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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDestiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 29
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Destiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 29 Post by :Odilia_Paula Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Neville Buck Date :May 2012 Read :3670

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Destiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 29


Possibly some day a historian versed in the intricacies of high--and low--finance will record in detail, comprehensible and convincing to those who thirst for statistical minutiae, the last chapters of Hamilton Burton's history. Here it will only be set baldly down that the weeks, for him, went galloping toward and over the brink of things--until he found his affairs still reckoned in many millions, but all in the millions of liabilities.

He was pointed out derisively in those expensive hotels where once every head had bowed obsequiously at his coming. Then one night he went to his office, carrying a leather portfolio in his hand. He still walked with his head up and met the eye of every man who cared to gaze into his own. About his neck was turned up the collar of a sable-lined overcoat--relic of his days of splendor. As he walked down-town he met no one who knew him, and this suited his plans. Lower Broadway after nightfall is as murky and silent as upper Broadway is aflare and noisy. The steep buildings are like cemetery shafts, save where belated clerks work over their books and night watchmen guard their posts.

Burton's offices, still his under a long-term lease, were denuded of furniture and accessories--since the sheriff had already begun his confiscations here.

But tonight Hamilton Burton meant to use them for another, and a grimmer purpose--in fact a final one. The portfolio which he carried contained a dilapidated old blank book, such as one buys in a crossroads store, a volume of verse, and an automatic pistol, carefully loaded. When the now inevitable moment came which should leave his family roofless--he would not be there to see.

There is no saying what small matter may, at a given crisis, bring solace to a man who requires it. Now Hamilton Burton appeared to find the necessary comfort in the boast which he nursed to his heart, that his exit from the world, with which he had played ducks and drakes, was to be entirely voluntary and in no wise forced: that though he was closing life's door upon himself he was still crossing the Stygian threshold the captain of his soul.

His face was calm enough as he turned on the light and drew down the blinds of his private office. He had no knowledge of another tall figure, bearing abundant outward signs of adversity that, from the opposite side of the street, halted to glance up just as he showed himself there in the window.

Hamilton Burton deliberately unlocked the morocco brief-case with its gold clasp. First he took out the pistol and carefully examined it, nodding his head in satisfaction. Since there was no table left, he laid it on the window-sill near at hand. Next he withdrew the book of verses and after that the country-store note-book with its dog-eared and age-yellowed pages. These proceedings left the case empty save for a note directed, "Coroner's Agent, City."

In the days of his magnificence Hamilton Burton had regarded life-insurance as a poor man's buffer between his heirs and want.

For himself it had meant nothing and he had passed it by. Only since he had secretly half-admitted his vulnerability, had he thrown such an anchor to windward, and all his policies were new--too new to hold validity against self-destruction.

And yet the brain that had been so cool always, so logical, had of late assumed a dozen unaccountable eccentricities. Through his thoughts with the obstinacy of an obsession ran one refrain: "'Twas no foe-man's hand that slew him: 'twas his own that struck the blow."

Men must not think of him as one beaten and murdered. They must remember him as his own executioner. Surely the lawyers would find a way. Surely their cleverness would circumvent the restrictions framed by these gamblers on the chances of life and death.

He opened the poetry volume at a point where a page was turned down, then, standing by the electric light, boldly straight and without the air of a man who entertains fear of life or death, he read aloud and with excellent elocutionary effect ...

"I only loved one country in my life
And that was France: I saw her break her heart
Against the cruel squares: then the last order
Broke from my lips as coolly as a smile.
God! How they rode! All France was in that last
Charge; and France broke her heart for me...."

He paused and a deep melancholy spread over the features until the eyes might truly have been those of broken dreams gazing seaward from the rocks of St. Helena. He glanced again at the pages and quoted softly.

"Ninette, Ninette, remember the Old Guard!"

After that he laid the book aside and turned the thumbed pages of the blank book. These were pages scrawled across in a boy's round hand. The man who had once been that boy stopped when he came to an entry written long ago by lamplight in an unheated attic, with frozen branches scraping the roof and the eaves.

"There is something in me," he read, "that tells me no man was ever greater than I've got it in me to be. John Hayes Hammond, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Frick were all poor boys...." He paused once more and let his eyes wander to the bottom of the page and dwell upon this addendum. "P.S. I sold them to Slivers Martin for ten dollars ($10.00) and they only cost me seven--and he had to go after them."

As he held the book in his hand he was interrupted by a low knock on the door. Perhaps the night watch-man had come up with a question. Hastily laying the diary of his boyhood over the pistol so as to conceal it he opened the door--and Len Haswell entered.

The broker's ruin had been complete, and his dual troubles had evidently driven him to demoralization of another sort. His face wore a set such as artists give the features of Death--the pale implacability of doom. He loomed there gigantic and silent; strangely altered by his chalky pallor and the dark rings out of which his eyes burned. After a moment Hamilton Burton inquired coolly, "Well, Haswell?"

"You may recall," said the deep voice in a tone of menacing quiet, "that during the two days when you scattered ruin broadcast--and ruined yourself into the bargain--I led your forces on the floor of the Exchange."

"Perfectly," was the calm response. "I recall that you lost everything. So did I. We seem to be fellow-unfortunates."

"You say I lost everything." Haswell drew a step nearer and held out his two mighty hands. "You are mistaken. I still have these."

A trace of annoyance stole into the voice of the fallen Napoleon. It is disconcerting to be interrupted during one's last moments of life.

"And with them," he ironically questioned, "you mean to begin over and make an honest living?"

Haswell shook his head. His tone took on, in its level pitch of implacability, a quality indescribably horrifying, "No--an honest killing. I am going to kill you."

"That," suggested Burton, "will not be necessary. I am on the point of saving you the trouble--and personal danger. In my bag there is a note stating that fact--and my reasons."

Haswell held out a letter. "I am not complaining about my ruin in the Street," he patiently explained. "I knew that game and took my chances along with the rest. That isn't what has been driving me mad. I got this letter a week ago."

Hamilton glanced at the envelope.

"From Loraine," went on Len Haswell in a voice of even deadlier quiet. The voice and chalky face seemed twin notes of sound and color. "I wouldn't care to tell you what happened to her--after she pinned her faith on your promise to buy her freedom--from me--for your brother. She lost out all around, you see. I wouldn't care to tell you about that--and its consequences. But something's going to be paid on account--here--tonight."

After a moment Burton said slowly:

"I am through. I'm just ending it."

Once again the huge man shook his head. A strange and bitter smile twisted his lips.

"No," he persisted in that level intonation with which men sometimes speak from the scaffold. "No, that won't do. You see I've whetted my appetite on anticipation--ever since that letter came. I must have the pleasure of killing you with my own hands; of seeing the breath go out of your throat--afterward the suicide will be my own."

To lay down one's life of one's own volition is one thing. To permit another to take it in a fashion of his own arbitrary selection is quite another. Hamilton Burton had never been submissive. He meant to die as he had lived--"captain of his soul," and so he turned quietly toward the window ledge where he had laid the automatic pistol. Perhaps some clairvoyant sense, loaned by the closeness of death, gave Haswell an intimation of the other's intent. He reached the window first--at a bound--and stood before it. Then suddenly a hideous expression came into his eyes until out of them shone the horror-worship that had obsessed his soul; and the maniac's cunning for draining his greed of vengeance to its dregs.

He had jostled aside the blank book containing the diary and seen the weapon, which he calmly slipped into his pocket. Then he raised the window as far as it would go.

"This is the twentieth floor," he commented with a ghastly significance. "I know because I walked up. I didn't want to be stopped--too soon. It won't take you so long to get down." As he spoke he jerked his head toward the raised blind and sash. "It's rather a symbolical finish for you, Burton--you must confess as much--an idol hurled down from his high place."

One quality Hamilton Burton possessed. If he was to die he would leave no satisfaction of final cowardice to comfort his assassin's self-destruction. He would attack--but a sudden thought stayed him.

"If we are to have a death struggle here," he asked with a strange composure, "will you give me a moment--for a matter that had no bearing on your determination?"

Haswell yet again shook his head with his executioner's smile as he sardonically inquired, "Time to get another gun?"

"No. To tear up a note to the coroner--unless you will be good enough to do it for me. If I am not to kill myself there is no advantage in an ante-mortem confession!"

"What difference does it make? To me it seems trivial."

"Just this--that my family will save my insurance out of the wreck."

"And Paul may once more sing golden songs to the wives of other men--not that I so much resent Paul. Without you he would have been harmless enough--but society's safer with him poor."

Hamilton Burton had caught a rift in the clouds and with this denial his calmness deserted him for passion. The old family love, strong even though he had himself so violated it, burst into flame in his heart. Once more he would fight for those he was leaving. Why had he never thought of the window himself? That might logically seem accidental, yet his brain had not served him well of late. It had been clouded and unresourceful--and he had invented no method of masking the authorship of his death. His enemy had suggested it--but first there must be a moment to destroy the confession which would rob his mother of the one asset which might be saved to her. With an oath he leaped upon his visitor, and fought tigerishly. But for all his superb physical fitness and strength it was like a child leaping upon a powerful gladiator.

With one mighty arm about his waist crushing him until his bones seemed to crack and one huge hand cutting off the gasp of his throat, his body was bent back in this gorilla embrace and a purple mist spread darkly before his eyes. He had just enough tremor of consciousness left to know that he hung limp and was being lifted and swung to and fro as one swings a sack which he means to toss into a cart.

A few moments later the giant stood panting from his exertion as he stretched out a steady hand for the pistol which lay on the window ledge.

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Destiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 30 Destiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 30

Destiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 30
PART II. THE BOOK OF LIFE - IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN CHAPTER XXXIn a certain dictionary appears this substantive and this definition. "PARASITE (par'-a-sit), n. one who frequents the table of a rich man and gains his favor by flattery; a hanger-on; an animal or plant nourished by another to which it attaches itself. (Greek.)" If the animal or plant to which these other animals or plants attach themselves goes first to its death, it is inevitable that its parasites must speedily follow. There is no longer anything upon which to feed. Hamilton Burton was gone and his parasites were withering.

Destiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 28 Destiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 28

Destiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 28
PART II. THE BOOK OF LIFE - IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN CHAPTER XXVIIIThere is in the western hemisphere one town whose local news is national news and international news. Its celebrities wear names which the nation mouths over with gusto, and its own name was, until comparatively recently, New Amsterdam. The country closely followed the first-column stories with which the press sought to keep abreast of the affairs of Hamilton Montagu Burton. It was interesting reading, for it dealt with a late potentate of power untold; now an invalid whose brain slept like a child taking its forenoon nap while his