A Man of Honorскачать книгу бесплатно
"Pardon me, but you have no means of knowing that I have any money in that bank," said Robert.
"Yes, indeed I have."
"What is it?"
"Your word. I told you I would trust you."
Robert looked at the man a moment, and then taking his hand, said:
"I accept your confidence frankly. Thank you. Draw the draft, please, and I will sign it."
The draft was soon drawn, and at two o'clock that day – just twenty-four hours after his arrest – Robert sat down to lunch with his friend, in a down-town eating-house.
While the two gentlemen were engaged with their lunch, Robert's friend Dudley, who had been eating a chop at the farther end of the room, espied his acquaintance, and approaching him said:
"How are you, Pagebrook? Are you specially engaged for this afternoon?"
"No, I believe not," said Robert. "I have nothing to do except to finish an article which I want to offer you to-morrow, and I can do that to-night."
"Suppose you come up to the office, then, after you finish your lunch. I want to talk with you."
"I will be there within half an hour, if that will suit you," said Robert.
"Very well; I'll expect you."
Accordingly, Robert bade his friend adieu after lunch, and went immediately to the editor's room.
Mr. Dudley closed the door, first saying to his messenger, who sat in the anteroom;
"I shall be busy for some time, Eddie, and can't see anybody. If any one calls, tell him I am closeted with a gentleman on important business and can see nobody. Now, Pagebrook," he resumed, taking his seat, "you ought to quit teaching."
"Why?" asked Robert.
"Well, you're a born writer certainly, and if I am not greatly mistaken, a born journalist too. You have a knack of knowing just what points people want to hear about. I've been struck with that in every article you have written for me, and especially in this last one. Do you know I've rejected no less than a dozen well-written articles on that very subject, just because they treated every phase of it except the right one, and didn't come within a mile of that. Now you've hit it exactly, as you always do. You've got hold of precisely the things that nobody knows anything about and everybody wants to know all about, and that's journalism."
"Thank you," said Robert. "You really think, then, that I might make myself a successful journalist if I were to try?"
"I know you would. You have precisely the right sort of ideas. You discriminate between the things that are wanted and the things that are not. I have long since discovered that this thing that men call writing ability and journalistic ability isn't like anything else. It crops out where you would never look for it, and where you think it ought to be it isn't. You can't coax or nurse it into existence to save your life. If a man has it he has it, and if he hasn't it he hasn't it, and nobody can give it to him. It isn't contagious, and I honestly believe it isn't acquirable.
And that's why I'm certain of you. You've shown that you have it, and one showing is as good as a hundred."
"I am greatly pleased," said Robert, "to know that you think so well of me in this respect, for I have resigned my professorship and determined to make my way, to the best of my ability, as a journalist, hereafter?"
"Yes; I sent my letter of resignation yesterday."
"I'm heartily glad of it, old fellow, and selfishly glad, too, for it was to persuade you to do that that I sat down to talk to you. You see my health is not very good lately; the fact is I have been using the spur too much, and am pretty well run down with overwork. The publishers have been urging me to get an assistant, and the trouble is to get one who can really relieve me of a share of the work. I can get plenty of people to undertake it, but I have to go over their work to be sure of it, and it's easier to do it myself from the first. Now you are just the man I want, if you can stand the salary. The publishers will let me pay forty dollars a week. You can make more than that from the outside, I suppose, but it's better to be in a regular situation, I think. How would you like to try the thing?"
"Nothing could be more to my taste. I think I should like this better than daily paper work, and besides it gives one a better opportunity for growth. But before we talk any more about it I feel myself in honor bound to tell you what has happened to me lately. If you care then to repeat your offer, I shall gladly accept it, but if you feel the slightest hesitation about it, I shall not blame you for not renewing it."
And Robert told him everything, but Dudley declined to believe that there had been any just cause for the arrest, or that Robert had in any way violated the strictest canons of honor.
This young man seemed, indeed, to be perfect master of the art of making people believe in him in spite of the most damaging facts. Miss Sudie's faith in him never wavered for an instant. Even Billy had to keep a synopsis of the evidence against his cousin constantly in mind to keep himself from "believing that he couldn't see through glass," as he phrased it. The New York lawyer, summoned to get the young man out of jail, backed his faith in him, as we have seen, by indorsing his draft for several hundred dollars; and now Dudley, after hearing a plain statement of the facts from Robert's own lips, dismissed them as of no consequence, and set up his own unreasonable faith as a complete answer to them. He renewed his offer, and Robert accepted it, becoming office editor of the weekly paper for which he had recently been writing.
Major Pagebrook asserts himself
It now becomes necessary to a proper understanding of this history that we shall go back a day or two, to the day, in fact, on which Robert's letters were received at Shirley. I said there were three New York letters in the mail-bag thrown off at the Court House that morning. The third letter there referred to was from the law firm of Steel, Flint & Sharp. It was addressed to Edwin Pagebrook, Esq., and quite by accident it fell into that gentleman's hands. I say by accident, because Cousin Sarah Ann had taken unusual precautions to prevent precisely this result. After writing to the lawyers, it occurred to that estimable lady that a reply would come in due time, and that as she had taken the liberty of signing her husband's name to her letter, the reply would be addressed to him rather than to her, and she greatly feared that he would have an opportunity to read it. She particularly wished that this should not happen. She knew her mild-mannered and long-suffering husband thoroughly, and, while she felt free to torment him in various ways, she had learned, from one or two bits of experience, that it was not the part of wisdom to tax his endurance too far. Accordingly she took pains to prevent him from visiting the Court House while she was expecting the letter. She laid various plans for the purpose of keeping him occupied on the plantation every day, and took care to secure the first look into the family postbag whenever the servant returned with it. On the morning in question, however, as Maj. Pagebrook was riding over his plantation, inspecting work, he met a neighbor who was going to the Court House, and having some small matters to attend to there he determined to join the neighbor in his ride. Upon his arrival he called for his letters, and so it came about that the note in which Messrs. Steel, Flint & Sharp, "begged to inform him" of Robert's arrest in accordance with his instructions, fell into his hands. At first he was puzzled, and thought there must have been some mistake, but after awhile a glimmering of the truth dawned upon him, and in his smothered way he was exceedingly angry. He had condemned Robert's misconduct as severely as anybody, but had never dreamed of proceeding to harsh measures in the matter. Besides, it was only the day before that Robert's remittance of one hundred dollars had come to him, and, in acknowledging its receipt, he had partially satisfied his resentment by telling his cousin "what he thought of him," and to learn now that the young man was in jail for the fault, and apparently at his behest, was sorely displeasing to him. And worse than all, his wife had taken an unwarrantable liberty in the affair, and this he determined to resent. He mounted his horse, therefore, and was on the point of starting homeward when Dr. Harrison accosted him.
"Good morning, Maj. Pagebrook. May I speak to you a moment?"
"Good morning, Charles."
"Has there been any administrator appointed for Ewing's estate?"
"No, not yet. I reckon I must take out papers next court day, as he was of age when he died. It's only a matter of form, I reckon, as there are no debts."
"Well, my only reason for asking is I hold Ewing's note for two hundred and twenty-five dollars. I'm in no hurry, only I wanted to act regularly and get it in shape by presenting it."
"You have Ewing's note? Why, what is it for?" asked Major Pagebrook in astonishment.
"Borrowed money," answered the doctor.
"Borrowed money? But how did he come to borrow it?"
"Well, the fact is Ewing got to playing bluff with Foggy one day just before he got sick, and Foggy fleeced him pretty badly, and I lent him the money to pay out with. He didn't want to owe it to Foggy, you know."
"Have you the note with you?" asked Maj. Pagebrook.
"No. It's in my office; but I can get it if you'd like to look at it."
"No; it's no matter, if you can tell me the date."
"It bears date November 19th, I think."
"Just one day after he came of age," said Maj. Pagebrook. "Well, I'll see about it, Charles," and with this the two gentlemen separated.
Major Pagebrook rode homeward, meditating upon the occurrences of the morning. He had determined to manage his own business hereafter without tolerating improper interference upon the part of his wife, and he was in position to do this, too, except with regard to the home plantation, which, as Ewing had informed Robert, was held in Cousin Sarah Ann's name. Major Pagebrook was a quiet man and a long-suffering one. He liked nothing so much as peace, and to keep the peace he had always yielded to the more aggressive nature of his wife. But he felt now that the time had come for him to assert his supremacy in business matters, and he determined to assert it very quietly but very positively. One point was as good as another, he thought, for the purpose, and this newly-discovered debt of Ewing's gave him an excellent occasion for the self-assertion upon which he had resolved. Several times of late he had mildly suggested to Cousin Sarah Ann the propriety of putting Ewing's papers into Billy Barksdale's hands for examination, so that the boy's affairs might be properly and legally adjusted. To every such suggestion Cousin Sarah Ann, who carried the key of Ewing's portable desk, had turned a deaf ear, saying that there were no debts one way or the other, and that she "wouldn't have anybody overhauling the poor boy's private papers." Now, however, Major Pagebrook had made up his mind to put the desk into Billy's hands without asking the excellent lady's consent.
"Don't take my horse, Jim," he said to his servant upon arriving at home, "I am going to ride again presently. Just tie him to the rack till I want him."
Going into the house, he met Cousin Sarah Ann, to whom he said:
"Sarah Ann, I will write my own letters and attend to my own business hereafter, and I'll thank you not to sign my name for me again. You have placed me in a very awkward position, and I can't explain it to anybody without exposing you. Understand me now, please. I will not tolerate any such interference in future."
Ordinarily Cousin Sarah Ann would have been ready enough with a reply to such a remark as this, but just now she was fairly frightened by her husband's tone and manner. She saw at a glance that he was in very serious earnest, and she knew him well enough to know that it would not do to provoke him further. She was always afraid of him, even when she was riding rough-shod over him. When he seemed most submissive and she most aggressive, she was in the habit of scanning his countenance very carefully, as an engineer watches his steam gauge. When she saw steam rising, she usually had the safety valve – a flood of tears – ready for immediate use. Just now she saw indications of an explosion, which appalled her, and she dared not face the danger for a moment. Without reply, therefore, she sank, weeping, into the nearest chair, while her husband walked into her room, opened her wardrobe, and took from it the little desk in which his son's letters and papers were locked. Coming back to her he said:
"I will take the key to this desk, if you please."
She looked up with a frightened countenance, and asked:
"I want to open the desk."
"What are you going to do with it?"
"I'm going to put it into my lawyer's hands."
"Wait then. I must look over the papers first."
"No; Billy will do that."
"But there's some of mine in it, private ones."
"It doesn't matter. Billy will sort them and return yours to you."
"But he sha'n't look at my papers."
"Give me the key, Sarah Ann."
"I can't. It's lost."
"Very well, then," said he, taking his knife from his pocket, breaking the frail lock, and walking out of the house without another word.
Cousin Sarah Ann was thoroughly overcome. She knew that her husband had received the reply to her letter, which she had meant to receive herself, and she knew too that her mastery over him was at an end, for the present at least. Worse than all, she knew that the desk and its contents would inevitably go into Billy Barksdale's hands, and she had her own reasons for thinking this the sorest affliction possible to her. There was no help for it now, however, and she could do nothing except throw herself on her bed and shed tears of bitter mortification, vexation, and dread.
Meanwhile Major Pagebrook galloped over to Shirley, with the desk under his arm. The conversation already reported between Billy and Miss Sudie, was hardly more than finished when he dismounted and walked into the young lawyer's office.
He opened his business by telling Billy about the note held by Dr. Harrison.
"I don't understand it," he said. "Harrison says the note is dated November 19th, which was just one day after Ewing came of age, and I remember that Ewing was taken sick on the morning of his birthday – very sick, as you know, and never left his bed afterwards."
"When was Ewing at the Court House last?" asked Billy.
"Not since the day Robert left."
"Did he owe Harrison any money that you know of?"
"No; but Harrison says Foggy won that much from him, and he had to borrow to pay it."
"You are sure, however, that Ewing could not possibly have had a chance to sign the note after he came of age?"
"Of course he couldn't. He was delirious from the very first, and we never left him."
"I think I see how it is," said Billy. "Foggy and Charley Harrison are too intimate for any straight dealings. I reckon Charley was as deeply interested in the winnings as Foggy was, but they have made Ewing execute the note to Charley for money borrowed to pay Foggy with so that it would be legally good. They made him date it ahead, too, so that it would appear to have been executed after Ewing came of age. They didn't anticipate his sickness, and they haven't thought to compare dates. I think we can beat them this time, when they get ready to sue."
"But we mustn't let them sue, Billy," said Major Pagebrook. "I would never consent to plead the baby act or to get out of it by any legal quibble if the signature is genuine, as I reckon it is. That wouldn't be honorable. No, I shall pay the note off; and I only want to know whether I must charge it to Ewing's estate or not, after taking out administration papers. If I can, I ought to, in justice to the other children. If I can't, I must pay it myself. Look into it, please, and let me know about it. I have brought you Ewing's desk, so you can look over all his papers and attend to all his affairs for me. I want to get everything straight." So saying he took his leave.
Mr. Barksdale, the Younger, Goes upon a Journey
Not until the next morning did Mr. Billy find time to examine the papers in Ewing's desk. Indeed, even then he deemed the matter one of very little consequence, inasmuch as the papers, whatever they might happen to be, were probably of no legal importance, being of necessity the work of a minor. There might be memoranda there, however, and possibly a will disposing of personal property, which, under the law of Virginia, would be good if executed by a minor over eighteen years of age.
In view of these possibilities, therefore, Billy sat down to the task of examining the papers, which were pretty numerous, such as they were. After awhile he became interested in the very miscellaneousness of the assortment. Little memoranda were there – of the date on which a horse had been shod; of the amount paid for a new pair of boots; of the times at which the boy had written letters to his friends, and of a hundred other unimportant things. There were bits of poor verse, too, such as may be found in the desk of almost every boy. Old letters, full of nothing, were there in abundance, but nothing which could possibly be of any value to anybody. On all the letters, except one, was marked, in Ewing's handwriting, "To be burned without reading, in case of my death." The one exception attracted Billy's attention, and opening it, he was surprised to find Robert Pagebrook's name appended to it. It was, in fact, the letter which Cousin Sarah Ann had opened during her son's last illness. After reading it Mr. Billy sat down to think. Presently, looking at his watch, he went to the door and called a servant.
"Go and ask your Miss Sudie to put two or three shirts, and some socks and handkerchiefs into my satchel for me, and then you go and tell Polidore to saddle Graybeard and the bay, and get ready to go with me to the Court House directly. Do you hear?"
The servant made no answer to the question with which Mr. Billy closed his speech. Indeed that gentleman expected none. Virginians always ask "do you hear?" when they give instructions to servants, and they never get or expect an answer. Without the question, however, they would never secure attention to the instruction. To say, "do so and so," without adding, "do you hear?" would be the idlest possible waste of words on the part of any one giving an order to the average Virginian house servant.
Mr. Billy was in the habit of making sudden journeys on business, without giving the slightest warning to the family except that contained in a request that his satchel or saddle-bags be packed, so that Miss Sudie was not in the least surprised when his present message came to her. She was surprised, however, when, instead of riding away without a word of farewell, as he usually did, he came into the house, and, kissing her tenderly, said:
"Keep your spirits up, Sudie, and don't let things worry you too much. I'm going to Richmond on the two o'clock train, and don't know how long I'll be gone. Good-by, little girl," and he kissed her again. All this was quite out of character, Miss Sudie felt. Billy was affectionate enough, at all times, but he detested leave-takings, and always avoided them when he could. To seek one was quite unlike him, and Miss Sudie was puzzled to know what prompted him to do it on this particular occasion. He rode away, however, without offering any explanation whatever.
Mr. Billy went to Richmond, as he had said he intended doing, but he did not remain there an hour. He went to the cashier of a bank, a gentleman with whom he was well acquainted, got from him a letter of introduction to a prominent man in Philadelphia, and left for that city on the first train.
Arriving in Philadelphia about nine o'clock the next day, Mr. Billy ate a hasty breakfast and proceeded to the little collegiate institute in which Robert had once been a professor, as the reader will remember. Introducing himself to President Currier he asked for a private interview, and was invited for the purpose into Dr. Currier's inner office.
"I believe, doctor," he said, after telling that gentleman who he was, "that there was something due Professor Pagebrook on his salary at the time his connection with this college terminated, was there not?"
"Yes, sir; there was about three hundred dollars due him, if I remember correctly, but it has been paid, I think."
"Have you any way of ascertaining precisely how and when?" asked Billy.
"Yes; my own letter-book should show. Let me see," turning over the leaves, "Ah, here it is. A draft for the amount was sent to him by letter on the eighth of November, addressed to – Court House, Virginia."
"Thank you," said Billy. "The draft, I suppose, was regular New York Exchange?"
"Would you mind telling me from what bank you bought it, and to whose order, in the first place, it was made payable? Pardon my asking such questions, but I need this information for use in the cause of justice."скачать книгу бесплатно
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