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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDestiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 25
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Destiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 25 Post by :Odilia_Paula Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Neville Buck Date :May 2012 Read :3665

Click below to download : Destiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 25 (Format : PDF)

Destiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 25

PART II. THE BOOK OF LIFE - IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN CHAPTER XXV

Hamilton Burton had always denied with scorn the existence of blind luck as an element in human greatness or failure. Now if he had leaped head-foremost into an empty swimming pool, at the exact moment when he stood midway of an enterprise which should crown him as omnipotent--or ruin him, perhaps it was a thing beyond coincidence. Yesterday he had aligned colossal forces for today's conflict--and taken his toll of vengeance. Today he must turn to profit the chaos he had wrought to that end through plans known only to himself--and today he lay with a fractured skull, sleeping the sleep of unconsciousness.

Today every hand in the world of finance was turned against him with the desperation of a struggle for survival--save those of his own lieutenants who were leaderless. All the way down the line from the Department of Justice to the small sufferers of the provinces a slogan of war without quarter sounded against the most hated man in America. That such would be the case he had known yesterday, but he also knew--or thought he did--that his directing hand would still be on the tiller and his uncannily shrewd brain would be puzzling, bewildering and deluding his enemies into unwittingly serving his ends.

From the morning papers the secret of his accident had been successfully withheld. So the press of the country sounded forth a united thunder-peal of stinging and bitter anathema, pillorying Hamilton M. Burton as the most menacing of all public enemies and an ogre who had in a single day fattened his already superlative wealth on the sufferings, the starvation and the lives of his victims. Editorial pages from Park row to a thousand main streets, double-leaded and double-columned their clamorous demand that such a plunderer should be nailed to the cross of punishment. Burton-phobia was epidemic. At first the physicians who gathered in his darkened room would not commit themselves to any promise of recovery. The skull was fractured. Ahead lay a long illness at best--after that--but here they left off words and resorted to a non-committal shrugging of frock-coated shoulders.

"Do you mean," Elizabeth Burton put the question with trembling lips and chalk-white cheeks, "that perhaps--even if he gets physically well--" She, too, broke off.

"Frankness is best," responded the family physician, who feeling the most personal responsibility, assumed the hard role of spokesman. "Sometimes in cases of this sort the brain is left--with a permanent scar upon its efficiency."

The mother groaned. At her own house lay a daughter in that collapse which had followed the overtaxed courage of the first shock. Here lay Hamilton, her oldest; her Napoleonic boy for whose condign punishment a nation's voice cried out. To her they were simply her children, equally dear.

Only one child was left her in his proper condition of mind and body. He, because of his sensitive, almost clairvoyant nature, had always been very close to her. Now she turned to Paul, and Paul, although his heart was shaken with terror and distress, rose for the time beyond his weakness and was almost a man as he sought to brace his mother's need.

From her first interview with the doctors she went to the music-room and, pausing on the threshold, heard him at the piano. He was singing very low.


"If I were hanged to the highest tree--Mother o' mine, Mother o' mine,
I know whose prayers would come up to me--Mother o' mine."


She went in and Paul took her in his arms and helped her to a chair. Then as he had used to do when a little boy he knelt down, gazing into her face while she talked, and she reached out a hand which was much thinner since her own late illness and ran it through the dark hair over his white forehead. For a merciful little moment it seemed to this grief-stricken woman that she was no longer white-haired and beautifully gowned. In her fancy the fingers with their wealth of rings were again red with the drudgery of the washtub and the head she caressed was the head of a little boy, who, because he was delicate and shrinking, found a greater delight here at her knee than in the rougher companionship of playmates. Paul spoke softly.

"Ham"--it had been a long time since he had used that abbreviated name. Perhaps he, too, had slipped back into the past--"Ham will get well--and work more miracles, mother. He won't surrender even to death. His spirit, and his star, will bring him through."

"I almost wish," her words were faint, "he had never had a star. I wish that we were all back there, close to the strength of the hills and the graves of our dead."

In these days Paul was very constantly with his mother, and by a thousand little attentions made himself indispensable to her.

It was a small thing, but costly to his feelings, since, for every one of these moments redolent of suffering and sadness, his own soul fiber, delicate and thin as a silk thread, must afterward pay in the reaction of a deep depression. To him echoes meant more than positive sounds, and the tears in his mother's voice, the unshed tears in her eyes, brought him a suffering so intense and genuine that when he went out the thought of returning to either of the stricken houses where she needed him was like returning to a jail. Then, too, there was the unexpressed fear which gnawed incessantly at his heart, that, in spite of his belief in Hamilton, business disaster might lie ahead. He wrote less often and with more effort to Loraine Haswell--and thought longingly of Marcia Terroll, who had forbidden him to see her.

* * * * *

Such a pregnant item of news as Hamilton Burton's accident could not long be kept from the Street and the public. On the morning following the occurrence it burst into print--and for a time the chorus of invective was silenced.

But the hands that had been raised to pull him down could not be stayed. He himself had never halted when the Gods of Chance had tossed into his lap a mighty advantage. At the first announcement that "Ursus Major" lay ill, perhaps mortally hurt, the trampled prices of securities began to revive like dusty blossoms under a shower. Day long came damp extras from the press heralding a bull day almost as wild and swift in its price recovery as yesterday's bear day had been terrific in its avalanche.

From post to post the deep voice of Len Haswell and other Burton lieutenants thundered in an effort to stem the altered tide--but they were generals of brigade without their field marshal, guessing blindly at a plan which had not been revealed by the master-tactician. Into the eyes of Jack Staples stole a glitter of premonitory triumph as he met them and beat them back. Burton millions were melting like hailstones falling on hot metal, and when the session ended Len Haswell turned away with an empty face. For two days he had almost forgotten, in his battle-lust, his own heart-ache. Now it was over and because he had followed Hamilton Burton with his own small fortunes as a camp-follower trails an army corps, he knew that he was wiped out and ruined. Hamilton might lose many millions, and "come back," but he and many like him were irretrievably done for.

One day when Hamilton had been ill for a week and had not yet emerged from the distorted land of delirium, Tom Burton strolled, as immaculate and well groomed as ever, into the National Union Club, and looked about for a bridge quorum of his cronies. The doctors held out hope and the father sought relaxation from anxiety. His face was flushed, for old Thomas Burton, too, had felt sorely the strain of these days, and had sought his own means of dulling apprehension's edge. His brain was not versatile in such matters.

General Penfrit occupied his customary chair by a Fifth-avenue window, and the newcomer smiled with pleasure to find him there. General Penfrit shared many interests with him, and was willing to share as many more, so long as Thomas Burton's bridge game continued to be of the contributory type.

Burton strolled over, swinging his stick, and nodded with a bland smile, but to his dismay the general glanced up and acknowledged the greeting without warmth. Perhaps his old friend was not feeling well today.

"I was wondering," suggested Burton, "whether we couldn't arrange a little rubber." He caught the eye of a waiter at the same moment and beckoned. "What will yours be, general?" he genially inquired.

"I don't believe I care to play." The voice was chilling at the start and became more icy with each added syllable, "and I won't have anything to drink."

Tom Burton stood looking down somewhat blankly.

"Nothing to drink?" he repeated in a perfectly warrantable astonishment. His ears must have tricked him.

The general rose stiffly. "With you--no," he spoke curtly, and took himself away with a waddle of studied dignity. For a full minute Hamilton Burton's father gazed vacantly out at the avenue, then he turned on his heel. Henry O'Horrissy was just entering the door and with him were two other members of a little group which had lunched and chatted and played bridge inseparably for several years. Each knew all the others' anecdotes and could laugh at the proper moments. They formed one of those small cliques of intimates into which this club resolved itself, and Tom Burton was of their valued brotherhood.

"Good-afternoon, gentlemen," accosted Burton. "How are you all today?"

With three silent nods the trio at the door turned and drifted aimlessly across to the billiard-room.

Tom Burton went and sat alone by a window. Slowly a brick-like flush spread and deepened on his full face. This club life had become very important to him--even indispensable. There was nothing with which to replace it. He wheeled his chair so that he might be plainly seen from the door, and as man after man came in, with whom he had spent his time and his son's money, men who had been pleased to court the father of the great Hamilton Montagu Burton, he genially accosted them--and one after another they returned greetings of frigid formality.

Then he turned his chair with its back to the room and looked out and the stubborn pride died in his eyes and his face grew old and pathetic. There was no further room for doubt. He was tasting ostracism and being included in this wave of hatred for his son, which he had regarded as newspaper rubbish. He leaned forward with his gloved hands on his cane and once or twice under his fastidiously trimmed beard, his lips twitched painfully. Finally he rose, ordering his next cocktail over a hotel bar, and though the stubbornness of pride forced him back on the morrow to lunch at his accustomed club table, he lunched alone, and was grateful for the solicitous courtesy of the negro who served him.

* * * * *

One afternoon Paul made his way down Fifth avenue on foot.

The sky was unbelievably blue and a flashing brilliancy sparkled in all the splinters of color that embroidered themselves along the parquetry of the street. The avenue has, at times, a magic of its own and today it was a swiftly flowing stream of brilliancy and life and laughter. But this was a mood to which Paul Burton found no response. His heart was attuned to echoes of a more somber tone--and he was bound on a mission which was, for him, a bold one. He was disobeying orders which until now he had not ventured to disobey. Marcia Terroll had banished him from her presence. Since that day in her apartment he had seen less of her than before and for many weeks now nothing at all. Marcia, unlike Loraine Haswell, recognized that they could not meet without dangerous drifting, and that such drifting could end only in disaster, so at last she had forbidden his visiting her even occasionally and to all his arguments she had steadfastly shaken her head with gentle obduracy.

For a time they had met as they might have met had the interview in her apartment on the drizzly afternoon never occurred. She had torn that page out of their chronicles of acquaintanceship, and assumed that it had never been included. Her wit had sparkled for him and her individual charm had blossomed as though her life had never known a season other than spring and blossom-time. Sometimes he found himself wondering if that afternoon had been actual.

He discovered himself using quaint phrases of her invention as part of his own conversational equipment, and often he found himself applauded for some flash of repartee which he knew was only a quotation from her. But also he found himself incapable of that continuous self-restraint which she required of him under their agreement of a future basis. He had his moments when he could no more avoid feeling and acting and declaring himself her lover than he could avoid later regretting them, and, for this inability, he had been exiled.

"To you," she told him, "it means a minor thing--but it's not minor to me. I have had unhappiness enough without risking more. We must not see or write to each other." Paul knew nothing of what this decision cost her or of the many letters she had written to him--and destroyed unmailed.

Now he was utterly miserable and his heart was aching for companionship outside the two houses where the mildew of misery tainted even the sunshine that came through the windows. He craved the cheer and strength of a heart braver than his own, and in defiance of her orders he was going to see the woman in whose presence he should find these things; the woman whom he had not seen for months.

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