The Golden Likeness

The Golden Likeness

Benjamin Breen, 2013


Goldsworth called from his deathbed, emaciated and weak from the ravages of an illness he now knew could not be defeated. Removing the slim key that hung these many years round his neck, he summoned the strength of will, so diligently steeled over the course of a long and successful career in the unsteady business of a merchant, to rise from his repose, lurch toward his desk, and unlock its bottom drawer.

“Yes, Mr. Goldworth,” came the reply at last, as Copperton appeared at the door.

“Copperton,” Goldsworth repeated. He heaved with the unaccustomed effort of motion, and readied himself to speak with the clarity and force requisite to the moment. “In this drawer you will discover a sheet of simple instructions. You may find them curious, even singular, yet you are to follow them precisely and without delay, so that I may yet gaze upon their issue before hastening to my grave.”

“Sir?” came the hesitant reply.

“You’ve heard me, Copperton, precisely and without delay!”

Copperton shuddered. The thunder in Goldsworth’s voice lingered in the air, and, for a moment, the full weight of the old man’s still-robust frame, supported by one arm planted firmly on the oak desktop, shook with the muted force of long-censored emotion. At the close of an interminable period, Goldsworth brought his arm up to his chest and shuffled back toward the bed. Stepping forward, Copperton gingerly opened the drawer and took hold of the slightly worn sheet within. Three times he read its lone sentence to overcome his unbelief and grasp the full import of its meaning. Finally, turning toward the bed while averting his eyes, he whispered, “It will be done as quickly as circumstance will possibly allow, sir,” and immediately ran out of the room, hurrying into the gloomy, rain-soaked streets on his way to the offices of Sterling & Associates, Goldsworth’s longtime attorneys.

The Sterling building was an imposing granite rampart. It now appeared as dark and lifeless as one would expect at ten o’clock on a damp and chilly September night. Copperton knew, however, that the second-floor window overlooking the back alley would be casting out its pallid yellow light, signaling that old man Sterling was at work in his private study.

“Come in, Copperton,” said Sterling upon opening the back door for the slender chief clerk. The two men trudged up the servants’ steps to the study, where Sterling regained his seat behind an ancient desk while Copperton stood in the chairless space before it. The gas lamp that illuminated their faces cast pointed shadows about the bookshelves that surrounded them. “Now then, what brings you hither at such a late hour,” Sterling began, “and on an evening as dreary as this? Has your employer succumbed at last?”

Copperton faltered as he considered his reply. On his brief journey through the nighttime streets he had thought only of practical matters, but now he began to ponder his own position. He therefore evinced a great perplexity as he leaned forward with his arm outstretched, offering to Sterling the sheet with Goldsworth’s instructions, adding in a quizzical tone, “In body Mr. Goldworth retains substantial vigor, yet in mind I cannot but wonder.”

“Oh?” said Sterling, eyebrows raised; and then, after perusing the blue sheet, “ah, indeed.” A heavy stillness fell on the room as the two men contemplated the magnitude of its lone sentence. At length Copperton broke the silence.

“He instructed me, sir, very distinctly, to proceed ‘precisely and without delay.’ Yet, as I have said, I cannot but wonder if that is the correct course.”

Sterling tilted his head downward so that he might peer at Copperton over his spectacles, fixing the clerk in a gray-eyed gaze of such galvanic force that it belied the old lawyer’s otherwise mole-like appearance. Then, in the measured cadence of long practice, he declaimed, “It is not for us to question Mr. Goldsworth’s motives, my dear Copperton. We must be content to accept these words as the faithful and transparent representations of his most earnest wishes, and to act accordingly.”

Copperton, whose countenance had begun to register a steadily mounting agitation in the flush of his cheek, felt an icy sting in Sterling’s admonition. “But think of what it would mean!” he cried. “The disposal of an empire of assets, the shuttering of a firm employing scores. And for what purpose?” He began to pace forward and back within the study’s small open space, twirling one end of his mustache with a skeletal forefinger. Then, stopping suddenly, he murmured, as if to himself, “vanity, all vanity.” His external person frozen, Copperton’s inner turmoil only increased. Before his mind’s eye all of his striver’s dreams presented themselves in turn. That very morning they had seemed on the cusp of realization, as bona fide and substantial as the Goldsworth name itself; yet now all that had been solid melted into air. He resumed his agitated movement and continued extemporaneously against his better judgment, his voice rising to a high pitch. “I had flattered myself—I tell you now, sir—I had flattered myself that he might leave me, if not his fortune, certainly a sufficient capital to begin fairly upon my own enterprise.” Again Copperton stopped. He raised his hands to his mouth only to fling them back to his sides, raise them again, and gesticulate wildly. “Have I not labored at his side these twenty years, executing his every instruction with cheerful alacrity? Have I not been the tireless switchman of his far-flung network of exchanges? Sir, I submit to you that if a firm’s proprietor is its brains, its head clerk is its very heart, the regulator of its life-giving circulation!”

Sterling, perhaps not entirely unsympathetic, impassively appraised his interlocutor’s state of mind. At the conclusion of the outburst, he shrewdly measured out the silence, again fixing Copperton with his steely gaze. A few seconds only, he knew, but an eternity almost for Copperton. “That is all very well,” he said at last, “yet Mr. Goldsworth has issued instructions that must be obeyed.” Again he paused, calculating the gap in conversation. “It cannot be otherwise, as you are well aware. Now, Copperton, we have much work ahead of us. Return home, sleep as soundly as you may, and tomorrow we shall commence.”

By dint of long experience, Sterling had retained his outward composure, yet he too felt a certain perturbation. Long after Copperton had left he remained at his desk reading legal papers while also wondering at the unexpected turn of events. Thus he could not resist, the night’s work at last completed, the compulsion to examine once more the sheet with Goldswoth’s strange instructions.

The stationery was of an ordinary blue laid paper variety commonly used in formal business correspondence. One side, headed by the printed letterhead of the Goldsworth firm but otherwise blank, was slightly yellowed with age and oddly mottled by a haphazard pattern of small inky dots and streaks, as if it had been colonized by a peculiar mold. On the reverse, beside the old man’s signature, was a single sentence in a hand so angular it practically jutted off the page. It said only this:

“Liquidate every last cent’s worth of my holdings, and render from the equivalent a statue of my likeness in pure gold.”

That very night Goldsworth lay awake in his bed all but motionless, suspended by some indistinct pain that newly emanated from deep within his abdomen. Only his eyes flitted about, searching the empty darkness. Yet though his bodily rest was disturbed, his mind found itself surprisingly at ease. It unwound itself, as it were, in complacent remembrances of his childhood on the old homestead. Perhaps even then he had known that his ambitions could never be contained within the narrow compass of the life of a farmer, yoked to the plow as surely as were the oxen. As a young man he had therefore set out for the city seeking a clerkship, and having obtained one, had worked zealously for his employer’s interests, keeping faith that in this he forwarded his own.

And his faith was soon enough rewarded, for in a few years the senior partners selected him to travel the western circuit as the firm’s agent. Though ever assiduous in his duties, he had been bold in his own speculations, trading this city lot for that on the strength of intelligence little better than rumor and a capital little greater than the currency of his character. Yet fate had smiled upon him once more and he had returned with a substantial profit for his employers and a not insubstantial one for himself. Then, in an endeavor almost reckless, as he now thought, he joined in a venture to China as junior partner and shipboard factor. Two years he spent traversing the world’s oceans, plotting a series of small trading runs for even smaller profits in order to gather the silver that, almost without substitute, would be accepted in barter by the Canton syndicate. At long last he returned with his small fortune much augmented, and making two more trips to the Far East, accumulated enough to embark on the career of an independent merchant. Now, many years later, it was he who stood at the head of a venerable commercial house, dispatching his own agents round to distant foreign ports and remote western settlements.

Having thus come full circle in his reminiscences, Goldsworth allowed his eyes to cease their aimless wandering and stare fixedly into the darkness. The final accounting was close at hand and, certainly, he had come out ahead. He pictured his golden likeness several times his actual stature, a colossus of commerce towering above one of the city’s public squares or some such place. He reached for the image, his eyeballs bulging out of their sockets. He longed to behold it realized and to grasp at last, in one compact embodiment, a lifetime of mercantile toil. For was it not true that every minute of labor expended, every little bit of experience gained, had contributed its mite to his fortune?

And yet what did his endeavors amount to, these countless exchanges of disparate commodities, this incessant movement—troublesome and vexing—of every conceivable matter this way and that? His dreams were a riotous jumble of strange men and miscellaneous cargoes, of overlong columns of sums that ran through infinite ledgers, journals, daybooks and diaries, the bottom line ever on the next page. What it all came to, he could not figure. The more he tried to order the mass of his transactions, the more they resolved into naught but a Gordian tangle, ponderous and impenetrable.

Like a theatrical magician, Goldsworth had stood upon the world’s stage, converting one object into another. A hogshead of tobacco rematerialized as a pair of silken slippers; a consignment of Indian opium, in a puff of smoke, turned to painted Chinese porcelain. And like the magician he had taken his rightful fee, though himself but partly comprehending the inner mystery of the event. Over the years portions of his growing aggregate had been prudently converted into bank notes and stocks; titles, deeds and mortgage contracts; bonds and debentures of every description. Yet this mammoth pile of scribbling only represented the value of his conjuring. It was not, in and of itself, equivalent to it, for the papers were merely claims—legally enforceable, to be sure, but, in such a state, little more than a mess of individual wills. Now his agents would effect a final magic act, converting the symbols of his labors into the substance of gold, that divine spark which an all-knowing Providence, by instilling in man an innate yearning for its glimmer, had made the eternal bedrock of value and a perpetual unit of account. It seemed appropriate to form this mass into his own likeness, for, after all, it amounted to a complete summation of his life’s efforts. Like the stamp on a minted coin, its surface would plainly certify its true content.

Thus satisfied in his way, Goldsworth fell at last into slumber, unaware of the frantic despondency which at that very moment gripped the New York offices of Jay Cooke & Company. In only a few hours it would gush forth in torrents of frothy financial frenzy, sweeping all before it. Panic had breached the levy.

And yet time remained before all the world would learn of it. The next day, Sterling awoke and dressed himself in the usual manner. The weather, he noted when he stepped out his door on the way to the club where he daily took his breakfast and morning newspaper, continued unseasonably dreadful. Despite the drizzle, a crowd of tradesmen had gathered in the central quadrangle to hear a Greenbacker speak on the currency question. Nearby a noble-looking farmer and his sons, their cart loaded for market, paused to receive the interesting discourse, which Sterling, too, could not help overhearing on his way across the open space.

“Good citizens of the Republic,” the speaker began, “are you not the bone and sinew of this great democracy?” A few hurrahs from the crowd greeted the opening. “Now, good citizens, you are told that gold is the eternal and immutable standard of value. But I stand before you and ask, was it gold that stained the fields of Gettysburg a profoundly somber crimson? Was it gold that breached the rebel lines at Shiloh? Was it gold that smashed the iron shackles of the bondsman, only to beat those very shackles into ploughshares, for the greater glory of productive labor?” The crowd responded with shouts of “No!” and “Never!” and “’Twas us!”

The Greenbacker raised his arms to signal for quiet. “No, indeed,” he resumed more softly, “for it was the good citizens of this illustrious Union, associated together in common and united effort, who did all these things. Reflect upon it for a moment, and you shall instantly comprehend that it is to the General Government that we look to guarantee the value of our currency, and hence the efforts of our labors. It is the General Government that charters banks and regulates their note issues. It is the General Government that upholds the laws without which commerce could not continue for a single day. And yet we hear our esteemed capitalists and merchant princes solemnly declare that only gold, a substance of trifling intrinsic worth, can form the basis of a currency…”

A chorus of hurrahs registered the crowd’s approval of these remarks. Sterling, however, perceived the scene with agitation. The more he heard, in fact, the more he sensed a brewing indigestion which, by a sort of reflex capillary action, seemed to seep into his every facial muscle, souring his countenance. Indeed, he felt great relief when the Greenbacker’s booming voice had finally grown faint with distance. To think of it: a man of education and evident oratorical skill indulging in such insouciant demagoguery. Undoubtedly he was up to his ears in debt and hoped to clear his way out by means of a political campaign that could only eventuate in ruinous inflation. “We, the producers…” he heard the Greenbacker continue as he turned the corner.

Arrived at the club and ensconced in a capacious arm chair by the fire in the sumptuously appointed great hall, Sterling turned to another member similarly situated and, after summarizing the Greenbacker’s address, nearly spit out his conclusion: “Nonsense and humbuggery of the most insidious sort. Sir, I tell you with all due modesty that I contributed my share to the cause of the Union by a substantial investment in 5-20s. And I was prepared to do more, mind you, should the war effort have required it. But do you suppose that now, a near decade past General Sherman’s raising of Georgia, which practically put an end to our great national feud, I should hazard no small part of my fortune on so flimsy a foundation as the star-struck theories of a few government officials? And elected—or, worse, installed in their offices to do the biddings of political patrons so elected—by a rabble as untutored in the ways of business as it is volatile in its passions? I ask you, sir, does not the mere asking of the question answer it?” Sterling peered over his spectacles, glowering significantly at his silent interlocutor, from whose perspective his eyes appeared to achieve a resplendent silvery finish. He continued, “Specie—and I am not to be understood as including, under that head, that lesser metal so unremittingly foisted upon us by our western mining interests—specie is the one sound basis of a currency, and the only true fundament of value.”

The utterance of this profound truth within the refined and tasteful surroundings of the great hall left Sterling comforted. Nor was his ease very much disturbed when he turned to the morning paper and read the news of Cooke’s collapse. His own rather timid investments, he was certain, would likely remain secure. In any case, there was sure to be much work now as creditors and debtors alike sorted out their affairs. Thus reassured, Sterling reflected on his choice to pursue a profession in the law. Not for him the anxieties of commerce, wherein even great men might awake to find their accumulated fortunes shrunk to naught by an imperious happenstance. The law, on the other hand, was a most dependable commodity, for its terms of trade were grounded in the constancy of truth.

The Golden Likeness

Benjamin Breen, 2013

At noon Copperton and Sterling sat in the latter’s office, exchanging the latest intelligences and attempting to set their course. Business had come to a halt, and many of Goldsworth’s assets, beside his now-worthless stock certificates indicating an ownership share in Cooke’s Northern Pacific railroad scheme, were plunging deeper into the abyss by the hour.

“The traders are in a positive fright,” said Copperton. “’Tis madness to dispose of Mr. Goldsworth’s affairs before confidence is restored. They shall return ten cents on the dollar, if that. We must remain calm until the storm spends itself. Then shall be the time to fulfill Mr. Goldsworth’s instructions as he would wish to see them fulfilled.”

Sterling eyed Copperton cannily as he mulled the latter’s words, readily guessing that their ulterior intent was delay for the purpose of changing the old man’s mind. “You know very well that your employer may not live another fortnight, nay, a week, let alone the years until a normal state of affairs obtains once more. We have no choice but to do as best we can, and we must move quickly to salvage what we may before all is engulfed by the gale.”

To this Copperton could make no reply. That night, however, he entered Goldsworth’s chamber and, lighting the lamp by the bed, explained in great detail the dark pall cast by the crisis, concluding with his views as to the likely course of events, whereby he attempted to hold out the promise of a balmy sunrise on some indefinite horizon. He hoped such a prospect might induce his employer to rescind, or at least suspend, the liquidation order. Yet, when he concluded, he perceived that the old man had comprehended not a word of it, for he appeared to be within a kind of trance.

“Is that you, Copperton?” he asked, “What of the gold? The work, is it completed at last?” Bewildered, Copperton stammered a wordless response, yet Goldsworth now seemed not to notice his presence at all. Suddenly the old man’s body shot up as if thrust forward by an invisible power. His arms, extended to their utmost to support the upturned torso, trembled like struts under some appalling strain. Sweat gilded his neck. Only now, as his face entered the lamplight, did Copperton notice Goldsworth’s eyes. Their pupils were dilated to the widest extent, as if struggling to contain an expansive phantasmagoria. The scene filled Copperton with terror. He shrank from the unfathomable vision, fleeing through the darkened house even as the old man’s face remained illuminated by the burning lamp which he had forsaken near the doorway.

There was nothing for Copperton to do but assist Sterling in disposing of Goldsworth’s investments. As he had feared, most yielded a fraction of their worth from only days earlier. This fact formed the constant subject of Sterling’s remarks. Indeed, though his tone remained ever somber, Sterling recalled the extraordinary losses so habitually that Copperton nearly suspected him of harboring a secret pleasure, even glee, in witnessing the disaster. As for Copperton himself, the procedure left him evidently unnerved, for he conducted the whole affair with a peculiar correctness that suggested a man struggling to triumph over his own passions. Indeed, it seemed at all times as if his head and feet were being pulled in opposite directions, so that his lean, upright body sustained the exquisite tension of a bowstring.

In this manner Copperton managed the fire sale of assets until almost all had been disposed of. It now fell upon him to engage the services of a sculptor. He thus found himself one afternoon in the studio of an artist by the name of Clayfield, well-known for his monumental bronzes of the nation’s revolutionary heroes.

“Tell me, Mr. Copperton,” said Clayfield after the outlines of the work had been discussed, his posture, though framed by a large, stout figure, displaying a kind of affable complacency, “is Mr. Goldsworth a Spiritualist?”

“I should think not,” said Copperton.

“Ah, well, never mind then. I had thought there was something rather occult in his will, as if he intended that his soul should find its everlasting home in my work. Rather vain, I suppose. You see I am curious as to the question of why.”

Copperton remained stone-faced. “I haven’t an inkling as to Mr. Goldsworth’s motives,” he said with a resentment barely disguised, “nor do I wish to relieve my ignorance in this respect.”

“Surely you must wonder!”

“I do not.”

“You possess an admirable restraint, Mr. Copperton. I do not believe that I shall so confine my speculations. Indeed, just now it seems to me that it must signify some desperate attempt to halt that fundamental law of nature, the perpetual circulation of all things. Now sir, I am a sculptor, but do not mistake my work for the arrest of action. No, Mr. Copperton, it is quite the opposite. My ambition is to represent that greatness which is always progressive. I aim to move the spectator, sir! For all is movement, or should be. Why, even the atoms of which we are composed never cease their cycle. I breathe in oxygen, removing a quantity from the atmosphere. My body consumes said quantity in the process of its action. At the same time I exhale a measure of nitrogen, adding a like amount to the atmosphere. As if by design, this precise extent is then taken up by a plant, which releases that quantity of oxygen which I had removed. Balance is restored, nothing is lost, yet everything is ever in motion.”

“I regret to inform you,” replied Copperon with cool formality, “that for some years past scientifical men of the highest eminence have rendered your beautiful theory perfectly quaint. All might remain in motion for the time being, yet no stable balance obtains. It is entropy, sir, and the whole is consigned to an ultimate oblivion.”

“Is that so?” replied Clayfield indifferently, losing not a whit of his cheer. “I am no profound philosopher of science—that I readily admit—yet I can tell you that when I was a boy, the farmers could not afford to send their grains to market, so they converted them to hogs and drove them east where, eaten as pork by working men, they were turned to muscle and thence consumed as labor in the production of all manner of wonderful thing, which returning at last to our humble home delighted and amazed my young mind. Now, can you tell me that there is not a natural and continuous exchange of ideas, objects and feelings, an astonishing movement to all of life?”

Copperton’s annoyance mounted. What reason had he to indulge such idle pomposity? Abruptly, then, he changed the topic of discussion. “Yes, well, that is all very fine, Mr. Clayfield, but perhaps we can return to the business at hand. The question is, can you do the work?”

“I believe so,” replied Clayfield, showing not a trace of affronted feeling, for his fortress of good spirits, Gibraltar-like, was unassailable. “I must advise you, however, that bronze would form a superior material. It too, of course, will submit to the law of natural disintegration in time. Yet, as the relics of the ancient world well attest, it is the most durable substance known for the purpose, whereas gold is too soft, and is subject to the disfiguring accumulation of innumerable dents and cuts.”

Copperton frowned, vexed that the duty he so unwillingly obeyed should throw up added obstacles. “Mr. Clayfield, it is absolutely of the essence that the statue be of gold, and pure gold at that. Might it be practicable to protect it somehow, perhaps within an enclosure of some sort?”

“A very apt suggestion,” replied Clayfield jovially. He paused to consider the plan from a practical point of view. “Ah, I know precisely the thing called for—a kind of glass and steel gazebo, wouldn’t you say? Yes, it should not present much difficulty.”

“Very well,” said Copperton curtly, still more vexed at the ease with which the solution had been found, for his initial irritation had been accompanied by a secret burst of hope, distantly sensed and consciously unacknowledged, that perhaps here was the end of the matter, a natural mandate against Goldsworth’s madness. In spite of his disappointment, or perversely because of it, Copperton pressed on in his pursuit of the details so crucial to any successful business. “You understand, also,” he said to Clayfield, “that Mr. Goldsworth is in no condition to pose.”

“He is well enough, I suppose, to stand for a brief session of photography?”

“I imagine so.”

“Then all is solved. I shall send a man whom I know to work most efficiently.”

“And you will be able, from a mere photograph, to create a precise likeness?”

“Mr. Copperton, I assure you that one good image of the face is all that is truly required.”

Sterling drew up the contract that very day. It stipulated that Clayfield would receive a certain quantity of gold, the exact amount yet to be determined, retaining as his fee a given percentage, which figure was specified as a range, within a narrow scope, to account for the somewhat indeterminate amount that would remain in the mold’s sprueing system after casting. The large majority of the substance, of course, would form Goldsworth’s likeness.

While Clayfield considered the technical modifications incident upon casting with gold rather than bronze, Copperton and Sterling busied themselves with the final arrangements. They contracted with the municipal authorities to have Goldsworth’s figure placed permanently upon a marble pedestal at the northeast corner of the central quadrangle, enclosed within a dome-like structure of steel and glass styled after the London Crystal Palace. Next they disposed of his last remaining assets, including the sale of his private estate, the deed to be transferred upon death. Finally, leaving aside what they calculated to be the expenses for their own services and several others, such as the ultimate interment of the body, they converted the last of the proceeds into pure gold. Here, again, Goldsworth’s stockpile was diminished, for the effect of the financial chaos, annexed to the existing influence of an inconvertible currency, was to induce a high premium for the precious metal. At last, however, their work was almost done.

The gold itself arrived at Clayfield’s ample studios on a clear Sunday morning in November. In spite of its smallness relative to what it might have been in happier times, it still comprised what to any ordinary individual would have been a fantastic fortune. Two porters, two Pinkerton agents, an assayer, and a notary public joined Copperton and Sterling as they accompanied its progress from the bank vaults to the artist’s studio. After Clayfield’s guaranteed fee had been duly measured out and certified, a giant, shapeless heap of gold remained. It stood ponderously upon the rough wooden floor at the center of the studio, reflecting the sunlight that struck it directly through the clearstory windows. The entire party gaped in amazement. None had ever seen so much brilliance, and each thought only of its marvelous potentialities. The image of the formless mass thus splintered, as if by a prism, becoming at once and simultaneously nine separate visions as various and distinct as were the nine faces that observed it so intently. The extraordinary scene, however, lasted but a minute, for the men swiftly recovered themselves and, taking hold of their canes and stealing their final glances, left Clayfield alone with the golden pile.

The final work did not take long, for Clayfield was a skillful and experienced sculptor who had, moreover, invested considerably in a variety of useful labor-saving devices. Thus, well within the period stipulated in the contract, Copperton stood at the bed of his soon-to-be-erstwhile employer, relaying the news that the likeness was finally complete. Instantly, a jolt of electricity seemed to infuse the wan old man with the vim and vigor of younger days. The next morning, no longer the muttering old fool he had at times appeared in recent weeks, Goldsworth strode unaided to the carriage that waited to take him to Clayfield’s studios.

Upon entering the spacious interior that housed his likeness, Goldsworth demanded to be left alone. The likeness stood in the center of the room, hidden by a shroud of vermillion crushed velvet. The overcast day provided little light, creating the illusion of a larger object, yet as he approached it, Goldsworth noticed its rather ordinary dimensions. Now standing before the cloaked figure, he leaned on his cane so that he might reach more easily the nearest protruding corner of the shroud. He tugged on it sharply, causing it to slide off in a single smooth motion. The golden double stood revealed. Immediately Goldsworth noted the uncanny resemblance between it and himself. Slowly he circled it, carefully comparing the various parts of the two bodies. He held his left arm next to its opposite and noted their identity, stood face to face with his likeness so that the brims of their hats appeared to describe a single plane. Even the canes, each topped by the small carved skull of a memento mori, were identical in form and the angle of grip. Indeed, the golden figure’s proportions matched those of the original with perfect precision. Only the eyes betrayed a discernible difference, for there Clayfield had carved small pits which, forming shadowed recesses, gave the viewer standing at a distance the illusion of dark pupils. Upon close inspection, however, they produced a bizarre effect, as if the figure were staring into itself.

Goldsworth felt confounded. In view of the immense wealth he had possessed before the financial panic, he had imagined his likeness much larger. Yet his disappointment in this regard was not of so great a significance as one might suppose. For it was not the smallness that truly disturbed him so much as the exactitude with which the statue seemed to replicate the still living body standing before it. He had believed, all this time, that the figure would manifest his life in full, condensing its innumerable transpirings within a single compact sphere. His multiform accomplishments, which memory strained so mightily to array in their correct relations, would thus be presented in a synoptic view and instantly grasped. And yet, such precision seemed to mock his longings for a comprehensive summation, as if to say that all his pains had culminated in nothing more than what he already was. The remarkable symmetry of it struck him as simply horrible.

A preternatural strangeness took hold of the room as Goldsworth, standing almost motionless, stared uncomprehendingly at his duplicate. For several minutes his face registered no expression, the calculating merchant’s mind behind it cast irrevocably adrift upon a dark and foreboding sea of bewilderment. Suddenly, however, a momentary sunburst sent a ray of light through the clearstory window. For a fleeting instant it lodged in the concave pit of the statue’s right eye, as if to gather and focus the vast compass of Goldsworth’s mercantile existence into a single point, wherefrom it emerged as a concentrated beam, passing directly into the fleshy eyeball opposite and instantaneously searing the retina within. Goldsworth grasped at his face and fell to one knee, a primal shriek of pain escaping his lungs and shattering the silent reverie into which the room itself had seemingly fallen. Copperton, Sterling and Clayfield rushed into the room to investigate the piercing sound. Goldsworth simply stood and, not pausing to speak a word to any of them, strode into the street where he ordered his driver to take him directly home.

Along the city’s avenues the diverse multitudes went about their daily bustles. Colorful ladies’ dresses and building-side signs twenty feet tall, the huckstering shouts of vendors and the shrill cries of a pint-sized paper boy, the mingled smells of fresh strawberries, horse dung and soot—all jostled together in a kaleidoscope of the senses. Goldsworth perceived this urban scene with detached fury, cupping one hand over his burning left eye while he gripped with the other the ivory skull at the head of his cane. He now felt himself ready, even eager, to be done with this world of small and inscrutable things. By the time the carriage arrived at its destination, it bore only his corpse.

The likeness, meanwhile, was dutifully placed on the marble pedestal prepared for it at the northeastern corner of the central quadrangle. The city council added a plain brass plaque that read, simply, “In memoriam to the merchant Goldsworth of this city.” Encased in its bell-jar mausoleum of steel and glass, the golden statue appeared at once both a profound idol and an ornamental absurdity. For several days passers-by leaned lazily on the wrought iron railing that surrounded the structure, gawking at the brilliant image within. It did not take long, however, for thieves to accomplish the despoliation that, as history records with gloomy regularity, befalls all burial tombs richly endowed with treasure. What occurred next cannot but remain speculation. Yet it is almost certain that the gold, in one form or another, eventually reentered the general circulation of goods. It is said, at least, that within a few weeks of the theft a well-known gold trader made an unusually large sale of the commodity on the New York exchange.