George Eggleston.

A Man of Honor

скачать книгу бесплатно

Mr. Pagebrook summoned sufficient courtesy to decline the alcoholic hospitality without rudeness, and, with his cousin, took his leave.

Ewing entreated Robert to keep the secret he had thus stumbled upon, and Robert promised to do so upon the express condition that Ewing would wholly refrain from playing cards for money in future. This the youth promised to do, and our friend Robert congratulated himself upon his success in saving his well-meaning but rather weak-headed cousin from certain ruin.

Mr. Pagebrook Rides

In view of the circumstances detailed in the preceding chapter, it was quite natural that Robert Pagebrook should feel some annoyance when he learned from young Harrison that his cousin had again fallen into the hands of Foggy Raves. And he did feel annoyance, and a good deal of it, as he resumed his walk toward The Oaks. Aside from his interest in his cousin, Robert disliked to be beaten at anything, and to find that the gambler had fairly beaten him in his fight for the salvation of Ewing was anything but agreeable to him. Then again his cousin had shown himself miserably weak of moral purpose, and weaknesses were always unpleasant things for Robert Pagebrook to contemplate. He had no sympathy with irresolution of any sort, and no patience with unstable moral knees. He was half angry and wholly grieved, therefore, when he heard of Ewing's violation of his promise. His first impulse was to go before the next grand jury and secure Foggy's indictment for gambling with a minor, but a maturer reflection convinced him that while this would be an agreeable thing to do under the circumstances, it would be an unwise one as well. To expose Ewing was to ruin him hopelessly, Robert felt, knowing as he did that reformation in the face of public disgrace requires a good deal more of moral stamina than Ewing Pagebrook ever had. Precisely what to do Robert did not know. He would talk with Cousin Sudie about the matter, and see what she thought was best. Her judgment, he had discovered, was particularly good, and it might help him to a determination.

This thinking of Cousin Sudie brought back to his mind Phil's hint as to the purpose of Dr. Harrison's visit, and his face burned as the conviction came to him that this man might be Cousin Sudie's accepted or acceptable lover. He knew well enough that Harrison called frequently at Shirley; but surely Cousin Sudie would have mentioned the man often in conversation if he had been largely in her mind. Would she though? This was a second thought. Was not her silence, on the contrary, rather an indication that she did think of the man? If she recognized him as a lover, would she not certainly avoid all unnecessary mention of his name? Was not Phil likely to be pretty well informed in the case? All these things ran rapidly through his perturbed mind. But why should he worry himself over a matter that in no way concerned him? He was not interested in Cousin Sudie except as a friend.

Of course not. Was not his heart still sore from its suffering at the hands of Miss Nellie Currier? No; upon the whole he was forced to confess that it was not. In truth he had not thought of that young lady for at least a fortnight; and now that he did think of her he could not possibly understand how or why he had ever cared for her at all. But he was not in love with Cousin Sudie. Of that he was certain. And yet he could not avoid a feeling of very decided annoyance at the thought suggested by Phil's remark. He knew young Harrison very slightly, but he was accustomed to take men's measures pretty promptly, and he was not at all satisfied with this one as a suitor for Cousin Sudie. He knew that Foggy was the young physician's pretty constant associate. He knew that Harrison drank at times to excess, and he felt that he was not over scrupulous upon nice points of morality. In short, our young man was in a fair way to work himself into a very pretty indignation when he met Maj. Pagebrook's overseer, Winger. A negotiation immediately ensued, ending in an agreement that Robert should ride the black colt so long as Graybeard's lameness should continue, paying Winger a moderate hire for the animal.

The bargain concluded, Winger dismounted and Robert took his place on the colt's back, borrowing Winger's saddle until his return to Shirley in the evening.

Horseback exercise is a curious thing, certainly, in some of its effects. When Robert was afoot that morning several things had combined, as we have seen, to make him gloomy, despondent, and generally out of sorts. Ewing's backsliding had annoyed him, and the possibility or probability of Phil's accuracy of information and judgment in the matter of Cousin Sudie and Dr. Harrison had depressed him sorely. When he found himself on the back of this magnificent colt, whose delight it was to carry a strong, fearless rider, he fell immediately into hearty sympathy with the high spirits and bounding pulses of the animal. He struck out into a gallop, and in an instant felt himself in a far brighter world than that which he had been traversing ten minutes since. His spirits rose. His hopefulness returned. The world became better and the future more promising. Mr. Robert Pagebrook felt the unreasonable but thoroughly delightful exhilaration to which Billy Barksdale referred when he said, "Bob is the happiest fellow in the world; he gets glad sometimes just because he is alive." That was precisely the state of affairs. Mr. Robert on this high-mettled horse was superlatively alive, and was glad because of it. There is more of joy than many people know in the mere act of living; but it is only they who have clear consciences, springy muscles, and perfect health of both mind and body who fully share this joy. Robert Pagebrook had all of these, and was astride a perfect horse to boot; and that, as all horsemen know, is an important element in the matter.

He galloped on toward The Oaks, leaving his troubles just where he mounted his horse. He forgot Ewing's apostasy; he forgot Dr. Harrison, but he remembered Cousin Sudie, and that right pleasantly too. Naturally enough, being on horseback, he projected himself into the future, which is always a bright world when one is galloping toward it. He would heartily enjoy the coming fox-chase – particularly on such an animal as that now under him. Then his thoughts pushed themselves still further forward, and he dreamed dreams. His full professorship would pay him a salary sufficient to justify him in setting up a little establishment of his own, and he should then know what it was to have a home in which there should be love and purity and peace and domestic comfort. The woman who was to form the center of all this bliss was vaguely undefined as to identity and other details. She existed only in outline, in the picture, but that outline strikingly resembled the young woman who carried the key-basket at Shirley – an accidental resemblance, of course, for Mr. Robert Pagebrook was positive that he was not in love with Cousin Sudie.

Mr. Pagebrook Dines with his Cousin Sarah Ann

How largely Mr. Robert's high spirits were the result of rapid riding on a good horse, and how far other causes aided in producing them, I am wholly unprepared to say. Whatever their cause was they were not destined to last long after he dismounted at The Oaks. Indeed his day at that country seat was not at all an agreeable one. His cousin Sarah Ann was a rather depressing person to be with at any time, and there were circumstances which made her especially so on this particular occasion. Cousin Sarah Ann had a chronic habit of being ostentatiously sorry for herself, which was very disagreeable to a healthy young man like Robert. She nursed and cherished her griefs as if they had been her children, and like children they grew under the process. She had several times told Robert how lonely she was since the death of her mother, three years before, and with tears in her eyes she had complained that there was nobody to love her now that poor mother was gone – a statement which right-thinking and logical Robert felt himself almost guilty in hearing from a woman with a husband and a house full of children. She complained a good deal of her poverty, too, a complaining which shocked this truthful young man, knowing, as he did, that his cousin Edwin was one of the wealthiest men in the country round about, with a good plantation at home, a very large and profitable one in Mississippi, twenty or thirty business buildings, well leased, in Richmond, a surplus of money in bank, and no debts whatever, which last circumstance served to make him almost a curiosity in a state in which it was hardly respectable to owe no money. She complained, too, that her boys were dull and her girls not pretty, both of which complaints were very well founded indeed. When Robert on his first visit said something in praise of her comfortable and really pretty house, she replied:

"Oh! I can't pretend to live in an aristocratic house like your Aunt Mary's. I didn't inherit a 'family mansion' you know, and so we had to build this house. It hasn't a bit of wainscoting, you see, and no old pictures. I reckon I a'n't as good as you Pagebrooks, and somehow my husband a'n't as aristocratic as the rest of you. I reckon he's only a half-blood Pagebrook, and that's why he condescended to marry poor me."

This was Cousin Sarah Ann's favorite way of speaking of herself, and she said "poor me" with a degree of pathos in her tone which always brought tears to her eyes.

On the present occasion, as I have said, there were circumstances which enabled this estimable lady to make herself unusually disagreeable. She had a fresh affliction, and so she reveled in an ecstasy of woe. It was her ambition in life to be exceptionally miserable, and accordingly she welcomed sorrow with a keenness of relish which few people can possibly know. She wouldn't be happy in heaven, Billy Barksdale said, unless she could convince people there that she was snubbed by the saints and put upon by the angels.

When Robert arrived at The Oaks that morning Major Pagebrook met him at the gate, according to custom, but without his customary cheerfulness of countenance. He offered no explanation, however, and Robert asked no questions. The two went into the parlor, Robert catching sight of Ewing in the orchard back of the house, but having no opportunity to speak to the young man.

Robert had not been in the parlor many minutes before Major Pagebrook went out and Cousin Sarah Ann entered and greeted him with her handkerchief to her eyes. She made one or two ostentatious efforts to control herself, and then ostentatiously burst into tears.

"Oh! Cousin Robert, I didn't mean to betray myself this way. But I'm so miserable. Ewing has been led away again by that man, Foggy Raves."

"I am heartily sorry to know it, Cousin Sarah Ann," replied Robert. "Did he lose much?"

"O Ewing never gambles! I don't mean that. Thank heaven my boy never plays cards, except with small stakes for amusement. But he went over to the Court House last night to stay with Charley Harrison, and they went up to Foggy's and they drank a little too much. And now Cousin Edwin (Mrs. Pagebrook always called her husband Cousin Edwin) is terribly angry about it and has scolded the poor boy cruelly, cruelly. He even threatened to cut him off with nothing at all in his will, and leave the poor boy to starve. Men are so hard-hearted! The idea that I should live to hear my boy talked to in that way, and by his own father too, almost kills me. Poor me! there's nobody to love me now."

"Tell me, Cousin Sarah Ann," said Robert, "for I am deeply concerned in Ewing's behalf, and I mean to reform him if I can – does he often get drunk?"

"Get drunk! My boy never gets drunk! You talk just like Cousin Edwin. He only drinks a little, as all young gentlemen do, and if he drinks too much now and then I'm sure it isn't so very dreadful as you all make it out. I don't see why the poor boy must be kept down all the time and scolded and scolded and talked about, just because he does like other people; and that's what distresses me. Cousin Edwin scolds Ewing, and then scolds me for taking the poor boy's part, and it's more than I can bear. And now you talk about 'reforming' him!"

Robert explained that he had misunderstood the cause of Cousin Sarah Ann's grief, but he thought it would be something worse than useless to tell her that she was ruining the boy, as he saw clearly enough that she was. He turned the conversation, therefore, and Cousin Sarah Ann speedily dried her eyes.

"You're riding Mr. Winger's horse, I see. What's become of Graybeard?" she asked, after a little time.

"He is a little lame just now. Nothing serious, but I thought I would hire Winger's colt until he gets well."

"Ah! I understand. The rides soon in the morning must not be given up on any terms. But you'd better look out, Cousin Robert. I'm sorry for you if you lose your heart there."

"Why, Cousin Sarah Ann, what do you mean? I really am not sure that I understand you."

"Oh! I say nothing; but those rides every morning and all that housekeeping that I've heard about, are dangerous things, cousin. I was a belle once myself."

It was one of Cousin Sarah Ann's favorite theories that she knew all about bellehood, having been a belle herself – though nobody else ever knew anything about that particular part of her career.

"Well, Cousin Sarah Ann, I do not think I have lost my heart, as you phrase it; but pray tell me why you should be sorry for me if I had?"

Mr. Robert was at first about to declare positively that he had not fallen in love with Cousin Sudie, but just at that moment it occurred to him that he might possibly be mistaken about the matter, and being thoroughly truthful he chose the less positive form of denial, supplementing it, as we have seen, with a question.

"Well, for several reasons," replied Cousin Sarah Ann: "they do say that Charley Harrison is before you there, and anyhow, it would never do. Sudie hasn't got much, you know. Her father didn't leave her anything but a few hundred dollars, and that's all spent long ago, on her clothes and schooling."

Mr. Robert Pagebrook certainly did not wish ill to Cousin Sudie, and yet he was heartily though illogically glad when he learned that that young lady was poor. The feeling surprised him, but he had no time in which to analyze it just then.

"Why, Cousin Sarah Ann, you certainly do not think me so mercenary as your remark would seem to indicate?"

"Oh! it's well enough to talk about not being mercenary, but I can tell you that some money on one side or the other is very convenient. I know by experience what it is to be poor. I might have married rich if I'd wanted to, but I had lofty notions like you."

The reader will please remember that I am no more responsible for Mrs. Pagebrook's syntax than for her sins.

"But, Cousin Sarah Ann," said Robert, "you would not wish one to marry a young woman's money or lands, would you?"

"That's only your romantic way of putting it. I don't see why you can't love a rich girl as well as a poor one, for my part. If you had plenty of money yourself it wouldn't matter; but as it is you ought to marry so as to hang up your hat."

"I confess I do not exactly understand your figure of speech, Cousin Sarah Ann! What do you mean by hanging up my hat?"

"Didn't you ever hear that before? It's a common saying here, when a man marries a girl with a good plantation and a 'dead daddy,' so there can't be any doubt about the land being her's – they say he's got nothing to do but walk in and hang up his hat."

This explanation was lucid enough without doubt, but it, and indeed the entire conversation, was extremely disagreeable to Robert, who was sufficiently old-fashioned to think that marriage was a holy thing, and he, being a man of good taste, disliked to hear holy things lightly spoken of. He was relieved, therefore, by Maj. Pagebrook's entrance, and not long afterwards he was invited to go up to the blue-room, the way to which he knew perfectly well, to rest awhile before dinner.

In the blue-room he found Ewing, with a headache, lying on a lounge. The youth had purposely gone thither, probably, in order that his meeting with Robert might be a private one, for meet him he must, as he very well knew, at dinner if not before.

Robert sat down by him and held his head as tenderly as a woman could have done, and speaking gently said:

"I am very sorry to find you suffering, Ewing. You must ride with me after dinner, and the air will relieve your head, I hope."

The boy actually burst into tears, and presently, recovering from the paroxysm, said:

"I didn't expect that, Cousin Robert. Those are the first kind words I've heard to-day. Mother has called me hard names all the morning."

"Your mother!" exclaimed Robert, thrown off his guard by surprise, for he would never have thought of questioning the boy on such a subject.

"O yes! she always does. If she'd ever give me any credit when I do try to do right, I reckon I would try harder. But she calls me a drunkard and gambler whenever there is the least excuse for it; and if I don't do anything wrong she says I am pokey and a'n't got any spirit. She told me this morning she didn't mean to leave me anything in her will, because I'd squander it. You know all pa's property is in her name now. I got mad at last and told her I knew she couldn't keep me from getting my share, because nearly half of everything here belonged to Grandfather Taylor and is willed to us children when we come of age. She didn't know I knew that, and when I told her – "

"Come, Ewing, don't talk about that. You have no right to tell me such things. Bathe your head now, and hold it up as a man should. You are responsible to yourself for yourself, and it is your duty to make a man of yourself – such a man as you need not be ashamed of. If you think you do not receive the recognition you ought for your efforts to do well, you should remember that things are not perfectly adjusted in this world, so far at least as we can understand them. The reward of manliness is the manliness itself; and it is well worth living for too, even though nobody recognizes its existence but yourself. Of that, however, there need be no fear. People will know you, sooner or later, precisely as you are."

Robert had other encouraging things to say to the youth, and finally said:

"Now, Ewing, I shall ask you to make no promises which you may not be strong enough to keep; but if you will promise me to make an earnest effort to let whisky and cards alone, and to make a man of yourself, refusing to be led by other people, I will talk with your father and get him to agree never to mention the past again, but to aid you with every encouragement in his power for the future."

"Why, Cousin Robert, pa never says anything to me. When ma scolds he just goes out of the house, and he don't come in again till he's obliged to. It a'n't pa at all, it's ma, and it a'n't any use to talk to her. I'll be of age pretty soon, and then I mean to take my share of grandpa's estate, and put it into money and go clear away from here."

Robert saw that it would be idle to remonstrate with the young man at present, and equally idle to interfere with the domestic governmental system practiced by Cousin Sarah Ann. He devoted himself, therefore, to the task of getting Ewing to bathe his head; and after a little time the two went down to dinner, Ewing thinking Robert the only real friend he could claim.

His head aching worse after dinner than before, he declined Robert's invitation to go to Shirley, and our friend rode back alone.

Concerning the Rivulets of Blue Blood

Mr. Robert was heartily glad to get away from the uncomfortable presence of Cousin Sarah Ann, and yet it can not be said that our young gentleman was buoyant of spirit as he rode from The Oaks to Shirley. Ewing's case had depressed him, and Cousin Sarah Ann had depressed him still further. His confidence in woman nature was shaken. His ideas on the subject of women had been for the most part evolved – wrought out, a priori, from his mother as a premise. He had known all the time that not every woman was his mother's equal, if indeed any woman was; he had observed that sometimes vanity and weakness and in one case, as we know, faithlessness entered into the composition of women, but he had never conceived of such a compound of "envy, hatred and malice, and all uncharitableness" as his cousin Sarah Ann certainly was; and as he applied the quotation mentally he was constrained also to utter the petition which accompanies it in the litany – "Good Lord deliver us!" This woman was a mystery to him. She not only shocked but she puzzled him. How anybody could consent to be just such a person as she was was wholly incomprehensible. Her departures from the right line of true womanhood were so entirely purposeless that he could trace them to no logical starting-point. He could conceive of no possible training or experience which ought to result in such a character as hers.

скачать книгу бесплатно

страницы: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13