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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Good Time Coming - Chapter XXXIII
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The Good Time Coming - Chapter XXXIII Post by :dkingsbury Category :Long Stories Author :T. S. Arthur Date :April 2011 Read :1463

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The Good Time Coming - Chapter XXXIII

THE time until six o'clock, the meeting-hour of the Board, was not
spent by Mr. Markland in solitary thought. He visited, during that
period, three of the principal men interested in the business, and
gleaned from them their views in regard to the late startling
intelligence. Most of them seemed utterly confounded, and no two had
arrived at the same conclusion as to what was best to be done.
Nearly all were inclined to credit fully the report of Lyon's having
failed to pay the last three instalments on the Company's land, and
they denounced him bitterly. These conferences had the effect of
extinguishing all hope in the breast of Mr. Markland. Even if the
half of what he feared were true, he was hopelessly ruined.

At the hour of meeting, Markland assembled with the New York members
of the Company, and two from Boston, who had been summoned on the
day previous by telegraph. The last communications received by Mr.
Fenwick were again read, and the intelligence they brought discussed
with more of passion than judgment. Some proposed deferring all
action until further news came; while others were for sending out an
agent, with full powers, immediately. To this latter view the
majority inclined. "If it be true," suggested Markland, "that
the--Government has threatened to seize upon our property if the
three instalments were not paid on the first of the present month,
every thing may now be in its hands."

"Lyon would hardly let it come to that," said another, "He has in
his possession the means of preventing such a catastrophe, by paying
over one of the instalments, and thus gaining time."

"Time for what?" was asked. "If he mean to enrich himself at our
expense, he can do it best now. He is too shrewd not to understand
that; if a question of his integrity arises, his further power to
reach our funds is gone."

"But he does not know that we have information of the unpaid
instalments."

"And that information may come from one who has an interest in
ruining him," said another.

"You may think so, gentlemen," said Mr. Fenwick, coolly, "but I will
stake my life on the unwavering faith of my correspondent in all he
alleges. Moreover, he is not the man to make a communication of such
serious import lightly. He knows the facts, or he would not affirm
them. My advice is to send out an agent immediately."

"For what purpose?" was inquired.

"To ascertain the true position of affairs; and if our property have
really been seized by the--Government, to take steps for its
release."

"More funds will be required," said one of the Company.

"We cannot, of course, send out an agent empty-handed," was replied.

"Depletion must stop, so far as I am concerned," was the firm
response of one individual. "I will throw no more good money after
bad. If you send out an agent, gentlemen, don't call on me to bear a
part of the expense."

"You are not, surely, prepared to abandon every thing at this
point," said another.

"I am prepared to wait for further news, before I let one more
dollar leave my pocket; and I will wait," was answered.

"And so will I," added another.

Two parties were gradually formed; one in favour of sending out an
agent forthwith, and the other decided in their purpose not to risk
another dollar until more certain information was received. This was
the aspect of affairs when the Board adjourned to meet again on the
next evening.

The result of this conference tended in no degree to calm the fears
of Mr. Markland. How gladly would he now give up all interest in the
splendid enterprise which had so captivated his imagination, if he
could do so at the expense of one-half of his fortune!

"If I could save only a small part of the wreck!" he said to
himself, as he paced the floor of his room at the hotel. It was far
past the hour of midnight, but no sleep weighed upon his eyelids.
"Even sufficient," he added, in a sad voice, "to keep in possession
our beautiful home. As for myself, I can go back into busy life
again. I am yet in the prime of manhood, and can tread safely and
successfully the old and yet unforgotten ways to prosperity. Toil
will be nothing to me, so the home-nest remain undisturbed, and my
beloved ones suffer not through my blindness and folly."

A new thought came into his mind. His investments in the enterprise,
now in such jeopardy, reached the sum of nearly one hundred thousand
dollars. The greater part of this had been actually paid in. His
notes and endorsements made up the balance.

"I will sell out for twenty-five cents in the dollar," said he.

There was a feeble ray of light in his mind, as the thought of
selling out his entire interest in the business, at a most desperate
sacrifice, grew more and more distinct. One or two members of the
Board of Direction had, during the evening's discussion, expressed
strong doubts as to the truth of the charge brought against Mr.
Lyon. The flooding of the shaft was not, they thought, unlikely, and
it might, seriously delay operations; but they were unwilling to
believe affairs to be in the hopeless condition some were disposed
to think. Here was a straw at which the drowning man caught. He
would call upon one of these individuals in the morning, and offer
his whole interest at a tempting reduction. Relieved at this
thought, Mr. Markland could retire for the night; and he even slept
soundly. On awaking in the morning, the conclusion of the previous
night was reviewed. There were some natural regrets at the thought
of giving up, by a single act, three-fourths of his whole fortune;
but, like the mariner whose ship was sinking, there was no time to
hesitate on the question of sacrificing the rich cargo.

"Yes--yes," he said within himself, "I will be content with
certainty. Suspense like the present is not to be endured."

And so he made preparations to call upon a certain broker in Wall
street, who had expressed most confidence in Lyon, and offer to sell
him out his whole interest. He had taken breakfast, and was about
leaving the hotel, when, in passing the reading-room, it occurred to
him to glance over the morning papers. So he stepped in for that
purpose.

Almost the first thing that arrested his attention was the
announcement of an arrival, and news from Central America. "BURSTING
OF A MAGNIFICENT BUBBLE--FLIGHT OF A DEFAULTING AGENT."--were the
next words that startled him. He read on:

"The Government of--has seized upon all that immense tract of
land, reported to be so rich in mineral wealth, which was granted
some two years ago to the--Company. A confidential agent of this
company, to whom, it is reported, immense sums of money were
intrusted, and who failed to pay over the amounts due on the
purchase, has disappeared, and, it is thought, passed over to the
Pacific. He is believed to have defrauded the company out of nearly
half a million of dollars."

"So dies a splendid scheme," was the editorial remark in the New
York paper. "Certain parties in this city are largely interested in
the Company, and have made investments of several hundred thousand
dollars. More than one of these, it is thought, will be ruined by
the catastrophe. Another lesson to the too eager and over-credulous
money-seeker! They will not receive a very large share of public
sympathy."

Mr. Markland read to the end, and then staggered back into a chair,
where he remained for many minutes, before he had the will or
strength to rise. He then went forth hastily, and repaired to the
office of Mr. Fenwick. Several members of the Company, who had seen
the announcement in the morning papers, were there, some pale with
consternation, and some strongly excited. The agent had not yet
arrived. The clerk in the office could answer no questions
satisfactorily. He had not seen Mr. Fenwick since the evening
previous.

"Have his letters yet arrived?" was inquired by one.

"He always takes them from the post-office himself," answered the
clerk.

"What is his usual hour for coming to his office in the morning?"

"He is generally here by this time--often much earlier."

These interrogations, addressed to the clerk by one of those
present, excited doubts and questions in the minds of others.

"It is rather singular that he should be absent at this particular
time," said Markland, giving indirect expression to his own
intruding suspicions.

"It is very singular," said another. "He is the medium of
information from the theatre of our operations, and, above all
things, should not be out of the way now."

"Where does he live?" was inquired of the clerk.

"At No.--, Fourteenth street."

"Will you get into a stage and ride up there?"

"If you desire it, gentlemen," replied the young man; "though it is
hardly probable that I will find him there at this hour. If you wait
a little while longer, he will no doubt be in."

The door opened, and two more of the parties interested in this
bursting bubble arrived.

"Where is Fenwick?" was eagerly asked.

"Not to be found," answered one, abruptly, and with a broader
meaning in his tones than any words had yet expressed.

"He hasn't disappeared, also!"

Fearful eyes looked into blank faces at this exclamation.

"Gentlemen," said the clerk, with considerable firmness of manner,
"language like this must not be used here. It impeaches the
character of a man whose life has thus far been above reproach.
Whatever is said here, remember, is said in his ears, and he will
soon be among you to make his own response."

The manner in which this was uttered repressed, for a time, further
remarks reflecting on the integrity of the agent. But, after the
lapse of nearly an hour, his continued absence was again referred
to, and in more decided language than before.

"Will you do us one favour?" said Mr. Markland, on whose mind
suspense was sitting like a nightmare. He spoke to the clerk, who,
by this time, was himself growing restless.

"Any thing you desire, if it is in my power," was answered.

"Will you go down to the post-office, and inquire if Mr. Fenwick has
received his letters this morning?"

"Certainly, I will." And the clerk went on the errand without a
moment's delay.

"Mr. Fenwick received his letters over two hours ago," said the
young man, on his return. He looked disappointed and perplexed.

"And you know nothing of him?" was said.

"Nothing, gentlemen, I do assure you. His absence is to me
altogether inexplicable."

"Where's Fenwick?" was now asked, in an imperative voice, by a new
comer.

"Not been seen this morning," replied Markland.

"Another act in this tragedy! Gone, I suppose, to join his
accomplice on the Pacific coast, and share his plunder," said the
man, passionately.

"You are using very strong language, sir!" suggested one.

"Not stronger than the case justifies. For my own assurance, I sent
out a secret agent, and I have my first letter from him this
morning. He arrived just in time to see our splendid schemes
dissolve in smoke. Lyon is a swindler, Fenwick an accomplice, and we
a parcel of easy fools. The published intelligence we have to-day is
no darker than the truth. The bubble burst by the unexpected seizure
of our lands, implements, and improvements, by the--Government. It
contained nothing but air! Fenwick and Lyon had just played one of
their reserved cards--it had something to do with the flooding of a
shaft, which would delay results, and require more capital--when the
impatient grantors of the land foreclosed every thing. From the hour
this catastrophe became certain, Lyon was no more seen. He was fully
prepared for the emergency."

In confirmation of this, letters giving the minutest particulars
were shown, thus corroborating the worst, and extinguishing the
feeblest rays of hope.

All was too true. The brilliant bubble had indeed burst, and not the
shadow of a substance remained. When satisfied of this beyond all
doubt, Markland, on whose mind suffering had produced a temporary
stupor, sought his room at the hotel, and remained there for several
days, so hopeless, weak, and undecided, that he seemed almost on the
verge of mental imbecility. How could he return home and communicate
the dreadful intelligence to his family? How could he say to them,
that, for his transgressions, they must go forth from their
beautiful Eden?

"No--no!" he exclaimed, wringing his hands in anguish. "I can never
tell them this! I can never look into their faces! Never! never!"

The moment had come, and the tempter was at his ear. There was,
first, the remote suggestion of self-banishment in some distant
land, where the rebuking presence of his injured family could never
haunt him. But he felt that a life in this world, apart from them,
would be worse than death.

"I am mocked! I am cursed!" he exclaimed, bitterly.

The tempter was stealthily doing his work.

"Oh! what a vain struggle is this life! What a fitful fever! Would
that it were over, and I at rest!"

The tempter was leading his thoughts at will.

"How can I meet my wronged family? How can I look my friends in the
face? I shall be to the world only a thing of pity or reproach. Can
I bear this? No--no--I cannot--I cannot!"

Magnified by the tempter, the consequence looked appalling. He felt
that he had not strength to meet it--that all of manhood would be
crushed out of him.

"What then?" He spoke the words almost aloud, and held his breath,
as if for answer.

"A moment, and all will be over!"

It was the voice of the tempter.

Markland buried his face in his hands, and sat for a long time as
motionless as if sleep had obscured his senses; and all that time a
fearful debate was going on in his mind. At last he rose up, changed
in feeling as well as in aspect. His resolution was taken, and a
deep, almost leaden, calmness pervaded his spirit. He had resolved
on self-destruction!

With a strange coolness, the self-doomed man now proceeded to select
the agent of death. He procured a work on poisons, and studied the
effects of different substances, choosing, finally, that which did
the fatal work most quickly and with the slightest pain. This
substance was then procured. But he could not turn forever from
those nearest and dearest, without a parting word.

The day had run almost to a close in these fearful struggles and
fatal preparations; and the twilight was falling, when, exhausted
and in tears, the wretched man folded, with trembling hands, a
letter he had penned to his wife. This done, he threw himself, weak
as a child, upon the bed, and, ere conscious that sleep was stealing
upon him, fell off into slumber.

Sleep! It is the great restorer. For a brief season the order of
life is changed, and the involuntary powers of the mind bear rule in
place of the voluntary. The actual, with all its pains and
pleasures, is for the time annihilated. The pressure of thought and
the fever of emotion are both removed, and the over-taxed spirit is
at rest. Into his most loving guardianship the great Creator of man,
who gave him reason and volition, and the freedom to guide himself,
takes his creature, and, while the image of death is upon him,
gathers about him the Everlasting Arms. He suspends, for a time, the
diseased voluntary life, that he may, through the involuntary,
restore a degree of health, and put the creature he has formed for
happiness in a new condition of mental and moral freedom.

Blessed sleep! Who has not felt and acknowledged thy sweet
influences? Who has not wondered at thy power in the tranquil
waking, after a night that closed around the spirit in what seemed
the darkness of coming despair?

Markland slept; and in his sleep, guided by angels, there came to
him the spirits of his wife and children, clothed in the beauty of
innocence. How lovingly they gathered around him! how sweet were
their words in his ears! how exquisite the thrill awakened by each
tender kiss! Now he was with them in their luxurious home; and now
they were wandering, in charmed intercourse, amid its beautiful
surroundings. Change after change went on; new scenes and new
characters appeared, and yet the life seemed orderly and natural.
Suddenly there came a warning of danger. The sky grew fearfully
dark; fierce lightning burned through the air, and the giant tempest
swept down upon the earth with resistless fury. Next a flood was
upon them. And now he was seized with the instinct of
self-preservation, and in a moment had deserted his helpless family,
and was fleeing, alone to a place of safety. From thence he saw wife
and children borne off by the rush of waters, their white, imploring
faces turned to him, and their hands stretched out for succour. Then
all his love returned; self was forgotten; he would have died to
save them. But it was too late! Even while he looked, they were
engulfed and lost.

From such a dream Markland was awakened into conscious life. The
shadowy twilight had been succeeded by darkness. He started up,
confused and affrighted. Some moments passed before his bewildered
thoughts were able to comprehend his real position; and when he did
so, he fell back, with a groan, horror-stricken, upon the bed. The
white faces and imploring hands of his wife and children were still
vividly before him.

"Poor, weak, coward heart!" he at last murmured to himself. "An evil
spirit was thy counsellor. I knew not that so mean and base a
purpose could find admittance there. What! Beggar and disgrace my
wife and children, and then, like a, skulking coward, leave them to
bear the evil I had not the courage to face! Edward Markland! Can
this, indeed, be true of thee?"

And the excited man sprang from the bed. A feeble light came in
through the window-panes above the door, and made things dimly
visible. He moved about, for a time, with an uncertain air, and then
rung for a light. The first object that met his eyes, when the
servant brought in a lamp, was a small, unopened package, lying on
the table. He knew its contents. What a strong shudder ran through
his frame! Seizing it the instant the attendant left the room, he
flung it through the open window. Then, sinking on his knees, he
thanked God fervently for a timely deliverance.

The fierce struggle with pride was now over. Weak, humbled, and
softened in feeling almost to tears, Markland sat alone, through the
remainder of that evening, with his thoughts reaching forward into
the future, and seeking to discover the paths in which his feet must
walk. For himself he cared not now. Ah! if the cherished ones could
be saved from the consequences of his folly! If he alone were
destined to move in rough and thorny ways! But there was for them no
escape. The paths in which he moved they must move. The cup he had
made bitter for himself would be bitter for them also.

Wretched man! Into what a great deep of misery had he plunged
himself!

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