“Listen! I’ve shown you what I can do in a few months. In a year you can be a great success. That’s how big men are made; they know the short-cuts. You are too inexperienced yet to know what success and power mean, but you are beginning to learn, and when you have learned you will thank me for breaking up this foolish romance. I don’t ask you to forget your manhood. I ask nothing. I am content to wait. You want to become a big man like your father. Well, Runnels will be out of the way soon; Blakeley amounts to nothing. You will be the Superintendent.”
“So! That’s not merely a rumor about Blakeley? Runnels is fired, eh?”
“If I choose not to give up Chiq—Miss Garavel, then what? It means the end of me here, is that it?”
“If you ‘choose’! Why, my dear, you have no choice whatever in the matter. It is practically closed. You can do nothing—although, if you really intend to make trouble, I shall walk inside when I leave and inform the old gentleman, in which case he will probably send the girl home at once, and take very good care to give you no further opportunity. Ramon is only too anxious to marry her. As to this being the end of you here, well, I really don’t see how it could be otherwise. No Kirk, it’s for you to decide whether you wish to be shown the secret path up the mountain or to scale the cliffs unaided. There are no conditions. You merely mustn’t play the fool.”
“And if I don’t agree you will tell Mr. Garavel that I’m going to make trouble?” He mused aloud, watching her out of the corner of his eye. She said nothing, so he went on cautiously, sparring for time.
“Well, inasmuch as this seems to be a plain business proposition, suppose I think it over. When it comes time for our next dance, I’ll say yes or no.”
“As you please.”
“Very well. The music has stopped; we’d better go in.”
As they rose she laid her hand upon his arm and he felt it tremble as she exclaimed:
“Believe me, Kirk, this isn’t at all easy for me, but—I can’t bear to lose.”
Anthony had no partner for the eighth dance, and was very glad of it, for he could not have carried off the necessary small talk. As it was, he felt that his excitement must be patent to those around him. His mind was filled with tormenting doubts, his chance for success seemed so infinitely small, his plan so extravagantly impracticable, now that the time had come!
As the music ceased and the dancers came pouring out into the cool night air, Runnels approached with his wife.
“Well, are you equal to it?” he asked.
Kirk nodded; he could not speak.
“Why, you look as cold as ice,” exclaimed the woman, half-resentfully. “I’m the only one who seems to feel it. I—I’m positively delirious. My partners look at me in the strangest way, as if they thought I were liable to become dangerous at any moment.”