"They should have offered to stay by the ship providing Monty would let DeMille manage the cruise," said Miss Valentine. "That would have been a concession and at the same time it would have put the cruise on an economical basis."
"In other words, you will accept a man's invitation to dinner if he will allow you to order it and invite the other guests," said Peggy, who was quick to defend Monty.
"Well that would be better than helping to eat up every bit of food he possessed." But Miss Valentine always avoided argument when she could and gave this as a parting thrust before she walked away.
"There must be something more than we know about in Monty's extravagance," said Mrs. Dan. "He isn't the kind of man to squander his last penny without having something left to show for it. There must be a method in his madness."
"He has done it for us," said Peggy. "He has devoted himself all along to giving us a good time and now we are showing our gratitude."
Further discussion was prevented by the appearance of the conspiring committee and the whole company was summoned to hear DeMille's report as chairman.
"We have found a solution of our difficulties," he began, and his manner was so jubilant that every one became hopeful. "It is desperate, but I think it will be effective. Monty has given us the privilege of leaving the yacht at any port where we can take a steamer to New York. Now, my suggestion is that we select the most convenient place for all of us, and obviously there is nothing quite so convenient as Boston."
"Dan DeMille, you are quite foolish," cried his wife. "Who ever conceived such a ridiculous idea?"
"Captain Perry has his instructions," continued DeMille, turning to the captain. "Are we not acting along the lines marked out by Brewster himself?"
"I will sail for Boston if you say the word," said the thoughtful captain. "But he is sure to countermand such an order."
"He won't be able to, captain," cried "Subway" Smith, who had for some time been eager to join in the conversation. "This is a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool mutiny and we expect to carry out the original plan, which was to put Mr. Brewster in irons, until we are safe from all opposition."
"He is my friend, Mr. Smith, and at least it is my duty to protect him from any indignity," said the captain, stiffly.
"You make for Boston, my dear captain, and we'll do the rest," said DeMille. "Mr. Brewster can't countermand your orders unless he sees you in person. We'll see to it that he has no chance to talk to you until we are in sight of Boston Harbor."
The captain looked doubtful and shook his head as he walked away. At heart he was with the mutineers and his mind was made up to assist them as long as it was possible to do so without violating his obligations to Brewster. He felt guilty, however, in surreptitiously giving the order to clear for Boston at daybreak. The chief officers were let into the secret, but the sailors were kept in darkness regarding the destination of the "Flitter."
Montgomery Brewster's guests were immensely pleased with the scheme, although they were dubious about the outcome. Mrs. Dan regretted her hasty comment on the plan and entered into the plot with eagerness. In accordance with plans decided upon by the mutineers, Monty's stateroom door was guarded through the night by two of the men. The next morning as he emerged from his room, he was met by "Subway" Smith and Dan DeMille.
"Good morning," was his greeting. "How's the weather to-day?"
"Bully," answered DeMille. "By the way, you are going to have breakfast in your room, old man."
Brewster unsuspectingly led the way into his stateroom, the two following.
"What's the mystery?" he demanded.
"We've been deputized to do some very nasty work," said "Subway," as he turned the key in the door. "We are here to tell you what port we have chosen."
"It's awfully good of you to tell me."
"Yes, isn't it? But we have studied up on the chivalrous treatment of prisoners. We have decided on Boston."
"Is there a Boston on this side of the water?" asked Monty in mild surprise.
"No; there is only one Boston in the universe, so far as we know. It is a large body of intellect surrounded by the rest of the world."
"What the devil are you talking about? You don't mean Boston, Massachusetts?" cried Monty, leaping to his feet.
"Precisely. That's the port for us and you told us to choose for ourselves," said Smith.
"Well, I won't have it, that's all," exclaimed Brewster, indignantly. "Captain Perry takes orders from me and from no one else."
"He already has his orders," said DeMille, smiling mysteriously.
"I'll see about that." Brewster sprang to the door. It was locked and the key was in "Subway" Smith's pocket. With an impatient exclamation he turned and pressed an electric button.
"It won't ring, Monty," explained "Subway." "The wire has been cut. Now, be cool for a minute or two and we'll talk it over."
Brewster stormed for five minutes, the "delegation" sitting calmly by, smiling with exasperating confidence. At last he calmed down and in terms of reason demanded an explanation. He was given to understand that the yacht would sail for Boston and that he would be kept a prisoner for the entire voyage unless he submitted to the will of the majority.
Brewster listened darkly to the proclamation. He saw that they had gained the upper hand by a clever ruse, and that only strategy on his part could outwit them. It was out of the question for him to submit to them now that the controversy had assumed the dignity of a struggle.
"But you will be reasonable, won't you?" asked DeMille, anxiously.
"I intend to fight it out to the bitter end," said Brewster, his eyes flashing. "At present I am your prisoner, but it is a long way to Boston."
For three days and two nights the "Flitter" steamed westward into the Atlantic, with her temporary owner locked into his stateroom. The confinement was irksome, but he rather liked the sensation of being interested in something besides money. He frequently laughed to himself over the absurdity of the situation. His enemies were friends, true and devoted; his gaolers were relentless but they were considerate. The original order that he should be guarded by one man was violated on the first day. There were times when his guard numbered at least ten persons and some of them served tea and begged him to listen to reason.
"It is difficult not to listen," he said fiercely. "It's like holding a man down and then asking him to be quiet. But my time is coming."
"Revenge will be his!" exclaimed Mrs. Dan, tragically.
"You might have your term shortened on account of good conduct if you would only behave," suggested Peggy, whose reserve was beginning to soften. "Please be good and give in."
"I haven't been happier during the whole cruise," said Monty. "On deck I wouldn't be noticed, but here I am quite the whole thing. Besides I can get out whenever I feel like it."
"I have a thousand dollars which says you can't," said DeMille, and Monty snapped him up so eagerly that he added, "that you can't get out of your own accord."
Monty acceded to the condition and offered odds on the proposition to the others, but there were no takers.
"That settles it," he smiled grimly to himself. "I can make a thousand dollars by staying here and I can't afford to escape."
On the third day of Monty's imprisonment the "Flitter" began to roll heavily. At first he gloated over the discomfort of his guards, who obviously did not like to stay below. "Subway" Smith and Bragdon were on duty and neither was famous as a good sailor. When Monty lighted his pipe there was consternation and "Subway" rushed on deck.
"You are a brave man, Joe," Monty said to the other and blew a cloud of smoke in his direction. "I knew you would stick to your post. You wouldn't leave it even if the ship should go down."
Bragdon had reached the stage where he dared not speak and was busying himself trying to "breathe with the motion of the boat," as he had called it.
"By Gad," continued Monty, relentlessly, "this smoke is getting thick. Some of this toilet water might help if I sprinkled it about."
One whiff of the sweet-smelling cologne was enough for Bragdon and he bolted up the companionway, leaving the stateroom door wide open and the prisoner free to go where he pleased. Monty's first impulse was to follow, but he checked himself on the threshold.
"Damn that bet with DeMille," he said to himself, and added aloud to the fleeting guard, "The key, Joe, I dare you to come back and get it!"
But Bragdon was beyond recall and Monty locked the door on the inside and passed the key through the ventilator.
On deck a small part of the company braved the spray in the lee of the deck house, but the others had long since gone below. The boat was pitching furiously in the ugliest sea it had encountered, and there was anxiety underneath Captain Perry's mask of unconcern. DeMille and Dr. Lotless talked in the senseless way men have when they try to conceal their nervousness. But the women did not respond; they were in no mood for conversation.
Only one of them was quite oblivious to personal discomfort and danger. Peggy Gray was thinking of the prisoner below. In a reflection of her own terror, she pictured him crouching in the little state-room, like a doomed criminal awaiting execution, alone, neglected, forgotten, unpitied. At first she pleaded for the men for his release, but they insisted upon waiting in the hope that a scare might bring him to his senses. Peggy saw that no help was to be secured from the other women, much as they might care for Brewster's peace of mind and safety. Her heart was bitter toward every one responsible for the situation, and there was dark rebellion in her soul. It culminated finally in a resolve to release Monty Brewster at any cost.
With difficulty she made her way to the stateroom door, clinging to supports at times and then plunging violently away from them. For some minutes she listened, frantically clutching Brewster's door and the wall-rail. There was no guard, and the tumult of the sea drowned every sound within. Her imagination ran riot when her repeated calls were not answered.
"Monty, Monty," she cried, pounding wildly on the door.
"Who is it? What is the trouble?" came in muffled tones from within, and Peggy breathed a prayer of thanks. Just then she discovered the key which Monty had dropped and quickly opened the door, expecting to find him cowering with fear. But the picture was different. The prisoner was seated on the divan, propped up with many pillows and reading with the aid of an electric light "The Intrusions of Peggy."
"Oh!" was Peggy's only exclamation, and there was a shadow of disappointment in her eyes.
"Come in, Peggy, and I'll read aloud," was Monty's cheerful greeting as he stood before her.
"No, I must go," said Peggy, confusedly. "I thought you might be nervous about the storm—and—"
"And you came to let me out?" Monty had never been so happy.
"Yes, and I don't care what the others say. I thought you were suffering—" But at that moment the boat gave a lurch which threw her across the threshold into Monty's arms. They crashed against the wall, and he held her a moment and forgot the storm. When she drew away from him she showed him the open door and freedom. She could not speak.
"Where are the others?" he asked, bracing himself in the doorway.
"Oh, Monty," she cried, "we must not go to them. They will think me a traitor."
"Why were you a traitor, Peggy?" he demanded, turning toward her suddenly.
"Oh—oh, because it seemed so cruel to keep you locked up through the storm," she answered, blushing.
"And there was no other reason?" he persisted.
"Don't, please don't!" she cried piteously, and he misunderstood her emotion. It was clear that she was merely sorry for him.
"Never mind, Peggy, it's all right. You stood by me and I'll stand by you. Come on; we'll face the mob and I'll do the fighting."
Together they made their way into the presence of the mutineers, who were crowded into the main cabin.
"Well, here's a conspiracy," cried Dan DeMille, but there was no anger in his voice. "How did you escape? I was just thinking of unlocking your door, Monty, but the key seemed to be missing."
Peggy displayed it triumphantly.
"By Jove," cried Dan. "This is rank treachery. Who was on guard?"
A steward rushing through the cabin at this moment in answer to frantic calls from Bragdon furnished an eloquent reply to the question.
"It was simple," said Monty. "The guards deserted their post and left the key behind."
"Then it is up to me to pay you a thousand dollars."
"Not at all," protested Monty, taken aback. "I did not escape of my own accord. I had help. The money is yours. And now that I am free," he added quietly, "let me say that this boat does not go to Boston."
"Just what I expected," cried Vanderpool.
"She's going straight to New York!" declared Monty. The words were hardly uttered when a heavy sea sent him sprawling across the cabin, and he concluded, "or to the bottom."
"Not so bad as that," said Captain Perry, whose entrance had been somewhat hastened by the lurch of the boat. "But until this blows over I must keep you below." He laughed, but he saw they were not deceived. "The seas are pretty heavy and the decks are being holystoned for nothing, but I wouldn't like to have any of you washed overboard by mistake."
The hatches were battened down, and it was a sorry company that tried to while away the evening in the main cabin. Monty's chafing about the advantages of the North Cape over the stormy Atlantic was not calculated to raise the drooping spirits, and it was very early when he and his shattered guests turned in. There was little sleep on board the "Flitter" that night. Even if it had been easy to forget the danger, the creaking of the ship and the incessant roar of the water were enough for wakefulness. With each lurch of the boat it seemed more incredible that it could endure. It was such a mite of a thing to meet so furious an attack. As it rose on the wave to pause in terror on its crest before sinking shivering into the trough, it made the breath come short and the heart stand still. Through the night the fragile little craft fought its lonely way, bravely ignoring its own weakness and the infinite strength of its enemy. To the captain, lashed to the bridge, there were hours of grave anxiety—hours when he feared each wave as it approached, and wondered what new damage it had done as it receded. As the wind increased toward morning he felt a sickening certainty that the brave little boat was beaten. Somehow she seemed to lose courage, to waver a bit and almost give tip the fight. He watched her miserably as the dismal dawn came up out of the sea. Yet it was not until seven o'clock that the crash came, which shook the passengers out of their berths and filled them with shivering terror. The whirring of the broken shaft seemed to consume the ship. In every cabin it spoke with terrible vividness of disaster. The clamor of voices and the rush of many feet, which followed, meant but one thing. Almost instantly the machinery was stopped—an ominous silence in the midst of the dull roar of the water and the cry of the wind.
It was a terrified crowd that quickly gathered in the main cabin, but it was a brave one. There were no cries and few tears. They expected anything and were ready for the worst, but they would not show the white feather. It was Mrs. Dan who broke the tension. "I made sure of my pearls," she said; "I thought they would be appreciated at the bottom of the sea."
Brewster came in upon their laughter. "I like your nerve, people," he exclaimed, "you are all right. It won't be so bad now. The wind has dropped."
Long afterward when they talked the matter over, DeMille claimed that the only thing that bothered him that night was the effort to decide whether the club of which he and Monty were members would put in the main hallway two black-bordered cards, each bearing a name, or only one with both names. Mr. Valentine regretted that he had gone on for years paying life insurance premiums when now his only relatives were on the boat and would die with him.
The captain, looking pretty rocky after his twenty-four hour vigil, summoned his chief. "We're in a bad hole, Mr. Brewster," he said when they were alone, "and no mistake. A broken shaft and this weather make a pretty poor combination."
"Is there no chance of making a port for repairs?"
"I don't see it, sir. It looks like a long pull."
"We are way off our course, I suppose?" and Monty's coolness won Captain Perry's admiration.
"I can't tell just how much until I get the sun, but this wind is hell. I suspect we've drifted pretty far."
"Come and get some coffee, captain. While the storm lasts the only thing to do is to cheer up the women and trust to luck."
"You're the nerviest mate I ever shipped with, Mr. Brewster," and the captain's hand gripped Monty's in a way that meant things. It was a tribute he appreciated.
During the day Monty devoted himself to his guests, and at the first sign of pensiveness he was ready with a jest or a story. But he did it all with a tact that inspired the crowd as a whole with hope, and no one suspected that he himself was not cheerful. For Peggy Gray there was a special tenderness, and he made up his mind that if things should go wrong he would tell her that he loved her.
"It could do no harm," he thought to himself, "and I want her to know."
Toward night the worst was over. The sea had gone down and the hatches were opened for a while to admit air, though it was still too rough to venture out. The next morning was bright and clear. When the company gathered on deck the havoc created by the storm was apparent. Two of the boats had been completely carried away and the launch was rendered useless by a large hole in the stern.
"You don't mean to say that we will drift about until the repairs can be made?" asked Mrs. Dan in alarm.
"We are three hundred miles off the course already," explained Monty, "and it will be pretty slow traveling under sail."
It was decided to make for the Canary Islands, where repairs could be made and the voyage resumed. But where the wind had raged a few days before, it had now disappeared altogether, and for a week the "Flitter" tossed about absolutely unable to make headway. The first of August had arrived and Monty himself was beginning to be nervous. With the fatal day not quite two months away, things began to look serious. Over one hundred thousand dollars would remain after he had settled the expenses of the cruise, and he was helplessly drifting in mid-ocean. Even if the necessary repairs could be made promptly, it would take the "Flitter" fourteen days to sail from the Canaries to New York. Figure as hard as he could he saw no way out of the unfortunate situation. Two days more elapsed and still no sign of a breeze. He made sure that September 23d would find him still drifting and still in possession of one hundred thousand superfluous dollars.
At the end of ten days the yacht had progressed but two hundred miles and Monty was beginning to plan the rest of his existence on a capital of $100,000. He had given up all hope of the Sedgwick legacy and was trying to be resigned to his fate, when a tramp steamer was suddenly sighted. Brewster ordered the man on watch to fly a flag of distress. Then he reported to the captain and told what he had done. With a bound the captain rushed on deck and tore the flag from the sailor's hand.
"That was my order," said Monty, nettled at the captain's manner.
"You want them to get a line on us and claim salvage, do you?"
"What do you mean?"
"If they get a line on us in response to that flag they will claim the entire value of the ship as salvage. You want to spend another $200,000 on this boat?"
"I didn't understand," said Monty, sheepishly. "But for God's sake fix it up somehow. Can't they tow us? I'll pay for it."
Communication was slow, but after an apparently endless amount of signaling, the captain finally announced that the freight steamer was bound for Southampton and would tow the "Flitter" to that point for a price.
"Back to Southampton!" groaned Monty. "That means months before we get back to New York."
"He says he can get us to Southampton in ten days," interrupted the captain.
"I can do it, I can do it," he cried, to the consternation of his guests, who wondered if his mind were affected. "If he'll land us in Southampton by the 27th, I'll pay him up to one hundred thousand dollars."
THE PRODIGAL'S RETURN
After what seemed an age to Monty, the "Flitter," in tow of the freighter "Glencoe," arrived at Southampton. The captain of the freight boat was a thrifty Scotchman whose ship was traveling with a light cargo, and he was not, therefore, averse to taking on a tow. But the thought of salvage had caused him to ask a high price for the service and Monty, after a futile attempt at bargaining, had agreed. The price was fifty thousand dollars, and the young man believed more than ever that everything was ruled by a wise Providence, which had not deserted him. His guests were heartsick when they heard the figure, but were as happy as Monty at the prospect of reaching land again.
The "Glencoe" made several stops before Southampton was finally reached on the 28th of August, but when the English coast was sighted every one was too eager to go ashore to begrudge the extra day. Dan DeMille asked the entire party to become his guests for a week's shooting trip in Scotland, but Monty vetoed the plan in the most decided manner.
"We sail for New York on the fastest boat," said Monty, and hurried off to learn the sailings and book his party. The first boat was to sail on the 30th and he could only secure accommodations for twelve of his guests. The rest were obliged to follow a week later. This was readily agreed to and Bragdon was left to see to the necessary repairs on the "Flitter" and arrange for her homeward voyage. Monty gave Bragdon fifteen thousand dollars for the purpose and extracted a solemn promise that the entire amount would be used.
"But it won't cost half of this," protested Bragdon.
"You will have to give these people a good time during the week and—well—you have promised that I shall never see another penny of it. Some day you'll know why I do this," and Monty felt easier when his friend agreed to abide by his wishes.
He discharged the "Flitter's" crew, with five months' pay and the reward promised on the night of Peggy's rescue, which was productive of touching emotions. Captain Perry and his officers never forgot the farewell of the prodigal, nor could they hide the regret that marked their weather-beaten faces.
Plans to dispose of his household goods and the balance of his cash in the short time that would be left after he arrived in New York occupied Monty's attention, and most men would have given up the scheme as hopeless. But he did not despair. He was still game, and he prepared for the final plunge with grim determination.
"There should have been a clause in Jones's conditions about 'weather permitting,'" he said to himself. "A shipwrecked mariner should not be expected to spend a million dollars."
The division of the party for the two sailings was tactfully arranged by Mrs. Dan DeMille. The Valentines chaperoned the "second table" as "Subway" Smith called those who were to take the later boat, and she herself looked after the first lot. Peggy Gray and Monty Brewster were in the DeMille party. The three days in England were marked by unparalleled extravagance on Monty's part. One of the local hotels was subsidized for a week, although the party only stayed for luncheon, and the Cecil in London was a gainer by several thousand dollars for the brief stop there. It was a careworn little band that took Monty's special train for Southampton and embarked two days later. The "rest cure" that followed was welcome to all of them and Brewster was especially glad that his race was almost run.
Swiftly and steadily the liner cut down the leagues that separated her from New York. Fair weather and fair cheer marked her course, and the soft, balmy nights were like seasons of fairyland. Monty was cherishing in his heart the hope inspired by Peggy's action on the night of the storm. Somehow it brought a small ray of light to his clouded understanding and he found joy in keeping the flame alive religiously if somewhat doubtfully. His eyes followed her constantly, searching for the encouragement that the very blindness of love had hidden from him, forever tormenting himself with fears and hopes and fears again. Her happiness and vivacity puzzled him—he was often annoyed, he was now and then seriously mystified.
Four days out from New York, then three days, then two days, and then Brewster began to feel the beginning of the final whirlwind in profligacy clouding him oppressively, ominously, unkindly. Down in his stateroom he drew new estimates, new calculations, and tried to balance the old ones so that they appeared in the light most favorable to his designs. Going over the statistics carefully, he estimated that the cruise, including the repairs and return of the yacht to New York, would cost him $210,000 in round figures. One hundred and thirty-three days marked the length of the voyage when reckoned by time and, as near as he could get at it, the expense had averaged $1,580 a day. According to the contract, he was to pay for the yacht, exclusive of the cuisine and personal service. And he had found it simple enough to spend the remaining $1,080. There were days, of course, when fully $5,000 disappeared, and there were others on which he spent much less than $1,000, but the average was secure. Taking everything into consideration, Brewster found that his fortune had dwindled to a few paltry thousands in addition to the proceeds which would come to him from the sale of his furniture. On the whole he was satisfied.
The landing in New York and the separation which followed were not entirely merry. Every discomfort was forgotten and the travelers only knew that the most wonderful cruise since that of the ark had come to an end. There was not one who would not have been glad to begin it again the next day.
Immediately after the landing Brewster and Gardner were busy with the details of settlement. After clearing up all of the obligations arising from the cruise, they felt the appropriateness of a season of reflection. It was a difficult moment—a moment when undelivered reproofs were in the air. But Gardner seemed much the more melancholy of the two.
Piles of newspapers lay scattered about the floor of the room In which they sat. Every one of them contained sensational stories of the prodigal's trip, with pictures, incidents and predictions. Monty was pained, humiliated and resentful, but he was honest enough to admit the justification of much that was said of him. He read bits of it here and there and then threw the papers aside hopelessly. In a few weeks they would tell another story, and quite as emphatically.
"The worst of it, Monty, is that you are the next thing to being a poor man," groaned Gardner. "I've done my best to economize for you here at home, as you'll see by these figures, but nothing could possibly balance the extravagances of this voyage. They are simply appalling."
With the condemnation of his friends ringing in his troubled brain, with the sneers of acquaintances to distress his pride, with the jibes of the comic papers to torture him remorselessly, Brewster was fast becoming the most miserable man in New York. Friends of former days gave him the cut direct, clubmen ignored him or scorned him openly, women chilled him with the iciness of unspoken reproof, and all the world was hung with shadows. The doggedness of despair kept him up, but the strain that pulled down on him was so relentless that the struggle was losing its equality. He had not expected such a home-coming.
Compared with his former self, Monty was now almost a physical wreck, haggard, thin and defiant, a shadow of the once debonair young New Yorker, an object of pity and scorn. Ashamed and despairing, he had almost lacked the courage to face Mrs. Gray. The consolation he once gained through her he now denied himself and his suffering, peculiar as it was, was very real. In absolute recklessness he gave dinner after dinner, party after party, all on a most lavish scale, many of his guests laughing at him openly while they enjoyed his hospitality. The real friends remonstrated, pleaded, did everything within their power to check his awful rush to poverty, but without success; he was not to be stopped.
At last the furniture began to go, then the plate, then ail the priceless bric-a-brac. Piece by piece it disappeared until the apartments were empty and he had squandered almost all of the $40,350 arising from the sales. The servants were paid off, the apartments relinquished, and he was beginning to know what it meant to be "on his uppers." At the banks he ascertained that the interest on his moneys amounted to $19,140.86. A week before the 23d of September, the whole million was gone, including the amounts won in Lumber and Fuel and other luckless enterprises. He still had about $17,000 of his interest money in the banks, but he had a billion pangs in his heart—the interest on his improvidence.
He found some delight in the discovery that the servants had robbed him of not less than $3,500 worth of his belongings, including the Christmas presents that he in honor could not have sold. His only encouragement came from Grant & Ripley, the lawyers. They inspired confidence in his lagging brain by urging him on to the end, promising brightness thereafter. Swearengen Jones was as mute as the mountains in which he lived. There was no word from him, there was no assurance that he would approve of what had been done to obliterate Edwin Peter Brewster's legacy.
Dan DeMille and his wife implored Monty to come with them to the mountains before his substance was gone completely. The former offered him money, employment, rest and security if he would abandon the course he was pursuing. Up in Fortieth Street Peggy Gray was grieving her heart out and he knew it. Two or three of those whom he had considered friends refused to recognize him in the street in this last trying week, and it did not even interest him to learn that Miss Barbara Drew was to become a duchess before the winter was gone. Yet he found some satisfaction in the report that one Hampton of Chicago had long since been dropped out of the race.
One day he implored the faithful Bragdon to steal the Boston terriers. He could not and would not sell them and he dared not give them away. Bragdon dejectedly appropriated the dogs and Brewster announced that some day he would offer a reward for their return and "no questions asked."
He took a suite of rooms in a small hotel and was feverishly planning the overthrow of the last torturing thousands. Bragdon lived with him and the "Little Sons of the Rich" stood loyally ready to help him when he uttered the first cry of want. But even this establishment had to be abandoned at last. The old rooms in Fortieth Street were still open to him and though he quailed at the thought of making them a refuge, he faced the ordeal in the spirit of a martyr.
THE PROMISE OF THRIFT
"Monty, you are breaking my heart," was the first and only appeal Mrs. Gray ever made to him. It was two days before the twenty-third and it did not come until after the "second-hand store" men had driven away from her door with the bulk of his clothing in their wagon. She and Peggy had seen little of Brewster, and his nervous restlessness alarmed them. His return was the talk of the town. Men tried to shun him, but he persistently wasted some portion of his fortune on his unwilling subjects. When he gave $5,000 in cash to a Home for Newsboys, even his friends jumped to the conclusion that he was mad. It was his only gift to charity and he excused his motive in giving at this time by recalling Sedgwick's injunction to "give sparingly to charity." Everything was gone from his thoughts but the overpowering eagerness to get rid of a few troublesome thousands. He felt like an outcast, a pariah, a hated object that infected every one with whom he came in contact. Sleep was almost impossible, eating was a farce; he gave elaborate suppers which he did not touch. Already his best friends were discussing the advisability of putting him in a sanitarium where his mind might be preserved. His case was looked upon as peculiar in the history of mankind; no writer could find a parallel, no one imagine a comparison.
Mrs. Gray met him in the hallway of her home as he was nervously pocketing the $60 he had received in payment for his clothes. Her face was like that of a ghost. He tried to answer her reproof, but the words would not come, and he fled to his room, locking the door after him. He was at work there on the transaction that was to record the total disappearance of Edwin Brewster's million—his final report to Swearengen Jones, executor of James Sedgwick's will. On the floor were bundles of packages, carefully wrapped and tied, and on the table was the long sheet of white paper on which the report was being drawn. The package contained receipts—thousands upon thousands of them—for the dollars he had spent in less than a year. They were there for the inspection of Swearengen Jones, faithfully and honorably kept—as if the old westerner would go over in detail the countless documents.
He had the accounts balanced up to the hour. On the long sheet lay the record of his ruthlessness, the epitaph of a million. In his pocket was exactly $79.08. This was to last him for less than forty-eight hours and—then it would go to join the rest. It was his plan to visit Grant & Ripley on the afternoon of the twenty-second and to read the report to them, in anticipation of the meeting with Jones on the day following.
Just before noon, after his encounter with Mrs. Gray, he came down stairs and boldly, for the first time in days, sought out Peggy. There was the old smile in his eye and the old heartiness in his voice when he came upon her in the library. She was not reading. Books, pleasures and all the joys of life had fled from her mind and she thought only of the disaster that was coming to the boy she had always loved. His heart smote him as he looked into the deep, somber, frightened eyes, running over with love and fear for him.
"Peggy, do you think I'm worth anything more from your mother? Do you think she will ask me to live here any longer?" he asked, steadily, taking her hand in his. Hers was cold, his as hot as fire. "You know what you said away off yonder somewhere, that she'd let me live here if I deserved it. I am a pauper, Peggy, and I'm afraid I'll—I may have to get down to drudgery again. Will she turn me out? You know I must have somewhere to live. Shall it be the poorhouse? Do you remember saying one day that I'd end in the poorhouse?"
She was looking into his eyes, dreading what might be seen in them. But there was no gleam of insanity there, there was no fever; instead there was the quiet smile of the man who is satisfied with himself and the world. His voice bore traces of emotion, but it was the voice of one who has perfect control of his wits.
"Is it all—gone, Monty?" she asked, almost in a whisper.
"Here is the residue of my estate," he said, opening his purse with steady fingers. "I'm back to where I left off a year ago. The million is gone and my wings are clipped." Her face was white, her heart was in the clutch of ice. How could he be so calm about it, when for him she was suffering such agony? Twice she started to speak, but her voice failed her. She turned slowly and walked to the window, keeping her back to the man who smiled so sadly and yet so heartlessly.
"I didn't want the million, Peggy," he went on. "You think as the rest do, I know, that I was a fool to act as I did. It would be rank idiocy on my part to blame you any more than the others for thinking as you do. Appearances are against me, the proof is overwhelming. A year ago I was called a man, to-day they are stripping me of every claim to that distinction. The world says I am a fool, a dolt, almost a criminal—but no one believes I am a man. Peggy, will you feel better toward me if I tell you that I am going to begin life all over again? It will be a new Monty Brewster that starts out again in a few days, or, if you will, it shall be the old one—the Monty you once knew."
"The old Monty?" she murmured softly, dreamily. "It would be good to see him—so much better than to see the Monty of the last year."
"And, in spite of all I have done, Peggy, you will stand by me? You won't desert me like the rest? You'll be the same Peggy of the other days?" he cried, his calmness breaking down.
"How can you ask? Why should you doubt me?"
For a moment they stood silent, each looking into the heart of the other, each seeing the beginning of a new day.
"Child," his voice trembled dangerously, "I—I wonder if you care enough for me to—to—" but he could only look the question.
"To start all over again with you?" she whispered.
"Yes—to trust yourself to the prodigal who has returned. Without you, child, all the rest would be as the husks. Peggy, I want you—you! You DO love me—I can see it in your eyes, I can feel it in your presence."
"How long you have been in realizing it," she said pensively as she stretched out her arms to him. For many minutes he held her close, finding a beautiful peace in the world again.
"How long have you really cared?" he asked in a whisper.
"Always, Monty; all my life."
"And I, too, child, all my life. I know it now; I've known it for months. Oh, what a fool I was to have wasted all this love of yours and all this love of mine. But I'll not be a profligate in love, Peggy. I'll not squander an atom of it, dear, not as long as I live."
"And we will build a greater love, Monty, as we build the new life together. We never can be poor while we have love as a treasure."
"You won't mind being poor with me?" he asked.
"I can't be poor with you," she said simply.
"And I might have let all this escape me," he cried fervently. "Listen, Peggy—we will start together, you as my wife and my fortune. You shall be all that is left to me of the past. Will you marry me the day after to-morrow? Don't say no, dearest. I want to begin on that day. At seven in the morning, dear? Don't you see how good the start will be?"
And he pleaded so ardently and so earnestly that he won his point even though it grew out of a whim that she could not then understand. She was not to learn until afterward his object in having the marriage take place on the morning of September 23d, two hours before the time set for the turning over of the Sedgwick millions. If all went well they would be Brewster's millions before twelve o'clock, and Peggy's life of poverty would cover no more than three hours of time. She believed him worth a lifetime of poverty. So they would start the new life with but one possession—love.
Peggy rebelled against his desire to spend the seventy dollars that still remained, but he was firm in his determination. They would dine and drive together and see all of the old life that was left—on seventy dollars. Then on the next day they would start all over again. There was one rude moment of dismay when it occurred to him that Peggy might be considered an "asset" if she became his wife before nine o'clock. But he realized at once that it was only demanded of him that he be penniless and that he possess no object that had been acquired through the medium of Edwin Peter Brewster's money. Surely this wife who was not to come to him until his last dollar was gone could not be the product of an old man's legacy. But so careful was he in regard to the transaction that he decided to borrow money of Joe Bragdon to buy the license and to pay the minister's fee. Not only would he be penniless on the day of settlement, but he would be in debt. So changed was the color of the world to him now that even the failure to win Sedgwick's millions could not crush out the new life and the new joy that had come to him with the winning of Peggy Gray.
HOW THE MILLION DISAPPEARED
Soon after noon on the 22d of September, Monty folded his report to Swearengen Jones, stuck it into his pocket and sallied forth. A parcel delivery wagon had carried off a mysterious bundle a few minutes before. Mrs. Gray could not conceal her wonder, but Brewster's answers to her questions threw little light on the mystery. He could not tell her the big bundle contained the receipts that were to prove his sincerity when the time came to settle with Mr. Jones. Brewster had used his own form of receipt for every purchase. The little stub receipt books had been made to order for him and not only he but every person in his employ carried one everywhere. No matter how trivial the purchase, the person who received a dollar of Brewster's money signed a receipt for the amount. Newsboys and bootblacks were the only beings who escaped the formality; tips to waiters, porters, cabbies, etc., were recorded and afterward put into a class by themselves. Receipts for the few dollars remaining in his possession were to be turned over on the morning of the 23d and the general report was not to be completed until 9 o'clock on that day.
He kissed Peggy good-bye, told her to be ready for a drive at 4 o'clock, and then went off to find Joe Bragdon and Elon Gardner. They met him by appointment and to them he confided his design to be married on the following day.
"You can't afford it, Monty," exploded Joe, fearlessly. "Peggy is too good a girl. By Gad, it isn't fair to her."
"We have agreed to begin life to-morrow. Wait and see the result. I think it will surprise you. Incidentally it is up to me to get the license to-day and to engage a minister's services. It's going to be quiet, you know. Joe, you can be my best man if you like, and, Gardie, I'll expect you to sign your name as one of the witnesses. To-morrow evening we'll have supper at Mrs. Gray's and 'among those present' will not comprise a very large list, I assure you. But we'll talk about that later on. Just now I want to ask you fellows to lend me enough money to get the license and pay the preacher. I'll return it to-morrow afternoon."
"Well, I'm damned," exclaimed Gardner, utterly dumfounded by the nerve of the man. But they went with him to get the license and Bragdon paid for it. Gardner promised to have the minister at the Gray house the next morning. Monty's other request—made in deep seriousness—was that Peggy was not to be told of the little transaction in which the license and the minister figured so prominently. He then hurried off to the office of Grant & Ripley. The bundles of receipts had preceded him.
"Has Jones arrived in town?" was his first anxious question after the greetings.
"He is not registered at any of the hotels," responded Mr. Grant, and Brewster did not see the troubled look that passed over his face.
"He'll show up to-night, I presume," said he, complacently. The lawyers did not tell him that all the telegrams they had sent to Swearengen Jones in the past two weeks had been returned to the New York office as unclaimed in Butte. The telegraph company reported that Mr. Jones was not to be found and that he had not been seen in Butte since the 3d of September. The lawyers were hourly expecting word from Montana men to whom they had telegraphed for information and advice. They were extremely nervous, but Montgomery Brewster was too eager and excited to notice the fact.
"A tall, bearded stranger was here this morning asking for you, Mr. Brewster," said Ripley, his head bent over some papers on his desk.
"Ah! Jones, I'm sure. I've always imagined him with a long beard," said Monty, relief in his voice.
"It was not Mr. Jones. We know Jones quite well. This man was a stranger and refused to give his name. He said he would call at Mrs. Gray's this afternoon."
"Did he look like a constable or a bill-collector?" asked Monty, with a laugh.
"He looked very much like a tramp."
"Well, we'll forget him for the time being," said Monty, drawing the report from his pocket. "Would you mind looking over this report, gentlemen? I'd like to know if it is in proper form to present to Mr. Jones."
Grant's hand trembled as he took the carefully folded sheet from Brewster. A quick glance of despair passed between the two lawyers.
"Of course, you'll understand that this report is merely a synopsis of the expenditures. They are classified, however, and the receipts over there are arranged in such a way that Mr. Jones can very easily verify all the figures set out in the report. For instance, where it says 'cigars,' I have put down the total amount that went up in smoke. The receipts are to serve as an itemized statement, you know." Mr. Ripley took the paper from his partner's hand and, pulling himself together, read the report aloud. It was as follows:
NEW YORK, Sept. 23, 19—. To SWEARENGEN JONES, ESQ.
Executor under the will of the late James T. Sedgwick of Montana:
In pursuance of the terms of the aforesaid will and in accord with the instructions set forth by yourself as executor, I present my report of receipts and disbursements for the year in my life ending at midnight on Sept. 22. The accuracy of the figures set forth in this general statement may be established by referring to the receipts, which form a part of this report. There is not one penny of Edwin Peter Brewster's money in my possession, and I have no asset to mark its burial place. These figures are submitted for your most careful consideration.
ORIGINAL CAPITAL ........................... $1,000,000.00
"Lumber and Fuel" misfortune ................... 58,550.00 Prize-fight misjudged ........................... 1,000.00 Monte Carlo education .......................... 40,000.00 Race track errors ................................. 700.00 Sale of six terrier pups .......................... 150.00 Sale of furniture and personal effects ......... 40,500.00 Interest on funds once in hand ................. 19,140.00 Total amount to be disposed of ............. $1,160,040.00
Rent for apartments ........................... $23,000.00 Furnishing apartments .......................... 88,372.00 Three automobiles .............................. 21,000.00 Renting six automobiles ........................ 25,000.00 Amount lost to DeMille .......................... 1,000.00 Salaries ....................................... 25,650.00 Amount paid to men injured in auto accident .... 12,240 00 Amount lost in bank failure ................... 113,468.25 Amount lost on races ............................ 4,000.00 One glass screen ................................ 3,000.00 Christmas presents .............................. 7,211.00 Postage ......................................... 1,105.00 Cable and telegraph ............................. 3,253.00 Stationery ...................................... 2,400.00 Two Boston terriers ............................... 600.00 Amount lost to "hold-up men" ...................... 450.00 Amount lost on concert tour .................... 56,382.00 Amount lost through O. Harrison's speculation (on my account) .............................. 60,000.00 One ball (in two sections) ..................... 60,000.00 Extra favors .................................... 6,000.00 One yacht cruise .............................. 212,309.50 One carnival .................................... 6,824.00 Cigars .......................................... 1,720.00 Drinks, chiefly for others ...................... 9,040.00 Clothing ........................................ 3,400.00 Rent of one villa .............................. 20,000.00 One courier ....................................... 500.00 Dinner parties ................................ 117,900.00 Suppers and luncheons .......................... 38,000.00 Theater parties and suppers ..................... 6,277.00 Hotel expenses ................................. 61,218.59 Railway and steamship fares .................... 31,274.81 For Newsboys' Home .............................. 5,000.00 Two opera performances ......................... 20,000.00 Repairs to "Flitter" ........................... 6,342.60 In tow from somewhere to Southampton ........... 50,000.00 Special train to Florida ....................... 1,000.00 Cottage in Florida ............................. 5,500.00 Medical attendance ............................. 3,100.00 Living expenses in Florida ..................... 8,900.00 Misappropriation of personal property by servants ...................................... 3,580.00 Taxes on personal property ........................ 112.25 Sundries ........................................ 9,105.00 Household expenses ............................. 24,805.00 Total disbursements ........................ $1,160,040.00
BALANCE ON HAND ............................ $0,000,000.00
"It's rather broad, you see, gentlemen, but there are receipts for every dollar, barring some trifling incidentals. He may think I dissipated the fortune, but I defy him or any one else to prove that I have not had my money's worth. To tell you the truth, it has seemed like a hundred million. If any one should tell you that it is an easy matter to waste a million dollars, refer him to me. Last fall I weighed 180 pounds, yesterday I barely moved the beam at 140; last fall there was not a wrinkle in my face, nor did I have a white hair. You see the result of overwork, gentlemen. It will take an age to get back to where I was physically, but I think I can do it with the vacation that begins to-morrow. Incidentally, I'm going to be married to-morrow morning, just when I am poorer than I ever expect to be again. I still have a few dollars to spend and I must be about it. To-morrow I will account for what I spend this evening. It is now covered by the 'sundries' item, but I'll have the receipts to show, all right. See you to-morrow morning."
He was gone, eager to be with Peggy, afraid to discuss his report with the lawyers. Grant and Ripley shook their heads and sat silent for a long time after his departure.
"We ought to hear something definite before night," said Grant, but there was anxiety in his voice.
"I wonder," mused Ripley, as if to himself, "how he will take it if the worst should happen."
THE NIGHT BEFORE
"It's all up to Jones now," kept running through Brewster's brain as he drove off to keep his appointment with Peggy Gray. "The million is gone—all gone. I'm as poor as Job's turkey. It's up to Jones, but I don't see how he can decide against me. He insisted on making a pauper of me and he can't have the heart to throw me down now. But, what if he should take it into his head to be ugly! I wonder if I could break the will—I wonder if I could beat him out in court."
Peggy was waiting for him. Her cheeks were flushed as with a fever. She had caught from him the mad excitement of the occasion.
"Come, Peggy," he exclaimed, eagerly. "This is our last holiday—let's be merry. We can forget it to-morrow, if you like, when we begin all over again, but maybe it will be worth remembering." He assisted her to the seat and then leaped up beside her. "We're off!" he cried, his voice quivering.
"It is absolute madness, dear," she said, but her eyes were sparkling with the joy of recklessness. Away went the trap and the two light hearts. Mrs. Gray turned from a window in the house with tears in her eyes. To her troubled mind they were driving off into utter darkness.
"The queerest looking man came to the house to see you this afternoon, Monty," said Peggy. "He wore a beard and he made me think of one of Remington's cowboys."
"What was his name?"
"He told the maid it did not matter. I saw him as he walked away and he looked very much a man. He said he would come to-morrow if he did not find you down town to-night. Don't you recognize him from the description?"
"Not at all. Can't imagine who he is."
"Monty," she said, after a moment's painful reflection, "he—he couldn't have been a—"
"I know what you mean. An officer sent up to attach my belongings or something of the sort. No, dearest; I give you my word of honor I do not owe a dollar in the world." Then he recalled his peculiar indebtedness to Bragdon and Gardner. "Except one or two very small personal obligations," he added, hastily. "Don't worry about it, dear, we are out for a good time and we must make the most of it. First, we drive through the Park, then we dine at Sherry's."
"But we must dress for that, dear," she cried. "And the chaperon?"
He turned very red when she spoke of dressing. "I'm ashamed to confess it, Peggy, but I have no other clothes than these I'm wearing now. Don't look so hurt, dear—I'm going to leave an order for new evening clothes to-morrow—if I have the time. And about the chaperon. People won't be talking before to-morrow and by that time—"
"No, Monty, Sherry's is out of the question. We can't go there," she said, decisively.
"Oh, Peggy! That spoils everything," he cried, in deep disappointment.
"It isn't fair to me, Monty. Everybody would know us, and every tongue would wag. They would say, 'There are Monty Brewster and Margaret Gray. Spending his last few dollars on her.' You wouldn't have them think that?"
He saw the justice in her protest. "A quiet little dinner in some out of the way place would be joyous," she added, persuasively.
"You're right, Peggy, you're always right. You see, I'm so used to spending money by the handful that I don't know how to do it any other way. I believe I'll let you carry the pocketbook after to-morrow. Let me think; I knew a nice little restaurant down town. We'll go there and then to the theater. Dan DeMille and his wife are to be in my box and we're all going up to Pettingill's studio afterward. I'm to give the 'Little Sons' a farewell supper. If my calculations don't go wrong, that will be the end of the jaunt and we'll go home happy."
At eleven o'clock Pettingill's studio opened its doors to the "Little Sons" and their guests, and the last "Dutch lunch" was soon under way. Brewster had paid for it early in the evening and when he sat down at the head of the table there was not a penny in his pockets. A year ago, at the same hour, he and the "Little Sons" were having a birthday feast. A million dollars came to him on that night. To-night he was poorer by far than on the other occasion, but he expected a little gift on the new anniversary.
Around the board, besides the nine "Little Sons," sat six guests, among them the DeMilles, Peggy Gray and Mary Valentine. "Nopper" Harrison was the only absent "Little Son" and his health was proposed by Brewster almost before the echoes of the toast to the bride and groom died away.
Interruption came earlier on this occasion than it did that night a year ago. Ellis did not deliver his message to Brewster until three o'clock in the morning, but the A.D.T. boy who rang the bell at Pettingill's a year later handed him a telegram before twelve o'clock.
"Congratulations are coming in, old man," said DeMille, as Monty looked fearfully at the little envelope the boy had given him.
"Many happy returns of the day," suggested Bragdon. "By Jove, it's sensible of you to get married on your birthday, Monty. It saves time and expense to your friends."
"Read it aloud," said "Subway" Smith.
"Two to one it's from Nopper Harrison," cried Pettingill.
Brewster's fingers trembled, he knew not why, as he opened the envelope. There was the most desolate feeling in his heart, the most ghastly premonition that ill-news had come in this last hour. He drew forth the telegram and slowly, painfully unfolded it. No one could have told by his expression that he felt almost that he was reading his death warrant. It was from Grant & Ripley and evidently had been following him about town for two or three hours. The lawyers had filed it at 8:30 o'clock.
He read it at a glance, his eyes burning, his heart freezing. To the end of his days these words lived sharp and distinct in his brain.
"Come to the office immediately. Will wait all night for you if necessary. Jones has disappeared and there is absolutely no trace of him."
"Grant & Ripley."
Brewster sat as one paralyzed, absolutely no sign of emotion in his face. The others began to clamor for the contents of the telegram, but his tongue was stiff and motionless, his ears deaf. Every drop of blood in his body was stilled by the shock, every sense given him by the Creator was centered upon eleven words in the handwriting of a careless telegraph operator—"Jones has disappeared and there is absolutely no trace of him."
"JONES HAS DISAPPEARED!" Those were the words, plain and terrible in their clearness, tremendous in their brutality. Slowly the rest of the message began to urge its claims upon his brain. "Come to our office immediately" and "Will wait all night" battled for recognition. He was calm because he had not the power to express an emotion. How he maintained control of himself afterward he never knew. Some powerful, kindly force asserted itself, coming to his relief with the timeliness of a genii. Gradually it began to dawn upon him that the others were waiting for him to read the message aloud. He was not sure that a sound would come forth when he opened his lips to speak, but the tones were steady, natural and as cold as steel.
"I am sorry I can't tell you about this," he said, so gravely that his hearers were silenced. "It is a business matter of such vital importance that I must ask you to excuse me for an hour or so. I will explain everything to-morrow. Please don't be uneasy. If you will do me the honor to grace the board of an absent host, I'll be most grateful. It is imperative that I go, and at once. I promise to return in an hour." He was standing, his knees as stiff as iron.
"Is it anything serious?" asked DeMille.
"What! has anything happened?" came in halting, frightened tones from Peggy.
"It concerns me alone, and it is purely of a business nature. Seriously, I can't delay going for another minute. It is vital. In an hour I'll return. Peggy, don't be worried—don't be distressed about me. Go on and have a good time, everybody, and you'll find me the jolliest fellow of all when I come back. It's twelve o'clock. I'll be here by one on the 23d of September."
"Let me go with you," pleaded Peggy, tremulously, as she followed him into the hallway.
"I must go alone," he answered. "Don't worry, little woman, it will be all right."
His kiss sent a chill to the very bottom of Peggy's heart.
THE FLIGHT OF JONES
Everything seemed like a dream to Brewster as he rushed off through the night to the office of Grant & Ripley. He was dazed, bewildered, hardly more than half-conscious. A bitter smile crept about his lips as he drew away from the street-car track almost as his hand touched the rail of a car he had signaled. He remembered that he did not have money enough to pay his fare. It was six or seven blocks to the office of the lawyers, and he was actually running before he stopped at the entrance of the big building.
Never had an elevator traveled more slowly than the one which shot him to the seventh floor. A light shone through the transom above the attorneys' door and he entered without so much as a rap on the panel. Grant, who was pacing the floor, came to a standstill and faced his visitor.
"Close the door, please," came in steady tones from Ripley. Mr. Grant dropped into a chair and Brewster mechanically slammed the door.
"Is it true?" he demanded hoarsely, his hand still on the knob.
"Sit down, Brewster, and control yourself," said Ripley.
"Good God, man, can't you see I am calm?" cried Monty. "Go on—tell me all about it. What do you know? What have you heard?"
"He cannot be found, that's all," announced Ripley, with deadly intentness. "I don't know what it means. There is no explanation. The whole thing is inconceivable. Sit down and I will tell you everything as quickly as possible."
"There isn't much to tell," said Grant, mechanically.
"I can take it better standing," declared Brewster, shutting his jaws tightly.
"Jones was last seen in Butte on the third of this month," said Ripley. "We sent several telegrams to him after that day, asking when he expected to leave for New York. They never were claimed and the telegraph company reported that he could not be found. We thought he might have gone off to look after some of his property and were not uneasy. Finally we began to wonder why he had not wired us on leaving for the east. I telegraphed him again and got no answer. It dawned upon us that this was something unusual. We wired his secretary and received a response from the chief of police. He asked, in turn, if we could tell him anything about the whereabouts of Jones. This naturally alarmed us and yesterday we kept the wires hot. The result of our inquiries is terrible, Mr. Brewster."
"Why didn't you tell me?" asked Brewster.
"There can be no doubt that Jones has fled, accompanied by his secretary. The belief in Butte is that the secretary has murdered him."
"God!" was the only sound that came from the lips of Brewster.
Ripley moistened his lips and went on
"We have dispatches here from the police, the banks, the trust companies and from a half dozen mine managers. You may read them if you like, but I can tell you what they say. About the first of this month Jones began to turn various securities into money. It is now known that they were once the property of James T. Sedgwick, held in trust for you. The safety deposit vaults were afterward visited and inspection shows that he removed every scrap of stock, every bond, everything of value that he could lay his hands upon. His own papers and effects were not disturbed. Yours alone have disappeared. It is this fact that convinces the authorities that the secretary has made away with the old man and has fled with the property. The bank people say that Jones drew out every dollar of the Sedgwick money, and the police say that he realized tremendous sums on the convertible securities. The strange part of it is that he sold your mines and your real estate, the purchaser being a man named Golden. Brewster, it—it looks very much as if he had disappeared with everything."
Brewster did not take his eyes from Ripley's face throughout the terrible speech; he did not move a fraction of an inch from the rigid position assumed at the beginning.
"Is anything being done?" he asked, mechanically.
"The police are investigating. He is known to have started off into the mountains with this secretary on the third of September. Neither has been seen since that day, so far as any one knows. The earth seems to have swallowed them. The authorities are searching the mountains and are making every effort to find Jones or his body. He is known to be eccentric and at first not much importance was attached to his actions. That is all we can tell you at present. There may be developments to-morrow. It looks bad—terribly bad. We—we had the utmost confidence in Jones. My God, I wish I could help you, my boy."
"I don't blame you, gentlemen," said Brewster, bravely. "It's just my luck, that's all. Something told me all along that—that it wouldn't turn out right. I wasn't looking for this kind of end, though. My only fear was that—Jones wouldn't consider me worthy to receive the fortune. It never occurred to me that he might prove to be the—the unworthy one."
"I will take you a little farther into our confidence, Brewster," said Grant, slowly. "Mr. Jones notified us at the beginning that he would be governed largely in his decision by our opinion of your conduct. That is why we felt no hesitation in advising you to continue as you were going. While you were off at sea, we had many letters from him, all in that sarcastic vein of his, but in none of them did he offer a word of criticism. He seemed thoroughly satisfied with your methods. In fact, he once said he'd give a million of his own money if it would purchase your ability to spend one-fourth of it."
"Well, he can have my experience free of charge. A beggar can't be a chooser, you know," said Brewster, bitterly. His color was gradually coming back. "What do they know about the secretary?" he asked, suddenly, intent and alive.
"He was a new one, I understand, who came to Jones less than a year ago. Jones is said to have had implicit faith in him," said Ripley.
"And he disappeared at the same time?"
"They were last seen together."
"Then he has put an end to Jones!" cried Monty, excitedly. "It is as plain as day to me. Don't you see that he exerted some sort of influence over the old man, inducing him to get all this money together on some pretext or other, solely for the purpose of robbing him of the whole amount? Was ever anything more diabolical?" He began pacing the floor like an animal, nervously clasping and unclasping his hands. "We must catch that secretary! I don't believe Jones was dishonest. He has been duped by a clever scoundrel."
"The strangest circumstance of all, Mr. Brewster, is that no such person as Golden, the purchaser of your properties, can be found. He is supposed to reside in Omaha, and it is known that he paid nearly three million dollars for the property that now stands in his name. He paid it to Mr. Jones in cash, too, and he paid every cent that the property is worth."
"But he must be in existence somewhere," cried Brewster, in perplexity. "How the devil could he pay the money if he doesn't exist?"
"I only know that no trace of the man can be found. They know nothing of him in Omaha," said Grant, helplessly.
"So it has finally happened," said Brewster, but his excitement had dropped. "Well," he added, throwing himself into a deep chair, "it was always much too strange to be true. Even at the beginning it seemed like a dream, and now—well, now I am just awake, like the little boy after the fairy-tale. I seem like a fool to have taken it so seriously."
"There was no other way," protested Ripley, "you were quite right."
"Well, after all," continued Brewster, and the voice was as of one in a dream, "perhaps it's as well to have been in Wonderland even if you have to come down afterward to the ordinary world. I am foolish, perhaps, but even now I would not give it up." Then the thought of Peggy clutched him by the throat, and he stopped. After a moment he gathered himself together and rose. "Gentlemen," he said sharply, and his voice had changed; "I have had my fun and this is the end of it. Down underneath I am desperately tired of the whole thing, and I give you my word that you will find me a different man to-morrow. I am going to buckle down to the real thing. I am going to prove that my grandfather's blood is in me. And I shall come out on top."
Ripley was obviously moved as he replied, "I don't question it for a moment. You are made of the right stuff. I saw that long ago. You may count on us to-morrow for any amount you need."
Grant endorsed the opinion. "I like your spirit, Brewster," he said. "There are not many men who would have taken this as well. It's pretty hard on you, too, and it's a miserable wedding gift for your bride."
"We may have important news from Butte in the morning," said Ripley, hopefully; "at any rate, more of the details. The newspapers will have sensational stories no doubt, and we have asked for the latest particulars direct from the authorities. We'll see that things are properly investigated. Go home now, my boy, and go to bed. You will begin to-morrow with good luck on your side and you may be happy all your life in spite of to-night's depression."
"I'm sure to be happy," said Brewster, simply. "The ceremony takes place at seven o'clock, gentlemen. I was coming to your office at nine on a little matter of business, but I fancy it won't after all be necessary for me to hurry. I'll drop in before noon, however, and get that money. By the way, here are the receipts for the money I spent to-night. Will you put them away with the others? I intend to live up to my part of the contract, and it will save me the trouble of presenting them regularly in the morning. Good night, gentlemen. I am sorry you were obliged to stay up so late on my account."
He left them bravely enough, but he had more than one moment of weakness before he could meet his friends. The world seemed unreal and himself the most unreal thing in it. But the night air acted as a stimulant and helped him to call back his courage. When he entered the studio at one o'clock, he was prepared to redeem his promise to be "the jolliest fellow of them all."
THE LAST WORD
"I'll tell you about it later, dear," was all that Peggy, pleading, could draw from him.
At midnight Mrs. Dan had remonstrated with her. "You must go home, Peggy, dear," she said. "It is disgraceful for you to stay up so late. I went to bed at eight o'clock the night before I was married."
"And fell asleep at four in the morning," smiled Peggy.
"You are quite mistaken, my dear. I did not fall asleep at all. But I won't allow you to stop a minute longer. It puts rings under the eyes and sometimes they're red the morning after."
"Oh, you dear, sweet philosopher," cried Peggy; "how wise you are. Do you think I need a beauty sleep?"
"I don't want you to be a sleepy beauty, that's all," retorted Mrs. Dan.
Upon Monty's return from his trying hour with the lawyers, he had been besieged with questions, but he was cleverly evasive. Peggy alone was insistent; she had curbed her curiosity until they were on the way home, and then she implored him to tell her what had happened. The misery he had endured was as nothing to his reckoning with the woman who had the right to expect fair treatment. His duty was clear, but the strain had been heavy and it was not easy to meet it.
"Peggy, something terrible has happened," he faltered, uncertain of his course.
"Tell me everything, Monty, you can trust me to be brave."
"When I asked you to marry me," he continued gravely, "it was with the thought that I could give you everything to-morrow. I looked for a fortune. I never meant that you should marry a pauper."
"I don't understand. You tried to test my love for you?"
"No, child, not that. But I was pledged not to speak of the money I expected, and I wanted you so much before it came."
"And it has failed you?" she answered. "I can't see that it changes things. I expected to marry a pauper, as you call it. Do you think this could make a difference?"
"But you don't understand, Peggy. I haven't a penny in the world."
"You hadn't a penny when I accepted you," she replied. "I am not afraid. I believe in you. And if you love me I shall not give you up."
"Dearest!" and the carriage was at the door before another word was uttered. But Monty called to the coachman to drive just once around the block.
"Good night, my darling," he said when they reached home. "Sleep till eight o'clock if you like. There is nothing now in the way of having the wedding at nine, instead of at seven. In fact, I have a reason for wanting my whole fortune to come to me then. You will be all that I have in the world, child, but I am the happiest man alive."
In his room the strain was relaxed and Brewster faced the bitter reality. Without undressing he threw himself upon the lounge and wondered what the world held for him. It held Peggy at least, he thought, and she was enough. But had he been fair to her? Was he right in exacting a sacrifice? His tired brain whirled in the effort to decide. Only one thing was clear—that he could not give her up. The future grew black at the very thought of it. With her he could make things go, but alone it was another matter. He would take the plunge and he would justify it. His mind went traveling back over the graceless year, and he suddenly realized that he had forfeited the confidence of men who were worth while. His course in profligacy would not be considered the best training for business. The thought nerved him to action. He must make good. Peggy had faith in him. She came to him when everything was against him, and he would slave for her, he would starve, he would do anything to prove that she was not mistaken in him. She at least should know him for a man.
Looking toward the window he saw the black, uneasy night give way to the coming day. Haggard and faint he arose from the couch to watch the approach of the sun that is indifferent to wealth and poverty, to gayety and dejection. From far off in the gray light there came the sound of a five o'clock bell. A little later the shrieks of factory whistles were borne to his ears, muffled by distance but pregnant with the importance of a new day of toil. They were calling him, with all poor men, to the sweat-shop and the forge, to the great mill of life. The new era had begun, dawning bright and clear to disperse the gloom in his soul. Leaning against the casement and wondering where he could earn the first dollar for the Peggy Brewster that was Peggy Gray, he rose to meet it with a fine unflinching fearlessness.
Before seven o'clock he was down stairs and waiting. Joe Bragdon joined him a bit later, followed by Gardner and the minister. The DeMilles appeared without an invitation, but they were not denied. Mrs. Dan sagely shook her head when told that Peggy was still asleep and that the ceremony was off till nine o'clock.
"Monty, are you going away?" asked Dan, drawing him into a corner.
"Just a week in the hills," answered Monty, suddenly remembering the generosity of his attorneys.
"Come in and see me as soon as you return, old man," said DeMille, and Monty knew that a position would be open to him.
To Mrs. Dan fell the honor of helping Peggy dress. By the time she had had coffee and was ready to go down, she was pink with excitement and had quite forgotten the anxiety which had made the night an age.
She had never been prettier than on her wedding morning. Her color was rich, her eyes as clear as stars, her woman's body the picture of grace and health. Monty's heart leaped high with love of her.
"The prettiest girl in New York, by Jove," gasped Dan DeMille, clutching Bragdon by the arm.
"And look at Monty! He's become a new man in the last five minutes," added Joe. "Look at the glow in his cheeks! By the eternal, he's beginning to look as he did a year ago."
A clock chimed the hour of nine.
"The man who was here yesterday is in the hall to see Mr. Brewster," said the maid, a few minutes after the minister had uttered the words that gave Peggy a new name. There was a moment of silence, almost of dread.
"You mean the fellow with the beard?" asked Monty, uneasily.
"Yes, sir. He sent in this letter, begging you to read it at once."
"Shall I send him away, Monty?" demanded Bragdon, defiantly. "What does he mean by coming at this time?"
"I'll read the letter first, Joe."
Every eye was on Brewster as he tore open the envelope. His face was expressive. There was wonder in it, then incredulity, then joy. He threw the letter to Bragdon, clasped Peggy in his arms spasmodically, and then, releasing her, dashed for the hall like one bereft of reason.
"It's Nopper Harrison!" he cried, and a moment later the tall visitor was dragged into the circle. "Nopper" was quite overcome by the heartiness of his welcome.
"You are an angel, Nopper, God bless you!" said Monty, with convincing emphasis. "Joe, read that letter aloud and then advertise for the return of those Boston terriers!"
Bragdon's hands trembled and his voice was not sure as he translated the scrawl, "Nopper" Harrison standing behind him for the gleeful purpose of prompting him when the writing was beyond the range of human intelligence:
HOLLAND HOUSE, Sept. 23, 19—
"MR. MONTGOMERY BREWSTER,
"My Dear Boy:
"So you thought I had given you the slip, eh? Didn't think I'd show up here and do my part? Well, I don't blame you; I suppose I've acted like a damned idiot, but so long as it turns out O.K. there's no harm done. The wolf won't gnaw very much of a hole in your door, I reckon. This letter introduces my secretary, Mr. Oliver Harrison. He came to me last June, out in Butte, with the prospectus of a claim he had staked out up in the mountains. What he wanted was backing and he had such a good show to win out that I went into cahoots with him. He's got a mine up there that is dead sure to yield millions. Seems as though he has to give you half of the yield, though. Says you grub-staked him. Good fellow, this Harrison. Needed a secretary and man of affairs, so took him into my office. You can see that he did not take me up into the mountains to murder me, as the papers say this morning. Damned rot. Nobody's business but my own if I concluded to come east without telling everybody in Butte about it.
"I am here and so is the money. Got in last night. Harrison came from Chicago a day ahead of me. I went to the office of G. & R. at eight this morning. Found them in a hell of a stew. Thought I'd skipped out or been murdered. Money all gone, everything gone to smash. That's what they thought. Don't blame 'em much. You see it was this way: I concluded to follow out the terms of the will and deliver the goods in person. I got together all of Jim Sedgwick's stuff and did a lot of other fool things, I suppose, and hiked on to New York. You'll find about seven million dollars' worth of stuff to your credit when you endorse the certified checks down at Grant & Ripley's, my boy. It's all here and in the banks.
"It's a mighty decent sort of wedding gift, I reckon.
"The lawyers told me all about you. Told me all about last night, and that you were going to be married this morning. By this time you're comparatively happy with the bride, I guess. I looked over your report and took a few peeps at the receipts. They're all right. I'm satisfied. The money is yours. Then I got to thinking that maybe you wouldn't care to come down at nine o'clock, especially as you are just recovering from the joy of being married, so I settled with the lawyers and they'll settle with you. If you have nothing in particular to do this afternoon about two o'clock, I'd suggest that you come to the hotel and we'll dispose of a few formalities that the law requires of us. And you can give me some lessons in spending money. I've got a little I'd like to miss some morning. As for your ability as a business man, I have this to say: Any man who can spend a million a year and have nothing to show for it, don't need a recommendation from anybody. He's in a class by himself, and it's a business that no one else can give him a pointer about. The best test of your real capacity, my boy, is the way you listed your property for taxation. It's a true sign of business sagacity. That would have decided me in your favor if everything else had been against you.
"I'm sorry you've been worried about all this. You have gone through a good deal in a year and you have been roasted from Hades to breakfast by everybody. Now it's your turn to laugh. It will surprise them to read the 'extras' to-day. I've done my duty to you in more ways than one. I've got myself interviewed by the newspapers and to-day they'll print the whole truth about Montgomery Brewster and his millions. They've got the Sedgwick will and my story and the old town will boil with excitement. I guess you'll be squared before the world, all right. You'd better stay indoors for awhile though, if you want to have a quiet honeymoon.
"I don't like New York. Never did. Am going back to Butte to-night. Out there we have real skyscrapers and they are not built of brick. They are two or three miles high and they have gold in 'em. There is real grass in the lowlands and we have valleys that make Central Park look like a half inch of nothing. Probably you and Mrs. Brewster were going to take a wedding trip, so why not go west with me in my car? We start at 7:45 P.M. and I won't bother you. Then you can take it anywhere you like.
"P.S. I forgot to say there is no such man as Golden. I bought your mines and ranches with my own money. You may buy them back at the same figures. I'd advise you to do it. They'll be worth twice as much in a year. I hope you'll forgive the whims of an old man who has liked you from the start.