A Man of Honorскачать книгу бесплатно
"O you need offer no apology, I assure you, sir," returned the president. "I have nothing to conceal in the matter. The draft was drawn by the Susquehanna Bank, and to my order, I think. Yes, I remember indorsing it."
"Thank you, sir," said Billy. "You are very courteous, and I am indebted to you for information which I should have found it difficult to get from any other source. Good morning, sir."
Leaving the college, which was situated in one of the suburbs, Mr. Billy took a carriage and drove into the city. There he delivered his letter of introduction, and secured from the gentleman to whom it was addressed a personal introduction to the cashier of the Susquehanna Bank. To this latter person he said:
"I am looking up evidence in a case, and, if I am not greatly mistaken, you can help me in an effort to set a wrong right. On the eighth of last month you sold a draft on New York for three hundred dollars, payable to the order of David Currier. Now, in the ordinary course of business I suppose that draft has been returned to you after payment."
"Yes, if it was paid before the first of the month. We settle with our New York correspondents once a month. I'll look at the last batch of returned checks and see."
"Thank you. I should be glad to see the indorsements on the paper, if possible."
The cashier went to the vault, and returning with a large bundle of canceled checks soon found the one wanted. Billy turned it over and examined the indorsements on the back. Then, turning to the banker, he asked:
"Would it be possible for me to get temporary possession of this draft by depositing the amount of its face with you until its return?"
"You merely wish it for use in evidence?" asked the banker.
"That's all," said Billy.
"You can take it, then, without a deposit, Mr. Barksdale. It is of no value now, but we usually keep our canceled exchange, so I shall be obliged if you will return this when you've done with it."
This was precisely what Robert had come to Philadelphia to secure, and after finding what the indorsements on the draft were, he would willingly have paid its face outright, if that had been necessary, to get possession of it.
Who knows what the value of a bit of writing may be, even after its purpose has to all appearance been fully answered? I know a great commercial house in which it is an inexorable law that no bit of paper once written on in the way of business shall ever be destroyed, however valueless it may seem to be; and on more than one occasion the wisdom of the rule has been strikingly made manifest. So it was with this paid, canceled, and returned draft. Worthless in all eyes but his, to Billy it was far more precious than if it had been crisp and new, and payable to his own order.
The younger Mr. Barksdale Asks to be put upon His Oath
It was nearly noon when the train which brought Billy Barksdale back from Philadelphia stopped at the Court House, and that young gentleman went from the station immediately to the court room, where the Circuit Court, as he knew, was in session.
"Has the grand jury been impaneled yet?" he asked the commonwealth's attorney.
"Yes; it has just gone out, but as usual there is nothing for it to do, so it will report 'no bills' in an hour or so, I reckon."
"Have me sworn and sent before it then," said Billy.
"I think I can put it in the way of finding something to do."
The official was astonished, but he lost no time in complying with the rather singular request. Billy went before the grand jury, and remained there for a considerable time. This was a very unusual occurrence in every way, and it quickly produced a buzz of excitement in and about the building. There was rarely ever anything for grand juries to do in this quiet county, and when there was anything it usually hinged upon some publicly known and talked of matter. Everybody knew in advance what it was about, and the probable result was easy to predict. Now, however, all was mystery. A prominent young lawyer had been sworn and sent before the grand jury at his own request, and the length of time during which he was detained there effectually dispelled the belief which at first obtained, that he merely wanted to secure the presentment of some negligent road overseer. Even the commonwealth's attorney could not manage to look wise enough, as he sat there stroking his beard, to deceive anybody into the belief that he knew what was going on. The minutes were very long ones. The excitement soon extended beyond the court house, and everybody in the village was on tiptoe with suppressed curiosity. The court room was full to overflowing when Billy came quietly out of the grand jury's apartment and took his seat in the bar as if nothing out of the ordinary course of affairs had happened.
It did not tend to allay the excitement, certainly, when the deputy sheriff on duty at the door of the jury room beckoned to the commonwealth's attorney and that gentleman went up-stairs three steps at a time, disappearing within the chamber devoted to the secret inquest and remaining there. When half an hour later Major Edwin Pagebrook was called, sworn and sent up as a witness, wild rumors of a secret crime among the better classes began to circulate freely in the crowd, starting from nowhere and gradually taking definite shape as they spread from one to another of the eager villagers.
The excitement was now absolutely painful in its intensity, and even the judge himself began walking restlessly back and forth in the space set apart for the bench.
When Major Pagebrook came out of the room with a downcast face he went immediately home, and Rosenwater, a merchant in the village, was called. When he came out, distinct efforts were made to worm the secret from him. He was mindful of his oath, however, and refused to say anything.
Finally the members of the grand jury marched slowly down stairs, and took their stand in front of the clerk's desk.
"Poll the grand jury," said the judge. When that ceremony was over, the question which everybody in the building had been mentally asking for hours was formulated by the court.
"Gentlemen of the grand jury, have you any presentments to make?"
"We have, your honor," answered the foreman.
"Read the report of the grand jury, Mr. Clerk."
The official rose and after adjusting his spectacles very deliberately, read aloud:
"We, the grand jury, on our oaths present Dr. Charles Harrison and James Madison Raves, for forgery and for a conspiracy to defraud Edwin Pagebrook, on or about the tenth day of November in this present year within the jurisdiction of this honorable court."
The crowd was fairly stunned. Nobody knew or could guess what it meant. The commonwealth's attorney was the first to speak.
"As the legal representative of the commonwealth, I move the court to issue a warrant for the arrest of Charles Harrison and James Madison Raves, and I ask that the grand jury be instructed to return to their room and to put their indictments in proper form."
The two men thus accused of crime being present in court were taken in charge by the sheriff.
"If the commonwealth's attorney has no further motions to make in this case," said the judge, "the court will take a recess, in order to give time for the preparation of indictments in due form."
"May it please the court," said the official addressed, "I have only to ask that your honor will instruct the sheriff to separate the two prisoners during the recess. I do not know that this is necessary, but it may tend to further the interests of justice."
"The court sees no reason to refuse the request," said the judge. "Mr. Sheriff, you will see that your two prisoners are not allowed to confer together in any way until after the reassembling of the court, at four o'clock."
Mr. William Barksdale Explains
Precisely what Dr. Harrison's emotions were when he found himself in the sheriff's hands, nobody is likely ever to know, as that gentleman was always of taciturn mood in matters closely concerning himself, and on the present occasion was literally dumb.
With Foggy the case was different. He was always a prudent man. He was not given to the taking of unnecessary risks for the sake of abstract principles. He made no pretensions to the possession of heroic fortitude under affliction, and he had no special reputation for high-toned honor to lose. The clutch of the law was to him an uncomfortable one, and he was prepared to escape it by any route which might happen to be open to him. This disposition upon his part was an important factor in the problem which Billy had set out to solve. He knew Foggy was a moral coward, and upon his cowardice he depended, in part, for the success of his undertaking.
As soon as court adjourned the commonwealth's attorney requested the members of the grand jury to make themselves as comfortable as might be while he should be engaged in the preparation of formal indictments against the two prisoners. Going then to his office he closeted himself with Billy Barksdale, who had preceded him thither by his request.
"You'll help me with this prosecution, won't you Billy?" he asked.
"With as good a will as I ever carried to a fish fry," said Billy.
"Well, then," said the attorney, "tell me just how the thing stands. I confess I'm all in a jumble about it. Begin at the beginning and tell the whole story. Then we'll know where we stand and how to proceed."
Accordingly Billy recounted the history of the protested draft; the promise to pay; its nonfulfillment and the trouble which ensued. He then continued:
"My suspicions as to the real facts of the case were aroused by accident. Maj. Pagebrook consulted me a few days ago about a note signed by Ewing Pagebrook, drawn in favor of Charley Harrison, which, Harrison said, had been given him when he advanced money to Ewing with which to pay a gambling debt to Foggy. That note was evidently dated ahead, as it bore date of November 19th, one day after Ewing attained his majority, when, in fact, the boy was taken ill on the morning of his twenty-first birthday, and never left his bed afterwards. This confirmed me in the belief that Foggy and Harrison were confederates in their gambling operations. They fleeced the boy, and then had him borrow the money with which to pay from Harrison, and give a note for it, so as to make the consideration good; and they took pains to have him date it ahead, so as to get rid of the minority trouble. This by itself would have amounted to nothing, but in looking over Ewing's papers I found a letter there from Bob Pagebrook, which I happened accidentally to know was received during Ewing's illness. Here it is. I'll read it.
"'My Dear Ewing: – I can not tell you how grieved I am at the news your letter brings me. I can ill afford to lose the three hundred dollars which I intrusted to you to hand to your father, and even if you do make it good when you come of age, as you so solemnly promise me you will, I am, meanwhile, placed in a very awkward position with regard to it. I promised your father to pay him that money by a certain day, and was greatly pleased, as you know, when, upon arriving at the Court House on my way north, I found the remittance awaiting me there, as it enabled me to make the payment in advance of the time agreed upon. When I, in my haste to catch the train, gave you the check to give to your father, I dismissed the subject from my mind, and set about the work of repairing my fortunes with a light heart, little thinking that matters would turn out as they have.
"'But while I am sorely annoyed by the fact that this may place me in an awkward position, I am willing to trust my reputation in your hands. Remember that you are now bound in honor, not merely to pay this money as soon as you shall attain your majority, but also to protect me from undeserved disgrace by frankly stating the facts of the case to your father in the event of his entertaining doubts of my integrity. This much you are in honor bound to do in any case, and you have also given me your word that you will do it. If your father shall seem disposed to think me not unduly dilatory in the matter of payment, you need tell him nothing. You may spare yourself that mortification, send me the money, and I will remit it to him, merely saying that unavoidable circumstances which I am not at liberty to explain have prevented the earlier payment which I intended to make.
"'But in agreeing to do this, Ewing, I am moved solely by my desire to shield you from disgrace and consequent ruin. When I gave you that money for your father it was a sacred trust, and in converting it to other uses you not only wronged me, but you made yourself guilty of something very like a crime. Pardon me if I speak plainly, for I am speaking only for your good and I speak only to you. I want you to understand how terribly wrong and altogether dishonorable your act was, so that you may never be guilty of another such. I am not disposed to reproach you, but I do want to warn you. You are the son of a gentleman, and you have no right to bring disgrace upon your father's name. You ought not to gamble, and if you do gamble you have no right to surrender your honor in payment of your losses. I promise you, as you ask me to do, that I will not tell what you have done; and you know I never break a promise under any circumstances whatever. But in promising this I place my own reputation in your keeping, depending upon you, in the event of necessity, to frankly acknowledge your fault, so that I may not appear to have run away from a debt which in fact I have paid.'
"When I read that letter," continued Billy, "I began to see daylight. Bob had given his word of honor to Ewing not to expose him. Ewing had died before he could make the money matter good, and Bob, like the great, big, honorable, dear old fellow that he is, allowed himself to go to jail and bear the reputation of an absconding debtor, rather than break his promise to the dead boy. He paid the money again, too. I suspected, of course, that Foggy and Charley Harrison were mixed up in the matter some way, particularly as the very last visit Ewing ever made to the Court House was made on the day that Bob went away. I went to Philadelphia, and there found the canceled draft, drawn in favor of David Currier; indorsed to Robert Pagebrook; and by him indorsed to Edwin Pagebrook. Then followed, as you know, an indorsement to James M. Raves, signed 'E. Pagebrook.' That, of course, was written by Ewing, who at the suggestion of these two men made the draft over to them – or to one of them – by signing his own name, which happened, when written with the initial only, to be the same as his father's. Foggy then indorsed it to Harrison, and he, being respectable, had no difficulty in getting Rosenwater to cash it for him. It never entered Rosenwater's head, of course, to question any of the signatures back of Harrison's. Now my theory is that this draft did not cover Ewing's losses by two hundred and twenty-five dollars; and so the two thrifty gentlemen made the boy execute the note that Harrison holds for that amount, dating it ahead, and making it for borrowed money."
"You're right, Barksdale, without a doubt," said the commonwealth's attorney; "but how are we going to make a jury see it? There's plenty of evidence to found an indictment on, but I'm afraid there a'n't enough to secure a conviction."
"That's true," said Billy. "But we must do our very best. If we can't convict both, we may one; and even if we fail altogether in the prosecution, we will at least expose the rascals, and this county will be too hot for them afterwards. Foggy is always shaky in the knees, and if we give him half a chance will turn state's evidence. Why not sound him on the subject?"
Foggy needed very little sounding indeed. At the first intimation that there might be hope for him if he would tell what he knew he volunteered a confession, which bore out Billy's theory to the letter. From his statement, too, it appeared that Harrison was the author of the whole scheme. He had overborne Ewing's scruples, and by dint of threats compelled him to commit a practical forgery by writing his own name in such a way as to make it appear to be his father's. While Foggy was at it he made a clean breast, telling all about his partnership with Harrison in the gambling operations, and admitting that the note Harrison held was dated ahead and given solely for a gambling debt.
The commonwealth's attorney agreed to enter a nolle prosequi in Foggy's case, and to transfer him, at the trial, from the prisoner's box to the witness stand.
When Billy came out from this conference he found Major Pagebrook awaiting an opportunity to speak to him. The major, it seems, after going home had returned to the Court House.
"Billy," he said, "I know now about that letter from Robert to Ewing. Sarah Ann has told me she read it when it came. What is to be done about it?"
"Nothing," said Billy, "except that you will of course return Robert the extra three hundred dollars he has paid you."
"Of course I'll do that. But I mean – the fact is I don't want that letter to appear on the trial. You will have to tell where you got it, and it will come out, in spite of everything, that Sarah Ann knew of it."
"Well, Cousin Edwin, what am I to do? This has been a wretched business from first to last. Poor Bob has suffered severely for Ewing's fault, and – I must speak plainly – through Cous – through your wife's iniquity. Not only has he had to pay the money twice, he has been sent to jail, and but for a lucky accident his reputation as an honorable man would have been destroyed forever, and that merely to gratify your wife's petty and unreasonable spite against him. It became my duty to unravel this mystery for the sake of freeing Bob from an unjust and undeserved disgrace. In doing that I have accidentally stumbled upon the discovery of a crime, and even if it were not illegal I am not the man to compound a felony. For you I am heartily sorry, but your wife is only reaping what she has sown. I would do anything honorable to spare your feelings, Cousin Edwin, but I can not help giving evidence in this case. I really do not see, however, precisely how Bob's letter can be used as evidence. If it had been sufficient in itself to establish the facts to which it referred I should have used it to set Bob right, and the thing would have ended there. But Bob's statement was of course an interested one, and I feared that after a time, if not immediately, gossip would seize upon that point and say the whole thing was made up merely to clear Bob. I knew he would never show Ewing's letter to which his was a reply, and so I set myself to work hunting up the draft. I don't see how the letter can well come up on the trial, but if it should become necessary for me to tell about it, I must tell all about it, of course."
Major Pagebrook walked away, his head bowed as if there were a heavy weight upon his shoulders, and Billy pitied him heartily. This woman, who, in her groundless malignity, had wrought so much wrong and brought so much of sorrow upon the good old man, was his wife, and he could not free himself from the fact or its consequences. He had never willingly done a wrong in his life, and it seemed peculiarly hard that he should now have to suffer so sorely for the sins of the woman whom he called wife.
Which Is also The Last
Upon leaving Major Pagebrook Billy mounted his horse and galloped away toward Shirley, not caring to remain till the court should reassemble at four, as there could hardly be any business done beyond the formal presentation of the indictments by the grand jury and the committal of the prisoners to await trial.
When he entered the yard gate at Shirley he found his father, who had returned from the court house some time before, awaiting him.
"I have not told Sudie, my son," said the old gentleman. "I found it hard to keep my lips closed, but you have managed this affair grandly, my boy, and you ought to have the pleasure of telling the story in your own way. Go into the office, and I'll send Sudie to you."
Miss Sudie was naturally enough alarmed when her uncle, repressing everything like an expression of joy, and in doing that managing to look as solemn as a death warrant, told her that Billy wanted to see her in the office immediately. But Billy's look, as she entered, reassured her. He met her just inside the door, and taking her face between his hands, said:
"I'm as proud and as glad as a boy with red morocco tops to his boots, little girl."
"What about, Cousin Billy?" asked Miss Sudie in a tremor of uncertainty.
"Because I've been doing the duty you set me. I've been 'turning something up.' I've torn the mask off of that dear old rascal Bob Pagebrook, and shown him up in his true colors. It's just shameful the way he's been deceiving us, making us think him an absconding debtor and all that when he a'n't anything of the sort. He's as true as – as you are. There; that's a figure of speech he'd approve if he could hear it, and he shall too. I'm going to write him a letter to-night, telling him just what I think of him."скачать книгу бесплатно
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