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Than Fred Norman no man ever had better reason to feel securely entrenched upon the heights of success. It was no silly vaunt of optimism for him to tell Lockyer that only loss of life or loss of mind could dislodge him. And a few days after Dorothy had extinguished the last spark of hope he got ready to pull himself together and show the world that it was indulging too soon in its hypocritical headshakings over his ruin.
"I am going to open an office of my own at once," he said to his sister.
She did not wish to discourage him, but she could not altogether keep her thoughts from her face. She had, in a general way, a clear idea of the complete system of tollgates, duly equipped with strong barriers, which the mighty few have established across practically all the highroads to material success. Also, she felt in her brother's manner and tone a certain profound discouragement, a lack of the unconquerable spirit which had carried him so far so speedily. It is not a baseless notion that the man who has never been beaten is often destroyed by his first reverse. Ursula feared the spell of success had been broken for him.
"You mean," she suggested, with apparent carelessness, "that you will give up your forty thousand a year?"
He made a disdainful gesture. "I can make more than that," said he. "It's a second rate lawyer who can't in this day."
"Of course you can," replied she tactfully. "But why not take a rest first? Then there's old Burroughs--on the war path. Wouldn't it be wise to wait till he calms down?"
"If Burroughs or any other man is necessary to me," rejoined Fred, "the sooner I find it out the better. I ought to know just where I--I myself--stand."
"No one is necessary to you but yourself," said Ursula, proudly and sincerely. "But, Fred--Are you yourself just now?"
"No, I'm not," admitted he. "But the way to become so again isn't by waiting but by working." An expression of sheer wretchedness came into his listless, heavy eyes. "Urse, I've got to conquer my weakness now, or go under."
She was eager to hold on to the secure forty thousand a year--for his sake no less than for her own. She argued with him with all the adroitness of a mind as good in its way as his own. But she could not shake his resolution. And she in prudence, desisted when he said bitterly: "I see you've lost confidence in me. Well, I don't blame you. . . . So have I." Then after a moment, violently rather than strongly: "But I've got to get it back. If I don't I'm only putting off the smash--a complete smash."
"I don't see quite how it's to be arranged," said she, red and hesitating. For, she feared he would think her altogether selfish in her anxiety. He certainly would have been justified in so thinking; he knew how rarely generosity survived in the woman who leads the soft and idle life.
"How long can we keep on as we're living now--if there's nothing, or little, coming in?"
"I don't know," confessed she. She was as poor at finance as he, and had certainly not been improved by his habit of giving her whatever she happened to think was necessary. "I can't say. Perhaps a few months--I don't know--Not long, I'm afraid."
"Oh, no. You see--the fact is--I've been rather careless about the bills. You're so generous, Fred--and one is so busy in New York. I guess we owe a good deal--here and there and yonder. And--the last few days some of the tradespeople have been pressing for payment."
"You see!" exclaimed he. "The report is going round that I'm ruined and done for. I've simply got to make good. If you can't keep up a front, shut up the house and go abroad. You can stay till I've got my foot back on its neck."
She believed in him, at bottom. She could not conceive how appearances and her forebodings could be true. Such strength as his could not be overwhelmed thus suddenly. And by so slight a thing!--by an unsatisfied passion for a woman, and an insignificant woman, at that. For, like all women, like all the world for that matter, she measured a passion by the woman who was the object of it, instead of by the man who fabricated it. "Yes--I'll go abroad," said she, hopefully.
"Quietly arrange for a long stay," he advised. "I hope it won't be long. But I never plan on hope."
Thus, with his sister and Fitzhugh out of the way and the heaviest of his burdens of expense greatly lightened, he set about rehabitating himself. He took an office, waited for clients. And clients came--excellent clients. Came and precipitately left him.
There were two reasons for it. The first--the one most often heard--was the story going round that he had been, and probably still was, out of his mind. No deadlier or crueler weapon can be used against a man than that same charge as to his sanity. It has been known to destroy, or seriously maim, brilliant and able men with no trace of any of the untrustworthy kinds of insanity. Where the man's own conduct gives color to the report, the attack is usually mortal. And Norman had acted the crazy man. The second reason was the hostility of Burroughs, reinforced by all the hatreds and jealousies Norman's not too respectful way of dealing with his fellow men had been creating through fifteen years.
The worst moment in the life of a man who has always proudly regarded himself as above any need whatever from his fellow men is when he discovers all in a flash, that the timid animal he spurned as it fawned has him upon his back, has its teeth and claws at his helpless throat.
For four months he stood out against the isolation, the suspicion as to his sanity, the patronizing pity of men who but a little while before had felt honored when he spoke to them. For four months he gave battle to unseen and silent foes compassing him on every side. He had no spirit for the fight; his love of Dorothy Hallowell and his complete rout there had taken the spirit out of him--and with it had gone that confidence in himself and in his luck which had won him so many critical battles. Then--He had been keeping up a large suite of offices, a staff of clerks and stenographers and all the paraphernalia of the great and successful lawyer. He had been spreading out the little business he got in a not unsuccessful effort to make it appear big and growing. He now gave up these offices and the costly pride, pomp and circumstance--left with several thousand dollars owing. He took two small rooms in a building tenanted by beginners and cheap shysters. He continued to live at his club, where even the servants were subtly insolent to him; he could see the time approaching when he might have to let himself be dropped for failing to pay dues and bills.
He stared at his ruin in stupid and dazed amazement. Usually, to hear or to read about such a catastrophe as this is to get a vague, rather impressive notion of something picturesque and romantic. Ruined, like all the big fateful words, has a dignified sound. But the historians and novelists and poets and other keepers of human records have a pleasant, but not very honest way, of omitting practically all the essentials from their records and substituting glittering imaginings that delight the reader--and wofully mislead him as to the truth about life. What wonder that we learn slowly--and improve slowly. How wofully we have been, and are, misled by all upon whom we have relied as teachers.
Already one of these charming tales of majestic downfall was in process of manufacture, with Frederick Norman as the central figure. It was only awaiting his suicide or some other mode of complete submergence for its final glose of glamor. In this manufacture, the truth, as usual, had been almost omitted; such truth as was retained for this artistic version of a human happening was so perverted that it was falser than the simon pure fictions with which it was interwoven. Just as the literal truth about his success was far from being altogether to his credit, so the literal truth as to his fall gave him little of the vesture of the hero, and that little ill fitting, to cover his naked humanness. Let him who has risen to material success altogether by methods approved by the idealists, let him who has fallen from on high with graceful majesty, without hysterical clutchings and desperate attempts at self-salvation in disregard of the safety of others--let either of these superhuman beings come forward with the first stone for Norman.
Those at some distance from the falling man could afford to be romantic and piteous over his fate. Those in his dangerous neighborhood were too busy getting out of the way. "Man falling--stand from under!" was the cry--how familiar it is!--and acquaintances and friends fled in mad skedaddle. He would surely be asking favors--would be trying to borrow money. It is no peculiarity of rats to desert a sinking ship; it is simply an inevitable precaution in a social system modeled as yet upon nature's cruel law of the survival of the fittest. A falling man is first of all a warning to all other men high enough up to be able to fall--a warning to them to take care lest they fall also where footing is so insecure and precipices and steeps beset every path.
Norman, falling, falling, gazed round him and up and down, in dazed wonder. He had seen many others fall. He had seen just where and just why they missed their footing. And he had been confident that with him no such misstep was possible. He could not believe; a little while, and luck would turn, and up he would go again--higher than before. Many a lawyer--to look no farther than his own profession--had through recklessness or pride or inadvertence got the big men down on him. But after a time they had relented or had found an exact use for him; and fall had been succeeded by rise. Was there a single instance where a man of good brain had been permanently downed? No, not one. Stay--Some of these unfortunates had failed to reappear on the heights of success. Yes, thinking of the matter, he recalled several such. Had he been altogether right in assuming, in his days of confidence and success, that they stayed down because they belonged down? Perhaps he had judged them harshly? Yes, he was sure he had judged them harshly. There was such a thing as breaking a proud spirit--and he found within himself apparent proof that precisely this calamity had befallen him.
There came a time--and it came soon--when he had about exhausted his desperate ingenuity at cornering acquaintances and former friends and "sticking them up" for loans of five hundred, a hundred, fifty, twenty-five--Because these vulgar and repulsive facts are not found in the usual records of the men who have dropped and come up again, do not imagine that only the hopeless and never-reappearing failures pass through such experiences. On the contrary, they are part of the common human lot, and few indeed are the men who have not had them--and worse--if they could but be brought to tell the truth. Destiny rarely permits any one of us to go from cradle to grave without doing many a thing shameful and universally condemned. How could it be otherwise under our social system? When Norman was about at the end of all his resources Tetlow called on him--Tetlow, now a partner in the Lockyer firm.
He came with an air of stealth. "I don't want anyone to know I'm doing this," said he frankly. "If it got out, I'd be damaged and you'd not profit."
Rarely does anyone, however unworthy--and Fred Norman was far from unworthy, as we humans go--rarely does anyone find himself absolutely without a friend. There is a saying that no man ever sunk so low, ever became so vile and squalid in soul and body, but that if he were dying, and the fact were noised throughout the world, some woman somewhere would come--perhaps from a sense of duty, perhaps from love, perhaps for the sake of a moment of happiness long past but never equaled, and so never forgotten--but from whatever motive, she would come. In the same manner, anyone in dire straits can be sure of some friend. There were several others whom Norman had been expecting--men he had saved by his legal ingenuity at turning points in their careers. None of these was so imprudent as uselessly to involve himself. It was Tetlow who came--Tetlow, with whom his accounts were more than balanced, with the balance against him. Tetlow, whom he did not expect.
Norman did not welcome him effusively. He said at once: "How is--she?"
Tetlow shifted uneasily. "I don't know. She's not with us. I gave her a place there--to get her away from Culver. But she didn't stay long. No doubt she's doing well."
"I thought you cared about her," said Norman, who in estimating Tetlow's passion had measured it by his own, had neglected to consider that the desires of most men soon grow short of breath and weary of leg.
"Yes--so I did care for her," said Tetlow, in the voice of a man who has been ill but is now well. "But that's all over. Women aren't worth bothering about much. They're largely vanity. The way they soon take a man for granted if he's at all kind to them discourages any but the poorest sort of fool. At least that's my opinion."
"Then you don't come from her?" said Norman with complete loss of interest in his caller.
"No. I've come--Fred, I hear you're in difficulties."
Norman's now deep-set eyes gleamed humorously in his haggard and failed-looking face. "In difficulties? Not at all. I'm under them--drowned forty fathoms deep."
"Then you'll not resent my coming straight to the point and asking if I can help you?"
"That's a rash offer, Tetlow. I never suspected rashness was one of your qualities."
"I don't mean to offer you a loan or anything of that sort," pursued Tetlow. "There's only one thing that can help a man in your position. He must either be saved outright or left to drown. I've come with something that may save you."
There was so much of the incongruous in a situation where he was listening to an offer of salvation from such a man as Billy Tetlow that Norman smiled.
"Well, what is it?" he said.
"There's a chance that within six months or so--perhaps sooner--Burroughs and Galloway may end their truce and declare war on each other. If so, Galloway will win. Anyhow, the Galloway connection would be better than the Burroughs connection."
Norman looked at Tetlow shrewdly. "How do you know this?" he asked.
Tetlow's eyes shifted. "Can't tell you. But I know."
"Galloway hates me."
Tetlow nodded. "You were the one who forced him into a position where he had to make peace with Burroughs. But Galloway's a big man, big enough to admire ability wherever he sees it. He has admired you ever since."
"And has given his business to another firm."
"But if the break comes he'll need you. And he's the sort of man who doesn't hesitate to take what he needs."
"Too remote," said Norman, and his despondent gesture showed how quickly hope had lighted up. "Besides, Billy, I've lost my nerve. I'm no good."
"But you've gotten over that--that attack of insanity."
Norman shook his head.
"I can't understand it," ejaculated Tetlow.
"Of course you can't," said Norman. "But--there it is."
"You haven't seen her lately?"
"Not since that day ... Billy, she hasn't--" Norman stopped, and Tetlow saw that his hands were trembling with agitation, and marveled.
"Oh, no," replied Tetlow. "So far as I know, she's still respectable. But--why don't you go to see her? I think you'd be cured."
"Why do you say that?" demanded Norman, the veins in his forehead bulging with the fury he was ready to release.
"For no especial reason--on my honor, Fred," replied Tetlow. "Simply because time works wonders in all sorts of ways, including infatuations. Also--well, the fact is, it didn't seem to me that young lady improved on acquaintance. Maybe I got tired, or piqued--I don't know. If she hadn't been a silly little fool, would she have refused you? I know it sounds well--in a novel or a play--for a poor girl to refuse a good offer, just from sentiment. But, all the same, only a fool girl does it--in life--eh? But go to see her. You'll understand what I mean, I think. I want you to brace up. That may help."
"What's she doing?"
"I don't know. I'll send you her address. I can get it. About Galloway--If that break comes, I propose that we get his business--you and I. I want you for a partner. I always did. I think I know how to get work out of you. I understand you better, than anyone else. That's why I'm here."
"It's useless," said Norman.
"I'm willing to take the risk. Now, here's what I propose. I'll stake you to the extent of a thousand dollars a month for the next six months, you to keep on as you are and not to tie yourself up to any other lawyer, or to any client likely to hamper us if we get the Galloway business."
"I've been borrowing right and left----"
"I know about that," interrupted Tetlow. "I'm not interested. If you'll agree to my proposal, I'll take my chances."
"You are throwing away six thousand dollars."
"I owe you a position where I make five times that much."
Norman shrugged his shoulders. "Very well. Can I have five hundred at once?"
"I'll send you a check to-day. I'll send two checks a month--the first and the fifteenth."
"I am drinking a great deal."
"You always did."
"Not until recently. I never knew what drinking meant until these last few months."
"Well, do as you like with the money. Drink it all, if you please. I'm making no conditions beyond the two I stated."
"You will send me that address?"
"In the letter with the check."
"Will she see me, do you think?"
"I haven't an idea," replied Tetlow.
"What's the mystery?" asked Norman. "Why do you speak of her so indifferently?"
"It's the way I feel." Then, in answer to the unspoken suspicion once more appearing in Norman's eyes, he added: "She's a very nice, sweet girl, Norman--so far as I know or believe. Beyond that--Go to see her."
It had been many a week since Norman had heard a friendly voice. The very sound of the human voice had become hateful to him, because he was constantly detecting the note of nervousness, the scarcely concealed fear of being entangled in his misfortunes. As Tetlow rose to go, Norman tried to detain him. The sound of an unconstrained voice, the sight of a believing face that did not express one or more of the shadings of contempt between pity and aversion--the sight and sound of this friend Tetlow was acting upon him like one of those secret, unexpected, powerful tonics which nature at times suddenly injects into a dying man to confound the doctors and cheat death.
"Tetlow," said he, "I'm down--probably down for good. But if I ever get up again, I'll not make one mistake--the one that cost me this fall. Do you know what that mistake was?"
"I suppose you mean Miss Hallowell?"
"No," said Norman, to his surprise. "I mean my lack of money, of capital, of a large and secure income. I used to imagine that brains were the best, the only sure asset. I was guilty of the stupidity of overvaluing my own possessions."
"Brains are a mighty good asset, Fred."
"Yes--and necessary. But a man of action must have under his brains another asset--must have it, Billy. The one secure asset is a big capital. Money rules this world. Some men have been lucky enough to rise and stay risen, without money. But not a man of all the men who have been knocked out could have been dislodged if he had been armed and armored with money. My prodigality was my fatal mistake. I shan't make it again--if I get the chance. You don't know, Tetlow, how hard it is to get money when you are tumbling and must have it. I never dreamed what a factor it is in calamities of every sort. It's the factor."
"I don't like to hear you talk that way, Norman," said Tetlow earnestly. "I've always most admired in you the fact that you weren't mercenary."
"And I never shall be," said Norman, with the patient smile of a swift, keen mind at one that is slow and hard to make understand. "It isn't my nature. But, if I'm resurrected, I'll seem to be mercenary until I get a full suit of the only armor that's invulnerable in this world. Why, I built my fort like a fool. It was impregnable except for one thing--one obvious thing. It hadn't a supply of water. If I build again it'll be round a spring--an income big enough for my needs and beyond anybody's power to cut off."
Tetlow showed that he was much cheered by Norman's revived interest in life. But he went away uneasy; for the last thing Norman said to him was:
"Don't forget that address!"
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