Then Captain Will told in detail the story of the visit to Tandy, the bribe offer, the adverse report, and the way in which Tandy had made the whole affair appear to have been an effort on Duncan's part to extort a bribe and betray those who had employed him. Temple readily grasped the situation.
"The worst of it is," he said, "Duncan can't even sue the old scoundrel for libel without making matters worse. Tandy would stick to his story, and as there were no witnesses that story would seem probable to people who don't know Duncan. What are we to do, Captain Hallam?"
"Well, it all depends upon your shrewdness and circumspection. Tandy is president of the X National Bank, you know. That's his club to fight me with. So, little by little, I've bought in there—through other people, you understand—so that now Stafford and I own forty-eight of the bank's hundred shares of stock, though on the books our names do not appear at all. Tandy owns the other fifty-two shares, I suppose, or at least he controls them. Indeed, whenever a stockholder's meeting occurs he votes practically all the stock, for it has been my policy to hide my hand by having the men who hold stock for me, give him their proxies as a blind.
"Now, what I propose is, that you shall manage somehow to get hold of a little block of the stock—three shares will be enough to give me the majority, but I'd rather make it four or five shares. If we can get the stock I'll surprise Tandy out of a year's growth by going into the stockholders' meeting, which occurs about ten days from now, and proceeding to elect a board of directors for the bank. I'll select the men I want for directors, and the board will at once make Guilford Duncan president of the bank, leaving old Napper a good deal of leisure in which to enjoy life. He'll need it all to convince anybody that there's anything shady in Guilford Duncan's character after it is known that Will Hallam has made him president of a bank."
Hallam chuckled audibly. He was enjoying the game, as he always did.
"Indeed, he will. But everything, as I understand it, depends upon my ability to secure the necessary shares of stock?"
"Yes, it all hangs on that, and it will be a ticklish job. Tandy is as wily as any old fox. You're sure he doesn't know you?"
"Neither by sight nor by name."
"You're sure nobody in his bank knows you and your relations with me?"
"Yes, I am certain. I was never in this town before, and as for my relations with you, why they have existed for so brief a time, at such a distance from Cairo, and are so obscure in themselves, that I think nobody knows them. Besides, you might discharge me, you know, if that should become necessary."
"We won't consider that as even possible. Now, as to ways and means. You see I depend upon you alone, and of course you must have a free hand. You mustn't consult me, or Stafford, or Duncan, or anybody else. You are to act on your own judgment, furnish your own supply of sagacity, and get that stock in your own way."
"I'll do it, even if I have to resign from your service and hunt another job. But I must have some money."
"Of course. How much?"
"Well, the stock will cost a trifle over par, I suppose—somewhat more than a thousand dollars a share. I should be prepared to buy a block of ten shares. You see, I might find a block of that kind which the owner would sell 'all or none.' I should have, say, eleven or twelve thousand dollars at instant command."
"All right. I'll have Stafford open an account with you in our bank to-morrow morning, with a credit balance of twelve thousand, and you can check——"
"Pardon me, but if I offer checks on your bank Tandy will suspect our alliance."
"That is true. You must have the greenbacks themselves. I'll send for Stafford now and have him give you the money in large bills to-night."
"Pardon me," answered Temple, "but if I go to him with so great a sum in actual——"
"Yes, I see. That would certainly arouse suspicion. What have you in mind?"
"Why, you or your bank must have banks in correspondence with you, banks in Chicago, or better still, New York?"
"Yes, of course."
"Can you not telegraph to one of them and arrange to have them say in response to a dispatch of inquiry from Tandy's bank, that my credit with them is good for twelve thousand dollars, and that if I wish to make use of some money in Cairo, they will pay my drafts up to that amount?"
"That's it. That will be the best plan in every way. You'll need identification, and I'll arrange that. You're stopping at the hotel, of course?"
"Very well. I'll call by there on my way home, and tell the proprietor, Jewett, to go to the bank and identify you whenever called upon."
"Will he not talk?"
"No. I'll tell him not to, and—well, you know, I'm just now arranging a heavy loan for him. He is paying off the remaining purchase money for the hotel in installments. That's all, I think. I'll send the Fourth National Bank of New York a night message. It will be delivered before banking hours to-morrow morning, but for fear of slips, you'd better wait till noon before giving that bank as your reference. Good-night. Remember that everything depends on you—including Guilford Duncan's reputation for integrity."
Temple sat for half an hour thinking and planning. He was determined to make no mistakes that might imperil success. To that end he was trying to imagine, in advance, every difficulty and every emergency that might arise. At last he rose, took his hat, turned the lamp out, and left the room.
"This is the very toughest bit of engineering," he reflected, "that ever I undertook. Well, so much the greater the credit if I succeed. But I don't care for the credit. I care only for Guilford Duncan in this case."
When Duncan left his room on the evening of Temple's conference with Will Hallam, he passed down the stairs and into the Hallam offices, where he still had a little working den of his own, for use when he did not care to see the people who sought him at his law office.
As he entered he found a little note upon his desk, and he recognized Barbara's small round hand in the superscription. Opening the envelope eagerly he read the few lines within:
You may come for your answer whenever it is convenient—any evening, I mean, for I am at leisure only in the evenings. There is a great deal for me to tell you, and it is going to be very hard for me to tell it. But it is my duty, and I must do it, of course. I'm afraid it won't be a pleasant evening for either of us.
There was no address, but Duncan observed with pleasure, as a hopeful sign, that the little missive was signed "Barbara."
"She wouldn't have signed it in that informal way, with only her first name, if she meant to break off the acquaintance," he argued with himself. And yet the substance of the note was discouraging in the extreme, so that Guilford Duncan was a very apprehensive and unhappy man as he hurried to Barbara's home. He still held her note crushed in his hand as he entered the house, and he read it over twice while waiting for her to appear. For this time—the first in his acquaintance with her—Barbara kept him waiting. She had not meant to do that, but found it necessary because of her own agitation in anticipation of the grievous task that was hers to do. She must resolutely bring herself under control, she felt, before meeting this crisis. She even tried in vain to "think out" the first sentences that she must speak. Finding this impossible she gave it up at last, and with all of composure that she could command, she entered the parlor and stood face to face with Guilford Duncan.
She could say no word as he stood looking eagerly into her eyes, as if questioning them. He, too, was silent for perhaps a minute, when at last, realizing the girl's distressing agitation, he gently took her hand, saying in his soft, winning voice:
"You are not well. You must sit down."
"Oh, it isn't that," she answered, as she seated herself bolt upright upon the least easy chair in the room. "It is what I must tell you."
"What is it? I am waiting anxiously to hear."
"You must be very patient then," she answered with difficulty. "It is hard to say, and I don't know where to begin. Oh, yes, I know now. I must begin where we left off when—well, that other time."
Duncan saw that she needed assistance, and he gave it by speaking soothingly to her, saying:
"You are to begin wherever you find it easiest to begin, and you are to tell me nothing that it distresses you to tell."
"Oh, but all of it distresses me, and I must tell it—all of it."
Again Duncan spoke soothingly, and presently the girl began again.
"Well, first, I can never—I mean I mustn't—I mustn't say 'yes' to the questions you asked me that other time."
"You mean when I asked if you would be my wife?"
"Yes. That's it. Thank you very much. That's the first thing I am to tell you."
"Who bade you tell me that?"
"Oh, nobody—or rather—I mean nobody told me I mustn't say 'yes,' but after I had made up my mind that I mustn't, then auntie said I was bound to tell you about it all. I wanted to write it, but she said that wouldn't be fair, and that I must tell you myself."
"But why did you make up your mind that you mustn't say 'yes'? Can you not love me, Barbara?"
"Oh, yes—I mean no—or rather—I mustn't."
"But if you can, why is it that you mustn't?"
That question at last gave Barbara courage to speak. It seemed to nerve her for the ordeal, and, at the same time, to point a way for the telling.
"Why, I mustn't love you, Mr. Duncan, because I cannot marry you. You see, that would be very wrong. When you—well, when you asked me those questions, it startled me, and I didn't know what to say, but after you had gone away that night I saw clearly that I mustn't think of such a thing. It would be so unfair to you."
"But how would it be unfair? It would be doing the one thing in the world that I want you to do. It would be giving me the one woman in the world whom I want for my wife, the only woman I shall ever think of marrying."
"But you mustn't think of that any more. You see, Mr. Duncan, I am not fit to be your wife. I should be a terrible drag upon you. You are already a man of prominence and everybody says you are soon to become a man of great distinction. You must have a wife worthy of such a man, a wife who can help him and do him credit in society. Now you know I could never become that sort of woman. I am only an obscure girl. I don't know how. I can not talk brilliantly. I couldn't impress people as your wife must. I am not even educated in any regular way. I've just grown up in my own fashion—in the shade as it were—and the strong sunlight would only emphasize my insignificance."
Duncan tried to interrupt, but she quickly cut him short.
"Let me go on, please. You are very generous, and you want to persuade me that I undervalue myself. You would convince me, if you could, that I am a great deal worthier than I think myself. I know better. You are very modest, and you would like to make me believe that you will never be a much more distinguished man than you are already, but again I know better. Probably you wouldn't become much more than you are, if you were to marry me, but that is because I should be a clog upon your life."
"Will you let me say one word at this point, Barbara?" broke in Duncan, in spite of her effort to prevent.
"You are wronging yourself and you are wronging me. As God lives I tell you there is no woman in the world so fit to be my wife as you are. My only wish is that I were worthy to have such a wife! I intend, of course, to achieve all that I can—to make the best use I can of such faculties as I possess, but nothing imaginable could so greatly help me to do that as the inspiration of your love, and the stimulus of knowing that you were to be always by my side, to share in all the good that might come to me, to cheer me in disappointment to help me endure, and above all, to strengthen me for my work in the world by your wise and loving counsel. For you are a very wise woman, Barbara, though you do not know it. You look things squarely in the face. You think soundly because you think with absolute and fearless sincerity. You are shy and timid, and self-distrustful. Thank God, you will never grow completely out of that, as so many women do. Your modesty will always remain a crown of glory to your character. But as you grow older, retaining your instinctive impulse to do well every duty that may lie before you, you will acquire enough of self-confidence to equip you for all emergencies. You are very young yet—even younger in feeling than in years. You will grow with every year into a more perfect womanhood."
An occasional tear was by this time trickling down the girl's cheeks. How could it be otherwise when the man she loved and honored above all others was so tenderly saying such things of her, and to her, with a sincerity too greatly passionate to be open to any doubt? How could it be otherwise when she knew that she must put aside the love of this man, her hero—the only love, as she knew in her inmost soul, that she could ever think of with rejoicing so long as she should live?
She would have interrupted the passionate pleading if her voice had been under control. As it was she sat silent, while he went on.
"I have spoken of my ambitions first, and of your capacity to help them, not because such things are first in my estimation, but because you have treated them as worthy of being put first. There are much higher things to be thought of. What a man achieves is of far less consequence than what a man is. That which I ask of you is to help me be the best that I am capable of being, and for you to be it with me. I want to make the most, the best, the happiest life for you that is possible. If I am permitted to do that, with you to help me do it, it will be an achievement of far greater benefit to the world than any possible external success can be. The home is immeasurably more important, as a factor in human life, and in national life, than the mart, or the senate, or the pulpit, or any other influence can be. It is in happy homes that the saving virtues of humanity are born and nourished. From such homes, more than from all the pulpits, and all the institutions of learning, there flows an influence for good that sweetens all life, preserves morality, and keeps us human beings fit to live. Oh, Barbara, you will never know how longingly I dream of such a home with you at its head! You cannot know how absolutely the worthiness of my life depends upon such a linking of it with yours."
The girl had completely given way to her emotions now, but with that resolute self-mastery which was a dominant note in her nature, she presently controlled herself. The picture that his words had created in her imagination was alluring in the extreme. But she was strong enough to put the dream of happiness aside.
"You do not know all," she said. "You have not heard all I have to tell you. You haven't heard the most important part of it. I have only told you what I thought on that evening when—when you asked—questions. I still think that ought to settle the matter, but you seem to think—perhaps you might have convinced me, or at least—oh, you don't know! There are other reasons—stronger reasons, reasons that nothing can remove."
"Tell me of them. I can imagine no reason whatever that could satisfy me."
"It is very hard to tell. You know I never knew my parents. Both my mother and my father died on the day I was born. I seem to know my mother, because auntie loved her so much, and has talked to me so much about her all my life. But she never talked to me much about my father. His family was a good one—his father having been a banker, with some reputation as an artist also, and my father was his partner in business. But that is all I know of my father—no, that isn't what I meant to say. I meant to say that that is all my aunt ever told me about him, and all I knew until the night when you asked me—questions. After you went away that evening, I went to my room and thought the matter out. I have already told you what conclusions I reached. When I had decided, I went to auntie's room and sat on the side of her bed and told her everything. She cried very bitterly—I didn't understand why at first. After a while she said she didn't at all agree with me in my conclusions, and added:
"'If the things you mention were all, Bab, I should tell you to stop thinking of them, and let Mr. Duncan judge for himself. But there is something else, Bab—something very dreadful. I never intended to tell you of it, but now I must. You would find it out very soon, for Tandy's wife knows it, and if she heard that there was anything between you and Mr. Duncan, she would make haste to talk of it—particularly after what has happened between Tandy and Mr. Duncan. Then you would never forgive me for not telling you.'
"She went on then, and told me what I must tell you. She told me, Mr. Duncan, that I am the daughter of a Thief!"
The girl paused, unable to go on. Duncan saw that she was suffering acutely, and he determined to spare her.
"You must stop now, Barbara," he said in a caressing tone. "You are overwrought. I will hear the rest another time—when you feel stronger and send for me. I am going to say good-night now, so that you may rest. But before I go I want to say that nothing you have told me can make the least difference in my feelings, or my desires, or my purposes. You are what you are. Nothing else matters. When you feel strong enough, I will come again and persuade you to be my wife. Good-night!"
As she stood facing him, with unutterable distress in every line of her face, he leaned forward impulsively, but with extreme gentleness, and reverently kissed her.
TEMPLE AND TANDY
On the morning after his consultation with Captain Will Hallam, Richard Temple had his first interview with Tandy. Jewett, the hotel proprietor, walked with him to the X National Bank, took him into the bank parlor, and introduced him to the president, intimating that he would probably wish to do some business with the bank, and assuring Tandy that the young man was "as square as they make 'em."
Tandy welcomed the visitor cordially, and when Jewett had bowed himself out, Temple opened negotiations, very cautiously and with every seeming of indecision, as to what he might ultimately decide to do.
"I have a little money, Mr. Tandy, that I may want to invest. I'm rather a stranger in Cairo. I wonder if you, as a banker, would mind advising me. Of course, if I make any investments, I shall do so through your bank."
"It is my business to advise investors, Mr. Temple, and in your case it is also a pleasure, if I may be permitted to say so. What are your ideas—in a general way, I mean?"
"It would be somewhat difficult for me to——"
"Oh, I quite understand. You haven't yet made up your mind. You want to look about you, eh? Well, that's right. There's more harm done by haste in making investments than by anything else. There are lots of 'cats and dogs' on the market. Of course they're a good buy sometimes, if a man wants to take long chances for the sake of big profits, and if he is in a position to watch the market. But it's awfully risky. Still——"
Tandy hesitated and did not complete his sentence for a time. He was wondering just "how much of a sucker" this young man might be. Tandy himself held some small blocks of securities which might very properly be reckoned in the feline and canine class. He wondered if it might not be possible to "work off" some of these, in company with some better stocks, on this young man. He was closely scrutinizing Temple's visage, trying to "size him up." After seeming to meditate for a brief space, he resumed:
"It is risky, of course. Still, if a man is in position to watch the market closely, and sell out at the proper time, it sometimes turns out well to buy a few inferior stocks, when buying a lot of better ones. I've known it to happen that a lucky turn in the market enabled a man to sell out his inferior stocks at a profit big enough to pay for the good ones. You see the inferior stocks can be bought for so little on a dull market, such as we have at present, that there can't be a very great risk in buying them in moderate quantities, while buying better securities in the main. And there's always a chance of a lucky turn in the market, and with it a chance of great profits."
Temple did not interrupt the flow of Tandy's financial exposition. He had three reasons—all of them good—for wishing Tandy to talk on. In the first place he was waiting for noonday, before mentioning his credit in the Fourth National Bank of New York. In the second place it was his "cue" to sit reverently at the feet of this great financier, and to make as little display as possible of his own sagacity. Finally, he was studying Tandy—"sizing him up"—finding out, for future use, all that he needed to know about the man with whom he had to deal. This was the result of the "sizing up," as it formulated itself in what might be called a "first draft," in Temple's mind:
"He's a smooth, plausible, conscienceless scoundrel;
"He's so far filled with self-conceit that it sometimes blinds him;
"He would gladly swindle me out of my eyes, if he could do so without being caught; but if he can't swindle me, he will be glad to do business with me 'on the square,' as he would put it."
But Temple wanted to complete and revise and, if necessary, correct this first draft of his "sizing up," and so he wanted Tandy to go on talking.
"I am not much disposed to speculate in doubtful securities," he said. "I can't afford it, for one thing, and, of course, I am not in position to watch the market, as you say. What I would like is to put a few thousands into some good, safe, dividend-paying security. Of course——"
"You're right, of course. Still, if you choose to take some small risk, I could watch the market for you. I often do that for customers of the bank. I'm naturally in a position to know what's going on. By the way, how much money have you to invest?"
"I have twelve thousand dollars in New York——"
"Where the interest rates are small," interrupted Tandy. "You want to bring it West, where it will earn more. I understand. You're right in that. The West is the place for men and money to do the best they can for themselves. This part of the country is growing like Jack's beanstalk. You must have noticed it."
"I certainly have. Indeed, I suppose that never before in all history did any region grow so fast or so solidly."
"There! You've hit the nail on the head," said Tandy. "Solidly! And that accounts for many things. The conservative people of the East never saw anything like it, and they can't quite believe it. They don't realize the wonderful soundness of things out here. They have learned to think that high interest means poor security. In the East, where there is plenty of money and very little development going on, it does. But here in the West the case is different. Here, interest is high and dividends large, simply because the country is growing so rapidly, and developing its resources so wonderfully fast. Let me illustrate. My friend, Captain Hallam, recently bought a mine up the State. It hadn't been properly developed, so he bought it at a low price and capitalized it at cost, adding a trifle for improvements. That mine is now paying twenty per cent, dividends on its stock, in addition to a large expenditure every month for improvements. Then, again, Captain Hallam is selling off the farms on the surface at a price that will presently pay the whole first cost of the mine. When that is done, the mine will stand him in just nothing at all, and all the dividends the stockholders get will be just like so much money found—picked up from the prairie grass, I might say. Is there any danger in that sort of thing? Is a share of that stock a doubtful security to the man who has already got back the entire purchase price? True, it pays twenty per cent, dividends on its face, and that scares the conservative galoots in New York. That's just because they have got it ground into their minds that high interest always means poor security. But, come, I want to take you for a drive around Cairo, to show you what we are doing here and what we are planning to do. I think when you see it you'll know for yourself where to put your money. Can you go with me for a drive?"
"Very gladly. But first, I want to arrange to bring to Cairo what money I have. I may not want to invest it all here, but it will be handy to have it here. I should like to put it into your bank as a deposit. But I must draw on New York for it, and get you to take my draft. Won't you direct your cashier to telegraph the Fourth National Bank of New York, asking for what amount my drafts on that institution will be honored? Then, when we get back from our drive, I'll draw for the money and place it on deposit with your bank, where I can put my hands upon it when necessary."
The telegram was sent, and then Tandy took Temple in his carriage—one of the best in Cairo at that time—and showed him all there was of resource in the town, lecturing, meanwhile, on the prospects of Cairo as a future great commercial and manufacturing center. He showed him all there was to be shown, and then said to him:
"Now, I'm an apostle of Western development, but still more I'm an apostle of the development of Cairo. I'm a bull on the country, and a bull on this city. There is much to be done, and it will require the investment of a great deal of money. But the investments will pay as nothing else promises to do. We must have grain elevators, and mills, and all the rest of it. We've two big flour mills already, and there will be two or three more within a year. They must have barrels by thousands and tens of thousands. Now a man of your intelligence must see that empty barrels, being bulky, are costly things to transport over long distances, while the mills must buy them at the lowest possible price. Otherwise they can't sell flour in competition with the mills of other cities. So the necessity of having a big barrel factory here is obvious, and so is the profit. I am just forming a company for that purpose. We have abundant timber right at hand, just across the two rivers, in Missouri and Kentucky. We can make barrels at less cost than they can be had for in any other city, while we have a local market that will be unfailing. The company is capitalized at twenty-five thousand dollars, and a good part of it is already subscribed."
He did not say that none of it had been paid for yet, and that he was unsuccessfully trying to find buyers for it.
"It's a sure thing. The profits will be large from the beginning, and the stock, as soon as the factory is in operation, will jump up fifty per cent, at least. If you want a thousand or so of it, I'll let you in on the ground floor. Otherwise, I'll take it myself."
"That impresses me very favorably," answered Temple truthfully. "It is an enterprise based upon sound principles—one that offers a supply in direct answer to a demand. I shall probably decide to take a little of that stock, if I can get some other securities to go with it. But for a part of the money I have to invest, I must get stock in some already established and assured business—I should especially like bank stock, either in your bank or Captain Hallam's. You see——"
"Oh, yes, I see. You want a nest-egg that will certainly hatch out a chicken. I'll find it for you. Let's leave that till to-morrow. Anyhow, I'm an advocate of local investments. I'm putting every spare dollar I've got into them, and I always advise investors to go into them. We're planning—Hallam and I—to set up a gas plant here. The city needs it, and it'll pay from the word go. I'll tell you about that to-morrow. You see, I want you to know just what we're doing and planning, and then we'll find the best places for you to put your money into. It's getting late now, so we'll drive back to the bank. I told the cashier to wait for us, though of course it's after banking hours."
On their return to the bank each of these men felt that he had "put in a good day's work." Tandy was sure that by letting the young man have a few shares in firmly established enterprises, he could "rope him in," as he phrased it in his mind, for the purchase of some more doubtful things. Temple, in his turn, was convinced that by buying into some of Tandy's more speculative enterprises, he could ultimately secure the shares he had been set to buy in the X National.
The telegraphic reply from the New York Bank had been received and was altogether satisfactory. So, late as it was, Temple drew on New York for twelve thousand dollars, and with the draft, opened a deposit account for that amount in Tandy's bank.
Then he went to his hotel. His first impulse was to send a message to Captain Will Hallam, asking whether he might take the barrel-factory stock, and perhaps some other things of like kind, in aid of success in his mission, but upon reflection he decided to act upon his own judgment, without consultation or advice. Hallam had given him a free hand, leaving him to work out the problem in his own way. Any communication between him and Hallam, or between him and Duncan, would involve something of risk. So he sat alone in his hotel room, thinking and planning.
He did not know or dream how anxious Tandy was to draw him into some of his schemes. He did not know that both the barrel factory and the gas enterprise had recently become veritable white elephants on Tandy's hands. He did not know that Tandy—in his eagerness to overreach Hallam—had "stretched himself out like a string," as Hallam picturesquely put it—by investing more money in these two companies, and several others, than he could just then spare. Especially, he did not know that Hallam had himself completely organized and capitalized both a gas company and a barrel company, and that Tandy's two companies represented an unsuccessful attempt to rival enterprises into which Hallam had "breathed the breath of life."
He was surprised, therefore, when a bell boy brought him Tandy's card, as he sat there in his lonely hotel room, planning the morrow's campaign.
"I thought you might be lonely," said the banker, as he was ushered into the room, "seeing that you're a stranger in town. So I have dropped in for a chat."
The "chat" very quickly fell into financial channels, and it did not proceed far before shrewd Richard Temple discovered some things of advantage to himself. Among the things discovered was the fact that Tandy was somewhat over anxious to hasten the business in hand. Apparently he feared that Temple might fall in with other advisers. He seemed anxious to arrive at conclusions in a hurry, Temple thought, and the thought served at once to put him on his guard and to give him his opportunity. He listened with every indication of interest to all that Tandy had to say concerning the two still unlaunched enterprises—the barrel factory and the gas company. He asked interested questions concerning them, and ventured the suggestion that the proposed capitalization of the gas company was too small to admit of the best results.
"As an engineer," he said, "I know something of the cost of digging trenches and laying mains, and it seems to me that in order to equip itself for business this company will need a good deal more money than you plan to put into it as capital stock."
"I see your point," Tandy answered quickly, "and in any ordinary case it would be sound enough, though of course a company of that kind doesn't depend upon its subscribed capital alone, or even chiefly for its working capital. It is the practice in establishing such companies to issue and sell bonds enough to cover the cost of the plant, or very nearly that. The profits are so certain and so great that the bonds—even at so low a figure as five per cent. interest—go off like hot cakes. But that isn't all. Here in Cairo we shall hardly have to bond the company at all. You see we shall have almost no engineering work to do. In other cities a gas company must dig deep trenches—often through solid rock—in which to lay its mains. Here in Cairo we shall have no digging at all to do. You observed, as we drove to-day, that the city is built upon a tongue of very low-lying ground. A levee, forty-five feet high, has been built around it, and contractors are now busily filling in the streets so as to raise them nearly, though not quite, to the grade of the levee. Every street is a long embankment. Now, when we come to lay our mains, we shall put them along the sides of these embankments, with no cost at all for digging."
So Tandy went on for an hour. At the end of that time Temple felt himself sufficiently sure of his ground to venture a little further:
"I am inclined to think," he said, "that I shall want to take at least a little of the barrel-factory stock to-morrow, and possibly I may subscribe for some of the gas stock also; of that I am not yet sure. But before I take either, I must invest four or five thousand dollars in something absolutely secure. I have been going over the latest reports of your bank, and the other one—Hallam's—and they have impressed me with the conviction that the very best and safest investment a man of small means, like myself, can make in this town, is in bank stock. This city is a point at which so many lines of travel and traffic converge, that the exchange business itself must be sufficient to pay a bank's expenses. In fact it pays more, as the reports show. And then there is the larger business—lending money on sound enterprises, financing industrial companies, and especially advancing money on bills of lading for goods in transit. In view of all this it surprises me to learn that the stock in the two banks here stands only a trifle above par."
"Oh, that's because of two things. People here have got it into their heads that anything less than ten or twelve per cent., as a return for money invested, is ridiculously small. So they don't want bank stocks. On the other hand, the eastern capitalists have got it into their heads that anything which pays more than four or five per cent. must be risky, and so they don't set up banks here, as they surely would do but for their foolish timidity. The prospect of a big return for their money simply scares them out of their seven senses. So Hallam's bank and mine have a monopoly of as pretty a business as you'll find in a day's walk. Why, when the rush was on last winter, and twenty steamboats a day were leaving Cairo with full cargoes—to say nothing of great fleets of grain barges—- Hallam and I both went to New York with our pockets full of government bonds, and borrowed money on them for sixty or ninety days. We paid six per cent. per annum for the money, and got from one-half to one per cent. a day on most of it by advancing on grain drafts, with bills of lading attached. It was as easy as falling off a log, and as safe as insuring pig-iron under water."
"I have some notion of all that," answered Temple, "and that's the sort of investment I'm looking for. I might take in some more speculative things, but I greatly want to invest a few thousand dollars in the stock of one or other of these two national banks. Could you find somebody willing to sell?"
Tandy had expected this, and had prepared himself for it. But he pretended to think for a moment before replying. Then he said:
"As to Hallam's bank, it's useless to try. Hallam and Stafford own the whole thing, except that they have put a share or two into the hands of members of their own families, just by way of qualifying them to serve as directors, as the law requires. Neither one of them would sell a share for twice its market price. The same thing is true, in a general way at least, of our bank. The stock is so good a thing that nobody who has got any of it ever wants to part with it. But it has always been our policy to interest the people in the bank by letting them hold some of its stock. So a good deal of it is held in small lots around town, and now and then one of these is put into my hands for sale. I have four shares now to sell. It belongs to a tug captain who is down on his luck just now, and must sell. He wants more than the market price, but the bank has lent him money on it nearly up to its face value, and so I can do pretty much as I please with it. Ordinarily I should buy it myself, but I'm in so many things just now, and besides, I'd like to have you with us."
Tandy did not say that since he had seen Temple in the afternoon, he had taken in these four shares of stock for debt, at three per cent. below par, with the fixed purpose of selling them to Temple at three per cent, above par.
"How many shares did you say there are of it?" asked Temple.
"Four, if I remember right. I really oughtn't to let it slip through my fingers, but—well, I'll tell you what I'll do—if you care to subscribe for a few shares of the barrel company—say one or two thousand dollars' worth—I'll let you have the bank stock at a hundred and three."
Temple was eager to close the bargain, but he resolutely repressed his eagerness. He asked a score of questions, as if in doubt, and at last he hesitatingly agreed to make the purchase. The details were to be arranged on the next day, and so Tandy took his leave, and Temple lay awake all night, as he had done on the night before.
At four o'clock the next afternoon Temple strolled into the Hallam office to report results. He threw the papers upon a desk and sank into a chair like one exhausted. He was in fact almost in a state of collapse. He had not been conscious of strain at any time during his negotiations. He had, indeed, rather enjoyed the playing of such a game of wits with so wily an adversary as Tandy was. But all the while his anxiety to succeed in what he had undertaken had kept his nerves so tense that his mind had known no rest. All the time he had been painfully conscious that the smallest slip on his part, the smallest indiscretion, the slightest mistake in look, or tone, or act, would bring failure as a consequence. And he had all the time been agonizingly conscious of the fact that no less a thing than Guilford Duncan's reputation was the stake he played for—that Guilford Duncan's entire future was in his hands. There were reasons more vital to him than his friendship for Duncan, for regarding success in this matter as an end that must be achieved at all hazards, and at all costs. For years ago these two had quarreled as rivals in love, after being friends of the closest sort from infancy, and only Duncan's great generosity of mind had made forgiveness and reconciliation possible. Dick Temple knew that in the matter out of which the quarrel grew, he had grievously wronged his friend, and that knowledge had been to him a veritable thorn in the flesh, robbing even such happiness as had come to him of half its quality of joy. He had longed above all other things for an opportunity to make atonement, and that longing had been intensified since the meeting at the mine, by the generous treatment he had received at Duncan's hands. His Mary shared it in full measure, too, as she shared every worthy impulse of his soul. It had been a grief to the gently generous wife that the man she loved must live always under so distressing an obligation to the friend who had so magnanimously forgiven.
When this opportunity of repayment came to him, therefore, his first thought was of Mary. He wrote to her immediately after his first conference with Hallam, telling her of the matter in a way that filled her soul with gladness and fear—gladness that the opportunity was his at last, and sleepless fear lest he should be baffled and beaten. So when at last success was his, when he received from Tandy's hands the papers that secured his purpose, his first act was to telegraph to Mary the message:
Glory to God in the highest! I have paid my debt to Guilford Duncan.
It was fire minutes later when he entered the Hallam offices and laid the papers before the head of the house, saying only:
"I've secured the stock." When he sank into the chair, Hallam was quick to see his condition.
"Go up to Duncan's rooms and go to bed," he urged. "You've not been sleeping."
Recovering himself quickly, Temple answered:
"No, I think I'd rather not. If you've no further use for me, I think I'll go home by the train that starts an hour hence. There'll be time enough between now and then for me to render you an account of money spent, and give you my check for the balance in Tandy's bank. I don't want to see Duncan just now."
Hallam understood. "Very well," he answered, as Temple turned to a desk. "You've saved Duncan, and there's nothing more for you to do here. But you must come back for the final grand tableau just a week hence. I'll leave this stock in your name till then, and you shall walk with me into the stockholders' meeting and help me salivate old Napper Tandy. We'll teach him not to play tricks."
Captain Hallam spoke no word of commendation for the way in which Temple had done his work. Words were unnecessary.
"I hope I made no mistake in subscribing for that barrel company stock," said Temple as he passed the completed papers over to Hallam. "At any rate, I'd like to keep that myself, if I may, whether it ever proves to be worth anything or not. I've accumulated enough money to pay for it."
"Oh, as to that," answered Hallam lightly, "the stock will be good enough. I'll make it so by taking a majority interest in the company and consolidating it with my own. You see, we simply must do something for Old Napper Tandy."
A PACT WITH BARBARA
That evening Guilford Duncan was summoned to Hallam's house for supper. With only Mrs. Hallam for auditor, Hallam wished to tell the young man all that had occurred, for Duncan had not been permitted to know aught of it, since Hallam had turned him out of his room, in order that the conference with Dick Temple might be a strictly private one.
Nor had Duncan seemed very greatly concerned to inquire. He had not expected Hallam and Temple to succeed in accomplishing anything, and at this time his fate was at crisis in another and, to him, a dearer way. His interview with Barbara had been held, as we know, at the precise time when Hallam and Temple were in consultation with regard to the matter of Tandy's accusation. In some degree, at least, the painful character of that interview with Barbara, and its unsatisfactory result, had dulled his mind to the other trouble. In view of Barbara's seemingly final rejection of his wooing, he was not sure that he greatly cared what might become of his reputation, or his career. He was too strong a man in his moral character, however, to remain long in a state of such indifference, but for the time being he found it impossible to regard his future as a matter of much consequence, now that Barbara refused to share that future with him.
"There is still one more chance," he reflected, "one more interview with Barbara, one more hope that I may win her. If that fails, the other thing won't matter much. I'll horsewhip Tandy and then go away. No, I won't go away. I won't desert in the presence of the enemy. I won't—oh, I don't know what I will or won't do. All that must wait till I know my fate with Barbara."
This was on the morning after his evening with Barbara—the morning on which Temple first made acquaintance with Tandy. Duncan was sitting idly in his office, mechanically toying with a paper cutter. Presently he overturned the inkstand, spilling its contents over some legal papers that he had drawn upon the day before.
"That's fortunate!" he ejaculated, as with blotting pads he sought to save what he could of the documents. "It gives me something better to do than sit here idly mooning. Those papers must go off by the afternoon mail, and I must rewrite them first."
He set to work at once, and close application to the task for several hours brought him into a healthier condition of mind. When he had finished the task and had taken the papers to the postoffice he realized that his state of mind had been a morbid one. He realized, too, that he must end the suspense as quickly as possible, in order that he might take up work and grow sound of soul again.
Returning to his office he sent a note to Barbara:
I shall go to see you to-night, unless you forbid. I must hear what more you have to tell me, and I must in my turn tell you something of myself. When that is done, I shall renew my efforts to win you to myself. Please send me word that I may come.
For answer, he got the single word "Come," written in the middle of a page, without address or signature. Thus it came about that while Temple was sitting in his hotel room, in negotiation with Tandy over a matter that involved Duncan's future more vitally than any other event had ever done, Duncan himself sat with Barbara, trying to adjust another matter which seemed to him of even greater consequence.
Barbara had her emotions in leash, now. Without hesitation, and with a bravely controlled utterance, she went at once to the marrow of the matter.
"I told you," she began, "that I am the daughter of a Thief. My father was trusted absolutely by my grandfather. He betrayed the trust. He made use of his authority as a member of the banking house, not only to wreck it in speculation, but also to rob all the people who had entrusted their money to it. I don't understand such matters very well, but, at any rate, my father ruined the firm and robbed its customers. At a single stroke he reduced his father to poverty and forever disgraced his honorable name. When he found that the facts must become known at once, my father went home and blew his brains out. I was born that day, and my mother died of shock and grief within the hour. My poor grandfather lived for a month, without speaking a word to anybody. Then he quit living."
"It is a terribly sad story," said Duncan. "I should not have let you tell it, poor child."
"Oh, but I was obliged to tell you," she interrupted. "It was my duty. You see—well, you have been so good to me, and I am obliged to say 'no' to what you asked me before you knew this horrible thing. It wouldn't have been fair just to say 'no,' and not tell you of a thing that explains, a thing that must make you wish you hadn't asked me that."
"But it does not make me wish anything of the kind, Barbara. It makes me more eager than ever to win you, in order that I may devote my life to the loving task of making you forget the horror of this thing. Oh, Barbara! I never loved you half so madly as I love you now. And you love me. I know it, but you must say it. You love me, Barbara! Say it! Say it—now!"
The girl hesitated for no more than a moment, while her whole body quivered.
"God help me!" she said then, "I do love you! I love you too well to let you link your life with mine, to let you take upon yourself the shadow of my disgrace."
"But you have no disgrace. You are innocent. The fault is not yours that your father betrayed his trust a score of years ago—before you were born."
"Listen!" she interrupted with passionate determination. "If you were to marry me I should become the mother of your children. That would make them the grandchildren of a Thief."
The two were standing now.
"I want you to sit down while I answer you, Barbara," said Duncan, with almost unimaginable tenderness in his tone. "No, not in that straight-backed chair, for I want you to listen to all I have to say, and to be at ease while you listen. Sit here," pushing an easy chair forward, "sit here where you can see my face as I speak. I want you to see in my eyes the sincerity of my soul."
Barbara obeyed and listened.
"I was born and brought up," he said, "in a region where all the old traditions had full sway over the minds of men and women, enslaving them. During four years of war I learned much, but I unlearned far more. I learned to look facts in the face, and to accept them at their just value. I learned to judge of others and of their worth by what they are, not by what their fathers or grandfathers may have been. I unlearned the false teaching of tradition that aught else than personal character and personal conduct goes to the making up of any human being's account with his fellow man. I had a true democracy forced upon me when I saw men of the humblest extraction winning high place for themselves, and being set to command men of the loftiest lineage—all because of personal character and fitness, and in spite of their lack of caste. No sane man can contemplate the character and career of Mr. Lincoln, for example, without finding in it an object lesson in democracy which should make a very laughing-stock of all the fables of aristocratic tradition. I tell you truly that I have put all those things behind me, as all Americans must who truly believe in the fundamental principles of our Republic. Every man must be accepted for what he is, not for what his father or his grandfather may have been. We read that lesson in the lives of such men as Ben Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln, and Grant, and a score of other notables. We read it even more clearly in everyday life. No banker extends credit to a worthless man on the ground that he was born to high social repute. No banker withholds credit from a man of integrity because his father was not to be trusted. All day, every day, men everywhere are acting upon a clear perception of the truth that each human being must be judged by what he is, and not by what some other person has been.
"Now I know you, Barbara, for what you are, and I love you for that alone. What your father may have done or been, twenty years ago, is to me a matter of entire indifference, except that the knowledge of it gives you pain and sorrow. It makes no difference to me; it in no way alters or lessens my love for you, and it never will. Knowing it all, I am more earnest than ever in my purpose to make you my wife if I can persuade you to that after I have told you something about myself that may very justly seem to you a real bar to my hopes."
"Go on, please," said the girl. "Tell me what you will, but I shall never believe anything ill of you. I know better."
"Thank you for saying that, dear," he responded with a tremor in his tone. "But unhappily others may believe it. If they do, then the career you have expected for me must be at an end at once. My reputation for integrity will be gone for good, and I must be content to surrender all my ambitions. That is why I must tell you of this ugly thing before again asking you to be my wife."
"Go on," she said again. "But I shall believe nothing bad of you, even though an angel should tell me."
"I told you the other night," he said, "that I had quarreled with Napper Tandy; that he had tried to tempt me with a money bribe to do an infamous thing. He now gives it out that it was I who proposed the bribe; that I went to him with an offer to do that infamous thing for hire, and that he indignantly rejected the offer."
"He lies!" broke in the girl.
"Yes, he lies, of course," answered Duncan, "but I have no way of proving it. He and I were alone and in his house. There were no witnesses. How, then, am I ever to clear my name of so foul an accusation?"
"There is no need," answered the girl. "Nobody who knows you will ever believe the story. Captain Hallam would not think it worth asking a question about."
"No, Captain Hallam would not for a moment think of such a thing as even possible. But that is because he knows me as few other men do or ever will. But the accusation troubles him, because he knows that other people will believe it. He and Richard Temple are at this moment busy trying to find some way of clearing my name of the foul slander. They will do all that two loyal and sagacious friends can do to accomplish that purpose. But I cannot imagine any way in which they can succeed."
"What is it they are doing?"
"I do not know; they have refused to tell me. I only know that they can never succeed."
"Oh, you must not think that. You don't know what wonders Captain Hallam can work when he is in earnest. You must have hope and confidence. Besides, nobody who knows you will ever believe such a story as that. Your enemies will pretend to believe it, and for a time the people who love to gossip will repeat it to each other. But you will live it down. Every act of your life will contradict the lie, and Tandy's reputation is not of a kind to lead sensible people to believe his falsehood when you have set the truth against it. You are depressed and despondent now. The mood is unworthy of you."
"Tell me what I should do."
"First of all you should act like the brave, strong man that you are. You should either take this slander by the throat and strangle it by publishing a simple, direct statement of the facts, or you should ignore it altogether, as a thing too absurd to need even a denial. Wait till you see what Captain Hallam and Mr. Temple succeed in doing, and then act as seems best. But in any case, you must be strong and courageous. No other mood belongs to such a man as you."
Duncan looked her full in the face for a space before speaking. Then he said:
"And yet you say you have no gift to help me—that if you were my wife you would be a drag upon me! Oh, Barbara, you cannot know how greatly I need the strength that the sympathy and counsel of such a woman as you are must give to the man who loves and wins her. You have in this hour rescued me from despondency; you have made me strong again; you have shown me my duty, and inspired me with resolution to do it manfully."
"I am very glad," she answered.
"Then promise me that you will stand by my side always. Let me give you the right to help. Say that you will be my wife!"
His voice was full of tender pleading and for a moment the girl hesitated. Finally she said:
"I think I know how to answer now, but you mustn't interrupt. I feel as though I couldn't stand much this evening."
"I will not interrupt. I am too eager to hear."
"I think I have a plan—for you and me. I still think what I thought before—when I said 'no.' I still think you ought to have some better woman for your wife, some woman more nearly your equal, some woman who could help you to win a great place for yourself in the world and could herself fill the place of a great man's wife with dignity. You ought to marry a woman who knows, oh, ever so much that I shall never know—a woman that you need never be ashamed to introduce as your wife. No, don't interrupt!" she exclaimed, seeing that he was on the point of doing so. "I know what you would say, and that is the only thing that makes me doubt my own conviction about these matters. It seems to me a wonderful thing that such a man as you should care for such a woman as I am, but the fact that you do care for me almost makes me think sometimes that maybe after all I misjudge myself, and that you are right. It seems so hard to believe you wrong. Now, I must be perfectly frank, because I know no other way of saying what I must. I have confessed that I love you. You compelled me to do that. If I were sure of my capacity to make you happy, not just for a little while, but throughout all your life, I would say 'yes' to the questions you have asked. But I mustn't make any mistake that might spoil your life, and so I must not say 'yes' just now, at least, and you will not let me say 'no.' I am still very young, as you know. You, too, are young enough to wait. So I think we'll leave both the 'yes' and the 'no' unsaid for a long time to come—for a year, perhaps—long enough, at any rate, for both of us to find out which of us is right. During that time we must be the very best of friends. You must tell me everything that concerns you, so that I may practice helping you, and find out whether I can really do it or not. If you find that I can't you shall be perfectly free to go away from me. If I find that I can't, then I'll say 'no' and stick to it."
Duncan was disposed to plead for better terms, but the little lady had fully made up her mind and would accept no modification of the treaty. Duncan had no choice but to accept an arrangement which, after all, had much of joy and still more of promise in it.
As they were on the point of parting, Barbara—with something like a struggle—made an addition to the compact.
"If that slander sticks to you, Guilford, I'll marry you at once and give it the lie."
What could the warm-blooded young man do but kiss her with fervor?
"Surely you will forgive me," he began in fear, lest he had offended.
"I don't mind—for once. But you mustn't do that again till—well, while we continue to be just friends."
MRS. HALLAM HEARS NEWS
As Guilford Duncan sat late that night, recalling the events of the evening, he felt himself more and more nearly satisfied with the outcome of his wooing. It was true, of course, that Barbara had not promised to become his wife, as he had hoped that she might do, but at any rate she had confessed her love for him in a way that left nothing to conjecture. With such a woman, he reflected, love is never lightly given, and once given it can never be withdrawn.
Moreover, as he reflected upon the compact, he saw how certainly the close and intimate friendship for which it provided must daily and hourly draw the two lovers closer and closer together, making each of them more and more necessary to the other. In brief, there was so much that was satisfactory in the compact that he put aside all the rest as "not worth worrying over."
As he realized the extent of his success in his wooing he planned to perfect it in a hundred ways. He resolved to make every possible opportunity for Barbara to help him, in order that she might learn how helpful she could be. He determined to acquaint her with all his affairs, in the utmost detail, in order that she might make herself more and more a part of his life. His first thought was that he would withhold from her knowledge everything that annoyed or distressed him, thus sparing her all that he could of pain, while telling her freely of every joyous thing. But he quickly saw how unfair that would be, and how unlike what such a woman would desire. He had begun to catch something of Barbara's own spirit, and to know that any reserves with her now would be a cruel wrong to her loving desire for a helpful share in his life.
"I will be as frank with her," he resolved, "as if she were already my wife. She shall share my sorrows as well as my joys. And what a comfort her sympathy will be!"
He slept little that night, yet on the morrow he went to his work with a buoyancy of spirit such as he had not known since that evening when he had first declared his love.
It was in this mood of elation and hopefulness that he went to the Hallams' an hour before the supper time. He did not yet know what Hallam and Temple had been trying to do, and of course he knew nothing of the success they had achieved. But in his present mood he was optimistic enough to hope for some good result. He thought he might meet Temple at supper if his work, whatever it was, had been finished, and when he found that his friend was neither present nor expected, he satisfied himself with the reflection that the task Temple had undertaken was very probably one requiring a good deal more time than had elapsed since he began it. A little later he got more definite information.
"Temple isn't to be with us," he half said, half asked, after the greetings were over.
"No," answered Captain Will. "He has gone back to the mines. He is rather done up with the work and anxiety and loss of sleep. I tried to make him take possession of your rooms this afternoon, for a straight-away sleep, but he thought he'd rather go back to his wife till the tenth. He'll be here, however, in time to assist at the grand finale, as the show people call it."
"I'm afraid I don't understand," said Duncan with a look of inquiry.
"Why, there's to be a meeting of the stockholders of the X National on the tenth, you know."
"I didn't know. But what of it?"
"Why, only that your friend Temple wants to be there, when he and I march into the meeting controlling a majority interest and elect a board of directors for old Napper Tandy, leaving him completely out of it. Not a word about that, however, to anybody, till the time comes. We want to add to the dramatic effect by making the thing a complete surprise."
If Captain Will Hallam had been a robust boy of ten, chewing upon a particularly toothsome morsel, he could not have shown a greater relish for what was in his mouth than he did for these sentences as he uttered them. His manner had all of active satisfaction in it that an eager card player manifests when he saves a doubtful game by throwing down a final and unsuspected trump at the end of a hand that has seemed to be lost.
But Duncan was still mystified, and in answer to his questions Captain Hallam explained.
"When you got yourself into trouble by monkeying with the accentuations of a buzz saw," he said, "I could see only one way out, and that was to put you into a position where even the disembodied spirit of Calumny itself could not pretend to believe old Napper Tandy's yarn. You know Tandy is fond of playing tricks, especially upon me, and as the president and controlling spirit of a rather strong bank, he has been able to give me a good deal of trouble now and then. A year ago Stafford and I decided that it might some day be handy for us to control a majority of the stock in Tandy's bank. There was a good deal of it lying about loose—that is to say, a number of people held little blocks of it, ranging from one share to five. All of these people were more or less under Tandy's influence, and all of them were in the habit of giving him proxies to vote their stock or else themselves going into the stockholders' meeting and voting as he desired. Stafford and I quietly set about buying up this loose stock—through other people, of course, so that we shouldn't appear in the matter. We had got forty-eight per cent. of it, when you got yourself into trouble with Tandy. It occurred to me that if we could get three or four more shares and emphasize our confidence in you by making you president of Tandy's own bank, and turning him out to grass, he might see the point and stop his lies. I flatter myself that Stafford and I are pretty well known all over the West and among bankers in the East. We are not at all generally regarded as a pair of sublimated idiots—which same we should certainly be if we deliberately made a bank president out of a young man whose integrity was open to any possibility of suspicion. Now, don't be in a hurry!"—seeing that Duncan was eager to ask questions, or to express his appreciation of Captain Hallam's interest in himself—"don't be in a hurry and don't interrupt. Let me tell you the whole story. At first I didn't see any possible way in which to secure the three shares, without which I could do nothing. I took pains to have the stock register of the bank examined. I found that Tandy himself and the members of his immediate family owned forty-eight shares, and that four more belonged to Kennedy, the tug captain whom you discharged after calling him by a picturesque variety of pet names. Of course it was of no use to approach Kennedy, even through an outsider, as he is in Tandy's employ now, and very deeply in Tandy's debt. I must explain that, as Stafford and I had bought stock through agents of our own, we had kept our hands concealed by leaving the several shares nominally in the hands of the men we had employed to buy them and instructing those men to go on voting the stock in whatever way Tandy wished. This made Tandy feel perfectly secure of his control of the bank. Even if he had sold out half his own interest he would have felt secure, seeing that all the floating stock was within his voting control. You see I'm a rather good-natured man, on the whole, and I never like to make a man feel uncomfortable unless I must. When your trouble arose I thought I saw that there was nothing for it but to make a strike for some of Tandy's own stock. I didn't much believe the thing could be done, but I've seen so many miracles worked in my time that I believe in them. You sent for Temple—and by the way, he's a fellow that's built from the ground up—and I set him at work. I told him what we wanted done and why, but I couldn't tell him how to do it, because I didn't know. I gave him a free hand, and left him to use his own wits. As they happened to be particularly good wits, he did the trick within less than two days. He managed to buy Kennedy's four shares, not from Kennedy, but from Tandy himself, so that now when the stockholders' meeting comes, I'll march in, representing the two shares that I'm known to own, and Temple will be with me, holding proxies for all the rest of mine and Stafford's stock. We'll vote fifty-two against forty-eight. We'll name all the directors, and they will make you president at once. I'll put some shares in your hands to qualify you, but you ought actually to own at least ten shares in your own right. Have you got any money loose?"
Captain Hallam knew very well that Duncan had a sufficient deposit balance in the Hallam bank to cover the suggested purchase, but he wanted to forestall and prevent the expression of Duncan's thanks. Hence his question, and hence, also, the look he cast in Mrs. Hallam's direction, in obedience to which that gracious and sagacious gentlewoman broke at once and insistently into the conversation.
"Now, if you two men have quite finished with business," she said, "I want a small share of attention on my own part."
"Will you excuse me for a little while, Duncan," interrupted Captain Will, "while I give some orders at the stables and in the garden? I very nearly forgot them. Mrs. Hallam will entertain you in my absence, I'm sure."
As soon as the head of the house had made his escape through the door, Mrs. Hallam—whose friendship for Duncan had won all that is possible of privilege for itself—turned to him and asked:
"Why haven't you been taking Barbara to places? Why didn't you tell me to invite her here for supper to-night? You know I have had her here a dozen times, and you know how welcome she always is."
"Your last question is easily answered," he replied. "I did not think of asking you to invite her to supper this evening for the reason that Captain Will sent me word that he had business affairs to talk over with me."
Mrs. Hallam's face was wreathed in smiles.
"I wonder," she said, "if there ever was a young man clever enough to hold his own with a woman at word fence. And I wonder if there was ever one who didn't think he could."
"I confess," he said quickly, "that I'm not clever enough to know what you mean by those two wonderings of yours."
"Oh, yes you do. You deliberately tried to shy off my first question"—at this point she touched a bell—"by answering the second first, and then omitting to answer the first at all."
At this moment a servant appeared in answer to her ring.
"Send word to John," she commanded, "to bring the carriage at once—the open one with the bays. Now, Guilford Duncan, I have no time to talk with you except the ten minutes before the carriage comes. For I'm going to put on a hat and go after Barbara. Perhaps, between us, she and I can prevent you two men from talking business at supper. Tell me——"
"But can Barbara come on so short a notice?"
"What sort of blunderer do you take me to be? I sent her a note two hours ago saying I should go after her, and she sent me for reply, a note saying she would be more than glad to come. But you mustn't grow conceited over that. I didn't tell her you were to be here, or that I meant to put you into the carriage to escort her home. It is quite possible that if I had told her that she would have declined the invitation. Now, answer my first question. Why haven't you been taking Barbara to places—to church and all the rest of it?"
"Must I tell you the truth?"
"Yes, certainly. What would be the use of telling me anything else? I should know if your fibbed."
"I really believe you would."
"Why, of course I should. What are a woman's wits for, anyhow?"
"The carriage is at the door," said a servant, entering.
"Very well. Let it wait. Now, Guilford Duncan, go on and tell me."
"Well, the fact is, that I have not been in a position to ask Barbara to accept my escort to public places."
"Why not? Is it because of this Tandy affair?"
"Then what? Go on, and don't make me pump the information out of you, as if you were a well or a leaky barge."
"The fact is," Duncan spoke very seriously now, "that a little while ago I was betrayed by own emotions into declaring my love for Barbara, much sooner than I had intended—before she was prepared to hear it."
"Oh, nonsense! As if a girl ever needed preparation for a declaration of that sort from—- well, from the right sort of man. But go on, you know the carriage is waiting. Tell me. Has she accepted you?"
"Has she rejected you?"
Here Mrs. Duncan again rang the bell, and a servant appeared so promptly as to suggest that she had been listening just outside the door.
"Tell my maid to get into the carriage and go and fetch Miss Barbara Verne. Tell her to say that I am detained here, and am forced to send my maid in my stead."
The servant said, "Yes'm," and withdrew. Then Mrs. Duncan resumed her questioning with manifest eagerness, but with as much of seriousness as Duncan himself had shown. There was no touch of flippancy, or even of lightness in either her words or her tone. For Mrs. Will Hallam was a woman of deep and tender feeling, a woman to whom all holy things were sacred.
"Tell me about it all, Guilford. I do not understand, and I must know. I need not tell you that my interest is not prompted by curiosity. I hold you as my brother, and I love Barbara. Tell me."
And Duncan did. As he outlined the compact that Barbara had insisted upon, the smiles replaced solemn apprehension on Mrs. Hallam's face, as though she foresaw all she desired as the outcome of such an arrangement.
But all that she said was:
"I am greatly relieved."
THE BIRTH OF A GREAT RAILROAD
Upon becoming president of a strong bank, and the close associate of Hallam and Stafford in all their undertakings, Guilford Duncan became at once a factor to be recognized and reckoned with in all enterprises with which he had to do. He had brains, character, and indomitable energy, and these had already won for him the respect of the men of affairs. Now that he had control of money also, his power and influence were multiplied many fold.
The time was one of expansion. The flood of irredeemable and heavily depreciated paper currency which had been issued under stress of war necessities, was producing the usual effect of inflation. It gave a false seeming of value to every purchasable thing. It caused rapid and great fluctuations in all markets. It lured men everywhere into speculation. It dangerously expanded credits and prompted men to undertake enterprises far beyond their means.
Very early in his career as a banker, Guilford Duncan discovered that half the merchants in Cairo were young men of little capital and small capacity, who ought to have remained salaried clerks. These had grown ambitious, set up for themselves, and were carrying large stocks of goods almost wholly upon credit. They were staggering under loads of debt on which they were paying ruinous rates of interest.
It was easy enough for him to protect his bank by gradually reducing its loans to such men as these, but the prudence thus exercised added to the number of his enemies. He cared little for that, so long as he knew his course to be right.
Looking further afield he saw that a like condition of things existed all over the West, and was the inspiration of much greater undertakings than those of the merchants and shopkeepers.
He used often to talk of these things with Hallam.
"You're quite right," said that sagacious financier. "The country has gone on a big financial drunk, and of course the headache will come when the spree is over. But it won't be over for a considerable time to come, and in the meanwhile the country is getting a good deal of benefit from it.
"Fortunately, it is taking a better course than such sprees usually do. Ordinarily the existence of an inflated, superabundant, and depreciated currency results in a wild orgy of stock gambling, grain gambling, cotton gambling, and all the rest of it. There is no more of good in that—in fact, there is far more of harm in it to the country—than there would be if everybody went to betting at roulette or faro. It makes the lucky gamblers rich and the unlucky ones poor, but it produces nothing, even incidentally. This time the gambling is taking a more productive form. Instead of betting on market fluctuations, men are putting money into factories, mines, mills, and railroads—especially railroads. They are enormously overdoing the thing, but whenever they build a railroad, even unwisely, the railroad will remain as something to show for the money when the spree is over."
"That is true enough," said Duncan, "and of course all this railroad and other building is, incidentally, giving work and wages to great multitudes of men. But are we not paying too high a price for the good we get? We are building debts about forty per cent. faster than we are building railroads. Every mile of track is constructed with borrowed money, worth only about sixty cents on the dollar. Yet every dollar of these borrowings must some day be paid off in gold. And in the meantime the roads must pay a high interest rate on a dollar for every sixty cents' worth of money borrowed. I do not see how the country can stand it."
"It can't, permanently, and you haven't mentioned the worst feature of the matter."
"What is that?"
"Why, in the craze for building railroads, men are projecting and building many lines that are not needed at all. In some cases two, or even three, parallel roads are being built through regions that can never support more than one. It is sheer waste, and of course it means collapse sooner or later. But there is another side to the matter. The country is growing enormously in wealth, and still more enormously in productive capacity. Nothing helps such growth like the multiplication and extension of railroads. They bring men near to their markets. They make farming profitable where before it would have been a waste of labor. They multiply farms and towns, swell the population, and in that way make a market for manufactures. If we could cut out the parallel lines and other foolishly projected roads, I firmly believe the growth of the country in consequence of railroad building would more than compensate for the extra cost entailed upon us by borrowing at a time of depreciation in the currency. But we can't prevent fool projectors from building foolishly, and some day the country's sound business must shoulder all that load of bad investments. When a boy eats green apples he is in for a colic, but he generally gets over the colic. It will be so with the country."
Then the talk turned into a more practical channel.
"You feel sure, then," asked Duncan, "that we are making no mistake and doing no harm in carrying out our project of a railroad that shall bring Cairo closer to New York in the matter of railroad mileage?"
"Perfectly sure. That railroad is imperatively needed. It will develop a very rich agricultural region which has been practically shut off from the world. There is traffic enough for the road already within sight to make it pay. When it is built, it will compel a cheapening of freight rates to the advantage of the whole country."
"You are right, of course," answered Duncan reflectively. "I have gone over that subject very conscientiously. I am convinced that the road can carry the debt that must be incurred in building it, and that it will pay its way. If I had any serious doubt of that, I should have nothing to do with the thing."
"As it is," responded Hallam, "you've got the heavy end of the log to carry, so far as work is concerned. When are you going to begin your campaign?"
"Almost immediately. I've got everything in the bank into satisfactory shape now, and three days hence I shall begin a speaking tour in the interior counties. I'll make it even more a talking tour than a speaking one. For while a public speech, if it is persuasive enough, may influence many, it is the quieter talking to individuals and small groups that does most to win votes. I've already secured the co-operation of all the country editors, but they need stirring up, and worse still they need somebody to tell them what to say and how to say it in their newspapers. Of course you and Stafford and Tandy will take care of Cairo and Alexander county."
This proposed railroad was one clearly destined to be of the utmost consequence to Cairo and to the region through which the line must run. The method by which it was planned to secure its construction, was the one then in general use throughout the West. It may be simply explained. Everybody concerned was asked to subscribe to what might properly have been called an inducement fund. The subscriptions were meant to be gifts made to secure the benefit of the railroad's construction. More important than these personal subscriptions, and vastly greater in amount, were the subscriptions of counties, cities, and towns. Under the law as it then existed each county, city, or town, if its people so voted, could "lend its credit" to an enterprise of this kind by issuing its own bonds. When a sufficient sum was raised in this way, an effort was made, usually in New York, to secure the forming of a construction company. The whole volume of the subscriptions was offered as an inducement to such a construction company to undertake the building of the road. Usually the construction company was to have in addition a considerable share of the stock of the road when completed. The city, county, and town subscriptions, of course, depended upon the results of special elections held for that sole purpose.
In this case the personal subscriptions had been satisfactory, and there was no doubt that the two terminal cities, and the counties in which they lay, would vote the bonds asked of them. But there was grave doubt as to results in the rural counties, in each of which a special election was to be held a month or two later. It was Guilford Duncan's task to remove that doubt, to persuade the voters to favor the proposed subscriptions, and incidentally to secure rights of way, station sites, etc., by gift from the land owners.
During the next two months he toiled ceaselessly at this task, going to Cairo only once a week to keep in touch with his bank, and to pass the Sundays with Barbara.
Tandy also worked in the county towns, where he had a good deal of influence. He had been made president of the proposed railroad, and was supposed to be very earnestly interested in it. He was so—in his own way, and with purposes of his own.
Duncan's campaign was a tireless one, and it proved successful. When the elections occurred every county and every town voted in favor of the proposed subscription, but some of them did so by majorities so narrow as to show clearly how great the need of Duncan's work had been.
"Worse still," he said to Hallam, a few weeks later, "the smallness of the majorities in two or three counties is a threat to us and a warning. The county authorities are putting all sorts of absurd provisions into their subscriptions, and they will give us trouble if our construction company fails in the smallest particular to meet these requirements."
"Just what are the conditions?"
"Oh, every sort of thing. In every county it is provided that we shall somewhere break ground for construction before the last of January—less than two months hence—or forfeit the subscription. That gives us too little time for organization, but we can meet that requirement by sending a gang of men at our own expense to do a day's work somewhere on the line. In two of the counties there is a peculiarly absurd provision. There are rival villages there, one in each county, and the authorities have stipulated that "a track shall be laid across the county line and a car shall pass over said track from one county to the other" before the fifteenth of March. Curiously enough, I learn that Tandy himself suggested that stipulation to the county authorities. I hear he is giving it out that he had to do so to save the election, but that's nonsense, just as the provision itself is. Such a requirement will greatly embarrass us in our negotiations with capitalists. For the line will not be fully surveyed by that time, and nobody can tell, till that is done, precisely where the road ought to cross that county line, or at what grade. I can't imagine what Tandy meant by getting such a provision inserted."
"Neither can I," answered Hallam; "but we'll find out some fine morning, and we must be prepared to meet whatever comes. He's up to some trick of course."
A SCRAP OF PAPER
When Duncan assumed control of the bank as its president, his first care was to acquaint himself minutely with its condition. In general he found its affairs in excellent shape, for Tandy was a skillful banker and, on the whole, a prudent one. There were many small loans to local shopkeepers which Duncan could not approve, and these he called in as they fell due, refusing to renew them. Beyond such matters he found nothing wrong till he came to examine the record of Tandy's own dealings with the bank.
There he found that in carrying on his multifarious enterprises, Tandy had been in the habit of borrowing and using the bank's funds in ways forbidden by the law of national banking. Had Tandy anticipated his own removal from control he would doubtless have set his account in order so that no complaint could be made. As it was, Duncan found that he was at that very time heavily in debt to the institution for borrowings made in evasion though possibly not in direct violation of a law carefully framed for the protection of stockholders and depositors.
The matter troubled Duncan sorely, and acting upon the resolution he had formed with regard to his relations with Barbara, he told her of it.
"I really don't know what to do," he said in a troubled tone. "Of course the money is perfectly safe. Tandy is good for two or three times the amount. And I learn that it is a practice among bank officers sometimes to stretch their authority and borrow their own bank's funds in this way."
"You say the thing is a violation of the law?" asked Barbara, going straight to the marrow of the matter after her uniform fashion.
"In effect, yes. I am not sure that it could be called a positive violation of law—it is so well hedged about with little fictions and pretenses—but it is plainly an evasion, and one which might get the bank into trouble with the authorities at Washington."
"You mean that it is something which the law intends to forbid?"
"Yes. It is in violation of the spirit of the law."
"Then I don't see why you should have any doubt as to what you ought to do."
"It is only that under the circumstances, if I press Tandy and call in these loans, it might look like an unworthy indulgence in spite on my part."
"I think you have no right to consider that. You have taken an oath to obey the law in the conduct of the bank, and——"
"How did you know that, Barbara?"
The girl flushed and hesitated. At last she said:
"I've been reading the national banking laws."
"What in the world did you do that for?"
"Why, I'm to help, you know. So as soon as I heard you were to be president of the bank I asked Mrs. Hallam to get Captain Hallam to lend me the books."
Duncan smiled and kept silence for a while.
"Was that wrong, or very foolish, Guilford? I can really understand the book."
"Of course you can, and it was neither wrong nor very foolish in you to try. It was only very loyal and very loving. But there was no occasion for you to do anything of the sort."
"But how can I help you if I don't try my best to understand the things you are dealing with?"
"As I said before," he answered tenderly, "it is very loyal and very loving of you to think in that way, and I thank you for it. But that isn't what I have had in mind when we have talked of your helping me. I have never had a thought of burdening you with my affairs except to ask for your sympathy when things trouble me, and your counsel on all points of right and wrong, and all that. You see, you have two things that I need."
"What are they?"
"A singularly clear insight into all matters of duty, and a conscience as white as snow. In this matter of Tandy's account, for example, you have helped me more than you imagine. You have seen my duty clearly, where I was in doubt about it, and you have prompted me to the resolute doing of it, regardless of my own feelings, or Tandy's, or of any other consideration whatever. Moreover, it is an immeasurable help to me simply to sit in your presence and feel that you want me to do right always. I think association with you would keep any man in the straight road. I know that your love would do so."
"I am very, very glad," the girl answered with misty eyes, "but I must help in practical ways, too—in all ways. So I must do my best to understand all the things that you have to manage."
"God bless you!"
That was all he said. It seemed to him quite all there was to say. But early the next morning he sent a courteous note to Tandy, calling his attention to the "irregularity" of his relations with the bank, and asking him to call at once to set the matter right.
After he had sent off the note he continued his examination of the details of the bank's affairs. He had gone over the books very carefully. He had examined the notes held for collection and the like. It remained only for him to make a personal inspection of the cash and securities held by the bank, and that was his task this morning.
He had not gone far with it when he came upon a small three-cornered slip of paper, with a memorandum penciled upon it. It lay in the midst of a bundle of greenbacks.
Looking at it carefully, Duncan turned sharply upon the teller who had charge of the currency, and demanded:
"What does this mean? Why did you not bring that to my attention sooner?"
Before the teller could reply with an excuse or explanation, Tandy was announced as waiting in the bank parlor to see Mr. Duncan.
Duncan slipped the scrap of paper into his vest pocket, saying to the teller:
"Make a memorandum that I have possession of this."
Then he walked into the parlor.
There he received Tandy with cold dignity and marked reserve—more of coldness, more of dignity, and far more of reserve than he would have thought necessary if he had not found that scrap of paper.
Before seating himself, he called in one of the bookkeepers, saying:
"Mr. Leftwich, I desire you to remain with Mr. Tandy and me, during the whole of our interview."
"Surely that is unnecessary, Duncan," said Tandy hastily. "I don't care to discuss my private affairs in the presence of a clerk."
"I have no intention to discuss your private affairs at all, Mr. Tandy," Duncan replied. "The matter concerning which I have asked you to call here, is not a private affair of yours or mine. It is a matter connected with the administration of the bank. Be seated, Mr. Leftwich."
"But I insist," said Tandy, with a good deal more of heat than he was accustomed to permit himself to show, "I insist upon a confidential interview."
"You cannot have it. I do not regard myself as upon confidential terms with you, nor do I think of you as a man with whom I desire to establish confidential relations."
"Do you mean to insult me in my own—in a bank that I founded, and in which I am still a large stockholder?"
"Perhaps you had better not press me to explain myself," answered Duncan with a calmness that emphasized his determination. "I might feel it necessary to mention some facts that otherwise there is no occasion for Mr. Leftwich to know."
"Oh, very well. I ought not to have expected courtesy at your hands."
"I think I must agree with you in that," answered Duncan. "In view of the circumstances—which, I may remind you, are of your own making—I really think you ought not to have expected courtesy at my hands. Suppose we get down to business instead. What have you to suggest by way of arranging your affairs with the bank?"
"I don't know. I came here hoping and expecting that in view of all the circumstances you might be willing to let this matter of my loans from the bank rest between ourselves for a time."
Duncan was outwardly calm now, but inwardly he was in a towering rage, for Tandy's presence reminded him bitterly of the way in which the ex-banker had tried first to corrupt him and then to blast his reputation with a lie; and Tandy's manner clearly enough indicated that he had come to the bank in full expectation of warping him to his will in another matter involving his duty and his honor.
"How do you mean to 'let it rest'?" he asked, carefully controlling his voice.
"Oh, you understand, or you would if you knew anything of banking."
"I will trouble you to omit all discussion of my knowledge or my ignorance. Your account with this bank is at present in a shape forbidden by law. It must be adjusted at once. That is all that concerns me in the case. Please confine yourself to that."
Tandy became placative and apologetic.
"You must really pardon me, Mr. Duncan. This thing has knocked me out a good deal—it came upon me so suddenly and unexpectedly. I make my apologies if I have said anything to offend. But is there nothing I can do to fix the thing up—so that the bank can carry it for me till I can turn around? You see these things are so customary in banks that it never occurred to me that you would insist upon the strict letter of the law."