A Man of Honorскачать книгу бесплатно
"Lucy," he said, to the colored woman, "your Miss Sudie wishes to be alone for awhile. Sit down in the passage near her door, but don't knock, and don't allow any one else to knock. When she wishes to see any one she will open the door herself, and until then I do not want her disturbed."
Then going into the dining-room, where Dick was polishing the mahogany with a large piece of cork, he said:
"Dick, go out to the office and ask your Mas' Billy if he will be good enough to come to me in the library. I want to talk with him."
When Billy came in his father showed him Robert's letter.
"The thing looks very ugly," said the younger gentleman.
"Very ugly, indeed," said his father; "but the confounded rascal holds up his head under it all, and acts as honorably in Sudie's case as if he had never acted otherwise than as a gentleman should. He is a puzzle to me. But, of course, this must end the matter. We can have nothing whatever to do with him hereafter."
"But how is it, father, that they have managed to imprison him?"
"I presume they have secured an order of arrest under that New York statute which seems to have been devised as a means of securing to creditors all the advantages of imprisonment for debt without shocking the better sense of the community, which is clearly against such imprisonment. The majority of people rarely ever pay any attention to the fact so long as they are spared the name of odious things. No debtors' prison would be allowed to stand in the United States, of course, but the common jails answer all purposes when a way for getting debtors locked up in them has been devised."
"But how does it happen, father," asked Mr. Billy, "that only New York has such a statute?"
"Well, in New York the commercial interest overrides every other, and commercial men naturally attach undue importance to the collection of debts, and look with favor upon everything which tends to facilitate it. These things always reflect the feeling rather than the opinion of a community. In new countries, where horses are of more importance than anything else, horse-stealing is pretty sure to be punished with death, either by law or by the mob, which is only public sentiment embodied. Here in Virginia you know how impossible it is to get anything like an effective statute for the suppression of dueling, simply because the ultimate public sentiment practically approves of personal warfare. But, I confess, I did not know that the New York statute could be stretched to cover a case like Robert's. As I understand it, there must be some evidence of fraud in the inception of the transaction."
"They proceed upon affidavits, I believe," said Billy, "and when that is done it isn't hard to make out a case, if the attorney is unscrupulous enough."
"That's true. But isn't it curious that Edwin should have proceeded so promptly to harsh measures? He is so mild of temper that this surprises me."
"Cousin Edwin doesn't always act out his own character, you know, father.
His wife is the stronger willed of the two."
"True. I hadn't thought of that. However, it serves the young rascal right."
At this point of the conversation Cousin Sudie's knock was heard at the inner door, and Col. Barksdale opening the outer one said:
"You'd better go out this door, William. It would embarrass Sue to find you here just now."
"Come in my daughter," he said, admitting Miss Sudie. "Sit down. I am greatly pained, on his account as well as yours, to find that Robert has no explanation to offer. But, of course, this ends it all, and you must take a little trip somewhere, my dear, until you forget all about it. Where shall we go?"
"I do not care to go anywhere, Uncle Carter," replied the little maiden, without the faintest echo of a sob in her voice. "I am sorry for poor Robert, but not because I think him guilty of any dishonorable action, for indeed I do not."
"But, my dear, it will never do – "
"Pray hear me out, Uncle Carter, and then I will listen to anything you have to say. I love you as a father, as you know perfectly well. Indeed I have never known you as anything else. I have always obeyed you unquestioningly, and I shall not begin to disobey you now. I shall do precisely what you tell me to do, so long as I remain in your house."
"What do you mean by that, daughter?" asked her uncle, startled by the singular emphasis which Miss Sudie gave to the last clause of the sentence.
"Merely this, Uncle Carter. I cannot consent to do that which my conscience teaches me is a crime, even at your command; but while I remain at Shirley as a daughter of the house I must obey as a daughter. If you command me to do anything which I cannot do without sinning against my conscience, then I must not obey you, and when I can't obey you I must cease to be your daughter. I shall conceal nothing from you, Uncle Carter; you know that, and I beg of you don't command me to do the things which I must not do. I love you and it would kill me – no, it would not do that, but it would pain me more than I can possibly say, to leave Shirley."
Col. Barksdale leaned his head sorrowfully upon his hand. He loved this girl and held her as his own. Moreover, he had solemnly promised his dying brother to care for her always as a father cares for his children, and an oath could not have been more sacred in his eyes than this promise was. Without raising his head he asked:
"You mean, Sudie, that you will not accept Robert's release?"
"Yes, uncle, that is what I mean." This was sorrowfully and gently said, but firmly too.
"He has offered to release you; has he not?"
"And in so offering, did he express or hint a wish that you should not accept his release?"
"No. On the contrary he assumed that I would accept it, and that I must do so in justice to myself. Here is his letter. Read it if you please."
Col. Barksdale read the letter, with which the reader is already familiar, and, handing it back, said:
"A very proper and manly letter."
"Because it came from a very proper and manly man," said Miss Sudie.
"You don't believe he has been guilty of the dishonorable acts laid to his charge, then?"
"Of the acts, yes. Of the dishonor, no," said the girl.
"On what ground do you base your persistent good opinion of him?"
"On my persistent faith in him."
"Your faith is very unreasonable, my dear."
"Perhaps so, but it exists nevertheless."
"Have you answered his letter?"
"Yes, sir; and I have brought my answer for you to read, if you care to do so," she said, taking her letter out of her desk, which lay in her lap, and giving it to her uncle, who read as follows:
"My Dear Robert: – I am not in the least surprised by your letter. I knew you would offer to release me from my engagement, because I knew you were a man of honor. I have never for a moment doubted that, and I do not doubt it now. Your character weighs more with me than any mere facts can. I know you are an honorable man, and knowing that I shall not let other people's doubts upon the subject govern my action. When I 'listened to your words of love, and gave them a place in my heart,' you were, as you say, 'a gentleman without reproach'; and the reproach which lies upon you now does not make you less a gentleman. It is an unjust reproach, and your manliness in bearing it and offering to accept its consequences, only serves to mark you still more distinctly as a gentleman. Shall I be less honorable, less fearlessly true than you? When I gave you my heart and promised you my hand, you had friends in abundance. Now that you have none, I have no idea of withdrawing either the gift or the promise.
"You say you can never clear your name of the stain which is upon it now. For that I am heartily sorry, for your sake, but as I know that the stain does not rightly belong there it becomes my duty and my pleasure to bear it with you. I shall retain my faith in you and my love for you, and I shall profess them too on all proper occasions, and when you claim me as your wife I shall hold up Mrs. Robert Pagebrook's head as proudly as I now hold Susan Barksdale's.
"Under other circumstances I should have thought it unmaidenly to write in this way, but there must be no doubt of my meaning now. If you ever ask a release from your promise, with or without reason, I trust you know me well enough to know that it will be granted – but from my promise I shall ask none. Another reason for the frankness of this letter is that I want you, in your trouble, to know how implicitly I trust your honor; and I should certainly never trust such a letter in any but the cleanest of hands.
"Uncle Carter will see this before it goes, and he will know, as it is right that he should, that I have not availed myself of your proffered release…"
The omitted sentences with which the letter closed are not for our eyes. Even Colonel Barksdale refused to read them, feeling that they were sacred, and that the permission given him to read the letter extended no further than the end of the sentence last set down in the extract above given.
Returning the sheet he said: "I suppose you have written this after giving the matter full consideration, daughter?"
"I never act without knowing what I am doing, Uncle Carter."
"Well, my child, I think you are wrong, but I shall not ask you to do anything which your conscience condemns. I shall not ask you to withhold your letter, or to alter it, but I would prefer that you hold it until to-morrow, so that you may be quite sure you want to send it as it is. Will you mind doing that?"
"No, Uncle Carter. I will keep it till to-morrow, if you wish, but I shall not change my mind concerning it. You are very good to me. Thank you;" and kissing his forehead, she left him, not to return to her room as a more sentimental woman would have done, but to go about her daily duties, with a sober face, it is true, but with all her accustomed regularity and attention to business.
In which Miss Sudie Adopts the Socratic Method
When Miss Sudie left him Col. Barksdale again sent for his son and told him of that young woman's unreasonable determination.
"I expected that, father, and am not at all surprised," said the young man.
"Why, my son? Had you talked the matter over with her?"
"No. But I know Sudie too well to expect her to give up her faith in Bob while he is under a cloud and in trouble too. She has a mighty good head on her shoulders; but what's a woman's head worth when her heart pulls the other way? She overrides her own reason as coolly as if it were worth just nothing at all, and puts everybody else's out of the way with the utmost indifference. I know her of old. She used to take my part that way whenever I got into a boyish scrape, and before she had done with it she always convinced me, along with everybody else, that I had done nothing to be ashamed of. The fact is, father, I like that in Sudie. She's the truest little woman I ever saw, and she sticks to her friends like mutton gravy to the roof of your mouth," said Billy, unable, even at such a time as this, to restrain his passion for strange metaphors.
"The trait is a noble one, certainly," said the old gentleman; "but for that very reason, if for no other, we must do what we can to keep her from sacrificing herself to a noble faith in an unworthy man. Don't you think so?"
"Without doubt. But what can we do? You say you do not feel free to control her."
"We can at least do our duty. I have talked with her, and now I want you to do the same. She will not shun the conversation, I think, for she is a brave girl."
"I will see what I can do, father," said the young man. "Possibly I may persuade her to let the matter rest where it is, for the present at least, and even that will be something gained."
Col. Barksdale was right in thinking that Miss Sudie would not seek to avoid a conversation with Billy. On the contrary she wished especially to say something to this young gentleman, and for that very purpose she sought him in the office. He and she had been brought up as brother and sister, and there was no feeling of restraint between them now that they were grown man and woman.
"Cousin Billy," she said, sitting down near him, "I want to talk with you about Robert. I want to remind you, if you will let me, of your duty to him."
"What do you conceive my duty to be in the case, Sudie?" asked Billy.
"To defend him," said Miss Sudie.
"But how can I do that, Sudie, in face of the facts?"
"You believe then that Robert Pagebrook, whom you know thoroughly, has done the dishonorable things laid to his charge?"
"Well," said Billy, feeling himself hardly prepared for this kind of attack, "I confess I should never have thought him capable of doing such things."
"Why would you never have thought him capable of doing them, Cousin Billy?"
"O well, because he always seemed to be such an honorable fellow," said Billy.
"You did believe him honorable, then?" asked this young female Socrates.
"Certainly; you know that Sudie."
"On what did you base that belief, Cousin Billy?"
"Why, on his way of doing things, on my knowledge of him, of course;" replied Billy.
"Well, then, is that knowledge of him of no value now?" asked Sudie.
"How do you mean?"
"I mean does your knowledge of Robert weigh nothing now? Are you ready to believe on imperfect evidence, that Robert Pagebrook, who you know was an honorable man, is not now an honorable man? Doesn't his character weigh anything with you? Do you believe his character has changed, or do you think it possible that he simulated that character and did it so perfectly as to deceive us all? Doesn't it seem more probable that there is some mistake about this business? In short, how can you believe Robert guilty of a thing which you know very well he wouldn't do for his head? If you 'wouldn't have believed it,' why do you believe it?"
Mr. Billy was stunned. He had been prepared for tears. He had expected to find in Sudie an unreasoning faith. He had looked for an obstinate determination on her part to adhere to her purpose. But for this kind of illogical logic he had made no preparation whatever. It had never entered his head that Miss Sudie would seriously undertake to argue the matter. The evidence against Robert he had accepted as unquestionable, and he had not expected Miss Sudie to question it in this way.
"But, Cousin Sudie, you overlook the fact that Robert has confessed the very thing which you say is unlikely."
"No; he has not confessed anything of the sort. Indeed he seems to have carefully avoided doing so. In his letter to Uncle Carter he merely says, 'I can offer neither denial nor explanation of the facts alleged against me.' To me he only says, 'a stain is upon my name.' He nowhere says, 'I am guilty.'"
"But, Sudie," said Billy, "if he a'n't guilty, why can't he offer either 'denial or explanation'?"
"That I do not know; but I don't find it half as hard to believe that there may be good reasons for that, as to believe that an honorable man – a man whom we both know to be an honorable one – has done a dishonorable thing."
"But, Sudie, why didn't Bob borrow the money of father or of me, if he honestly couldn't pay? He knew we would gladly lend it to him."
"I'm glad you mentioned that. If Robert had wanted to swindle anybody, how much easier it would have been for him to write to you or Uncle Carter, saying he couldn't pay and asking you to take up his protested draft for him. He knew you would have done it, and he could then have accomplished his purpose without any exposure. Almost any excuse would have satisfied you or Uncle Carter, and so the thing would have gone on for years. Wouldn't he have done exactly that, Cousin Billy, if he had wanted to swindle anybody? Men don't often covet a bad name for its own sake."
"Clearly, Sudie, I am getting the worst of this argument. You are a better sophist than I ever gave you credit for being. But it's hard to believe that black is white. I'll tell you what I'll do, though, Sudie. I'll do my very best to believe that there is some sort of faint possibility that facts a'n't facts, and hold myself, as nearly as I can, in readiness to believe that something may turn up in Bob's favor. If anything were to turn up I'd be as glad of it as anybody."
"But I'm not satisfied with that, Cousin Billy."
"What more do you ask, Sudie?"
"That you shall hold yourself in readiness to help turn something up whenever an opportunity offers. Keep a sharp lookout for things which may possibly have a bearing upon this matter, and follow up any clue you may get. Won't you do that for my sake, Cousin Billy?"
"I'd do anything for your sake, Sudie, and I'd give a hundred dollars for your faith."
And so ended the conversation. Mr. Billy, it must be confessed, had done little toward the accomplishment of the task he had set himself. But as he himself put it: "What on earth was a fellow to do with a faith which made incontestable truths out of impossibilities, and scattered facts before it like a flock of partridges?" Mr. Billy fully appreciated the unreasonableness of Miss Sudie's logic, and yet, in spite of all, he could not help entertaining a sort of half hope that something would occur to vindicate Robert – a hope born of nothing more substantial than Miss Sudie's enthusiastic belief in her lover.
Mr. Pagebrook Accepts an Invitation to Lunch and another Invitation
On the morning after Robert's incarceration, his attorney came at the appointed hour for the purpose of preparing the papers on which application was to be made for his discharge.
"I have the affidavits all ready, I believe, Mr. Pagebrook, and we have only to make a complete list of your property."
"That will be easily done, sir," said Robert, with a feeling of grim amusement; "as I have literally nothing except my trunk and its contents."
"You have your claim on that bank for money deposited. I suppose that must be included, though it is only a chose in action."
"O put it in, by all means," said Robert. "I do not wish to misrepresent anything or to withhold anything. I only wish the chose in action, as you call it, were of sufficient value to discharge the debt. I should then quit here free from all indebtedness, except to you for your fee; and should not have this thing to pay.'
"Your discharge, I think, will free you, in law, from – "
"But it will not free me in honor sir. It will give me time, however; and the very first use I shall make of that time will be to earn the money with which to pay off this, my only debt. I should never ask a discharge at all if the asking supposed any purpose on my part to avoid the payment of the debt. Pardon me; this talk must sound odd to you, coming from a man in my present position. I forgot that I am an absconding debtor. You will think my talk a cheap kind of honesty, costing nothing."
"No, Pagebrook – if you will allow me to drop the 'Mister' – I should trust you in any transaction, though I have not known you a week. I don't believe you are an absconding debtor, and I'm not going to believe it on the strength of any oaths Messrs. Steel, Flint & Sharp may make." As he said this the young lawyer took Robert's hand, and Robert found himself wholly unable to utter a word by way of reply. He did not want to shed tears in the presence of his jail attendants, but the lawyer saw them standing in his eyes, and prevented any effort at replying by turning at once to the matter in hand.
"Come, Pagebrook," he said, "this isn't business. Let me see; what bank was it that you deposited with?"
"The Essex," said Robert.
"The Essex!" said the lawyer. "What was that I saw in the Tribune this morning about that bank? I think it was the Essex. Let me see;" running his eye over the columns of the newspaper, which he had taken from his pocket.
"Ah! here it is. By George! My dear Pagebrook, I congratulate you. Your bank has resumed. See, here is the item:
"'Philadelphia, Dec. 3D. – The Essex Bank, of this city, which suspended payment some weeks since, will resume business to-morrow. Its affairs were found to be in a very favorable condition, and at a meeting of the stockholders, held to-day, the deficit in its assets was covered, and its capital made good by subscription. It is not thought that any run will be made upon it, but ample preparations have been made to meet such a contingency.'
"Again I congratulate you, right heartily."
"This means then, that my sixteen hundred dollars – that was the total amount of my deposit – is intact, and that I may check against it as soon as I choose, does it?"
"Then let us suspend our preparations for securing my release. I will pay out of this instead of begging out. I will draw at once for enough to cover this debt and your fees, and ask you to put the draft into bank for collection. We will have returns by the day after to-morrow, doubtless, and I shall then go out of here with my head up."
"We'll end this business sooner than that, Pagebrook," said the lawyer. "Draw your draft, I'll indorse it, take it to the bank where I deposit, get it cashed at once, and have you out of here in time for a two o'clock lunch. You'll lunch with me, of course."скачать книгу бесплатно
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