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- What Can She Do? - 10/72 -
But Mr. Goulden was a wary fish. He had no objection to being hooked if the conditions were all right, and until satisfied as to these he would play around at a safe distance. As he saw Mr. Allen daily getting into deeper water, he grew more cautious. His calls were not quite so frequent. He managed never to be with Laura except in company with others, and while his manner was very complimentary it was never exactly lover-like. Therefore, all Laura's feminine diplomacy was in vain, and that which a woman can say frankly the moment a man speaks, she could scarcely hint. Moreover, Mr. Goulden was adroit enough to chill her heart while he flattered her vanity. There was something about his manner she could not understand, but it was impossible to take offence at the polished gentleman.
Her father understood him better. He saw that Mr. Goulden had resolved to settle the question on financial principles only.
As the chances diminished of securing him indirectly through Laura as a prop to his tottering fortunes, he at last came to the conclusion to try to interest him directly in his speculation, feeling sure if he could control only a part of Mr. Goulden's large means and credit, he could carry his operation through successfully.
Mr. Goulden warily listened to the scheme, warily weighed it, and concluded within the brief compass of Mr. Allen's explanation to have nothing to do with it. But his outward manner was all deference and courteous attention.
At the end of Mr. Allen's rather eager and rose-colored statements, he replied in politest and most regretful tones that he "was very sorry he could not avail himself of so promising an opening, but in fact, he was 'in deep' himself--carrying all he could stand up under very well, and was rather in the borrowing than in the lending line at present."
Keen Mr. Allen saw through all this in a moment, and his face flushed angrily in spite of his efforts at self-control. Muttering something to the effect:
"I thought I would give you a chance to make a good thing," he bade a rather abrupt "good-morning."
As the pressure grew heavier upon him he was led to do a thing the suggestion of which a few weeks previously he would have regarded as an insult. Mrs. Allen had a snug little property of her own, which had been secured to her on first mortgages, and in bonds that were quiet and safe. These her husband held in trust for her, and now pledged them as collateral on which to borrow money to carry through his gigantic operation. In respect to part of this transaction, Mrs. Allen was obliged to sign a paper which might have revealed to her the danger involved, but she languidly took the pen, yawned, and signed away the result of her father's long years of toil without reading a line.
"There," she said, "I hope you will not bother me about business again. Now in regard to this party--" and she was about to enter into an eager discussion of all the complicated details, when her husband, interrupting, said:
"Another time, my dear--I am very much pressed by business at present."
"Oh, business, nothing but business," whined his wife. "You never have time to attend to me or your family."
But Mr. Allen was out of hearing of the querulous tones before the sentence was finished.
Of course he never meant that his wife should lose a cent, and to satisfy his conscience, and impressed by his danger, he resolved that as soon as he was out of this quaking morass of speculation he would settle on his wife and each daughter enough to secure them in wealth through life, and arrange it in such a way that no one could touch the principal.
The large sum that he now secured eased up matters and helped him greatly, and affairs began to wear a brightening aspect. He felt sure that the stock he had invested in was destined to rise in time, and indeed it already gave evidences of buoyancy. He noticed with an inward chuckle that Mr. Goulden began to call a little oftener. He was the best financial barometer in Wall Street.
But the case would require the most adroit and delicate management for weeks still, and this Mr. Allen could have given. Success also depended on a favorable state of the money market, and a good degree of stability and quietness throughout the financial world. Political changes in Europe, a war in Asia, heavy failures in Liverpool, London, or Paris, might easily spoil all. Reducing Mr. Allen's vast complicated operation to its final analysis, he had simply bet several millions--all he had--that nothing would happen throughout the world that could interfere with a scheme so problematical that the chances could scarcely be called even.
But gambling is occasionally successful, and it began to look as if Mr. Allen would win his bet; and so he might had nothing happened. The world was quiet enough, remarkably quiet, considering the superabundance of explosive elements everywhere.
The financial centres seethed on as usual, like a witch's caldron, but there were no infernal ebullitions in the form of "Black Fridays." The storm that threatened to wreck Mr. Allen was no wide, sweeping tempest, but rather one of those little local whirlwinds that sometimes in the west destroy a farm or township.
For the last few weeks Mr. Fox had quietly watched the game, matured his plans, and secured his proof in the best legal form. He now concluded it was time to act, as he believed Mr. Allen to be in his power. So one morning he coolly walked into that gentleman's office, closed the door, and took a seat. Mr. Allen looked up with an expression of surprise and annoyance on his face. He instinctively disliked Mr. Fox, as a lion might be irritated by a cat, and the instinctive enmity was all the stronger because of a certain family likeness. But Mr. Allen's astuteness had nothing mean or cringing in it, while Mr. Fox heretofore had been a sort of Uriah Heep to him. Therefore his surprise and annoyance at his new role of cool confidence.
"Well, sir," said he, rather impatiently, returning to his writing, as a broad hint that communications must be brief if made at all.
"Mr. Allen," said Mr. Fox, in that clear-cut, decisive tone, that betokens resolute purpose, and a little anger also "I must request you to give me your undivided attention for a little time, and surely what I am about to say is important enough to make it worth the while."
Though Mr. Allen flushed angrily, he knew that his clerk would not employ such a tone and manner without reason, so he raised his head and looked steadily at his unwelcome visitor and again said briefly:
"I wish, in the first place," said Mr. Fox, thinking to begin with the least important exaction, and gradually reach, a climax in his extortion, "I wish permission to pay my addresses to your daughter Miss Edith."
Knowing nothing of a father's pride and affection, he had unwittingly brought in the climax first.
The angry flush deepened on Mr. Allen's face, but he still managed to control himself, and to remember that the father of three pretty daughters must expect some scenes like these, and that the only thing to do was to get rid of the objectionable suitors as civilly as possible. He was also too much of an American to put on any of the high-stepping airs of the European aristocracy. Here it is simply one sovereign proposing for the daughter of another, and generally the young people practically arrange it all before asking any consent in the case. After all, Mr. Fox had only paid his daughter the highest compliment in his power, and if any other of his clerks had made a similar request he would probably have given as kind and delicate a refusal as possible. It was because he disliked Mr. Fox, and instinctively gauged his character, that he said with a short, dry laugh:
"Come, Mr. Fox, you are forgetting yourself. You have been a useful employe" in my store. If you feel that you should have more salary, name what will satisfy you, and I will consult my partners, and try and arrange it."--"There," thought he, "if he can't take that hint as to his place, I shall have to give him a kick." But both surprise and anger began to get the better of him when Mr. Fox replied:
"I must really beg your closer attention; I said nothing of increased salary. You will soon see that is no object with me now. I asked your permission to pay my addresses to your daughter."
"I decline to give it," said Mr. Allen, harshly, "and if I hear any more of this nonsense I will discharge you from my employ."
"Why?" was the quiet response, yet spoken with the intensity of passion.
"Because I never would permit my daughter to marry a man in your circumstances, and, if you will have it, you are not the style of a man I would wish to take into my family."
"If a man who was worth a million asked for your daughter's hand would you answer him in this manner?"
"Perhaps not," said Mr. Allen, with another of his short, dry laughs, which expressed little save irritation, "but you have my answer as respects yourself."
"I am not so sure of that," was the bold retort. "I am practically worth a million--indeed several millions to you, as you are now situated. You have talked long enough in the dark, Mr. Allen. For some time back there have been in your importations violations of the revenue laws. I have only to give the facts in my possession to the proper authorities and the government would legally claim from you a million of dollars, of which I should get half. So you see that I am positively worth five hundred thousand, and to you I am worth a million with respect to this item alone."
Mr. Allen sprang excitedly to his feet. Mr. Fox coolly got up and edged toward the door, which he had purposely left unlatched.
"Moreover," continued Mr. Fox, in his hard metallic voice, "in view of your other operations in Wall Street, which I know all about, the loss of a million would involve the loss of all you have."
Mr. Fox now had his hand on the door-knob, and Mr. Allen was glaring at him as if purposing to rush upon him and rend him to pieces.
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