A NOVEL BY OPIE READ
Author of "The Carpetbagger," "Old Ebenezer," "The Jucklins," "My Young Master," "On The Suwanee River," "A Kentucky Colonel," "Emmett Bonlore," "A Tennessee Judge," "The Wives of the Prophet," "Len Gansett," "The Tear in the Cup and Other Stories".
CHICAGO LAIRD & LEE, PUBLISHERS 1893.
I. LOOKING BACK AT EARLY LIFE II. A SLEEPY VILLAGE AND A FUSSY OLD MAN III. ALL WAS DARKNESS IV. A STRANGE REQUEST V. DISSECTING A MOTIVE VI. WAITING AT THE STATION VII. A MOTHER'S AFFECTION VIII. THE DOMAIN OF A GREAT MERCHANT IX. THE INTERVIEWERS X. ROMPED WITH THE GIRL XI. ACKNOWLEDGED BY SOCIETY XII. A DEMOCRACY XIII. BUTTING AGAINST A WALL XIV. A DIFFERENT HANDWRITING XV. TOLD HIM HER STORY XVI. AN AROUSER OF THE SLEEPY XVII. AN OLD MAN WOULD INVEST XVIII. THE INVESTMENT XIX. ARRESTED EVERYWHERE XX. CRIED A SENSATION XXI. A HELPLESS OLD WOMAN XXII. TO GO ON A VISIT XXIII. HENRY'S INCONSISTENCY XXIV. WORE A ROSE ON HIS COAT XXV. IMPATIENTLY WAITING XXVI. TOLD IT ALL XXVII. POINTS OUT HER BROTHER'S DUTY XXVIII. THE VERDICT XXIX. A DAY OF REST XXX. A MOTHER'S REQUEST XXXI. A MOMENT OF ARROGANCE XXXII. A MOST PECULIAR FELLOW XXXIII. THE TIME WAS DRAWING NEAR XXXIV. TOLD HIM A STORY XXXV. CONCLUSION
LOOKING BACK AT EARLY LIFE.
When the slow years of youth were gone and the hastening time of manhood had come, the first thing that Henry DeGolyer, looking back, could call from a mysterious darkness into the dawn of memory was that he awoke one night in the cold arms of his dead mother. That was in New Orleans. The boy's father had aspired to put the face of man upon lasting canvas, but appetite invited whisky to mix with his art, and so upon dead walls he painted the trade-mark bull, and in front of museums he exaggerated the distortion of the human freak.
After the death of his mother, the boy was taken to the Foundlings' Home, where he was scolded by women and occasionally knocked down by a vagabond older than himself. Here he remembered to have seen his father but once. It was a Sunday when he came, years after the gentle creature, holding her child in her arms, had died at midnight. The painter laughed and cried and begged an old woman for a drink of brandy. He went away, and after an age had seemed to pass the matron of the place took the boy on her lap and told him that his father was dead, and then, putting him down, she added: "Run along, now, and be good."
The boy was taken by an old Italian woman. In after years he could not determine the length of time that he had lived in her wretched home, but with vivid brightness dwelled in his memory the morning when he ran away and found a free if not an easy life in the newsboys' lodging-house. He sold newspapers, he went to a night school, and as he grew older he picked up "river items" for an afternoon newspaper. His hope was that he might become a "professional journalist," as certain young men termed themselves; and study, which in an ill-lighted room, tuned to drowsiness by the buzzing of youthful mumblers, might have been a chafing task to one who felt not the rowel of a spurring ambition, was to him a pleasure full of thrilling promises. To him the reporter stood at the high-water mark of ambition's "freshet." But when years had passed and he had scrambled to that place he looked down and saw that his height was not a dizzy one. And instead of viewing a conquered province, he saw, falling from above, the shadows of trials yet to be endured. He worked faithfully, and at one time held the place of city editor, but a change in the management of the paper not only reduced him to the ranks, but, as the saying went, set him on the sidewalk. Then he wrote "specials." His work was bright, original and strong, and was reproduced throughout the country, but as it was not signed, the paper alone received the credit. Year after year he lived in this unsettled way—reading in the public library, musing at his own fireside, catching glimpses of an important work which the future seemed to hold, and waiting for the outlines of that work to become more distinct; but the months went by and the plan of the work remained in the shadow of the coming years.
DeGolyer had now reached that time of life when a wise man begins strongly to suspect that the past is but a future stripped of its delusions. He was a man of more than ordinary appearance; indeed, people who knew him, and who believed that size grants the same advantages to all vocations, wondered why he was not more successful. He was tall and strong, and in his bearing there was an ease which, to one who recognizes not a sleeping nerve force, would have suggested the idea of laziness. His complexion was rather dark, his eyes were black, and his hair was a dark brown. He was not handsome, but his sad face was impressive, and his smile, a mere melancholy recognition that something had been said, did not soon fade from memory.
One afternoon DeGolyer called at the office of a morning newspaper, and was told that the managing editor wanted to see him. When he was shown in he found an aspiring politician laughing with forced heartiness at something which the editor had said. To the Southern politician the humor of an influential editor is full of a delirious mellowness.
When the politician went out the editor invited DeGolyer to take a seat. "Mr. DeGolyer, a number of your sketches have been well received."
"Yes, sir; they have made me a few encouraging enemies."
The editor smiled. "And you regard enemies as an encouragement, eh?"
"Yes, as a proof of success. Our friends mark out a course for us, and if we depart from it and do something better than their specifications call for, they become our enemies."
"I don't know but you are right." After a short silence the editor continued: "Mr. DeGolyer, we have been thinking of sending a man down into Costa Rica. Our merchants believe that if we were to pay more attention to that country we might thereby improve our trade. What we want is a number of letters intended to familiarize us with those people—want to show, you understand, that we are interested in them."
They talked during an hour. The nest day DeGolyer was on board a steamer bound for Punta Arenas. On the vessel he met a young man who said that his name was Henry Sawyer; and this young man was so blithe and light-hearted that DeGolyer, yielding to the persuasion of contrast, was drawn toward him. Young Sawyer was accompanied by his uncle, a short, fat, and at times a crusty old fellow. DeGolyer did not think that the uncle was wholly sound of mind. One evening, just before reaching port, and while the two young men were standing on deck, looking landward, young Sawyer said:
"Do you know, I think more of you than of any fellow I ever met?"
"I don't know it," DeGolyer answered, "but I am tempted to hope so."
"Good. I do, and that's a fact. You see, I've led a most peculiar sort of life. I never had any home—that is, any real home. I don't remember a thing about my father and mother. They died when I was very young, and then my uncle took me. Uncle never married and never was particularly attached to any one place. We have traveled a good deal; have lived quite a while in New Orleans, but for the past two years we have lived in a little bit of a place called Ulmata, in central Costa Rica. Uncle's got an interest in some mines not far from there. Say, why wouldn't it be a good idea for you to go to Ulmata and write your letters from there? Ain't any railroad, but there's a mule line running to the coast. How does it strike you?"
"I'd like to, but I'm afraid that it would take my letters too long to reach New Orleans; still, I don't know what difference that would make, as I'm not going to write news. After all," he added, as though he were arguing with himself, "I should think that the interior is more interesting than the coast, for people don't hang their characteristics over the coast line."
"There, you've hit the nail the very first lick. You go out there with us, and I'll bet we have a magnificent time."
"But your uncle might object."
"How can he? It ain't any of his business where you go."
"Of course not."
"Well, then, that settles it. But really, he'd like to have you. You'll like him; little peculiar at times, but you'll find him all right. You'll get a good deal of money for those letters, won't you?"
"No; a hired mail on a newspaper doesn't get much money."
"But it must take a good deal of brains to do your work."
"Presumably, but there stands a long row of brains ready to take the engagement—to take it, in fact, at a cut rate. The market is full of brains."
"How old did you say you were?"
"I am nearly thirty," DeGolyer answered.
"I'm only twenty-five, but that don't make any difference; we'll have a splendid time all the same. You read a good deal, I notice. Uncle's got a whole raft of books, and you can read to me when you get tired of reading to yourself. I've gone to school a good deal, but I'm not much of a hand with a book; but I tell you what I believe—I believe I could run a business to the queen's taste if I had a chance, and I'm going to try it one of these days. Uncle tells me that after awhile I may be worth some money, and if I am I'll get rich as sure as you're born. Business was born in me, but I've never had a chance to do anything, I have traded around a little, and I've made some money, too, but the trouble is that I've never been settled down long enough to do much of anything, I've scarcely any chance at all out at Ulmata. What would you rather be than anything else?"
"I don't know. It doesn't seem that nature has exerted herself in fitting me for anything, and I am a strong believer in natural fitness. We may learn to do a thing in an average sort of way, but excellence requires instinct, and instinct, of course, can't be learned."
"I guess that's so. I can see hundreds of ways to make money. I'd rather be a big merchant than anything else. Old fellow," he suddenly broke off, "I am as happy as can be to have you go out yonder with us; and mark what I tell you—we're going to have a splendid time."
A SLEEPY VILLAGE AND A FUSSY OLD MAN.
In the village of Ulmata there was just enough of life to picture the dreamy indolence of man. Rest was its complexion, and freedom from all marks of care its most pleasing aspect.
Old Sawyer was so demonstrably gratified to have a companion for his nephew that he invited DeGolyer to take a room in his house, and DeGolyer gratefully accepted this kindness. Young Sawyer was delighted when the household had thus been arranged, and with many small confidences and unstudied graces of boyish friendship, he kept his guest in the refreshing atmosphere of welcome. And in the main the uncle was agreeable and courteous, but there were times when he flew out of his orbit of goodfellowship.
Once he came puffing into the room where DeGolyer was writing, and blusteringly flounced upon a sofa. He remained quiet for a few moments, and then he blew so strong a spout of annoyance that DeGolyer turned to him and asked:
"Has anything gone wrong?"
The old fellow's eyes bulged out as if he were straining under a heavy load. "Yes," he puffed, "the devil's gone wrong."
"But isn't that of ancient date?" DeGolyer asked.
"Here, now, young fellow, don't try to saw me!" And then he broke off with this execration: "Oh, this miserable world—this infernal pot where men are boiled!" He rolled his eyes like a choking ox, and after a short silence, asked: "Young fellow, do you know what I'd do if I were of your age?"
"If you were of my temperament as well as of my age I don't think you'd do much of anything."
"Yes, I would; I would confer a degree of high favor on myself. I would cut my throat, sir."
"Pardon me, but is it too late at your time of life?"
"Yes, for my nerve is diseased and I am a coward, an infamous, doddering old coward, sir. Good God! to live for years in darkness, bumping against the sharp corners of conscience. I have never told Henry, but I don't mind telling you that at times I am almost mad. For years I have sought to read myself out of it, but to an unsettled mind a book is a sly poison—the greatest of books are but the records of trouble. Don't you say a word to Henry. He thinks that my mind is as sound as a new acorn, but it isn't."
"I won't—but, by the way, he is young; why don't you advise him to kill himself?"
The old fellow flounced off the sofa and stood bulging his eyes at DeGolyer.
"Don't you ever say such a thing as that again!" he snorted. "Why, confound your hide! would you have that boy dead?"
DeGolyer threw down his pen. "No, I would have him live forever in his thoughtless and beautiful paradise; I would not pull him down to the thoughtful man's hell of self-communion."
"Look here, young man, you must have a history."
"No, simply an ill-written essay."
"Who was your father?"
"Ah, I grant you. And who was your mother?"
"No, sir, she—I beg your pardon," the old man quickly added. "You are sensitive, sir."
DeGolyer, sadly smiling, replied: "He who suffered in childhood, and who in after life has walked hand in hand with disappointment, and is then not sensitive, is a brute."
"How well do I know the truth of that! DeGolyer, I have been acquainted with you but a short time, but you appeal to me strongly, sir. And I could almost tell you something, but it is something that I ought to keep to myself. I could make you despise me and then offer me your regard as a compromise. Oh, that American republic of ours, fought for by men who scorned the romance of kingly courts, is not so commonplace a country after all. Many strange things happen there, and some of them are desperately foul. Is that Henry coming? Hush."
The young man bounded into the room. "Say," he cried, "I've bargained for six of the biggest monkeys you ever saw. That old fellow "—
"Henry," the uncle interrupted, taking up a hat and fanning his purplish face, "you are getting too old for that sort of foolishness. You are a man, you must remember, and it may not be long until you'll be called upon to exercise the judgment of a man."
"Oh, I was going to buy the monkeys and sell them again for three times as much as I gave for them, but you bet that when I'm called on to exercise the judgment, of a man I'll be there. And do you think that I'd fool with mines or anything else in this country? I wouldn't. I'd go to some American city and make money. Say, DeGolyer, when are you going to start off on that jaunt?"
"What jaunt?" the old man asked.
"I am going to make a tour of the country," DeGolyer answered. "I'm going to visit nearly every community of interest and gather material for my letters, and shall be gone a month or so, I should think."
"And I'm going with him," said Henry.
"No," the old man replied, "you are not going to leave me here all that time alone. I'm old, and I want you near me."
"All right, uncle; whatever you say goes."
When DeGolyer mounted a mule and set out on his journey, young Sawyer, as if clinging to his friendship, walked beside him for some distance into the country.
"Well, I'd better turn back here," said the young man, halting. "Say, Hank, don't stay away any longer than you can help. It's devilish lonesome here, you know."
"I won't, my boy."
"All right. And say, if you can't do the thing up as well as you want to, throw up the job and come back here, for I'll turn loose, the first thing you know, and make enough money for both of us."
"God bless you, I hope that you may always make enough for yourself."
"And you bet I will, and for you, too. I hate like the mischief to see you go away. Couldn't think any more of you if we were twin brothers. And you think a good deal of me, too, don't you, Hank?"
"My boy," said DeGolyer, leaning over and placing his hand on the young fellow's shoulder, "I have never speculated with my friendship, and I don't know how valuable it is, but all of it that is worth having is yours. You make friends everywhere; I don't. You have nothing to conceal, and I have nothing to make known. To tell you the truth, you are the only real friend I ever had."
"Look out, now. That sort of talk knocks me; but say, don't be away any longer than you can help."
"I won't!" He rode a short distance, turned in his saddle, waved his hand and cried: "God bless you, my boy."
ALL WAS DARKNESS.
Delays and difficulties of traveling, together with his own determination to do the work thoroughly, prolonged DeGolyer's absence. Nearly three months had passed. Evening was come, and from a distant hill-top the returning traveler saw the steeple of Ulmata's church—a black mark on the fading blush of lingering twilight. A chilly darkness crept out of the valley. Hungry dogs barked in the dreary village. DeGolyer could see but a single light. It burned in the priest's house—a dark age, and as of yore, with all the light held by the church. The weary man liberated his mule on a common, where its former companions were grazing, and sought the house of his friends. The house was dark and the doors were fastened. He knocked, and a startling echo, an audible darkness, came from the valley. He knocked again, and a voice cried from the street:
"Helloa, is that you, my boy?"
There was no answer, but a figure rushed through the darkness, seized DeGolyer, and in a hoarse whisper said:
"Come where there's a light."
"Why, what's the matter, Henry?"
"Come where there's a light."
DeGolyer followed him to a wretched place that bore the name of a public-house, and went with him into a room. A lamp sputtered on a shelf. Young Sawyer caught DeGolyer's hands.
"I have waited so long for you to come back to this dreadful place. I am all alone. Uncle is dead."
DeGolyer sat down without saying a word. He sat in silence, and then he asked:
"When did he die?"
"About two weeks after you left."
"Did he kill himself?"
"Good God, no! Why did you think that?"
"Oh, I didn't really think it—don't know why I said it."
"He was sick only a few days, and the strangest thing has come to light! He seemed to know before he was taken sick that he was going to die, and he spent nearly a whole day in writing—writing something for me—and the strangest thing has come to light. I can hardly realize it. Here it is; read it. Don't say a word till you have read every line of it. Strangest thing I ever heard of."
And this is what DeGolyer read by the light of the sputtering lamp:
"Years ago there lived in Salem, Mass., two brothers, George and Andrew Witherspoon. Their parents had passed away when the boys were quite young, but the youngsters had managed to get a fair start in life. Without ado let me say that I am Andrew Witherspoon. My brother and I were of different temperaments. He had graces of mind, but was essentially a business man. I prided myself that I was born to be a thinker. I worshiped Emerson. I know now that a man who would willingly become a thinker is a fool. When I was twenty-three—and George nearly twenty-one—I fell in love with Caroline Springer. There was just enough of poetry in my nature to throw me into a devotion that was almost wild in its intensity, and after my first meeting with her I knew no peace. The chill of fear and the fever of confidence came alternating day by day, and months passed ere I had the strength of nerve to declare myself; but at last the opportunity and the courage came together. I was accepted. She said that if I had great love her love might be measured by my own, and that if I did not think that I could love her always she would go away and end her days in grief. The wedding day was appointed. But when I went to claim my bride she was gone—gone with my brother George. To-day, an old man, I look back upon that time and see myself raving on the very brink of madness. I had known that George was acquainted with Caroline Springer—indeed, I had proudly introduced him to her. I will tell my story, though, and not discourse. But it is hard for an old man to be straightforward. If he has read much he is discursive, and if he has not read he is tedious with many words. I didn't leave Salem at once. I met George, and he did not even attempt to apologize for the wrong he had done me. He repeated the fool saying that all is fair in love. 'You ought to be glad that you discovered her lack of love in time,' he said. This was consolation, surely. My mind may never have been well-balanced, and I think that at this time it tilted over to one side, never to tilt back. And now my love, trampled in the mire, arose in the form of an evil determination. I would do my brother and his wife an injury that could not be repaired. I did not wish them dead; I wanted them to live and be miserable. A year passed, and a boy was born. I left my native town and went west. I lived there nearly three years, and then I sent to a Kansas newspaper an account of my death. It was printed, and I sent my brother a marked copy of the paper. Two weeks later I was in Salem. I wore a beard, kept myself close, and no one recognized me. I waited for an opportunity. It came, and I stole my brother's boy. I went to Boston, to Europe, back to America; lived here and there, and you know the rest. My dear boy, I repented somewhat, and it was my intention, at some time, to restore you to your parents, but you yourself were their enemy; you crept into my heart and I could not pluck you out. For a time the story of your mysterious disappearance filled the newspapers. You were found in a hundred towns, year after year, and when your sensation had run its course, you became the joke of the paragraphers. It was no longer, 'Who struck Billy Patterson?" but 'Who stole Henry Witherspoon?' Once I saw your father in New Orleans. He had come to identify his boy; but he went away with another consignment added to his large stock of disappointment. Finally all hope was apparently abandoned and even the newspapers ceased to find you.
"Your father and mother now live in Chicago. George Witherspoon is one of the great merchants of that city, and is more than a millionaire. This is why I have so often told you that one day you would be worth money. You were young and could afford to wait; I was old, and to me the present was everything, and you were the present.
"For some time I have been threatened with sudden death; I have felt it at night when you were asleep; and now I have written a confession which for years I irresolutely put aside from day to day. I charge you to bury me as Andrew Witherspoon, for in the grave I hope to be myself, with nothing to hide. Write at once to your father, and after settling up my affairs, which I urge you not to neglect, you can go to him. In the commercial world a high place awaits you, and though I have done you a great wrong, I hope that your recollection of my deep love for you may soften your resentment and attune your young heart to the sweet melody of forgiveness.
DeGolyer folded the paper, returned it to Henry and sat in silence. He looked at the smoking lamp and listened to the barking of the hungry dogs.
"What do you think, Hank?"
"I don't know what to think."
"But ain't it the strangest thing you ever heard of?"
"Yes, it is strange, and yet not so strange to me. It is simply the sequel to a well-known story. In the streets of New Orleans, years ago, when I could scarcely carry a bundle of newspapers, I cried your name. The story was getting old then, for I remember that the people paid but little attention to it."
They sat for a time in silence. Young Witherspoon spoke, but DeGolyer did not answer him. They heard a guitar and a Spanish love song.
"Yes, it is strange," said DeGolyer, coming hack from a wandering reverie. "It is strange that I should be here with you;" and under a quickening of his newspaper instincts, he added, "and I shall have the writing of it."
"But wait awhile before you let your mind ran on on that, Hank. I don't want to be described and talked about so much. I know it can't be kept out of the papers, but we'll discuss that after a while. Now, let me tell you what I've done. I wrote to—to—father—don't that sound strange? I wrote to him and sent him a copy of uncle's paper—I would have sent the original, but I wanted to show that to you. I also sent a note that mother—there it is again—wrote to uncle a long time ago, and a lock of hair and some other little tricks. I told him to write to me, and here's his letter. It came nearly four weeks ago. And think, Hank, I've got a sister—grown and handsome, too, I'll bet."
Ecstasy had almost made the letter incoherent. It was written first by one and then another hand, with frequent interchanges; and DeGolyer; who fancied that he could pick character oat of the marks of a pen, thought that a mother's heart had overflowed and that a hard, commercial hand had cramped itself to a strange employment—the expression of affection. The father deplored the fact that his son could not be reached by telegraph, and still more did he lament his inability, on account of urgent business demands, to come himself instead of sending a letter. "Admit of no delay, but set out for home at once," the father commanded. "Telegraph as soon as you can, and your mother and I will meet you in New Orleans. I hope that this may not be exploited in the newspapers. God knows that in our time we have had enough of newspaper notoriety. Say nothing to any one, but come at once, and we can give for publication such a statement as we think necessary. Of course your discovery, as a sequel to your abduction years ago and the tremendous interest aroused at the time, will be of national importance, but I prefer that the news be sent out from this place."
Here the handwriting was changed, and "love," "thank God," "darling child," and emotion blots filled out the remainder of the page.
"You see," said Witherspoon, "that I have a reason for depriving you of an early whack at this thing. Now, I have written again and told them not to be impatient, and that I would leave here as soon as possible. I have settled up everything here, but I've got to go to a little place away over on the coast and close out some mining interests there."
"It must be of but trifling importance, my boy, and I should think that you'd let it go."
"No, sir; I'm going to do my duty by that dear old man if I never do anything else while I live."
He held not a mote of resentment. Indeed was his young heart "attuned to the sweet melody of forgiveness."
"By the way, Hank, here's a letter for you."
The communication was brief. It was from New Orleans and ran thus: "The five letters which we have published have awakened no interest whatever, and I am therefore instructed to discontinue the service. Inclosed please find check for the amount due you."
"What is it, Hank?"
"Oh, nothing except what I might have expected. Read it."
Witherspoon read the letter, and crumpling it, broke out in his impulsive way: "That's all right, old fellow. It fits right into my plan, and now let me tell you what that is. We'll leave here to-morrow and go over to Dura and settle up there. I don't know how long it will take, and I won't try to telegraph until we get through. Dura isn't known as a harbor, it is such a miserably small place, but ships land there once in awhile, and we can sail from there. But the main part of my plan is that you are to go with me and live in Chicago; and I'll bet we have a magnificent time. I'll go in the store, and I'll warrant that father—don't that sound strange?—that father can get you a good place on one of the newspapers. You haven't had a chance. Hank, and when you do get one, I'll bet you can lay out the best of them. What do you say?"
"Henry," said the dark-visaged DeGolyer—and the light of affection beamed in his eyes—"Henry, you are a positive charm; and if I should meet a girl adorned with a disposition like yours, I would unstring my heart, hand it to her and say, 'Here, miss, this belongs to you.'"
"Oh, you may find one. I've got a sister, you know. What! are you trying to look embarrassed? Do you know what I'm going to say? I'm going to lead you up to my sister and say, 'Here, I have caught you a prince; take him.'"
"Nonsense, my boy."
"That's all right; but, seriously, will you go with me?"
"Good. We'll get ready to-night and start early in the morning. But I mustn't forget to see the priest again. He was a friend when I needed one; he took charge of uncle's burial. But," he suddenly broke off with rising spirits, "won't we have a time? Millionaire, eh? I'll learn that business and make it worth ten millions."
A STRANGE REQUEST.
The next morning, before it was well light, and at a time when brisk youth and slow age were seeking the place of confession, Henry Witherspoon went to the priest, not to acknowledge a sin, but to avow a deep gratitude. The journey was begun early; it was in July. The morning was braced with a cool breeze, the day was cloudless, and night's lingering gleam of silver melted in the gold of morn. Young Witherspoon's impressive nature was up with joy or down with sadness. The prospect of his new life was a happiness, and the necessity to leave his old uncle in a foreign country was a sore regret; so happiness and regret strove against each other, but happiness, advantaged with a buoyant heart as a contest-ground, soon ended the struggle.
On a brown hill-top they met the sunrise, and from a drowsy roosting-place they flushed a flock of greenish birds. Witherspoon stood in his stirrups and waved his hat. "Good-by," he cried, "but you needn't have got up so soon. We didn't want you. Hank," he said, turning sideways in his saddle, "I think we can get there in about five days, at the pace we'll be compelled to go; and we can sell these mules or give them away, just as we like. Going home! I can't get the strangeness of it out of my head. And a sister, too, mind you. I'm beginning to feel like a man now. You see, uncle wanted me to be a boy as long as I could, and it was only of late that he began to tell me that I must put aside foolishness; but I am beginning to feel like a man now."
"You will need to feel like one when you take up your new responsibilities. You are playing now, but it may be serious enough after a while."
"What! Don't preach, Hank. Responsibilities! Why, I'll throw them over my shoulder like a twine string. But let me tell you something. There's one thing I'm not going to allow—they shan't say a word against that old man. Oh, I know the trouble and grief he brought about, but by gracious, he had a cause. If—if—mother didn't love him, why did she say that if he didn't love her she would go away somewhere and grieve herself to death? That was no way to treat a fellow, especially a fellow that loves you like the mischief. And besides, why did father cut him out? Pretty mean thing for a man to slip around and steal his brother's sweetheart. In this country it would mean blood."
"You are a jewel, my boy."
"No, I'm simply just. Of course, two wrongs don't make a right, as the saying has it, but a wrong with a cause is half-way right, and I'll tell them at the very start that they better not talk about the matter. In fact, I told them so in the letter. You've had a pretty hard time of it, haven't you, Hank?"
"I shouldn't want an enemy's dog to have a harder one," DeGolyer answered.
"But you've got a good education."
"So has the hog that picks up cards and tells the time of day," said DeGolyer, "but what good does that do him? He has to work harder than other hogs, and is kept hungry so that he may perform with more sprightliness. But if I have a good education, my boy, I stole it, and I shouldn't be surprised at any time to meet an officer with a warrant of arrest sworn out against me by society."
"Good; but you didn't steal trash at any rate. But, Hank, you look for the dark when the light would serve you better. Don't do it. Throw off your trouble."
"Oh, I'm not disposed to look so much for the dark as you may imagine. Throw it off! That's good advice. It is true that we may sometimes throw off a trouble, but we can't very well throw off a cause. Some natures are like a piece of fly-paper—a sorrow alights and sticks there. But that isn't my nature. It doesn't take much to make me contented."
The weather remained pleasant, and the travelers were within a day's ride of Dura, when Witherspoon complained one morning of feeling ill, and by noon be could scarcely sit in his saddle.
"Let us stop somewhere," DeGolyer urged.
"No," Witherspoon answered, "let us get to Dura as soon as we can. I've got a fever, haven't I?"
DeGolyer leaned over and placed his hand on Witherspoon's forehead. "Yes, you have."
"The truth is, I haven't felt altogether right since the first day after we started, but I thought it would wear off."
When they reached Dura, Witherspoon was delirious. Not a ship was in port, and DeGolyer took him to an inn and summoned such medical aid as the hamlet afforded. The physician naturally gave the case a threatening color, and it followed that he was right, for at the close of the fourth day the patient gave no promise of improvement. The innkeeper said that sometimes a month passed between the landing of ships at that point. The fifth day came. DeGolyer sat by the bedside of his friend, fanning him. The doctor had called and had just taken his leave.
"Give me some water, Hank."
"Ah, you are coming around all right, my boy," DeGolyer cried. He brought the water; and when the patient drank and shook his head as a signal to take away the cup, DeGolyer asked; "Don't you feel a good deal better?"
"But your mind is clear?"
"Shall I put another cold cloth on your head?"
"If you please."
And when DeGolyer had gently done this, Witherspoon said: "Sit down here, Hank."
"All right, my boy, here I am."
"Hank, I'm not going to get well."
"Oh, yes, you are, and don't you let any such nonsense enter your head."
"It's a good ways from nonsense, I tell you. I know what I'm talking about; I know just as well as can be that I'm going to die—now you wait till I get through. It can't be helped, and there's no use in taking on over it. I did want to see my father and mother and sister, but it can't be helped."
DeGolyer was on his knees beside the bed. He attempted to speak, but his utterance was choked; and the tears in his eyes blurred to spectral dimness the only human being whom he held warm in his heart.
"Hank, while I am able to talk I've got a great favor to ask of you. And you'll grant it, won't you?"
"Yes," DeGolyer Bobbed.
For a few moments the sick man lay in silence. He fumbled about and found DeGolyer's hand. "My father and mother are waiting for me," he said. "They have been raised into a new life. If I never come it will be worse than if I had never been found, for they'll have a new grief to bear, and it may be heavier than the first. They must have a son, Hank."
"My dear boy, what do you mean?"
"I mean that if I die—and I know that I am going to die—you must be their son. You must go there, not as Henry DeGolyer, but as Henry Witherspoon, their own son."
"Merciful God! I can't do that."
"But if you care for me you will. Take all my papers—take everything I've got—and go home. It will be the greatest favor you could do me and the greatest you could do them."
"But, my dear boy, I should be a liar and a hypocrite."
"No, you would be playing my part because I couldn't play it. Once you said that you would give me your life if I wanted it, and now I want it. You can make them happy, and they'll be so proud of you. Won't you try it? I would do anything on earth for you, and now you deny me this—and who knows but my spirit might enter into you and form a part of your own? How can you refuse me when you know that I think more of you than I do of anybody? This is no boy's prank—I'm a man now. Will you?"
"Henry," said DeGolyer, "this is merely a feverish notion that has come out of your derangement. Put it by, and after a while we will laugh at it. Is the cloth hot again?"
"I'll change it." And DeGolyer, removing the cloth and placing his hand on his friend's forehead, added: "Your fever isn't so high as it was yesterday. You are coming out all right."
"No, I tell you that I'm going to die; and you won't do me the only favor I could ask. Don't you remember saying, not long ago, that a man's life is a pretense almost from the beginning to the end?"
"I don't remember saying it, but it agrees with what I have often been compelled to think."
"Well, then, if you think that life is a pretense, why not pretend by request?"
"Well talk about it some other time, my boy."
"But there may not be any other time."
"Oh, yes, there will be. Don't you think you can sleep now?"
"No, I don't think I can sleep and wake up again."
But he did sleep, and he did awake again. Three more days passed wearily away, and the patient was delirious most of the time. DeGolyer's acquaintance with Spanish was but small, and he could comprehend but little of what a pedantic doctor might say, yet he learned that there was not much encouragement to be drawn from the fact that the sick man's mind sometimes returned from its troubled wandering.
DeGolyer was again alone with his friend. It was a hot though a blustery afternoon, and the sea, in sight through the open door, sounded the deeper notes of its endless opera.
"I'm here, my boy."
"Have you thought about what I told you to do?"
"Are you still clinging to that notion?"
"No; it is clinging to me. Have you thought about it?"
"And what did you think?"
"I thought that for you I would take the risk of playing a part that you are unable to perform. But really, Henry, I'm too old."
"You have promised, and my mind is at ease," the sick man said, with a smile. "Now I feel that I have given my life over to you and that I shall not really be dead so long as you are alive. Among my things you will find some letters written by my mother to my uncle, and a small gold chain and a locket that I wore when I was sto—when uncle took me. That's all."
"I will do the best I can, but I'm too old."
"You are only a few years older than I am. They'll never know. They'll be blind. You'll have the proof. Go at once. You are Henry Witherspoon. That's all."
The blustery afternoon settled into a calm as the sun went down, and a change came with the night. The sufferer's mind flitted back for a moment, and in that speck of time he spoke not, but he gave his friend a look of gratitude. All was over. During the night DeGolyer sat alone by the bedside. And a ship came at morning.
A kind-hearted priest offered his services. "The ship has merely dodged in here," said he, "and won't stay long, and it may be a month before another one comes." And then he added: "You may leave these melancholy rites to me."
A man stepped into the doorway and cried in Spanish: "The ship is ready."
DeGolyer turned to the priest, and placing a purse on the table, said: "I thank you." Then he stepped lightly to the bedside and gazed with reverence and affection upon the face of the dead boy. He spoke the name of Christ, and the priest heard him say: "Take his spirit to Thy love and Thy mercy, for no soul more forgiving has ever entered Thy Father's kingdom." He took up his traveling-bag and turned toward the door. "One moment," said the priest, and pointing to the couch, he asked: "What name?"
DISSECTING A MOTIVE.
Onward went the ship, nodding to the beck and call of mighty ocean. DeGolyer—or, rather, Henry Witherspoon, as now he knew himself—walked up and down the deck. And it seemed that at every turn his searching grief had found a new abiding-place for sorrow. His first strong attachment was broken, and he felt that in the years to come, no matter what fortune they might bring him, there could not grow a friendship large enough to fill the place made vacant by his present loss. An absorbing love might come, but love is by turns a sweet and anxious selfishness, while friendship is a broad-spread generosity. Suddenly he was struck by the serious meaning of his obligation, and with stern vivisection he laid bare the very nerves of his motive. At first he could find nothing save the discharge of a sacred duty; but what if this trust had entailed a life of toil and sacrifice? Would he have accepted it? In his agreement to this odd compact was there not an atom of self-interest? Over and over again he asked himself these questions, and he strove to answer them to the honor of his incentive, but he felt that in this strife there lay a prejudice, a hope that self might be cleared of all dishonor. But was there ever a man who, in the very finest detail, lived a life of perfect truth and freedom from all selfishness? If so, why should Providence have put him in a grasping world? Give conscience time and it will find an easy bed, and yet the softest bed may have grown hard ere morning comes.
"Who am I that I should carp with myself?" the traveler mused. "Have the world and its litter of pups done anything for me?" He walked up and down the deck. "God knows that I shall always love the memory of that dear boy. But if all things are foreseen and are still for the best, why should he have died? Was it to throw upon me this great opportunity? But who am I? And why should a special opportunity be wrought for me? But who is anybody?"
Going whither? Home. A father—and he thought of a drunken painter. A mother—and his mind flew back to a midnight when arms that had carried him warm with life were cold in death. A millionaire's son—that thought startled him. What were the peculiar duties of a millionaire's son? No matter. They might impose a strain, but they could never be so trying as constant poverty. But who had afflicted him with poverty? First his birth and then his temperament. But who gave him the temperament? He wheeled about and walked away as if he would be rid of an impertinent questioner.
When the ship reached New Orleans he went straightway to the telegraph office and sent this message to George Witherspoon: "Will leave for Chicago to-day."
And now his step was beyond recall; he must go forward. But conscience had no needles, and his mind was at rest. In expectancy there was a keen fascination. He met a reporter whom he knew, but there was no sign of recognition. A beard, thick, black and neatly trimmed, gave Henry's face an unfamiliar mold. But he felt a momentary fear, he realized that a possible danger thenceforth would lie in wait for him, and then came the easing assurance that his early life, his father and his mother, were remembered by no one of importance, and that even if he were recognized as Henry DeGolyer, he could still declare himself the stolen son of George Witherspoon. Indeed, with safety he could thus announce himself to the managing editor who had sent him to Costa Rica, and he thought of doing this, but no, his—his father wanted the secret kept until the time was ripe for its divulgence. He went into a restaurant, and for the first time in his life he felt himself free to order regardless of the prices on the bill of fare. Often, when a hungry boy, he had sold newspapers in that house, and enviously he had watched the man who seemed to care not for expenses. As he sat there waiting for his meal, a newsboy came in, and after selling him a paper, stood near the table.
"Sit down, little fellow, and have something to eat."
This was sarcasm, and the boy leered at him.
"Sit down, won't you?"
"What are you givin' me?"
"This," said Henry, and he handed him a dollar.
WAITING AT THE STATION.
Men bustling their way to the lunch counter; old women fidgeting in the fear that they had forgotten something; man in blue crying the destination of outgoing trains; weary mothers striving to soothe their fretful children; the tumult raised by cabmen that were crowding against the border-line of privilege; bells, shrieks, new harshnesses here and there; confusion everywhere—a railway station in Chicago.
"The train ought to be here now," said George Witherspoon, looking at his watch.
"Do you know exactly what train he is coming on?" his wife asked.
"Yes; he telegraphed again from Memphis."
"You didn't tell me you'd got another telegram."
"My dear, I thought I did. The truth is that I've been so rushed and stirred up for the last day or so that I've hardly known what I was about."
"And I can scarcely realize now what I'm waiting for," said a young woman. "Mother, you look as if you haven't slept any for a week."
"And I don't feel as if I have."
George Witherspoon, holder of the decisive note in the affairs of that great department store known as "The Colossus," may not by design have carried an air that would indicate the man to whom small tradesman regarded it as a mark of good breeding to cringe, but even in a place where his name was not known his appearance would strongly have appealed to commercial confidence. That instinct which in earlier life had prompted fearless speculation, now crystalized into conscious force, gave unconscious authority to his countenance. He was tall and with so apparent a strength in his shoulders as to suggest the thought that with them he had shoved his way to success. He was erect and walked with a firm step; he wore a heavy grayish mustache that turned under; his chin had a forceful squareness; he was thin-haired, nearing baldness. In his manner was a sort of firm affability, and his voice was of that tone which success nearly always assumes, kindly, but with a suggestion of impatience. His eyes were restless, as though accustomed to keep watch over many things. When spoken to it was his habit to turn quickly, and if occasion so warranted, to listen with that pleasing though frosty smile which to the initiated means, "I shall be terribly bored by any request that you may make, and shall therefore be compelled to refuse it." He was sometimes liberal, though rarely generous. If he showed that a large disaster touched his heart, he could not conceal the fact that a lesser mishap simply fell upon his irritated nerves; and therefore he might contribute to a stricken city while refusing to listen to the distress of a family.
Mrs. Witherspoon was a dark-eyed little woman. In her earlier life she must have been handsome, for in the expression of her face there was a reminiscence of beauty. Her dimples had turned traitor to youth and gossiped of coming age. Women are the first to show the contempt with which wealth regards poverty, the first to turn with resentment upon former friends who have been left in the race for riches, the first to feel the overbearing spirit that money stirs; but this woman had not lost her gentleness.
The girl was about nineteen years of age. She was a picture of style, delsarted to ease of motion. She was good-looking and had the whims and the facial tricks that are put to rhyme and raved over in a sweetheart, but which are afterward deplored in a wife.
"I feel that I shan't know how to act."
Witherspoon looked at his daughter and said, "Ellen."
"But, papa, I just know I shan't. How should I know? I never met a brother before; never even thought of such a thing."
"Don't be foolish. We are not the only people that have been placed in such a position. No matter how you may be situated, remember that you are not a pioneer; no human strain is new."
"But it's the only time I was ever placed in such a position."
"Nonsense. In this life we must learn to expect anything." Mrs. Witherspoon was silently weeping. "Caroline, don't, please. Remember that we are not alone. A trial of joy, my dear, is the easiest trial to bear."
"Not always," she replied.
A counter commotion in the general tumult—the train.
A crowd waited outside the iron gate. A tall young man came through with the hastening throng. He caught Witherspoon's wandering eye. Strangers looking for each other are guided by a peculiar instinct, but Witherspoon stood questioning that instinct. The mother could see nothing with distinctness. The young man held up a gold chain.
It was soon over. People who were hastening toward a train turned to look upon a flurry of emotion—a mother faint with joy; a strong man stammering words of welcome; a girl seemingly thrilled with a new prerogative; a stranger in a nest of affection.
"Come, let us get into the carriage," said Witherspoon. "Come, Caroline, you have behaved nobly, and don't spoil it all now."
She gave her husband a quick though a meek glance and took Henry's arm. When the others had seated themselves in the carriage, Witherspoon stood for a moment on the curb-stone.
"Drive to the Colossus," he commanded. Mrs. Witherspoon put out her hand with a pleading gesture. "You are not going there before you go home, are you, dear?" she asked.
"I am compelled to go there, but I'll stay only a moment or two," he answered. "I'll simply hop out for a minute and leave the rest of you in the carriage. There's something on hand that needs my attention at once. Drive to the Colossus," he said as he stepped into the carriage. A moment later he remarked: "Henry, you are different from what I expected. I thought you were light."
"He is just like my mother's people," Mrs. Witherspoon spoke up. "All the Craigs were dark."
They drove on in a silence not wholly free from embarrassment. Through the carriage windows Henry caught glimpses of a world of hurry. The streets, dark and dangerous with traffic, stretched far away and ended in a cloud of smoke. "It will take time to realize all this," the young men mused, and meeting the upturned eyes of Mrs. Witherspoon, who had clasped her hands over his shoulder, he said:
"Mother, I hope you are not disappointed in me."
"You are just like the Craigs," she insisted. "They were dark. And Uncle Louis was so dark that he might have been taken for an Italian, and Uncle Harvey"—She hesitated and glanced at her husband.
"What were you going to say about your Uncle Harvey?" Henry asked.
"Nothing, only he was dark just like all the Craigs."
There is a grunt which man borrowed from the goat, or which, indeed, the goat may have borrowed from man. And this grunt, more than could possibly be conveyed by syllabic utterance, expresses impatience. Witherspoon gave this goat-like grunt, and Henry knew that he had heard of the Craigs until he was sick of their dark complexion. He knew, also, that the great merchant had not a defensive sense of humor, for humor, in the exercise of its kindly though effective functions, would long ago have put these Craigs to an unoffending death.
"I don't see why you turn aside to talk of complexion when the whole situation is so odd," said Ellen, speaking to her father. "I am not able to bring myself down to a realization of it yet, although I have been trying to ever since we got that letter from that good-for-nothing country, away off yonder. You must know that it strikes me differently from what it does any one else. It is all romance with me—pure romance."
Witherspoon said nothing, but his wife replied: "It isn't romance with me; it is an answer to a prayer that my heart has been beating year after year."
"But don't cry, mother," said Ellen. "Your prayer has been answered."
"Yes, I know that, but look at the long, long years of separation, and now he comes back to me a stranger."
"But we shall soon be well acquainted," Henry replied, "and after a while you may forget the long years of separation."
"I hope so, my son, or at least I hope to be able to remember them without sorrow. But didn't you, at times, fancy that you remembered me? Couldn't you recall my voice?" Her lips trembled.
"No," he answered, slowly shaking his head. This was the cause for more tears. She had passed completely out of his life. Ah, the tender, the hallowed egotism of a mother's love!
The carriage drew up to the sidewalk, and the driver threw open the door. "I'll be back in just a minute," said Witherspoon, as he got out; and when he was gone his wife began to apologize for him. "He's always so busy. I used to think that the time might come when he could have more leisure, but it hasn't."
"What an immense place!" said Henry, looking out.
"One of the very largest in the world," Ellen replied. "And the loveliest silks and laces you ever saw." A few moments later she said: "Here comes father."
"Drive out Michigan," Witherspoon commanded. They were whirled away and had not gone far when the merchant, directing Henry's attention, said:
"The Auditorium. Is it possible you never heard of it?"
"Oh, yes, I remember now. It was formally opened by the President."
He did remember it; he remembered having edited telegraph for a newspaper on the night when Patti's voice was first heard in this great home of music.
"Biggest theater in the world," said Witherspoon.
"Bigger than La Scala of Milan?" Henry asked.
"Beats anything in the world, and I remember when the ground could have been bought for—see that lot over there?" he broke off, pointing. "I bought that once for eighty dollars a foot and sold it for a hundred."
"Pretty good sale! wasn't it?" Henry innocently asked.
"Good sale! What do you suppose it's worth now!"
"I have no idea."
"Three thousand a foot if it's worth a penny. There never was anything like it since the world began. I'm not what you might call an old-timer, but I've seen some wonderful changes here. Now, this land right here—fifteen hundred a foot; could have bought it not so very long ago for fifty. I tell you the world never saw anything like it. Why, just think of it; there are men now living who could have bought the best corner in this city for a mere song. There's no other town like this. Look at the buildings. When a man has lived here a while he can't live in any other town—any other town is too slow for him—and yet I heard an old man say that he could have got all the land he wanted here for a yoke of oxen."
"But he hadn't the oxen, eh?"
"Of coarse he had," Witherspoon replied, "but who wanted to exchange useful oxen for a useless mud-hole? Beats anything in this world."
Henry looked at him in astonishment. His tongue, which at first had seemed to be so tight with silence, was now so loose with talk. He had dropped no hint of his own importance; he had made not the slightest allusion to the energy and ability that had been required to build his mammoth institution. His impressive dignity was set aside; he was blowing his town's horn.
The carriage turned into Prairie Avenue. "Look at all this," Witherspoon continued, waving his hand. "I remember when it didn't deserve the name of a street. Look at that row of houses. Built by a man that used to drive a team. There's a beauty going up. Did you ever see anything like it?"
"I can well say that I never have," Henry answered.
"I should think not," said Witherspoon, and pointing to the magnificent home of some obscure man, he added: "I remember when an old shed stood there. Just look at that carving in front."
"Who lives there?" Henry asked.
"Did hear, but have forgotten. Yonder's one of green stone. I don't like that so well. Here we have a sort of old stone. That house looks as though it might be a hundred years old, but it was put up last year. Well, here's our house."
The carriage drew up under the porte-cocher of a mansion built of cobble-stones. It was as strong as a battlement, but its outlines curved in obedience to gracefulness and yielded to the demand of striking effect. Viewed from one point it might have been taken for a castle; from another, it suggested itself as a spireless church. Strangers halted to gaze at it; street laborers looked at it in admiration. It was showy in a neighborhood of mansions.
Mrs. Witherspoon led Henry to the threshold and tremulously kissed him. And it was with this degree of welcome that the wanderer was shown into his home.
A MOTHER'S AFFECTION.
In one bedazzled moment we review a whole night of darkness. A luxury brings with it the memory of a privation. The first glimpse of those drawing-rooms, gleaming with white and warm with gold, were seen against a black cloud, and that cloud was the past. The wanderer was startled; there was nothing now to turn aside the full shock of his responsibilities. He felt the enormity of his pretense, and he began again to pick at his motive. Mrs. Witherspoon perceived a change in him and anxiously asked if he were ill. No, but now that his long journey was ended he felt worn by it. The father saw him with a fresh criticism and said that he looked older than his years bespoke him; but the mother, quick in every defense, insisted that he had gone through enough to make any one look old; and besides, the Craigs, being a thoughtful people, always looked older than they really were. In the years that followed, this first day "at home" was reviewed in all its memories—the library with its busts of old thinkers and its bright array of new books; the sober breakfast-room in which luncheon was served; the orderly servants; the plants; the gold fishes; the heavy hangings; a tiger skin with a life-expressive head; the portraits of American statesmen; the rich painting of a cow that flashed back the tradition of a trade-mark bull on a dead wall.
Evening came with melody in the music-room; midnight, and Henry sat alone in his room. He was heavy with sadness. The feeling that henceforth his success must depend upon the skill of his hypocrisy, and that he must at last die a liar, lay upon him with cold oppression. Kindness was a reproach and love was a censure. Some one tapped at the door.
Mrs. Witherspoon entered. "I just wanted to see if you were comfortable," she said, seating herself in a rocking-chair.
"So much so that I am tempted to rebel against it," he answered.
She smiled sadly. "There are so many things that I wanted to say to you, dear, but I haven't had a chance, somehow."
Her eyes were tear-stricken and her voice trembled. "It isn't possible that you could know what a mother's love is, my son."
"I didn't know, but you have taught me."
"No, not yet; but I will—if you'll let me."
"If I'll let you?" He looked at her in surprise.
"Yes, if you will bear with me. Sit here," she said, tapping the broad arm of the chair. He obeyed, and she took his arms and put them about her neck. "There hasn't been much love in my life, precious. Perhaps I am not showy enough, not strong enough for the place I occupy."
"But you are good enough to hold the place of an angel."
She attempted to speak, but failed. Something fell on her hand, and she looked up. The man was weeping. They sat there in silence.
"In your early life," she said, pressing his arms closer about her neck, "my love sought to protect you, but now it must turn to you for support. Your uncle—but you told me not to speak of him." She paused a moment, and then continued: "Your uncle did me a deep wrong, but I had wronged him. Oh, I don't know why I did. And he had kept my letters all these years." Another silence. She was the first to speak. "Ellen loves me, but a daughter's love is more of a help than a support."
"Oh, he is good and kind," she quickly answered, "but somehow I haven't kept up with him. He is so strong, and I fear that my nature is too simple; I haven't force enough to help him when he's worried. He hasn't said so, but I know it! And of course you don't understand me yet; but won't you bear with me?"
In her voice there was a sad pleading for love, and this man, though playing a part, dropped the promptings of his role, and with the memory of his own mother strong within him, pressed this frail woman to his bosom and with tender reverence kissed her.
"Oh," she sobbed, "I thank God for bringing you back to me. Good night."
He closed the door when she was gone, and stood as though he knew not whither to turn. He looked at the onyx clock ticking on the mantelpiece. He listened to the rumble of a carriage in the street. He put out his hands, and going slowly into his sleeping-room, sank upon his knees at the bedside.
THE DOMAIN OF A GREAT MERCHANT.
To one who has gazed for many hours upon whirling scenes, and who at his journey's end has gone to sleep in an unfamiliar place, the question of self-identity presents itself at morning and of the dozing faculties demands an answer. Henry lay in bed, catching at flitting consciousness, but missing it. He tried to recall his own name, but could not. One moment he felt that he was on board a ship, rising and sinking with the mood of the sea; then he was on a railway train, catching sight of a fence that streaked its way across a field. He saw a boy struggling with a horse that was frightened at the train; he saw a girl wave her beflowered hat—a rushing woods, a whirling open space, a sleepy station. Once he fancied that he was a child lying in bed, not at midnight, but at happy, bird-chattered morning, when the sun was bright; but then he heard a roar and he saw a street stretch out into a darkening distance, and he knew that he was in a great city. Consciousness loitered within reach, and he seized it. He was called to breakfast.
How bright the morning. Through the high and church-like windows softened sunbeams fell upon the stairway. He heard Ellen singing in the music-room; he met the rich fragrance of coffee. Mrs. Witherspoon, with a smile of quiet happiness, stood at the foot of the stairs. Ellen came out with a lithe skip and threw a kiss at him. Witherspoon sat in the breakfast-room reading a morning newspaper.
"Well, my son, how do you find yourself this morning?" the merchant asked, throwing aside the newspaper and stretching himself back in his chair.
"First-rate; but I had quite a time placing myself before I was fully awake."
"I guess that's true of nearly everybody who comes to Chicago. It makes no difference how wide-awake a man thinks he is, he will find when he comes to this city that he has been nodding."
Breakfast was announced. Ellen took Henry's hand and said: "Come, this is your place here by me. Mother told me to sit near you; she wants me to check any threatened outbreak of your foreign peculiarities."
"Ellen, what do you mean? I didn't say anything of the sort, Henry. It could make no difference where my mother's people were brought up. The Craigs always knew how to conduct themselves."
"Oh, yes," Witherspoon spoke up, "the Craigs were undoubtedly all right, but we are dealing with live issues now. Henry, we'll go down to the store this morning"—
"So soon?" his wife interrupted.
"So soon?" the merchant repeated. "What do you mean by so soon? Won't it be time to go?"
"Oh, yes, I suppose so."
"And where do I come in?" asked the girl.
"You can go if you insist," said Witherspoon, "but there are matters that he and I must arrange at once. We've got to fix up some sort of statement for the newspapers; can't keep this thing a secret, you know, and a tailor must be consulted. Your clothes are all right, my son," he quickly added, "but—well, you understand."
Henry understood, but he had thought when he left New Orleans that he was well dressed. And now for a moment he felt ragged.
"When shall we have the reception?" Ellen asked.
"The reception," Henry repeated, looking up in alarm.
"Why, listen to him," the girl cried. "Don't you know that we must give a reception? Why, we couldn't get along without it; society would cut us dead. Think how nice it will be—invitations with 'To meet Mr. Henry Witherspoon' on them."
"Must I go through that?" Henry asked, appealing to Mrs. Witherspoon.
"Of course you must, but not until the proper time."
"Why, it will be just splendid," the girl declared. "You ought to have seen me the night society smiled and said, 'Well, we will now permit you to be one of us.' Oh, the idea of not showing you off, now that we've caught you, is ridiculous. You needn't appeal to mother. You couldn't keep her from parading you up and down in the presence of her friends."
He was looking at Mrs. Witherspoon. She smiled with more of humor than he had seen her face express, and thus delivered her opinion: "If we had no reception, people would think that we were ashamed of our son."
"All right, mother; if you want your friends to meet the wild man of Borneo who has just come to town, I have nothing more to say. Your word shall be a law with me; but I must tell you that whenever you make arrangements into which I enter, you must remember that society and I have had scarcely a hat-tipping acquaintance. I may know many things that society never even dreamed of, but some of society's simplest phases are dangerous mysteries to me."
"Nonsense," said Witherspoon. "Society may rule a poor man, but a rich man rules society. Common sense always commands respect, for nearly every rule that governs the conduct of man is founded upon it. Don't you worry about the reception or anything else. You are a man of the world, and to such a man society is a mere plaything."
"Well," replied Ellen, wrinkling her handsome brow with a frown, "I must say that you preach an odd sort of sermon. Society is supposed to hold the culture and the breeding of a community, sir."
"Yes, supposed to," Witherspoon agreed.
"Oh, well, if you question it I won't argue with you." And giving Henry a meaning look, she continued: "Of course business is first. Art drops on its worn knees and prays to business, and literature begs it for a mere nod. Everything is the servant of business."
"Everything in Chicago is," the merchant replied.
"Art is the old age of trade," said Henry. "A vigorous nation buys and sells and fights; but a nation that is threatened with decay paints and begs."
"Good!" Witherspoon exclaimed. "I think you've hit it squarely. Since we went to Europe, Ellen has had an idea that trade is rather low in the scale of human interest."
"Now, father, I haven't any such idea, and you know it, too. But I do think that people who spend their lives in getting money can't be as refined as those who have a higher aim."
Witherspoon grunted. "What do you call a higher aim? Hanging about a picture gallery and simpering over a lot of long-haired fellows in outlandish dress, ha? Is it refinement to worship a picture simply because you are not able to buy it? Some people rave over art, and we buy it and hang it up at home."
She laughed, and slipping off her chair, ran round to her father and put her arms about his neck. "I can always stir you up, can't I?"
"You can when you talk that way," he answered.
"But you know I don't mean that you aren't refined. Who could be more gentle than you are? But you must let me enjoy an occasional mischief. My mother's people, the Craigs, were all full of mischief, and"
"Ellen," said her mother.
Witherspoon laughed, and reaching back, pretended to pull the girl's ears. "Am I going down town with you?" she asked.
"No, not this morning. I'm going to drive Henry down in the light buggy. My boy, I've got as fine a span of bay horses as you ever saw. Cost me five thousand apiece. That's art for you; eh, Ellen?"
"They are beautiful," she admitted.
"Yes, and strung up with pride. Get ready, Henry, and we'll go."
When Witherspoon gathered up the lines and with the whip touched one of the horses, both jumped as though startled by the same impulse.
"There's grace for you," said Witherspoon. "Look how they plant their fore feet."
Henry did not answer. He was looking back at a palace, his home; and he, too, was touched with a whip—the thrilling whip of pride. It lasted but a moment. His memory threw up a home for the friendless, and upon a background of hunger, squalor and wretchedness his fancy flashed the picture of an Italian hag, crooning and toothless.
"We'll turn into Michigan here," said the merchant. "Isn't this a great thoroughfare? Yonder is where we lived before we built our new house. Just think what this will be when these elms are old." They sped along the smooth drive. "Ho, boys! Business is creeping out this way, and that is the reason I got over on Prairie. See, that man has turned his residence into a sort of store. A little farther along you will see fashionable humbuggery of all sorts. These are women fakes along here. Ho, boys, ho! There's where old man Colton lives. We'll meet him at the store. In the Colossus Company he is next to me. Smart old fellow, but he worked many years in the hammer-and-tongs way, and he probably never would have done much if he hadn't been shoved. Ho, boys, ho! People ought to be arrested for piling brick in the street this way. Colton was always afraid of venturing; shuddered at the thought of risking his money; wanted it where he could lay his hands on it at any time. Brooks, his son-in-law, is a sort of general manager over our entire establishment, and he is one of the most active and useful men I ever saw—bright, quick, characteristically American. I think you'll like him. That place over there"—cutting his whip toward an old frame house scalloped and corniced in fantastic flimsiness—"was sold the other day at about thirty per cent more than it would have brought a few years ago."
They turned into another street and were taken up, it seemed, by the swift trade currents that swirl at morning, rush through the noon, glide past the evening and rest for a time in the semi-calm of midnight. Chicago has begun to set the pace of a nervous nation's progress. It is a city whose growth has proved a fatal example to many an overweaning town. Materialistic, it holds no theory that points not to great results; adventurous, it has small patience with methods that slowness alone has stamped as legitimate. Worshiping a deification of real estate, and with a rude aristocracy building upon the blood of the sow and the tallow of the bull, its atmosphere discourages one artist while inviting another to rake up the showered rewards of a "boom" patronage. Feeling that naught but sleepiness and sloth should be censured, it resents even a kindly criticism. Quick to recognize the feasibility of a scheme; giving money, but holding time as a sacred inheritance. It is a re-gathering of the forces that peopled America and then made her great among nations; a mighty community with a growing literary force and with its culture and its real love for the beautiful largely confined to the poor in purse; grand in a thousand respects; with its history glaring upon the black sky of night; with the finest boulevards in America and the filthiest alleys—a giant in need of a bath.
The Colossus stood as a towering island with "a tide in the affairs of men" sweeping past. And it seemed to Henry that the buggy was cast ashore as a piece of driftwood that touches land and finds a lodgment. At an earlier day, and not so long ago either, the flaw of unconscious irony might have been picked in the name Colossus, but now the establishment, covering almost a block and rising story upon story, filled in the outlines of its pretentious christening.
"Tap, tap, tap—cash, 46; tap, tap—cash, 63," was the leading strain in this din of extensive barter and petty transaction. The Colossus boasted that it could meet every commercial demand; supply a sewing-machine needle or set up a saw-mill; receipt for gas bills and water rates or fit out a general store. Under one roof it held the resources of a city. Henry was startled by its immensity, and as he followed Witherspoon through labyrinths of bright gauzes and avenues of somber goods, he perceived that a change in the tone of the hum announced the approach of the master. And it appeared that, no matter what a girl might be doing, she began hurriedly to do something else the moment she spied Witherspoon coming toward her. The quick signs of flirtation, signals along the downward track of morality, subsided whenever this ruler came within sight; and the smirk bargain-counter miss would actually turn from the grinning idiocy of the bullet-headed fellow who had come in to admire her and would deign to wait on a poorly dressed woman who had failed to attract her attention.
The offices of the management were on the first floor, and Henry was conducted thither and shown into Witherspoon's private apartment—into the calico, bombazine, hardware and universal nick-nack holy of holies. The room was not fitted up for show, but for business. Its furniture consisted mainly of a roll-top desk, a stamp with its handle sticking up like the tail of an excited cat, a dingy carpet and several chairs of a shape so ungenial to the human form as to suggest that a hint at me desirability of a visitor's early withdrawal might have been incorporated in their construction.
"I will see if Colton has come down," Witherspoon remarked, glancing through a door into another room. "Yes, there he is. He's coming. Mr. Colton," said Witherspoon, with deep impressiveness, "this is my son Henry."
The old man bowed with a politeness in which there was a reminder of a slower and therefore a more courteous day, and taking the hand which Henry cordially offered him, said: "To meet you affects me profoundly, sir. Of course I am acquainted with your early history, and this adds to the interest I feel in you; but aside from this, to meet a son of George Witherspoon must necessarily give me great pleasure."
"Brother Colton is from Maryland," Witherspoon remarked, and a sudden shriveling about the old man's mouth told that he was smiling at what he had long since learned to believe was a capital hit of playfulness. And he bowed, grabbled up a dingy handkerchief that dangled from him somewhere, wiped off his shriveled smile, and then declared that if frankness was a mark of the Marylander, he should always be glad to acknowledge his native State.
Brooks, Colton's son-in-law, now came in. This man, while a floor-walker in a dry-goods store, had attracted Witherspoon's notice, and a position in the Colossus, at that time an experiment, was given him. He recognized the demands of his calling, and he strove to fit himself to them. Several years later he married Miss Colton, and now he was in a position of such confidence that many schemes for the broadening of trade and for the pleasing of the public's changeful fancy were entrusted to his management. He was of a size which appears to set off clothes to the best advantage. His face was pale and thoughtful, and he had the shrewd faculty of knowing when to smile. His eyes were of such a bulge as to give him a spacious range of vision without having to turn his head, and while moving about in the discharge of his duty, he often saw sudden situations that were not intended for his entertainment.
Brooks was prepared for the meeting, and conducted himself with a dignity that would have cast no discredit upon the ablest floor-walker in Christendom. He had known that he could not fail to be impressed by one so closely allied by blood to Mr. George Witherspoon, but really he had not expected to meet a man of so distinguished a bearing, a traveler and a scholar, no doubt.
"Traveler enough to know that I have seen but little, and scholar enough to feel my ignorance," Henry replied.
"Oh, you do yourself an injustice, I am sure, but you do it gracefully. We shall meet often, of course. Mr. Witherspoon," he added, addressing the head of the Colossus, "we have just arrested that Mrs. McNutt."
"How's that? What Mrs. McNutt?"
"Why, the woman who was suspected of shop-lifting. This time we caught her in the act."
"Ah, hah. Have you sent her away?"
"Not yet. She begs for an interview with you—says she can explain everything."
"Don't want to see her; let her explain to the law."
"That's what I told her, sir."
Brooks bowed and withdrew. Old man Colton was already at his desk.
"Now, my son," said Witherspoon, aimlessly fumbling with some papers on his desk, "I should think that the first thing to be attended to is that statement for the newspapers. Wait a moment, and we will consult Brooks. He knows more in that line than any one else about the place." He tapped a bell. "Mr. Brooks," he said when a boy appeared. Brooks came, and Witherspoon explained.
"Ah, I see," said Brooks. "You don't want to give it to any one paper, for that isn't business. We'll draw off a statement and send it to the City Press Association, and then it will be given out to all the papers."
"That is a capital idea; you will help us get it up."
"Yes, sir," said Brooks, bowing.
"That will not be necessary," Henry protested, unable to disguise his disapproval of the arrangement. "I can write it in a very short time."
"Ah," Witherspoon replied, "but Brooks is used to such work. He writes our advertisements."
"But this isn't an advertisement, and I prefer to write it."
"Of course, if you can do it satisfactorily, but I should think that it would be better if done by a practiced hand."
"I think so too," Henry rejoined, "and for that reason I recommend my own hand. I have worked on newspapers."
"That so? It may be fortunate so far as this one instance is concerned, but as a general thing I shouldn't recommend it. Newspaper men have such loose methods, as a rule, that they never accomplish much when they turn their attention to business."
Henry laughed, but the merchant had spoken with such seriousness that he was not disposed to turn it off with a show of mirth. His face remained thoughtful, and he said: "We had several newspaper men about here, and not one of them amounted to anything. Brooks, your services will not be needed. In fact, two of them were dishonest," he added, when Brooks had quitted the room. "They were said to be good newspaper men, too. One of them came with 'Journalist' printed on his card; had solicited advertisements for nearly every paper in town. They were all understood to be good solicitors."
"What," said Henry, "were they simply advertising solicitors?"
"Why, yes; and they were said to be good ones."
"But you must know, sir, that an advertising solicitor is not a newspaper man. It makes me sick—I beg your pardon. But it does rile me to hear that one of these fellows has called himself a newspaper man. Of course there are honest and able men in that employment, but they are not to be classed with men whose learning, judgment and strong mental forces make a great newspaper."
So new a life sprang into his voice, and so strong a conviction emphasized his manner, that Witherspoon, for the first time, looked on him with a sort of admiration.
"Well, you seem to be loaded on this subject."
"Yes, but not offensively so, I hope. Now, give me the points you want covered."
"All right; sit here."
Henry took Witherspoon's chair; the merchant walked up and down the room. The points were agreed upon, and the writer was getting well along with his work when Witherspoon suddenly paused in his walk and said to some one outside: "Show him in here."
A pale and restless-looking young man with green neckwear entered the room. "Now, sir," the merchant demanded somewhat sharply, "what do you want with me? You have been here three or four times, I understand. What do you want?"
"We are not alone," the young man answered, glancing at Henry.
"State your business or get out."
"Well, it's rather a delicate matter, sir, and I didn't want anything to do with it, but we don't always have our own way, you know. Er—the editor of the paper"—
"The Weekly Call. The editor sent me with instructions to ask you if this is true?"
He handed a proof-slip to the merchant, and Henry saw Witherspoon's face darken as he read it. The next moment the great merchant stormed: "There isn't a word of truth in it. It is an infamous lie from start to finish."
"I told him I didn't think it was true," said the young man, "but he talked as if he believed it; remarked that you never advertised with him anyway."
"Advertise with him! Why, I didn't know until this minute that such a paper existed. How much of an advertisement does he expect?"
"Hold on a moment!" Henry cried. "Let me kick this fellow into the street."
"Nothing rash," said Witherspoon, putting out his hand. "Sit down, Henry. It will be all right. It's something you don't understand." And speaking to the visitor, he added: "Send me your rates."
"I have them here, sir," he replied, shying out of Henry's reach. He handed a card to Witherspoon.
"Let me see, now. Will half a column for a year be sufficient?"
"Well, that's rather a small ad, sir."
Henry got up again. "I think I'd better kick him into the street."
"No, no; sit down there. Let me manage this. Here." The blackmailer had retreated to the door. "You go back to your editor and tell him that I will put in a column for one year. Wait. Has anybody seen this?" he added, holding up the proof-slip.
"Nobody, sir, and I will have the type distributed as soon as I get back."
"See that you do. Tell Brooks; he will send you the copy. Now get out. Infamous scoundrel!" he said when the fellow was gone. "But don't say anything about it at home, for it really amounts to nothing."
He tore the proof-slip into small fragments and threw them into the spittoon.
"What is it all about?" Henry asked.
"Oh, it's the foulest of fabrication. About a year ago there came a widow from Washington with a letter from one of our friends, and asked for a position in the store. Well, we gave her employment, and—and it is about her; but it really amounts to nothing."
"Why, then, didn't you let me kick the scoundrel into the street?"
"My dear boy, to a man who has the money it is easier to pay than to explain. The public is greedy for scandal, but looks with suspicion and coldness upon a correction. One is sweet; the other is tasteless. The rapid acquisition of wealth is associated with some mysterious crime, and men who have failed in wild speculations are the first to cry out against the millionaire. The rich man must pay for the privilege of being rich."
The statement was sent to the city press. It reminded the public of the abduction of Henry Witherspoon; touched upon the sensation created at the time, and upon the long season of interest that had followed; explained the part which the uncle had played, and delicately gave his cause for playing it. And the return of the wanderer was set forth with graphic directness.
At noon the merchant and Henry ate luncheon in a club where thick rugs hushed a foot-fall into a mere whisper of a walk, where servants, grave of countenance and low of voice, seemed to underscore the chilliness of the place. Henry was introduced to a number of astonished men, who said that they welcomed him home, and who immediately began to talk about something else; and he was shown through the large library, where a solitary man sat looking at the pictures in a comic weekly. After leaving the club they went to a tailor's shop, and then drove over the boulevards and through the parks. Witherspoon, with no pronounced degree of pride, had conducted Henry through the Colossus; he had been pleased, of course, at the young man's astonishment, and he must have been moved by a strong surge of self-glorification when his son wondered at the broadness of the Witherspoon empire, yet he had held in a strong subjection all signs of an unseemly pride. But when he struck the boulevard system, his dignified reserve went to pieces.
"Finest on earth; no doubt about that. Oh, of course, many years of talk and thousands of pages of print have paved the Paris boulevards with peculiar interest, but wipe out association, and where would they be in comparison with these? Look at that stretch. And a few years ago this land could have been picked up for almost nothing. Look at those flowers."
It was now past midsummmer, but no suggestion of a coming blight lay upon the flower-beds. "Look at those trees. Why, in time they will knock the New Haven elms completely out."
When they reached home at evening they found that five reporters had been shown into the library and were waiting for them.
"Glad to see you, gentlemen," said Witherspoon, smiling in his way of pleasant dismissal, "but really that statement contains all that it is necessary for the public to know. We don't want to make a sensation of it, you understand."
"Of course not," one of the newspaper men replied.
"And," said the merchant, with another smile, "I don't know what else can be said."
But the smile had missed its aim. The attention of the visitors was settled upon Henry. There was no chance for separate interviews, and questions were asked by first one and then another.
"You had no idea that your parents were alive?"
"Not until after my uncle's death."
"Had he ever told you why you were in his charge?"
"Yes; he said that at the death of my parents I had been given to him."
"You of course knew the story of the mysterious disappearance of Henry Witherspoon."
"Yes; when a boy I had read something about it."
"In view of the many frauds that had been attempted, hadn't you a fear that your father might he suspicious of you?"
"No; I had forwarded letters and held proof that could not be disputed. The mystery was cleared up."
"How old are you?"
"I shall be twenty-five next—next"—
"December the fourteenth," Witherspoon answered for him.
"The truth is," said Henry, "uncle did not remember the exact date of my birth."
"Was your uncle a man of means?"
"Well, I can hardly say that he was. He speculated considerably, and though he was never largely successful, yet he always managed to live well."
"Were you engaged in any sort of employment?"
"Yes, at different times I was a reporter."
"It is not necessary that the public should know all this," said Witherspoon.
"But we can't help it," Henry replied. "The statement we sent out would simply serve to hone and strap public curiosity to a keen edge. I expected something of this sort. The only thing to do is to get through with it as soon as we can."
When the interview was ended Henry went to the front door with the reporters, and at parting said to them: "I hope to see you again, gentlemen, and doubtless I shall. I am one of you."
At dinner that evening Witherspoon was in high spirits. He joked—a recreation rare with him—and he told a story—a mental excursion of marked uncommonness.
"What, Henry, don't you drink wine at all?" the merchant asked.
"No, sir, I stand in mortal fear of it." The vision of a drunken painter, he always fancied, hung like a fog between him and the liquor glass.
"It's well enough, my son."
"None of the Craigs were drunkards," said Ellen, giggling.
"Ellen," Mrs. Witherspoon solemnly enjoined, "my mother's people shall not be made sport of. It is true that there were no drunkards among them. And why?"
"Because none of them got drunk, I should think," Henry ventured to suggest.
"That, of course, was one reason, my son, but the main reason was that they knew how to govern themselves."
The evening flew away with music and with talk of a long ago made doubly dear by present happiness. The hour was growing late. Witherspoon and Henry sat in the library, smoking. Ellen had gone to her room to draft a form for the invitation to Henry's reception, and Mrs. Witherspoon was on a midnight prowl throughout the house, and although knowing that everything was right, yet surprised to find it so.
"Now, my boy," said the merchant, "we will talk business. Your mother, and particularly your sister, thought it well for me to make you an allowance, and while I don't object to the putting of money aside for you, yet I should rather have you feel the manliness which comes of drawing a salary for services rendered. That is more American. You see how useful Brooks has made himself. Now, why can't you work yourself into a similar position? In the future, the charge of the entire establishment may devolve upon you. All that a real man wants is a chance, and such a chance as I now urge upon you falls to the lot of but few young men. Had such an opportunity been given to me when I was young, I should have regarded myself as one specially favored by the partial goddess of fortune."
He was now walking up and down the room. He spoke with fervor, and Henry saw how strong he was and wondered not at his great success.
"I don't often resort to figures of speech," Witherspoon continued, "but even the most practical man feels sometimes that illustration is a necessity. Words are the trademarks of the goods stored in the mind, and a flashy expression proclaims the flimsy trinket."
Was his unwonted indulgence in wine at dinner playing rhetorical tricks with his mind?
"I spoke just now of the partial goddess of fortune," the merchant continued, "in the hope that I might impress you with a deplorable truth. Fortune is vested with a peculiar discrimination. It appears more often to favor the unjust than the just. Ability and a life of constant wooing do not always win success, for luck, the factotum of fortune, often bestows in one minute a success which a life-time of stubborn toil could not have achieved. Therefore, I say to you, think well of your position, and instead of drawing idly upon your great advantage, add to it. Successful men are often niggardly of advice, while the prattling tongue nearly always belongs to failure; therefore, when a successful man does advise, heed him. I think that I should have succeeded in nearly any walk of life. Sturdy New England stock, the hard necessity for thrift, and the practical common school fitted me to push my way to the front. Don't think that I am boasting. It is no more of vanity for one to say 'I have succeeded' than to say 'I will succeed.'" He paused a moment and stood near Henry's chair. "You have the chance to become what I cannot be—one of the wealthiest men in this country." He sat down, and leaning back in his leather-covered chair, stretched forth his legs and crossed his slippered feet. He looked at Henry.