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Chapter 15 RETROSPECTIVE

  • Show me those invisible, imperceptible steps by which a man's honor firs_escends; show me the way back to the serene altitude of clean conscience, an_ will undertake to enlighten you upon the secret of every great historica_vent, tragic or otherwise. If you will search history carefully, you wil_ote that the basic cause of all great events, such as revolutions, civi_trifes, political assassinations, foreign wars, and race oppressions, lay no_n men's honor so much as in some one man's dishonor. A man, having committe_ dishonorable act, may reestablish himself in the eyes of his fellow-beings, but ever and ever he silently mocks himself and dares not look into the mirro_f his conscience.
  • Honor is comparative, as every one will agree. It is only in the highl_eveloped mind that it reaches its superlative state. Either this man become_mpregnable to the assaults of the angel of the pitch robes, or he boldl_lunges into the frightful blackness which surrounds her. The great greed o_ower, the great greed of wealth, the great greed of hate, the great greed o_ealousy, and the great greed of love, only these tempt him.
  • Now, of dishonors, which does man hold in the greatest abhorrence? Thi_uestion needs no pondering. It may be answered simply. The murderer, th_hief, and the rogue—we look upon these callously. But Judas! Treachery to ou_ountry! This is the nadir of dishonor; nothing could be blacker. We neve_top to look into the causes, nor does history, that most upright an_mpartial of judges; we brand instantly. Who can tell the truth about Juda_scariot, and Benedict Arnold, and the host of others? I can almost tolerate _udas who betrays for a great love. There seems to be a stupendous eliminatio_f self in the man who betrays for those he loves, braving the consequences, the ignominy, the dishonor, the wretchedness; otherwise I should not hav_ndertaken to write this bit of history.
  • To betray a friend, that is bad; to betray a woman, that is still worse; bu_o betray one's country!-to commit an act which shall place her at the merc_f her enemies! Ah, the ignoble deaths of the men who were guilty of thi_rime! And if men have souls, as we are told they have, how the souls of thes_en must writhe as they look into the minds of living men and behold th_orror and contempt in which each traitor's name is held there!
  • Have you ever thought of the legion of men who have been thrust back from th_ery foot of this precipice, either by circumstances or by the revolt o_onscience? These are the men who reestablish themselves in the eyes of thei_ellow-beings, but who for ever silently mock themselves and dare not loo_nto the mirror of their consciences.
  • In this world motive is everything. A bad thing may be done for a goo_urpose, or, the other way around. This is the story of a crime, the motive o_hich was good.
  • Once upon a time there lived a soldier, a gentleman born, a courtier, a man o_ine senses, of high integrity, of tenderness, of courage; he possessed _plendid physical beauty, besides estates, and a comfortable revenue, o_ather, he presided over one. Above all this, he was the father of a girl wh_orshiped him, and not without reason. What mysterious causes should set t_ork to ruin this man, to thrust him from light into darkness? What step le_im to attempt to betray his country, even in times of peace, to dishonor hi_ame, a name his honesty had placed high on the rolls of glory? What defens_an he offer? Well, I shall undertake to defend him; let yours be the verdict.
  • Enforced idleness makes a criminal of a poor man; it urges the man of means t_ravel. Having seen his native land, it was only natural that my defendan_hould desire to see foreign countries. So, accompanied by his child, he wen_broad, visited the famous capitals, and was the guest of honor at hi_ountry's embassies. It was a delightful period. Both were as happy as fat_ver allows a human being to be. The father had received his honorabl_ischarge, and till recently had held a responsible position in the Wa_epartment. His knowledge had proved of no small value to the government, fo_e was a born strategist, and his hobby was the coast defenses. He neve_eheld a plan that he did not reproduce it on the back of an envelope, on an_andy scrap of paper, and then pore over it through the night. He ha_ommitted to memory the smallest details, the ammunition supplies of eac_ort, the number of guns, the garrison, the pregnable and impregnable sides.
  • He knew the resource of each, too; that is to say, how quickly aid could b_ecured, the nearest transportation routes, what forage might be had. He ha_ven submitted plans for a siege gun.
  • One day, in the course of their travels, the father and daughter stopped a_onte Carlo. Who hasn't heard of that city of fever? Who that has seen it ca_asily forget its gay harbor, its beautiful walks, its crowds, its music, it_otels, its white temple of fortune? Now, my defendant had hitherto ignore_he principality of Monaco. The tales of terror which had reached his ears di_ot prepossess him in its favor. But his daughter had friends there, and sh_anted to see them. There would be dances on the private yacht, and dinners, and teas, and fireworks. On the third night of his arrival he was joined b_he owner of the yacht, a millionaire banker whose son was doing the honors a_ost. I believe that there was a musicale on board that night, and as th_anker wasn't particularly fond of this sort of entertainment, he inveigle_is soldier friend to accompany him on a sight-seeing trip. At midnight the_ntered the temple of fortune. At first the soldier demurred; but the banke_old him that he hadn't seen Monte Carlo unless he saw the wheel go around.
  • So, laughing, they entered the halls.
  • The passion for gaming is born in us all, man and woman alike, and is concede_y wise analysts to be the most furious of all passions and the most lasting.
  • In some, happily, the serpent sleeps for ever, the fire is for ever banked.
  • But it needs only the opportunity to rouse the dull ember into flame, to sti_he venom of the serpent. It seems a simple thing to toss a coin on th_oulette boards. Sometimes the act is done contemptuously, sometime_ndifferently, sometimes in the spirit of fun and curiosity; but the result i_lways the same.
  • The banker played for a while, won and lost, lost and won. The soldier put hi_and into a pocket and drew forth a five-franc piece. He placed it on _umber. The angel in the pitch robes is always lying in wait for man to mak_is first bad step; so she urged fortune to let this man win. It is a_nwritten law, high up on Olympus, that the gods must give to the gods; onl_he prayers of the mortals go unanswered.
  • So my defendant won. He laughed like a boy who had played marbles for "keeps"
  • and had taken away his opponent's agates. His mind was perfectly innocent o_ny wrong-doing. That night he won a thousand francs. His real first bad ste_as in hiding the escapade from his daughter. The following night he wo_gain. Then he dallied about the flame till one night the lust of hi_orebears shone forth from his eyes. The venom of the serpent spread, th_mber grew into a flame. His daughter, legitimately enjoying herself with th_oung people, knew nothing nor dreamed. Indeed, he never entered the templ_ill after he had kissed her good night.
  • He lost. He lost twice, thrice, in succession. One morning he woke up to th_act that he was several thousand dollars on the wrong side of the book. I_he money had been his own, he would have stopped, and gone his way, cured.
  • But it was money which he held in trust. He _must_ replace it. The angel i_he pitch robes stood at his side; she even laid a hand on his shoulder an_rged him to win back what he had lost. Then indeed he could laugh, go hi_ay, and gamble no more. This was excellent advice. That winter he los_omething like fifteen thousand. Then began the progress of decline. Th_ollowing summer his losses were even greater than before. He began t_ortgage the estates, for his authority over his daughter's property wa_bsolute. He dabbled in stocks; a sudden fall in gold, and he realized tha_is daughter was nearly penniless. Ah, had he been alone, had the money bee_is, he would have faced poverty with all the courage of a brave man. But th_irl, the girl! She must never know, she must never want for those luxuries t_hich she was accustomed. For her sake he must make one more effort He _must_in, must, must! He raised more money on the property. He became irritable, nervous, to which were added sudden bursts of tenderness which the girl coul_ot very well understand.
  • The summer preceding the action of this tale saw them at Dieppe. At one tim_e had recovered something between sixty and seventy thousand of his losses.
  • Ah, had he stopped then, confessed to his daughter, all would have gone wel_ut, no; he must win the entire sum. He lost, lost, lost. The crash came i_ugust. But a corner of the vast Virginian estates was left, and this did no_mount to twenty thousand. Five francs carelessly tossed upon a roulette tabl_ad ruined and dishonored him. The angel of the pitch robes had fairl_nveloped him now. The thought that he had gambled uselessly his daughter'_egacy, the legacy which her mother had left confidingly in his care, fille_is soul with the bitterness of gall. And she continued the merry round o_appiness, purchasing expensive garments, jewelry, furs, the little thing_hich women love; gave dinners and teas and dances, considered herself a_eiress, and thought the world a very pleasant place to live in. Every laug_rom her was a thorn to him, the light of happiness in her eyes was _eproach, for he knew that she was dancing toward the precipice which he ha_igged for her.
  • Struggling futilely among these nettles of despair, he took the final step.
  • His ruin became definitive. His evil goddess saw to it that an opportunit_hould present itself. (How simple all this reads! As I read it over it doe_ot seem credible. Think of a man who has reached the height of his ambition, has dwelt there serenely, and then falls in this silly, inexcusable fashion!
  • Well, that is human nature, the human part of it. Only here and there do w_all grandly.)
  • One starlit night he met a distinguished young diplomat, rich and handsome. H_layed some, but to pass away the time rather than to coquet with fortune. H_as lucky. The man who plays for the mere fun of it is generally lucky. H_sks no favors from fortune; he does not pay any attention to her, and, woman- like, she is piqued. He won heavily this night; my soldier los_orrespondingly heavily. The diplomat pressed a loan upon his new-foun_riend, who, with his usual luck, lost it.
  • The diplomat was presented to the daughter. They owned to mutual acquaintanc_n Paris and Washington. The three attended the concert. The girl returned t_he hotel bubbling with happiness and the echoes of enchanting melodies, fo_he was an accomplished musician. She retired and left the two men to thei_offee and cigars. The conversation took several turns, and at length stoppe_t diplomacy,
  • "It has always puzzled me," said the soldier, "how Russia finds out all sh_oes."
  • "That is easily explained. Russia has the wisdom of the serpent. Here is a ma_ho possesses a secret which Russia must have. They study him. If he i_allant, one day he meets a fascinating woman; if he is greedy, he turns t_ind a bowl of gold at his elbow; if he seeks power, Russia points out th_hortest road."
  • "But her knowledge of foreign army and naval strength?"
  • "Money does all that. Russia possesses an accurate knowledge of every fort, ship and gun England boasts of; France, Germany, and Japan. We have neve_aken it into our heads to investigate America. Till recently your country a_ foe to Russian interests had dropped below the horizon. And now Russia find_hat she must proceed to do what she has done to all other countries; that is, duplicate her rival's fortification plans, her total military and nava_trength; and so forth, and so on. The United States is not an enemy, bu_here are possibilities of her becoming so. Some day she must wrest Cuba fro_pain, and then she may become a recognized quantity in the Pacific."
  • "The Pacific?"
  • "Even so. Having taken Cuba, the United States, to protect her western coast, will be forced to occupy the Philippines; and having taken that archipelago, she becomes a menace to Russian territorial expansion in the far East. I d_ot always speak so frankly. But I wish you to see the necessity of knowin_ll about your coast defenses."
  • "It can not be done!"—spiritedly. So far the American had only gambled.
  • "It can and will be done," smiling. "Despite the watchfulness of you_fficials, despite your secret service, despite all obstacles, Russia wil_uietly gain the required information. She possesses a key to every lock."
  • "And what might this key be?"—with tolerant irony.
  • "Gold."
  • "But if the United States found out what Russia was doing, there might b_ar."
  • "Nothing of the kind. Russia would simply deny all knowledge. The man whom sh_elected to do the work would be discredited, banished, perhaps sent t_iberia to rot in the mines. No, there would be no war. Russia would weigh al_hese possibilities in selecting her arm. She would choose a man of hig_ntellect, rich, well-known in social circles, a linguist, a man acquainte_ith all histories and all phases of life, a diplomat, perhaps young an_leasing. You will say, why does he accept so base a task? When a Russia_oble takes his oath in the presence of his czar, he becomes simply an arm; h_o longer thinks, his master thinks for him. He only acts. So long as h_ffers his services without remuneration, his honor remains untouched, unsullied. A paid spy is the basest of all creatures."
  • "Count, take care that I do not warn my country of Russia's purpose. You ar_elling me very strange things." The American eyed his companion sharply.
  • "Warn the United States? I tell you, it will not matter. All Russia would nee_ould be a dissatisfied clerk. What could he not do with half a millio_rancs?" The diplomat blew a cloud of smoke through his nostrils and fillipe_he end of his cigarette.
  • "A hundred thousand dollars?"
  • The diplomat glanced amusedly at his American friend. "I suppose that sound_mall enough to you rich Americans. But to a clerk it reads wealth."
  • The American was silent. A terrible thought flashed through his brain, _hought that he repulsed almost immediately.
  • "Of course, I am only speculating; nothing has been done as yet."
  • "Then something _is_ going to be done?" asked the American, clearing hi_oice.
  • "One day or another. If we can not find the clerk, we shall look higher. W_hould consider a million francs well invested. America is rapidly becoming _reat power. But let us drop the subject and turn to something more agreeabl_o us both. Your daughter is charming. I honestly confess to you that I hav_ot met her equal in any country. Pardon my presumption, but may I ask if sh_s engaged to be married?"
  • "Not to my knowledge,"—vastly surprised and at the same time pleased.
  • "Are you averse to foreign alliances?" The diplomat dipped the end of a fresh- lighted cigar into his coffee.
  • "My dear Count, I am not averse to foreign alliances, but I rather suspec_hat my daughter is. This aversion might be overcome, however."
  • What a vista was opened to this wretched father! If only she might marr_iches, how easily he might confess what he had done, how easily all thi_espair and terror might be dispersed! And here was a man who was known in th_reat world, rich, young and handsome.
  • The other gazed dreamily at the ceiling; from there his gaze traveled abou_he coffee-room, with its gathering of coffee-drinkers, and at length cam_ack to his _vis-a-vis_.
  • "You will return to Washington?" he asked.
  • "I shall live there for the winter; that is, I expect to."
  • "Doubtless we shall see each other this winter, then,"—and the count thre_way his cigar, bade his companion good night, and went to his room.
  • How adroitly he had sown the seed! At that period he had no positive idea upo_hat kind of ground he had cast it. But he took that chance which all far- sighted men take, and then waited. There was little he had not learned abou_his handsome American with the beautiful daughter. How he had learned wil_lways remain dark to me. My own opinion is that he had been studying hi_uring his tenure of office in Washington, and, with that patience which i_aking Russia so formidable, waited for this opportunity.
  • I shall give the Russian all the justice of impartiality. When he saw th_irl, he rather shrank from the affair. But he had gone too far, he ha_romised too much; to withdraw now meant his own defeat, his government'_nger, his political oblivion. And there was a zest in this life of his. H_ould no more resist the call of intrigue than a gambler can resist th_roupier's, "Make your game, gentlemen!" I believe that he loved the girl th_oment he set eyes upon her. Her beauty and bearing distinguished her from th_ther women he had met, and her personality was so engaging that her conques_f him was complete and spontaneous. How to win this girl and at the same tim_uin her father was an embarrassing problem. The plan which finally came t_im he repelled again and again, but at length he surrendered. To get th_arent in his power and then to coerce the girl in case she refused him! To m_nowledge this affair was the first dishonorable act of a very honorable man.
  • But love makes fools and rogues of us all.
  • You will question my right to call this diplomat an honest man. As I have sai_lsewhere, honor is comparative. Besides, a diplomat generally falls into th_abit of lying successfully to himself.
  • When the American returned to the world, his cigar was out and his coffee wa_tale and cold.
  • "A million francs!" he murmured. "Two hundred thousand!"
  • The seed had fallen on fruitful ground.