A Man of Honorскачать книгу бесплатно
"For your sake," she wrote, "I hope you will be able to offer a convincing explanation; but whether you can do that or not, Robert, I know that you are true and manly, and not even facts shall ever make me doubt your truth. I may never be able to see how your action has been right, but I shall know, nevertheless, that it has been so. My woman love is truer, to me at least, than logic – truer than fact – truer than truth itself."
All this was very illogical – very unreasonable, but very natural. It was "just like a woman" to set her emotions up in a holy place and compel her reason to do homage to them as to a god. And that is the very best thing there is about women, too. You and I, sir, would fare badly if in naming a woman wife we could not feel assured that her love will ever override her reason in matters concerning us.
Mr. Sharp Does His Duty
The law firm of Steel, Flint & Sharp was a thoroughly well constituted one. Its organization was an admirable example of means perfectly adapted to the accomplishment of ends. It was not an eminent firm but it was an eminently successful one, particularly in the lines of business to which it gave special attention, and the leading one of these was collecting doubtful debts, as Cousin Sarah Ann had learned from one of the firm's cards which had fallen in her way. Indeed it was the accidental possession of this card which enabled her to put the matter of Robert's indebtedness into the hands of New York attorneys, and I suspect that she would never have thought of doing so at all but for the enticing words, fairly printed upon the card – "particular attention given to the collection of doubtful debts, due to non-residents of New York."
A prophet, we know, is not without honor save in his own country, and so it is not strange that the people who familiarly knew the countenances of the gentlemen composing the firm of Steel, Flint & Sharp, esteemed these gentlemen less highly than did those other people, resident outside of New York, who could know these counselors at law only through their profusely distributed cards and circulars. Such was the fact; and as a result it happened that the clients of the firm were chiefly people who, living in other parts of the country, were compelled to intrust their business in New York to the hands of whatever attorneys they believed were the leading ones in the metropolis. And it was to let people know who were the leading lawyers of the city, that Messrs. Steel, Flint & Sharp industriously scattered their cards and circulars throughout the country.
Who Mr. Steel was I do not know, and I am strongly inclined to suspect that the rest of the world, including his partners, were in a state of equal ignorance. He was never seen about the firm's offices, and never represented anybody in court, but he was frequently referred to by his partners, especially when clients were disposed to complain of apparently exorbitant charges.
Steel can not give his attention to a case, sir, for nothing. His reputation is at stake, sir, in all we undertake. I really do not feel at liberty to ask Mr. Steel to authorize any reduction in this case, sir. He gave his personal attention to the papers – his personal attention, sir."
And this would commonly send clients away suppressed, if not satisfied.
Mr. Flint was well enough known. He managed the business of the firm. It was he who always knew precisely what Mr. Steel's opinion was. He alone, of all the world, was able to speak positively of matters concerning Mr. Steel. Mr. Sharp was his junior in the firm, though considerably his senior in years. For Mr. Sharp Mr. Flint entertained not one particle of respect, because that gentleman was not always what his name implied. Mr. Sharp left to himself would have been hopelessly honest and straightforward. He would have gone to the dogs, speedily, Mr. Flint said, but for his association with himself.
"But you have excellent ability in your way, Sharp, excellent ability," he would say when in a good humor. "You are a capital executive officer – a very good lieutenant. Your ideas of what to do in any given case are not always good, but when I tell you what to do you do it, Sharp. I always know you will do what I tell you, and do it well too."
Mr. Sharp usually came to the office an hour earlier than Mr. Flint did, in order that he might have everything ready for Mr. Flint's examination when that gentleman should arrive. He read the letters, drew up papers, and was prepared to give his partner in each case the facts upon which his opinion or advice was necessary.
On the morning of December 3d, Mr. Flint came softly into his office and, after hanging up his overcoat and warming his hands at the register, went into his inner den, saying, as he sat down:
"I'm ready for you now, Sharp."
Mr. Sharp arose from his desk and entered the private room, with his hands full of papers.
"What's the first thing on docket, Sharp?"
"Well, here's a collection to be made. Debtor, Robert Pagebrook, temporarily in the city. Boarding place not known. Writes for the newspapers, so I can easily find him. Creditor Edwin Pagebrook, of – Court House, Virginia. Debtor got creditor to cash draft for three hundred dollars. Draft protested. Debtor came away, and promised to take up paper by fifteenth November. Hasn't done it. Instructions 'push him.'"
"What have you done?"
"Nothing yet; I'll look him up to-day and dun him."
"Yes, and let him get away from you. Sharp do you know that Julius C?sar is dead?"
"I'm glad to hear that you do know something then. Don't you see the point in this case? Go and make out affidavits on information. This fellow Robert what's his name is a 'transient,' and we'll get an order of arrest all ready and then you can dun him with some sense. Have your officer with you or convenient, and if he don't pay up, chuck him in jail. That's the way to do it. Never waste time dunning 'transients' when there's a ghost of a chance to cage them."
"Well, but there don't seem to be any fraud here. The man seems to have had funds in the bank, only the bank suspended."
"Sharp, you'll learn a little law after awhile, I hope. Don't you know the courts never look very sharply after cases where transients are concerned? How do we know he had money in the bank? Is there anything to show it?"
"No; I believe not."
"Well, then, don't you go to making facts in the interest of the other side. Let him make that out if he can. You just draw your affidavits to suit our purposes, not his. Go on to state that he drew a certain bill of exchange, and represented that he had funds, and so fraudulently obtained money, and all that; and then go on to say that his draft upon presentation was protested, and that instead of making it good he absconded. Be sure to say absconded, Sharp, it's half the battle. Courts haven't much use for men that abscond and then turn up in New York. Make your case strong enough, though. We only swear on information, you know, so if we do put it a little strong it don't matter. There. Go and fix it up right away, and then catch your man."
A few hours later, as Robert Pagebrook sat writing in his room, Mr. Sharp and another man were shown in. Mr. Sharp opened the conversation.
"This is Mr. Pagebrook, I believe?"
"Mr. Robert Pagebrook?"
"Yes. That is my name."
"Thank you. My name is Sharp, of the firm of Steel, Flint & Sharp. That's our card, sir. I have called to solicit the payment, sir, of a small amount due Mr. Edwin Pagebrook, who has written asking us to collect it for him. The amount is three hundred dollars, I think. Yes. Here is the draft. Can you let me have the money to-day, Mr. Pagebrook?"
"I have already remitted one third the amount, sir," said Robert, "and I hope to send the remainder in installments very soon. At present it is simply impossible for me to pay anything more."
"Have you a receipt for the amount remitted?" asked the lawyer.
"No. It was sent only yesterday. But if you will hold the draft a week or ten days longer, I will be able, within that time, to earn the whole of the amount remaining due, and your client will advise you, I am sure, of the receipt of the hundred dollars already sent."
"We are not authorised to wait, sir," said Mr. Sharp. "On the contrary our instructions are positive to push the case."
"But what can I do?" asked Robert. "I have already sent every dollar I had, and until I earn more I can pay no more."
"The case is a peculiar one, sir. It has the appearance of a fraudulent debt and an attempt to run away from it. I must do my duty by my client, sir; and so this gentleman, who is a sheriff's officer, has an order for your arrest, which I must ask him to serve if you do not pay the debt to day."
"Let him serve it at once, then," said Robert. "I can not pay now."
Mr. Pagebrook Takes a Lesson in the Law
As Robert was unable to give bail without calling upon his friend Dudley, which he determined not to do in any case, he was taken to the jail and locked up. Upon his arrival there he employed a messenger to carry a note to a young lawyer with whom he happened to be slightly acquainted, asking him to come to the jail at once. When he arrived Robert said to him:
"Let me tell you in the outset, Mr. Dyker, that I have no money and no friends; wherefore if you allow me to consult you at all, it must be with the understanding that I cannot possibly pay you for your services until I can make the money. If you are willing to trust me to that extent, we can proceed to business."
"You are very honorable, sir, to inform me, beforehand, of this fact. Pray go on. I will do what I can for you."
"In the first place, then," said Robert, "I am a little puzzled to know how or why I am locked up. You have the papers, will you tell me how it is?"
"O it's plain enough. You are held under an order of arrest."
"But I don't understand. I thought imprisonment for debt was a thing of the past, in this country at least, and my only offense is indebtedness. Is it possible that men may still be imprisoned for debt in America?"
"Well, that is about it," said the lawyer. "We have abolished the name but retain the thing in a slightly modified form – in New York at least. Theoretically you are not imprisoned, but merely held to answer. The plaintiffs have made out a case of fraud and non-residence, and so they had plain sailing."
"But I always understood that our constitution or our law or something else secured every man against imprisonment except by due process of law, and gave to every accused person the right to be confronted with his accusers, to cross-examine witnesses, and to have his guilt or innocence passed upon by a jury of his countrymen."
"That is the theory; but there are some classes of cases which are practically exceptions, and yours is one of them."
"Then," said Robert, "it is true, is it, that an American may be arrested and sent to jail without trial, upon the mere strength of affidavits made by lawyers who know nothing of the facts except what they have heard from distant, irresponsible, and personally interested clients – affidavits upon information, I believe you call them?"
"Well, you put it a little strongly, perhaps, but those are the facts in New York. Respectable lawyers, however, are careful to satisfy themselves of the facts before proceeding at all in such cases; and so the law, which is a very convenient one, rarely ever works injustice, I think – not once in twenty times, I should say."
"But," said Robert, "the personal liberty of every non-resident and some resident debtors is, or in some cases may be, dependent solely upon the character of attorneys, as I understand you."
"In some cases, yes. But pardon me. Had we not better come to the matter in hand?"
"As we are not a legislature perhaps it would be better," said Robert. He then proceeded to relate the facts of the case, beginning with his drawing of the draft in good faith, its protest, and his consequent perplexity.
"I did not 'abscond' at all," he continued, "but came away to see if I could save something from the wreck of the bank, and to seek work. In leaving, I promised to pay the debt on or before the fifteenth of last month, feeling certain that I could do so. I failed to do it, through – never mind, I failed to do it, but I have been trying hard ever since to get the money and discharge the obligation. I yesterday remitted a hundred dollars, and should have sent the rest as fast as I could make it. These are the facts. Now how am I to get out of here?"
"You have nobody to go your bail?"
"And no money?"
"None. I sold my watch in order to get money on which to live while I was looking for work."
"You did have money enough to your credit in that bank to have made your draft good if the bank hadn't suspended?"
"You can swear to that?"
"Then I think we can manage this matter without much difficulty. We can admit the facts but deny the fraudulent intent, in affidavits of our own, and get discharged on that ground. I think we can easily overthrow the theory of fraud by showing that you actually had the money in bank and swearing that you drew against it in good faith."
"Pardon me; but in doing that I should be bound, should I not, in honor if not in law, to state all the facts of the case in my affidavit? The theory of the proceeding is that I am putting the court in possession of all the facts and withholding nothing, is it not?"
"Well – yes. I suppose it is."
"Then let us abandon that plan forthwith."
"But my dear sir – "
"Pray don't argue the point. My mind is fully made up. Is there no other mode of securing my release?"
"Yes; you might schedule out under article 5 of the Non-Imprisonment Act, I think."
"How is that?"
"It is a sort of insolvency or bankruptcy proceeding, by which you come into court – any court of record – and offer to give up everything you have to your creditors, giving a sworn catalogue of all your debts and all your property, and praying release on the ground that you are unable to do more."
"Well, as I have literally nothing in the way of property just now, that mode of procedure seems to fit my case precisely," said Robert, whose courage and good humor and indomitable cheerfulness stood him in good stead in this time of very sore trial. The world looked gloomy enough to him then in whatever way he chose to look at it, but the instinct of fight was large within him, and in the absence of other joys he felt a savage pleasure in knowing that his life henceforth must be a constant struggle against fearful odds – odds of prejudice as well as of poverty; for who could now take him by the hand and say to others this is my friend?
"It's too late to accomplish anything to-day, Mr. Pagebrook," said the lawyer, looking at his watch; "but I will be here by ten o'clock to-morrow morning, and we will then go to work for your deliverance, which we can effect, I think, pretty quick. Good evening, sir."
Mr. Pagebrook Cuts himself loose from the Past and Plans a Future
When the lawyer had gone Robert sat down to deliberate upon the situation and to decide what was to be done in matters aside from the question of his release. He had that morning received Col. Barksdale's letter and Miss Sudie's. These must be answered at once, and he was not quite certain how he should answer them. After turning the matter over he determined upon his course and, according to his custom, having determined what to do he at once set about doing it. Having brought a supply of paper and envelopes from his room he had only to borrow pen and ink from the attendant.
His first letter was addressed to the president of the college from which he had received his appointment as professor, and it consisted of a simple resignation, with no explanation except that contained in the sentence:
"I can ill afford to surrender the position or the salary, but there are painful circumstances surrounding me, which compel me to this course. Pray excuse me from a fuller statement of the case."
To Col. Barksdale he wrote:
"Your letter surprises me only in its kindness and gentleness of tone. Under the circumstances I could have forgiven a good deal of harshness. For your forbearance, however, you have my hearty thanks. And now as to the subject matter of your note: I am sorry to say I can offer neither denial nor satisfactory explanation of the facts alleged against me. I must bear the blame that attaches to what I have done, and bearing that blame I know my duty to you and your family. I shall write by this mail to Miss Barksdale volunteering a release, which otherwise you would have a right to demand of me."
Sealing this and directing it, Robert came to the hardest task of all – the writing of a letter to Cousin Sudie.
"I hardly know how to write to you," he wrote. "Your generous faith in me in spite of everything is more than I had any right to expect, and more, I think, than you have any right, in justice to yourself, to give me. I thank you for it right heartily, but I feel that I must not accept it. When you listened to my words of love and gave them a place in your heart, I was a gentleman without reproach. Now a stain is upon my name, which I can never remove. The man to whom you promised your hand was not the absconding debtor who writes you this from a jail. I send this letter, therefore, to offer you a release from your engagement with me, if indeed any release be necessary. You cannot afford to know me or even to remember me hereafter. Forget me, then, or, if you cannot wholly forget, remember me only as an adventurer, who for a paltry sum sold his good name.
"Good-by. I wish you well with all my heart."
As he sealed these letters Robert felt that his hopes for the future were sealed up with them, and that the post which should bear them away would carry with it the better part of his life. And yet he did not wholly surrender himself to despair, as a weaker man might have done. The old life was gone from him forever. The only people whom he had known as in any sense his own would grasp his hand no more, and if they ever thought of him again it would be only to regret that they had known him at all. All this he felt keenly, but it did not follow that he should abandon himself, as a consequence. He was still a young man, and there was time enough for him to make a new life for himself – to find new friends and to do some worthy work in the world; and to the planning of this new life he at once addressed himself.
He would teach no longer, and now that he had cut himself loose from that profession there was opportunity to do something at the business which he had found so agreeable of late. He would devote himself hereafter wholly to writing, and at the first opportunity he would become a regular member of the staff of some paper. Even if his earnings with his pen should prove small, what did that matter? He could never think of marrying now, and a very little would suffice to supply all his wants, his habits of life being simple and regular. It stung him when he remembered that there was a stain upon his name which could never be removed; but that, he knew, he must bear, and so he resolved to bear it bravely, as it becomes a man to bear all his burdens.
With thoughts like these the stalwart young fellow sank to sleep on the bed assigned him in the jail.
In which Miss Sudie Acts very Unreasonably
The men who make up mails and handle great bags full of letters every day of their lives grow accustomed to the business, I suppose, and learn after awhile to regard the bags and their contents merely as so many pounds of "mail matter." Otherwise they would soon become unfit for their duties. If they could weigh those bags with other than material scales – if they could know how many human hopes and fears; how much of human purpose and human despair; how many joys and how much of wretchedness those bags contain; if they could hear the moans that utter themselves inside the canvas; if they could know the varying purposes with which all those letters have been written, and the various effects they are destined to produce; if our mail carriers could know and feel all these things, or the half of them, we should shortly have no mail carriers at all. But fortunately there are prosaic souls enough in the world to make all necessary mail agents and postmasters, and undertakers and grave-diggers out of.
In the small mail bag thrown off at the Court House one December morning, there was one little package of New York letters – three letters in all, but on those three letters hung the happiness of several human lives. Of one of them we shall learn nothing for the present. The other two, from Robert Pagebrook to his uncle and Miss Barksdale, we have already been permitted to read. When these were received at Shirley, Miss Sudie took hers to her own room and read it there, after which she sat down and answered it. Col. Barksdale read his with no surprise, as he had not been able to imagine any possible explanation of Robert's conduct; and now that that gentleman frankly confessed that there was none, he accepted the confession as a bit of evidence in the case, for which he had waited merely as a matter of form. It was his duty now to talk again with his niece, but he was very tender always in his dealings with her, and felt an especial tenderness now that she must be suffering sorely. He quietly inquired where she was, and learning that she was in her own room, he refrained from summoning her himself, and gave her maid particular instructions to allow no one else to intrude upon her privacy upon any pretense whatsoever.скачать книгу бесплатно
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