But it seems that the journeying of my jade was near its ending. For upon this morning, fortune threw me into the way of a fellow who had been in my class at the University, who was to be my deus ex machina. No two persons in the world could have been more dissimilar than “Jack” Ballard and I, and yet, perhaps for that reason, there had always been a kind of affinity between us. He was one of the wealthiest men in my class and was now, as he gleefully informed me, busily engaged clipping coupons in his father’s office, “with office hours from two to three some Thursdays.” Of course, that was his idea of a joke, for it seems quite obvious that a person who gave so little time to his business had better have kept no hours at all. He greeted me warmly and led me into his club, which happened to be near by, where over the lunch table he finally succeeded in eliciting the fact that I was down to my last dollar with prospects far from encouraging.
“Good old Pope!” he cried, clapping me on the back. “Pope” was my pseudonym at the University, conferred in a jocular moment by Ballard himself on account of a fancied resemblance to Urban the Eighth. “Just the man! Wonder why I didn’t think of you before!” And while I wondered what he was coming at, “How would, you like to make a neat five thousand a year?”
I laughed him off, not sure that this wasn’t a sample of the Ballard humor.
“Anything,” I said, trying to smile, “short of murder—”
“Oh, I am not joking!” he went on with an encouraging flash of seriousness. “Five thousand a year cool, and no expenses—livin’ on the fat of the land, with nothin’ to do but—”
He broke off suddenly and grasped me by the arm.
“Did you ever hear of old John Benham, the multi-millionaire?” he asked. I remarked that my acquaintance with millionaires, until that moment, had not been large.
“Oh, of course,” he laughed, “if I had mentioned Xenophon, you’d have pricked up your ears like an old war horse. But John Benham, as a name to conjure with, means nothing to you. You must know then that John Benham was for years the man of mystery of Wall Street. Queer old bird! Friend of the governor’s, or at least as much of a friend of the governor’s as he ever was of anybody. Made a pot of money in railroads. Millions! Of course, if you’ve never heard of Benham you’ve never heard of the Wall.”
“Well, the Benham Wall in Greene County is one of the wonders of the age. It’s nine feet high, built of solid masonry and encloses five thousand acres of land.”
Figures meant nothing to me and I told him so.
“The strange thing about it is that there’s no mystery at all. The old man had no secrets except in business and no past that anybody could care about. But he was a cold-blooded proposition. No man ever had his confidence, no woman ever had his affection except his wife, and when she died all that was human in him was centered on his son, the sole heir to twenty millions. Lucky little beggar. What?”