“By the by,” Mr. Duge said, as he lit a cigarette, “always remember what I told you about that man. Be especially on your guard if ever you are brought into contact with him. I happen to know that he registered a vow, a year ago, that before five years were past he would ruin me.”
“I will remember,” Virginia faltered.
Mr. Phineas Duge, since the death of his wife, had closed his doors to all his friends, and entertained only on rare occasions a few of the men with whom he was connected in his many business enterprises. On the arrival of Virginia, however, he lifted his finger, and Society stormed at his doors. The great reception rooms were thrown open, the servants were provided with new liveries, an entertainment office was given carte blanche to engage the usual run of foreign singers and the best known mountebanks of the moment. Mrs. Trevor Harrison, the woman whom he had selected as chaperon for Virginia, more than once displayed some curiosity, when talking to her charge, as to this sudden change in the habits of a man whose lack of sociability had become almost proverbial.
“If it were not, my dear,” she said one day to Virginia, when they were having tea together in her own more modest apartment, “that I firmly believe your uncle incapable of any affection for any one, we should all have to believe that he had lost his heart to you.”
Virginia, who had heard other remarks of the same nature, looked puzzled.
“I cannot see,” she exclaimed, “why every one speaks of my uncle as a heartless person. I do not think that I ever met any one more kind, and he looks it, too. I do not think that I ever saw any one with such a benevolent face.”
Mrs. Trevor Harrison laughed softly as she rocked herself in her chair.
“Dear child,” she said, “New York has known your uncle for twenty-five years, and suffered for him. These men who make great fortunes must make them at the expense of other people, and there are very many who have gone down to make Phineas Duge what he is.”
“I cannot understand it,” Virginia said.
“Your uncle,” Mrs. Trevor Harrison continued, “has a will of iron, is absolutely self-centered; sentiment has never swayed him in the least. He has climbed up on the bodies of weaker men. But there, in America we blame no one for that. It is the strong man who lives, and the others must die. Only I cannot quite understand this new development. I have never known your uncle to do a purposeless thing.”
“You say,” Virginia remarked slowly, “that he has no heart. Why did he send for me, then? Since I have been here, he has paid off the mortgage which was making my father an old man, he has sent my brother to college, and has promised, so long as I am with him, to allow them so much money that they have no more anxiety at all. If you only knew what a change this has made in all our lives, you would understand that I do not like to hear you say that my uncle has no heart.”