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Now that Updegraff is dead, I am free to tell of our relations.
My acquaintance with him was more casual than with any other of "The Seven." From the outset of my career I made it a rule never to deal with understrappers, always to get in touch with the man who had the final say. Thus, as the years went by, I grew into intimacy with the great men of finance where many with better natural facilities for knowing them remained in an outer circle. But with Updegraff, interested only in enterprises west of the Mississippi and keeping Denver as his legal residence and exploiting himself as a Western man who hated Wall Street, I had a mere bowing acquaintance. This was unimportant, however, as each knew the other well by reputation. Our common intimacies made us intimates for all practical purposes.
Our connection was established soon after the development of my campaign against the Textile Trust had shown that I was after a big bag of the biggest game. We happened to have the same secret broker; and I suppose it was in his crafty brain that the idea of bringing us together was born. Be that as it may, he by gradual stages intimated to me that Updegraff would convey me secrets of "The Seven" in exchange for a guarantee that I would not attack his interests. I do not know what his motive in this treachery was--probably a desire to curb the power of his associates in industrial despotism.
Each of "The Seven" hated and feared and suspected the other six with far more than the ordinary and proverbial rich man's jealous dislike of other rich men. There was not one of them that did not bear the ever-smarting scars of vicious wounds, front and back, received from his fellows; there was not one that did not cherish the hope of overthrowing the rule of Seven and establishing the rule of One. At any rate, I accepted Updegraff's proposition; henceforth, though he stopped speaking to me when we happened to meet, as did all the other big bandits and most of their parasites and procurers, he kept me informed of every act "The Seven" resolved upon.
Thus I knew all about their "gentlemen's agreement" to support the stock market, and that they had made Tavistock their agent for resisting any and all attempts to lower prices, and had given him practically unlimited funds to draw upon as he needed. I had Tavistock sounded on every side, but found no weak spot. There was no rascality he would not perpetrate for whoever employed him; but to his employer he was as loyal as a woman to a bad man. And for a time it looked as if "The Seven" had checkmated me. Those outsiders who had invested heavily in the great enterprises through which "The Seven" ruled were disposing of their holdings--cautiously, through fear of breaking the market. Money would pile up in the banks--money paid out by "The Seven" for their bonds and stocks, of which the people had become deeply suspicious. Then these deposits would be withdrawn--and I knew they were going into real estate investments, because news of booms in real estate and in building was coming in from everywhere. But prices on the Stock Exchange continued to advance.
"They are too strong for you," said Joe. "They will hold the market up until the public loses faith in you. Then they will sell out at top-notch prices as the people rush in to buy."
I might have wavered had I not been seeing Tavistock every day. He continued to wear his devil-may-care air; but I observed that he was aging swiftly--and I knew what that meant. Fighting all day to prevent breaks in the crucial stocks; planning most of the night how to prevent breaks the next day; watching the reserve resources of "The Seven" melt away. Those reserves were vast; also, "The Seven" controlled the United States Treasury, and were using its resources as their own; they were buying securities that would be almost worthless if they lost, but if they won, would be rebought by the public at the old swindling prices, when "confidence" was restored. But there was I, cannonading incessantly from my impregnable position; as fast as they repaired breaches in their walls, my big guns of publicity tore new breaches. No wonder Tavistock had thinner hair and wrinkles and a drawn look about the eyes, nose and mouth.
With the battle thus raging all along the line, on the one side "The Seven" and their armies of money and mercenaries and impressed slaves, on the other side the public, I in command, you will say that my yearning for distraction must have been gratified. If the road from his cell were long enough, the condemned man would be fretting less about the gallows than about the tight shoe that was making him limp and wince at every step. Besides, in human affairs it is the personal, always the personal. I soon got used to the crowds, to the big head-lines in the newspapers, to the routine of cannonade and reply.
But the old thorn, pressing persistently--I could not get used to that. In the midst of the adulation, of the blares upon the trumpets of fame that saluted my waking and were wafted to me as I fell asleep at night--in the midst of all the turmoil, I was often in a great and brooding silence, longing for her, now with the imperious energy of passion, and now with the sad ache of love. What was she doing? What was she thinking? Now that Langdon had again played her false for the old price, with what eyes was she looking into the future?
Alva, settled in a West Side apartment not far from the ancestral white elephant, telephoned, asking me to come. I went, because she could and would give me news of Anita. But as I entered her little drawing-room, I said: "It was curiosity that brought me. I wished to see how you were installed."
"Isn't it nice and small?" cried she. "Billy and I haven't the slightest difficulty in finding each other--as people so often have in the big houses." And it was Billy this and Billy that, and what Billy said and thought and felt--and before they were married, she had called him William, and had declared "Billy" to be the most offensive combination of letters that ever fell from human lips.
"I needn't ask if you are happy," said I presently, with a dismal failure at looking cheerful. "I can't stay but a moment," I added, and if I had obeyed my feelings, I'd have risen up and taken myself and my pain away from surroundings as hateful to me as a summer sunrise in a death-chamber.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, in some confusion. "Then excuse me." And she hastened from the room.
I thought she had gone to order, or perhaps to bring, the tea. The long minutes dragged away until ten had passed. Hearing a rustling in the hall, I rose, intending to take leave the instant she appeared. The rustling stopped just outside. I waited a few seconds, cried, "Well, I'm off. Next time I want to be alone, I'll know where to come," and advanced to the door. It was not Alva hesitating there; it was Anita.
"I beg your pardon," said I coldly.
If there had been room to pass I should have gone. What devil possessed me? Certainly in all our relations I had found her direct and frank, if anything, too frank. Doubtless it was the influence of my associations down town, where for so many months I had been dealing with the "short-card" crowd of high finance, who would hardly play the game straight even when that was the easy way to win. My long, steady stretch in that stealthy and sinuous company had put me in the state of mind in which it is impossible to credit any human being with a motive that is decent or an action that is not a dead-fall. Thus the obvious transformation in her made no impression on me. Her haughtiness, her coldness, were gone, and with them had gone all that had been least like her natural self, most like the repellent conventional pattern to which her mother and her associates had molded her. But I was saying to myself: "A trap! Langdon has gone back to his wife. She turns to me." And I loved her and hated her. "Never," thought I, "has she shown so poor an opinion of me as now."
"My uncle told me day before yesterday that it was not he but you," she said, lifting her eyes to mine. It is inconceivable to me now that I could have misread their honest story; yet I did.
"I had no idea your uncle's notion of honor was also eccentric," said I, with a satirical smile that made the blood rush to her face.
"That is unjust to him," she replied earnestly.
"He says he made you no promise of secrecy. And he confessed to me only because he wished to convince me that he had good reason for his high opinion of you."
"Really!" said I ironically. "And no doubt he found you open wide to conviction--now." This a subtlety to let her know that I understood why she was seeking me.
"No," she answered, lowering her eyes. "I knew--better than he."
For an instant this, spoken in a voice I had long given up hope of ever hearing from her, staggered my cynical conviction. But-- "Possibly she thinks she is sincere," reasoned my head with my heart; "even the sincerest women, brought up as was she, always have the calculator underneath; they deny it, they don't know it often, but there it is; with them, calculation is as involuntary and automatic as their pulse." So, I said to her, mockingly: "Doubtless your opinion of me has been improving steadily ever since you heard that Mrs. Langdon had recovered her husband."
She winced, as if I had struck her. "Oh!" she murmured. If she had been the ordinary woman, who in every crisis with man instinctively resorts to weakness' strongest weakness, tears, I might have a different story to tell. But she fought back the tears in which her eyes were swimming and gathered herself together. "That is brutal," she said, with not a touch of haughtiness, but not humbly, either. "But I deserve it."
"There was a time," I went on, swept in a swift current of cold rage, "there was a time when I would have taken you on almost any terms. A man never makes a complete fool of himself about a woman but once in his life, they say. I have done my stretch--and it is over."
She sighed wearily. "Langdon came to see me soon after I left your house, and went to my uncle," she said. "I will tell you what happened."
"I do not wish to hear," replied I, adding pointedly, "I have been waiting ever since you left for news of your plans."
She grew white, and my heart smote me. She came into the room and seated herself. "Won't you stop, please, for a moment longer?" she said. "I hope that, at, least, we can part without bitterness. I understand now that everything is over between us. A woman's vanity makes her belief that a man cares for her die hard. I am convinced now--I assure you, I am. I shall trouble you no more about the past. But I have the right to ask you to hear me when I say that Langdon came, and that I myself sent him away; sent him back to his wife."
"Touching self-sacrifice," said I ironically.
"No," she replied. "I can not claim any credit. I sent him away only because you and Alva had taught me how to judge him better. I do not despise him as do you; I know too well what has made him what he is. But I had to send him away."
My comment was an incredulous look and shrug. "I must be going," I said.
"You do not believe me?" she asked.
"In my place, would you believe?" replied I. "You say I have taught you. Well, you have taught me, too--for instance, that the years you've spent on your knees in the musty temple of conventionality before false gods have made you--fit only for the Langdon sort of thing. You can't learn how to stand erect, and your eyes can not bear the light."
"I am sorry," she said slowly, hesitatingly, "that your faith in me died just when I might, perhaps, have justified it. Ours has been a pitiful series of misunderstandings."
"A trap! A trap!" I was warning myself. "You've been a fool long enough, Blacklock." And aloud I said: "Well, Anita, the series is ended now. There's no longer any occasion for our lying or posing to each other. Any arrangements your uncle's lawyers suggest will be made."
I was bowing, to leave without shaking hands with her. But she would not have it so. "Please!" she said, stretching out her long, slender arm and offering me her hand.
What a devil possessed me that day! With every atom of me longing for her, I yet was able to take her hand and say, with a smile, that was, I doubt not, as mocking as my tone: "By all means let us be friends. And I trust you will not think me discourteous if I say that I shall feel safer in our friendship when we are both on neutral ground."
As I was turning away, her look, my own heart, made me turn again. I caught her by the shoulders. I gazed into her eyes. "If I could only trust you, could only believe you!" I cried.
"You cared for me when I wasn't worth it," she said. "Now that I am more like what you once imagined me, you do not care."
Up between us rose Langdon's face--cynical, mocking, contemptuous. "Your heart is his! You told me so! Don't lie to me!" I exclaimed. And before she could reply, I was gone.
Out from under the spell of her presence, back among the tricksters and assassins, the traps and ambushes of Wall Street, I believed again; believed firmly the promptings of the devil that possessed me. "She would have given you a brief fool's paradise," said that devil. "Then what a hideous awakening!" And I cursed the day when New York's insidious snobbishness had tempted my vanity into starting me on that degrading chase after "respectability."
"If she does not move to free herself soon," said I to myself, "I will put my own lawyer to work. My right eye offends me. I will pluck it out."
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