GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON
Author of "Graustark," "Beverly of Graustark," "Castle Craneycrow," etc.
I. A Birthday Dinner II. Shades of Aladdin III. Mrs. and Miss Gray IV. A Second Will V. The Message from Jones VI. Monty Cristo VII. A Lesson in Tact VIII. The Forelock of Time IX. Love and a Prize-fight X. The Napoleon of Finance XI. Coals of Fire XII. Christmas Despair XIII. A Friend in Need XIV. Mrs. DeMille Entertains XV. The Cut Direct XVI. In the Sunny South XVII. The New Tenderfoot XVIII. The Prodigal at Sea XIX. One Hero and Another XX. Le Roi S'Amuse XXI. Fairyland XXII. Prince and Peasants XXIII. An Offer of Marriage XXIV. The Sheik's Strategy XXV. The Rescue of Peggy XXVI. The Mutiny XXVII. A Fair Traitor XXVIII. A Catastrophe XXIX. The Prodigal's Return XXX. The Promise of Thrift XXXI. How the Million Disappeared XXXII. The Night Before XXXIII. The Flight of Jones XXXIV. The Last Word
A BIRTHDAY DINNER
"The Little Sons of the Rich" were gathered about the long table in Pettingill's studio. There were nine of them present, besides Brewster. They were all young, more or less enterprising, hopeful, and reasonably sure of better things to come. Most of them bore names that meant something in the story of New York. Indeed, one of them had remarked, "A man is known by the street that's named after him," and as he was a new member, they called him "Subway."
The most popular man in the company was young "Monty" Brewster. He was tall and straight and smooth-shaven. People called him "clean-looking." Older women were interested in him because his father and mother had made a romantic runaway match, which was the talk of the town in the seventies, and had never been forgiven. Worldly women were interested in him because he was the only grandson of Edwin Peter Brewster, who was many times a millionaire, and Monty was fairly certain to be his heir—barring an absent-minded gift to charity. Younger women were interested for a much more obvious and simple reason: they liked him. Men also took to Monty because he was a good sportsman, a man among men, because he had a decent respect for himself and no great aversion to work.
His father and mother had both died while he was still a child, and, as if to make up for his long relentlessness, the grandfather had taken the boy to his own house and had cared for him with what he called affection. After college and some months on the continent, however, Monty had preferred to be independent. Old Mr. Brewster had found him a place in the bank, but beyond this and occasional dinners, Monty asked for and received no favors. It was a question of work, and hard work, and small pay. He lived on his salary because he had to, but he did not resent his grandfather's attitude. He was better satisfied to spend his "weakly salary," as he called it, in his own way than to earn more by dining seven nights a week with an old man who had forgotten he was ever young. It was less wearing, he said.
Among the "Little Sons of the Rich," birthdays were always occasions for feasting. The table was covered with dishes sent up from the French restaurant in the basement. The chairs were pushed back, cigarettes were lighted, men had their knees crossed. Then Pettingill got up.
"Gentlemen," he began, "we are here to celebrate the twenty-fifth birthday of Mr. Montgomery Brewster. I ask you all to join me in drinking to his long life and happiness."
"No heel taps!" some one shouted. "Brewster! Brewster!" all called at once.
"For he's a jolly good fellow, For he's a jolly good fellow!"
The sudden ringing of an electric bell cut off this flow of sentiment, and so unusual was the interruption that the ten members straightened up as if jerked into position by a string.
"The police!" some one suggested. All faces were turned toward the door. A waiter stood there, uncertain whether to turn the knob or push the bolt.
"Damned nuisance!" said Richard Van Winkle. "I want to hear Brewster's speech."
"Speech! Speech!" echoed everywhere. Men settled into their places.
"Mr. Montgomery Brewster," Pettingill introduced.
Again the bell rang—long and loud.
"Reinforcements. I'll bet there's a patrol in the street," remarked Oliver Harrison.
"If it's only the police, let them in," said Pettingill. "I thought it was a creditor."
The waiter opened the door.
"Some one to see Mr. Brewster, sir," he announced.
"Is she pretty, waiter?" called McCloud.
"He says he is Ellis, from your grandfather's, sir!"
"My compliments to Ellis, and ask him to inform my grandfather that it's after banking hours. I'll see him in the morning," said Mr. Brewster, who had reddened under the jests of his companions.
"Grandpa doesn't want his Monty to stay out after dark," chuckled Subway Smith.
"It was most thoughtful of the old gentleman to have the man call for you with the perambulator," shouted Pettingill above the laughter. "Tell him you've already had your bottle," added McCloud.
"Waiter, tell Ellis I'm too busy to be seen," commanded Brewster, and as Ellis went down in the elevator a roar followed him.
"Now, for Brewster's speech!—Brewster!"
"Gentlemen, you seem to have forgotten for the moment that I am twenty-five years old this day, and that your remarks have been childish and wholly unbecoming the dignity of my age. That I have arrived at a period of discretion is evident from my choice of friends; that I am entitled to your respect is evident from my grandfather's notorious wealth. You have done me the honor to drink my health and to reassure me as to the inoffensiveness of approaching senility. Now I ask you all to rise and drink to 'The Little Sons of the Rich.' May the Lord love us!"
An hour later "Rip" Van Winkle and Subway Smith were singing "Tell Me, Pretty Maiden," to the uncertain accompaniment of Pettingill's violin, when the electric bell again disturbed the company.
"For Heaven's sake!" shouted Harrison, who had been singing "With All Thy Faults I Love Thee Still," to Pettingill's lay figure.
"Come home with me, grandson, come home with me now," suggested Subway Smith.
"Tell Ellis to go to Halifax," commanded Montgomery, and again Ellis took the elevator downward. His usually impassive face now wore a look of anxiety, and twice he started to return to the top floor, shaking his head dubiously. At last he climbed into a hansom and reluctantly left the revelers behind. He knew it was a birthday celebration, and it was only half-past twelve in the morning.
At three o'clock the elevator made another trip to the top floor and Ellis rushed over to the unfriendly doorbell. This time there was stubborn determination in his face. The singing ceased and a roar of laughter followed the hush of a moment or two.
"Come in!" called a hearty voice, and Ellis strode firmly into the studio.
"You are just in time for a 'night-cap,' Ellis," cried Harrison, rushing to the footman's side. Ellis, stolidly facing the young man, lifted his hand.
"No, thank you, sir," he said, respectfully. "Mr. Montgomery, if you'll excuse me for breaking in, I'd like to give you three messages I've brought here to-night."
"You're a faithful old chap," said Subway Smith, thickly. "Hanged if I'd do A.D.T. work till three A.M. for anybody."
"I came at ten, Mr. Montgomery, with a message from Mr. Brewster, wishing you many happy returns of the day, and with a check from him for one thousand dollars. Here's the check, sir. I'll give my messages in the order I received them, sir, if you please. At twelve-thirty o'clock, I came with a message from Dr. Gower, sir, who had been called in—"
"Called in?" gasped Montgomery, turning white.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Brewster had a sudden heart attack at half-past eleven, sir. The doctor sent word by me, sir, that he was at the point of death. My last message—"
"This time I bring a message from Rawles, the butler, asking you to come to Mr. Brewster's house at once—if you can, sir—I mean, if you will, sir," Ellis interjected apologetically. Then, with his gaze directed steadily over the heads of the subdued "Sons," he added, impressively:
"Mr. Brewster is dead, sir."
SHADES OF ALADDIN
Montgomery Brewster no longer had "prospects." People could not now point him out with the remark that some day he would come into a million or two. He had "realized," as Oliver Harrison would have put it. Two days after his grandfather's funeral a final will and testament was read, and, as was expected, the old banker atoned for the hardships Robert Brewster and his wife had endured by bequeathing one million dollars to their son Montgomery. It was his without a restriction, without an admonition, without an incumbrance. There was not a suggestion as to how it should be handled by the heir. The business training the old man had given him was synonymous with conditions not expressed in the will. The dead man believed that he had drilled into the youth an unmistakable conception of what was expected of him in life; if he failed in these expectations the misfortune would be his alone to bear; a road had been carved out for him and behind him stretched a long line of guide-posts whose laconic instructions might be ignored but never forgotten. Edwin Peter Brewster evidently made his will with the sensible conviction that it was necessary for him to die before anybody else could possess his money, and that, once dead, it would be folly for him to worry over the way in which beneficiaries might choose to manage their own affairs.
The house in Fifth Avenue went to a sister, together with a million or two, and the residue of the estate found kindly disposed relatives who were willing to keep it from going to the Home for Friendless Fortunes. Old Mr. Brewster left his affairs in order. The will nominated Jerome Buskirk as executor, and he was instructed, in conclusion, to turn over to Montgomery Brewster, the day after the will was probated, securities to the amount of one million dollars, provided for in clause four of the instrument. And so it was that on the 26th of September young Mr. Brewster had an unconditional fortune thrust upon him, weighted only with the suggestion of crepe that clung to it.
Since his grandfather's death he had been staying at the gloomy old Brewster house in Fifth Avenue, paying but two or three hurried visits to the rooms at Mrs. Gray's, where he had made his home. The gloom of death still darkened the Fifth Avenue place, and there was a stillness, a gentle stealthiness about the house that made him long for more cheerful companionship. He wondered dimly if a fortune always carried the suggestion of tube-roses. The richness and strangeness of it all hung about him unpleasantly. He had had no extravagant affection for the grim old dictator who was dead, yet his grandfather was a man and had commanded his respect. It seemed brutal to leave him out of the reckoning—to dance on the grave of the mentor who had treated him well. The attitude of the friends who clapped him on the back, of the newspapers which congratulated him, of the crowd that expected him to rejoice, repelled him. It seemed a tragic comedy, haunted by a severe dead face. He was haunted, too, by memories, and by a sharp regret for his own foolish thoughtlessness. Even the fortune itself weighed upon him at moments with a half-defined melancholy.
Yet the situation was not without its compensations. For several days when Ellis called him at seven, he would answer him and thank fortune that he was not required at the bank that morning. The luxury of another hour of sleep seemed the greatest perquisite of wealth. His morning mail amused him at first, for since the newspapers had published his prosperity to the world he was deluged with letters. Requests for public or private charity were abundant, but most of his correspondents were generous and thought only of his own good. For three days he was in a hopeless state of bewilderment. He was visited by reporters, photographers, and ingenious strangers who benevolently offered to invest his money in enterprises with certified futures. When he was not engaged in declining a gold mine in Colorado, worth five million dollars, marked down to four hundred and fifty, he was avoiding a guileless inventor who offered to sacrifice the secrets of a marvelous device for three hundred dollars, or denying the report that he had been tendered the presidency of the First National Bank.
Oliver Harrison stirred him out early one morning and, while the sleepy millionaire was rubbing his eyes and still dodging the bombshell that a dream anarchist had hurled from the pinnacle of a bedpost, urged him in excited, confidential tones to take time by the forelock and prepare for possible breach of promise suits. Brewster sat on the edge of the bed and listened to diabolical stories of how conscienceless females had fleeced innocent and even godly men of wealth. From the bathroom, between splashes, he retained Harrison by the year, month, day and hour, to stand between him and blackmail.
The directors of the bank met and adopted resolutions lamenting the death of their late president, passed the leadership on to the first vice-president and speedily adjourned. The question of admitting Monty to the directory was brought up and discussed, but it was left for Time to settle.
One of the directors was Col. Prentiss Drew, "the railroad magnate" of the newspapers. He had shown a fondness for young Mr. Brewster, and Monty had been a frequent visitor at his house. Colonel Drew called him "my dear boy," and Monty called him "a bully old chap," though not in his presence. But the existence of Miss Barbara Drew may have had something to do with the feeling between the two men.
As he left the directors' room, on the afternoon of the meeting, Colonel Drew came up to Monty, who had notified the officers of the bank that he was leaving.
"Ah, my dear boy," said the Colonel, shaking the young man's hand warmly, "now you have a chance to show what you can do. You have a fortune and, with judgment, you ought to be able to triple it. If I can help you in any way, come and see me."
Monty thanked him.
"You'll be bored to death by the raft of people who have ways to spend your money," continued the Colonel. "Don't listen to any of them. Take your time. You'll have a new chance to make money every day of your life, so go slowly. I'd have been rich years and years ago if I'd had sense enough to run away from promoters. They'll all try to get a whack at your money. Keep your eye open, Monty. The rich young man is always a tempting morsel." After a moment's reflection, he added, "Won't you come out and dine with us to-morrow night?"
MRS. AND MISS GRAY
Mrs. Gray lived in Fortieth Street. For years Montgomery Brewster had regarded her quiet, old-fashioned home as his own. The house had once been her grandfather's, and it was one of the pioneers in that part of the town. It was there she was born; in its quaint old parlor she was married; and all her girlhood, her brief wedded life, and her widowhood were connected with it. Mrs. Gray and Montgomery's mother had been schoolmates and playmates, and their friendship endured. When old Edwin Peter Brewster looked about for a place to house his orphaned grandson, Mrs. Gray begged him to let her care for the little fellow. He was three years older than her Margaret, and the children grew up as brother and sister. Mr. Brewster was generous in providing for the boy. While he was away at college, spending money in a manner that caused the old gentleman to marvel at his own liberality, Mrs. Gray was well paid for the unused but well-kept apartments, and there never was a murmur of complaint from Edwin Peter Brewster. He was hard, but he was not niggardly.
It had been something of a struggle for Mrs. Gray to make both ends meet. The property in Fortieth Street was her only possession. But little money had come to her at her husband's death, and an unfortunate speculation of his had swept away all that had fallen to her from her father, the late Judge Merriweather. For years she kept the old home unencumbered, teaching French and English until Margaret was well in her teens. The girl was sent to one of the good old boarding-schools on the Hudson and came out well prepared to help her mother in the battle to keep the wolf down and appearances up. Margaret was rich in friendships; and pride alone stood between her and the advantages they offered. Good-looking, bright, and cheerful, she knew no natural privations. With a heart as light and joyous as a May morning, she faced adversity as though it was a pleasure, and no one would have suspected that even for a moment her courage wavered.
Now that Brewster had come into his splendid fortune he could conceive no greater delight than to share it with them. To walk into the little drawing-room and serenely lay large sums before them as their own seemed such a natural proceeding that he refused to see an obstacle. But he knew it was there; the proffer of such a gift to Mrs. Gray would mean a wound to the pride inherited from haughty generations of men sufficient unto themselves. There was a small but troublesome mortgage on the house, a matter of two or three thousand dollars, and Brewster tried to evolve a plan by which he could assume the burden without giving deep and lasting offense. A hundred wild designs had come to him, but they were quickly relegated to the growing heap of subterfuges and pretexts condemned by his tenderness for the pride of these two women who meant so much to him.
Leaving the bank, he hastened, by electric car, to Fortieth Street and Broadway, and then walked eagerly off into the street of the numeral. He had not yet come to the point where he felt like scorning the cars, even though a roll of banknotes was tucked snugly away in a pocket that seemed to swell with sudden affluence. Old Hendrick, faithful servitor through two generations, was sweeping the autumn leaves from the sidewalk when Montgomery came up to the house.
"Hello, Hendrick," was the young man's cheery greeting. "Nice lot of leaves you have there."
"So?" ebbed from Hendrick, who did not even so much as look up from his work. Hendrick was a human clam.
"Mrs. Gray in?"
A grunt that signified yes.
"You're as loquacious as ever, Hendrick."
A mere nod.
Brewster let himself in with his own latch key, threw his hat on a chair and unceremoniously bolted into the library. Margaret was seated near a window, a book in her lap. The first evidence of unbiased friendship he had seen in days shone in her smile. She took his hand and said simply, "We are glad to welcome the prodigal to his home again."
"I remind myself more of the fatted calf."
His first self-consciousness had gone.
"I thought of that, but I didn't dare say it," she laughed. "One must be respectful to rich relatives."
"Hang your rich relatives, Peggy; if I thought that this money would make any difference I would give it up this minute."
"Nonsense, Monty," she said. "How could it make a difference? But you must admit it is rather startling. The friend of our youth leaves his humble dwelling Saturday night with his salary drawn for two weeks ahead. He returns the following Thursday a dazzling millionaire."
"I'm glad I've begun to dazzle, anyway. I thought it might be hard to look the part."
"Well, I can't see that you are much changed." There was a suggestion of a quaver in her voice, and the shadows did not prevent him from seeing the quick mist that flitted across her deep eyes.
"After all, it's easy work being a millionaire," he explained, "when you've always had million-dollar inclinations."
"And fifty-cent possibilities," she added.
"Really, though, I'll never get as much joy out of my abundant riches as I did out of financial embarrassments."
"But think how fine it is, Monty, not ever to wonder where your winter's overcoat is to come from and how long the coal will last, and all that."
"Oh, I never wondered about my overcoats; the tailor did the wondering. But I wish I could go on living here just as before. I'd a heap rather live here than at that gloomy place on the avenue." "That sounded like the things you used to say when we played in the garret. You'd a heap sooner do this than that—don't you remember?"
"That's just why I'd rather live here, Peggy. Last night I fell to thinking of that old garret, and hanged if something didn't come up and stick in my throat so tight that I wanted to cry. How long has it been since we played up there? Yes, and how long has it been since I read 'Oliver Optic' to you, lying there in the garret window while you sat with your back against the wall, your blue eyes as big as dollars?"
"Oh, dear me, Monty, it was ages ago—twelve or thirteen years at least," she cried, a soft light in her eyes.
"I'm going up there this afternoon to see what the place is like," he said eagerly. "And, Peggy, you must come too. Maybe I can find one of those Optic books, and we'll be young again."
"Just for old time's sake," she said impulsively. "You'll stay for luncheon, too."
"I'll have to be at the—no, I won't, either. Do you know, I was thinking I had to be at the bank at twelve-thirty to let Mr. Perkins go out for something to eat? The millionaire habit isn't so firmly fixed as I supposed." After a moment's pause, in which his growing seriousness changed the atmosphere, he went on, haltingly, uncertain of his position: "The nicest thing about having all this money is that—that—we won't have to deny ourselves anything after this." It did not sound very tactful, now that it was out, and he was compelled to scrutinize rather intently a familiar portrait in order to maintain an air of careless assurance. She did not respond to this venture, but he felt that she was looking directly into his sorely-tried brain. "We'll do any amount of decorating about the house and—and you know that furnace has been giving us a lot of trouble for two or three years—" he was pouring out ruthlessly, when her hand fell gently on his own and she stood straight and tall before him, an odd look in her eyes.
"Don't—please don't go on, Monty," she said very gently but without wavering. "I know what you mean. You are good and very thoughtful, Monty, but you really must not."
"Why, what's mine is yours—" he began.
"I know you are generous, Monty, and I know you have a heart. You want us to—to take some of your money,"—it was not easy to say it, and as for Monty, he could only look at the floor. "We cannot, Monty, dear,—you must never speak of it again. Mamma and I had a feeling that you would do it. But don't you see,—even from you it is an offer of help, and it hurts."
"Don't talk like that, Peggy," he implored.
"It would break her heart if you offered to give her money in that way. She'd hate it, Monty. It is foolish, perhaps, but you know we can't take your money."
"I thought you—that you—oh, this knocks all the joy out of it," he burst out desperately.
"Let's talk it over, Peggy; you don't understand—" he began, dashing at what he thought would be a break in her resolve.
"Don't!" she commanded, and in her blue eyes was the hot flash he had felt once or twice before.
He rose and walked across the floor, back and forth again, and then stood before her, a smile on his lips—a rather pitiful smile, but still a smile. There were tears in her eyes as she looked at him.
"It's a confounded puritanical prejudice, Peggy," he said in futile protest, "and you know it."
"You have not seen the letters that came for you this morning. They're on the table over there," she replied, ignoring him.
He found the letters and resumed his seat in the window, glancing half-heartedly over the contents of the envelopes. The last was from Grant & Ripley, attorneys, and even from his abstraction it brought a surprised "By Jove!" He read it aloud to Margaret.
MONTGOMERY BREWSTER, ESQ.,
Dear Sir:—We are in receipt of a communication from Mr. Swearengen Jones of Montana, conveying the sad intelligence that your uncle, James T. Sedgwick, died on the 24th inst. at M— Hospital in Portland, after a brief illness. Mr. Jones by this time has qualified in Montana as the executor of your uncle's will and has retained us as his eastern representatives. He incloses a copy of the will, in which you are named as sole heir, with conditions attending. Will you call at our office this afternoon, if it is convenient? It is important that you know the contents of the instrument at once.
GRANT & RIPLEY.
For a moment there was only amazement in the air. Then a faint, bewildered smile appeared in Monty's face, and reflected itself in the girl's.
"Who is your Uncle James?" she asked.
"I've never heard of him."
"You must go to Grant & Ripley's at once, of course."
"Have you forgotten, Peggy," he replied, with a hint of vexation in his voice, "that we are to read 'Oliver Optic' this afternoon?"
"You are both fortunate and unfortunate, Mr. Brewster," said Mr. Grant, after the young man had dropped into a chair in the office of Grant & Ripley the next day. Montgomery wore a slightly bored expression, and it was evident that he took little interest in the will of James T. Sedgwick. From far back in the recesses of memory he now recalled this long-lost brother of his mother. As a very small child he had seen his Uncle James upon the few occasions which brought him to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Brewster. But the young man had dined at the Drews the night before and Barbara had had more charm for him than usual. It was of her that he was thinking when he walked into the office of Swearengen Jones's lawyers.
"The truth is, Mr. Grant, I'd completely forgotten the existence of an uncle," he responded.
"It is not surprising," said Mr. Grant, genially. "Every one who knew him in New York nineteen or twenty years ago believed him to be dead. He left the city when you were a very small lad, going to Australia, I think. He was off to seek his fortune, and he needed it pretty badly when he started out. This letter from Mr. Jones comes like a message from the dead. Were it not that we have known Mr. Jones for a long time, handling affairs of considerable importance for him, I should feel inclined to doubt the whole story. It seems that your uncle turned up in Montana about fifteen years ago and there formed a stanch friendship with old Swearengen Jones, one of the richest men in the far West. Sedgwick's will was signed on the day of his death, September 24th, and it was quite natural that Mr. Jones should be named as his executor. That is how we became interested in the matter, Mr. Brewster."
"I see," said Montgomery, somewhat puzzled. "But why do you say that I am both fortunate and unfortunate?"
"The situation is so remarkable that you'll consider that a mild way of putting it when you've heard everything. I think you were told, in our note of yesterday, that you are the sole heir. Well, it may surprise you to learn that James Sedgwick died possessed of an estate valued at almost seven million dollars."
Montgomery Brewster sat like one petrified, staring blankly at the old lawyer, who could say startling things in a level voice.
"He owned gold mines and ranches in the Northwest and there is no question as to their value. Mr. Jones, in his letter to us, briefly outlines the history of James Sedgwick from the time he landed in Montana. He reached there in 1885 from Australia, and he was worth thirty or forty thousand dollars at the time. Within five years he was the owner of a huge ranch, and scarcely had another five years passed before he was part owner of three rich gold mines. Possessions accumulated rapidly; everything he touched turned to gold. He was shrewd, careful, and thrifty, and his money was handled with all the skill of a Wall Street financier. At the time of his death, in Portland, he did not owe a dollar in the world. His property is absolutely unencumbered—safe and sound as a government bond. It's rather overwhelming, isn't it?" the lawyer concluded, taking note of Brewster's expression.
"And he—he left everything to me?"
"With a proviso."
"I have a copy of the will. Mr. Ripley and I are the only persons in New York who at present know its contents. You, I am sure, after hearing it, will not divulge them without the most careful deliberation."
Mr. Grant drew the document from a pigeon-hole in his desk, adjusted his glasses and prepared to read. Then, as though struck by a sudden thought, he laid the paper down and turned once more to Brewster.
"It seems that Sedgwick never married. Your mother was his sister and his only known relative of close connection. He was a man of most peculiar temperament, but in full possession of all mental faculties. You may find this will to be a strange document, but I think Mr. Jones, the executor, explains any mystery that may be suggested by its terms. While Sedgwick's whereabouts were unknown to his old friends in New York, it seems that he was fully posted on all that was going on here. He knew that you were the only child of your mother and therefore his only nephew. He sets forth the dates of your mother's marriage, of your birth, of the death of Robert Brewster and of Mrs. Brewster. He also was aware of the fact that old Edwin Peter Brewster intended to bequeath a large fortune to you—and thereby hangs a tale. Sedgwick was proud. When he lived in New York, he was regarded as the kind of man who never forgave the person who touched roughly upon his pride. You know, of course, that your father married Miss Sedgwick in the face of the most bitter opposition on the part of Edwin Brewster. The latter refused to recognize her as his daughter, practically disowned his son, and heaped the harshest kind of calumny upon the Sedgwicks. It was commonly believed about town that Jim Sedgwick left the country three or four years after this marriage for the sole reason that he and Edwin Brewster could not live in the same place. So deep was his hatred of the old man that he fled to escape killing him. It was known that upon one occasion he visited the office of his sister's enemy for the purpose of slaying him, but something prevented. He carried that hatred to the grave, as you will see."
Montgomery Brewster was trying to gather himself together from within the fog which made himself and the world unreal.
"I believe I'd like to have you read this extraor—the will, Mr. Grant," he said, with an effort to hold his nerves in leash.
Mr. Grant cleared his throat and began in his still voice. Once he looked up to find his listener eager, and again to find him grown indifferent. He wondered dimly if this were a pose.
In brief, the last will of James T. Sedgwick bequeathed everything, real and personal, of which he died possessed, to his only nephew, Montgomery Brewster of New York, son of Robert and Louise Sedgwick Brewster. Supplementing this all-important clause there was a set of conditions governing the final disposition of the estate. The most extraordinary of these conditions was the one which required the heir to be absolutely penniless upon the twenty-sixth anniversary of his birth, September 23d.
The instrument went into detail in respect to this supreme condition. It set forth that Montgomery Brewster was to have no other worldly possession than the clothes which covered him on the September day named. He was to begin that day without a penny to his name, without a single article of jewelry, furniture or finance that he could call his own or could thereafter reclaim. At nine o'clock, New York time, on the morning of September 23d, the executor, under the provisions of the will, was to make over and transfer to Montgomery Brewster all of the moneys, lands, bonds, and interests mentioned in the inventory which accompanied the will. In the event that Montgomery Brewster had not, in every particular, complied with the requirements of the will, to the full satisfaction of the said executor, Swearengen Jones, the estate was to be distributed among certain institutions of charity designated in the instrument. Underlying this imperative injunction of James Sedgwick was plainly discernible the motive that prompted it. In almost so many words he declared that his heir should not receive the fortune if he possessed a single penny that had come to him, in any shape or form, from the man he hated, Edwin Peter Brewster. While Sedgwick could not have known at the time of his death that the banker had bequeathed one million dollars to his grandson, it was more than apparent that he expected the young man to be enriched liberally by his enemy. It was to preclude any possible chance of the mingling of his fortune with the smallest portion of Edwin P. Brewster's that James Sedgwick, on his deathbed, put his hand to this astonishing instrument.
There was also a clause in which he undertook to dictate the conduct of Montgomery Brewster during the year leading up to his twenty-sixth anniversary. He required that the young man should give satisfactory evidence to the executor that he was capable of managing his affairs shrewdly and wisely,—that he possessed the ability to add to the fortune through his own enterprise; that he should come to his twenty-sixth anniversary with a fair name and a record free from anything worse than mild forms of dissipation; that his habits be temperate; that he possess nothing at the end of the year which might be regarded as a "visible or invisible asset"; that he make no endowments; that he give sparingly to charity; that he neither loan nor give away money, for fear that it might be restored to him later; that he live on the principle which inspires a man to "get his money's worth," be the expenditure great or small. As these conditions were prescribed for but a single year in the life of the heir, it was evident that Mr. Sedgwick did not intend to impose any restrictions after the property had gone into his hands.
"How do you like it?" asked Mr. Grant, as he passed the will to Brewster.
The latter took the paper and glanced over it with the air of one who had heard but had not fully grasped its meaning.
"It must be a joke, Mr. Grant," he said, still groping with difficulty through the fog.
"No, Mr. Brewster, it is absolutely genuine. Here is a telegram from the Probate Court in Sedgwick's home county, received in response to a query from us. It says that the will is to be filed for probate and that Mr. Sedgwick was many times a millionaire. This statement, which he calls an inventory, enumerates his holdings and their value, and the footing shows $6,345,000 in round numbers. The investments, you see, are gilt-edged. There is not a bad penny in all those millions."
"Well, it is rather staggering, isn't it?" said Montgomery, passing his hand over his forehead. He was beginning to comprehend.
"In more ways than one. What are you going to do about it?"
"Do about it?" in surprise. "Why, it's mine, isn't it?"
"It is not yours until next September," the lawyer quietly said.
"Well, I fancy I can wait," said Brewster with a smile that cleared the air.
"But, my dear fellow, you are already the possessor of a million. Do you forget that you are expected to be penniless a year from now?"
"Wouldn't you exchange a million for seven millions, Mr. Grant?"
"But let me inquire how you purpose doing it?" asked Mr. Grant, mildly.
"Why, by the simple process of destruction. Don't you suppose I can get rid of a million in a year? Great Scott, who wouldn't do it! All I have to do is to cut a few purse strings and there is but one natural conclusion. I don't mind being a pauper for a few hours on the 23d of next September."
"That is your plan, then?"
"Of course. First I shall substantiate all that this will sets forth. When I am assured that there can be no possibility of mistake in the extent of this fortune and my undisputed claim, I'll take steps to get rid of my grandfather's million in short order." Brewster's voice rang true now. The zest of life was coming back.
Mr. Grant leaned forward slowly and his intent, penetrating gaze served as a check to the young fellow's enthusiasm.
"I admire and approve the sagacity which urges you to exchange a paltry million for a fortune, but it seems to me that you are forgetting the conditions," he said, slowly. "Has it occurred to you that it will be no easy task to spend a million dollars without in some way violating the restrictions in your uncle's will, thereby losing both fortunes?"
THE MESSAGE FROM JONES
A new point of view gradually came to Brewster. All his life had been spent in wondering how to get enough money to pay his bills, and it had not occurred to him that it might be as difficult to spend as to acquire wealth. The thought staggered him for a moment. Then he cried triumphantly, "I can decline to accept grandfather's million."
"You cannot decline to accept what is already yours. I understand that the money has been paid to you by Mr. Buskirk. You have a million dollars, Mr. Brewster, and it cannot be denied."
"You are right," agreed Montgomery, dejectedly. "Really, Mr. Grant, this proposition is too much for me. If you aren't required to give an immediate answer, I want to think it over. It sounds like a dream."
"It is no dream, Mr. Brewster," smiled the lawyer. "You are face to face with an amazing reality. Come in to-morrow morning and see me again. Think it over, study it out. Remember the conditions of the will and the conditions that confront you. In the meantime, I shall write to Mr. Jones, the executor, and learn from him just what he expects you to do in order to carry out his own conception of the terms of your uncle's will."
"Don't write, Mr. Grant; telegraph. And ask him to wire his reply. A year is not very long in an affair of this kind." A moment later he added, "Damn these family feuds! Why couldn't Uncle James have relented a bit? He brings endless trouble on my innocent head, just because of a row before I was born."
"He was a strange man. As a rule, one does not carry grudges quite so far. But that is neither here nor there. His will is law in this case."
"Suppose I succeed in spending all but a thousand dollars before the 23d of next September! I'd lose the seven millions and be the next thing to a pauper. That wouldn't be quite like getting my money's worth."
"It is a problem, my boy. Think it over very seriously before you come to a decision, one way or the other. In the meantime, we can establish beyond a doubt the accuracy of this inventory."
"By all means, go ahead, and please urge Mr. Jones not to be too hard on me. I believe I'll risk it if the restrictions are not too severe. But if Jones has puritanical instincts, I might as well give up hope and be satisfied with what I have."
"Mr. Jones is very far from what you'd call puritanical, but he is intensely practical and clear-headed. He will undoubtedly require you to keep an expense account and to show some sort of receipt for every dollar you disburse."
"Good Lord! Itemize?"
"In a general way, I presume."
"I'll have to employ an army of spendthrifts to devise ways and means for profligacy."
"You forget the item which restrains you from taking anybody into your confidence concerning this matter. Think it over. It may not be so difficult after a night's sleep."
"If it isn't too difficult to get the night's sleep."
All the rest of the day Brewster wandered about as one in a dream. He was pre-occupied and puzzled, and more than one of his old associates, receiving a distant nod in passing, resentfully concluded that his wealth was beginning to change him. His brain was so full of statistics, figures, and computations that it whirled dizzily, and once he narrowly escaped being run down by a cable car. He dined alone at a small French restaurant in one of the side streets. The waiter marveled at the amount of black coffee the young man consumed and looked hurt when he did not touch the quail and lettuce.
That night the little table in his room at Mrs. Gray's was littered with scraps of pad paper, each covered with an incomprehensible maze of figures. After dinner he had gone to his own rooms, forgetting that he lived on Fifth Avenue. Until long after midnight he smoked and calculated and dreamed. For the first time the immensity of that million thrust itself upon him. If on that very day, October the first, he were to begin the task of spending it he would have but three hundred and fifty-seven days in which to accomplish the end. Taking the round sum of one million dollars as a basis, it was an easy matter to calculate his average daily disbursement. The situation did not look so utterly impossible until he held up the little sheet of paper and ruefully contemplated the result of that simple problem in mathematics.
It meant an average daily expenditure of $2,801.12 for nearly a year, and even then there would be sixteen cents left over, for, in proving the result of his rough sum in division, he could account for but $999,999.84. Then it occurred to him that his money would be drawing interest at the bank.
"But for each day's $2,801.12, I am getting seven times as much," he soliloquized, as he finally got into bed. "That means $19,607.84 a day, a clear profit of $16,806.72. That's pretty good—yes, too good. I wonder if the bank couldn't oblige me by not charging interest."
The figures kept adding and subtracting themselves as he dozed off, and once during the night he dreamed that Swearengen Jones had sentenced him to eat a million dollars' worth of game and salad at the French restaurant. He awoke with the consciousness that he had cried aloud, "I can do it, but a year is not very long in an affair of this kind."
It was nine o'clock when Brewster finally rose, and after his tub he felt ready to cope with any problem, even a substantial breakfast. A message had come to him from Mr. Grant of Grant & Ripley, announcing the receipt of important dispatches from Montana, and asking him to luncheon at one. He had time to spare, and as Margaret and Mrs. Gray had gone out, he telephoned Ellis to take his horse to the entrance to the park at once. The crisp autumn air was perfect for his ride, and Brewster found a number of smart people already riding and driving in the park. His horse was keen for a canter and he had reached the obelisk before he drew rein. As he was about to cross the carriage road he was nearly run down by Miss Drew in her new French automobile.
"I beg your pardon," she cried. "You're the third person I've run into, so you see I'm not discriminating against you."
"I should be flattered even to be run down by you."
"Very well, then, look out." And she started the machine as if to charge him. She stopped in time, and said with a laugh, "Your gallantry deserves a reward. Wouldn't you rather send your horse home and come for a ride with me?"
"My man is waiting at Fifty-ninth Street. If you'll come that far, I'll go with pleasure."
Monty had merely a society acquaintance with Miss Drew. He had met her at dinners and dances as he had a host of other girls, but she had impressed him more than the others. Something indescribable took place every time their eyes met. Monty had often wondered just what that something meant, but he had always realized that it had in it nothing of platonic affection.
"If I didn't have to meet her eyes," he had said to himself, "I could go on discussing even politics with her, but the moment she looks at me I know she can see what I'm thinking about." From the first they considered themselves very good friends, and after their third meeting it seemed perfectly natural that they should call one another by their first names. Monty knew he was treading on dangerous ground. It never occurred to him to wonder what Barbara might think of him. He took it as a matter of course that she must feel more than friendly toward him. As they rode through the maze of carriages, they bowed frequently to friends as they passed. They were conscious that some of the women, noticeably old Miss Dexter, actually turned around and gazed at them.
"Aren't you afraid people will talk about us?" asked Monty with a laugh.
"Talk about our riding together in the park? It's just as safe here as it would be in Fifth Avenue. Besides, who cares? I fancy we can stand it."
"You're a thoroughbred, Barbara. I simply didn't want you talked about. When I go too far, say the word and drop me."
"I have a luncheon at two, but until then we have our ride."
Monty gasped and looked at his watch. "Five minutes to one," he cried. The matter of his engagement with the attorney had quite escaped him. In the exhilaration of Miss Drew's companionship he had forgotten even Uncle James's millions.
"I've got a date at one that means life and death to me. Would you mind taking me down to the nearest Elevated—or—here, let me run it."
Almost before Barbara was aware of what was happening they had changed places and the machine, under Monty's guidance, was tearing over the ground.
"Of all the casual people," said the girl, by no means unequal to the excitement, "I believe you're kidnapping me."
But when she saw the grim look on Monty's face and one policeman after another warned him she became seriously alarmed. "Monty Brewster, this pace is positively dangerous."
"Perhaps it is," he responded, "but if they haven't sense enough to keep out of the way they shouldn't kick if they get run over."
"I don't mean the people or the automobiles or traps or trees or monuments, Monty; I mean you and me. I know we'll either be killed or arrested."
"This isn't anything to the gait I'll be going if everything turns out as I expect. Don't be worried, Babs. Besides it's one now. Lord, I didn't dream it was so late."
"Is your appointment so important?" she asked, hanging on.
"Well, I should say it is, and—look out—you blooming idiot! Do you want to get killed?" The last remark was hurled back at an indignant pedestrian who had escaped destruction by the merest chance.
"Here we are," he said, as they drew up beside the entrance to the Elevated. "Thanks awfully,—you're a corker,—sorry to leave you this way. I'll tell you all about it later. You're a dear to help me keep my appointment."
"Seems to me you helped yourself," she cried after him as he darted up the steps. "Come up for tea some day and tell me who the lady is."
After he had gone Miss Drew turned to her chauffeur, who was in the tonneau. Then she laughed unrestrainedly, and the faintest shadow of a grin stole over the man's face.
"Beg pardon, Miss," he said, "but I'd back Mr. Brewster against Fournier any day."
Only half an hour late, Brewster entered the office of Messrs. Grant & Ripley, flushed, eager, and unconscious of the big splotch of mud that decorated his cheek.
"Awfully sorry to have kept you waiting," he apologized.
"Sherlock Holmes would say that you had been driving, Mr. Brewster," said Mr. Ripley, shaking the young man's hand.
"He would miss it, Mr. Ripley. I've been flying. What have you heard from Montana?" He could no longer check the impatient question, which came out so suddenly that the attorneys laughed irresistibly, Brewster Joining them an instant later. They laid before him a half dozen telegrams, responses from bankers, lawyers, and mine-operators in Montana. These messages established beyond doubt the extent of James T. Sedgwick's wealth; it was reported to be even greater than shown by the actual figures.
"And what does Mr. Jones say?" demanded Montgomery.
"His reply resembles a press dispatch. He has tried to make himself thoroughly clear, and if there is anything left unsaid it is past our comprehension. I am sorry to inform you, though, that he has paid the telegraph charges," said Mr. Grant, smiling broadly.
"Is he rational about it?" asked Montgomery, nervously.
Mr. Grant gave his partner a quick, significant glance, and then drew from his desk the voluminous telegram from Swearengen Jones. It was as follows:
GRANT & RIPLEY,
Yucatan Building, New York.
I am to be sole referee in this matter. You are retained as my agents, heir to report to me through you weekly. One desire of uncle was to forestall grandfather's bequest. I shall respect that desire. Enforce terms rigidly. He was my best friend and trusted me with disposition of all this money. Shall attend to it sacredly. Heir must get rid of money left to him in given time. Out of respect to memory of uncle he must take no one into his confidence. Don't want world to think S. was damned fool. He wasn't. Here are rules I want him to work under: 1. No reckless gambling. 2. No idiotic Board of Trade speculation. 3. No endowments to institutions of any character, because their memory would be an invisible asset. 4. No indiscriminate giving away of funds. By that I don't mean him to be stingy. I hate a stingy man and so did J.T.S. 5. No more than ordinary dissipation. I hate a saint. So did J.T.S. And both of us sowed an oat or two. 6. No excessive donations to charity. If he gives as other millionaires do I'll let it go at that. Don't believe charity should be spoiled by indulgence. It is not easy to spend a million, and I won't be unreasonable with him. Let him spend it freely, but not foolishly, and get his money's worth out of it. If he does that I'll consider him a good business man. I regard it foolish to tip waiter more than a dollar and car porter does not deserve over five. He does not earn more than one. If heir wants to try for the big stake he'd better begin quick, because he might slip up if he waits until day of judgment. It's less than year off. Luck to him. Will write you more fully.
"Write more fully!" echoed Montgomery. "What can there be left to write about?"
"He is explicit," said the attorney, "but it is best to know all the conditions before you decide. Have you made up your mind?"
Brewster sat for a long time, staring hard at the floor. A great struggle was going on in his mind.
"It's a gamble, and a big one," he said at last, squaring his shoulders, "but I'll take it. I don't want to appear disloyal to my grandfather, but I think that even he would advise me to accept. Yes, you may write Mr. Jones that I accept the chance."
The attorneys complimented him on his nerve, and wished him success. Brewster turned with a smile.
"I'll begin by asking what you think a reasonable fee for an attorney in a case of this kind. I hope you will act for me."
"You don't want to spend it all in a lump, do you?" asked Mr. Grant, smiling. "We can hardly act as counsel for both you and Mr. Jones."
"But I must have a lawyer, and the will limits the number of my confidants. What am I to do?"
"We will consult Mr. Jones in regard to the question. It is not regular, you see, but I apprehend no legal difficulties. We cannot accept fees from both sides, however," said Mr. Grant.
"But I want attorneys who are willing to help me. It won't be a help if you decline to accept my money."
"We'll resort to arbitration," laughed Ripley.
Before night Montgomery Brewster began a career that would have startled the world had the facts been known. With true loyalty to the "Little Sons of the Rich," he asked his friends to dinner and opened their eyes.
"Champagne!" cried Harrison, as they were seated at table. "I can't remember the last time I had champagne."
"Naturally," laughed "Subway" Smith. "You couldn't remember anything after that."
As the dinner progressed Brewster explained that he intended to double his fortune within a year. "I'm going to have some fun, too," he said, "and you boys are to help me."
"Nopper" Harrison was employed as "superintendent of affairs"; Elon Gardner as financial secretary; Joe Bragdon as private secretary; "Subway" Smith as counsel, and there were places in view for the other members.
"I want the smartest apartment you can find, Nopper," he commanded. "Don't stop at expense. Have Pettingill redecorate it from top to bottom, Get the best servants you can find. I'm going to live, Nopper, and hang the consequences."
A fortnight later Montgomery Brewster had a new home. In strict obedience to his chief's command, "Nopper" Harrison had leased until the September following one of the most expensive apartments to be found in New York City. The rental was $23,000, and the shrewd financial representative had saved $1,000 for his employer by paying the sum in advance. But when he reported this bit of economy to Mr. Brewster he was surprised that it brought forth a frown. "I never saw a man who had less sense about money," muttered "Nopper" to himself. "Why, he spends it like a Chicago millionaire trying to get into New York society. If it were not for the rest of us he'd be a pauper in six months."
Paul Pettingill, to his own intense surprise and, it must be said, consternation, was engaged to redecorate certain rooms according to a plan suggested by the tenant. The rising young artist, in a great flurry of excitement, agreed to do the work for $500, and then blushed like a schoolgirl when he was informed by the practical Brewster that the paints and material for one room alone would cost twice as much.
"Petty, you have no more idea of business than a goat," criticised Montgomery, and Paul lowered his head in humble confession. "That man who calcimines your studio could figure on a piece of work with more intelligence than you reveal. I'll pay $2,500. It's only a fair price, and I can't afford anything cheap in this place."
"At this rate you won't be able to afford anything," said Pettingill to himself.
And so it was that Pettingill and a corps of decorators soon turned the rooms into a confusion of scaffoldings and paint buckets, out of which in the end emerged something very distinguished. No one had ever thought Pettingill deficient in ideas, and this was his opportunity. The only drawback was the time limit which Brewster so remorselessly fixed. Without that he felt that he could have done something splendid in the way of decorative panels—something that would make even the glory of Puvis de Chavannes turn pallid. With it he was obliged to curb his turbulent ideas, and he decided that a rich simplicity was the proper note. The result was gorgeous, but not too gorgeous,—it had depth and distinction.
Elated and eager, he assisted Brewster in selecting furniture and hangings for each room, but he did not know that his employer was making conditional purchases of everything. Mr. Brewster had agreements with all the dealers to the effect that they were to buy everything back at a fair price, if he desired to give up his establishment within a year. He adhered to this rule in all cases that called for the purchase outright of substantial necessities. The bump of calculativeness in Monty Brewster's head was growing to abnormal proportions.
In retaining his rooms at Mrs. Gray's, he gave the flimsy but pathetic excuse that he wanted a place in which he might find occasional seasons of peace and quiet. When Mrs. Gray protested against this useless bit of extravagance, his grief was so obviously genuine that her heart was touched, and there was a deep, fervent joy in her soul. She loved this fair-faced boy, and tears of happiness came to her eyes when she was given this new proof of his loyalty and devotion. His rooms were kept for him just as if he had expected to occupy them every day and every night, notwithstanding the luxurious apartments he was to maintain elsewhere. The Oliver Optic books still lay in the attic, all tattered and torn, but to Margaret the embodiment of prospective riches, promises of sweet hours to come. She knew Monty well enough to feel that he would not forget the dark little attic of old for all the splendors that might come with the new dispensation.
There was no little surprise when he sent out invitations for a large dinner. His grandfather had been dead less than a month, and society was somewhat scandalized by the plain symptoms of disrespect he was showing. No one had expected him to observe a prolonged season of mourning, but that he should disregard the formalities completely was rather shocking. Some of the older people, who had not long to live and who had heirs-apparent, openly denounced his heartlessness. It was not very gratifying to think of what might be in store for them if all memories were as short as Brewster's. Old Mrs. Ketchell changed her will, and two nephews were cut off entirely; a very modest and impecunious grandson of Joseph Garrity also was to sustain a severe change of fortune in the near future, if the cards spoke correctly. Judge Van Woort, who was not expected to live through the night, got better immediately after hearing some one in the sick-room whisper that Montgomery Brewster was to give a big dinner. Naturally, the heirs-to-be condemned young Brewster in no uncertain terms.
Nevertheless, the dinner to be given by the grandson of old Edwin Peter Brewster was the talk of the town, and not one of the sixty invited guests could have been persuaded to miss it. Reports as to its magnificence were abroad long before the night set for the dinner. One of them had it that it was to cost $3,000 a plate. From that figure the legendary price receded to a mark as low as $500. Montgomery would have been only too glad to pay $3,000 or more, but some mysterious force conveyed to his mind a perfect portrait of Swearengen Jones in the act of putting down a large black mark against him, and he forbore.
"I wish I knew whether I had to abide by the New York or the Montana standard of extravagance," Brewster said to himself. "I wonder if he ever sees the New York papers."
Late each night the last of the grand old Brewster family went to his bedroom where, after dismissing his man, he settled down at his desk, with a pencil and a pad of paper. Lighting the candles, which were more easily managed, he found, than lamps, and much more costly, he thoughtfully and religiously calculated the expenses for the day. "Nopper" Harrison and Elon Gardner had the receipts for all moneys spent, and Joe Bragdon was keeping an official report, but the "chief," as they called him, could not go to sleep until he was satisfied in his own mind that he was keeping up the average. For the first two weeks it had been easy—in fact, he seemed to have quite a comfortable lead in the race. He had spent almost $100,000 in the fortnight, but he realized that the greater part of it had gone into the yearly and not the daily expense-account. He kept a "profit and loss" entry in his little private ledger, but it was not like any other account of the kind in the world. What the ordinary merchant would have charged to "loss" he jotted down on the "profit" side, and he was continually looking for opportunities to swell the total.
Rawles, who had been his grandfather's butler since the day after he landed in New York, came over to the grandson's establishment, greatly to the wrath and confusion of the latter's Aunt Emmeline. The chef came from Paris and his name was Detuit. Ellis, the footman, also found a much better berth with Monty than he had had in the house on the avenue. Aunt Emmeline never forgave her nephew for these base and disturbing acts of treachery, as she called them.
One of Monty's most extraordinary financial feats grew out of the purchase of a $14,000 automobile. He blandly admitted to "Nopper" Harrison and the two secretaries that he intended to use it to practice with only, and that as soon as he learned how to run an "auto" as it should be run he expected to buy a good, sensible, durable machine for $7,000.
His staff officers frequently put their heads together to devise ways and means of curbing Monty's reckless extravagance. They were worried.
"He's like a sailor in port," protested Harrison. "Money is no object if he wants a thing, and—damn it—he seems to want everything he sees."
"It won't last long," Gardner said, reassuringly. "Like his namesake, Monte Cristo, the world is his just now and he wants to enjoy it."
"He wants to get rid of it, it seems to me."
Whenever they reproached Brewster about the matter he disarmed them by saying, "Now that I've got money I mean to give my friends a good time. Just what you'd do if you were in my place. What's money for, anyway?"
"But this $3,000-a-plate dinner—"
"I'm going to give a dozen of them, and even then I can't pay my just debts. For years I've been entertained at people's houses and have been taken cruising on their yachts. They have always been bully to me, and what have I ever done for them? Nothing. Now that I can afford it, I am going to return some of those favors and square myself. Doesn't it sound reasonable?"
And so preparations for Monty's dinner went on. In addition to what he called his "efficient corps of gentlemanly aids" he had secured the services of Mrs. Dan DeMille as "social mentor and utility chaperon." Mrs. DeMille was known in the papers as the leader of the fast younger married set. She was one of the cleverest and best-looking young women in town, and her husband was of those who did not have to be "invited too." Mr. DeMille lived at the club and visited his home. Some one said that he was so slow and his wife so fast that when she invited him to dinner he usually was two or three days late. Altogether Mrs. DeMille was a decided acquisition to Brewster's campaign committee. It required just her touch to make his parties fun instead of funny.
It was on October 18th that the dinner was given. With the skill of a general Mrs. Dan had seated the guests in such a way that from the beginning things went off with zest. Colonel Drew took in Mrs. Valentine and his content was assured; Mr. Van Winkle and the beautiful Miss Valentine were side by side, and no one could say he looked unhappy; Mr. Cromwell went in with Mrs. Savage; and the same delicate tact—in some cases it was almost indelicate—was displayed in the disposition of other guests.
Somehow they had come with the expectation of being bored. Curiosity prompted them to accept, but it did not prevent the subsequent inevitable lassitude. Socially Monty Brewster had yet to make himself felt. He and his dinners were something to talk: about, but they were accepted hesitatingly, haltingly. People wondered how he had secured the cooperation of Mrs. Dan, but then Mrs. Dan always did go in for a new toy. To her was inevitably attributed whatever success the dinner achieved. And it was no small measure. Yet there was nothing startling about the affair. Monty had decided to begin conservatively. He did the conventional thing, but he did it well. He added a touch or two of luxury, the faintest aroma of splendor. Pettingill had designed the curiously wayward table, with its comfortable atmosphere of companionship, and arranged its decoration of great lavender orchids and lacy butterfly festoons of white ones touched with yellow. He had wanted to use dahlias in their many rich shades from pale yellow to orange and deep red, but Monty held out for orchids. It was the artist, too, who had found in a rare and happy moment the massive gold candelabra—ancient things of a more luxurious age—and their opalescent shades. Against his advice the service, too, was of gold,—"rank vulgarity," he called it, with its rich meaningless ornamentation. But here Monty was obdurate. He insisted that he liked the color and that porcelain had no character. Mrs. Dan only prevented a quarrel by suggesting that several courses should be served upon Sevres.
Pettingill's scheme for lighting the room was particularly happy. For the benefit of his walls and the four lovely Monets which Monty had purchased at his instigation, he had designed a ceiling screen of heavy rich glass in tones of white that grew into yellow and dull green. It served to conceal the lights in the daytime, and at night the glare of electricity was immensely softened and made harmonious by passing through it. It gave a note of quiet to the picture, which caused even these men and women, who had been here and there and seen many things, to draw in their breath sharply. Altogether the effect manifestly made an impression.
Such an environment had its influence upon the company. It went far toward making the dinner a success. From far in the distance came the softened strains of Hungarian music, and never had the little band played the "Valse Amoureuse" and the "Valse Bleue" with the spirit it put into them that night. Yet the soft clamor in the dining-room insistently ignored the emotion of the music. Monty, bored as he was between the two most important dowagers at the feast, wondered dimly what invisible part it played in making things go. He had a vagrant fancy that without it there would have been no zest for talk, no noisy competition to overcome, no hurdles to leap. As it was, the talk certainly went well, and Mrs. Dan inspected the result of her work from time to time with smiling satisfaction. From across the table she heard Colonel Drew's voice,—"Brewster evidently objects to a long siege. He is planning to carry us by assault."
Mrs. Dan turned to "Subway" Smith, who was at her right—the latest addition to her menagerie. "What is this friend of yours?" she asked. "I have never seen such complex simplicity. This new plaything has no real charm for him. He is breaking it to find out what it is made of. And something will happen when he discovers the sawdust."
"Oh, don't worry about him," said "Subway," easily; "Monty's at least a good sportsman. He won't complain, whatever happens. He'll accept the reckoning and pay the piper."
It was only toward the end of the evening that Monty found his reward in a moment with Barbara Drew. He stood before her, squaring his shoulders belligerently to keep away intruders, and she smiled up at him in that bewildering fashion of hers. But it was only for an instant, and then came a terrifying din from the dining-room, followed by the clamor of crashing glass. The guests tried for a moment to be courteously oblivious, but the noise was so startling that such politeness became farcical. The host, with a little laugh, went down the hall. It was the beautiful screen near the ceiling that had fallen. A thousand pieces of shattered glass covered the place. The table was a sickening heap of crushed orchids and sputtering candles. Frightened servants rushed into the room from one side just as Brewster entered from the other. Stupefaction halted them. After the first pulseless moment of horror, exclamations of dismay went up on all sides. For Monty Brewster the first sensation of regret was followed by a diabolical sense of joy.
"Thank the Lord!" he said softly in the hush.
The look of surprise he encountered in the faces of his guests brought him up with a jerk.
"That it didn't happen while we were dining," he added with serene thankfulness. And his nonchalance scored for him in the idle game he was playing.
A LESSON IN TACT
Mr. Brewster's butler was surprised and annoyed. For the first time in his official career he had unbent so far as to manifest a personal interest in the welfare of his master. He was on the verge of assuming a responsibility which makes any servant intolerable. But after his interview he resolved that he would never again overstep his position. He made sure that it should be the last offense. The day following the dinner Rawles appeared before young Mr. Brewster and indicated by his manner that the call was an important one. Brewster was seated at his writing-table, deep in thought. The exclamation that followed Rawles's cough of announcement was so sharp and so unmistakably fierce that all other evidence paled into insignificance. The butler's interruption came at a moment when Monty's mental arithmetic was pulling itself out of a very bad rut, and the cough drove it back into chaos.
"What is it," he demanded, irritably. Rawles had upset his calculations to the extent of seven or eight hundred dollars.
"I came to report h'an unfortunate condition h'among the servants, sir," said Rawies, stiffening as his responsibility became more and more weighty. He had relaxed temporarily upon entering the room.
"What's the trouble?"
"The trouble's h'ended, sir."
"Then why bother me about it?"
"I thought it would be well for you to know, sir. The servants was going to ask for 'igher wiges to-day, sir."
"You say they were going to ask. Aren't they?" And Monty's eyes lighted up at the thought of new possibilities.
"I convinced them, sir, as how they were getting good pay as it is, sir, and that they ought to be satisfied. They'd be a long time finding a better place and as good wiges. They 'aven't been with you a week, and here they are strikin' for more pay. Really, sir, these American servants—"
"Rawles, that'll do!" exploded Monty. The butler's chin went up and his cheeks grew redder than ever.
"I beg pardon, sir," he gasped, with a respectful but injured air.
"Rawles, you will kindly not interfere in such matters again. It is not only the privilege, but the duty of every American to strike for higher pay whenever he feels like it, and I want it distinctly understood that I am heartily in favor of their attitude. You will kindly go back and tell them that after a reasonable length of service their wiges—I mean wages—shall be increased. AND DON'T MEDDLE AGAIN, Rawles."
Late that afternoon Brewster dropped in at Mrs. DeMille's to talk over plans for the next dinner. He realized that in no other way could he squander his money with a better chance of getting its worth than by throwing himself bodily into society. It went easily, and there could be only one asset arising from it in the end—his own sense of disgust.
"So glad to see you, Monty," greeted Mrs. Dan, glowingly, coming in with a rush. "Come upstairs and I'll give you some tea and a cigarette. I'm not at home to anybody."
"That's very good of you, Mrs. Dan," said he, as they mounted the stairs. "I don't know what I'd do without your help." He was thinking how pretty she was.
"You'd be richer, at any rate," turning to smile upon him from the upper landing. "I was in tears half the night, Monty, over that glass screen," she said, after finding a comfortable place among the cushions of a divan. Brewster dropped into a roomy, lazy chair in front of her and handed her a cigarette, as he responded carelessly:
"It amounted to nothing. Of course, it was very annoying that it should happen while the guests were still there." Then he added, gravely: "In strict confidence, I had planned to have it fall just as we were pushing back our chairs, but the confounded thing disappointed me. That's the trouble with these automatic climaxes; they usually hang fire. It was to have been a sort of Fall of Babylon effect, you know."
"Splendid! But like Babylon, it fell at the wrong time."
For a lively quarter of an hour they discussed people about town, liberally approving the slandered and denouncing the slanderers. A still busier quarter of an hour ensued when together they made up the list of dinner guests. He moved a little writing-table up to the divan, and she looked on eagerly while he wrote down the names she suggested after many puckerings of her fair, aristocratic brow, and then drew lines through them when she changed her mind. Mrs. DeMille handled her people without gloves in making up Monty's lists. The dinners were not hers, and she could afford to do as she pleased with his; he was broad and tall and she was not slow to see that he was indifferent. He did not care who the guests were, or how they came; he merely wished to make sure of their presence. His only blunder was the rather diffident recommendation that Barbara Drew be asked again. If he observed that Mrs. Dan's head sank a little closer to the paper, he attached no importance to the movement; he could not see that her eyes grew narrow, and he paid no attention to the little catch in her breath.
"Wouldn't that be a little—just a little pronounced?" she asked, lightly enough.
"You mean—that people might talk?"
"She might feel conspicuously present."
"Do you think so? We are such good friends, you know."
"Of course, if you'd like to have her," slowly and doubtfully, "why, put her name down. But you evidently haven't seen that." Mrs. Dan pointed to a copy of the Trumpet which lay on the table.
When he had handed her the paper she said, "'The Censor' is growing facetious at your expense."
"I am getting on in society with a vengeance if that ass starts in to write about me. Listen to this"—she had pointed out to him the obnoxious paragraph—"If Brewster Drew a diamond flush, do you suppose he'd catch the queen? And if he caught her, how long do you think she'd remain Drew? Or, if she Drew Brewster, would she be willing to learn such a game as Monte?"
The next morning a writer who signed himself "The Censor" got a thrashing and one Montgomery Brewster had his name in the papers, surrounded by fulsome words of praise.
THE FORELOCK OF TIME
One morning not long after the incidents just related, Brewster lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, deep in thought. There was a worried pucker on his forehead, half-hidden by the rumpled hair, and his eyes were wide and sleepless. He had dined at the Drews' the evening before and had had an awakening. As he thought of the matter he could recall no special occurrence that he could really use as evidence. Colonel and Mrs. Drew had been as kind as ever and Barbara could not have been more charming. But something had gone wrong and he had endured a wretched evening.
"That little English Johnnie was to blame," he argued. "Of course, Barbara had a right to put any one she liked next to her, but why she should have chosen that silly ass is more than I know. By Jove, if I had been on the other side I'll warrant his grace would have been lost in the dust."
His brain was whirling, and for the first time he was beginning to feel the unpleasant pangs of jealousy. The Duke of Beauchamp he especially disliked, although the poor man had hardly spoken during the dinner. But Monty could not be reconciled. He knew, of course, that Barbara had suitors by the dozen, but it had never occurred to him that they were even seriously considered. Notwithstanding the fact that his encounter with "The Censor" had brought her into undesirable notice, she forgave him everything after a moment's consideration. The first few wrenches of resentment were overbalanced by her American appreciation of chivalry, however inspired. "The Censor" had gone for years unpunished; his coarse wit being aimed at every one who had come into social prominence. So pungent and vindictive was his pen that other men feared him, and there were many who lived in glass houses in terror of a fusilade. Brewster's prompt and sufficient action had checked the pernicious attacks, and he became a hero among men and women. After that night there was no point to "The Censor's" pen. Monty's first qualms of apprehension were swept away when Colonel Drew himself hailed him the morning after the encounter and, in no unmeasured terms, congratulated him upon his achievement, assuring him that Barbara and Mrs. Drew approved, although they might lecture him as a matter of form.
But on this morning, as he lay in his bed, Monty was thinking deeply and painfully. He was confronted by a most embarrassing condition and he was discussing it soberly with himself. "I've never told her," he said to himself, "but if she doesn't know my feeling she is not as clever as I think. Besides, I haven't time to make love to her now. If it were any other girl I suppose I'd have to, but Babs, why, she must understand. And yet—damn that Duke!"
In order to woo her properly he would be compelled to neglect financial duties that needed every particle of brain-energy at his command. He found himself opposed at the outset by a startling embarrassment, made absolutely clear by the computations of the night before. The last four days of indifference to finance on one side, and pampering the heart on the other, had proved very costly. To use his own expression, he had been "set back" almost eight thousand dollars. An average like that would be ruinous.
"Why, think of it," he continued. "For each day sacrificed to Barbara I must deduct something like twenty-five hundred dollars. A long campaign would put me irretrievably in the hole; I'd get so far behind that a holocaust couldn't put me even. She can't expect that of me, yet girls are such idiots about devotion, and of course she doesn't know what a heavy task I'm facing. And there are the others—what will they do while I am out of the running? I cannot go to her and say, 'Please, may I have a year's vacation? I'll come back next September.' On the other hand, I shall surely neglect my business if she expects me to compete. What pleasure shall I get out of the seven millions if I lose her? I can't afford to take chances. That Duke won't have seven millions next September, it's true, but he'll have a prodigious argument against me, about the twenty-first or second."
Then a brilliant thought occurred to him which caused him to ring for a messenger-boy with such a show of impatience that Rawles stood aghast. The telegram which Monty wrote was as follows:
May I marry and turn all property over to wife, providing she will have me?
"Why isn't that reasonable?" he asked himself after the boy had gone. "Making property over to one's wife is neither a loan nor is it charity. Old Jones might call it needless extravagance, since he's a bachelor, but it's generally done because it's good business." Monty was hopeful.
Following his habit in trouble, he sought Margaret Gray, to whom he could always appeal for advice and consolation. She was to come to his next dinner-party, and it was easy to lead up to the subject in hand by mentioning the other guests.
"And Barbara Drew," he concluded, after naming all the others. They were alone in the library, and she was drinking in the details of the dinner as he related them.
"Wasn't she at your first dinner?" she asked, quickly.
He successfully affected mild embarrassment.
"She must be very attractive." There was no venom in Peggy's heart.
"She is attractive. In fact, she's one of the best, Peggy," he said, paving the way.
"It's too bad she seems to care for that little Duke."
"He's a bounder," he argued.
"Well, don't take it to heart. You don't have to marry him," and Peggy laughed.
"But I do take it to heart, Peggy," said Monty, seriously. "I'm pretty hard hit, and I want your help. A sister's advice is always the best in a matter of this sort."
She looked into his eyes dully for an instant, not realizing the full importance of his confession.
"You, Monty?" she said, incredulously.
"I've got it bad, Peggy," he replied, staring hard at the floor. She could not understand the cold, gray tone that suddenly enveloped the room. The strange sense of loneliness that came over her was inexplicable. The little something that rose in her throat would not be dislodged, nor could she throw off the weight that seemed pressing down upon her. He saw the odd look in her eyes and the drawn, uncertain smile on her lips, but he attributed them to wonder and incredulity. Somehow, after all these years, he was transformed before her very eyes; she was looking upon a new personality. He was no longer Montgomery, the brother, but she could not explain how and when the change crept over her. What did it all mean? "I am very glad if it will make you happy, Monty," she said slowly, the gray in her lips giving way to red once more. "Does she know?"
"I haven't told her in so many words, Peggy, but—but I'm going to this evening," he announced, lamely.
"I can't wait," Monty said as he rose to go. "I'm glad you're pleased, Peggy; I need your good wishes. And, Peggy," he continued, with a touch of boyish wistfulness, "do you think there's a chance for a fellow? I've had the very deuce of a time over that Englishman."
It was not quite easy for her to say, "Monty, you are the best in the world. Go in and win."
From the window she watched him swing off down the street, wondering if he would turn to wave his hand to her, his custom for years. But the broad back was straight and uncompromising. His long strides carried him swiftly out of sight, but it was many minutes before she turned her eyes, which were smarting a little, from the point where he was lost in the crowd. The room looked ashen to her as she brought her mind back to it, and somehow things had grown difficult.
When Montgomery reached home he found this telegram from Mr. Jones:
New York City.
Stick to your knitting, you damned fool.
LOVE AND A PRIZE-FIGHT
It is best not to repeat the expressions Brewster used regarding one S. Jones, after reading his telegram. But he felt considerably relieved after he had uttered them. He fell to reading accounts of the big prize-fight which was to take place in San Francisco that evening. He revelled in the descriptions of "upper cuts" and "left hooks," and learned incidentally that the affair was to be quite one-sided. A local amateur was to box a champion. Quick to see an opportunity, and cajoling himself into the belief that Swearengen Jones could not object to such a display of sportsmanship, Brewster made Harrison book several good wagers on the result. He intimated that he had reason to believe that the favorite would lose. Harrison soon placed three thousand dollars on his man. The young financier felt so sure of the result that he entered the bets on the profit side of his ledger the moment he received Harrison's report.
This done, he telephoned Miss Drew. She was not insensible to the significance of his inquiry if she would be in that afternoon. She had observed in him of late a condition of uneasiness, supplemented by moroseness and occasional periods of irascibility. Every girl whose occupation in life is the study of men recognizes these symptoms and knows how to treat them. Barbara had dealt with many men afflicted in this manner, and the flutter of anticipation that came with his urgent plea to see her was tempered by experience. It had something of joy in it, for she cared enough for Montgomery Brewster to have made her anxiously uncertain of his state of mind. She cared, indeed, much more than she intended to confess at the outset.
It was nearly half-past five when he came, and for once the philosophical Miss Drew felt a little irritation. So certain was she of his object in coming that his tardiness was a trifle ruffling. He apologized for being late, and succeeded in banishing the pique that possessed her. It was naturally impossible for him to share all his secrets with her, that is why he did not tell her that Grant & Ripley had called him up to report the receipt of a telegram from Swearengen Jones, in which the gentleman laconically said he could feed the whole State of Montana for less than six thousand dollars. Beyond that there was no comment. Brewster, in dire trepidation, hastened to the office of the attorneys. They smiled when he burst in upon them.
"Good heavens!" he exclaimed, "does the miserly old hayseed expect me to spend a million for newspapers, cigarettes and Boston terriers? I thought he would be reasonable!"
"He evidently has seen the newspaper accounts of your dinner, and this is merely his comment," said Mr. Ripley.
"It's either a warning, or else he's ambiguous in his compliments," growled Brewster, disgustedly.
"I don't believe he disapproved, Mr. Brewster. In the west the old gentleman is widely known as a wit."
"A wit, eh? Then he'll appreciate an answer from me. Have you a telegraph blank, Mr. Grant?"
Two minutes later the following telegram to Swearengen Jones was awaiting the arrival of a messenger-boy, and Brewster was blandly assuring Messrs. Grant & Ripley that he did not "care a rap for the consequences":
NEW YORK, October 23, 1—
No doubt you could do it for less than six thousand. Montana is regarded as the best grazing country in the world, but we don't eat that sort of stuff in New York. That's why it costs more to live here.
Just before leaving his apartments for Miss Drew's home he received this response from faraway Montana:
BUTTE, MONTANA, Oct. 23, 1—
MONTGOMERY BREWSTER, New York.
We are eight thousand feet above the level of the sea. I suppose that's why it costs us less to live high.
"I was beginning to despair, Monty," said Miss Drew, reproachfully, when he had come down from the height of his exasperation and remembered that there were things of more importance.
The light in his eyes brought the faintest tinge of red to her cheeks, and where a moment before there had been annoyance there was now a feeling of serenity. For a moment the silence was fraught with purpose. Monty glanced around the room, uncertain how to begin. It was not so easy as he had imagined.
"You are very good to see me," he said at last. "It was absolutely necessary for me to talk to you this evening; I could not have endured the suspense any longer. Barbara, I've spent three or four sleepless nights on your account. Will it spoil your evening if I tell you in plain words what you already know? It won't bother you, will it?" he floundered.
"What do you mean, Monty?" she begged, purposely dense, and with wonderful control of her eyes.
"I love you, Babs," he cried. "I thought you knew about it all along or I should have told you before. That's why I haven't slept. The fear that you may not care for me has driven me nearly to distraction. It couldn't go on any longer. I must know to-day."
There was a gleam in his eyes that made her pose of indifference difficult; the fervor of his half-whispered words took possession of her. She had expected sentiment of such a different character that his frank confession disarmed her completely. Beneath his ardent, abrupt plea there was assurance, the confidence of one who is not to be denied. It was not what he said, but the way he said it. A wave of exultation swept over her, tingling through every nerve. Under the spell her resolution to dally lightly with his emotion suffered a check that almost brought ignominious surrender. Both of her hands were clasped in his when he exultingly resumed the charge against her heart, but she was rapidly regaining control of her emotions and he did not know that he was losing ground with each step he took forward. Barbara Drew loved Brewster, but she was going to make him pay dearly for the brief lapse her composure had experienced. When next she spoke she was again the Miss Drew who had been trained in the ways of the world, and not the young girl in love.
"I care for you a great deal, Monty," she said, "but I'm wondering whether I care enough to—to marry you."
"We haven't known each other very long, Babs," he said, tenderly, "but I think we know each other well enough to be beyond wondering."
"It is like you to manage the whole thing," she said, chidingly. "Can't you give me time to convince myself that I love you as you would like, and as I must love if I expect to be happy with the man I marry?"
"I forgot myself," he said, humbly.
"You forgot me," she protested, gently, touched by this sign of contrition. "I do care for you, Monty, but don't you see it's no little thing you ask of me? I must be sure—very sure—before I—before—"
"Don't be so distressed," he pleaded. "You will love me, I know, because you love me now. This means much to me, but it means more to you. You are the woman and you are the one whose happiness should be considered. I can live only in the hope that when I come to you again with this same story and this same question you'll not be afraid to trust yourself to me."
"You deserve to be happy for that, Monty," she said, earnestly, and it was with difficulty that she kept her eyes from wavering as they looked into his.
"You will let me try to make you love me?" he asked, eagerly.
"I may not be worth the struggle."
"I'll take that chance," he replied.
She was conscious of disappointment after he was gone. He had not pleaded as ardently as she had expected and desired, and, try as she would, she could not banish the touch of irritation that had come to haunt her for the night.
Brewster walked to the club, elated that he had at least made a beginning. His position was now clear. Besides losing a fortune he must win Barbara in open competition.
At the theater that evening he met Harrison, who was in a state of jubilation.
"Where did you get that tip?" asked he.
"Tip? What tip?" from Brewster.
"On the prize-fight?"
Brewster's face fell and something cold crept over him.
"How did—what was the result?" he asked, sure of the answer.
"Haven't you heard? Your man knocked him out in the fifth round—surprised everybody."
NAPOLEON OF FINANCE
The next two months were busy ones for Brewster. Miss Drew saw him quite as often as before the important interview, but he was always a puzzle to her.
"His attitude is changed somehow," she thought to herself, and then she remembered that "a man who wins a girl after an ardent suit is often like one who runs after a street car and then sits down to read his paper."
In truth after the first few days Monty seemed to have forgotten his competitors, and was resting in the consciousness of his assured position. Each day he sent her flowers and considered that he had more than done his duty. He used no small part of his income on the flowers, but in this case his mission was almost forgotten in his love for Barbara.