft, with a fan; all the water flows to that point, flooding it. Under the antediluvian methods in use in this mine, all this water must be pumped into leaky cars and hauled by mules to the bottom of the the sloping shaft, whence it is drawn up by the engine, spilling half of it before it reaches the surface. Now, when I sink that ventilating shaft out there on the prairie, I must have an engine to turn the fan. Very well, I've got it. Among the junk that Captain Hallam bought when the war ended and the river navy went out of commission, there are parts of many little steam engines. I've busied myself at night in measuring these and fitting part of one to parts of another. The result is that I have made an engine out of this rubbish, which will not only drive the ventilating fan, but will also pump all the water out of the mine."
"But will not the mules be needed for hauling coal to the bottom of the shaft?"
"Not at all, if you are willing to spend a little money in an improvement—say a fourth or a third of what the mules will bring in the market—or considerably less than it costs to feed and curry them for a year."
"What is the nature of the improvement?"
"Why, simply an extension to every part of the mine of the cable system by which the engine now hauls the coal and water up the slope."
"But where are we to get power?"
"By using what we already have. Our great engine is a double one. We are using only one of its cylinders. We have only to connect the other in order to have all the power we need."
"But what about steam?"
"That's easy to make. We have several unused boilers, and as we burn nothing under our boilers but culm—the finely slaked coal for which there isn't a market, even at a tenth of a cent a ton—it will cost us absolutely not one cent to make all the steam we need."
"You seem to have thought it all out."
"I have done more than that. I have worked it all out. I must work all day in a heading, of course, in order to make bread and butter. I have worked at night over these problems."
"And you are sure you've got the right answers?"
"Greatly more than sure—absolutely certain!"
"Very well. You are now chief engineer, or anything else you please, at a chief engineer's salary. You are to go to work at once digging the new ventilating and pumping shaft. You are to proceed at once to install your other improvements, and, when you report to me that there is no longer any use for the mules in the mine, I'll bring them all out and sell them. I'll look to the payments incidental to your work. My mission here is to make this mine a paying property. To that end, you are to bear in mind, I have an entirely free hand, and all the money needed is at my command. Now let that finish business for to-night. I want you to spend the rest of the dark hours in telling me your story and Mary's. I want to know all that has happened to both of you since—well, since she told me she loved you and not—me. You don't mind sitting up for the rest of the night?"
"Certainly not. I've sat up with you on far smaller provocation."
"But how about Mary?"
"She will sleep, or, if she doesn't—and I suppose she won't—she is entirely happy. She will be glad to have me spend the night with you."
"Very well, then. Tell me the story of what has happened to you and Mary since the day when we quarreled like a pair of idiots, and—like men of sense—decided not to fight. I want to hear it all."
"I'll tell it all," said the other. And he did.
DICK TEMPLE'S STORY
This is the story that Richard Temple told to his friend in the small hours of that night's morning. Let us dispense with quotation marks to cover it.
You know what my education was. My uncle, whose heir I was supposed to be, spared no expense to equip me for my life's work. He sent me to the best schools in the North, and afterwards to the best schools in Europe. Just at the beginning of the war, and because of it, I returned to Virginia. I secured a commission in the engineer corps, but I soon resigned it, because at the beginning of the war there was no earnest work for the engineer corps to do, and I foolishly thought there never would be. I enlisted as a private in the artillery, and before the end of the war I was a captain.
A few months before the war ended, I married Mary. You, of course, understand. Mary was the daughter of an ancient and honorable house, but she was living as a dependent in the family of a very remote relative—so remote that the kinship was rather mythical than real.
At that time I owned, or was supposed to own, my ancestral plantation, Robinet. My uncle at his death had left it to me.
As a man abundantly able to provide for a wife, I asked Mary to marry me, and to become the mistress of Robinet.
We were married about the time Fort Harrison fell into the enemy's hands. I remember that I had to delay the wedding in order to bombard Fort Harrison with my mortars, in preparation for the infantry assault, which it was hoped might recover the works.
When that affair was over, and our lines were reconstructed, I got leave of absence, and Mary and I were married.
I was foolish enough to believe, even in the autumn and winter of 1864, that we of the South were certain to win the war. As I look back now and consider the conditions then existing, I wonder at my own stupidity in not seeing what the end must be. However, that would have made no difference in any case. I must take Mary out of her condition of dependence, by marrying her, and I did so.
When the end came, I went home for a little while. My uncle had died in hopeless despondency. His estate, when I inherited it, was buried in debt, and with the negroes no longer mine, the creditors clearly saw that I could never pay out. They descended upon me in a swarm. There was nothing for me to do but make complete surrender of my possessions to them. These were sufficient to pay about forty cents on the dollar of the hereditary debt.
As soon as disaster thus came upon me, I set out to find employment in my profession, promising myself that I should soon be able to pay all the debts of which I had been acquitted as a bankrupt.
I knew that I had as much of skill in my profession as a young man with little practical experience could have. I saw that there must be a world of work done by way of developing the resources of the country after four years of paralyzing war. I thought there was pressing need of my services and my skill, and I confidently counted upon quickly achieving place and pay for myself.
I didn't know the ways of men then, but I soon found them out. Wherever there seemed to be an opening for me, I found that Somebody's son got the place, because Somebody could influence its bestowal.
Once I did get employment. There was a little stretch of railroad to be built, by way of connecting one line with others. I applied for the place of engineer, and was promptly informed that John Harbin had already been appointed to it. You know John. You know what a blockhead he is. I was graduated in the same class with him—he simply cheating his way through. When I heard of his appointment, I was dumbfounded. I knew that he simply could not do the work. He could not calculate a curvature to save his life. As for the more difficult operations of engineering, he was as helpless as a child.
I was curious to learn how he intended to get through with his task. I soon found out. He sent for me and asked me to become his "assistant." The pay he offered was barely sufficient to keep me alive. In brief, the arrangement was that I should do the work while he drew the pay and got the credit. That was because John Harbin's father was president of the railroad that was making the extension, and John Harbin's father had no purpose to let any good thing go out of the family.
I was rapidly getting my education in the ways of the world, and I was paying a high price for it. For a few months I did the work of a competent engineer on a salary that paid me less than a laborer's wage. Finally I resigned in disgust and set out to find something better. I tramped across country to every mine I could hear of—for in my studies I had specialized in mining—but nowhere could I secure employment. There was always some man with influence, where I had none, and always the man with the influence got the place.
At last I tramped my way out here. I had made up my mind to ask no longer for employment as an engineer. I applied to Davidson for a miner's place only. At first he refused, after looking at my hands and satisfying himself that I had had no experience in practical mining. But, as they pay miners here only by output—a certain price per ton for the coal a miner gets out—I persuaded him at last to let me go into a heading with a pick and a shovel, and a package of blasting powder.
Then I wrote to Mary, telling her of my situation, and charging her that she must from that day forth pay the cost of her living out of such money as I could send her. In order that I might send her enough—for I was determined that she should not be in any remotest way a dependent—I instantly cut off all my personal expenses. I had my soldier blanket, and my overalls. I needed no other clothes, for in the mine I always go barefoot. I was well used to sleeping out of doors, so I slept on the ground under the coal chutes. I took the job of cooking for a gang of bachelor miners, who gave me my board for my services.
In that way I planned to send all of my wages to Mary. But I didn't really know Mary. I thought of her always as a tenderly nurtured girl, who must be shielded at all hazards against hardship of every kind; and I meant so to shield her. But presently she revealed herself in another character. You know how it was in the army. The gentlemen soldiers, the men of good breeding, the men who had lived in luxury from childhood, with servants to anticipate every need, real or fancied, were the readiest to meet hardship, and to do hard work. You and I have seen such men drudging, willingly and cheerfully, in the half-frozen mud of the trenches, while other men, who had never known anything better than a log cabin for a home, bacon and greens for dinner, and a bed of straw to sleep upon, were almost in mutiny because of the hardships they must endure as soldiers.
It is true that "Blood will tell," and it is as true with women as with men. Blood asserted itself in Mary's case. Her answer was prompt to my letter telling her I had taken work as a miner. She utterly repudiated the thought that she was to go on living in idleness, while I should go on toiling to furnish her the means of living so. I shall never forget her words:
"I am coming to you quickly, Richard, to convert your miner's cabin into a home. Where the husband is, the wife should be with all she knows of helpfulness and cheer."
And she came. From that hour to this I have known what the word "home" means, far better than I ever did in my life before. We have two rooms—she built one of them, a little lean-to, with her own hands. And her presence glorifies both of them.
"I am very glad, Dick."
That was all that Duncan could say. It was all there was need for him to say.
IN THE SUMMER TIME
Six months came and went before Duncan's work at the mine was done. Then, in mid-July, he returned to Cairo and gave an account of his stewardship. With Temple in control as superintendent and engineer, the mine had become a richly paying property, and with Temple there, there was no further need for Duncan's presence.
During that half year, Duncan had lived chiefly with the Temples in the superintendent's house, which Mary Temple had quickly converted from a barn-like structure, standing alone upon the face of the bald prairie, into a home in the midst of a garden of flowers.
During his long stay at the mine, Duncan had made frequent visits to Cairo. These were brief in duration, usually covering a Sunday, but each visit gave Guilford Duncan two opportunities that he desired. He could sit late on Saturday evening, discussing his plans with Captain Will Hallam, and on Sunday he had opportunity to become more and more closely acquainted with Barbara.
He made no formal calls upon her, and none were necessary. He simply adopted the plan of remaining after the one o'clock Sunday dinner and, little by little, Barbara came to feel that he expected her to join him in the little parlor, after his cigar was finished. He seemed to like the quiet conversations with her, while she regarded the opportunity to talk with a man so superior in education, culture, and intellect, to any other that she had known, as a privilege to be prized.
Their attitude toward each other at this time was peculiar. They were good friends, fond of each other's society, and seemingly, at least, they were nothing more. The fascination that Duncan had from the first felt in Barbara's presence was still upon him, but he accepted it more calmly now, and it soothed his natural restlessness, where at first it had excited it.
To Barbara, Guilford Duncan's attitude seemed a gracious condescension, which she did not dream that she deserved. She sometimes wondered that this young man of rare quality, who was sure of a welcome wherever he might go, should be content to sit with her throughout the Sunday afternoons, instead of seeking company better fit to entertain him. There were young women in Cairo who had been much more conventionally educated than she—young women who had mingled in society in Chicago, and in eastern cities. A few of them had even traveled in Europe—a thing very rare among Americans, and especially among Western Americans in the sixties. These young women knew all about operas and theaters. They had heard great musicians play and great singers sing. They had seen all the notable actors. They read the current literature of the time—the lighter part of it at least—and above all, they were mistresses of the "patter," which passes for brilliancy and sometimes even for wit in fashionable life.
Guilford Duncan visited none of these, and Barbara could not understand.
"He is too tired, I suppose," was her reflection, "when he runs down to Cairo for a Sunday rest. He doesn't want to see anybody or talk to anybody. I can easily understand that. So he just sits here instead of going out."
Barbara's explanation was obviously defective at one point. If Duncan did not care to see people, if he was too weary for conversation, how came it about that he stayed and talked gently, but constantly, with her, instead of going to the rooms he had fitted up for himself since prosperity had come to him? She had heard much of those rooms, of the multitude of books that he had put into them, of the bric-a-brac with which he had rendered them homelike and beautiful. They were in fact very simple rooms, inexpensively furnished. But Duncan had devoted a good deal of attention and an unfailing good taste to their furnishing and adornment, and thus, by the expenditure of a very little money he had managed to create a bachelor apartment which was the talk of the town.
"He is alone when he goes there," the girl explained to herself, when at last this question arose in her mind. "And I suppose he feels lonely. But why doesn't he go somewhere, instead of just sitting here in our little parlor or out in the porch?"
It was a riddle that she could not read, and for the present, at least, Duncan would not offer her any help in solving it. He knew now that Barbara Verne was the woman he loved—the only woman in all the world who could be to him what a wife must be to a man of his temperament, if two souls are to be satisfied.
But he saw clearly that Barbara Verne had no thought of that kind in her mind—or, at least, no such conscious thought. She was accustomed to think of herself as a very commonplace young woman, not at all the equal of this very superior man, to whom everybody in Cairo paid a marked deference. He understood Barbara as she did not at all understand herself. He had looked upon her white soul and bowed his head in worship of its purity, its nobility, its utter truthfulness. He knew the qualities of a mind that had no just self-appreciation. He felt, rather than knew, that no thought of his loving her—otherwise than as an elder brother might love a little sister—had ever crossed her consciousness. He felt that the abrupt suggestion of that thought would only shock and distress her.
"I'll find a way of making others suggest it, after a while," he resolved. "In the meanwhile——" He didn't finish the sentence, even in his own mind. But what he did in that "meanwhile" was to see as much as possible of Barbara, to talk with her impersonally, gently, and interestingly, to win her perfect trust and confidence, and, so far as possible, to make his presence a necessary thing to her. He paid her no public attention of any kind. But he paid no public or private attention to any other young woman. It was well understood that for a time he was living at the mine and coming to Cairo only for brief visits of a business character, at infrequent intervals. His neglect of society, therefore, seemed in need of no explanation, while his unostentatious intimacy with Barbara attracted no attention. The only person who ever spoke to him about it was Mrs. Will Hallam.
"You are going to marry Barbara Verne, of course?" she half said, half asked one day.
"If I can, yes," he answered.
"I'm very glad of that," and she said no more.
On his final return to Cairo, however, Duncan found himself expected in what is called society. Society was destined to disappointment, for Duncan went nowhere—except that he usually sat for some hours every Sunday afternoon in the vine-clad porch of the house in which he took his meals. Barbara's aunt often sat there with him. Barbara always did so, in answer to what seemed to be his wish. He made no calls. He declined all invitations to the little excursions on the river, which constituted the chief social activities of the summer time. He gave it out that he was too busily engaged with affairs to have time for anything else, and that explanation seemed for a time to satisfy public curiosity.
And that explanation was true. Guilford Duncan had begun to take upon himself the duties of a leader—in an important way—in the work of upbuilding which at that time was engaging the attention of all men of affairs. He had accumulated some money, partly by saving, but more by the profits of his little investments, and by being "let in on the ground floor" of many large enterprises, in the conception and conduct of which his abilities were properly appreciated by the capitalists who undertook them.
Except as a legal adviser, he was no longer a man employed by other men now. His relations with Will Hallam were closer than ever, but they were no longer those of secretary, or clerk, or employee in any other capacity. In many enterprises he was Hallam's partner. In all, he was his legal adviser, besides being employed in a like capacity by one or two railroad companies and the like. He had offices of his own, and while he was still not at all rich, or a man who was reckoned a capitalist, he was everywhere recognized as a young man of power and influence, whose brains had brought him into close association with the greater men of affairs, not only in Cairo, but in all parts of the country, and especially in New York. For that great city had by this time made itself completely the financial capital of the country, and its controlling hand was felt in every enterprise of large moment throughout the land.
AN INTERVIEW WITH NAPPER TANDY
For more than a year now Guilford Duncan had been diligently studying those processes of upbuilding which were so rapidly converting the West into an empire of extraordinary wealth and power. He had made many suggestions that had commended themselves for immediate execution, together with some that must wait for years to come. He had condemned some projects that seemed hopeful to others, and he had induced modifications in many.
All these things had been done mainly in his letters and reports to Captain Will Hallam, but the substance of those letters and reports had been promptly laid before others, especially before those great financiers of the East, upon whom all enterprises of moment throughout the country depended for the means of their accomplishment. In that way Guilford Duncan had become known to the "master builders" as he called these men, and had won a goodly share of their confidence. He was regarded as a young man of unusual gifts in the way of constructive enterprise—a trifle overbold, some thought, overconfident, even visionary, but, in the main, sound in his calculations, as results had shown when his plans were adopted. On the other hand, some projectors, whose enterprises he had discouraged as unsound or premature, complained that so far from being a visionary, he was in fact a pessimist, a discouraging force that stood in the way of that "development of the country" from which they hoped for personal gain of one kind or another. There were little towns that aspired to become larger towns, and stretches of undeveloped country in which Guilford Duncan was regarded as an arch enemy of progress—almost as a public enemy. The reason for this was the fact that he had advised against the construction of railroads, from which the little towns concerned, and the stretches of thinly peopled country between, had hoped to benefit, and his advice had been accepted as sound by the financiers to whom the projectors looked for the means of securing what they wanted.
Napper Tandy was Guilford Duncan's enemy from the hour in which Duncan had forced that little branch railroad in the coal regions to haul Hallam's coal on equal terms with his own. But Tandy had said nothing whatever about that. He never published his enmities till the time came. About the time of Duncan's return to Cairo, he added another to his offenses against Tandy, in a way to intensify that malignant person's hostility.
Tandy was scheming to secure a costly extension of this branch railroad through a sparsely settled and thin-soiled region, in a way that would greatly enrich himself, because of his vast property holdings there. He had well-nigh persuaded a group of capitalists to undertake the extension when, acting cautiously as financiers must, they decided to ask Duncan to study the situation and make a report upon the project. He had already studied the question thoroughly during his stay at the mines, and was convinced that nothing but loss could come of the attempt. The region through which the line must run was too poor in agricultural and other resources to afford even a hope of a paying traffic. The line itself must be a costly one because of certain topographical features, and finally another and shorter line, closely paralleling this proposed extension, but running through a much richer country, was already in course of construction.
Tandy knew all these things quite as well as Guilford Duncan did. But Tandy also knew many methods in business with which Duncan was not familiar.
As soon as he was notified by the capitalists with whom he was negotiating that they had employed Duncan to examine and report, and that their final decision would be largely influenced by his judgment, Tandy, with special politeness, wrote to Duncan, asking him to call at his house that evening "for a little consultation on business affairs that may interest both of us."
Duncan well knew that he had offended Tandy in the matter of the coal cars, but as Tandy had made no sign, he could see no possible reason for refusing this request for a business consultation. Moreover, Guilford Duncan felt himself under a double responsibility. He felt that he must not only guard and promote the interests of those who had employed him to study this question, but that he was also under obligations to consider carefully the interests involved on the other side. His function, he felt, was essentially a judicial one. He knew one side of the case. It was his duty to hear the other, and Tandy was the spokesman of that other.
Duncan's reception at Tandy's house was most gracious. The gentlewomen of the family were present to greet him, and Mrs. Tandy said, in welcoming him:
"Sometimes I feel like hating business—it so dreadfully occupies you men. But just now I am in love with business because it brings you to us in our home. We have never before had the honor of even a call from you, Mr. Duncan."
"I have given little attention to social duties, Mrs. Tandy," Duncan began apologetically. "I have done next to no calling. You see——"
"Oh, yes, I know how it is. Mr. Tandy says you are the most 'earnest' young man in Cairo, and of course we poor women folk understand that you are too much engaged with what Mr. Tandy calls 'affairs,' to give any time to us. But I am glad to greet you now, and to welcome you to our home. Perhaps, some day, when you and Mr. Tandy and—and Captain Hallam—have got all the things done that you want done, you will have more time for social duties. Mr. Tandy tells me you have achieved a remarkable success. He says you will soon be reckoned a rich man, and that you are already a man of very great influence. Now, I shouldn't say these things if I had any daughters to marry off. As I haven't any daughters, of course I am privileged. But I seriously want to say that you have won Mr. Tandy's regard in so great a degree that he is planning to make you his partner and associate in all his enterprises. He says you are to become one of our 'great men of affairs,' and that he means to have you 'with him' in all his undertakings for the development of our splendid western country."
When the voluble woman ceased, Guilford Duncan wondered whence she had got her speech.
"Tandy could never have composed it," he was sure. "She must have done it herself. But, of course, Tandy gave her the 'points.' She is a very clever woman. I remember it was she who invited Barbara as a guest of honor at some sort of a function three days after Barbara appeared at the fancy dress ball. She had never noticed her before. That woman is of a superior kind—in her way. I can't imagine a wife better 'fit' for a man like Tandy. All the same I don't mean to let her 'take up' Barbara. She's far too 'smart.' She isn't Barbara's sort."
"Now, I've ordered coffee and cigars for you gentlemen," said Mrs. Tandy, as she arose to leave. "Of course you want to 'talk business,' and when business is on the tapis we women folk must retire to our rooms. Business is our greatest rival and enemy, Mr. Duncan. On this occasion I not only take myself out of the way, but I have bidden my two sisters remain in the dining room until you two gentlemen shall have finished your talk. After that—perhaps ten o'clock will suit you—you are to come into the dining room, if you are gracious enough, and have a little supper."
Duncan bowed, in implication of a promise, which he was not destined to fulfill.
When the gracious gentlewoman had left the room, Napper Tandy came at once to the subject in hand.
"I'm more than glad, Duncan," he lyingly said, "that these financial people have asked you to examine and report upon this scheme of extension. You are so heartily in sympathy with every enterprise that looks to the development of our western country, and your intelligence is so superbly well informed that of course a project like this appeals to you."
"It does not appeal to me at all, Mr. Tandy," answered Duncan with a frankness that was the more brutal because it was his first word after Mrs. Tandy's flattering appeal.
"I do not think well of the extension. It——"
"Pardon me for interrupting," interposed Tandy, in fear that Duncan might commit himself beyond recall against the scheme. "Pardon me for interrupting, but you must see that the Redwood mines, in which, I understand, you own fifteen per cent.——"
"I own twenty-five per cent., for I have put my savings into that enterprise," answered Duncan.
"Well, so much the better. You must see that the Redwood mines, in which you own twenty-five per cent., will benefit as much as the Quentin mines do, by this extension of the railroad. It will give us two markets for our coal instead of one. We can play one market against the other, you see, and——"
"That isn't the question that I am employed and paid to answer," interrupted Duncan. "You have other and vastly greater interests than those of the mines, that would be served by the extension of the railroad. But the financiers who are asked to put their money into this project will be in nowise benefited, either by the increased earnings of your coal mine and ours, or by the development of your other and far greater interests that are dependent upon this extension. So when they employ me to report upon the project, I am not free to consider any of these things. I must consider only their interests. I must ask myself whether or not it will 'pay' them to undertake this extension. I know that it will not. I know that the extended line cannot, within a generation to come, pay even operating expenses, to say nothing of interest on the cost of construction. I am bound to set forth those facts in my report. They pay me to tell them what the facts are. Of course, I shall tell them truly. Otherwise I should not be an honest man. I should be a swindler, taking their money as pay for deceiving them and inducing them to undertake a losing enterprise."
"Now wait a while, Duncan. Listen to me. Your worst fault, and, in business, your worst handicap, is a tendency to go off at half-cock. You've learned a lot about business since you came to the West, but you still have your old Southern notions, and they embarrass you. Let me explain. I'm a business man, pure and simple. I haven't any ideas, or prejudices, or foolishnesses of any kind. Neither have those fellows in New York who have employed you to report on this scheme. They are playing the game, to win or lose as the case may be. Generally, they win, but now and then, in a little matter like this, they lose. Of course, they don't mind. They take their losses and their winnings together, and if the total result is on the right side they don't bother about the times they have put their money on the wrong card. It's all a gamble with them, you know."
"Is it? Then why do they pay me a large fee to find out the facts and report?"
"Hear me out," interrupted Duncan. "These gentlemen have asked me for an opinion, and they are paying me for it. Of course I must, as an honest man, give them an honest judgment."
"Oh, that's all right. But you might be mistaken, you know. You've formed a judgment after a brief trip through the country. That country seems poverty stricken just now, but that's because it hasn't enjoyed the stimulating influence of a railroad. It is a better country than you think, as I can convince you, if you'll let me take you through it in a carriage. We can start at once—to-morrow morning—run out to the mines by rail, and there take a carriage and drive through the country. I've ordered the carriage, with abundant supplies, from Chicago. I want to show you the resources of the country. I'll convince you, before we get back, that the country will build up as soon as the railroad penetrates it, and that there will be an abundant traffic for the road."
"Pardon me," answered Duncan. "I've already been through that region. I've questioned every farmer as to his crops. I've questioned every merchant in every village as to his possible shipments by the railroad, and as to the amount of goods he hopes to sell if the railroad is built. Their replies are hopelessly discouraging. Taking their outside estimates as certain, there cannot be enough traffic over such a line for twenty years to come, to pay operating expenses. In the meantime the men whom you are asking to build the road must lose not only the interest on their investment, but the investment itself. I know all the facts that bear upon the case."
"All but one," answered Tandy.
"What is that one?"
"That a favorable report from you means a check, right now and here, to-night, payable to 'Bearer,' for ten thousand dollars. My check is supposed to be good for all it calls for. You can have it now and it will be cashed to-morrow morning. Here it is. Payable to bearer as it is, you needn't endorse it, and you need not be known in the matter in any way. I'm talking 'business' now."
Duncan scanned the face of his interlocutor for an instant. Then he rose from his seat, and with utterance choked by emotion managed to say:
"I quite understand. You would bribe me with that check. You would hire me to betray the confidence of the men who are paying me a very much smaller sum than ten thousand dollars. You propose to buy my integrity, my honor, my soul. Very well. My integrity, my honor, and my soul are not for sale at any price. I shall make an honest report in this matter. Good-night, sir! Perhaps you will make my excuses to the ladies for not joining them at supper as I promised to do. As for the rest, you may explain to them that I am not such a scoundrel as you hoped I might be."
And with that Guilford Duncan stalked out of the house, helping himself to his hat as he passed the rack in the entry way.
UNDER THE HONEYSUCKLES
If Guilford Duncan had been a little more worldly wise than he was, he would have gone at once to Captain Will Hallam. He would have told that shrewdest of shrewd men of the world all that had passed between himself and Tandy, and he would have asked Will Hallam's advice as to what course to pursue.
Instead of that Guilford Duncan went at once to Barbara. He felt a need of sympathy rather than a need of advice, and he had learned to look to Barbara, above all other people in the world, for sympathy.
He was still a good deal disturbed in his emotions when Barbara greeted him in the little porch, and it was a rather confused account that he gave her of what had happened.
"I don't quite understand," said Barbara at last. "Perhaps if you have a cup of tea you can make the matter clearer," and without waiting for assent or dissent, she glided out to the kitchen, whence she presently returned bearing a fragrant cup of Oolong.
"Now," she said, after he had sipped the tea, "tell me again just what has happened. You were too much excited, when you told me before, to tell me clearly."
"Well, it amounts to this," answered Duncan. "That scoundrel Tandy——"
"Stop!" said Barbara, in an authoritative tone. "Never mind Tandy's character. If you go off on that you'll never make me understand."
In spite of his agitation, Duncan laughed. "How you do order me about!"
"Oh, pardon me!" exclaimed the girl in manifest alarm. "I didn't mean to do that. I would never think of doing such a thing. I only meant——"
"My dear Miss Barbara, I fully understand. I need ordering about to-night, and I heartily wish you would take me in hand."
"Oh, but I could never presume to do that!"
"I don't see why," answered Duncan. "You are my good angel, and it is the business of my good angel to regulate me and make me behave as I should."
"But, Mr. Duncan——"
"But, Barbara"—it was the first time he had ever addressed her by her given name and without the "Miss"—"you know I love you—or you ought to know it. You know I want you to be my wife. Say that you will, and then I shall be free to tell you all my troubles and to take your advice in all of them. Say that you love me, Barbara! Say that you will marry me!"
All this was in contravention of Guilford Duncan's carefully laid plans, as a declaration of love is apt to be, so long as women are fascinating and men are human. He had intended to put the thought of his love for Barbara into her unsuspecting mind by ingenious "trick and device." It had been his plan presently to escort her to church, to the concerts that now and then held forth at the Athenaeum, to Mrs. Hallam's for a game of croquet, to Mrs. Galagher's for the little dances that that gracious gentlewoman gave now and then, even in the heat of a southern Illinois summer. He had even chartered a steamboat, and planned to give a picnic in the Kentucky woodlands below Cairo, to which he should escort Barbara. He had thought in these ways to set the tongues of all the gossips wagging, and thus to force upon Barbara the thought of his love for her.
All was now spoiled, as he thought, when he so precipitately declared his love there in the vine-clad porch.
Barbara was obviously surprised. Duncan could not quite make out whether she was shocked or not, whether his declaration of love pleased or distressed her.
For she made no answer whatever. Instead she nervously plucked honeysuckles and still more nervously let them fall from her hands.
Duncan was standing now, and in torture lest he had spoiled all by his precipitancy. He waited, as patiently as he could, for the girl's answer, but it came not. Her silence seemed ominous to him. It seemed to mean that she was shocked and offended by a declaration of love, for which he had not in any wise prepared her.
But Duncan was a man of action. It was not his habit to accept defeat without challenging it and demanding its reasons. So presently he advanced, passed his arm around Barbara's waist, and gently caressed her forehead, as a father or an older brother might have done.
She accepted the caress in that spirit, seemingly, and then she turned toward the hall door, saying:
But Duncan was not to be so baffled. He had blundered upon a declaration of love—as most men do who really love—and he did not intend to go away without his answer.
"Don't say 'good-night' yet," he pleaded, again passing his arm around her waist. "Tell me first, is it yes or no? Will you be my wife?"
The girl turned and faced him. There was that in her eyes which he had never seen there before, and which he could not interpret. At last her lips parted, and she said:
"I cannot tell, yet. You must wait."
And with that she slipped through the door, leaving him no recourse but to take his leave without other formality than the closing of the front gate.
CAPTAIN WILL HALLAM IN THE GAME
The next morning, very early, Guilford Duncan's negro servant—for he kept one now—brought him a note from Barbara. It read in this wise:
I wish you would take your meals at the hotel for a few days, or a week or two—till you hear from me again.
There was no address written at top of the sheet, and no signature at the bottom. There was nothing that could afford even a ground for conjectural explanation. There was nothing that could call for a reply—perhaps there was nothing that could warrant a reply or excuse its impertinence. Nevertheless Guilford Duncan sent, by the hands of his negro servitor, an answer to the strange note. In it he wrote:
I have told you of my love. I tell you that again, with all of emphasis that I can give to the telling. I have asked you to be my wife. I ask it again with all of earnestness and sincerity, with all of supplication, that I can put into the asking. Oh, Barbara, you can never know or dream or remotely imagine how much these things mean to me and to my life.
I shall take my meals at the hotel—or not at all—until you bid me come to you for my answer.
Then, with resolute and self-controlled mind, Guilford Duncan set himself to work. He prepared his report upon the proposed railroad extension, condemning it and giving adequate reasons for his condemnation.
He was still indignant that Napper Tandy should have offered him a bribe, and in the first draft of his report he had made a statement of that fact as an additional reason for his adverse judgment. But upon reflection he rewrote the report, omitting all mention of the bribe offer. Then he wrote to Tandy—a grievous mistake—telling him that he had sent in an adverse report, and that he had omitted to mention Tandy's offer in it.
This gave Tandy the opportunity he wanted and Guilford Duncan was not long in discovering the fact. A week later Captain Will Hallam said to him:
"So you've been quarreling with Napper Tandy?"
"Yes," answered Duncan. "He offered to bribe me to make a false report in the railroad extension matter."
"Why didn't you tell me about it?"
"Oh, I didn't want to bother you with a whining. I rejected the bribe, of course, and told him what I thought of him, and that seemed to me enough."
"Well, it wasn't. You ought to have told me. Then we could have made him put his offer into writing, or make it in my presence. As it is, he's got you where the hair is uncommonly short."
"How do you mean?"
"Why, he has written to the financiers, telling them that as soon as they employed you, you went to him and demanded a payment of ten thousand dollars as an inducement to you to make a favorable report; that he refused, and that consequently your report was adverse. They will refuse to build the railroad, but they have written to ask me as to your integrity."
"The infernal scoundrel! How——"
"It doesn't pay to call him names. We must think out a way to meet this thing."
"I'll horsewhip him on the street!" exclaimed Duncan.
"No, don't! That would only advertise the matter and do no good. A man of your physique has no occasion for fear in horsewhipping a man like Napper Tandy, and can show no courage by doing it. The only result would be that people would say there must be something in his accusation, else you wouldn't be so mad about it. You have made a good many enemies, you know, and they will take pleasure in repeating Tandy's accusations. Really, Duncan, you ought to have been more discreet. You ought to have taken a witness with you, when you went to his house for consultation. As it is, the financiers have so far believed in you as to reject his scheme on your report, and in face of his accusation, but he'll do you a mighty lot of damage in Cairo and elsewhere. I don't know what to do."
"I do," answered Guilford Duncan resolutely. "A year ago you and Ober wanted to make me mayor of this town. I explained to you that I was ineligible then, not having been long enough a resident of the State. I am eligible now, and I shall announce myself to-day as a candidate."
"What good will that do?"
"It will give the people of the city a chance to pass upon my integrity—to say by their ballots what they think of me; and, incidentally, it may give me an opportunity to say what I think and know of Napper Tandy."
"I don't know so well about that. You see, people don't always express their opinions by their votes. They let their politics and their prejudices have a say, and you know you have made a good many enemies. Then again, what good will it do you to tell the public what you think of Tandy? That won't convince a living soul who isn't convinced already. The rest will say that you are naturally very angry with the man who found you out—the man from whom you unsuccessfully tried to extort a bribe. You see there were no witnesses present when your interview with Tandy occurred. That was a capital mistake on your part. Then, too, you went to his house for this business, and people will say that that, too, looks bad. You have destroyed the invitation he sent you, and so you have nothing to show that you didn't go to his house, as he says you did, without invitation, in order to extort a bribe. It's a bad mix-up, but for you to go into politics would only make it worse. We must find another way out. Keep perfectly still, and leave the matter to me. I'll plan something." Then suddenly a thought flashed into Captain Will Hallam's mind.
"By Jove! I've got it, I believe. Go down to our bank and ask the cashier, Mr. Stafford, how many shares we can control in the X National—Tandy's bank; he's president, you know."
Without at all understanding Captain Hallam's purpose, Duncan went upon this mission, returning presently with the information that in one way and another the Hallam bank controlled forty-eight shares of the X National's stock—or three shares less than a majority of the whole. He brought also the message from Stafford that as Tandy himself controlled the remaining fifty-two shares it would probably be impossible at present to buy any more.
"I don't know so well about that," said Hallam reflectively. "I've managed in my time to get a good many impossible things done. I'm not a very firm believer in the impossible." Then suddenly he turned to Duncan and fired a question at him:
"Have you a friend anywhere whom you can trust—one not known in Cairo?"
"You are sure you can trust him?"
"You wouldn't hesitate to put a pile of money into his hands without a scrap of paper to show that the money was yours, not his?"
"I would trust him as absolutely as I would trust you, or you me."
"All right, who is he?"
"Dick Temple—the mining engineer and superintendent."
"Telegraph him at once. Ask him to come down on the evening train. Tell him to say nothing about knowing you or me, but to come to your rooms this evening. I'll see him there."
Duncan took up a pad of telegraph blanks and a pencil. He had scarcely begun to write when Hallam stopped him.
"Never do that," he exclaimed. "Never write a message on a pad, especially with a pencil."
"But why not?"
"See!" answered Hallam, tearing off the blank on which Duncan had begun to write, and directing attention to the blank that lay beneath. "The impression made by the pencil on the under sheet is as legible as the writing above. It would be awkward if Tandy should pick up that pad and find out what you had telegraphed. Always tear the top blank off the pad and lay it on the desk before you write on it."
"Thank you! That's another of your wise precepts. I wonder I didn't think of it before."
"Oh, hardly anybody ever does think of such things, but they make trouble."
That night Hallam, Duncan, and Temple met in Duncan's rooms. Hallam promptly took possession by requesting Duncan to "go away somewhere, while I explain matters to Temple."
When Duncan had taken his leave Hallam plunged at once into the heart of things.
"Duncan tells me you're his friend—one who will stand by him?"
"I am all that, you may be sure, Captain Hallam."
"Very good. Now is the time to show yourself such. Duncan has got himself into something worse than a hole, and his whole career, to say nothing of his honorable reputation, is in danger. You and I can save him."
"Would you mind telling me the exact situation? Not that I need to know it in order to do anything you think would be helpful, but if I fully understand the matter, I shall know better what to do in any little emergency that may come about."
"Of course, of course. It's simply this way. Duncan is so straight himself that it never occurs to him that other people are different. There are some things so utterly mean that he simply can't imagine any man capable of doing them. So he doesn't take necessary precautions. It was all right for him to offend Napper Tandy by doing his own best up there at the mines. But he ought to have known enough of human nature not to put himself in old Napper's power when he felt bound to offend him worse than ever."