"I never saw any one cotton so to anything as Mr. Gorham does to those ideals of his," Allen continued. "I believe he talks them all day and dreams them all night. It would break his heart to be obliged to take back water."
Covington laughed at the boy's simplicity. "Mr. Gorham was in business long before the Consolidated Companies was born, and from what they tell me he was a clever one even back there. His ideals didn't trouble him any then, yet he succeeded. He figures that it is necessary for him to test his strength against the committee at this point, and he has accomplished all he wants. He will play with them for a time, and eventually make a compromise which will fool them into thinking that they have carried their point, but which in reality will give him a still stronger grip on the Companies. Mr. Gorham has taught me a good many lessons, not the least of which is how to turn ideals into business assets. I would suggest that you don't give yourself a great deal of anxiety over his 'broken heart.'"
Covington's conversation with Allen was as frank and cordial as the boy could have asked, yet between the two there was a barrier beyond which Allen could not venture to pass. But the ice was broken, and this first conversation which approached even a semblance of friendliness might open the way for more important conferences in the future.
Gorham, during these days, was working hard to discover the real crux in Buckner's affairs. His secret-service men supplied him with a detailed record of the man's history, and reported frequent interviews between him and Levy or Levy's agents. Gorham had even seen the lawyer himself, but gained only a deeper conviction that it was a case of blackmail for revenue only. Levy laid before him all the papers in the case with praiseworthy frankness. He would even have extended his sympathy, except that his first efforts in this direction had not been received in the spirit he thought they should have been. If Buckner's statement was correct, there had been a cruel blunder on the part of Eleanor's counsel; yet unless he was certain of his ground, Gorham could not comprehend his daring to place himself in so dangerous a position. Already the machinery was in motion to settle this point, but so far the telegrams from the Colorado lawyers threw no light on the situation. James Riley made frequent reports, drawing liberal expense accounts each time he called, but as yet no single fact had been unearthed which gave any promise of relief. Gorham relished an open fight, but this guerilla warfare, threatening Eleanor's happiness and peace of mind, caused him real anxiety.
Eleanor's attitude throughout this period puzzled him not a little. The more he thought the matter over, the more convinced he was that she was right in her position that the question of the legality of the divorce must be settled once and for all and at whatever cost. There must be some way to arrive at this point without the necessity of a public trial, but even if it came to that the facts must be established. Yet as Gorham gradually came squarely over to his wife's viewpoint, Eleanor seemed to be coming nearer to accepting the one which he had originally advanced. This was what mystified him. He recognized that what she had told him, when they first talked the matter over, was the natural expression of the woman's self which he knew so well; her later attitude showed the influence of some factor in her life unknown to him. She had repeatedly been on the point of confiding to him, yet the confidence had never been given, and Gorham was not a man who could urge beyond what it was her voluntary desire to speak.
It never had occurred to him to take offence or to criticise Eleanor's attitude. He wished that she would come to him with the burden which lay so heavily upon her heart, but he wished it only because he felt that he could lighten it. Ever since the cloud had become apparent, his tenderness toward her had increased to such an extent that she felt herself weakened by his sympathy and swept along relentlessly by the flood of events which crowded one on top of another. He had told her that there should be no trial, and she showed him by every word and act that she depended blindly upon his ability to make good his promise.
The calm which existed at the offices of the Consolidated Companies during the fortnight succeeding the stormy session of the committee, while unexpected, did not lull Gorham into any false sense of security. Now that his vision had been cleared, he knew that it was their strength pitted against his own. He had his own plans for meeting this, but with supreme confidence in himself he preferred to let them make the first move. Covington had not retreated from his position that a compromise of some sort was desirable, but he succeeded in convincing Gorham that this was simply a difference in viewpoint, and that his chief's judgment would, of course, be final. Acting upon the definite authority which Gorham had forced from the committee to replace the tacit understanding which had existed from the first, he plunged ahead with renewed energy to perfect the organizations which the Companies had in hand. But while conscious that his associates were undoubtedly concentrating their energies upon some plan which might be used effectively against him, he was grateful for the postponement of the issue, in that it gave him time to work upon his present domestic problem.
Covington congratulated himself upon the happy solution of the most dangerous horn of his dilemma. He did not wish Gorham to yield, and he found that the more he urged him to compromise, the more firmly set he was against doing it. Thus he could accomplish his purpose, and at the same time put himself on record without risk of being called disloyal, while advising him for his own best good. The others were working hard, and Covington could have posted his chief upon many interesting points had he chosen to do so. Instead, he preferred to bring added pressure upon Alice to name an early date for their wedding. He seemed to have overlooked the fact that as yet she had not given him her formal consent, but as the event was apparently accepted by her father and Eleanor and Covington himself as a foregone conclusion, the girl took no definite exceptions to his attitude. He was, of course, aware of the family complications, and, in expressing his sympathy, explained that he could be of much greater assistance in helping to straighten matters out if he were actually included in the family circle.
But Covington, with all his astuteness, was frankly surprised by a piece of information which one of the committee confided to him; and this was nothing less than that unquestionable evidence had been secured that Gorham himself had, at least in one instance, taken advantage of his position for personal gain. What this instance was his informant could not at that moment say—the facts were being carefully compiled, but the evidence was beyond dispute. This autocrat, who talked of principle and honor, had been caught red-handed in the very act against which he pretended to stand; and, of course, this instance was but one of many. Doctor Jekyll could take it upon himself to deliver platitudes upon moral rectitude, while Mr. Hyde gathered in the shekels on the side!
The members of the Executive Committee were hugely pleased, and Covington no less so. All was playing into his hands with surprising directness, and he even began to feel that his approaching marriage into Mr. Gorham's family was an act of supreme sacrifice on his part. Still, it were better to safeguard both exits to the house, and Alice was an amusing little minx, after all.
The elder Riley felt the tenseness in the atmosphere of the Gorham family, and his inability to discover the occasion for it proved trying to his soul. The mysterious visits of his son James, and the apparent confidences between him and his employer, made the old man feel strongly that, if James were not a part of the new condition, at least he was acquainted with the cause. Patience with Riley had ceased to be a virtue, and he so contrived it that he passed an evening with his son at the latter's lodgings.
Much to his relief, he found James in an unusually agreeable mood; and, although the younger man made no effort to move from the comfortable position he had assumed with the assistance of an extra chair for his feet, the welcome extended was far more cordial than that to which the elder Riley was accustomed.
"Well, well, well," the old man ejaculated, as he closed the door and stood for a moment contemplating the scene before him. James smiled complacently at the look of mingled surprise and admiration his father so plainly showed, as his eye roved from the new pieces of gaudy furniture to the box of cigars upon the table, particularly noting the attitude which the son assumed as the nearest he could imagine to that of a gentleman in repose.
"Well, well, well," Riley repeated, coming down to earth again, and seating himself upon a near-by chair not required for James's feet, which the host had been too preoccupied to think of offering. "Things is comin' good f'r ye, ain't they, Jimmie?"
The old man had discovered a fact which James had no desire to dispute, so he admitted it graciously, at the same time blowing clouds of smoke from his over-fragrant cigar.
"They is," he replied, sententiously; "and soon they'll be comin' better still."
"Ah, Jimmie"—the old man lowered his voice—"are ye goin' ter run f'r mayor?"
"Not—yet," James replied, dwelling upon his words in such a way as to convince his hearer that the delay was wholly a matter of his own convenience. "Politics is movin' some, father, but 'tis in my private capacity that I'm makin' my present strides."
"So," murmured Riley; "an' phwat may ye'er private capacity be, Jimmie?"
"'Tis of a confidential nature," he replied, loftily.
"Has it ter do wid Misther Robert?"
"Who is th' others?" the old man persisted.
"That's my affair. 'Tis confidential, I tell you."
"Not wid me, Jimmie," Riley begged; "not when I've watched over Misther Robert iver sence he was a little la-ad, not wid me when I've brought ye up fr'm a howlin' little brat. There can't be nothin' confidential, I tell ye, when it's affectin' thim I loves best in all th' whole wide world. Shure ye'll tell me about it, Jimmie, shure ye will."
In James's present mood, it was easier to talk than to keep silent. If his father really knew the importance of the part he felt himself to he playing in Mr. Gorham's family complication, the old man's appreciation of his son's true position in the community could not fail to be enhanced. James Riley's most vulnerable point was his vanity, and the present opportunity to gratify it was more than he could well resist. The elder Riley, without having analyzed his son's characteristics to this extent, was intuitively conscious of a yielding to his appeal, and he was not slow to follow it up.
"That's th' good la-ad, Jimmie," he said, coaxingly. "Ye knows how tight I keeps me mouth shut; an' phwat hits ye or Misther Robert hits me."
"Well," James replied, indulgently, blowing another cloud of smoke—"'tis his wife that it's all about."
"His wife!" the old man repeated, surprised and excited—"about Mrs. Gorham, d'ye say?"
"That is—provided she is his wife. There is them that says she ain't."
"Who says she ain't?" Riley almost shouted the words as he rose excitedly to his feet. "Who says she ain't? By God, I'll kill th' man phwat says that!"
"Slowly, slowly," James answered, soothingly, thoroughly enjoying his father's amazement and excitement. "That's for them to settle as knows how, but it's to me Mr. Gorham must look to help him out. Now, do you understand where I come in?"
"Ah, Jimmie, ye're killin' me wid yer slowness. Out wid it, la-ad! What do they say, an' who done phwat? Out wid it!"
"The divorce was crooked, so they say; and now her first husband is here in New York and wants her back."
"But it ain't true, Jimmie—it ain't true; tell me that."
"I don't know yet myself," James admitted; "but there's a few things I do know what ought to be worth the coin to Mr. Gorham."
"An' ye're goin' ter give 'em ter him?"
"Perhaps," James replied, indifferently—"if he thinks they're worth what I do."
"But Misther Robert has paid ye already, hasn't he? Hasn't these new prosperity things come out iv Misther Robert's pay?"
"He's got what he's paid for," James asserted. "These new tips come to me while I was workin' on my own account. They're worth the coin to either side."
"That's phwat ye meant when ye said there was more prosperity comin'?"
"An' if Misther Robert don't pay ye ye'er price, ye'll sell 'em ter th' other feller who says his wife ain't his wife?"
"Business is business," James replied, sagely.
The elder Riley's lips came close together as he rose quietly yet quickly from his chair. In a moment more he had seized James by the collar, and with a sudden, violent action, made easier by the recumbent attitude, deposited the younger man in a heap on the floor. Too surprised by the unexpectedness of the attack, James made no defence, and before he could even attempt to rise from his humiliating position the old man stood over him, shaking his fist in his face.
"Ye damn dirty spalpeen, lie there f'r a time, will ye? I'll break ivery bone in ye'er body if ye even make a move ter git up. Do ye think I've spint me life f'r nothin' better than ter rear up a blackmailer an' th' like iv ye? Do ye think me an' th' ol' woman, God rist her soul, slaved th' flesh off our bones f'r nothin' better than ter raise a brat who'd sell th' man whose hand was always out f'r me an' mine? It's ye'er fa-ather talkin' ter ye now, James Riley, an' it's ye'er fa-ather who's goin' ter scrape off some iv thim fine airs thim Tammany thieves an' blacklegs has learned ye. It's manny th' time I've licked ye good, Jimmie, when ye was a la-ad, an' it's agin I'll do it if I has ter, ter learn ye honesty. Now git up an' set in that chair an' do phwat I tell ye, if ye know phwat's best f'r ye."
James Riley rose from the floor and sat obediently in the chair his father indicated. Had he chosen to assert his strength, the elder man would have been but a child in opposition; but the fire which flashed from those angry eyes, and the tone in which his father's scathing castigation was administered, took him back twenty years when the same angry flash and the same convincing tones were backed up by a physical force which made them worthy of respect. James Riley was again the offending boy, and his father—stern, severe, unrelenting in his own ideas of right and wrong—held him in a grip he could not break.
"Set there, damn ye," the elder Riley repeated, breathing hard from excitement and from the unusual exertion. "Now tell me phwat ye found out when ye was workin' on ye'er own account."
James tried desperately to summon courage enough to oppose his father's will, but to no avail.
"I've mixed a bit with Buckner—the first husband—that's all."
"An' phwat did ye find out?" Riley demanded, sternly.
"Out wid it!" the old man shouted.
"He's been married again since."
"Ah, ha! th' feller phwat says me Misther Robert's wife ain't his wife, 'cause th' divorce warn't reg'lar, has been married agin, has he?" Riley's good-humor began to return with this cheerful bit of information. "Then that makes him a liar or a Mormon—take ye'er choice. Which do ye think it is, Jimmie?"
"Liar," James replied, sententiously.
"Right ye are, Jimmie! Right ye are! Liar it is, tho' 'twud serve him right ter be th' other. An' where's his second wife?"
"That's what's a-worryin' him; he don't know."
"Ah, ha!" Riley chuckled, "why shouldn't it? It's bad enough when th' wife don't know where ye are, but when ye don't know where th' wife is an' her apt ter turn up anny minnit! Ah, let him worry; it's good f'r him. What else did ye find out by ye'er mixin's?"
"That's all, so far, but I can get more. Buckner likes me."
The old man's passing amusement was gone, and his indignation returned with full force.
"P'r'aps ye can git th' likin's iv a man who says me Misther Robert's wife ain't his wife, but 'twill be healthier f'r ye if ye gits th' likin's iv Misther Robert himself. Now, ye'll go ter him to-morrer mornin'—d'ye mind—an' ye'll tell him all ye've tol' me, an' there won't be no price asked, an' ye'll keep on findin' out all ye can f'r Misther Robert, an' ye'll play fair, an' ye'll take phwat pay he chooses ter give ye, an' if ye thry anny more thricks like th' dirty wan I've just catched ye wid I'll be back ter see ye, James Riley, an' I'll break ivery damn bone in ye'er body, James Riley. Now, good-night ter ye an' ye'er prosperities. I'll tell Misther Robert ye'll be up ter see him at nine o'clock to-morrer mornin'."
The old man drew himself up majestically, cast one more withering glance on the completely humiliated James, and took his departure.
The next morning nine had not ceased striking on the clock standing on the mantelpiece in Mr. Gorham's study when James Riley was formally and seriously ushered by his father into these, the sacred precincts, where none entered except by its owner's invitation; but it was a far different James from the man who had called upon Mr. Gorham some weeks earlier. The younger Riley's self-assurance was missing, his jaunty air was replaced by a bearing almost timid in its gentleness, his voice had become halty; and when Mr. Gorham first spoke to him he started suddenly, turning his face toward his questioner, and showing apprehension in every feature.
Gorham noticed the change, and, being ignorant of the tragic events of the evening before, was frankly surprised.
"Have you been ill, James?" he inquired, quietly.
"Oh, no, sir—I'm feeling very well, I thank you, sir," James answered in a quick, frightened voice.
"I am glad to hear it," Gorham answered, but his tone suggested incredulity.
"I have been some worrited lately," James added, by way of explanation. "I s'pose you knows how that tells on a feller, sir."
"Yes, James," Gorham agreed. "It comes to all of us sooner or later. Now tell me what is the important information which your father promised me you would bring with you ?"
"Hasn't he told you, sir?"
"Not a word, James. Has it to do with the matter you have been working on for me, or is it some trouble of your own which has caused the worry you speak of?"
James was seated on the edge of his chair with his thin hands folded and resting on his knees. His eyes roved about the room, looking anywhere except into Mr. Gorham's face. As a matter of fact, he had in reality passed through some "worrited" times since his father's call, and his humiliation was complete. It was a relief to him to know that his father had not discussed the matter with Mr. Gorham, but even that consolation was not equal to the task of restoring him to his former equinimity.
"Well," interrogated Mr. Gorham, helpfully, striving to assist him in what was evidently a serious undertaking.
"You see, sir," James began, "there's another Mrs. Buckner."
"What!" cried Gorham, genuinely surprised and rising from his chair. "Buckner has been married again, you say?"
"That's what I understand, sir; leastwise that's what he told me. He was drunk when he said it, and perhaps that's why he did say it; but I believe it's true."
James had the satisfaction of witnessing a sight which few men had seen during Mr. Gorham's lifetime—he was visibly excited, and, what was stranger still, he made no effort to conceal his emotion.
"If there is anything in what you say, James, this information is the most cheering piece of news which I have heard for many a day. Now tell me all you know about it."
In another half-hour James Riley was painfully making his way to the nearest subway station, giving no indication, either in his face or in his movements, as to whether the result of his mission had turned out more or less favorably, in its financial probabilities, than would have been the case had he followed his original intentions. He had found his father waiting for him in the front hall after he came down-stairs from Mr. Gorham's library, but the only remark the old man vouchsafed was, "Have ye done phwat I told ye, Jimmie?" Then the door swung upon its hinges while the younger man went out, leaving his father chuckling softly.
"Jimmie's th' fine la-ad, afther all," Riley muttered quietly to himself. "He has th' temptations same as we all has, but he seen his duty when his fa-ather shown it ter him." Then the old man became reflective. "It's sorry I'd 'a' been ter have had ter mess Jimmie all up," he continued—"but I'd 'a' done it. It's lucky f'r him he didn't show fight; it's lucky f'r him, I'm tellin' ye."
In the mean time Gorham had sought Eleanor and Alice, and told them the news which had come to him so unexpectedly. The problem now was to find the second Mrs. Buckner, and as quickly as possible. James had explained to Mr. Gorham that even Buckner himself did not know where the woman was. He had lived in several cities during the last few years. His wife might have died or moved away; but as Gorham pointed out in answer to the doubts Eleanor and his daughter expressed, if it was a fact, there must be a way to find conclusive evidence.
"I cannot delay a moment," Gorham at length declared. "It will take some time at best to run this matter down, and with the certainty so near at hand to prove our fears groundless, I am all impatience to take steps toward securing the actual evidence itself. It is imperative that I leave for Chicago to-morrow, and I must get this investigation under way before then."
Eleanor and Alice sat for some moments in silence after Gorham left the house. The girl watched the older woman, waiting for her to speak. The anxious lines were still in Eleanor's face; her pallor remained, and Alice wondered that she gave no evidence of relief from the nerve-racking strain which she had endured, in the face of so hopeful a turn in the whole situation. Still more, to the girl's surprise, Eleanor rose abruptly from beside her, and walked irresolutely to the window.
"I cannot, I cannot," she cried at last, all the pent-up feeling of the last few moments finding expression in these brief words. Alice was quickly beside her.
"You cannot do what, dear?" she asked, sympathetically.
"I cannot tell him."
"Haven't you told him yet?" Alice asked, a shade of reproach showing in her voice.
Eleanor turned from the window and passed her arm around Alice's waist.
"I have tried a hundred times. The few opportunities when I might have done so naturally found me too weak; at other times it has been impossible. Robert is so sweet and tender with me these days that the mere possibility of having him blame me is the most terrifying thought which I can have."
"It ought not to be so hard now, dear. Everything is going to be straightened out. Already the burden is a good deal lighter than before because now we have something tangible to work upon. This leaves you simply the one thing to think about, and of course father will believe everything you tell him."
Eleanor looked at Alice irresolutely. "It isn't in the nature of man to be so credulous—I doubt if I would believe the story myself if I heard any one else tell it. Under these circumstances, how can I expect more from your father?"
"Because it is—father," the girl replied, feelingly "—because he's the grandest, noblest, truest man who ever lived; because he loves you, Eleanor; and because he believes in you as he believes in himself."
"If I did not know of this belief in me, Alice dear, and was not so jealous of it, perhaps I should not fear to bring the matter to the test. But, of course, you are right. He must know the whole story, and he must know it from me. I only hope that the opportunity may offer itself naturally for me to tell him, under such conditions as will make it appear less incredible than it does just now."
"It doesn't seem to me that that ought to enter into it at all," Alice continued, quietly. "Even if you knew that it would destroy this belief, you could do nothing else than tell him, could you, Eleanor? There could be nothing good come from anything kept from father."
Eleanor felt reproached by the faith which the girl exhibited. "I have done it to spare him," she urged. "If there had been anything in the experience of which I need feel ashamed, I should have felt it necessary to let him know it before we were married. I thought it all over then, and decided it was wiser not to bring the matter up. It was weak and cowardly not to do it, I can see that now, but at the time I thought I was acting for the best."
"If father were to tell you something about his life which seemed incredible, and which might be misinterpreted into something dishonorable to him, would you believe his version of it?"
"Implicitly," Eleanor replied, with much feeling.
"Then do you think he is less loving or less tender or has less faith than you, Eleanor?"
"Not that, dear," Eleanor replied; "but he is a man, and a man's standpoint is essentially different from a woman's."
"I never think of him as a man," the girl replied, simply. "He is so far above and beyond any man I have ever known that I have never thought of him as only that."
A week later the Gorhams' dinner-table received two unexpected additions. Gorham had returned from Chicago earlier in the day, and found a telegram awaiting him which announced that Senator Kenmore would call at his house at five o'clock that afternoon. As he was unable to complete his work upon the accumulated matters which demanded immediate attention, he put the papers into his bag, and took Allen with him to the house in time to keep his appointment with the Senator, intending to continue his day's labors after his caller had departed.
During the weeks which had elapsed since Gorham's conversation with Allen, the boy's attitude toward him manifested a respect so marked that the older man saw in it an effort to atone for his momentary disloyalty; in his work he was devoted and exact to a degree beyond anything he had previously demonstrated; inwardly he was the investigator. Never had he put himself through so merciless a self-examination. He felt keenly Alice's misunderstanding of his dislike of business; he blamed himself for having spoken so freely to Mr. Gorham before he had fully satisfied himself that the doubts he expressed at that time were based on anything beyond inexperience and a lack of knowledge. He knew that he had committed an error in accusing Covington before he could substantiate his statements. He was glad, therefore, to be able to work this all out in his own mind during the absence of his chief, yet when Mr. Gorham returned, the boy was still further embarrassed by his special kindliness toward him.
Kenmore's face wore a worried expression as he entered the hall soon after Gorham and Allen arrived. He was shown at once to the library, where he and Gorham passed the next two hours in close conference. Indeed, the discussion was sufficiently important to hold Kenmore longer than he expected, and to cause Gorham to break over a rule which he had never before violated, in discussing business matters at the dinner-table and in the presence of his family.
The thought had come to Gorham, as he was rushing along toward New York on the limited express, of the rapidity with which events had shaped themselves since that moment, only a few weeks earlier, when he had sat in his library indulging in day-dreams. James Riley had come first, with his news of Buckner's presence in New York; then Allen called, bringing his suspicions concerning the attitude of those trusted in the affairs of the corporation, adding his own unexpected and unwarranted doubts as to the integrity of Covington and the morality of this company, which to its creator had seemed to embody every idealistic and altruistic principle; then Litchfield, at the meeting of the committee, substantiated to a considerable extent Allen's deep-seated conviction that the men who made up the fibre of the corporation were actuated by selfish motives in their relations to it and to its transactions, thus making the situation even more acute. James Riley later had brought him the first definite ray of hope in what promised a solution of his domestic tangle; but as the burden lightened on the one hand, it seemed to bear him down with added weight on the other. Senator Hunt, urged on by Brady and other powerful interests, was working against the Consolidated Companies with an energy which would have done him credit had it owed its origin to his appreciation of the responsibilities of his public duties. Now, Kenmore's description of the situation at Washington left no room for doubt that for the first time Gorham must admit the assailability of the Companies. After the two hours' interview, Gorham could not fail to recognize that the one thing which showed above all else in Kenmore's attitude, was his anxiety lest the threatened adverse position on the part of the Government toward the Companies should result in a loss of his own future profits. Could it be possible, Gorham asked, inwardly, that Allen was right in saying that he himself was the only man in the corporation who lived up to the ideals he expressed!
"Next Tuesday is the critical day," the Senator repeated at the table, all other conversation giving way to the matter which he had so strongly upon his mind. "The Attorney-General was not far wrong when he told us in Washington that there was not the slightest possibility of passing any bill through either House which could accomplish the results which the President desires, and yet I cannot believe that the position which the Administration has taken will be overridden."
"If we can get the bill through the Senate, do you think there will be the same difficulty in the House?" asked Gorham.
"No," Kenmore responded; "the Congressmen are more eager to serve their constituents. The people are still with us, and Congress knows it. In the Senate, however, they are playing for bigger game. The great interests there hope to divert attention from themselves to the Consolidated Companies, and if they can secure legislation which will operate against us they think that the people will so resent it that it will probably put a stop, for the present at least, to all agitation against consolidations, good or bad. It is a clever game, and they are playing it well."
"We must not let them play it better than ourselves," Gorham replied, decisively.
"We are working hard, Gorham," the Senator replied. "That was a great move of yours, having each stockholder invest in the Consolidated Companies to such an extent that it made the welfare of the corporation a matter of personal concern. Those of us who are stockholders are fighting for our lives, and the Companies is getting the benefit of it."
"So is the public," Gorham replied, quickly, regretting particularly the turn the conversation had taken owing to Allen's presence, and noting the expression on the boy's face. "You and our other colleagues in the Senate are fighting for the people, and the right is bound to win."
Kenmore laughed nervously. "I don't know that it makes much difference what you call it," he replied. "We are fighting all right, and the result is bound to be the same whether it is for the people or for ourselves. You won't fail us next Tuesday, Gorham? If you can turn the tide in our favor, you will accomplish the greatest stroke in your career."
"I shall be there," Gorham replied, and with deliberate intent turned the conversation into general channels.
Kenmore took his departure shortly after dinner, and Eleanor and Alice remained with Mr. Gorham and Allen, who lingered a few moments over their cigars before taking up their evening's labors. Eleanor, in an effort to relieve her own mind from its oppressing thoughts, quite unconsciously called attention to Allen's quiet bearing, which Mr. Gorham had hoped would pass by without attracting attention, knowing as he did what lay beneath.
"How sober you are to-night, Allen," she said.
The boy looked up quickly. "Forgive me for being such poor company," he replied, simply. "I was thinking over what the Senator has been telling us."
"You must leave all that worry to me," Gorham said, kindly. "Great burdens are not meant for young shoulders. The Consolidated Companies is too strong a force to be vanquished without a hard struggle, even when attacked by so mighty an organization as the United States Senate."
"I was not worrying about that, Mr. Gorham," Allen replied, and he regretted the words as soon as they had left his lips.
"What is it, then?" asked Alice.
The boy passed his hand across his forehead and rose to his feet. "I don't know what it is," he answered, irresolutely. "I am all upset to-night—do you mind if I go up to the library now, Mr. Gorham, and wait for you there?"
Gorham held out his hand and Allen grasped it firmly, yet turned his face away.
"Have you lost faith in me, too, my boy? Has it really come to that?"
"I beg of you, let me go now," Allen replied, controlling himself with difficulty. "You know I shall never lose faith in you."
"You are in no condition for work to-night," Gorham remarked, quietly. "Draw your chair up here beside me, and let us talk it all out right now."
Allen looked hesitatingly at Eleanor and Alice and then at Gorham. "Not now?" he said.
"Why not now, Allen?" Alice asked, curious to know what so affected him. "You told me once that you were my business creation, and that I must accept the responsibility whether I wished it or not. Surely I am entitled to be present."
"Affairs have changed since then. If I don't hold my tongue now, I shall say things for which you and your father will never forgive me."
"I want to hear them, Allen," she insisted; "I have a right to hear them."
Gorham was impressed by the girl's attitude. "She is right," he added. "Now, out with it, boy, and let us get to the bottom of things."
Then the pent-up thoughts which had been collecting during the past few months burst forth.
"You have made me do it, Mr. Gorham," the boy cried, passionately. "You would never have heard it from my lips except for that, but I can't stand it any longer. I have tried hard since we talked that last time to convince myself that I was wrong, but I can't do it. I know it's because I can't see things the right way, but, whatever the cause, the trouble is there. To me the Companies seems based on interests which are wholly selfish, and to be accomplishing good only because doing business on this basis brings extra dividends to its stockholders. It is growing bigger and more powerful and more irresistible, but with this increasing power there is also increasing danger; and I feel sure, Mr. Gorham, as I told you before, that some day the public will have to pay the price. When the dike breaks the flood is going to wipe out all the advantages which the people have received, and more too."
The boy paused for breath and waited, expecting to hear Gorham's stern reproaches, but none came. The amazed expression both on Eleanor's and Alice's faces, however, evidenced the heresy of his words.
"I suppose I am forfeiting all which this family means to me by my seeming disloyalty to you, Mr. Gorham; but I honestly feel that I am more loyal than if I played the hypocrite. I see you carrying on the business of this corporation surrounded by men whose only thought is of themselves, who accept your judgment simply because it puts dollars into their pockets, who permit you to exercise your ideals only because they know that it means profit to them. Yet you have been consistent, you have been straightforward, you have lived up to the standards which you have taught me to expect. But can't you see, Mr. Gorham"—the boy held out both arms supplicatingly—"can't you see that there isn't a single man in that great organization who feels as you do? Can't you see that even Senator Kenmore is thinking only of himself?"
"You forget Mr. Covington and—yourself," Gorham answered.
"I don't cut any ice, one way or the other," Allen protested, "but I haven't forgotten Mr. Covington. I tell you, Mr. Gorham—forgive me, Alice—Mr. Covington is the worst of all. He's the one who has influenced the committee to take their stand against you; he's helping them plan things out now so as to throw you down, hoping to become president himself; he's trying to marry Alice so that you can't expose him when you begin to unravel his double cross. I tell you, he's the slickest Johnnie outside of State's Prison."
"Of course you have unquestionable proof to support all this, Allen?" Gorham demanded, sternly.
"No, I haven't, and I shouldn't speak; but I know I'm right," was the dogged reply.
"Do you realize what it means to make such unsubstantiated statements?"
"But I have everything except the actual proofs," he pleaded.
"What else can you have?"
"I know how he's been investing Alice's money for her, for instance."
"What of that; it was done with my consent."
"With your consent?" Allen repeated, bewildered. "Then you knew—with your principles—"
Gorham was thoroughly angry now, but he delayed replying until he could choose his words in the presence of his wife and daughter.
"I have borne with this long enough," he interrupted. "I have been patient with you because I sympathized with your disappointment regarding Alice—but my patience is at an end. Your jealousy has so warped your sense of right and wrong that you are willing to attack the reputation of a man of honor and integrity, trying to injure him in the eyes of those who respect him. I warned you against this, and you have failed to heed my warning. Much as I regret it, on many accounts, there is no alternative—your usefulness to the Companies is at an end."
Allen rose and looked searchingly into Gorham's face. He could read in the lines which he saw there a real suffering which touched him deeply. No man, not even his father, had come so closely into his life as Mr. Gorham, and the boy's heart was wrung with pain that he should be the cause of adding to his burdens. But his gaze into those expressive eyes seemed to bewilder him still further, for he passed his hand in a dazed manner across his forehead.
"You must be right," he said at length. "I should have known that I'd be no good in business. Why, I haven't even brains enough to comprehend. I know that you, sir, are the soul of honor, and yet you tell me that you knew of that investment. I'm a failure—I'm just no good, that's all. I'll go back to Pittsburgh and tell the pater what a chance you gave me, and what a mess I made of it. Then I'll ask him to let me strip down as his other workmen do, and go into the furnaces where I belong. Good-night and—good-bye."
As the conversation developed into so serious a situation, Alice and Eleanor watched the two men, astonished at the nature of the disagreement, and filled with apprehension. Mrs. Gorham had grown more fond of the boy than she realized until this moment, and she actually suffered for him. Alice was running the gamut of her emotions, her sensations changing every moment, affected by each sentence which she heard torn from the very soul of each speaker. As Allen rose after his final acceptance of his dismissal, she rose with him, a curious mixture of uncertainty and lack of understanding combining in her expression.
"I don't believe you do know about that stock, daddy," she said, quietly. "Before Allen goes perhaps—"
"I know all about it, Alice," her father replied, impatiently. "Allen has no right to meddle in my personal affairs, and I resent it. Don't interfere, little girl—leave this to me."
The color left her face, and she seemed to grow to mature years in the instant. Allen started to leave, but was held spellbound by the force exercised by the quiet, firm dignity which became at once the dominating factor.
"You are wrong, daddy," she said, with a new note in her voice which all recognized instinctively. "For the first time in my life, I tell you, you are wrong."
"Leave this to me, Alice," Gorham repeated, sternly, but the girl did not heed him.
"Since I have been sitting here I have learned a lot, and I know that Allen is right. There are things which I have kept from you, and now I know that I should have told you all about them. Now I know that the advice I received was wrong—and it is all reacting upon Allen and upon you."
"Is there no way—" Gorham began, thoroughly exasperated.
"Be patient, Robert," begged Eleanor.
"Don't, Alice," Allen protested; "it's mighty white of you, but it only makes matters worse. I'm going now—"
"Not until I tell you that I've been unfair to you too," she cried. "I've made fun of you and been horrid to you, but I believe I've loved you all the time."
"Alice!" the boy exclaimed.
"You are forgetting your duty to Mr. Covington, as you have already forgotten your duty to me," her father expostulated, severely.
"She doesn't mean it, Mr. Gorham—please don't blame her; it's all my fault."
"I do mean it, Allen. I haven't known my own heart till now."
"It's pity for me—it isn't love," the boy replied, bitterly. "I'm a failure and you're sorry for me. I wanted you when I thought I could make good. Now that I know I can't, it's different. But I'll never forget it, Alice, never. Don't blame her, Mr. Gorham. Good-bye."
He rushed out, not trusting himself to speak further, and a moment later those left behind heard the door close quietly as he went out into the darkness.
The Executive Committee were ready to make their first move; and at a meeting at which Gorham was not present, they had voted to ask the president to call a special meeting of the Board of Directors. The call for the meeting was supplemented by a letter to the Directors, signed by each member of the committee, setting forth that the business to be considered included the rescinding of a resolution passed at a previous meeting, placing plenipotentiary powers in the hands of the president, and also to consider the desirability of so dividing his present duties that the responsibilities might rest on several shoulders instead of upon his alone. It further recited that various criticisms of the president would be considered at that time,—specifically, that Mr. Gorham was using the Consolidated Companies for his own private ends; that he prevented his associates from being recognized in their full relation to the work, the credit for which he himself monopolized; that he was devoting a large part of his time at the expense of the Companies in straightening out certain domestic complications, as a result of which the corporation was losing ground, and was even being threatened by adverse legislation in Washington, against which it was his duty to protect it. And finally, it was claimed that the president had at least on one occasion taken advantage of his official position to make certain investments for his own personal advantage.
A copy of this letter accidentally fell into Gorham's hands, and his indignation at its needlessly antagonistic wording was tempered by several elements of surprise. The frankness with which the grievances were stated was an evidence that his associates were prepared to force the break with him, and to dispense with whatever value his connection with the corporation might have. The reference to his domestic complications surprised him not a little, showing as it did a familiarity with this subject which he had not supposed to have become common property. The suggestion that he had been false to the ideals which he himself had imposed could only be construed as a gratuitous affront; yet these men who constituted the Executive Committee were not those who would lightly do this. He could quite understand their resentment of both his attitude and his words at the last meeting—he had expected them to make an effort to wrest from him, but in such a way as not to jeopardize their own interests, the supreme authority which he had forced from them; yet they all knew him too well even to suggest any transaction on his part so at variance with the standards which he had established.
After thinking it all over, he sent for Covington, and as the younger man entered he handed him the communication.
"Have you seen this before?" Gorham asked.
"Yes; Litchfield just showed it to me."
"What does it mean?"
"Compromise, I hope," Covington replied. "Nothing else can prevent a great calamity to the Companies. I am even more certain of this now than before."
"How do they know anything about my personal affairs?"
"I can't imagine, unless through some one of the secret-service men."
"You, of course, have made no reference to it?"
"Certainly not." Covington resented the suggestion.
"Now, about this last statement—what does that mean?"
"It is a complete mystery to me. Of course, there's nothing in it?"
Gorham looked at him with a flash in his eye which he had learned to respect. "Do I need to answer that question?"
Covington's watchful mind noted the evasion. Gorham had not actually denied it.
"Of course not," he responded; "but they claim to have indisputable evidence. I tried to find out what it was, but knowing how close I am to you, they are holding that back until the meeting."
"Indisputable evidence, have they? I should like to see it! Please have a call signed by the secretary and sent out at once for a special meeting of the Board to be held to-morrow afternoon at four o'clock. Send with it a waiver of the usual five days' notice. More than a majority of the Board are in the city, and they will be as eager as I am to dispose of this matter."
The formalities in opening the meeting were brief, and the business in hand was taken up with a promptness which showed the strong desire dominating both sides to have the issue met squarely and settled once for all. It was an interesting study to watch the expressions on the various faces. Men who seldom allowed their bearing to reflect the emotions influencing them, gave every evidence of their full appreciation that a crisis was upon them. With the possible exception of Covington, Gorham showed less than any of them the effect of the tense strain which the situation developed. At the last meeting, the committee had witnessed an exhibition of the latent reserve force which lay beneath the impassive exterior, so they needed no further warning that the quiet yet flashing eyes, the firm setting of the mouth, the head bent forward, the general bearing—alert and decisive—all attested a foeman worthy of their steel. It was his business life now against theirs, but they believed themselves strong enough to force the struggle.
Litchfield was again spokesman. "Nothing can be more painful," he said, "to me personally or to the other members of the Board of Directors than to have circumstances arise such as these which have made this meeting necessary. It was a surprise to us, on the occasion of the last session, to have our president take such exceptions to the suggestions which we advanced in good faith. We tried to make it clear to him that we all recognized and appreciated the extraordinary services which he has rendered to the Consolidated Companies, yet we cannot admit that he possesses all the wisdom, or that his policies are the only ones which can be considered. He made it quite evident to us at that time that our judgment was desired only to the extent that it coincided with his own. He has seemed to overlook the fact that the Consolidated Companies is not a private corporation, but rather one in which several of the Directors are even more heavily interested, in a financial way, than he is himself.
"There is no question in the minds of any of us that the services of our president are still absolutely essential to the success of the corporation, and we have no wish or intention of having him separate himself from it; but we have become aware, through the unprecedented position which has been taken, that if those interests which we represent are to be safeguarded, immediate action must be taken to convince him that the Consolidated Companies is not his personal property, that the Executive Committee are not mere puppets, and that even the president of a great and successful corporation is, after all, an employee of that corporation, and subject to its control. The gentlemen who have the honor to serve on the Executive Committee resent the imputation made by him that this code of business morals, which he has originated, is necessarily the only moral code, or that he himself possesses the right or the power to establish the standard by which to measure them as individuals or as officials.
"My colleagues have asked me to state the situation at this length in order that our president may understand that our present attitude is inspired not by any personal antagonism, but rather by what appears to us to be a necessary and simple business precaution. What the Board of Directors propose now is to rescind the resolution, passed upon our president's insistence at the last meeting, which gave him unlimited power in the conduct of the corporation, to divide the responsibilities in such a way that the fortunes of the Consolidated Companies will no longer remain dependent upon the life or services of any one officer, and to insist that the employees of the corporation be used only in the execution of the corporation's business. Our president will still be given a free scope in the conduct of the important matters which will be intrusted to him, but from now on the Board of Directors insist that the corporation shall be dominated by their joint policies, in the establishment of which our president will still have great weight."
Gorham listened to Litchfield's remarks with marked patience. He was relieved that they were free from the personalities and vituperations which the wording of the call had led him to fear, for to his nature it was impossible to work in such close relationship with such a body of able men without acquiring a regard beyond that inspired by mere commercial intercourse. They were wrong in their whole understanding of his position, but he could convince them of that now that there had been nothing said to cause an open rupture.
"My friends," he said, "I can take no exception to the position which you assume, knowing as I do the viewpoint from which you speak. The arbitrary attitude which I have assumed has been one which you yourselves have forced upon me rather than one taken of my own volition—but I shall later refer to this more at length. I agree with you that the employees of this or any other corporation should be used only in the exercise of the corporation's business; but would not the success of any blackmailing attempt, such as the one I am fighting, react upon the Companies fully as much as upon me? As to the gentlemen who form our Executive Committee, even though I have differed from them on a point which I conceive to be absolutely vital to the success of the Consolidated Companies, I consider them the ablest body of business men ever gathered together upon any committee. I am proud of them for the reputation they have given to the Companies, I respect them personally for their own sterling worth. I can conceive no personal calamity greater than to have any necessity arise to make it necessary for us to sever our relations—and I cannot, even now, see that any such occasion exists.
"As to the matter of dividing the responsibilities, I again agree with you. It is not the act of wisdom to have the destinies of any corporation so large as this rest as heavily upon any one man's shoulders as your attitude has convinced me that this rests upon mine. I not only assent to this proposition also, but I will do all which lies in my power to accomplish it. I will even reserve my 'code of morals,' as you are pleased to call it, wholly for myself, considering that it is a point upon which we fail to agree.
"All that remains, then, is for you gentlemen to give me your assurances upon one point: namely, that the present basis of profit-sharing with the public shall not be disturbed. I will no longer put it upon a moral basis—I insist upon it solely as a business policy. With this one point established, I will work with you to the extent of such strength and ability as I have within me, to further the interests of the great Consolidated Companies as it advances triumphantly along its appointed path."
"But this is the main contention upon which our split has come," protested Litchfield.
"You objected to the stand I took that the public is morally entitled to an equal division. Personally, I still maintain that this obligation exists, but now I am endeavoring to convince you that to continue this is an act of supreme business wisdom. Mr. Litchfield made reference, in the course of his remarks, to the adverse legislation with which the Companies is threatened. I am, and have always been, in the closest touch with the situation, and I tell you, gentlemen, this danger is a real one. I have seen Senator Kenmore within a few days, and his information is most alarming. Next week I expect to be in Washington again to fight the battle not only for the future of the Consolidated Companies, but for its very life. We have powerful allies, and I believe that we can win, but, in the words of the Attorney-General himself, only provided that we can show our hands to be clean in our future intentions as well as in our present practices."
"Suppose we postpone any action whatever until after the present crisis in Washington has passed," suggested one of the Directors.
"The action must be taken at once," insisted Gorham. "I told you, gentlemen, that I had awakened from my Utopian dream. I shall make no more promises until I am absolutely certain that they will be made good to the letter."
"How far do you carry this 'Utopian' policy of yours, Mr. Gorham?" asked Litchfield. "Would you even go so far as to deny the right of any officer of the corporation to make profit for himself as a result of inside information gained in his official capacity?"
Covington watched his chief critically as the blow began to fall. What a crash this idol would make when it fell from its self-created pedestal!
"Would you criticise an officer of this corporation who invested in stock about to be acquired by the Companies, thus taking advantage of the certain rise in value which he knew would come to it?"
"I should consider such an official as absolutely false to his trust. Is there one of us present who would feel otherwise?"
Litchfield smiled. "There is no one present who does not regret the lack of friendliness which prevented our president from giving him an equal chance with himself in the purchase of stock in the New York Street Railways Company."
Gorham seemed not to comprehend the charge against him. "You will have to enlighten me further," he said, coldly.
Litchfield drew some papers from his pocket and handed them to Gorham. "We don't undertake to criticise you for making the most of this opportunity," he said, "but out of respect to your ridiculous 'code,' we have ourselves refrained. Next time we shall expect you to give us a chance too; and, incidentally, don't you think we can now come to a mutual understanding regarding the morality basis of the Consolidated Companies?"
"Where did you get these papers?" Gorham demanded.
"From Mr. Brady, who was interested enough to supply us with the sworn statements which you see here."
"Do you really believe that I invested a penny of my money in that stock?"
"Come, Gorham, admit that the joke's on you," Litchfield laughed. "Of course, it was your daughter who did it, and, of course, you knew nothing about it!—Don't try to hide behind her skirts."
Gorham looked across to where Covington was sitting, pale and unnerved by the unexpected development. He might have suspected this, but the remoteness of the chance had as a matter of fact precluded any thought of the possibility. Gorham started to speak, but checked himself. He could not bring his daughter's name into this discussion without more time to consider the situation. Then he turned again to his associates.
"Gentlemen," he said, quietly, "it seems hardly necessary for me to make this statement, but I wish to put myself on record: I have never invested one cent of my own money, or any one else's, in any stock whose value was likely to be affected by the action of the Consolidated Companies. No one else has ever done so with my knowledge or consent. I shall have more to say upon this matter when I have had sufficient time to acquaint myself with all the facts. Until then, I ask that this meeting be adjourned, subject to an early call."
Litchfield, puzzled, as were the others, by Gorham's flat denial in the face of the overwhelming evidence, put the motion for adjournment which the president requested.
The bachelor apartment-house which Allen Sanford called his home in New York, though constantly referred to by him as his "two by twice hall bedroom," was considerably more pretentious and expensive than a young man receiving his modest income would ordinarily have selected; yet when he decided upon it, the chief point in question was whether or not it suited his tastes. The fact that the rent alone exceeded the salary assured him by his position in the Consolidated Companies did not strike him as of any particular significance. He had sold his motor before leaving Washington, and with this nest-egg and what remained of his last allowance to draw upon, the necessity of economy had not occurred to him. "I've eaten up the tires, and now I'm beginning on the chassis," he had once remarked in conversation; but with characteristic confidence in the future, he made no provision for the time when he should have thoroughly fletcherized the entire machine.
Now that he had joined the army of the unemployed, and had decided to return to Pittsburgh, it was incumbent upon him to pack up his belongings. This was a project which failed to appeal to him. He had formally terminated his connection with the Consolidated Companies on the day before, and this Sunday morning had been set apart by him for his tremendous undertaking. His trunks were in the middle of the floor, and his clothes deposited in various stages of disorder upon every chair in the room, preparatory to making the start toward packing which appalled him. The empty drawers of the dresser and the chiffonnier, and the bare hooks of the closet bore silent tribute to the thoroughness of his work thus far.
He was sitting upon the edge of a trunk, regarding in dismay the confusion around him and wondering where to make a start, when the bell rang vigorously. He opened the door in surprise, and was relieved to find no more formidable a visitor than the elevator boy.
"A young lady down-stairs to see you, sir."
"A—what?" demanded Allen.
"She wouldn't give her name, sir."
"I'll be right down," he cried, slamming the door unceremoniously in the boy's face, and rushing into his coat and waistcoat. Could it be that Alice had really meant what she said that night, and had come to convince him of it! There was a girl for you! He would never accept the sacrifice, he told himself resolutely, still he fairly danced as he straightened his necktie, tripped over his evening clothes, which he had knocked onto the floor, and almost stumbled over a little figure in the hallway, as he threw open the door and started to rush to the elevator.
"They wouldn't let me come up in the elevator, so I walked," announced Patricia, looking up at him with a beaming smile.
"What are you doing here? Is Alice down-stairs?" Allen demanded, completely bewildered by the unexpected apparition.
"I've come to go away with you, and Alice is at home," the child answered, simply. "Papa said you were going back to Pittsburgh. Aren't you glad to see me? I've got all my things packed up in this bag, except my Knights of the Round Table, which wouldn't go in, so I carried it under my arm."
He looked at her, speechless with astonishment as she proudly held up the diminutive satchel and displayed her precious volume.
"Of course I'm glad to see you, Lady Pat," he said at length; "but you ought not to come here alone, you know."
"I'm not alone," she insisted. "Riley is down-stairs in my pony cart. Phillips didn't know where you lived, but he's only a groom, so I brought Riley. Now, how shall we get rid of him, and have you made a hundred thousand dollars with my money?"
"I'm ashamed to say I haven't—I was too late. The storks had all gone South for the winter, but I must give you back your bank."
Allen turned into his room, closely followed by Patricia.
"Then you haven't money enough to get married?" she asked in a pathetic little voice. Suddenly her face brightened. "But I don't mind; I'll keep house for you without any money; and storks always come to newly married people, I've heard them say so."
"We couldn't do that, Lady Pat; we'd starve to death unless we ate the storks. Come, let's go and find Riley."
But Riley's anxiety had resulted in his anticipating them, and the familiar face at that moment showed above the stairway, as the old man approached them, out of breath.
"Ah, there ye are, praise be ter th' Virgin Mary," he panted. "Ah, sich a mess as ye're gettin' poor old Riley in. I cudn't hilp it, Misther Allen, I cudn't nohow," heading off any criticism from that quarter—"she wud have it, and that's th' ind iv it. I'm thinkin' that's why they named her Miss Pat—'tis th' Irish persistency iv her name that crops out, an' th' cajolery. I cudn't hilp it, nohow."
"Of course he couldn't help it." Patricia assented. "I had to see you, and some one had to show me where you lived. But you may go now if you want to, Riley."
"We had better come inside and talk it over—if we can get in," Allen suggested, opening the door again, and pushing the things one side.
"Ah, Misther Allen—all ye'er clothes will be spiled, kickin' 'round like this. Shall I fold 'em up an' put 'em in th' thrunks fer ye, sor?"
Riley was in his element again, and Allen grasped at the old man's offer with an eagerness not assumed.
"That's just the thing," he said. "You pack the trunk, Riley, while Lady Pat and I sit on the window-seat and have a little visit."
"Here are my things, too, Riley." Patricia handed the old man her satchel and book. "Perhaps you'd better pack those on top."
"Why should I pack thim in Misther Allen's thrunk?" he demanded.
"Because we're going away to be married," she announced, grandly. "You are the first one in the family to know it, and you mustn't tell."
Riley started to speak, but a signal from Allen silenced him; so he continued his work, bringing order out of chaos so quickly that he won instant admiration.
"Now, look here, Lady Pat," said Allen, kindly, as the child sat on her heels in front of him on the window-seat, "we must talk this matter over very carefully."
"Yes, Sir Launcelot," Patricia assented, expectantly.
"In the first place, I have made your father very angry with me."
"Were you a naughty boy?"
"He thinks so, and he must be right; but it wouldn't do to make him any more angry by taking you away without his permission. You see that, don't you?"
"But they wouldn't blame you—they'd blame me," the child persisted. "Alice would frown at me and say 'Pa-tri-ci-a.' Papa would be severe and say, 'I shall have to ask mamma Eleanor to punish you,' and mamma Eleanor would look sad and say, 'Oh, my darling,' But she'd forget all about it as soon as I kissed her."
"No; they would blame me, because I'm older—and, besides, a true knight could never stand by and see his Lady Fair blamed, could he? The only thing is for me to go away, and for you to go back home with Riley, and then, later, for me to storm the castle and carry you off."
"But if you did that, you might carry off Alice instead of me," she objected.
"That's so," Allen assented, laughing, "unless she hurries up and gets married. That was our agreement, Lady Pat—as long as Alice is free, we can't make any plans for ourselves."
"Wouldn't it be grand to have you storm the castle and carry me off!" Patricia was quite taken by the idea. "Anyhow, next to Alice, you love me best, don't you, Sir Launcelot?"
"I certainly do," Allen said, truthfully. "Now, you'll go home with Riley and wait to see what happens, won't you?"
"All right," the child said, entirely satisfied. "Gee, but I wish Mr. Covington would hurry up!"
Patricia rose obediently and took Riley's hand, as they left the room.
"Wit ye well," she said as she bade Allen good-bye at the elevator. "I shall wait at the window with a silken ladder every night until you come."
Allen turned slowly back into his room, closed the door, and sat down alone on the window-seat which had so recently also sustained his animated little companion. Not until now had the full force of the wrench come upon him, and he was conscious of a lump in his throat as he thought of Alice, first always, then of Mr. Gorham, and last of the city itself. During the months since he had accidentally met Alice in Washington, there had never been a wavering of his purpose. She was the one girl to him among the many he met during the social rounds into which he had plunged while living in New York. He had been undaunted by her attitude, undismayed by the seeming hopelessness of it all—but now her very sympathy proved to him the necessity of at last giving up the one great hope upon which he had set his heart. The pain at separating from his chief, while of a different nature, was no less keen. Mr. Gorham still stood to Allen as the epitome of the best that a man could express. The shock which had come to him when Gorham admitted a knowledge of Covington's investment of Alice's money, did not weaken his respect for the man, but rather was the final event to convince him that his own conception of business must be entirely wrong. If Mr. Gorham sanctioned it, then it was right, it could be nothing else; but all his efforts, conscientious as he knew them to have been, to master the intricacies of the code his preceptor had tried to teach him, had accomplished nothing.
And the great city, which contained so many of his classmates and friends, who had made him welcome in their homes, must in the future receive him only as a stranger. He loved the individuality of the great towering buildings, the wonderful harbor with its kaleidoscopic shipping, the surging masses of the striving people in the streets, the blinding glare of Broadway at night, and the tense, eager business competition keeping each man, irrespective of position, constantly on his taps to hold his own or to forge ahead against the incoming tide of growing prosperity. Everything he craved seemed centred here, yet he had been a part of it all, and had failed to keep his grip. His opportunity had been given him, and he had not taken advantage of it. The city contained no room for failures—only those who could force success from its grinding turmoil belonged within its ever-grasping arms. He must turn his back upon it all, and go to some place less critical, less overpowering, taking with him as memories, in place of triumphs, the thoughts of what might have been.
Amid the gloom which surrounded him, a childish face forced its sweet features upon him, and it relieved the tension of the moment. Dear little Patricia, at least, had faith in him. Alice's attitude was that of sympathy and pity, but little Pat saw in him, the failure, those attributes which belong to the Knight Courageous, undaunted by the hostile flings of Fortune. As she grew older, she too would discover that the gold was paint and the silver, tinsel; but until then, he knew her faith was in him. He pressed his hands against his aching temples—"God bless her for that," he said, softly, "God bless her for that."
The first train which left Pittsburgh after the arrival of Mr. Gorham's letter bore Stephen Sanford to New York. Gorham had found time, even with the pressure of the conflicting details, to write his old friend at length regarding the situation which made it necessary for Allen to terminate his connection with the Consolidated Companies. There was no word of censure against the boy—he even took pains to express in full his admiration for certain sterling qualities which this, Allen's first business experience, had brought out.
"The time has come," he wrote, "when Allen needs the sympathy and assistance of his father more than he ever has, or ever will need it again. I believe I know you well enough, Stephen, to feel certain that you won't refuse it to him simply because he has not asked for it. What I have tried to do for him has been more for your sake than for his own, though you have misunderstood my motive. The boy has developed rapidly, and possesses an ability for business naturally inherited from you; but when his mind is once made up it seems impossible to change him. I hope you will set him a good example by showing him your own strength of character in going to him now. As for our relations, Stephen, in spite of the last stormy interview, and your attitude since, I know that I have no firmer friend than you, and you know well that my affection for you has not lessened because of anything so trivial as what has passed. Old friends are like old wine in more than one respect—the explosion made by the blowing out of the cork does not affect the quality. Come to me first, and let me tell you the whole story."
"I'll do nothing of the sort," Sanford fumed as he finished the letter; yet the first train leaving Pittsburgh which he could catch carried him to New York.
The months which had intervened had left their impress upon him, and his friends had noticed it, though ignorant of the cause. Allen had been away from home so much during the past few years, that his failure to appear beneath the parental roof after his return from Europe was no occasion for comment. Yet it was not the fact that he was separated from the boy that wore on Stephen Sanford, but rather the knowledge that a barrier had arisen between them. He had honestly expected that Allen would refuse to take him seriously when he cast him adrift. They had quarrelled before and nothing had come of it, so he had no reason to think that this would be any exception. He knew the boy's tastes, and while blaming him for his extravagances, he was proud to have him "live like a gentleman." Even with the income assured from the position given him by Mr. Gorham, Sanford knew how small it must be compared with the allowance which Allen had previously received; and he suffered over again the privations of his own youth while thinking of the self-denials which his son must be obliged to practise. Picturing him living in a hall bedroom of meagre proportions, taking his meals at cheap restaurants and generally resorting to those economies common to ambitious youth fighting its battle against the world, the father would many times have sent him a substantial check if he could have made sure that the source would remain unknown.
Yet he insisted to himself that Allen must come to him. He would respond to Gorham's letter to the extent of going to New York and discussing the matter, but he refused to admit any possibility of a reconciliation unless the overtures came from the boy himself. As he hastened to arrange matters for his departure, he muttered imprecations against him with the same breath that drew an unquestioned joy from the thought that a sight of him was near at hand; and no idea entered his mind other than to reach New York at the earliest possible moment.
Covington was surprised that the blow did not fall upon him immediately after the meeting of the committee adjourned. He was ignorant of the exact contents of the papers handed to Gorham by Litchfield, but they could scarcely fail to give his chief all the information necessary to show his connection with the transaction, and he knew well how great would be Gorham's resentment. Yet no mention was made of the matter during the few minutes which remained of the business day after the others had taken their departure. There were two or three routine matters which Gorham turned over to him, with a few words of comment, then he said good-night and left the office. Could it be that something still intervened to keep the real facts covered up?
All doubts were removed the following morning. Gorham sent for him to come to his office, and when he appeared he found that Brady was also present. Covington seemed not to recognize him, but Brady's face assumed a significant and satisfied expression.
"Mr. Brady has been good enough to respond to my request," Gorham began, "and is here to supply me with fuller details concerning the matter which was brought up at the meeting of the committee yesterday. As it interests you even more than it does me, I have asked you to be present during our interview."
Covington seated himself in silence.
"Now, Mr. Brady," Gorham continued, "I understand that you made a statement to Mr. Litchfield to the effect that I had personally secured some of the stock in the New York Street Railways Company, with a view to profiting by the advance in price made inevitable by its proposed merger into the Manhattan Traction Company, of which I was cognizant at the time."
"No, I didn't say all that," Brady protested; "I simply said that a big block of the stock was bought for you. It wasn't necessary to say why."
"But you don't really believe that this stock was purchased for me, or with my knowledge, do you?"
Few men could resist the frank appeal of Gorham's eyes when he chose to exert it, and Brady was not one of these. He moved uncomfortably in his chair, and laughed consciously.
"Why, no, guv'nor, since you put it that way, man to man, I don't."
"Then why did you say what you did? I can't blame you for harboring some resentment against me because I interfered with your plans in that railway deal, but this statement is so easily refuted that I wonder why you made it. It was to discover this that I asked you to come here this morning."
Brady looked over at Covington meaningly. "That was just why I did do it," he said. "I knew it would bring out certain facts that I wanted to have known. I ain't harborin' any resentment against you. You licked me, an' I took my medicine. P'raps I've worried you a bit in Washington since,—that's another matter. I'm a sport all right, an' I know when to take my hat off to any man. But there is other slick Alecks, who think they're so all-fired smart, that I like to get even with when they try to be funny with me,—an' there's one of 'em sittin' in that chair over there now."
"Well—go on." Gorham encouraged him as he paused, at the same time studying the unexpressive face of Covington as the man progressed.
"Just before that railway deal was put through, an' Harris an' me was feelin' nervous about you gettin' so close to the big stockholders, I found out that this Covington here was saltin' away some good blocks of stock of the New York Street Railways Company. He wasn't buyin' them direct, you understand, an' the stool-pigeon he was usin' happened to be one of my own men. Then I sent Harris to see Covington, to get his influence with you to let our personal scheme go through, usin' the little information we had gained to act as an argument to help him make up his mind. He see the game was up, of course, an' then he tried to be smart. He had it all figured out that if he could unload that stock on your daughter, it would make things run easier for him when the facts come out. I wouldn't have held this up against him, for it was nothin' but a cheap trick, but then he come to us of his own accord, an' told us that you an' him had gone all over the matter, an' you was goin' to let the thing go through all right. Well, you remember what happened. He evidently went right back to you an' told you what we had up our sleeve. I swore then I'd get even with him, an' this is the way I chose to do it."
"That's the whole story, is it?" Gorham asked.
"Yes; unless friend Covington here can add a few details."
"I don't think he can,—but you do him an injustice in thinking that he spoke to me of your plans. His failure to do so is noteworthy, but it affects others rather than yourself. I am exceedingly obliged to you for your time and frankness. I will not detain you further unless Mr. Covington would like to make any comments."
"I have nothing to say," Covington replied.
Gorham waited until Brady had made his departure before he turned to the man sitting in silence before him.
"This is all that is needed to make the blow complete, is it not?" he asked, in a voice which betrayed the feeling beneath by its quiet restraint. "Even the awakening which came to me when the committee showed their real selves was not enough. I still believed that I could carry through my purpose, and I relied on you to help make this possible. I, who felt myself strong enough to undertake the revolutionizing of the business world because of my magnificent support, find myself, like Samson, shorn of my strength, and face to face with a realization that man is by nature the cringing slave of the almighty dollar. He may, for a time, or for a purpose, disguise it even from himself, but when the real test comes, he dare not disregard the compelling voice of his master. This is enough of an awakening, but think of the pain which accompanies it when one finds that the friend in whom he trusted, that the one man whom he was most proud to honor, fails even to measure up to the simple test of honesty! Oh, Covington, I find it hard to bring myself to believe it!"
"What do you propose to do?" Covington asked.
"First of all, I shall place the facts before the Directors. They at least shall know that I have not been false to them or to myself."
"When will you do this?"
"As soon as possible,—this afternoon if I can get them together."
"Would you mind postponing it until to-morrow?"
"What is to be gained by that?"
"May I have an interview with you at your house to-night? It is for this that I ask the postponement."
"Certainly," Gorham replied, wonderingly. "I will see you at nine o'clock."
"I thank you," said Covington, rising and leaving the office without further comment.
Gorham received two callers on that Saturday night. Sanford came first, and the heartiness of the welcome extended him thawed out the blustering exterior which made it so difficult for the warm heart underneath to assert itself.
"I never was so proud of any one," cried Gorham, with more enthusiasm than he often manifested. "Now it is the old Stephen I used to know and love, acting his own self once more! But you are going to have your chance to crow over me. Stephen, I've been a more obstinate old fool than you ever thought of being, and I'm going to make you my father-confessor."
Then he told him of Allen's development, from the first day he entered the offices of the Consolidated Companies down to the time when he had himself sent the boy away from him in anger. He even told him of the crisis in the corporation, knowing that their conversation was sacred to his old friend. Then he dwelt on Allen's courage in the face of his own blindness, and his admiration for the boy's attitude throughout.
"He is planning to go back to you, Stephen, but I shan't let him if I can help it. I have made him think that his work has been a failure, when in reality his vision has been clearer than mine. But don't tell him this. Let your talk be of yourselves. Then bring him to me to-morrow for dinner, and let me show him what he really is."
"I told you he'd make a fine business man," Stephen could not resist saying. "You remember that."
"I do," laughed Gorham. "That is why I gave him the chance. You remember asking me to do it, don't you?"
"There's another thing I told you, Robert,—that you never could do business on the basis you planned unless you had angels all the way up from the office boy to the Board of Directors."
"It has been my fault in not being able to distinguish between angels and mortals," Gorham replied seriously, his mind reverting to the great problem which still lay unsolved before him. "I am not willing yet to admit that the basis is wrong,—the error must rest in the building. Good-night, Stephen. Be sure to bring Allen with you to-morrow."
* * * * *
Covington entered the library, walking with short, quick steps quite unlike his usual deliberate gait, and sat down in the chair just vacated by Mr. Sanford. Gorham noted at once the change which had come over his features, even during the few hours which had elapsed since morning. For the first time his eyes showed a nervous unrest, the lines about his mouth had settled into a hard, disagreeable expression, and his whole manner evidenced the strain he was enduring. Gorham noted all this, and in a measure it surprised him. If Covington was so constituted that he could play the hypocrite, he would not have supposed his sensibilities acute enough to overwhelm him in the unmasking.
"You are wondering why I desired this interview," Covington began. "You cannot understand what there is left for me to say to you in view of what has happened. I could have bluffed this out for a time, but it was no use. There are other developments which will follow on the heels of this which make it useless to temporize. I have played the game my way, letting you make the rules, believing that when it came to the showdown my cards would be strong enough to win. They would be under normal circumstances, but you've called my hand too soon. You see before you a desperate man, Mr. Gorham, upon whom you have forced the necessity of taking a gambler's chance. That is why I am here to-night."
"You must be implicated in matters far deeper than I have knowledge to talk like this, Covington. You have been false to me and false to the Companies, but after all there is nothing criminal in what you have done. To me, the greatest crime a man can commit is so to forget the manhood with which his Maker endowed him, as to prostitute it for temporary personal advantage, but the law looks upon other lesser crimes as deserving of greater punishment. I cannot tell how much of a lesson this may be to you. It will, of course, be necessary for you to leave New York, as the committee, however much they may criticise my code, have one of their own which you have transgressed. As far as I am concerned, you may have no anxiety. I have too many important matters in hand to wish to divert myself from them simply to make you pay the penalty you owe me."
"I am implicated deeper than you know, but I am here to make terms rather than accept them," Covington replied. "I do not choose to begin life over again, and I require your definite assurances that whatever you know or may learn against me be kept from the knowledge of the committee. At present I hold their confidence, and I am not willing to relinquish it. What I have done in this stock transaction will not strike them as so serious a matter as you make of it. I venture to say that I am not the only one of them to do it."
Gorham looked at him keenly. "This is the talk of a man bereft of his senses."
"I told you I was desperate, and so I am. I have been working all my life to gain the position of wealth and power which is now within my grasp, and you shall not keep me from it."
"You yourself have made its attainment impossible."
"Next to you, I am the one man most competent to conduct the affairs of the Consolidated Companies. You yourself have trained me to be your successor. The committee know this, and they also know that with me at the head, the Companies will be run as they wish it. They are eager to have the change, and only fear your influence against the corporation if they force you out."
"All that may have been true, Covington, in the past. Not one of them would trust you now."
"They know nothing which reflects upon my character, and they must not know. You and they can never continue together,—it is hopeless to expect a compromise. I am the only man who can hold these forces together, and you must give me this chance."
Gorham could only believe that the excitement which controlled Covington had affected him to the extent of irresponsibility, and his unusual manner heightened the impression.
"I see no reason to continue this interview," he said shortly. "You speak of what must and shall happen when the shaping of events has already passed from your control."