A Man of Honorскачать книгу бесплатно
"I set to work the next day, and have been busy ever since. I like to visit factories and learn all the petty details of their operations, and I find that it is the petty details which go to make the description interesting. I like the work so well that I almost wish I had no professorship, so that I might follow as a business this kind of writing, and some other sorts in which I seem to succeed – for I do not confine myself to one class of articles, or to one paper either, for that matter, but am trying my hand at a variety of things, and I find the work very fascinating. But it is altogether better, I suppose, that I should retain my position in the college, even if I could be sure of always finding as good a market as I do just now for my wares, which is doubtful. I have lost the whole of my little reserve fund – as the bank seems hopelessly broken; and if I had nothing to depend upon except the problematic sale of articles, I would do you a wrong to ask you to let our wedding-day remain fixed. As it is, my salary from the college is more than sufficient for our support, and as my expenses from now until the time appointed will be very small indeed, I shall have several hundred dollars accumulated by that time; wherefore if Uncle Carter does not object, pray let our plans remain undisturbed, will you not, Sudie?"
The rest of this letter, which is a very long one, is not only personal in its character, but is also of a strictly private nature; and while I am free to copy here so much of this and other letters in my possession as will aid me in the telling of my story, I do not feel myself at liberty to let the reader into the sacred inner chambers of a correspondence with which we have properly no concern, except as it helps us to the understanding of this history.
A Short Chapter, not very interesting, perhaps, but of some Importance in the Story, as the Reader will probably discover after awhile
When the letter from which a quotation was made in the preceding chapter came to Miss Sudie, that young lady was not at Shirley but at The Oaks, where Ewing was lying very ill. He had been prostrated suddenly, a few days before, and from the first had been delirious with fever. The doctor had appeared unusually anxious regarding his patient ever since he was first summoned to see him, and Cousin Sarah Ann having given way to her alarm at the evident danger in which her son lay to such an extent as to be wholly useless to herself or to anybody else, Miss Sudie had been called in to act as temporary mistress of the mansion.
The very next mail after the one which brought her letter, had in it one from Robert addressed to Ewing himself. Miss Sudie, upon discovering it in the bag, carried it to Cousin Sarah Ann, and was very decidedly shocked when that estimable lady without a word broke the seal and read the letter, putting it carefully away afterwards in Ewing's desk, of which she had the key. Miss Sudie said nothing, however, and the matter was almost forgotten when in the evening the doctor came and sat down by the sick boy's bed.
"I think it my duty to tell you," said he to Cousin Sarah Ann, "that the crisis of the disease is rapidly approaching, and I must wait here until it passes.
Your son is in very great danger; but we shall know within a few hours whether there is hope for him or not. I confess that while I hope the best I fear the worst."
Mrs. Pagebrook was thoroughly overcome by her fright. She loved her son, in her own queer way; and being a very weak woman she gave way entirely when she understood in how very critical a condition the boy was. It was necessary to exclude her from the room, and the doctor remained, with Miss Sudie and Maj. Pagebrook. About midnight he stood and looked intently at the sick man's features, listening also to his hard-coming breath. He stood there full half an hour – then turning to Miss Sudie, he said:
"It's of no use, Miss Barksdale. Our young friend is beyond hope. He cannot live an hour. Perhaps you'd better inform his mother."
But before Miss Sudie could leave the bedside, Ewing roused himself for a moment, and tried to say something to her.
"Tell Robert – I got sick the very day – twenty-one – "
This was all Miss Sudie could hear, and she thought the patient's mind was wandering still, as it had been throughout his illness. And these incoherent words were the last the young man ever uttered.
About a week after Ewing's death Cousin Sarah Ann said to Maj. Pagebrook:
"Cousin Edwin, are you ever going to collect that money from Robert? He promised to pay you on or before the fifteenth of November, and now it's nearly the last of the month and you haven't a line of explanation from him yet. I told you he wouldn't pay it till we made him. You oughtn't to've let him run away in your debt at all, and you wouldn't either, if you'd a'listened to me. Why don't you write to him?"
"Well, I don't like to press the poor fellow. He's lost his money you know, and I reckon he finds it hard to pull through till January. He'll pay when he can, I reckon."
"O that's always the way with you! For my part I don't believe he had any money in the bank; and besides he said there was some money coming to him on his salary, and he promised faithfully to pay you out of that. I told you he wouldn't, because I knew him. He tried to make out he was so much superior to the rest of us, and talked about 'reforming' poor Ewing, just as if the poor boy was a drunkard and – and – and – if you don't write I will, and I'll make him pay that money too, or I'll know why."
The conversation ended as such conversations usually did in Maj. Pagebrook's family, namely, by the abrupt departure of that gentleman from the house.
Cousin Sarah Ann evidently meant what she said, and her husband was no sooner out of the house than she got out her desk and wrote; not to Robert, however, but to Messrs. Steel, Flint & Sharp, attorneys and counselors at law, in New York city. Her note was not a long one, but it told the whole story of Robert's indebtedness from a not very favorable point of view, and closed with a request that the attorneys should "push the case by every means the law allows." This note was signed not with Cousin Sarah Ann's own but with her husband's name, and her first proceeding, after sealing the letter, was to send it by a servant to the post-office. She then ordered her carriage and drove over to Shirley.
Cousin Sarah Ann Takes Robert's Part
Cousin Sarah Ann talked a good deal. Ill-natured people sometimes said she talked a good deal of nonsense, and possibly she did, but she never talked without a purpose, and she commonly managed to talk pretty successfully, too, so far as the accomplishment of her ends was concerned. In the present case, while I am wholly unprepared to say exactly why she wanted to talk, I am convinced that this excellent lady's visit to Shirley was undertaken solely for the purpose of securing an opportunity to talk.
Arrived there, she greeted her friends with her black-bordered handkerchief over her eyes, and for a time seemed hardly able to speak at all, so overpowering was her emotion. Then she said:
"I wouldn't think of visiting at such a time as this, of course, but Shirley seems so much like home, and I felt like I must have somebody to talk to who could sympathize with me. Dear Sudie was so good to me during – during it all."
After a time Cousin Sarah Ann composed herself, and controlled her emotion sufficiently to converse connectedly without making painful pauses, though her voice continued from first to last to be uncomfortably suggestive of recent weeping.
"Have you had any news of Robert lately?" she asked; "I do hope he's doing well."
"We've had no letters since Sudie's came while she was at your house," said Colonel Barksdale. "He was doing very well then, I believe, though he thought there was no hope of recovering anything from the bank."
"I'm so sorry," said Cousin Sarah Ann, "for I love Robert. He was so like an older brother to my poor boy. I feel just like a mother to him, and I can't bear to have anybody say anything against him."
"Nobody ever does say anything to his discredit, I suppose," said Col. Barksdale. "He is really one of the finest young men I ever knew, and the very soul of honor, too. He comes honestly by that, however, for his father was just so before him."
"That's just what I tell Cousin Edwin," said Cousin Sarah Ann. "I tell him dear Robert means to do right, and will do it just as soon as ever he can. Poor fellow! he has been so unfortunate. Somebody must have made Cousin Edwin suspicious of him, else he wouldn't think so badly of poor Robert."
"Why, Sarah Ann, what do you mean?" asked Col. Barksdale. "Surely Edwin has no reason to think ill of Robert."
"No, that he hasn't; and that's what I tell him. But he's been prejudiced and won't hear a word. He says nothing about it to anybody but me, but he really suspects Robert of meaning to cheat him, and – "
"Cheat him!" cried all in a breath, "Why, how can that be?"
"O it can't be, and so I tell Cousin Edwin; but he insists that Robert told him he would pay that three hundred dollars on or before the fifteenth, and I reckon the poor boy hasn't been able to do it, or he would."
"Why, Sarah Ann, you don't tell me that Robert has failed to pay Edwin that money!" said the Colonel.
"Why, I thought you knew that, or I wouldn't have told you about it. No, he hasn't sent it yet; but he will, of course, if I can keep Cousin Edwin from writing him violent letters about it."
"Hasn't he written to explain the delay?" asked the Colonel.
"No; and that's what Cousin Edwin always reminds me of when I try to take Robert's part. He says if he meant to be honest he would have written. I tell him I know how it is. I can fully understand Robert's silence. He has failed to get money when he expected it, I reckon, and has naturally hated to write till he could send the money. Poor boy! I'm afraid he'll overwork himself and half starve himself, too, trying to get that money together, when we could wait for it just as well as not."
"There certainly can be no apology for his failure to write, after promising payment on a definite day," said Col. Barksdale; "and I am both surprised and grieved that he should have acted in so unworthy a way!"
With this the Colonel arose and paced the room in evident anger. Robert's champion, Cousin Sarah Ann, could not stand this.
"Surely you are not going to turn against poor Robert without giving him a hearing, are you, Cousin Carter? I thought you too just for that, though I should never have mentioned the subject at all if I hadn't thought you all knew about it, and would take Robert's part like me."
"I shall give him a hearing," said the Colonel; "but in the meantime I must say his conduct has been very singular – very singular indeed."
"O he's only thoughtless!" said the excellent woman, in her anxiety to shield "dear Robert."
"No; he is not thoughtless. He never is thoughtless, whatever else he may be. If you wish to defend him, Sarah Ann, you must find some other excuse for his conduct. Confound the fellow! I can't help loving him, but if he isn't what I took him for, I'll – "
The Colonel did not finish his threat; perhaps he hardly knew how.
"Now, Cousin Carter, please don't you fly into a passion like Cousin Edwin does," said Cousin Sarah Ann, pleadingly, "but wait till you find out all the facts. Write to Robert, and I'm sure he will explain it all. I wish I hadn't said a word about it."
"You did perfectly right, perfectly," said Colonel Barksdale. "If Robert has failed in a point of honor, I ought to know it, because in that case I have a duty to do – a painful one, but a duty nevertheless."
"O you men have no charity at all. You're so hard on one another, and I'm so sorry I said anything about it. Good-by, Cousin Mary. Good-by, Sudie dear. Come and see me, won't you? I miss you so much in my trouble. Come often. Come and stay some with me. Do. That's a dear."
And so Cousin Sarah Ann drove away, rejoicing in the consciousness that she had vigorously defended the absent Robert; and perhaps rejoicing too in the conviction that that gentleman could not possibly explain his conduct to the satisfaction of Colonel Barksdale.
Miss Barksdale Expresses some Opinions
Miss Sudie Barksdale was a very brave little woman, and she needed all her courage on the present occasion. She felt the absolute necessity there was that she should sit out Cousin Sarah Ann's conversation, and she sat it out, in what agony it is not hard to imagine. When that lady drove away Miss Sudie ran off to her room, where she remained for two or three hours. Upon her privacy we will not intrude.
Col. Barksdale called Billy from his office, and giving him the newly discovered facts, asked his opinion. Billy was simply thunderstruck.
"I can't understand it," said he; "Bob certainly had that money coming to him from his last year's salary, for he told me about it the day we first met in Philadelphia. If Bob isn't a man of honor, in the strictest sense of the term, I never was so deceived in anybody in my life. And yet this business looks as ugly as home-made sin. Bob knew perfectly well that if you or I had been at home when he left we wouldn't have allowed his protested draft to stand over at all, but would have paid it on the spot. He knew too that if he couldn't pay when he promised he could have written to me or to you explaining the matter, and we would have lent him the money for twenty years if necessary. I don't understand it at all. It looks ugly. It looks as if he meant to make that money clear."
"Well, my son," said Col. Barksdale, "I'll give him one chance to explain at any rate. I'll write to him immediately."
Accordingly the old gentleman went to his library and was engaged for some time in writing. After awhile there came a knock at his door, and Miss Sudie entered.
"Come in, daughter," said he, tenderly. "I want to talk with you."
"I thought you would," said the sad-eyed little maiden, "and that's why I came. I wanted our talk to be private."
"You're a good girl, my child." Then, after a pause, "This is bad news about Robert."
"Yes; and from a bad source," said Sudie.
"I do not understand you, daughter."
"We have the best of authority, Uncle Carter, for saying that 'men do not gather grapes of thorns!'"
"But, my child, I suppose there can be no doubt of the facts in this case, so far as we have them. We know the circumstances of Robert's indebtedness to Edwin, and whatever her motives may have been, Sarah Ann would hardly venture to say that he has neither paid nor written in explanation of his failure to do so, if he had done either."
"Robert ought to have paid at any cost to himself if it were possible; and if it were not, then he should have written in a frank, manly way, explaining his inability to fulfill his promise. Appearances are so strongly against him that I have written with very little hope of eliciting any satisfactory reply."
"Will you mind letting me see what you have written, Uncle Carter?"
"No; you may read the letter. Here it is."
Miss Sudie read it. It ran thus:
"I have just now learned that you have wholly failed to fulfill your solemn and deliberate promise, made on the eve of your departure from Shirley, to the effect that you would, without fail, take up your protested draft for three hundred dollars ($300), held by your Cousin Major Edwin Pagebrook, on or before the fifteenth (15th), day of this current month. It is now the thirtieth (30th), and hence your promise is fifteen (15) days over due. I learn also that you have failed to write in explanation of your delinquency or in any way to account or apologise for it. Permit me to say that as your conduct presents itself to me at this time, it is unworthy the gentleman which you profess to be, and I now demand of you either that you shall give me immediately a satisfactory explanation of the matter – and that, I must confess, sir, seems hardly possible – or that you shall at once write to my niece and adopted daughter, releasing her from her engagement with you."
Having finished reading the letter Sudie handed it back to her uncle without a word of comment. Not that she was in this or in any other case afraid to express her opinion. Her uncle knew very well when he gave her the letter that she would say absolutely nothing about it until he should ask her, and he knew equally well that upon asking her he would get a perfectly honest expression of her thought, whatever it might happen to be. But Colonel Barksdale was, for the time, afraid to ask her opinion. He was a brave man and an honest one. He was known throughout the state as a lawyer of great ability and as a gentleman of the most undoubted sort. And yet at this moment he found himself afraid of a young girl, who stood in the relation of daughter to him – a girl who was never violent in word or act, a girl who honored him as a father and loved him with all her heart. He knew she would unhesitatingly speak the truth, and it was the truth of which he was afraid. He had not been aware, when he wrote, of any disposition to do Robert injustice, else, being a just man, he would have spurned the thought from him; but now that he felt bound to ask Miss Sudie for her opinion of his course, he became uncomfortably conscious that there had been other impulses than just ones governing him in his choice of language. At last he asked the dreaded question.
"What do you think, daughter?"
"I think you have not done yourself justice, Uncle Carter, in writing such a letter as that. The letter is not like you, at all."
"Do you mean why and wherefore?"
"Yes. Why and wherefore, Sudie?"
"Because it is not like you to do an act of injustice, and when you are betrayed into one you misrepresent yourself."
"But wherein is my letter an act of injustice, my child?"
"It assumes unproved guilt; and I believe even criminals are entitled to a more favorable starting-point than that in their efforts to clear themselves."
"But, Sudie, I have not assumed that Robert is guilty. I have asked him to explain."
"Yes; and in the very act of asking him to explain to you, his judge, you have assured him from the bench that the court believes an explanation impossible."
"Have I? Let me see."
After looking at the letter again he resumed:
"I believe you are right about that; I will rewrite the letter, omitting the objectionable clause. Is that all Sudie?"
"Perhaps when you come to rewrite the letter you will see that its tone is as unjust as any words could possibly be. It seems so to me."
"Let me try my hand again, daughter. Keep your seat please while I write a new letter instead of rewriting the old one."
"There. How will that do?" he asked, as he handed the young woman this hastily-written note.
"My Dear Robert: We have just been hearing some news of you, which I trust you will be able to contradict or explain. It is that you have failed to keep your promise in the matter of your indebtedness to Major Pagebrook, and that you have not even offered a word by way of apology or explanation. The peculiar relations in which you now stand to my family justify me, I think, in asking you to explain a matter which, unexplained, must reflect upon your character as an honorable man. Please write to me by return mail."
"That is more like you, Uncle Carter. But I am sorry to find that you are convinced, in advance, of Robert's guilt. You propose to sit in judgment upon his case, and a court should not only appear but be free from bias."
"Why, my daughter, I can hardly see how there can be any possible excuse in a case like this. You cannot deny that both facts and appearances are against him."
"I doubt whether we have the facts yet, Uncle Carter. Aside from my knowledge of Cous – of Sarah Ann Pagebrook's general character, I saw her do a dishonorable thing once. I saw her open and read a letter which was not addressed to her, and I have no faith whatever in her, or in any statement which comes from her or through her."
Colonel Barksdale was probably not sorry that the conversation was interrupted at this point by the entrance of a servant announcing a client. He felt that it would be idle to argue with Sudie in a matter in which her feelings were strongly enlisted, and he felt that in calling Robert to an account he was doing a simple duty. He was, therefore, rather pleased than otherwise to have an accident terminate a conversation which did not promise to terminate itself agreeably.
Miss Sudie went to her room and wrote to Robert on her own account. I am not at liberty to print her letter here, as I should greatly like to do, but the reader will readily guess its general nature. She told Robert in detail everything that had been said concerning him that day. She told him of her uncle's anger, and of the probability that everybody would believe him guilty if he failed to establish his innocence; but she assured him that she, at least, had no idea of doubting him for a moment.скачать книгу бесплатно
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