Fisk’s narrow escape doesn’t impress Josie, who is too enamored of Stokes by now to remember what she saw in Fisk. Stokes reminds her: Fisk’s money, which still supports her and, to the extent Stokes takes meals and amusement at Josie’s, increasingly supports him. She calculates how she might rid herself of Fisk while retaining access to his money. She recalls Fisk making investments on her behalf, and how he would congratulate her when they paid off. Till now she has been happy to let her winnings ride and be reinvested; she hasn’t even asked for an accounting. She remembers Fisk saying she is twenty or twenty-five thousand dollars to the good; she and Stokes estimate that such a sum might make her independent of Fisk.

Josie knows how to entice a man; she also knows how to dispense with him. She picks a fight through the notes they exchange when his business takes him away from her. “I never expected so severe a letter from you,” she writes after a mild reproof. “I, of course, feel it was unmerited; but as it is your opinion of me, I accept it with all the sting. You have struck home, and I may say turned the knife around.” She escalates, suddenly and dramatically. “I am anxious to adjust our affairs. I certainly do not wish to annoy you, and that I may be able to do so I write you this last letter.”

The adjustment she refers to involves money. “You have told me very often that you held some twenty or twenty-five thousand dollars of mine in your keeping,” she says. “I do not know if it is so, but that I may be able to shape my affairs permanently for the future, a part of the amount would place me in a position where I would never have to appeal to you for aught.” She asserts her faithfulness, by her own lights. “I have never had one dollar from any one else.” She seeks simple justice. “I do not ask for anything I have not been led to suppose was mine, and do not ask you to settle what is not entirely convenient for you.”

Fisk responds as she intends. He recognizes that she is throwing him over. “The mist has fallen,” he replies, “and you appear in your true light.” She wants him to leave, and so he will. “Have no fears that I will again come near you.” He encloses a ring she has given him—a ring purchased with his money. “Take it back. Its memory is indecent.” He will pay her outstanding bills. “If there are any unsettled business matters that it is proper for me to arrange, send them to me, and make the explanation as brief as possible. I fain would reach the point where not even the slightest necessity will exist for any intercourse between us. I am in hopes this will end it.”

He signs and sends the letter, only to realize he hasn’t rebutted her claim for the money. He writes a second letter. He reminds her of how much he has spent on her, even after she stopped reciprocating his affections. “You will, therefore, excuse me if I decline your modest request for a still further disbursement of $25,000.” He lets her know he is aware of her relationship with Stokes; the gossips have twittered it for months. A gentleman’s pride and a hope that she would change her mind kept him from mentioning it, but now that it is in the open he relates something else the gossips have said: that Stokes has had to pawn personal possessions to cover debts. Fisk does not intend to redeem Stokes’s goods for him. “I very naturally feel that some part of this amount might be used to release from the pound the property of others, in whose welfare the writer of this does not feel unbounded interest.”

His tone remains distant and proper almost till the end of this missive, when his emotions pour out. “You say that you hope I will take the sense of your letter. There is but one sense to be taken out of it, and that is an epitaph to be cut on the stone at the head of the grave in which Miss Helen Josephine Mansfield has buried her pride. Had she been the same proud-spirited girl that she was when she stood side by side with me … she would not have humbled herself to ask a permanency of one whom she had so deeply wronged, nor would she stoop to be indebted to him for a home which would have furnished a haven of rest, pleasure and debauchery, without cost, to those who had crossed his path and robbed him of the friendship he once felt.…

“Now, pin this letter with the other—the front of this is the back of that—and you will have a telescopic view of yourself, and your character, as you appear to me today; and then, I ask you, turn back from pages of your life’s history, counting each page one week of your life, and see how I looked to thee then, and ask your own guilty heart if you had not better let me alone.”

She realizes she has pushed too far. She visits him and warms his heart once more. He writes in astonishment: “Who supposed for an instant that you would ever cross my path again in a spirit of submission? … You have done that you should be sorry, and I the same.… You acted so differently from your nature that I forgive you.… When your better character comes in contact with mine, we are so much alike.… All now looks bright and beautiful, and my better nature trembles at ideas that were expressed last night.”

And yet he has to distrust his heart, for his mind understands he has lost her to another. “I can see you now as you were last night, when you talked of this man”—Stokes. “Do not deceive yourself: you love him.… Leave me alone; for in me you have nothingleft.”

So he says; she thinks differently. She plots with Stokes how they might force a settlement from Fisk. Stokes has read some of the letters Fisk has written her; he and Josie decide Fisk might pay a substantial sum to keep the letters from appearing in the New York papers.

Fisk responds with outrage to the mere suggestion. He will never yield to blackmail, he vows. He backs his promise with action. He spreads word of the attempted extortion, decrying the threatened breach of the inviolability of a gentleman’s correspondence. He launches a lawsuit against Stokes, saying Stokes has tried to swindle him in some of their business dealings. To give bite to the suit, he arranges with a Tammany judge, an associate of Bill Tweed, to have Stokes arrested. He entices one of the servants from Josie’s house into his own employ and pumps the young man for damaging information about Josie and her new paramour.

Josie counters with a lawsuit of her own. She demands the money she says he owes her, adding interest and costs for a total of $50,000. To support her case she sends the newspapers a letter she has recently written him, which the papers happily print. “You and your minions of the Erie Railway Company are endeavoring to circulate that I am attempting to extort money from you by threatened publications of your private letters to me,” she declares. “You know how shamelessly false this is, and yet you encourage and aid it. Had this been my intention, I had a trunk full of your interesting letters, some of which I would blush to say I had received. If you were not wholly devoid of all decency and shame you would do differently—knowing as you do that when your own notes to my order are brought into the Courts, and your letters acknowledging your indebtedness to me, you will appear all the more contemptible and cowardly.… Do you in your sane moments imagine that I will quietly submit to the deliberate and wicked perjury you committed in swearing to these injunction papers? … Unfortunately for yourself, I know you too well and the many crimes you have perpetrated.… You surely recollect the fatal Black Friday. The gold brokers you gave orders to to buy gold, and then repudiated the same, because, as you said, they had no witnesses to the transactions. There was one I recollect in particular—a son of Abraham—who had the courage to swear out an attachment against the Grand Opera House for what was justly due him, and how you and Jay Gould ruined the poor victim by breaking up his business and having him arrested and imprisoned for perjury; and at the same time you premeditated this crime, you well know he held your written order to buy gold, and you were the perjurers.”

She said nothing about Fisk’s iniquities at the time, putting loyalty to him above fidelity to her conscience. But now he has turned on her and is trying to add her to the ranks of his victims, she says. “It is an everlasting shame and disgrace that you should compel one who has grown up with you from nothing to the now great Erie impresario, to go to the Courts for the vindication of her rights which you refuse to adjust for reasons you too well know. It is only four years ago when you revealed to me your scheme of stealing the Erie books. How you fled with them to New Jersey, and I remained there with you nine long weeks. How, when you were buying the Legislature, the many anxious nights I passed with you at the telegraph wire, when you told me it was either a Fisk palace in New-York or a stone palace at Sing Sing, and if the latter, would I take a cottage outside its walls, that my presence would make your rusty irons garlands of roses, and the very stones you would have to hammer and crack appear softer under my influence. You secured your Erie palace, and now use your whole force of Erie officials to slander and injure me.”

She will not be so treated. “I write you this letter to forever contradict all the malicious, wicked abuses you have caused to be circulated.” She says she seeks nothing but fairness and justice; she offers to settle out of court. But she doesn’t expect him to accept her offer. “I only make this proposal to place myself in the proper light and spirit.” If he insists on fighting, she will fight back. She knows he has friends in high places, but she won’t be intimidated. “If you feel your power with the Courts still supreme, and Tammany, though shaken, still able to protect you, pursue your own inclinations; the reward will be yours.”

Josie’s public letter lifts her fight with Fisk to a new level. The correspondence in her possession involves not only Fisk and his failed love affair but the Erie Railroad and those involved in the struggle for its mastery, including high officials of Tammany Hall. Jay Gould has always avoided publicity; now the glare of popular scrutiny follows him everywhere. Bill Tweed, still staggering from the Orange Day riot, appears more vulnerable than ever. All New York takes note.

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