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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Romance Of An Old-fashioned Gentleman - Chapter 8
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The Romance Of An Old-fashioned Gentleman - Chapter 8 Post by :Hugh_de_Payen Category :Long Stories Author :Francis Hopkinson Smith Date :May 2012 Read :2689

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The Romance Of An Old-fashioned Gentleman - Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

One afternoon, some days after Philip's return from an inspection of the mines of the Portage Copper Company, and an hour ahead of his usual time, the velvet curtain was pushed aside and the young man walked in. Not only did he move with his most important "bank director's step," but he brought with him an air of responsibility only seen in magnates who control the destinies of corporations and the savings of their stockholders.

"What's the matter, Phil?" asked Adam with a laugh. "Have they made you president of the Stock Exchange, or has the Government turned over its deposits to your keeping, or has the wedding-day been set for to-morrow?"

"Wedding-day's all right; closer than ever, but I've got something that knocks being president of the Exchange cold. Our scheme is about fixed up and it's to be floated next week--float anything on this market--that's better than being president or anything else. Our attorneys brought in the papers this morning, and they will be signed at our office to-morrow at eleven-thirty. The Seaboard Trust Company are going to take half the bonds and two out-of-town banks the balance. That puts us on our legs and keeps us there, and I don't mind telling you"--and he looked around as if fearing to be overhead--"we've got to have this money or--Well, there's no use of my going into that, because it's all over now, or will be when this loan's floated. But I want to tell you that we've had some pretty tough sledding lately--some that the old man doesn't know about."

Adam looked up; any danger that threatened Phil always enlisted his sympathy.

"Tell me about it. I can't follow these operations. Most of them are all Greek to me."

"Well, as I say, we've got to have money, a whole lot of it, or there's no telling when Madeleine and I will ever be married. And the Portage Company has got to have money; they have struck bottom so far as their finances go and can't go on without help. God knows I've worked hard enough over it--been doing nothing else for weeks."

"What do you float?" Adam was prepared to give him his best attention.

"One million refunding bonds--half to take up the old issue and the balance for improvements. Our wedding comes in the 'improvements,'" and Philip winked meaningly.

"Is there enough copper in the mine to warrant the issue?" Adam asked, recalling Madeleine's remark about the deeper they went the less copper there was in the mine.

"What's that got to do with it?"

"Everything, I should think. You examined it--didn't you?--and should know."

"Yes, but nobody has asked me for an opinion. The company's engineer attends to that."

"What do you think yourself, Phil?"

"I don't think. I'm not paid to think. The other fellow does the thinking and I do the selling."

"What does Mr. Eggleston say?"

"He doesn't say. He isn't paid for saying. What he wants is his six per cent, and that's what we've got to earn. This new deal earns it."

"Does the trust company know anything about the mine?"

"Why, of course, everything. Those fellows don't need a guardian. They've got the mining engineer's sworn certificate, and they trust to that and----"

"And to the standing of your house," Adam interrupted.

"Certainly. Why not? That's what we're in business for."

"But what do you think of it--you, remember; you--Philip Colton--are you willing to swear that the mine is worth the money the trust company will lend on it?"

"I make an affidavit! Not much! What I _say is everybody's property; what I _think is nobody's business but my own. The mine _may strike virgin copper in chunks and it may not. That's where the gamble comes in. If it does the bonus stock they get for nothing will be worth par." He was a little ashamed as he said it. He was merely repeating what he had told his customers in advance of the issue, but they had not returned his gaze with Adam's eyes.

"But you in your heart, Phil, are convinced that it will _not strike virgin copper, aren't you? So much so that you wouldn't take Madeleine's money, or my money, to put into it." These search-lights of Gregg's had a way of uncovering many secret places.

Philip turned in his chair and looked at Adam. What was the matter with the dear fellow this afternoon, he said to himself.

"Certainly not--and for two reasons: first, you are not in the Street; and second, because I never gamble with a friend's money."

"But you gamble with the money of the innocent men and women who believe in your firm, and who in the end buy these bonds of the trust company, don't you?"

"Well, but what have we got to do with the bonds after we sell them? We are not running the mine, we're only getting money for them to run it on, and incidentally our commissions," and he smiled knowingly. "The trust company does the same thing. This widow-and-orphan business is about played out in the Street. The shrewdest buyers we have are just these people, and they get their cent per cent every time. Don't you bother your dear old head over this matter; just be glad it's coming out all right--I am, I tell you!"

Gregg had risen from his chair and was standing over Philip with a troubled look on his face.

"Phil," he said slowly, "look at me. From what you tell me, you can't issue these bonds! You can't afford to do it--no honest man can!"

The young financier lay back in his chair and broke out into laughter.

"Old Gentleman," he said, as he reached up his hand and laid it affectionately on Gregg's waistcoat--it was a pet name of his--"you just stick to your brushes and paints and I'll stick to my commissions. If everybody in the Street had such old-fashioned notions as you have we'd starve to death. We've got to take risks, everybody has. You might as well say that when a stock is going up and against us we shouldn't cover right away to save ourselves from further loss; or that when it's going down we shouldn't sell and saddle the other fellow with the slump while we get from under. Now I'm going home to tell Madeleine the good news; she's been on pins and needles for a week."

Gregg began pacing the floor, his hands behind his back. His movements were so unusual and his face bore so troubled a look that Philip, who had thrown away his cigar and had picked up his hat preparatory to leaving the room, delayed his departure.

Adam halted in front of him and now stood gazing into his face, an expression on his own that showed the younger man how keenly he had taken the refusal.

"I know I'm old-fashioned, Phil--I have a right to be. I come of old-fashioned stock--so do you. All that you tell me of your father convinces me that he was an upright man. He was severe at times, and dominating, but he was honest. Your mother's purity and goodness shine out here," and he pointed to the portrait. "This is your heritage, and your only heritage--something that millions of money cannot buy, and which you cannot sell, no matter what price is paid you for it. You, their son"--Gregg stopped and hesitated, the words seemed to clog in his throat--"must not--_shall not_!" (the way was clear now) "commit a crime which would bring a blush to their cheeks if they were alive to-day. Don't, I beseech you, my boy, lend your young manhood to this swindle. It is infamous, it is damnable. It shall not--_cannot be. You love me too well to refuse; promise me you will stop this whole business."

Colton was astounded. In all his intercourse with Gregg he had never seen him moved like this. He knew what had caused it. Gregg's sedentary life, his being so much away from the business side of things had warped his judgment and upset his reasoning powers. Not to make commissions on a loan that the first mining expert in the country had declared good, and which the biggest trust company in the Street and two outside banks were willing to underwrite! Gregg was crazy! This came of talking business to such a man. He should have confined himself to more restful topics--topics which he really loved best. After all, it was his fault, not Adam's.

(Illustration: "Promise me that you will stop the whole business.")

"All right, old fellow; don't let us talk any more about it," he said in the tone he would have used to pacify a woman who had lost her temper. "Some other time when----"

Adam resumed his walk without listening further. He saw how futile had been his appeal and the thought alarmed him all the more.

"Put down your hat, Phil." The calmness of his voice was singularly in contrast to the tone of the outburst. "Take your seat again. Wait until I lock the door. I have something to say to you and we must not be interrupted."

He turned the key, drew the heavy curtains together, and dragging his chair opposite Phil's so that he could look squarely in his eyes, sat down in front of him.

"My son," he began, "I am going to tell you something which has been locked in my own heart ever since you were a boy of five. Something I have never told you before because it only brought sorrow and suffering to me, and I wanted only the sunny side of life for you and Madeleine, and so I have kept still. I tell you now in the hope that it may save you from an act you will never cease to regret.

"There comes a time in every man's life when he meets the fork in the road. This is his crisis. One path leads to destruction, the other, perhaps, to misery--but a misery in which he can still look every man in the face and his God as well. You have reached it. You may not think so, but you have. Carry out what you have told me and you are no longer an honest man. Don't be offended. Listen and don't interrupt me. Nothing you could say to me would hurt my heart; nothing I shall say to you should hurt yours. I love you with a love you know not of. I loved you when you were no higher than my knee."

Phil looked at him in amazement, and was about to speak when Adam waved his hand.

"No, don't speak. Hear me until I have finished. Only to save the boy she loved would I lay bare my heart as I am going to do to you now. Turn your head! Do you see that picture? I painted it some twenty-five years ago; you were a child then, five years old. I was younger than you are now; full of my art; full of the promise of life. Your father's home was a revelation to me: the comfort of it, the servants, the luxury, the warm welcome he gave me, the way he treated me, not as a stranger, but as a son. A few days after I arrived he left me in charge of his home. Your mother was three years younger than I was; you were a little fellow tugging at her skirts.

"The four weeks that followed, while your father was away and I was painting the portrait, were to me a dream. At the end of it I awoke in torment. I had reached the fork in my road: one path lay to perdition, the other to a suffering that has followed me all my life. Your father was an austere man of about my own age now; it was not a happy union--it was as if Madeleine and I should be married. Your mother, girl as she was, respected and honored him and had no other thought except her duty; I saw it and tried to comfort her. The day of your father's return home he came up into the garret which had been turned into a studio to see the portrait. The scene that followed has always been to me a horror. He denounced her and me. He even went so far as to say the picture was immodest because of the gown, and in his anger turned it to the wall. You can see for yourself how unjust was that criticism. He found out he was wrong and said so afterward, but it did not heal the wound. Your mother was crushed and outraged.

"That night she came up to the studio and poured out her heart to me. I won't go over it--I cannot. There was in her eyes something that frightened me. Then my own were opened. Down in front of me lay an abyss; around it were the two paths. All night I paced the floor; I laid my soul bare; I pleaded; I argued with myself. I reasoned it out with God; I urged her unhappiness--the difference in their ages; the harshness of the older man; her patient submission. Then there rose up before me the sterner law--my own responsibility; the trust placed in my hands; her youth, my youth. Gradually the mist in my mind cleared and I saw the path ahead. There was but one road: that I must take!

"When the dawn broke I lifted the portrait from where your father had placed it with its face against the wall; kissed it with all the reverence a boy's soul could have for his ideal, crept down the stairs, saddled my horse and rode away.

"Ten years later--after your father's death--I again went to Derwood Manor--in the autumn--in November. I wanted to look into her face once more--even before I looked into my own father's--to see the brook we loved, the hills we wandered over, the porch where we sat and talked. I had heard nothing of the house being in ruins, or of your mother's death. Everything was gone! Everything--everything!"

Adam rested his head in his hands, his fingers shielding his eyes. Philip sat looking at him in silence, his face torn with conflicting emotions--astonishment, sympathy, an intense love for the man predominating. Adam continued, the words coming in half-muffled tones, from behind his hands, as if he were talking to himself, with now and then a pause.

"You wonder, Phil, why I live alone this way--you often ask me that question. Do you know why? It is because I have never been able to love any other woman. She set a standard for me that no other woman has ever filled. All my young life was bound up in her long after I left her. For years I thought of nothing else; my only hope was in keeping away. I would not be responsible for myself or for her if we ever met again. She wasn't mine; she was your father's. She couldn't be mine as long as he was alive."

He raised his head and resumed his old position, his voice rising, his earnest, determined manner dominating his words.

"I ask you now, Phil, what would have become of you if I had left that stain upon his name and upon yours? Who brought me to myself? She did! How? By her confidence in me; that gave me my strength. I knew that night, as well as I know that I am sitting here, that we could not go on the way we had been going with safety. I knew also that it all rested with me. For me to unsettle her love for your father during his lifetime would have been damnable. Only one thing was left--flight--That I took and that you must take. Turn your eyes, Phil, and look at her. She saved me from myself; she will save you from yourself. Do you suppose that anything but purity, goodness, and truth ever came from out those lips? Do you think she would be satisfied with anything else in her boy? Be a man, my son! Strangle this temptation that threatens to stain your soul. No matter what comes--even if you beg your bread--put this thing under your feet. Look your God in the face!"

During the long recital Phil's mind had gone back to his childhood's days in confirmation of the strange story. As Adam talked on, his eyes flashing, his voice tremulous with the pathos of the story he was pouring into the young man's astonished ears, one picture after another rose dimly out of the listener's past: The big lounge in the garret where his mother held him in her arms; the high window with the light flooding the floor of the room; the jar of blossoms into which he had thrust his little face.

He did not move when Adam finished, nor for some minutes did he speak. At last he said in a voice that showed how deeply he had been stirred:

"It's all true. It all comes back to me now. I must have been too young to remember you, but I remember the picture. I looked for it everywhere after she died, but I couldn't find it. Then came the fire and everything was swept away. Some one must have stolen it while we were in Baltimore. And you have loved my mother all these years, Gregg, and never told me?"

He was on his feet now and had his arm around Adam's shoulder. "Couldn't you trust me, Old Gentleman? Don't you know how close you are to me? Did you think I wouldn't understand? What you tell me about your leaving her is no surprise. You wouldn't--you couldn't do anything else. That's because you are a man and a gentleman. You are doing such things every day of your life; that's why everybody loves you. As to what you want me to do, don't say any more to me"--the tears he was hiding were choking him. "Let me go home. What you have told me of my mother, of yourself--everything has knocked me out. My judgment has gone--I must think it all over. I know every word you have said about the loan is true; but I haven't told you all. The situation is worse than you think. Everything depends on it--Madeleine--her father--all of us. If I could have found some other plan--if you had only talked to me this way before. But I've promised them all--they expect it. No! Don't speak to me. Don't say another word. Let me go home." And he flung himself from the room.

Adam sat still. The confession had wrung his soul; the pain seemed unbearable. What the outcome would be God only knew. With a quick movement, as if seeking relief, he rose to his feet and walked to the portrait. Then lifting his hands above his head with the movement of a despairing suppliant before the Madonna he cried out:

"Help him, my beloved. Help him as you did me."

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CHAPTER VIIThe 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
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