“But don't you suppose that they would do it just the same? And how long do you suppose that I would last, if I refused them?”

“But think of what it means!” cried Montague. “Think of the ruin! You will bring everything about your head.”

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“I know, I know!” cried the General, in a voice of anguish. “Don't think that I haven't realised it—don't think that I haven't fought against it! But I am helpless, utterly helpless.”

He turned upon Montague, and caught his sleeve with a trembling hand. “I never thought that I would live to face such an hour,” he exclaimed. “To despise myself—to be despised by all the world! To be browbeaten, and insulted, and dragged about—”

The old man paused, choking with excess of emotion. “Look at me!” he cried, with sudden vehemence. “Look at me! You think that I am a man, a person of influence in the community, the head of a great institution in which thousands of people have faith. But I am nothing of the kind. I am a puppet—I am a sham—I am a disgrace to myself and to the name I bear!”

And suddenly he clasped his hands over his face, and bowed his head, so that Montague should not see his grief.

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There was a long silence. Montague was dumb with horror. He felt that his mere presence was an outrage.

Finally the General looked up again. He clenched his hand, and mastered himself.

“I have chosen my part,” he said. “I must play it through. What I feel about it makes no difference.”

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Montague again said nothing.

“I have no right to inflict my grief upon you,” the General continued. “I have no right to try to excuse myself. There is no turning back now. I am Dan Waterman's man, and I do his bidding.”

“But how can you have got into such a position?” asked Montague.

“A friend of mine organised the Trust Company of the Republic. He asked me to become president, because I had a name that would be useful to him. I accepted—he was a man I knew I could trust. I managed the business properly, and it prospered; and then, three years ago, the control was bought by other men. That was when the crisis came. I should have resigned. But I had my family to think of; I had friends who were involved; I had interests that I could not leave. And I stayed—and that is all. I found that I had stayed to be a puppet, a figurehead. And now it is too late.”

“But can't you withdraw now?” asked Montague.

“Now?” echoed the General. “Now, in the most critical moment, when all my friends are hanging upon me? There is nothing that my enemies would like better, for they could lay all their sins at my door. They would class me with Stewart and Ryder.”

“I see,” said Montague, in a low voice.

“And now the crisis comes, and I find out who my real master is. I am told to do this, and do that, and I do it. There are no threats; I understand without any. Oh, my God, Mr. Montague, if I should tell you of some of the things that I have seen in this city—of the indignities that I have seen heaped upon men, of the deeds to which I have seen them driven. Men whom you think of as the most honourable in the community—men who have grown grey in the service of the public! It is too brutal, too horrible for words!”

There was a long silence.

“And there is nothing you can do?” asked Montague.