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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPeter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 27
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Peter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 27 Post by :beetee Category :Long Stories Author :Francis Hopkinson Smith Date :May 2012 Read :623

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Peter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 27

CHAPTER XXVII

When Jack awoke the next morning his mind was still intent on helping Garry out of his difficulties. Where the money was to come from, and how far even ten thousand dollars would go in bridging over the crisis, even should he succeed in raising so large a sum, were the questions which caused him the most anxiety.

A letter from Peter, while it did not bring any positive relief, shed a ray of light on the situation:

I have just had another talk with the director of our bank--the one I told you was interested in steel works in Western Maryland. He by no means agrees with either you or MacFarlane as to the value of the ore deposits in that section, and is going to make an investigation of your property and let me know. You may, in fact, hear from him direct as I gave him your address.

Dear love to Ruth and your own good self.

This was indeed good news if anything came of it, but it wouldn't help Garry. Should he wait till Garry had played that last card he had spoken of, which he was so sure would win, or should he begin at once to try and raise the money?

This news at any other time would have set his hopes to fluttering. If Peter's director was made of money and intent on throwing it away; and if a blast furnace or a steel plant, or whatever could turn worthless rock into pruning-hooks and ploughshares, should by some act of folly be built in the valley at the foot of the hill he owned, why something might come of it. But, then, so might skies fall and everybody have larks on toast for breakfast. Until then his concern was with Garry.

He realized that the young architect was too broken down physically and mentally to decide any question of real moment. His will power was gone and his nerves unstrung. The kindest thing therefore that any friend could do for him, would be to step in and conduct the fight without him. Garry's wishes to keep the situation from Corinne would be respected, but that did not mean that his own efforts should be relaxed. Yet where would he begin, and on whom? MacFarlane had just told him that Morris was away from home and would not be back for several days. Peter was out of the question so far as his own means--or lack of means--was concerned, and he could not, of course, ask him to go into debt for a man who had never been his friend, especially when neither he nor Garry had any security to offer.

He finally decided to talk the whole matter over with MacFarlane and act on his advice. The clear business head of his Chief cleared the situation as a north-west wind blows out a fog.

"Stay out of it, Jack," he exclaimed in a quick, positive voice that showed he had made up his mind long before Jack had finished his recital. "Minott is a gambler, and so was his father before him. He has got to take his lean with his fat. If you pulled him out of this hole he would be in another in six months. It's in his blood, just as much as it is in your blood to love horses and the woods. Let him alone;--Corinne's stepfather is the man to help; that's his business, and that's where Minott wants to go. If there is anything of value in this Warehouse Company, Arthur Breen & Co. can carry the certificates for Minott until they go up and he can get out. If there is nothing, then the sooner Garry sells out and lets it go the better. Stay out, Jack. It's not in the line of your duty. It's hard on his wife and he is having a devil of a row to hoe, but it will be the best thing for him in the end."

Jack listened in respectful silence, as he always did, to MacFarlane's frank outburst, but it neither changed his mind nor cooled his ardor. Where his heart was concerned his judgment rarely worked. Then, loyalty to a friend in distress was the one thing his father had taught him. He did not agree with his Chief's view of the situation. If Garry was born a gambler, he had kept that fact concealed from him and from his wife. He recalled the conversation he had had with him some weeks before, when he was so enthusiastic over the money he was going to make in the new Warehouse deal. He had been selected as the architect for the new buildings, and it was quite natural that he should have become interested in the securities of the company. This threatened calamity was one that might overtake any man. Get Garry out of this hole and he would stay out; let him sink, and his whole career would be ruined. And then there was a sentimental side to it even if Garry was a gambler--one that could not be ignored when he thought of Corinne and the child.

Late in the afternoon, his mind still unsettled, he poured out his anxieties to Ruth. She did not disappoint him. Her big heart swelled only with sympathy for the wife who was suffering. It made no difference to her that Corinne had never been even polite, never once during the sojourn of the Minotts in the village having manifested the slightest interest either in her own or Jack's affairs--not even when MacFarlane was injured, nor yet when the freshet might have ruined them all. Ruth's generous nature had no room in it for petty rancors or little hurts. Then, too, Jack was troubled for his friend. What was there for her to do but to follow the lamp he held up to guide her feet--the lamp which now shed its glad effulgence over both? So they talked on, discussing various ways and means, new ties born of a deeper understanding binding them the closer--these two, who, as they sometimes whispered to each other, were "enlisted for life," ready to meet it side by side, whatever the day developed.

Before they parted, she promised again to go and see Corinne and cheer her up. "She cannot be left alone, Jack, with this terrible thing hanging over her," she urged, "and you must meet Garry when he returns to-night. Then we can learn what he has done--perhaps he will have fixed everything himself." But though Jack went to the station and waited until the arrival of the last train had dropped its passengers, there was no sign of Garry. Nor did Ruth find Corinne. She had gone to the city, so the nurse said, with Mr. Minott by the early train and would not be back until the next day. Until their return Jack and Ruth found their hands tied.

On the afternoon of the second day a boy called at the brick office where Jack was settling up the final accounts connected with the "fill" and the tunnel, preparatory to the move to Morfordsburg, and handed him a note. It was from Corinne.

"I am in great trouble. Please come to me at once," it read. "I am here at home."

Corinne was waiting for him in the hall. She took his hand without a word of welcome, and drew him into the small room where she had seen him two nights before. This time she shut and locked the door.

"Mr. McGowan has just been here," she moaned in a voice that showed how terrible was the strain. "He tried to force his way up into Garry's room but I held him back. He is coming again with some one of the church trustees. Garry had a bad turn in New York and we came home by the noon train, and I have made him lie down and sent for the doctor. McGowan must not see him; it will kill him if he does. Don't leave us, Jack!"

"But how dare he come here and try to force his--"

"He will dare. He cursed and went on dreadfully. The door was shut, but Garry heard him. Oh, Jack!--what are we to do?"

"Don't worry, Corinne; I'll take care of Mr. McGowan. I myself heard Garry tell him that he would attend to his payments in a few days, and he went away satisfied."

"Yes, but McGowan says he has been to the bank and has also seen the Rector, and will stop at nothing."

Jack's fingers tightened and his lips came together.

"He will stop on that threshold," he said in a low, determined voice, "and never pass it--no matter what he wants. I will go up and tell Garry so."

"No, not yet--wait," she pleaded, in nervous twitching tones--with pauses between each sentence. "You must hear it all first. Garry had not told me all when you were here two nights ago; he did not tell me until after you left. Then I knelt down by his bed and put my arms around him and he told me everything--about the people he had seen--and--McGowan--everything." She ceased speaking and hid her eyes with the back of one hand as if to shut out some spectre, then she stumbled on. "We took the early train for New York, and I waited until my stepfather was in his office and went into his private room. It was Garry's last hope. He thought Mr. Breen would listen to me on account of mother. I told him of our dreadful situation; how Garry must have ten thousand dollars, and must have it in twenty-four hours, to save us all from ruin. Would you believe, Jack--that he laughed and said it was an old story; that Garry had no business to be speculating; that he had told him a dozen times to keep out of the Street; that if Garry had any collaterals of any kind, he would loan him ten thousand dollars or any other sum, but that he had no good money to throw after bad. I did all I could; I almost went down on my knees to him; I begged for myself and my mother, but he only kept saying--'You go home, Corinne, and look after your baby--women don't understand these things.' Oh, Jack!--I could not believe that he was the same man who married my mother--and he isn't. Every year he has grown harder and harder; he is a thousand times worse than when you lived with him. Garry was waiting outside for me, and when I told him he turned as white as a sheet, and had to hold on to the iron railing for a moment. It was all I could do to get him home. If he sees Mr. McGowan now it will kill him; he can't pay him and he must tell him so, and it will all come out."

"But he will pay him, Corinne, when he gets well."

There came a pause. Then she said slowly as if each word was wrung from her heart:

"There is no money. Garry took the trust funds from the church."

"No money, Corinne! You don't mean--you can't--Oh! My God! Not Garry! No--not Garry!"

"Yes! I mean it. He expected to pay it back, but the people he is with in New York lied to him, and now it is all gone." There was no change in her voice.

She stood gazing into his face; not a tear in her eyes; no quiver of her lips. She had passed that stage; she was like a victim led to the stake in whom nothing but dull endurance is left.

Jack backed into a chair and sat with bowed head, his cheeks in his hands. Had the earth opened under him he could not have been more astounded. Garry Minott a defaulter! Garry a thief! Everything seemed to whirl about him--only the woman remained quiet--still standing--her calm, impassive eyes fixed on his bowed head; her dry, withering, soulless words still vibrating in the hushed room.

"When did this happen, Corinne--this--this taking of Mr. McGowan's money?" The words came between his closed fingers, as if he, too, would shut out some horrible shape.

"Some two weeks ago."

"When did you know of it?"

"Night before last, after you left him. I knew he was in trouble, but I did not know it was as bad as this. If Mr. Breen had helped me everything would have been all right, for Garry sold out all the stock he had in the Warehouse Company, and this ten thousand dollars is all he owes." She shivered as she spoke, and her pale, tired eyes closed as if in pain. Nothing was said between them for a while, and neither of them stirred. During the silence the front door was heard to open, letting in the village doctor, who mounted the stairs, his footfalls reverberating in Garry's room overhead.

Jack raised his eyes at last and studied her closely. The frail body seemed more crumpled and forlorn in the depths of the chair, where she had sunk, than when she had been standing before him. The blonde hair, always so glossy, was dry as hemp; the small, upturned nose, once so piquant and saucy, was thin and pinched-- almost transparent; the washed-out, colorless eyes, which in her girlhood had flashed and sparkled so roguishly, were half hidden under swollen lids. The arms were flat, the hands like bird claws. The white heat of a furnace of agony had shrivelled her poor body, drying up all the juices of its youth.

And yet with the scorching there had crept into the wan face, and into the tones of her tired, heart-broken voice something Jack had never found in her as a girl--something of tenderness, unselfishness--of self-sacrifice for another and with it there flamed up in his own heart a determination to help--to wipe out everything--to sponge the record, to reestablish the man who in a moment of agony had given way to an overpowering temptation and brought his wife to this condition. A lump rose in his throat, and a look of his old father shone out of his face--that look with which in the years gone by he had defied jury, district attorney, and public opinion for what he considered mercy. And mercy should be exercised now. Garry had never done one dishonest act before, and never, God helping, should he be judged for this.

He, John Breen, let Garry be called a common thief! Garry whose every stand in Corklesville had been for justice; Garry whom Morris loved, whose presence brought a cheery word of welcome from every room he entered! Let him be proclaimed a defaulter, insulted by ruffians like McGowan, and treated like a felon--brilliant, lovable, forceful Garry! Never, if he had to go down on his knees to Holker Morris or any other man who could lend him a dollar.

Corinne must have seen the new look in his face, for her own eyes brightened as she asked:

"Have you thought of something that can help him?"

Jack did not answer. His mind was too intent on finding some thread which would unravel the tangle.

"Does anybody else know of this, Corinne?" he asked at last in a low-pitched voice.

"Nobody."

"Nobody must," he exclaimed firmly. Then he added gently--"Why did you tell me?"

"He asked me to. It would all have come out in the end, and he didn't want you to see McGowan and not know the truth. Keep still --some one is knocking," she whispered, her fingers pressed to her lips in her fright. "I know it is McGowan, Jack. Shall I see him, or will you?"

"I will--you stay here."

Jack lifted himself erect and braced back his shoulders. He intended to be polite to McGowan, but he also intended to be firm. He also intended to refuse him any information or promise of any kind until the regular monthly meeting of the Church Board which would occur on Monday. This would give him time to act, and perhaps to save the situation, desperate as it looked.

With this in his mind he turned the key and threw wide the door. It was the doctor who stood outside. He seemed to be laboring under some excitement.

"I heard you were here, Mr. Breen--come upstairs."

Jacked obeyed mechanically. Garry had evidently heard of his being downstairs and had some instructions to give, or some further confession to make. He would save him now from that humiliation; he would get his arms around him, as Corinne had done, and tell him he was still his friend and what he yet intended to do to pull him through, and that nothing which he had done had wrecked his affection for him.

As these thoughts rushed over him his pace quickened, mounting the stairs two steps at a time so that he might save his friend even a moment of additional suffering. The doctor touched Jack on the shoulder, made a sign for him to moderate his steps, and the two moved to where his patient lay.

Garry was on the bed, outside the covering, when they entered. He was lying on his back, his head and neck flat on a pillow, one foot resting on the floor. He was in his trousers and shirt; his coat and waistcoat lay where he had thrown them.

"Garry," began Jack in a low voice--"I just ran in to say that--"

The sick man did not move.

Jack stopped, and turned his head to the doctor.

"Asleep?" he whispered.

"No;--drugged. That's why I wanted you to see him before I called his wife. Is he accustomed to this sort of thing?" and he picked up a bottle from the table.

Jack took the phial in his hand; it was quite small, and had a glass stopper.

"What is it, doctor?"

"I don't know. Some preparation of chloral, I should think; smells and looks like it. I'll take it home and find out. If he's been taking this right along he may know how much he can stand, but if he's experimenting with it, he'll wake up some fine morning in the next world. What do you know about it?"

"Only what I have heard Mrs. Minott say," Jack whispered behind his hand. "He can't sleep without it, she told me. He's been under a terrible business strain lately and couldn't stand the pressure, I expect."

"Well, that's a little better," returned the doctor, moving the apparently lifeless arm aside and placing his ear close to the patient's breast. For a moment he listened intently, then he drew up a chair and sat down beside him, his fingers on Garry's pulse.

"You don't think he's in danger, do you, doctor?" asked Jack in an anxious tone.

"No--he'll pull through. His breathing is bad, but his heart is doing fairly well. But he's got to stop this sort of thing." Here the old doctor's voice rose as his indignation increased (nothing would wake Garry). "It's criminal--it's damnable! Every time one of you New York people get worried, or short of money or stocks, or what not, off you go to a two-cent drug shop and buy enough poison to kill a family. It's damnable, Breen--and you must tell Minott so when he wakes up"

Jack made no protest against being included in the denunciation. He was too completely absorbed in the fate of the man who lay in a stupor.

"Is there anything can be done for him?" he asked.

"I can't tell yet. He may only have taken a small dose. I will watch him for a while. But if his pulse weakens we must shake him awake somehow. You needn't wait I'll call you if I want you, You've told me what I wanted to know."

Again Jack bent over Garry, his heart wrung with pity and dismay. He was still there when the door opened softly and a servant entered, tiptoed to where he stood, and whispered in his ear:

"Mrs. Minott says, sir, that Mr. McGowan and another man are downstairs."

The contractor was standing in the hall, his hat still on his head. The other man Jack recognized as Murphy, one of the church building trustees. That McGowan was in an ugly mood was evident from the expression on his face, his jaw setting tighter when he discovered that Jack and not Garry was coming down to meet him; Jack having been associated with MacFarlane, who had "robbed him of damages" to the "fill."

"I came to see Mr. Minott," McGowan blurted out before Jack's feet had touched the bottom step of the stairs. "I hear he's in--come home at dinner time."

Jack continued his advance without answering until he had reached their side. Then with a "Good-evening, gentlemen," he said in a perfectly even voice:

"Mr. Minott is ill and can see no one. I have just left the doctor sitting beside his bed. If there is anything I can do for either of you I will do it with pleasure."

McGowan shoved his hat back on his forehead as if to give himself more air.

"That kind of guff won't go with me no longer," he snarled, his face growing redder every instant. "This ill business is played out. He promised me three nights ago he'd make out a certificate next day--you heard him say it--and I waited for him all the morning and he never showed up. And then he sneaks off to New York at daylight and stays away for two nights more, and then sneaks home again in the middle of the day when you don't expect him, and goes to bed and sends for the doctor. How many kinds of a damned fool does he take me for? That work's been finished three weeks yesterday; the money is all in the bank to pay for it just as soon as he signs the check, and he don't sign it, and ye can't get him to sign it. Ain't that so, Jim Murphy?"

Murphy nodded, and McGowan blazed on: "If you want to know what I think about it--there's something crooked about the whole business, and it gets crookeder all the time. He's drunk, if he's anything--boiling drunk and--"

Jack laid the full weight of his hand on the speaker's shoulder:

"Stop short off where you are, Mr. McGowan." The voice came as if through tightly clenched teeth. "If you have any business that I can attend to I am here to do it, but you can't remain here and abuse Mr. Minott. My purpose in coming downstairs was to help you if I could, but you must act like a man, not like a ruffian."

Murphy stepped quickly between the two men:

"Go easy, Mac," he cried in a conciliatory tone. "If the doctor's with him ye can't see him. Hear what Mr. Breen has to say; ye got to wait anyhow. Of course, Mr. Breen, Mr. McGowan is het up because the men is gettin' ugly, and he ain't got money enough for his next pay-roll, and the last one ain't all paid yit."

McGowan again shifted his hat--this time he canted it on one side. His companion's warning had had its effect, for his voice was now pitched in a lower key.

"There ain't no use talking pay-roll to Mr. Breen, Jim," he growled. "He knows what it is; he gits up agin' it once in a while himself. If he'll tell me just when I'm going to get my money I'll wait like any decent man would wait, but I want to know, and I want to know now."

At that instant the door of the sitting-room opened, and Corinne, shrinking as one in mortal fright, glided out and made a hurried escape upstairs. Murphy sagged back against the wall and waited respectfully for her to disappear. McGowan did not alter his position nor did he remove his hat, though he waited until she had reached the landing before speaking again:

"And now, what are you going to do, Mr. Breen?" he demanded in threatening tones.

"Nothing," said Jack in his same even voice, his eyes never moving from the contractor's. "Nothing, until you get into a different frame of mind." Then he turned to Murphy: "When Mr. McGowan removes his hat, Mr. Murphy, and shows some sign of being a gentleman I will take you both into the next room and talk this matter over."

McGowan flushed scarlet and jerked his hat from his head.

"Well she come on me sudden like and I didn't see her till she'd got by. Of course, if you've got anything to say, I'm here to listen, Where'll we go?"

Jack turned and led the way into the sitting-room, where he motioned them both to seats.

"And now what is the exact amount of your voucher?" he asked, when he had drawn up a chair and sat facing them.

McGowan fumbled in his inside pocket and drew forth a slip of paper.

"A little short of ten thousand dollars," he answered in a business-like tone of voice. "There's the figures," and he handed the slip to Jack.

"When is this payment to be made?" continued Jack, glancing at the slip.

"Why, when the money is due, of course," he cried in a louder key. "Here's the contract--see--read it; then you'll know."

Jack ran his eye over the document until it fell on the payment clause. This he read twice, weighing each word.

"It says at the monthly meeting of the Board of Trustees, does it not?" he answered, smothering all trace of the relief the words brought him.

McGowan changed color. "Well, yes--but that ain't the way the payments has always been made," he stammered out.

"And if I am right, the meeting takes place on Monday next?" continued Jack in a decided tone, not noticing the interruption.

"Yes, I suppose so."

"Well, then, Monday night, Mr. McGowan, either Mr., Minott or I will be on hand. You must excuse me now. Mrs. Minott wants me, I think," and he handed McGowan the contract and walked toward the door, where he stood listening. Something was happening upstairs.

McGowan and his friend looked at each other in silence. The commotion overhead only added to their discomfiture.

"Well, what do you think, Jim?" McGowan said at last in a subdued, baffled voice.

"Well, there ain't no use thinkin', Mac. If it's writ that way, it's writ that way; that's all there is to it--" and the two joined Jack who had stepped into the hall, his eyes up the stairway as if he was listening intensely.

"Then you say, Mr. Breen, that Mr. Minott will meet us at the Board meeting on Monday?"

Jack was about to reply when he caught sight of the doctor, his hand sliding rapidly down the stair-rail as he approached.

McGowan, fearing to be interrupted, repeated his question in a louder voice:

"Then you say I'll see Mr. Minott on Monday?"

The doctor crossed to Jack's side. He was breathing heavily, his lips quivering; he looked like a man who had received some sudden shock.

"Go up to Mrs. Minott," he gasped. "It's all over, Breen. He's dying. He took the whole bottle."

At this instant an agonizing shriek cut the air. It was the voice of Corinne.

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