"That's not the question, mother." The father who had yesterday been dictatorial and intolerant was now the just judge who refused to be beguiled by personal preferences. Only his pupils betrayed the pathos of his inward suffering. "It's a right hard question as I see it. This place means home to me, but I'm about played out. If we stay it's Ham that's got to wear the harness, an' I know just how heavy the harness is. It would gall him an' blister him even if he wasn't already chafin' with discontent. It seems like he can't do it willin'ly. Can we let him do it any other way? We're lookin' back, mother, but I reckon life runs forward."
"It ain't just my life I'm thinkin' about—" broke in Ham's voice, but his father stopped him with an uplifted hand.
"You've had your say, son, for the present," he reminded; and the boy fell silent.
Tom Burton turned to the maiden aunt who sat under the lamplight with her sewing on her lap. He saw that her lips were intolerantly compressed and that her needle came and went in protesting little jabs. "Hannah," he quietly inquired, "what do you think?"
The elderly woman whose sternness of view had been tempered by neither maternity nor breadth of experience shook her head.
"I don't know as I'm called on to express what I think, Tom," she replied with cold disapproval. "I've always held that it's a sinful thing to be dissatisfied with what God wills. He put us here an' I reckon if He hadn't meant us to live here He'd have put us somewhere else."
"I guess, Hannah—" Tom Burton's eyes for just a moment lighted into a humorous smile—"we couldn't hardly expect God to move us bodily. But if we do go away from here you can have the comfort of figuring that if He hadn't wanted us to go there we wouldn't be there." He looked over at little Mary, who alone had not spoken.
"Daughter," he suggested, "you're too young to have to decide such things, but you might as well speak up, too. It looks like the day has come for children to lay down the law to their elders. What do you think about leavin' the old home, the only home we've ever known?"
The child, surprised at being called into the council, dropped her eyes, then, suddenly glancing up and meeting Ham's gaze, she felt a courage beyond her own, and stammered: "I'd like to see the world and—and—well, just to see all the wonderful things—and to know everything."
Tom Burton's lips stiffened. "A long time ago a couple of people lived in the Garden of Eden," he said shortly. "And I reckon what Eve said wasn't much diff'rent from that. Well, they moved away all right."
There was a long silence in the room, and the father at last broke it with his eyes fixed on his eldest son.
"Those great men you talk about, Ham—" he spoke with deliberate gravity—"them fellers you seem to think are sort of brothers of yours—most of them came to times when they saw things topplin' down all round 'em. They sent your Napoleon to St. Helena an' a lot of others didn't do much better in the long run. Julius Caesar was pretty great an' pretty ambitious. He fell. There's a heap to be said fer livin' straight an' simple. We're self-respectin' men an' women with clean blood in our veins that don't have to bow down to no man. We've lived honest an' worked hard, but sometimes when spring comes on an' I'm followin' the plow an' the blackbirds are followin' me along the furrow, I feel like God ain't so far away. When they buries me out there amongst those I've loved an' been true to, I reckon I'll rest."
"Your father," the son reminded him, "wasn't a young feller when Lincoln called for volunteers, but he didn't stay here because he wanted to rest. He went, an' now he's restin' down there at Shiloh. I want to answer my call. I'm willin' to take my chance of restin' where death finds me."
Outside, across the ice-locked lake and through the snow-burdened forest swept the wolf-like howl of the wind.
Inside, there was the silence of a deeply troubled indecision. At last, Tom Burton said:
"It's a right-hard thing to stake the welfare of a family on a boy's notion of his own greatness—a notion that ain't never been tried out. There's just one thing you've convinced me of, and it's this: You may not be able to do anything worth-while in the world outside. You may be a failure there, but I'm pretty sure, in your frame of mind, you'll be a failure here. The man that makes a fight here has got to have his heart in it an' he's got to love the soil. That don't fit your case! I ain't ready to admit yet that I ain't the head of my own family. I ain't made up my mind yet what we'll do. Maybe we'll stay right here an' maybe we'll go away." The father ran one hand wearily through the thick hair on his forehead and shook his head. "I've heard you out, an' we'll all think on it an' dream on it. I've found right often when a feller's perplexed an' can't reach a conclusion, he goes to sleep an' wakes up with a clearer judgment. Once a mistake is made, it can't be unmade; but I don't want you to think that I ain't ponderin' this question."
Ahead of him Ham saw Paul and Mary slip up the stairway and his aunt rise, with the stiff disapproval of silence, and leave the room. He himself remained only a few minutes longer and then with a low-voiced good-night he pressed his father's hand, and felt the grip of stern affection on his own. He took up and lighted the small lamp that was to light him to bed, and as he climbed the boxed-in stairway, the shadows wavered on the walls at each side, and he heard the wail of the wind around the eaves.
When he set the lamp down and began undressing he realized for the first time the gnawing weariness of muscles that the day had taxed with chores and tramping. Tomorrow morning he must rise while the windows still let in only the chilling gray of dawn. Yet he stopped with half his clothes removed, and, going to an improvised shelf in the corner, took down a battered volume. It was not until the lamp warned him of the spent hours with its dying sputter that he laid aside the resonant sentences in which Carlyle had been talking to him of heroes and their worship. In another room across the hall he had heard stirrings for an hour after the silence of sleep had fallen on the rest of the house.
There Mary, unable to compose herself at once, had been snipping at the pattern of a gown with which, in her fancy, she was to charm those men who did not wear lumbermen's socks and neglect their razors. But now even Mary was asleep. It was cold in the room, and outside the world was bitter, but Ham was far from sleep. In his mind still worked and seethed the unresting ferment which had become a torment. The annals of the great had fired him to passion. The littleness of his room and of his life stifled him. He wanted to breathe freer, and, drawing on his mackinaw, he tiptoed noiselessly down the stairs and let himself out into the night.
There he found a frozen world, shut in by low-drifting clouds and swallowed in a smother of darkness. Even the snow was gray, but at least there he could look out across space.
As though his eyes followed a compass needle, he slowly swung them until his gaze set toward his desire, and because vaguely he thought of New York as the center of the great outer world, his face was to the south.
The wind moaned about him and somewhere far off he heard the ripping groan of an overladen tree giving way under its paralysis of sleet. In himself he felt something also breaking away from its old place. He felt forces rending their bonds and straining for freedom, and it almost seemed to his burning eyes that while he gazed toward that spot hundreds of miles away which he had never seen, there slowly kindled in the sky a pale and luminous aura, such as hangs over the spires and shafts of a giant city. His fancy pictured the unsainted halo that gleams above thronged and never-sleeping streets: streets that always beckon. Vague echoes of sounds came toward him, warring in the teeth of the wind; sounds of the many voices and the many clamors that merge into one dull, insistent roar: the voice of the city.
So he stood there shivering and not realizing that the frost was shrewdly biting him. His spirit was the spirit of a hatching eaglet impatiently rapping at the shell which too slowly opens to give it freedom.
"What I did to Slivers Martin," he told himself, "I can do to the rest of them. There ain't much difference between doin' big things an' little things, except that you've got to be where there are big things to do an' you've got to know you can do 'em."
THE BOOK OF LIFE
IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
It was eight o'clock, and the year as well as the day was in its morning. The watch which young Carl Bristoll drew from his pocket was very thin and exquisite, and he did not look at its face. Instead he touched a delicate spring with his finger-nail and listened to the tinkle of its low, silvery chime. This watch might have spoken the hour to a blind man as well as to eyes as clear and engaging as those of its present possessor.
In some Swiss shop, where for generations an hereditary skill of adept fingers had come down from father to son, a master of his craft had toiled long and lovingly over this thin disc of gold which epitomized in its small circumference a perfection of accuracy and beauty. Because it was a prince's plaything and because the young Titan of finance who employed Carl Bristoll as his confidential secretary had brought it back by way of an affectionate gift from his last trip to the Continent, the lad prized it above other possessions. To young Bristoll, who was no unwilling wage-earner, but a hero-worshiper in all the intensity of strong youth, it had been as if an emperor had pinned on his breast the insignia of personal regard.
He put the trinket back into his waistcoat pocket, and strolled to the windows that gave off over the Drive and the Hudson. The softly arching sky found its color echo in the blue of broad waters and beyond them the Palisades were already beginning to show tenderly green and alluring in spring's resurrection. Out in midstream lay the crouching hulk of a battleship, and its somber gray was the one note that contradicted the softness of the morning.
Bristoll turned his face again to the interior, where a flood of sun from the broad window at the back filled the place with eastern light. He never tired of that room, the library where his chief dispatched those matters of more urgent business that pursued him even to his home. It was a room that might have served a potentate as a council-chamber with its treasury of almost priceless art, yet it reflected everywhere the quiet of faultless taste and the elegance born of a restrained and sure discernment.
"And all of it," Carl Bristoll murmured to himself, as he awaited the coming of its master, "he made for himself in a scant ten years, and he stands only at the threshold of his career!" That often repeated formula was a sort of daily tonic with which his ambition reminded itself that life holds no prize locked behind impossible barriers for him who has the courage and resolution to grasp it. Yet had he been older he would have added, "The impossible is only possible to the child of Destiny."
He heard a quiet movement behind him, and turned to find the butler standing at his elbow with a tray of early mail, into which the secretary plunged, separating the purely personal from those letters which the great man saw only through his subordinate's eyes.
"I'm not at all sure, Mr. Bristoll, that the master will rise early," volunteered the servant. "He was with his sister until midnight, and after that Mr. Paul came in and I heard him playing the piano, sir, as late as three o'clock."
Carl laughed. "I had a call from him on the 'phone an hour ago," he answered. "He spoke of a busy day ahead, and suggested an early start. There are some men, Harrow, who find rest simply in changing the brain's occupation."
"Yes, sir, quite so," admitted the butler dubiously. "Still, as the poet says, sir, it's sleep that 'knits up the ravelled sleeve of care,' sir. Sometimes I have apprehensions that the master will overtax his strength."
"I didn't know, Harrow," smiled the secretary, "that you were a disciple of the poets."
"Only, sir, in an unostentatious way," deprecated the man. "It has been my good fortune to serve in families where such niceties have been highly regarded, sir, and, I take it, advantageous associations reflect themselves in one's tastes, sir. But—" he dropped his voice, and came a step nearer—"but, sir, if you will pardon me, sir, I should like to ask a question. You know, of course, that the master's sister arrived last night from Europe?"
Bristoll nodded. He himself had not yet had the privilege of seeing the young woman, the fame of whose loveliness had preceded her: a loveliness which had enthralled men from the Irish Sea to Suez.
"Of course, sir, it's not for me to entertain opinions, but—" The butler paused in evident embarrassment, and the secretary's eyes narrowed a little.
"You are quite right, Harrow," he asserted shortly. "I can't see that you are required to express any opinion."
"Of course, sir, I was only going to say—"
"Well—don't say it."
But, for all his obsequiousness, the admirable Harrow was a persistent diplomat.
"No, sir, of course I sha'n't. I was only going to ask you—"
The secretary looked up with an impatient frown on a forehead shaped for resolution.
"All right. Ask me and have it over."
"I was going to inquire, sir, whether you regard it likely that the new mistress would—as I might say, sir—institute any sweeping changes of regime in our milieu? Things have gone on very well, sir, as they were." The interrogation carried a note of sharp anxiety: the apprehension of a petty monarch who might face the fate of being deposed.
"I don't know." The reply was curt, and Harrow with a bow said only, "Yes, sir, thank you. I was just speculating on the possibilities, sir."
For a while there was silence in the library as Bristoll ran through letter after letter, his hand racing over the stenographer's pad upon which he reduced their purport to succinct notes. He always enjoyed these responsible mornings with his chief because they were times of intimate association with a mind that directed colossal operations, and they savored almost of the importance of cabinet meetings.
Often, as he read the fluctuations of the ticker tape or glanced at financial scareheads in the evening papers, he smiled knowingly with the memory of a sentence spoken at the breakfast-table or an edict uttered in this library, which had been the motive power behind the news; and which to the world at large remained an unseen impulse.
Now Bristoll heard a quick step coming down the stairs with a schoolboy's buoyant lightness and the whistling of a popular air. It might have been a college sophomore arriving light-heartedly from his cold plunge, rather than the Titan whose word in the Street was already a thing which no one of the older money-kings could ignore.
Carl Bristoll rose, and Hamilton Burton broke off his whistling to smile gaily as he clapped the younger man on the shoulder and inquired with a voice remarkably soft and musical, "Well, how is our young Minister of Finance this morning?"
Hamilton Montagu Burton stood an even six feet, and from a generous breadth of shoulders, swung back in free erectness, he tapered to a trim slenderness of waist and thigh. In the immaculate elegance of his dress he justified his reputation as the best-clothed man in New York, even while he retained the grace of a seeming carelessness. His eyes, though he had slept a scant four hours, looked out clear-pupiled and tireless, but it was the shape and carriage of the head that proclaimed mastery. The pattern of brow and jaw and clean-cut lip and indomitable eye gave that head an alert power which made it the head of one born to command. The illuminating smile could give way to a sternness and a decision that became ruthless in its dominance, and the eyes could harden like diamonds as swiftly as they could melt.
Carl Bristoll laughed, and after the custom of badinage that had grown up between them he made a bow of mock ceremony as he replied.
"Quite fit, Sire, and your Majesty's appearance proclaims you equally so."
It was hardly the sort of greeting that the outsider might have expected, but neither financier nor secretary was an ordinary type and between them throve an excellent understanding.
As Bristoll read from his notes Hamilton Burton's face lost its smile and became instantly attentive while his questions snapped out clear-clipped and comprehensive.
It seemed that the brain was separated into many zones, each carrying forward its separate functions without interference or confusion. Through the channels of vision, hearing and quick independent thought, varied propositions were at one time being absorbed while the master instinct of cooerdination was weighing all and planning yet other affairs.
"And now," announced the financier, when the stenographic notes had been read and others written in swift adjudication of their problems, "the rest can wait till we get down-town. There's Harrow calling us to breakfast—and breakfast is an institution I particularly venerate." The master of the establishment turned to the butler and inquired, "Hasn't Miss Burton come down?"
"Miss Burton, sir," replied the man with a shade of uneasiness in his voice, "sent word by her maid that she would breakfast in her room."
The naive smile faded from Hamilton Burton's face and for an instant it took on something of that aggressive set which men in the Stock-Exchange had come to recognize as precursor of a frenzied day.
"Send word to my sister," he directed quietly, "that I insistently request her to join us at breakfast. I must see her before I leave the house." He strode with a resilient step about the room, pausing idly before a favorite landscape here and prized bronze there. Patience was one quality which Hamilton Burton had not spent great effort in acquiring. It was his custom to let others adapt themselves to his convenience, yet his eyes were unruffled as he smilingly turned to his secretary. "'Serene I wait—with folded hands,'" he murmured.
But when Harrow returned it was as bearer of a message which marred the serenity of this waiting.
"Miss Burton sends word, sir, that she will receive you in her boudoir in a half-hour. She does not find it convenient to come down to breakfast."
For a moment, Hamilton Burton remained standing and his gray eyes flashed forebodingly, though the line of his lips was not deflected. Then he led the way to the breakfast-room.
"Tell Miss Burton," he ordered shortly, "that we are awaiting her in the breakfast-room. Say to her that I trust she will make the delay short." Then as the butler turned, the master halted him again. "No," he amended, "I'll send a note—give me a sheet of paper."
As the embarrassed servant laid a note-card by his plate, he hastily scribbled:
"Dear Mary, While you are mistress of my house I shall expect you to appear at the breakfast-table. The rest of the day is yours. This is final. Mr. Bristoll and I are waiting and my time is not to be valued lightly. Please do not tax my patience longer."
When Harrow had gone, Burton turned again to Bristoll, and with that systematic quality which made his brain so versatile he dismissed the annoyance for another matter.
"I want your opinion on the coffee," he said lightly. "It came from the Jungus valley in Bolivia. Men who have drunk it there are not satisfied with any other. In the local market it is costly and as an export it is unattainable."
"Yet you have obtained it," smiled the secretary. "How?"
Burton laughed. "I wanted it," he announced briefly. "So I got it."
"Mr. Burton," the younger man spoke hesitantly, "you look very fit and seem absolutely on edge, but I'm afraid you're rather overdoing things. I don't mean any impertinence of suggestion, but the trout are jumping in the mountain brooks just now. Can't you drop things for a few days and climb into a flannel shirt—and rest? You could go somewhere where the leaves are rustling in the woods and things are as God made them, close to His immortal granite. I don't want to see you break yourself down."
Hamilton Burton was looking at the percolator in which the Bolivian coffee was bubbling as restively as the fires of the volcano at whose base it grew from berry to lush plant and came again to berry. He was balancing a spoon on his forefinger, and smiling with quiet amusement.
"Now that's very thoughtful of our young Minister of Finance." He spoke softly as the fugitive smile played around the corners of his lips. "Very thoughtful indeed, but the suggestion is, after all, unavailable." He paused, and the smile died. "I don't think I've ever become autobiographical with you, have I, Carl?"
The secretary shook his head. "But, of course, you know I should feel honored at any time you did," he declared with whole-hearted and boyish enthusiasm.
"Very well. Until I was sixteen years old I lived very close to mountains built of God's immortal granite. Whenever I went out to do my chores I barked my shins on God's immortal granite. Whenever I plowed I had to do acrobatics to save as much of the plowshare as possible from God's immortal granite. It's all very pastoral to talk about milk fresh from the sweet-breathed cow, but for ten years I was lady's maid to two singularly repulsive cows—and in time they cloyed upon me. Whenever those Juno-eyed kine lowed for a drink of water, it was up to me to hustle out and serve them—and I never got a tip for my service. To this good day, Carl, the sight of a cow gives me cramps in the fingers and melancholy in the soul. Henceforth I'll take my milk in hermetically sealed jars from one of my own model dairies—and I'll try to forget that its origin is—cows. That cream in the pitcher there came from a farm of mine up in Westchester. Bulk for bulk, it costs me about the same as old champagne, but it's mighty cheap compared to what that other milk came to." He paused and gazed at the spoon balanced on a steady forefinger.
"As for the whisper of the breeze through the silver birches, I've heard it with chilblains on my feet and bruises on my heart and henceforth when I want to see the shadows fall, I'll go and stand under Cheops' pyramid or the Coliseum at Rome or some other edifice reared with human hands as the monument to human achievement that helped to build the world. When I die they'll once more lay me close to Nature's breast, and, being dead, I sha'n't object—but until that time I'll stay away—as far away as possible."
The financier ended his good-humored tirade and glanced up to meet the frankly alarmed gaze of Harrow, who at that moment reappeared in the door.
"Miss Burton says," announced the butler, his usual suavity shaken beyond control, "that there is no answer to your note. She says you already have her reply."
The coffee in the percolator was bubbling furiously, and the ice about the grape-fruit was beginning to melt. Hamilton Burton rose abruptly from his chair. "Please excuse me for a moment, Carl," he said in a low voice. "I will go up and bring my sister down to breakfast."
The furnishing and decorating of Mary Burton's apartments had engrossed her brother's interest for some weeks prior to her arrival and when in answer to his rap a silvery voice said, "Come in," he stood on the threshold of a boudoir as richly and tastefully detailed as a princess of the blood royal could have asked.
But the girl, who sat indolently before her mirror, clad in a morning negligee of exquisite delicacy, was so like a colorful and lustrous pearl that one forgot her surroundings. Hamilton's eyes, the eyes that could change so swiftly from implacability to disarming softness, flashed into pride as he looked at her.
"Mary," he amiably began, "I think there must be some misunderstanding. I asked you to come down."
The girl looked up with a serene smile. "Did they not then give you my message?" she inquired softly. "I told them to say that I would breakfast here."
The man's eyes narrowed and darkened. Something in his domineering spirit bristled, as it always bristled under questioning or opposition.
"Why? You are fully dressed, are you not?"
"Then what reason can you have for refusing to come when I ask it? Is it simply that you wish to defy me? I am not accustomed to being disobeyed."
"Are you then so sure of obedience, mon cher?" She raised her gorgeous eyes and laughed up at him with indulgent amusement. Her manner was that of a young empress who regards any criticism of herself as an audacious jest, so unprecedented as to be diverting. "Are you sure that you have nothing yet to learn? I said I should not come down to the breakfast-room—because I did not wish to come."
"You mean that you still refuse?"
"If you desire to call it that. I would not seem ungracious.... I should prefer the word 'decline.'"
"Then that is reason enough why you are coming."
Mary lifted her brows in incredulous amusement, but Hamilton Burton did not smile in response. He came a step nearer her chair and said very quietly: "While you are in my house I wish you to appear at the breakfast-table. This morning is a good time to begin. Will you accompany me on your own feet, or will you make your initial appearance kicking those same feet, while I carry you down like a child in a tantrum? There are about five seconds available for you to give the question mature deliberation."
"Thank you, cheri." Her mirthful pupils were not flecked with annoyance. "Five seconds are four seconds more than I need. I shall not go either way."
Hamilton made no further comment. With the apparent ease of one taking up a child from its cradle, he bent down and gathered her slender figure in his arms, then, lifting her bodily from her chair, he turned toward the door.
For an instant, she lay against his shoulder, too astounded for protest. Then her satin slippers began beating a furious tattoo and her small fists pummeling him as her cheeks flamed and her mismatched eyes burst into indignant fire. These demonstrations her brother ignored as he carried her in effortless fashion out into the broad hall and half-way down the stairs. She had ceased to struggle by that time and was gasping in wordless wrath. But at the turn of the stairway into the lower hall he paused and stood still, while their eyes met and locked in a brief, hot duel of wills.
"Now," he inquired calmly, "shall this be the manner of your first appearance before my secretary and butler, or will you make the rest of the journey on your own power?"
For the first time she recovered her voice. It was a wild mingling of frustrated wrath and outraged dignity, and for once she found that her fluency had forsaken her. She had been taught—Hamilton had seen to that—that when she spoke others should obey. She had not yet learned to bow to even his autocracy.
"Ham!" she exclaimed tensely, though even now she spoke in a cautious voice so that no echo might reach other ears. "Put me down! How dare you?"
He did not answer the question; instead he asked another.
"Will you enter as mistress of the house or will you go in kicking?"
During a long defiant pause, their eyes held, both pairs unwavering; then the girl said quietly: "I'll go in myself."
Harrow had not overstated the facts when he said that it had been his privilege to serve in families "where niceties were highly regarded." He was the accomplished servant, seeing and hearing only such things as his betters intended for his eyes and ears. If he had human emotions he ordinarily revealed them only when his livery was doffed. Yet even the impeccably correct serving man has his moments of weakness, and, as Hamilton Burton left the room, he muttered low, but quite audibly, "My God!" Then, feeling Carl Bristoll's chilling glance upon him, he sought to cover his indiscretion in an apologetic cough.
But the secretary himself felt the disturbing uneasiness that had prompted that exclamation. Hamilton Burton had been defied, and when that occurred peace fled and punishment fell.
Evidently the girl upstairs, the girl just returned from years of study and travel in Europe, had something of that same spirit which made her brother's will a thing of adamant, but she had not done well to begin her new life by measuring lances with the autocratic Hamilton. Probably at the moment she was being reprimanded, perhaps rebuked into tears which, since she was young and beautiful, became a disquieting thought. Carl Bristoll felt the discomfort of the outsider in the shadow of a family scene.
He would now have to meet Mary Burton under the most inauspicious circumstances, and she would always remember that he had first seen her with tear-stained eyes at a moment of humiliation and defeat. It was too much to expect that a woman could forget this, and the young secretary had the wish that it should be otherwise. So he sat rather moodily contemplating his plate and when he heard steps on the stairs he was surprised at the brevity of the interval. Hamilton Burton had evidently subdued this insurrection in his household with the same whirlwind swiftness that he employed toward enemies beyond his walls.
Bristoll saw the young financier draw back the portieres and he himself rose hastily and came forward, but he halted half-way and stood transfixed. He had been told that he was to expect beauty, and he had expected it, yet now for the moment he found himself standing astonished, and as devoid as a raw schoolboy of his usually imperturbable poise. From this trance-like condition he was recalled by the quizzical amusement of his employer and, bowing from the hips, he found himself murmuring some well-bred inanity.
The girl standing there in the door was a sight to make men gasp and lose their tongues, and because this was not the first who had done so, her own perfect lips curved into a smile of purest graciousness, and in her voice as she spoke was a quality of zylophone music made the more charming by that slight French accent which years abroad had given her. Beauty is so variant of type, so often vaunted and so rarely found in true perfectness, that Carl Bristoll had accepted the newspaper reports of this girl's loveliness with a discounted credence. Now he was convinced. The quality of her coloring and expression would have made her face beautiful even had it lacked its allurement of line and delicacy of proportion; even had the chin tilted less regally and the eyes looked out under their long lashes with less serene queenliness, though ready to twinkle at the instant into the merriment of a mischief-loving child.
She was tall, but not too tall, lithe and slim and sinuous as a mermaid, yet well enough rounded to make each delicate curve a charm, not merely of promise but of fulfilment. She wore a flowing morning-gown that made negligee seem to the suddenly intoxicated secretary the glorified costume for a woman. It was a richly embroidered thing from China and on her head was a crown of lace. Bristoll knew that its material name would be a boudoir cap, but on her head it became a crown—no, it was too filmy and ethereal for that: rather it was a sort of halo. Beneath it, and imprisoning pale fire in its amber softness, escaped a truant mass of curls. From the cap to the foamy whiteness of a lacy petticoat that peeped out just above the silk-clad ankles, she was exquisite. And all these things stamped themselves on young Carl Bristoll's brain as he bowed. Then he realized the delicate white-and-pink glow of her complexion and a marvelous pair of mismated eyes.
Later when trying to defend to his own sophisticated mind his unaccountable loss of poise, he assured himself that it was these eyes. They should have spoiled her beauty, just as any other thing that destroyed symmetry of balance in form or color would have marred the effect. Yet, on the contrary, they were gorgeous and wonderful, and when he looked at them he felt as if he had plunged into some icy pool and come out glowing.
"It is a pleasure indeed, Mr. Bristoll," she smiled when he had been presented. "You see we must be good and informal friends since the—" she shrugged her slim shoulders and quite unconsciously fell into French idiom as she continued—"since the so great impatience of my big brother compels me to meet you like this—all untidy and unprepared." She made a little gesture with both hands and her rippling laugh seemed to envelop the young secretary with a deep sense of obligation for her graciousness. "I have been so long from America, and I have not yet come back to the American ways. In France they do not so rush from their beds to their business. In France they take the time to live."
In Hamilton Burton's face there remained no echo of the impatience of a few minutes past. In his serene eyes was no hint of remembered annoyance. As he drew back his sister's chair, one saw in his masterful face only the satisfied pride of a man fastidious of taste in all things from neck-scarfs to women.
"I'm truly sorry, Mary," he declared, "to have inconvenienced you, but you must let me be a little selfish. The only time I can be sure of seeing you will be across the breakfast-table, and that privilege you must grant—because you are too delectable a sister to do without."
"Ah," she laughed, "but I did not know that here in America the men knew how to say the pretty things—and to their own sisters, too! But it is for me to apologize. It is I who let the coffee grow cold. I have been spoiled abroad where people are very lazy." Under her smiling eyes the two men sat content while she made of serving the Bolivian coffee a ceremonial as pretty as a fete.
Young Bristoll, usually loquacious enough, was not talkative this morning. What had happened to more hardened philanderers abroad was happening to him, and the shield which he had always succeeded in holding safely before his heart was being lowered under the bright archery of Mary Burton's eyes.
At last he rose, and his chief said quietly, "Carl, I shall be an hour late. Will you run down to the office and sit on the lid until I get there?"
The secretary's brows went up. "You were to meet several of the directors of the Inter-Ocean Coal and Ore at ten-fifteen," he reminded.
"Let them wait," retorted Burton placidly. "I'm usually punctual enough."
"Ah!" exclaimed Mary with an adorable show of penitence, "and it is I who am causing Monsieur Coal and Monsieur Ore to wait—I am so sorry!"
But, when Bristoll had gone and Hamilton had led the way into the library, safe from the overhearing of the servants, the girl's manner abruptly changed. She stood by the broad desk, resting her slender fingers lightly on the mahogany top, and turned to her brother. Her attitude was very straight and regal, and her voice, though still soft and musical, had in it the quiet ring of defiance.
"So!" she said. "So, in my brother's house I come and go under orders? So, I rise when he commands it and go to bed at his direction."
Hamilton Burton paused with his fingers on the knob of a wall-safe from which he had meant to take a package that he had placed there as a gift in celebration of her home-coming. It had pleased him, as he was shown that rope of splendidly matched pearls in the establishment of the continent's premier jeweller, that he was able to buy such gifts. Of the twenty millions of families in America, nineteen million would have regarded their cost as a large fortune upon whose income they could live at ease while life lasted. But Hamilton Burton had been even prouder that on his sister's throat their beauty would after all be the secondary beauty, and with the eye of the connoisseur he had rejected several of the graduated gems and demanded that in their place more perfect ones be substituted. Agents of the great house, skilled in the nuances of selection, had sought far to better them until the result was satisfactory to the exacting taste of the purchaser.
Hamilton Burton was spoken of as a woman-hater. Society saw him rarely. Power was his mistress and success his passion. His egotism, centering on no deep love of his own and too fastidious for mere "affairs," left him opportunity for an exaggerated family pride.
Now he halted with his fingers on the combination knob of the safe and straightened up. The sun fell upon a face very attractive and winning, and a figure very strong and graceful, but at the same moment the features hardened and the eyes wore their fighting glint.
"Mary," he said very slowly, "I thought that you understood. I thought from the way you spoke in there that you realized it was you who had acted like a very lovely and a very selfish little pig."
"Did you suppose then," she queried as her chin went a shade higher and the long lashes dropped a little over the vivid eyes, "that I should make a scene before your servants?"
"If you include Mr. Bristoll in that category, I must ask you to correct your impression. Carl is my closest friend. A man who happens to stand on an eminence has few such friends and he values those he has."
"Mr. Bristoll seemed to me"—she shrugged her shoulders and spread her palms—"what shall I say—a nice boy? Yet I should hardly have discussed in his presence such matters as we have now to discuss. It seems, mon cher, that we do not yet quite understand each other. Is it not so?"
She seated herself and glanced up at him with a half-challenge in her eyes, even though her lips smiled charmingly.
"Mary"—the voice was now hard and the face was very fixed—"there is very little to understand and I have very little time for discussion. You have been abroad, enjoying every human advantage that money could buy you. When you were a little kid washing dishes in the White Mountains you cried to be pretty. If you had cried for the moon I'd have tried to get it for you. If I'd failed it would have been my first failure. The beauty I didn't give you. God had already done that, but everything that can enhance beauty, I did give you—education, culture, social standing of the highest. You have come back home with every exquisite accomplishment that a woman can have. I'm willing to admit that from my point of view you've been a good investment. You have instinctively the perfection that most women only strive after. I'm so proud of you that I've chosen to make you the mistress of my house. What you want you have only to ask for, but you will please remember that I am head of my family. I shall make few demands—and those must be complied with. That is all there is to understand."
"I had understood," she answered very quietly, "that I was to regard this house as my own and that I was to be mistress here. That, you pointed out in your letters, was why I should find it preferable to going to my mother's. Was it not so?"
"If you had gone to mother's, would you have expected to upset the entire schedule of family affairs?" he demanded.
In reply she rose and stood drumming lightly with her fingers on the table-top.
"'Daughter am I in my mother's house, but Mistress in mine own,'" she quoted.
Hamilton Burton took several turns back and forth across the floor. The whole situation was surprising and intolerable. Never had son or brother been more lavish in waving the magician's wand for the pleasure of his family, but never had any other member forgotten for an instant the obedience they owed to his paramount genius. Men who fought him, he could crush, and did crush ruthlessly and with no afterthought, but his own sister, crossing his will, became a problem of more difficult solution.
"It is a trifle whether you breakfast in bed or not," he said suddenly, halting in his walk and standing before her. "It is vital that you remember that you are a girl and that I am the head of this family, whose right and duty it is to direct you. It was I who brought this family out of obscurity and drudgery. But for me you would now be mending some lumberjack's socks and washing his dishes and living in the gray monotony of unvaried days. There has been only one productive member in our household and that is myself. There has been just one who could, with no outside aid, meet the world and conquer it, and the family which I have brought up with me from an abandoned farm to the high places of success must regard my wishes."
"You have summarized with the modesty of a tyrant and a czar," she replied as her eyes suddenly broke into an unexpected fire and her uptilted chin set itself defiantly, "the many favors that your hand of self-made royalty has conferred upon your suppliant family." Her musical voice took on a deeper thrill. "You have reminded me that my father and mother, my brother and myself, are all but parasites that feed upon your so-great powers of achievement. Eh bien, you have made a mistake. My mother is a saint—"
"If any one dared to contradict that—" interrupted Hamilton hotly, but she halted him with an imperious wave of her hand.
"If my czar-like brother will permit his sister to address his throne," she said with quiet sarcasm, "I shall esteem it a gracious favor. Let us be frank with each other. My mother is a saint and my father a good man. My brother, Paul, is a genius in music—and a weakling—but, as you say, each of them is without power. Each of them is a parasite and you are the oak upon which they grow and bloom. But as for me—" She stopped and laughed, and suddenly Hamilton Burton realized that his sister Mary was not the child he had always regarded her: not the slip of a girl that had been sent away in the infancy of his fortune to be educated abroad, but a woman of twenty-five, and an unusual woman.
"As for me," she continued slowly, "I think you have made a mistake. Whence, mon cher, came this fire in your soul which told you back there in the barren hills that you were not like little men? May it not be that this genius came to you from some remote ancestor? May it not be that also into my veins crept some of that fire? Alors! Whether that be true or no, this I do of a certainty believe. The spirit of fight that is in you, is likewise in me. You will not find in me the jeune fille who shall obey without knowing why. My feet are small—for which I thank le bon Dieu—but I can stand quite stanchly upon them. You boast of the princely gifts that you have bestowed upon me. For those I am not unthankful, but I shall not regard them as the price of blind obedience. If they have been given in that spirit, you have done for me nothing more than other men have done for—for their mistresses."
She ended and stood very calm in her anger while the brother who had never before been successfully defied gazed into her face with an expression of amazement. Then slowly there came over his own a glow of keen admiration.
He came over and bowed with almost courtly ceremony, then he laughed.
"Mary," he exclaimed, "we shall fight, you and I, but we shall reign together. By God, you are my sister! Not just by coincidence of birth, but by the deeper kinship of our two souls. Great heavens, girl, since I came here to fight and to win, I've been lonely. It's not egotism but truth that makes me say this. I have been a conqueror—and all conquerors are lonely. You are mistress here. Do as you wish." He went back to the safe, but he looked up and laughed in a naive and winning fashion that was quite irresistible.
"By the way," he suggested, "are you going to do me the honor to breakfast with me hereafter?"
The girl laughed, too, and her eyes were as serenely gracious as a queen's may afford to be when, of her own will, she makes a royal concession.
"Yes, I shall breakfast with you, mon cher brother," she replied. Then she added with perfect mimicry of his own overbearing voice, "It's a trifle whether I breakfast in bed or not. It is vital that you remember who is mistress of this house. C'est moi!"
A moment later, the man whose frown carried punishment for his adversaries and whose smile was so frank and winning for his friends, stood before his sister, watching her eyes as eagerly as a schoolboy while he opened the satin case and held out to her the string of pearls.
"Mary," he said simply, "I'm not a man that curries favor with women. Paul looks after that gentle art for this family. You are the only girl I care about. When I give presents to a woman, it will be to you. There is no other woman in New York who could wear that rope of pearls and not look as if the pearls were wearing her. On your throat they are what jewels should always be—a subordinate decoration; partly eclipsed stars. I thought you might like them."
She took the gift and raised it to the light, while her eyes kindled and her lips parted in delight, and as she looked at the pearls, her brother looked at her.
"They are beautiful, aren't they?" she exclaimed and as she gazed at their well-matched perfection a glow kindled in her cheeks.
"With such gifts," she murmured softly, "you could buy the souls of many women, mon cher. If you insist on being a master, at least, you are a generous one."
Possibly at that moment, back of her delight, there rose a little ghost-like doubt. He had said, "We shall fight—but we shall reign together." She wondered vaguely how complete would be her participation in that reign. So far as they had fought, each had won a victory and he had paid a handsome indemnity—in future how would it be? Then he took the thing from her and fastened it around her neck and led her very gently to one of the great mirrors, standing at her shoulder and gazing at her through the glass.
"So," she exclaimed, turning and laying her hands on his shoulders while her eyes twinkled with merriment, "they tell me that you compel men to wear your collar. Already, I, too, am wearing it."
"At least," he laughed back at her, "you will always find it as light and pleasant to wear as pearls."
At the door he paused and spoke, with no trace of his former dictatorial authority. His tone was very pleasant and unassuming. "May I make another suggestion?" he asked, and the girl nodded with smiling eyes.
"You are too fine a woman to need theatric affectations, Mary. I am proudest of all that we are unalloyed American in blood. Be American. Cut out the pidgin English and the interlarding of French idiom and phrases, won't you?"
She raised her brows, and after a moment's pause said, "Certainly. I have no wish to appear affected. It seemed natural. The habit had grown on me, but I shall accept that advice, my dear brother."
Even in the days of his first, forced marches toward fortune, when besides his unshakable plunger's nerve he stood almost without an asset, Hamilton Burton's policy had been that the limelight paid, and as he had mounted from moderate success into the millionaire class, and thence into the division rated in a plurality of millions, he had always adhered to the plan of letting nothing which reflected his personality fall below the standards of superlative worth and cost.
At first, he thought of the conspicuousness of wealth as a credential tending to enlarge the scope and standing of its possessor. In a city whose public is surfeited with a show of splendor, the man who would find himself underscored must pitch such conspicuousness to a scale of rajah-like magnificence.
With a thoroughness born of gigantic gambling instinct Hamilton Burton directed his policy of the outward show and trappings of wealth through every artery of his life and the lives of his family. Yet, because his taste was discriminating and sound, he was able to combine the maximum effect of expenditure with the simplicity of the artistic and to shun the pitfall of the offensive.
In those earlier days when the family was fresh from the frugality of the hills, its elder members had constantly been appalled by the youth's extravagance. Yet, even then, he had overruled them with an autocratic assurance, which knew no doubt. It had not at first been easy for the gentle mother, whose hands were red from decades of tub and dishpan, and the father whose fingers had gripped the plow, to adapt themselves to the idle and effortless regime of this new order.
It had for a long while been impossible for them to escape the fear of a crash in which all this iridescent and artificial seeming must collapse. But his attitude remained unaltered. "I do not mean to let money be my master," he had obstinately reiterated. "To me it shall be a slave. Money conquers the man who fears it. It is an insolent, inanimate underling, which, if not treated with contempt, becomes a tyrant. Scorn it and it serves you blindly. I must seem a rich man before I can become one. It is my wish that my family appear the family of a rich man. Economies that are apparent are confessions of failure."
In the first chapters they protested, but Ham swept their protests intolerantly aside, and as the years went on he piled miracle upon miracle until every promise of his unsupported egotism had become an accomplished and undeniable reality. Then they ceased to fear and trusted implicitly in the star that led him. Gradually they yielded to the blandishments of the new life and drifted pleasantly before the breezes of luxury. The man who had been a bearded and Calvinistic countryman for almost a half-century became in less than a decade an ease-loving and slothful old gentleman, dapper of appearance, rosy of face and inclining toward embonpoint.
Now it is fundamentally written in the edicts of Truth that a man must go forward or back, and if his hands hang idle at his sides, he will not advance. Thomas Standish Burton was born to buffet the storms of his mountains, and as long as he followed his destiny he could look his fellow-man in the face with the level eyes of independence. Within his limitations, he could think wholesomely and soundly. But here he was a different man, a Samson shorn, and the things which he had first contemptuously waved aside or accepted with a growl in his throat, he now welcomed. The hard brown face was rounded and pink and where there had been rawhide muscles on his torso there was now soft and fatty flesh; for Tom Burton whom men had accounted a giant of immovable resolution back there among the forests was, in these days, a gentleman and wore a gardenia or a carnation in his lapel. It was not originally his fault. The process of becoming a gentleman had pained and irked him, but he had a masterful son who could not afford that his father should wear a shaggy bark, and that masterful son had been suffocating him with opulence until his powers of resistance had become atrophied.
And the mother, too, had altered, though, in her, the change had been a sweeter thing. The making of a lady of this remote descendant of Alexander Hamilton's blood had not been difficult.
Some strains of heredity can awaken from the submerged sleep of relapse as quickly and keenly as a woodsman throws off the mists of slumber.
Ham had never feared that his mother would reveal the taint of the parvenue when she faced the batteries of criticism which guard the outposts of the social world to which his own prominence gave the entree. And Paul, with his gentle love of comfort and his thoughts that strayed into dreams and music, found the perfumed atmosphere of a drawing-room very congenial. He breathed the incense of praise from women who were enraptured as his long fingers stole over the piano keys. Had his road to artistic recognition lain along the broken trail of struggle, Paul would have fainted, undiscovered, by the wayside, but with every difficulty made smooth before his feet and every puddle carpeted by Hamilton's cloth of gold, he found himself the lionized pet of inner circles and the favorite of the elect.
Of these things Hamilton Burton was thinking as he left his door for the car that awaited him. From the start he had never deviated from his well-laid course of determination. Power was his goal and by power he meant no mean modicum, but limitless strength. He had picked finance as his field of endeavor because in this day the scepter that sways affairs must be the scepter of gold. But Hamilton Burton knew that he was only starting and his plans ran to the future. As he looked ahead he never forgot that the fighter must be well conditioned. With the discipline of the boxer in training, he regulated his habits of personal life and held his splendid nerves steady and above par. No man had ever seen the dimming cloud of dissipation in his eye nor any gossip-monger whispered of unwise indulgence. He was spoken of as fastidiously clean of life, and yet it is doubtful whether any shadow of self-illusion found harbor in his own mind. In morals as a code inspired of conscience he had no interest; in rigid self-restraint from all that might impair the highest efficiency of nerve and brain he was as unyielding as a Trappist. To the mandate of his single deity, Ambition, he clove with unswerving sternness. His lavish generosity to his family was a strong and clannish passion—yet even that was a sort of greater selfishness and all the world outside he held in ruthless disregard—a realm to conquer. That one may conquer, many must fall—and to conquer was his one resolve.
Even now, awaited by several men who were not accustomed to cooling their heels in anterooms, he halted at the curb, when he saw another automobile draw up and recognized his brother Paul.
The younger Burton was not so greatly changed. On his cameo features still lingered the delicate hall-mark of the over-sensitive and about his lips played the petulant expression of one who could not cope with the material. His eyes were still pools of brooding darkness, and as he glanced up and met his brother's smile his expression of pleasure was boyish and spontaneous.
"I came in for a moment to see Mary," he explained as he took his older brother's hand. "How is she this morning?"
"Have your car follow, and drive down-town with me. I want a word with you and I'm more than an hour late now. You can see Mary afterward." Ham's suggestions were always couched in mandatory terms, and Paul with a nod gave the necessary instructions to his own driver. When he was seated his elder brother inquired with a keen glance of appraisal, "What's the matter with you, Paul? You look tired."
"I am a bit fagged." The answer was almost plaintive. "After I went to bed last night, or this morning, the scheme of an aria began running through my head and I couldn't sleep. I had to get up and work it out on the piano. Listen—it goes like this." Forgetful of time and place, the musician began whistling the opening bars of his latest composition.
Hamilton Burton gazed at the dreamy and fatigued eyes of the other for a moment before he broke out bluntly: "For heaven's sake, spare me! At least save it for some more suitable time. Can't you fix it to do some of your dreaming while you sleep? It seems to me that for a man who has nothing to do you keep yourself unnecessarily exhausted. Why the devil aren't you in bed now if you haven't slept during the night?"
"I had an appointment for breakfast at twelve."
"With some woman, I suppose: some woman who wants to break it to you gently that when she hears your music a realization steals over her that she has a soul; that, listening to you, she knows that life holds higher and nobler things. That sort of appointment, eh?"
The younger man flushed deeply. "In point of fact, it is with a lady," he admitted.
Hamilton Burton frowned. The car was turning into the avenue and the traffic officer saluted in recognition of the familiar figure, while the financier with a smile waved one gloved hand. Then the smile disappeared and the frown returned.
"You say you are tired, Paul, and sometimes—I might as well confess—you make me tired. Your trouble is that you are stifled with boudoir perfume and suffocated by over-petting. Why don't you try breathing outdoors sometime? You might like it if you ever made the experiment."
Paul only shook his head. He could never argue with Hamilton and yet on one or two subjects he was gently and immovably stubborn. So the older brother shrugged his shoulders and changed the subject.
"What progress with the new organ?" he inquired.
The responsive face lighted and weariness gave place to the glow of enthusiasm. Hamilton was installing at the younger man's quarters a splendid music-room with such an organ as might have graced a cathedral. There the ardent composer might shut himself off with the swelling strains of his own music and fare out on the far tide of his dreams.
At Madison square the car swung to the left of the Flatiron's sharp prow and took its course down Broadway, and when it reached Union square the spring sunlight was shining softly on the spot which has often served as the people's forum. At the north end a crowd had gathered and from a drygoods box a speaker was haranguing them. From the violence of the gestures and the truculence of the voice whose words did not reach him, Hamilton Burton knew that it was an agitator whose burden was the hardness of the times and the inequality of living conditions. His lips shaped themselves for an instant into a smile of satirical amusement. One who held his fingers so constantly on the pulse of finance was not in ignorance of the feverish heat that burned through the nation's arteries. He knew that a rumble of protest was rising from the Battery to the Golden Gate and that this rumble might be the warning thunder that runs ahead of a panic's hurricane.
But, as his car was passing the crowd, he found himself looking out across the near heads of the listeners, and upon all the faces he read a sullen discontent. Some of those men, he surmised, had waited their turns in the bread line. Some of them came from lodgings where larders were empty.
The chauffeur had swung east to take the more open way and even here he had to throttle down his gas because of the scattered loungers who had overflowed the curb. One man of tramp-like appearance stepped directly in front of the radiator and at the warning of the horn made no effort to seek safety. He swaggered along with insolent manner at snail's pace, so that the driver, with a muttered imprecation, brought the car to a jerking halt, and even then almost grazed with his fender the frayed sleeve of the trouble-maker.
In Union square, as on Riverside Drive, the foliage was tenderly green and the sunlight was a golden smile. Pushcarts freighted with potted plants and fruit gave scraps of festal color, and a stand canopied with a yellow-and-blue umbrella offered pies and sandwiches for sale.
But the crowd itself was colorless and somber of mood, and as the car stopped the speaker pointed to it with a passion-shaken hand, so that its principal occupant knew that he was recognized and being made the target of a verbal onslaught. Those men standing nearest turned and gazed at him with an idle curiosity. They were seeing a multi-millionaire at close range. But from a few near the center of the throng came jeers and shouts of insult for the man whom they chose to regard as a representative of Capital's tyranny. A black-visaged malcontent of humorless eyes made his way to the margin of the gathering and, with a pie for which he neglected to pay, opened a fusillade upon the rich man's car. After that came an orange or two contributed by some one whose position was strategically close to the fruit-vender's cart and at last a sounder missile struck and shivered the wind-shield.
For just a moment the situation had a precarious seeming for the reviled young master of finance, and Paul's delicate face blanched a little. Hamilton Burton regarded himself as the brother of monarchs and it devolves upon the Crown to face the envious animosity of groundlings.
He leaned forward and said quietly to the chauffeur, "Swing around into the open and drive on."
But recognition of the often-photographed face was not confined to the assailants and instantly the focused humanity was being broken into scattering factors by police officers who had not hitherto been visible. The capitalist saw two struggling offenders being roughly hustled away in the custody of uniformed captors and a patrolman swung to the running board of the car and remained there as it rounded the square, with his loosened club swinging ready for service in his right hand.
"You weren't struck, were you, Mr. Burton?" he asked in the tone of solicitude to which Hamilton had grown accustomed, and which he accepted as a part of his right.
He smiled. "No harm done but a broken glass—and the less noise made about the incident the better I'll be pleased."
The car had now reached the south end of the area, where the bronze Washington stands with his hand raised as if in dignified rebuke for the noisy demonstrations he so often looks down upon, and where the Marquis de Lafayette turns his back on the square and gazes at the moving-picture posters of Fourteenth street.
For a minute or two the younger brother sat in nervous silence, and, when he spoke, he put his question in a voice of anxious concern. "Aren't you alarmed, Hamilton?"
"Alarmed?" The other raised his brows and smiled. His face was placid. "Don't you remember, Paul, what Charles Fox once had to say on the subject? At least he got the credit for saying it, which comes to the same thing. 'A man of power has no other such luxury as being mobbed in his carriage.'"
"I wasn't thinking of just that. I know you aren't afraid of any physical attack. I was wondering what it all prophesies. We musicians can feel the crescendo coming from the first mounting bars. Everywhere there is a spirit of unrest; of revolution. Doesn't it mean a crash—a panic?"
Again the man whose brain had turned the base metal of poverty into the gold of Croesus smiled.
"I'm not a betting man, Paul, but I'd be willing to lay a moderate wager that within the next year or two we shall see a panic that will leave many scars and not a few wrecks."
"And that conviction doesn't alarm you?" The musician let his features mirror his nervous surprise. If the principal had no fear, at least the dependent was in terror.
The amusement left Hamilton Burton's eyes and into them came the harder gleam. "Paul, you know as little about finance as I know about music. I've done what I've done by following one law: the leashing of forces. Electricity is force, but electricity unharnessed is lightning which devastates. Fire, uncontrolled, ravages, but, held in check, makes power. Every force in a man's nature that is not curbed becomes a weakness. The only difference between success and failure is the twist given to the initial impulse. Every danger and peril, if foreseen and met, becomes opportunity."
Paul shook his head. "As you say," he admitted, "I don't understand these things. I thought panics were hurricanes that swept fortunes away."
The elder brother laid an immaculately gloved hand on the coat-sleeve of the younger.
"It's a thing I wouldn't confide to any one else, but I trust you even if I don't give a damn for your judgment. As you say, hurricanes mean ruin—for the unprepared, but there are also men to whom hurricanes mean—salvage."
For an instant, the hard fire of ruthless conquest burned so fiercely in Hamilton Burton's eyes that Paul drew back and shuddered, then he heard the quiet voice continuing. "I am now rated among the first few in the world of American finance. There are others above me. I am one of twelve or fifteen. When this storm has taken its toll and spent its rage—then I shall be one of one, and above me there will be—no other man."
* * * * *
At the same time, though the twenty-four figured dials of Italian clocks recorded a later hour, a young man of more than ordinarily likable appearance sat alone at a terrace table of a Capri inn. Near by a company of sashed and spangled peasants danced to the accompaniment of guitars and mandolins, but he did not seem to see them and when they presented their tambourines for largesse, he roused himself almost with a start to search his pockets for lire.
Behind him were the colorful and steep vistas that lay along the zig-zag roads where ramshackle victorias clattered at crazy speed. Below him was the world's most vivid spread of sun-kissed color; the Bay of Naples curving nobly from his point of view to Ischia's misty bulwark, in a glistening spread of sapphire. Standing guard over the picture was the great cone of Vesuvius. But of these things also the solitary young man seemed oblivious.
Against his wicker-bound carafe of pale Capri wine stood propped an old Paris edition of the New York Herald. It was folded so that a portrait of a woman could be seen to the best advantage, and to the exclusion of flagstoned courtyards and trellised, overhanging vines; to the exclusion of the bay's great jewel of beauty, this picture held the eyes of the man who lunched alone. They were good eyes, of the sort that look life straight in the face, and their pupils were such as impress the beholder with a conviction of fearless integrity. Now they were preoccupied, and a little annoyed. Even in the lifelessness of black and white the face he studied was one of remarkable beauty, and it pleased him to imagine the wonderful difference and illumination which color and swift play of expression would bring to its features.
For several reasons, the face was of more than commonplace interest to him. Years ago he had seen it by a roadside in the White Mountains, and often since he had thought of it until the thought had taken deep root in his mind and become one of the pleasant dreams of his life. But Fate had further spurred his curiosity by a series of mischances which had prevented his meeting this girl, though often in his travels his arrivals had followed close enough on her departures to permit his hearing talk of her great charm and her many conquests.
For several years Jefferson Edwardes had been in control of that branch of his firm's business which operated from St. Petersburg. Now he was returning to New York to take up larger affairs. An uncle's death had necessitated his personal supervision of the home office.
He had heard that Mary Burton was in Naples and had decided to break his own journey there in the hope of meeting her—and perhaps returning on the same steamer. Now he learned that once more he was too late.
But what annoyed the young millionaire more poignantly was the thinly veiled hint that the Duke de Metuan had also sailed for America as one of her fellow-passengers.
The whimsical little laughter wrinkles about Edwardes' eyes radiated from twinkling pupils as he calmly asked himself what concern this was of his; this news of a woman he had never known except once long ago in a world of abandoned farms. But the laughter died quickly, because, absurd as it was by all practical standards, he knew that he had let his dream become too important for abandonment without the test of renewed acquaintanceship. He resented the Duke de Metuan. He was not unfamiliar with Continental affairs and some of the nobleman's financial troubles had sought solution through his banking house. Of course, the Mary Burton of his dreams might have no existence in reality. This woman had had ample opportunity to be spoiled—but if she had not been—There he broke off and took a long breath. If the girl's heart had worthy kinship with her beauty, she would be a miracle worth following over seas. At all events, he was sailing tomorrow and her world would also be his. It would not be difficult to learn the truth.
When he had stepped from the car to the sidewalk, Hamilton Burton stood there for a while in apparent abstraction. A private policeman in cadet gray waited deferentially with his hand on the knob of the grilled bronze door which gave entrance to the office building. Burton's eyes were resting on Paul's face, but the pupils were focused for no such circumscribed range. Their vistas were of the future and empire-wide. The fire that had wakened in them with the pronunciamento, "Above me there shall be no one," lingered and the smile which hovered on the lips held a certain grimness in its curve. It was not a reassuring smile for such interests as ran counter to his own. A passing reporter who fancied himself wise in the lore of the Street, halted to observe, and muttered to himself, "Ursus Major wearing his fighting face! This may prove a day worth watching."
A floor representative of a brokerage office caught the expression, too, and into his memory came flooding the events of another day when this same man, wearing the same smile, hurled himself upon the Stock-Exchange, in a bear raid which had cost bull millions.
"The Great Bear, damn him!" he exclaimed with savage vehemence. "The buccaneer's got some fresh piracy on foot if I know that sardonic grin." Within the half-hour a mysteriously fathered rumor passed from mouth to mouth on the floor of the Exchange, that Hamilton Burton was drawing his battle-lines and that somewhere his bolt would fall. Because the report was untraceable it was the more disquieting, and the Stock-Exchange is ever ready to rock to an alarm. Yet just now, the man whose silent smile could give birth to such sweeping potentialities did nothing more significant than gaze absently at the tide of life which eddied through Broadway's canon and at the disintegrating tombstones which spoke of death in the shadow of Trinity.
There was something of tawny and tigerish splendor about this young man who had sprung with mushroom swiftness from nowhere into the fierce eminence of a financial conqueror. The supple grace of his movements attested ready power. The immaculate elegance of his apparel challenged notice by a flawlessness which went beyond the art of the tailor who clothed him and assumed a distinction as though it had been the belted uniform of a field marshal. Though pronounced the best-dressed man in New York, he escaped all seeming of foppishness. Each small detail, from the flower in his lapel to his gloves and shoes, seemed a significant touch.
Hamilton Burton lent qualities from himself to everything that marked him—and these qualities seemed to go like heralds at his front, proclaiming, "This man is led by a star—his head overlooks the crowd!"
Men and women staring out from a sight-seeing car turned their heads with a common accord, their attention arrested by something intangible.
Then as the megaphone operator lowered his voice it became pregnant with importance. To visitors from Paris, Kentucky, Berlin, Iowa, and Cairo, Illinois, he confided, "The gentleman by the car with the broken wind-shield is Hamilton Burton." It was enough. It conjured up to memory newspaper stories of a genie to whose wand fabulous tides of gold responded. These sight-seers were beholding a man credited with the power to cause or avert panics; one of the most lauded, the most hated and the most feared men in finance, and, for some inexplicable reason, after they looked at him it was no longer difficult to believe the stories of his wizardry.
He nodded to Paul and turned toward the door. Once more he repeated, "Then above me there shall be—no other man," and though he said it with all the arrogant and ruthless spirit of a tyrant who would take no count of razed cities as he rode to his victory, yet he said it in a low and pleasant voice; a voice even tinged with musical gentleness.
At the twentieth floor where the elevator stopped to let him alight, Hamilton's eyes were aglow with the reflected light of his thoughts. He was still young and before him lay conquests that should dwarf those of the past. Posterity should link his name with achievements so titanic that history would be beggared for a precedent. Kingdoms would be his clients and kings his vassals.
Of late, a persistent idea had been creeping into his thoughts. The world was to know him as one of its mightiest rulers—so mighty that for him a crown would be too tawdry a toy—but some day he must die. Who then, demanded his sublimely arrogant self-appraisement, would carry on the work that had called him on to conquest from hills where the burned stumps stood up stark and black in the forest? It is the hallucination of superlative egotism to imagine that the world demands of her great sons—a succession.
Whatever gods looked on must have laughed as they read the vast audacity of this man's conceit. Never had it occurred to him that such an ambition as his own meant a mere greed for power—that no great cause or motive impelled him forward. Never had a whisper come to his soul that power is a trust which should make its recipient a crusader. The world thought of him as a man of great potentiality. He thought of himself grown to the proportions and stature of his dreams—the financial Titan expanded to the nth power. There must be an heir to this empire of his building.
"I suppose I could marry any woman in the world I wanted," he reflected as he strode along the hall to the door of his office suite, "but the devil of it is I don't want any of them." A fresh thought brought to his face an expression a shade saner and less self-centered. "Mary is as beautiful and as charming as I am efficient, moreover she has brains," he soliloquized. "Mary must marry brilliantly and her son shall be my successor."
In a sort of audience hall waited the Coal and Ore directors who had been burning up valuable time and burning up as well a patience unschooled to such delays, but as the door opened and the young field marshal of great business appeared on the threshold, they masked their irritation in smiles. These men were neither sycophants nor fawning suppliants. Each of them held high prominence in the aristocracy of wealth, but Hamilton Burton topped them—and the singular power upon which he had risen was one-half pure charm and hypnotism of personality. Men might swear at the Hamilton Burton who kept them twiddling their thumbs until he came, yet when he came it seemed that the sunlight came with him and the mists of impatience were dissipated. A half-hour later he bowed them out, and they went smiling and telling one another as they left, "Remarkable fellow, Burton! Absolutely surmounts ordinary rules and ordinary difficulties. Most remarkable and able man!"
He next passed through the outer offices to the door marked "private," and there, near the window of his sanctum, sat a stout and elderly gentleman. In the unsparing revelation of the morning sunshine the visitor's face declared all its wrinkles. The whitening hair, growing sparse, was carefully combed across an arid patch of scalp. Hamilton Burton's smile died and his face grew for a moment solicitous as he read his father's troubled eyes. Old Thomas Burton was shaven and manicured and betailored into a model of well-nourished—possibly over-nourished—senectitude. His mustaches and beard were waxed and pointed. Once he had deplored the necessity and trouble of the Sabbath shave—and his hair had known no law of shears or shampoo. In his lapel a gardenia was carefully placed so that it should not obscure the button which proclaimed him a Son of the American Revolution. He restlessly tapped his gaitered boots with a stick upon whose gold head was carven the Burton crest.
As Hamilton came forward the elder man rose and turned with some embarrassment. In his movements the son read with a pang of sudden realization the approaching atrophy of age. "I'm sorry to intrude on your office hours, Hamilton," began the father, "but the fact is—I—er—I—" he broke off confusedly.
Tom Burton was mightily changed, but now and again an echo of the old self harassed his reincarnation. He had never learned to beg for money with the unabashed ease of an aristocratic parasite. While it was in his pocket he could top the extravagance of a drunken sailor, but when its lack drove him again to his bountiful son he came haltingly—covered with confusion.
"What is it, father?" Hamilton clapped the old gentleman on the shoulder and declared, "When you come others can wait."
Tom Burton flushed deeply. "I—er—well, I've had a notice of over-draft from my bank."
Hamilton Burton's brows contracted.
"Did they keep you sitting here, cooling your heels like a book-agent until I arrived? Why didn't you go direct to Corbin? He has carte blanche to accommodate you in every demand you choose to make."
Again Tom Burton spoke hesitantly.
"I did—er—mention it to Mr. Corbin. He was very polite, but he suggested that, unless I was in urgent haste, I'd better wait until you came in.... He reminded me that—er—that I'd made rather heavy demands of late, and I'm bound to say it's true."
The young financier threw back his head and his eyes burst into a blaze of white-hot anger.
"Hell-fire and damnation!" he stormed. "Is my money my own or is it to be doled out by parsimonious hirelings? Must I beg my servants' consent to supply my family with funds?"
"Mr. Corbin was very courteous," placated the old man in a mild voice.
"Courteous!" The word crackled like a mule whip. "Who is Corbin to be patronizingly courteous to my father? Are you to approach me only through a cordon of lackeys?" He broke off and started to slam his palm down on a table-bell that should bring the too-careful subordinate face to face with his anger, but he stayed his hand half-way, and began talking again.
"Back there in those damned hills, when I begged you to gamble on me, didn't I tell you that I meant to give you more than you could ever want? Didn't I tell you that it would be my pride to anticipate and outdo your whims—to dwarf them with bigger things? You did gamble on me, when a little money was a frail barrier between you and the wolf—you gambled to go stark-broke." He was pacing the room now as he talked, and his voice mounted. "To me money is a passionless slave, the eunuch that serves my bidding, and serves blindly. Cash has been my watchword. There is not outside the United States Treasury another sum of unencumbered cash equal to that which I command. Any part of it is yours at any time; how much do you want?"
"Why—er—a few thousand for the present."
"Just state your figure and I'll triple it. You don't have to make explanations—or apologies." Then with a rather grim smile Ham added: "That's for Corbin to do."
Tom Burton carefully drew down his waistcoat over his rotund middle and settled his hat on his head at an exact angle. His son accompanied him to the elevator with an arm about his shoulder and as he returned to the outer office he directed curtly, "Carl, come into my room. I want to see you."
Inside he pointed to the bell. "I had my hand three inches from that button a few minutes back to call Corbin in here and fire him. I think I meant to sack everybody in this damned office—except yourself, Carl. I'm sick of these economists that hedge me round with unsolicited safeguards and try to defend me against myself and my family."
"If Mr. Burton had come to me—" began the secretary, but Hamilton Burton interrupted him.
"Have I failed to make myself entirely clear to my employees?" he inquired. "Do I have to tell them every day that they need not be so damned economical with my money? Haven't I ordered that my father and my brother shall always be accommodated without question?" Bristoll nodded, but made no comment.
"Carl, please try once more to make Corbin understand that one of the things I pay him for is to obey orders. Please make it plain beyond cavil that one of my most explicit orders is this: When the Governor comes for money, his job is to begin digging. Find out how much the Governor wants and give him some more."
The secretary was valuable in part because he was frank and because in his sincere loyalty dwelt no taint of sycophant fawning.
"To be entirely just, sir, I think Corbin does understand you, but a cashier who gives out money with no check on disbursements feels the burden of his responsibility. Any item that your father forgot would leave Corbin unpleasantly close to seeming a thief. Of late, your father's demands have been heavy."
"Yes, yes, I know about all that." A sudden change of mood brought a twinkle to the financier's eyes. "My father has been under very heavy expenses of late, Carl. If you had known him as I knew him—back there close to 'God's immortal granite,' as you so aptly phrased it, you would agree with me that the humor of the situation is worth whatever it costs. He had to count the pennies, Carl, and when one threatened to get away he had to chase around it and head it off. He led the simple life and though his middle name was Standish, he regarded it as a sinful vanity to think of his ancestors."
Hamilton's smile was one of whimsical and naive humor as he fished from a desk drawer a thick sheaf of papers and laid them before the other.
"Times have changed. Cast your eye on those. They represent some of the Governor's expenses. They are bills from the Anglo-Saxon Bureau of Genealogy."
"What is this bureau?" inquired Carl, and Burton raised his brows.
"Don't you know? Why, it's a concern that outfits one with a full line of ancestors. My father is now prominent in many orders predicated on ancestors. His mail runs over with epistles beginning, 'Dear Sir and Compatriot.' Such excavating of tombs and catacombs is costly." The young money baron paused and grinned.
"Once the old gentleman got warmed up, he went the full route and took all the jumps, Carl. He started out modestly enough to establish his descent from Miles Standish, but when they had run the Plymouth captain to earth, the trail was hot and their appetites were whetted. They had tasted blue blood. Now they've worked back to a king or two, and the Governor spoke recently of going to England to consult cathedral records. I believe he secretly covets William the Conqueror."
Hamilton shook his head and added sadly, "I hate to think how Corbin will grieve when he learns what William the Conqueror costs. Also, father has a beautiful family crest—you may have noticed it on his walking stick. I haven't yet mastered the niceties of heraldry so I can't properly describe it, but, to me, it looks like a rabbit leaping over an Edam cheese with sprigs of lettuce on either side. A delicatessen shop will steal it some day and father's heart will break."
Carl Bristoll filled and lighted a pipe and Hamilton Burton seated himself on the edge of the desk with his eyes fixed on a swinging foot.
"We all have our vanities," he mused. "I named myself Montagu—arbitrarily and of my own unbiased will. I nominated and elected myself a Montagu, Carl, and I had an equal right to be a Capulet."
"I call that a moderately innocent offense," admitted the secretary. There were moments when these two came near forgetting the relationship of chief and lieutenant, meeting on the level of a joint affection.
"But that is not all. My father has other even more burdensome expenses at the present time," continued the elder young man. "He is deeply interested in charity."
"Really?" The inquiry was courteously vague, and Ham's nod of response was solemn.
"Yes, sir. There are various sorts of charities, Carl. Some folks send silk hats and neckties to the heathen in their blindness, and some found hospitals for three-legged dogs. My father does none of these impractical things. He has dedicated himself to establishing a fund for supplying Havana cigars and motor cars to the Idle Rich. Each day finds him waiting for a quorum up at the National Union Club. When enough are gathered together for a rubber he makes it royal and doubles until everyone save his partner feels a warm glow of wealth stealing gratefully through his arteries." Hamilton broke off and smiled, shaking his head. "Far be it from me to criticize my father," he declared with mock plaintiveness, "but I sometimes wonder why the devil he doesn't learn to play bridge or stop trying."
Then the April change of mood came once more and his eyes darkened into seriousness. "Well, if it amuses him, why not?" he demanded, almost as fiercely as though someone had contradicted old Tom Burton's right to mellow into a self-indulgent decay.
"All his hard life until ten years ago he sweated and toiled for those he loved. I thought recently it might amuse him to take charge of one of my country places—to try farming with no hardships. He was as much good there as an armless man in a billiard tournament. All his farming had been done with calloused hands on the plowshare. All he knew of dairies was nestling his head against the flank of a flea-bitten cow. Let him take his pleasure as he fancies. Thank God he can."
An imagination verging toward the figurative finds on entering the New York Stock-Exchange a strong suggestion of having penetrated a die with which Giants have been casting lots. The first impression is one of cubical dimensions—and unless the curb be drawn, a fancy so spurred will plunge to yet other conceits that bring home the cynical parallel.
On the particular morning when Hamilton Burton's car had been pelted by agitators in Union square the opening gong sounded from the president's gallery on every promise of a quiet day. Here in Money's cardinal nerve-center there had been inevitable rumblings of future eruptions from pent-up apprehensions of panic, but this morning the spring sun came laughing through the great windows at the east and the idle brokers laughed back.
The psychology of this mart where the world trades with neither counter nor show-case nor tangible wares is fitful. It responds nervously and swiftly to the gloom of fog or the smile of sun, as well as to the pulse-beat of the telegraph. Around the sixteen "posts" where the little army of operators drifted as idly as though they met there by chance, no urgency of business manifested itself. But back of this tricky calm hung a cloud of anxiety. A sense of delicate balance, which a gust might capsize, lay at the back of each mind, troubling it with vague forebodings. Conditions were ripe for sudden hysteria. Meanwhile well-groomed young men in pongee office coats and their equally sleek elders killed time with newspapers or resumed threads of conversation broken off at parting last night in drawing-room or theater-foyer. The circular benches around the posts blossomed with magazines and a group formed about two brokers who gravely fought out chess problems on a pocket board. Noise of a sort there was, for on the floor of the Exchange a "quiet" day is not as a quiet day elsewhere. Unimportant bids and sales elicited sporadic shouts and clamor, but for the most part these demonstrations were tinged with laughter and badinage. Seemingly the membership of Finance's College of Cardinals was skylarking with indecorous levity. Activity of a sort there was, too, as the litter of torn-up slips and memoranda on the floor attested. Yet the silent goings and comings of the floor attendants in their cadet-gray livery were placid, and for that environment unhurried. Around none of the posts surged the pandemonium of real activity and the two great blackboards that break the marble whiteness of the walls at the north and south twinkled no feverish signals from brokerage offices to floor operators.
But within two hours the smile of the spring sun died behind a cloud and a rumor insinuatingly whispered itself about the floor. Magnet-wise it drew men from scattered points into focal groups and panic-wise it stamped a growing apprehension on faces that had been expressionless.
"Where did this ridiculous canard originate?" demanded a pompous and elderly gentleman as he tugged at his closely cropped mustache with a nervousness belying his scepticism. His vis-a-vis shook a dubious head.
"All I get is that Hamilton Burton is out in war paint for a bear raid—damn him!"
"And why not?" a third broker truculently demanded. "He brought on the 'little panic' of two years ago and mopped up enough to double his fortune. House after house went to the wall that day, but it was a glorious victory for him. History repeats, gentlemen."
"Where will he be most likely to hit?" The question came nervously from a thin man who chewed at a pencil. About his inquiring eyes were the harassed little crow-feet of anxiety.
"When he smashes us, we'll know all right. There's nothing ambiguous about his wallops. I hoped the damned pirate was satisfied. He ought to be."
"Vat you mean, sadisfied?" A passing figure with a strong Teutonic countenance halted at the edge of the crowd and glared—but his hatred was for Hamilton Burton. "Sadisfied—not till der American toller and der sovereign and der louis d'or vear his portrait vill he pe sadisfied."
"There's one comfort," hazarded a lone optimist, "Hamilton Burton recognizes no conventions of finance; he heeds no laws. He's the most brilliant brigand in the Street—and every hand is against him. He's always just one jump behind a billion dollars—but also he may find himself just one jump ahead of the wolf."
But for one optimist there were scores of pessimists and disquiet mounted like a fever. The floor was nervous.
Across from the president's gallery is another balcony like it, for in all but its processes of business this is a temple of justly balanced symmetry and proportion.
There sits an operator, controlling an electric switchboard provided with one button for each floor member. When one of these buttons is pressed a flap swings down on the great wall blackboards and a white number flashes into sight. It stands for a while, then twinkles again into blackness, but in the meantime it has summoned its man to telephone communication with his office. In periods of stress these imperative signals register the rise and fall of anxiety's barometer.
Now the quiet boards began to break into a sudden epidemic of appearing and vanishing numerals and men hurried to the booths where wires linked the central floor with outlying offices. Each line buzzed to the same portent.
"Rumor credits Burton with plans for a bear raid. Watch him. Send word of his first move. The time is ripe for an avalanche."
Suddenly around one post voices rose. They went from calm to shouts, from shouts to yells, then broke in a crescendo of turmoil. Collars came loose and voices grew hoarse. The restrained anxiety had swept into an open furore of fear. It looked as if the bottom were dropping out of Coal Tar Products. At once a dozen operators raced for their telephones. Hamilton Burton had struck, and his first blow was on Coal Tars! That was the whispered word that ran like wild fire.
While this turbulence was going forward, Hamilton Burton sat in his twentieth-floor office, gazing fixedly up at a portrait of Napoleon. About the walls were several other portraits of the emperor. Busts in bronze and marble gazed down with those same inscrutable eyes. One important likeness was missing. It was that which shows the face of a man broken in defeat—the wistful St. Helena eyes that seem always brooding out over the ruins of mighty dreams.
Carl Bristoll opened the door, and the musing face turned with the impatient frown of a broken revery.
"Mr. Malone's secretary on the 'phone," announced the young man. "Mr. Malone wants to know if you can come at once to his office."