Rearden chuckled. “If you understand that much, we have at least a sensible basis for conversation. Proceed on that. If you don’t have some fancy investment in mind, what did you want to meet me for?”

“In order to become acquainted with you.”

“That’s not an answer. It’s just another way of saying the same thing.”

“Not quite, Mr. Rearden.”

“Unless you mean–in order to gain my confidence?”

“No. I don’t like people who speak or think in terms of gaining anybody’s confidence. If one’s actions are honest, one does not need the predated confidence of others, only their rational perception. The person who craves a moral blank check of that kind, has dishonest intentions, whether he admits it to himself or not.

. . .

“Let us say–by way of gratitude, Mr. Rearden.”

“Gratitude to me?”

“If you will accept it.”

Rearden’s voice hardened. “I haven’t asked for gratitude. I don’t need it.”

“I have not said you needed it. But of all those whom you are saving from the storm tonight, I am the only one who will offer it.”

After a moment’s silence, Rearden asked, his voice low with a sound which was almost a threat, “What are you trying to do?”

“I am calling your attention to the nature of those for whom you are working.”

“It would take a man who’s never done an honest day’s work in his life, to think or say that.” The contempt in Rearden’s voice had a note of relief; he had been disarmed by a doubt of his judgment on the character of his adversary; now he felt certain once more. “You wouldn’t understand it if I told you that the man who works, works for himself, even if he does carry the whole wretched bunch of you along. Now I’ll guess what you’re thinking: go ahead, say that it’s evil, that I’m selfish, conceited, heartless, cruel. I am. I don’t want any part of that tripe about working for others. I’m not.

For the first time, he saw the look of a personal reaction in Francisco’s eyes, the look of something eager and young. “The only thing that’s wrong in what you said,” Francisco answered, “is that you permit anyone to call it evil.” In  Rearden’s pause of incredulous silence, he pointed at the crowd in the drawing room. “Why are you willing to carry them?”

“Because they’re a bunch of miserable children who struggle to remain alive, desperately and very badly, while I–I don’t even notice the burden.”

“Why don’t you tell them that?”

“What?”

“That you’re working for your own sake, not theirs.”

“They know it.”

“Oh yes, they know it. Every single one of them here knows it. But they don’t think you do. And the aim of all their efforts is to keep you from knowing it.”

“Why should I care what they think?”

“Because it’s–a battle in which one must make one’s stand clear.”

“A battle? What battle? I hold the whip hand. I don’t fight the disarmed.”

“Are they? They have a weapon against you. It’s their only weapon, but it’s a terrible one. Ask yourself what it is, some time.”

“Where do you see any evidence of it?”

“In the unforgivable act that you’re as unhappy as you are.”

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