A Poor Wise Man (Chapter 2)

Previous Chapter
Next Chapter

Chapter 2

Shortly after the Civil War Anthony Cardew had left Pittsburgh and spent a year in finding a location for the investment of his small capital. That was in the very beginning of the epoch of steel. The iron business had already laid the foundations of its future greatness, but steel was still in its infancy.

Anthony's father had been an iron-master in a small way, with a monthly pay-roll of a few hundred dollars, and an abiding faith in the future of iron. But he had never dreamed of steel. But "sixty-five" saw the first steel rail rolled in America, and Anthony Cardew began to dream. He went to Chicago first, and from there to Michigan, to see the first successful Bessemer converter. When he started east again he knew what he was to make his life work.

He was very young and his capital was small. But he had an abiding faith in the new industry. Not that he dreamed then of floating steel battleships. But he did foresee steel in new and various uses. Later on he was experimenting with steel cable at the very time Roebling made it a commercial possibility, and with it the modern suspension bridge and the elevator. He never quite forgave Roebling. That failure of his, the difference only of a month or so, was one of the few disappointments of his prosperous, self-centered, orderly life. That, and Howard's marriage. And, at the height of his prosperity, the realization that Howard's middle-class wife would never bear a son.

The city he chose was a small city then, yet it already showed signs of approaching greatness. On the east side, across the river, he built his first plant, a small one, with the blast heated by passing through cast iron pipes, with the furnaceman testing the temperature with strips of lead and zinc, and the skip hoist a patient mule.

He had ore within easy hauling distance, and he had fuel, and he had, as time went on, a rapidly increasing market. Labor was cheap and plentiful, too, and being American-born, was willing and intelligent. Perhaps Anthony Cardew's sins of later years were due to a vast impatience that the labor of the early seventies was no longer to be had.

The Cardew fortune began in the seventies. Up to that time there was a struggle, but in the seventies Anthony did two things. He went to England to see the furnaces there, and brought home a wife, a timid, tall Englishwoman of irreproachable birth, who remained always an alien in the crude, busy new city. And he built himself a house, a brick house in lower East Avenue, a house rather like his tall, quiet wife, and run on English lines. He soon became the leading citizen. He was one of the committee to welcome the Prince of Wales to the city, and from the very beginning he took his place in the social life.

He found it very raw at times, crude and new. He himself lived with dignity and elegant simplicity. He gave now and then lengthy, ponderous dinners, making out the lists himself, and handing them over to his timid English wife in much the manner in which he gave the wine list and the key to the wine cellar to the butler. And, at the head of his table, he let other men talk and listened. They talked, those industrial pioneers, especially after the women had gone. They saw the city the center of great business and great railroads. They talked of its coal, its river, and the great oil fields not far away which were then in their infancy. All of them dreamed a dream, saw a vision. But not all of them lived to see their dream come true.

Old Anthony lived to see it.

In the late eighties, his wife having been by that time decorously interred in one of the first great mausoleums west of the mountains, Anthony Cardew found himself already wealthy. He owned oil wells and coal mines. His mines supplied his coke ovens with coal, and his own river boats, as well as railroads in which he was a director, carried his steel.

He labored ably and well, and not for wealth alone. He was one of a group of big-visioned men who saw that a nation was only as great as its industries. It was only in his later years that he loved power for the sake of power, and when, having outlived his generation, he had developed a rigidity of mind that made him view the forced compromises of the new regime as pusillanimous.

He considered his son Howard's quiet strength weakness. "You have no stamina," he would say. "You have no moral fiber. For God's sake, make a stand, you fellows, and stick to it."

He had not mellowed with age. He viewed with endless bitterness the passing of his own day and generation, and the rise to power of younger men; with their "shilly-shallying," he would say. He was an aristocrat, an autocrat, and a survival. He tied Howard's hands in the management of the now vast mills, and then blamed him for the results.

But he had been a great man.

He had had two children, a boy and a girl. The girl had been the tragedy of his middle years, and Howard had been his hope.

On the heights outside the city and overlooking the river he owned a farm, and now and then, on Sunday afternoons in the eighties, he drove out there, with Howard sitting beside him, a rangy boy in his teens, in the victoria which Anthony considered the proper vehicle for Sunday afternoons. The farmhouse was in a hollow, but always on those excursions Anthony, fastidiously dressed, picking his way half-irritably through briars and cornfields, would go to the edge of the cliffs and stand there, looking down. Below was the muddy river, sluggish always, but a thing of terror in spring freshets. And across was the east side, already a sordid place, its steel mills belching black smoke that killed the green of the hillsides, its furnaces dwarfed by distance and height, its rows of unpainted wooden structures which housed the mill laborers.

Howard would go with him, but Howard dreamed no dreams. He was a sturdy, dependable, unimaginative boy, watching the squirrels or flinging stones over the palisades. Life for Howard was already a thing determined. He would go to college, and then he would come back and go into the mill offices. In time, he would take his father's place. He meant to do it well and honestly. He had but to follow. Anthony had broken the trail, only by that time it was no longer a trail, but a broad and easy way.

Only once or twice did Anthony Cardew give voice to his dreams. Once he said: "I'll build a house out here some of these days. Good location. Growth of the city is bound to be in this direction."

What he did not say was that to be there, on that hill, overlooking his activities, his very own, the things he had builded with such labor, gave him a sense of power. "This below," he felt, with more of pride than arrogance, "this is mine. I have done it. I, Anthony Cardew."

He felt, looking down, the pride of an artist in his picture, of a sculptor who, secure from curious eyes, draws the sheet from the still moist clay of his modeling, and now from this angle, now from that, studies, criticizes, and exults.

But Anthony Cardew never built his house on the cliff. Time was to come when great houses stood there, like vast forts, overlooking, almost menacing, the valley beneath. For, until the nineties, although the city distended in all directions, huge, ugly, powerful, infinitely rich, and while in the direction of Anthony's farm the growth was real and rapid, it was the plain people who lined its rapidly extending avenues with their two-story brick houses; little homes of infinite tenderness and quiet, along tree-lined streets, where the children played on the cobble-stones, and at night the horse cars, and later the cable system, brought home tired clerks and storekeepers to small havens, already growing dingy from the smoke of the distant mills.

Anthony Cardew did not like the plain people. Yet in the end, it was the plain people, those who neither labored with their hands nor lived by the labor of others--it was the plain people who vanquished him. Vanquished him and tried to protect him. But could not. A smallish man, hard and wiry, he neither saved himself nor saved others. He had one fetish, power. And one pride, his line. The Cardews were iron masters. Howard would be an iron master, and Howard's son.

But Howard never had a son.

Previous Chapter
Next Chapter

Rate This Book

Current Rating: 2.3/5 (222 votes cast)

Review This Book or Post a Comment