A Man of Honorскачать книгу бесплатно
I have long been curious to know whether or not I could write a pretty good story, and now that the publishers are about to send the usual press copies of this book to the critics I am in a fair way to have my curiosity on that point satisfied.
Mr. Pagebrook gets up and calls an Ancient Lawgiver
Mr. Robert Pagebrook was "blue." There was no denying the fact, and for the first time in his life he admitted it as he lay abed one September morning with his hands locked over the top of his head, while his shapely and muscular body was stretched at lazy length under a scanty covering of sheet. He was snappish too, as his faithful serving man had discovered upon knocking half an hour ago for entrance, and receiving a rather pointed and wholly unreasonable injunction to "go about his business," his sole business lying just then within the precincts of Mr. Robert Pagebrook's room, to which he was thus denied admittance. The old servant had obeyed to the best of his ability, going not about his business but away from it, wondering meanwhile what had come over the young gentleman, whom he had never found moody before.
It was clear that Mr. Robert Pagebrook's reflections were anything but pleasant as he lay there thinking, thinking, thinking – resolving not to think and straightway thinking again harder than ever. His disturbance was due to a combination of causes. His muddy boots were in full view for one thing, and he was painfully conscious that they were not likely to get themselves blacked now that he had driven old Moses away. This reminded him that he had showed temper when Moses's meek knock had disturbed him, and to show temper without proper cause he deemed a weakness. Weaknesses were his pet aversion. Weakness found little toleration with him, particularly when the weakness showed itself in his own person, out of which he had been all his life chastising such infirmities. His petulance with Moses, therefore, contributed to his annoyance, becoming an additional cause of that from which it came as an effect.
Our young gentleman acknowledged, as I have already said, that he was out of spirits, and in the very act of acknowledging it he contemned himself because of it. His sturdy manhood rebelled against its own weakness, and mocked at it, which certainly was not a very good way to cure it. He denied that there was any good excuse for his depression, and scourged himself, mentally, for giving way to it, a process which naturally enough made him give way to it all the more. It depressed him to know that he was weak enough to be depressed. To my thinking he did himself very great injustice. He was, in fact, very unreasonable with himself, and deserved to suffer the consequences. I say this frankly, being the chronicler of this young man's doings and not his apologist by any means. He certainly had good reason to be gloomy, inasmuch as he had two rather troublesome things on his hands, namely, a young man without a situation and a disappointment in love, or fancy, which is often mistaken for love.
A circumstance which made the matter worse was that the young man without a situation for whose future Mr. Robert Pagebrook had to provide was Mr. Robert Pagebrook himself. This alone would not have troubled him greatly if it had not been for his other trouble; for the great hulking fellow who lay there with his hands clasped over his head "cogitating," as he would have phrased it, had too much physical force, too much of good health and consequent animal spirits, to distrust either the future or his own ability to cope with whatever difficulties it might bring with it. To men with broad chests and great brawny legs and arms like his the future has a very promising way of presenting itself. Besides, our young man knew himself well furnished for a fight with the world. He knew very well how to take care of himself. He had done farm labor as a boy during the long summer vacations, a task set him by his Virginian father, who had carried a brilliant intellect in a frail body to a western state, where he had married and died, leaving his widow this one son, for whom in his own weakness he desired nothing so much as physical strength and bodily health. The boy had grown into a sturdy youth when the mother died, leaving him with little in the way of earthly possessions except well-knit limbs, a clear, strong, active mind, and an independent, self-reliant spirit. With these he had managed to work his way through college, turning his hand to anything which would help to provide him with the necessary means – keeping books, "coaching" other students, canvassing for various things, and doing work of other sorts, caring little whether it was dignified or undignified provided it was honest and promised the desired pecuniary return. After graduation he had accepted a tutorship in the college wherein he had studied – a position which he had resigned (about a year before the time at which we find him in a fit of the blues) to take upon himself the duties of "Professor of English Language and Literature, and Adjunct Professor of Mathematics," in a little collegiate institute with big pretensions in one of the suburbs of Philadelphia. In short, he had been knocked about in the world until he had acquired considerable confidence in his ability to earn a living at almost anything he might undertake.
Under the circumstances, therefore, it is not probable that this energetic and self-confident young gentleman would have suffered the loss of his professorship to annoy him very seriously if it had not been accompanied by the other trouble mentioned. Indeed, the two had come so closely together, and were so intimately connected in other ways, that Mr. Robert Pagebrook was inclined to wonder, as he lay there in bed, whether there might not exist between them somewhere the relation of cause and effect. Whether there really was any other than an accidental blending of the two events I am sure I do not know; and the reader is at liberty, after hearing the brief story of their happening, to take either side he prefers of the question raised in Mr. Rob's mind. For myself, I find it impossible to determine the point. But here is the story, as young Pagebrook turned it over and over in his mind in spite of himself.
President Currier, of the collegiate institute, had a daughter, Miss Nellie, who wanted to study Latin more than anything else in the world. President Currier particularly disliked conjugations and parsings and everything else pertaining to the study of language; and so it happened that as Miss Nellie was quite a good-looking and agreeable damsel, our young friend Pagebrook volunteered to give her the coveted instruction in her favorite study in the shape of afternoon lessons. The tutor soon discovered that his pupil's earnest wish to learn Latin had been based – as such desires frequently are in the case of young women – upon an entire misapprehension of the nature and difficulty of the study. In fact, Miss Nellie's clearest idea upon the subject of Latin before beginning it was that "it must be so nice!" Her progress, therefore, after the first week or two, was certainly not remarkable for its rapidity; but the tutor persisted. After awhile the young lady said "Latin wasn't nice at all," a remark which she made haste to qualify by assuring her teacher that "it's nice to take lessons in it, though." Finally Miss Nellie ceased to make any pretense of learning the lessons, but somehow the afternoon s?ances over the grammar were continued, though it must be confessed that the talk was not largely of verbs.
By the time commencement day came the occasional presence of Miss Nellie had become a sort of necessity in the young professor's daily existence, and the desire to be with her led him to spend the summer at Cape May, whither her father annually took her for the season. Now Cape May is an expensive place, as watering places usually are, and so Mr. Robert Pagebrook's stay of a little over two months there made a serious reduction in his reserve fund, which was at best a very limited one. Before going to Cape May he had concluded that he was in love with Miss Nellie, and had informed her of the fact. She had expressed, by manner rather than by spoken word, a reasonable degree of pleasure in the knowledge of this fact; but when pressed for a reply to the young gentleman's impetuous questionings, she had prettily avoided committing herself beyond recall. She told him she might possibly come to love him a little after awhile, in a pretty little maidenly way, which satisfied him that she loved him a good deal already. She said she "didn't know" with a tone and manner which convinced him that she did know; and so the Cape May season passed off very pleasantly, with just enough of uncertainty about the position of affairs to keep up an interest in them.
As the season drew near its close, however, Miss Nellie suddenly informed her lover one evening that her dear father had "plans" for her, and that of course they had both been amusing themselves merely; and she said this in so innocent and so sincere a way that for the moment her stunned admirer believed it as he retired to his room with an unusual ache in his heart. When the young man sat down alone, however, and began meditating upon the events of the past summer, he was unreasonable enough to accuse the innocent little maiden of very naughty trifling, and even to think her wanting in honesty and sincerity. As he sat there brooding over the matter, and half hoping that Miss Nellie was only trying him for the purpose of testing the depth of his affection, a servant brought him a note, which he opened and read. It was a very formal affair, as the reader will see upon running his eye over the following copy:
Cape May, Sept. 10th, 18 – .
Dear Sir: – It becomes my duty to inform you that the authorities controlling the collegiate institute's affairs, having found it necessary to retrench its expenses somewhat, have determined to dispense altogether with the adjunct professorship of Mathematics, and to distribute the duties appertaining to the chair of English Language and Literature among the other members of the faculty. In consequence of these changes we shall hereafter be deprived of your valuable assistance in the collegiate institute. There is yet due you three hundred dollars ($300) upon your salary for the late collegiate year, and I greatly regret that the treasurer informs me of a present lack of funds with which to discharge this obligation. I personally promise you, however, that the amount shall be remitted to whatever address you may give me, on or before the fifteenth day of November next. I send this by a messenger just as I am upon the point of leaving Cape May for a brief trip to other parts of the country. I remain, sir, with the utmost respect,
Your obedient servant,
To Professor Robert Pagebrook.
This letter had come to Mr. Robert very unexpectedly, and its immediate consequence had been to send him hastily back to his city lodgings. He had arrived late at night, and finding no matches in his room, which was situated in a business building where his neighbors were unknown to him, he had been compelled to go to bed in the dark, without the possibility of ascertaining whether or not there were any letters awaiting him on his table.
Our young gentleman was not, ordinarily, of an irritable disposition, and trifling things rarely ever disturbed his equanimity, but he was forced to admit, as he lay there in bed, that he had been a very unreasonable young gentleman on several recent occasions, and naturally enough he began to catalogue his sins of this sort. Among other things he remembered that he had worked himself into a temper over the emptiness of the match-safe; and this reminded him that he had not even yet looked to see if there were any letters on the table at his elbow, much as he had the night previously bewailed the impossibility of doing so at once. Somehow this matter of his correspondence did not seem half so imperative in its demands upon his attention now that he could read his letters at once as it had seemed the night before when he could not read them at all. He stretched out his hand rather languidly, therefore, and taking up the half dozen letters which lay on the table, began to turn them over, examining the superscriptions with small show of interest. Breaking one open he muttered, "There's another forty dollars' worth of folly. I did not need that coat, but ordered it expressly for Cape May. The bill must be paid, of course, and here I am, out of work, with no prospects, and about five hundred dollars less money in bank than I ought to have. – !"
I am really afraid he closed that sentence with an ejaculation. I have set down an exclamation point to cover the possibility of such a thing.
He went on with his letters. Presently he opened the last but one, and immediately proceeded to open his eyes rather wider than usual. Jumping out of bed he thrust his head out of the door and called,
Mr. Pagebrook is invited to Breakfast
After he had waked up whatever echoes there were in the building by his crescendo calling for Moses, besides spoiling the temper of the night editor who was just then in the midst of his first slumber in the room opposite, Mr. Rob remembered that the old colored janitor, who owned the biblical name, and who for a trifling consideration ministered in the capacity of servant to the personal comfort of the occupants of the rooms under his charge, was never known to answer a call. He was sure to be within hearing, but would maintain a profound silence until he had disposed of whatever matter he might happen to have in hand at the moment, after which he would come to the caller in the sedate and dignified way proper to a person of his importance. Remembering this, and hearing some ominous mutterings from the night editor's room, our young gentleman withdrew his head from the corridor, put on his dressing-gown and slippers, and sat down to await the leisurely coming of the serving man.
Taking up the note again he reread it, although he knew perfectly well everything in it, and began speculating upon what it could possibly mean, knowing all the while that no amount of speculation could throw the slightest ray of light on the subject in the absence of further information. He read it aloud, just as you or I would have done, when there was nobody by to listen. It was as brief as a telegram, and merely said: "Will you please inform me at once whether we may count upon your acceptance of the position offered you?" It was signed with an unfamiliar name, to which was appended the abbreviated word "Pres't."
"I shall certainly be very happy to inform the gentleman," thought the perplexed young man, "whether he may or may not (by the way he very improperly omits the alternative 'or not' after his 'whether'), whether he may or may not 'count upon' (I must look up that expression and see if there is good authority for its use), whether he may or may not count upon my acceptance of the position offered me, just as soon as I can inform myself upon the matter. As I have not at present the slightest idea of what the 'position' is, it is somewhat difficult for me to make up my mind concerning it. However, as I am without employment and uncomfortably short of money, there seems to be every probability that my unknown correspondent's proposition, whatever it is, will be favorably considered. Moses will come after awhile, I suppose, and he probably has the other letter caged as a 'vallable.' Let me see what we have here from William."
With this our young gentleman opened his only remaining letter, which he had already discovered by a glance at the postmark was from a Virginian cousin. It was a mere note, in which his cousin wrote:
"A little matter of business takes me to Philadelphia next week. Shall be at Girard Ho., Thrsd morn'g. Meet me there at breakfast, but don't come too early. Train won't get in till three, so I'll sleep a little late. Sh'd you wake me too early, I'll be as cross as a $20 bank-note, and make a bad impression on you."
An amused smile played over Mr. Robert's face as he read this note over and over. What he was thinking I do not know. Aloud he said:
"What a passion my cousin has for abbreviations! One would think he had a grudge against words from the way in which he cuts them up. And what a figure of speech that is! 'As cross as a twenty-dollar bank-note!' Let me see. I may safely assume that the letters 'Thrs' with an elevated 'd' mean Thursday, and as this is Thursday, and as the letter was written last week, and as my watch tells me it is now ten o'clock, and as my boots are still unblacked, and as Moses has not yet made his appearance, it seems altogether probable that my cousin's breakfast will be postponed until the middle of the day if he waits for me to help him eat it. I am afraid he will be as cross as half a dozen bank notes of the largest denomination issued when we meet."
"Did you call, sah?" asked Moses, coming very deliberately into the room.
"I am under the impression that I did, though it requires an extraordinary exercise of the memory to recall an event which happened so long ago. Have you any 'vallables' for me?"
Moses thought he had. This was as near an approach to anything like a positive statement as Moses ever made. He would go to his room and ascertain. Among many other evidences of unusual wisdom on the part of the old negro was this, that he believed himself fully capable of recognizing a valuable letter whenever he saw it; and it was one of his self-imposed duties, whenever the post brought letters for any absent member of his constituency, to look them over and sequestrate all the "vallables" until the return of the owner, so that they might be delivered with his own hand. Returning now he brought two "vallables" for Mr. Pagebrook. One of them was a printed circular, but the other proved to be the desired letter, which was a formal tender of a professorship in a New England college, with an entirely satisfactory salary attached. Accompanying the official notice of election was a note informing him that his duties, in the event of acceptance, would not begin until the first of January, the engagement of the retiring professor terminating at that time.
Under the influence of this news our young friend's face brightened quite as perceptibly as his boots did in the hands of the old servitor. He wrote his letter of acceptance at once, and then proceeded to dress for breakfast at the Girard House, whither he walked with as light a step and as cheerful a bearing as if he had not been a sadly disappointed lover at all.
Mr. Pagebrook Eats his Breakfast
Robert Pagebrook had never seen his cousin, and yet they were not altogether strangers to each other. Robert's father and William Barksdale's mother were brother and sister, and Shirley, the old Virginian homestead, which had been in the family for nearly two centuries, had passed to young Barksdale's mother by the voluntary act of Robert's father when, upon coming of age, he had gone west to try his fortune in a busier world than that of the Old Dominion. The two boys, William and Robert, had corresponded quite regularly in boyhood and quite irregularly after they grew up, and so they knew each other pretty well, though, as I have said, they had never met.
"I am glad, very glad to see you, William," said Robert as he grasped his cousin's hand.
"Now don't, I beg of you. Call me Billy, or Will, or anything else you choose, old fellow, but don't call me William, whatever you do. Nobody ever did but father, and he never did except of mornings when I wouldn't get up. Then he'd sing out 'Will-yum' with a sort of a horsewhip snap at the end of it. 'William' always reminds me of disturbed slumbers. Call me Billy, and I'll call you Bob. I'll do that anyhow, so you might as well fall into familiar ways. But come, tell me how you are and all about yourself. You haven't written to me since the flood; forgot to receive my last letter I suppose."
"Probably I did. I have been forgetting a good many things. But I hope I have not kept you too long from your breakfast, and especially that I have not made you 'as cross as a twenty dollar bank-note.' Pray tell me what you meant by that figure of speech, will you not? I am curious to know where you got it and why."
"Ha! ha!" laughed Billy. "You'll have a lively time of it if you mean to unravel all my metaphors. Let me see. I must have referred to the big X's they print on the bank bills, or something of that sort. But let's go to breakfast at once. I'm as hungry as a village editor. We can talk over a beefsteak, or you can at least. I mean to be as still as a mill-pond of a cloudy night while you tell me all about yourself."скачать книгу бесплатно
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