A sinister figure he made, as he sat there poring intently over the technical books before him, contrasting strangely with the beauty and the luxury of the office. On the mantel, over the fireplace of Carrara marble, ticked a Louis XIV clock, the price of which might have saved the lives of a thousand workingmen’s children during the last summer’s torment. Gold-woven tapestries from Rouen covered the walls, whereon hung etchings and rare prints. Old Flint’s office, indeed, had more the air of an art gallery than a place where grim plots and deals innumerable had been put through, lawmakers corrupted past counting, and the destinies of nations bent beneath his corded, lean and nervous hand. And now, as the Billionaire sat there thinking, smiling a smile that boded no good to the world, the soft spring air that had inspired his great plan still swayed the silken curtains.
Of a sudden, he slammed the big book shut, that he was studying, and rose to his feet with a hard laugh—the laugh that had presaged more than one calamity to mankind. Beneath the sweep of his mustache one caught the glint of a gold tooth, sharp and unpleasant.
A moment he stood there, keen, eager, dominant, his hands gripping the edge of the desk till the big knuckles whitened. He seemed the embodiment of harsh and unrelenting Power—power over men and things, over their laws and institutions; power which, like Alexander’s, sought only new worlds to conquer; power which found all metes and bounds too narrow.
“Power!” he whispered, as though to voice the inner inclining of the picture. “Life, air, breath—the very breath of the world in my hands—power absolutely, at last!”
Then, as was his habit, translating ideas into immediate action, he strode to a door at the far end of the office, flung it open and said:
“See here a minute, Wally!”
“Busy!” came an answering voice, from behind a huge roll-top desk.
“Of course! But drop it, drop it. I’ve got news for you.”
“Urgent?” asked the voice, coldly.
“Very. Come in here, a minute. I’ve got to unload!”
From behind the big desk rose the figure of a man about five and forty, sandy-haired, long-faced and sallow, with a pair of the coldest, fishiest eyes—eyes set too close together—that ever looked out of a flat and ugly face. A man precisely dressed, something of a fop, with just a note of the “sport” in his get-up; a man to fear, a man cool, wary and dangerous—Maxim Waldron, in fact, the Billionaire’s right-hand man and confidant. Waldron, for some time affianced to his eldest daughter. Waldron the arch-corruptionist; Waldron, who never yet had been “caught with the goods,” but who had financed scores of industrial and political campaigns, with Flint’s money and his own; Waldron, the smooth, the suave, the perilous.