“Poverty, with love—yes, I would choose it. Without love, I never, never can give myself! Never, as long as I live!”
The Billionaire, too, stood up. He was shaking, now, as in a palsy, striving to control his rage. His fingers twitched spasmodically, and his eyes burned like firecoals behind those gleaming lenses.
Then, as he peered at her, he suddenly went even paler than before. Through his heart a stab of understanding had all at once gone home. The veils were lifted, and he knew the truth.
Her manner in speaking of that unknown, wandering rescuer; the blush that had burned from breast to brow, when he had mentioned the fellow; her aversion for Waldron and her reticence in talking of the accident—all this, and more, now surged on Flint’s comprehension, flooding his mind with light—with light and with terrible anger.
And, losing all control, he took a step or two, and raised his shaking hand. His big-knuckled finger, shaken in denunciation, was raised almost in her face. Choking, stammering, he cried:
“Ah! Now I know! Now, now I understand you!”
Terrified, she retreated toward the door of the music-room.
“Father, father! What makes you look so?” she gasped. “Oh, you have never looked or spoken to me this way! What—what can it be?”
“What can it be?” he mouthed at her. “You ask me, you hypocrite, when you well know?”
Suddenly she faced him, stiffening into pride and hard rebellion.
“No more of that, father!” she exclaimed, her eyes blazing. “I am your daughter, but you can’t talk to me thus. You must not!”
“Who—who are you to say ‘must not?’” he gibed, now wholly beside himself. “You—you, who love a vagabond, a tramp, scum and off-scouring of the gutter?”
A strange, half-choking sound was his only answer. Then, with no word, she turned away from him, biting her lip lest she answer and betray herself.
“Go!” he commanded, bloodless and quivering. “Go to your room. No more of this! We shall see, soon, who’s master of this house!”
She was already gone.
Old Flint stood there a moment, listening to her retreating footfalls on the parquetry of the vast hall. Then, as these died he turned and groped his way, as though blind, back to his chair, and fell in it, and covered his eyes with both his shaking hands.
For a long time he sat there, anguished and crucified amid all that unmeaning luxury and splendor.
At last he rose and with uncertain steps sought his own suite, above-stairs.
Billionaire and world-master though he was, that night he knew his heart lay dead within him. He realized that all the fruits of life were Dead Sea fruits, withered to dust and ashes on his pale and quivering lips.
THE BILLIONAIRE’S PLOT.