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In my suite in the Textile Building, just off the big main room with its blackboards and tickers, I had a small office in which I spent a good deal of time during Stock Exchange hours. It was there that Sam Ellersly found me the next day but one after my talk with Roebuck.
"I want you to sell that Steel Common, Matt," said he.
"It'll go several points higher," said I. "Better let me hold it and use my judgment on selling."
"I need money--right away," was his answer.
"That's all right," said I. "Let me give you an order for what you need."
"Thank you, thank you," said he, so promptly that I knew I had done what he had been hoping for, probably counting on.
I give this incident to show what our relations were. He was a young fellow of good family, to whom I had taken a liking. He was a lazy dog, and as out of place in business as a cat in a choir. I had been keeping him going for four years at that time, by giving him tips on stocks and protecting him against loss. This purely out of good nature and liking; for I hadn't the remotest idea he could ever be of use to me beyond helping to liven things up at a dinner or late supper, or down in the country, or on the yacht. In fact, his principal use to me was that he knew how to "beat the box" well enough to shake fairly good music out of it--and I am so fond of music that I can fill in with my imagination when the performer isn't too bad.
They have charged that I deliberately ruined him. Ruined! The first time I gave him a tip--and that was the second or third time I ever saw him--he burst into tears and said: "You've saved my life, Blacklock. I'll never tell you how much this windfall means to me now." Nor did I with deep and dark design keep him along on the ragged edge. He kept himself there. How could I build up such a man with his hundred ways of wasting money, including throwing it away on his own opinions of stocks--for he would gamble on his own account in the bucket-shops, though I had shown him that the Wall Street game is played always with marked cards, and that the only hope of winning is to get the confidence of the card-markers, unless you are big enough to become a card-marker yourself.
As soon as he got the money from my teller that day, he was rushing away. I followed him to the door--that part of my suite opened out on the sidewalk, for the convenience of my crowds of customers. "I'm just going to lunch," said I. "Come with me."
He looked uneasily toward a smart little one-horse brougham at the curb. "Sorry--but I can't," said he. "I've my sister with me. She brought me down in her trap."
"That's all right," said I; "bring her along. We'll go to the Savarin." And I locked his arm in mine and started toward the brougham.
He was turning all kinds of colors, and was acting in a way that puzzled me--then. Despite all my years in New York I was ignorant of the elaborate social distinctions that had grown up in its Fifth Avenue quarter. I knew, of course, that there was a fashionable society and that some of the most conspicuous of those in it seemed unable to get used to the idea of being rich and were in a state of great agitation over their own importance. Important they might be, but not to me. I knew nothing of their careful gradations of snobbism--the people to know socially, the people to know in a business way, the people to know in ways religious and philanthropic, the people to know for the fun to be got out of them, the people to pride oneself on not knowing at all; the nervousness, the hysteria about preserving these disgusting gradations. All this, I say, was an undreamed-of mystery to me who gave and took liking in the sensible, self-respecting American fashion. So I didn't understand why Sam, as I almost dragged him along, was stammering: "Thank you--but--I--she--the fact is, we really must get up-town."
By this time I was where I could look into the brougham. A glance--I can see much at a glance, as can any man who spends every day of every year in an all-day fight for his purse and his life, with the blows coming from all sides. I can see much at a glance; I often have seen much; I never saw more than just then. Instantly, I made up my mind that the Ellerslys would lunch with me. "You've got to eat somewhere," said I, in a tone that put an end to his attempts to manufacture excuses. "I'll be delighted to have you. Don't make up any more yarns."
He slowly opened the door. "Anita," said he, "Mr. Blacklock. He's invited us to lunch."
I lifted my hat, and bowed. I kept my eyes straight upon hers. And it gave me more pleasure to look into them than I had ever before got out of looking into anybody's. I am passionately fond of flowers, and of children; and her face reminded me of both. Or, rather, it seemed to me that what I had seen, with delight and longing, incomplete in their freshness and beauty and charm, was now before me in the fullness. I felt like saying to her, "I have heard of you often. The children and the flowers have told me you were coming." Perhaps my eyes did say it. At any rate, she looked as straight at me as I at her, and I noticed that she paled a little and shrank--yet continued to look, as if I were compelling her. But her voice, beautifully clear, and lingering in the ears like the resonance of the violin after the bow has swept its strings and lifted, was perfectly self-possessed, as she said to her brother: "That will be delightful--if you think we have time."
I saw that she, uncertain whether he wished to accept, was giving him a chance to take either course. "He has time--nothing but time," said I. "His engagements are always with people who want to get something out of him. And they can wait." I pretended to think he was expecting me to enter the trap; I got in, seated myself beside her, said to Sam: "I've saved the little seat for you. Tell your man to take us to the Equitable Building--Nassau Street entrance."
I talked a good deal during the first half of the nearly two hours we were together--partly because both Sam and his sister seemed under some sort of strain, chiefly because I was determined to make a good impression. I told her about myself, my horses, my house in the country, my yacht. I tried to show her I wasn't an ignoramus as to books and art, even if I hadn't been to college. She listened, while Sam sat embarrassed. "You must bring your sister down to visit me," I said finally. "I'll see that you both have the time of your lives. Make up a party of your friends, Sam, and come down--when shall we say? Next Sunday? You know you were coming anyhow. I can change the rest of the party."
Sam grew as red as if he were going into apoplexy. I thought then he was afraid I'd blurt out something about who were in the party I was proposing to change. I was soon to know better.
"Thank you, Mr.--Blacklock," said his sister. "But I have an engagement next Sunday. I have a great many engagements just now. Without looking at my book I couldn't say when I can go." This easily and naturally. In her set they certainly do learn thoroughly that branch of tact which plain people call lying.
Sam gave her a grateful look, which he thought I didn't see, and which I didn't rightly interpret--then.
"We'll fix it up later, Blacklock," said he.
"All right," said I. And from that minute I was almost silent. It was something in her tone and manner that silenced me. I suddenly realized that I wasn't making as good an impression as I had been flattering myself.
When a man has money and is willing to spend it, he can readily fool himself into imagining he gets on grandly with women. But I had better grounds than that for thinking myself not unattractive to them, as a rule. Women had liked me when I had nothing; women had liked me when they didn't know who I was. I felt that this woman did not like me. And yet, by the way she looked at me in spite of her efforts not to do so, I could tell that I had some sort of unusual interest for her. Why didn't she like me? She made me feel the reason. I didn't belong to her world. My ways and my looks offended her. She disliked me a good deal; she feared me a little. She would have felt safer if she had been gratifying her curiosity, gazing in at me through the bars of a cage.
Where I had been feeling and showing my usual assurance, I now became ill at ease. I longed for them to be gone; at the same time I hated to let her go--for, when and how would I see her again, would I get the chance to remove her bad impression? It irritated me thus to be concerned about the sister of a man into my liking for whom there was mixed much pity and some contempt. But I am of the disposition that, whenever I see an obstacle of whatever kind, I can not restrain myself from trying to jump it. Here was an obstacle--a dislike. To clear it was of the smallest importance in the world, was a silly waste of time. Yet I felt I could not maintain with myself my boast that there were no obstacles I couldn't get over, if I turned aside from this.
Sam--not without hesitation, as I recalled afterward--left me with her, when I sent him to bring her brougham up to the Broadway entrance. As she and I were standing there alone, waiting in silence, I turned on her suddenly, and blurted out, "You don't like me."
She reddened a little, smiled slightly. "What a quaint remark!" said she.
I looked straight at her. "But you shall."
Our eyes met. Her chin came out a little, her eyebrows lifted. Then, in scorn of herself as well as of me, she locked herself in behind a frozen haughtiness that ignored me. "Ah, here is the carriage," she said. I followed her to the curb; she just touched my hand, just nodded her fascinating little head.
"See you Saturday, old man," called her brother friendlily. My lowering face had alarmed him.
"That party is off," said I curtly. And I lifted my hat and strode away.
As I had formed the habit of dismissing the disagreeable, I soon put her out of my mind. But she took with her my joy in the taste of things. I couldn't get back my former keen satisfaction in all I had done and was doing. The luxury, the tangible evidences of my achievement, no longer gave me pleasure; they seemed to add to my irritation.
That's the way it is in life. We load ourselves down with toys like so many greedy children; then we see another toy and drop everything to be free to seize it; and if we can not, we're wretched.
I worked myself up, or rather, down, to such a mood that when my office boy told me Mr. Langdon would like me to come to his office as soon as it was convenient, I snapped out: "The hell he does! Tell Mr. Langdon I'll be glad to see him here whenever he calls." That was stupidity, a premature assertion of my right to be treated as an equal. I had always gone to Langdon, and to any other of the rulers of finance, whenever I had got a summons. For, while I was rich and powerful, I held both wealth and power, in a sense, on sufferance; I knew that, so long as I had no absolute control of any great department of industry, these rulers could destroy me should they decide that they needed my holdings or were not satisfied with my use of my power. There were a good many people who did not realize that property rights had ceased to exist, that property had become a revocable grant from the "plutocrats." I was not of those misguided ones who had failed to discover the new fact concealed in the old form. So I used to go when I was summoned.
But not that day. However, no sooner was my boy gone than I repented the imprudence, "But what of it?" said I to myself. "No matter how the thing turns out, I shall be able to get some advantage." For it was part of my philosophy that a proper boat with proper sails and a proper steersman can gain in any wind. I was surprised when Langdon appeared in my office a few minutes later.
He was a tallish, slim man, carefully dressed, with a bored, weary look and a slow, bored way of talking. I had always said that if I had not been myself I should have wished to be Langdon. Men liked and admired him; women loved and ran after him. Yet he exerted not the slightest effort to please any one; on the contrary, he made it distinct and clear that he didn't care a rap what any one thought of him or, for that matter, of anybody or anything. He knew how to get, without sweat or snatching, all the good there was in whatever fate threw in his way--and he was one of those men into whose way fate seems to strive to put everything worth having. His business judgment was shrewd, but he cared nothing for the big game he was playing except as a game. Like myself, he was simply a sportsman--and, I think, that is why we liked each other. He could have trusted almost any one that came into contact with him; but he trusted nobody, and frankly warned every one not to trust him--a safe frankness, for his charm caused it to be forgotten or ignored. He would do anything to gain an object, however trivial, which chanced to attract him; once it was his, he would throw it aside as carelessly as an ill-fitting collar.
His expression, as he came into my office, was one of cynical amusement, as if he were saying to himself: "Our friend Blacklock has caught the swollen head at last." Not a suggestion of ill humor, of resentment at my impertinence--for, in the circumstances, I had been guilty of an impertinence. Just languid, amused patience with the frailty of a friend. "I see," said he, "that you have got Textile up to eighty-five."
He was the head of the Textile Trust which had been built by his brother-in-law and had fallen to him in the confusion following his brother-in-law's death. As he was just then needing some money for his share in the National Coal undertaking, he had directed me to push Textile up toward par and unload him of two or three hundred thousand shares--he, of course, to repurchase the shares after he had taken profits and Textile had dropped back to its normal fifty.
"I'll have it up to ninety-eight by the middle of next month," said I. "And there I think we'd better stop."
"Stop at about ninety," said he. "That will give me all I find I'll need for this Coal business. I don't want to be bothered with hunting up an investment."
I shook my head. "I must put it up to within a point or two of par," I declared. "In my public letter I've been saying it would go above ninety-five, and I never deceive my public."
He smiled--my notion of honesty always amused him. "As you please," he said with a shrug. Then I saw a serious look--just a fleeting flash of warning--behind his smiling mask; and he added carelessly: "Be careful about your own personal play. I doubt if Textile can be put any higher."
It must have been my mood that prevented those words from making the impression on me they should have made. Instead of appreciating at once and at its full value this characteristic and amazingly friendly signal of caution, I showed how stupidly inattentive I was by saying: "Something doing? Something new?"
But he had already gone further than his notion of friendship warranted. So he replied: "Oh, no. Simply that everything's uncertain nowadays."
My mind had been all this time on those Manasquale mining properties. I now said: "Has Roebuck told you that I had to buy those mines on my own account?"
"Yes," he said. He hesitated, and again he gave me a look whose meaning came to me only when it was too late. "I think, Blacklock, you'd better turn them over to me."
"I can't," I answered. "I gave my word."
"As you please," said he.
Apparently the matter didn't interest him. He began to talk of the performances of my little two-year-old, Beachcomber; and after twenty minutes or so, he drifted away. "I envy you your enthusiasm," he said, pausing in my doorway. "Wherever I am, I wish I were somewhere else. Whatever I'm doing, I wish I were doing something else. Where do you get all this joy of the fight? What the devil are you fighting for?"
He didn't wait for a reply.
I thought over my situation steadily for several days. I went down to my country place. I looked everywhere among all my belongings, searching, searching, restless, impatient. At last I knew what ailed me--what the lack was that yawned so gloomily from everything I had once thought beautiful, had once found sufficient. I was in the midst of the splendid, terraced pansy beds my gardeners had just set out; I stopped short and slapped my thigh. "A woman!" I exclaimed. "That's what I need. A woman--the right sort of woman--a wife!"
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