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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesKennedy Square - Chapter 21
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Kennedy Square - Chapter 21 Post by :beetee Category :Long Stories Author :Francis Hopkinson Smith Date :May 2012 Read :3479

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Kennedy Square - Chapter 21


But all outings must come to an end. And so when the marsh grass on the lowlands lay in serried waves of dappled satin, and the corn on the uplands was waist high and the roses a mob of beauty, Kate threw her arms around Peggy and kissed her over and over again, her whole heart flowing through her lips; and then the judge got his good-by on his wrinkled cheek, and the children on any clean spot which she found on their molasses-covered faces; and then the cavalcade took up its line of march for the boat-landing, Willits going as far as the wharf, where he and Kate had a long talk in low tones, in which he seemed to be doing all the talking and she all the listening--"But nuthin' mo'n jes' a han'shake" (so Todd told St. George), "he lookin' like he wanter eat her up an' she kinder sayin' dat de cake ain't brown 'nough yit fur tastin'--but one thing I know fo' sho'--an' dat is she didn't let 'im kiss 'er. I wuz leadin' his horse pas' whar dey wuz standin', an' de sorrel varmint got cuttin' up an' I kep' him prancin' till Mister Willits couldn't stay wid her no longer. Drat dat red-haided--"

"Stop, Todd--be careful--you mustn't speak that way of Mr. Willits."

"Well, Marse George, I won't--but I ain't neber like him f'om de fust. He ain't quality an' he neber kin be. How Miss Kate don' stan' him is mo'n I kin tell."

Kate drove up to her father's house in state, with Ben as special envoy to see that she and her belongings were properly cared for. St. George with Todd and the four dogs--six in all--arrived, despite Kate's protestations, on foot.

Pawson met him at the door. He had given up his boarding-house and had transferred his traps and parcels to the floor above--into Harry's old room, really--in order that the additional rent--(he had now taken entire charge of Temple's finances)--might help in the payment of the interest on the mortgage. He had thought this all out while St. George was at Wesley and had moved in without notifying him, that being the best way to solve the problem--St. George still retaining his bedroom and dining-room and the use of the front door. Jemima, too, had gone. She wanted, so she had told her master the day he left with Kate, to take a holiday and visit some of her people who lived down by the Marsh Market in an old rookery near the Falls, and would come back when he sent for her; but Todd had settled all that the morning of his arrival, the moment he caught sight of her black face.

"Ain't no use yo' comin' back," the darky blurted out. "I'm gwineter do de cookin' and de chamber-wo'k. Dere ain't 'nough to eat fo' mo'n two. When dem white-livered, no-count, onery gemmens dat stole Marse George's money git in de chain-gang, whar dey b'longs, den may be we'll hab sumpin' to go to market on, but dat ain't yit; an' don't ye tell Marse George I tol' yer or I'll ha'nt ye like dat witch I done heared 'bout down to Wesley--ha'nt ye so ye'll think de debble's got ye." To his master, his only explanation was that Jemima had gone to look after her sister, who had been taken "wid a mis'ry in her back."

If St. George knew anything of the common talk going on around him no one was ever the wiser. He continued the even tenor of his life, visiting and receiving his friends, entertaining his friends in a simple and inexpensive way: Once Poe had spent an evening with him, when he made a manly, straightforward apology for his conduct the night of the dinner, and on another occasion Mr. Kennedy had made an especial point of missing a train to Washington to have an hour's chat with him. In the afternoons he would have a rubber of whist with the archdeacon who lived across the Square--a broad-minded ecclesiastic, who believed in relaxation, although, of course, he was never seen at the club; or he might drop into the Chesapeake for a talk with Richard or sit beside him in his curious laboratory at the rear of his house where he worked out many of the problems that absorbed his mind and inspired his hopes. At night, however late or early--whenever he reached home--there was always a romp with his dogs. This last he rarely omitted. The click of the front-door latch, followed by his firm step overhead, was their signal, and up they would come, tumbling over each other in their eagerness to reach his cheeks--straight up, their paws scraping his clothes; then a swoop into the dining-room, when they would be "downed" to the floor, their eyes following his every movement.

Nor had his own financial situation begun as yet to trouble him. Todd and Pawson, however, had long since become nervous. More than once had they put their heads together for some plan by which sufficient money could be raised for current expenses. In this praiseworthy effort, to Todd's unbounded astonishment, Pawson had one night developed a plan in which the greatly feared and much-despised Gadgem was to hold first place. Indeed on the very morning succeeding the receipt of Pawson's letter and at an hour when St. George would be absent at the club, there had come a brisk rat-a-tat on the front door and Gadgem had sidled in.

Todd had not seen the collector since that eventful morning when he stood by ready to pick up the pieces of that gentleman's dismembered body when his master was about to throw him into the street for doubting his word, and he now studied him with the greatest interest. The first thing that struck him was the collector's clothes. As the summer was approaching he had changed his winter suit for a combination of brown linen bound with black--(second hand, of course, its former owner having gone out of mourning) and at the moment sported a moth-eaten, crape- encircled white beaver with a floppy, two-inch brim, a rusty black stock that grabbed him close under the chin, completely submerging his collar, and a pair of congress gaiters very much run down at the heel. He was evidently master of himself and the situation, for he stood looking from Todd to the young lawyer, a furtive, anxious expression on his face that betokened both a surprise at being sent for and a curiosity to learn the cause, although no word of inquiry passed his lips.

Pawson's opening remark calmed the collector's suspicions.

"EXactly," he answered in a relieved tone, when the plot had been fully developed, dragging a mate of the red bandanna--a blue one--from his pocket and blowing his nose in an impressive manner. "EXactly--quite right--quite right--difficult perhaps--ENORmously difficult but--yes--quite right."

Then there had followed a hurried consultation, during which the bullet-headed darky absorbed every word, his eyes rolling about in his head, his breath ending somewhere near his jugular vein.

These details duly agreed upon, Gadgem bowed himself out of the dining-room, carrying with him a note-book filled with such data as:

2 fowling pieces made by Purdey, 1838.
3 heavy duck guns.
2 English saddles.
1 silver loving cup.
2 silver coasters, etc, etc.,

a list which Todd the night before had prompted and which Pawson, in his clear, round hand, had transferred to a sheet of foolscap ready for Gadgem in the morning.

On reaching the front door the collector stopped and looked furtively up the stairs. He was wondering with professional caution whether St. George had returned and was within hearing distance. If so much as a hint should reach Temple's ears the whole scheme would come to naught. Still in doubt, he called out in his sharpest business voice, as if prolonging a conversation which had been carried on inside:

"Yes, Mr. Pawson, please say to Mr. Temple that it is GADgem, of GADgem & Coombs--and say that I will be here at ten o'clock to-morrow--sharp--on the minute; I am ALways on the minute in matters of this kind. Only five minutes of his time--five minutes, remember--" and he passed out of hearing.

Todd, now duly installed as co-conspirator, opened the ball the next morning at breakfast. St. George had slept late, and the hands of the marble clock marked but a few minutes of the hour of Gadgem's expected arrival, and not a moment could be lost.

"Dat Gadgem man done come yere yisterday," he began, drawing out his master's chair with an extra flourish to hide his nervousness, "an' he say he's commin' ag'in dis mornin' at ten o'clock. Clar to goodness it's dat now! I done forgot to tell ye."

"What does he want, Todd?" asked St. George, dropping into his seat.

"I dunno, sah--said he was lookin' fo' sumpin' fo' a frien' ob his--I think it was a gun--an' he wanted to know what kind to buy fur him-- Yes, sah, dem waffles 's jes' off de fire. He 'lowed he didn't know nuffin' 'bout guns--butter, sah?--an' den Mister Pawson spoke up an' said he'd better ask you. He's tame dis time--leastways he 'peared so."

"A fine gun is rather a difficult thing to get in these days, Todd," replied St. George, opening his napkin. "Since old Joe Manton died I don't know but one good maker--and that's Purdey, of London, and he, I hear, has orders to last him five years. No, Todd--I'd rather have the toast."

"Yes, sah--I knowed ye couldn't do nuffln' fur him--Take de top piece--dat's de brownest--but he seemed so cut up 'bout it dat I tol' him he might see ye fur a minute if he come 'long 'bout ten o'clock, when you was fru' yo' bre'kfus', 'fo' ye got tangled up wid yo' letters an' de papers. Dat's him now, I spec's. Shall I show him in?"

"Yes, show him in, Todd. Gadgem isn't a bad sort of fellow after all. He only wants his pound of flesh, like the others. Ah, good-morning, Mr. Gadgem." The front door had been purposely left open, and though the bill collector had knocked by way of warning, he had paused for no answer and was already in the room. The little man laid his battered hat silently on a chair near the door, pulled down his tight linen sleeves with the funereal binding, adjusted his high black stock, and with half-creeping, half-cringing movement, advanced to where St. George sat.

"I said good-morning, Mr. Gadgem," repeated St. George in his most captivating tone of voice. He had been greatly amused at Gadgem's antics.

"I heard you, sir--I heard you DIStinctly, sir--I was only seeking a place on which to rest my hat, sir--not a very inSPIRing hat-quite the contrary--but all I have. Yes, sir--you are quite right--it is a VERY good morning--a most deLIGHTful morning. I was convinced of that when I crossed the park, sir. The trees--"

"Never mind the trees, Gadgem. We will take those up later on. Tell me what I can do for you--what do you want?"

"A GUN, sir--a plain, straightforward GUN--one that can be relied upon. Not for mySELF, sir--I am not murderously inclined--but for a friend who has commissioned me--the exact word, sir--although the percentage is small--comMISsioned me to acquire for him a fowling piece of the pattern, weight, and build of those belonging to St. George W. Temple, Esquire, of Kennedy Square-and so I made bold, sir, to--"

"You won't find it, Gadgem," replied St. George, buttering the toast. "I have two that I have shot with for years that haven't their match in the State. Todd, bring me one of those small bird guns--there, behind the door in the rack. Hand it to Mr. Gadgem. Now, can you see by the shape of--take hold of it, man. But do you know anything about guns?"

"Only enough to keep away from their muzzles, sir." He had it in his hand now--holding it by the end of the barrel, Todd instinctively dodging out of the way, although he knew it was not loaded. "No, sir, I don't know anything--not the very SMALLest thing about guns. There is nothing, in fact, I know so little about as a gun--that is why I have come to you."

St. George recovered the piece and laid it as gently on the table beside his plate as if it had been a newly laid egg.

"No, I don't think you do," he laughed, "or you wouldn't hold it upside down. Now go on and give me the rest."

Gadgem emitted a chuckle--the nearest he ever came to a laugh: "To have it go ON, sir, is infinitely preferable than to have it go OFF, sir. He-he! And you have, I believe you said, two of these highly valuable implements of death?"

"Yes, five altogether--two of this kind. Here, Todd"--and he picked up the gun--"put it back behind the door."

Gadgem felt in his inside pocket, produced and consulted a memorandum with the air of a man who wanted to be entirely sure, and in a bland voice said:

"I should think at your time of life--if you will permit me, sir--that one less gun would not seriously inconvenience you. Would you permit me, sir, to hope that--"

St. George looked up from his plate and a peculiar expression flitted across his face.

"You mean you want to buy it?"

The bill collector made a little movement forward and scrutinized St. George's face with the eye of a hawk. For a man of Temple's kidney to be without a fowling piece was like a king being without a crown. This was the crucial moment. Gadgem knew Temple's class, and knew just how delicately he must be handled. If St. George's pride, or his love for his favorite chattels--things personal to himself--should overcome him, the whole scheme would fall to the ground. That any gentleman of his standing had ever seen the inside of a pawn-shop in his life was unthinkable. This was what Gadgem faced. As for Todd, he had not drawn a full breath since Gadgem opened his case.

"Not EXactly buy it, sir," purred Gadgem, twisting his body into an obsequious spiral. "Men of your position do not traffic in such things--but if you would be persuaded, sir, for a money consideration which you would fix yourself--say the ORIGinal cost of the gun--to spare one of your five--you would greatly delight--in fact, you would overWHELM with gratitude--a friend of mine."

St. George hesitated, looked out of the window and a brand-new thought forced its way into his mind--as if a closet had been suddenly opened, revealing a skeleton he had either forgotten or had put permanently out of sight. There WAS need of this "original cost"--instant need--something he had entirely forgotten. Jemima would soon need it--perhaps needed it at that very minute. He had, it was true, often kept her waiting: but that was when he could pay at his pleasure; now, perhaps, he couldn't pay at all.

"All right, Gadgem," he said slowly, a far-away, thoughtful look on his face--"come to think of it I don't need two guns of this calibre, and I am quite willing to let this one go, if it will oblige your friend." Here Todd breathed a sigh of relief so loud and deep that his master turned his head in inquiry. "As to the price--I'll look that up. Come and see me again in a day or two. Better take the gun with you now."

The fight had been won, but the risk had been great. Even Pawson could hardly believe his ears when Gadgem, five minutes later, related the outcome of the interview.

"Well, then, it will be plain sailing so long as the rest of the things last," said Pawson, handling the piece with a covetous touch. He too liked a day off when he could get it. "Who will you sell the gun to, Gadgem?"

"God knows--I don't! I'll borrow the money on it somehow--but I can't see him suffer--no, sir--can't see him SUFfer. It's a pleasure to serve him--real gentleman--REAL--do you hear, Pawson? No veneer--no sham--no lies! Damn few such men, I tell you. Never met one before-never will meet one again. Gave up everything he had for a rattle-brain young scamp--BEGgared himself to pay his debts--not a drop of the fellow's blood in his veins either--incredible--inCREDible! Got to handle him like gunpowder or he'll blow everything into matchsticks. Find out the price and I'll bring the money to-morrow. Do you pay it to him; I can't. I'd feel too damn mean after lying to him the way I have. Feel that way now. Good-day."

The same scene was practically repeated the following month. It was an English saddle this time, St. George having two. And it was the same unknown gentleman who figured as "the much-obliged friend," Pawson conducting the negotiations and securing the owner's consent. On this occasion Gadgem sold the saddle outright to the keeper of a livery stable, whose bills he collected, paying the difference between the asking and the selling price out of his own pocket.

Gradually, however, St. George awoke to certain unsuspected features of what was going on around him. The discovery was made one morning when the go-between was closeted in Pawson's lower office, Pawson conducting the negotiations in St. George's dining-room. The young attorney, with Gadgem's assistance, had staved off some accounts until a legal ultimatum had been reached, and, having but few resources of his own left, had, with Todd's help, decided that the silver loving-cup presented to his client's father by the Marquis de Castullux could alone save the situation--a decision which brought an emphatic refusal from the owner. This and the discovery of Pawson's and Gadgem's treachery had greatly incensed him.

"And you tell me, Pawson, that that scoundrel, Gadgem, has--Todd go down and bring him up here immediately--has had the audacity to run a pawnshop for my benefit without so much as asking my leave?--peddling my things?--lying to me straight through?" Here the door opened and Gadgem's face peered in. He had, as was his custom, crept upstairs so as to be within instant call when wanted.

"Yes--I am speaking of you, sir. Come inside and shut that door behind you. You too, Todd. What the devil do you mean, Gadgem, by deceiving me in this way? Don't you know I would rather have starved to death than--"

Gadgem raised his hand in protest:

"EXactly so, sir. That's what we were afraid of, sir--such an uncomfortable thing to starve to death, sir--I couldn't permit it, sir--I'd rather walk my feet off than permit it. I did walk them off--"

"But who asked you to tramp the streets with my things uuder your arm? And you lied to me about it--you said you wanted to oblige a friend. There wasn't a word of truth in it, and you know it."

Again Gadgem's hand went out with a pleading "Please-don't" gesture. "Less than a word, sir--a whole dictionary, less, sir, and UNabridged at that, if I might be permitted to say it. My friend still has the implement of death, and not only does he still possess it, but he is ENORmously obliged. Indeed, I have never SEEN him so happy."

"You mean to tell me, Gadgem," St. George burst out, "that the money you paid me for the gun really came from a friend of yours?"

"I do, sir." Gadgem's gimlet eye was worming itself into Temple's.

"What's his name?"

"Gadgem, sir--John Gadgem, of Gadgem & Coombs--Gadgem sole survivor, since Coombs is with the angels; the foreclosure having taken place last month: hence these weeds." And he lifted the tails of his black coat in evidence.

"Out of your own money?"

"Yes, sir--some I had laid away."

St. George wheeled suddenly and stood looking first at Gadgem, then at Pawson, and last at Todd, as if for confirmation. Then a light broke in upon him--one that played over his face in uncertain flashes.

"And you did this for me?" he asked thoughtfully, fixing his gaze on Gadgem.

"I did, sir," came the answer in a meek voice, as if he had been detected in filching an apple from a stand; "and I would do it again--do it over and over again. And it has been a great pleasure for me to do it. I might say, sir, that it has been a kind of exTREME bliss to do it."

"Why?" There was a tremor now in Temple's voice that even Todd had never noticed before.

Gadgem turned his head away. "I don't know, sir," he replied in a lower tone. "I couldn't explain it on oath; I don't care to explain it, sir." No lie could serve him now--better make a clean breast of the villany.

"And you still own the gun?" Todd had never seen his master so gentle before--not under a provocation such as this.

"I do, sir." Gadgem's voice was barely audible.

"Then it means that you have locked up just that much of your own money for a thing you can never use yourself and can't sell. Am I right?"

Gadgem lowered his head and for a moment studied the carpet. His activities, now that the cat was out of the bag, were fair subjects for discussion, but not his charities.

"I prefer not to answer, sir, and--" the last words died in his throat.

"But it's true, isn't it?" persisted St. George. He had never once taken his eyes from Gadgem.

"Yes, it's true."

St. George turned on his heel, walked to the mantel, stood for an instant gazing into the empty fireplace, and then, with that same straightening of his shoulders and lift of his head which his friends knew so well when he was deeply stirred, confronted the collector again:

"Gadgem!" He stopped and caught his breath. For a moment it seemed as if something in his throat choked his utterance. "Gadgem--give me your hand! Do you know you are a gentleman and a thoroughbred! No--don't speak--don't explain. We understand each other. Todd, bring three glasses and hand me what is left of the old Port. And do you join us, Pawson."

Todd, whose eyes had been popping from his head during the entire interview, and who was still amazed at the outcome, suddenly woke to the dangers of the situation: on no account must his master's straits be further revealed. He raised his hand as a signal to St. George, who was still looking into Gadgem's eyes, screwed his face into a tangle of puckers and in a husky whisper muttered, so low that only his master could hear:

"Dat Port, Marse George"--one eye now went entirely out in a wink--"is gittin' a leetle mite low" (there hadn't been a drop of it in the house for six months) "an' if--"

"Well, then, that old Brown Sherry--get a fresh bottle, Todd--" St. George was quite honest, and so, for that matter, was Todd: the Brown Sherry had also seen its day.

"Yes, sah--but how would dat fine ol' peach brandy de jedge gin ye do? It's sp'ilin' to be tasted, sah." Both eyes were now in eclipse in the effort to apprise his master that with the exception of some badly corked Madeira, Tom Coston's peach brandy was about the only beverage left in the cellar.

"Well, the old peach brandy, then--get it at once and serve it in the large glasses."

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Kennedy Square - Chapter 22 Kennedy Square - Chapter 22

Kennedy Square - Chapter 22
CHAPTER XXIISt. George had now reached the last stage of his poverty. The selling or pawning of the few valuables left him had been consummated and with the greatest delicacy, so as best to spare his feelings. That he had been assisted by hitherto unknown friends who had sacrificed their own balances in his behalf, added temporarily to his comforts but did not lessen the gravity of the present situation. The fact remained that with the exception of a few possible assets he was practically penniless. Every old debt that could be collected--and Gadgem had been a scourge and a flaming

Kennedy Square - Chapter 20 Kennedy Square - Chapter 20

Kennedy Square - Chapter 20
CHAPTER XXTheir reception at Wesley, the ancestral home of the Costons, although it was late at night when they arrived, was none the less joyous. Peggy was the first to welcome the invalid, and Tom was not far behind. "Give her to me, St. George," bubbled Peggy, enfolding the girl in her arms. "You blessed thing! Oh, how glad I am to get hold of you! They told me you were ill, child--not a word of truth in it! No, Mr. Coston, you sha'n't even have one of her little fingers until I get through loving her. What's your mammy's name--Henny?