This unexpected interposition appeared to be the outlet the older grumbler wanted.
“Yes, you will!” he sneered with disdain, turning his eyes on his junior derisively. He could at least bully Sipkins.
For response, the youngster walked with a firm tread straight up to the door of the private office; put out his hand so quickly that the other’s eyes opened wide; then turned so suddenly as to catch his derider’s look of wonder; stuck out his tongue in triumph at the success of his ruse, and walked on to the window.
“He’ll be through directly, see if he is not,” reiterated the senior clerk with kindly intonation. “Don’t make a noise, there’s a good fellow;” and once more John Clark, the dean of the office, guilefully buried himself in his columns.
“He must be writing his love-letters. Go in there, Hartley, and help him out. You’re an adept at that,” hazarded the youngster at the window to the dapper youth at the mirror.
There was a subdued explosion from all the others but Clark, after which, as if relieved by this escape of steam, the young men quieted down, and once more applied themselves to looking moodily out of the windows, whilst the older clerk gave a secret peep at his watch, and then, after another glance at the closed door of the private office, went back once more to his work.
Meantime, within his closed sanctum Livingstone still sat with intent gaze, poring over the page of figures before him. The expression on his face was one of profound satisfaction. He had at last reached the acme of his ambition—that is, of his later ambition. (He had once had other aims.) He had arrived at the point towards which he had been straining for the last eight—ten—fifteen years—he did not try to remember just how long—it had been a good while. He had at length accumulated, “on the most conservative estimate” (he framed the phrase in his mind, following the habit of his Boards)—he had no need to look now at the page before him: the seven figures that formed the balance, as he thought of them, suddenly appeared before him in facsimile. He had been gazing at them so steadily that now even when he shut his eyes he could see them clearly. It gave him a little glow about his heart;—it was quite convenient: he could always see them.
It was a great sum. He had attained his ambition.
Last year when he balanced his books at the close of the year, he had been worth only—a sum expressed in six figures, even when he put his securities at their full value. Now it could only be written in seven figures, “on the most conservative estimate.”
Yes, he had reached the top. He could walk up the street now and look any man in the face, or turn his back on him, just as he chose. The thought pleased him.
Years ago, a friend—an old friend of his youth, Harry Trelane, had asked him to come down to the country to visit him and meet his children and see the peach trees bloom. He had pleaded business, and his friend had asked him gravely why he kept on working so hard when he was already so well off. He wanted to be rich, he had replied.