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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPeter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 28
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Peter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 28 Post by :beetee Category :Long Stories Author :Francis Hopkinson Smith Date :May 2012 Read :366

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Peter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 28

CHAPTER XXVIII

No one suspected that the young architect had killed himself. Garry was known to have suffered from insomnia, and was supposed to have taken an overdose of chloral. The doctor so decided, and the doctor's word was law in such MATTERS, and so there was no coroner's inquest. Then again, it was also known that he was doing a prosperous business with several buildings still in course of construction, and that his wife's stepfather was a prominent banker.

McGowan and his friends were stupefied. One hope was left, and that was Jack's promise that either he or Garry would be at the trustees' meeting on Monday night.

Jack had not forgotten. Indeed nothing else filled his mind. There were still three days in which to work. The shock of his friend's death, tremendous as it was, had only roused him to a greater need of action. The funeral was to take place on Sunday, but he had Saturday and Monday left. What he intended to do for Garry and his career he must now do for Garry's family and Garry's reputation. The obligation had really increased, because Garry could no longer fight his battles himself; nor was there a moment to lose. The slightest spark of suspicion would kindle a flame of inquiry, and the roar of an investigation would follow. McGowan had already voiced his own distrust of Garry's methods. No matter what the cost, this money must be found before Monday night.

The secret of both the suicide and the defalcation was carefully guarded from MacFarlane, who, with his daughter, went at once to Minott's house, proffering his services to the stricken widow, but nothing was withheld from Ruth. The serious financial obligations which Jack was about to undertake would inevitably affect their two lives; greater, therefore, than the loyalty he owed to the memory of his dead friend, was the loyalty which he owed to the woman who was to be his wife, and from whom he had promised to hide no secrets. Though he felt sure what her answer would be, his heart gave a great bound of relief when she answered impulsively, without a thought for herself or their future:

"You are right, dearest. These things make me love you more. You are so splendid, Jack. And you never disappoint me. It is Garry's poor little boy who must be protected. Everybody would pity the wife, but nobody would pity the child. He will always be pointed at when he grows up. Dear little tot! He lay in my arms so sweet and fresh this morning, and put his baby hands upon my cheek, and looked so appealingly into my face. Oh, Jack, we must help him. He has done nothing."

They were sitting together as she spoke, her head on his shoulder, her fingers held tight in his strong, brown hand. She could get closer to him in this position, she always told him: these hands and cheeks were the poles of a battery between which flowed and flashed the vitality of two sound bodies, and through which quivered the ecstasy of two souls.

Suddenly the thought of Garry and what he had been, in the days of his brilliancy, and of what he had done to crush the lives about him came to her. Could she not find some excuse for him, something which she might use as her own silent defence of him in the years that were to come?

"Do you think Garry was out of his mind, Jack? He's been so depressed lately?" she asked, all her sympathy in her voice.

"No, my blessed, I don't think so. Everybody is more or less insane who succumbs to a crisis. Garry believed absolutely in himself and his luck, and when the cards went against him he collapsed. And yet he was no more a criminal at heart than I am. But that is all over now. He has his punishment, poor boy, and it is awful when you think of it. How he could bring himself to prove false to his trust is the worst thing about it. This is a queer world, my darling, in which we live. I never knew much about it until lately. It is not so at home, or was not when I was a boy-- but here you can take away a man's character, rob him of his home, corrupt his children. You can break your wife's heart, be cruel, revengeful; you can lie and be tricky, and no law can touch you-- in fact, you are still a respectable citizen. But if you take a dollar-bill out of another man's cash drawer, you are sent to jail and branded as a thief. And it is right--looked at from one standpoint--the protection of society. It is the absence of all mercy in the enforcement of the law that angers me."

Ruth moved her head and nestled the closer. How had she lived all the years of her life, she thought to herself, without this shoulder to lean on and this hand to guide her? She made no answer. She had never thought about these things in that way before, but she would now. It was so restful and so blissful just to have him lead her, he who was so strong and self-reliant, and whose vision was so clear, and who never dwelt upon the little issues. And it was such a relief to reach up her arms and kiss him and say, "Yes, blessed," and to feel herself safe in his hands. She had never been able to do that with her father. He had always leaned on her when schemes of economies were to be thought out, or details of their daily lives planned. All this was changed now. She had found Jack's heart wide open and had slipped inside, his strong will henceforth to be hers.

Still cuddling close, her head on his shoulder, her heart going out to him as she thought of the next morning and the task before him, she talked of their coming move to the mountains, and of the log-cabin for which Jack had already given orders; of the approaching autumn and winter and what they would make of it, and of dear daddy's plans and profits, and of how long they must wait before a larger log-cabin--one big enough for two--would be theirs for life--any and every topic which she thought would divert his mind--but Garry's ghost would not down.

"And what are you going to do first, my darling?" she asked at last, finding that Jack answered only in monosyllables or remained silent altogether.

"I am going to see Uncle Arthur in the morning," he answered quickly, uncovering his brooding thoughts. "It won't do any good, perhaps, but I will try it. I have never asked him for a cent for myself, and I won't now. He may help Corinne this time, now that Garry is dead. There must be some outside money due Garry that he has not been able to collect--commissions on unfinished work. This can be turned in when it is due. Then I am going to Uncle Peter, and after that to some of the people we trade with."

Breen was standing by the ticker when Jack entered. It was a busy day in the Street and values were going up by leaps and bounds. The broker was not in a good humor; many of his customers were short of the market.

He followed Jack into his private office and faced him.

"Funeral's at one o'clock Sunday, I see," he said in a sharp voice, as if he resented the incident. "Your aunt and I will be out on the noon train. She got back this morning, pretty well bunged up. Killed himself, didn't he?"

"That is not the doctor's opinion, sir, and he was with him when he died."

"Well, it looks that way to me. He's busted--and all balled up in the Street. If you know anybody who will take the lease off Corinne's hands, let me know. She and the baby are coming to live with us."

Jack replied that he would make it his business to do so, with pleasure, and after giving his uncle the details of Garry's death he finally arrived at the tangled condition of his affairs.

Breen promptly interrupted him.

"Yes, so Corinne told me. She was in here one day last week and wanted to borrow ten thousand dollars. I told her it didn't grow on trees. Suppose I had given it to her? Where would it be now. Might as well have thrown it in the waste-basket. So I shut down on the whole business--had to."

Jack waited until his uncle had relieved his mind. The state of the market had something to do with his merciless point of view; increasing irritability, due to loss of sleep, and his habits had more. The outburst over, Jack said in a calm direct voice, watching the effect of the words as a gunner watches a shell from his gun:

"Will you lend it to me, sir?"

Arthur was pacing his private office, casting about in his mind how to terminate the interview, when Jack's shot overhauled him. Garry's sudden death had already led him to waste a few more minutes of his time than he was accustomed to on a morning like this, unless there was business in it.

He turned sharply, looked at Jack for an instant, and dropped into the revolving chair fronting his desk.

Then he said in a tone of undisguised surprise:

"Lend you ten thousand dollars! What for?"

"To clear up some matters of Garry's at Corklesville. The Warehouse matter has been closed out, so Corinne tells me."

"Oh, that's it, is it? I thought you wanted it for yourself. Who signs for it?"

"I do."

"On what collateral?"

"My word."

Breen leaned back in his chair. The unsophisticated innocence of this boy from the country would be amusing if it were not so stupid.

"What are you earning, Jack?" he said at last, with a half- derisive, half-humorous expression on his face.

"A thousand dollars a year." Jack had never taken his eyes from his uncle's face, nor had he moved a muscle of his body.

"And it would take you ten years to pay it if you dumped it all in?"

"Yes."

"Got anything else to offer?" This came in a less supercilious tone. The calm, direct manner of the young man had begun to have its effect.

"Nothing but my ore property."

"That's good for nothing. I made a mistake when I wanted you to put it in here. Glad you didn't take me up."

"So am I. My own investigation showed the same thing."

"And the ore's of poor quality," continued Breen in a decided tone.

"Very poor quality, what I saw of it," rejoined Jack.

"Well, we will check that off. MacFarlane got any thing he could turn in?"

"No--and I wouldn't ask him."

"And you mean to tell me, Jack, that you are going broke yourself to help a dead man pay his debts?"

"If you choose to put it that way,"

"Put it that way? Why, what other way is there to put it? You'll excuse me, Jack--but you always were a fool when your damned idiotic notions of what is right and wrong got into your head--and you'll never get over it. You might have had an interest in my business by this time, and be able to write your check in four figures; and yet here you are cooped up in a Jersey village, living at a roadside tavern, and getting a thousand dollars a year. That's what your father did before you; went round paying everybody's debts; never could teach him anything; died poor, just as I told him he would."

Jack had to hold on to his chair to keep his mouth closed. His father's memory was dangerous ground for any man to tread on--even his father's brother; but the stake for which he was playing was too great to be risked by his own anger.

"No, Jack," Breen continued, gathering up a mass of letters and jamming them into a pigeon-hole in front of him, as if the whole matter was set forth in their pages and he was through with it forever. "No--I guess I'll pass on that ten thousand-dollar loan. I am sorry, but A. B. & Co, haven't any shekels for that kind of tommy-rot. As to your helping Minott, what I've got to say to you is just this: let the other fellow walk--the fellow Garry owes money to--but don't you butt in. They'll only laugh at you. Now you will have to excuse me--the market's kiting, and I've got to watch it. Give my love to Ruth. Your aunt and I will be out on the noon train for the funeral. Good-by."

It was what he had expected. He would, perhaps, have stood a better chance if he had read him Peter's encouraging letter of the director's opinion of his Cumberland property, and he might also have brought him up standing (and gone away with the check in his pocket) if he had told him that the money was to save his own wife's daughter and grandchild from disgrace--but that secret was not his. Only as a last, desperate resource would he lay that fact bare to a man like Arthur Breen, and perhaps not even then. John Breen's word was, or ought to be, sacred enough on which to borrow ten thousand dollars or any other sum. That meant a mortgage on his life until every cent was paid.

Do not smile, dear reader. He is only learning his first lesson in modern finance. All young men "raised" as Jack had been--and the Scribe is one of them--would have been of the same mind at his age. In a great city, when your tea-kettle starts to leaking, you never borrow a whole one from your neighbor; you send to the shop at the corner and buy another. In the country--Jack's country, I mean--miles from a store, you borrow your neighbor's, who promptly borrows your saucepan in return. And it was so in larger matters: the old Chippendale desk with its secret drawer was often the bank--the only one, perhaps, in a week's journey. It is astonishing in these days to think how many dingy, tattered or torn bank-notes were fished out of these same receptacles and handed over to a neighbor with the customary--"With the greatest pleasure, my dear sir. When you can sell your corn or hogs, or that mortgage is paid off, you can return it." A man who was able to lend, and who still refused to lend, to a friend in his adversity, was a pariah. He had committed the unpardonable sin. And the last drop of the best Madeira went the same way and with equal graciousness!

Peter, at Jack's knock, opened the door himself. Isaac Cohen had just come in to show him a new book, and Peter supposed some one from the shop below had sent upstairs for him.

"Oh! it's you, my boy!" Peter cried in his hearty way, his arms around Jack's shoulders as he drew him inside the room. Then something in the boy's face checked him, bringing to mind the tragedy. "Yes, I read it all in the papers," he exclaimed in a sympathetic voice. "Terrible, isn't it! Poor Minott. How are his wife and the poor little baby--and dear Ruth. The funeral is to- morrow I see by the papers. Yes, of course I'm going." As he spoke he turned his head and scanned Jack closely.

"Are you ill, my boy?" he asked in an anxious tone, leading him to a seat on the sofa. "You look terribly worn."

"We all have our troubles, Uncle Peter," Jack replied with a glance at Cohen, who had risen from his chair to shake his hand.

"Yes--but not you. Out with it! Isaac doesn't count. Anything you can tell me you can tell him. What's the matter?--is it Ruth?"

Jack's face cleared. "No, she is lovely, and sent you her dearest love."

"Then it's your work up in the valley?"

"No--we begin in a month. Everything's ready--or will be."

"Oh! I see, it's the loss of Minott. Oh, yes, I understand it all now. Forgive me, Jack. I did not remember how intimate you and he were once. Yes, it is a dreadful thing to lose a friend. Poor boy!"

"No--it's not that altogether, Uncle Peter."

He could not tell him. The dear old gentleman was ignorant of everything regarding Garry and his affairs, except that he was a brilliant young architect, with a dashing way about him, of whom Morris was proud. This image he could not and would not destroy. And yet something must be done to switch Peter from the main subject--at least until Cohen should leave.

"The fact is I have just had an interview with Uncle Arthur, and he has rather hurt my feelings," Jack continued in explanation, a forced smile on his face. "I wanted to borrow a little money. All I had to offer as security was my word."

Peter immediately became interested. Nothing delighted him so much as to talk over Jack's affairs. Was he not a silent partner in the concern?

"You wanted it, of course, to help out on the new work," he rejoined. "Yes, it always takes money in the beginning. And what did the old fox say?"

Jack smiled meaningly. "He said that what I called 'my word' wasn't a collateral. Wanted something better. So I've got to hunt for it somewhere else."

"And he wouldn't give it to you?" cried Peter indignantly. "No, of course not! A man's word doesn't count with these pickers and stealers. Half--three-quarters--of the business of the globe is done on a man's word. He writes it on the bottom or on the back of a slip of paper small enough to light a cigar with--but it's only his word that counts. In these mouse-traps, however, these cracks in the wall, they want something they can get rid of the moment somebody else says it is not worth what they loaned on it; or they want a bond with the Government behind it. Oh, I know them!"

Cohen laughed--a dry laugh--in compliment to Peter's way of putting it--but there was no ring of humor in it. He had been reading Jack's mind. There was something behind the forced smile that Peter had missed--something deeper than the lines of anxiety and the haunted look in the eyes. This was a different lad from the one with whom he had spent so pleasant an evening some weeks before. What had caused the change?

"Don't you abuse them, Mr. Grayson--these pawn-brokers," he said in his slow, measured way. "If every man was a Turk we could take his word, but when they are Jews and Christians and such other unreliable people, of course they want something for their ducats. It's the same old pound of flesh. Very respectable firm this, Mr. Arthur Breen & Co.--VERY respectable people. I used to press off the elder gentleman's coat--he had only two--one of them I made myself when he first came to New York--but he has forgotten all about it now," and the little tailor purred softly.

"If you had pressed out his morals, Isaac, it would have helped some."

"They didn't need it. He was a very quiet young man and very polite; not so fat, or so red or so rich, as he is now. I saw him the other day in our bank. You see," and he winked slyly at Jack, "these grand people must borrow sometimes, like the rest of us; but he never remembers me any more." Isaac paused for a moment as if the reminiscence had recalled some amusing incident. When he continued his face had a broad smile--"and I must say, too, that he always paid his bills. Once, when he was afraid he could not pay, he wanted to bring the coat back, but I wouldn't let him. Oh, yes, a very nice young man, Mr. Arthur Breen," and the tailor's plump body shook with suppressed laughter.

"You know, of course, that he is this young man's uncle," said Peter, laying his hand affectionately on Jack's shoulder.

"Oh, yes, I know about it. I saw the likeness that first day you came in," he continued, nodding to Jack. "It was one of the times when your sister, the magnificent Miss Grayson was here, Mr. Grayson." Isaac always called her so, a merry twinkle in his eye when he said it, but with a face and voice showing nothing but the deepest respect; at which Peter would laugh a gentle laugh in apology for his sister's peculiarities, a dislike of little tailors being one of them--this little tailor especially.

"And now, Mr. Breen, I hope you will have better luck," Isaac said, rising from his chair and holding out his hand.

"But you are not going, Isaac," protested Peter.

"Yes, this young gentleman, I see, is in a good deal of trouble and I cannot help him much, so I will go away," and with a wave of his pudgy hand he shut the door behind him and trotted downstairs to his shop.

Jack waited until the sound of his retreating footsteps assured the Jew's permanent departure, then he turned to Peter.

"I did not want to say too much before Mr. Cohen, but Uncle Arthur's refusal has upset me completely. I could not have believed it of him. You must help me somehow, Uncle Peter. I don't mean with your own money; you have not got it to spare--but so I can get it somewhere. I must have it, and I can't rest until I do get it."

"Why, my dear boy! Is it so bad as that? I thought you were joking."

"I tried to joke about it while Mr. Cohen was here, but he saw through it, I know, from the way he spoke: but this really is a very serious matter; more serious than anything that ever happened to me."

Peter walked to the sofa and sat down. Jack's manner and the tone of his voice showed that a grave calamity had overtaken the boy. He sat looking into Jack's eyes.

"Go on," he said, his heart in his mouth.

"I must have ten thousand dollars. How and where can I borrow it?"

Peter started. "Ten thousand dollars!" he repeated in undisguised surprise. "Whew! Why, Jack, that's a very large sum of money for you to want. Why, my dear boy, this is--well--well!"

"It is not for me, Uncle Peter--or I would not come to you for it."

"For whom is it, then?" Peter asked, in a tone that showed how great was his relief now that Jack was not involved.

"Don't ask me, please."

Peter was about to speak, but he checked himself. He saw it all now. The money was for MacFarlane, and the boy did not like to say so. He had heard something of Henry's financial difficulties caused by the damage to the "fill." He thought that this had been made good; he saw now that he was misinformed.

"When do you want it, Jack?" he resumed. He was willing to help, no matter who it was for.

"Before Monday night."

Peter drew out his watch as if to find some relief from its dial, and slipped it into his pocket again. It was not yet three o'clock and his bank was still open, but it did not contain ten thousand dollars or any other sum that he could draw upon. Besides, neither Jack, nor MacFarlane, nor anybody connected with Jack, had an account at the Exeter. The discounting of their notes was, therefore, out of the question.

"To-day is a short business day, Jack, being Saturday," he said with a sigh. "If I had known of this before I might have--and yet to tell you the simple truth, my boy, I don't know a human being in the world who would lend me that much money, or whom I could ask for it."

"I thought maybe Mr. Morris might, if you went to him, but I understand he is out of town," returned Jack.

"Yes," answered Peter in a perplexed tone--"yes--Holker has gone to Chicago and won't be back for a week." He, too, had thought of Morris and the instantaneous way in which he would have reached for his check-book.

"And you must have it by Monday night?" Peter continued, his thoughts bringing into review one after the other all the moneyed men he knew. "Well--well--that IS a very short notice. It means Monday to hunt in, really--to-morrow being Sunday."

He leaned back and sat in deep thought, Jack watching every expression that crossed his face. Perhaps Ruth was mixed up in it in some way. Perhaps their marriage depended upon it--not directly, but indirectly--making a long postponement inevitable. Perhaps MacFarlane had some old score to settle. This contracting was precarious business. Once before he had known Henry to be in just such straits. Again he consulted his watch.

Then a new and cheering thought struck him. He rose quickly from his seat on the sofa and crossed the room to get his hat.

"It is a forlorn hope, Jack, but I'll try it. Come back here in an hour--or stay here and wait."

"No, I'll keep moving," replied Jack. "I have thought of some supply men who know me; our account is considerable; they would lend it to Mr. MacFarlane, but that's not the way I want it. I'll see them and get back as soon as I can--perhaps in a couple of hours."

"Then make it eight o'clock, so as to be sure. I have thought of something else. Ten thousand dollars," he kept muttering to himself--"ten thousand dollars"--as he put on his hat and moved to the door. There he stopped and faced about--his bushy brows tightening as a new difficulty confronted him. "Well, but for how long?" That part of the transaction Jack had forgotten to mention.

"I can't tell; maybe a year--maybe more."

Peter advanced a step as if to return to the room and give up the whole business.

"But Jack, my boy, don't you see how impossible a loan of that kind is?"

Jack stood irresolute. In his mad desire to save Garry he had not considered that phase of the matter.

"Yes--but I've GOT TO HAVE IT," he cried in a positive tone. "You would feel just as I do, if you knew the circumstances."

Peter turned without a word and opened the door leading into the hall. "Be back here at eight," was all he said as he shut the door behind him and clattered down the uncarpeted stairs.

Shortly before the appointed hour Jack again mounted the three flights of steps to Peter's rooms. He had had a queer experience-- queer for him. The senior member of one supply firm had looked at him sharply, and had then said with a contemptuous smile, "Well, we are looking for ten thousand dollars ourselves, and will pay a commission to get it." Another had replied that they were short, or would be glad to oblige him, and as soon as Jack left the office had called to their bookkeeper to "send MacFarlane his account, and say we have some heavy payments to meet, and will he oblige us with a check"--adding to his partner--"Something rotten in Denmark, or that young fellow wouldn't be looking around for a wad as big as that." A third merchant heard him out, and with some feeling in his voice said: "I'm sorry for you, Breen"--Jack's need of money was excuse enough for the familiarity--"for Mr. MacFarlane thinks everything of you, he's told me so a dozen times--and there isn't any finer man living than Henry MacFarlane. But, just as your friend, let me tell you to stay out of the Street; it's no place for a young man like you. No--I don't mean any offence. If I didn't believe in you myself, I wouldn't say it. Take my advice and stay out."

And so footsore and heart-sore, his face haggard from hunger, for he had eaten nothing since breakfast, his purpose misunderstood, his own character assailed, his pride humiliated, and with courage almost gone, he strode into Peter's room and threw himself into a chair.

Peter heard his step and entered from his bedroom, where he had finished dressing for dinner. The old fellow seemed greatly troubled. One glance at Jack's face told the story of the afternoon.

"You have done nothing, Jack?" he asked in a despondent tone.

"No--have you?"

"Nothing. Portman has gone to his place on Long Island, the others were out. Whom did you see?"

"Some people we do business with; some of them laughed at me; some gave me advice; none of them had any money."

"I expected it. I don't think you are quite aware of what you ask, my dear boy."

"Perhaps I am not, but I am beginning to see. It is a new experience for me. If my father had wanted the money for the same purpose for which I want this, he would not have had to drive a mile from his house before he would have had it."

"Your father lived in a different atmosphere, my boy; in another age, really. In his environment money meant the education of children, the comfort of women, and the hospitalities that make up social life."

"Well, is not that true now, among decent people?" protested Jack, his mind going back to some homes he remembered.

"No--not generally--not here in New York. Money here means the right to exist on the planet; we fight for it as we do for our lives. Your own need of this ten thousand dollars proves it. The men I tried to find this afternoon have more than they need or ever will need; that's why I called on them. If I lost it, it wouldn't matter to them, but I would never hear the last of it all the same," and a shudder ran through him.

Peter did not tell Jack that had Portman been at home and, out of friendship for him, had agreed to his request, he would have required the old fellow's name on a demand note for the amount of the loan; and that he would willingly have signed it, to relieve the boy's mind and ward off the calamity that threatened those he loved and those who loved him--not one cent of which, the Scribe adds in all positiveness, would the boy have taken had he known that the dear fellow had in any way pledged himself for its return.

For some minutes Jack sat stretched out in his chair, his body aslant; Peter still beside him. All the events of the day and night passed in review before him; Garry's face and heavy breathing; McGowan's visit and defiance; Corinne's agonized shriek--even the remembrance made him creep--then Ruth's voice and her pleading look: "The poor little boy. Jack. He has done no wrong--all his life he must be pointed at."

He dragged himself to his feet.

"I will go back to Ruth now, Uncle Peter. Thank you for trying. I know it is a wild goose chase, but I must keep moving. You will be out to-morrow; we bury poor Garry at one o'clock. I still have all day Monday. Good-night."

"Come out and dine with me, my boy--we will go to--"

"No, Ruth is worrying. I will get something to eat when I get home. Good-night!"

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