“Uncle,” Virginia said, “I met Stella this afternoon, and she came and spoke to me.”
He looked at her without change of countenance.
“Well?” he said.
“I thought I ought to tell you,” Virginia continued. “I was not sure how you felt about it.”
“I have no objection,” he said, resting his hand for a moment upon her shoulder, “to your talking to her whenever you may happen to meet. Only remember one thing! She must not enter this house. You must never ask her here. You must never suffer her to come. You understand that?”
“I understand,” Virginia answered.
“And this man Vine, Mr. Norris Vine, have you met him?” he asked.
Virginia shook her head.
“No!” she said, “I have never seen him since that night at the restaurant.”
“The same thing,” Phineas Duge said, “applies to him. Neither of them must cross the threshold of this house. It is a hard thing to say of one’s own daughter, but those two are in league against me, if their combination is worth speaking of seriously.”
Virginia looked hopelessly puzzled. Phineas Duge hesitated for a moment, and then continued—
“There are phases of our life here,” he said, “which you could not hope to understand, even if you had been born in this city. But you can perhaps understand as much as this. In the higher regions of finance there is very much scheming and diplomacy required. One carries always secrets which must not be known, and one does things which it is necessary to conceal for the good of others, as well as for one’s own benefit. I have been for some years engaged in operations whose success depends entirely upon the secrecy with which they are conducted. Naturally, there is an opposing side, there always must be. There are buyers and sellers. If one succeeds, the other must fail, so you can understand that one has enemies always.”
“It sounds,” she murmured, “almost romantic, like diplomacy or politics.”
“The secret history of the lives and operations of some of us, who have made names in this country during the last few years,” he said, “would make the modern romance seem stale. Even odd scraps of news or surmises are fought for by the Press. The journalists know well enough where to come for their sensation. Our guests at last, I believe. Don’t forget what I have been saying to you, Virginia.”
A MEETING OF GIANTS
Phineas Duge, if his manners preserved still that sense of restraint which seemed part of the man himself, still made an excellent host. He sat at the head of his table, a distinguished, almost handsome personality, his grey hair accurately parted, every detail of his toilette in exact accordance with the fashions of the moment, his eyes everywhere, his tongue seldom silent.