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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Romance Of An Old-fashioned Gentleman - Chapter 7
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The Romance Of An Old-fashioned Gentleman - Chapter 7 Post by :Hugh_de_Payen Category :Long Stories Author :Francis Hopkinson Smith Date :May 2012 Read :1321

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The Romance Of An Old-fashioned Gentleman - Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

The same poise that restrained Adam Gregg when he came suddenly upon Olivia's portrait in the auction-room sustained him when he looked into the eyes of the young man whom, years before, he had left as a child at Derwood Manor.

"Are you sure?" he asked. He knew he was--he only wanted some fresh light on the dark record. For years the book had been sealed.

"Am I sure? Why it used to be in the garret till my father died, and then my mother brought it down into her room. I have seen her sit before it for hours--she loved it. And once I found her kissing it. Strange, isn't it, how a woman will regret her youth?--and yet I always thought my mother beautiful even when her hair turned gray."

Gregg turned his head and tightened his fingers. For an instant he feared his tears would unman him.

"If it is your mother's portrait," he said, "the picture belongs to you, not to me. I bought it because it recalled a face I once knew, and for its beauty. A man has but one mother, and if your own was like this one she must be your most precious memory. I did not intend to part with it, but I'll give it to you."

"Oh! you are very good, Mr. Gregg," burst out the young man, grasping Adam's hand (Adam caught Olivia's smile now, flashing across his features), "but I have no place for it--not yet. I may have later, when I have a home of my own; that depends upon my business. I'll only ask you to let me come in once in a while to see it."

Gregg returned the grasp heartily, declaring that his door was always open to him at any time and the picture at his disposal whenever he should claim it. He did not tell him he had painted it. He did not tell him that he had known either Olivia or his father, or of his visit ten years later. That part of his life had had a sad and bitter end. Both of them were dead; the house in ruins--why rake among the cinders?

* * * * *

All that spring, in response to Adam's repeated welcomes, Philip Colton made excuses to drop into Gregg's studio. At first to postpone the time for Mr. Eggleston's sittings; then to invite Gregg to dinner at his club to meet some brother financiers, which Gregg declined; again to get his opinion on some trinkets he had bought, and still again to bring him some flowers, he having noticed that the painter was never without them--nor was the portrait, for that matter, Adam always placing a cluster of blossoms or a bunch of roses near the picture, either on the mantel beneath or on the table beside it.

Sometimes Adam when leaving his door on a crack would find that in his absence in an adjoining studio, Colton had come and gone, the only record of his visit being a mass of roses he himself had placed beneath his mother's portrait. Once he surprised the young man standing before it looking up into the eyes as if waiting for her to speak. Incidents like these showed his better and more sympathetic nature and drew Adam to him the closer.

And the growth of the friendship was not all on one side. Not only was Gregg's type of man absolutely new to the young financier, but his workshop was a never-ending surprise. The fact that neither bonds nor stocks, nor anything connected with them, was ever discussed inside its tapestried walls, opened up for him new vistas in life. The latest novel might be gone into or a character in a recent play; or the rendering of a symphony, or some fresh discovery in science, but nothing of gain. What struck him as more extraordinary still was the air of repose that was everywhere apparent, so different from his own busy life, and at any hour of the day, too. This was apparent not only in the voices, but in the attitude and bearing of the men who formed the painter's circle of friends.

Sometimes he would find Macklin, the sculptor--up from his atelier in the basement--buried in a chair and a book, pipe in mouth, before Gregg's fire--had been there for hours when Phil entered. Again he would catch the sound of the piano as he mounted the stairs, only to discover Putney, the landscape painter, running his fingers over the keys, while Adam stood before his easel touching his canvas here or there; or he would interrupt old Sonheim, who kept the book-shop at the corner, and who had known Adam for years--while he read aloud this and that quotation from a musty volume, Adam stretched out at full length on his divan, the smoke of his cigarette drifting blue in the overhead light.

These restful contrasts to his own life interested and astonished him. Since his father's death he had had few hours of real repose. While not yet fifteen he had been thrown out into the world to earn his bread. A successful earning, for he was already head of his firm, in which his prospective father-in-law, Mr. Eggleston, the rich banker, was special partner, and young Eggleston the junior member. An honorable career, too, for the house stood high in the Street, and its credit was above reproach in the commercial world, their company--the Portage Copper Company, whose securities they financed--being one of the many important mining properties in the great Northwest. All this he owed to his own indomitable will and pluck, and to his untiring industry--a quality developed in many another young Southerner the victim of the war and its aftermath.

And he was always welcome.

Apart from the tie that bound them together--of which Philip was unconscious--Adam's heart went out to the young fellow as many another childless, wifeless man's has gone out to youth. He loved his enthusiasms, his industry, his successes. Most of all he loved the young man's frankness--the way in which he kept nothing back--even his earlier escapades, many of which he should have been ashamed of. Then again he loved the reverence with which Phil treated him, the deference to his opinions, the acceptance of his standards. Most of all he loved him for the memory of the long ago.

It was only when the overmastering power of money became the dominant force--the one recognized and gloated over by Philip--that his face grew grave. It was then that the older and wiser man, with his keen insight into the human heart, trembled for the younger, fearing that some sudden pressure, either of fortune or misfortune, might sweep him off his feet. It was at these times--Philip's face all excitement with the telling--that Adam's penetrating eyes, searching into the inner places, would find the hard, almost pitiless lines which he remembered so well in the father's face repeated in the son's.

There was, however, one subject which swept these lines out of his face. That was when Phil would speak of Madeleine, the rich banker's daughter--Madeleine with her sunny eyes and merry laugh--"Only up to my shoulder--such a dear girl!" Then there would break over the young man's face that joyous, irradiating smile, that sudden sparkle of the eye and quiver of the lip that had made his own mother's face so enchanting. On these occasions the Street and all it stood for, as well as books and everything else, was forgotten and Madeleine would become the sole topic. These two influences struggled for mastery in the young man's heart; influences unknown to Philip, but clear as print to the eye of the thoughtful man of the world who, day by day, read his companion's mind the clearer.

As to Madeleine no subject could be more congenial.

When a young fellow under thirty has found a sympathetic old fellow of fifty to listen to talks of his sweetheart, and when that old fellow of fifty has found a companion with a look in his eyes of the woman he loved and who carries in his face something of the joy he knew in youth, it is no wonder that these two became still greater friends, or that Philip's tread outside Adam Gregg's door was always followed by a quick beat of the painter's heart and a warm grasp of his hand.

One afternoon Philip came in with a spring quite different from either his nervous walk or his more measured tread--his "bank director's step" Adam used to call it with a smile. This time he was on his toes, his hands in the air tossing the velvet curtains aside with a swing as he sprang inside.

"Madeleine's home from the West!" he burst out. "Now at last you'll see her, and you've got to paint her, too. Oh, she knows all about the portrait and how you found it; and this studio and the blossoms you love, and everything. My letters have been full of nothing else all winter. She's crazy to see you."

"Not any more crazy than I am to see her," laughed Adam, with his hand on the young man's shoulder.

And so one spring morning--all beautiful things came to him on spring mornings, Adam told her--Madeleine pushed her pretty little head between the velvet curtains and peered in, Phil close behind her, a bunch of violets in his button-hole.

"This is dear Adam Gregg, Madeleine," was her lover's introduction, "and there's nobody like him, and never will be."

The girl stopped, the overhead light falling on her dainty hat and trim figure; her black eyes in comprehensive glance taking in Adam standing against a hazy background of beautiful things with both hands outstretched.

"And I am so glad to be here and to know you," she said, walking straight towards him and laying her little hands in his.

"And so am I," answered Adam. "And I know everything about you. Phil says you can ride like the wind, and dance so that your toes never touch the floor, and that you----"

"Yes, and so do I know every single thing about you"--here she looked at him critically--"and you--yes, you are just as I hoped you would be. Phil's letters have had nothing else in them since you bewitched him and I've just been wild to get home and have him bring me here. What a lovely place! Isn't it wonderful, Phil?... And is that the portrait? Oh! what a beautiful, beautiful woman!"

She had left Gregg now--before he had had time to say another word in praise of her--and was standing under the picture, her eyes gazing into its depths. Adam kept perfectly still, completely charmed by her dainty joyousness. He felt as if some rare bird had flown in which would be frightened away if he moved a hair's breadth. Phil stood apart watching every expression that crossed her happy face. He had been waiting weeks for this moment.

"You haven't her eyes or her hair, Phil," she continued without turning her head, "but you look at me that way sometimes. I don't know what it is--she's happy, and she's not happy. She loved somebody--that's it, she _loved somebody and her eyes follow you so--they seem alive--and the lips as if they could speak.

"And now, Mr. Gregg, please show me every one of these beautiful things." She had already, with her quick intuition, seen through Adam's personality at a glance, and found out how thoroughly she could trust him.

He obeyed as gallantly and as cheerfully as if he had been her own age, pulling open the drawers of the cabinets, taking out this curio and that, lifting the lid of the old Venetian wedding-chest that she might herself pry among the velvets and embroideries; she dropping on her knees beside it with all the fluttering joy of a child who had come suddenly upon a box of toys; Phil following them around the room putting in a word here and there, reminding Adam of something he had forgotten, or calling her attention to some object hidden in a shadow that even her quick absorbing glance had overlooked.

Once more she stopped before the portrait, her eyes drinking in its beauty.

"Don't you love it, Mr. Gregg?"

"Yes, but I'm going to give it to your--to Philip."

"Oh! you know! do you? Yes, just say it out. We _are going to be married just as soon as we can--next October is the very latest date. I told father we were tired of waiting and he has promised me; we would have been married this spring but for that horrid copper mine that the deeper you go the less copper----"

"Oh, but Madeleine," protested Philip with a sudden flush in his face, "that was some time ago; everything's all right now."

"Well, I don't know much about it; I only repeated what father said."

And then having had her fill of all the pretty things--some she must go back to half a dozen times in her delight--especially some "ducky" little china dogs that were "just too sweet for anything"; and having discussed to her heart's content all the details of the coming wedding--especially the part where Adam was to walk close behind them on their way up the aisle of the church as a sort of fairy godfather to give Phil away--the joyous little bird, followed by the happy young lover, spread her dainty wings and flew away.

And thus it was that two new spirits were added to Adam Gregg's long list of friends: One the young man, earnest, alert, losing no chance in his business, awake to all the changes in the ever-shifting market, conversant with every move of his opponents and meeting them with a shrewdness--and sometimes, Adam thought--with a cunning far beyond his years. The other, the fresh, outspoken, merry young girl, fluttering in and out like a bird in her ever-changing plumage--now in hat loaded with tea-roses, now in trim walking costume fitting her dainty figure; now in her waterproof, her wee little feet "wringing wet" she would tell Adam with a laugh--always a welcome guest, no matter who had his chair, or whose portrait or what work required his brush.

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