A Man of Honorскачать книгу бесплатно
"I ought not to tell you, but I must now, or you will imagine uncomfortable things. I know why Mr. Winger wrote you that note."
"You know why? There was some reason then besides his need of money?"
"He was not pressed for the money at all. That wasn't the reason."
"You surprise me, Cousin Sudie. Pray tell me what you know, and how."
"Well, promise me first that you won't get yourself into any trouble about it – no, I have no right to exact a blind promise – but do don't get into trouble. That detestable man, Foggy Raves, made Mr. Winger uneasy about the money. He told him you were 'hard up' and couldn't pay if you wanted to; and I'm glad you have paid him, and I'm glad you beat Charley Harrison in the fox-chase, too."
With this utterly inconsequent conclusion, Cousin Sudie commenced rocking violently in her chair.
"How do you know all this, Cousin Sudie?" asked Robert.
"Ewing told me this evening. I'd rather you'd have killed a dozen horses than to have had Charley Harrison beat you."
"Why, Cousin Sudie?"
"O he's at the bottom of all this. He always is. Foggy is his mouth-piece. And then he told Aunt Catherine, the day you went to The Oaks, that he 'meant to have some fun when he got you into a fox-hunt on Winger's colt.' He said you'd find out how much your handsome city riding-school style was worth when you got on a horse you were afraid of. I'm so glad you beat him!"
Now it would seem that Cousin Sudie's rejoicing must have been of a singular sort, as she very unreasonably burst into tears while in the very act of declaring herself glad.
Mr. Robert Pagebrook was wholly unused to the task of soothing a woman in tears. It was his habit, under all circumstances, to do the thing proper to be done, but of what the proper thing was for a man to do or say to a woman in tears without apparent cause, Mr. Robert Pagebrook had not the faintest conception, and so he very unreasonably proceeded to take her hand in his and to tell her that he loved her, a fact which he himself just then discovered for the first time.
Before he could add a word to the blunt declaration, Dick thrust his black head into the door-way with the announcement, "Supper's ready, Miss Sudie."
What Occurred Next Morning
The reader thinks, doubtless, that Master Dick's entrance at the precise time indicated in the last chapter was an unfortunate occurrence, and I presume Mr. Pagebrook was of a like opinion at the moment. But maturer reflection convinced him that the interruption was a peculiarly opportune one. He was a conscientious young man, and was particularly punctilious in matters of honor; wherefore, had he been allowed to complete the conversation thus unpremeditatedly begun, without an opportunity to deliberate upon the things to be said, he would almost certainly have suffered at the hands of his conscience in consequence. There were circumstances which made some explanations on his part necessary, and he knew perfectly well that these explanations would not have been properly made if Master Dick's interruption had not come to give him time for reflection.
All this he thought as he drank his tea; for when supper was announced both he and Miss Sudie went into the dining-room precisely as if their talk in the parlor had been of no unusual character.
This they did because they were creatures of habit, as you and I and all the rest of mankind are. They were in the habit of going to supper when it was ready, and it never entered the thought of either to act differently on this particular occasion. Miss Sudie, it is true, ran up to her room for a moment – to brush her hair I presume – before she entered the dining-room, but otherwise they both acted very much as they always did, except that Robert addressed almost the whole of his conversation during the meal to his Aunt Mary and Aunt Catherine, while Miss Sudie, sitting there behind the tea-tray, said nothing at all. After tea the older ladies sat with Robert and Sudie in the parlor, until the early bed-time prescribed for the convalescent young gentleman arrived.
It thus happened that there was no opportunity for the resumption of the interesting conversation interrupted by Dick, until the middle of the forenoon next day. Miss Sudie, it seems, found it necessary to go into the garden to inspect some late horticultural operations, and Mr. Robert, quite accidentally, followed her. They discussed matters with Uncle Joe, the gardener, for a time, and then wandered off toward a summer-house, where it was pleasant to sit in the soft November sunlight.
The conversation which followed was an interesting one, of course. Let us listen to it.
"The vines are all killed by the frost," said Cousin Sudie.
"Yes; you have frosts here earlier than I thought," said Robert.
"O we always expect frost about the tenth of October; at least the gentlemen never feel safe if their tobacco isn't cut by that time. This year frost was late for us, but the nights are getting very cool now, a'n't they?"
"Yes; I found blankets very comfortable even before the tenth of October."
"It's lucky then that you wa'n't staying with Aunt Polly Barksdale."
"Why? and who is your Aunt Polly?"
"Aunt Polly? Why she is Uncle Charles's widow. She is the model for the whole connection; and I've had her held up to me as a pattern ever since I can remember, but I never saw her till about a year ago, when she came and staid a week or two with us; and between ourselves I think she is the most disagreeably good person I ever saw. She is good, but somehow she makes me wicked, and I don't think I'm naturally so. I didn't read my Bible once while she staid, and I do love to read it. I suppose I shall like to have her with me in heaven, if I get there, because there I won't have anything for her to help me about, but here 'I'm better midout' her."
"I quite understand your feeling; but you haven't told me why I'm lucky not to have her for my hostess these cold nights."
"O you'd be comfortable enough now that tobacco is cut; but when Cousin Billy staid with her, a good many years ago, he used to complain of being cold – he was only a boy – and ask her for blankets, and she would hold up her hands and exclaim: 'Why, child, your uncle's tobacco isn't cut yet! It will never do to say it's cold enough for blankets when your poor uncle hasn't got his tobacco cut. Think of your uncle, child! he can't afford to have his tobacco all killed.' But come, Cousin Robert, you mustn't sit here; besides I want to show you an experiment I am trying with winter cabbage."
This, I believe, is a faithful report of what passed between Robert and Sudie in the summer-house. I am very well aware that they ought to have talked of other things, but they did not; and, as a faithful chronicler, I can only state the facts as they occurred, begging the reader to remember that I am in no way responsible for the conduct of these young people.
The cabbage experiment duly explained and admired, Mr. Robert and Miss Sudie walked out of the garden and into the house. There they found themselves alone again, and Robert plunged at once into the matter of which both had been thinking all the time.
"Cousin Sudie," he said, "have you thought about what I said to you last night?"
"Yes – a little."
"I will not ask you just yet what you have thought," said Robert, taking her unresisting hand into his, "because there are some explanations which I am in honor bound to make to you before asking you to give me an answer, one way or the other. When I told you I loved you, of course I meant to ask you to be my wife, but that I must not ask you until you know exactly what I am. I want you to know precisely what it is that I ask you to do. I am a poor man, as you know. I have a good position, however, with a salary of two thousand dollars a year, and that is more than sufficient for the support of a family, particularly in an inexpensive college town; so that there is room for a little constant accumulation. If I marry, I shall insure my life for ten thousand dollars, so that my death shall not leave my wife destitute. I have a very small reserve fund in bank too – thirteen hundred dollars now, since I paid for that horse. And there is still three hundred dollars due me for last year's work. These are my means and my prospects, and now I tell you again, Sudie, that I love you, and I ask you bluntly will you marry me?"
The young lady said nothing.
"If you wish for time to think about it Sudie – "
"I suppose that would be the proper way, according to custom; but," raising her eyes fearlessly to his, "I have already made up my mind, and I do not want to act a falsehood. There is nothing to be ashamed of, I suppose, in frankly loving such a man as you, Robert. I will be your wife."
The little woman felt wonderfully brave just then, and accordingly, without further ado, she commenced to cry.
The reader would be very ill-mannered indeed should he listen further to a conversation which was wholly private and confidential in its character; wherefore let us close our ears and the chapter at once.
In which Mr. Pagebrook Bids his Friends Good-by
The next two or three days passed away very quickly with Mr. Robert and Miss Sudie. Robert made to his aunt a statement of the results, without entering into the details of his conferences with Miss Sudie, and was assured of Col. Barksdale's approval when that gentleman and Billy should return from the court they were attending. The two young people, however, were in no hurry for the day appointed for that return to come. They were very happy as it was. They discussed their future, and laid many little plans to be carried out after awhile. It was arranged that Robert should return to Virginia at the beginning of the next long vacation; that the wedding should take place immediately upon his coming; and that the two should make a little trip through the mountains and, returning to Shirley, remain there until the autumn should bring Robert's professional duties around again.
They were in the very act of talking these matters over for the twentieth time, one afternoon, when Maj. Pagebrook rode up. He seemed absent and nervous in manner, and after a few moments of general conversation asked to see Robert alone upon business. When the two were closeted together Maj. Pagebrook opened his pocket-book and taking out a paper he slowly unfolded it, saying: "I have just received this, Robert, and I suppose there is a duplicate of it awaiting you in the post-office."
Robert looked at the paper in blank astonishment.
"What does this mean?" he cried; "my draft protested! Why I have sixteen hundred dollars in that bank, and my draft was for only three hundred."
"It appears that the bank has failed," said Maj. Pagebrook. "At least I reckon that's what the Richmond people mean. They say, in a note to me, that it 'went to pot' a week ago. It seems there are a good many banks failing this fall. I hope you won't lose everything, though, Robert."
The blow was a terrible one to the young man. In a moment he took in the entire situation. To lose the money he had in bank was to be forced to begin the world over again with absolutely nothing; but at any rate he could pay the debt he owed to his cousin very shortly, and to be free from debt is in itself a luxury to a man of his temperament. He thought but a moment and then said:
"Cousin Edwin, I shall have to ask you to carry that protested draft for me a few days if you will. There is some money due me on the fifteenth of this month, and it is now the ninth. I asked that it should be sent to me here, but I shall go to Philadelphia at once, and I'll collect it when I get there and send you the amount. I promise you faithfully that it shall be remitted by the fifteenth at the very furthest."
"O don't trouble yourself to be so exact, Robert," replied Maj. Pagebrook. "Send it when you can; I'm in no very great hurry. Sarah Ann says we must invest all our spare money in the new railroad stock; but I needn't pay anything on that till the twenty-third, so there will be time enough. But for that I wouldn't care how long I waited."
"I shall not let it remain unpaid after the fifteenth at furthest," said Robert. "I do not like to let it lie even that long."
Maj. Pagebrook took his departure and Robert told Sudie of the bad news, telling her also that he must leave next morning for Philadelphia, to see if it were possible to save something from the wreck of the bank.
"Besides," said he, "I must get to work. There are nearly two months of time between now and the first of January, and I cannot afford to lose it now that I have lost this money."
"What will you do, Robert? You can't do anything teaching in that time."
"No, but I can do a good many things. I write a little now and then for the papers and magazines, for one thing. I can pick up something, I think, which will at least pay expenses."
He then told her of his arrangement with Maj. Pagebrook about the protested draft, and finished by repeating what that gentleman had said about the investment in railroad stock.
This troubled Miss Sudie more than all the rest, and Robert seeing it pressed her for a reason. But no reason would she give, and Robert was forced to content himself with the thought that his trouble naturally brought trouble to her. To her aunt, however, she expressed her conviction that Cousin Sarah Ann had suggested the railroad investment merely for the sake of compelling her husband to press Robert for payment. She was troubled to know that the payment must be deferred even for a few days, but rejoiced in the knowledge of Robert's ability to discharge his indebtedness speedily. It galled her to think of the unpleasant things which the amiable mistress of The Oaks would manage to say about Robert pending the payment. There was no help for it, however, and so the brave little woman persuaded herself that it was her duty to appear cheerful in order that Robert might be so; and whatever Miss Sudie believed to be her duty in any case Miss Sudie did, however difficult the doing might be. She accordingly wore the pleasantest possible smile and the most cheerful of countenances whenever Robert was present, doing every particle of her necessary crying in her own room and carefully washing away all traces of the process before opening the door.
Robert made all his preparations for departure that afternoon, and on the following morning was driven to the Court House in the family carriage. When he arrived there he got what letters there were for him in the post-office, read them, and talked a few moments with Ewing Pagebrook, who had spent the preceding night with Foggy and Dr. Harrison, and was now deeply contrite and rather anxious than otherwise that Robert should scold him. There was no time, however, even for the giving of advice, as the train had now come, and Robert must go at once. A hasty hand-shaking closed the interview, and Robert was gone.
Mr. Pagebrook Goes to Work
When Robert arrived in Philadelphia his first care was to make inquiries with regard to the bank in which his money was deposited. He learned that it had suspended payment about one week before, and that its affairs were in the hands of an assignee. This was all he could find out on the afternoon of his arrival, and with this he was forced to content himself until the next day, when he succeeded with some little difficulty in securing an interview with the assignee. To him he said: "My only purpose is to ascertain the exact state of the bank's affairs, in order that I may know what to do."
"That I cannot tell you, sir. The books are still in confusion, and until they can be straightened out it is impossible to say what the result will be."
"Tell me, then, are the assets anything like equal to the liabilities?"
"That is exactly what the books must show. I can't say till we get a statement."
"You can at least tell me then," said Robert, provoked at the man's reticence, "whether there are any assets at all, or not."
"No, I can make no statement until the books are examined. Then a complete exhibit of affairs will be made."
"Pardon me," said Robert, "but this question is one of serious moment to me. You have been examining this bank's affairs for a week, I believe?"
"Yes, about a week."
"You must have some idea, then, whether or not there is likely to be anything at all left for depositors, and you will oblige me very much indeed by giving me your personal opinion on the subject. I understand how impossible it is to give exact figures; but you cannot have failed to discover by this time whether or not the assets amount to anything worth considering, as compared with the amount of the bank's liabilities. I would like the little information you can give me, however inexact it may be."
"My dear sir," said the assignee, "I'm afraid you don't understand these things. Our statement is not ready yet, and I can not possibly tell you what its nature will be until it is."
"When will it be ready, sir?" asked Robert.
"That I can not say as yet, but it will be forthcoming in due time, sir; in due time."
"Will it require a week, or a month, or two or three months? You can, at least, make an approximate estimate of the time necessary for its preparation."
"Well, no," said the man of business, "I should not like to make any promises; I am hard at work, and the statement will be ready in due time, sir; in due time."
Robert left the man's presence thoroughly disgusted. Thinking the matter over he concluded that the affairs of the bank must be in a very bad way. Otherwise, he argued, the man would not be so silent on the subject.
Now the assignee was perfectly right in saying that Robert did not understand these things. If he had understood them he would have known that the reticence from which he thus argued the worst, meant just nothing at all. Business men are not apt to commit themselves unnecessarily in any case, and especially in such a case as the one concerning which Robert had been inquiring. The bank might have been utterly bankrupt or entirely solvent, and that assignee would in either case have given precisely the same answers to our young friend's questions. He knew nothing with absolute certainty as yet, and could know nothing certainly until the last column of figures should be added up and the final balances struck. Then he could make a statement, but until then he would say nothing at all. He acted after his kind. Business is business; and, as a rule, business men know only one way of doing things.
Robert, however, was not a business man. He knew nothing about these things, and accordingly, making no allowance for a business habit as one of the factors in the problem, he proceeded to argue that if the affairs of the bank were in the least degree hopeful the man would have said so. As he had carefully and persistently avoided saying anything of the kind, Robert could only conclude that there was no hope at all to be entertained.
He quickly determined, therefore, to waste no more time. Abandoning his sixteen hundred dollars as utterly lost, he packed his valise and went at once to New York to find work of some kind. How he succeeded we shall best see from his letter to Cousin Sudie, from which I am allowed to quote a passage or two.
"I am very busy with some topical articles, as the newspaper folk call them. That is to say, I am visiting factories of various kinds and writing detailed accounts of their operations, coupling with the facts gathered thus, a gossipy account of the origin, history, etc., of the industry. I find the work very interesting, and it promises to be quite remunerative too. I fell into it by accident. About a year ago I spent an evening with a friend, Mr. Dudley, in New York, and while at his house his seven year old boy showed me some of his toys – little German contrivances; and I, knowing something about the toys and the people who make them – you know I made a summer trip through Europe once – fell to telling him about them. His father was as much interested as he, but the matter soon passed from my mind. When I came over here a week ago to look for something to do I visited the office of this paper, hoping that I should be allowed to do a little reporting or drudgery of some sort till something better should turn up. Who should I find in the editor's chair but my friend Dudley. I told him my errand, and his reply was:
"'I haven't a moment now, Pagebrook, but you're the very man I want; come up and see me this evening. We dine at half-past six, and over our roast-beef I can explain fully what I mean.'
"I went, as a matter of course, and at dinner Dudley said:
"'Our paper, Pagebrook, is meant to be a kind of American Penny Magazine. That is to say, we want to fill it full of entertaining information, partly for the sake of the information but more for the sake of the entertainment. Now I have tried at least fifty people, in the hope of finding somebody who could tell, in writing, just such things as you told our Ben when you were here a year ago. I never dreamed of getting you to do it, but you're just the man, and about the only one, too, I begin to think. Now, if you've a mind to do it, I can keep you busy as long as you like. I don't mean to confine you to this particular kind of work, but I'd rather have articles of that sort than any others, and the publishers won't grumble if I pay you twenty dollars apiece for them. They mustn't exceed two of our columns – say two thousand words in all – but if you can't tell your story in any particular instance within those limits, you can make two articles out of it. I've already told your toy story, but you can easily hunt up plenty of other things to tell about. Common things are best – things people see every day but know nothing about.'скачать книгу бесплатно
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