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nervously rattled a bunch of keys in his pocket. His canal was to be opened.
The first financier made a brilliant speech. The yacht's whiskey had been very good. Nobody but those nearest to the stand could make out what he said, but all cheered him tremendously. He liked it, and kept smiling halfway through the response of the mayor, which was horribly dull. Of course the mayor had not prepared his speech; mayors never prepare any speeches after the election returns are in; and he droned on interminably. He forgot that he ought to stop. The second financier ed, and the third smoked a cigarette. But Michaelson was listening. "_We-ah-cannot place too high the public spirit of these gentlemen, who have made this canal, our canal, possible. It is a great public work, it is a great public benefaction, it is a great public-ah-" He recovered and tried again. “I mean that it will affect the lives and happiness of all of us. It will bring commerce to our city, it will turn faster the wheels of a hundred factories—" He was suddenly struck by the splendor of his simile, and hastened to apply it further. “Yes, my friends, all of us can see the water here rushing through the channel like a mill-stream, a mill-stream that will turn the factory wheels, a mill-stream of prosperity—”
“My God!" jerked out Michaelson in a hard whisper to the first financier. “What did he say that for? The tides are fast enough without talking about it.”
The other, mellowed by the beverages of the yacht, felt an instinctive sympathy. “My dear fellow, why worry about the confounded tides? Cheer up !"
"You feel that way, sir? I don't. I've written you again and again about them. They are too strong, much too strong. I don't know, I've believed in this thing. But it gravels a man to hear the mayor call them a mill-stream."
"Well, even if they were as bad as the Bay of Fundy, it wouldn't be your fault, would it?" said the banker genially.
“No, no; of course we couldn't calculate that. We had to take a chance—” He broke off, suddenly astonished by the other's attitude. "But I don't see why you say that! Suppose the canal should fail? You've got money in this thing."
"Why, my dear boy," said the banker with immense patronage, "of course the canal will fail!"
“Come, come. You've known that as well as I have, ever since the dykes were first blown up. Perfectly obvious to a professional man like you. Of course."
Michaelson did not respond immediately. The third financier's cigarette smoke drifted, a thin fantastic blue haze, before his eyes. The mayor's voice went on in its artificial cadences, the crowd rustled impatiently in the sunshine. Michaelson's wife, sitting a little apart from him, leaned forward and watched her husband's face, as if it caught her with some puzzling question. Michaelson swallowed once, and then whispered, again steady, "Perhaps I did. But I never admitted it before. I could not, very well.”
The banker was mildly surprised. “You are a queer duck," he said.
"But it can't fail," Michaelson went on, intensely, "it can't. Why, it would ruin you. What are you thinking of ?"
"Ruin? Bosh !" remarked the financier. "We aren't building the thing to succeed."
Michaelson looked at him stupidly. "Not building to succeed?"
“Of course not. We are building it to sell! And that's easy enough. Listen to that old fool ;-the city'll have to buy it now, outright. They can amuse themselves putting in locks or straightening the channel, or what not. The fellow will make 'em buy it, or he won't be re-elected. Don't worry yourself.”
“Built to sell? Then," said Michaelson slowly, "I seem to have been wrong. I never understood that."
"Well, naturally we didn't talk about it very much. Never mind. Come on board our yacht afterwards. We'll give you some good whiskey."
At that moment the mayor ran out of words, and bowed. Everyone got up and moved off to see the naval parade.
"Hal," whispered his wife, suddenly beside him in the crowd. "What did that man tell you?”
“Eh? He told me that I've been made a fool of. Never mind it now.”
"What do you mean, Hal?" Her voice was sympathetic. It sounded strangely in his ears for that reason. But he wasn't thinking about her. "I'll show them," he muttered with his teeth together, "that this isn't a failure, not yet. My God, it can't be !" His wife looked at him, but found no answer.
The naval parade was to set the final seal upon the canal. An ocean-going steamer, the symbol of the many that were to come after her, led the line of ships, with the official party on her bridge. There was a band on the forecastle that played braying music. Michaelson was with the mayor and the financiers and the assistant engineers. Lucy was there with the wives of the others. Hangers-on of one sort and another chattered about the decks, or watched the new flag-bunting fluttering from the mast-head. Presently the tugboat came alongside, took the big towing hawser over the bows, and pointed the vessel's head up the center of the channel, toward the afternoon sun that was falling over the cut. Shouts reached them from the banks in the pauses of the inane band. The colors were all heightened in the glaring light of the waste shores, and fixed with a queer kind of immobility. The hawser tightened in the grip of the tides, and groaned a little about the towing-bits. The tug, ahead, threshed the swift waters gallantly.
They came up to the bend and the new bridge. The band finished a piece, and the musicians put down their instruments. A slight tremor ran through the ship. Suddenly everyone stopped talking ; only the high and querulous voice of some retired sea-captain, caught in the heat of argument, came out distinct across the silence: “_tells ye, I wouldn't take no ship of mine through these tides, not for a million dollars_” He ceased suddenly, surprised at finding himself speaking solo. A fierce eddy had caught the steamer; her head was swinging off. The four-inch towing cable slowly rose up from beneath the surface, straightening from a long arc into a taut-drawn line humming under the sudden tremendous strain. Michaelson gripped the bridge-rail in front of him, watching the glittering waterdrops falling from the wet hawser. For an instant it stretched there, vibrating, dripping—and then it broke.
The report echoed in the cut. The two frayed ends kicked out viciously and dropped into the water. The vessel's bows fell off in a long, slow sweep; she struck; her stern swung back, and she lay tangled up in the new bridge, completely blocking the fairway. The canal had failed.....
On the shore, afterwards, Lucy faced her husband. She had never been so shocked as at this moment. He stirred his foot in the sand, aimless, his whole being quite fabby and empty.
"Hal!" she cried, with a world of pity.
She stepped swiftly to him, laid both her hands upon his shoulders, and looked up. “Hal, old man,” she said, giving him all her nature, “Hal, old man, don't. Don't take it this way."
He could not respond. "Oh, I'm all right, Lucy," he said vacantly. "There; don't bother.” And he moved as if to disengage himself. She had never seen him weak, pitiful, like this. She clung to him. "Let me help you, Hal. You must. I can, I know I can. Only let me. ”
“But I think you said you hated me. Something like that. No matter what."
"That was madness. Please forget it. You told me yourself it was all madness. It was, it was.”
“Well? Maybe. Does it make any particular difference? I don't know."
“Difference? It makes all that there is! You told me yourself that I loved you. I don't think that I knew what you meant, then. But after this—the nonsense just falls away. It has to. I didn't know myself before. Don't you see how it is ? Take me, Hal. You must.
"You didn't know yourself? Yes, that's easy to understand." He took her hands and laid them from his shoulders. “I was quite sure once, Lucy. You seemed to go back on me, but I was sure. They told me just now that I had been selling my soul for a dirty commercial scheme, but even then I was still sure. I wouldn't let myself believe anything else. But then the whole wretched business smashed. What have I to go on now? I'm not sure of myself—how can I be? I think that I am only half a man, Lucy!"
She took his hands again. "But you must believe in me, then. All the more reason. You will get back again quickly enough. Take my help. Take me with you!"
"No, it is a little late, I am afraid. I don't know. I can't tell! Everything's knocked out—into air- Perhaps I have deluded myself in everything- There are a lot of delusions, too many. Oh, come," he broke off, "go along home now, will you, Lucy? I've got to attend to the wreck."
She gazed at him, horror-struck. So mysterious and vaguethis man whom she had never fathomed. He moved away without a word. She broke down and sobbed.
He did not look back, but wandered off along the banks, where the water, slackening at the turn of the tide, idled past. The people were nearly all gone; the late sun was glowing in the horizon behind him, throwing long shadows across the wild dunes. Somebody else would attend to the wreck. That was only pretext. He went on, to the hill where the cut was, and he climbed up and stood there on the edge again. All the sand-hills were red behind him, but dark and empty before. Very distantly he heard the ocean surf beating on the sands, and far in the gathering dusk to the south, he saw the smoke-cloud of some ship, going to sea through the old river channel.
"How silly," he mused.
Overhead a sea-gull shook its wings, and swooping down into shadows of the cut, screamed derisively. The night came up from the boundless ocean, and concealed him.