Nor was this at all rare; on the contrary, if one took the trouble to make inquiries, he would find that such establishments were everywhere taken for granted. Montague talked about it with Major Venable; and out of his gossip storehouse the old gentleman drew forth a string of anecdotes that made one's hair stand on end. There was one all-powerful magnate, who had a passion for the wife of a great physician; and he had given a million dollars or so to build a hospital, and had provided that it should be the finest in the world, and that this physician should go abroad for three years to study the institutions of Europe! No conventions counted with this old man—if he saw a woman whom he wanted, he would ask for her; and women in Society felt that it was an honour to be his mistress. Not long after this a man who voiced the anguish of a mighty nation was turned out of several hotels in New York because he was not married according to the laws of South Dakota; but this other man would take a woman to any hotel in the city, and no one would dare oppose him!
And there was another, a great traction king, who kept mistresses in Chicago and Paris and London, as well as in New York; he had one just around the corner from his palatial home, and had an underground passage leading to it. And the Major told with glee how he had shown this to a friend, and the latter had remarked, "I'm too stout to get through there."—"I know it," replied the other, "else I shouldn't have told you!"
And so it went. One of the richest men in New York was a sexual degenerate, with half a dozen women on his hands all the time; he would send them cheques, and they would use these to blackmail him. This man's young wife had been shut up in a closet for twenty-four hours by her mother to compel her to marry him.—And then there was the charming tale of how he had gone away upon a mission of state, and had written long messages full of tender protestations, and given them to a newspaper correspondent to cable home "to his wife." The correspondent had thought it such a touching example of conjugal devotion that he told about it at a dinner-party when he came back; and he was struck by the sudden silence that fell. "The messages had been sent to a code address!" chuckled the Major. "And every one at the table knew who had got them!"
A few days after this, Montague received a telephone message from Siegfried Harvey, who said that he wanted to see him about a matter of business. He asked him to lunch at the Noonday Club; and Montague went—though not without a qualm. For it was in the Fidelity Building, the enemy's bailiwick: a magnificent structure with halls of white marble, and a lavish display of bronze. It occurred to Montague that somewhere in this structure people were at work preparing an answer to his charges; he wondered what they were saying.
The two had lunch, talking meanwhile about the coming events in Society, and about politics and wars; and when the coffee was served and they were alone in the room, Harvey settled his big frame back in his chair, and began:—
"In the first place," he said, "I must explain that I've something to say that is devilish hard to get into. I'm so much afraid of your jumping to a wrong conclusion in the middle of it—I'd like you to agree to listen for a minute or two before you think at all."
"All right," said Montague, with a smile. "Fire away."
And at once the other became grave. "You've taken a case against this company," he said. "And Ollie has talked enough to me to make me understand that you've done a plucky thing, and that you must be everlastingly sick of hearing from cowardly people who want you to drop it. I'd be very sorry to be classed with them, for even a moment; and you must understand at the outset that I haven't a particle of interest in the company, and that it wouldn't matter to me if I had. I don't try to use my friends in business, and I don't let money count with me in my social life. I made up my mind to take the risk of speaking to you about this case, simply because I happen to know one or two things about it that I thought you didn't know. And if that's so, you are at a great disadvantage; but in any case, please understand that I have no motive but friendship, and so if I am butting in, excuse me."
When Siegfried Harvey talked, he looked straight at one with his clear blue eyes, and there was no doubting his honesty. "I am very much obliged to you," said Montague. "Pray tell me what you have to say."
"All right," said the other. "It can be done very quickly. You have taken a case which involves a great many sacrifices upon your part. And I wondered if it had ever occurred to you to ask whether you might not be taken advantage of?"
"How do you mean?" asked Montague.
"Do you know the people who are behind you?" inquired the other. "Do you know them well enough to be sure what are their motives in the case?"
Montague hesitated, and thought. "No," he said, "I couldn't say that I do."
"Then it's just as I thought," replied Harvey. "I've been watching you—you are an honest man, and you're putting yourself to no end of trouble from the best of motives. And unless I'm mistaken, you're being used by men who are not honest, and whom you wouldn't work with if you knew their purposes."
"What purposes could they have?"
"There are several possibilities. In the first place, it might be a 'strike' suit—somebody who is hoping to be bought off for a big price. That is what nearly every one thinks is the case. But I don't; I think it's more likely some one within the company who is trying to put the administration in a hole."
"Who could that be?" exclaimed Montague, amazed.
"I don't know that. I'm not familiar enough with the situation in the Fidelity—it's changing all the time. I simply know that there are factions struggling for the control of it, and hating each other furiously, and ready to do anything in the world to cripple each other. You know that their forty millions of surplus gives an enormous power; I'd rather be able to swing forty millions in the Street than to have ten millions in my own right. And so the giants are fighting for the control of those companies; and you can't tell who's in and who's out—you can never know the real meaning of anything that happens in the struggle. All that you can be sure of is that the game is crooked from end to end, and that nothing that happens in it is what it pretends to be."
Montague listened, half dazed, and feeling as if the ground he stood on were caving beneath his feet.
"What do you know about those who brought you this case?" asked his companion, suddenly.
"Not much," he said weakly.
Harvey hesitated a moment. "Understand me, please," he said. "I've no wish to pry into your affairs, and if you don't care to say any more, I'll understand it perfectly. But I've heard it said that the man who started the thing was Ellis."
Montague, in his turn, hesitated; then he said, "That is correct—between you and me."
"Very good," said Harvey, "and that is what made me suspicious. Do you know anything about Ellis?"
"I didn't," said the other. "I've heard a little since."
"I can fancy so," said Harvey. "And I can tell you that Ellis is mixed up in life-insurance matters in all sorts of dubious ways. It seems to me that you have reason to be most careful where you follow him."
Montague sat with his hands clenched and his brows knitted. His friend's talk had been like a flash of lightning; it revealed huge menacing forms in the darkness about him. All the structure of his hopes seemed to be tottering; his case, that he had worked so hard over—his fifty thousand dollars that he had been so proud of! Could it be that he had been tricked, and had made a fool of himself?
"How in the world am I to know?" he cried.
"That is more than I can tell," said his friend. "And for that matter, I'm not sure that you could do anything now. All that I could do was to warn you what sort of ground you were treading on, so that you could watch out for yourself in future."
Montague thanked him heartily for that service; and then he went back to his office, and spent the rest of the day pondering the matter.
What he had heard had made a vast change in things. Before it everything had seemed simple; and now nothing was clear. He was overwhelmed with a sense of the utter futility of his efforts; he was trying to build a house upon quicksands. There was nowhere a solid spot upon which he could set his foot. There was nowhere any truth—there were only contending powers who used the phrases of truth for their own purposes! And now he saw himself as the world saw him,—a party to a piece of trickery,—a knave like all the rest. He felt that he had been tripped up at the first step in his career.
The conclusion of the whole matter was that he took an afternoon train for Albany; and the next morning he talked the matter out with the Judge. Montague had realized the need of going slowly, for, after all, he had no definite ground for suspicion; and so, very tactfully and cautiously he explained, that it had come to his ears that many people believed there were interested parties behind the suit of Mr. Hasbrook; and that this had made him uncomfortable, as he knew nothing whatever about his client. He had come to ask the Judge's advice in the matter.
No one could have taken the thing more graciously than did the great man; he was all kindness and tact. In the first place, he said, he had warned him in advance that enemies would attack him and slander him, and that all kinds of subtle means would be used to influence him. And he must understand that these rumours were part of such a campaign; it made no difference how good a friend had brought them to him—how could he know who had brought them to that friend?
The Judge ventured to hope that nothing that anyone might say could influence him to believe that he, the Judge, would have advised him to do anything improper.
"No," said Montague, "but can you assure me that there are no interested parties behind Mr. Hasbrook?"
"Interested parties?" asked the other.
"I mean people connected with the Fidelity or other insurance companies."
"Why, no," said the Judge; "I certainly couldn't assure you of that."
Montague looked surprised. "You mean you don't know?"
"I mean," was the answer, "that I wouldn't feel at liberty to tell, even if I did know."
And Montague stared at him; he had not been prepared for this frankness.
"It never occurred to me," the other continued, "that that was a matter which could make any difference to you."
"Why—" began Montague.
"Pray understand me, Mr. Montague," said the Judge. "It seemed to me that this was obviously a just case, and it seemed so to you. And the only other matter that I thought you had a right to be assured of was that it was seriously meant. Of that I felt assured. It did not seem to me of any importance that there might be interested individuals behind Mr. Hasbrook. Let us suppose, for instance, that there were some parties who had been offended by the administration of the Fidelity, and were anxious to punish it. Could a lawyer be justified in refusing to take a just case, simply because he knew of such private motives? Or, let us assume an extreme case—a factional fight within the company, as you say has been suggested to you. Well, that would be a case of thieves falling out; and is there any reason why the public should not reap the advantage of such a situation? The men inside the company are the ones who would know first what is going on; and if you saw a chance to use such an advantage in a just fight—would you not do it?"
So the Judge went on, gracious and plausible—and so subtly and exquisitely corrupting! Underneath his smoothly flowing sentences Montague could feel the presence of one fundamental thought; it was unuttered and even unhinted, but it pervaded the Judge's discourse as a mood pervades a melody. The young lawyer had got a big fee, and he had a nice easy case; and as a man of the world, he could not really wish to pry into it too closely. He had heard gossip, and felt that his reputation required him to be disturbed; but he had come, simply to be smoothed down the back and made at ease, and enabled to keep his fee without losing his good opinion of himself.
Montague quit, because he concluded that it was not worth while to try to make himself understood. After all, he was in the case now, and there was nothing to be gained by a breach. Two things he felt that he had made certain by the interview—first, that his client was a "dummy," and that it was really a case of thieves falling out; and second, that he had no guarantee that he might not be left in the lurch at any moment—except the touching confidence of the Judge in some parties unknown.
Montague came home with his mind made up that there was nothing he could do except to be more careful next time. For this mistake he would have to pay the price.
He had still to learn what the full price was. The day after his return there came a caller—Mr. John C. Burton, read his card. He proved to be a canvassing agent for the company which published the scandal-sheet of Society. They were preparing a de luxe account of the prominent families of New York; a very sumptuous affair, with a highly exclusive set of subscribers, at the rate of fifteen hundred dollars per set. Would Mr. Montague by any chance care to have his family included?
And Mr. Montague explained politely that he was a comparative stranger in New York, and would not belong properly in such a volume. But the agent was not satisfied with this. There might be reasons for his subscribing, even so; there might be special cases; Mr. Montague, as a stranger, might not realize the important nature of the offer; after he had consulted his friends, he might change his mind—and so on. As Montague listened to this series of broad hints, and took in the meaning of them, the colour mounted, to his cheeks—until at last he rose abruptly and bid the man good afternoon.
But then as he sat alone, his anger died away, and there was left only discomfort and uneasiness. And three or four days later he bought another issue of the paper, and sure enough, there was a new paragraph!
He stood on the street-corner reading it. The social war was raging hotly, it said; and added that Mrs. de Graffenried was threatening to take up the cause of the strangers. Then it went on to picture a certain exquisite young man of fashion who was rushing about among his friends to apologize for his brother's indiscretions. Also, it said, there was a brilliant social queen, wife of a great banker, who had taken up the cudgels.—And then came three sentences more, which made the blood leap like flame into Montague's cheeks:
"There have not been lacking comments upon her suspicious ardour. It has been noticed that since the advent of the romantic-looking Southerner, this restless lady's interest in the Babists and the trance mediums has waned; and now Society is watching for the denouement of a most interesting situation."
To Montague these words came like a blow in the face. He went on down the street, half dazed. It seemed to him the blackest shame that New York had yet shown him. He clenched his fists as he walked, whispering to himself, "The scoundrels!"
He realized instantly that he was helpless. Down home one would have thrashed the editor of such a paper; but here he was in the wolves' own country, and he could do nothing. He went back to his office, and sat down at the desk.
"My dear Mrs. Winnie," he wrote. "I have just read the enclosed paragraph, and I cannot tell you how profoundly pained I am that your kindness to us should have made you the victim of such an outrage. I am quite helpless in the matter, except to enable you to avoid any further annoyance. Please believe me when I say that we shall all of us understand perfectly if you think that we had best not meet again at present; and that this will make no difference whatever in our feelings."
This letter Montague sent by a messenger; and then he went home. Perhaps ten minutes after he arrived, the telephone bell rang—and there was Mrs. Winnie.
"Your note has come," she said. "Have you an engagement this evening?"
"No," he answered.
"Well," she said, "will you come to dinner?"
"Mrs. Winnie—" he protested.
"Please come," she said. "Please!"
"I hate to have you—" he began.
"I wish you to come!" she said, a third time.
So he answered, "Very well."
He went; and when he entered the house, the butler led him to the elevator, saying, "Mrs. Duval says will you please come upstairs, sir." And there Mrs. Winnie met him, with flushed cheeks and eager countenance.
She was even lovelier than usual, in a soft cream-coloured gown, and a crimson rose in her bosom. "I'm all alone to-night," she said, "so we'll dine in my apartments. We'd be lost in that big room downstairs."
She led him into her drawing-room, where great armfuls of new roses scattered their perfume. There was a table set for two, and two big chairs before the fire which blazed in the hearth. Montague noticed that her hand trembled a little, as she motioned him to one of them; he could read her excitement in her whole aspect. She was flinging down the gauntlet to her enemies!
"Let us eat first and talk afterward," she said, hurriedly. "We'll be happy for a while, anyway."
And she went on to be happy, in her nervous and eager way. She talked about the new opera which was to be given, and about Mrs. de Graffenried's new entertainment, and about Mrs. Ridgley-Clieveden's ball; also about the hospital for crippled children which she wanted to build, and about Mrs. Vivie Patton's rumoured divorce. And, meantime, the sphinx-like attendants moved here and there, and the dinner came and went. They took their coffee in the big chairs by the fire; and the table was swept clear, and the servants vanished, closing the doors behind them.
Then Montague set his cup aside, and sat gazing sombrely into the fire. And Mrs. Winnie watched him. There was a long silence.
Suddenly he heard her voice. "Do you find it so easy to give up our friendship?" she asked.
"I didn't think about it's being easy or hard," he answered. "I simply thought of protecting you."
"And do you think that my friends are nothing to me?" she demanded. "Have I so very many as that?" And she clenched her hands with a sudden passionate gesture. "Do you think that I will let those wretches frighten me into doing what they want? I'll not give in to them—not for anything that Lelia can do!"
A look of perplexity crossed Montague's face. "Lelia?" he asked.
"Mrs. Robbie Walling!" she cried. "Don't you suppose that she is responsible for that paragraph?"
"That's the way they fight their battles!" cried Mrs. Winnie. "They pay money to those scoundrels to be protected. And then they send nasty gossip about people they wish to injure."
"You don't mean that!" exclaimed the man.
"Of course I do," cried she. "I know that it's true! I know that Robbie Walling paid fifteen thousand dollars for some trumpery volumes that they got out! And how do you suppose the paper gets its gossip?"
"I didn't know," said Montague. "But I never dreamed—"
"Why," exclaimed Mrs. Winnie, "their mail is full of blue and gold monogram stationery! I've known guests to sit down and write gossip about their hostesses in their own homes. Oh, you've no idea of people's vileness!"
"I had some idea," said Montague, after a pause.—"That was why I wished to protect you."
"I don't wish to be protected!" she cried, vehemently. "I'll not give them the satisfaction. They wish to make me give you up, and I'll not do it, for anything they can say!"
Montague sat with knitted brows, gazing into the fire. "When I read that paragraph," he said slowly. "I could not bear to think of the unhappiness it might cause you. I thought of how much it might disturb your husband—"
"My husband!" echoed Mrs. Winnie.
There was a hard tone in her voice, as she went on. "He will fix it up with them," she said,—"that's his way. There will be nothing more published, you can feel sure of that."
Montague sat in silence. That was not the reply he had expected, and it rather disconcerted him.
"If that were all—" he said, with hesitation. "But I could not know. I thought that the paragraph might disturb him for another reason—that it might be a cause of unhappiness between you and him—"
There was a pause. "You don't understand," said Mrs. Winnie, at last.
Without turning his head he could see her hands, as they lay upon her knees. She was moving them nervously. "You don't understand," she repeated.
When she began to' speak again, it was in a low, trembling voice. "I must tell you," she said; "I have felt sure that you did not know."
There was another pause. She hesitated, and her hands trembled; then suddenly she hurried on.—"I wanted you to know. I do not love my husband. I am not bound to him. He has nothing to say in my affairs."
Montague sat rigid, turned to stone. He was half dazed by the words. He could feel Mrs. Winnie's gaze fixed upon him; and he could feel the hot flush that spread over her throat and cheeks.
"It—it was not fair for you not to know," she whispered. And her voice died away, and there was again a silence. Montague was dumb.
"Why don't you say something?" she panted, at last; and he caught the note of anguish in her voice. Then he turned and stared at her, and saw her tightly clenched hands, and the quivering of her lips.
He was shocked quite beyond speech. And he saw her bosom heaving quickly, and saw the tears start into her eyes. Suddenly she sank down, and covered her face with her hands and broke into frantic sobbing.
"Mrs. Winnie!" he cried; and started to his feet.
Her outburst continued. He saw that she was shuddering violently. "Then you don't love me!" she wailed.
He stood trembling and utterly bewildered. "I'm so sorry!" he whispered. "Oh, Mrs. Winnie—I had no idea—"
"I know it! I know it!" she cried. "It's my fault! I was a fool! I knew it all the time. But I hoped—I thought you might, if you knew—"
And then again her tears choked her; she was convulsed with pain and grief.
Montague stood watching her, helpless with distress. She caught hold of the arm of the chair, convulsively, and he put his hand upon hers.
"Mrs. Winnie—" he began.
But she jerked her hand away and hid it. "No, no!" she cried, in terror. "Don't touch me!"
And suddenly she looked up at him, stretching out her arms. "Don't you understand that I love you?" she exclaimed. "You despise me for it, I know—but I can't help it. I will tell you, even so! It's the only satisfaction I can have. I have always loved you! And I thought—I thought it was only that you didn't understand. I was ready to brave all the world—I didn't care who knew it, or what anybody said. I thought we could be happy—I thought I could be free at last. Oh, you've no idea how unhappy I am—and how lonely—and how I longed to escape! And I believed that you—that you might—"
And then the tears gushed into Mrs. Winnie's eyes again, and her voice became the voice of a little child.
"Don't you think that you might come to love me?" she wailed.
Her voice shook Montague, so that he trembled to the depths of him. But his face only became the more grave.
"You despise me because I told you!" she exclaimed.
"No, no, Mrs. Winnie," he said. "I could not possibly do that—"
"Then—then why—" she whispered.—"Would it be so hard to love me?"
"It would be very easy," he said, "but I dare not let myself."
She looked at him piteously. "You are so cold—so merciless!" she cried.
He answered nothing, and she sat trembling. "Have you ever loved a woman?" she asked.
There was a long pause. He sat in the chair again. "Listen, Mrs. Winnie"—he began at last.
"Don't call me that!" she exclaimed. "Call me Evelyn—please."
"Very well," he said—"Evelyn. I did not intend to make you unhappy—if I had had any idea, I should never have seen you again. I will tell you—what I have never told anybody before. Then you will understand."
He sat for a few moments, in a sombre reverie.
"Once," he said, "when I was young, I loved a woman—a quadroon girl. That was in New Orleans; it is a custom we have there. They have a world of their own, and we take care of them, and of the children; and every one knows about it. I was very young, only about eighteen; and she was even younger. But I found out then what women are, and what love means to them. I saw how they could suffer. And then she died in childbirth—the child died, too."
Montague's voice was very low; and Mrs. Winnie sat with her hands clasped, and her eyes riveted upon his face. "I saw her die," he said. "And that was all. I have never forgotten it. I made up my mind then that I had done wrong; and that never again while I lived would I offer my love to a woman, unless I could devote all my life to her. So you see, I am afraid of love. I do not wish to suffer so much, or to make others suffer. And when anyone speaks to me as you did, it brings it all back to me—it makes me shrink up and wither."
He paused, and the other caught her breath.
"Understand me," she said, her voice trembling. "I would not ask any pledges of you. I would pay whatever price there was to pay—I am not afraid to suffer."
"I do not wish you to suffer," he said. "I do not wish to take advantage of any woman."
"But I have nothing in the world that I value!" she cried. "I would go away—I would give up everything, to be with a man like you. I have no ties—no duties—"
He interrupted her. "You have your husband—" he said.
And she cried out in sudden fury—"My husband!"
"Has no one ever told you about my husband?" she asked, after a pause.
"No one," he said.
"Well, ask them!" she exclaimed. "Meantime, take my word for it—I owe nothing to my husband."
Montague sat staring into the fire. "But consider my own case," he said. "I have duties—my mother and my cousin—"
"Oh, don't say any more!" cried the woman, with a break in her voice. "Say that you don't love me—that is all there is to say! And you will never respect me again! I have been a fool—I have ruined everything! I have flung away your friendship, that I might have kept!"
"No," he said.
But she rushed on, vehemently—"At least, I have been honest—give me credit for that! That is how all my troubles come—I say what is in my mind, and I pay the price for my blunders. It is not as if I were cold and calculating—so don't despise me altogether."
"I couldn't despise you," said Montague. "I am simply pained, because I have made you unhappy. And I did not mean to."
Mrs. Winnie sat staring ahead of her in a sombre reverie. "Don't think any more about it," she said, bitterly. "I will get over it. I am not worth troubling about. Don't you suppose I know how you feel about this world that I live in? And I'm part of it—I beat my wings, and try to get out, but I can't. I'm in it, and I'll stay in till I die; I might as well give up. I thought that I could steal a little joy—you have no idea how hungry I am for a little joy! You have no idea how lonely I am! And how empty my life is! You talk about your fear of making me unhappy; it's a grim jest—but I'll give you permission, if you can! I'll ask nothing—no promises, no sacrifices! I'll take all the risks, and pay all the penalties!"
She smiled through her tears, a sardonic smile. He was watching her, and she turned again, and their eyes met; again he saw the blood mount from her throat to her cheeks. At the same time came the old stirring of the wild beasts within him. He knew that the less time he spent in sympathizing with Mrs. Winnie, the better for both of them.
He had started to rise, and words of farewell were on his lips; when suddenly there came a knock upon the door.
Mrs. Winnie sprang to her feet. "Who is that?" she cried.
And the door opened, and Mr. Duval entered.
"Good evening," he said pleasantly, and came toward her.
Mrs. Winnie flushed angrily, and stared at him. "Why do you come here unannounced?" she cried.
"I apologize," he said—"but I found this in my mail—"
And Montague, in the act of rising to greet him, saw that he had the offensive clipping in his hand. Then he saw Duval give a start, and realized that the man had not been aware of his presence in the room.
Duval gazed from Montague to his wife, and noticed for the first time her tears, and her agitation. "I beg pardon," he said. "I am evidently trespassing."
"You most certainly are," responded Mrs. Winnie.
He made a move to withdraw; but before he could take a step, she had brushed past him and left the room, slamming the door behind her.
And Duval stared after her, and then he stared at Montague, and laughed. "Well! well! well!" he said.
Then, checking his amusement, he added, "Good evening, sir."
"Good evening," said Montague.
He was trembling slightly, and Duval noticed it; he smiled genially. "This is the sort of material out of which scenes are made," said he. "But I beg you not to be embarrassed—we won't have any scenes."
Montague could think of nothing to say to that.
"I owe Evelyn an apology," the other continued. "It was entirely an accident—this clipping, you see. I do not intrude, as a rule. You may make yourself at home in future."
Montague flushed scarlet at the words.
"Mr. Duval," he said, "I have to assure you that you are mistaken—"
The other stared at him. "Oh, come, come!" he said, laughing. "Let us talk as men of the world."
"I say that you are mistaken," said Montague again.
The other shrugged his shoulders. "Very well," he said genially. "As you please. I simply wish to make matters clear to you, that's all. I wish you joy with Evelyn. I say nothing about her—you love her. Suffice it that I've had her, and I'm tired of her; the field is yours. But keep her out of mischief, and don't let her make a fool of herself in public, if you can help it. And don't let her spend too much money—she costs me a million a year already.—Good evening, Mr. Montague."
And he went out. Montague, who stood like a statue, could hear him chuckling all the way down the hall.
At last Montague himself started to leave. But he heard Mrs. Winnie coming back, and he waited for her. She came in and shut the door, and turned toward him.
"What did he say?" she asked.
"He—was very pleasant," said Montague.
And she smiled grimly. "I went out on purpose," she said. "I wanted you to see him—to see what sort of a man he is, and how much 'duty' I owe him! You saw, I guess."
"Yes, I saw," said he.
Then again he started to go. But she took him by the arm. "Come and talk to me," she said. "Please!"
And she led him back to the fire. "Listen," she said. "He will not come here again. He is going away to-night—I thought he had gone already. And he does not return for a month or two. There will be no one to disturb us again."
She came close to him and gazed up into his face. She had wiped her tears away, and her happy look had come back to her; she was lovelier than ever.
"I took you by surprise," she said, smiling. "You didn't know what to make of it. And I was ashamed—I thought you would hate me. But I'm not going to be unhappy any more—I don't care at all. I'm glad that I spoke!"
And Mrs. Winnie put up her hands and took him by the lapels of his coat. "I know that you love me," she said; "I saw it in your eyes just now, before he came in: It is simply that you won't let yourself go. You have so many doubts and so many fears. But you will see that I am right; you will learn to love me. You won't be able to help it—I shall be so kind and good! Only don't go away—"
Mrs. Winnie was so close to him that her breath touched his cheek. "Promise me, dear," she whispered—"promise me that you won't stop seeing me—that you will learn to love me. I can't do without you!"
Montague was trembling in every nerve; he felt like a man caught in a net. Mrs. Winnie had had everything she ever wanted in her life; and now she wanted him! It was impossible for her to face any other thought.
"Listen," he began gently.
But she saw the look of resistance in his eyes, and she cried "No no—don't! I cannot do without you! Think! I love you! What more can I say to you? I cannot believe that you don't care for me—you HAVE been fond of me—I have seen it in your face. Yet you're afraid of me—why? Look at me—am I not beautiful to look at! And is a woman's love such a little thing—can you fling it away and trample upon it so easily? Why do you wish to go? Don't you understand—no one knows we are here—no one cares! You can come here whenever you wish—this is my place—mine! And no one will think anything about it. They all do it. There is nothing to be afraid of!"
She put her arms about him, and clung to him so that he could feel the beating of her heart upon his bosom. "Oh, don't leave me here alone to-night!" she cried.
To Montague it was like the ringing of an alarm-bell deep within his soul. "I must go," he said.
She flung back her head and stared at him, and he saw the terror and anguish in her eyes. "No, no!" she cried, "don't say that to me! I can't bear it—oh, see what I have done! Look at me! Have mercy on me!"
"Mrs. Winnie," he said, "you must have mercy on ME!"
But he only felt her clasp him more tightly. He took her by the wrists, and with quiet force he broke her hold upon him; her hands fell to her sides, and she stared at him, aghast.
"I must go," he said, again.
And he started toward the door. She followed him dumbly with her eyes.
"Good-bye," he said. He knew that there was no use of any more words; his sympathy had been like oil upon flames. He saw her move, and as he opened the door, she flung herself down in a chair and burst into frantic weeping. He shut the door softly and went away.
He found his way down the stairs, and got his hat and coat, and went out, unseen by anyone. He walked down the Avenue-and there suddenly was the giant bulk of St. Cecilia's lifting itself into the sky. He stopped and looked at it—it seemed a great tumultuous surge of emotion. And for the first time in his life it seemed to him that he understood why men had put together that towering heap of stone!
Then he went on home.
He found Alice dressing for a ball, and Oliver waiting for her. He went to his room, and took off his coat; and Oliver came up to him, and with a sudden gesture reached over to his shoulder, and held up a trophy.
He drew it out carefully, and measured the length of it, smiling mischievously in the meanwhile. Then he held it up to the light, to see the colour of it.
"A black one!" he cried. "Coal black!" And he looked at his brother, with a merry twinkle in his eyes. "Oh, Allan!" he chuckled.
Montague said nothing.
It was about a week from the beginning of Lent, when there would be a lull in the city's gaieties, and Society would shift the scene of its activities to the country clubs, and to California and Hot Springs and Palm Beach. Mrs. Caroline Smythe invited Alice to join her in an expedition to the last-named place; but Montague interposed, because he saw that Alice had been made pale and nervous by three months of night-and-day festivities. Also, a trip to Florida would necessitate ten or fifteen thousand dollars' worth of new clothes; and these would not do for the summer, it appeared—they would be faded and passe by that time.
So Alice settled back to rest; but she was too popular to be let alone—a few days later came another invitation, this time from General Prentice and his family. They were planning a railroad trip—to be gone for a month; they would have a private train, and twenty five people in the party, and would take in California and Mexico—"swinging round the circle," as it was called. Alice was wild to go, and Montague gave his consent. Afterward he learned to his dismay that Charlie Carter was one of those invited, and he would have liked to have Alice withdraw; but she did not wish to, and he could not make up his mind to insist.
These train trips were the very latest diversion of the well-to-do; a year ago no one had heard of them, and now fifty parties were leaving New York every month. You might see a dozen of such hotel-trains at once at Palm Beach; there were some people who lived on board all the time, having special tracks built for them in pleasant locations wherever they stopped. One man had built a huge automobile railroad car, shaped like a ram, and having accommodation for sixty people. The Prentice train had four cars, one of them a "library car," finished in St. Iago mahogany, and provided with a pipe-organ. Also there were bath-rooms and a barber-shop, and a baggage car with two autos on board for exploring purposes.
Since the episode of Mrs. Winnie, Oliver had apparently concluded that his brother was one of the initiated. Not long afterward he permitted him to a glimpse into that side of his life which had been hinted at in the songs at the bachelors' dinner.
Oliver had planned to take Betty Wyman to the theatre; but Betty's grandfather had come home from the West unexpectedly, and so Oliver came round and took his brother instead.
"I was going to play a joke on her," he said. "We'll go to see one of my old flames."
It was a translation of a French farce, in which the marital infidelities of two young couples were the occasion of many mishaps. One of the characters was a waiting-maid, who was in love with a handsome young soldier, and was pursued by the husband of one of the couples. It was a minor part, but the young Jewish girl who played it had so many pretty graces and such a merry laugh that she made it quite conspicuous. When the act was over, Oliver asked him whose acting he liked best, and he named her.
"Come and be introduced to her," Oliver said.
He opened a door near their box. "How do you do, Mr. Wilson," he said, nodding to a man in evening dress, who stood near by. Then he turned toward the dressing-rooms, and went down a corridor, and knocked upon one of the doors. A voice called, "Come in," and he opened the door; and there was a tiny room, with odds and ends of clothing scattered about, and the girl, clad in corsets and underskirt, sitting before a mirror. "Hello, Rosalie," said he.
And she dropped her powder-puff, and sprang up with a cry—"Ollie!" 'In a moment more she had her arms about his neck.
"Oh, you wretched man," she cried. "Why don't you come to see me any more? Didn't you get my letters?"
"I got some," said he. "But I've been busy. This is my brother, Mr. Allan Montague."
The other nodded to Montague, and said, "How do you do?"—but without letting go of Oliver. "Why don't you come to see me?" she exclaimed.
"There, there, now!" said Oliver, laughing good-naturedly. "I brought my brother along so that you'd have to behave yourself."
"I don't care about your brother!" exclaimed the girl, without even giving him another glance. Then she held Oliver at arm's length, and gazed into his face. "How can you be so cruel to me?" she asked.
"I told you I was busy," said he, cheerfully. "And I gave you fair warning, didn't I? How's Toodles?"
"Oh, Toodles is in raptures," said Rosalie. "She's got a new fellow." And then, her manner changing to one of merriment, she added: "Oh, Ollie! He gave her a diamond brooch! And she looks like a countess—she's hoping for a chance to wear it in a part!"
"You've seen Toodles," said Oliver, to his brother "She's in 'The Kaliph of Kamskatka.'".
"They're going on the road next week," said Rosalie. "And then I'll be all alone." She added, in a pleading voice: "Do, Ollie, be a good boy and take us out to-night. Think how long it's been since I've seen you! Why, I've been so good I don't know myself in the looking-glass. Please, Ollie!"
"All right," said he, "maybe I will."
"I'm not going to let you get away from me," she cried. "I'll come right over the footlights after you!"
"You'd better get dressed," said Oliver. "You'll be late."
He pushed aside a tray with some glasses on it, and seated himself upon a trunk; and Montague stood in a corner and watched Rosalie, while she powdered and painted herself, and put on an airy summer dress, and poured out a flood of gossip about "Toodles" and "Flossie" and "Grace" and some others. A few minutes later came a stentorian voice in the hallway: "Second act!" There were more embraces, and then Ollie brushed the powder from his coat, and went away laughing.
Montague stood for a few moments in the wings, watching the scene-shifters putting the final touches to the new set, and the various characters taking their positions. Then they went out to their seats. "Isn't she a jewel?" asked Oliver.
"She's very pretty," the other admitted.
"She came right out of the slums," said Oliver—"over on Rivington Street. That don't happen very often."
"How did you come to know her?" asked his brother.
"Oh, I picked her out. She was in a chorus, then. I got her first speaking part."
"Did you?" said the other, in surprise. "How did you do that?"
"Oh, a little money," was the reply. "Money will do most anything. And I was in love with her—that's how I got her."
Montague said nothing, but sat in thought.
"We'll take her out to supper and make her happy," added Oliver, as the curtain started up. "She's lonesome, I guess. You see, I promised Betty I'd reform."
All through that scene and the next one Rosalie acted for them; she was so full of verve and merriment that there was quite a stir in the audience, and she got several rounds of applause. Then, when the play was over, she extricated herself from the arms of the handsome young soldier, and fled to her dressing-room, and when Oliver and Montague arrived, she was half ready for the street.
They went up Broadway, and from a group of people coming out of another stage-entrance a young girl came to join them—an airy little creature with the face of a doll-baby, and a big hat with a purple feather on top. This was "Toodles"—otherwise known as Helen Gwynne; and she took Montague's arm, and they fell in behind Oliver and his companion.
Montague wondered what one said to a chorus-girl on the way to supper. Afterward his brother told him that Toodles had been the wife of a real-estate agent in a little town in Oklahoma, and had run away from respectability and boredom with a travelling theatrical company. Now she was tripping her part in the musical comedy which Montague had seen at Mrs. Lane's; and incidentally swearing devotion to a handsome young "wine-agent." She confided to Montague that she hoped the latter might see her that evening—he needed to be made jealous.
"The Great White Way" was the name which people had given to this part of Broadway; and at the head of it stood a huge hotel with flaming lights, and gorgeous marble and bronze, and famous paintings upon the walls and ceilings inside. At this hour every one of its many dining-rooms was thronged with supper-parties, and the place rang with laughter and the rattle of dishes, and the strains of several orchestras which toiled heroically in the midst of the uproar. Here they found a table, and while Oliver was ordering frozen poached eggs and quails in aspic, Montague sat and gazed about him at the revelry, and listened to the prattle of the little ex-sempstress from Rivington Street.
His brother had "got her," he said, by buying a speaking part in a play for her; and Montague recalled the orgies of which he had heard at the bachelors' dinner, and divined that here he was at the source of the stream from which they were fed. At the table next to them was a young Hebrew, whom Toodles pointed out as the son and heir of a great clothing manufacturer. He was "keeping" several girls, said she; and the queenly creature who was his vis-a-vis was one of the chorus in "The Maids of Mandalay." And a little way farther down the room was a boy with the face of an angel and the air of a prince of the blood—he had inherited a million and run away from school, and was making a name for himself in the Tenderloin. The pretty little girl all in green who was with him was Violet Pane, who was the artist's model in a new play that had made a hit. She had had a full-page picture of herself in the Sunday supplement of the "sporting paper" which was read here—so Rosalie remarked.
"Why don't you ever do that for me?" she added, to Oliver.
"Perhaps I will," said he, with a laugh. "What does it cost?"
And when he learned that the honour could be purchased for only fifteen hundred dollars, he said, "I'll do it, if you'll be good." And from that time on the last trace of worriment vanished from the face and the conversation of Rosalie.
As the champagne cocktails disappeared, she and Oliver became confidential. Then Montague turned to Toodles, to learn more about how the "second generation" was preying upon the women of the stage.
"A chorus-girl got from ten to twenty dollars a week," said Toodles; and that was hardly enough to pay for her clothes. Her work was very uncertain—she would spend weeks at rehearsal, and then if the play failed, she would get nothing. It was a dog's life; and the keys of freedom and opportunity were in the keeping of rich men, who haunted the theatres and laid siege to the girls. They would send in notes to them, or fling bouquets to them, with cards, or perhaps money, hidden in them. There were millionaire artists and bohemians who kept a standing order for seats in the front rows at opening performances; they had accounts with florists and liverymen and confectioners, and gave carte blanche to scores of girls who lent themselves to their purposes. Sometimes they were in league with the managers, and a girl who held back would find her chances imperilled; sometimes these men would even finance shows to give a chance to some favourite.
Afterward Toodles turned to listen to Oliver and his companion; and Montague sat back and gazed about the room. Next to him was a long table with a dozen, people at it; and he watched the buckets of champagne and the endless succession of fantastic-looking dishes of food, and the revellers, with their flushed faces and feverish eyes and loud laughter. Above all the tumult was the voice of the orchestra, calling, calling, like the storm wind upon the mountains; the music was wild and chaotic, and produced an indescribable sense of pain and confusion. When one realized that this same thing was going on in thousands of places in this district it seemed that here was a flood of dissipation that out-rivalled even that of Society.
It was said that the hotels of New York, placed end to end, would reach all the way to London; and they took care of a couple of hundred thousand people a day—a horde which had come from all over the world in search of pleasure and excitement. There were sight-seers and "country customers" from forty-five states; ranchers from Texas, and lumber kings from Maine, and mining men from Nevada. At home they had reputations, and perhaps families to consider; but once plunged into the whirlpool of the Tenderloin, they were hidden from all the world. They came with their pockets full of money; and hotels and restaurants, gambling-places and pool-rooms and brothels—all were lying in wait for them! So eager had the competition become that there was a tailoring establishment and a bank that were never closed the year round, except on Sunday.
Everywhere about one's feet the nets of vice were spread. The head waiter in one's hotel was a "steerer" for a "dive," and the house detective was "touting" for a gambling-place. The handsome woman who smiled at one in "Peacock Alley" was a "madame"; the pleasant-faced young man who spoke to one at the bar was on the look-out for customers for a brokerage-house next door. Three times in a single day in another of these great caravanserais Montague was offered "short change"; and so his eyes were opened to a new kind of plundering. He was struck by the number of attendants in livery who swarmed about him, and to whom he gave tips for their services. He did not notice that the boys in the wash-rooms and coat-rooms could not speak a word of English; he could not know that they were searched every night, and had everything taken from them, and that the Greek who hired them had paid fifteen thousand dollars a year to the hotel for the privilege.
So far had the specialization in evil proceeded that there were places of prostitution which did a telephone-business exclusively, and would send a woman in a cab to any address; and there were high-class assignation-houses, which furnished exquisite apartments and the services of maids and valets. And in this world of vice the modern doctrine of the equality of the sexes was fully recognized; there were gambling-houses and pool-rooms and opium-joints for women, and drinking-places which catered especially for them. In the "orange room" of one of the big hotels, you might see rich women of every rank and type, fingering the dainty leather-bound and gold-embossed wine cards. In this room alone were sold over ten thousand drinks every day; and the hotel paid a rental of a million a year to the Devon estate. Not far away the Devons also owned negro-dives, where, in the early hours of the morning, you might see richly-gowned white women drinking.
In this seething caldron of graft there were many strange ways of making money, and many strange and incredible types of human beings to be met. Once, in "Society," Montague had pointed out to him a woman who had been a "tattooed lady" in a circus; there was another who had been a confederate of gamblers upon the ocean steamships, and another who had washed dishes in a mining-camp. There was one of these great hotels whose proprietor had been a successful burglar; and a department-store whose owner had begun life as a "fence." In any crowd of these revellers you might have such strange creatures pointed out to you; a multimillionaire who sold rotten jam to the people; another who had invented opium soothing-syrup for babies; a convivial old gentleman who disbursed the "yellow dog fund" of several railroads; a handsome chauffeur who had run away with an heiress. 'Once a great scientist had invented a new kind of underwear, and had endeavoured to make it a gift to humanity; and here was a man who had seized upon it and made millions out of it! Here was a "trance medium," who had got a fortune out of an imbecile old manufacturer; here was a great newspaper proprietor, who published advertisements of assignations at a dollar a line; here was a cigar manufacturer, whose smug face was upon every billboard—he had begun as a tin manufacturer, and to avoid the duty, he had had his raw material cast in the form of statues, and brought them in as works of art!
And terrible and vile as were the sources from which the fortunes had been derived, they were no viler nor more terrible than the purposes for which they had been spent. Mrs. Vivie Patton had hinted to Montague of a "Decameron Club," whose members gathered in each others' homes and vied in the telling of obscene stories; Strathcona had told him about another set of exquisite ladies and gentlemen who gave elaborate entertainments, in which they dressed in the costumes of bygone periods, and imitated famous characters in history, and the vices and orgies of courts and camps. One heard of "Cleopatra nights" on board of yachts at Newport. There was a certain Wall Street "plunger," who had begun life as a mining man in the West; and when his customers came in town, he would hire a trolley-car, and take a load of champagne and half a dozen prostitutes, and spend the night careering about the country. This man was now quartered in one of the great hotels in New York; and in his apartments he would have prize fights and chicken fights; and bloodthirsty exhibitions called "purring matches," in which men tried to bark each other's shins; or perhaps a "battle royal," with a diamond scarf-pin dangling from the ceiling, and half a dozen negroes in a free-for-all fight for the prize.
No picture of the ways of the Metropolis would be complete which did not force upon the reluctant reader some realization of the extent to which new and hideous incitements to vice were spreading. To say that among the leisured classes such practices were raging like a pestilence would be no exaggeration. Ten years ago they were regarded with aversion by even the professionally vicious; but now the commonest prostitute accepted them as part of her fate. And there was no height to which they had not reached—ministers of state were enslaved by them; great fortunes and public events were controlled by them. In Washington there had been an ambassador whose natural daughter taught them in the houses of the great, until the scandal forced the minister's recall. Some of these practices were terrible in their effects, completely wrecking the victim in a short time; and physicians who studied their symptoms would be horrified to see them appearing in the homes of their friends.
And from New York, the centre of the wealth and culture of the country, these vices spread to every corner of it. Theatrical companies and travelling salesmen carried them; visiting merchants and sightseers acquired them. Pack-pedlers sold vile pictures and books—the manufacturing or importing of which was now quite an industry; one might read catalogues printed abroad in English, the contents of which would make one's flesh creep. There were cheap weeklies, costing ten cents a year, which were thrust into area-windows for servant-girls; there were yellow-covered French novels of unbelievable depravity for the mistress of the house. It was a curious commentary upon the morals of Society that upon the trains running to a certain suburban community frequented by the ultra-fashionable, the newsboys did a thriving business in such literature; and when the pastor of the fashionable church eloped with a Society girl, the bishop publicly laid the blame to the morals of his parishioners!
The theory was that there were two worlds, and that they were kept rigidly separate. There were two sets of women; one to be toyed with and flung aside, and the other to be protected and esteemed. Such things as prostitutes and kept women might exist, but people of refinement did not talk about them, and were not concerned with them. But Montague was familiar with the saying, that if you follow the chain of the slave, you will find the other end about the wrist of the master; and he discovered that the Tenderloin was wreaking its vengeance upon Fifth Avenue. It was not merely that the men of wealth were carrying to their wives and children the diseases of vice; they were carrying also the manners and the ideals.
Montague had been amazed by the things he had found in New York Society; the smoking and drinking and gambling of women, their hard and cynical views of life, their continual telling of coarse stories. And here, in this under-world, he had come upon the fountain head of the corruption. It was something which came to him in a sudden flash of intuition;—the barriers between the two worlds were breaking down!
He could picture the process in a hundred different forms. There was Betty Wyman. His brother had meant to take her to the theatre, to let her see Rosalie, by way of a joke! So, of course, Betty knew of his escapades, and of those of his set; she and her girl friends were whispering and jesting about them. Here sat Oliver, smiling and cynical, toying with Rosalie as a cat might toy with a mouse; and to-morrow he would be with Betty—and could anyone doubt any longer whence Betty had derived her attitude towards life? And the habits of mind that Oliver had taught her as a girl she would not forget as a wife; he might be anxious to keep her to himself, but there would be others whose interest was different.
And Montague recalled other things that he had seen or heard in Society, that he could put his finger upon, as having come out of this under-world. The more he thought of the explanation, the more it seemed to explain. This "Society," which had perplexed him—now he could describe it: its manners and ideals of life were those which he would have expected to find in the "fast" side of stage life.
It was, of course, the women who made Society, and gave it its tone; and the women of Society were actresses. They were actresses in their love of notoriety and display; in their taste in clothes and jewels, their fondness for cigarettes and champagne. They made up like actresses; they talked and thought like actresses. The only obvious difference was that the women of the stage were carefully selected—were at least up to a certain standard of physical excellence; whereas the women of Society were not selected at all, and some were lean, and some were stout, and some were painfully homely.
Montague recalled cases where the two sets had met as at some of the private entertainments. It was getting to be the fashion to hobnob with the stage people on such occasions; and he recalled how naturally the younger people took to this. Only the older women held aloof; looking down upon the women of the stage from an ineffable height, as belonging to a lower caste—because they were obliged to work for their livings. But it seemed to Montague, as he sat and talked with this poor chorus-girl, who had sold herself for a little pleasure, that it was easier to pardon her than the woman who had been born to luxury, and scorned those who produced her wealth.
But most of all, one's sympathies went out to a person who was not to be met in either of these sets; to the girl who had not sold herself, but was struggling for a living in the midst of this ravening corruption. There were thousands of self-respecting women, even on the stage; Toodles herself had been among them, she told Montague. "I kept straight for a long time," she said, laughing cheerfully—"and on ten dollars a week! I used to go out on the road, and then they paid me sixteen; and think of trying to live on one-night stands—to board yourself and stop at hotels and dress for the theatre—on sixteen a week, and no job half the year! And all that time—do you know Cyril Chambers, the famous church painter?"
"I've heard of him," said Montague.
"Well, I was with a show here on Broadway the next winter; and every night for six months he sent me a bunch of orchids that couldn't have cost less than seventy-five dollars! And he told me he'd open accounts for me in all the stores I chose, if I'd spend the next summer in Europe with him. He said I could take my mother or my sister with me—and I was so green in those days, I thought that must mean he didn't intend anything wrong!"
Toodles smiled at the memory. "Did you go?" asked the man.
"No," she answered. "I stayed here with a roof-garden show that failed. And I went to my old manager for a job, and he said to me, 'I can only pay you ten a week. But why are you so foolish?' 'How do you mean?' I asked; and he answered, 'Why don't you get a rich sweetheart? Then I could pay you sixty.' That's what a girl hears on the stage!"
"I don't understand," said Montague, perplexed. "Did he mean he could get money out of the man?"
"Not directly," said Toodles; "but tickets—and advertising. Why, men will hire front-row seats for a whole season, if they're interested in a girl in the show. And they'll take all their friends to see her, and she'll be talked about—she'll be somebody, instead of just nobody, as I was."
"Then it actually helps her on the stage!" said Montague.
"Helps her!" exclaimed Toodles. "My God! I've known a girl who'd been abroad with a tip-top swell—and had the gowns and the jewels to prove it—to come home and get into the front row of a chorus at a hundred dollars a week."
Toodles was cheerful and all unaware; and that only made the tragedy of it all one shade more black to Montague. He sat lost in sombre reverie, forgetting his companions, and the blare and glare of the place.
In the centre of this dining-room was a great cone-shaped stand, containing a display of food; and as they strolled out, Montague stopped to look at it. There were platters garnished with flowers and herbs, and containing roast turkeys and baked hams, jellied meats and game in aspic, puddings and tarts and frosted cakes—every kind of food-fantasticality imaginable. One might have spent an hour in studying it, and from top to bottom he would have found nothing simple, nothing natural. The turkeys had paper curls and rosettes stuck over them; the hams were covered with a white gelatine, the devilled crabs with a yellow mayonnaise-and all painted over in pink and green and black with landscapes and marine views—with "ships and shoes and sealing-wax and cabbages and kings." The jellied meats and the puddings were in the shape of fruits and flowers; and there were elaborate works of art in pink and white confectionery—a barn-yard, for instance, with horses and cows, and a pump, and a dairymaid—and one or two alligators.
And all this was changed every day! Each morning you might see a procession of a score of waiters bearing aloft a new supply. Montague remembered Betty Wyman's remark at their first interview, apropos of the whipped cream made into little curleques; how his brother had said, "If Allan were here, he'd be thinking about the man who fixed that cream, and how long it took him, and how he might have been reading 'The Simple Life'!"
He thought of that now; he stood here and gazed, and wondered about all the slaves of the lamp who served in this huge temple of luxury. He looked at the waiters—pale, hollow-chested, harried-looking men: he imagined the hordes of servants of yet lower kinds, who never emerged into the light of day; the men who washed the dishes, the men who carried the garbage, the men who shovelled the coal into the furnaces, and made the heat and light and power. Pent up in dim cellars, many stories under ground, and bound for ever to the service of sensuality—how terrible must be their fate, how unimaginable their corruption! And they were foreigners; they had come here seeking liberty. And the masters of the new country had seized them and pent them here!
From this as a starting-point his thought went on, to the hordes of toilers in every part of the world, whose fate it was to create the things which these blind revellers destroyed; the women and children in countless mills and sweatshops, who spun the cloth, and cut and sewed it; the girls who made the artificial flowers, who rolled the cigarettes, who gathered the grapes from the vines; the miners who dug the coal and the precious metals out of the earth; the men who watched in ten thousand signal-towers and engines, who fought the elements from the decks of ten thousand ships—to bring all these things here to be destroyed. Step by step, as the flood of extravagance rose, and the energies of the men were turned to the creation of futility and corruption—so, step by step, increased the misery and degradation of all these slaves of Mammon. And who could imagine what they would think about it—if ever they came to think?
And then, in a sudden flash, there came back to Montague that speech he had heard upon the street-corner, the first evening he had been in New York! He could hear again the pounding of the elevated trains, and the shrill voice of the orator; he could see his haggard and hungry face, and the dense crowd gazing up at him. And there came to him the words of Major Thorne:
"It means another civil war!"
Alice had been gone for a couple of weeks, and the day was drawing near when the Hasbrook case came up for trial. The Saturday before that being the date of the Mi-careme dance of the Long Island Hunt Club, Siegfried Harvey was to have a house-party for the week-end, and Montague accepted his invitation. He had been working hard, putting the finishing touches to his brief, and he thought that a rest would be good for him.
He and his brother went down upon Friday afternoon, and the first person he met was Betty Wyman, whom he had not seen for quite a while. Betty had much to say, and said it. As Montague had not been seen with Mrs. Winnie since the episode in her house, people had begun to notice the break, and there was no end of gossip; and Mistress Betty wanted to know all about it, and how things stood between them.
But he would not tell her, and so she saucily refused to tell him what she had heard. All the while they talked she was eyeing him quizzically, and it was evident that she took the worst for granted; also that he had become a much more interesting person to her because of it. Montague had the strangest sensations when he was talking with Betty Wyman; she was delicious and appealing, almost irresistible; and yet her views of life were so old! "I told you you wouldn't do for a tame cat!" she said to him.
Then she went on to talk to him about his case, and to tease him about the disturbance he had made.
"You know," she said, "Ollie and I were in terror—we thought that grandfather would be furious, and that we'd be ruined. But somehow, it didn't work out that way. Don't you say anything about it, but I've had a sort of a fancy that he must be on your side of the fence."
"I'd be glad to know it," said Montague, with a laugh—"I've been trying for a long time to find out who is on my side of the fence."
"He was talking about it the other day," said Betty, "and I heard him tell a man that he'd read your argument, and thought it was good."
"I'm glad to hear that," said Montague.
"So was I," replied she. "And I said to him afterward, 'I suppose you don't know that Allan Montague is my Ollie's brother.' And he did you the honour to say that he hadn't supposed any member of Ollie's family could have as much sense!"
Betty was staying with an aunt near by, and she went back before dinner. In the automobile which came for her was old Wyman himself, on his way home from the city; and as a snowstorm had begun, he came in and stood by the fire while his car was exchanged for a closed one from Harvey's stables. Montague did not meet him, but stood and watched him from the shadows-a mite of a man, with a keen and eager face, full of wrinkles. It was hard to realize that this little body held one of the great driving minds of the country. He was an intensely nervous and irritable man, bitter and implacable—by all odds the most hated and feared man in Wall Street. He was swift, imperious, savage as a hornet. "Directors at meetings that I attend vote first and discuss afterward," was one of his sayings that Montague had heard quoted. Watching him here by the fireside, rubbing his hands and chatting pleasantly, Montague had a sudden sense of being behind the scenes, of being admitted to a privilege denied to ordinary mortals—the beholding of royalty in everyday attire!
After dinner that evening Montague had a chat in the smoking-room with his host; and he brought up the subject of the Hasbrook case, and told about his trip to Washington, and his interview with Judge Ellis.
Harvey also had something to communicate. "I had a talk with Freddie Vandam about it," said he.
"What did he say?" asked Montague.
"Well," replied the other, with a laugh, "he's indignant, needless to say. You know, Freddie was brought up by his father to regard the Fidelity as his property, in a way. He always refers to it as 'my company.' And he's very high and mighty about it—it's a personal affront if anyone attacks it. But it was evident to me that he doesn't know who's behind this case."
"Did he know about Ellis?" asked Montague.
"Yes," said the other, "he had found out that much. It was he who told me that originally. He says that Ellis has been sponging off the company for years—he has a big salary that he never earns, and has borrowed something like a quarter of a million dollars on worthless securities."
Montague gave a gasp.
"Yes," laughed Harvey. "But after all, that's a little matter. The trouble with Freddie Vandam is that that sort of thing is all he sees; and so he'll never be able to make out the mystery. He knows that this clique or that in the company is plotting to get some advantage, or to use him for their purposes—but he never realizes how the big men are pulling the wires behind the scenes. Some day they'll throw him overboard altogether, and then he'll realize how they've played with him. That's what this Hasbrook case means, you know—they simply want to frighten him with a threat of getting the company's affairs into the courts and the newspapers."
Montague sat for a while in deep thought.
"What would you think would be Wyman's relation to the matter?" he asked, at last.
"I wouldn't know," said Harvey. "He's supposed to be Freddie's backer—but what can you tell in such a tangle?"
"It is certainly a mess," said Montague.
"There's no bottom to it," said the other. "Absolutely—it would take your breath away! Just listen to what Vandam told me to-day!"
And then Harvey named one of the directors of the Fidelity who was well known as a philanthropist. Having heard that the wife of one of his junior partners had met with an accident in childbirth, and that the doctor had told her husband that if she ever had another child, she would die, this man had asked, "Why don't you have her life insured?" The other replied that he had tried, and the companies had refused her. "I'll fix it for you," said he; and so they put in another application, and the director came to Freddie Vandam and had the policy put through "by executive order." Seven months later the woman died, and the Fidelity had paid her husband in full—a hundred thousand or two!
"That's what's going on in the insurance world!" said Siegfried Harvey.
And that was the story which Montague took with him to add to his enjoyment of the festivities at the country club. It was a very gorgeous affair; but perhaps the sombreness of his thoughts was to blame; the flowers and music and beautiful gowns failed entirely in their appeal, and he saw only the gluttony and drunkenness—more of it than ever before, it seemed to him.
Then, too, he had an unpleasant experience. He met Laura Hegan; and presuming upon her cordial reception of his visit, he went up and spoke to her pleasantly. And she greeted him with frigid politeness; she was so brief in her remarks and turned away so abruptly as almost to snub him. He went away quite bewildered. But later on he recalled the gossip about himself and Mrs. Winnie, and he guessed that that was the explanation of Miss Hegar's action.
The episode threw a shadow over his whole visit. On Sunday he went out into the country and tramped through a snowstorm by himself, filled with a sense of disgust for all the past, and of foreboding for the future. He hated this money-world, in which all that was worst in human beings was brought to the surface; he hated it, and wished that he had never set foot within its bounds. It was only by tramping until he was too tired to feel anything that he was able to master himself.
And then, toward dark, he came back, and found a telegram which had been forwarded from New York.
"Meet me at the Penna depot, Jersey City, at nine to-night. Alice."
This message, of course, drove all other thoughts from his mind. He had no time even to tell Oliver about it—he had to jump into an automobile and rush to catch the next train for the city. And all through the long, cold ride in ferry-boats and cabs he pondered this mystery. Alice's party had not been expected for two weeks yet; and only two days before there had come a letter from Los Angeles, saying that they would probably be a week over time. And here she was home again!
He found there was an express from the West due at the hour named; apparently, therefore, Alice had not come in the Prentice's train at all. The express was half an hour late, and so he paced up and down the platform, controlling his impatience as best he could. And finally the long train pulled in, and he saw Alice coming down the platform. She was alone!
"What does it mean?" were the first words he said to her.
"It's a long story," she answered. "I wanted to come home.";
"You mean you've come all the way from the coast by yourself!" he gasped.
"Yes," she said, "all the way."
"What in the world—" he began.
"I can't tell you here, Allan," she said. "Wait till we get to some quiet place."
"But," he persisted. "The Prentice? They let you come home alone?"
"They didn't know it," she said. "I ran away."
He was more bewildered than ever. But as he started to ask more questions, she laid a hand upon his arm. "Please wait, Allan," she said. "It upsets me to talk about it. It was Charlie Carter."
And so the light broke. He caught his breath and gasped, "Oh!"
He said not another word until they had crossed the ferry and settled themselves in a cab, and started. "Now," he said, "tell me."
Alice began. "I was very much upset," she said. "But you must understand, Allan, that I've had nearly a week to think it over, and I don't mind it now. So I want you please not to get excited about it; it wasn't poor Charlie's fault—he can't help himself. It was my mistake. I ought to have taken your advice and had nothing to do with him."
"Go on," said he; and Alice told her story.
The party had gone sight-seeing, and she had had a headache and had stayed in the car. And Charlie Carter had come and begun making love to her. "He had asked me to marry him already—that was at the beginning of the trip," she said. "And I told him no. After that he would never let me alone. And this time he went on in a terrible way—he flung himself down on his knees, and wept, and said he couldn't live without me. And nothing I could say did any good. At last he—he caught hold of me—and he wouldn't let me go. I was furious with him, and frightened. I had to threaten to call for help before he would stop. And so—you see how it was."
"I see," said Montague, gravely. "Go on."
"Well, after that I made up my mind that I couldn't stay anywhere where I had to see him. And I knew he would never go away without a scene. If I had asked Mrs. Prentice to send him away, there would have been a scandal, and it would have spoiled everybody's trip. So I went out, and found there was a train for the East in a little while, and I packed up my things, and left a note for Mrs. Prentice. I told her a story—I said I'd had a telegram that your mother was ill, and that I didn't want to spoil their good time, and had gone by myself. That was the best thing I could think of. I wasn't afraid to travel, so long as I was sure that Charlie couldn't catch up with me."
Montague said nothing; he sat with his hands gripped tightly.
"It seemed like a desperate thing to do," said Alice, nervously. "But you see, I was upset and unhappy. I didn't seem to like the party any more—I wanted to be home. Do you understand?"
"Yes," said Montague, "I understand. And I'm glad you are here."
They reached home, and Montague called up Harvey's and told his brother what had happened. He could hear Oliver gasp with astonishment. "That's a pretty how-do-you-do!" he said, when he had got his breath back; and then he added, with a laugh, "I suppose that settles poor Charlie's chances."
"I'm glad you've come to that conclusion," said the other, as he hung up the receiver.
This episode gave Montague quite a shock. But he had little time to think about it—the next morning at eleven o'clock his case was to come up for trial, and so all his thoughts were called away. This case had been the one real interest of his life for the last three months; it was his purpose, the thing for the sake of which he endured everything else that repelled him. And he had trained himself as an athlete for a great race; he was in form, and ready for the effort of his life. He went down town that morning with every fibre of him, body and mind, alert and eager; and he went into his office, and in his mail was a letter from Mr. Hasbrook. He opened it hastily and read a message, brief and direct and decisive as a sword-thrust:
"I beg to inform you that I have received a satisfactory proposition from the Fidelity Company. I have settled with them, and wish to withdraw the suit. Thanking you for your services, I remain, sincerely."
To Montague the thing came like a thunderbolt. He sat utterly dumbfounded—his hands went limp, and the letter fell upon the desk in front of him.
And at last, when he did move, he picked up the telephone, and told his secretary to call up Mr. Hasbrook. Then he sat waiting; and when the bell rang, picked up the receiver, expecting to hear Mr. Hasbrook's voice, and to demand an explanation. But he heard, instead, the voice of his own secretary: "Central says the number's been discontinued, sir."
And he hung up the receiver, and sat motionless again. The dummy had disappeared!
To Montague this incident meant a change in the prospect of his whole life. It was the collapse of all his hopes. He had nothing more to work for, nothing more to think about; the bottom had fallen out of his career!
He was burning with a sense of outrage. He had been tricked and made a fool of; he had been used and flung aside. And now there was nothing he could do—he was utterly helpless. What affected him most was his sense of the overwhelming magnitude of the powers which had made him their puppet; of the utter futility of the efforts that he or any other man could make against them. They were like elemental, cosmic forces; they held all the world in their grip, and a common man was as much at their mercy as a bit of chaff in a tempest.
All day long he sat in his office, brooding and nursing his wrath. He had moods when he wished to drop everything, to shake the dust of the city from his feet, and go back home and recollect what it was to be a gentleman. And then again he had fighting moods, when he wished to devote all his life to punishing the men who had made use of him. He would get hold of some other policy-holder in the Fidelity, one whom he could trust; he would take the case without pay, and carry it through to the end! He would force the newspapers to talk about it—he would force the people to heed what he said!
And then, toward evening, he went home, bitter and sore. And there was his brother sitting in his study, waiting for him.
"Hello," he said, and took off his coat, preparing his mind for one more ignominy—the telling of his misfortune to Oliver, and listening to his inevitable, "I told you so."
But Oliver himself had something to communicate something that would not bear keeping. He broke out at once—"Tell me, Allan! What in the world has happened between you and Mrs. Winnie?"
"What do you mean?" asked Montague, sharply.
"Why," said Oliver, "everybody is talking about some kind of a quarrel."
"There has been no quarrel," said Montague.
"Well, what is it, then?"
"It must be something!" exclaimed Oliver. "What do all the stories mean?"
"About you two. I met Mrs. Vivie Patton just now, and she swore me to secrecy, and told me that Mrs. Winnie had told some one that you had made love to her so outrageously that she had to ask you to leave the house."
Montague shrunk as from a blow. "Oh!" he gasped.
"That's what she said," said he.
"It's a lie!" he cried.
"That's what I told Mrs. Vivie," said the other; "it doesn't sound like you—"
Montague had flushed scarlet. "I don't mean that!" he cried. "I mean that Mrs. Winnie never said any such thing."
"Oh," said Oliver, and he shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe not," he added. "But I know she's furious with you about something—everybody's talking about it. She tells people that she'll never speak to you again. And what I want to know is, why is it that you have to do things to make enemies of everybody you know?"
Montague said nothing; he was trembling with anger.
"What in the world did you do to her?" began the other. "Can't you trust me—-"
And suddenly Montague sprang to his feet. "Oh, Oliver," he exclaimed, "let me alone! Go away!"
And he went into the next room and slammed the door, and began pacing back and forth like a caged animal.
It was a lie! It was a lie! Mrs. Winnie had never said such a thing! He would never believe it—it was a nasty piece of backstairs gossip!
But then a new burst of rage swept over him What did it matter Whether it was true or not—whether anything was true or not? What did it matter if anybody had done all the hideous and loathsome things that everybody else said they had done? It was what everybody was saying! It was what everybody believed—what everybody was interested in! It was the measure of a whole society—their ideals and their standards! It was the way they spent their time, repeating nasty scandals about each other; living in an atmosphere of suspicion and cynicism, with endless whispering and leering, and gossip of lew intrigue.
A flood of rage surged up within him, and swept him, away—rage against the world into which he had come, and against himself for the part he had played in it. Everything seemed to have come to a head at once; and he hated everything—hated the people he had met, and the things they did, and the things they had tempted him to do. He hated the way he had got his money, and the way he had spent it. He hated the idleness and wastefulness, the drunkenness and debauchery, the meanness and the snobbishness.
And suddenly he turned and flung open the door of the room where Oliver still sat. And he stood in the doorway, exclaiming, "Oliver, I'm done with it!"
Oliver stared at him. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"I mean," cried his brother, "that I've had all I can stand of 'Society!' And I'm going to quit. You can go on—but I don't intend to take another step with you! I've had enough—and I think Alice has had enough, also. We'll take ourselves off your hands—we'll get out!"
"What are you going to do?" gasped Oliver.
"I'm going to give up these expensive apartments—give them up to-morrow, when our week is up. And I'm going to stop squandering money for things I don't want. I'm going to stop accepting invitations, and meeting people I don't like and don't want to know. I've tried your game—I've tried it hard, and I don't like it; and I'm going to get out before it's too late. I'm going to find some decent and simple place to live in; and I'm going down town to find out if there isn't some way in New York for a man to earn an honest living!"