THE PROMISED LAND.
A woman with a powerful personality may absorb in herself a man of strong and resolute ambition, may compel him to make her his career, to feel that to get and to keep her is all that he asks from destiny. But Marian was not such a woman.
She had come into Howard's life at just the time and in just the way to arouse his latent passion for power and to give it a sufficient initial impetus. It was love for her that set him to lifting himself from among those who work through themselves alone to the potent few who work chiefly by directing the labour of others.
Once in this class, once having tasted the joy of power, Howard was lost to her. She was unable to restrain or direct, or even clearly to understand. She became an incident in his life. As riches came with power, they pushed him to one side in her life. Living in separate parts of a large house, leading separate lives, rarely meeting except when others were present--following the typical life of New Yorkers of fortune and fashion--they gradually grew to know little and see little and think little each of the other.
There was no abruptness in the transition. Every day had contributed its little toward widening the gap. There was no coolness, no consciousness of separation; simply the slow formation of the habit of complete independence each of the other.
His ambitions absorbed his thought and his time. To them he found her very useful. The social side--forming and keeping up friendly relations with the families whose heads were men of influence--was a vital part of his plan. But he used her just as he used every and any one else whom he found capable of contributing to his advancement; and, as she never insisted upon herself, never sought to influence or even to inquire into his course of action, she did not find him out.
She was in a vague way an unhappy woman. A discontent, a feeling that her life was incomplete, perpetually teased her. He was distinctly unhappy, often gloomy, at times morose. In her rare analytic moods she attributed their failure to prolong the happiness of their courtship to the hard work which kept him from her, kept them from enjoying the great love which she assumed they felt each for the other. She would not and could not see that that love had long disappeared, leaving a mask of forms, of phrases and of impulses of passion to conceal its departure. And to this view he outwardly assented, when she suggested it; but he knew that she was deceiving herself as to him, and wondered if she were not deceiving herself as to her own feelings.
Up to the time of the "Coal Conspiracy" and his attempt to put himself straight with her, the idea of his love for her and of her oneness with him had at least a hold upon his imagination. He then saw how far apart they had drifted; and he dismissed from his mind even the pretense that love played any part in his life. After that definite break with principle and self-respect for the sake of his coal holdings, his Wall Street friends and his newspaper career, the development of his character continued along strictly logical lines with accelerating speed. And it was accompanied by an ever franker, more cynical acceptance of the change.
He could not deceive himself, nor can any man with the clearness of judgment necessary to great achievement--although many "successful" men, for obvious reasons of self-interest, diligently encourage the popular theory of warped conscience. He was well aware that he had shifted from the ideal of use to his fellow-beings to the ideal of use of his fellow-beings, from the ideal of character to the ideal of reputation. And he knew that the two ideals can not be combined and that he not only was not attempting to combine them but had no desire so to do. He despised his former ideals; but also he despised himself for despising them.
His quarrel with himself was that he seemed to himself a rather vulgar sort of hypocrite. This was highly disagreeable to him, as his whole nature tended to make him wish to be himself, to make him shrink from the part of the truckler and the sycophant which he was playing so haughtily and so artistically. At times it exasperated him that he could not regard his change of front as a deliberate sale for value received, and not as the weak and cowardly surrender which he saw that it really was.
* * * * * * *
On the day after Howard's forty-fourth birthday Coulter fell dead at the entrance to the Union Club. When Stokely heard of it he went direct to the News-Record office.
"I happen to know something about Coulter's will," he said to Howard. "The News-Record stock is to be sold and you and I are to have the first chance to take it at three hundred and fifty--which is certainly cheap enough."
"Why did he arrange to dispose of the most valuable part of his estate?"
"Well, we had an agreement about it. Then, too, Coulter had no faith in newspapers as a permanent investment. You know there are only the widow, the girl and that worthless boy. Heavens, what an ass that boy is! Coulter has tied up his estate until the youngest grandchild comes of age. He hopes that there will be a son among the grandchildren who will realise his dream."
"Dream?" Howard smiled. "I didn't know that Coulter ever indulged in dreams."
"Yes, he had the rich man's mania--the craze for founding a family. So everything is to be put into real estate and long-term bonds. And for years New York is to be reminded of Samuel Coulter by some incapable who'll use his name and his money to advertise nature's contempt for family pride in her distributions of brains. I think even a fine tomb is a wiser memorial."
"Well, how much of the stock shall you take?" Howard asked.
"Not a share," Stokely replied dejectedly. "Coulter couldn't have died at a worse time for me. I'm tied in every direction and shall be for a year at least. So you've got a chance to become controlling owner."
"I?" Howard laughed. "Where could I get a million and a half?"
"How much could you take in cash?"
"Well--let me see--perhaps--five hundred thousand."
"You can borrow the million with the stock as collateral."
"But how could I pay?"
"Why, your dividends at our present rate would be more than two hundred thousand a year. Your interest charge would be under seventy-five thousand. Perhaps I can arrange it so that it won't be more than fifty thousand. You can let the balance go on reducing the loan. Then I may be able to put you onto a few good things. At any rate you can't lose anything. Your stock would bring five hundred even at forced sale. It's your chance, old man. I want to see you take it."
"I'll think it over. I have no head for figures."
"Let me manage it for you." Stokely rose to go. Howard began thanking him, but he cut him off with:
"You owe me no thanks. You've made money for me--big money. I owe you my help. Besides, I don't want any outsider in here. Let me know when you're ready." He nodded and was gone.
"What a chance!" Howard repeated again and again.
He was looking out over New York.
Twenty years before he had faced it, asking of it nothing but a living and his freedom. For twenty years he had fought. Year by year, even when he seemed to be standing still or going backward, he had steadily gained, making each step won a vantage-ground for forward attack. And now--victory. Power, wealth, fame, all his!
Yet a deep melancholy came over him. And he fell to despising himself for the kind of exultation that filled him, its selfishness, its sordidness, the absence of all high enthusiasm. Why was he denied the happiness of self-deception? Why could he not forget the means, blot it out, now that the end was attained?
His mind went out, not to Marian, but to that other--the one sleeping under the many, many layers of autumn leaves at Asheville. And he heard a voice saying so faintly, so timidly: "I lay awake night after night listening to your breathing, and whispering under my breath, 'I love you, I love you. Why can't you love me?'" And then--he flung down the cover of his desk and rushed away home.
"Why did I think of Alice?" he asked himself. And the answer came--because in those days, in the days of his youth, he had had beliefs, high principles; he had been incapable of this slavery to appearances, to vain show, incapable of this passion for reputation regardless of character. His weaknesses were then weaknesses only, and not, as now, the laws of his being controlling his every act.
He smiled cynically at the self of such a few years ago--yet he could not meet those honest, fearless eyes that looked out at him from the mirror of memory.
He was triumphant, but self-respect had gone and not all the thick swathings of vanity covered him from the stabs of self-contempt.
"When I am really free, when the paper is paid for and I can do as I please, why not try to be a man again? Why not? It would cost me nothing."
But a man is the sum of all his past.
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