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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFrom The Housetops - Chapter 1
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From The Housetops - Chapter 1 Post by :Slic47 Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :1492

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From The Housetops - Chapter 1

CHAPTER I

Mr. Templeton Thorpe was soon to be married for the second time. Back in 1860 he married a girl of twenty-two, and now in the year 1912 he was taking unto himself another girl of twenty-two. In the interim he had achieved a grandson whose years were twenty-nine. In his seventy-seventh year he was worth a great many millions of dollars, and for that and no other reason perhaps, one of the newspapers, in commenting on the approaching nuptials, declared that nobody could now deny that he was a philanthropist.

* * * * *

"I daresay you are right, Mrs. Tresslyn," said old Templeton Thorpe's grandson, bitterly. "He hasn't many more years to live."

The woman in the chair started, her eyes narrowing. The flush deepened in her cheeks. It had been faint before and steady, but now it was ominous.

"I fear you are again putting words into my mouth," she said coldly. "Have I made any such statement?"

"I did not say that you had, Mrs. Tresslyn," said the young man. "I merely observed that you were right. It isn't necessary to put the perfectly obvious into words. He is a very old man, so you are right in believing that he hasn't many years left to live. Nearly four times the age of Anne,—that's how old he is,—and time flies very swiftly for him."

"I must again remind you that you are in danger of becoming offensive, Braden. Be good enough to remember that this interview is not of my choosing. I consented to receive you in—"

"You knew it was inevitable—this interview, as you call it. You knew I would come here to denounce this damnable transaction. I have nothing to apologise for, Mrs. Tresslyn. This is not the time for apologies. You may order me to leave your house, but I don't believe you will find any satisfaction in doing so. You would still know that I have a right to protest against this unspeakable marriage, even though it should mean nothing more to me than the desire to protect a senile old man against the—"

"Your grandfather is the last man in the world to be described as senile," she broke in, with a thin smile.

"I could have agreed with you a month ago, but not now," said he savagely.

"Perhaps you would better go now, Braden," said she, arising. She was a tall, handsome woman, well under fifty. As she faced her visitor, her cold, unfriendly eyes were almost on a level with his own. The look she gave him would have caused a less determined man to quail. It was her way of closing an argument, no matter whether it was with her butcher, her grocer, of the bishop himself. Such a look is best described as imperious, although one less reserved than I but perhaps more potently metaphorical would say that she simply looked a hole through you, seeing beyond you as if you were not there at all. She had found it especially efficacious in dealing with the butcher and even the bishop, to say nothing of the effect it always had upon the commonplace nobodies who go to the butcher and the bishop for the luxuries of both the present and the future life, and it had seldom failed to wither and blight the most hardy of masculine opponents. It was not always so effective in crushing the members of her own sex, for there were women in New York society who could look straight through Mrs. Tresslyn without even appearing to suspect that she was in the range of vision. She had been known, however, to stare an English duke out of countenance, and it was a long time before she forgave herself for doing so. It would appear that it is not the proper thing to do. Crushing the possessor of a title is permissible only among taxi-drivers and gentlemen whose daughters are already married.

Her stony look did not go far toward intimidating young Mr. Thorpe. He was a rather sturdy, athletic looking fellow with a firm chin and a well-set jaw, and a pair of grey eyes that were not in the habit of wavering.

"I came here to see Anne," he said, a stubborn expression settling in his face. "Is she afraid to see me, or is she obeying orders from you, Mrs. Tresslyn?"

"She doesn't care to see you," said Mrs. Tresslyn. "That's all there is to be said about it, Braden."

"So far as I am concerned, she is still engaged to me. She hasn't broken it off by word or letter. If you don't mind, I'd like to have it broken off in the regular way. It doesn't seem quite proper for her to remain engaged to me right up to the instant she marries my grandfather. Or is it possible that she intends to remain bound to me during the lifetime of my grandparent, with the idea of holding me to my bargain when he is gone?"

"Don't be ridiculous," was all that Mrs. Tresslyn said in response to this sarcasm, but she said it scathingly.

For a full minute they stood looking into each other's eyes, each appraising the other, one offensively, the other defensively. She had the advantage of him, for she was prepared to defend herself while he was in the position of one who attacks without strategy and leaps from one exposed spot to another. It was to her advantage that she knew that he despised her; it was to his disadvantage that he knew she had always liked him after a manner of her own, and doubtless liked him now despite the things he had said to her. She had liked him from his boyhood days when report had it that he was to be the sole heir to his grandfather's millions, and she had liked him, no doubt, quite as sincerely, after the old man had declared that he did not intend to ruin a brilliant career by leaving a lot of uninspiring money to his ambitious grandson.

In so many words, old Templeton Thorpe had said, not two months before, that he intended to leave practically all of his money to charity! All except the two millions he stood ready to settle upon his bride the day she married him! Possibly Mrs. Tresslyn liked the grandson all the more for the treasures that he had lost, or was about to lose. It is easy to like a man who will not be pitied. At any rate, she did not consider it worth while to despise him, now that he had only a profession to offer in exchange for her daughter's hand.

"Of course, Mrs. Tresslyn, I know that Anne loves me," he said, with forced calmness. "She doesn't love my grandfather. That isn't even debatable. I fear that I am the only person in the world who does love him. I suspect, too, that if he loves any one, I am that one. If you think that he is fool enough to believe that Anne loves him, you are vastly mistaken. He knows perfectly well that she doesn't, and, by gad, he doesn't blame her. He understands. That's why he sits there at home and chuckles. I hope you will not mind my saying to you that he considers me a very lucky person."

"Lucky?" said she, momentarily off her guard.

"If you care to hear exactly how he puts it, he says I'm _damned lucky, Mrs. Tresslyn. Of course, you are not to assume that I agree with him. If I thought all this was Anne's doing and not yours, I should say that I am lucky, but I can't believe—good heavens, I will not believe that she could do such a thing! A young, beautiful, happy girl voluntarily—oh, it is unspeakable! She is being driven into it, she is being sacrificed to—"

"Just one moment, Braden," interrupted Mrs. Tresslyn, curtly. "I may as well set you quite straight in the matter. It will save time and put an end to recriminations. My daughter does not care the snap of her fingers for Mr. Thorpe. I think she loves you quite as dearly now as she ever did. At any rate, she says she does. But that is neither here nor there. She is going to marry Mr. Thorpe, and of her own volition. I have advised her to do so, I will admit, but I have not driven her to it, as you say. No one but a fool would expect her to love that old man. He doesn't ask it of her. He simply asks her to marry him. Nowadays people do not always marry for love. In fact, they frequently marry to avoid it—at least for the time being. Your grandfather has told you of the marriage settlement. It is to be two million dollars, set apart for her, to be hers in full right on the day that he dies. We are far from rich, Anne and I. My husband was a failure—but you know our circumstances quite well enough without my going into them. My daughter is her own mistress. She is twenty-three. She is able to choose for herself. It pleases her to choose the grandfather instead of the grandson. Is that perfectly plain to you? If it is, my boy, then I submit that there is nothing further to be said. The situation is surely clear enough for even you to see. We do not pretend to be doing anything noble. Mr. Thorpe is seventy-seven. That is the long and short of it."

"In plain English, it's the money you are after," said he, with a sneer.

"Obviously," said she, with the utmost candour. "Young women of twenty- three do not marry old men of seventy-seven for love. You may imagine a young girl marrying a penniless youth for love, but can you picture her marrying a penniless octogenarian for the same reason? I fancy not. I speak quite frankly to you, Braden, and without reserve. We have always been friends. It would be folly to attempt to delude you into believing that a sentimental motive is back of our—shall we say enterprise?"

"Yes, that is what I would call it," said he levelly. "It is a more refined word than scheme."

"The world will be grateful for the opportunity to bear me out in all that I have said to you," she went on. "It will cheerfully, even gleefully supply any of the little details I may have considered unnecessary or superfluous in describing the situation. You are at liberty, then, to go forth and assist in the castigation. You have my permission,—and Anne's, I may add,—to say to the world that I have told you plainly why this marriage is to take place. It is no secret. It isn't improbable that your grandfather will consent to back you up in your denunciation. He is that kind of a man. He has no illusions. Permit me to remind you, therefore, that neither you nor the world is to take it for granted that we are hoodwinking Mr. Thorpe. Have I made myself quite clear to you, Braden?"

The young man drew a deep breath. His tense figure relaxed. "I did not know there were such women in the world as you, Mrs. Tresslyn. There were heartless, soulless women among the Borgias and the Medicis, but they lived in an age of intrigue. Their acts were mildly innocuous when compared with—"

"I must ask you to remember that you are in my home, Braden," she interrupted, her eyes ablaze.

"Oh, I remember where I am, perfectly," he cried. "It was in this very room that Anne promised to become my wife. It was here that you gave your consent, less than a year ago."

He had been pacing the floor, back and forth across the space in front of the fireplace, in which logs were blazing on this raw February afternoon. Now he stopped once more to face her resolutely.

"I insist that it is my right to see Anne," he said. His eyes were bloodshot, his cheek pallid. "I must hear from her own lips that she no longer considers herself bound to me by the promise made a year ago. I demand that much of her. She owes it to me, if not to herself, to put an end to the farce before she turns to tragedy. I don't believe she appreciates the wickedness of the thing she is about to do. I insist that it is my right to speak with her, to urge her to reconsider, to point out to her the horrors of—"

"She will not see you, Braden," broke in the mother, finality in her voice.

"She _must see me," he shouted. "If not to-day, to-morrow; if not then, some other day, for, by the Eternal, Mrs. Tresslyn, I intend to speak with her if I have to wait until the accursed day you have selected,—at the very altar, if necessary. She shall not go into this thing until she has had the final word with me, and I with her. She does not know what she is doing. She is carried away by the thought of all that money—Money! Good God, Mrs. Tresslyn, she has told me a hundred times that she would marry me if I were as poor as the raggedest beggar in the streets. She loves me, she cannot play this vile trick on me. Her heart is pure. You cannot make me believe that she isn't honest and fair and loyal. I tell you now, once and for all, that I will not stand idly by and see this vile sacrifice made in order to—"

"Rawson," interrupted Mrs. Tresslyn, looking beyond him in the direction of the door, "Doctor Thorpe is going. Will you give him his hat and coat?" She had pressed a button beside the mantelpiece, and in response to the call, the butler stood in the doorway. "Good day, Braden. I am sorry that Anne is unable to see you to-day. She—"

"Good day, Mrs. Tresslyn," he choked out, controlling himself with an effort. "Will you tell her that I shall call to-morrow?"

She smiled. "When do you expect to return to London? I had hoped to have you stay until after the wedding."

His smile was more of an effort than hers. "Thanks. My grandfather has expressed the same hope. He says the affair will not be complete without my presence at the feast. To-morrow, at this hour, I shall come to see Anne. Thank you, Rawson."

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