"What do you think now of the men who quit and vanished?" he asked.
She shrugged, with a faint smile of helpless sadness, and sat down on the ground beside him. "You know," she said, "I used to think that there was some destroyer who came after them and made them quit. But I guess there wasn't. There have been times, this past month, when I've almost wished he would come for me, too. But nobody came."
"No. I used to think that he gave them some inconceivable reason to make them betray everything they loved. But that wasn't necessary. I know how they felt. I can't blame them any longer. What I don't know is how they learned to exist afterward -- if any of them still exist."
"Do you feel that you've betrayed Taggart Transcontinental?"
"No. I...I feel that I would have betrayed it by remaining at work."
"You would have."
"If I had agreed to serve the looters, it's...it's Nat Taggart that I would have delivered to them. I couldn't. I couldn't let his achievement, and mine, end up with the looters as our final goal."
"No, you couldn't. Do you call this indifference? Do you think that you love the railroad less than you did a month ago?"
"I think that I would give my life for just one more year on the railroad... But I can't go back to it."
"Then you know what they felt, all the men who quit, and what it was that they loved when they gave up."
"Francisco," she asked, not looking at him, her head bent, "why did you ask me whether I could have given it up twelve years ago?"
"Don't you know what night I am thinking of, just as you are?"
"Yes..." she whispered.
"That was the night I gave up d'Anconia Copper."
"But you didn't give it up," she said. "You didn't quit. You're still the President of d'Anconia Copper, only it means nothing to you now."
"It means as much to me now as it did that night."
"Then how can you let it go to pieces?"
"Dagny, you're more fortunate than I. Taggart Transcontinental is a delicate piece of precision machinery. It will not last long without you. It cannot be run by slave labor. They will mercifully destroy it for you and you won't have to see it serving the looters. But copper-mining is a simpler job. D'Anconia Copper could have lasted for generations of looters and slaves. Crudely, miserably, ineptly -- but it could have lasted and helped them to last. I had to destroy it myself."
"You -- what?"
"I am destroying d'Anconia Copper, consicously, deliberately, by plan and by my own hand. I have to plan it as carefully and work as hard as if I were producing a fortune -- in order to not let them notice it and stop me, in order not to let them seize the mines until it is too late. All the effort and energy I had hoped to spend on d'Anconia Copper, I'm spending then, only...only it's not to make it grow. I shall destroy every last bit of it and every last penny of my fortune and every ounce of copper that could feed the looters. I shall not leave it as I found it -- I shall leave it as Sebastian d'Anconia found it -- then let them try to exist without him or me!"
"Francisco!" she screamed. "How could you make yourself do it?"
"By the grace of the same love as yours," he answered quietly, "my love for d'Anconia Copper, for the spirit of which it was the shape. Was -- and, some day, will be again."
"Francisco...of all the guesses I tried to make about you...I never thought of it...I never thought that you were one of those men who had quit..."
"I was one of the first of them."
"I thought that they always vanished..."
"Well, hadn't I? Wasn't it the worst of what I did to you -- that I left you looking at a cheap playboy who was not the Francisco d'Anconia you had known?"
"Yes..." she whispered, "only the worst was that I couldn't believe it...I never did... It was Francisco d'Anconia that I kept seeing every time I saw you..."
"I know. And I know what it did to you. I tried to help you understand, but it was too soon to tell you. Dagny, if I had told you -- that night or the day when you came to damn me for the San Sebastian Mines -- that I was not an aimless loafer, that I was out to speed up the destruction of everything w had held sacred together, the destruction of d'Anconia Copper, of Taggart Transcontinental, of Wyatt Oil, of Rearden Steel -- would you have found it easier to take?"
"Harder," she whispered. "I'm not sure I can take it, even now. Neither your kind of renunciation nor my own... But, Francisco" -- she threw her head back suddenly to look up at him -- "if this was your secret, then of all the hell you had to take, I was --"
"Oh yes, my darling, yes, you were the worst of it!" ... "If it's any kind of atonement, which it isn't...whatever I made you suffer, that's how I paid for it...by knowing what I was doing to you and having to do it...and waiting, waiting to... But it's over." ... "Dagny, don't think of that. I won't claim any suffering of mine as my excuse. Whatever my reason, I knew what I was doing and I've hurt you terribly. I'll need years to make up for it. Forget what --" ... "-- what I haven't said. Of all the things I have to tell you, that is the one I'll say last." ... "You've borne too much, and there's a great deal that you have to learn to understand in order to lose every scar of the torture you never should have had to bear. All that matters now is that you're free to recover. We're free, both of us, we're free of the looters, we're out of their reach."
She said, her voice quietly desolate, "That's what I came here for -- to try to understand. But I can't. It seems monstrously wrong to surrender the world to the looters, and monstrously wrong to live under their rule. I can neither give up nor go back. I can neither exist without work nor work as a serf. I had always thought that any sort of battle was proper, anything, except renunciation. I'm not sure we're right to quit, you and I, when we should have fought them. But there is no way to fight. It's surrender, if we leave -- and surrender, if we remain. I don't know what is right any longer."
"Check your premises, Dagny. Contradictions don't exist."
"But I can't find any answer. I can't condemn you for what you're doing, yet it's horror that I feel -- admiration and horror, at the same time. You, the heir of the d'Anconias, who could have surpassed all his ancestors of the miraculous hand that produced, you're turning your matchless ability to the job of destruction. And I -- I'm playing with cobblestones and shingling a roof, while a transcontinental railroad system is collapsing in the hands of congenital ward healers. Yet you and I were the kind who determine the fate of the world. If this is what we let it come to, then it must have been our own guilt. But I can't see the nature of our error."
"Yes, Dagny, it was our own guilt."
"Because we didn't work hard enough?"
"Because we worked too hard -- and charged too little."
"What do you mean?"
"We never demanded the one payment that the world owed us -- and we let our best reward go to the worst of men. The error was made centuries ago, it was made by Sebastian d'Anconia, by Nat Taggart, by every man who fed the world and received no thanks in return. You don't know what is right any longer? Dagny, this is not a battle over material goods. It's a moral crisis, the greatest the world has ever faced and the last. Our age is the climax of centuries of evil. We must put an end to it, once and for all, or perish -- we, the men of the mind. It was our own guilt. We produced the wealth of the world -- but we let our enemies write its moral code."
"But we never accepted their code. We lived by our own standards."
"Yes -- and paid ransoms for it! Ransoms in matter and in spirit -- in money, which our enemies received, but did not deserve, and in honor, which we deserved, but did not receive. That was our guilt -- that we were willing to pay. We kept mankind alive, yet we allowed men to despise us and to worship our destroyers. We allowed them to worship incompetence and brutality, the recipients and the dispensers of the unearned. By accepting punishment, not for any sins, but for our virtues, we betrayed our code and made theirs possible. Dagny, theirs is the morality of the kidnappers. They use your love of virtue as a hostage. They know that you'll bear anything in order to work and produce, because you know that achievement is man's highest moral purpose, that he can't exist without it, and your love of virtue is your love of life. They count on you to assume any burden. They count on you to feel that no effort is too great in the service of your love. Dagny, your enemies are destroying you by means of your own power. Your generosity and your endurance are their only tools. Your unrequited rectitude is the only hold they have upon you. They know it. You don't. The day when you'll discover it is the only thing they dread. You must learn to understand them. You won't be free of them, until you do. But when you do, you'll reach such a stage of rightful anger that you'll blast every rail of Taggart Transcontinental, rather than let it serve them!"
"But to leave it to them!" she moaned. "To abandon it... To abandon Taggart Transcontinental...when it's...it's almost like a living person..."
"It was. It isn't any longer. Leave it to them. It won't do them any good. Let it go. We don't need it. We can rebuild it. They can't. We'll survive without it. They won't."
"But we, brought down to renouncing and giving up!"
"Dagny, we who've been called 'materialists' by the killers of the human spirit, we're the only ones who know how little value or meaning there is in material objects as such, because we're the ones who create their value and meaning. We can afford to give them up, for a short while, in order to redeem something much more precious. We are the soul, of which railroads, copper mines, steel mills and oil wells are the body -- and they are living entities that beat day and night, like our hearts, in the sacred function of supporting human life, but only so long as they remain our body, only so long as they remain the expression, the reward and the property of achievement. Without us, they are corpses and their sole product is poison, not wealth or food, the poison of disintegration that turns men into hordes of scavengers. Dagny, learn to understand the nature of your own power and you'll understand the paradox you now see around you. You do not have to depend on any material possessions, they depend on you, you create them, you own the one and only tool of production. Wherever you are, you will always be able to produce. But the looters -- by their own stated theory -- are in desperate, permanent, congenital need and at the blind mercy of matter. Why don't you take them at their word? They need railroads, factories, mines, motors, which they cannot make or run. Of what use will your railroad be to them without you? Who held it together? Who kept it alive? Who saved it, time and time again? Was it your brother James? Who fed him? Who fed the looters? Who produced their weapons? Who gave them the means to enslave you? The impossible spectacle of shabby little incompetents holding control over the products of genius -- who made it possible? Who supported your enemies, who forged your chains, who destroyed your achievement?"
"You're beginning to see, aren't you? Dagny! Leave them the carcass of that railroad, leave them all the rusted rails and rotted ties and gutted engines -- but don't leave them your mind! Don't leave them your mind! The fate of the world rests on that decision!"