You have seen, perhaps, a man whose heart was weighted by a great woe. You have seen the eye darken, the soul fag, and the spirit congeal under the breath of an icy disaster. At ten-thirty of this particular evening Cowperwood, sitting alone in the library of his Michigan Avenue house, was brought face to face with the fact that he had lost. He had built so much on the cast of this single die. It was useless to say to himself that he could go into the council a week later with a modified ordinance or could wait until the storm had died out. He refused himself these consolations. Already he had battled so long and so vigorously, by every resource and subtlety which his mind had been able to devise. All week long on divers occasions he had stood in the council-chamber where the committee had been conducting its hearings. Small comfort to know that by suits, injunctions, appeals, and writs to intervene he could tie up this transit situation and leave it for years and years the prey of lawyers, the despair of the city, a hopeless muddle which would not be unraveled until he and his enemies should long be dead. This contest had been so long in the brewing, he had gone about it with such care years before. And now the enemy had been heartened by a great victory. His aldermen, powerful, hungry, fighting men all—like those picked soldiers of the ancient Roman emperors—ruthless, conscienceless, as desperate as himself, had in their last redoubt of personal privilege fallen, weakened, yielded. How could he hearten them to another struggle—how face the blazing wrath of a mighty populace that had once learned how to win? Others might enter here—Haeckelheimer, Fishel, any one of a half-dozen Eastern giants—and smooth out the ruffled surface of the angry sea that he had blown to fury. But as for him, he was tired, sick of Chicago, sick of this interminable contest. Only recently he had promised himself that if he were to turn this great trick he would never again attempt anything so desperate or requiring so much effort. He would not need to. The size of his fortune made it of little worth. Besides, in spite of his tremendous vigor, he was getting on.
Since he had alienated Aileen he was quite alone, out of touch with any one identified with the earlier years of his life. His all-desired Berenice still evaded him. True, she had shown lately a kind of warming sympathy; but what was it? Gracious tolerance, perhaps—a sense of obligation? Certainly little more, he felt. He looked into the future, deciding heavily that he must fight on, whatever happened, and then—
While he sat thus drearily pondering, answering a telephone call now and then, the door-bell rang and the servant brought a card which he said had been presented by a young woman who declared that it would bring immediate recognition. Glancing at it, Cowperwood jumped to his feet and hurried down-stairs into the one presence he most craved.
There are compromises of the spirit too elusive and subtle to be traced in all their involute windings. From that earliest day when Berenice Fleming had first set eyes on Cowperwood she had been moved by a sense of power, an amazing and fascinating individuality. Since then by degrees he had familiarized her with a thought of individual freedom of action and a disregard of current social standards which were destructive to an earlier conventional view of things. Following him through this Chicago fight, she had been caught by the wonder of his dreams; he was on the way toward being one of the world's greatest money giants. During his recent trips East she had sometimes felt that she was able to read in the cast of his face the intensity of this great ambition, which had for its ultimate aim—herself. So he had once assured her. Always with her he had been so handsome, so pleading, so patient.
So here she was in Chicago to-night, the guest of friends at the Richelieu, and standing in Cowperwood's presence.
"Why, Berenice!" he said, extending a cordial hand.
"When did you arrive in town? Whatever brings you here?" He had once tried to make her promise that if ever her feeling toward him changed she would let him know of it in some way. And here she was to-night—on what errand? He noted her costume of brown silk and velvet—how well it seemed to suggest her cat-like grace!
"You bring me here," she replied, with an indefinable something in her voice which was at once a challenge and a confession. "I thought from what I had just been reading that you might really need me now."
"You mean—?" he inquired, looking at her with vivid eyes. There he paused.
"That I have made up my mind. Besides, I ought to pay some time."
"Berenice!" he exclaimed, reproachfully.
"No, I don't mean that, either," she replied. "I am sorry now. I think I understand you better. Besides," she added, with a sudden gaiety that had a touch of self-consolation in it, "I want to."
"Can't you tell?" she queried.
"Well, then," he smiled, holding out his hands; and, to his amazement, she came forward.
"I can't explain myself to myself quite," she added, in a hurried low, eager tone, "but I couldn't stay away any longer. I had the feeling that you might be going to lose here for the present. But I want you to go somewhere else if you have to—London or Paris. The world won't understand us quite—but I do."
"Berenice!" He smothered her cheek and hair.
"Not so close, please. And there aren't to be any other ladies, unless you want me to change my mind."
"Not another one, as I hope to keep you. You will share everything I have..."
How strange are realities as opposed to illusion!