The Second Generation
By David Graham Phillips
Public Domain Books
Chapter XXI - Hiram’s Son
In Hiram Ranger’s last year the Ranger-Whitney Company made half a million; the first year under the trustees there was a small deficit. Charles Whitney was most apologetic to his fellow trustees who had given him full control because he owned just under half the stock and was the business man of the three. “I’ve relied wholly on Howells,” explained he. “I knew Ranger had the highest opinion of his ability, but evidently he’s one of those chaps who are good only as lieutenants. However, there’s no excuse for me–none. During the coming year I’ll try to make up for my negligence. I’ll give the business my personal attention.”
But at the end of the second year the books showed that, while the company had never done so much business, there was a loss of half a million; another such year and the surplus would be exhausted. At the trustees’ meeting, of the three faces staring gloomily at these ruinous figures the gloomiest was Charles Whitney’s. “There can be only one explanation,” said he. “The shifting of the centers of production is making it increasingly difficult to manufacture here at a profit.”
“Perhaps the railways are discriminating against us,” suggested Scarborough.
Whitney smiled slightly. “That’s your reform politics,” said he. “You fellows never seek the natural causes for things; you at once accuse the financiers.”
Scarborough smiled back at him. “But haven’t there been instances of rings in control of railways using their power for plants they were interested in and against competing plants?”
“Possibly–to a limited extent,” conceded Whitney. “But I hold to the old-fashioned idea. My dear sir, this is a land of opportunity–”
“Still, Whitney,” interrupted Dr. Hargrave, “there may be something in what Senator Scarborough says.”
“Undoubtedly,” Whitney hastened to answer. “I only hope there is. Then our problem will be simple. I’ll set my lawyers to work at once. If that is the cause"–he struck the table resolutely with his clenched fist–"the scoundrels shall be brought to book!”
His eyes shifted as he lifted them to find Scarborough looking at him. “You have inside connections with the Chicago railway crowd, have you not, Mr. Whitney?” he inquired.
“I think I have,” said Whitney, with easy candor. “That’s why I feel confident your suggestion has no foundation–beyond your suspicion of all men engaged in large enterprises. It’s a wonder you don’t suspect me. Indeed, you probably will.”
He spoke laughingly. Scarborough’s answer was a grave smile.
“My personal loss may save me from you,” Whitney went on. “I hesitate to speak of it, but, as you can see, it is large–almost as large as the university’s.”
“Yes,” said Scarborough absently, though his gaze was still fixed on Whitney. “You think you can do nothing?”
“Indeed I do not!” exclaimed Whitney. “I shall begin with the assumption that you are right. And if you are, I’ll have those scoundrels in court within a month.”
The young senator’s expression and tone were calm, but Whitney seemed to find covert hostility in them. “Then–justice!” he replied angrily.
Dr. Hargrave beamed benevolent confidence. “Justice!” he echoed. “Thank God for our courts!”
“But when?” said Scarborough. As there was no answer, he went on: “In five–ten–fifteen–perhaps twenty years. The lawyers are in no hurry–a brief case means a small fee. The judges–they’ve got their places for life, so there’s no reason why they should muss their silk gowns in undignified haste. Besides–It seems to me I’ve heard somewhere the phrase ’railway judges.’”
Dr. Hargrave looked gentle but strong disapproval. “You are too pessimistic, Hampden,” said he.
“The senator should not let the wounds from his political fights gangrene,” suggested Whitney, with good-humored raillery.
“Have you nothing but the court remedy to offer?” asked Scarborough, a slight smile on his handsome face, so deceptively youthful.
“That’s quite enough,” answered Whitney. “In my own affairs I’ve never appealed to the courts in vain.”
“I can believe it,” said Scarborough, and Whitney looked as if he had scented sarcasm, though Scarborough was correctly colorless. “But, if you should be unable to discover any grounds for a case against the railways?”
“Then all we can do is to work harder than ever along the old lines–cut down expenses, readjust wages, stop waste.” Whitney sneered politely. “But no doubt you have some other plan to propose.”
Scarborough continued to look at him with the same faint smile. “I’ve nothing to suggest–to-day,” said he. “The court proceedings will do no harm–you see, Mr. Whitney, I can’t get my wicked suspicion of your friends out of my mind. But we must also try something less–less leisurely than courts. I’ll think it over.”
Whitney laughed rather uncomfortably; and when they adjourned he lingered with Dr. Hargrave. “We must not let ourselves be carried away by our young friend’s suspicions,” said he to his old friend. “Scarborough is a fine fellow. But he lacks your experience and my knowledge of practical business. And he has been made something of a crank by combating the opposition his extreme views have aroused among conservative people.”
“You are mistaken, Whitney,” replied the doctor. “Hampden’s views are sound. He is misrepresented by the highly placed rascals he has exposed and dislodged. But in these business matters we rely upon you.” He linked his arm affectionately in that of the powerful and successful “captain of industry” whom he had known from boyhood. “I know how devoted you are to Tecumseh, and how ably you manage practical affairs; and I have not for a moment lost confidence that you will bring us safely through.”
Whitney’s face was interesting. There was a certain hangdog look in it, but there was also a suggestion–very covert–of cynical amusement, as of a good player’s jeer at a blunder by his opponent. His tone, however, was melancholy, tinged with just resentment, as he said: “Scarborough forgets how my own personal interest is involved. I don’t like to lose two hundred and odd thousand a year.”
“Scarborough meant nothing, I’m sure,” said Hargrave soothingly. “He knows we are all single hearted for the university.”
“I don’t like to be distrusted,” persisted Whitney sadly. Then brightening: “But you and I understand each other, doctor. And we will carry the business through. Every man who tries to do anything in this world must expect to be misunderstood.”
“You are mistaken about Scarborough, I know you are,” said Hargrave earnestly.
Whitney listened to Hargrave, finally professed to be reassured; but, before he left, a strong doubt of Scarborough’s judgment had been implanted by him in the mind of the old doctor. That was easy enough; for, while Hargrave was too acute a man to give his trust impulsively, he gave without reserve when he did give–and he believed in Charles Whitney. The ability absolutely to trust where trust is necessary is as essential to effective character as is the ability to withhold trust until its wisdom has been justified; and exceptions only confirm a rule.
Scarborough, feeling that he had been neglecting his trusteeship, now devoted himself to the Ranger-Whitney Company.
He had long consultations with Howells, and studied the daily and weekly balance sheets which Howells sent him. In the second month after the annual meeting he cabled Dory to come home. The entire foundation upon which Dory was building seemed to be going; Saint X was, therefore, the place for him, not Europe.
“And there you have all I have been able to find out,” concluded Scarborough, when he had given Dory the last of the facts and figures. “What do you make of it?”
“There’s something wrong–something rotten,” replied Dory.
“But where?” inquired Scarborough, who had taken care not to speak or hint his vague doubts of Whitney. “Everything looks all right, except the totals on the balance sheets.”
“We must talk this over with some one who knows more about the business than either of us.” Then he added, as if the idea had just come to him, “Why not call in Arthur–Arthur Ranger?”
Scarborough looked receptive, but not enthusiastic.
“He has been studying this business in the most practical way ever since his father died,” urged Dory. “It can’t do any harm to consult with him. We don’t want to call in outside experts if we can help it.”
“If we did we’d have to let Mr. Whitney select them,” said Scarborough. And he drew Dory out upon the subject of Arthur and got such complete and intelligent answers that he presently had a wholly new and true idea of the young man whose boyish follies Saint X had not yet forgotten. “Yes, let’s give Arthur a chance,” he finally said.
Accordingly, they laid the case in its entirety before Arthur, and he took home with him the mass of reports which Scarborough had gathered. Night after night he and Madelene worked at the problem; for both knew that its solution would be his opportunity, their opportunity.
It was Madelene who discovered the truth–not by searching the figures, not by any process of surface reasoning, but by that instinct for motive which woman has developed through her ages of dealing with and in motives only. “They must get a new management,” said she; “one that Charles Whitney has no control over.”
“Because he’s wrecking the business to get hold of it. He wants the whole thing, and he couldn’t resist the chance the inexperience and confidence of the other two gave him.”
“I see no indication of it,” objected Arthur, to draw her out. “On the contrary, wherever he directly controls there’s a good showing.”
“That’s it!” exclaimed Madelene, feeling that she now had her feet on the firm ground of reason on which alone stupid men will discuss practical affairs.
Arthur had lived with Madelene long enough to learn that her mind was indeed as clear as her eyes, that when she looked at anything she saw it as it was, and saw all of it. Like any man who has the right material in him, he needed only the object lesson of her quick dexterity at stripping a problem of its shell of nonessentials. He had become what the ineffective call a pessimist. He had learned the primer lesson of large success–that one must build upon the hard, pessimistic facts of human nature’s instability and fate’s fondness for mischief, not upon the optimistic clouds of belief that everybody is good and faithful and friendly disposed and everything will “come out all right somehow.” The instant Madelene suggested Whitney as the cause, Arthur’s judgment echoed approval; but, to get her whole mind as one gives it only in combating opposition, he continued to object. “But suppose,” said he, “Whitney insists on selecting the new management? As he’s the only one competent, how can they refuse?”
“We must find a way round that,” replied Madelene. “It’s perfectly plain, isn’t it, that there’s only one course–an absolutely new management. And how can Mr. Whitney object? If he’s not guilty he won’t object, because he’ll be eager to try the obvious remedy. If he’s guilty he won’t object–he’ll be afraid of being suspected.”
“Dory suggested–” began Arthur, and stopped.
“That you be put in as manager?”
“How did you know that?”
“It’s the sensible thing. It’s the only thing,” answered his wife. “And Dory has the genius of good sense. You ought to go to Scarborough and ask for the place. Take Dory with you.”
“That’s good advice,” said Arthur, heartily.
Madelene laughed. “When a man praises a woman’s advice, it means she has told him to do what he had made up his mind to do anyhow.”
Next day Scarborough called a meeting of the trustees. Down from Chicago came Whitney–at the greatest personal inconvenience, so he showed his colleagues, but eager to do anything for Tecumseh. Scarborough gave a clear and appalling account of how the Ranger-Whitney Company’s prosperity was slipping into the abyss like a caving sand bank, on all sides, apparently under pressure of forces beyond human control. “In view of the facts,” said he, in conclusion, “our sole hope is in putting ourselves to one side and giving an entirely new management an entirely free hand.”
Whitney had listened to Scarborough’s speech with the funereal countenance befitting so melancholy a recital. As Scarborough finished and sank back in his chair, he said, with energy and heartiness, “I agree with you, senator. The lawyers tell me there are as yet no signs of a case against the railways. Besides, the trouble seems to be, as I feared, deeper than this possible rebating. Jenkins–one of my best men–I sent him down to help Howells out–he’s clearly an utter failure–utter! And I am getting old. The new conditions of business life call for young men with open minds.”
“No, no!” protested Dr. Hargrave. “I will not consent to any change that takes your hand off the lever, my friend. These are stormy times in our industrial world, and we need the wise, experienced pilot.”
Scarborough had feared this; but he and Dory, forced to choose between taking him into their confidence and boldly challenging the man in whom he believed implicitly, had chosen the far safer course. “While Mr. Whitney must appreciate your eulogy, doctor,” said he, suave yet with a certain iciness, “I think he will insist upon the trial of the only plan that offers. In our plight we must not shrink from desperate remedies–even a remedy as desperate as eliminating the one man who understands the business from end to end.” This last with slight emphasis and a steady look at Whitney.
Whitney reddened. “We need not waste words,” said he, in his bluff, sharp voice. “The senator and I are in accord, and we are the majority.”
“At least, Mr. Whitney,” said the doctor, “you must suggest the new man. You know the business world. We don’t.”
A long pause; then from Whitney: “Why not try young Ranger?”
Scarborough looked at him in frank amazement. By what process of infernal telepathy had he found out? Or was there some deep reason why Arthur would be the best possible man for his purpose, if his purpose was indeed malign? Was Arthur his tool? Or was Arthur subtly making tools of both Whitney and himself?
Dr. Hargrave was dumfounded. When he recovered himself sufficiently to speak, it was to say, “Why, he’s a mere boy, Whitney–not yet thirty. He has had no experience!”
“Inexperience seems to be what we need,” replied Whitney, eyes twinkling sneeringly at Scarborough. “We have tried experience, and it is a disastrous failure.”
Scarborough was still reflecting.
“True,” pursued Whitney, “the young man would also have the motive of self-interest to keep him from making a success.”
“How is that?” inquired Scarborough.
“Under the will,” Whitney reminded him, “he can buy back the property at its market value. Obviously, the less the property is worth, the better for him.”
Scarborough was staggered. Was Arthur crafty as well as able? With the human conscience ever eager to prove that what is personally advantageous is also right, how easy for a man in his circumstances to convince himself that any course would be justifiable in upsetting the “injustice" of Hiram Ranger’s will.
“However,” continued Whitney, “I’ve no doubt he’s as honest as his father–and I couldn’t say more than that. The only question is whether we can risk giving him the chance to show what there is in him.”
Dr. Hargrave was looking dazedly from one of his colleagues to the other, as if he thought his mind were playing him a trick. “It is impossible–preposterous!” he exclaimed.
“A man has to make a beginning,” said Whitney. “How can he show what there is in him unless he gets a chance? It seems to me, doctor, we owe it to Hiram to do this for the boy. We can keep an eye and a hand on him. What do you think, senator?”
Scarborough had won at every stage of his career, not merely because he had convictions and the courage of them, but chiefly because he had the courage to carry through the plans he laid in trying to make his convictions effective. He had come there, fixed that Arthur was the man for the place; why throw up his hand because Whitney was playing into it? Nothing had occurred to change his opinion of Arthur. “Let us try Arthur Ranger,” he now said. “But let us give him a free hand.”
He was watching Whitney’s face; he saw it change expression–a slight frown. “I advise against the free hand,” said Whitney.
“I protest against it!” cried Dr. Hargrave. “I protest against even considering this inexperienced boy for such a responsibility.”
Scarborough addressed himself to Whitney. “If we do not give our new manager, whoever he may be, a free hand, and if he should fail, how shall we know whether the fault is his or–yours?”
At the direct “yours” Scarborough thought Whitney winced; but his reply was bland and frank enough. He turned to Dr. Hargrave. “The senator is right,” said he. “I shall vote with him.”
“Then it is settled,” said Scarborough. “Ranger is to have absolute charge.”
Dr. Hargrave was now showing every sign of his great age; the anguish of imminent despair was in his deep-set eyes and in his broken, trembling voice as he cried: “Gentlemen, this is madness! Charles, I implore you, do not take such precipitate action in so vital a matter! Let us talk it over–think it over. The life of the university is at stake!”
It was evident that the finality in the tones and in the faces of his colleagues had daunted him; but with a tremendous effort he put down the weakness of age and turned fiercely upon Whitney to shame him from indorsing Scarborough’s suicidal policy. But Whitney, with intent of brutality, took out his watch. “I have just time to catch my train,” said he, indifferently; “I can only use my best judgment, doctor. Sorry to have to disagree with you, but Senator Scarborough has convinced me.” And having thus placed upon Scarborough the entire responsibility for the event of the experiment, he shook hands with his colleagues and hurried out to his waiting carriage.
Dr. Hargrave dropped into a chair and stared into vacancy. In all those long, long years of incessant struggle against heartbreaking obstacles he had never lost courage or faith. But this blow at the very life of the university and from its friends! He could not even lift himself enough to look to his God; it seemed to him that God had gone on a far journey. Scarborough, watching him, was profoundly moved. “If at the end of three months you wish Ranger to resign,” said he, “I shall see to it that he does resign. Believe me, doctor, I have not taken this course without considering all the possibilities, so far as I could foresee them.”
The old president, impressed by his peculiar tone, looked up quickly. “There is something in this that I don’t understand,” said he, searching Scarborough’s face.
Scarborough was tempted to explain. But the consequences, should he fail to convince Hargrave, compelled him to withhold. “I hope, indeed I feel sure, you will be astonished in our young friend,” said he, instead. “I have been talking with him a good deal lately, and I am struck by the strong resemblance to his father. It is more than mere physical likeness.”
With a sternness he could have shown only where principle was at stake, the old man said: “But I must not conceal from you, senator, that I have the gravest doubts and fears. You have alienated the university’s best friend–rich, powerful, able, and, until you exasperated him, devoted to its interests. I regard you as having–unintentionally, and no doubt for good motives–betrayed the solemn trust Hiram Ranger reposed in you.” He was standing at his full height, with his piercing eyes fixed upon his young colleague’s.
All the color left Scarborough’s face. “Betrayed is a strong word,” he said.
“A strong word, senator,” answered Dr. Hargrave, “and used deliberately. I wish you good day, sir.”
Hargrave was one of those few men who are respected without any reservation, and whose respect is, therefore, not given up without a sense of heavy loss. But to explain would be to risk rousing in him an even deeper anger–anger on account of his friend Whitney; so, without another word, Scarborough bowed and went. “Either he will be apologizing to me at the end of three months,” said he to himself, “or I shall be apologizing to Whitney and shall owe Tecumseh a large sum of money.”
Both Madelene and Arthur had that instinct for comfort and luxury which is an even larger factor in advancement than either energy or intelligence. The idea that clothing means something more than warmth, food something more than fodder, a house something more than shelter, is the beginning of progress; the measure of a civilized man or woman is the measure of his or her passion for and understanding of the art of living.
Madelene, by that right instinct which was perhaps the finest part of her sane and strong character, knew what comfort really means, knew the difference between luxury and the showy vulgarity of tawdriness or expensiveness; and she rapidly corrected, or, rather, restored, Arthur’s good taste, which had been vitiated by his associations with fashionable people, whose standards are necessarily always poor. She was devoted to her profession as a science; but she did not neglect the vital material considerations. She had too much self-respect to become careless about her complexion or figure, about dress or personal habits, even if she had not had such shrewd insight into what makes a husband remain a lover, a wife a mistress. She had none of those self-complacent delusions which lure vain women on in slothfulness until Love vacates his neglected temple. And in large part, no doubt, Arthur’s appearance–none of the stains and patches of the usual workingman, and this though he worked hard at manual labor and in a shop–was due to her influence of example; he, living with such a woman, would have been ashamed not to keep “up to the mark.” Also her influence over old Mrs. Ranger became absolute; and swiftly yet imperceptibly the house, which had so distressed Adelaide, was transformed, not into the exhibit of fashionable ostentation which had once been Adelaide’s and Arthur’s ideal, but into a house of comfort and beauty, with colors harmonizing, the look of newness gone from the “best rooms,” and finally the “best rooms” themselves abolished. And Ellen thought herself chiefly responsible for the change. “I’m gradually getting things just about as I want ’em,” said she. “It does take a long time to do anything in this world!” Also she believed, and a boundless delight it was to her, that she was the cause of Madelene’s professional success. Everyone talked of the way Madelene was getting on, and wondered at her luck. “She deserves it, though,” said they, “for she can all but raise the dead.” In fact, the secret was simple enough. She had been taught by her father to despise drugs and to compel dieting and exercise. She had the tact which he lacked; she made the allowances for human nature’s ignorance and superstition which he refused to make; she lessened the hardship of taking her common-sense prescriptions by veiling them in medical hocus-pocus–a compromise of the disagreeable truth which her father had always inveighed against as both immoral and unwholesome.
Within six months after her marriage she was earning as much as her husband; and her fame was spreading so rapidly that not only women but also men, and men with a contempt for the “inferior mentality of the female,” were coming to her from all sides. “You’ll soon have a huge income,” said Arthur. “Why, you’ll be rich, you are so grasping.”
“Indeed I am,” replied she. “The way to teach people to strive for high wages and to learn thrift is to make them pay full value for what they get. I don’t propose to encourage dishonesty or idleness. Besides, we’ll need the money.”
Arthur had none of that mean envy which can endure the prosperity of strangers only; he would not even have been able to be jealous of his wife’s getting on better than did he. But, if he had been so disposed, he would have found it hard to indulge such feelings because of Madelene. She had put their married life on the right basis. She made him feel, with a certainty which no morbid imagining could have shaken, that she loved and respected him for qualities which could not be measured by any of the world’s standards of success. He knew that in her eyes he was already an arrived success, that she was absolutely indifferent whether others ever recognized it or not. Only those who realize how powerful is the influence of intimate association will appreciate what an effect living with Madelene had upon Arthur’s character–in withering the ugly in it, in developing its quality, and in directing its strength.
When Scarborough gave Arthur his “chance,” Madelene took it as the matter of course. “I’m sorry it has come so soon,” said she, “and in just this way. But it couldn’t have been delayed long. With so much to be done and so few able or willing to do it, the world can’t wait long enough for a man really to ripen. It’s lucky that you inherit from your father so many important things that most men have to spend their lives in learning.”
“Do you think so?” said he, brightening; for, with the “chance” secure, he was now much depressed by the difficulties which he had been resurveying from the inside point of view.
“You understand how to manage men,” she replied, “and you understand business.”
“But, unfortunately, this isn’t business.”
He was right. The problem of business is, in its two main factors, perfectly simple–to make a wanted article, and to put it where those who want it can buy. But this was not Arthur Ranger’s problem, nor is it the problem of most business men in our time. Between maker and customer, nowadays, lie the brigands who control the railways–that is, the highways; and they with equal facility use or defy the law, according to their needs. When Arthur went a-buying grain or stave timber, he and those with whom he was trading had to placate the brigands before they could trade; when he went a-selling flour, he had to fight his way to the markets through the brigands. It was the battle which causes more than ninety out of every hundred in independent business to fail–and of the remaining ten, how many succeed only because they either escaped the notice of the brigands or compromised with them?
“I wish you luck,” said Jenkins, when, at the end of two weeks of his tutelage, Arthur told him he would try it alone.
Arthur laughed. “No, you don’t, Jenkins,” replied he, with good-humored bluntness. “But I’m going to have it, all the same.”
Discriminating prices and freight rates against his grain, discriminating freight rates against his flour; the courts either powerless to aid him or under the rule of bandits; and, on the top of all, a strike within two weeks after Jenkins left–such was the situation. Arthur thought it hopeless; but he did not lose courage nor his front of serenity, even when alone with Madelene. Each was careful not to tempt the malice of fate by concealments; each was careful also not to annoy the other with unnecessary disagreeable recitals. If he could have seen where good advice could possibly help him, he would have laid all his troubles before her; but it seemed to him that to ask her advice would be as if she were to ask him to tell her how to put life into a corpse. He imagined that she was deceived by his silence about the details of his affairs because she gave no sign, did not even ask questions beyond generalities. She, however, was always watching his handsome face with its fascinating evidences of power inwardly developing; and, as it was her habit to get valuable information as to what was going on inside her fellow-beings from a close study of surface appearances, the growing gauntness of his features, the coming out of the lines of sternness, did not escape her, made her heart throb with pride even as it ached with sympathy and anxiety. At last she decided for speech.
He was sitting in their dressing room, smoking his last cigarette as he watched her braid her wonderful hair for the night. She, observing him in the glass, saw that he was looking at her with that yearning for sympathy which is always at its strongest in a man in the mood that was his at sight of those waves and showers of soft black hair on the pallid whiteness of her shoulders. Before he realized what she was about she was in his lap, her arms round his neck, his face pillowed against her cheek and her hair. “What is it, little boy?” she murmured, with that mingling of the mistress and the mother which every woman who ever loved feels for and, at certain times, shows the man she loves.
He laughed. “Business–business,” said he. “But let’s not talk about it. The important thing is that I have you. The rest is–smoke!” And he blew out a great cloud of it and threw the cigarette through the open window.
“Tell me,” she said; “I’ve been waiting for you to speak, and I can’t wait any longer.”
“I couldn’t–just now. It doesn’t at all fit in with my thoughts.” And he kissed her.
She moved to rise. “Then I’ll go back to the dressing table. Perhaps you’ll be able to tell me with the width of the room between us.”
He drew her head against his again. “Very well–if I must, I will. But you know all about it. For some mysterious reason, somebody–you say it’s Whitney, and probably it is–won’t let me buy grain or anything else as cheaply as others buy it. And for the same mysterious reason, somebody, probably Whitney again, won’t let me get to market without paying a heavier toll than our competitors pay. And now for some mysterious reason somebody, probably Whitney again, has sent labor organizers from Chicago among the men and has induced them to make impossible demands and to walk out without warning.”
“And you think there’s nothing to do but walk out, too,” said Madelene.
“Or wait until I’m put out.”
His tone made those words mean that his desperate situation had roused his combativeness, that he would not give up. Her blood beat faster and her eyes shone. “You’ll win,” she said, with the quiet confidence which strengthens when it comes from a person whose judgment one has tested and found good. And he believed in her as absolutely as she believed in him.
“I’ve been tempted to resign,” he went on. “If I don’t everybody’ll say I’m a failure when the crash comes. But–Madelene, there’s something in me that simply won’t let me quit.”
“There is,” replied she; “it’s your father.”
“Anyhow, you are the only public opinion for me.”
“You’ll win,” repeated Madelene. “I’ve been thinking over that whole business. If I were you, Arthur"–she was sitting up so that she could look at him and make her words more impressive–"I’d dismiss strike and freight rates and the mill, and I’d put my whole mind on Whitney. There’s a weak spot somewhere in his armor. There always is in a scoundrel’s.”
Arthur reflected. Presently he drew her head down against his; it seemed to her that she could feel his brain at work, and soon she knew from the change in the clasp of his arms about her that that keen, quick mind of his was serving him well. “What a joy it is to a woman,” she thought, “to know that she can trust the man she loves–trust him absolutely, always, and in every way.” And she fell asleep after awhile, lulled by the rhythmic beat of his pulse, so steady, so strong, giving her such a restful sense of security. She did not awaken until he was gently laying her in the bed.
“You have found it?” said she, reading the news in the altered expression of his face.
“I hope so,” replied he.
She saw that he did not wish to discuss. So she said, “I knew you would," and went contentedly back into sleep again.
Next day he carefully read the company’s articles of incorporation to make sure that they contained no obstacle to his plan. Then he went to Scarborough, and together they went to Judge Torrey. Three days later there was a special meeting of the board of directors; the president, Charles Whitney, was unable to attend, but his Monday morning mail contained this extract from the minutes:
“Mr. Ranger offered a resolution that an assessment of two thousand dollars be at once laid upon each share of the capital stock, the proceeds to be expended by the superintendent in betterments. Seconded by Mr. Scarborough. Unanimously passed.”
Whitney reread this very carefully. He laid the letter down and stared at it. Two thousand dollars a share meant that he, owner of four hundred and eighty-seven shares, would have to pay in cash nine hundred and seventy-four thousand dollars. He ordered his private car attached to the noon express, and at five o’clock he was in Scarborough’s library.
“What is the meaning of this assessment?” he demanded, as Scarborough entered.
“Mr. Ranger explained the situation to us,” replied Scarborough. “He showed us we had to choose between ruin and a complete reorganization with big improvements and extensions.”
“Lunacy, sheer lunacy!” cried Whitney. “A meeting of the board must be called and the resolution rescinded.”
Scarborough simply looked at him, a smile in his eyes.
“I never heard of such an outrage! You ask me to pay an assessment of nearly a million dollars on stock that is worthless.”
“And,” replied Scarborough, “at the end of the year we expect to levy another assessment of a thousand a share.”
Whitney had been tramping stormily up and down the room. As Scarborough uttered those last words he halted. He eyed his tranquil fellow-trustee, then seated himself, and said, with not a trace of his recent fury: “You must know, Scarborough, the mills have no future. I hadn’t the heart to say so before Dr. Hargrave. But I supposed you were reading the signs right. The plain truth is, this is no longer a good location for the flour industry.”
Scarborough waited before replying; when he did speak his tones were deliberate and suggestive of strong emotion well under control. “True," said he, “not just at present. But Judge Beverwick, your friend and silent partner who sits on the federal bench in this district, is at the point of death. I shall see to it that his successor is a man with a less intense prejudice against justice. Thus we may be able to convince some of your friends in control of the railways that Saint X is as good a place for mills as any in the country.”
Whitney grunted. His face was inscrutable. He paced the length of the room twice; he stood at the window gazing out at the arbors, at the bees buzzing contentedly, at the flies darting across the sifting sunbeams. “Beautiful place, this,” said he at last; “very homelike. No wonder you’re a happy man.” A pause. “As to the other matter, I’ll see. No doubt I can stop this through the courts, if you push me to it.”
“Not without giving us a chance to explain,” replied Scarborough; “and the higher courts may agree with us that we ought to defend the university’s rights against your railway friends and your ’labor’ men whom you sent down here to cause the strike.”
“Rubbish!” said Whitney; and he laughed. “Rubbish!” he repeated. “It’s not a matter either for argument or for anger.” He took his hat, made a slight ironic bow, and was gone.
He spent the next morning with Arthur, discussing the main phases of the business, with little said by either about the vast new project. They lunched together in the car, which was on a siding before the offices, ready to join the early afternoon express. Arthur was on his guard against Whitney, but he could not resist the charm of the financier’s manner and conversation. Like all men of force, Whitney had great magnetism, and his conversation was frank to apparent indiscretion, a most plausible presentation of the cynical philosophy of practical life as it is lived by men of bold and generous nature.
“That assessment scheme was yours, wasn’t it?” he said, when he and Arthur had got on terms of intimacy.
“The first suggestion came from me,” admitted Arthur.
“A great stroke,” said Whitney. “You will arrive, young man. I thought it was your doing, because it reminded me of your father. I never knew a more direct man than he, yet he was without an equal at flanking movements. What a pity his mind went before he died! My first impulse was to admire his will. But, now that I’ve come to know you, I see that if he had lived to get acquainted with you he’d have made a very; different disposition of the family property. As it is, it’s bound to go to pieces. No board ever managed anything successfully. It’s always a man–one man. In this case it ought to be you. But the time will come–soon, probably–when your view will conflict with that of the majority of the board. Then out you’ll go; and your years of intelligent labor will be destroyed.”
It was plain in Arthur’s face that this common-sense statement of the case produced instant and strong effect. He merely said: “Well, one must take that risk.”
“Not necessarily,” replied Whitney; he was talking in the most careless, impersonal way. “A man of your sort, with the strength and the ability you inherit, and with the power that they give you to play an important part in the world, doesn’t let things drift to ruin. I intend, ultimately, to give my share of the Ranger-Whitney Company to Tecumseh–I’m telling you this in confidence.”
Arthur glanced quickly at the great financier, suspicion and wonder in his eyes.
“But I want it to be a value when I give it,” continued Whitney; “not the worse than worthless paper it threatens to become. Scarborough and Dr. Hargrave are splendid men. No one honors them more highly than I do. But they are not business men. And who will be their successors? Probably men even less practical.”
Arthur, keen-witted but young, acute but youthfully ready to attribute the generous motive rather than the sinister, felt that he was getting a new light on Whitney’s character. Perhaps Whitney wasn’t so unworthy, after all. Perhaps, in trying to wreck the business and so get hold of it, he had been carrying out a really noble purpose, in the unscrupulous way characteristic of the leaders of the world of commerce and finance. To Whitney he said: “I haven’t given any thought to these matters.” With a good-natured laugh of raillery: “You have kept me too busy.”
Whitney smiled–an admission that yet did not commit him. “When you’ve lived a while longer, Arthur,” said he, “you’ll not be so swift and harsh in your judgments of men who have to lay the far-sighted plans and have to deal with mankind as it is, not as it ought to be. However, by that time the Ranger-Whitney Company will be wiped out. It’s a pity. If only there were some way of getting the control definitely in your hands–where your father would have put it if he had lived. It’s a shame to permit his life work and his plans for the university to be demolished. In your place I’d not permit it.”
Arthur slowly flushed. Without looking at Whitney, he said: “I don’t see how I could prevent it.”
Whitney studied his flushed face, his lowered eyes, reflected carefully on the longing note in the voice in which he had made that statement, a note that changed it to a question. “Control could be got only by ownership,” explained he. “If I were sure you were working with a definite, practical purpose really to secure the future of the company, I’d go heartily into your assessment plan. In fact, I’d–” Whitney was feeling his way. The change in Arthur’s expression, the sudden tightening of the lips, warned him that he was about to go too far, that he had sowed as much seed as it was wise to sow at that time. He dropped the subject abruptly, saying: “But I’ve got to go up to the bank before train time. I’m glad we’ve had this little talk. Something of value may grow out of it. Think it over, and if any new ideas come to you run up to Chicago and see me.”
Arthur did indeed think it over, every moment of that afternoon; and before going home he took a long walk alone. He saw that Charles Whitney had proposed a secret partnership, in which he was to play Whitney’s game and, in exchange, was to get control of the Ranger-Whitney Company. And what Whitney had said about the folly of board managements, about the insecurity of his own position, was undeniably true; and the sacrifice of the “smaller morality” for the “larger good” would be merely doing what the biographies of the world’s men of achievement revealed them as doing again and again. Further, once in control, once free to put into action the plans for a truly vast concern, of which he had so often dreamed, he could give Tecumseh a far larger income than it had ever hoped to have through his father’s gift, and also could himself be rich and powerful. To the men who have operated with success and worldly acclaim under the code of the “larger good,” the men who have aggrandized themselves at the expense of personal honor and the rights of others and the progress of the race, the first, the crucial temptation to sacrifice “smaller morality” and “short-sighted scruples” has always come in some such form as it here presented itself to Arthur Ranger. The Napoleons begin as defenders of rational freedom against the insane license of the mob; the Rockefellers begin as cheapeners of a necessity of life to the straitened millions of their fellow-beings.
If Arthur had been weak, he would have put aside the temptation through fear of the consequences of failure. If he had been ignorant, he would have put it aside through superstition. Being neither weak nor ignorant, and having a human passion for wealth and power and a willingness to get them if he could do it without sacrifice of self-respect, he sat calmly down with the temptation and listened to it and debated with it. He was silent all through dinner; and after dinner, when he and Madelene were in their sitting room upstairs, she reading, he sat with his eyes upon her, and continued to think.
All at once he gave a curious laugh, went to the writing table and wrote a few moments. Then he brought the letter to her. “Read that,” said he, standing behind her, his hands on her shoulders and an expression in his face that made his resemblance to Hiram startling.
“MY DEAR MR. WHITNEY: I’ve been ’thinking it over’ as you suggested. I’ve decided to plug along in the old way, between the old landmarks. Let me add that, if you should offer to give your stock to Tecumseh now, I’d have to do my utmost to persuade the trustees not to take it until the company was once more secure. You see, I feel it is absolutely necessary that you have a large pecuniary interest in the success of our plans.”
When Madelene had read she turned in the chair until she was looking up at him. “Well?” she inquired. “What does it mean?”
He told her. “And,” he concluded, “I wish I could be a great man, but I can’t. There’s something small in me that won’t permit it. No doubt Franklin was right when he said life was a tunnel and one had to stoop, and even occasionally to crawl, in order to get through it successfully. Now–if I hadn’t married you–”
“Always blaming me,” she said, tenderly. “But even if you hadn’t married me, I suspect that sooner or later you’d have decided for being a large man in a valley rather than a very small imitation man on a mountain.” Then, after a moment’s thought, and with sudden radiance: “But a man as big as you are wouldn’t be let stay in the valley, no matter how hard he tried.”
He laughed. “I’ve no objection to the mountain top,” said he. “But I see that, if I get there, it’ll have to be in my own way. Let’s go out and mail the letter.”
And they went down the drive together to the post box, and, strolling back, sat under the trees in the moonlight until nearly midnight, feeling as if they had only just begun life together–and had begun it right.
When Charles Whitney had read the letter he tore it up, saying half-aloud and contemptuously, “I was afraid there was too big a streak of fool in him.” Then, with a shrug: “What’s the use of wasting time on that little game–especially as I’d probably have left the university the whole business in my will.” He wrote Scarborough, proposing that they delay the assessment until he had a chance to look further into the railway situation. “I begin to understand the troubles down there, now that I’ve taken time to think them over. I feel I can guarantee that no assessment will be necessary.”
And when the railways had mysteriously and abruptly ceased to misbehave, and the strike had suddenly fizzled out, he offered his stock to the university as a gift. “I shall see to it,” he wrote, “that the company is not molested again, but is helped in every way.” Arthur was for holding off, but Scarborough said, “No. He will keep his word.” And Scarborough was right in regarding the matter as settled and acceptance of the splendid gift as safe. Whitney had his own code of honesty, of honor. It was not square dealing, but doing exactly what he specifically engaged to do. He would have stolen anything he could–anything he regarded as worth his while. On the other hand, he would have sacrificed nearly all, if not all, his fortune, to live up to the letter of his given word. This, though no court would have enforced the agreement he had made, though there was no written record of it, no witness other than himself, the other party, and the Almighty–for Charles Whitney believed in an Almighty God and an old-fashioned hell and a Day of Judgment. He conducted his religious bookkeeping precisely as he conducted his business bookkeeping, and was confident that he could escape hell as he had escaped the penitentiary.