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- The World For Sale, Volume 3. - 2/14 -
"Yes, it's just three minutes to twelve," she declared in an awe-struck voice. "That's marvellous--how wonderful you are!"
"That's what I said of you a minute ago," he returned. Then, with a swift change of voice and manner, he added, "How long is it?"
"You mean, since you came here?" she asked, divining what was in his mind.
"Exactly. How long?"
"Six weeks," she answered. "Six weeks and three days."
"Why don't you add the hour, too," he urged half-plaintively, though he smiled.
"Well, it was three o'clock in the morning to the minute," she answered.
"Old Father Time ought to make you his chief of staff," he remarked gaily. "Now, I want to know," he added, with a visible effort of determination, "what has happened since three o'clock in the morning, six weeks and three days ago. I want you to tell me what has happened to my concerns--to the railways, and also to the towns. I don't want you to hide anything, because, if you do, I'll have Jim in, and Jim, under proper control, will tell me the whole truth, and perhaps more than the truth. That's the way with Jim. When he gets started he can't stop. Tell me exactly everything."
Anxiety drove the colour from her cheeks. She shrank back.
"You must tell me," he urged. "I'd rather hear it from you than from Dr. Rockwell, or Jim, or your father. Your telling wouldn't hurt as much as anybody else's, if there has to be any hurt. Don't you understand-- but don't you understand?" he urged.
She nodded to herself in the mirror on the wall opposite. "I'll try to understand," she replied presently; "Tell me, then: have they put someone in my place?"
"I understand so," she replied.
He remained silent for a moment, his face very pale. "Who is running the show?" he asked.
She told him.
"Oh, him!" he exclaimed. "He's dead against my policy. He'll make a mess."
"They say he's doing that," she remarked.
He asked her a series of questions which she tried to answer frankly, and he came to know that the trouble between the two towns, which, after the Orange funeral and his own disaster had subsided, was up again; that the railways were in difficulties; that there had been several failures in the town; that one of the banks--the Regent-had closed its doors; that Felix Marchand, having recovered from the injury he had received from Gabriel Druse on the day of the Orange funeral, had gone East for a month and had returned; that the old trouble was reviving in the mills, and that Marchand had linked himself with the enemies of the group controlling the railways hitherto directed by himself.
For a moment after she had answered his questions, there was strong emotion in his face, and then it cleared.
He reached out a hand towards her. How eagerly she clasped it! It was cold, and hers was so warm and firm and kind.
"True friend o' mine!" he said with feeling. "How wonderful it is that somehow it all doesn't seem to matter so much. I wonder why? I wonder-- Tell me about yourself, about your life," he added abruptly, as though it had been a question he had long wished to ask. In the tone was a quiet certainty suggesting that she would not hesitate to answer.
"We have both had big breaks in our lives," he went on. "I know that. I've lost everything, in a way, by the break in my life, and I've an idea that you gained everything when the break in yours came. I didn't believe the story Jethro Fawe told me, but still I knew there was some truth in it; something that he twisted to suit himself. I started life feeling I could conquer the world like another Alexander or Napoleon. I don't know that it was all conceit. It was the wish to do, to see how far this thing on my shoulders"--he touched his head--"and this great physical machine"--he touched his breast with a thin hand--"would carry me. I don't believe the main idea was vicious. It was wanting to work a human brain to its last volt of capacity, and to see what it could do. I suppose I became selfish as I forged on. I didn't mean to be, but concentration upon the things I had to do prevented me from being the thing I ought to be. I wanted, as they say, to get there. I had a lot of irons in the fire--too many--but they weren't put there deliberately. One thing led to another, and one thing, as it were, hung upon another, until they all got to be part of the scheme. Once they got there, I had to carry them all on, I couldn't drop any of them; they got to be my life. It didn't matter that it all grew bigger and bigger, and the risks got greater and greater. I thought I could weather it through, and so I could have done, if it hadn't been for a mistake and an accident; but the mistake was mine. That's where the thing nips--the mistake was mine. I took too big a risk. You see, I'd got so used to being lucky, it seemed as if I couldn't go wrong. Everything had come my way. Ever since I began in that Montreal railway office, after leaving college, I hadn't a single setback. I pulled things off. I made money, and I plumped it all into my railways and the Regent Bank; and as you said a minute ago, the Regent Bank has closed down. That cuts me clean out of the game. What was the matter with the bank? The manager?"
His voice was almost monotonous in its quietness. It was as though he told the story of something which had passed beyond chance or change. As it unfolded to her understanding, she had seated herself near to his bed. The door of the room was open, and in view outside on the landing sat Madame Bulteel reading. She was not, however, near enough to hear the conversation.
Ingolby's voice was low, but it sounded as loud as a waterfall in the ears of the girl, who, in a few weeks, had travelled great distances on the road called Experience, that other name for life.
"It was the manager?" he repeated.
"Yes, they say so," she answered. "He speculated with bank money."
"In your railways," she answered hesitatingly. "Curious--I dreamed that," Ingolby remarked quietly, and leaned down and stroked the dog lying at his feet. It had been with him through all his sickness. "It must have been part of my delirium, because, now that I've got my senses back, it's as though someone had told me about it. Speculated in my railways, eh? Chickens come home to roost, don't they? I suppose I ought to be excited over it all," he continued. "I suppose I ought. But the fact is, you only have just the one long, big moment of excitement when great trouble and tragedy come, or else it's all excitement, all the time, and then you go mad. That's the test, I think. When you're struck by Fate, as a hideous war-machine might strike you, and the whole terror of loss and ruin bears down on you, you're either swept away in an excitement that hasn't any end, or you brace yourself, and become master of the shattering thing."
"You are a master," she interposed. "You are the Master Man," she repeated admiringly.
He waved a hand deprecatingly. "Do you know, when we talked together in the woods soon after you ran the Rapids--you remember the day--if you had said that to me then, I'd have cocked my head and thought I was a jim- dandy, as they say. A Master Man was what I wanted to be. But it's a pretty barren thing to think, or to feel, that you're a Master Man; because, if you are--if you've had a 'scoop' all the way, as Jowett calls it, you can be as sure as anything that no one cares a rap farthing what happens to you. There are plenty who pretend they care, but it's only because they're sailing with the wind, and with your even keel. It's only the Master Man himself that doesn't know in the least he's that who gets anything out of it all."
"Aren't you getting anything out of it?" she asked softly. "Aren't you --Chief?"
At the familiar word--Jowett always called him Chief--a smile slowly stole across his face. "I really believe I am, thanks to you," he said nodding.
He was going to say, "Thanks to you, Fleda," but he restrained himself. He had no right to be familiar, to give an intimate turn to things. His game was over; his journey of ambition was done. He saw this girl with his mind's eye--how much he longed to see her with the eyes of the body --in all her strange beauty; and he knew that even if she cared for him, such a sacrifice as linking her life with his was impossible. Yet her very presence there was like a garden of bloom to him: a garden full of the odour of life, of vital things, of sweet energy and happy being. Somehow, he and she were strangely alike. He knew it. From the time he held her in his arms at Carillon, he knew it. The great adventurous spirit which was in him belonged also to her. That was as sure as light and darkness.
"No, there's no master man in me, but I think I know what one could be like," he remarked at last. He straightened himself against the pillows. The old look of power came to a face hardly strong enough to bear it. It was so fine and thin now, and the spirit in him was so prodigious.
"No one cares what happens to the man who always succeeds; no one loves him," he continued. "Do you know, in my trouble I've had more out of nigger Jim's affection than I've ever had in my life. Then there's Rockwell, Osterhaut and Jowett, and there's your father. It was worth while living to feel the real thing." His hands went out as though grasping something good and comforting. "I don't suppose every man needs to be struck as hard as I've been to learn what's what, but I've learned it. I give you my word of honour, I've learned it."
Her face flushed and her eyes kindled greatly. "Jim, Rockwell, Osterhaut, Jowett, and my father!" she exclaimed. "Of course trouble wouldn't do anything but make them come closer round you. Poor people live so near to misfortune all the time--I mean poor people like Jim, Osterhaut, and Jowett--that changes of fortune are just natural things to them. As for my father, he has had to stretch out his hands so often to those in trouble--"
"That he carried me home on his shoulders from the bridge six weeks and three days ago, at three o'clock in the morning," interjected Ingolby with a quizzical smile.
"Why did you omit Madame Bulteel and myself when you mentioned those who showed their--friendship?" she asked, hesitating at the last word.
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