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- Carnac's Folly, Volume 1. - 10/17 -
"I tell you," he said, the smoke leaking from his mouth like a drift of snow," the only thing worth doing is making the things that matter in the commerce and politics of the world."
"I didn't know you were a politician," said Carnac. "Of course I'm a politician," was the inflammable reply. "What's commerce without politics? It's politics that makes the commerce possible. There's that fellow Barouche--Barode Barouche--he's got no money, but he's a Minister, and he can make you rich or poor by planning legislation at Ottawa that'll benefit or hamper you. That's the kind of business that's worth doing--seeing into the future, fashioning laws that make good men happy and bad men afraid. Don't I know! I'm a master-man in my business; nothing defeats me. To me, a forest of wild wood is the future palace of a Prime Minister. A great river is a pathway to the palace, and all the thousands of men that work the river are the adventurers that bring the booty home--"
"That bring 'the palace to Paris,' eh!" interrupted Carnac, laughing.
"Paris be damned--that bring the forest to Quebec. How long did it take you to make that?" he added with a nod towards the statue.
"Oh, I did it in a day--six hours, I think; and he stood like that for three hours out of the six. He was great, but he'd no more sense of civilization than I have of Heaven."
"You don't need to have a sense of Heaven, you need to have a sense of Hell. That prevents you from spoiling your own show. You're playing with life's vital things."
"I wonder how much you've got out of it all, father," Carnac remarked with a smile. He lit a cigarette. "You do your job in style. It's been a great career, yours. You've made your big business out of nothing."
"I had something to start with. Your grandfather had a business worth not much, but it was a business, and the fundamental thing is to have machinery to work with when you start life. I had that. My father was narrow, contracted and a blunderer, but he made good in a small way."
"And you in a big way," said Carnac, with admiration and criticism in his eyes.
He realized that John Grier had summed him up fairly when he said he was playing with life's vital things. Somehow, he saw the other had a grip upon essentials lacking in himself; he had his tooth in the orange, as it were, and was sucking the juice of good profit from his labours. Yet he knew how much trickery and vital evasion and harsh aggression there were in his father's business life.
As yet he had never seen Tarboe--he had been away in the country the whole year nearly--but he imagined a man of strength, abilities, penetration and deep power. He knew that only a man with savage instincts could work successfully with John Grier; he knew that Grier was without mercy in his business, and that his best year's work had been marked by a mandatory power which only a malevolent policy could produce. Yet, somehow, he had a feeling that Tarboe had a steadying influence on John Grier. The old man was not so uncontrolled as in bygone days.
"I'd like to see Tarboe," Carnac said suddenly. "He ain't the same as you," snapped John Grier. "He's bigger, broader, and buskier." A malicious smile crossed over his face. "He's a bandit--that's what he is. He's got a chest like a horse and lungs like the ocean. When he's got a thing, he's got it like a nail in a branch of young elm. He's a dandy, that fellow." Suddenly passion came to his eyes. "You might have done it, you've got the brains, and the sense, but you ain't got the ambition. You keep feeling for a thousand things instead of keeping your grip on one. The man that succeeds fastens hard on what he wants to do-- the one big thing, and he does it, thinking of naught else."
"Well, that's good preaching," remarked Carnac coolly. "But it doesn't mean that a man should stick to one thing, if he finds out he's been wrong about it? We all make mistakes. Perhaps some day I'll wish I'd gone with you."
Grimness came into the old man's face. Something came into his eyes that was strange and revealing.
"Well, I hope you will. But you had your chance with me, and you threw it down like a piece of rotten leather."
"I don't cost you anything," returned Carnac. "I've paid my own way a long time--with mother's help."
"And you're twenty-six years old, and what have you got? Enough to give you bread from day to day-no more. I was worth seventy thousand dollars when I was your age. I'm worth enough to make a prince rich, and if I'd been treated right by those I brought into the world I'd be worth twice as much. Fabian was good as far as he went, but he was a coward. You"-- a look of fury entered the dark eyes--"you were no coward, but you didn't care a damn. You wanted to paddle about with muck of imagination--" he pointed to the statue on the table.
"Why, your business has been great because of your imagination," was the retort. "You saw things ahead with the artist's eye. You planned with the artist's mind; and brought forth what's to your honour and credit-- and the piling up of your bank balance. The only thing that could have induced me to work in your business is the looking ahead and planning, seeing the one thing to be played off against the other, the fighting of strong men, the politics, all the forces which go to make or break your business. Well, I didn't do it, and I'm not sorry. I have a gift which, by training and development, will give me a place among the men who do things, if I have good luck--good luck!"
He dwelt upon these last words with an intensity which dreaded something. There was retrospection in his eyes. A cloud seemed to cross his face.
A strong step crunching the path stopped the conversation, and presently there appeared the figure of Tarboe. Certainly the new life had not changed Tarboe, had not altered his sturdy, strenuous nature. His brown eyes under the rough thatch of his eyebrow took in the room with lightning glance, and he nodded respectfully, yet with great friendliness, at John Grier. He seemed to have news, and he glanced with doubt at Carnac.
John Grier understood. "Go ahead. What's happened?"
"Nothing that can't wait till I'm introduced to your son," rejoined Tarboe.
With a friendly look, free from all furtiveness, Carnac reached out a hand, small, graceful, firm. As Tarboe grasped it in his own big paw, he was conscious of a strength in the grip which told him that the physical capacity of the "painter-fellow," as he afterwards called Carnac, had points worthy of respect. On the instant, there was admiration on the part of each--admiration and dislike. Carnac liked the new-comer for his healthy bearing, for the iron hardness of his head, and for the intelligence of his dark eyes. He disliked him, however, for something that made him critical of his father, something covert and devilishly alert. Both John Grier and Tarboe were like two old backwoodsmen, eager to reach their goal, and somewhat indifferent to the paths by which they travelled to it.
Tarboe, on the other hand, admired the frank, pleasant face of the young man, which carried still the irresponsibility of youth, but which conveyed to the watchful eye a brave independence, a fervid, and perhaps futile, challenge to all the world. Tarboe understood that this young man had a frankness dangerous to the business of life, yet which, properly applied, might bring great results. He disliked Carnac for his uncalculating candour; but he realized that, behind all, was something disturbing to his life.
"It's a woman," Tarboe said to himself, "it's a woman. He's made a fool of himself."
Tarboe was right. He had done what no one else had done--he had pierced the cloud surrounding Carnac: it was a woman.
"I hear you're pulling things off here," remarked Carnac civilly. "He says"--pointing to John Grier--"that you're making the enemy squirm."
Tarboe nodded, and a half-stealthy smile crept across his face. "I don't think we've lost anything coming our way," he replied. "We've had good luck--"
"And our eyes were open," intervened John Grier. "You push the brush and use the chisel, don't you?" asked Tarboe in spite of himself with slight scorn in his tone.
"I push the chisel and use the brush," answered Carnac, smilingly correcting him.
"That's a good thing. Is it yours?" asked Tarboe, nodding and pointing to the statue of the riverman. Carnac nodded. "Yes, I did that one day. I'd like to do you, if you'd let me."
The young giant waved a brawny hand and laughed. He looked down at his knee-boots, with their muddied soles, and then at the statue again on the table. "I don't mind you're doing me. Turn about is fair play.
"I've done you out of your job." Then he added to the old man: "It's good news I've got. I've made the contract with the French firm at our price."
"At our price!" remarked the other with a grim smile. "For the lot?"
"Yes, for the lot, and I've made the contracts with the ships to carry it."
"At our price?" again asked the old man. Tarboe nodded. "Just a little better."
"I wouldn't have believed those two things could have been done in the time." Grier rubbed his hands cheerfully. "That's a good day's work. It's the best you've done since you've come."
Carnac watched the scene with interest. No envy moved him, his soul was free from malice. Evidently Tarboe was a man of power. Ruthless he might be, ruthless and unsparing, but a man of power.
At that instant a clerk entered with a letter in his hand. "Mrs. Grier said to give you this," he remarked to Carnac, handing it to him.
Carnac took it and the clerk departed. The letter had an American postmark, and the handwriting on the letter brought trouble to his eyes. He composed himself, however, and tore off the end of the envelope, taking out the letter.
It was brief. It contained only a few lines, but as Carnac read them the colour left his face. "Good God!" he said to himself. Then he put the
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