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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGordon Keith - Chapter 24. Keith Tries His Fortunes In Another Land
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Gordon Keith - Chapter 24. Keith Tries His Fortunes In Another Land Post by :welshbeef Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas Nelson Page Date :May 2012 Read :2294

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Gordon Keith - Chapter 24. Keith Tries His Fortunes In Another Land

CHAPTER XXIV. KEITH TRIES HIS FORTUNES IN ANOTHER LAND

In fact, as usual, Mrs. Nailor's statement to Lois had some foundation, though very little. Mrs. Lancaster had gone abroad, and Keith had followed her.

Keith, on his arrival in England, found Rhodes somewhat changed, at least in person. Years of high living and ease had rounded him, and he had lost something of his old spirit. At times an expression of weariness or discontent came into his eyes.

He was as cordial as ever to Keith, and when Keith unfolded his plans he entered into them with earnestness.

"You have come at a good time," he said. "They are beginning to think that America is all a bonanza."

After talking over the matter, Rhodes invited Keith down to the country.

"We have taken an old place in Warwickshire for the hunting. An old friend of yours is down there for a few days,"--his eyes twinkled,--"and we have some good fellows there. Think you will like them--some of them," he added.

"Who is my friend?" asked Keith.

"Her name was Alice Yorke," he replied, with his eyes on Keith's face.

At the name another face sprang to Keith's mind. The eyes were brown, not blue, and the face was the fresh face of a young girl. Yet Keith accepted.

Rhodes did not tell him that Mrs. Lancaster had not accepted their invitation until after she had heard that he was to be invited. Nor did he tell him that she had authorized him to subscribe largely to the stock of the new syndicate.

On reaching the station they were met by a rich equipage with two liveried servants, and, after a short drive through beautiful country, they turned into a fine park, and presently drove up before an imposing old country house; for "The Keep" was one of the finest mansions in all that region. It was also one of the most expensive. It had broken its owners to run it. But this was nothing to Creamer of Creamer, Crustback & Company; at least, it was nothing to Mrs. Creamer, or to Mrs. Rhodes, who was her daughter. She had plans, and money was nothing to her. Rhodes was manifestly pleased at Keith's exclamations of appreciation as they drove through the park with its magnificent trees, its coppices and coverts, its stretches of emerald sward and roll of gracious hills, and drew up at the portal of the mansion. Yet he was inclined to be a little apologetic about it, too.

"This is rather too rich for me," he said, between a smile and a sigh. "Somehow, I began too late."

It was a noble old hall into which he ushered Keith, the wainscoting dark with age, and hung with trophies of many a chase and forgotten field. A number of modern easy-chairs and great rich rugs gave it an air of comfort, even if they were not altogether harmonious.

Keith did not see Mrs. Rhodes till the company were all assembled in the drawing-room for dinner. She was a rather pretty woman, distinctly American in face and voice, but in speech more English than any one Keith had seen since landing. Her hair and speech were arranged in the extreme London fashion. She was "awfully keen on" everything she fancied, and found most things English "ripping." She greeted Keith with somewhat more formality than he had expected from Grinnell Rhodes's wife, and introduced him to Colonel Campbell, a handsome, broad-shouldered man, as "an American," which Keith thought rather unnecessary, since no one could have been in doubt about it.

Keith found, on his arrival in the drawing-room, that the house was full of company, a sort of house-party assembled for the hunting.

Suddenly there was a stir, followed by a hush in the conversation, and monocles and lorgnons went up.

"Here she comes," said a man near Keith.

"Who is she?" asked a thin woman with ugly hands, dropping her monocle with the air of a man.

"La belle Americaine," replied the man beside her, "a friend of the host."

"Oh! Not of the hostess?"

"Oh, I don't know. I met her last night--"

"Steepleton is ahead--wins in a walk."

"Oh, she's rich? The castle needs a new roof? Will it be in time for next season?"

The gentleman said he knew nothing about it.

Keith turned and faced Alice Lancaster.

She was dressed in a black gown that fitted perfectly her straight, supple figure, the soft folds clinging close enough to show the gracious curves, and falling away behind her in a train that, as she stood with her head uplifted, gave her an appearance almost of majesty. Her round arms and perfect shoulders were of dazzling whiteness; her abundant brown hair was coiled low on her snowy neck, showing the beauty of her head; and her single ornament was one rich red rose fastened in her bodice with a small diamond clasp. It was the little pin that Keith had found in the Ridgely woods and returned to her so long ago; though Keith did not recognize it. It was the only jewel about her, and was worn simply to hold the rose, as though that were the thing she valued. Keith's thoughts sprang to the first time he ever saw her with a red rose near her heart--the rose he had given her, which the humming-bird had sought as its chalice.

The other ladies were all gowned in satin and velvet of rich colors, and were flaming in jewels, and as Mrs. Lancaster stood among them and they fell back a little on either side to look at her, they appeared, as it were, a setting for her.

After the others were presented, Keith stepped forward to greet her, and her face lit up with a light that made it suddenly young.

"I am so glad to see you." She clasped his hand warmly. "It is so good to see an old friend from our ain countree."

"I do not need to say I am glad to see you," said Keith, looking her in the eyes. "You are my ain countree here."

At that moment the rose fell at her feet. It had slipped somehow from the clasp that held it. A half-dozen men sprang forward to pick it up, but Keith was ahead of them. He took it up, and, with his eyes looking straight into hers, handed it to her.

"It is your emblem; it is what I always think of you as being." The tone was too low for any one else to hear; but her mounting color and the light in her eyes told that she caught it.

Still looking straight into his eyes without a word, she stuck the rose in her bodice just over her heart.

Several women turned their gaze on Keith and scanned him with sudden interest, and one of them, addressing her companion, a broad-shouldered man with a pleasant, florid face, said in an undertone:

"That is the man you have to look out for, Steepleton."

"A good-looking fellow. Who is he?"

"Somebody, I fancy, or our hostess wouldn't have him here."

* * * * *

The dinner that evening was a function. Mrs. Rhodes would rather have suffered a serious misfortune than fail in any of the social refinements of her adopted land. Rhodes had suggested that Keith be placed next to Mrs. Lancaster, but Mrs. Rhodes had another plan in mind. She liked Alice Lancaster, and she was trying to do by her as she would have been done by. She wanted her to make a brilliant match. Lord Steepleton appeared designed by Providence for this especial purpose: the representative of an old and distinguished house, owner of a famous--indeed, of an historic--estate, unhappily encumbered, but not too heavily to be relieved by a providential fortune. Hunting was his most serious occupation. At present he was engaged in the most serious hunt of his career: he was hunting an heiress.

Mrs. Rhodes was his friend, and as his friend she had put him next to Mrs. Lancaster.

Ordinarily, Mrs. Lancaster would have been extremely pleased to be placed next the lion of the occasion. But this evening she would have liked to be near another guest. He was on the other side of the board, and appeared to be, in the main, enjoying himself, though now and then his eyes strayed across in her direction, and presently, as he caught her glance, he lifted his glass and smiled. Her neighbor observed the act, and putting up his monocle, looked across the table; then glanced at Mrs. Lancaster, and then looked again at Keith more carefully.

"Who is your friend?" he asked.

Mrs. Lancaster smiled, with a pleasant light in her eyes.

"An old friend of mine, Mr. Keith."

"Ah! Fortunate man. Scotchman?"

"No; an American."

"Oh!--You have known him a long time?"

"Since I was a little girl."

"Oh!--What is he?"

"A gentleman."

"Yes." The Englishman took the trouble again to put up his monocle and take a fleeting glance across the table. "He looks it," he said. "I mean, what does he do? Is he a capitalist like--like our host? Or is he just getting to be a capitalist?"

"I hope he is," replied Mrs. Lancaster, with a twinkle in her eyes that showed she enjoyed the Englishman's mystification. "He is engaged in mining."

She gave a rosy picture of the wealth in the region from which Keith came.

"All your men do something, I believe?" said the gentleman.

"All who are worth anything," assented Mrs. Lancaster.

"No wonder you are a rich people."

Something about his use of the adjective touched her.

"Our people have a sense of duty, too, and as much courage as any others, only they do not make any to-do about it. I have a friend--a _gentleman_--who drove a stage-coach through the mountains for a while rather than do nothing, and who was held up one night and jumped from the stage on the robber, and chased him down the mountains and disarmed him."

"Good!" exclaimed the gentleman. "Nervy thing!"

"Rather," said Mrs. Lancaster, with mantling cheeks, stirred by what she considered a reflection on her people. And that was not all he did. "He had charge of a mine, and one day the mine was flooded while the men were at work, and he went in in the darkness and brought the men out safe."

"Good!" said the gentleman. "But he had others with him? He did not go alone?"

"He started alone, and two men volunteered to go with him. But he sent them back with the first group they found, and then, as there were others, he waded on by himself to where the others were, and brought them out, bringing on his shoulder the man who had attempted his life."

"Fine!" exclaimed the gentleman. "I've been in some tight places myself; but I don't know about that. What was his name?"

"Keith."

"Oh!"

Her eyes barely glanced his way; but the Earl of Steepleton saw in them what he had never been able to bring there.

The Englishman put up his monocle and this time gazed long at Gordon.

"Nervy chap!" he said quietly. "Won't you present me after dinner?"

In his slow mind was dawning an idea that, perhaps, after all, this quiet American who had driven his way forward had found a baiting-place which he, with all his titles and long pedigrees, could not enter. His honest, outspoken admiration had, however, done more to make him a place in that guarded fortress than all Mrs. Rhodes's praises had effected.

A little later the guests had all departed or scattered. Those who remained were playing cards and appeared settled for a good while.

"Keith, we are out of it. Let's have a game of billiards," said the host, who had given his seat to a guest who had just come in after saying good night on the stair to one of the ladies.

Keith followed him to the billiard-room, a big apartment finished in oak, with several large tables in it, and he and Rhodes began to play. The game, however, soon languished, for the two men had much to talk about.

"Houghton, you may go," said Rhodes to the servant who attended to the table. "I will ring for you when I want you to shut up."

"Thank you, sir"; and he was gone.

"Now tell me all about everything," said Rhodes. "I want to hear everything that has happened since I came away--came into exile. I know about the property and the town that has grown up just as I knew it would. Tell me about the people--old Squire Rawson and Phrony, and Wickersham, and Norman and his wife."

Keith told him about them. "Rhodes," he said, as he ended, "you started it and you ought to have stayed with it. Old Rawson says you foretold it all."

Suddenly Rhodes flung his cue down on the table and straightened up. "Keith, this is killing me. Sometimes I think I can't stand it another day. I've a mind to chuck up the whole business and cut for it."

Keith gazed at him in amazement. The clouded brow, the burning eyes, the drawn mouth, all told how real that explosion was and from what depths it came. Keith was quite startled.

"It all seems to me so empty, so unreal, so puerile. I am bored to death with it. Do you think this is real?" He waved his arms impatiently about him. "It is all a sham and a fraud. I am nothing--nobody. I am a puppet on a hired stage, playing to amuse--not myself!--the Lord knows I am bored enough by it!--but a lot of people who don't care any more about me than I do about them. I can't stand this. D----n it! I don't want to make love to any other man's wife any more than I will have any of them making love to my wife. I think they are beginning to understand that. I showed a little puppy the front door not long ago--an earl, too, or next thing to it, an earl's eldest son--for doing what he would no more have dared to do in an Englishman's house than he would have tried to burn it. After that, I think, they began to see I might be something. Keith, do you remember what old Rawson said to us once about marrying?"

Keith had been thinking of it all the evening.

"Keith, I was not born for this; I was born to _do something. But for giving up I might have been like Stevenson or Eads or your man Maury, whom they are all belittling because he did it all himself instead of getting others to do it. By George! I hope to live till I build one more big bridge or run one more long tunnel. Jove! to stand once more up on the big girders, so high that the trees look small below you, and see the bridge growing under your eyes where the old croakers had said nothing would stand!"

Keith's eyes sparkled, and he reached out his hand; and the other grasped it.

When Keith returned home, he was already in sight of victory.

The money had all been subscribed. His own interest in the venture was enough to make him rich, and he was to be general superintendent of the new company, with Matheson as his manager of the mines. All that was needed now was to complete the details of the transfer of the properties, perfect his organization, and set to work. This for a time required his presence more or less continuously in New York, and he opened an office in one of the office buildings down in the city, and took an apartment in a pleasant up-town hotel.

* * * * *

When Keith returned to New York that Autumn, it was no longer as a young man with eyes aflame with hope and expectation and face alight with enthusiasm. The eager recruit had changed to the veteran. He had had experience of a world where men lived and died for the most sordid of all rewards--money, mere money.

The fight had left its mark upon him. The mouth had lost something of the smile that once lurked about its corners, but had gained in strength. The eyes, always direct and steady, had more depth. The shoulders had a squarer set, as though they had been braced against adversity. Experience of life had sobered him.

Sometimes it had come to him that he might be caught by the current and might drift into the same spirit, but self-examination up to this time had reassured him. He knew that he had other motives: the trust reposed in him by his friends, the responsibility laid upon him, the resolve to justify that confidence, were still there, beside his eager desire for success.

He called immediately to see Norman. He was surprised to find how much he had aged in this short time. His hair was sprinkled with gray. He had lost all his lightness. He was distrait and almost morose.

"You men here work too hard," asserted Keith. "You ought to have run over to England with me. You'd have learned that men can work and live too. I spent some of the most profitable time I was over there in a deer forest, which may have been Burnam-wood, as all the trees had disappeared-gone somewhere, if not to Dunsinane."

Norman half smiled, but he answered wearily: "I wish I had been anywhere else than where I was." He turned away while he was speaking and fumbled among the papers on his desk. Keith rose, and Norman rose also.

"I will send you cards to the clubs. I shall not be in town to-night, but to-morrow night, or the evening after, suppose you dine with me at the University. I'll have two or three fellows to meet you--or, perhaps, we'll dine alone. What do you say? We can talk more freely."

Keith said that this was just what he should prefer, and Norman gave him a warm handshake and, suddenly seating himself at his desk, dived quickly into his papers.

Keith came out mystified. There was something he could not understand. He wondered if the trouble of which he had heard had grown.

Next morning, looking over the financial page of a paper, Keith came on a paragraph in which Norman's name appeared. He was mentioned as one of the directors of a company which the paper declared was among those that had disappointed the expectations of investors. There was nothing very tangible about the article; but the general tone was critical, and to Keith's eye unfriendly.

When, the next afternoon, Keith rang the door-bell at Norman's house, and asked if Mrs. Wentworth was at home, the servant who opened the door informed him that no one of that name lived there. They used to live there, but had moved. Mrs. Wentworth lived somewhere on Fifth Avenue near the Park. It was a large new house near such a street, right-hand side, second house from the corner.

Keith had a feeling of disappointment. Somehow, he had hoped to hear something of Lois Huntington.

Keith, having resolved to devote the afternoon to the call on his friend's wife, and partly in the hope of learning where Lois was, kept on, and presently found himself in front of a new double house, one of the largest on the block. Keith felt reassured.

"Well, this does not look as if Wentworth were altogether broke," he thought.

A strange servant opened the door. Mrs. Wentworth was not at home. The other lady was in--would the gentleman come in? There was the flutter of a dress at the top of the stair.

Keith said no. He would call again. The servant looked puzzled, for the lady at the top of the stair had seen Mr. Keith cross the street and had just given orders that he should be admitted, as she would see him. Now, as Keith walked away, Miss Lois Huntington descended the stair.

"Why didn't you let him in, Hucless?" she demanded.

"I told him you were in, Miss; but he said he would not come in."

Miss Huntington turned and walked slowly back up to her room. Her face was very grave; she was pondering deeply.

A little later Lois Huntington put on her hat and went out.

Lois had not found her position at Mrs. Wentworth's the most agreeable in the world. Mrs. Wentworth was moody and capricious, and at times exacting.

She had little idea how often that quiet girl who took her complaints so calmly was tempted to break her vow of silence, answer her upbraidings, and return home. But her old friends were dropping away from her. And it was on this account and for Norman's sake that Lois put up with her capriciousness. She had promised Norman to stay with her, and she would do it.

Mrs. Norman's quarrel with Alice Lancaster was a sore trial to Lois. Many of her friends treated Lois as if she were a sort of upper servant, with a mingled condescension and hauteur. Lois was rather amused at it, except when it became too apparent, and then she would show her little claws, which were sharp enough. But Mrs. Lancaster had always been sweet to her, and Lois had missed her sadly. She no longer came to Mrs. Wentworth's. Lois, however, was always urged to come and see her, and an intimacy had sprung up between the two. Lois, with her freshness, was like a breath of Spring to the society woman, who was a little jaded with her experience; and the elder lady, on her part, treated the young girl with a warmth that was half maternal, half the cordiality of an elder sister. What part Gordon Keith played in this friendship must be left to surmise.

It was to Mrs. Lancaster's that Lois now took her way. Her greeting was a cordial one, and Lois was soon confiding to her her trouble; how she had met an old friend after many years, and then how a contretemps had occurred. She told of his writing her, and of her failure to answer his letters, and how her aunt had refused to allow him to come to Brookford to see them.

Mrs. Lancaster listened with interest.

"My dear, there was nothing in that. Yes, that was just one of Ferdy's little lies," she said, in a sort of reverie.

"But it was so wicked in him to tell such falsehoods about a man," exclaimed Lois, her color coming and going, her eyes flashing.

Mrs. Lancaster shrugged her shoulders.

"Ferdy does not like Mr. Keith, and he does like you, and he probably thought to prevent your liking him."

"I detest him."

The telltale color rushed up into her cheeks as Mrs. Lancaster's eyes rested on her, and as it mounted, those blue eyes grew a little more searching.

"I can scarcely bear to see him when he comes there," said Lois.

"Has he begun to go there again?" Mrs. Lancaster inquired, in some surprise.

"Yes; and he pretends that he is coming to see me!" said the girl, with a flash in her eyes. "You know that is not true?"

"Don't you believe him," said the other, gravely. Her eyes, as they rested on the girl's face, had a very soft light in them.

"Well, we must make it up," she said presently. "You are going to Mrs. Wickersham's?" she asked suddenly.

"Yes; Cousin Louise is going and says I must go. Mr. Wickersham will not be there, you know."

"Yes." She drifted off into a reverie.

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