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Colonel Carter's Christmas and The Romance of an Old-Fashioned Gentleman
by F. Hopkinson Smith
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This time a messenger stood outside.

"A note for Mr. Adam Gregg," he said. "Are you the man?"

Adam receipted the slip, dismissed the boy and stepped to the middle of the room under the skylight to see the better. It was from Phil.

"I cannot reach you until late. Have just received a note from the Seaboard Trust Company saying Mr. Stockton wants to see me. More trouble for P. C. & Co., I guess. Hope for good news from Madeleine."

This last note filled his mind with a certain undefined uneasiness. What fresh trouble had arisen? Had some other securities on which money had been loaned—made prior to Phil's awakening—been found wanting in value? He hoped the boy's past wasn't going to hurt him.

With this new anxiety filling his mind he laid down his brushes—he had not yet touched his canvas—put on his hat and strode out into the street. A breath of fresh air would clear his head—it always did.

For two hours he walked the pavements—up through the Park; out along the edge of the river and back again. With every step there came to him the realization of the parallels existing between his own life's romance and that of Philip's. Some of these were mere creations of his brain; others—especially those which ended in the sacrifice of a man's career for what he considered to be right—had a certain basis of fact. Then a shiver crept over him: For honor he had lost the woman he loved: Was Phil to tread the same weary path and for the same cause? And if fate should be thus cruel would he and Madeleine forget in time and lead their lives anew and apart, or would their souls cry out in anguish as his had done all these years, each day bringing a new longing and each day a new pain: he in all the vigor of his manhood and the full flower of his accomplishment and still alone and desolate.

With these reflections, none of them logical—but all showing the perturbed condition of his mind and his anxiety for those he loved, he mounted the stairs of the building and pushed open the door of his studio.

It had grown quite dark and the studio was filled with shadows. As he crossed to the mantel—he rarely entered the room without pausing for a moment in front of the portrait—Olivia's face, with that strange, wan expression which the fading light always brought to view, seemed to stand out from the frame as if in appeal, a discovery that brought a further sinking of the heart to his already overburdened spirit.

With a quick movement, as if dreading the power of prolonged darkness, he struck a match and flashed up the circle of gas jets, flooding the studio with light.

Suddenly he stopped and swept his eyes rapidly around the room. Some one beside himself was present. He had caught the sound of a slight movement and the murmur of whispering voices. Then a low, rippling laugh fell upon his ears—the notes of a bird singing in the dark, and the next instant Madeleine sprang from behind a screen where she had been hiding and threw her arms around his neck.

"Guess!" she cried, pressing his ruddy cheeks, fresh from his walk, between her tiny palms. "Guess what's happened! Quick!"

The revulsion was so great that for the moment he lost his breath.

"No! you couldn't guess! Nobody could. Oh, I'm so happy! Father's—made—it—up—with—Phil!"

"Made it up! How do you know?" he stammered.

"Phil's just left him. Come out, Phil!"

Phil's head now peered from behind the screen.

"What do you think of that, Old Gentleman?" he cried, clasping Adam's outstretched hand.

"And there isn't any trouble, Phil, over Mr. Stockton's note?" exclaimed Gregg in a joyous but baffled tone of voice: he was still completely at sea over the situation.

"Trouble over what?" asked Phil, equally mystified.

"That's what I want to know. You wrote me that it meant more trouble for your firm."

"Yes, but that was before I had seen Mr. Stockton. Then I ran across Mr. Eggleston just as he was coming out of the trust company, and he sent me to Madeleine—and we couldn't get here quick enough. She beat me running up your stairs. Hasn't she told you? And you don't know about Stockton's letter? No! Why, he has offered me the position of head of the bond department of the trust company at a salary of ten thousand a year, and I go to work to-morrow! Here's his letter. Let me read you the last clause:"

"No, let me," cried Madeleine, reaching for the envelope.



"No—I'll read it," begged Phil.

"No, you won't! I'll read it myself!" burst out Madeleine, catching the letter from Phil's hand and whirling around the room in her glee. "Listen: 'The Trust Company needs men like you, Mr. Colton, and so does the Street!' Isn't that lovely?"

"And that's not all, Old Gentleman!" shouted Phil. "We are going to be married in a month. What do you think of that!"

"And Mr. Eggleston is willing!"

"Willing! Why, you don't think he would offend Mr. Stockton, do you?"

Gregg had them in his arms now—Madeleine a bundle of joyous laughter; Phil radiant, self-contained, determined.

For a brief moment the three stood silent. A hush came over them. Adam's head was bent, his forehead almost touching Phil's shoulder, a prayer trembling on his lips. Then with a sudden movement he led them to the portrait, and in an exultant tone, through which an unbidden sob fought its way, he cried:

"Look up, my children—up into your mother's face. See the joy in her eyes! It is all her doing, Phil."

"Oh! my beloved, now you know."

* * * * *

The picture has never been taken from Gregg's studio. It still keeps its place over the mantel. There is rarely a day that one of the three does not place flowers beneath it; sometimes Madeleine and Phil arrange them; sometimes Adam; and sometimes little blue-eyed, golden-haired Olivia is lifted up in Gregg's strong arms so that she may fill the jar with her own wee hands.

THE END



TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE:

Minor changes have been made to correct typesetters' errors; otherwise, every effort has been made to remain true to the author's words and intent.

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