“That’s nonsense,” said Margaret, calmly. “I haven’t the least idea what you’re talking about, and I don’t believe you have either.”
He waved the dollar bill with a heroical gesture. “Here,” he asserted, “is the Eagle. And by the little birds, I have not a doubt he meant charity and independence and kindliness and truth and the rest of the standard virtues. That is quite as plausible as the interpretation of the average commentator. The presence of money chills these little birds—ah, it is lamentable, no doubt, but it is true.”
“I don’t believe it,” said Margaret—quite as if that settled the question.
But now his hobby, rowelled by opposition, was spurred to loftier flights.
“Ah, the power of these great fortunes America has bred is monstrous,” he suddenly cried. “And always they work for evil. If I were ever to write a melodrama, Margaret, I could wish for no more thorough-paced villain than a large fortune.” Kennaston paused and laughed grimly. “We cringe to the Eagle!” said he. “Eh, well, why not? The Eagle is very powerful and very cruel. In the South yonder, the Eagle has penned over a million children in his factories, where day by day he drains the youth and health and very life out of their tired bodies; in sweat-shops, men and women are toiling for the Eagle, giving their lives for the pittance that he grudges them; in countless mines and mills, the Eagle is trading human lives for coal and flour; in Wall Street yonder, the Eagle is juggling as he will with life’s necessities—thieving from the farmer, thieving from the consumer, thieving from the poor fools who try to play the Eagle’s game, and driving them at will to despair and ruin and death: look whither you may, men die that the Eagle may grow fat. So the Eagle thrives, and daily the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer, and the end——” Kennaston paused, staring into vacancy. “Eh, well,” said he, with a smile and a snap of his fingers, “the end rests upon the knees of the gods. But there must need be an end some day. And meanwhile, you cannot blame us if we cringe to the Eagle that is master of the world. It is human nature to cringe to its master; and while human nature is not always an admirable thing, it is, I believe, rather widely distributed.”
Margaret did not return the smile. Like any sensible woman, she never tolerated opinions that differed from her own.
So she waved his preachment aside. “You’re trying to be eloquent,” was her observation, “and you’ve only succeeded in being very silly and tiresome. Go away, beautiful. You make me awfully tired, and I don’t care for you in the least. Go and talk to Kathleen. I shall be here—on this very spot,” Margaret added, with commendable precision and an unaccountable increase of colour, “if—if any one should happen to ask.”
Then Kennaston rose and laughed merrily.
“You are quite delicious,” he commented. “It will always be a grief and a puzzle to me that I am not mad for love of you. It is unreasonable of me,” he complained, sadly, and shook his head, “but I prefer Kathleen. And I am quite certain that somebody will ask where you are. I shall describe to him the exact spot—”