But at Fifty-eighth street, under one of the light-clusters, he encountered a slender and solitary figure, and as he approached, he recognized the girl to whom he had so recently been introduced. The pianist had just been thinking of her, pondering why her face had stood out in the mist, when other faces had been swallowed, and why, although her eyes had confessed the delight of anticipation, she had later vouchsafed no word of commendation. Surely he had not played badly tonight and he was accustomed to ready praise. When the older woman who had presented him had spoken of him as a master he had laughed deprecatingly, but his eyes had gone half-questioningly to the girl, as if seeking corroboration there, and the girl had met them with only an impersonal and non-committal smile.
Paul had drunk enough of flattery to feel piqued at its withholding. Now to see the figure of her who had withheld appear there quite unaccompanied, as though rising in response to his meditations, almost startled him. She did not see him until he reached her side and lifted his hat; not even then, for she was looking across the avenue with something of absorption in her manner, until he spoke her name.
Even as he murmured, "Miss Terroll," the inflection of surprise remained in his voice. It was well after ten o'clock and in those circles of society where he was received the system of chaperonage was rigid enough to fail of understanding for the women who dared the streets at night unescorted. He knew ladies who went to their several rostrums to sound the clarion of sex equality and who went at night, but they did not go uncavaliered. And under the lights this slim figure, with its easy, almost boyish independence, seemed very young, almost childish.
She turned, at his greeting, and her eyes must have read his thoughts, for once more they smiled and in the smile was an amused twinkle. This time, though, it was also a smile of the lips, revealing a row of teeth so small and white that they accentuated her seeming of childishness. She must be about twenty-two or twenty-three he thought.
"Mr. Burton," she laughed, "you spoke my name then almost as though I had astonished or startled you. I was scrutinizing the house across the way rather intently, but honestly there was no burglary in my thoughts."
"I'm rather sorry to hear that," he countered with a simulation of disappointment. "I've never burgled—and I had begun to hope you'd initiate me and let me share the adventure." She said nothing for a moment, and he bluntly demanded, "I was wondering what was in your thoughts just then."
Miss Terroll bent forward to look up the avenue before she answered. The 'buses were not running close together at this hour and the lamps of the nearest were still two blocks away.
"If I tell you, will you tell me why you spoke my name so chidingly?"
"It seems on its face a fair bargain." He spoke with a pretendedly grave consideration of the subject. Then added, "Yes, I will."
"I was thinking of music."
"Just music as music. Music as the one art which needs no background because every listening human being supplies one. That is where it succeeds where sculpture, for instance, fails. Music is a sort of panacea."
"Oh!" His monosyllable was a trifle disappointed. With such a cue she might at least have admitted his music into the summary.
The light from the overhead lamps fell in a circle of comparative radiance and he had time to note the charming modeling of her throat and a certain delicate nobility in the curve of her brow, where the soft hair merged with the dark shadowing of her hat brim.
"You haven't carried out your part of the contract yet," she reminded him. "I've told you what, but you haven't told me why."
"I mean to. Are you waiting for some one?"
"I am waiting for a 'bus to take me home."
"Where are you going to let it take you? Where is your home, I mean?"
"The Square," she answered, "and there is the 'bus coming, to gather me in, and you still haven't told me why I shocked your voice into that undernote of astonishment."
Paul Burton smiled, and did not yet enlighten her. Instead he went on stubbornly questioning. "The Square does not mean Madison or Union. I have deductive genius enough to infer that, because they're not places of homes. Is it Gramercy or Washington?"
The girl flashed her smile on him again and replied lightly.
"One enters my square under a marble arch and we who live there always think of it as the Square."
"But Washington square is a long way," he remonstrated. "It's a far journey to take alone."
The girl had stepped out beyond the curb and signaled, then as the 'bus drew over and came to a stop, she nodded to the man as she started up the stair to the roof. "Good-night, Mr. Burton," she called over her shoulder. "You are a good custodian of secrets."
But the musician was climbing up after her and when she seated herself at the front he took his place beside her. "I am going to answer all questions put to me on the way down to the Square," he announced.
"But you have just complained that it's a far journey."
"I beg your pardon. I said it was a far journey to take alone."
She turned in her seat and looked at him. The lips and brow were reserved, even grave, but in the green-gray eyes danced a truant twinkle. As the heavy vehicle rumbled and lurched along the way where the asphalt fell into shadow she became a graceful silhouette of slenderness, but as they passed through the brighter zones about the great opals swung from the lamp pillars, the dimpled little chin and small nose revealed themselves in a sort of baffling warfare of sauciness and dignity. Paul knew that there were well-held frontiers of reserve and self-containment in this woman's nature, but that back of it lay an alluring playground of mischief.
"And yet we are told," she was saying in a low voice, whose music suddenly impressed the musician, "that—
'Down to Gehenna or up to the throne, He travels the fastest, who travels alone.'"
"Just at the moment we are not bound for either of those places," he assured her. "We are going to the Square."
"Why was it?" she demanded suddenly. For a few minutes they had been silent, and Paul had revised his estimate. She could hardly be as old as twenty two. Perhaps she might be twenty.
"Really you are exaggerating," he laughed. "I was neither astonished nor shocked. I was only surprised, and when I tell you why I shall no longer be a man of mystery, consequently I shall no longer be a man of interest."
"But my curiosity will be satisfied. Isn't that quite as important?"
He shook his head. His own curiosity was far from satisfied. He was still wondering why she had no kind word to say for his music.
"I was just surprised to find you there—alone," he said at last.
Until the 'bus swung into view of the Metropolitan tower neither of them spoke, and then the man turned to look at his companion and found her smiling to herself. It struck him that if she would only laugh aloud, it would be worth hearing. But of that, at that moment, he said nothing.
"Won't you share the joke with me?" he smiled, and she said:
"I was just thinking of your solicitude about my being alone on Fifth avenue, after all the formidable places where I've been alone—in one-night stands."
"One-night stands?" he repeated vaguely after her and she replied only with a matter-of-fact nod, then, for his further enlightenment:
"You see I am an actress and most of my work has been on the road."
Paul Burton's face did not succeed in masking his surprise at the announcement.
"Have I shocked you again?" she demurely inquired.
"Shocked me, no." He disavowed with an almost confused haste. "I suppose I was surprised because the few actresses I have known have all been so unlike you."
"You mean," she amplified, "because I don't make up for the street?"
"I shouldn't have said that," he laughed, then added: "Now if you had told me you were playing truant from a young ladies' seminary, I would have found it quite natural. I saw you out front just before I began playing. Somehow the simple directness of your expression—I hoped it was anticipation—didn't seem to me characteristic of the stage. I fancied that professional people were usually chary of enthusiasm."
"There are at least several sorts of stage people, and they're not all gutter-children," she answered. "And then I haven't always been an actress. It was thrust upon me—by necessity."
"When I play," the man assured her, "the faces out front always grow vague to me. Tonight I saw yours when the others had gone. Then I lost yours, too. I hope I didn't disappoint you."
She shook her head. "No," she said, but to the simple negative she added nothing affirmative.
Paul Burton remained silent, half-piqued, and she, divining his thought, smiled quietly to herself at his petulance, but finally she spoke slowly and gravely: "You are an artist and until tonight you didn't know of my existence. Anything I might say would mean little to you."
"Even," he impulsively demanded, "if it came from the last face that faded?"
"If that is true," she responded, "I don't need to say anything, do I?"
To Paul's subtly attuned nature many things came in intuitive impressions. Now he was keenly interested because this woman whom he had met that night had told him only one thing about herself, that she belonged to a world of which, in the personal sense, his world touched only the least creditable segments. He felt that she would not, without a much riper acquaintanceship, tell him anything more. Yet he felt with conviction that her refinement was not only innate and true, but that of an aristocrat; that her mind was not only quick, but cultivated. As though dropping thoughtlessly into a more musical tongue he spoke next in French, and she replied in that tongue as unconsciously as though she had not noticed his change of language. But though he questioned persistently and skilfully until the 'bus rolled under the arch, he drew no further information from her as to herself, save that at present she was unemployed, and that her days were filled with that most cheerless of tasks, calling on managers.
He gathered that the distinguishing difference between triumph and struggle on the stage was that the managers sent for the triumphant and the struggling called uninvited.
As Paul helped Miss Terroll out of the 'bus and walked at her side the short distance between the terminal of its route and the south side of the Square he said abruptly:
"Some day I want you to do something for me."
"To laugh aloud. I suppose you sometimes do laugh aloud, don't you?"
Her response was to break unconsciously into a peal of mirth that held in it a tinkle of soft music and spontaneity.
"I can be provoked," she admitted and to that confession she added the inquiry, "Why do you want to hear me laugh?"
"I did want to hear you laugh because some instinct told me there would be music in it," he assured her. "Now I do want to hear you laugh again, and often, because I know it."
When he had said good-night at her door and had walked across to the Brevoort cab-stand at Eighth street, he took a taxi'. During the drive home he thought only once of Loraine Haswell. "I must see more of Miss Terroll," he informed himself. "She is decidedly interesting."
* * * * *
Hamilton Burton shoved back a mass of papers and smiled across his desk at his secretary.
"Carl, do you chance to recall what General Forrest of the late Confederate States of America had to say on the subject of strategy?" Bristoll stretched his arms above his head and leaned back in his chair, grateful for a moment of relaxation after two hours of application.
"I believe he reduced military science to the simple proposition of 'gettin' thar fust with the most men,' didn't he?"
"That was his correct formula—and finance has its points of similarity."
"Is the comment general, or has it a specific bearing?"
"Quite specific. Do you remember my prophecy a short while back? I reminded you that the coin of big business bore on one face the image and superscription of Caesar Augustus Malone—and on the reverse my own poor stamp."
The secretary nodded.
"The time, dear boy, is at hand when one side or the other must be turned down."
"What has happened?" The younger man's voice was tinged with alarm. This child of Destiny might be immune from fear, but those who stood near his person could not always accept without question the talisman of his limitless self-faith. Malone's might was theoretically invincible. Hamilton recognized the undernote of apprehension with a laugh of frank amusement; a laugh which brought to his eyes their most winning sparkle.
"The august over-lord of all the robber barons regards our reign as tributary to his own. He fancies that our loyal respect is thinly spread. We make too little obeisance. Too rarely we 'crook the pregnant hinges of the knee.' Therefore we must be crushed—if possible."
"I mean that it is in the mind of this generalissimo, to call me before his staff and 'break' me in full view of his halted ranks."
The cheerful grin on the face of the prospective victim was so infectious and reassuring that his secretary laughed with revitalized confidence.
"But how did you learn of this conspiracy, sir?" he demanded.
"The throne which lacks its cabinet noir, Carl, is a very precarious one to sit upon." The "Great Bear" spoke casually. "Our secret service is fairly satisfactory. Also, we have a brain which, at times, prognosticates."
"There have been new developments, then?"
Hamilton Burton shrugged his shoulders.
"The stock-holders' meeting of Coal and Ore isn't far distant. After it comes the annual election of officers. I fancy Malone may know of a man who might grace the directorate with a more deferential humility than I show—when he speaks Jove-like from the head of the table."
"To be ousted from that board would mean to wear the brand of defeat."
"If Mr. Malone wants to put some one else in my place he can do it—the chair I occupy faces the window. Sometimes the glare hurts my eyes."
Carl Bristoll thought he knew his chief. Such docile acceptance of reduction to the ranks astounded him and his blank amazement stamped itself on his face. When the elder man had enjoyed it for the space of a long silence he rose suddenly and his voice rang out like a command for a bayonet charge:
"Yes, Malone can have my chair. I mean to take his—at the head of the table."
The secretary started violently. He could never quite accustom himself to the dauntless fashion with which his chief essayed the impossible—and accomplished it. Hamilton Burton's fist came down savagely on the mahogany. The smiling features of a moment ago had vanished and Bristoll was looking up into eyes that rained immeasurable wrath.
"They hate me, because they fear me!" The voice was not loud, but it was terrific in its intensity of anger. "By the Almighty God in heaven, I mean to give them cause to hate me. I mean to crush them to a pulp until nothing remains except the stench of their unmourned memory!" ... Once more the timbre changed and with startling abruptness became quietly declarative.
"This morning, I received a confidential note from Carton."
"The secretary of Coal and Ore?"
"The same. I put him where he is—he's a valuable man—and incidentally a member of my secret service. Malone is calling in all the proxies he can control; he and his myrmidons. He has not taken me into his confidence. How would you construe that?"
"As you do. He means to oust you."
Burton nodded, then a naive smile twinkled in his eyes. "What he is now beginning to do, I went to work on ten minutes after he left my office last spring. Many transactions, some of them of huge proportions, which you did not understand, have since been completed in preparation for this moment. On the floor of the Exchange my brokers have been ostentatiously idle, but others, not known to act for me, have been buying Coal and Ore. They have pretty well gathered in the floating supply."
"Hasn't that been reported to Malone?"
The financier shook his head. "Trading of that character is difficult to trace and is usually presumed to be marginal trading. To disarm possible suspicion my recognized brokers have sold large blocks of Coal and Ore—to my unrecognized brokers. I seem to have been unloading—while I was doing the reverse. When the psychological moment comes, there will be a surprise—and a raid upon the control."
"Then you are ready for the issue."
"No, not quite." Burton rose and took a turn or two across the floor. He stopped before a small painting and spoke irrelevantly. "I always liked Corot. The man could paint, Carl. He understood values." After this art criticism he returned to the desk and sat down again. "No, I'm not ready yet. I've done all that I could do by quiet preparation. The issue now narrows to the hair balance which makes all fights crucial—and interesting. There's a member of the state senate who holds a block I need, and there are two banks in town that hold others. When I have that stock I shall be master of the situation—and of Consolidated—and Malone must take his orders from me."
"And if you fail to get it?"
"I would still be plowing rocks and milking cows, Carl, if I acknowledged the possibility of failing in what I resolve on."
"Yet they may refuse to sell."
Hamilton Burton smiled. "That would be regrettable," he said, and his voice was full of sympathetic softness. "Because in that event an elderly and respected member of the senate will have to reside for a time at Sing Sing and a couple of widely trusted banks will go to the wall."
From the Plaza upward, the blank stare of the avenue was awakening into renewed signs of habitation. Burglar-proof doors had come down and boarded windows had yielded to curtained sashes. Already in the park the trees were turning. Banners of crimson, yellow and burgundy flaunted where the foliage had been sunburned and heat-corroded. The walks and Mall had for scorching weeks been a breathing refuge, and the sheep-pasture a sleeping place, for shirt-sleeved men who panted like dogs. Haggard women and sunken-cheeked children—all heat-fagged and exhausted—had held possession; but now the bridle-path echoed to hoof-beats, and smartly togged equestrians galloped there, while along the driveways droned a purr of motors.
The sun, which had assaulted, blighted and killed, now caressed a revived city, for autumn had come with her clarifying elixirs and her fever-cooling frosts.
Shop windows, freshly decked, tempted the passerby with foretastes of the season's styles in gowns and hats and furs. All was color and sparkle and activity. Soft tones awoke at sunset on old and seasoned walls. Gilt street signs blazed and shaft-like buildings stood out in splintered strips of a dozen hues against skies that were unsullied turquoise.
In the veins of Hamilton Burton, as he motored up-town, a heady exhilaration mounted like wine. As his car bowled up the avenue he watched the human mosaic, and the drive seemed a progress through Bagdad. He was finding it all the city of his dreams:
"—a city blazoned like a missal book, Black with oaken gables, carven and enscrolled. Every street a colored page: every sign a hieroglyph, Dusky with enchantments: a city paved with gold."
Then as he entered his own house he remembered. Tonight he must go to the opera and the prospect bored him. To Paul, of course, it was as wine to the drunkard, but to Hamilton it meant a tedious evening. It was in a way a duty and one of his few concessions to Society's requirements. Had it not been written of another great figure, "the Emperor sat in his box that night?" He would leave early and later in the evening he could console himself with a matter of greater importance.
Yet when he arrived at the Metropolitan he forgot to be bored—until the overture ended, and Music was enthroned in the place of Fashion.
Here at the opera each moment, so long as the house-lights blazed, brought its own tribute of flattery to the Titan of the Street. The men and women from whom these tributes came were the men and women whom the world envied, and cursed—and worshiped. Hamilton Burton realized, as he passed easily from box to box, chatting with this multi-millionaire and that jewelled lady, that no single figure was more often signaled out by pointing and envious fingers than his own. When he handed Mary out of her limousine the street policeman had made the passage clear before him. Ushers had kowtowed and the heads of fashionable women had nodded and smiled. His way had been a march of triumph. To Hamilton Burton it was all like the sniffing of frankincense and myrrh. His inner emotions were those of a great tiger, purring like a house-cat.
That at his back, when he had passed on, these immaculately clad gentlemen muttered derogatory oaths only flattered him further; their hate, too, was a tribute to his power.
He came into Society's world as a monarch walks among the proletariat, to receive homage and return to places where a monarch has better things to do.
But at last the overture ended and the curtain rose. The opera had begun.
For Paul the evening was just beginning, but for Hamilton it was done. He stifled a yawn and rose from his seat, effecting his escape unobserved from the box. From that point on his mind shook off the lethargy of the incensed atmosphere and became dynamic. He looked at his watch and found that his next appointment gave him an hour's leisure.
To his chauffeur he said, "Drive me to my mother's house."
Hannah Burton would be the only member of the household at home and with her nephew would spend this leisure hour. He knew she would be there because she was rarely elsewhere. The man who flashed the searchlight of his thought into so many places at such broad angles smiled as he thought of his Aunt Hannah, but it was a tender smile. He had transplanted and remodeled his family—but Aunt Hannah he had been powerless to alter.
The room where she received him was an anomalous hermitage, for in spite of the generous comfort it reflected, there broke out here and there jarring notes from many survivals of the old order; things from which she refused to be parted. Upon a mantel over which hung a Gobelin tapestry stood a tin alarm clock. It was an old companion which had once shrilly announced that it was time to drag her rheumatic bones from bed and take up her daily round of dusting and sweeping. Among carefully chosen paintings a screaming chromo issued by the Middle Fork general store proclaimed the superior quality of its staple and fancy groceries, hardware, queensware and feed.
The old lady herself, though silk-gowned, wore her white hair drawn severely back over parchment temples, as though repudiating the pomps and vanities of this wicked world.
It was Ham's time-honored custom to tease his aunt, and while she snorted and sniffed, she enjoyed it, for whatever she thought of a Babylonian life, she secretly worshiped this brilliant young nephew who so well fitted its stress and turmoil.
"Were you down-stairs at dinner tonight, flirting with the grand dukes and big-wigs?" he demanded as he kissed her pale cheek.
"As if you didn't know," she austerely rebuked, "that, when company comes, I always have supper right here in my own room."
It would have been a surrender of principle for Hannah Burton to call "company" guests, or the evening meal "dinner."
"There were some very smart people down-stairs, I'm told," the man heckled with twinkling eyes. "Divorcees in numbers and affinities galore."
The old lady shuddered.
"Ham, I wish you wouldn't run on in that ungodly fashion. I'm sure it's no laughing matter. I pray for you day and night, but when a body's blinded by wealth and imagining vain things they're in mortal danger."
Her nephew's face softened. "As long as you're praying for me, Aunt Hannah," he assured her, "I still have a fighting chance."
"Ham," she said suddenly with a shadow of deep anxiety in her eyes, "ain't your father playing cards more than's good for him? I've worried considerable about that here of late. He used to read his Scriptures regular. Now he don't do it. Instead he gambles."
"Father only plays in amiable little games, for the sake of charity, Aunt Hannah." Hamilton smiled indulgently as he enlightened her. "You could hardly call it gambling. In gambling there is an element of chance. Father merely contributes."
The old lady shook her head. "This town ain't much different from Tyre and Sidon and Babylon, so far as I can see," she mournfully asserted.
"They were said to be live towns in their day," he admitted.
Then for the rest of his spare hour he chatted with her and teased her solemnity into laughter, and before he left, because she asked it and complained that her eyes were poor, he read to her a chapter from the New Testament and kissed her good-night. Ten minutes later he was in his own library and was directing that two gentlemen, whom he was expecting, be ushered there to talk business.
The two were alike only in that each had a versatile and executive brain. One was elderly and stout, and, though two decades of established success had polished his original crudity into a certain dignity, there survived in his eyes the darting shiftiness of glance that had settled there in days when his one asset was an almost diabolical cleverness as a criminal lawyer.
An old trick of badgering witnesses with a brow-beating stare from half-closed lids clung unpleasantly to him, discounting his acquired distinction of bearing. This was Isaac Ruferton, of the firm of Ruferton and Willow. From criminal lawyer to corporation-scourge and from corporation-scourge to corporation counsel are logical stages of development. From clients who need, and can pay for, a mind of unusual resource, as formerly from vagabond's in police-court cages, he earned what he was paid.
The second visitor was younger. Mr. Tarring was also a specialist in ideas and from his confidence of bearing one seemed to derive a snap of electric energy. In many ways Hamilton Burton found him serviceable and on the smaller scale of his delegated functions he operated as Hamilton himself did along the broader front; with dash, determination and the belief that nothing is impossible.
"Gentlemen," began Burton crisply, when the three were seated, "I sent for you this evening to outline a simple matter—but one calling for a nicety of execution. It can neither afford delay nor premature undertaking. It must be done at its own instant. When the stock-holders' meeting of Coal and Ore is called to order I must be in a position to assume control."
Tarring leaned forward in his chair and fixed his gaze on a bronze statuette. This casual announcement meant nothing less than a making over of a map: the map of High Finance. Ruferton was never surprised. He twirled his shell-rimmed glasses at the end of their broad tape and nodded. "And you find yourself at this juncture short of just the requisite balance—though you know where it is held?" Mr. Ruferton always made a point of anticipating his client's next statement—if possible. It was a small thing, but at times valuable. It indicated that he was keeping not only abreast, but a step ahead of what was being told him. Hamilton smiled.
"I still need a block held by Henry of the Deposit Savings and a block held by Fairley of the Metallic National. These gentlemen think they won't turn loose. To see that they do so is Tarring's work. It must be accomplished by tomorrow evening."
Tarring said nothing. Under his imperturbable guise he found himself stunned.
Burton turned to the attorney. "You know G.K. Hendricks?"
Mr. Ruferton's answer followed the question with no margin of a pause. "State senator for three terms. At present candidate for the appellate bench; Tammany's choice. Was very valuable when the charter of Coal and Ore was before the assembly. Has increased his stock-holdings since he acquired his first block as—er—the reward of merit."
For an instant Hamilton Burton eyed the lawyer keenly.
"I must also have his proxy by tomorrow evening. That, Ruferton, is your work."
"Then you didn't know that Hendricks is up-state? He's out at his farm on a narrow-gage branch that runs a train a day from Barry Spa. You are cutting it fine, Mr. Burton. Too fine, perhaps."
The announcement brought to the eyes of the planning strategist a nonplused shadow, but it lingered briefly.
"I have already told you that the moment had to be precisely timed. Hendricks might run to Malone if given a margin of leisure. You can go home and change your evening-clothes. Meantime I shall arrange for a special train. Your instructions are to get that stock or the proxy. If you can't handle him bring him to me; have him in this room at this hour tomorrow evening."
Mr. Isaac Ruferton rose from his chair, and stood looking into the face of his employer as though searching for some indication of incipient lunacy. What he read was inflexible command.
"Mr. Burton," he said slowly, "I'm where I am in life because I have been willing to undertake various things at various times. Other men would have shied at some of them, and even I have my limits. Will you suggest to me how I am, within twenty-four hours, to travel twenty hours by rail, and compel an unwilling man to deliver, merely because you order it, stock which he has no wish to sell?"
Burton's answer rose to anger as he spoke. "If you can't trade with him—and I have given you carte blanche—I have already told you to bring him here. I'll do the rest."
"In God's name, how? Can I drag him out of his own house and load him like a trussed pig in a railway car?"
"The details are up to you. You are supposed to be a clever lawyer. The man is in a political campaign and you know enough of his record to give weight to your suggestions. You say he doesn't want to sell—make him want to! My plans are rather too large to admit of 'buts' and 'ifs.' Presumably I employ men who can override them."
Ruferton continued to stare blankly. "But—surely—"
Hamilton had already turned to Tarring and he wheeled with a snap in his voice.
"Ruferton," he exclaimed, "in a moment more you will irritate me. I said get his Coal and Ore, or get him. I don't give a damn how you do it. Tell him, if you like that all Tammany can't boost him on to the appellate bench if I go after him. If you prefer, gag him and drag him here. Do what you like—except waste time by gaping at me. Succeed and name your reward. Fail and—" Hamilton Burton shrugged his shoulders.
Slowly a light crept into the resourceful eyes of Mr. Ruferton, driving out the vacancy. The matter by its very desperateness began to appeal to him, and already a formula of campaign was shaping itself in his constructive mind. This extraordinary man's hypnotic dominance of personality had carried other audacious days and now it swept the lawyer with its tide of confidence. Mr. Ruferton became at once the man who recognizes the value of seconds and minutes. "I will be here tomorrow evening at this hour," he categorically announced. "And I shall bring with me a proxy or a senator—or his remains. Kindly arrange for my train. I go direct to the Grand Central."
Hamilton Burton smiled at the door through which his emissary had departed.
"He made as much furore about it as though I had required him to do something really difficult," he commented to the lieutenant who still awaited his orders. "Now for your part.... The Metallic National and the Deposit Savings." Between sentences he picked up the desk-telephone and called a private number.
"I want to talk to Mr. Carter.... Not at home! Where is he?... Doesn't want to be disturbed—he's got to be.... Yes, this is Hamilton Burton.... At the opera, you say? Thank you."
The snap of the receiver under his finger was abrupt and decisive as he again called central, and while he waited he talked to Tarring.
"What funds have we in those banks?... Hello! I want Bryant 1146, yes, the Metropolitan Opera.... Hello! Please have Mr. Carter brought from his box to the 'phone. This is Hamilton Burton, talking ... a matter that can't wait.... Tarring, I must have the stock those banks hold. You must have them here tomorrow night.... Hello, is that you Carter? I need a special train for Barry Spa in thirty minutes, and another to meet it there for Lake Mosoc."
There was a moment's silence, then Burton's voice came with violent explosiveness.
"Impossible? It seems to me that every man I talk to prates vacantly about impossibilities. Damn it, when I need a train I need a train.... You understand me, don't you, Carter?"
Again there was the interruption of the voice at the further end. As Burton listened his eyes kindled afresh under blackly drawn brows, but when he spoke it was in a clear and cold voice, more unpleasant to hear than a tirade of passion.
"To hell with explanations, Carter! I want action. Do I get my train? You are burning time.... Kindly listen because I mean this to the last syllable.... Unless you can achieve this highly impossible matter of accommodation—" suddenly the voice leaped to a higher scale and shot out its ultimatum like canister—"I will throw you out of the presidency and the damned road-bed into the river and the shops into the junk heap.... All right, please hurry." He clapped down the receiver, then resumed his second thread of thought as though there had been no interruption.
"I want those bankers here. That is your job, Tarring. They need know only that it is of vital importance and that our meeting must be attended with the strictest confidence. Intimate that my object is the averting of ruinous runs which must follow unless we stop them—and worse disasters."
Tarring rose. His task, as compared with the other he had seen assigned, appeared easy. "Shall I come with them?" he inquired.
Burton nodded. "You are a notary. It may be necessary for you to take acknowledgments."
When the two emissaries had left the library Hamilton Burton sat before his hearth and shook loose the reins of imagination. He burned driftwood in this room and as his eyes dwelt on the shooting tongues of blue flame that licked around the logs his dreams absorbed him. Yamuro, his Japanese valet, slipped in to see if his master required him—but his footfall was noiseless, and when he had tiptoed close enough to study the face, he departed without speaking. The lips in the yellow face parted in a grin that bared a spread of strong, white teeth. The eyes between high cheekbones glistened in dark slits and in his throat, too low to be heard, a little grunt voiced Yamuro's fanatical admiration. Had Hamilton Burton been an emperor in the field Yamuro would have asked no greater privilege than to interpose his body between his idolized master and all danger. Such was the power of this wholly selfish but dominant personality. Outside the Oriental chuckled to himself, "No worry.... Him got great thoughts."
Yet Hamilton was after all only planning an entertainment. When he had captured the control of Coal and Ore he would stand within grasping distance of his ideal of one-man power. He would have rocked the temple of money and snatched out of Malone's teeth Consolidated's marrow bone. That would be a time for celebration. It would be vastly amusing to shake the hands of the vanquished and see them bite back the curses that were welling up from their hearts. While seeming only the host he would in reality be the victor—exacting tribute.
That his victory depended on undertakings yet to be accomplished and beset with gigantic hazards did not disquiet him. Over him shone his Star!
His revery snapped like a punctured balloon at the sound of the door-bell and when Harrow ushered in his father, Hamilton rose with a smile of welcome on his lips.
The elder Burton entered with a heightened flush on his full cheeks and the son for just an instant studied him with a shrewd appraisement. A man who has, by the custom of decades, spent each day from sunrise to sunset at hard labor cannot find himself idle without seeking an outlet of some description.
If Tom Burton were to decay here in inactivity, he might as well decay genially, taking his pleasure by the way. He was doing it. Like a gentleman and an officer he tippled the evenings out. Rarely was he drunk beyond a genteel limitation—and after an advanced hour he was rarely less so. In slow and mellow fashion he was ripening into slothful and comfortable atrophy. His well-shaven face was beginning to reveal those small discolored spots that are the subtle brands of Bacchus. Under the eyes that had once been like the eyes of a hawk, small and puffy sacks were discernible.
"Well, damn it," Hamilton exculpated to himself, "it was a long time before he had any fun." Then aloud he inquired, "Whose coffers did you fill this evening?"
Tom Burton straightened up a shade pompously.
"I think my game is—er—on a par with that of others—but luck can hardly be controlled."
"The question is," suggested the son, "whether you enjoyed yourself."
"Reasonably well, thank you." The elder man looked about the room and spoke complainingly. "I don't see any whiskey and soda about. Will you please ring for some, Hamilton? I'm thirsty."
"It's there on the side-table." Hamilton followed the other with his eyes and noted the greedy unsteadiness of the fingers that grasped the decanter.
"Do you think you need that drink, father?" he inquired.
The elder man glanced up while the liquor spilled out of the poised bottle—and missed the glass. "Why not?" he demanded. "It's about time for a nightcap. I haven't had anything to speak of this evening."
Hamilton nodded with a shrug, but his brows drew themselves in a pained wrinkle. He would not willingly admit doubt of his father's truthfulness, yet the statement lacked all quality of conviction.
The son did not reflect that of the dry rot in old Tom's soul this deception was a typical symptom. He knew that in the old days Tom Burton's word had been a synonym for inflexible honesty; that it was as good as collateral at the bank.
Then, sitting at ease, the well-groomed old gentleman held his glass before him and gazed at the colors which the firelight wakened in its amber contents. His face wore the contentment of one whose mood has been artificially mellowed and whose thoughts are more glowing than reliable. He cleared his throat and began to speak importantly.
"My boy, a great idea has come to me—a splendid conception, I may say. I have for all these years been of very little service to you, but I now see the way to make amends ... to, as I might say, become an asset rather than a liability—a sharer in your activities."
Hamilton Burton was standing by the table, studying the face of his father, and at the words his eyes darkened. His question was by no means freighted with pleasure or expectancy as he coolly inquired, "Indeed?"
Tom Burton nodded with much gravity.
"Yes. The other day you were relating to me some matters of business which were quite—er—interesting. I have since given them mature thought and I find that I have evolved a method by which you may, with my suggestions, even improve on your original plan of procedure."
"Stop!" The son wheeled and faced the elder man with a face grown suddenly wrathful. As Tom Burton looked up in surprise, Hamilton went on rapidly and dictatorially. "I never quarrel with my family. It is my pleasure to regard them first in all things, but one thing I will not permit even from them. It is the first time it has ever become necessary to say this to you, sir. I hope it will be the last."
"Why, what's the matter, my son? I was only about to suggest that—"
"Well, don't do it. The one thing I will not permit is business interference. I need no collaborator. Once—just once Paul made that same mistake. He presumed to offer a suggestion, Paul—who couldn't figure compound interest—offered me, Hamilton Burton, a financial suggestion! I told him then as I tell you now that any human hand which sticks itself into my affairs will be promptly broken off at the wrist—no matter whose hand it is. That is the one possible thing that could drive me to unkindness to any one of my own blood. In that I am unshakable. I will have no interference. I am the one financier in this family, and I will submit to no trespassing upon my own field of empire. Let's have that plainly understood."
He ended, and Tom Burton gazed dumbfounded at the anger which was slowly dying out of his son's pupils and which had rung through his son's words.
"You astonish me," he said slowly. "I had no idea of trespass—only of assistance."
"Thank you. I have never yet felt the need of any man's assistance. In my own jurisdiction, I admit no peers. I am sorry you forced me to speak so strongly, but candor is best. Until I ask it no human being must volunteer advice or criticism. Go on and play cards and amuse yourself and spend what you like in doing it—but don't annoy me by trying to make money. I won't have it. No—leave that whiskey alone—" He peremptorily stretched out his hand, as his father reached again for the decanter. "You've had enough for this evening. In another moment you will be tendering additional useless information."
Again the bell rang, and in the library door he saw Mary Burton, radiant in evening-dress, and the ermine of a long opera-cloak. Her smile was as luminous as sunshine. Behind her—it suddenly struck Hamilton that the sight of that particular face across her shoulder was becoming a chronic accompaniment—stood Jefferson Edwardes.
Both of them were laughing—with a note of mutual understanding.
"Mary," announced her brother, "I want to have a dinner and a dance next week. I want it to be the most memorable affair of the season. Are you in for it?"
She looked at him with sudden amazement, and then her merriment broke out in a series of silvery peals. She turned to Edwardes and repeated in a mockery of awed surprise.
"He wants to have a dance! Do my ears deceive me? Hamilton whom we can't drag to a party with a truant officer wants a dance."
Edwardes smilingly lifted the cloak from her shoulders and held out his hand. "Good-night. Try to get me an invitation," he begged. "Mr. Burton, can't I drop you at your house?"
"If you don't mind." The elderly gentleman rose and made his way toward the hall, with a step that wavered from the line. When they had gone, Hamilton accompanied his sister to the stairs, with an arm about her waist.
"Mary," he suggested, "a question has just occurred to me. What has become of your duke?"
She turned on the landing and laughed.
"When I came back from abroad, you begged me to rid myself of foreign affectations," she announced. "He was one of them and I took your advice."
"I only begged you to drop your affectations of speech. What I called your pidgin English," he assured her. "I didn't seek to hamper your young affections."
"Then I will reply to your question in very colloquial American," she retorted. "As to the duke—I tied a can to him." She turned and ran lightly up the stairs.
* * * * *
Paul had sat through the opera that evening with his customary intensity of interest—but the chatter in the box had irritated him. He had been, of late, seeing a great deal of Loraine Haswell, and he thought she at least might have sympathized with his mood and refrained from disconcerting small talk. Their intimacy had so ripened that she should have understood how the things he had to say in their tete-a-tetes could not be uttered in company. So when she invited him to join her supper-party he declined with a poor grace.
Paul Burton took the opera seriously, almost religiously, and as he strolled in the foyer during an entr'acte, his annoyance grew. Was there no place where one could enjoy the art of fellow-artists without having one's spirit jarred out of all receptiveness?
Then he remembered the high perches of the less-fashionable devotees. He had never been up there, but he had heard that the occupants of these upper galleries frowned on noise and even refrained from applause, drinking in the music as though it were too sacred a thing to treat as a mere evening's entertainment. Following a momentary whim, he went out to the box-office and bought a fresh ticket. Holding it in his hand, he mounted above the parterre boxes and the grand-tier boxes, to the highest and cheapest of the galleries where silence and an almost awed concentration reigned. And there, when the lights came on again, he saw a slender figure in a chair near him, leaning forward with her chin resting on her hand, in an absolute fervor of interest. It was Miss Terroll and again she was alone. Once more she impressed him as someone purring with pleasure, and when the performance ended he found himself on the sidewalk whimsically waiting for her to come down from her dollar seat, among the gallery gods.
When he caught sight of her, she was slipping as quietly and unobtrusively through the crowds of jewelled and fur-wrapped women and men in evening-dress as though she were a mouse vanishing from a hall of banqueting, to which she had surreptitiously crept for her crumb. She did not look at the people about her. She did not seem to see them, for her eyes were still languorous with memories of Tristan and Isolde. As Paul touched her arm, she started and he hastened to say: "My car is here. Won't you let me drive you down-town?"
She let him lead her to his machine and lay back dreamily against the cushions, as they shot down the avenue between twin threads of electric opals.
For a while they talked of the opera, of the music and the voices, and the musician found himself expanding with a warmth of appreciative contentment, because he had a companion whose understanding and enthusiasm kept step with his own, and a step like that of a classic dance, attuned to harmonies.
He found himself often coming with a sort of start to the realization of a discovery under whose influence he tingled. Theoretically he knew that in this city, in whose varying meeting places of extremes the unexpected was to be expected, one should never be astonished. He knew there were artists who shunned Bohemia, and once he had met a barber whose enthusiasms were all for cuneiform inscriptions. He had heard in a club of a hobo whose nails were clean, whose address was elegant and who had confounded surgeons on surgery, artists on art, poets on verse and theologues on theology. He knew that the circles which had soothed his artistic snobbery with an admiration as grateful as soft fingers on a cat's back held no letters patent on charm or cultivation and yet his own mind had catalogued women of the stage, off-stage, under a general heading, in some way associated with cabaret places and false gaiety. Here was one who called upon him to discard preconceived ideas and begin anew. On every topic he broached he encountered intelligent discussion and untrammeled originality of thought. In the back of his brain lurked the feeling that when he had broached all the topics upon which he could talk, he would still have touched on only a part of those at her command.
But between these moments of surprise were others of restful delight when she made him forget everything except that he was talking with a charming woman who saw in the opera a pleasure equal to his own.
And though he did not know it, Marcia Terroll, even this soon, saw in him a nature full of tuneful sweetness, but very weak, and realized that he was an instrument upon which a strong hand could play to an end of harmony or discord—an instrument upon which his great brother had already played, and which his great brother did not in the least comprehend. Paul's frequent allusions, tinged with hero-worship, had given her that understanding.
"I saw you in your box," she told him with a smile.
"And I saw you in yours," he laughed back at her.
The girl raised her brows, and he explained. "I ran away from the chatterboxes and came up to your gallery." They had almost reached the arch when he earnestly asked: "I wonder if you will go to the opera with me some evening? It would be wonderful to have someone who really cared for it."
Once more she laughed, but this time it was rather seriously. "We inhabit rather different worlds, you and I."
"I want you to let me be an explorer into yours—and your guide into mine," he declared. After a moment's hesitation she gravely answered: "It might not hurt you to know something of my world after all. It's rather humanizing for an artist to free himself from a single environment. It is possible to suffocate on incense."
Paul Burton smiled. "But you know," he said, "until I was twelve I never wore a pair of trousers that hadn't been bequeathed to me by my older brother—and when they reached me they were always liberally patched."
She was alighting from his car and her smile flashed on him as she held out a small, white-gloved hand. "And I," she retorted, "at that age was being tricked out in Paris finery. Time brings changes, doesn't it?" It was the first flash of self-revelation she had given him. But after that Paul Burton saw Marcia Terroll more than occasionally, and admitted to himself an interest which he did not seek to analyze.
* * * * *
J.J. Malone returned from the opera that evening for a consultation in his study with Harrison and Meegan.
"On the day after tomorrow," he reminded them, "the stock-holders' meeting of Coal and Ore is held. By use of the cumulative system of balloting we can concentrate our fire on Burton."
"Do you gather," questioned Meegan anxiously, "that our fears of a Burton raid are founded in fact?"
The elder chief spread before his associates several sheets of closely written paper.
"On the contrary, I gather that Burton has not selected this time for his coup. I fancy we have forestalled him."
"Yet," suggested Meegan anxiously, "we want to feel sure."
Malone nodded. "Unless several men whom we trust prove traitors, we may feel sure. Gentlemen, I think we have soon enough, but none too soon, safeguarded ourselves against piracy. I hardly believe that what Gates did to L. and N. will be done to us by Burton.... I have been very busy and for some reason I do not feel quite myself. I think I shall now beg you to excuse me." The man of mighty resource rose smilingly from the table and then suddenly rested both hands on its polished surface. His ruddy face became pallid and he lifted one hand with a bewildered gesture to his brow.
Harrison and Meegan sprang with a common impulse to his side.
As they helped him to a chair, his step was unsteady. "It will pass," Malone assured them. "It is an attack of indigestion." Yet within the half-hour his powerful frame was being racked by convulsions and two hours later specialists at St. Luke's were making those preparations which precede an operation for appendicitis. Tomorrow when the Stock-Exchange opened the newspapers would spread the news that J.J. Malone was out of the game and Wall street would once more mirror an anxiety which any small thing might convert into a parlous situation.
At the same hour a special train with a guaranteed right of way was thundering along its road-bed with a wake of red cinders and black smoke trailing from its stack and a single passenger in its single coach. The Honorable Mr. Ruferton was going to call on the Honorable Mr. Hendricks.
In ignorance of what the morrow held, the Honorable Mr. Hendricks was meanwhile sleeping peacefully in the quiet of his country house.
Shafts of sunlight came pleasantly through the dining-room windows on the following morning as he breakfasted alone, and still in ignorance. The forests were decked with the first coloring of an early frost, and Mr. Hendricks strolled out for a cigar in the crisp air of his woodland. Physically he was fit and his conscience did not trouble him; since his conscience was both lenient and practical.
Then as he took pleasure in his life and his Havana, he saw a dilapidated buckboard laboring up the rutty trail. It halted at his gate to let out a man of whom chance had, on more than one occasion, made a colleague, and occasionally an adversary.
"Hello, Ruferton," he shouted amiably, "what brings you here?"
Mr. Ruferton's face wore an expression of deep concern. He consulted his watch. "I came on a special train, Hendricks," he bluntly declared, "and it's waiting to take us both back to New York."
Hendricks laughed. "My dear fellow, I've been speech-making until my throat is raw. The final days before election mean more hard work. Meantime I am resting. It's the doctor's stern command."
Ruferton stood at the gate and faced his host. He spoke impressively. "An election-eve scandal threatens you which will probably involve a grand-jury investigation. If that is a matter of indifference, stay here, by all means, but if your future is in any degree important to you, pack your bag and pack it quick."
For an instant the former state senator and present candidate stood bewildered. What traitor had betrayed a false step? His tracks were all well covered, he thought. At last he found his tongue. "In God's name, what are you talking about?"
Mr. Ruferton held his portfolio tightly grasped in his hand. In it there were documents to which the other could hardly be indifferent—but unless all other arguments failed, he preferred reserving them for future use. He met the stupefied gaze of his protagonist with one of serious apprehension.
"I might as well be entirely candid with you, Hendricks. I don't know. I was sent by Hamilton Burton to bring you back to New York; with specific orders that you were to be at his house not later than nine-thirty this evening. There he will tell you what you should learn. I have come in person because he did not care to trust to such a message as could be telephoned or telegraphed."
"Hamilton Burton?" The Honorable Hendricks was more than ever at sea. "I have had many dealings with Mr. Burton, but wherefore this sudden and absorbing interest in my welfare?"
Ruferton smiled. "My dear fellow, perhaps you had better go and ask him. If Hamilton Burton has turned things topsy-turvy to act as your savior in an eleventh-hour crisis, common sense compels me to infer that he has a reason too interesting to ignore."
Mr. Hendricks paced the path for a few minutes in the disquiet of intense nervousness, then he spoke with sharp accusation and distrust.
"You don't know what this matter is! You have come here by special train to warn me that I face ruin; and you pretend to have no inkling of the nature of my peril! You speak of veiled threats. Are you lying to me, Ruferton?"
"Draw your own conclusions." The time had come for playing the card of offended sensibilities and Mr. Ruferton turned promptly on his heel. "Stay where you are and—read the newspapers. Burton's instructions were to bring you back, but I don't suppose he expected me to kidnap you in your own behalf. I presume he anticipated your sane realization that he didn't send for you to smoke a cigar with him. He presumed you were interested in avoiding disgrace."
"Don't you understand," demanded Hendricks blankly, "how inconceivable it is that you should come on a mission like this without knowing its exact nature?"
The other nodded. "Burton didn't know that you were out of town. When last night, quite late, he learned of this matter he sent me to find you. There was no time for discussion or explanation."
"Wait until I pack my bag." The Honorable Hendricks, whose dignity on the bench would so honor the judicial ermine, rushed wildly into the house while Hamilton Burton's envoy stood outside contemplatively kicking about among the fallen leaves.
With the flaming of that morning's headlines announcing J.J. Malone's illness a spirit of nervousness began stalking in the Street. Of this restlessness Hamilton Burton was duly apprised and while he scornfully laughed at blind luck he acknowledged the power of his Star, and gave thanks to his own unnamed gods.
His eye was brilliantly clear and his step resilient, but Paul, whose delicate nature possessed a quality approaching the clairvoyant, divined that his great brother was exalted by some prospect of portentous moment, and that it might mean triumph—or reverse. Timidly the younger questioned the elder.
That afternoon while Hamilton was outlining future and audacious strokes of finance Paul was with him. For hours they sat together, the younger man at the piano and the older listening, being soothed and softened by the magic touch upon the keys.
This was their custom when momentous affairs were brewing. At last Hamilton interrupted. "Paul," he questioned slowly, "can't you give me something that has the crashing of bugles in it; something like a hymn before action?" Abruptly his voice mounted and he threw back his head. "By God, little brother, I want the sort of music that goes before the charge of an irresistible phalanx!"
The musician wheeled on the piano bench and his fingers left the keys. He rose impulsively and came over to where Hamilton stood with an unquenchable light blazing in the eyes. The dreamer laid a hand on each of the achiever's strong shoulders and gazed long and searchingly into the confident face. Hamilton read a fear in that gaze and affectionately smiled back his reassurance.
"What is it, little brother?" he asked.
"Hamilton," began the other in an awkward, diffident fashion, "you are planning something a little vaster than usual. I am frightened. Sometimes the end of empire is—St. Helena."
The financier laughed.
"It is not written that I can fail, Paul. It's not in my horoscope. You are right. I am planning something broader than I have done before." He paused only to add in a vibrant voice: "I told you that the day would come when above me there would be no man. That day will be tomorrow."
"Is there no chance of defeat?"
"I admit none. To me the influx of gold, and that attendant power which is its only worth, have become a tidal wave. Nothing can check it."
"And the end of it all?" questioned the other.
"While there is a game to play, Paul, no man has won enough. It's the splendid sense of growing power. It's the thirst that grows with the wine you drink. It's fighting and conquering. It is the magnificent dream of world-mastery. The money itself!" He spread his hands contemptuously. "That is a beggar's reward—it's the symbol of Might that counts."
Their mother entered the room as he spoke and paused at the threshold. Her two sons went forward to meet her, and for a moment, she stood looking into Hamilton's eyes. Under her gaze their lust of conquest softened into tenderness and she brushed back the hair from his forehead as she shook her head and her eyes became misty.
"My egotistical boy," she said in a low voice. "My dear, egotistical boy!"
Yamuro appeared in the door, bearing a telegram, and swiftly Hamilton Burton tore the envelope.
"I am bringing in the pelt," were the highly informative words. "Hendricks accompanies me, Ruferton."
The financier crumpled the slip in his hand and smiled.
"It's fortunate," he murmured half-aloud, "very fortunate—for Ruferton—that he didn't fail."
When Mr. Ruferton and Mr. Hendricks presented themselves at the door of Hamilton Burton's house the clock was striking nine. After divesting himself of his overcoat the politician stood waiting before the open fire with the manner of one who faces a doubtful half-hour and who faces it with grave anxiety.
Ruferton meanwhile made opportunity to slip his portfolio to the butler with the request that Mr. Burton should run through its contents before he came down-stairs and that was a request with which his employer fully complied.
Yet within a few minutes the financier entered the library, his face lit with a sunny smile of cordiality. Hendricks took a hasty step forward. "Mr. Burton," he questioned tensely, "in heaven's name, what is this menace of which you sent me warning?"
"It is grave enough," came the prompt response, "to warrant my asking you to come—at whatever inconvenience. But, first, may I put to you a brief question? Will you sell to me your holdings of Coal and Ore stock—at a price well above the market?" The question came casually at a moment when Hendricks burned for personal information and it took him off his feet. Incidentally it informed him subtly that whatever Hamilton Burton was willing to do for him would be predicated on what he was willing to do for Hamilton Burton. Burton bargains were rarely charities.
"My Coal and Ore is not for sale," he answered vaguely.
"Though I offer your own price?"
"No. The question is not one of price, but of loyalty."
"Loyalty to Malone and Harrison?"
"Among others, yes. To the heads of the Consolidated group. Now will you please give me the news for which I have come a long distance?"
Hamilton Burton's eyes grew flinty. "Do you not recognize in me one of the heads of Consolidated?" he curtly inquired.
Already the active mind of this successful and tricky manipulator of politics was piecing together fragments and glimpsing the connection between the threatened scandal and Burton's anxiety to buy. He became wary, covering himself with an assumption of boldness.
"To be candid, Mr. Burton, your effort to augment your holdings so largely and suddenly on the eve of the annual meeting might indicate that the interests of yourself and Malone run counter each to each. Why should I antagonize those in supreme power?"
"I shall be equally frank." Hamilton Burton came closer and his lips drew themselves in a taut line. "Tomorrow I shall wrest from the Malone gang this supreme power of which you speak. I mean to force Malone and Harrison to their knees and to assume complete mastery."
The state senator lifted his brows ironically. "It's a large contract," he commented. "So you call on me to slip you the ace you need to fill. Well, I can't see it."
"Then I'll assist you. I expect you to remain, as you have shown yourself in the past, a practical man. I expect you to realize that you have more to gain by allying yourself with a victorious leader than in walking the plank at the heels of Malone and Harrison."
"I am so practical," the other reminded him, "that I want stronger evidence than mere assertion that you can overthrow these men."
"At all events I can overthrow you." The words were suddenly fierce.
Hamilton Burton spread on the table several sheets of paper, drawn from the breast-pocket of his evening-coat and previously from Ruferton's portfolio. "That memoranda in the hands of certain civic-reform societies would sound the death knell of your political future. You talk of what evidence you want—that would satisfy a grand jury."
The master schemer glanced hurriedly at the too-familiar contents of the typed pages and gasped.
"A half-million dollars!" he exclaimed weakly.
"Incontrovertible evidence," Hamilton assured him, "as to how you, while a member of the state senate, spent five hundred thousand dollars to secure the Coal and Ore charter. Malfeasance, bribery—you know the legal terms in which such conduct might be defined better than I."
For a moment Hendricks laughed—then with a well-simulated coolness he retorted. "A weapon hardly available to your hand, Mr. Burton. You will recall that I acted for you. To accuse me as agent would be to convict yourself as principal."
But Hamilton's laugh was the more confident.
"Think again. I may have erred in granting you too free a hand as an agent, but I left the details to you. My only offense was over-confidence in you. It was not I who debauched a senate. Moreover, this accusation will not come from me—ostensibly. It will come through the press tomorrow morning—and come hot."
Hendricks drew back a step and his face paled.
"By God!" he exclaimed in a voice of betrayed bitterness. "There is only one name for this—sheer blackmail."
"In that case," warned Burton ominously, "I would, in your position, refrain from using any name. I have neither the time to bargain nor the inclination to plead. The bull that charges my railroad train must take his chance. The engine will not stop. You can rise with me to power and rely on my stanch friendship, or—well, there won't be much left to go down with Malone."
The two men stood facing each other, one implacably resolute, the other in a torture of quandary. At last, Burton added:
"You may believe me when I tell you that I cannot be legally touched in this matter and that you can be sent to Sing Sing. Choose your course—and choose quickly. I offer you a fair chance between uniting your fortunes with a rising dynasty and shackling them to one which is tottering."
Hendricks took a step in the direction of the door. "From here," he said, "I go direct to the district attorney."
Burton stretched a hand toward the telephone and smiled as he suggested. "Whom you will find so busy with preparations for prosecuting you that he will not at once find leisure to prosecute for you."
Hendricks sought to veil his terror under a seeming of bluster.
"Will you buy the district attorney, too? Some men are not purchasable."
"That may resolve itself into a matter of price. I am not shopping in ten-cent stores, Mr. Hendricks."
The politician had been thinking fast as he talked. Suppose Burton had the strength of which he boasted? His own interest was to stand with winners, not losers, but before he changed flags he wished to be sure that he jumped toward victory. That determined, the rest was expediency.
"Let's come to a decision." Hamilton Burton showed just a glow of brick red on his cheekbones that argued an early break in his over-strained temper.
"If I am a tyrant at least I do not call myself a lord-protector. Will you sell at your own price and go with me to the top—or refuse and take your chances on substituting the state-prison for the bench?"
An abrupt change came over Mr. Hendricks. He smiled through his pallor. "Are you prepared to show me that if I make common cause with you, there is no chance of defeat?"
"I offer you my personal and positive assurance—and access to my papers within an hour—during which time you will not be bound." The reply was prompt; the voice hypnotic in its persuasiveness.
Hendricks lighted a cigar, and nodded. "Very well," he announced slowly. "But understand this. If I jump to you I jump with all four feet. It happens that certain other proxies have been put into my hands—by Malone interests. Had I not come to town I should have mailed them today—as it is I still have them. I shall vote them as you direct."
With this chameleon turn of complexion, the astute contriver realized that he had scored. To Hamilton Burton's eyes came a quick flash of gratification and he held out his hand. "If I can be implacable in battle," he said quietly, "I can also be a friend to my friends. I told you that in an hour I could guarantee victory—or release you. I am awaiting two men with whom I have yet to deal. Will you also wait?"
Mr. Hendricks bowed. "This—this evidence—" he questioned suddenly. "Has any other possible enemy access to it?"
Hamilton Burton smiled as he shook his head. "No, it is in my sole keeping. I shall not surrender it to other 'possible enemies.'"
With the two bankers, whom Tarring shortly ushered in, Hamilton came even more promptly to conclusions.
"Malone is ill," he began. "Any alarms thrown into the Street just now would start pandemonium. If tomorrow should bring such conditions, would your banks suffer?"
Fairley of the Metallic shook his head gravely. "If a panic developed just now many institutions would go to the wall. As to how many or which ones, I could not answer off-hand."
Henry of the Deposit supplemented with added detail. "The national mind is hysterical beyond the usual and this is a time of heightened danger. It's the period when $200,000,000 are needed for crop-transportation and delivery. That means financial equinox."
The young Titan glanced seriously from one to the other. "I know of influences coming to a head tomorrow which are calculated to throw the Street and Exchange into panic condition—unless we devise means of averting that catastrophe. For that reason I asked you to come here tonight."
The bankers stood silent, but upon their faces was stamped the shock of the news. Coming from so authoritative a source, it required no actual proof.
"We may gather then," suggested Henry at last, "that you stand with us in our desire to avert this calamity?"
"Gentlemen," Burton's voice again became compelling and crisp—but very hard, "on certain conditions I shall avert this panic—on others I shall cause it. The alternative is for your decision."
Fairley and Henry drew a little closer together by common impulse as if for alliance in danger. A long silence, freighted with tensity, followed until Fairley inquired in a stunned voice: "Please explain."
With the crisp impersonality of a prosecutor Hamilton Burton talked. He outlined his plans, gave a glimpse of his tremendous levers of power; let them see what engines of destruction he controlled and finally made his demand. When he was through neither of his visitors could doubt his might or his intent. At the end he said:
"You hold among the securities of your two banks just the margin of Coal and Ore which I need for complete safety. Turn your proxies over to me tonight and tomorrow will pass quietly. I will support every market depression caused by Malone's illness. There will be no panic. Fail to do that and ten minutes after the gong sounds on the floor, I shall be ripping the entrails out of the Street! Full-page advertisements in every paper in town will feed the general uneasiness into an orgy of terror. Frightened mobs will clamor about the doors of your banks. Other things will happen which it is not now necessary to enumerate. It will be the blackest day in Exchange history and one that will reflect itself in all the bourses of Europe."
After eleven o'clock, when Mary Burton and Jefferson Edwardes returned from the theater, the girl caught a glimpse of a strange picture as she paused in the hall.
Six silent men stood or sat about the brightly lighted library with blue wreaths of cigar smoke drifting upward above them. It was plain that this silence had fallen upon them only as they heard the door slam, and that, like their attitudes, it was strained and artificial.
Hamilton Burton stood before the hearth with his face set as unyielding and immobile as chiseled granite. Ruferton eyed the two bankers with a sidewise stare between drooping lids, and Hendricks, at the window, presented to view only his back. But the features of the bankers themselves were haggard and miserable; like the faces of men making a last desperate stand, yet fronting inevitable defeat. Such faces one might imagine in a nightmare, staring on a passerby and failing to see him, from a rack of torture.
Mary Burton shuddered a little, though she did not know why, and the lips of Jefferson Edwardes compressed themselves as he followed her to the music-room on the second floor. He had caught the tigerish cruelty and power-lust in the eyes of Mary's brother, and he knew that for their satisfaction someone must pay very dear.
Paul sat at the piano as they entered the music-room and the emotions which he expressed upon the keys were emotions of deep unrest. They ran in strains of folklore plaintiveness and rhythmic sobs of wailing cadences. When Mary spoke the musician turned with a start. He had not heard their entrance.
"I didn't know we should find you here, Paul."
He nodded as he rose from the instrument. "Hamilton asked me to wait," he explained. "He's having some tremendously important conference—and after a trying fight he always likes me to play for him."
The three sat for a time unaccustomedly silent. Mary could not forget the impression of those conquered faces, and Edwardes, with the same thought, forebore from comment. Within a half-hour Hamilton himself joined them. His eyes were glowing beacons of triumph and his lips wore a smile of victory.
"Tonight I have met and defeated Malone's attempt to crush me," he announced with a half-savage elation. "Tomorrow the financial world will recognize in me the actual and unchallenged head of Coal and Ore." Then, turning to Jefferson, he added: "You know what that signifies, Edwardes."
The visitor nodded, but no words of enthusiastic congratulation came to his tongue. "It means," he replied slowly, "that you hold a mightier financial power than any other business man in New York."
"And now that you have all that," Mary put the question slowly and gravely, "to what use will you put it?"
Hamilton bent upon her a gaze of tense visioning and his answer came in rapt eagerness: "To build a greater structure of power than any man before me has ever reared."
After a moment's pause he went on: "Edwardes, have you no word of congratulation? It was you who first kindled my dreams into a blaze, you know."
The visitor spoke with his eyes fixed on those of the man who had outgrown him in financial stature and become a Colossus.
"I was thinking of that," he responded, "and I was wondering at what cost you had won this victory."
"Conquest," retorted Hamilton Burton shortly, "can take no thought of cost."
"I wonder!" Edwardes spoke reflectively; then with a straightforward honesty he went on: "It rather seems to me that once in a great while there rises in the world a marvel-man. To such a spirit the impossible is possible and opportunity is pliant. He may become the greatest boon or the greatest scourge of his generation. Such a man uses or prostitutes his great gifts in just so far as he uses, or fails to use, a conscience."
For an instant Hamilton's cheeks flamed, then he laughed:
"A very pretty golden rule of finance, Edwardes," he observed quietly, "and since I suppose you feel in a way responsible for me it's a homily you have the right to read. Does it carry a personal implication?"
Edwardes smiled and held out his hand. "You are the best judge of that," he replied. "Good-night."
But as the door closed upon him the smile died on the guest's lips, and a premonition of evil settled upon his mind. No one had ever defied this man and come through unscathed. His power held leashed lightnings that might destroy, and Edwardes had been frank to a point which might stir that wrath. To his direct manner of thinking his answer had been unavoidable, yet to put Hamilton Burton among his enemies was a dangerous thing. His love for Mary and the very endurance of the business which had stood so long in honor and prosperity might have to suffer for the over-frankness of his words. For a moment before entering his car he stood on the curb and looked back at the house he had just left.
"The man is a tyrant—and conscienceless," he exclaimed. "He is as destructive as a sawed-off shotgun!"
If Hamilton Burton had been one of the most picturesque figures in finance before, he was now a flaming meteor of public interest. He had come out of the dark and raided the directorate of a giant corporation, gathering into his strong hands reins that the world believed to be held beyond the possibility of filching. Moreover, this corporation was the keystone and crowning pride in the firmly cemented arch of Consolidated's power.
The world of business was stunned. It went to bed one night, believing certain forces immutable, and awoke to find them overthrown and a ministry changed. Along the chasms and canons that debouch from lower Broadway one question was insistently asked—and went unanswered: "What will he do next?" Perhaps the nearest approach to a reply was the prophecy of a cynical curb-broker—"Whatever he damn pleases." One thing was definite. While Hamilton Burton had forced the admiration of his world, he had forced it by the audacity of a strong grip on its throat and by bending it to its knees.
Such admiration is accorded a tyrant and carries scant love. When the gong sounded in the Stock-Exchange it was an alarm and the faces on the floor were faces that mirrored fear of the day. Yet the first transactions showed Hamilton Burton's brokers standing like pillars under the shaky market. As the day wore on these same lieutenants met and stemmed every tendency toward receding prices. Several banks announced incipient runs and at once from the Burton treasury came a tide of gold, so that reassured depositors turned away smiling.
When the actual meeting of Coal and Ore stock-holders was called to order both Burton and Harrison were present in person.
"Before this vote is taken," said Harrison, rising with a face upon which was indelibly stamped the grim determination of one so long victorious that defeat was unspeakably bitter, "I wish to be heard. Though the registry of transfers tells the story in advance, I know as Hamilton Burton knows, that it is a victory for traitors. If there is a chance that some of these may yet turn back from their treason, I want them to listen to me."
Burton glanced about the table, where the mastery was his own.
"When I attend a meeting of this character," he curtly announced, "we vote first, and whoever wishes to can talk after I have gone."
Outside, as the two men left the room, waited the batteries of reporters. On the threshold, the appearance of each was noted and flashed in first-page stories wherever news went. The new One-man-power stood slender and strong, and tigerish; an incarnation of dominant youth and triumph. Harrison might have been passing into exile, but he walked with his head high and eyes that met every questioning gaze with the forbidding glitter of a newly trapped and caged lion. There was something about the man so suggestive of a broken warrior that the scribes whose duty was to interrogate refrained and stood respectfully silent as he passed between them.
But they questioned Burton and Burton smiled. "Gentlemen," he said in that velvety voice that fitted in so charmingly with the winning quality of his smile, "you know my rule. I am never interviewed—but you may announce that the Coal and Ore directorate will be reorganized."
At the curb Paul was waiting in the car, and around it pressed an inquisitive mob, which the police were already beginning to push back and stir into motion. As they cleared a path for him through the idle humanity the man who had come from the abandoned farm went to his machine with an unconcern which took no note of their interest. To his brother he commented in a low and musical voice. "They aren't so different from Slivers Martin. I bought those lambs for seven and sold them for ten. But it's only the first transaction, Paul, that gives one the real thrill."
When he reached his library he found Mary there. "I have been reading the papers, Hamilton," she said quietly. "As near as I can make it all out, 'it was a famous victory,' but why do the papers all call it a raid?" Her brother looked at her and a flash of pride kindled fondly in his eyes for the face which a shaft of the sun lighted into vivid beauty.
"I told you once," he said, "that we should reign together. This is for me a victorious day. I am glad that you are the woman to whom I come fresh from the field I have won and the frontier I have pushed forward." He turned away from her and stood for a moment at the window in a flood of yellow radiance. The clarity of his eyes and luster of his dark hair and the hue of his cheeks were all declarations of gladiatorial perfection of condition. His brow was unclouded.
He began to speak, at first with a modulated voice that mounted with his words to a fiery eloquence:
"Many marches follow, Mary ... toward vaster victories. To me a certain memory lives clear in every detail. I see a small girl with her thin little body shaking with sobs ... because her life seemed doomed to drudgery and emptiness. I see my mother and my aunt and my father suffering like beasts of burden under the goad and yoke of poverty. I see a boy, ragged and rebellious, declaring war on the world and swearing to wrest from it every good thing that those he loved might ever covet—and for himself unparalleled power." He paused and spread his hands apart with a gesture of dismissing the abstract. "I have proven myself able to realize my dreams. I shall go on. My aspirations of empire look far ahead: my horizons are limitless. There are few people to whom I can express my ambitions. But you—" He came across and took her hand. "You can understand. Tell me, Mary, is there anything in the world you want? Because, by heaven, if there is it shall be yours."
The girl's eyes, as she met his gaze, were deeply grave.
"In all this dream of power, Hamilton," she said softly, "you have never spoken of any sense of trust or stewardship, and what you call a victory, the papers call a raid. Has it ever occurred to you, my dear brother, that perhaps your dream is, after all, one of colossal selfishness?"
The rippling ease of his muscles stiffened and his smile faded.
"Is it selfishness to give back to those one loves the things of which life has robbed them?"
She shook her head. "No—but there is such a thing as suffocating the souls in them with material kindness and bodily luxuries," she answered.
"You have been spending a great deal of time of late with Jefferson Edwardes." The manner of the man underwent one of its swift changes and grew cool and acid. "Perhaps he has been talking to you as he undertook to talk to me last night."
A light as dominant as that in her brother's came to Mary Burton's pupils.
"Perhaps," she replied.
"I'm not at all sure that I care for this intimate association with Mr. Edwardes," he curtly announced. "I am not enamored of the vaporings of visionary and self-ordained preachers."
"Possibly it is not necessary that you should be," the girl suggested. "Maybe for the purpose of my own friendships, it is enough that I like him. I hardly think you would understand his type, Hamilton."
Her brother's face reddened dangerously.
"I should call my intelligence human," he declared. "I've been able to make certain use of it."
"Call it superhuman if you like—or inhuman, yet I hardly think it can truly gage that type of gallant gentleman who has kept his dreams untainted and his ideals clean."
The man who had found the world a thing upon which he could stamp his hall-mark stood for a while without speaking; then his voice came keyed to a satirical coldness.
"Whatever your estimate may be of my ability to understand this peerless gentleman and chevalier, one thing I can do. I can crush him into pulp. If he has poisoned against me the minds of my own family, I swear to you that I both can and will nail him to the cross of utter ruin. You had better warn your knightly friend, Mary, that the days of grail-seeking are ended."
The girl came to her feet and her eyes were stars of scorn as she faced the man whose sudden anger had brought out the arteries corded on his temples.
"Such talk," she said, "belongs to the shambles of your cut-throat finance. I have no wish to listen to it." Gradually the scornful light in Mary's pupils hardened and brightened into the fighting fire that might come into those of a tigress whose den has been threatened. Her delicate nostrils quivered and her cheeks flamed.
"Five minutes ago you were inquiring what costly gifts my heart desired, that you might buy them for me with your money. Well, there is something I want that I haven't got—and your millions can't buy it. I want decent love. You had me schooled into a Circe and you almost killed my soul. Thank God, some one came in time, some one whose thoughts are above sordid conquest. Some one who wanted to save me from the legalized prostitution of a loveless marriage. And because he has said to your face what all men say in your absence, you talk of crucifying him." She broke off and her breath came fast.
Hamilton Burton gazed silently for a moment, then he said shortly:
"I'm not such a damn' fool as to try to argue with a woman in a rage. You have too much brain, Mary, and at times you irritate me. Paul is the only one in this family who soothes me. I'll go to him."
"Yes," she retorted contemptuously, "Paul will burn incense to your vanity. Go to him."
She turned to leave the room, but at the door she paused. "Jefferson Edwardes will dine here this evening," she volunteered. "Any discourtesy to him will be an insult to me."
* * * * *
A little strange it was, perhaps, and yet true, that Hamilton Burton, who feared no man and showed consideration to few, discovered himself standing in something like awe of his imperious sister. At all events his outbreak of wrath subsided and that evening he gave to the man who had aroused it no intimation of its recent upflaming.
But in the days and weeks that followed, Hamilton Burton saw much of Edwardes and that very directness of gaze, that level glance which concealed nothing and evaded nothing became to him at first a small annoyance, and then a constantly aggravated irritation. His star of Destiny rode at its zenith. Every venture turned under his Midas hand to gold and increased power. He mounted to succeeding heights until it seemed that like Alexander he must soon brood over the smallness of the world's opportunity. Colossal mergers grouped themselves into structures of stupendous strength. His pride was bloated with successes, yet all the while across his own table he must encounter eyes that withheld reverence and politely masked something like contempt. Some day he knew those clean-souled eyes would goad him to an outbreak.
But impulse is the menace to a strong man's strength, and no one save Hamilton Burton himself suspected that this antipathy was growing into an obsession.
Besides, there were more important matters to consider, and a hundred active enemies to watch. Any such moment of relaxed vigilance as he himself had seized to overthrow the preeminence of others would be used to overthrow his own.
While he rode on the highest crest of Fortune's wave the one member of his family who had remained unchanged fell ill. For a week all else was forgotten while the Burton family waited the outcome in Aunt Hannah's bedroom.
That austere old spinster talked in her delirium of other days and denied that they had altered. In broken rambling words she took them all back with her to a life they had put behind them. The names of cows and horses in whose care Hamilton had so many hundred times taken down and put up the panel of stable-lot bars dwelt on her trembling lips and she smiled contentedly over simple things. Finally, she told them that she was sleepy and would talk no longer, because tomorrow morning she must be up early and give the house a thorough cleaning. With that announcement she turned her seamed face to the wall and slept. It was a placid sleep which no clamor of an alarm clock would ever disturb.
Because she had always insisted upon it with the childish pertinacity of the simple-souled, the Burton family went back with her to the ragged slopes of the White Mountains. They saw again, for the first time since they had turned away from their padlocked door, the hills and rocks and rutted roads that had once been their own country.
Jefferson Edwardes went with them, and when the funeral was ended and the little cortege left the churchyard, he and Mary Burton remained a while among the graves. Most of the trees were stark and naked, but to one or two still clung shreds of departed autumn brilliancy. A maple still boasted a few scarlet tatters of the banner with which it had done honor to the Frost King. By the decaying wall of the little church a scrub oak rattled its tenacious leafage of russet brown.
About the two tilted and careened the neglected tombstones of those who slept humbly but restfully here. The gaunt hills, too, tilted and careened in heaped-up barriers of dilapidation to the distance where the autumn veiled them in a smoky purple. But above them was the glow of crimson and rose-ash, where the sunset burned.
Mary's beautiful eyes were bright with tears and as she stood there slim and straight, the man came close and his arm slipped about her. For a moment she seemed unconscious of his presence, then she turned and her eyes looked steadfastly into his, and, as they looked, they smiled through their mistiness.
"Thank God," she said in a low voice into which a tremor stole; "thank God, you came to me and woke me up—in time."
After a little she spoke again hastily as though in fright.
"Dearest," she declared tensely, "as I stood here today a fear came over me: a fear and a premonition. It seemed to me that every hill and every tree was accusing us. Silent voices were calling out, 'Why did you go away?'" She broke off, and then, as though from the strength of his embrace, she drew reassurance, she went on: "Suppose it was all a ghastly mistake? Suppose Hamilton's overvaulting ambition with all its vast egotism should totter and fall? What would become of us in that world down there? I have, since we left here, seen only one look of serene and utterly calm peace on any face in our family. It was her face—" The girl nodded toward the grave and shivered.
The man drew her closer.
"Loved faces in death always wear a peace that life does not know," he told her. Then whimsically he smiled as he voiced a fantastic suggestion:
"Maybe, dearest, there's some land beyond the stars where all the mistakes we make here can be remedied ... where we can take up our marred lives and live them afresh, as we have dreamed them. Perhaps in that other world we can go back to the turning of the road where we lost our ways ... and choose the other path."
* * * * *
Constancy and fixedness belong to strong characters. The granite crag stands unchanging, but the waters at its base lash themselves into a thousand shapes and colors and semblances. Hamilton had in him the firmness of the hills, but Paul's nature was as fluid as the waters that whirl or lilt along the easiest channels, and that turn aside to avoid obstacles. On his table stood a photograph of Loraine Haswell in a gold frame. It was a photograph of which there was no duplicate, and one which her husband had not seen. When it had been taken the sitter had selected a pose of graceful ease, as though the photographer had ambushed her and caught her in a moment of almost sacred privacy, a moment when she had relaxed into an attitude of intimate and somewhat melancholy thought.
The slender hands rested with fingers loosely interlocked in her lap, holding a drooping rose. The splendid slenderness of her figure was enhanced by the veiling of delicate negligee, and the face under its night-dark profusion of hair looked out wistfully with a sad half-smile on something that her heart chose to hold before her gaze. Certainly, had it not been that such excellence of the photographer's craft could only have been attained by careful posing, one might have said that he had taken an unfair advantage and had permitted his lens to spy upon a lovely lady in the secrecy of her boudoir, whose sole companions were emotions which must remain locked in her beautiful breast.
She had told Paul when she gave him the picture, and the same ghost of pathos had flickered into her eyes and the droop of her lips, that the flower was one from a box of his giving, and that she had been thinking of him when the camera clicked, forgetting for a moment the pose she had meant to assume. Often, she whispered, she sat like that thinking of him.
So Paul kept flowers on each side of the frame, and made of it a sort of shrine.
And yet, sometimes, when he had said good-bye to her after a luncheon or tea together, he would turn his car southward and find himself driving down the avenue to Washington square and the old house on the south side, to invite Marcia Terroll for a spin beside him. And sometimes he would call her on the telephone and they would meet for a walk.
To himself alone, he confessed his love for Loraine, for a specter of timidity rose often and marred their meetings. How was it to end? He could no more escape the realization of the husband's existence and possible ire than can the quail in the open grain-field forget the shadow of a soaring hawk. And Paul was not the most daring cock quail in the stubble. He saw shadows of proprietary wings where the sky held only wisps of fleecy cloud.
With Marcia, there was the security of safe companionship, and a combination of stimulus and soothing.
That this interest was tinctured with an essence of the enthusiastic, which to other eyes than his own—even to her eyes—might seem to hold a stronger personal note, he did not admit to himself. That would have meant another complication and a fresh alarm, so if the idea came he laughed it away as preposterous. But in a fashion those were very good days. He was discovering New York.
There are quaint places about the square, where insurgency reigns and finds expression, where existing conditions are denounced, where freedom is verbally fought for and capital and conventions are vocally annihilated. In some of them food is served at prices which astonished his training at the expensive restaurants. There the musician and the girl went, he as explorer, fastidiously critical, yet enduring what he regarded as squalor and anarchy, for the new experience of feeling that he was penetrating Bohemia.
She acted as guide, and since she knew the world of ease and the world of necessity and could walk alike with the aristocratic and the commonalty—and remain equally herself—she sat amused, watching him as he watched the rest. The twinkle that sought to flash into her eye flashed only in her mind, but the play of keen humor and wit quaintly expressed sparkled through her conversation, so that when they were together they laughed a great deal.