Gorham looked at the boy steadily for a moment with an amused expression in his eye.
"I have half a mind to try it," he said, aloud.
"Taking out two licenses?" Allen asked, innocently.
"No," Gorham answered; "I was thinking of something else. Your father will be here some day this week, Allen, and you will have a chance to discuss the whole matter. Perhaps you can get him to agree to some compromise. Whatever you go into, remember what one of our great captains of industry once said—and it's as applicable to diplomacy as it is to business—'The man who starts first gets the oyster; the second man gets the shell.'"
"I'll settle it definitely when I see the pater," Allen said, with determination, "and if I live through the interview I'll go for that oyster with a flying start. Oh, I expect I'll find plenty of good interference against me, but I can stand that. What's that story in mythology about the hydra or something—every time they cut off its head two more grew? That's what I'm going to be—a hydra. Every time I get turned down I'm going to bob up twice again, and, the first thing you know, somebody will give me a job just to get rid of me."
After the theatre Mr. Gorham devoted himself to some late despatches which required immediate attention, so Alice and Eleanor found themselves in the apartment alone. The latter wore a more serious expression than her face had shown earlier in the evening, and the girl was quick to notice it.
"You are not feeling well," she said, more in the form of a statement than as a question, looking at her anxiously. "What can I do for you?"
Mrs. Gorham smiled quietly as she impulsively drew Alice to her and kissed her.
"There's nothing the matter, dear," she answered, pleased with the intuition which prompted the anxiety; "there was something about the play which brought back old memories and they hurt me—that is all."
"Dear heart," was all the girl replied, yet the words brought grateful tears to Eleanor's eyes.
"Are you tired?" she asked, suddenly, with an appeal which caused Alice to look at her inquiringly, but she did not wait for the unnecessary negative. "Then come into my room and let us have a little talk before we go to bed."
As Eleanor sat down Alice threw herself on the floor at her feet, and resting her elbows upon the convenient knees, with her face upon her hands, she looked up expectantly.
"I love these cozy talks," she said. "There is something about this particular hour of the night which makes anything which happens in it of the greatest importance. How beautiful you are! I love just to look at you—no wonder father worships you!"
"You are a sweet child, Alice," Eleanor said, stroking the soft hair affectionately, while unfastening the loose coils until they fell over her shoulders in masses of rippling gold. "You have no idea how much you have done to make my life as happy as it is now. What has your father ever told you about me?"
"Nothing, dear, except that you had suffered much before he met you, and that it was our privilege to try to make you forget the past."
"Was that all?"
"All about you. He told me how happy you had made him, so of course I loved you at once."
"And you never asked any questions?"
Alice looked surprised. "Why, no; if father had wished to tell me any more he would have done so without my asking."
"I am glad," Eleanor said, simply. "It is better for me to tell you myself."
Mrs. Gorham paused, and Alice realized that this was not the time to interrupt. Eleanor seemed to be bracing herself as for an ordeal, yet when she spoke the words came with perfect calmness.
"You were ten years old when your mother died," she said.
The girl's face saddened. "Yes, just Pat's age now; and the next four years were so lonely until you came. I try never to think of them. Pat was too young to give me any companionship, so I was virtually alone with my governess. Father never realized my unhappiness. He was so busy with his own matters that, young as I was, I knew that he must not have mine to worry about."
"Those were the years in which I suffered, too," Eleanor replied, quietly. "Perhaps that is what drew us so closely together from the first. Four years of torture!" she continued, more to herself than to the girl before her.
"Why do you speak of them?" Alice begged. "Why not forget them, as I have tried to do?"
"I do try, dear, but the play to-night brought everything back to me. How strange that we should happen on that particular one so soon after your father and I had spoken of those years! The 'Great Divide'—God only knows the human agony and truth those words contain!"
Eleanor controlled herself before she continued.
"It is a story which I have told only once before, and I had not thought to take any one except your father into its sad confidences; but you should know it, dear. My father's health broke down after mother died, and he was ordered West in the hope of prolonging his life. I was sixteen then, two years younger than you are now. We went to Colorado, on a ranch which father had bought upon the recommendation of a friend. How well I remember the first impressions I received of that glorious country: the exhilaration of that wonderful air, the inspiration of those towering mountains, the novelty of the strange new conditions! I rejoiced in the largeness of everything, and it seemed to me, those first few days, as though life amid these surroundings could but reflect the richness with which nature itself overflowed."
Alice's eyes were fixed upon Eleanor's face with intense interest. The girl sensed even in these preliminary words the importance of what was to follow, and was unwilling to lose a single syllable. Eleanor caught the interest and sympathy of the girl's face as she paused for a moment, and it gave her strength.
"Were you quite alone there?" Alice asked.
"Practically alone—the nearest ranch was four miles from ours. Naturally, we saw few people, the most constant visitor at this time being a young man who owned the ranch next to ours, who, during the year, had ridden over to see us with increasing frequency. His name was Ralph Buckner, and he seemed to us to be a characteristic product of the West—with his large frame, bluff manners, and frank, open countenance. We all liked him, and the fact that he differed so much from the Eastern men I had known perhaps caused me to show a greater interest in him than I really felt. At all events, no girl was ever more genuinely surprised by an offer of marriage than I was, when it came unexpectedly one day, with that determination back of it to secure what he desired which was a part of the man himself. I did manage to collect my senses long enough to insist that I have time to think the matter over—for I had no idea of marrying him; but, much to my surprise, father approved the idea from the moment I told him of the proposal. Then it developed that Ralph had already approached him on the subject. Father, poor dear, thought only of my future and what he believed would be my happiness. It was so evident that I held in my hands the solution of his most serious problem that he never knew the misgivings I felt from the first. He could live on at the ranch for the present, busying himself with the work which kept him out-of-doors; then later, if he preferred, he could come and live with us."
"Couldn't he see what a sacrifice it meant to you?" Alice asked.
"No, dear; you must remember that, in his way, Ralph was an attractive fellow. He had been successful with his ranch; he was agreeable and intelligent; his Western boldness, as it seemed to me, was at times tempered with a certain gentleness hardly to be expected in a man of his nature; and, all in all, he was a man to whom any girl could at least give respect, and affection might come later. It meant settling down in the West for the rest of my life, but this was inevitable, anyway. I must forget the old friends and the old associations, and could I not do this better with a husband's help than alone? I asked myself a thousand questions and ended by deciding that I would marry him.
"It was a short courtship—delay was a word not found in Ralph Buckner's vocabulary. We were married and began our life at his ranch, which, as I say, was near enough to my father so that we could be in frequent communication. He had been much concerned about me, having discovered more of my homesickness for the East than I had realized, so to see me well settled and apparently happy relieved him of a heavy load."
"But you weren't happy even at first," Alice insisted. "How could you be?"
"I say 'apparently happy,' dear, for that was all it was. Ralph did what he could for me in his own way, so at first it was perhaps my fault that we were not more congenial; but his ways were not my ways, and I kept looking for what was not there. He was well-born, but his life on the ranch for so many years had dulled his appreciation of those finer, innate qualities which every wife craves—he had forgotten how to be the gentleman. Don't think that I expected the impossible, or anything incongruous to the life we were leading; but there are little attentions, thoughtful considerations and other things in a husband's relation to his wife, trivial perhaps in themselves, which the wife expects and misses if she does not receive—the more so, if she has deluded herself into believing that the instincts for them are inborn, and only require her suggestion to develop and bring them to fruition. These qualities he had seemed to show before we were married, but they proved to be only a veneer which soon wore off."
"Why do you bring this all back now ?" Alice asked, sympathetically, seeing the lines deepen in Eleanor's face.
"I must tell it to you, dear—we have grown so close that I feel this is all that remains between us. When you know this, we shall be sisters indeed."
"We are that already and more," Alice urged. "Only think how near of an age we really are."
"In years, yes; but sometimes I feel as if I had already lived centuries."
"Will the telling of this take a few of those centuries from you?" the girl inquired, smiling.
"I hope so; and that is one reason why I am asking you to share the burden with me. All that I have told you so far has been unimportant compared with what followed. Had it simply been a difference in temperament, I have no doubt that I should have become accustomed to the absence of these things I craved, and have adjusted my life to meet the new conditions. But other and more serious difficulties soon arose. With Ralph Buckner possession seemed to be enough. I have seen him scheme for months to secure some high-bred horse or a fancy breed of cattle, and after they became his property hardly care whether he ever saw them again. So it was with his wife. Within six months he resumed his fortnightly visits to Colorado Springs on alleged business, from which he always returned worn out and ill-tempered. Until we were married, I had no idea that his life on the ranch and his life in Colorado Springs were so distinctly apart, but I was soon to learn it with bitter clearness."
As the story progressed Alice could feel the increasing tenseness. Eleanor had herself well in hand, but the occasional break in her voice evidenced the strain.
"There was a so-called club in Colorado Springs whose members included the wildest young men of the town and several of the younger ranchmen who were able to stand the pace. In this Ralph was a leading spirit, drinking and gambling with that abandon which was his dominant characteristic. 'Buckner is a poor gambler but a good loser,' one of them is reported to have said, but that only meant that Ralph succeeded in concealing his real feelings until he reached home; for it was his wife who received the full force of the reaction as his brain cleared from the fumes of the liquor and he came to a realization of his losses."
She paused and looked at her companion, and encouraged by Alice's rapt attention continued:
"Our baby was born a year after we were married—"
"I never knew of that," the girl said, quietly.
"Don't," was the reply; "I can't go on if you weaken me by your sympathy."
"Forgive me, dear Eleanor," Alice murmured.
"By that time every remnant of a tie which held us together had disappeared. The child, however, was a real link, and for a little while gave us something to think of besides ourselves. For a year, perhaps, Ralph went less frequently to Colorado Springs, and I came to think that we might possibly be able to continue our lives together for the child's sake. But the novelty wore off from this new plaything, as it had from the others, though it lasted longer than anything else ever had, and then Ralph's absences from the ranch became more and more frequent and of longer duration. I cared little for this, as it enabled me to take Carina to my father's ranch, where I forgot for the time being the emptiness of the home to which we must sooner or later return."
Alice glanced up tenderly. "Poor dear Eleanor," she said, softly; but Mrs. Gorham went on without heeding:
"One day, when little Carina was three years old, we were visiting at my father's. It was late in the afternoon, and we were playing some child's game together when the door was suddenly thrown open and Ralph glowered in at us, his face purple with drunken anger. Even the four-mile ride had failed to sober him, and he leaned against the framework of the door to steady himself. The child, startled by the sudden interruption and terrified by the expression on her father's face, ran to me for protection, burying her little face in my lap.
"'That's right,' he leered at her; 'that's what they teach you to do here—make you hate your father, don't they? I'll give you a chance to get acquainted with me.'
"Then he crossed the room and tore the child from my arms, in spite of her shrieks of fear and our joint efforts to stop him. Even my father, who did all he could, was helpless against the man's almost superhuman strength. In a moment he had mounted his horse with Carina in front of him, and was galloping at breakneck speed down the long trail which led to our ranch. Father rushed to the barn, but I was there before him. Between us we saddled the mare I had ridden so many times before I was married, and I urged her forward to make up as much as possible for the lost time. But I had not far to go—"
The recital proved too much for Eleanor, in spite of her efforts to control herself. Her eyes filled with tears, and her body was convulsed with emotion as she bent her head until it rested against her companion's face.
"Don't, dear," urged Alice; "tell me the rest some other time."
"No, no!" Mrs. Gorham cried; "you must know it all, and then we need not speak of it again. I had gone over less than half the distance when I came upon them both lying in the trail. I never knew how it happened. He told some one afterward that the horse stumbled. It may have been that; it may have been anything with him in that condition. He had fallen at the side of the trail and was conscious before I left him, but Carina was—dead."
"Don't, don't go on—I can't stand it!" cried Alice.
Eleanor paused as if in response to Alice's appeal, but a glance at her face showed that an emotion stronger than even the words had expressed was holding her in its grip.
"Father was dead, too, when I returned," she said at last, her eyes still gazing into space.
"The excitement killed him?" Alice asked, breathlessly, still further shocked by the double tragedy.
"That and his anxiety over my unexplained absence."
"Your absence?" queried the girl, mystified by Eleanor's apparent incoherency. "Didn't you just say that he was dead when you returned?"
Mrs. Gorham started violently. "What am I saying!" she cried, involuntarily. In a moment she was herself again. "Yes, dear, of course I returned; but not as soon as he expected, and the shock of it all killed him. You understand, don't you? I was very ill, and a friend helped me to a hospital in Denver."
"But you said you had no friends except the man you married," Alice urged, trying to follow the narrative.
"Yes, dear, you are right," Eleanor replied somewhat confused; "but one always finds friends when in trouble, you know. It was so with me, and after I recovered my strength I lived on there in Denver with the small legacy my father left me, supplemented later by a little more from the sale of the ranch. A year after Carina's death I applied for a divorce, on the ground of desertion. My lawyer found Ralph somewhere to serve the summons on him, and reported him as having already become a professional gambler and a confirmed drunkard. He made no defence at the trial, and I have never seen him since."
"But it's all over now, Eleanor dear," Alice said, soothingly. "Daddy and I will try to make up to you for what you have been through. You must let us do that."
"You have done it already," Eleanor replied, feelingly, her temporary obsession having passed. "You and darling little Patricia have become a real part of my life, and my one prayer has been that I could do as much for you. Your father restored my lost faith in men almost the first time I met him in my lawyer's office in Denver."
"Yes." Alice accepted the tribute to her father as a matter of fact. "He nearly killed himself in Pittsburgh before he gave up his business there, and he went out West two or three times to get back his health. And the last time he brought you back, too. I have always loved the West for that."
Mrs. Gorham smiled as she continued: "I learned of his work from others and from himself, and rejoiced to find a man with real ideals, in business and in his every-day life, actually lived up to. I had no notion of what that first chance meeting would lead to, of the home that it would give me among my girlhood friends, filled with the love and sympathy which my heart had always craved. Now you know the whole story, Alice dear—now you know why the tears come sometimes to my eyes as I press to my heart that quaint, precious little sister of yours, so near the age Carina would have been, who softens the memory of the sweet dead face by giving to it a living reality."
"I understand," the girl cried, throwing her arms about Eleanor's neck and embracing her warmly. "I can't say the right thing now I am so unstrung, but I love you even more than ever because you've let me share it with you."
So they separated for the night—the woman's heart bleeding from the reopening of the former wound, yet happier that her accepted confidante had become acquainted with that part of her life which was consecrated to a memory; the girl made older by the sudden drawing of the curtain from one of life's daily yet unheralded tragedies.
Stephen Sanford arrived in Washington two days later. Little as the boy realized it, his father's pride in his son was unbounded, and stood out in marked contrast to the sterner elements in his character which had combined in such fashion as to enable him to carve out a success among and in competition with the sturdy, persistent business luminaries who developed Pittsburgh from an uncouth bed of iron and coal into a great manufacturing centre. His friends rallied him on his many indulgences to his son, all of which he accepted in good part, with a uniform rejoinder that, say what they liked, his son was going to be brought up a gentleman.
Allen's boyhood was guided by private tutors, and so hemmed in with conventions which even to his youthful mind were obviously veneers, that it was with a positive relief that he welcomed the change from the restraint of home to the freedom of college life. Yet the boy naturally possessed inherent qualities which, while not leading him to drink too deeply from the fount of wisdom, still kept him within lines which won for him the affection of his fellows and the respect of his instructors, even though his standing as a student was far below what the professors thought it might have been.
During all this period his father followed his career with that same care and insight which had characterized his own business success. He was proud of the position which the boy took—proud of his ability to mix well with his fellows; proud of his splendid run against Yale at New Haven which placed the ball within striking-distance of the blue goal; proud of his seat in the victorious eight at New London, and equally certain that the other seven had not done their full duty when the shell was nosed out by Yale at the finish on the succeeding year. If the boy had missed getting his degree Stephen Sanford would have considered his son a failure, but with the prized parchment actually secured—the first in the history of the Sanford family—he cared little how narrow the margin.
Yet Allen had passed through all these years without a suspicion of his father's real feelings toward him. He was rebuked for his extravagances each time he asked for money, yet a substantial check always accompanied each rebuke. He was criticised for not making a better record in his studies, and his success in other lines, it seemed to him, was always accepted as a matter of course. He felt convinced that his father looked upon him as a colossal failure, and he was too good-natured to quarrel with this estimate of his abilities; yet with characteristic optimism, he saw no reason to let this fact interfere with his every-day life and the pleasures it offered him.
So Allen went to Europe soon after graduation and acquired further experience in running a motor-car in England and on the Continent, together with an increased familiarity with foreign scenery and the most expensive hotels. On his return, he announced his desire to begin his business career, more because that was what his classmates were doing than because he was anxious to exchange the freedom of his present life for the confinement of an office.
"You leave that to me," his father had answered, brusquely. "What you don't know about business won't help you any in giving advice. You're going into the diplomatic service."
Unfortunately for the smooth execution of Stephen Sanford's idea, the whole country at this moment happened to be agitated over the discovery that a member of the diplomatic corps at Washington had taken advantage of his official position to secure plans and information, which he had transmitted to a power unfriendly to America, but allied to the government which he represented. The diplomat fled, ignominiously disgraced; but as far as Allen could judge from the comment he heard, his greatest sin was considered to be the breaking of the thirteenth commandment, "Thou shalt not be found out."
All this prejudiced the boy unduly against diplomacy as a profession. In his eyes the acts of this man were unsportsmanlike; and to Allen Sanford, who looked upon a "good sport" as the noblest work of God, this charge was the most serious in the category of crime. But his expostulations and protests to his father were of no avail. Stephen Sanford had made up his mind, and that was the end of it. Until he met Alice, Allen had been more upset because his father still treated him as a child than on account of any serious opposition to plans which he himself had formed. He had never yet focussed himself upon any one particular determination with sufficient strength to make his father's objections other than an annoyance. But now, assimilating a part of the girl's enthusiasm, and strengthened by the instant admiration which Mr. Gorham commanded, he was determined to make a stand at this point, taking the head of the great Consolidated Companies as his model, and with lance in hand to charge the world just as he would have "bucked" the Yale line. Even the undesired diplomatic position was apparently not forthcoming; now he would not only make an effort on his own account, but he would insist upon his right to do so. He did not know that the real reason he had heard nothing from his father during these weeks was because the positions which had been offered thus far appeared to the older man too insignificant for his son to be able to accept with dignity. As one of the Pennsylvania senators remarked, "Stephen Sanford evidently expects his son to go to the Court of St. James."
With Allen in this mood, it was not surprising that the meeting between father and son, immediately after Stephen Sanford arrived in Washington, should have ended in a declaration of war. During the interview Allen gave abundant evidence of his unfitness for anything which required diplomacy; and his father, surprised to find in the boy a will as unyielding as his own, and angered beyond expression by Allen's opposition, lost all control over himself and stamped out of the house, leaving his son behind, cast out forever from his affection, protection, and support.
"Let the young cub starve for a while and he'll realize what his father has done for him," he fumed. "Let him shift for himself and we'll see how soon he'll come home to roost."
On he stamped along the street, his cane expressing upon the pavement the anger which consumed him, but becoming less violent as he approached the hotel where he had his appointment with Gorham. He must calm himself, he urged, inwardly. He had acted in the only way he could, and his old friend must not think he had been hasty or in judicial in the position he had taken. He must be deliberate and self-possessed, as Gorham himself would have been under the same circumstances. Then the cane came down again on the hard pavement with a resounding blow. "Damn Gorham!" he muttered; "damn all these smooth-mannered men who never lose their tempers; damn everybody!"
"Come in, Stephen, come in; I'm glad to see you," Gorham greeted him as he puffed into the apartment, almost exhausted by the double strain of losing his self-control and his strenuous efforts to regain it. "I didn't realize it was so warm outside. This is the most summer-like October I have ever seen. Sit down and I'll have Riley mix you up something cooling."
"No," commanded Sanford, "not a drop; I'm cool enough. I've been hurrying, that's all. Haven't forgotten how fussy you are about keeping appointments on the minute, you see."
Gorham laughed. "I must have learned the trait from you; but it doesn't apply to an old friend like Stephen Sanford," he said. "Business is business, of course; but you wrote me that you wanted my advice. There are no minute appointments in friendship, Stephen. My time is yours."
"Thank you." Sanford was sparring for breath. "I haven't pestered you much with my personal affairs, have I?"
"You couldn't 'pester' me with them, Stephen. If I can serve you I'll be as glad to as you would be to reciprocate."
"Yes, yes." The visitor still employed monosyllables as far as possible as his vehicle of expression, but he was mastering his emotion.
"Have you seen Allen?" Gorham asked, naturally but unfortunately.
Sanford sprang out of his chair and waved his arms wildly. "Why do you try to stir me all up again ?" he cried. "Can't you let me get my breath?"
Gorham looked at him amazed. "Has anything happened?" he asked.
"The young reprobate! I'll show him. I've cut him off without a penny, Robert; do you understand—without a penny!"
"You've done what?" Gorham demanded, his face sobering.
"I'll show him that he can't make a monkey out of his father. You've seen him, Robert. You know what an obstinate, headstrong cub he is. Wants to go into business, does he? Thinks he knows what's good for him better than his father does, does he? I'll show him. He can go to the devil now—that's where he can go."
Gorham knew better than to interrupt Sanford until his tirade was spent. He watched him pacing up and down the room; he noted the twitching of his features, the clenched hands, and the violent color in his face.
"You're taking chances to let yourself get worked up like this, Stephen," he said, quietly, at length. "You and I are growing older, and our systems won't stand what they used to."
Sanford stopped abruptly. "That's what he's counting on, the ingrate. I've spent my whole life building up those furnaces and making money so that he might be a gentleman. Now he throws it all over, and he thinks I'll shuffle off in one of these spells; but I'll fix him. Not a penny of my money shall he get—not one penny."
"How has Allen disgraced himself? Has he been stealing, or is it forgery or murder?"
"You—you," Sanford sputtered, "you dare to suggest that my boy would disgrace himself! You—you—"
"Sit down, Stephen, and calm yourself," Gorham laughed. "No one could think of a less heinous crime than I have suggested, judging by your own arraignment of the boy. How can I help you unless you tell me what has happened?"
"I'm an old fool to let you string me so, but I'm all used up."
"And the boy has been a young fool and proved himself a chip of the old block—how is that for a guess?"
"So you're going to take sides with him, are you?"
"How can I tell until I know the circumstances ?"
"He won't do what his father tells him," Sanford explained. "That's the situation in a nutshell."
"Good! Now you are becoming communicative. So you've cut him off because he won't do what you tell him?"
"Yes—the young reprobate. How he ever broke into my family is more than I can understand."
"You're sure your way is better than his, are you, Stephen?"
"Of course I am. Aren't you?"
"I don't know what your way is any more than I know Allen's, so I can speak without prejudice. I just wanted to be sure that you had given both sides of the question sufficient consideration to be certain of your position. It's a serious thing to send your own son adrift, Stephen."
"He's my son, isn't he?"
"I judge that he has proved that."
"Would you let a son of yours lead you around by the nose?"
"No; nor would I condemn a high-strung colt to the bone-yard because I couldn't put a bridle on him the first time I tried."
"H'm!" Sanford ejaculated. "It's the women who don't have children who always attend 'mothers' meetings.' Of course you know just how to handle a son."
"If you hadn't thought I had some ideas, I don't suppose I should have had the pleasure of this interview."
"Then you think he ought to be allowed to go into business?"
"This proposition seems now to have become of secondary importance. The main issue is whether or not a boy twenty-three years old is to be allowed to express his ideas when they differ from his father's. Allen, apparently, has settled the matter without any advice from either of us."
"You don't know what that boy is to me." Sanford's voice broke a little in spite of him.
"I can imagine," Gorham replied, feelingly. "I know what he would be to me if he were mine."
"He's all I have in the world, Robert. I've had to be father and mother to him. I've given him the best education money could buy, I've sent him to Europe to get that foreign finish every one talks about; and now he won't do what my heart is set on."
"If the boy wants to go into business, why don't you make a place for him in your own concern? That's where he ought to be—to take the responsibilities off your shoulders, one by one, and to continue your name."
"Put Allen in my furnaces?" Sanford demanded, his choleric attitude beginning to return. "How can you make a gentleman in my furnaces? Do you suppose I'd buy a twenty-thousand-dollar painting and hang it up in the cellar? No, sir; I mean to make something out of that boy better than his father is, and that isn't the place to do it. But in the diplomatic service they're all gentlemen—that's why I want to put him there."
"And if you can't have your own way you prefer to lose the boy altogether?"
"Oh, he'll come back, the young cub. He'll see which side his bread is buttered on. It'll be a long time before he can earn the five hundred a month I give him for an allowance, and he knows it. He'll be back."
"I'm not so sure," Gorham said, seriously.
"You don't think—" Sanford began, showing signs of alarm.
"Would you in his place?"
"That's nothing to do with it; he's only a boy."
"Did you—in his place?"
Sanford looked up quickly. "I had more cause," he replied. "My father was unreasonable; his isn't."
"Allen's ideas on that subject may differ from yours. Now, if you want my advice, here it is: Go back to that boy. Tell him you're ashamed to have lost your temper, and advise him to guard against that greatest weakness which his father possesses. Tell him you want him to go into the diplomatic service for a time to gratify your ambition for him, but that if, after the trial, he prefers business you will stand right back of him and get him started. Tell him, as you have just told me, that he is all you have, and that he must make certain sacrifices for your sake, that he must bear with your weaknesses and profit by your points of strength. But, above all, make him feel that you believe in him, that you're proud of him, and that you've been a fool to make such a humiliating exhibition before him as you did this afternoon."
The gathering storm in Stephen Sanford's face did not deter Gorham from finishing his remarks. He knew that his old friend had seldom, if ever, had the truth spoken to him as unreservedly as now; but he had been asked for his advice, and he proposed to give it.
"You—you—" Sanford choked in his rage. "So that's what you think of me, is it? It's worth something to know that. Knuckle down to that young cub and have him putting it over me for the rest of my life? What do you take me for? I'll see him starve first. Why should you undertake to advise me about my boy—"
"Chiefly because you asked it, Stephen."
"Well, I don't ask for it any more. With all your experience you're not competent—"
"Should I have shown greater competency if my advice had agreed with your own ideas?"
"Don't try to juggle with words, Robert. It's all off between the boy and me, understand. I'll paddle my canoe and he can paddle his. When he's ready to use my stroke he knows where my landing is. And now good-day to you. 'Bear with my weaknesses, eh?' 'Humiliating exhibition.' Good-day, I say." And without giving Gorham the opportunity to do so he flung open the door and stamped out into the corridor to the elevator, his cane keeping time with the tumult of thoughts which surged through his brain.
Gorham watched the unyielding back of his friend until he turned the corner, then he closed the door.
"Poor old Stephen," he sighed to himself. "If I had only been blessed with that boy."
Allen had ample opportunity to act the part of the hydra. When his father left him after their stormy interview the boy utterly failed to realize the seriousness of the situation. The "pater" had been angry with him before,—if the truth be told, he was usually angry with him,—so the fact that the altercation this time had been more severe than usual was a matter simply of degree. The cutting off of his allowance was a tangible evidence that his father was more than ordinarily angry; but, on the other hand, Allen felt himself to be the aggrieved party, and in a virtuous burst of righteousness he declared to himself that he "didn't want the pater's money, anyway." He considered it fortunate that it was still early in the month, and it did not occur to him to consider the rather handsome balance he still possessed as too tainted to retain; but as he looked at it the upshot of the whole matter was that now he would be forced to go into business at once—and this was his strongest desire since he had met Alice. So Allen "hiked it" to New York, and spent a fortnight seeking out the opening which should best offer him the opportunity to become a captain of industry with the least possible delay.
In the mean time, Covington had returned to Washington to assist Gorham in putting through a government contract for the building of the new battleships just authorized by Congress. He found his chief gratified by the continued advance of the Companies' interests, but still more impressed by the personal responsibility which this success entailed.
"I repeated the cable from Brazil to you by wire," Covington remarked.
"Yes; the Consolidated Companies now controls the coffee output of the world. With the economies which we can introduce in production and handling there will be a saving of about twelve millions a year."
"That will be a handsome addition to the dividends already assured the stockholders," Covington observed.
"Only a drop in the bucket compared with what is to come," Gorham assured him. "The people can now save six millions a year on their breakfast cup of coffee, while the Consolidated Companies may conscientiously drop the other six into its own cup by way of sweetening."
"You don't really mean that you are going to throw away all that profit?" was the incredulous inquiry.
"I'm not going to 'throw away' any of it."
"I know," Covington said, quickly; "but six millions is a large sum of money, and one million given to the public by way of lower prices, if properly advertised, would accomplish the purpose just as well."
Gorham looked at him critically. "You're not serious, are you?"
"As serious as you are." Covington smiled understandingly. "This is man to man now, you know; that other talk is a great card for the Companies, as you give it. Of course it isn't necessary to give away so large a share of the savings."
"Not necessary, but just and—good business," replied Gorham. "This is where you and I and the others in the Companies can reap our richest dividends: we can take the tremendous profits which we are receiving with the gratifying knowledge that every dollar we get is clean, and represents an equal sum saved to the people. No one of us has made an unfair penny out of the promotion; no one of us has improperly used the information which has come to him while negotiating our consolidations; there is no act of ours, individually or officially, which will not stand the fullest publicity. What other corporation can make that boast, Covington? The most baneful influence which corporate power conveys is that it blinds the eyes of those possessing it to all except their own single, selfish purpose; that it dulls their hearts so that every beat takes them farther away from humanity, and that it hardens their hands until they can feel nothing but the gold which they clasp to their breasts. They have thrived upon special privilege just as we are thriving, but see the difference. In our hands this weapon, which has previously been turned against the masses, is being made an advantage to them and not a menace, and yet a profitable enterprise for those who wield it. I tell you, Covington, when this double purpose can no longer be served, the Consolidated Companies must cease to exist."
"Splendid!" exclaimed his listener, with undisguised admiration. "This is the first time I have personally had the opportunity of listening to that irresistible appeal which has given the Companies the most remarkable list of stockholders in the world. But tell me—how much of that saving are you really going to give back to the public?"
"Your jest is ill timed," Gorham replied, sternly. "I do not choose to have even you make light of so serious a subject. Let us have no more of it."
Covington retreated behind the inexpressive barrier of his superbly controlled features, but the coldness of his eyes showed his resentment.
"As you wish, Mr. Gorham," he replied, as they separated, and he directed his steps toward the hotel.
"Does he think me a fool?" he said, petulantly, to himself. "Why should he always hold himself above the rest of us? I'm working for the Companies just as he is, and there is no reason why he should try that bluff with me. 'When this double purpose can no longer be served the Consolidated Companies must cease to exist.' Bah! I can see the shearing ahead of us as well as he can, and he won't gain anything by trying to assume the role of the Almighty, leaving us to be the wicked partners."
He showed no evidences of his ruffled feelings when he reached the hotel. Alice was expecting him, but she was in ignorance as to the nature of his errand.
"We are to have our first lesson this morning," he announced.
"First lesson in what?" was the surprised inquiry.
"In business and finance," Covington enlightened her, smiling. "Your father has given me the privilege of helping you manage your first business enterprise. A part of one of the concerns recently assimilated by the Consolidated Companies is a prosperous mail-order department which we intend to continue, for a time at least. Your father's instructions are that all the mail shall be brought to you each morning by a stenographer, who will receive your dictation and bring the letters back to you in the afternoon for your approval and signature. For a time I will give you such advice as you need, and later you will have matters entirely in your own hands as long as you wish to remain manager of the department. How do you like the idea?"
"It is perfectly splendid," Alice cried, her eyes sparkling. "When am I to begin ?"
"I will explain some of the details to you now," Covington answered, drawing a package of papers from his pocket. "You must make yourself perfectly familiar with these, and we will take the business up seriously when you return to New York."
"Why did father do this?" the girl demanded, suddenly.
Covington was surprised. "Isn't it something you wanted?" he asked.
"More than anything else in the world, but father never seemed to realize it. If I can only do something to help, and feel myself accomplishing no matter how little, I shall be the happiest girl in the world."
"Others who are not so wholly engrossed have seen what you wanted, Miss Alice. Perhaps you have them to thank in part."
"I do thank you, Mr. Covington, and it is good of you to take all this trouble to teach me how to do it," she said, gratefully. "I know how valuable your time is, and how much it must interfere with your work to gratify this desire of mine which probably seems foolish to you all."
"Such an experience is of value to any girl, but especially to you who are in the dangerous position of being threatened with large interests to look after; and as for me, I shall consider this as one of the pleasantest of my daily duties."
"You and father are so good to me." Alice held out her hand impulsively, after grasping which Covington spread out the papers on the table preparatory to the first lesson. The girl watched him, all eagerness, then suddenly she laughed aloud and clapped her hands.
"Won't Allen be surprised when he hears that I've gotten my position before he has his?"
"Allen?" queried Covington, looking up from his papers.
"Yes, Allen Sanford. Do you know him, Mr. Covington? He's a friend of mine and I'm very much interested in him." Then she paused and her face sobered. "Perhaps I ought to let him have this chance," she mused. "He offered to share his chances with me."
"Do you mean Stephen Sanford's son?"
"Yes. Do you know him?"
Covington smiled, and for some unexplainable reason the girl did not like his smile.
"We could hardly accept the substitution, Miss Alice. I understand that the boy is erratic and irresponsible. His father has just disinherited him."
"You don't mean it!" Alice cried, really concerned over this first news of the result of Allen's interview with his father. "That must have been yesterday. I wonder why daddy didn't tell me."
"Your father's mind is pretty full with his own affairs, Miss Alice, without taking up Mr. Sanford's."
"But I must see Allen and help him—he will need my inspiration now more than ever."
"Shall we begin on our first lesson?" Covington asked, watching the girl carefully.
"Please do," she said. "I wonder if woman's part is to give inspiration even after she is the manager of a business," she said aloud, but to herself rather than to her companion.
"It is always woman's part to give inspiration," assented Covington.
"I must ask Eleanor," the girl said. "Please show me the papers, Mr. Covington," she continued, turning to him with her mind at last centred on the new proposition. "Your pupil is all attention."
* * * * *
Alice saw Allen just before he left for New York and also immediately after his return, and the two interviews were interesting in their diversity. In the first, Allen made light of the trouble between his father and himself, and was so filled with confidence as to the results of his approaching visit to the metropolis that the girl's anxiety was much relieved.
"The pater is all right, Alice," he said; "he just doesn't understand me, that's all. He's done everything in the world for me and I'm more grateful than he realizes; but I can't let him keep tying on my bib, can I? Now I've got to show him that I'm a man too, and then he'll come around all right. I'm going over to New York to-night and I'll tell you all about it when I come back. I'm not afraid of being turned down. You're a girl and you'd be mortified to death if any one turned you down, but with us men it's different. You remember what I told your father—and I meant it. Watch me do the hydra act until I get located, and then—well, then I'll start a branch mail-order department and push you off the map, Miss—Manager."
When he returned Alice welcomed him full of anticipation.
"What have you gone into?" she demanded.
The boy's eyes fell as they met hers. "Well"—he hesitated—"I haven't gone into anything. I guess Mrs. Gorham is right about New York being a hard place to get started in, and I can't exactly claim to be a 'finished product' yet, can I? You see, they all knew I was Stephen Sanford's son, and they were as nice to me as could be. They asked me up to dinner, and then I knew it was all off for getting a job. The heads of big concerns don't ask their office-boys to their homes to meet their families, you know. But I'm not a bit discouraged. I'm going to find something if I have to tear a hole in the road chasing it."
A few evenings later Allen called again upon the Gorhams. It would have been apparent even to those less observant than Alice and Eleanor that something had happened, for the boy's face glowed with suppressed excitement.
"I think I've found a job," he announced, scarcely waiting for the formality of greetings. "I'm not sure, but I want to talk it over with you."
"What is it, Allen?" cried Alice, expectantly.
"It's a whole lot better than it sounds, I'm sure. I'm afraid you'll laugh when I tell you. It's selling books."
"A book agent!" Mrs. Gorham exclaimed.
"There! that's just what I was afraid of." Allen's expression showed mingled distress and despair. "It really looks like a corking good chance, yet it's a ten to one shot that I'll be laughed out of taking it before I begin."
"Don't mind what I said." Mrs. Gorham hastened to atone for her involuntary exclamation. "I suppose it can be a perfectly honorable occupation, but I can't help thinking of some of the experiences my friends have had. Tell us all about it."
"Eleanor and I would be the last ones to discourage you," Alice added. "I think it's fine that you have gotten as far as this."
Allen's drooping spirits revived at once, and he beamed at Alice gratefully.
"I've simply got to get more experience," he said, emphatically. "Mr. Gorham told me that most of the best companies have no time to develop their own material, and I've made up my mind definitely that I'm going to do my own developing right now; and when I've polished up the material until I can see my face in it, I'll apply again to Mr. President, and say, 'Here I am, all developed—now will you give me a job?'"
"Splendid !" cried Alice, clapping her hands. "Now tell us what you've found. Where is the book-shop?"
"It isn't in a book-shop at all," Allen replied, his assurance again beginning to wane. "It's just what Mrs. Gorham called it."
"Oh," the girl remarked—"going around from house to house?"
Allen nodded his head. "But think of the experience I'll get, Alice," he insisted. "The directions say, 'If the man of the house is at home make some excuse and call again'; but with my usual luck he's sure to see me first, and then I'll go out on three legs. I suspect the material will get polished all right. But the talk that man gave me to learn is certainly straight from Persuasionville. Honestly, I'm tempted to buy a set of the books myself—only tempted, mind you; and so far I've resisted. I'd like mighty well to try it on you before I take any chances."
Alice and Mrs. Gorham exchanged glances as Allen busied himself untying a small package he had brought with him. In the girl's face there was deep concern, but Eleanor found it difficult to conceal her amusement.
"There!" said Allen, triumphantly producing a thin booklet. "Here is the brochure, as they call it, and here are the rules of the game. You take the instructions, Mrs. Gorham, and correct me if I go wrong, and I'll try to sell a set to Alice."
The boy endeavored to cover his consciousness with a broad grin.
"Isn't this great!" he asked.
"How did you find this chance?" Alice queried, still a little doubtful as she seated herself in preparation for the experiment.
"Saw an advertisement in the Star—' Agents make one hundred to five hundred dollars a week,' it said, and from what the man at the office tells me there isn't any chance to lose—except, perhaps, for the fellow who buys."
"What are the books?" inquired Mrs. Gorham.
"Travel books," Allen answered, promptly; "the Home Travellers' Volumes. Great title, isn't it? Of course they're not meant for people who really travel as you do, but for those who stay at home. You'll see in a minute. Are you ready, Mrs. Gorham?"
"All ready," was the reply, as she held the leaflet of instructions where she could follow.
Allen squared himself for his maiden effort.
"I have been requested, Miss Gorham, to give you this beautiful brochure which describes the Home Travellers' Volumes. This is one of the many color-plates which adorn the work." Allen skilfully held the pamphlet so that the pictures could be seen. "These wonderful volumes supply to those who cannot leave their homes all the pleasures, benefits, and entertainment of travel in foreign lands. Do I turn a page yet?" Allen appealed to Mrs. Gorham.
"Not yet," she replied. "It says, 'Here open your prospectus and turn to the first color-plate.'"
"But I did that. You saw it, didn't you, Alice? Oh, yes, I remember. You learn how the people get about in different countries and cities; as, for instance, the jinrikisha in Japan." Allen turned the page.
"Did you do that hurriedly?" asked his coach.
"Do what hurriedly?"
"The directions say, 'Turn page hurriedly.'"
"I'll remember that. Now I will show you how Morocco is treated. Great Scott! I've forgotten how many pages to turn! Here it is! Look at it quick, Alice, before I forget the next! The author tells us that the natives have such a hatred for Christians that they refuse to use these splendid bridges. The Moors—"
"Wait," interrupted Mrs. Gorham. "It says here, 'Emphasize the pictures by pointing to the bridges.'"
"All right—consider those bridges pointed to, Alice. The Moors are intellectual mummies." Allen carefully turned two pages, and encouraged by a nod of approval from Mrs. Gorham proceeded. "Why, Miss Gorham, if a Moor happens to sit down upon a tack he doesn't curse or swear or rail at fate; he simply murmurs, 'It is written,' and carefully replaces the tack for some other Moor to sit on."
"It doesn't say that," Alice protested, laughing.
"Well, if it doesn't it ought to," insisted Allen, taking the instruction sheet from Mrs. Gorham's hands to prevent Alice from satisfying her curiosity. "You're not supposed to read the instructions, you know. You are just to sit there entranced while I do this monologue act—you're not even expected to ask questions, as any indiscretion such as that is apt to make the agent lose his cue. Your part comes at the end when I give you a perfectly good little piece of patient paper, which you may spoil any old way you like so long as you sign your name or make your mark—all of which you will discover in due time if you follow the professor closely and learn his habits."
Alice and Eleanor were convulsed with laughter over Allen's antics, but the boy soon sobered down and again assumed his dignified demeanor.
"Please observe, Miss Gorham, these endless aisles of arches which form part of three miles of stables built by Mulai Ismail, the tyrant sultan. He was a superb horseman. It is said that he was able in one graceful movement to mount his steed, draw his sword, and neatly decapitate the slave who held his stirrup—"
"You are reciting that, Allen," Mrs. Gorham broke in.
"I know I am. Isn't that right?"
"No; it says, 'Commit the following to memory absolutely, but appear to read it.'"
"Oh, sorrow! After spending all that time to learn this, I have to spend some more time learning to remember that I have remembered. Isn't it the awful stunt!"
"You're doing beautifully," Alice encouraged, laughing; "but it's a shame to waste it all on an audience of two. Why don't you make a vaudeville turn out of it?"
"There you go asking questions again," protested Allen, "which is strictly forbidden by the rules." The boy wiped the beads of perspiration from his forehead. "Honestly, you've gotten me so rattled that I don't know whether what comes now is 'low tone' or 'pass the next picture and come back to it.'"
"It is 'low tone,' Allen," Mrs. Gorham prompted.
"Thank you; now watch me make a noise like an innocent cooing dove. The idea is just this, Miss Gorham: the Home Travellers' Volumes not only enable you to see and to enjoy the familiar sights and scenes which the average tourist meets, but hundreds—nay, thousands—of curious and wonderful customs and things which the average tourist never gets the chance to see. The real illusion of travel is spread about you, the thousands of photographic reproductions carry you along comfortably and irresistibly, and the whole wide world is at your feet. It is absolutely essential that you should know something beyond the narrow confines of the city or town in which you live. Successful people acknowledge this to be a fact—and who wouldn't be a successful people? Would it not be pleasant, my dear Miss Gorham—surely by this time I may say 'my dear Miss Gorham'—to be able to talk with confidence and almost human intelligence about the curious manners, customs, and costumes of foreign lands? Why, of course it would—and how else can you obtain this ability in so inexpensive, easy, and agreeable a way as by subscribing for a set of the Home Travellers' Volumes?"
Mrs. Gorham and Alice greeted this climax with applause, but Allen sternly checked them with upraised hand.
"No flowers, please, until after the contract is signed. I have already learned, during my brief career as an agent, that no widows or orphan children are fed or clothed by the empty, though well-meant, plaudits of an enthusiastic populace. And now, my dear Miss Gorham—for you are still very dear to me—this is the beautiful full Persian Levant binding, hand-tooled in French gold, which I am permitted to offer you at three times what it is worth. If you have more money than I think you have, we will bind up a set specially for you for just that amount. If, on the other hand, your financial resources have been overestimated here is another binding at half the price which is exactly as good, but which is prepared for just such an emergency. I leave it entirely to you to say which of the three it shall be. Could any proposition be fairer or more generous?"
"But suppose—" Alice began.
"I beg your pardon," Allen stopped her; "the patient in the operating-chair is not allowed to suppose. Here is a little piece of paper and an easy-flowing fountain-pen. This is where you place your name and address for the delivery of the volumes."
"But that is a contract blank, Allen," remarked Mrs. Gorham.
"I know it is, but you have no right even to think such a thing. Alice mustn't sign it right off or it won't be any practice. What do the directions say?"
Mrs. Gorham turned again to the paper in her hand. "'If the prospective customer should hesitate, withdraw the order form for a moment and proceed.'"
"Please go on—that's as far as I've learned."
"'In the Home Travellers' Volumes you have the opportunity to gain that broader view of things which a knowledge of the world alone can give you. Here you have all the pleasures and benefits of travel with the trouble left out. Now I am sure you agree with me upon the great value of travel—and agreeing on this point, you must agree with me on the value of this great work.' Here offer the order form again and say, 'Just put your name and address down here, and in a few days you will be off on one of these delightful journeys, and every member of your family can enjoy it with you.'"
"There!" exclaimed Allen, proudly. "Did you ever see a surer thing than that?"
"Are the books really valuable?" Mrs. Gorham asked.
"That really hasn't a thing to do with the proposition," replied Allen; "it's the talk you buy, and the books are thrown in."
"But you're not going to take this up, are you, Allen?" Alice inquired, anxiously.
"Don't you want me to? You know they say Fortune is bald on the back of her head, and if you let her once slip past you there's nothing left to grab hold of."
"It isn't what I want, Allen; but what could it lead to?"
"To the Consolidated Companies," he whispered, furtively. "I am bound and determined to show your father that I am good enough to be annexed, and to do that I've got to have some experience. Can you think of anything which would be apt to give a fellow more experience?"
"May I make a suggestion?" Mrs. Gorham asked. "I think it is a very good idea for Allen to undertake this, now that he has considered it seriously. He wants to follow your advice, Alice, and do something. Here is the first opportunity which offers, and I think he ought to embrace it. I should be glad, however, if he would promise us to try his first experiment on Mr. Gorham."
"Gee!" ejaculated Allen.
Alice divined Eleanor's real thought instantly. "Splendid!" she cried. "That shall be the condition. If father falls a victim, your later success is certain."
"And what if he doesn't?" Allen asked.
"Perhaps you'll go out on three legs," she suggested, mischievously.
Covington returned to New York several days before the Gorhams left Washington. To the casual observer, who might meet him even daily, no change would have been apparent in the smoothly working accurate human machine which found its exercise through his personality. His face never showed an emotion other than that which he wished to have seen there; the mouth, that most treacherous feature, was protected by his heavy mustache, which in turn merged its identity in the dark Vandyke beard, into which all expression retreated at the command of its owner; his gray eyes, cold in the metallic steelness of their shade, penetrated the object upon which they fixed themselves, reading the characteristics of others, but yielding nothing in return. His forehead was high, accentuated by the thinness of his face, but suggestive of strong mental capacity; and the straightness of his nose evidenced the strength of will which had done much to give him his present reputation as a business man.
But behind this impassive exterior much was happening. It was not so great a change as it was an expansion of something which had always existed. Covington had made his mark before Gorham discovered him. The older man's attention had been attracted to him by the chain he had developed of over six hundred separate retail stores, all dealing in the same commodities and each one an individual business success. Gorham watched him post his sentries at different street corners in the city he was testing to determine the density of the traffic, finally selecting the location where the crowd passed most steadily all day.
"I am never fooled by the noon-hour crowd," Covington confided to him; "they spend all their time eating lunch. I always keep away from streets where there are banks—after three o'clock in the afternoon you'll find as much retail business in the morgue."
Gorham saw him rent whole buildings in order to get the particular corner store he wanted, and then organize a real-estate business to handle the rental of stores and offices which he could not use. He saw him arrange his show-cases and goods in such a manner that customers easily found what they wanted, were served promptly, and departed satisfied, to return again. He studied Covington's system of turning over each new store to a chief clerk to be operated on a percentage, thus giving him all the dignity of a proprietor and stimulating him to his maximum activity. Promotions were accomplished by transferring the clerks from smaller to larger stores, which automatically raised their salaries by the increased volume of business on which to draw their percentage. Gorham listened to the instructions Covington gave them in governing their relations with customers—original, forceful, and sane—and then he witnessed in various stores the practical demonstration and the results. This same genius, he reasoned naturally, applied to a similar chain of large concerns, would enable Covington to exercise his ability almost to an unlimited extent, and Gorham succeeded in convincing him that it was worth while for him to join in the development of the Consolidated Companies, turning over the retail amalgamation to his chief subordinate. One by one the master mind brought the varied corporations into line; one by one, with equal though different skill, Covington completed the work which his chief had begun. Between them they succeeded in filling the positions made necessary by the growth of the Companies with efficient and enthusiastic subordinates, so that each time the chain was let out to admit another link the welding was accomplished without weakening the strength of the whole.
Covington had never from the first sympathized with Gorham's altruistic policies except as a means to an end, nor did he for a moment imagine that Gorham himself had adopted them for any other reason than their intrinsic business value. The whole scheme of the Consolidated Companies, when first unfolded before him, appealed to his appreciation of business cleverness, and he instinctively recognized Gorham as his master. During the few years they had been associated in the same corporation, Covington had seen his chief's genius demonstrated in organization and administration as well as in conception, and he had not been slow to take advantage of the lessons he was given such ample opportunity to learn. He had expected this demonstration, but, with a consummate confidence in his own ability to assimilate, he had also counted on gradually lessening the gap between Gorham and himself. Here it was that he had made a mistake, for during this same period the development of the older man had been far greater than his own. Covington to-day was, perhaps, as able a business man as Gorham had been when the Consolidated Companies was born, but Gorham in the mean time, by sheer display of extraordinary genius, had become an international figure. The business relations between the two men were closer than ever, but never once was there any question as to which was the master. Covington would not have been Covington had he not resented this; Covington would not have been Covington had he not succeeded in concealing this resentment from all the world.
With the knowledge that he could not hope to share with Gorham upon equal terms in the control of the Consolidated Companies, there came to him a realization of the necessity of strengthening himself on every possible side in order to be prepared to take advantage of the first opportunity, whatever that might be or whenever it might come, to alter the present relations. His marriage to Alice would be a step of prime importance, but this alone was not enough. As Gorham's son-in-law he would still be his subordinate, and Covington's nature demanded an opportunity to stand at least on a basis of equality with his present chief, sharing with him the arrogance of the prerogatives and the absolute autocracy now assumed alone by Gorham in dominating the policy of the business.
In Covington's opinion, Gorham was carrying the principles upon which the Consolidated Companies was based beyond all reason. The corporation had passed the experimental stage, and now possessed ample strength to take advantage with safety of its unique position. Gorham was right, he admitted, in his idea that public necessities ought to be reduced in price when once controlled by the Companies. The public approval and general confidence which this established were of distinct value, but there was absolutely no reason for continuing to give the public so large a share of the saving. It was not so much the amount that was saved as the fact that a saving was actually accomplished which served to advertise the Consolidated Companies. Gorham's real motive could be only to strengthen his personal prestige. Several of the other directors shared this conviction with Covington, and he made it his business to discover just where each one stood against the time when this information should serve him in good stead.
The executive offices of the Consolidated Companies occupied an entire floor in one of the most spacious buildings on Broadway, yet to a casual visitor they gave little indication of the vast power which centred there. The rooms were substantially furnished, but everything evidenced a restraint equal almost to the conservatism which is so distinguishing a mark of the old-established English houses. This was an expression of Robert Gorham's individuality, and the Companies itself reflected it in its modest exterior appearance as in all other features, emphasizing the one influence which held together and amalgamated into a composite unit the many factors which necessarily formed the integral parts.
Gorham's ideas of business management were scientific, and his first step, after absorbing a new concern, was to have the principles of science introduced. He insisted that the workman should be supplemented by close co-operation on the part of the management in laying out his work for him in advance; by showing him how to eliminate unnecessary motions; by teaching him to make every portion of his work, however simple, a scientific performance; by studying his own individuality to the extent of assisting him to correct methods which militated equally against his own highest efficiency and the obtaining of the highest efficiency of the machine he operated; by bringing him to a realization that traditional knowledge of his specialty was a lower grade of skill than that knowledge gained by modern scientific study.
On the other hand, he undertook to correct faults of administration as well as inefficient methods of execution, demonstrating to each manager the cash value to the Consolidated Companies of this close co-operation with his workmen. It was shown that greater product was to be obtained from workmen who performed their tasks under conditions which tended to make them happy and contented, which gave them opportunities to advance themselves to points marked only by their personal limitations; where they could maintain their self-respect and with his help increase it, in that they could hope to become the most skilful operatives in their particular specialties, and to earn higher wages than any employer could afford to pay under other conditions. With every machine, human or mechanical, running each day at its maximum degree of productivity, Gorham knew that the corporation could well afford to share its largely increased income with those who had co-operated to secure it; and the workmen could not begrudge their employer the augmented profits, since they not only had received their share, but because they knew that the increase was the result of the efforts of the management quite as much as their own.
Throughout the offices themselves was to be found every equipment which modern ingenuity had devised for shortening the processes of daily routine, and of eliminating or reducing to a minimum the details which so clog the wheels of any large enterprise unless properly systematized. Every man exactly fitted the position in which he was placed, and the machine moved forward with an accuracy and a force which was irresistible. The same casual visitor would have noticed this had he been at all observant, and could not have failed to admire the precision which marked every business incident, however trivial.
Shortly after Covington's return to New York the Companies' offices were honored by a visit from Mr. Andrew Harris. The caller asked that his card be taken to Mr. Covington, and as it bore a pencilled memorandum that his business was important and confidential, he was ushered into the private office of the acting head of the Companies. Mr. Harris seemed deeply interested in studying the appearance of the man he had come to see—so much interest, in fact, that Covington resented his scrutiny and inquired the nature of his business.
"Excuse me," Harris said, quickly; "I came to talk over the proposed merger of the New York street railways."
"Then you doubtless wish to see Mr. Gorham," Covington replied. "That is a matter which is wholly in his hands. He is at present in Washington, but will be here within a week."
"Are you not at least partially familiar with the details?" Harris inquired, apparently unmoved by the news of Mr. Gorham's absence.
"I could scarcely say that I am unfamiliar with them," Covington admitted; "but the idea of the merger was Mr. Gorham's, and he is naturally in closer touch."
"Do you object to talking things over with me a little?" Harris asked. "There may be some points that I know more about than Mr. Gorham."
Covington nodded acquiescence, though somewhat in the dark as to the object his visitor had in mind.
"In the first place," Harris began, adjusting himself in his chair, "let me say that I am a director in the New York Street Railways Company, which is the largest of the present organizations which are eventually to be consolidated into the Manhattan Traction Company. The franchise, as you doubtless know, has already been put through the Board of Aldermen, and the only question now remaining is whether it is to be turned over to certain gentlemen in New York who originally planned to complete the deal, or to the Consolidated Companies."
"Mr. Gorham has, I believe, advanced to those interested very logical arguments to show that the Consolidated Companies could engineer the amalgamation to the distinct advantage of the various roads," Covington suggested, as his visitor paused for a moment.
"He has," Harris admitted. "There is no doubt in anybody's mind that what he says is right; the roads and the stockholders would be distinctly benefited—but how about the directors? That is the question I came here to have answered."
"It is a question which Mr. Gorham must answer."
Harris subjected him to another careful scrutiny. "Perhaps so," he said, at length, "but I should like to get your opinion on the matter. You are one of the directors, I understand."
"I had an idea that Mr. Gorham had already answered that question to Mr. Brady, and that there was enough in the deal to satisfy every one."
"There is enough for every one," assented Harris, with decision; "the only question is how it is to be divided. We all supposed that we were to become stockholders in the Consolidated Companies, in which case we should have gained something at both ends; but Gorham evidently changed his mind about that, which leaves us nothing but the original rake-off."
There was something in Harris's manner which annoyed Covington, yet he did not suggest cutting short the interview.
"Who are the parties involved?" he asked, more to say something than because of any real interest.
"Well"—Harris became reflective—"there's Collins, who put the deal through the Aldermen; he can't expect any more than we've already agreed to give him. It cost him a pretty penny, but he'll double his investment—we can leave him out. Then there's Brady at Tammany Hall; nothing can be done without him. Gorham's idea seems to be to pay him his price on this job, take a receipt, and cut loose from him; but if Brady was a stockholder in the Consolidated Companies he would prove a mighty useful one. Then there are two other directors in the New York Street Railways Company who feel as I do—that we ought to see something more coming to us out of this deal than just the profit on our stock."
"Is the opportunity to become stockholders in our corporation the 'something more' you have in mind?"
"Yes," Harris assented; "but it doesn't end just there. We have a little scheme of our own in connection with this transaction which is worth money, and we could put it through easier if we were on the inside. More than this, it would save the Consolidated Companies something in the long run."
"You have secured an option on some link in the chain and you're going to hold up whoever tries to put the deal through until you get your price," Covington stated, flatly.
"We have options on three links," Harris replied, frankly, showing no surprise at the accuracy of the other's intuition.
"Can you make more out of it if we get the franchise?"
"Naturally, since the Consolidated Companies will have unlimited capital. If we were stockholders in the Companies, we could afford to make the terms easier, because there would be less trouble and expense in putting it through."
"Does Mr. Gorham know all this ?"
Harris laughed. "Well—hardly. I haven't met Gorham, but from what Brady tells me this isn't in his line."
"Then why do you give me the information? Frankly, I don't think it will help you with Mr. Gorham."
"He isn't going to know anything about it."
Covington smiled at the assurance Harris displayed. "I have not committed myself to protect you," he said.
"Quite right, quite right," assented Harris; "but I'll take my chances. Now I'm going to tell you the rest of it. As I said, Collins got the franchise from the Board of Aldermen. Brady is a director in the New York Street Railways Company, so he keeps Tammany all straight for us. Our company, being the largest, was to be used as the basis of the consolidation, and the original small roads were to turn themselves over to us for nine hundred and ninety-nine years, we to assume their bonded indebtedness, and, besides this, agreeing to pay from eight to eighteen per cent. dividends on their stock issues. After these payments our company was to keep the surplus earnings."
"And these surplus earnings would be enough to make it worth while?"
Harris laughed. "Sure," he replied; "the bond total of the smaller companies is about one hundred million dollars and the stock total only four million dollars. What's eight or even eighteen per cent. on four million dollars! In fact, the weak point is that even with the watering we intended to give the stock after we got it, the profits would still be so big that the public would notice."
"There should be no difficulty in fixing that," remarked Covington, sagely, amused by the frank confidence extended to him in spite of his warning.
"The only difficulty is in selecting the means," Harris continued. "Now, Brady and two other directors and I have secured options on three short lines which are essential integral parts of the system, and it was understood, before the Consolidated Companies came into the field, that the new company would purchase these from us at a handsome profit. In fact, we four are a majority in the Board of Directors. When Gorham first talked about it Brady laughed at him, for the thing seemed to be as good as pulled off; but the more Brady thought it over, the better he liked the idea. Our plan was to unload the stock on the dear public, letting the new company last as long as it would, and be satisfied with our profits; but Brady thinks that Gorham's scheme means success for the company as well, and naturally we would prefer to have a continuing profit rather than one which ceases when we deliver the goods. Lately Gorham has been talking more with the other directors and with some of the big stockholders, ignoring Brady; so I just called to make sure that we stood in on the profit on the short lines, as originally intended."
"How much profit would there be in the short lines for you four directors?" asked Covington, interested to see how far he could get the man to commit himself.
"A half-million apiece."
"H'm!" Covington soliloquized. "It doesn't look quite so certain to you since Gorham began to get next to the other directors and the big stockholders, does it?"
"They've got to have the short lines, and whoever gets them must pay our price."
"Yes; but in one case it goes through without any public demonstration, and in the other it leaves a smudge on each one of the four which you would be glad to avoid."
"Exactly," assented Harris.
"Well," Covington said, deliberately, "I don't think you can pull it off. As a matter of fact, since you have been so confidential, I may say that Mr. Gorham is convinced that there's something crooked, and that is why he dropped the idea of having Brady and some of the others become stockholders. We have to maintain a high standard in the Consolidated Companies, as you can easily understand."
Harris looked at him sharply. "Perhaps the standard is higher among the stockholders than on the Board of Directors," he suggested.
"I don't quite understand you," was the cold reply.
"We want some one of the directors to steer this thing through for us," Harris said. "That's the real milk in the cocoanut."
Covington rose from his chair. "I think it is time to terminate our interview."
"Sit down, sit down," Harris insisted. "You and I have a mutual interest in this matter, and we've only just touched on it."
The man's effrontery amazed Covington, but before he could answer Harris continued:
"I understand that Mr. Gorham is somewhat particular about the men he has around him, and you stand in pretty close. Now he probably doesn't know yet that you have been picking up blocks of New York Street Railways stock, and that you plan to clean up a big slice for yourself when this merger is put through."
Covington's face preserved its calm expression, though his smile seemed forced.
"So the object of your visit is blackmail?" he said. "You will fail in this, as you will also fail in your effort to force Mr. Gorham's hand. You have been misinformed—I have bought no stock."
Harris took a package of papers from his pocket and selected a single sheet on which were written certain figures.
"I was afraid it might be a little hard to convince you that we had the goods on you," he remarked. "Those are the numbers of the certificates you hold, and here is the total number of shares. Pretty good-looking list, isn't it?—and it's worth a lot of money."
"These mean nothing to me," Covington insisted. "I repeat, I do not own a share of stock in the New York Street Railways Company."
"No, but your stool-pigeon does. Why, bless your heart, not one share of that stock has changed hands these last twelve months without being run down by Brady. Had to do it, you know, to make sure our deal would go through. Brady owns that man who bought the stock for you body and soul. Now, how does it look to you, son? Will you come with me and talk with Brady, or shall I see the virtuous Mr. Gorham and show him what you've been doing on the side?"
Covington's face was as impassive as ever when he turned again, looking his companion straight in the eye.
"You won't do it?" Harris asked, surprised. "Better think—"
"I shall be very glad to see Mr. Brady with you," was the unexpected answer.
The Gorham residence was located on Riverside Drive near Grant's Tomb, commanding a superb view of the Hudson River in both directions. The massive stone house stood well back from the street in the midst of an extravagant amount of land for a New York city home, and the high wall protected a beautiful garden, in the use of which the whole family took much pleasure during the spring and fall. Thither the Gorhams returned after their sojourn in Washington, glad to exchange their cramped quarters at the hotel for the home comforts which they found there. Alice was full of her new business responsibilities and eager to assume charge of her "department"; Mrs. Gorham, restored to her home city and her early friends by her present marriage, looked forward to an enjoyable "season"; Patricia and her beloved pony were reunited; and Gorham himself, flushed with the continuing success of his gigantic enterprise, plunged more deeply than ever into its manifold transactions.
The remaining member of the family—for such he always considered himself—was old Riley. Servants might come and servants might go, but Riley the faithful was always to be found in his appointed place, occupied by his appointed task. New York was the only home he recognized, since, in addition to being "Misther Robert's" place of residence, it also connected him with the one tie in life beyond his devotion to his master and his master's family. This was an only son who had risen by degrees to be a pressman in a local printing-office and, which was more to the point, had become a political power in his particular ward. Riley's interest in his son was far greater than any reciprocal sentiment manifested by the younger man. Occasionally the father ventured to look up his famous offspring, but was always received with a patronizing indulgence; and when he returned to his own insignificant duties, it was with a sense of gratitude for the reflected greatness.