MoboReader > Literature > Windy McPherson's Son

   Chapter 15 No.15

Windy McPherson's Son By Sherwood Anderson Characters: 50360

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The blow given the plan of life so carefully thought out and so eagerly accepted by the young McPhersons threw them back upon themselves. For several years they had been living upon a hill top, taking themselves very seriously and more than a little preening themselves with the thought that they were two very unusual and thoughtful people engaged upon a worthy and ennobling enterprise. Sitting in their corner immersed in admiration of their own purposes and in the thoughts of the vigorous, disciplined, new life they were to give the world by the combined efficiency of their two bodies and minds they were, at a word and a shake of the head from Doctor Grover, compelled to remake the outline of their future together.

All about them the rush of life went on, vast changes were impending in the industrial life of the people, cities were doubling and tripling their population, a war was being fought, and the flag of their country flew in the ports of strange seas, while American boys pushed their way through the tangled jungles of strange lands carrying in their hands Rainey-Whittaker rifles. And in a huge stone house, set in a broad expanse of green lawns near the shores of Lake Michigan, Sam McPherson sat looking at his wife, who in turn looked at him. He was trying, as she also was trying, to adjust himself to the cheerful acceptance of their new prospect of a childless life.

Looking at Sue across the dinner table or seeing her straight, wiry body astride a horse riding beside him through the parks, it seemed to Sam unbelievable that a childless womanhood was ever to be her portion, and more than once he had an inclination to venture again upon an effort for the success of their hopes. But when he remembered her still white face that night in the hospital, her bitter, haunting cry of defeat, he turned with a shudder from the thought, feeling that he could not go with her again through that ordeal; that he could not again allow her to look forward through weeks and months toward the little life that never came to lie upon her breast or to laugh up into her face.

And yet Sam, son of that Jane McPherson who had won the admiration of the men of Caxton by her ceaseless efforts to keep her family afloat and clean handed, could not sit idly by, living upon the income of his own and Sue's money. The stirring, forward-moving world called to him; he looked about him at the broad, significant movements in business and finance, at the new men coming into prominence and apparently finding a way for the expression of new big ideas, and felt his youth stirring in him and his mind reaching out to new projects and new ambitions.

Given the necessity for economy and a hard long-drawn-out struggle for a livelihood and competence, Sam could conceive of living his life with Sue and deriving something like gratification from just her companionship, and her partnership in his efforts-here and there during the waiting years he had met men who had found such gratification-a foreman in the shops or a tobacconist from whom he bought his cigars-but for himself he felt that he had gone with Sue too far upon another road to turn that way now with anything like mutual zeal or interest. At bottom, his mind did not run strongly toward the idea of the love of women as an end in life; he had loved, and did love, Sue with something approaching religious fervour, but the fervour was more than half due to the ideas she had given him and to the fact that with him she was to have been the instrument for the realisation of those ideas. He was a man with children in his loins and he had given up his struggles for business eminence for the sake of preparing himself for a kind of noble fatherhood of children, many children, strong children, fit gifts to the world for two exceptionally favoured lives. In all of his talks with Sue this idea had been present and dominant. He had looked about him and in the arrogance of his youth and in the pride of his good body and mind had condemned all childless marriages as a selfish waste of good lives. With her he had agreed that such lives were without point and purpose. Now he remembered that in the days of her audacity and daring she had more than once expressed the hope that in case of a childless issue to their marriage one or the other of them would have the courage to cut the knot that tied them and venture into another effort at right living at any cost.

In the months after Sue's last recovery, and during the long evenings, as they sat together or walked under the stars in the park, the thought of these talks was often in Sam's mind and he found himself beginning to speculate on her present attitude and to wonder how bravely she would meet the idea of a separation. In the end he decided that no such thought was in her mind, that face to face with the tremendous actuality she clung to him with a new dependence, and a new need of his companionship. The conviction of the absolute necessity of children as a justification for a man and woman living together had, he thought, burned itself more deeply into his brain than into hers; to him it clung, coming back again and again to his mind, causing him to turn here and there restlessly, making readjustments, seeking new light. The old gods being dead he sought new gods.

In the meantime he sat in his house facing his wife, losing himself in the books recommended to him years before by Janet, thinking his own thoughts. Often in the evening he would look up from his book or from his preoccupied staring at the fire to find her eyes looking at him.

"Talk, Sam; talk," she would say; "do not sit there thinking."

Or at another time she would come to his room at night and putting her head down on the pillow beside his would spend hours planning, weeping, begging him to give her again his love, his old fervent, devoted love.

This Sam tried earnestly and honestly to do, going with her for long walks when the new call, the business had begun to make to him, would have kept him at his desk, reading aloud to her in the evening, urging her to shake off her old dreams and to busy herself with new work and new interests.

Through the days in the office he went in a kind of half stupor. An old feeling of his boyhood coming back to him, it seemed to him, as it had seemed when he walked aimlessly through the streets of Caxton after the death of his mother, that there remained something to be done, an accounting to be made. Even at his desk with the clatter of typewriters in his ears and the piles of letters demanding his attention, his mind slipped back to the days of his courtship with Sue and to those days in the north woods when life had beat strong within him, and every young, wild thing, every new growth renewed the dream that filled his being. Sometimes on the street, or walking in the park with Sue, the cries of children at play cut across the sombre dulness of his mind and he shrank from the sound and a kind of bitter resentment took possession of him. When he looked covertly at Sue she talked of other things, apparently unconscious of his thoughts.

Then a new phase of life presented itself. To his surprise he found himself looking with more than passing interest at women in the streets, and an old hunger for the companionship of strange women came back to him, in some way coarsened and materialised. One evening at the theatre a woman, a friend of Sue's and the childless wife of a business friend of his own, sat beside him. In the darkness of the playhouse her shoulder nestled down against his. In the excitement of a crisis on the stage her hand slipped into his and her fingers clutched and held his fingers.

Animal desire seized and shook him, a feeling without sweetness, brutal, making his eyes burn. When between the acts the theatre was again flooded with light he looked up guiltily to meet another pair of eyes equally filled with guilty hunger. A challenge had been given and received.

In their car, homeward bound, Sam put the thoughts of the woman away from him and taking Sue in his arms prayed silently for some help against he knew not what.

"I think I will go to Caxton in the morning and have a talk with Mary Underwood," he said.

After his return from Caxton Sam set about finding some new interest to occupy Sue's mind. He had spent an afternoon talking to Valmore, Freedom Smith, and Telfer and thought there was a kind of flatness in their jokes and in their ageing comments on each other. Then he had gone from them for his talk with Mary. Half through the night they had talked, Sam getting forgiveness for not writing and getting also a long friendly lecture on his duty toward Sue. He thought she had in some way missed the point. She had seemed to suppose that the loss of the children had fallen singly upon Sue. She had not counted upon him, and he had depended upon her doing just that. He had come as a boy to his mother wanting to talk of himself and she had wept at the thought of the childless wife and had told him how to set about making her happy.

"Well, I will set about it," he thought on the train coming home; "I will find for her this new interest and make her less dependent upon me. Then I also will take hold anew and work out for myself a programme for a way of life."

One afternoon when he came home from the office he found Sue filled indeed with a new idea. With glowing cheeks she sat beside him through the evening and talked of the beauties of a life devoted to social service.

"I have been thinking things out," she said, her eyes shining. "We must not allow ourselves to become sordid. We must keep to the vision. We must together give the best in our lives and our fortunes to mankind. We must make ourselves units in the great modern movements for social uplift."

Sam looked at the fire and a chill feeling of doubt ran through him. He could not see himself as a unit in anything. His mind did not run out toward the thought of being one of the army of philanthropists or rich social uplifters he had met talking and explaining in the reading rooms of clubs. No answering flame burned in his heart as it had burned that evening by the bridle path in Jackson Park when she had expounded another idea. But the thought of a need of new interest for her coming to him, he turned to her smiling.

"It sounds all right but I know nothing of such things," he said.

After that evening Sue began to get a hold upon herself. The old fire came back into her eyes and she went about the house with a smile upon her face and talked through the evenings to her silent, attentive husband of the life of usefulness, the full life. One day she told him of her election to the presidency of a society for the rescue of fallen women, and he began seeing her name in the newspapers in connection with various charity and civic movements. At the house a new sort of men and women began appearing at the dinner table; a strangely earnest, feverish, half fanatical people, Sam thought, with an inclination toward corsetless dresses and uncut hair, who talked far into the night and worked themselves into a sort of religious zeal over what they called their movement. Sam found them likely to run to startling statements, noticed that they sat on the edges of their chairs when they talked, and was puzzled by their tendency toward making the most revolutionary statements without pausing to back them up. When he questioned a statement made by one of these people, he came down upon him with a rush that quite carried him away and then, turning to the others, looked at them wisely like a cat that has swallowed a mouse. "Ask us another question if you dare," their faces seemed to be saying, while their tongues declared that they were but students of the great problem of right living.

With these new people Sam never made any progress toward real understanding and friendship. For a time he tried honestly to get some of their own fervent devotions to their ideas and to be impressed by what they said of their love of man, even going with them to some of their meetings, at one of which he sat among the fallen women gathered in, and listened to a speech by Sue.

The speech did not make much of a hit, the fallen women moving restlessly about. A large woman, with an immense nose, did better. She talked with a swift, contagious zeal that was very stirring, and, listening to her, Sam was reminded of the evening when he sat before another zealous talker in the church at Caxton and Jim Williams, the barber, tried to stampede him into the fold with the lambs. While the woman talked a plump little member of the demi monde who sat beside Sam wept copiously, but at the end of the speech he could remember nothing of what had been said and he wondered if the weeping woman would remember.

To express his determination to continue being Sue's companion and partner, Sam during one winter taught a class of young men at a settlement house in the factory district of the west side. The class in his hands was unsuccessful. He found the young men heavy and stupid with fatigue after the day of labour in the shops and more inclined to fall asleep in their chairs, or wander away, one at a time, to loaf and smoke on a nearby corner, than to stay in the room listening to the man reading or talking before them.

When one of the young women workers came into the room, they sat up and seemed for the moment interested. Once Sam heard a group of them talking of these women workers on a landing in a darkened stairway. The experience startled Sam and he dropped the class, admitting to Sue his failure and his lack of interest and bowing his head before her accusation of a lack of the love of men.

Later by the fire in his own room he tried to draw for himself a moral from the experience.

"Why should I love these men?" he asked himself. "They are what I might have been. Few of the men I have known have loved me and some of the best and cleanest of them have worked vigorously for my defeat. Life is a battle in which few men win and many are defeated and in which hate and fear play their part with love and generosity. These heavy-featured young men are a part of the world as men have made it. Why this protest against their fate when we are all of us making more and more of them with every turn of the clock?"

During the next year, after the fiasco of the settlement house class, Sam found himself drifting more and more rapidly away from Sue and her new viewpoint of life. The growing gulf between them showed itself in a thousand little household acts and impulses, and every time he looked at her he thought her more apart from him and less a part of the real life that went on within him. In the old days there had been something intimate and familiar in her person and in her presence. She had seemed like a part of him, like the room in which he slept or the coat he wore on his back, and he had looked into her eyes as thoughtlessly and with as little fear of what he might find there as he looked at his own hands. Now when his eyes met hers they dropped, and one or the other of them began talking hurriedly like a person who has a consciousness of something he must conceal.

Down town Sam took up anew his old friendship and intimacy with Jack Prince, going with him to clubs and drinking places and often spending evenings among the clever, money-wasting young men who laughed and made deals and talked their way through life at Jack's side. Among these young men a business associate of Jack's caught his attention and in a few weeks an intimacy had sprung up between Sam and this man.

Maurice Morrison, Sam's new friend, had been discovered by Jack Prince working as a sub-editor on a country daily down the state. There was, Sam thought, something of the Caxton dandy, Mike McCarthy, in the man, combined with prolonged and fervent, although somewhat periodic attacks of industry. In his youth he had written poetry and at one time had studied for the ministry, and in Chicago, under Jack Prince, he had developed into a money maker and led the life of a talented, rather unscrupulous man of the world. He kept a mistress, often overdrank, and Sam thought him the most brilliant and convincing talker he had ever heard. As Jack Prince's assistant he had charge of the Rainey Company's large advertising expenditure, and the two men being thrown often together a mutual regard grew up between them. Sam believed him to be without moral sense; he knew him to be able and honest and he found in the association with him a fund of odd little sweetnesses of character and action that lent an inexpressible charm to the person of his friend.

It was through Morrison that Sam had his first serious misunderstanding with Sue. One evening the brilliant young advertising man dined at the McPhersons'. The table, as usual, was filled with Sue's new friends, among them a tall, gaunt man who, with the arrival of the coffee, began in a high-pitched, earnest voice to talk of the coming social revolution. Sam looked across the table and saw a light dancing in Morrison's eyes. Like a hound unleashed he sprang among Sue's friends, tearing the rich to pieces, calling for the onward advance of the masses, quoting odds and ends of Shelley and Carlyle, peering earnestly up and down the table, and at the end quite winning the hearts of the women by a defence of fallen women that stirred the blood of even his friend and host.

Sam was amused and a trifle annoyed. The whole thing was, he knew, no more than a piece of downright acting with just the touch of sincerity in it that was characteristic of the man but that had no depth or real meaning. During the rest of the evening he watched Sue, wondering if she too had fathomed Morrison and what she thought of his having taken the role of star from the long gaunt man, who had evidently been booked for that part and who sat at the table and wandered afterward among the guests, annoyed and disconcerted.

Late that night Sue came into his room and found him reading and smoking by the fire.

"Cheeky of Morrison, dimming your star," he said, looking at her and laughing apologetically.

Sue looked at him doubtfully.

"I came in to thank you for bringing him," she said; "I thought him splendid."

Sam looked at her and for a moment was tempted to let the matter pass. And then his old inclination to be always open and frank with her asserted itself and he closed the book and rising stood looking down at her.

"The little beast was guying your crowd," he said, "but I do not want him to guy you. Not that he wouldn't try. He has the audacity for anything."

A flush arose to her cheeks and her eyes gleamed.

"That is not true, Sam," she said coldly. "You say that because you are becoming hard and cold and cynical. Your friend Morrison talked from his heart. It was beautiful. Men like you, who have a strong influence over him, may lead him away, but in the end a man like that will come to give his life to the service of society. You should help him; not assume an attitude of unbelief and laugh at him."

Sam stood upon the hearth smoking his pipe and looking at her. He was thinking how easy it would have been in the first year after their marriage to have explained Morrison. Now he felt that he was but making a bad matter worse, but went on determined to stick to his policy of being entirely honest with her.

"Look here, Sue," he began quietly, "be a good sport. Morrison was joking. I know the man. He is the friend of men like me because he wants to be and because it pays him to be. He is a talker, a writer, a talented, unscrupulous word-monger. He is making a big salary by taking the ideas of men like me and expressing them better than we can ourselves. He is a good workman and a generous, open-hearted fellow with a lot of nameless charm in him, but a man of convictions he is not. He could talk tears into the eyes of your fallen women, but he would be a lot more likely to talk good women into their state."

Sam put a hand upon her shoulder.

"Be sensible and do not be offended," he went on: "take the fellow for what he is and be glad for him. He hurts little and cheers a lot. He could make a convincing argument in favour of civilisation's return to cannibalism, but really, you know, he spends most of his time thinking and writing of washing machines and ladies' hats and liver pills, and most of his eloquence after all only comes down to 'Send for catalogue, Department K' in the end."

Sue's voice was colourless with passion when she replied.

"This is unbearable. Why did you bring the fellow here?"

Sam sat down and picked up his book. In his impatience he lied to her for the first time since their marriage.

"First, because I like him and second, because I wanted to see if I couldn't produce a man who could outsentimentalise your socialist friends," he said quietly.

Sue turned and walked out of the room. In a way the action was final and marked the end of understanding between them. Putting down his book Sam watched her go and some feeling he had kept for her and that had differentiated her from all other women died in him as the door closed between them. Throwing the book aside he sprang to his feet and stood looking at the door.

"The old goodfellowship appeal is dead," he thought. "From now on we will have to explain and apologise like two strangers. No more taking each other for granted."

Turning out the light he sat again before the fire to think his way through the situation that faced him. He had no thought that she would return. That last shot of his own had crushed the possibility of that.

The fire was getting low in the grate and he did not renew it. He looked past it toward the darkened windows and heard the hum of motor cars along the boulevard below. Again he was the boy of Caxton hungrily seeking an end in life. The flushed face of the woman in the theatre danced before his eyes. He remembered with shame how he had, a few days before, stood in a doorway and followed with his eyes the figure of a woman who had lifted her eyes to him as they passed in the street. He wished that he might go out of the house for a walk with John Telfer and have his mind filled with eloquence of the standing corn, or sit at the feet of Janet Eberly as she talked of books and of life. He got up and turning on the lights began preparing for bed.

"I know what I will do," he said, "I will go to work. I will do some real work and make some more money. That's the place for me."

And to work he went, real work, the most sustained and clearly thought-out work he had done. For two years he was out of the house at dawn for a long bracing walk in the fresh morning air, to be followed by eight, ten and even fifteen hours in the office and shops; hours in which he drove the Rainey Arms Company's organisation mercilessly and, taking openly every vestige of the management out of the hands of Colonel Tom, began the plans for the consolidation of the American firearms companies that later put his name on the front pages of the newspapers and got him the title of a Captain of Finance.

There is a widespread misunderstanding abroad regarding the motives of many of the American millionaires who sprang into prominence and affluence in the days of change and sudden bewildering growth that followed the close of the Spanish War. They were, many of them, not of the brute trader type, but were, instead, men who thought and acted quickly and with a daring and audacity impossible to the average mind. They wanted power and were, many of them, entirely unscrupulous, but for the most part they were men with a fire burning within them, men who became what they were because the world offered them no better outlet for their vast energies.

Sam McPherson had been untiring and without scruples in the first hard, quick struggle to get his head above the great unknown body of men there in the city. He had turned aside from money getting when he heard what he took to be a call to a better way of life. Now with the fires of youth still in him and with the training and discipline that had come from two years of reading, of comparative leisure and of thought, he was prepared to give the Chicago business world a display of that tremendous energy that was to write his name in the industrial history of the city as one of the first of the western giants of finance.

Going to Sue, Sam told her frankly of his plans.

"I want a free hand in the handling of your stock in the company," he said. "I cannot lead this new life of yours. It may help and sustain you but it gets no hold on me. I want to be myself now and lead my own life in my own way. I want to run the company, really run it. I cannot stand idly by and let life go past. I am hurting myself and you standing here looking on. Also I am in a kind of danger of another kind that I want to avoid by throwing myself into hard, constructive work."

Without question Sue signed the papers he brought her. A flash of her old frankness toward him c

ame back.

"I do not blame you, Sam," she said, smiling bravely. "Things have not gone right, as we both know, but if we cannot work together at least let us not hurt each other."

When Sam returned to give himself again to affairs, the country was just at the beginning of the great wave of consolidation which was finally to sweep all of the financial power of the country into a dozen pairs of competent and entirely efficient hands. With the sure instinct of the born trader Sam had seen this movement coming and had studied it. Now he began to act. Going to that same swarthy-faced lawyer who had drawn the contract for him to secure control of the medical student's twenty thousand dollars and who had jokingly invited him to become one of a band of train robbers, he told him of his plans to begin working toward a consolidation of all the firearms companies of the country.

Webster wasted no time in joking now. He laid out the plans, adjusted and readjusted them to suit Sam's shrewd suggestions, and when a fee was mentioned shook his head.

"I want in on this," he said. "You will need me. I am made for this game and have been waiting for a chance to get at it. Just count me in as one of the promoters if you will."

Sam nodded his head. Within a week he had formed a pool of his own company's stock controlling, as he thought, a safe majority and had begun working to form a similar pool in the stock of his only big western rival.

This last job was not an easy one. Lewis, the Jew, had been making constant headway in that company just as Sam had made headway in the Rainey Company. He was a money maker, a sales manager of rare ability, and, as Sam knew, a planner and executor of business coups of the first class.

Sam did not want to deal with Lewis. He had respect for the man's ability in driving sharp bargains and felt that he would like to have the whip in his own hands when it came to the point of dealing with him. To this end he began visiting bankers and the men who were head of big western trust companies in Chicago and St. Louis. He went about his work slowly, feeling his way and trying to get at each man by some effective appeal, buying the use of vast sums of money by a promise of common stock, the bait of a big active bank account, and, here and there, by the hint of a directorship in the big new consolidated company.

For a time the project moved slowly; indeed there were weeks and months when it did not appear to move at all. Working in secret and with extreme caution Sam encountered many discouragements and went home in the evening day after day to sit among Sue's guests with a mind filled with his own plans and with an indifferent ear turned to the talk of revolution, social unrest, and the new class consciousness of the masses, that rattled and crackled up and down his dinner table. He thought that it must be trying to Sue. He was so evidently not interested in her interests. At the same time he thought that he was working toward what he wanted out of life and went to bed at night believing that he was finding, and would find, a kind of peace in just thinking clearly along one line day after day.

One day Webster, who had wanted to be in on the deal, came to Sam's office and gave his project its first great boost toward success. He, like Sam, thought he saw clearly the tendencies of the times, and was greedy for the block of common stock that Sam had promised should come to him with the completion of the enterprise.

"You are not using me," he said, sitting down before Sam's desk. "What is blocking the deal?"

Sam began to explain and when he had finished Webster laughed.

"Let's get at Tom Edwards of the Edward Arms Company direct," he said, and then, leaning over the desk, "Edwards is a vain little peacock and a second rate business man," he declared emphatically. "Get him afraid and then flatter his vanity. He has a new wife with blonde hair and big soft blue eyes. He wants prominence. He is afraid to venture upon big things himself but is hungry for the reputation and gain that comes through big deals. Use the method the Jew has used; show him what it means to the yellow-haired woman to be the wife of the president of the big consolidated Arms Company. THE EDWARDS CONSOLIDATED, eh? Get at Edwards. Bluff him and flatter him and he is your man."

Sam wondered. Edwards was a small grey-haired man of sixty with something dry and unresponsive about him. Being a silent man, he had created an impression of remarkable shrewdness and ability. After a lifetime spent in hard labour and in the practice of the most rigid economy he had come up to wealth, and had got into the firearms business through Lewis, and it was counted one of the brightest stars in that brilliant Hebrew's crown that he had been able to lead Edwards with him in his daring and audacious handling of the company's affairs.

Sam looked at Webster across the desk and thought of Tom Edwards as the figurehead of the firearms trust.

"I was saving the frosting on the cake for my own Tom," he said; "it was a thing I wanted to hand the colonel."

"Let us see Edwards this evening," said Webster dryly.

Sam nodded, and late that night made the deal that gave him control of the two important western companies and put him in position to move on the eastern companies with every prospect of complete success. To Edwards he went with an exaggerated report of the support he had already got for his project, and having frightened him offered him the presidency of the new company and promised that it should be incorporated under the name of The Edwards Consolidated Firearms Company of America.

The eastern companies fell quickly. With Webster Sam tried on them the old dodge of telling each that the other two had agreed to come in, and it worked.

With the coming in of Edwards and the options given by the eastern companies Sam began to get also the support of the LaSalle Street bankers. The firearms trust was one of the few big consolidations managed wholly in the west, and after two or three of the bankers had agreed to help finance Sam's plan the others began asking to be taken into the underwriting syndicate he and Webster had formed. Within thirty days after the closing of the deal with Tom Edwards Sam felt that he was ready to act.

For several months Colonel Tom had known something of the plans Sam had on foot, and had made no protest. He had in fact given Sam to understand that his stock would be voted with Sue's, controlled by Sam, and with the stock of the other directors who knew of and hoped to share in the profits of Sam's deal. The old gunmaker had all of his life believed that the other American firearms companies were but shadows destined to disappear before the rising sun of the Rainey Company, and thought of Sam's project as an act of providence to further this desirable end.

At the moment of his acquiescence in Webster's plan, for landing Tom Edwards, Sam had a moment of doubt, and now, with the success of his project in sight, he began to wonder how the blustering old man would look upon Edwards as the titular head of the big company and upon the name of Edwards in the title of the company.

For two years Sam had seen little of the colonel, who had given up all pretence to an active part in the management of the business and who, finding Sue's new friends disconcerting, seldom appeared at the house, living at the clubs, playing billiards all day long, or sitting in the club windows boasting to chance listeners of his part in the building of the Rainey Arms Company.

With a mind filled with doubt Sam went home and put the matter before Sue. She was dressed and ready for an evening at the theatre with a party of friends and the talk was brief.

"He will not mind," she said indifferently. "Go ahead and do what you want to do."

Sam rode back to the office and called his lieutenants about him. He felt that the thing might as well be done and over, and with the options in his hands, and the ability he thought he had to control his own company, he was ready to come out into the open and get the deal cleaned up.

The morning papers that carried the story of the proposed big new consolidation of firearms companies carried also an almost life-size halftone of Colonel Tom Rainey, a slightly smaller one of Tom Edwards, and grouped about these, small pictures of Sam, Lewis, Prince, Webster, and several of the eastern men. By the size of the half-tone, Sam, Prince, and Morrison had tried to reconcile Colonel Tom to Edwards' name in the title of the new company and to Edwards' coming election as president. The story also played up the past glories of the Rainey Company and its directing genius, Colonel Tom. One phrase, written by Morrison, brought a smile to Sam's lips.

"This grand old patriarch of American business, retired now from active service, is like a tired giant, who, having raised a brood of young giants, goes into his castle to rest and reflect and to count the scars won in many a hard-fought battle."

Morrison laughed as he read it aloud.

"It ought to get the colonel," he said, "but the newspaper man who prints it should be hung."

"They will print it all right," said Jack Prince.

And they did print it; going from newspaper office to newspaper office Prince and Morrison saw to that, using their influence as big buyers of advertising space and even insisting upon reading proof on their own masterpiece.

But it did not work. Early the next morning Colonel Tom appeared at the offices of the arms company with blood in his eye, and swore that the consolidation should not be put through. For an hour he stormed up and down in Sam's office, his outbursts of wrath varied by periods of childlike pleading for the retention of the name and glory of the Raineys. When Sam shook his head and went with the old man to the meeting that was to pass upon his action and sell the Rainey Company, he knew that he had a fight on his hands.

The meeting was a stormy one. Sam made a talk telling what had been done and Webster, voting some of Sam's proxies, made a motion that Sam's offer for the old company be accepted.

And then Colonel Tom fired his guns. Walking up and down in the room before the men, sitting at a long table or in chairs tilted against the walls, he began talking with all of his old flamboyant pomposity of the past glories of the Rainey Company. Sam watched him quietly thinking of the exhibition as something detached and apart from the business of the meeting. He remembered a question that had come into his head when he was a schoolboy and had got his first peep into a school history. There had been a picture of Indians at the war dance and he had wondered why they danced before rather than after battle. Now his mind answered the question.

"If they had not danced before they might never have got the chance," he thought, and smiled to himself.

"I call upon you men here to stick to the old colours," roared the colonel, turning and making a direct attack upon Sam. "Do not let this ungrateful upstart, this son of a drunken village housepainter, that I picked up from among the cabbages of South Water Street, win you away from your loyalty to the old leader. Do not let him steal by trickery what we have won only by years of effort."

The colonel, leaning on the table, glared about the room. Sam felt relieved and glad of the direct attack.

"It justifies what I am going to do," he thought.

When Colonel Tom had finished Sam gave a careless glance at the old man's red face and trembling fingers. He had no doubt that the outburst of eloquence had fallen upon deaf ears and without comment put Webster's motion to the vote.

To his surprise two of the new employé directors voted their stock with Colonel Tom's, and a third man, voting his own stock as well as that of a wealthy southside real estate man, did not vote. On a count the stock represented stood deadlocked and Sam, looking down the table, raised his eyebrows to Webster.

"Move we adjourn for twenty-four hours," snapped Webster, and the motion carried.

Sam looked at a paper lying before him on the table. During the count of the vote he had been writing over and over on the sheet of paper this sentence.

"The best men spend their lives seeking truth."

Colonel Tom walked out of the room like a conqueror, declining to speak to Sam as he passed, and Sam looked down the table at Webster and made a motion with his head toward the man who had not voted.

Within an hour Sam's fight was won. Pouncing upon the man representing the stock of the south-side investor, he and Webster did not go out of the room until they had secured absolute control of the Rainey Company and the man who had refused to vote had put twenty-five thousand dollars into his pocket. The two employeé directors Sam marked for slaughter. Then after spending the afternoon and early evening with the representatives of the eastern companies and their attorneys he drove home to Sue.

It was past nine o'clock when his car stopped before the house and, going at once to his room, he found Sue sitting before his fire, her arms thrown above her head and her eyes staring at the burning coals.

As Sam stood in the doorway looking at her a wave of resentment swept over him.

"The old coward," he thought, "he has brought our fight here to her."

Hanging up his coat he filled his pipe and drawing up a chair sat beside her. For five minutes Sue sat staring into the fire. When she spoke there was a touch of hardness in her voice.

"When everything is said, Sam, you do owe a lot to father," she observed, refusing to look at him.

Sam said nothing and she went on.

"Not that I think we made you, father and I. You are not the kind of man that people make or unmake. But, Sam, Sam, think what you are doing. He has always been a fool in your hands. He used to come home here when you were new with the company and talk of what he was doing. He had a whole new set of ideas and phrases; all that about waste and efficiency and orderly working toward a definite end. It did not fool me. I knew the ideas, and even the phrases he used to express them, were not his and I was not long finding out they were yours, that it was simply you expressing yourself through him. He is a big helpless child, Sam, and he is old. He hasn't much longer to live. Do not be hard, Sam. Be merciful."

Her voice did not tremble but tears ran down her rigid face and her expressive hands clutched at her dress.

"Can nothing change you? Must you always have your own way?" she added, still refusing to look at him.

"It is not true, Sue, that I always want my own way, and people do change me; you have changed me," he said.

She shook her head.

"No, I have not changed you. I found you hungry for something and you thought I could feed it. I gave you an idea that you took hold of and made your own. I do not know where I got it, from some book or hearing some one talk, I suppose. But it belonged to you. You built it and fostered it in me and coloured it with your own personality. It is your idea to-day. It means more to you than all this firearms trust that the papers are full of."

She turned to look at him, and put out her hand and laid it in his.

"I have not been brave," she said. "I am standing in your way. I have had a hope that we would get back to each other. I should have freed you but I hadn't the courage, I hadn't the courage. I could not give up the dream that some day you would really take me back to you."

Getting out of her chair she dropped to her knees and putting her head in his lap, shook with sobs. Sam sat stroking her hair. Her agitation was so great that her muscular little back shook with it.

Sam looked past her at the fire and tried to think clearly. He was not greatly moved by her agitation, but with all his heart he wanted to think things out and get at the right and the honest thing to do.

"It is a time of big things," he said slowly and with an air of one explaining to a child. "As your socialists say, vast changes are going on. I do not believe that your socialists really sense what these changes mean, and I am not sure that I do or that any man does, but I know they mean something big and I want to be in them and a part of them; all big men do; they are struggling like chicks in the shell. Why, look here! What I am doing has to be done and if I do not do it another man will. The colonel has to go. He will be swept aside. He belongs to something old and outworn. Your socialists, I believe, call it the age of competition."

"But not by us, not by you, Sam," she plead. "After all, he is my father."

A stern look came into Sam's eyes.

"It does not ring right, Sue," he said coldly; "fathers do not mean much to me. I choked my own father and threw him into the street when I was only a boy. You knew about that. You heard of it when you went to find out about me that time in Caxton. Mary Underwood told you. I did it because he lied and believed in lies. Do not your friends say that the individual who stands in the way should be crushed?"

She sprang to her feet and stood before him.

"Do not quote that crowd," she burst out. "They are not the real thing. Do you suppose I do not know that? Do I not know that they come here because they hope to get hold of you? Haven't I watched them and seen the look on their faces when you have not come or have not listened to their talk? They are afraid of you, all of them. That's why they talk so bitterly. They are afraid and ashamed that they are afraid."

"Like the workers in the shop?" he asked, musingly.

"Yes, like that, and like me since I failed in my part of our lives and had not the courage to get out of the way. You are worth all of us and for all our talk we shall never succeed or begin to succeed until we make men like you want what we want. They know that and I know it."

"And what do you want?"

"I want you to be big and generous. You can be. Failure cannot hurt you. You and men like you can do anything. You can even fail. I cannot. None of us can. I cannot put my father to that shame. I want you to accept failure."

Sam got up and taking her by the arm led her to the door. At the door he turned her about and kissed her on the lips like a lover.

"All right, Sue girl, I will do it," he said, and pushed her through the door. "Now let me sit down by myself and think things out."

It was a night in September and a whisper of the coming frost was in the air. He threw up the window and took long breaths of the sharp air and listened to the rumble of the elevated road in the distance. Looking up the boulevard he saw the lights of the cyclists making a glistening stream that flowed past the house. A thought of his new motor car and of all of the wonder of the mechanical progress of the world ran through his mind.

"The men who make machines do not hesitate," he said to himself; "even though a thousand fat-hearted men stood in their way they would go on."

A line of Tennyson's came into his mind.

"And the nation's airy navies grappling in the central blue," he quoted, thinking of an article he had read predicting the coming of airships.

He thought of the lives of the workers in steel and iron and of the things they had done and would do.

"They have," he thought, "freedom. Steel and iron do not run home to carry the struggle to women sitting by the fire."

He walked up and down the room.

"Fat old coward. Damned fat old coward," he muttered over and over to himself.

It was past midnight when he got into bed and began trying to quiet himself for sleep. In his dreams he saw a fat man with a chorus girl hanging to his arm kicking his head about a bridge above a swiftly flowing stream.

When he got down to the breakfast room the next morning Sue had gone. By his plate he found a note saying that she had gone for Colonel Tom and would take him to the country for the day. He walked to the office thinking of the incapable old man who, in the name of sentiment, had beaten him in what he thought the big enterprise of his life.

At his desk he found a message from Webster. "The old turkey cock has fled," it said; "we should have saved the twenty-five thousand."

On the phone Webster told Sam of an early visit to the club to see Colonel Tom and that the old man had left the city, going to the country for the day. It was on Sam's lips to tell of his changed plans but he hesitated.

"I will see you at your office in an hour," he said.

Outside again in the open air Sam walked and thought of his promise. Down by the lake he went to where the railroad with the lake beyond stopped him. Upon the old wooden bridge looking over the track and down to the water he stood as he had stood at other crises in his life and thought over the struggle of the night before. In the clear morning air, with the roar of the city behind him and the still waters of the lake in front, the tears, and the talk with Sue seemed but a part of the ridiculous and sentimental attitude of her father, and the promise given her insignificant and unfairly won. He reviewed the scene carefully, the talk and the tears and the promise given as he led her to the door. It all seemed far away and unreal like some promise made to a girl in his boyhood.

"It was never a part of all this," he said, turning and looking at the towering city before him.

For an hour he stood on the wooden bridge. He thought of Windy McPherson putting the bugle to his lips in the streets of Caxton and again there sounded in his ears the roaring laugh of the crowd; again he lay in the bed beside Colonel Tom in that northern city and saw the moon rising over the round paunch and heard the empty chattering talk of love.

"Love," he said, still looking toward the city, "is a matter of truth, not lies and pretence."

Suddenly it seemed to him that if he went forward truthfully he should get even Sue back again some time. His mind lingered over the thoughts of the loves that come to a man in the world, of Sue in the wind-swept northern woods and of Janet in her wheel-chair in the little room where the cable cars ran rumbling under the window. And he thought of other things, of Sue reading papers culled out of books before the fallen women in the little State Street hall, of Tom Edwards with his new wife and his little watery eyes, of Morrison and the long-fingered socialist fighting over words at his table. And then pulling on his gloves he lighted a cigar and went back through the crowded streets to his office to do the thing he had determined on.

At the meeting that afternoon the project went through without a dissenting voice. Colonel Tom being absent, the two employé directors voted with Sam with almost panicky haste as Sam looking across at the well-dressed, cool-headed Webster, laughed and lighted a fresh cigar. And then he voted the stock Sue had intrusted to him for the project, feeling that in doing so he was cutting, perhaps for all time, the knot that bound them.

With the completion of the deal Sam stood to win five million dollars, more money than Colonel Tom or any of the Raineys had ever controlled, and had placed himself in the eyes of the business men of Chicago and New York where before he had placed himself in the eyes of Caxton and South Water Street. Instead of another Windy McPherson failing to blow his bugle before the waiting crowd, he was still the man who made good, the man who achieved, the kind of man of whom America boasts before the world.

He did not see Sue again. When the news of his betrayal reached her she went off east taking Colonel Tom with her, and Sam closed the house, even sending a man there for his clothes. To her eastern address, got from her attorney, he wrote a brief note offering to make over to her or to Colonel Tom his entire winnings from the deal and closed it with the brutal declaration, "At the end I could not be an ass, even for you."

To this note Sam got a cold, brief reply telling him to dispose of her stock in the company and of that belonging to Colonel Tom, and naming an eastern trust company to receive the money. With Colonel Tom's help she had made a careful estimate of the values of their holdings at the time of consolidation and refused flatly to accept a penny beyond that amount.

Sam felt that another chapter of his life was closed. Webster, Edwards, Prince, and the eastern men met and elected him chairman of the board of directors of the new company and the public bought eagerly the river of common stock he turned upon the market, Prince and Morrison doing masterful work in the moulding of public opinion through the press. The first board meeting ended with a dinner at which wine flowed in rivulets and Edwards, getting drunk, stood up at his place and boasted of the beauty of his young wife. And Sam, at his desk in his new offices in the Rookery, settled down grimly to the playing of his role as one of the new kings of American business.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top