In his office at San Francisco, seated before a massive desk of polished redwood, very ornate, Lyman Derrick sat dictating letters to his typewriter, on a certain morning early in the spring of the year. The subdued monotone of his voice proceeded evenly from sentence to sentence, regular, precise, businesslike.
“I have the honour to acknowledge herewith your favour of the 14th instant, and in reply would state——”
“Please find enclosed draft upon New Orleans to be applied as per our understanding——”
“In answer to your favour No. 1107, referring to the case of the City and County of San Francisco against Excelsior Warehouse & Storage Co., I would say——”
His voice continued, expressionless, measured, distinct. While he spoke, he swung slowly back and forth in his leather swivel chair, his elbows resting on the arms, his pop eyes fixed vaguely upon the calendar on the opposite wall, winking at intervals when he paused, searching for a word.
“That’s all for the present,” he said at length.
Without reply, the typewriter rose and withdrew, thrusting her pencil into the coil of her hair, closing the door behind her, softly, discreetly.
When she had gone, Lyman rose, stretching himself putting up three fingers to hide his yawn. To further loosen his muscles, he took a couple of turns the length of he room, noting with satisfaction its fine appointments, the padded red carpet, the dull olive green tint of the walls, the few choice engravings—portraits of Marshall, Taney, Field, and a coloured lithograph—excellently done—of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado—the deep-seated leather chairs, the large and crowded bookcase (topped with a bust of James Lick, and a huge greenish globe), the waste basket of woven coloured grass, made by Navajo Indians, the massive silver inkstand on the desk, the elaborate filing cabinet, complete in every particular, and the shelves of tin boxes, padlocked, impressive, grave, bearing the names of clients, cases and estates.
He was between thirty-one and thirty-five years of age. Unlike Harran, he resembled his mother, but he was much darker than Annie Derrick and his eyes were much fuller, the eyeball protruding, giving him a pop-eyed, foreign expression, quite unusual and unexpected. His hair was black, and he wore a small, tight, pointed mustache, which he was in the habit of pushing delicately upward from the corners of his lips with the ball of his thumb, the little finger extended. As often as he made this gesture, he prefaced it with a little twisting gesture of the forearm in order to bring his cuff into view, and, in fact, this movement by itself was habitual.
He was dressed carefully, his trousers creased, a pink rose in his lapel. His shoes were of patent leather, his cutaway coat was of very rough black cheviot, his double-breasted waistcoat of tan covered cloth with buttons of smoked pearl. An Ascot scarf—a great puff of heavy black silk—was at his neck, the knot transfixed by a tiny golden pin set off with an opal and four small diamonds.
At one end of the room were two great windows of plate glass, and pausing at length before one of these, Lyman selected a cigarette from his curved box of oxydized silver, lit it and stood looking down and out, willing to be idle for a moment, amused and interested in the view.
His office was on the tenth floor of the EXCHANGE BUILDING, a beautiful, tower-like affair of white stone, that stood on the corner of Market Street near its intersection with Kearney, the most imposing office building of the city.
Below him the city swarmed tumultuous through its grooves, the cable-cars starting and stopping with a gay jangling of bells and a strident whirring of jostled glass windows. Drays and carts clattered over the cobbles, and an incessant shuffling of thousands of feet rose from the pavement. Around Lotta’s fountain the baskets of the flower sellers, crammed with chrysanthemums, violets, pinks, roses, lilies, hyacinths, set a brisk note of colour in the grey of the street.
But to Lyman’s notion the general impression of this centre of the city’s life was not one of strenuous business activity. It was a continuous interest in small things, a people ever willing to be amused at trifles, refusing to consider serious matters—good-natured, allowing themselves to be imposed upon, taking life easily—generous, companionable, enthusiastic; living, as it were, from day to day, in a place where the luxuries of life were had without effort; in a city that offered to consideration the restlessness of a New York, without its earnestness; the serenity of a Naples, without its languor; the romance of a Seville, without its picturesqueness.
As Lyman turned from the window, about to resume his work, the office boy appeared at the door.
“The man from the lithograph company, sir,” announced the boy.
“Well, what does he want?” demanded Lyman, adding, however, upon the instant: “Show him in.”
A young man entered, carrying a great bundle, which he deposited on a chair, with a gasp of relief, exclaiming, all out of breath:
“From the Standard Lithograph Company.”
“Don’t know,” replied the other. “Maps, I guess.”
“I don’t want any maps. Who sent them? I guess you’re mistaken.” Lyman tore the cover from the top of the package, drawing out one of a great many huge sheets of white paper, folded eight times. Suddenly, he uttered an exclamation:
“Ah, I see. They ARE maps. But these should not have come here. They are to go to the regular office for distribution.” He wrote a new direction on the label of the package: “Take them to that address,” he went on. “I’ll keep this one here. The others go to that address. If you see Mr. Darrell, tell him that Mr. Derrick—you get the name—Mr. Derrick may not be able to get around this afternoon, but to go ahead with any business just the same.”
The young man departed with the package and Lyman, spreading out the map upon the table, remained for some time studying it thoughtfully.
It was a commissioner’s official railway map of the State of California, completed to March 30th of that year. Upon it the different railways of the State were accurately plotted in various colours, blue, green, yellow. However, the blue, the yellow, and the green were but brief traceries, very short, isolated, unimportant. At a little distance these could hardly be seen. The whole map was gridironed by a vast, complicated network of red lines marked P. and S. W. R. R. These centralised at San Francisco and thence ramified and spread north, east, and south, to every quarter of the State. From Coles, in the topmost corner of the map, to Yuma in the lowest, from Reno on one side to San Francisco on the other, ran the plexus of red, a veritable system of blood circulation, complicated, dividing, and reuniting, branching, splitting, extending, throwing out feelers, off-shoots, tap roots, feeders—diminutive little blood suckers that shot out from the main jugular and went twisting up into some remote county, laying hold upon some forgotten village or town, involving it in one of a myriad branching coils, one of a hundred tentacles, drawing it, as it were, toward that centre from which all this system sprang.
The map was white, and it seemed as if all the colour which should have gone to vivify the various counties, towns, and cities marked upon it had been absorbed by that huge, sprawling organism, with its ruddy arteries converging to a central point. It was as though the State had been sucked white and colourless, and against this pallid background the red arteries of the monster stood out, swollen with life-blood, reaching out to infinity, gorged to bursting; an excrescence, a gigantic parasite fattening upon the life-blood of an entire commonwealth.
However, in an upper corner of the map appeared the names of the three new commissioners: Jones McNish for the first district, Lyman Derrick for the second, and James Darrell for the third.
Nominated in the Democratic State convention in the fall of the preceding year, Lyman, backed by the coteries of San Francisco bosses in the pay of his father’s political committee of ranchers, had been elected together with Darrell, the candidate of the Pueblo and Mojave road, and McNish, the avowed candidate of the Pacific and Southwestern. Darrell was rabidly against the P. and S. W., McNish rabidly for it. Lyman was supposed to be the conservative member of the board, the ranchers’ candidate, it was true, and faithful to their interests, but a calm man, deliberative, swayed by no such violent emotions as his colleagues.
Osterman’s dexterity had at last succeeded in entangling Magnus inextricably in the new politics. The famous League, organised in the heat of passion the night of Annixter’s barn dance, had been consolidated all through the winter months. Its executive committee, of which Magnus was chairman, had been, through Osterman’s manipulation, merged into the old committee composed of Broderson, Annixter, and himself. Promptly thereat he had resigned the chairmanship of this committee, thus leaving Magnus at its head. Precisely as Osterman had planned, Magnus was now one of them. The new committee accordingly had two objects in view: to resist the attempted grabbing of their lands by the Railroad, and to push forward their own secret scheme of electing a board of railroad commissioners who should regulate wheat rates so as to favour the ranchers of the San Joaquin. The land cases were promptly taken to the courts and the new grading—fixing the price of the lands at twenty and thirty dollars an acre instead of two—bitterly and stubbornly fought. But delays occurred, the process of the law was interminable, and in the intervals the committee addressed itself to the work of seating the “Ranchers’ Commission,” as the projected Board of Commissioners came to be called.
It was Harran who first suggested that his brother, Lyman, be put forward as the candidate for this district. At once the proposition had a great success. Lyman seemed made for the place. While allied by every tie of blood to the ranching interests, he had never been identified with them. He was city-bred. The Railroad would not be over-suspicious of him. He was a good lawyer, a good business man, keen, clear-headed, far-sighted, had already some practical knowledge of politics, having served a term as assistant district attorney, and even at the present moment occupying the position of sheriff’s attorney. More than all, he was the son of Magnus Derrick; he could be relied upon, could be trusted implicitly to remain loyal to the ranchers’ cause.
The campaign for Railroad Commissioner had been very interesting. At the very outset Magnus’s committee found itself involved in corrupt politics. The primaries had to be captured at all costs and by any means, and when the convention assembled it was found necessary to buy outright the votes of certain delegates. The campaign fund raised by contributions from Magnus, Annixter, Broderson, and Osterman was drawn upon to the extent of five thousand dollars.
Only the committee knew of this corruption. The League, ignoring ways and means, supposed as a matter of course that the campaign was honorably conducted.
For a whole week after the consummation of this part of the deal, Magnus had kept to his house, refusing to be seen, alleging that he was ill, which was not far from the truth. The shame of the business, the loathing of what he had done, were to him things unspeakable. He could no longer look Harran in the face. He began a course of deception with his wife. More than once, he had resolved to break with the whole affair, resigning his position, allowing the others to proceed without him. But now it was too late. He was pledged. He had joined the League. He was its chief, and his defection might mean its disintegration at the very time when it needed all its strength to fight the land cases. More than a mere deal in bad politics was involved. There was the land grab. His withdrawal from an unholy cause would mean the weakening, perhaps the collapse, of another cause that he believed to be righteous as truth itself. He was hopelessly caught in the mesh. Wrong seemed indissolubly knitted into the texture of Right. He was blinded, dizzied, overwhelmed, caught in the current of events, and hurried along he knew not where. He resigned himself.
In the end, and after much ostentatious opposition on the part of the railroad heelers, Lyman was nominated and subsequently elected.
When this consummation was reached Magnus, Osterman, Broderson, and Annixter stared at each other. Their wildest hopes had not dared to fix themselves upon so easy a victory as this. It was not believable that the corporation would allow itself to be fooled so easily, would rush open-eyed into the trap. How had it happened?
Osterman, however, threw his hat into the air with wild whoops of delight. Old Broderson permitted himself a feeble cheer. Even Magnus beamed satisfaction. The other members of the League, present at the time, shook hands all around and spoke of opening a few bottles on the strength of the occasion. Annixter alone was recalcitrant.
“It’s too easy,” he declared. “No, I’m not satisfied. Where’s Shelgrim in all this? Why don’t he show his hand, damn his soul? The thing is yellow, I tell you. There’s a big fish in these waters somewheres. I don’t know his name, and I don’t know his game, but he’s moving round off and on, just out of sight. If you think you’ve netted him, I DON’T, that’s all I’ve got to say.”
But he was jeered down as a croaker. There was the Commission. He couldn’t get around that, could he? There was Darrell and Lyman Derrick, both pledged to the ranches. Good Lord, he was never satisfied. He’d be obstinate till the very last gun was fired. Why, if he got drowned in a river he’d float upstream just to be contrary.
In the course of time, the new board was seated. For the first few months of its term, it was occupied in clearing up the business left over by the old board and in the completion of the railway map. But now, the decks were cleared. It was about to address itself to the consideration of a revision of the tariff for the carriage of grain between the San Joaquin Valley and tide-water.
Both Lyman and Darrell were pledged to an average ten per cent. cut of the grain rates throughout the entire State.
The typewriter returned with the letters for Lyman to sign, and he put away the map and took up his morning’s routine of business, wondering, the while, what would become of his practice during the time he was involved in the business of the Ranchers’ Railroad Commission.
But towards noon, at the moment when Lyman was drawing off a glass of mineral water from the siphon that stood at his elbow, there was an interruption. Some one rapped vigorously upon the door, which was immediately after opened, and Magnus and Harran came in, followed by Presley.
“Hello, hello!” cried Lyman, jumping up, extending his hands, “why, here’s a surprise. I didn’t expect you all till to-night. Come in, come in and sit down. Have a glass of sizz-water, Governor.”
The others explained that they had come up from Bonneville the night before, as the Executive Committee of the League had received a despatch from the lawyers it had retained to fight the Railroad, that the judge of the court in San Francisco, where the test cases were being tried, might be expected to hand down his decision the next day.
Very soon after the announcement of the new grading of the ranchers’ lands, the corporation had offered, through S. Behrman, to lease the disputed lands to the ranchers at a nominal figure. The offer had been angrily rejected, and the Railroad had put up the lands for sale at Ruggles’s office in Bonneville. At the exorbitant price named, buyers promptly appeared—dummy buyers, beyond shadow of doubt, acting either for the Railroad or for S. Behrman—men hitherto unknown in the county, men without property, without money, adventurers, heelers. Prominent among them, and bidding for the railroad’s holdings included on Annixter’s ranch, was Delaney.
The farce of deeding the corporation’s sections to these fictitious purchasers was solemnly gone through with at Ruggles’s office, the Railroad guaranteeing them possession. The League refused to allow the supposed buyers to come upon the land, and the Railroad, faithful to its pledge in the matter of guaranteeing its dummies possession, at once began suits in ejectment in the district court in Visalia, the county seat.
It was the preliminary skirmish, the reconnaisance in force, the combatants feeling each other’s strength, willing to proceed with caution, postponing the actual death-grip for a while till each had strengthened its position and organised its forces.
During the time the cases were on trial at Visalia, S. Behrman was much in evidence in and about the courts. The trial itself, after tedious preliminaries, was brief. The ranchers lost. The test cases were immediately carried up to the United States Circuit Court in San Francisco. At the moment the decision of this court was pending.
“Why, this is news,” exclaimed Lyman, in response to the Governor’s announcement; “I did not expect them to be so prompt. I was in court only last week and there seemed to be no end of business ahead. I suppose you are very anxious?”
Magnus nodded. He had seated himself in one of Lyman’s deep chairs, his grey top-hat, with its wide brim, on the floor beside him. His coat of black broad-cloth that had been tightly packed in his valise, was yet wrinkled and creased; his trousers were strapped under his high boots. As he spoke, he stroked the bridge of his hawklike nose with his bent forefinger.
Leaning-back in his chair, he watched his two sons with secret delight. To his eye, both were perfect specimens of their class, intelligent, well-looking, resourceful. He was intensely proud of them. He was never happier, never more nearly jovial, never more erect, more military, more alert, and buoyant than when in the company of his two sons. He honestly believed that no finer examples of young manhood existed throughout the entire nation.
“I think we should win in this court,” Harran observed, watching the bubbles break in his glass. “The investigation has been much more complete than in the Visalia trial. Our case this time is too good. It has made too much talk. The court would not dare render a decision for the Railroad. Why, there’s the agreement in black and white—and the circulars the Railroad issued. How CAN one get around those?”
“Well, well, we shall know in a few hours now,” remarked Magnus.
“Oh,” exclaimed Lyman, surprised, “it is for this morning, then. Why aren’t you at the court?”
“It seemed undignified, boy,” answered the Governor. “We shall know soon enough.”
“Good God!” exclaimed Harran abruptly, “when I think of what is involved. Why, Lyman, it’s our home, the ranch house itself, nearly all Los Muertos, practically our whole fortune, and just now when there is promise of an enormous crop of wheat. And it is not only us. There are over half a million acres of the San Joaquin involved. In some cases of the smaller ranches, it is the confiscation of the whole of the rancher’s land. If this thing goes through, it will absolutely beggar nearly a hundred men. Broderson wouldn’t have a thousand acres to his name. Why, it’s monstrous.”
“But the corporations offered to lease these lands,” remarked Lyman. “Are any of the ranchers taking up that offer—or are any of them buying outright?”
“Buying! At the new figure!” exclaimed Harran, “at twenty and thirty an acre! Why, there’s not one in ten that CAN. They are land-poor. And as for leasing—leasing land they virtually own—no, there’s precious few are doing that, thank God! That would be acknowledging the railroad’s ownership right away—forfeiting their rights for good. None of the LEAGUERS are doing it, I know. That would be the rankest treachery.”
He paused for a moment, drinking the rest of the mineral water, then interrupting Lyman, who was about to speak to Presley, drawing him into the conversation through politeness, said: “Matters are just romping right along to a crisis these days. It’s a make or break for the wheat growers of the State now, no mistake. Here are the land cases and the new grain tariff drawing to a head at about the same time. If we win our land cases, there’s your new freight rates to be applied, and then all is beer and skittles. Won’t the San Joaquin go wild if we pull it off, and I believe we will.”
“How we wheat growers are exploited and trapped and deceived at every turn,” observed Magnus sadly. “The courts, the capitalists, the railroads, each of them in turn hoodwinks us into some new and wonderful scheme, only to betray us in the end. Well,” he added, turning to Lyman, “one thing at least we can depend on. We will cut their grain rates for them, eh, Lyman?”
Lyman crossed his legs and settled himself in his office chair.
“I have wanted to have a talk with you about that, sir,” he said. “Yes, we will cut the rates—an average 10 per cent. cut throughout the State, as we are pledged. But I am going to warn you, Governor, and you, Harran; don’t expect too much at first. The man who, even after twenty years’ training in the operation of railroads, can draw an equitable, smoothly working schedule of freight rates between shipping point and common point, is capable of governing the United States. What with main lines, and leased lines, and points of transfer, and the laws governing common carriers, and the rulings of the Inter-State Commerce Commission, the whole matter has become so confused that Vanderbilt himself couldn’t straighten it out. And how can it be expected that railroad commissions who are chosen—well, let’s be frank—as ours was, for instance, from out a number of men who don’t know the difference between a switching charge and a differential rate, are going to regulate the whole business in six months’ time? Cut rates; yes, any fool can do that; any fool can write one dollar instead of two, but if you cut too low by a fraction of one per cent. and if the railroad can get out an injunction, tie you up and show that your new rate prevents the road being operated at a profit, how are you any better off?”
“Your conscientiousness does you credit, Lyman,” said the Governor. “I respect you for it, my son. I know you will be fair to the railroad. That is all we want. Fairness to the corporation is fairness to the farmer, and we won’t expect you to readjust the whole matter out of hand. Take your time. We can afford to wait.”
“And suppose the next commission is a railroad board, and reverses all our figures?”
The one-time mining king, the most redoubtable poker player of Calaveras County, permitted himself a momentary twinkle of his eyes.
“By then it will be too late. We will, all of us, have made our fortunes by then.”
The remark left Presley astonished out of all measure He never could accustom himself to these strange lapses in the Governor’s character. Magnus was by nature a public man, judicious, deliberate, standing firm for principle, yet upon rare occasion, by some such remark as this, he would betray the presence of a sub-nature of recklessness, inconsistent, all at variance with his creeds and tenets.
At the very bottom, when all was said and done, Magnus remained the Forty-niner. Deep down in his heart the spirit of the Adventurer yet persisted. “We will all of us have made fortunes by then.” That was it precisely. “After us the deluge.” For all his public spirit, for all his championship of justice and truth, his respect for law, Magnus remained the gambler, willing to play for colossal stakes, to hazard a fortune on the chance of winning a million. It was the true California spirit that found expression through him, the spirit of the West, unwilling to occupy itself with details, refusing to wait, to be patient, to achieve by legitimate plodding; the miner’s instinct of wealth acquired in a single night prevailed, in spite of all. It was in this frame of mind that Magnus and the multitude of other ranchers of whom he was a type, farmed their ranches. They had no love for their land. They were not attached to the soil. They worked their ranches as a quarter of a century before they had worked their mines. To husband the resources of their marvellous San Joaquin, they considered niggardly, petty, Hebraic. To get all there was out of the land, to squeeze it dry, to exhaust it, seemed their policy. When, at last, the land worn out, would refuse to yield, they would invest their money in something else; by then, they would all have made fortunes. They did not care. “After us the deluge.”
Lyman, however, was obviously uneasy, willing to change the subject. He rose to his feet, pulling down his cuffs.
“By the way,” he observed, “I want you three to lunch with me to-day at my club. It is close by. You can wait there for news of the court’s decision as well as anywhere else, and I should like to show you the place. I have just joined.”
At the club, when the four men were seated at a small table in the round window of the main room, Lyman’s popularity with all classes was very apparent. Hardly a man entered that did not call out a salutation to him, some even coming over to shake his hand. He seemed to be every man’s friend, and to all he seemed equally genial. His affability, even to those whom he disliked, was unfailing.
“See that fellow yonder,” he said to Magnus, indicating a certain middle-aged man, flamboyantly dressed, who wore his hair long, who was afflicted with sore eyes, and the collar of whose velvet coat was sprinkled with dandruff, “that’s Hartrath, the artist, a man absolutely devoid of even the commonest decency. How he got in here is a mystery to me.”
Yet, when this Hartrath came across to say “How do you do” to Lyman, Lyman was as eager in his cordiality as his warmest friend could have expected.
“Why the devil are you so chummy with him, then?” observed Harran when Hartrath had gone away.
Lyman’s explanation was vague. The truth of the matter was, that Magnus’s oldest son was consumed by inordinate ambition. Political preferment was his dream, and to the realisation of this dream popularity was an essential. Every man who could vote, blackguard or gentleman, was to be conciliated, if possible. He made it his study to become known throughout the entire community—to put influential men under obligations to himself. He never forgot a name or a face. With everybody he was the hail-fellow-well-met. His ambition was not trivial. In his disregard for small things, he resembled his father. Municipal office had no attraction for him. His goal was higher. He had planned his life twenty years ahead. Already Sheriff’s Attorney, Assistant District Attorney and Railroad Commissioner, he could, if he desired, attain the office of District Attorney itself. Just now, it was a question with him whether or not it would be politic to fill this office. Would it advance or sidetrack him in the career he had outlined for himself? Lyman wanted to be something better than District Attorney, better than Mayor, than State Senator, or even than member of the United States Congress. He wanted to be, in fact, what his father was only in name—to succeed where Magnus had failed. He wanted to be governor of the State. He had put his teeth together, and, deaf to all other considerations, blind to all other issues, he worked with the infinite slowness, the unshakable tenacity of the coral insect to this one end.
After luncheon was over, Lyman ordered cigars and liqueurs, and with the three others returned to the main room of the club. However, their former place in the round window was occupied. A middle-aged man, with iron grey hair and moustache, who wore a frock coat and a white waistcoat, and in some indefinable manner suggested a retired naval officer, was sitting at their table smoking a long, thin cigar. At sight of him, Presley became animated. He uttered a mild exclamation:
“Why, isn’t that Mr. Cedarquist?”
“Cedarquist?” repeated Lyman Derrick. “I know him well. Yes, of course, it is,” he continued. “Governor, you must know him. He is one of our representative men. You would enjoy talking to him. He was the head of the big Atlas Iron Works. They have shut down recently, you know. Not failed exactly, but just ceased to be a paying investment, and Cedarquist closed them out. He has other interests, though. He’s a rich man—a capitalist.”
Lyman brought the group up to the gentleman in question and introduced them. “Mr. Magnus Derrick, of course,” observed Cedarquist, as he took the Governor’s hand. “I’ve known you by repute for some time, sir. This is a great pleasure, I assure you.” Then, turning to Presley, he added: “Hello, Pres, my boy. How is the great, the very great Poem getting on?”
“It’s not getting on at all, sir,” answered Presley, in some embarrassment, as they all sat down. “In fact, I’ve about given up the idea. There’s so much interest in what you might call ‘living issues’ down at Los Muertos now, that I’m getting further and further from it every day.”
“I should say as much,” remarked the manufacturer, turning towards Magnus. “I’m watching your fight with Shelgrim, Mr. Derrick, with every degree of interest.” He raised his drink of whiskey and soda. “Here’s success to you.”
As he replaced his glass, the artist Hartrath joined the group uninvited. As a pretext, he engaged Lyman in conversation. Lyman, he believed, was a man with a “pull” at the City Hall. In connection with a projected Million-Dollar Fair and Flower Festival, which at that moment was the talk of the city, certain statues were to be erected, and Hartrath bespoke Lyman’s influence to further the pretensions of a sculptor friend of his, who wished to be Art Director of the affair. In the matter of this Fair and Flower Festival, Hartrath was not lacking in enthusiasm. He addressed the others with extravagant gestures, blinking his inflamed eyelids.
“A million dollars,” he exclaimed. “Hey! think of that. Why, do you know that we have five hundred thousand practically pledged already? Talk about public spirit, gentlemen, this is the most public-spirited city on the continent. And the money is not thrown away. We will have Eastern visitors here by the thousands—capitalists—men with money to invest. The million we spend on our fair will be money in our pockets. Ah, you should see how the women of this city are taking hold of the matter. They are giving all kinds of little entertainments, teas, ‘Olde Tyme Singing Skules,’ amateur theatricals, gingerbread fetes, all for the benefit of the fund, and the business men, too—pouring out their money like water. It is splendid, splendid, to see a community so patriotic.”
The manufacturer, Cedarquist, fixed the artist with a glance of melancholy interest.
“And how much,” he remarked, “will they contribute—your gingerbread women and public-spirited capitalists, towards the blowing up of the ruins of the Atlas Iron Works?”
“Blowing up? I don’t understand,” murmured the artist, surprised. “When you get your Eastern capitalists out here with your Million-Dollar Fair,” continued Cedarquist, “you don’t propose, do you, to let them see a Million-Dollar Iron Foundry standing idle, because of the indifference of San Francisco business men? They might ask pertinent questions, your capitalists, and we should have to answer that our business men preferred to invest their money in corner lots and government bonds, rather than to back up a legitimate, industrial enterprise. We don’t want fairs. We want active furnaces. We don’t want public statues, and fountains, and park extensions and gingerbread fetes. We want business enterprise. Isn’t it like us? Isn’t it like us?” he exclaimed sadly. “What a melancholy comment! San Francisco! It is not a city—it is a Midway Plaisance. California likes to be fooled. Do you suppose Shelgrim could convert the whole San Joaquin Valley into his back yard otherwise? Indifference to public affairs—absolute indifference, it stamps us all. Our State is the very paradise of fakirs. You and your Million-Dollar Fair!” He turned to Hartrath with a quiet smile. “It is just such men as you, Mr. Hartrath, that are the ruin of us. You organise a sham of tinsel and pasteboard, put on fool’s cap and bells, beat a gong at a street corner, and the crowd cheers you and drops nickels into your hat. Your ginger-bread fete; yes, I saw it in full blast the other night on the grounds of one of your women’s places on Sutter Street. I was on my way home from the last board meeting of the Atlas Company. A gingerbread fete, my God! and the Atlas plant shutting down for want of financial backing. A million dollars spent to attract the Eastern investor, in order to show him an abandoned rolling mill, wherein the only activity is the sale of remnant material and scrap steel.”
Lyman, however, interfered. The situation was becoming strained. He tried to conciliate the three men—the artist, the manufacturer, and the farmer, the warring elements. But Hartrath, unwilling to face the enmity that he felt accumulating against him, took himself away. A picture of his—“A Study of the Contra Costa Foot-hills”—was to be raffled in the club rooms for the benefit of the Fair. He, himself, was in charge of the matter. He disappeared.
Cedarquist looked after him with contemplative interest. Then, turning to Magnus, excused himself for the acridity of his words.
“He’s no worse than many others, and the people of this State and city are, after all, only a little more addle-headed than other Americans.” It was his favourite topic. Sure of the interest of his hearers, he unburdened himself.
“If I were to name the one crying evil of American life, Mr. Derrick,” he continued, “it would be the indifference of the better people to public affairs. It is so in all our great centres. There are other great trusts, God knows, in the United States besides our own dear P. and S. W. Railroad. Every State has its own grievance. If it is not a railroad trust, it is a sugar trust, or an oil trust, or an industrial trust, that exploits the People, BECAUSE THE PEOPLE ALLOW IT. The indifference of the People is the opportunity of the despot. It is as true as that the whole is greater than the part, and the maxim is so old that it is trite—it is laughable. It is neglected and disused for the sake of some new ingenious and complicated theory, some wonderful scheme of reorganisation, but the fact remains, nevertheless, simple, fundamental, everlasting. The People have but to say ‘No,’ and not the strongest tyranny, political, religious, or financial, that was ever organised, could survive one week.”
The others, absorbed, attentive, approved, nodding their heads in silence as the manufacturer finished.
“That’s one reason, Mr. Derrick,” the other resumed after a moment, “why I have been so glad to meet you. You and your League are trying to say ‘No’ to the trust. I hope you will succeed. If your example will rally the People to your cause, you will. Otherwise—” he shook his head.
“One stage of the fight is to be passed this very day,” observed Magnus. “My sons and myself are expecting hourly news from the City Hall, a decision in our case is pending.”
“We are both of us fighters, it seems, Mr. Derrick,” said Cedarquist. “Each with his particular enemy. We are well met, indeed, the farmer and the manufacturer, both in the same grist between the two millstones of the lethargy of the Public and the aggression of the Trust, the two great evils of modern America. Pres, my boy, there is your epic poem ready to hand.”
But Cedarquist was full of another idea. Rarely did so favourable an opportunity present itself for explaining his theories, his ambitions. Addressing himself to Magnus, he continued:
“Fortunately for myself, the Atlas Company was not my only investment. I have other interests. The building of ships—steel sailing ships—has been an ambition of mine,—for this purpose, Mr. Derrick, to carry American wheat. For years, I have studied this question of American wheat, and at last, I have arrived at a theory. Let me explain. At present, all our California wheat goes to Liverpool, and from that port is distributed over the world. But a change is coming. I am sure of it. You young men,” he turned to Presley, Lyman, and Harran, “will live to see it. Our century is about done. The great word of this nineteenth century has been Production. The great word of the twentieth century will be—listen to me, you youngsters—Markets. As a market for our Production—or let me take a concrete example—as a market for our WHEAT, Europe is played out. Population in Europe is not increasing fast enough to keep up with the rapidity of our production. In some cases, as in France, the population is stationary. WE, however, have gone on producing wheat at a tremendous rate.
“The result is over-production. We supply more than Europe can eat, and down go the prices. The remedy is NOT in the curtailing of our wheat areas, but in this, we MUST HAVE NEW MARKETS, GREATER MARKETS. For years we have been sending our wheat from East to West, from California to Europe. But the time will come when we must send it from West to East. We must march with the course of empire, not against it. I mean, we must look to China. Rice in China is losing its nutritive quality. The Asiatics, though, must be fed; if not on rice, then on wheat. Why, Mr. Derrick, if only one-half the population of China ate a half ounce of flour per man per day all the wheat areas in California could not feed them. Ah, if I could only hammer that into the brains of every rancher of the San Joaquin, yes, and of every owner of every bonanza farm in Dakota and Minnesota. Send your wheat to China; handle it yourselves; do away with the middleman; break up the Chicago wheat pits and elevator rings and mixing houses. When in feeding China you have decreased the European shipments, the effect is instantaneous. Prices go up in Europe without having the least effect upon the prices in China. We hold the key, we have the wheat,—infinitely more than we ourselves can eat. Asia and Europe must look to America to be fed. What fatuous neglect of opportunity to continue to deluge Europe with our surplus food when the East trembles upon the verge of starvation!”
The two men, Cedarquist and Magnus, continued the conversation a little further. The manufacturer’s idea was new to the Governor. He was greatly interested. He withdrew from the conversation. Thoughtful, he leaned back in his place, stroking the bridge of his beak-like nose with a crooked forefinger.
Cedarquist turned to Harran and began asking details as to the conditions of the wheat growers of the San Joaquin. Lyman still maintained an attitude of polite aloofness, yawning occasionally behind three fingers, and Presley was left to the company of his own thoughts.
There had been a day when the affairs and grievances of the farmers of his acquaintance—Magnus, Annixter, Osterman, and old Broderson—had filled him only with disgust. His mind full of a great, vague epic poem of the West, he had kept himself apart, disdainful of what he chose to consider their petty squabbles. But the scene in Annixter’s harness room had thrilled and uplifted him. He was palpitating with excitement all through the succeeding months. He abandoned the idea of an epic poem. In six months he had not written a single verse. Day after day he trembled with excitement as the relations between the Trust and League became more and more strained. He saw the matter in its true light. It was typical. It was the world-old war between Freedom and Tyranny, and at times his hatred of the railroad shook him like a crisp and withered reed, while the languid indifference of the people of the State to the quarrel filled him with a blind exasperation.
But, as he had once explained to Vanamee, he must find expression. He felt that he would suffocate otherwise. He had begun to keep a journal. As the inclination spurred him, he wrote down his thoughts and ideas in this, sometimes every day, sometimes only three or four times a month. Also he flung aside his books of poems—Milton, Tennyson, Browning, even Homer—and addressed himself to Mill, Malthus, Young, Poushkin, Henry George, Schopenhauer. He attacked the subject of Social Inequality with unbounded enthusiasm. He devoured, rather than read, and emerged from the affair, his mind a confused jumble of conflicting notions, sick with over-effort, raging against injustice and oppression, and with not one sane suggestion as to remedy or redress.
The butt of his cigarette scorched his fingers and roused him from his brooding. In the act of lighting another, he glanced across the room and was surprised to see two very prettily dressed young women in the company of an older gentleman, in a long frock coat, standing before Hartrath’s painting, examining it, their heads upon one side.
Presley uttered a murmur of surprise. He, himself, was a member of the club, and the presence of women within its doors, except on special occasions, was not tolerated. He turned to Lyman Derrick for an explanation, but this other had also seen the women and abruptly exclaimed:
“I declare, I had forgotten about it. Why, this is Ladies’ Day, of course.”
“Why, yes,” interposed Cedarquist, glancing at the women over his shoulder. “Didn’t you know? They let ‘em in twice a year, you remember, and this is a double occasion. They are going to raffle Hartrath’s picture,—for the benefit of the Gingerbread Fair. Why, you are not up to date, Lyman. This is a sacred and religious rite,—an important public event.”
“Of course, of course,” murmured Lyman. He found means to survey Harran and Magnus. Certainly, neither his father nor his brother were dressed for the function that impended. He had been stupid. Magnus invariably attracted attention, and now with his trousers strapped under his boots, his wrinkled frock coat—Lyman twisted his cuffs into sight with an impatient, nervous movement of his wrists, glancing a second time at his brother’s pink face, forward curling, yellow hair and clothes of a country cut. But there was no help for it. He wondered what were the club regulations in the matter of bringing in visitors on Ladies’ Day. “Sure enough, Ladies’ Day,” he remarked, “I am very glad you struck it, Governor. We can sit right where we are. I guess this is as good a place as any to see the crowd. It’s a good chance to see all the big guns of the city. Do you expect your people here, Mr. Cedarquist?”
“My wife may come, and my daughters,” said the manufacturer.
“Ah,” murmured Presley, “so much the better. I was going to give myself the pleasure of calling upon your daughters, Mr. Cedarquist, this afternoon.”
“You can save your carfare, Pres,” said Cedarquist, “you will see them here.”
No doubt, the invitations for the occasion had appointed one o’clock as the time, for between that hour and two, the guests arrived in an almost unbroken stream. From their point of vantage in the round window of the main room, Magnus, his two sons, and Presley looked on very interested. Cedarquist had excused himself, affirming that he must look out for his women folk.
Of every ten of the arrivals, seven, at least, were ladies. They entered the room—this unfamiliar masculine haunt, where their husbands, brothers, and sons spent so much of their time—with a certain show of hesitancy and little, nervous, oblique glances, moving their heads from side to side like a file of hens venturing into a strange barn. They came in groups, ushered by a single member of the club, doing the honours with effusive bows and polite gestures, indicating the various objects of interest, pictures, busts, and the like, that decorated the room.
Fresh from his recollections of Bonneville, Guadalajara, and the dance in Annixter’s barn, Presley was astonished at the beauty of these women and the elegance of their toilettes. The crowd thickened rapidly. A murmur of conversation arose, subdued, gracious, mingled with the soft rustle of silk, grenadines, velvet. The scent of delicate perfumes spread in the air, Violet de Parme, Peau d’Espagne. Colours of the most harmonious blends appeared and disappeared at intervals in the slowly moving press, touches of lavender-tinted velvets, pale violet crepes and cream-coloured appliqued laces.
There seemed to be no need of introductions. Everybody appeared to be acquainted. There was no awkwardness, no constraint. The assembly disengaged an impression of refined pleasure. On every hand, innumerable dialogues seemed to go forward easily and naturally, without break or interruption, witty, engaging, the couple never at a loss for repartee. A third party was gracefully included, then a fourth. Little groups were formed,—groups that divided themselves, or melted into other groups, or disintegrated again into isolated pairs, or lost themselves in the background of the mass,—all without friction, without embarrassment,—the whole affair going forward of itself, decorous, tactful, well-bred.
At a distance, and not too loud, a stringed orchestra sent up a pleasing hum. Waiters, with brass buttons on their full dress coats, went from group to group, silent, unobtrusive, serving salads and ices.
But the focus of the assembly was the little space before Hartrath’s painting. It was called “A Study of the Contra Costa Foothills,” and was set in a frame of natural redwood, the bark still adhering. It was conspicuously displayed on an easel at the right of the entrance to the main room of the club, and was very large. In the foreground, and to the left, under the shade of a live-oak, stood a couple of reddish cows, knee-deep in a patch of yellow poppies, while in the right-hand corner, to balance the composition, was placed a girl in a pink dress and white sunbonnet, in which the shadows were indicated by broad dashes of pale blue paint. The ladies and young girls examined the production with little murmurs of admiration, hazarding remembered phrases, searching for the exact balance between generous praise and critical discrimination, expressing their opinions in the mild technicalities of the Art Books and painting classes. They spoke of atmospheric effects, of middle distance, of “chiaro-oscuro,” of fore-shortening, of the decomposition of light, of the subordination of individuality to fidelity of interpretation.
One tall girl, with hair almost white in its blondness, having observed that the handling of the masses reminded her strongly of Corot, her companion, who carried a gold lorgnette by a chain around her neck, answered:
“Ah! Millet, perhaps, but not Corot.”
This verdict had an immediate success. It was passed from group to group. It seemed to imply a delicate distinction that carried conviction at once. It was decided formally that the reddish brown cows in the picture were reminiscent of Daubigny, and that the handling of the masses was altogether Millet, but that the general effect was not quite Corot.
Presley, curious to see the painting that was the subject of so much discussion, had left the group in the round window, and stood close by Hartrath, craning his head over the shoulders of the crowd, trying to catch a glimpse of the reddish cows, the milk-maid and the blue painted foothills. He was suddenly aware of Cedarquist’s voice in his ear, and, turning about, found himself face to face with the manufacturer, his wife and his two daughters.
There was a meeting. Salutations were exchanged, Presley shaking hands all around, expressing his delight at seeing his old friends once more, for he had known the family from his boyhood, Mrs. Cedarquist being his aunt. Mrs. Cedarquist and her two daughters declared that the air of Los Muertos must certainly have done him a world of good. He was stouter, there could be no doubt of it. A little pale, perhaps. He was fatiguing himself with his writing, no doubt. Ah, he must take care. Health was everything, after all. Had he been writing any more verse? Every month they scanned the magazines, looking for his name.
Mrs. Cedarquist was a fashionable woman, the president or chairman of a score of clubs. She was forever running after fads, appearing continually in the society wherein she moved with new and astounding proteges—fakirs whom she unearthed no one knew where, discovering them long in advance of her companions. Now it was a Russian Countess, with dirty finger nails, who travelled throughout America and borrowed money; now an Aesthete who possessed a wonderful collection of topaz gems, who submitted decorative schemes for the interior arrangement of houses and who “received” in Mrs. Cedarquist’s drawing-rooms dressed in a white velvet cassock; now a widow of some Mohammedan of Bengal or Rajputana, who had a blue spot in the middle of her forehead and who solicited contributions for her sisters in affliction; now a certain bearded poet, recently back from the Klondike; now a decayed musician who had been ejected from a young ladies’ musical conservatory of Europe because of certain surprising pamphlets on free love, and who had come to San Francisco to introduce the community to the music of Brahms; now a Japanese youth who wore spectacles and a grey flannel shirt and who, at intervals, delivered himself of the most astonishing poems, vague, unrhymed, unmetrical lucubrations, incoherent, bizarre; now a Christian Scientist, a lean, grey woman, whose creed was neither Christian nor scientific; now a university professor, with the bristling beard of an anarchist chief-of-section, and a roaring, guttural voice, whose intenseness left him gasping and apoplectic; now a civilised Cherokee with a mission; now a female elocutionist, whose forte was Byron’s Songs of Greece; now a high caste Chinaman; now a miniature painter; now a tenor, a pianiste, a mandolin player, a missionary, a drawing master, a virtuoso, a collector, an Armenian, a botanist with a new flower, a critic with a new theory, a doctor with a new treatment.
And all these people had a veritable mania for declamation and fancy dress. The Russian Countess gave talks on the prisons of Siberia, wearing the headdress and pinchbeck ornaments of a Slav bride; the Aesthete, in his white cassock, gave readings on obscure questions of art and ethics. The widow of India, in the costume of her caste, described the social life of her people at home. The bearded poet, perspiring in furs and boots of reindeer skin, declaimed verses of his own composition about the wild life of the Alaskan mining camps. The Japanese youth, in the silk robes of the Samurai two-sworded nobles, read from his own works—“The flat-bordered earth, nailed down at night, rusting under the darkness,” “The brave, upright rains that came down like errands from iron-bodied yore-time.” The Christian Scientist, in funereal, impressive black, discussed the contra-will and pan-psychic hylozoism. The university professor put on a full dress suit and lisle thread gloves at three in the afternoon and before literary clubs and circles bellowed extracts from Goethe and Schiler in the German, shaking his fists, purple with vehemence. The Cherokee, arrayed in fringed buckskin and blue beads, rented from a costumer, intoned folk songs of his people in the vernacular. The elocutionist in cheese-cloth toga and tin bracelets, rendered “The Isles of Greece, where burning Sappho loved and sung.” The Chinaman, in the robes of a mandarin, lectured on Confucius. The Armenian, in fez and baggy trousers, spoke of the Unspeakable Turk. The mandolin player, dressed like a bull fighter, held musical conversaziones, interpreting the peasant songs of Andalusia.
It was the Fake, the eternal, irrepressible Sham; glib, nimble, ubiquitous, tricked out in all the paraphernalia of imposture, an endless defile of charlatans that passed interminably before the gaze of the city, marshalled by “lady presidents,” exploited by clubs of women, by literary societies, reading circles, and culture organisations. The attention the Fake received, the time devoted to it, the money which it absorbed, were incredible. It was all one that impostor after impostor was exposed; it was all one that the clubs, the circles, the societies were proved beyond doubt to have been swindled. The more the Philistine press of the city railed and guyed, the more the women rallied to the defence of their protege of the hour. That their favourite was persecuted, was to them a veritable rapture. Promptly they invested the apostle of culture with the glamour of a martyr.
The fakirs worked the community as shell-game tricksters work a county fair, departing with bursting pocket-books, passing on the word to the next in line, assured that the place was not worked out, knowing well that there was enough for all.
More frequently the public of the city, unable to think of more than one thing at one time, prostrated itself at the feet of a single apostle, but at other moments, such as the present, when a Flower Festival or a Million-Dollar Fair aroused enthusiasm in all quarters, the occasion was one of gala for the entire Fake. The decayed professors, virtuosi, litterateurs, and artists thronged to the place en masse. Their clamour filled all the air. On every hand one heard the scraping of violins, the tinkling of mandolins, the suave accents of “art talks,” the incoherencies of poets, the declamation of elocutionists, the inarticulate wanderings of the Japanese, the confused mutterings of the Cherokee, the guttural bellowing of the German university professor, all in the name of the Million-Dollar Fair. Money to the extent of hundreds of thousands was set in motion.
Mrs. Cedarquist was busy from morning until night. One after another, she was introduced to newly arrived fakirs. To each poet, to each litterateur, to each professor she addressed the same question:
“How long have you known you had this power?”
She spent her days in one quiver of excitement and jubilation. She was “in the movement.” The people of the city were awakening to a Realisation of the Beautiful, to a sense of the higher needs of life. This was Art, this was Literature, this was Culture and Refinement. The Renaissance had appeared in the West.
She was a short, rather stout, red-faced, very much over-dressed little woman of some fifty years. She was rich in her own name, even before her marriage, being a relative of Shelgrim himself and on familiar terms with the great financier and his family. Her husband, while deploring the policy of the railroad, saw no good reason for quarrelling with Shelgrim, and on more than one occasion had dined at his house. On this occasion, delighted that she had come upon a “minor poet,” she insisted upon presenting him to Hartrath.
“You two should have so much in common,” she explained.
Presley shook the flaccid hand of the artist, murmuring conventionalities, while Mrs. Cedarquist hastened to say:
“I am sure you know Mr. Presley’s verse, Mr. Hartrath. You should, believe me. You two have much in common. I can see so much that is alike in your modes of interpreting nature. In Mr. Presley’s sonnet, ‘The Better Part,’ there is the same note as in your picture, the same sincerity of tone, the same subtlety of touch, the same nuances,—ah.”
“Oh, my dear Madame,” murmured the artist, interrupting Presley’s impatient retort; “I am a mere bungler. You don’t mean quite that, I am sure. I am too sensitive. It is my cross. Beauty,” he closed his sore eyes with a little expression of pain, “beauty unmans me.”
But Mrs. Cedarquist was not listening. Her eyes were fixed on the artist’s luxuriant hair, a thick and glossy mane, that all but covered his coat collar.
“Leonine!” she murmured— “leonine! Like Samson of old.”
However, abruptly bestirring herself, she exclaimed a second later:
“But I must run away. I am selling tickets for you this afternoon, Mr. Hartrath. I am having such success. Twenty-five already. Mr. Presley, you will take two chances, I am sure, and, oh, by the way, I have such good news. You know I am one of the lady members of the subscription committee for our Fair, and you know we approached Mr. Shelgrim for a donation to help along. Oh, such a liberal patron, a real Lorenzo di’ Medici. In the name of the Pacific and Southwestern he has subscribed, think of it, five thousand dollars; and yet they will talk of the meanness of the railroad.”
“Possibly it is to his interest,” murmured Presley. “The fairs and festivals bring people to the city over his railroad.”
But the others turned on him, expostulating.
“Ah, you Philistine,” declared Mrs. Cedarquist. “And this from YOU!, Presley; to attribute such base motives——”
“If the poets become materialised, Mr. Presley,” declared Hartrath, “what can we say to the people?”
“And Shelgrim encourages your million-dollar fairs and fetes,” said a voice at Presley’s elbow, “because it is throwing dust in the people’s eyes.”
The group turned about and saw Cedarquist, who had come up unobserved in time to catch the drift of the talk. But he spoke without bitterness; there was even a good-humoured twinkle in his eyes.
“Yes,” he continued, smiling, “our dear Shelgrim promotes your fairs, not only as Pres says, because it is money in his pocket, but because it amuses the people, distracts their attention from the doings of his railroad. When Beatrice was a baby and had little colics, I used to jingle my keys in front of her nose, and it took her attention from the pain in her tummy; so Shelgrim.”
The others laughed good-humouredly, protesting, nevertheless, and Mrs. Cedarquist shook her finger in warning at the artist and exclaimed:
“The Philistines be upon thee, Samson!”
“By the way,” observed Hartrath, willing to change the subject, “I hear you are on the Famine Relief Committee. Does your work progress?”
“Oh, most famously, I assure you,” she said. “Such a movement as we have started. Those poor creatures. The photographs of them are simply dreadful. I had the committee to luncheon the other day and we passed them around. We are getting subscriptions from all over the State, and Mr. Cedarquist is to arrange for the ship.”
The Relief Committee in question was one of a great number that had been formed in California—and all over the Union, for the matter of that—to provide relief for the victims of a great famine in Central India. The whole world had been struck with horror at the reports of suffering and mortality in the affected districts, and had hastened to send aid. Certain women of San Francisco, with Mrs. Cedarquist at their head, had organised a number of committees, but the manufacturer’s wife turned the meetings of these committees into social affairs—luncheons, teas, where one discussed the ways and means of assisting the starving Asiatics over teacups and plates of salad.
Shortly afterward a mild commotion spread throughout the assemblage of the club’s guests. The drawing of the numbers in the raffle was about to be made. Hartrath, in a flurry of agitation, excused himself. Cedarquist took Presley by the arm.
“Pres, let’s get out of this,” he said. “Come into the wine room and I will shake you for a glass of sherry.”
They had some difficulty in extricating themselves. The main room where the drawing was to take place suddenly became densely thronged. All the guests pressed eagerly about the table near the picture, upon which one of the hall boys had just placed a ballot box containing the numbers. The ladies, holding their tickets in their hands, pushed forward. A staccato chatter of excited murmurs arose. “What became of Harran and Lyman and the Governor?” inquired Presley.
Lyman had disappeared, alleging a business engagement, but Magnus and his younger son had retired to the library of the club on the floor above. It was almost deserted. They were deep in earnest conversation.
“Harran,” said the Governor, with decision, “there is a deal, there, in what Cedarquist says. Our wheat to China, hey, boy?”
“It is certainly worth thinking of, sir.”
“It appeals to me, boy; it appeals to me. It’s big and there’s a fortune in it. Big chances mean big returns; and I know—your old father isn’t a back number yet, Harran—I may not have so wide an outlook as our friend Cedarquist, but I am quick to see my chance. Boy, the whole East is opening, disintegrating before the Anglo-Saxon. It is time that bread stuffs, as well, should make markets for themselves in the Orient. Just at this moment, too, when Lyman will scale down freight rates so we can haul to tidewater at little cost.”
Magnus paused again, his frown beetling, and in the silence the excited murmur from the main room of the club, the soprano chatter of a multitude of women, found its way to the deserted library.
“I believe it’s worth looking into, Governor,” asserted Harran.
Magnus rose, and, his hands behind him, paced the floor of the library a couple of times, his imagination all stimulated and vivid. The great gambler perceived his Chance, the kaleidoscopic shifting of circumstances that made a Situation. It had come silently, unexpectedly. He had not seen its approach. Abruptly he woke one morning to see the combination realised. But also he saw a vision. A sudden and abrupt revolution in the Wheat. A new world of markets discovered, the matter as important as the discovery of America. The torrent of wheat was to be diverted, flowing back upon itself in a sudden, colossal eddy, stranding the middleman, the ENTRE-PRENEUR, the elevator-and mixing-house men dry and despairing, their occupation gone. He saw the farmer suddenly emancipated, the world’s food no longer at the mercy of the speculator, thousands upon thousands of men set free of the grip of Trust and ring and monopoly acting for themselves, selling their own wheat, organising into one gigantic trust, themselves, sending their agents to all the entry ports of China. Himself, Annixter, Broderson and Osterman would pool their issues. He would convince them of the magnificence of the new movement. They would be its pioneers. Harran would be sent to Hong Kong to represent the four. They would charter—probably buy—a ship, perhaps one of Cedarquist’s, American built, the nation’s flag at the peak, and the sailing of that ship, gorged with the crops from Broderson’s and Osterman’s ranches, from Quien Sabe and Los Muertos, would be like the sailing of the caravels from Palos. It would mark a new era; it would make an epoch.
With this vision still expanding before the eye of his mind, Magnus, with Harran at his elbow, prepared to depart.
They descended to the lower floor and involved themselves for a moment in the throng of fashionables that blocked the hallway and the entrance to the main room, where the numbers of the raffle were being drawn. Near the head of the stairs they encountered Presley and Cedarquist, who had just come out of the wine room.
Magnus, still on fire with the new idea, pressed a few questions upon the manufacturer before bidding him good-bye. He wished to talk further upon the great subject, interested as to details, but Cedarquist was vague in his replies. He was no farmer, he hardly knew wheat when he saw it, only he knew the trend of the world’s affairs; he felt them to be setting inevitably eastward.
However, his very vagueness was a further inspiration to the Governor. He swept details aside. He saw only the grand coup, the huge results, the East conquered, the march of empire rolling westward, finally arriving at its starting point, the vague, mysterious Orient.
He saw his wheat, like the crest of an advancing billow, crossing the Pacific, bursting upon Asia, flooding the Orient in a golden torrent. It was the new era. He had lived to see the death of the old and the birth of the new; first the mine, now the ranch; first gold, now wheat. Once again he became the pioneer, hardy, brilliant, taking colossal chances, blazing the way, grasping a fortune—a million in a single day. All the bigness of his nature leaped up again within him. At the magnitude of the inspiration he felt young again, indomitable, the leader at last, king of his fellows, wresting from fortune at this eleventh hour, before his old age, the place of high command which so long had been denied him. At last he could achieve.
Abruptly Magnus was aware that some one had spoken his name. He looked about and saw behind him, at a little distance, two gentlemen, strangers to him. They had withdrawn from the crowd into a little recess. Evidently having no women to look after, they had lost interest in the afternoon’s affair. Magnus realised that they had not seen him. One of them was reading aloud to his companion from an evening edition of that day’s newspaper. It was in the course of this reading that Magnus caught the sound of his name. He paused, listening, and Presley, Harran and Cedarquist followed his example. Soon they all understood. They were listening to the report of the judge’s decision, for which Magnus was waiting—the decision in the case of the League vs. the Railroad. For the moment, the polite clamour of the raffle hushed itself—the winning number was being drawn. The guests held their breath, and in the ensuing silence Magnus and the others heard these words distinctly:
“.... It follows that the title to the lands in question is in the plaintiff—the Pacific and Southwestern Railroad, and the defendants have no title, and their possession is wrongful. There must be findings and judgment for the plaintiff, and it is so ordered.”
In spite of himself, Magnus paled. Harran shut his teeth with an oath. Their exaltation of the previous moment collapsed like a pyramid of cards. The vision of the new movement of the wheat, the conquest of the East, the invasion of the Orient, seemed only the flimsiest mockery. With a brusque wrench, they were snatched back to reality. Between them and the vision, between the fecund San Joaquin, reeking with fruitfulness, and the millions of Asia crowding toward the verge of starvation, lay the iron-hearted monster of steel and steam, implacable, insatiable, huge—its entrails gorged with the life blood that it sucked from an entire commonwealth, its ever hungry maw glutted with the harvests that should have fed the famished bellies of the whole world of the Orient.
But abruptly, while the four men stood there, gazing into each other’s faces, a vigorous hand-clapping broke out. The raffle of Hartrath’s picture was over, and as Presley turned about he saw Mrs. Cedarquist and her two daughters signalling eagerly to the manufacturer, unable to reach him because of the intervening crowd. Then Mrs. Cedarquist raised her voice and cried:
“I’ve won. I’ve won.”
Unnoticed, and with but a brief word to Cedarquist, Magnus and Harran went down the marble steps leading to the street door, silent, Harran’s arm tight around his father’s shoulder.
At once the orchestra struck into a lively air. A renewed murmur of conversation broke out, and Cedarquist, as he said good-bye to Presley, looked first at the retreating figures of the ranchers, then at the gayly dressed throng of beautiful women and debonair young men, and indicating the whole scene with a single gesture, said, smiling sadly as he spoke:
“Not a city, Presley, not a city, but a Midway Plaisance.”