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To handle this new business properly I must put myself in position to look the whole field over. I must get in line and in touch with "respectability." When Sam Ellersly came in for his "rations," I said: "Sam, I want you to put me up at the Travelers Club."
"The Travelers!" echoed he, with a blank look.
"The Travelers," said I. "It's about the best of the big clubs, isn't it? And it has as members most of the men I do business with and most of those I want to get into touch with."
He laughed. "It can't be done."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Oh--I don't know. You see--the fact is--well, they're a lot of old fogies up there. You don't want to bother with that push, Matt. Take my advice. Do business with them, but avoid them socially."
"I want to go in there," I insisted. "I have my own reasons. You put me up."
"I tell you, it'd be no use," he replied, in a tone that implied he wished to hear no more of the matter.
"You put me up," I repeated. "And if you do your best, I'll get in all right. I've got lots of friends there. And you've got three relatives in the committee on membership."
At this he gave me a queer, sharp glance--a little fright in it.
I laughed. "You see, I've been looking into it, Sam. I never take a jump till I've measured it."
"You'd better wait a few years, until--" he began, then stopped and turned red.
"Until what?" said I. "I want you to speak frankly."
"Well, you've got a lot of enemies--a lot of fellows who've lost money in deals you've engineered. And they'd say all sorts of things."
"I'll take care of that," said I, quite easy in mind. "Mowbray Langdon's president, isn't he? Well, he's my closest friend." I spoke quite honestly. It shows how simple-minded I was in certain ways that I had never once noted the important circumstance that this "closest friend" had never invited me to his house, or anywhere where I'd meet his up-town associates at introducing distance.
Sam looked surprised. "Oh, in that case," he said, "I'll see what can be done." But his tone was not quite cordial enough to satisfy me.
To stimulate him and to give him an earnest of what I intended to do for him, when our little social deal had been put through, I showed him how he could win ten thousand dollars in the next three days. "And you needn't bother about putting up margins," said I, as I often had before. "I'll take care of that."
He stammered a refusal and went out; but he came back within an hour, and, in a strained sort of way, accepted my tip and my offer.
"That's sensible," said I. "When will you attend to the matter at the Travelers? I want to be warned so I can pull my own set of wires in concert."
"I'll let you know," he answered, hanging his head.
I didn't understand his queer actions then. Though I was an expert in finance, I hadn't yet made a study of that other game--the game of "gentleman." And I didn't know how seriously the frauds and fakirs who play it take it and themselves. I attributed his confusion to a ridiculous mock modesty he had about accepting favors; it struck me as being particularly silly on this occasion, because for once he was to give as well as to take.
He didn't call for his profits, but wrote asking me to mail him the check for them. I did so, putting in the envelop with it a little jog to his memory on the club matter. I didn't see him again for nearly a month; and though I searched and sent, I couldn't get his trail. On opening day at Morris Park, I was going along the passage behind the boxes in the grand stand, on my way to the paddock. I wanted to see my horse that was about to run for the Salmagundi Sweepstakes, and to tell my jockey that I'd give him fifteen thousand, instead of ten thousand, if he won--for I had put quite a bunch down. I was a figure at the tracks in those days. I went into racing on my customary generous scale. I liked horses, just as I liked everything that belonged out under the big sky; also I liked the advertising my string of thoroughbreds gave me. I was rich enough to be beyond the stage at which a man excites suspicion by frequenting race-tracks and gambling-houses; I was at the height where prodigalities begin to be taken as evidences of abounding superfluity, not of a dangerous profligacy. Jim Harkaway, who failed at playing the same game I played and won, said to me with a sneer one day: "You certainly do know how to get a dollar's worth of notoriety out of a dollar's worth of advertising."
"If I only knew that, Jim," said I, "I'd have been long ago where you're bound for. The trick is to get it back ten for one. The more you advertise yourself, the more suspicious of you people become. The more money I 'throw away' in advertising, the more convinced people are that I can afford to do it."
But, as I was about to say, in one of the boxes I spied my shy friend, Sammy. He was looking better than I had ever seen him. Less heavy-eyed, less pallid and pasty, less like a man who had been shirking bed and keeping up on cocktails and cold baths. He was at the rear of the box, talking with a lady and a gentleman. As soon as I saw that lady, I knew what it was that had been hiding at the bottom of my mind and rankling there.
Luckily I was alone; ever since that lunch I had been cutting loose from the old crowd--from all its women, and from all its men except two or three real friends who were good fellows straight through, in spite of their having made the mistake of crossing the dead line between amateur "sport" and professional. I leaned over and tapped Sammy on the shoulder.
He glanced round, and when he saw me, looked as if I were a policeman who had caught him in the act.
"Howdy, Sam?" said I. "It's been so long since I've seen you that I couldn't resist the temptation to interrupt. Hope your friends'll excuse me. Howdy do, Miss Ellersly?" And I put out my hand.
She took it reluctantly. She was giving me a very unpleasant look--as if she were seeing, not somebody, but some thing she didn't care to see, or were seeing nothing at all. I liked that look; I liked the woman who had it in her to give it. She made me feel that she was difficult and therefore worth while, and that's what alt we human beings are in business for--to make each other feel that we're worth while.
"Just a moment," said Sam, red as a cranberry and stuttering. And he made a motion to come out of the box and join me. At the same time Miss Anita and the other fellow began to turn away.
But I was not the man to be cheated in that fashion. I wanted to see her, and I compelled her to see it and to feel it. "Don't let me take you from your friends," said I to Sammy. "Perhaps they'd like to come with you and me down to look at my horse. I can give you a good tip--he's bound to win. I've had my boys out on the rails every morning at the trials of all the other possibilities. None of 'em's in it with Mowghli."
"Mowghli!" said the young lady--she had begun to turn toward me as soon as I spoke the magic word, "tip." There may be men who can resist that word "tip" at the race-track, but there never was a woman.
"My sister has to stay here," said Sammy hurriedly. "I'll go with you, Blacklock."
All this time he was looking as if he were doing something he ought to be ashamed of. I thought then he was ashamed because he, professing to be a gentleman, had been neglecting his debt of honor. I now know he was ashamed because he was responsible for his sister's being contaminated by contact with such a man as I! I who hadn't a dollar that wasn't honestly earned; I who had made a fortune by my own efforts, and was spending my millions like a prince; I who had taste in art and music and in architecture and furnishing and all the fine things of life. Above all, I who had been his friend and benefactor. He knew I was more of a gentleman than he could ever hope to be, he with no ability at anything but spending money; he a sponge and a cadger, yes, and a welcher--for wasn't he doing his best to welch me? But just because a lot of his friends, jealous of my success and angry that I refused to truckle to them and be like them instead of like myself, sneered at me--behind my back--this poor-spirited creature was daring to pretend to himself that I wasn't fit for the society of his sister!
"Mowghli!" said Miss Ellersly. "What a quaint name!"
"My trainer gave it," said I. "I've got a second son of one of those broken-down English noblemen at the head of my stables. He's trying to get money enough together to be able to show up at Newport and take a shy at an heiress."
At this the fellow who was fourth in our party, and who had been giving me a nasty, glassy stare, got as red as was Sammy. Then I noticed that he was an Englishman, and I all but chuckled with delight. However, I said, "No offense intended," and clapped him on the shoulder with a friendly smile. "He's a good fellow, my man Monson, and knows a lot about horses."
Miss Ellersly bit her lip and colored, but I noticed also that her eyes were dancing.
Sam introduced the Englishman to me--Lord Somebody-or-other, I forget what, as I never saw him again. I turned like a bulldog from a toy terrier and was at Miss Ellersly again. "Let me put a little something on Mowghli for you," said I. "You're bound to win--and I'll see that you don't lose. I know how you ladies hate to lose."
That was a bit stiff, as I know well enough now. Indeed, my instinct would have told me better then, if I hadn't been so used to the sort of women that jump at such an offer, and if I hadn't been casting about so desperately and in such confusion for some way to please her. At any rate, I hardly deserved her sudden frozen look. "I beg pardon," I stammered, and I think my look at her must have been very humble--for me.
The others in the box were staring round at us. "Come on," cried Sam, dragging at my arm, "let's go."
"Won't you come?" I said to his sister. I shouldn't have been able to keep my state of mind out of my voice, if I had tried. And I didn't try.
Trust the right sort of woman to see the right sort of thing in a man through any and all kinds of barriers of caste and manners and breeding. Her voice was much softer as she said: "I think I must stay here. Thank you, just the same."
As soon as Sam and I were alone, I apologized. "I hope you'll tell your sister I'm sorry for that break," said I.
"Oh, that's all right," he answered, easy again, now that we were away from the others. "You meant well--and motive's the thing."
"Motive--hell!" cried I in my anger at myself. "Nobody but a man's God knows his motives; he doesn't even know them himself. I judge others by what they do, and I expect to be judged in the same way. I see I've got a lot to learn." Then I suddenly remembered the Travelers Club, and asked him what he'd done about it.
"I--I've been--thinking it over," said he. "Are you sure you want to run the risk of an ugly cropper, Matt?"
I turned him round so that we were facing each other. "Do you want to do me that favor, or don't you?" I demanded.
"I'll do whatever you say," he replied. "I'm thinking only of your interests."
"Let me take care of them," said I. "You put me up at that club to-morrow. I'll send you the name of a seconder not later than noon."
"Up goes your name," he said. "But don't blame me for the consequences."
And my name went up, with Mowbray Langdon's brother, Tom, as seconder. Every newspaper in town published the fact, most of them under big black headlines. "The fun's about to begin," thought I, as I read. And I was right, though I hadn't the remotest idea how big a ball I had opened.
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