скачать книгу бесплатно
"Whatever we do," returned Alice, "don't letus trade on it. I shrink from the very thought ofbeing a gainer by his or any other friendship. Ifwe are to be friends, do let us be so through mutuallikes and interests. Mr. Kimberly would knowinstantly if we designed it in any other way, I amsure. I never saw such penetrating eyes. Really,he takes thoughts right out of my head."
MacBirney laughed in a hard way. "He mighttake them out of a woman's head. I don't thinkhe would take many out of a man's."
"He wouldn't need to, dear. A man's thought's, you know, are clearly written on the end of hisnose. I wish I knew what to wear to Mr. Kimberly's dinner."
One morning shortly after the MacBirneyshad been entertained at The Towers JohnKimberly was wheeled into his library whereCharles and Robert were waiting for him. Charlesleaned against the mantel and his brother stood ata window looking across the lake toward CedarPoint. As Francis left the room Uncle John'seyes followed him. Presently they wandered backwith cheerful suspicion toward his nephews, andhe laid his good arm on the table as they tookchairs near him.
"Well?" he said lifting his eyebrows andlooking blandly from one to the other.
"Well?" echoed Charles good-naturedly, lookingfrom Uncle John to Robert.
"Well?" repeated Robert with mildly assumedidiocy, looking from Charles back again to UncleJohn.
But Uncle John was not to be committed byany resort to his own tactics, and he came back atCharles on the flank. "Get any fish?" he asked,as if assured that Charles would make an effort todeceive him in answering.
"We sat around for a while without doing athing, Uncle John. Then they began to strikeand I had eight days of the best sport I ever sawon the river,"
Uncle John buried his disappointment under asmile. "Good fishing, eh?"
There was evidently no opening on this subject, and Uncle John tried another tender spot. "Yachtgo any better?"
"McAdams has done wonders with it, UncleJohn. She never steamed so well since she waslaunched."
"Cost a pretty penny, eh, Charlie?"
"That is what pretty pennies are for, isn't it?"
Unable to disturb his nephew's peace of mind,Uncle John launched straight into business."What are you going to do with those fellows?"
"You mean the MacBirney syndicate? Roberttells me he has concluded to be liberal with them."
"He is giving too much, Charlie."
"He knows better what the stuff is worth thanwe do."
Uncle John smiled sceptically. "He will givethem more than they are worth, I am afraid."
Robert said nothing.
"Perhaps there is a reason for that," suggestedCharles.
They waited for Robert to speak. He shiftedin his chair presently and spoke with somedecision. His intonation might have beenunpleasant but that the depth and fulness of hisvoice redeemed it. The best note in his utterancewas its open frankness.
"Uncle John understands this matter just aswell as I do," he began, somewhat in protest.
"We have been over the ground often.Thesepeople have been an annoyance to us; this isundeniable. McCrea has complained of them fortwo years. Through a shift in the cards-thismoney squeeze-we have them to-day in ourhands-"
Uncle John's eyes shone and he clasped thefingers of one hand tightly in the other. "That iswhat I say; trim them!" he whispered eagerly.
Robert went on, unmoved: "Let us look atthat, too. He wants me to trim them. I havesteadily opposed buying them at all. But the restof you have overruled me. Very good. Theyknow now that they are in our power. They are, one and all, bushwhackers and guerillas. Tomy mind there isn't a trustworthy man in thecrowd-not even MacBirney.
"They have made selling agreements withMcCrea again and again and left him to hold thesack. We can't do business in that way. Whenwe give our word it must be good. They givetheir word to break it. Whenever we make aselling agreement with such people we get beaten, invariably. They have cut into us on theMissouri River, at St. Paul, even at Chicago-fromtheir Kansas plants. They make poor sugar, butit sells, and even when it won't sell, it demoralizesthe trade. Now they are on their knees. Theywant us to buy to save what they've got invested.At a receiver's sale they would get nothing. Buton the other hand Lambert might get the plants.If we tried to bid them in there would be a howlfrom the Legislature, perhaps."
Uncle John was growing moody, for the preywas slipping through his fingers. "It might bebetter to stand pat," he muttered.
Robert paid no attention. "What I propose, and God knows I have explained it before, is this: These people can be trimmed, or they can besatisfied. I say give them eleven millions-six millionscash-three millions preferred and two millions inour common for fifty per cent of their stockinstead of sixteen millions for all of their stock."
Uncle John looked horror stricken. "It isnothing to us," exclaimed Robert, impatiently. "Ican make the whole capital back in twelve monthswith McCrea to help MacBirney reorganize andrun the plants. It is a fortune for them, and wekeep MacBirney and the rest of them, for tenyears at least, from scheming to start new plants.Nelson says there are legal difficulties aboutbuying more than half their stock. But the votingcontrol of all of it can be safely trusteed."
Uncle John could barely articulate: "Toomuch, it is too much."
"Bosh. This is a case where generosity is'plainly indicated,' as Hamilton says."
"Robert is right," asserted Charles curtly.
Uncle John threw his hand up as if to say: "Ifyou are resolved to ruin us, go on!"
"You will be surprised at the success of it,"concluded Robert. "MacBirney wants to comehere to live, though Chicago would be the betterplace for him. Let him be responsible for theWestern territory. With such an arrangementwe ought to have peace out there for ten years.If we can, it means just one hundred millionsmore in our pockets than we can make in theface of this continual price cutting."
Charles rose. "Then it is settled."
Uncle John ventured a last appeal. "Makethe cash five and a half millions."
"Very good," assented Robert, who to meetprecisely this objection had raised the figure wellabove what he intended to pay. "As you like,Uncle John," he said graciously. "Charles, makethe cash five and a half millions."
And Uncle John went back to his loneliness, treasuring in his heart the half million he hadsaved, and encouraged by his frail triumph inthe conference over his never-quite-wholly-understoodnephew.
At a luncheon next day, the decision was laidby Charles and Robert before the Kimberlypartners, by whom it was discussed and approved.
In the evening Charles, with Robert listening, laid the proposal before MacBirney, who hadbeen sent for and whose astonishment at theunexpected liberality overwhelmed him.
He was promptly whirled away from TheTowers in a De Castro car. And from a simpleafter-dinner conference, in which he had sat downat ten o'clock a promoter, he had risen atmidnight with his brain reeling, a millionaire.
Alice excused herself when her husbandappeared at Black Rock, and followed him upstairs.She saw how he was wrought up. In their room, with eyes burning with the fires of success, he toldher of the stupendous change in their fortunes.With an affection that surprised and moved Alice, who had long believed that never again couldanything from him move her, he caught herclosely in his arms.
Tears filled her eyes. He wiped them awayand forced a laugh. "Too good to be true, dearie, isn't it?"
She faltered an instant. "If it will only bring ushappiness, Walter."
"Alice, I'm afraid I have been harsh, at times." Hermemory swept over bitter months and wastedyears, but her heart was touched. "It is allbecause I worry too much over business. Therewill be no more worries now-they are past andgone. And I want you to forget everything,Allie." He embraced her fervently. "I havehad a good deal of anxiety first and last. It isover now. Great God! This is so easy here.Everything is so easy for these people."
The telephone bell tinkled. Through a mist oftears Alice felt her husband's kiss. She rose toanswer the bell. Dolly was calling from downstairs."Come down both of you," she said. "Charlesand Imogene are here with Fritzie and Robert."
With Charles and Imogene had come a famousdoctor from the city, Hamilton's friend, DoctorBryson. Alice protested she could not comedown. Dolly told her she "simply must." Thecontroversy upset Alice but she had at last to giveway. She bathed her face in cold water and herhusband deceived her with assurances that hereyes showed no traces of tears.
Very uncertain about them, she followedMacBirney down, taking refuge at once in a cornerwith Imogene.
While the two were talking, Grace De Castroand Larrie Morgan came in, bringing some youngfriends. "Aren't they the nicest couple?"exclaimed Alice as they crossed the room.
"It is a blessing they are," said Imogene."You see, Grace will probably succeed to the DeCastro fortune, and Larrie is likely sometime tohave the Kimberly burdens. It crushes me tothink that Charles and I have no children."
"Are you so fond of children?" Alice askedwistfully.
"Why, of course, dear; aren't you?"
"Indeed I am, too fond of them. I lost my onlychild, a baby girl-"
"And you never have had another?"
"If Robert would marry, we should have afamily hope there," continued Imogene. "ButI am afraid he never will. How did you enjoyyour evening at The Towers?"
"We had a delightful time."
"Isn't Robert a good host? I love to see himpreside. And he hasn't given a dinner before foryears."
"Why is that?"
Imogene laid her hand gently on Alice's. "Itis a long story, dear, a tragedy came into his life-intoall our lives, in fact. It changed him greatly."
Soon after the MacBirneys came down, theNelsons arrived on the scene and the companymoved to a south room to get the breeze.Imogene talked with Alice and MacBirney, butKimberly joined them and listened, taking part atintervals in the conversation.
When Imogene's attention was taken byMacBirney, Robert, asking Alice if she got the airfrom the cooling windows, moved her chair towhere the breeze could be felt more perceptibly."I hope you haven't had bad news to-night," hesaid, taking a seat on a divan near her.
She understood instantly that her eyes had notescaped his scrutiny, but concealed her annoyanceas best she could. "No, indeed. But I hadsome exciting news to-night."
"What was it?"
"Oh, I mayn't tell, may I? I am not supposedto know anything, am I?"
Her little uncertainty and appeal made hercharmingly pretty, he thought, as he watched her.The traces in her eyes of tears attracted him morethan anything he had seen before. Her firstlittle air of annoyed defiance and her effort tothrow him off the track, all interested him, and herappeal now, made in a manner that plainly saidshe was aware the secret of the news was his own, pleased him.
He was in the mood of one who had made hisplans, put them through generously, and wasready for the enjoyment that might follow."Certainly, you are supposed to know," said hegraciously. "Why not? And you may tell if youlike. At any rate, I absolve you as far as I'mconcerned. I couldn't conceive you guilty of avery serious indiscretion."
"Then I suppose you know that we are veryhappy, and why-don't you?"
"Perhaps; but that should be mere excitement.How about the tears?"
She frowned an impatient protest and rose."Oh, I haven't said anything about tears. Theyare going out on the porch-shall we jointhem?" He got up reluctantly and followed her.
Arthur De Castro and Charles Kimberly offeredchairs to Alice. They were under a cluster ofelectric lamps, where she did not wish to sit forinspection. As she hesitated Robert Kimberlyspoke behind her. "Possibly it will be pleasanterover here, Mrs. MacBirney."
He was in the shadow and had drawn a chairfor her near Nelson outside the circle of light, from which she was glad to escape. He took theseat under the light himself. When an ice wasserved, the small tables were drawn together.Alice, occupied with Nelson, who inspired by hisvis-?-vis had summoned something of his grandair, lost the conversation of the circle until sheheard Doctor Bryson, and turned with Nelsonto listen. He was thanking Mrs. De Castro fora compliment.
"I am always glad to hear anything kind of myprofession." He spoke simply and his mannerAlice thought engaging. "It is a high calling-andI know of but one higher. We hear thecomplaint that nowadays medicine is a savagelymercenary profession. If a measure of truth lies inthe charge I think it is due to the fact that doctorsare victims of the mercenary spirit about them.It's a part of the very air they breathe. Theycan't escape it. The doctor, to begin with, mustspend one small fortune to get his degree. Hemust spend another to equip himself for his work.Ten of the best years of his life go practically togetting ready. His expense for instruments, appliances, and new and increasingly elaborateappointments is continuous."
"But doctor," Fritzie Venable leaned forwardwith a grave and lengthened face, "think of the fees!"
The doctor enjoyed the laugh. "Quite true.When you find an ambitious doctor, unless hisenergy is restrained by a sense of his high responsibility,he may be possessed of greed. If a surgeonbe set too fast on fame he will affect the spectacularand cut too much and too freely. I admit all ofthis. My plea is for the conscientious doctor, andbelieve me, there are many such. Nor must youforget that, at the best, half our lives we are tooyoung to please and half our lives too old."
"Hamilton said the other night," observedRobert Kimberly, filling in the pause, "that a gooddoctor must spend his time in killing, not his ownpatients, but his own business."
"No other professional man is called on to dothat," observed Bryson. "Indeed, the saddest ofall possible proofs of the difficulties of our callingis found in the fact that the suicide rate amongdoctors is the highest in the learned professions."
MacBirney expressed surprise. "I had noidea of such a thing. Had you, Mr. Kimberly?"he asked with his sudden energy.
"I have known it, but perhaps only because Ihave been interested in questions of that kind."
Dolly's attention was arrested at once by themention of suicide. "Oh, dear," she exclaimed,"Don't let us talk about suicide."
But Robert Kimberly could not always be shutoff and this subject he pursued with a certainfirmness. Some of the family were disturbed butno one presumed to interfere. "Suicide," he wenton, "has a painful interest for many people. Hasyour study of it, doctor, ever led you to believethat it presupposes insanity?" he asked of Bryson.
"By no means."
"You conclude then that sane men and womendo commit suicide?"
"Frequently, Mr. Kimberly."
Kimberly drew back in his chair. "I am gladto be supported in my own conviction. The factis," he went on in a humorous tone, "I am forcedeither to hold in this way or conclude that I amsprung from a race of lunatics."
"Robert," protested Dolly, "can't we talk aboutsomething else?"
Kimberly, however, persisted, and he now had, for some reason not clear to Alice, a circle ofpainfully acute listeners. "The insanity theory is inmany cases a comfortable one. But I don't findit so, and I must stick to the other and regardsuicide as the worst possible solution of anypossible difficulty."
Doctor Bryson nodded assent. Kimberly spokeon with a certain intensity. "If every act of aman's life had been a brave one," he continued,"his suicide would be all the more the act of acoward. I don't believe that kind of a man cancommit suicide. Understand, I am consideringthe act of a man-not that of a youth or of oneimmature."
"Well, I don't care what you are considering,Robert," declared Dolly with unmistakableemphasis, "we will talk about something else."
The conversation split up. Kimberly, unruffled, turned to Alice and went on in anundertone: "I am going to tell you Francis'sviews on the subject anyway. He has the mostintense way of expressing himself and thepantomime is so contributing. 'Suicide, Mr. Kimberly,'he said to me one day, 'is no good. What woulda man look like going back to God, carrying hishead in his hand? "Well, I am back, and hereare the brains you gave me." "What did you dowith them?" "I blew them out with a bullet!" Thatis a poor showing I think, Mr. Kimberly, forbusiness. Suicide is no good.'"
"But who is this Brother Francis," asked Alice,"whom I hear so much of? Tell me about him."
"He is one of the fixtures at The Towers. Areligious phenomenon whom I personally think agreat deal of; an attendant and a nurse. He isan Italian with the courtesy of a gentleman wornunder a black gown so shabby that it would beabsurd to offer it to a second-hand man."
"Does the combination seem so odd?"
"To me he is an extraordinary combination."
"How did you happen to get him?"
"That also is curious. The Kimberlys arecantankerous enough when well; when ill theyare likely to be insupportable. Not only that, but kindness and faithfulness are some of thethings that money cannot buy; they givethemselves but never sell themselves. When my unclefell ill, after a great mental strain, we hired nursesfor him until we were distracted-men andwomen, one worse than another. We tried allcolors and conditions of human kind withoutfinding one that would suit Uncle John. I began tothink of throwing him into the lake-and toldhim so. He cried like a child the day I had theset-to with him. To say the truth, the oldgentleman hasn't many friends left anywhere, but earlyimpressions are a great deal to us, you know, andI remember him when he was a figure in thecouncils of the sugar world.
"I recall," continued Kimberly, "a certainBlack Friday in our own little affairs when thewolves got after us. The banks were throwingover our securities by the wagon-load, and thisold man who sits and swears and shakes there, alone, upstairs, was all that remained betweenus and destruction. He stood in our down-townoffice with fifty men fighting to get at him-struggling, yelling, screaming, and cursing, and somewho couldn't even scream or curse, livid andpawing the air.
"He stood behind his desk all day like afield-marshal, counselling, advising, ordering, buying, steadying, reassuring, juggling millions in his twohands like conjuror's balls. I could never forgetthat. I am not answering your question-"
"But do go on!" There were no longer tearsin Alice's eyes. They were alive with interest."That," she exclaimed, "was splendid!"
"He won out, and then he set himself onvengeance. That was the end of our dependence onother people's banks. Most people learn sooneror later that a banking connection is an expensiveluxury. He finally drove off the street the twoinstitutions that tried to save themselves at ourexpense. The father of Cready and FrankHamilton, Richard Hamilton, a rank outsider, helpedUncle John in that crisis and Uncle John madeRichard Hamilton to pillow his head on tens ofmillions. Since that day we have been our ownbankers; that is, we own our own banks. AndI this is curious, never from that day to this hasUncle John completely trusted any man-not evenme-except this very man we are talking about."
"Brother Francis. You asked how I got him;it is not uninteresting; a sort of sermon on gooddeeds. Just before this big school in the valleywas started, the order to which he belongs hadbeen expelled from France-it was years ago; the reformers over there needed their property.Half a dozen of the Brothers landed down here inthe village with hardly a coat to their backs. Butthey went to work and in a few years had a littleschool. The industry of these people is astonishing."
"One day they came to The Towers for aid.Old Brother Adrian, the head Brother, camehimself-as he long afterward told me-with aheavy heart, indeed, with fear and trembling.The iron gates and the Krupp eagles frightenedhim, he said, when he entered the grounds. Andwhen he asked for the mistress of the house, hecould hardly find voice to speak. My mother wasaway, so Aunt Lydia appeared-you have seenher portrait, haven't you?"
"You must; it is not unlike you. Aunt Lydiaand my mother were two of the loveliest women Ihave ever known. When she came down thatday, Brother Adrian supposing it was my motherbegged a slight aid for the work they hadundertaken in the valley. Aunt Lydia heard him insilence, and without saying a word went upstairs, wrote out a cheque and brought it down. Heglanced at the figures on it-fifty-thanked her, gave it to the young Brother with him, and withsome little compliment to the beauty of TheTowers, rose to go.
"While they were moving toward the door theyoung Brother, studying the cheque grew pale, halted, looked at it again and handed it to hissuperior. Brother Adrian looked at the paperand at the young Brother and stood speechless.The two stared a moment at each other. AuntLydia enjoyed the situation. Brother Adrian hadthought the gift had been fifty dollars-it wasfifty thousand.
скачать книгу бесплатно