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The Market-Place   By: (1856-1898)

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by Harold Frederic


THE battle was over, and the victor remained on the field sitting alone with the hurly burly of his thoughts.

His triumph was so sweeping and comprehensive as to be somewhat shapeless to the view. He had a sense of fascinated pain when he tried to define to himself what its limits would probably be. Vistas of unchecked, expanding conquest stretched away in every direction. He held at his mercy everything within sight. Indeed, it rested entirely with him to say whether there should be any such thing as mercy at all and until he chose to utter the restraining word the rout of the vanquished would go on with multiplying terrors and ruin. He could crush and torture and despoil his enemies until he was tired. The responsibility of having to decide when he would stop grinding their faces might come to weigh upon him later on, but he would not give it room in his mind to night.

A picture of these faces of his victims shaped itself out of the flames in the grate. They were moulded in a family likeness, these phantom visages: they were all Jewish, all malignant, all distorted with fright. They implored him with eyes in which panic asserted itself above rage and cunning. Only here and there did he recall a name with which to label one of these countenances; very few of them raised a memory of individual rancour. The faces were those of men he had seen, no doubt, but their persecution of him had been impersonal; his great revenge was equally so. As he looked, in truth, there was only one face a composite mask of what he had done battle with, and overthrown, and would trample implacably under foot. He stared with a conqueror's cold frown at it, and gave an abrupt laugh which started harsh echoes in the stillness of the Board Room. Then he shook off the reverie, and got to his feet. He shivered a little at the sudden touch of a chill.

A bottle of brandy, surrounded by glasses, stood on the table where the two least considered of his lieutenants, the dummy Directors, had left it. He poured a small quantity and sipped it. During the whole eventful day it had not occurred to him before to drink; the taste of the neat liquor seemed on the instant to calm and refresh his brain. With more deliberation, he took a cigar from the broad, floridly decorated open box beside the bottle, lit it, and blew a long draught of smoke thoughtfully through his nostrils. Then he put his hands in his pockets, looked again into the fire, and sighed a wondering smile. God in heaven! it was actually true!

This man of forty found himself fluttering with a novel exhilaration, which yet was not novel. Upon reflection, he perceived that he felt as if he were a boy again a boy excited by pleasure. It surprised as much as it delighted him to experience this frank and direct joy of a child. He caught the inkling of an idea that perhaps his years were an illusion. He had latterly been thinking of himself as middle aged; the grey hairs thickening at his temples had vaguely depressed him. Now all at once he saw that he was not old at all. The buoyancy of veritable youth bubbled in his veins. He began walking up and down the room, regarding new halcyon visions with a sparkling eye. He was no longer conscious of the hated foe beneath his feet; they trod instead elastic upon the clouds.

The sound of someone moving about in the hallway outside, and of trying a door near by, suddenly caught his attention. He stood still and listened with alertness for a surprised instant, then shrugged his shoulders and began moving again. It must be nearly seven o'clock; although the allotment work had kept the clerks later than usual that day, everybody connected with the offices had certainly gone home. He realized that his nerves had played him a trick in giving that alarmed momentary start and smiled almost tenderly as he remembered how notable and even glorious a warrant those nerves had for their unsettled state. They would be all right after a night's real rest... Continue reading book >>

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