It was toward half-past five, there was nothing more that Geary could do that day, and for a moment he leaned back in his swivel chair, before going home, smiling a little, very well pleased with himself. He was still as clever and shrewd as ever, still devoured with an incarnate ambition, still delighted when he could get the better of any one. He was yet a young man; with the start he had secured for himself, and with the exceptional faculties, the faculties of self-confidence and “push” that he knew himself to possess, there was no telling to what position he might attain. He knew that it was only a question of time—of a short time even—when he would be the practical head of the great firm. Everything he turned his hand to was a success. His row of houses in the Mission might be enlarged to a veritable settlement for every workman in the neighbourhood. His youth, his cleverness, and his ambition, supported by his money on the one hand, and on the other by the vast machinery of the great law firm, could raise him to a great place in the world of men. Gazing through the little blue haze of his cigar smoke, he began to have vague ideas, ideas of advancement, of political successes. Politics fascinated him—such a field of action seemed to be the domain for which he was precisely suited—not the politics of the city or of the state; not the nasty little squabbling of boodlers, lobbyists, and supervisors, but something large, something inspiring, something on a tremendous scale, something to which one could give up one’s whole life and energy, something to which one could sacrifice everything—friendships, fortunes, scruples, principles, life itself, no matter what, anything to be a “success,” to “arrive,” to “get there,” to attain the desired object in spite of the whole world, to ride on at it, trampling down or smashing through everything that stood in the way, blind, deaf, fists and teeth shut tight. Not the little squabbling politics of the city or state, but national politics, the sway and government of a whole people, the House, the Senate, the cabinet and the next—why not?—the highest, the best of all, the Executive. Yes, Geary aspired even to the Presidency.
For a moment he allowed himself the indulgence of the delightful dream, then laughed a bit at his own absurdity. But even the entertainment of so vast an idea had made his mind, as it were, big; it was hard to come down to the level again. In spite of himself he went on reasoning in stupendous thoughts, in enormous ideas, figuring with immense abstractions. And then after all, why not? Other men had striven and attained; other men were even now striving, other men would “arrive”; why should not he? As well he as another. Every man for himself—that was his maxim. It might be damned selfish, but it was human nature: the weakest to the wall, the strongest to the front. Why should not he be in the front? Why not in the very front rank? Why not be even before the front rank itself—the