As the young fellow had not heard from his uncle in many moons, the surprise was all the greater. Nor, if the truth be known, had he laid eyes on that gentleman since he left the shelter of his home, except at Corinne's wedding,—and then only across the church, and again in the street, when his uncle stopped and shook his hand in a rather perfunctory way, complimenting him on his bravery in rescuing MacFarlane, an account of which he had seen in the newspapers, and ending by hoping that his new life would "drop some shekels into his clothes." Mrs. Breen, on the contrary, while she had had no opportunity of expressing her mental attitude toward the exile, never having seen him since he walked out of her front door, was by no means oblivious to Jack's social and business successes. "I hear Jack was at Mrs. Portman's last night," she said to her husband the morning after one of the ex-Clearing House Magnate's great receptions. "They say he goes everywhere, and that Mr. Grayson has adopted him and is going to leave him all his money," to which Breen had grunted back that Jack was welcome to the Portmans and the Portmans to Jack, and that if old Grayson had any money, which he very much doubted, he'd better hoist it overboard than give it to that rattlebrain. Mrs. Breen heaved a deep sigh. Neither she nor Breen had been invited to the Portmans', nor had Corinne (the Scribe has often wondered whether the second scoop in Mukton was the cause)—and yet Ruth MacFarlane, and Jack and Miss Felicia Grayson, and a lot more out-of-town people—so that insufferable Mrs. Bennett had told her—had come long distances to be present, the insufferable adding significantly that "Miss MacFarlane looked too lovely and was by all odds the prettiest girl in the room, and as for young Breen, really she could have fallen in love with him herself!"
Jack tucked his uncle's letter in his pocket, skipped over to read it to Ruth and MacFarlane, in explanation of his enforced absence for the day, and kept on his way to the station. The missive referred to the Morfordsburg contract, of course, and was evidently an attempt to gain information regarding the proposed work, Arthur Breen & Co. being the financial agents of many similar properties.
"I will take care of him, sir," Jack had said as he left his Chief. "My uncle, no doubt, means all right, and it is just as well to hear what he says—besides he has been good enough to write to me, and of course I must go, but I shall not commit myself one way or the other—" and with a whispered word in Ruth's ear, a kiss and a laugh, he left the house.
As he turned down the short street leading to the station, he caught sight of Garry forging ahead on his way to the train. That rising young architect, chairman of the Building Committee of the Council, trustee of church funds, politician and all-round man of the world—most of which he carried in a sling—seemed in a particularly happy frame of mind this morning judging from the buoyancy with which he stepped. This had communicated itself to the gayety of his attire, for he was dressed in a light-gray check suit, and wore a straw hat (the first to see the light of summer) with a green ribbon about the crown,—together with a white waistcoat and white spats, the whole enriched by a red rose bud which Corinne had with her own hands pinned in his buttonhole.
"Why, hello! Jack, old man! just the very fellow I'm looking for," cried the joyous traveller. "You going to New York?—So am I,—go every day now,—got something on ice,—the biggest thing I've ever struck. I'll show that uncle of yours that two can play at his game. He hasn't lifted his hand to help us, and I don't want him to,—Cory and I can get along; but you'd think he'd come out and see us once in a while, wouldn't you, or ask after the baby; Mrs. Breen comes, but not Breen. We live in the country and have tar on our heels, he thinks. Here,—sit by the window! Now let's talk of something else. How's Miss Ruth and the governor? He's a daisy;—best engineer anywhere round here. Yes, Cory's all right. Baby keeps her awake half the night; I've moved out and camp upstairs; can't stand it. Oh, by the way, I see you are about finishing up on the railroad work. I'll have something to say to you next week on the damage question. Got all the reports in last night. I tell you, my old chief, Mr. Morris, is a corker! What he doesn't know about masonry isn't worth picking up;—can't fool him! That's what's the matter with half of our younger men; they sharpen lead-pencils, mix ink, and think they are drawing; or they walk down a stone wall and don't know any more what's behind it and what holds it up than a child. Mr. Morris can not only design a wall, but he can teach some first-class mechanics how to lay it."
Jack looked out the window and watched the fences fly past. For the moment he made no reply to Garry's long harangue—especially the part referring to the report. Anxious as he was to learn the result of the award, he did not want the facts from the chairman of the committee in advance of the confirmation by the Council.
"What is it you have on ice, Garry?" he asked at last with a laugh, yielding to an overpowering conviction that he must change the subject—"a new Corn Exchange? Nobody can beat you in corn exchanges."
"Not by a long shot, Jack,—got something better; I am five thousand ahead now, and it's all velvet."
"Gold-mine, Garry?" queried Jack, turning his head. "Another Mukton Lode? Don't forget poor Charlie Gilbert; he's been clerking it ever since, I hear."
"No, a big warehouse company; I'll get the buildings later on. That Mukton Lode deal was a clear skin game, Jack, if it is your uncle, and A. B. & Co. got paid up for it—downtown and uptown. You ought to hear the boys at the Magnolia talk about it. My scheme is not that kind; I'm on the ground floor; got some of the promoter's stock. When you are through with your railroad contract and get your money, let me know. I can show you a thing or two;—open your eyes! No Wall Street racket, remember,—just a plain business deal."
"There won't be much money left over, Garry, from the 'fill' and tunnel work, if we keep on. We ought to have a cyclone next to finish up with; we've had about everything else."
"You're all through, Jack," replied Garry with emphasis.
"I'll believe that when I see it," said Jack with a smile.
"I tell you, Jack, YOU ARE ALL THROUGH. Do you understand? Don't ask me any questions and I won't tell you any lies. The first thing that strikes you will be a check, and don't you forget it!"
Jack's heart gave a bound. The information had come as a surprise and without his aid, and yet it was none the less welcome. The dreaded anxiety was over; he knew now what the verdict of the Council would be. He had been right from the first in this matter, and Garry had not failed despite the strong political pressure which must have been brought against him. The new work now would go on and he and Ruth could go to Morfordsburg together! He could already see her trim, lovely figure in silhouette against the morning light, her eyes dancing, her face aglow in the crisp air of the hills.
Garry continued to talk on as they sped into the city, elaborating the details of the warehouse venture in which he had invested his present and some of his future commissions, but his words fell on stony ground. The expected check was the only thing that filled Jack's thoughts. There was no doubt in his mind now that the decision would be in MacFarlane's favor, and that the sum, whether large or small, would be paid without delay,—Garry being treasurer and a large amount of money being still due McGowan on the embankment and boulevard. It would be joyous news to Ruth, he said to himself, with a thrill surging through his heart.
Jack left Garry on the Jersey side and crossed alone. The boy loved the salt air in his face and the jewelled lights flashed from the ever-restless sea. He loved, too, the dash and vim of it all. Forcing his way through the crowds of passengers to the forward part of the boat, he stood where he could get the full sweep of the wonderful panorama:
The jagged purple line of the vast city stretching as far as the eye could reach; with its flat-top, square-sided, boxlike buildings, with here and there a structure taller than the others; the flash of light from Trinity's spire, its cross aflame; the awkward, crab-like movements of innumerable ferry-boats, their gaping alligator mouths filled with human flies; the impudent, nervous little tugs, spitting steam in every passing face; the long strings of sausage-linked canalers kept together by grunting, slow-moving tows; the great floating track-yards bearing ponderous cars—eight days from the Pacific without break of bulk; the skinny, far-reaching fingers of innumerable docks clutching prey of barge, steamer, and ship; the stately ocean-liner moving to sea, scattering water-bugs of boats, scows and barges as it glided on its way:—all this stirred his imagination and filled him with a strange resolve. He, too, would win a place among the masses—Ruth's hand fast in his.
When Jack, in reply to Breen's note, stepped into his uncle's office, no one would have recognized in the quick, alert, bronze-faced young fellow the retiring, almost timid, boy who once peered out of the port-hole of the cashier's desk. Nor did Jack's eyes fall on any human being he had ever seen before. New occupants filled the chairs about the ticker. A few lucky ones—very few—had pulled out and stayed out, and could now be found at their country seats in various parts of the State, or on the Riviera, or in Egypt; but by far the larger part had crawled out of the fight to nurse their wounds within the privacy of their own homes where the outward show had to be kept up no matter how stringent the inside economies, or how severe the privations. Others, less fortunate, had disappeared altogether from their accustomed haunts and were to be found filling minor positions in some far Western frontier town or camp, or menial berths on a railroad, while at least one victim, too cowardly to leave the field, had haunted the lunch counters, hotel lobbies, and race-tracks for months, preying on friends and acquaintances alike until dire poverty forced him into crime, and a stone cell and a steel grille had ended the struggle.
Failing to find any face he recognized, Jack approached a group around the ticker, and inquired for the head of the firm. The answer came from a red-cheeked, clean-shaven, bullet-headed, immaculately upholstered gentleman—(silk scarf, diamond horse-shoe stick-pin, high collar, cut-away coat, speckled-trout waistcoat—everything perfect)—who stood, paring his nails in front of the plate-glass window overlooking the street, and who conveyed news of the elder Breen's whereabouts by a bob of his head and a jerk of his fat forefinger in the direction of the familiar glass door.
Breen sat at his desk when Jack entered, but it was only when he spoke that his uncle looked up;—so many men swung back that door with favors to ask, that spontaneous affability was often bad policy.
"I received your letter, Uncle Arthur," Jack began.
Breen raised his eyes, and a deep color suffused his face. In his heart he had a sneaking admiration for the boy. He liked his pluck. Strange, too, he liked him the better for having left him and striking out for himself, and stranger still, he was a little ashamed for having brought about the revolt.
"Why, Jack!" He was on his feet now, his hand extended, something of his old-time cordiality in his manner. "You got my letter, did you? Well, I wanted to talk to you about that ore property. You own it still, don't you?" The habit of his life of going straight at the business in hand, precluded every other topic. Then again he wanted a chance to look the boy over under fire,—"size him up," in his own vocabulary. He might need his help later on.
"Oh, we don't own a foot of it,—don't want to. If Mr. MacFarlane decides to—"
"I'm not talking about MacFarlane's job; I'm talking about your own property,—the Cumberland ore property,—the one your father left you. You haven't sold it, have you?" This came in an anxious tone.
"No," answered Jack simply, wondering what his father's legacy had to do with his Chief's proposed work.
"Have you paid the taxes?" Arthur's eyes were now boring into his.
"Yes, every year; they were not much. Why do you ask?"
"I'll tell you that later on," answered his uncle with a more satisfied air. "You were up there with MacFarlane, weren't you?—when he went to look over the ground of the Maryland Mining Company where he is to cut the horizontal shaft?" Jack nodded. "So I heard. Well, it may interest you to learn that some of our Mukton people own the property. It was I who sent MacFarlane up, really, although he may not know it."
"That was very kind of you, sir," rejoined Jack, without a trace of either gratitude or surprise.
"Well, I'm glad you think so. Some of our directors also own a block of that new road MacFarlane is finishing. They wouldn't hire anybody else after they had gone up to Corklesville and had seen how he did his work, so I had the secretary of the company write MacFarlane, and that's how it came about."
Jack nodded and waited; his uncle's drift was not yet apparent.
"Well, what I wanted to see you about, Jack, is this:" here he settled his fat back into the chair. "All the ore in that section of the county,—so our experts say, dips to the east. They've located the vein and they think a horizontal shaft and gravity will get the stuff to tide water much cheaper than a vertical shaft and hoist. Now if the ore should peter out—and the devil himself can't tell always about that—we've got to get some ore somewhere round there to brace up and make good our prospectus, even if it does cost a little more, and that's where your Cumberland property might come in,—see? One of our lawyers looked over a record of your deed in the town hall of Mulford—" here he bent forward and consulted a paper on his desk—"No,—that's not it,—Morfordsburg,—yes, that's it,—Morfordsburg,—looked up the deed, I say, Jack, and from what he says I don't believe your property is more than a quarter of a mile, as the crow flies, from where they want MacFarlane to begin cutting. If the lawyer's right there may be a few dollars in it for you—not much, but something; and if there is,—of course, I don't want to commit myself, and I don't want to encourage you too much—but if he's right I should advise your bringing me what papers you've got and have our attorney look them over, and if everything's O.K. in the title, your property might be turned over to the new company and form part of the deal. You can understand, of course, that we don't want any other deposits in that section but our own."
Breen's meaning was clear now. So was the purpose of the letter.
Jack leaned back in his chair, an expression first of triumph and then of disgust crossing his face. That his uncle should actually want him back in his business in any capacity was as complimentary as it was unexpected. That the basis of the copartnership—and it was this that brought the curl to his lip—was such that neither a quarter of a mile nor two miles would stand in the way of a connecting vein of ore on paper, was to be expected by any one at all familiar with his uncle's methods.
"Thank you, Uncle Arthur," he answered simply, "but there's nothing decided yet about the Morfordsburg work. I heard a bit of news coming down on the train this morning that may cause Mr. MacFarlane to look upon the proposed work more favorably, but that is for him to say. As to my own property, when I am there again, if I do go,—I will look over the ground myself and have Mr. MacFarlane go with me and then I can decide."
Breen knitted his brows. It was not the answer he had expected. In fact, he was very much astonished both at the reply and the way in which it was given. He began to be sorry he had raised the question at all. He would gladly have helped Jack in getting a good price for his property, provided it did not interfere with his own plans, but to educate him up to the position of an obstructionist, was quite another matter.
"Well, think it over," he replied in a tone that was meant to show his entire indifference to the whole affair,—"and some time when you are in town drop in again. And now tell me about Ruth, as we must call her, I suppose. Your aunt just missed her at the Cosgroves' the other day." Then came a short disquisition on Garry and Corinne and their life at Elm Crest, followed by an embarrassing pause, during which the head of the house of Breen lowered the flow line on a black bottle which he took from a closet behind his desk,—"his digestion being a little out that morning," he explained. And so with renewed thanks for the interest he had taken in his behalf, and with his whole mind now concentrated on Peter and the unspeakable happiness in store for him when he poured into the old gentleman's willing and astonished ears the details of the interview, Mr. John Breen, Henry MacFarlane's Chief Assistant in Charge of Outside Work, bowed himself out.
He had not long to wait.
Indeed, that delightful old gentleman had but a short time before called to a second old gentleman, a more or less delightful fossil in black wig and spectacles, to take his place at the teller's window, and the first delightful old gentleman was at the precise moment standing on the top step of the Exeter, overlooking the street, where he had caught sight of Jack wending his way toward him.
"Jack! JACK!" Peter cried, waving his hand at the boy.
"Oh! that's you, Uncle Peter, is it? Shall I—?"
"No, Jack, stay where you are until I come to you."
"And where are you going now?" burst out Jack, overjoyed at reaching his side.
"To luncheon, my dear boy! We'll go to Favre's, and have a stuffed pepper and a plate of spaghetti an inch deep, after my own receipt. Botti cooks it deliciously;—and a bottle of red wine, my boy,—WINE,—not logwood and vinegar. No standing up at a trough, or sitting on a high stool, or wandering about with a sandwich between your fingers,—ruining your table manners and your digestion. And now tell me about dear Ruth, and what she says about coming down to dinner next week?"
It was wonderful how young he looked, and how happy he was, and how spry his step, as the two turned into William Street and so on to the cheap little French restaurant with its sanded floor, little tables for two and four, with their tiny pots of mustard and flagons of oil and red vinegar,—this last, the "left-overs" of countless bottles of Bordeaux,—to say nothing of the great piles of French bread weighing down a shelf beside the proprietor's desk, racked up like cordwood, and all of the same color, length, and thickness.
Every foot of the way through the room toward his own table—his for years, and which was placed in the far corner overlooking the doleful little garden with its half-starved vine and hanging baskets—Peter had been obliged to speak to everybody he passed (some of the younger men rose to their feet to shake his hand)—until he reached the proprietor and gave his order.
Auguste, plump and oily, his napkin over his arm, drew out his chair (it was always tipped back in reserve until he arrived), laid another plate and accessories for his guest, and then bent his head in attention until Peter indicated the particular brand of Bordeaux—the color of the wax sealing its top was the only label—with which he proposed to entertain his friend.
All this time Jack had been on the point of bursting. Once he had slipped his hand into his pocket for Breen's letter, in the belief that the best way to get the most enjoyment out of the incident of his visit and the result,—for it was still a joke to Jack,—would be to lay the half sheet on Peter's plate and watch the old fellow's face as he read it. Then he decided to lead gradually up to it, concealing the best part of the story—the prospectus and how it was to be braced—until the last.
But the boy could not wait; so, after he had told Peter about Ruth,—and that took ten minutes, try as hard as he could to shorten the telling,—during which the stuffed peppers were in evidence,—and after Peter had replied with certain messages to Ruth,—during which the spaghetti was served sizzling hot, with entrancing frazzlings of brown cheese clinging to the edges of the tin plate—the Chief Assistant squared his elbows and plunged head-foremost into the subject.
"And now, I have got a surprise for you, Uncle Peter," cried Jack, smothering his eagerness as best he could.
The old fellow held up his hand, reached for the shabby, dust-begrimed bottle, that had been sound asleep under the sidewalk for years; filled Jack's glass, then his own; settled himself in his chair and said with a dry smile:
"If it's something startling, Jack, wait until we drink this," and he lifted the slender rim to his lips. "If it's something delightful, you can spring it now."
"It is both," answered Jack. "Listen and doubt your ears. I had a letter from Uncle Arthur this morning asking me to come and see him about my Cumberland ore property, and I have just spent an hour with him."
Peter put down his glass:
"You had a letter from Arthur Breen—about—what do you mean, Jack."
"Just what I say."
Peter moved close to the table, and looked at the boy in wonderment.
"Well, what did he want?" He was all attention now. Arthur Breen sending for Jack!—and after all that had happened! Well—well!
"Wants me to put the Cumberland ore property father left me into one of his companies."
"That fox!" The explosion cleared the atmosphere for an instant.
"That fox!" answered Jack, in a confirmatory tone; and then followed an account of the interview, the boy chuckling at the end of every sentence in his delight over the situation.
"And what are YOU going to do?" asked Peter in an undecided tone. He had heard nothing so comical as this for years.
"Going to do nothing,—that is, nothing with Uncle Arthur. In the first place, the property is worthless, unless half a million of money is spent upon it."
"Or is SAID to have been spent upon it," rejoined Peter with a smile, remembering the Breen methods.
"Exactly so;—and in the second place, I would rather tear up the deed than have it added to Uncle Arthur's stock of balloons."
Peter drummed on the table-cloth and looked out of the window. The boy was right in principle, but then the property might not be a balloon at all; might in fact be worth a great deal more than the boy dreamed of. That Arthur Breen had gone out of his way to send for Jack—knowing, as Peter did, how systematically both he and his wife had abused and ridiculed him whenever his name was mentioned—was positive evidence to Peter's mind not only that the property had a value of some kind but that the discovery was of recent origin.
"Would you know yourself, Jack, what the property was worth,—that is, do you feel yourself competent to pass upon its value?" asked Peter, lifting his glass to his lips. He was getting back to his normal condition now.
"Yes, to a certain extent, and if I fail, Mr. MacFarlane will help me out. He was superintendent of the Rockford Mines for five years. He received his early training there,—but there is no use talking about it, Uncle Peter. I only told you to let you see how the same old thing is going on day after day at Uncle Arthur's. If it isn't Mukton, it's Ginsing, or Black Royal, or some other gas bag."
"What did you tell him?"
"Nothing,—not in all the hour I talked with him. He did the talking; I did the listening."
"I hope you were courteous to him, my boy?"
"I was,—particularly so."
"He wants your property, does he?" ruminated Peter, rolling a crumb of bread between his thumb and forefinger. "I wonder what's up? He has made some bad breaks lately and there were ugly rumors about the house for a time. He has withdrawn his account from the Exeter and so I've lost sight of all of his transactions." Here a new idea seemed to strike him: "Did he seem very anxious about getting hold of the land?"
A queer smile played about Jack's lips:
"He seemed NOT to be, but he was"
"Very sure; and so would you be if you knew him as well as I do. I have heard him talk that way to dozens of men and then brag how he'd 'covered his tracks,' as he used to call it."
"Then, Jack," exclaimed Peter in a decided tone, "there is something in it. What it is you will find out before many weeks, but something. I will wager you he has not only had your title searched but has had test holes driven all over your land. These fellows stop at nothing. Let him alone for a while and keep him guessing. When he writes to you again to come and see him, answer that you are too busy, and if he adds a word about the ore beds tell him you have withdrawn them from the market. In the meantime I will have a talk with one of our directors who has an interest, so he told me, in a new steel company up in the Cumberland Mountains, somewhere near your property, I believe. He may know something of what's going on, if anything is going on."
Jack's eyes blazed. Something going on! Suppose that after all he and Ruth would not have to wait. Peter read his thoughts and laid his hand on Jack's wrist:
"Keep your toes on the earth, my boy:—no balloon ascensions and no bubbles,—none of your own blowing. They are bad things to have burst in your hands—four hands now, remember, with Ruth's. If there's any money in your Cumberland ore bank, it will come to light without your help. Keep still and say nothing, and don't you sign your name to a piece of paper as big as a postage stamp until you let me see it."
Here Peter looked at his watch and rose from the table.
"Time's up, my boy. I never allow myself but an hour at luncheon, and I am due at the bank in ten minutes. Thank you, Auguste,—and Auguste! please tell Botti the spaghetti was delicious. Come, Jack."
It was when he held Ruth in his arms that same afternoon—behind the door, really,—she couldn't wait until they reached the room,—that Jack whispered in her astonished and delighted ears the good news of the expected check from Garry's committee.
"And daddy won't lose anything; and he can take the new work!" she cried joyously. "And we can all go up to the mountains together! Oh, Jack!—let me run and tell daddy!"
"No, my darling,—not a word, Garry had no business to tell me what he did; and it might leak out and get him into trouble:—No, don't say a word. It is only a few days off. We shall all know next week."
He had led her to the sofa, their favorite seat.
"And now I am going to tell you something that would be a million times better than Garry's check if it were only true,—but it isn't."
"Tell me, Jack,—quick!" Her lips were close to his.
"Uncle Arthur wants to buy my ore lands."
"Buy your—And we are going to be—married right away! Oh, you darling Jack!"
"Wait,—wait, my precious, until I tell you!" She did not wait, and he did not want her to. Only when he could loosen her arms from his neck did he find her ear again, then he poured into it the rest of the story.
"But, oh, Jack!—wouldn't it be lovely if it were true,—and just think of all the things we could do."
"Yes,—but it Isn't true."
"But just suppose it WAS, Jack! You would have a horse of your own and we'd build the dearest little home and—"
"But it never can be true, blessed,—not out of the Cumberland property—" protested Jack.
"But, Jack! Can't we SUPPOSE? Why, supposing is the best fun in the world. I used to suppose all sorts of things when I was a little girl. Some of them came true, and some of them didn't, but I had just as much fun as if they HAD all come true."
"Did you ever suppose ME?" asked Jack. He knew she never had,—he wasn't worth it;—but what difference did it make what they talked about!
"Yes,—a thousand times. I always knew, my blessed, that there was somebody like you in the world somewhere,—and when the girls would break out and say ugly things of men,—all men,—I just knew they were not true of everybody. I knew that you would come—and that I should always look for you until I found you! And now tell me! Did you suppose about me, too, you darling Jack?"
"No,—never. There couldn't be any supposing;—there isn't any now. It's just you I love, Ruth,—you,—and I love the 'YOU' in you—That's the best part of you."
And so they talked on, she close in his arms, their cheeks together; building castles of rose marble and ivory, laying out gardens with vistas ending in summer sunsets; dreaming dreams that lovers only dream.
The check "struck" MacFarlane just as the chairman had said it would, wiping out his losses by the flood with something ahead for his next undertaking.
That the verdict was a just one was apparent from the reports of both McGowan's and the Railroad Company's experts. These showed that the McGowan mortar held but little cement, and that not of the best; that the backing of the masonry was composed of loose rubble instead of split stone, and that the collapse of his structure was not caused by the downpour, but by the caving in of culverts and spillways, which were built of materials in direct violation of the provisions of the contract. Even then there might have been some doubt as to the outcome but for Holker Morris's testimony. He not only sent in his report, but appeared himself, he told the Council, so as to answer any questions Mr. McGowan or his friends might ask. He had done this, as he said openly at the meeting, to aid his personal friend, Mr. MacFarlane, and also that he might raise his voice against the slipshod work that was being done by men who either did not know their business or purposely evaded their responsibilities. "This construction of McGowan's," he continued, "is especially to be condemned, as there is not the slightest doubt that the contractor has intentionally slighted his work—a neglect which, but for the thorough manner in which MacFarlane had constructed the lower culvert, might have resulted in the loss of many lives."
McGowan snarled and sputtered, denouncing Garry and his "swallow-tails" in the bar rooms and at the board meetings, but the decision was unanimous, two of his friends concurring, fearing, as they explained afterward, that the "New York crowd" might claim even a larger sum in a suit for damages.
The meeting over, Morris and Jack dined with MacFarlane and again the distinguished architect won Ruth's heart by the charm of his personality, she telling Jack the next day that he was the only OLD MAN—fifty was old for Ruth—she had ever seen with whom she could have fallen in love, and that she was not sure after all but that Jack was too young for her, at which there was a great scrimmage and a blind-man's-buff chase around the table, up the front stairs and into the corner by the window, where she was finally caught, smothered in kisses and made to correct her arithmetic.
This ghost of damages having been laid—it was buried the week after Jack had called on his uncle—the Chief, the First Assistant, and Bangs, the head foreman, disappeared from Corklesville and reappeared at Morfordsburg.
The Chief came to select a site for the entrance of the shaft; the First Assistant came to compare certain maps and documents, which he had taken from the trunk he had brought with him from his Maryland home, with the archives resting in the queer old courthouse; while Foreman Bangs was to help with the level and target, should a survey be found necessary.
The faded-out old town clerk looked Jack all over when he asked to see the duplicate of a certain deed, remarking, as he led the way to the Hall of Records,—it was under a table in the back room,—"Reckon there's somethin' goin' on jedgin' from the way you New Yorkers is lookin' into ore lands up here. There come a lawyer only last month from a man named Breen, huntin' up this same property."
The comparisons over and found to be correct, "starting from a certain stone marked 'B' one hundred and eighty-seven feet East by South," etc., etc., the whole party, including a small boy to help carry the level and target and a reliable citizen who said he could find the property blindfold—and who finally collapsed with a "Goll darn!—if I know where I'm at!"—the five jumped onto a mud-encrusted vehicle and started for the site.
Up hill and down hill, across one stream and then another; through the dense timber and into the open again. Here their work began, Jack handling the level (his Chief had taught him), Bangs holding the target, MacFarlane taking a squint now and then so as to be sure,—and then the final result,—to wit:—First, that the Maryland Company's property, Arthur Breen & Co., agents, lay under a hill some two miles from Morfordsburg; that Jack's lay some miles to the south of Breen's. Second, that outcroppings showed the Maryland Mining Company's ore dipped, as the Senior Breen had said, to the east, and third, that similar outcroppings showed Jack's dipped to the west.
And so the airy bubble filled with his own and Ruth's iridescent hopes,—a bubble which had floated before him as he tramped through the cool woods, and out upon the hillside, vanished into thin air.
For with Ruth's arms around him, her lips close to his, her boundless enthusiasm filling his soul, the boy's emotions had for the time overcome his judgment. So much so that all the way up in the train he had been "supposing" and resupposing. Even the reply of the town clerk had set his heart to thumping; his uncle had sent some one then! Then came the thought,—Yes, to boom one of his misleading prospectuses—and for a time the pounding had ceased: by no possible combination now, either honest or dishonest, could the two properties be considered one and the same mine.
Again his thoughts went back to Ruth. He knew how keenly she would be disappointed. She had made him promise to telegraph her at once if his own and her father's inspection of the ore lands should hold out any rose-colored prospects for the future. This he had not now the heart to do. One thing, however, he must do, and at once, and that was to write to Peter, or see him immediately on his return. There was no use now of the old fellow talking the matter over with the director; there was nothing to talk over, except a bare hill three miles from anywhere, covering a possible deposit of doubtful richness and which, whether good or bad, would cost more to get to market than it was worth.
They were on the extreme edge of the forest when the final decision was reached, MacFarlane leaning against a rock, the level and tripod tilted against his arm, Jack sitting on a fallen tree, the map spread out on his knees.
For some minutes Jack sat silent, his eyes roaming over the landscape. Below him stretched an undulating mantle of velvet, laid loosely over valley, ravine and hill, embroidered in tints of corn-yellow, purplings of full-blossomed clover and the softer greens of meadow and swamp. In and out, now straight, now in curves and bows, was threaded a ribbon of silver, with here and there a connecting mirror in which flashed the sun. Bordering its furthermost edge a chain of mountains lost themselves in low, rolling clouds, while here and there, in its many crumplings, were studded jewels of barn stack and house, their facets aflame in the morning light.
Jack absorbed it all, its beauty filling his soul, the sunshine bathing his cheeks. Soon all trace of his disappointment vanished: with Ruth here,—with his work to occupy him,—and this mighty, all-inspiring, all-intoxicating sweep of loveliness spread out, his own and Ruth's every hour of the day and night, what did ore beds or anything else matter?
MacFarlane's voice woke him to consciousness. He had called to him before, but the boy had not heard.
"As I have just remarked, Jack," MacFarlane began again, "there is nothing but an earthquake will make your property of any use. It is a low-grade ore, I should say, and tunnelling and shoring would eat it up. Wipe it off the books. There are thousands of acres of this kind of land lying around loose from here to the Cumberland Valley. It may get better as you go down—only an assay can tell about that—but I don't think it will. To begin sinking shafts might mean sinking one or a dozen; and there's nothing so expensive. I am sorry, Jack, but wipe it out. Some bright scoundrel might sell stock on it, but they'll never melt any of it up into stove plate."
"All right, sir," Jack said at last, with a light laugh. "It is the same old piece of bread, I reckon, and it has fallen on the same old buttered side. Uncle Peter told me to beware of bubbles—said they were hard to carry around. This one has burst before I got my hand on it. All right—let her go! I hope Ruth won't take it too much to heart. Here, boy, get hold of this map and put it with the other traps in the wagon. And now, Mr. MacFarlane, what comes next?"
Before the day was over MacFarlane had perfected his plans. The town was to be avoided as too demoralizing a shelter for the men, and barracks were to be erected in which to house them. Locations of the principal derricks were selected and staked, as well as the sites for the entrance to the shaft, for the machine and blacksmith's shops and for a storage shanty for tools: the Maryland Mining Company's work would require at least two years to complete, and a rational, well-studied plan of procedure was imperative.
"And now, Jack, where are you going to live,—in the village?" asked his Chief, resting the level and tripod carefully against a tree trunk and seating himself beside Jack on a fallen log.
"Out here, if you don't mind, sir, where I can be on top of the work all the time. It's but a short ride for Ruth and she can come and go all the time. I am going to drop some of these trees; get two or three choppers from the village and knock up a log-house like the one I camped in when I was a boy."
"Where will you put it?" asked MacFarlane with a smile, as he turned his head as if in search of a site. It was just where he wanted Jack to live, but he would not have suggested it.
"Not a hundred yards from where we sit, sir—a little back of those two big oaks. There's a spring above on the hill and sloping ground for drainage; and shade, and a great sweep of country in front. I've been hungry for this life ever since I left home; now I am going to have it."
"It will be rather lonely, won't it?" The engineer's eyes softened as they rested on the young fellow, his face flushed with the enthusiasm of his new resolve. He and Ruth's mother had lived in just such a shanty, and not so very long ago, either, it seemed,—those were the happiest years of his life.
"No!" exclaimed Jack. "It's only a step to the town; I can walk it in half an hour. No, it won't be lonely. I will fix up a room for Uncle Peter somewhere, so he can be comfortable,—he would love to come here on his holidays; and Ruth can come out for the day,—she will be crazy about it when I tell her. No, I will get along. If the lightning had struck my ore beds I would probably have painted and papered some musty back room in the village and lived a respectable life. Now I am going to turn savage."
The next day the contracts were signed: work to commence in three months. Henry MacFarlane, Engineer-in-Chief, John Breen in charge of construction.
It was on that same sofa in the far corner of the sitting-room that Jack told Ruth,—gently, one word at a time,—making the best of it, but telling her the exact truth.
"And then we are not going to have any of the things we dreamed about, Jack," she said with a sigh.
"I am afraid not, my darling,—not now, unless the lightning strikes us, which it won't."
She looked out of the window for a moment, and her eyes filled with tears. Then she thought of her father, and how hard he had worked, and what disappointments he had suffered, and yet how, with all his troubles, he had always put his best foot foremost—always encouraging her. She would not let Jack see her chagrin. This was part of Jack's life, just as similar disappointments had been part of her father's.
"Never mind, blessed. Well, we had lots of fun 'supposing,' didn't we, Jack. This one didn't come true, but some of the others will and what difference does it make, anyway, as long as I have you," and she nestled her face in his neck. "And now tell me what sort of a place it is and where daddy and I are going to live, and all about it."
And then, to soften the disappointment the more and to keep a new bubble afloat, Jack launched out into a description of the country and how beautiful the view was from the edge of the hill overlooking the valley, with the big oaks crowning the top and the lichen-covered rocks and fallen timber blanketed with green moss, and the spring of water that gushed out of the ground and ran laughing down the hillside, and the sweep of mountains losing themselves in the blue haze of the distance, and then finally to the log-cabin he was going to build for his own especial use.
"And only two miles away," she cried in a joyous tone,—"and I can ride out every day! Oh, Jack!—just think of it!" And so, with the breath of this new enthusiasm filling their souls, a new bubble of hope and gladness was floated, and again the two fell to planning, and "supposing," the rose-glow once more lightening up the peaks.
For days nothing else was talked of. An onslaught was at once made on Carry's office, two doors below Mrs. Hicks, for photographs, plans of bungalows, shanties, White Mountain lean-tos, and the like, and as quickly tucked under Ruth's arm and carried off, with only the permission of the office boy,—Garry himself being absent owing to some matters connected with a big warehouse company in which he was interested, the boy said, and which took him to New York on the early train and did not allow his return sometimes, until after midnight.
These plans were spread out under the lamp on the sitting-room table, the two studying the details, their heads together, MacFarlane sitting beside them reading or listening,—the light of the lamp falling on his earnest, thoughtful face,—Jack consulting him now and then as to the advisability of further extensions, the same being two rooms shingled inside and out, with an annex of bark and plank for Ruth's horse, and a kitchen and laundry and no end of comforts, big and little,—all to be occupied whenever their lucky day would come and the merry bells ring out the joyful tidings of their marriage.
Nor was this all this particularly radiant bubble contained. Not only was there to be a big open fireplace built of stone, and overhead rafters of birch, the bark left on and still glistening,—but there were to be palms, ferns, hanging baskets, chintz curtains, rugs, pots of flowers, Chinese lanterns, hammocks, easy chairs; and for all Jack knew, porcelain tubs, electric bells, steam heat and hot and cold water, so enthusiastic had Ruth become over the possibilities lurking in the 15 X 20 log-hut which Jack proposed to throw together as a shelter in his exile.
The news of MacFarlane's expected departure soon became known in the village. There were not many people to say good-by, the inhabitants having seen but little of the engineer and still less of his daughter, except as she flew past, in a mad gallop, on her brown mare, her hair sometimes down her back. The pastor of the new church came, however, to express his regrets, and to thank Mr. MacFarlane for his interest in the church building. He also took occasion to say many complimentary things about Garry, extolling him for the wonderful manner in which that brilliant young architect had kept within the sum set apart by the trustees for its construction, and for the skill with which the work was being done, adding that as a slight reward for such devotion the church trustees had made Mr. Minott treasurer of the building fund, believing that in this way all disputes could the better be avoided,—one of some importance having already arisen (here the reverend gentleman lowered his voice) in which Mr. McGowan, he was sorry to say, who was building the masonry, had attempted an overcharge which only Mr. Minott's watchful eye could have detected, adding, with a glance over his shoulder, that the collapse of the embankment had undermined the contractor's reputation quite as much as the freshet had his culvert, at which MacFarlane smiled but made no reply.
Corinne also came to express her regrets, bringing with her a scrap of an infant in a teetering baby carriage, the whole presided over by a nurse in a blue dress, white cap, and white apron, the ends reaching to her feet: not the Corinne, the Scribe is pained to say, who, in the old days would twist her head and stamp her little feet and have her way in everything. But a woman terribly shrunken, with deep lines in her face and under her eyes. Jack, man-like, did not notice the change, but Ruth did.
After the baby had been duly admired, Ruth tossing it in her arms until it crowed, Corinne being too tired for much enthusiasm, had sent it home, Ruth escorting it herself to the garden gate.
"I am sorry you are going," Corinne said in Ruth's absence. "I suppose we must stay on here until Garry finishes the new church. I haven't seen much of Ruth,—or of you, either, Jack. But I don't see much of anybody now,—not even of Garry. He never gets home until midnight, or even later, if the train is behind time, and it generally is."
"Then he must have lots of new work," cried Jack in a cheerful tone. "He told me the last time I saw him on the train that he expected some big warehouse job."
Corinne looked out of the window and fingered the handle of her parasol.
"I don't believe that is what keeps him in town, Jack," she said slowly. "I hoped you would come and see him last Sunday. Did Garry give you my message? I heard you were at home to-day, and that is why I came."
"No, he never said a single word about it or I would have come, of course. What do you think, then, keeps him in town so late?" Something in her voice made Jack leave his own and take a seat beside her. "Tell me, Corinne. I'll do anything I can for Garry and you too. What is it?"
"I don't know, Jack,—I wish I did. He has changed lately. When I went to his room the other night he was walking the floor; he said he couldn't sleep, and the next morning when he didn't come down to breakfast I went up and found him in a half stupor. I had hard work to wake him. Don't tell Ruth,—I don't want anybody but you to know, but I wish you'd come and see him. I've nobody else to turn to,—won't you, Jack?"
"Come! of course I'll come, Corinne,—now,—this minute, if he's home, or to-night, or any time you say. Suppose I go back with you and wait. Garry's working too hard, that's it,—he was always that way, puts his whole soul into anything he gets interested in and never lets up until it's accomplished." He waited for some reply, but she was still toying with the handle of her parasol. Her mind had not been on his proffered help,—she had not heard him, in fact.
"And, Jack," she went on in the same heart-broken tone through which an unbidden sob seemed to struggle.
"Yes, I am listening, Corinne,—what is it?"
"I want you to forgive me for the way I have always treated you. I have—"
"Why, Corinne, what nonsense! Don't you bother your head about such—"
"Yes, but I do, and it is because I have never done anything but be ugly to you. When you lived with us I—"
"But we were children then, Corinne, and neither of us knew any better. I won't hear one word of such nonsense. Why, my dear girl—"he had taken her hand as she spoke and the pair rested on his knee—"do you think I am—No—you are too sensible a woman to think anything of the kind. But that is not it, Corinne—something worries you;" he asked suddenly with a quick glance at her face. "What is it? You shall have the best in me, and Ruth will help too."
Her fingers closed over his. The touch of the young fellow, so full of buoyant strength and hope and happiness, seemed to put new life into her.
"I don't know, Jack." Her voice fell to a whisper. "There may not be anything, yet I live under an awful terror. Don't ask me;—only tell me you will help me if I need you. I have nobody else—my stepfather almost turned me out of his office when I went to see him the other day,—my mother doesn't care. She has only been here half a dozen times, and that was when baby was born. Hush,—here comes Ruth,—she must not know."
"But she MUST know, Corinne. I never have any secrets from Ruth, and don't you have any either. Ruth couldn't be anything but kind to you and she never misunderstands, and she is so helpful. Here she is. Ruth, dear, we were just waiting for you. Corinne is nervous and depressed, and imagines all sorts of things, one of which is that we don't care for her: and I've just told her that we do?"
Ruth looked into Jack's eyes as if to get his meaning—she must always get her cue from him now—she was entirely unconscious of the cause of it all, or why Corinne should feel so, but if Jack thought Corinne was suffering and that she wanted comforting, all she had was at Corinne's and Jack's disposal. With a quick movement she leaned forward and laid her hand on Corinne's shoulder.
"Why, you dear Corinne,—Jack and I are not like that. What has gone wrong,—tell me," she urged.
For a brief instant Corinne made no answer. Once she tried to speak but the words died in her throat. Then, lifting up her hands appealingly, she faltered out:
"I only said that I—Oh, Ruth!—I am so wretched!" and sank back on the lounge in an agony of tears.
At ten o'clock that same night Jack went to the station to meet Garry. He and Ruth had talked over the strange scene—unaccountable to both of them—and had determined that Jack should see Garry at once.
"I must help him, Ruth, no matter at what cost. Garry has been my friend for years; he has been taken up with his work, and so have I, and we have drifted apart a little, but I shall never forget him for his kindness to me when I first came to New York. I would never have known Uncle Peter but for Garry, or Aunt Felicia, or—you, my darling."
Jack waited under the shelter of the overhanging roof until the young architect stepped from the car and crossed the track. Garry walked with the sluggish movement of a tired man—hardly able to drag his feet after him.
"I thought I'd come down to meet you, Garry," Jack cried in his old buoyant tone. "It's pretty rough on you, old fellow, working so hard."
Garry raised his head and peered into the speaker's face.
"Why, Jack!" he exclaimed in a surprised tone; the voice did not sound like Garry's. "I didn't see you in the train. Have you been in New York too?" He evidently understood nothing of Jack's explanation.
"No, I came down to meet you. Corinne was at Mr. MacFarlane's to-day, and said you were not well,—and so I thought I'd walk home with you."
"Oh, thank you, old man, but I'm all right. Corinne's nervous;—you mustn't mind her. I've been up against it for two or three weeks now,—lot of work of all kinds, and that's kept me a good deal from home. I don't wonder Cory's worried, but I can't help it—not yet."
They had reached an overhead light, and Jack caught a clearer view of the man. What he saw sent a shiver through him. A great change had come over his friend. His untidy dress,—always so neat and well kept; his haggard eyes and shambling, unsteady walk, so different from his springy, debonair manner, all showed that he had been and still was under some terrible mental strain. That he had not been drinking was evident from his utterance and gait. This last discovery when his condition was considered, disturbed him most of all, for he saw that Garry was going through some terrible crisis, either professional or financial.
As the two advanced toward the door of the station on their way to the street, the big, burly form of McGowan, the contractor, loomed up.
"I heard you wouldn't be up till late, Mr. Minott," he exclaimed gruffly, blocking Garry's exit to the street. "I couldn't find you at the Council or at your office, so I had to come here. We haven't had that last payment on the church. The vouchers is all ready for your signature, so the head trustee says,—and the money's where you can git at it."
Garry braced his shoulders and his jaw tightened. One secret of the young architect's professional success lay in his command over his men. Although he was considerate, and sometimes familiar, he never permitted any disrespect.
"Why, yes, Mr. McGowan, that's so," he answered stiffly. "I've been in New York a good deal lately and I guess I've neglected things here. I'll try to come up in the morning, and if everything's all right I'll get a certificate and fill it up and you'll get a check in a few days."
"Yes, but you said that last week." There was a sound of defiance in McGowan's voice.
"If I did I had good reason for the delay," answered Garry with a flash of anger. "I'm not running my office to suit you."
"Nor for anybody else who wants his money and who's got to have it, and I want to tell you, Mr. Minott, right here, and I don't care who hears it, that I want mine or I'll know the reason why."
Garry wheeled fiercely and raised his hand as if to strike the speaker, then it dropped to his side.
"I don't blame you, Mr. McGowan," he said in a restrained, even voice. "I have no doubt that it's due you and you ought to have it, but I've been pretty hard pressed lately with some matters in New York; so much so that I've been obliged to take the early morning train,—and you can see yourself what time I get home. Just give me a day or two longer and I'll examine the work and straighten it out. And then again, I'm not very well."
The contractor glared into the speaker's face as if to continue the discussion, then his features relaxed. Something in the sound of Carry's voice, or perhaps some line of suffering in his face must have touched him.
"Well, of course, I ain't no hog," he exclaimed in a softer tone, which was meant as an apology, "and if you're sick that ends it, but I've got all them men to pay and—"
"Yes, I understand and I won't forget. Thank you, Mr. McGowan, and good-night. Come along, Jack,—Corinne's worrying, and will be till I get home."
The two kept silent as they walked up the hill Garry, because he was too tired to discuss the cowardly attack; Jack, because what he had to say must be said when they were alone,—when he could get hold of Garry's hand and make him open his heart.
As they approached the small house and mounted the steps leading to the front porch, Corinne's face could be seen pressed against a pane in one of the dining-room windows. Garry touched Jack's arm and pointed ahead:
"Poor Cory!" he exclaimed with a deep sigh, "that's the way she is every night. Coming home is sometimes the worst part of it all, Jack."
The door flew open and Corinne sprang out: "Are you tired, dear?" she asked, peering into his face and kissing him. Then turning to Jack: "Thank you, Jack!—It was so good of you to go. Ruth sent me word you had gone to meet him."
She led the way into the house, relieving Garry of his hat, and moving up an easy chair stood beside it until he had settled himself into its depths.
Again she bent over and kissed him: "How are things to-day, dear?—any better?" she inquired in a quavering voice.
"Some of them are better and some are worse, Cory; but there's nothing for you to worry about. That's what I've been telling Jack. How's baby? Anybody been here from the board?—Any letters?"
"Baby's all right," the words came slowly, as if all utterance gave her pain. "No, there are no letters. Mr. McGowan was here, but I told him you wouldn't be home till late."
"Yes, I saw him," replied Garry, dropping his voice suddenly to a monotone, an expression of pain followed by a shade of anxiety settling on his face: McGowan and his affairs were evidently unpleasant subjects. At this instant the cry of a child was heard. Garry roused himself and turned his head.
"Listen—that's baby crying! Better go to her, Cory."
Garry waited until his wife had left the room, then he rose from, his chair, crossed to the sideboard, poured out three-quarters of a glass of raw whiskey and drank it without drawing a breath.
"That's the first to-day, Jack. I dare not touch it when I'm on a strain like this. Can't think clearly, and I want my head,—all of it. There's a lot of sharks down in New York,—skin you alive if they could. I beg your pardon, old man,—have a drop?"
Jack waved his hand in denial, his eyes still on his friend: "Not now, Garry, thank you."
Garry dropped the stopper into the decanter, pushed back the empty tumbler and began pacing the floor, halting now and then to toe some pattern in the carpet, talking all the time to himself in broken sentences, like one thinking aloud. All Jack's heart went out to his friend as he watched him. He and Ruth were so happy. All their future was so full of hope and promise, and Garry—brilliant, successful Garry,—the envy of all his associates, so harassed and so wretched!
"Garry, sit down and listen to me," Jack said at last. "I am your oldest friend; no one you know thinks any more of you than I do, or will be more ready to help. Now, what troubles you?"
"I tell you, Jack, I'm not troubled!"—something of the old bravado rang in his voice,—"except as everybody is troubled when he's trying to straighten out something that won't straighten. I'm knocked out, that's all,—can't you see it?"
"Yes, I see it,—and that's not all I see. Is it your work here or in New York? I want to know, and I'm going to know, and I have a right to know, and you are not going to bed until you tell me,—nor will I. I can and will help you, and so will Mr. MacFarlane, and Uncle Peter, and everybody I ask. What's gone wrong?—Tell me!"
Garry continued to walk the floor. Then he wheeled suddenly and threw himself into his chair.
"Well, Jack," he answered with an indrawn sigh,—"if you must know, I'm on the wrong side of the market."
"Not exactly. The bottom's fallen out of the Warehouse Company."
Jack's heart gave a rebound. After all, it was only a question of money and this could be straightened out. He had begun to fear that it might be something worse; what, he dared not conjecture.
"And you have lost money?" Jack continued in a less eager tone.
"A whole lot of money."
"I don't know, but a lot. It went up three points to-day and so I am hanging on by my eyelids."
"Well, that's not the first time men have been in that position," Jack replied in a hopeful tone. "Is there anything more,—something you are keeping back?"
"Yes,—a good deal more. I'm afraid I'll have to let go. If I do I'm ruined."
Jack kept silent for a moment. Various ways of raising money to help his friend passed in review, none of which at the moment seemed feasible or possible.
"How much will make your account good?" he asked after a pause.
"About ten thousand dollars."
Jack leaned forward in his chair. "Ten thousand dollars!" he exclaimed in a startled tone. "Why, Garry—how in the name of common-sense did you get in as deep as that?"
"Because I was a damned fool!"
Again there was silence, during which Garry fumbled for a match, opened his case and lighted a cigarette. Then he said slowly, as he tossed the burnt end of the match from him:
"You said something, Jack, about some of your friends helping. Could Mr. MacFarlane?"
"No,—he hasn't got it,—not to spare. I was thinking of another kind of help when I spoke. I supposed you had got into debt, or something, and were depending on your commissions to pull you out, and that some new job was hanging fire and perhaps some of us could help as we did on the church."
"No," rejoined Garry, in a hopeless tone, "nothing will help but a certified check. Perhaps your Mr. Grayson might do something," he continued in the same voice.
"Uncle Peter! Why, Garry, he doesn't earn ten thousand dollars in three years."
Again there was silence.
"Well, would it be any use for you to ask Arthur Breen? He wouldn't give me a cent, and I wouldn't ask him. I don't believe in laying down on your wife's relations, but he might do it for you now that you're getting up in the world."
Jack bent his head in deep thought. The proposal that his uncle had made him for the ore lands passed in review. At that time he could have turned over the property to Breen. But it was worthless now. He shook his head:
"I don't think so." Then he added quickly—"Have you been to Mr. Morris?"
"No, and won't. I'd die first!" this came in a sharp, determined voice, as if it had jumped hot from his heart.
"But he thinks the world of you; it was only a week ago that he told Mr. MacFarlane that you were the best man he ever had in his office."
"Yes,—that's why I won't go, Jack. I'll play my hand alone and take the consequences, but I won't beg of my friends; not a friend like Mr. Morris; any coward can do that. Mr. Morris believes in me,—I want him to continue to believe in me. That's worth twenty times ten thousand dollars." His eyes flashed for the first time. Again the old Garry shone out.
"When must you have this money?"
"By the end of the week,—before next Monday, anyhow."
"Then the situation is not hopeless?"
"No, not entirely. I have one card left;—I'll play it to-morrow, then I'll know."
"Is there a chance of its winning?"
"Yes and no. As for the 'yes,' I've always had my father's luck. Minotts don't go under and I don't believe I shall, we take risks and we win. That's what brought me to Corklesville, and you see what I have made of myself. Just at present I've got my foot in a bear trap, but I'll pull out somehow. As for the 'no' part of it,—I ought to tell you that the warehouse stock has been knocked endways by another corporation which has a right of way that cuts ours and is going to steal our business. I think it's a put-up job to bear our stock so they can scoop it and consolidate; that's why I am holding on. I've flung in every dollar I can rake and scrape for margin and my stocking's about turned inside out. I got a tip last week that I thought would land us all on our feet, but it worked the other way." Something connected with the tip must have stirred him for his face clouded as he rose to his feet, exclaiming: "Have a drop, Jack?—that last one braced me up."
Again Jack shook his head, and again Garry settled himself back in his chair.
"I am powerless, Garry," said Jack. "If I had the money you should have it. I have nothing but my salary and I have drawn only a little of that lately, so as to help out in starting the new work. I thought I had something in an ore bank my father left me, but it is valueless, I find. I suppose I could put some life in it if I would work it along the lines Uncle Arthur wants me to, but I can't and won't do that. Somehow, Garry, this stock business follows me everywhere. It drove me out of Uncle Arthur's office and house, although I never regretted that,—and now it hits you. I couldn't do anything to help Charlie Gilbert then and I can't do anything to help you now, unless you can think of some way. Is there any one that I can see except Uncle Arthur,—anybody I can talk to?"
Garry shook his head.
"I've done that, Jack. I've followed every lead, borrowed every dollar I could,—been turned down half a dozen times, but I kept on. Got it in the neck twice to-day from some fellows I thought would help push."
Jack started forward, a light breaking over his face.
"I have it, Garry! Suppose that I go to Mr. Morris. I can talk to him, maybe, in a way you would not like to."
Garry lifted his head and sat erect.
"No, by God!—you'll do nothing of the kind!" he cried, as he brought his fist down on the arm of his chair. "That man I love as I love nothing else in this world—wife—baby—nothing! I'll go under, but I'll never let him see me crawl. I'll be Garry Minott to him as long as I breathe. The same man he trusted,—the same man he loved,—for he does love me, and always did!" He hesitated and his voice broke, as if a sob clogged it. After a moment's struggle he went on: "I was a damned fool to leave him or I wouldn't be where I am. 'Garry,' he said to me that last day when he took me into his office and shut the door,—'Garry, stay on here a while longer; wait till next year. If it's more pay you want, fix it to suit yourself. I've got two boys coming along; they'll both be through the Beaux Arts in a year or so. I'm getting on and I'm getting tired. Stay on and go in with them.' And what did I do? Well, what's the use of talking?—you know it all."
Jack moved his chair and put his arm over his shoulder as a woman would have done. He had caught the break in his voice and knew how manfully he was struggling to keep up.
"Garry, old man."
"If Mr. Morris thought that way, then, why won't he help you now? What's ten thousand to him?"
"Nothing,—not a drop in the bucket! He'd begin drawing the check before I'd finished telling him what I wanted it for. I'm in a hole and don't know which way to turn, but when I think of what he's done for me I'll rot in hell before I'll take his money." Again his voice had the old ring.
"But, Garry," insisted Jack, "if I can see Morris in the morning and lay the whole matter before him—"
"You'll do nothing of the kind, do you hear!—keep still—somebody's coming downstairs. Not a word if it is Corinne. She is carrying now all she can stand up under."
He passed his hand across his face with a quick movement and brushed the tears from his cheeks.
"Remember, not a word. I haven't told her everything. I tried to, but I couldn't."
"Tell her now, Garry," cried Jack. "Now—to-night," his voice rising on the last word. "Before you close your eyes. You never needed her help as you do now."
"I can't—it would break her heart. Keep still!—that's her step."
Corinne entered the room slowly and walked to Garry's chair.
"Baby's asleep now," she said in a subdued voice, "and I'm going to take you to bed. You won't mind, Jack, will you? Come, dear," and she slipped her hand under his arm to lift him from his chair.
Garry rose from his seat.
"All right," he answered assuming his old cheerful tone, "I'll go. I AM tired, I guess, Cory, and bed's the best place for me. Good-night, old man,—give my love to Ruth," and he followed his wife out of the room.
Jack waited until the two had turned to mount the stairs, caught a significant flash from Garry's dark eyes as a further reminder of his silence, and, opening the front door, closed it softly behind him.
Ruth was waiting for him. She had been walking the floor during the last half hour peering out now and then into the dark, with ears wide open for his step.
"I was so worried, my precious," she cried, drawing his cheek down to her lips. "You stayed so long. Is it very dreadful?"
Jack put his arm around her, led her into the sitting-room and shut the door. Then the two settled beside each other on the sofa.
"Pretty bad,—my darling—" Jack answered at last,—"very bad, really."
"Has he been drinking?"
"Worse,—he has been dabbling in Wall Street and may lose every cent he has."
Ruth leaned her head on her hand: "I was afraid it was something awful from the way Corinne spoke. Oh, poor dear,—I'm so sorry! Does she know now?"
"She knows he's in trouble, but she doesn't know how bad it is. I begged him to tell her, but he wouldn't promise. He's afraid of hurting her—afraid to trust her, I think, with his sufferings. He's making an awful mistake, but I could not move him. He might listen to you if you tried."
"But he must tell her, Jack," Ruth cried in an indignant tone. "It is not fair to her; it is not fair to any woman,—and it is not kind. Corinne is not a child any longer;—she's a grown woman, and a mother. How can she help him unless she knows? Jack, dear, look into my eyes;" her face was raised to his;—"Promise me, my darling, that no matter what happens to you you'll tell me first."
And Jack promised.
When Jack awoke the next morning his mind was still intent on helping Garry out of his difficulties. Where the money was to come from, and how far even ten thousand dollars would go in bridging over the crisis, even should he succeed in raising so large a sum, were the questions which caused him the most anxiety.
A letter from Peter, while it did not bring any positive relief, shed a ray of light on the situation:
I have just had another talk with the director of our bank—the one I told you was interested in steel works in Western Maryland. He by no means agrees with either you or MacFarlane as to the value of the ore deposits in that section, and is going to make an investigation of your property and let me know. You may, in fact, hear from him direct as I gave him your address.
Dear love to Ruth and your own good self.
This was indeed good news if anything came of it, but it wouldn't help Garry. Should he wait till Garry had played that last card he had spoken of, which he was so sure would win, or should he begin at once to try and raise the money?
This news at any other time would have set his hopes to fluttering. If Peter's director was made of money and intent on throwing it away; and if a blast furnace or a steel plant, or whatever could turn worthless rock into pruning-hooks and ploughshares, should by some act of folly be built in the valley at the foot of the hill he owned, why something might come of it. But, then, so might skies fall and everybody have larks on toast for breakfast. Until then his concern was with Garry.
He realized that the young architect was too broken down physically and mentally to decide any question of real moment. His will power was gone and his nerves unstrung. The kindest thing therefore that any friend could do for him, would be to step in and conduct the fight without him. Garry's wishes to keep the situation from Corinne would be respected, but that did not mean that his own efforts should be relaxed. Yet where would he begin, and on whom? MacFarlane had just told him that Morris was away from home and would not be back for several days. Peter was out of the question so far as his own means—or lack of means—was concerned, and he could not, of course, ask him to go into debt for a man who had never been his friend, especially when neither he nor Garry had any security to offer.
He finally decided to talk the whole matter over with MacFarlane and act on his advice. The clear business head of his Chief cleared the situation as a north-west wind blows out a fog.
"Stay out of it, Jack," he exclaimed in a quick, positive voice that showed he had made up his mind long before Jack had finished his recital. "Minott is a gambler, and so was his father before him. He has got to take his lean with his fat. If you pulled him out of this hole he would be in another in six months. It's in his blood, just as much as it is in your blood to love horses and the woods. Let him alone;—Corinne's stepfather is the man to help; that's his business, and that's where Minott wants to go. If there is anything of value in this Warehouse Company, Arthur Breen & Co. can carry the certificates for Minott until they go up and he can get out. If there is nothing, then the sooner Garry sells out and lets it go the better. Stay out, Jack. It's not in the line of your duty. It's hard on his wife and he is having a devil of a row to hoe, but it will be the best thing for him in the end."
Jack listened in respectful silence, as he always did, to MacFarlane's frank outburst, but it neither changed his mind nor cooled his ardor. Where his heart was concerned his judgment rarely worked. Then, loyalty to a friend in distress was the one thing his father had taught him. He did not agree with his Chief's view of the situation. If Garry was born a gambler, he had kept that fact concealed from him and from his wife. He recalled the conversation he had had with him some weeks before, when he was so enthusiastic over the money he was going to make in the new Warehouse deal. He had been selected as the architect for the new buildings, and it was quite natural that he should have become interested in the securities of the company. This threatened calamity was one that might overtake any man. Get Garry out of this hole and he would stay out; let him sink, and his whole career would be ruined. And then there was a sentimental side to it even if Garry was a gambler—one that could not be ignored when he thought of Corinne and the child.
Late in the afternoon, his mind still unsettled, he poured out his anxieties to Ruth. She did not disappoint him. Her big heart swelled only with sympathy for the wife who was suffering. It made no difference to her that Corinne had never been even polite, never once during the sojourn of the Minotts in the village having manifested the slightest interest either in her own or Jack's affairs—not even when MacFarlane was injured, nor yet when the freshet might have ruined them all. Ruth's generous nature had no room in it for petty rancors or little hurts. Then, too, Jack was troubled for his friend. What was there for her to do but to follow the lamp he held up to guide her feet—the lamp which now shed its glad effulgence over both? So they talked on, discussing various ways and means, new ties born of a deeper understanding binding them the closer—these two, who, as they sometimes whispered to each other, were "enlisted for life," ready to meet it side by side, whatever the day developed.
Before they parted, she promised again to go and see Corinne and cheer her up. "She cannot be left alone, Jack, with this terrible thing hanging over her," she urged, "and you must meet Garry when he returns to-night. Then we can learn what he has done—perhaps he will have fixed everything himself." But though Jack went to the station and waited until the arrival of the last train had dropped its passengers, there was no sign of Garry. Nor did Ruth find Corinne. She had gone to the city, so the nurse said, with Mr. Minott by the early train and would not be back until the next day. Until their return Jack and Ruth found their hands tied.
On the afternoon of the second day a boy called at the brick office where Jack was settling up the final accounts connected with the "fill" and the tunnel, preparatory to the move to Morfordsburg, and handed him a note. It was from Corinne.
"I am in great trouble. Please come to me at once," it read. "I am here at home."
Corinne was waiting for him in the hall. She took his hand without a word of welcome, and drew him into the small room where she had seen him two nights before. This time she shut and locked the door.
"Mr. McGowan has just been here," she moaned in a voice that showed how terrible was the strain. "He tried to force his way up into Garry's room but I held him back. He is coming again with some one of the church trustees. Garry had a bad turn in New York and we came home by the noon train, and I have made him lie down and sent for the doctor. McGowan must not see him; it will kill him if he does. Don't leave us, Jack!"
"But how dare he come here and try to force his—"
"He will dare. He cursed and went on dreadfully. The door was shut, but Garry heard him. Oh, Jack!—what are we to do?"
"Don't worry, Corinne; I'll take care of Mr. McGowan. I myself heard Garry tell him that he would attend to his payments in a few days, and he went away satisfied."
"Yes, but McGowan says he has been to the bank and has also seen the Rector, and will stop at nothing."
Jack's fingers tightened and his lips came together.
"He will stop on that threshold," he said in a low, determined voice, "and never pass it—no matter what he wants. I will go up and tell Garry so."
"No, not yet—wait," she pleaded, in nervous twitching tones—with pauses between each sentence. "You must hear it all first. Garry had not told me all when you were here two nights ago; he did not tell me until after you left. Then I knelt down by his bed and put my arms around him and he told me everything—about the people he had seen—and—McGowan—everything." She ceased speaking and hid her eyes with the back of one hand as if to shut out some spectre, then she stumbled on. "We took the early train for New York, and I waited until my stepfather was in his office and went into his private room. It was Garry's last hope. He thought Mr. Breen would listen to me on account of mother. I told him of our dreadful situation; how Garry must have ten thousand dollars, and must have it in twenty-four hours, to save us all from ruin. Would you believe, Jack—that he laughed and said it was an old story; that Garry had no business to be speculating; that he had told him a dozen times to keep out of the Street; that if Garry had any collaterals of any kind, he would loan him ten thousand dollars or any other sum, but that he had no good money to throw after bad. I did all I could; I almost went down on my knees to him; I begged for myself and my mother, but he only kept saying—'You go home, Corinne, and look after your baby—women don't understand these things.' Oh, Jack!—I could not believe that he was the same man who married my mother—and he isn't. Every year he has grown harder and harder; he is a thousand times worse than when you lived with him. Garry was waiting outside for me, and when I told him he turned as white as a sheet, and had to hold on to the iron railing for a moment. It was all I could do to get him home. If he sees Mr. McGowan now it will kill him; he can't pay him and he must tell him so, and it will all come out."
"But he will pay him, Corinne, when he gets well."
There came a pause. Then she said slowly as if each word was wrung from her heart:
"There is no money. Garry took the trust funds from the church."
"No money, Corinne! You don't mean—you can't—Oh! My God! Not Garry! No—not Garry!"
"Yes! I mean it. He expected to pay it back, but the people he is with in New York lied to him, and now it is all gone." There was no change in her voice.
She stood gazing into his face; not a tear in her eyes; no quiver of her lips. She had passed that stage; she was like a victim led to the stake in whom nothing but dull endurance is left.
Jack backed into a chair and sat with bowed head, his cheeks in his hands. Had the earth opened under him he could not have been more astounded. Garry Minott a defaulter! Garry a thief! Everything seemed to whirl about him—only the woman remained quiet—still standing—her calm, impassive eyes fixed on his bowed head; her dry, withering, soulless words still vibrating in the hushed room.
"When did this happen, Corinne—this—this taking of Mr. McGowan's money?" The words came between his closed fingers, as if he, too, would shut out some horrible shape.
"Some two weeks ago."
"When did you know of it?"
"Night before last, after you left him. I knew he was in trouble, but I did not know it was as bad as this. If Mr. Breen had helped me everything would have been all right, for Garry sold out all the stock he had in the Warehouse Company, and this ten thousand dollars is all he owes." She shivered as she spoke, and her pale, tired eyes closed as if in pain. Nothing was said between them for a while, and neither of them stirred. During the silence the front door was heard to open, letting in the village doctor, who mounted the stairs, his footfalls reverberating in Garry's room overhead.
Jack raised his eyes at last and studied her closely. The frail body seemed more crumpled and forlorn in the depths of the chair, where she had sunk, than when she had been standing before him. The blonde hair, always so glossy, was dry as hemp; the small, upturned nose, once so piquant and saucy, was thin and pinched—almost transparent; the washed-out, colorless eyes, which in her girlhood had flashed and sparkled so roguishly, were half hidden under swollen lids. The arms were flat, the hands like bird claws. The white heat of a furnace of agony had shrivelled her poor body, drying up all the juices of its youth.
And yet with the scorching there had crept into the wan face, and into the tones of her tired, heart-broken voice something Jack had never found in her as a girl—something of tenderness, unselfishness—of self-sacrifice for another and with it there flamed up in his own heart a determination to help—to wipe out everything—to sponge the record, to reestablish the man who in a moment of agony had given way to an overpowering temptation and brought his wife to this condition. A lump rose in his throat, and a look of his old father shone out of his face—that look with which in the years gone by he had defied jury, district attorney, and public opinion for what he considered mercy. And mercy should be exercised now. Garry had never done one dishonest act before, and never, God helping, should he be judged for this.
He, John Breen, let Garry be called a common thief! Garry whose every stand in Corklesville had been for justice; Garry whom Morris loved, whose presence brought a cheery word of welcome from every room he entered! Let him be proclaimed a defaulter, insulted by ruffians like McGowan, and treated like a felon—brilliant, lovable, forceful Garry! Never, if he had to go down on his knees to Holker Morris or any other man who could lend him a dollar.
Corinne must have seen the new look in his face, for her own eyes brightened as she asked:
"Have you thought of something that can help him?"
Jack did not answer. His mind was too intent on finding some thread which would unravel the tangle.
"Does anybody else know of this, Corinne?" he asked at last in a low-pitched voice.
"Nobody must," he exclaimed firmly. Then he added gently—"Why did you tell me?"
"He asked me to. It would all have come out in the end, and he didn't want you to see McGowan and not know the truth. Keep still—some one is knocking," she whispered, her fingers pressed to her lips in her fright. "I know it is McGowan, Jack. Shall I see him, or will you?"
"I will—you stay here."
Jack lifted himself erect and braced back his shoulders. He intended to be polite to McGowan, but he also intended to be firm. He also intended to refuse him any information or promise of any kind until the regular monthly meeting of the Church Board which would occur on Monday. This would give him time to act, and perhaps to save the situation, desperate as it looked.
With this in his mind he turned the key and threw wide the door. It was the doctor who stood outside. He seemed to be laboring under some excitement.
"I heard you were here, Mr. Breen—come upstairs."
Jacked obeyed mechanically. Garry had evidently heard of his being downstairs and had some instructions to give, or some further confession to make. He would save him now from that humiliation; he would get his arms around him, as Corinne had done, and tell him he was still his friend and what he yet intended to do to pull him through, and that nothing which he had done had wrecked his affection for him.
As these thoughts rushed over him his pace quickened, mounting the stairs two steps at a time so that he might save his friend even a moment of additional suffering. The doctor touched Jack on the shoulder, made a sign for him to moderate his steps, and the two moved to where his patient lay.
Garry was on the bed, outside the covering, when they entered. He was lying on his back, his head and neck flat on a pillow, one foot resting on the floor. He was in his trousers and shirt; his coat and waistcoat lay where he had thrown them.
"Garry," began Jack in a low voice—"I just ran in to say that—"
The sick man did not move.
Jack stopped, and turned his head to the doctor.
"Asleep?" he whispered.
"No;—drugged. That's why I wanted you to see him before I called his wife. Is he accustomed to this sort of thing?" and he picked up a bottle from the table.
Jack took the phial in his hand; it was quite small, and had a glass stopper.
"What is it, doctor?"
"I don't know. Some preparation of chloral, I should think; smells and looks like it. I'll take it home and find out. If he's been taking this right along he may know how much he can stand, but if he's experimenting with it, he'll wake up some fine morning in the next world. What do you know about it?"
"Only what I have heard Mrs. Minott say," Jack whispered behind his hand. "He can't sleep without it, she told me. He's been under a terrible business strain lately and couldn't stand the pressure, I expect."
"Well, that's a little better," returned the doctor, moving the apparently lifeless arm aside and placing his ear close to the patient's breast. For a moment he listened intently, then he drew up a chair and sat down beside him, his fingers on Garry's pulse.
"You don't think he's in danger, do you, doctor?" asked Jack in an anxious tone.
"No—he'll pull through. His breathing is bad, but his heart is doing fairly well. But he's got to stop this sort of thing." Here the old doctor's voice rose as his indignation increased (nothing would wake Garry). "It's criminal—it's damnable! Every time one of you New York people get worried, or short of money or stocks, or what not, off you go to a two-cent drug shop and buy enough poison to kill a family. It's damnable, Breen—and you must tell Minott so when he wakes up."
Jack made no protest against being included in the denunciation. He was too completely absorbed in the fate of the man who lay in a stupor.
"Is there anything can be done for him?" he asked.
"I can't tell yet. He may only have taken a small dose. I will watch him for a while. But if his pulse weakens we must shake him awake somehow. You needn't wait I'll call you if I want you, You've told me what I wanted to know."
Again Jack bent over Garry, his heart wrung with pity and dismay. He was still there when the door opened softly and a servant entered, tiptoed to where he stood, and whispered in his ear:
"Mrs. Minott says, sir, that Mr. McGowan and another man are downstairs."
The contractor was standing in the hall, his hat still on his head. The other man Jack recognized as Murphy, one of the church building trustees. That McGowan was in an ugly mood was evident from the expression on his face, his jaw setting tighter when he discovered that Jack and not Garry was coming down to meet him; Jack having been associated with MacFarlane, who had "robbed him of damages" to the "fill."
"I came to see Mr. Minott," McGowan blurted out before Jack's feet had touched the bottom step of the stairs. "I hear he's in—come home at dinner time."
Jack continued his advance without answering until he had reached their side. Then with a "Good-evening, gentlemen," he said in a perfectly even voice:
"Mr. Minott is ill and can see no one. I have just left the doctor sitting beside his bed. If there is anything I can do for either of you I will do it with pleasure."
McGowan shoved his hat back on his forehead as if to give himself more air.
"That kind of guff won't go with me no longer," he snarled, his face growing redder every instant. "This ill business is played out. He promised me three nights ago he'd make out a certificate next day—you heard him say it—and I waited for him all the morning and he never showed up. And then he sneaks off to New York at daylight and stays away for two nights more, and then sneaks home again in the middle of the day when you don't expect him, and goes to bed and sends for the doctor. How many kinds of a damned fool does he take me for? That work's been finished three weeks yesterday; the money is all in the bank to pay for it just as soon as he signs the check, and he don't sign it, and ye can't get him to sign it. Ain't that so, Jim Murphy?"
Murphy nodded, and McGowan blazed on: "If you want to know what I think about it—there's something crooked about the whole business, and it gets crookeder all the time. He's drunk, if he's anything—boiling drunk and—"
Jack laid the full weight of his hand on the speaker's shoulder:
"Stop short off where you are, Mr. McGowan." The voice came as if through tightly clenched teeth. "If you have any business that I can attend to I am here to do it, but you can't remain here and abuse Mr. Minott. My purpose in coming downstairs was to help you if I could, but you must act like a man, not like a ruffian."
Murphy stepped quickly between the two men:
"Go easy, Mac," he cried in a conciliatory tone. "If the doctor's with him ye can't see him. Hear what Mr. Breen has to say; ye got to wait anyhow. Of course, Mr. Breen, Mr. McGowan is het up because the men is gettin' ugly, and he ain't got money enough for his next pay-roll, and the last one ain't all paid yit."
McGowan again shifted his hat—this time he canted it on one side. His companion's warning had had its effect, for his voice was now pitched in a lower key.
"There ain't no use talking pay-roll to Mr. Breen, Jim," he growled. "He knows what it is; he gits up agin' it once in a while himself. If he'll tell me just when I'm going to get my money I'll wait like any decent man would wait, but I want to know, and I want to know now."
At that instant the door of the sitting-room opened, and Corinne, shrinking as one in mortal fright, glided out and made a hurried escape upstairs. Murphy sagged back against the wall and waited respectfully for her to disappear. McGowan did not alter his position nor did he remove his hat, though he waited until she had reached the landing before speaking again:
"And now, what are you going to do, Mr. Breen?" he demanded in threatening tones.
"Nothing," said Jack in his same even voice, his eyes never moving from the contractor's. "Nothing, until you get into a different frame of mind." Then he turned to Murphy: "When Mr. McGowan removes his hat, Mr. Murphy, and shows some sign of being a gentleman I will take you both into the next room and talk this matter over."
McGowan flushed scarlet and jerked his hat from his head.
"Well she come on me sudden like and I didn't see her till she'd got by. Of course, if you've got anything to say, I'm here to listen, Where'll we go?"
Jack turned and led the way into the sitting-room, where he motioned them both to seats.
"And now what is the exact amount of your voucher?" he asked, when he had drawn up a chair and sat facing them.
McGowan fumbled in his inside pocket and drew forth a slip of paper.
"A little short of ten thousand dollars," he answered in a business-like tone of voice. "There's the figures," and he handed the slip to Jack.
"When is this payment to be made?" continued Jack, glancing at the slip.
"Why, when the money is due, of course," he cried in a louder key. "Here's the contract—see—read it; then you'll know."
Jack ran his eye over the document until it fell on the payment clause. This he read twice, weighing each word.
"It says at the monthly meeting of the Board of Trustees, does it not?" he answered, smothering all trace of the relief the words brought him.
McGowan changed color. "Well, yes—but that ain't the way the payments has always been made," he stammered out.
"And if I am right, the meeting takes place on Monday next?" continued Jack in a decided tone, not noticing the interruption.
"Yes, I suppose so."
"Well, then, Monday night, Mr. McGowan, either Mr., Minott or I will be on hand. You must excuse me now. Mrs. Minott wants me, I think," and he handed McGowan the contract and walked toward the door, where he stood listening. Something was happening upstairs.
McGowan and his friend looked at each other in silence. The commotion overhead only added to their discomfiture.
"Well, what do you think, Jim?" McGowan said at last in a subdued, baffled voice.
"Well, there ain't no use thinkin', Mac. If it's writ that way, it's writ that way; that's all there is to it—" and the two joined Jack who had stepped into the hall, his eyes up the stairway as if he was listening intensely.
"Then you say, Mr. Breen, that Mr. Minott will meet us at the Board meeting on Monday?"
Jack was about to reply when he caught sight of the doctor, his hand sliding rapidly down the stair-rail as he approached.
McGowan, fearing to be interrupted, repeated his question in a louder voice:
"Then you say I'll see Mr. Minott on Monday?"
The doctor crossed to Jack's side. He was breathing heavily, his lips quivering; he looked like a man who had received some sudden shock.
"Go up to Mrs. Minott," he gasped. "It's all over, Breen. He's dying. He took the whole bottle."
At this instant an agonizing shriek cut the air. It was the voice of Corinne.
No one suspected that the young architect had killed himself. Garry was known to have suffered from insomnia, and was supposed to have taken an overdose of chloral. The doctor so decided, and the doctor's word was law in such MATTERS, and so there was no coroner's inquest. Then again, it was also known that he was doing a prosperous business with several buildings still in course of construction, and that his wife's stepfather was a prominent banker.
McGowan and his friends were stupefied. One hope was left, and that was Jack's promise that either he or Garry would be at the trustees' meeting on Monday night.
Jack had not forgotten. Indeed nothing else filled his mind. There were still three days in which to work. The shock of his friend's death, tremendous as it was, had only roused him to a greater need of action. The funeral was to take place on Sunday, but he had Saturday and Monday left. What he intended to do for Garry and his career he must now do for Garry's family and Garry's reputation. The obligation had really increased, because Garry could no longer fight his battles himself; nor was there a moment to lose. The slightest spark of suspicion would kindle a flame of inquiry, and the roar of an investigation would follow. McGowan had already voiced his own distrust of Garry's methods. No matter what the cost, this money must be found before Monday night.