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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLuke Walton - Chapter 20. Ambrose Kean's Imprudence
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Luke Walton - Chapter 20. Ambrose Kean's Imprudence Post by :dalton Category :Long Stories Author :Horatio Alger Date :May 2012 Read :901

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Luke Walton - Chapter 20. Ambrose Kean's Imprudence

CHAPTER XX. AMBROSE KEAN'S IMPRUDENCE

Luke and his companion were startled by the sudden attempt at suicide, and for an instant sat motionless in their boat. Luke was the first to regain his self-possession.

"Quick, let us try to save him," he called to John Hagan.

They plunged their oars into the water, and the boat bounded over the waves. Fortunately they were but half a dozen rods from the place where the would-be suicide was now struggling to keep himself up. For, as frequently happens, when he actually found himself in the water, the instinct of self-preservation impelled the would-be self-destroyer to attempt to save himself. He could swim a very little, but the waters of the lake were in lively motion, his boat had floated away, and he would inevitably have drowned but for the energetic action of Luke and John. They swept their boat alongside, and Luke thrust his oar in the direction of the struggling man.

"Take hold of it," he said, "and we will tow you to your own boat."

Guided and sustained by the oar, the man gripped the side of Luke's boat, leaving the oar free. His weight nearly overbalanced the craft, but with considerable difficulty the boys succeeded in reaching the other boat, and, though considerably exhausted, its late occupant managed to get in.

As he took his place in the boat he presented a sorry spectacle, for his clothes were wet through and dripping.

"You will take your death of cold unless you go on shore at once," said Luke.

"It wouldn't matter much if I did," said the young man, gloomily.

"We will row to shore also," said Luke to John Hagan. "He may make another attempt to drown himself. I will see what I can do to reason him out of it."

They were soon at the pier, and the three landed.

"Where do you live?" asked Luke, taking his position beside the young man.

The latter named a number on Vine Street. It was at a considerable distance, and time was precious, for the young man was trembling from the effects of his immersion.

"There is no time to lose. We must take a carriage," said Luke.

He summoned one, which fortunately had just returned from the pier, to which it had conveyed a passenger, and the two jumped in.

Luke helped him up to his room, a small one on the third floor, and remained until he had changed his clothes and was reclining on the bed.

"You ought to have some hot drink," he said. "Can any be got in the house?"

"Yes; Mrs. Woods, the landlady, will have some hot water."

Luke went downstairs and succeeded in enlisting the sympathetic assistance of the kind-hearted woman by representing that her lodger had been upset in the lake and was in danger of a severe cold.

When the patient had taken down a cup of hot drink, he turned to Luke and said: "How can I thank you?"

"There is no need to thank me. I am glad I was at hand when you needed me."

"What is your name?"

"Luke Walton."

"Mine is Ambrose Kean. You must think I am a fool,"

"I think," said Luke, gently, "that you have some cause of unhappiness."

"You are right there. I have been unfortunate, but I am also an offender against the law, and it was the fear of exposure and arrest that made me take the step I did. I thought I was ready to die, but when I found myself in the water life seemed dearer than it had before, and I tried to escape. Thanks to you, I am alive, but now I almost wish that I had succeeded. I don't know how to face what is before me."

"Would you mind telling me what it is?"

"No; I need someone to confide in, and you deserve my confidence. Let me tell you, then, that I am employed in an office on Dearborn Street. My pay is small, twelve dollars a week, but it would be enough to support me if I had only myself to look out for. But I have a mother in Milwaukee, and I have been in the habit of sending her four dollars a week. That left me only eight dollars, which I found it hard to live on, and there was nothing left for clothes."

"I can easily believe that," said Luke.

"I struggled along, however, as best I might, but last week I received a letter from my mother saying that she was sick. Of course her expenses were increased, and she wrote to know if I could send her a little extra money. I have been living so close up to my income that I absolutely had less than a dollar in my pocket. Unfortunately, temptation came at a time when I was least prepared to resist it. One of our customers from the country came in when I was alone, and paid me fifty dollars in bills, for which I gave him a receipt. No one saw the payment made. It flashed upon me that this sum would make my mother comfortable even if her sickness lasted a considerable time. Without taking time to think, I went to an express office, and forwarded to her a package containing the bills. It started yesterday, and by this time is in my mother's hands. You see the situation I am placed in. The one who paid the money may come to the office at any time and reveal my guilt."

"I don't wonder that you were dispirited," returned Luke. "But can nothing be done? Can you not replace the money in time?"

"How can I? I have told you how small my salary is."

"Have you no friend or friends from whom you could borrow the money?"

"I know of none. I have few friends, and such as they are, are, like myself, dependent on small pay. I must tell you, by the way, how we became poor. My mother had a few thousand dollars, which, added to my earnings, would have made us comparatively independent, but in an evil hour she invested them in a California mine, on the strength of the indorsement of a well-known financier of Milwaukee, Mr. Thomas Browning----"

"Who?" asked Luke, in surprise.

"Thomas Browning. Do you know him?"

"I have seen him. He sometimes comes to Chicago, and stops at the Sherman House."

"He recommended the stock so highly--in fact, he was the president of the company that put it on the market--that my poor mother thought it all right, and invested all she had. The stock was two dollars a share. Now it would not fetch two cents. This it was that reduced us to such extreme poverty."

"Do you think Mr. Browning was honest in his recommendation of the mine?" asked Luke, thoughtfully.

"I don't know. He claimed to be the principal loser himself. But it is rather remarkable that he is living like a rich man now. Hundreds lost their money through this mine. As Mr. Browning had himself been in California----"

"What is that?" asked Luke, in excitement. "You say this Browning was once in California? Can you tell when?"

"Half a dozen years ago, more or less."

"And he looks like the man to whom my poor father confided ten thousand dollars for us," thought Luke. "It is very strange. Everything tallies but the name. The wretch who swindled us was named Butler."

"Why do you ask when Mr. Browning was in California?" asked the young man.

"Because my father died in California," answered Luke, evasively, "and I thought it possible that Mr. Browning might have met him."

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