"Oh, only for a few hundred thousand. The reports of our losses were exaggerated. And we stood to win over—"
"Yes—you stood to win, and then you went 'way back and set down,' as the saying is. But it ain't the money. You've got too much of that, anyway, Lord knows. It's this everlasting hullabaloo and the drink that goes with it, and the general trifling sort of a dub it makes out of a young fellow. It's a pity you ain't my son; that's all I got to say. I want to see you again along in September after I get back from San Francisco; I'm going to try to get you interested in some business. That'd be good for you."
"You're kind, Mr. Higbee, and really I appreciate all you say; but you'll see me settle down pretty soon, quick as I get my bearings, and be a credit to the State of Montana."
"I say," said Mauburn, coming up, "do you see that angel of the flaming hair with that young Milbrey chap?"
The two men gazed where he was indicating.
"By Jove! she is a stunner, isn't she?" exclaimed Percival.
"Might be one of Shepler's party," suggested Higbee. "He has the Milbrey family out with him, and I see they landed awhile ago. You can bet that party's got more than her good looks, if the Milbreys are taking any interest in her. Well, I've got to take the madam and the young folks over to the Casino. So long!"
Fred Milbrey came up.
"Hello, you fellows!"
"Who is she?" asked the two in faultless chorus.
"We're going over to hear the music awhile. Come along and I'll present you."
"Rot the luck!" said Mauburn; "I'm slated to take Mrs. Drelmer and Miss Bines to a musicale at the Van Lorrecks, where I'm certain to fall asleep trying to look as if I quite liked it, you know."
"You come," Milbrey urged Percival. "My sister's there and the governor and mother."
But for the moment Percival was reflecting, going over in his mind the recent homily of Higbee. Higbee's opinion of the Milbreys also came back to him.
"Sorry, old man, but I've a headache, so you must excuse me for to-night. But I'll tell you, we'll all come over in the morning and go for a dip with you."
"Good! Stop for us at the Laurels, about eleven, or p'r'aps I'll stroll over and get you. I'm expecting some mail to be forwarded to this hotel."
He rejoined his companion, who had been chatting with a group of women near the door, and they walked away.
"Isn't she a stunner!" exclaimed Mauburn.
"She is a peach!" replied Percival, in tones of deliberate and intense conviction. "Whoever she is, I'll meet her to-morrow and ask her what she means by pretending to see anything in Milbrey. This thing has gone too far!"
Mauburn looked wistful but said nothing. After he had gone away with Mrs. Drelmer and Psyche, who soon came for him, Percival still sat revolving the paternal warnings of Higbee. He considered them seriously. He decided he ought to think more about what he was doing and what he should do. He decided, too, that he could think better with something mechanical to occupy his hands. He took a cab and was driven to the local branch of his favourite temple of chance. His host welcomed him at the door.
"Ah, Mr. Bines, a little recreation, eh? Your favourite dealer, Dutson, is here to-night, if you prefer bank."
Passing through the crowded, brightly-lighted rooms to one of the faro tables, where his host promptly secured a seat for him, he played meditatively until one o'clock; adding materially to his host's reasons for believing he had done wisely to follow his New York clients to their summer annex.
Horace Milbrey Upholds the Dignity of His House
In the shade of the piazza at the Hotel Mayson next morning there was a sorting out of the mail that had been forwarded from the hotel in New York. The mail of Mrs. Bines was a joy to her son. There were three conventional begging letters, heart-breaking in their pathos, and composed with no mean literary skill. There was a letter from one of the maids at the Hightower for whose mother Mrs. Bines had secured employment in the family of a friend; a position, complained the daughter, "in which she finds constant hard labour caused by the quantity expected of her to attend to." There was also a letter from the lady's employer, saying she would not so much mind her laziness if she did not aggravate it by drink. Mrs. Bines sighed despairingly for the recalcitrant.
"And who's this wants more help until her husband's profession picks up again?" asked Percival.
"Oh, that's a poor little woman I helped. They call her husband 'the Terrible Iceman.'"
"But this is just the season for icemen!"
"Well," confessed his mother, with manifest reluctance, "he's a prize-fighter or something."
"—and he had a chance to make some money, only the man he fought against had some of his friends drug this poor fellow before their—their meeting—and so of course he lost. If he hadn't been drugged he would have won the money, and now there's a law passed against it, and of course it isn't a very nice trade, but I think the law ought to be changed. He's got to live."
"I don't see why; not if he's the man I saw box one night last winter. He didn't have a single excuse for living. And what are these tickets,—'Grand Annual Outing and Games of the Egg-Candlers & Butter Drivers' Association at Sulzer's Harlem River Park. Ticket Admitting Lady and Gent, One dollar.' Heavens! What is it?"
"I promised to take ten tickets," said Mrs. Bines. "I must send them a check."
"But what are they?" her son insisted; "egg-candlers may be all right, but what are butter-drivers? Are you quite sure it's respectable? Why, I ask you, should an honest man wish to drive butter? That shows you what life in a great city does for the morally weak. Look out you don't get mixed up in it yourself, that's all I ask. They'll have you driving butter first thing you know. Thank heaven! thus far no Bines has ever candled an egg—and as for driving butter—" he stopped, with a shudder of extreme repugnance.
"And here's a notice about the excursions of the St. John's Guild. I've been on four already, and I want you to get me back to New York right away for the others. If you could only see all those babies we take out on the floating hospital, with two men in little boats behind to pick up those that fall overboard—and really it's a wonder any of them live through the summer in that cruel city. Down in Hester Street the other day four of them had a slice of watermelon from Mr. Slivinsky's stand on the corner, and when I saw them they were actually eating the hard, green rind. It was enough to kill a horse."
"Well, have your own fun," said her son, cheerfully. "Here's a letter from Uncle Peter I must read."
He drew his chair aside and began the letter:
"MONTANA CITY, July 21st, 1900.
"DEAR PETE:—Your letter and Martha's rec'd, and glad to hear from you. I leave latter part of this week for the mtns. Late setting out this season acct. rhumatiz caught last winter that laid me up all spring. It was so mortal dull here with you folks gone that I went out with a locating party to get the M. P. branch located ahead of the Short Line folks. So while you were having your fun there I was having mine here, and I had it good and plenty.
"The worst weather I ever did see, and I have seen some bad. Snow six to eight feet on a level and the mercury down as low as 62 with an ornery fierce wind. We lost four horses froze to death, and all but two of the men got froze up bad. We reached the head of Madison Valley Feb. 19, north of Red Bank Canyon, but it wasn't as easy as it sounds.
"Jan. 8, after getting out of supplies, we abandoned our camp at Riverside and moved 10 m. down the river carrying what we could on our backs. Met pack train with a few supplies that night, and next day I took part of the force in boat to meet over-due load of supplies. We got froze in the ice. Left party to break through and took Billy Brue and went ahead to hunt team. Billy and me lived four days on one lb. bacon. The second day Billy took some sickness so he could not eat hardly any food; the next day he was worse, and the last day he was so bad he said the bare sight of food made him gag. I think he was a liar, because he wasn't troubled none after we got to supplies again, but I couldn't do anything with him, and so I lived high and come out slick and fat. Finally we found the team coming in. They had got stuck in the river and we had to carry out the load on our backs, waist-deep in running water. I see some man in the East has a fad for breaking the ice in the river and going swimming. I would not do it for any fad. Slept in snow-drift that night in wet clothes, mercury 40 below. Was 18 days going 33 miles. Broke wagon twice, then broke sled and crippled one horse. Packed the other five and went on till snow was too deep. Left the horses where four out of five died and carried supplies the rest of the way on our backs. Moved camp again on our backs and got caught in a blizzard and nearly all of us got our last freezeup that time. Finally a Chinook opened the river and I took a boat up to get the abandoned camp. Got froze in harder than ever and had to walk out. Most of the men quit on account of frozen feet, etc., etc. They are a getting to be a sissy lot these days, rather lie around a hot stove all winter.
"I had to pull chain, cut brush, and shovel snow after the 1st Feb. Our last stage was from Fire Hole Basin to Madison Valley, 45 m. It was hell. Didn't see the sun but once after Feb. 1, and it stormed insessant, making short sights necessary, and with each one we would have to dig a hole to the ground and often a ditch or a tunnel through the snow to look through. The snow was soft to the bottom and an instrument would sink through."
"Here's a fine letter to read on a hot day," called Percival. "I'm catching cold." He continued.
"We have a very good line, better than from Beaver Canon, our maps filed and construction under way; all grading done and some track laid. That's what you call hustling. The main drawback is that Red Bank Canon. It's a regular avalanche for eight miles. The snow slides just fill the river. One just above our camp filled it for 1/4 mile and 40 feet deep and cut down 3 ft. trees like a razor shaves your face. I had to run to get out of the way. Reached Madison Valley with one tent and it looked more like mosquito bar than canvas. The old cloth wouldn't hardly hold the patches together. I slept out doors for six weeks. I got frost-bit considerable and the rhumatiz. I tell you, at 75 I ain't the man I used to be. I find I need a stout tent and a good warm sleeping bag for them kind of doings nowdays.
"Well, this Western country would be pretty dull for you I suppose going to balls and parties every night with the Astors and Vanderbilts. I hope you ain't cut loose none.
"By the way, that party that ground-sluiced us, Coplen he met a party in Spokane the other day that seen her in Paris last spring. She was laying in a stock of duds and the party gethered that she was going back to New York—"
The Milbreys, father and son, came up and greeted the group on the piazza.
"I've just frozen both ears reading a letter from my grandfather," said Percival. "Excuse me one moment and I'll be done."
"All right, old chap. I'll see if there's some mail for me. Dad can chat with the ladies. Ah, here's Mrs. Drelmer. Mornin'!"
Percival resumed his letter:
"—going back to New York and make the society bluff. They say she's got the face to do it all right. Coplen learned she come out here with a gambler from New Orleans and she was dealing bank herself up to Wallace for a spell while he was broke. This gambler he was the slickest short-card player ever struck hereabouts. He was too good. He was so good they shot him all up one night last fall over to Wardner. She hadn't lived with him for some time then, though Coplen says they was lawful man and wife, so I guess maybe she was glad when he got it good in the chest-place—"
Fred Milbrey came out of the hotel office.
"No mail," he said. "Come, let's be getting along. Finish your letter on the way, Bines."
"I've just finished," said Percival, glancing down the last sheet.
"—Coplen says she is now calling herself Mrs. Brench Wybert or some such name. I just thought I'd tell you in case you might run acrost her and—"
"Come along, old chap," urged Milbrey; "Mrs. Wybert will be waiting." His father had started off with Psyche. Mrs. Bines and Mrs. Drelmer were preparing to follow.
"I beg your pardon," said Percival, "I didn't quite catch the name."
"I say Mrs. Wybert and mother will be waiting—come along!"
"Wybert—Mrs. Brench Wybert—my friend—what's the matter?"
"We can't go;—that is—we can't meet her. Sis, come back a moment," he called to Psyche, and then:
"I want a word with you and your father, Milbrey."
The two joined the elder Milbrey and the three strolled out to the flower-bordered walk, while Psyche Bines went, wondering, back to her mother.
"What's all the row?" inquired Fred Milbrey.
"You've been imposed upon. This woman—this Mrs. Brench Wybert—there can be no mistake; you are sure that's the name?"
"Of course I'm sure; she's the widow of a Southern gentleman, Colonel Brench Wybert, from New Orleans."
"Yes, the same woman. There is no doubt that you have been imposed upon. The thing to do is to drop her quick—she isn't right."
"In what way has my family been imposed upon, Mr. Bines?" asked the elder Milbrey, somewhat perturbed; "Mrs. Wybert is a lady of family and large means—"
"Yes, I know, she has, or did have a while ago, two million dollars in cold cash."
"Well, Mr. Bines—?"
"Can't you take my word for it, that she's not right—not the woman for your wife and daughter to meet?"
"Look here, Bines," the younger Milbrey spluttered, "this won't do, you know. If you've anything to say against Mrs. Wybert, you'll have to say it out and you'll have to be responsible to me, sir."
"Take my word that you've been imposed upon; she's not—not the kind of person you would care to know, to be thrown—"
"I and my family have found her quite acceptable, Mr. Bines," interposed the father, stiffly. "Her deportment is scrupulously correct, and I am in her confidence regarding certain very extensive investments—she cannot be an impostor, sir!"
"But I tell you she isn't right," insisted Percival, warmly.
"Oh, I see," said the younger Milbrey—his face clearing all at once. "It's all right, dad, come on!"
"If you insist," said Percival, "but none of us can meet her."
"It's all right, dad—I understand—"
"Nor can we know any one who receives her."
"Really, sir," began the elder Milbrey, "your effrontery in assuming to dictate the visiting list of my family is overwhelming."
"If you won't take my word I shall have to dictate so far as I have any personal control over it."
"Don't mind him, dad—I know all about it, I tell you—I'll explain later to you."
"Why," exclaimed Percival, stung to the revelation, "that woman, this woman now waiting with your wife and daughter, was my—"
"Stop, Mr. Bines—not another word, if you please!" The father raised his hand in graceful dismissal. "Let this terminate the acquaintance between our families! No more, sir!" and he turned away, followed by his son. As they walked out through the grounds and turned up the street the young man spoke excitedly, while his father slightly bent his head to listen, with an air of distant dignity.
"What's the trouble, Perce?" asked his sister, as he joined the group on the piazza.
"The trouble is that we've just had to cut that fine old New York family off our list."
"What, not the Milbreys!" exclaimed Mrs. Drelmer.
"The same. Now mind, sis, and you, ma—you're not to know them again—and mind this—if any one else wants to present you to a Mrs. Wybert—a Mrs. Brench Wybert—don't you let them. Understand?"
"I thought as much," said Mrs. Drelmer; "she acted just the least little bit too right."
"Well, I haven't my hammer with me—but remember, now, sis, it's for something else than because her father's cravats were the ready-to-wear kind, or because her worthy old grandfather inhaled his soup. Don't forget that."
"As there isn't anything else to do," he suggested, a few moments later, "why not get under way and take a run up the coast?"
"But I must get back to my babies," said Mrs. Bines, plaintively. "Here I've been away four days."
"All right, ma, I suppose we shall have to take you there, only let's get out of here right away. We can bring sis and you back, Mrs. Drelmer, when those people we don't know get off again. There's Mauburn; I'll tell him."
"I'll have my dunnage down directly," said Mauburn.
Up the street driving a pony-cart came Avice Milbrey. Obeying a quick impulse, Percival stepped to the curb as she came opposite to him. She pulled over. She was radiant in the fluffs of summer white, her hat and gown touched with bits of the same vivid blue that shone in her eyes. The impulse that had prompted him to hail her now prompted wild words. His long habit of thought concerning her enabled him to master this foolishness. But at least he could give her a friendly word of warning. She greeted him with the pretty reserve in her manner that had long marked her bearing toward him.
"Good-morning! I've borrowed this cart of Elsie Vainer to drive down to the yacht station for lost mail. Isn't the day perfect—and isn't this the dearest fat, sleepy pony, with his hair in his eyes?"
"Miss Milbrey, there's a woman who seems to be a friend of your family—a Mrs.—"
"Mrs. Wybert; yes, you know her?"
"No, I'd never seen her until last night, nor heard that name until this morning; but I know of her."
"It became necessary just now—really, it is not fair of me to speak to you at all—"
"Why, pray?—not fair?"
"I had to tell your father and brother that we could not meet Mrs. Wybert, and couldn't know any one who received her."
"There! I knew the woman wasn't right directly I heard her speak. Surely a word to my father was enough."
"But it wasn't, I'm sorry to say. Neither he nor your brother would take my word, and when I started to give my reasons—something it would have been very painful for me to do—your father refused to listen, and declared the acquaintance between our families at an end."
"It hurt me in a way I can't tell you, and now, even this talk with you is off-side play. Miss Milbrey!"
"I wouldn't have said what I did to your father and brother without good reason."
"I am sure of that, Mr. Bines."
"Without reasons I was sure of, you know, so there could be no chance of any mistake."
"Your word is enough for me, Mr. Bines."
"Miss Milbrey—you and I—there's always been something between us—something different from what is between most people. We've never talked straight out since I came to New York—I'll be sorry, perhaps, for saying as much as I am saying, after awhile—but we may not talk again at all—I'm afraid you may misunderstand me—but I must say it—I should like to go away knowing you would have no friendship,—no intimacy whatever with that woman."
"I promise you I shall not, Mr. Bines; they can row if they like."
"And yet it doesn't seem fair to have you promise as if it were a consideration for me, because I've no right to ask it. But if I felt sure that you took my word quite as if I were a stranger, and relied upon it enough to have no communication or intercourse of any sort whatsoever with her, it would be a great satisfaction to me."
"I shall not meet her again. And—thank you!" There was a slight unsteadiness once in her voice, and he could almost have sworn her eyes showed that old brave wistfulness.
"—and quite as if you were a stranger."
"Thank you! and, Miss Milbrey?"
"Your brother may become entangled in some way with this woman."
"It's entirely possible."
Her voice was cool and even again.
"He might even marry her."
"She has money, I believe; he might indeed."
"Always money!" he thought; then aloud:
"If you find he means to, Miss Milbrey, do anything you can to prevent it. It wouldn't do at all, you know."
"Thank you, Mr. Bines; I shall remember."
"I—I think that's all—and I'm sorry we're not—our families are not to be friends any more."
She smiled rather painfully, with an obvious effort to be conventional.
"So sorry! Good-bye!"
He looked after her as she drove off. She sat erect, her head straight to the front, her trim shoulders erect, and the whip grasped firmly. He stood motionless until the fat pony had jolted sleepily around the corner.
"Bines, old boy!" he said to himself, "you nearly made one of yourself there. I didn't know you had such ready capabilities for being an ass."
A Hot Day in New York, with News of an Interesting Marriage
At five o'clock that day the prow of the Viluca cut the waters of Newport harbour around Goat Island, and pointed for New York.
"Now is your time," said Mrs. Drelmer to Mauburn. "I'm sure the girl likes you, and this row with the Milbreys has cut off any chance that cub had. Why not propose to her to-night?"
"I have seemed to be getting on," answered Mauburn. "But wait a bit. There's that confounded girl over there. No telling what she'll do. She might knock things on the head any moment."
"All the more reason for prompt action, and there couldn't very well be anything to hurt you."
"By Jove! that's so; there couldn't, very well, could there? I'll take your advice."
And so it befell that Mauburn and Miss Bines sat late on deck that night, and under the witchery of a moon that must long since have become hardened to the spectacle, the old, old story was told, to the accompaniment of the engine's muffled throb, and the soft purring of the silver waters as they slipped by the boat and blended with the creamy track astern. So little variation was there in the time-worn tale, and in the maid's reception of it, that neither need here be told of in detail.
Nor were the proceedings next morning less tamely orthodox. Mrs. Bines managed to forget her relationship of elder sister to the poor long enough to behave as a mother ought when the heart of her daughter has been given into a true-love's keeping. Percival deported himself cordially.
"I'm really glad to hear it," he said to Mauburn. "I'm sure you'll make sis as good a husband as she'll make you a wife; and that's very good, indeed. Let's fracture a cold quart to the future Lady Casselthorpe."
"And to the future Lord Casselthorpe!" added Mrs. Drelmer, who was warmly enthusiastic.
"Such a brilliant match," she murmured to Percival, when they had touched glasses in the after-cabin. "I know more than one New York girl who'd have jumped at the chance."
"We'll try to bear our honours modestly," he answered her.
The yacht lay at her anchorage in the East River. Percival made preparations to go ashore with his mother.
"Stay here with the turtle-doves," he said to Mrs. Drelmer, "far enough off, of course, to let them coo, and I'll be back with any people I can pick up for a cruise."
"Trust me to contract the visual and aural infirmities of the ideal chaperone," was Mrs. Drelmer's cheerful response. "And if you should run across that poor dear of a husband of mine, tell him not to slave himself to death for his thoughtless butterfly of a wife, who toils not, neither does she spin. Tell him," she added, "that I'm playing dragon to this engaged couple. It will cheer up the poor dear."
The city was a fiery furnace. But its prisoners were not exempt from its heat, like certain holy ones of old. On the dock where Percival and his mother landed was a listless throng of them, gasping for the faint little breezes that now and then blew in from the water. A worn woman with unkempt hair, her waist flung open at the neck, sat in a spot of shade, and soothed a baby already grown too weak to be fretful. Mrs. Bines spoke to her, while Percival bought a morning paper from a tiny newsboy, who held his complete attire under one arm, his papers under the other, and his pennies in his mouth, keeping meantime a shifty side-glance on the policeman a block away, who might be expected to interfere with his contemplated plunge.
"That poor soul's been there all night," said Mrs. Bines. "She's afraid her baby's going to die; and yet she was so cheerful and polite about it, and when I gave her some money the poor thing blushed. I told her to bring the baby down to the floating hospital to-morrow, but I mistrust it won't be alive, and—oh, there's an ambulance backed up to the sidewalk; see what the matter is."
As Percival pushed through the outer edge of the crowd, a battered wreck of a man past middle age was being lifted into the ambulance. His eyes were closed, his face a dead, chalky white, and his body hung limp.
"Sunstroke?" asked Percival.
The overworked ambulance surgeon, who seemed himself to be in need of help, looked up.
"Nope; this is a case of plain starvation. I'm nearer sunstroke myself than he is—not a wink of sleep for two nights now. Fifty-two runs since yesterday at this time, and the bell still ringing. Gee! but it's hot. This lad won't ever care about the weather again, though," he concluded, jumping on to the rear step and grasping the rails on either side while the driver clanged his gong and started off.
"Was it sunstroke?" asked Mrs. Bines.
"Man with stomach trouble," answered her son, shortly.
"They're so careless about what they eat this hot weather," Mrs. Bines began, as they walked toward a carriage; "all sorts of heavy foods and green fruit—"
"Well, if you must know, this one had been careless enough not to eat anything at all. He was starved."
"Oh, dear! What a place! here people are starving, and look at us! Why, we wasted enough from breakfast to feed a small family. It isn't right. They never would allow such a thing in Montana City."
They entered the carriage and were driven slowly up a side street where slovenly women idled in windows and doorways and half-naked children chased excitedly after the ice-wagons.
"I used to think it wasn't right myself until I learned not to question the ways of Providence."
"Providence, your grandmother! Look at those poor little mites fighting for that ice!"
"We have to accept it. It seems to be proof of the Creator's versatility. It isn't every one who would be nervy enough and original enough to make a world where people starve to death right beside those who have too much."
"You're blasphemous! and you're overwrought about the few cases of need here. Think of those two million people that have just starved to death in India."
"That wasn't my fault."
"Exactly; if you'd been there the list might have been cut down four or five thousand; not more. It was the fault of whoever makes the weather. It didn't rain and their curry crop failed—or whatever they raise—and there you are; and we couldn't help matters any by starving ourselves to death."
"Well, I know of a few matters here I can help. And just look at all those empty houses boarded up!" she cried later, as they crossed Madison Avenue. "Those poor things bake themselves to death down in their little ovens, and these great cool places are all shut up. Why, that poor little baby's hands were just like bird's claws."
"Well, don't take your sociology too seriously," Percival warned her, as they reached the hotel. "Being philanthropic is obeying an instinct just as selfish as any of the others. A little of it is all right—but don't be a slave to your passions. And be careful of your health."
In his mail at the Hightower was a note from Mrs. Akemit:
"NEW LONDON, July 29th.
"You DEAR THOUGHTFUL MAN: I'll be delighted, and the aunt, a worthy sister of the dear bishop, has consented. She is an acidulous maiden person with ultra-ritualistic tendencies. At present she is strong on the reunion of Christendom, and holds that the Anglican must be the unifying medium of the two religious extremes. So don't say I didn't warn you fairly. She will, however, impart an air of Episcopalian propriety to that naughty yacht of yours—something sadly needed if I am to believe the tales I hear about its little voyages to nowhere in particular.
"Babe sends her love, and says to tell 'Uncle Percibal' that the ocean tastes 'all nassy.' She stood upon the beach yesterday after making this discovery involuntarily, and proscribed it with one magnificent wave of her hand and a brief exclamation of disgust—turned her back disrespectfully upon a body of water that is said to cover two-thirds—or is it three-fourths?—of the earth's surface. Think of it! She seemed to suspect she had been imposed upon in the matter of its taste, and is going to tell the janitor directly we get home, in order that the guilty ones may be seen to. Her little gesture of dismissal was superbly contemptuous. I wish you had been with me to watch her. Yes, the bathing-suit does have little touches of red, and red—but this will never do. Give us a day's notice, and believe me,
"FLORENCE VERDON AKEMIT.
"P.S. Babe is on the back of my chair, cuddling down in my neck, and says, 'Send him your love, too, Mommie. Now don't you forget.'"
He telegraphed Mrs. Akemit: "Will reach New London to-morrow. Assure your aunt of my delight at her acceptance. I have long held that the reunion must come as she thinks it will."
Then he ventured into the heat and glare of Broadway where humanity stewed and wilted. At Thirty-second Street he ran into Burman, with whom he had all but cornered wheat.
"You're the man I wanted to see," said Percival.
"Hurry and look! I'm melting fast."
"Come off on the yacht."
"My preserver! I was just going down to the Oriental, but your dug-out wins me hands down. Come into this poor-man's club. I must have a cold drink taller than a church steeple."
"Anybody else in town we can take?"
"There's Billy Yelverton—our chewing-gum friend; just off the Lucania last night; and Eddie Arledge and his wife. They're in town because Eddie was up in supplementary or something—some low, coarse brute of a tradesman wanted his old bill paid, and wouldn't believe Eddie when he said he couldn't spare the money. Eddie is about as lively as a dish of cold breakfast food, but his wife is all right, all right. Retiring from the footlights' glare didn't spoil Mrs. E. Wadsworth Arledge,—not so you could notice it."
"Well, see Eddie if you can, and I'll find Yelverton; he's probably at the hotel yet; and meet me there by five, so we can get out of this little amateur hell."
"And quit trying to save that collar," urged Burman, as they parted; "you look foolisher than a horse in a straw hat with it on anyway. Let it go and tuck in your handkerchief like the rest of us. See you at five!"
At the hour named the party had gathered. Percival, Arledge and his lively wife, Yelverton, who enjoyed the rare distinction of having lost money to Percival, and Burman. East they drove through the street where less fortunate mortals panted in the dead afternoon shade, and out on to the dock, whence the Viluca's naphtha launch presently put them aboard that sumptuous craft. A little breeze there made the heat less oppressive.
"We'll be under way as soon as they fetch that luggage out," Percival assured his guests.
"It's been frightfully oppressive all day, even out here," said Mrs. Drelmer, "but the engaged ones haven't lost their tempers once, even if the day was trying. And really they're the most unemotional and matter-of-fact couple I ever saw. Oh! do give me that stack of papers until I catch up with the news again."
Percival relinquished to her the evening papers he had bought before leaving the hotel, and Mrs. Drelmer in the awninged shade at the stern of the boat was soon running through them.
The others had gone below, where Percival was allotting staterooms, and urging every one to "order whatever cold stuff you like and get into as few things as the law allows. For my part, I'd like to wear nothing but a cold bath."
Mrs. Drelmer suddenly betrayed signs of excitement. She sat up straight in the wicker deck-chair, glanced down a column of her newspaper, and then looked up.
Mauburn's head appeared out of the cabin's gloom. He was still speaking to some one below. Mrs. Drelmer rattled the paper and waved it at him. He came up the stairs.
"What's the row?"
He took the paper and glanced at the headlines. "I knew she'd do it. A chap always comes up with something of that sort, and I was beginning to feel so chippy!" He read:
"London, July 30th.—Lord Casselthorpe to-day wed Miss 'Connie' Burke, the music-hall singer who has been appearing at the Alhambra. The marriage was performed, by special license, at St. Michael's Church, Chester Square, London, the Rev. Canon Mecklin, sub-dean of the Chapel Royal, officiating. The honeymoon will be spent at the town-house of the groom, in York Terrace. Lord Casselthorpe has long been known as the blackest sheep of the British Peerage, being called the 'Coster Peer' on account of his unconventional language, his coarse manner, and slovenly attire. Two years ago he was warned off Newmarket Heath and the British turf by the Jockey Club. He is eighty-eight years old. The bride, like some other lights of the music-hall who have become the consorts of Britain's hereditary legislators, has enjoyed considerable ante-nuptial celebrity among the gilded youth of the metropolis, and is said to have been especially admired at one time by the next in line of this illustrious family, the Hon. Cecil G.H. Mauburn.
"The Hon. Cecil G. H. Mauburn, mentioned in the above cable despatch, has been rather well-known in New York society for two years past. His engagement to the daughter of a Montana mining magnate, not long deceased, has been persistently rumoured."
Mauburn was pale under his freckles.
"Have they seen it yet?"
"I don't think so," she answered. "We might drop these papers over the rail here."
"That's rot, Mrs. Drelmer; it's sure to be talked of, and anyway I don't want to be sneaky, you know."
Percival came up from the cabin with a paper in his hand.
"I see you have it, too," he said, smiling. "Burman just handed me this."
"Isn't it perfectly disreputable!" exclaimed Mrs. Drelmer.
"Why? I only hope I'll have as much interest in life by the time I'm that age."
"But how will your sister take it?" asked Mauburn; "she may be afraid this will knock my title on the head, you know."
"Oh, I see," said Percival; "I hadn't thought of that."
"Only it can't," continued Mauburn. "Hang it all, that blasted old beggar will be eighty-nine, you know, in a fortnight. There simply can't be any issue of the marriage, and that—that blasted—"
"Better not try to describe her—while I'm by, you know," said Mrs. Drelmer, sympathetically.
"Well—his wife—you know, will simply worry him into the grave a bit sooner, I fancy—that's all can possibly come of it."
"Well, old man," said Percival, "I don't pretend to know the workings of my sister's mind, but you ought to be able to win a girl on your own merits, title or no title."
"Awfully good of you, old chap. I'm sure she does care for me."
"But of course it will be only fair to sis to lay the matter before her just as it is."
"To be sure!" Mauburn assented.
"And now, thank the Lord, we're under way. Doesn't that breeze save your life, though? We'll eat here on deck."
The Viluca swung into mid-stream, and was soon racing to the north with a crowded Fall River boat.
"But anyway," concluded Percival, after he had explained Mauburn's position to his sister, "he's a good fellow, and if you suit each other even the unexpected wouldn't make any difference."
"Of course not," she assented, "'the rank is but the guinea's stamp,' I know—but I wasn't meaning to be married for quite a time yet, anyway,—it's such fun just being engaged."
"A mint julep?" Mauburn was inquiring of one who had proposed it. "Does it have whiskey in it?"
"It does," replied Percival, overhearing the question; "whiskey may be said to pervade, even to infest it. Try five or six, old man; that many make a great one-night trouble cure. And I can't have any one with troubles on this Cunarder—not for the next thirty days. I need cheerfulness and rest for a long time after this day in town. Ah! General Hemingway says that dinner is served; let's be at it before the things get all hot!"
A Sensational Turn in the Milbrey Fortunes
It was a morning early in November. In the sedate Milbrey dining-room a brisk wood-fire dulled the edge of the first autumn chill. At the breakfast-table, comfortably near the hearth, sat Horace Milbrey. With pointed spoon he had daintily scooped the golden pulp from a Florida orange, touched the tips of his slender white fingers to the surface of the water in the bowl, and was now glancing leisurely at the headlines of his paper, while his breakfast appetite gained agreeable zest from the acid fruit.
On the second page of the paper the names in a brief item arrested his errant glance. It disclosed that Mr. Percival Bines had left New York the day before with a party of guests on his special car, to shoot quail in North Carolina. Mr. Milbrey glanced at the two shells of the orange which the butler was then removing.
"What a hopeless brute that fellow was!" he reflected.. He was recalling a dictum once pronounced by Mr. Bines. "Oranges should never be eaten in public," he had said with that lordly air of dogmatism characteristic of him. "The only right way to eat a juicy orange is to disrobe, grasp the fruit firmly in both hands and climb into a bath-tub half full of water."
The finished epicure shuddered at the recollection, poignantly, quite as if a saw were being filed in the next room.
The disagreeable emotion was allayed, however, by the sight of his next course—oeufs aux saucissons. Tender, poetic memories stirred within him. The little truffled French sausages aroused his better nature. Two of them reposed luxuriously upon an egg-divan in the dainty French baking-dish of dull green. Over them—a fitting baptism, was the rich wine sauce of golden brown—a sauce that might have been the tears of envious angels, wept over a mortal creation so faultlessly precious.
Mrs. Milbrey entered, news of importance visibly animating her. Her husband arose mechanically, placed the chair for her, and resumed his fork in an ecstasy of concentration. Yet, though Mrs. Milbrey was full of talk, like a charged siphon, needing but a slight pressure to pour forth matters of grave moment, she observed the engrossment of her husband, and began on the half of an orange. She knew from experience that he would be deaf, for the moment, to anything less than an alarm of fire.
When he had lovingly consumed the last morsel he awoke to her presence and smiled benignantly.
"My dear, don't fail to try them, they're exquisitely perfect!"
"You really must talk to Avice," his wife replied.
Mr. Milbrey sighed, deprecatingly. He could remember no time within five years when that necessity had not weighed upon his father's sense of duty like a vast boulder of granite. He turned to welcome the diversion provided by the rognons sautees which Jarvis at that moment uncovered before him with a discreet flourish.
"Now you really must," continued his wife, "and you'll agree with me when I tell you why."
"But, my dear, I've already talked to the girl exhaustively. I've pointed out that her treatment of Mrs. Wybert—her perverse refusal to meet the lady at all, is quite as absurd as it is rude, and that if Fred chooses to marry Mrs. Wybert it is her duty to act the part of a sister even if she cannot bring herself to feel it. I've assured her that Mrs. Wybert's antecedents are all they should be; not illustrious, perhaps, but eminently respectable. Indeed, I quite approve of the Southern aristocracy. But she constantly recalls what that snobbish Bines was unfair enough to tell her. I've done my utmost to convince her that Bines spoke in the way he did about Mrs. Wybert because he knew she was aware of those ridiculous tales of his mother's illiteracy. But Avice is—er—my dear, she is like her mother in more ways than one. Assuredly she doesn't take it from me."
He became interested in the kidneys. "If Marie had been a man," he remarked, feelingly, "I often suspect that her fame as a chef would have been second to none. Really, the suavity of her sauces is a never-ending delight to me."
"I haven't told you yet the reason—a new reason—why you must talk to Avice."
"The money—yes, yes, my dear, I know, we all know. Indeed, I've put it to her plainly. She knows how sorely Fred needs it. She knows how that beast of a tailor is threatening to be nasty—and I've explained how invaluable Mrs. Wybert would be, reminding her of that lady's generous hint about the rise in Federal Steel, which enabled me to net the neat little profit of ten thousand dollars a month ago, and how, but for that, we might have been acutely distressed. Yet she stubbornly clings to the notion that this marriage would be a mesalliance for the Milbreys."
"I agree with her," replied his wife, tersely.
Mr. Milbrey looked perplexed but polite.
"I quite agree with Avice," continued the lady. "That woman hasn't been right, Horace, and she isn't right. Young Bines knew what he was talking about. I haven't lived my years without being able to tell that after five minutes with her, clever as she is. I can read her. Like so many of those women, she has an intense passion to be thought respectable, and she's come into money enough—God only knows how—to gratify it. I could tell it, if nothing else showed it, by the way in which she overdoes respectability. She has the thousand and one artificial little rules for propriety that one never does have when one has been bred to it. That kind of woman is certain to lapse sooner or later. She would marry Fred because of his standing, because he's a favourite with the smart people she thinks she'd like to be pally with. Then, after a little she'd run off with a German-dialect comedian or something, like that appalling person Normie Whitmund married."
"But the desire to be respectable, my dear—and you say this woman has it—is a mighty lever. I'm no cynic about your sex, but I shudder to think of their—ah—eccentricities if it should cease to be a factor in the feminine equation."
"It's nothing more than a passing fad with this person—besides, that's not what I've to tell you."
"But you, yourself, were not averse to Fred's marrying her, in spite of these opinions you must secretly have held."
"Not while it seemed absolutely necessary—not while the case was so brutally desperate, when we were actually pressed—"
"Remember, my dear, there's nothing magic in those ten thousand dollars. They're winged dollars like all their mates, and most of them, I'm sorry to say, have already flown to places where they'd long been expected."
Mrs. Milbrey's sensation was no longer to be repressed. She had toyed with the situation sufficiently. Her husband was now skilfully dissecting the devilled thighs of an immature chicken.
"Horace," said his wife, impressively, "Avice has had an offer of marriage—from—"
He looked up with new interest.
"From Rulon Shepler."
He dropped knife and fork. Shepler, the man of mighty millions! The undisputed monarch of finance! The cold-blooded, calculating sybarite in his lighter moments, but a man whose values as a son-in-law were so ideally superb that the Milbrey ambition had never vaulted high enough even to overlook them for one daring moment! Shepler, whom he had known so long and so intimately, with never the audacious thought of a union so stupendously glorious!
"Margaret, you're jesting!"
Mrs. Milbrey scorned to be dazzled by her triumph.
"Nonsense! Shepler asked her last night to marry him."
"It's bewildering! I never dreamed—"
"I've expected it for months. I could tell you the very moment when the idea first seized the man—on the yacht last summer. I was sure she interested him, even before his wife died two years ago."
"Margaret, it's too good to be true!"
"If you think it is I'll tell you something that isn't: Avice practically refused him."
Her husband pushed away his plate; the omission of even one regretful glance at its treasures betrayed the strong emotion under which he laboured.
"This is serious," he said, quietly. "Let us get at it. Tell me if you please!"
"She came to me and cried half the night. She refused him definitely at first, but he begged her to consider, to take a month to think it over—"
Milbrey gasped. Shepler, who commanded markets to rise and they rose, or to fall and they fell—Shepler begging, entreating a child of his! Despite the soul-sickening tragedy of it, the situation was not without its element of sublimity.
"She will consider; she will reflect?"
"You're guessing now, and you're as keen at that as I. Avice is not only amazingly self-willed, as you intimated a moment since, but she is intensely secretive. When she left me I could get nothing from her whatever. She was wretchedly sullen and taciturn."
"But why should she hesitate? Shepler—Rulon Shepler! My God! is the girl crazy? The very idea of hesitation is preposterous!"
"I can't divine her. You know she has acted perversely in the past. I used to think she might have some affair of which we knew nothing—something silly and romantic. But if she had any such thing I'm sure it was ended, and she'd have jumped at this chance a year ago. You know yourself she was ready to marry young Bines, and was really disappointed when he didn't propose."
"But this is too serious." He tinkled the little silver bell.
"Find out if Miss Avice will be down to breakfast."
"If she's not coming down I shall go up," declared Mr. Milbrey when the man had gone.
"She's stubborn," cautioned his wife.
"Gad! don't I know it?"
"Miss Avice won't be down, sir, and I'm to fetch her up a pot of coffee, sir."
"Take it at once, and tell her I shall be up to see her presently." Jarvis vanished.
"I think I see a way to put pressure on her, that is if the morning hasn't already brought her back to her senses."
At four o'clock that afternoon, Avice Milbrey's ring brought Mrs. Van Geist's butler to the door.
"Sandon, is Aunt Cornelia at home?"
"Yes, Miss Milbrey, she's confined to her room h'account h'of a cold, miss."
"Yes, miss—certainly! will you go h'up to her?"
"And Mutterchen, dear, it was a regular bombshell," she concluded after she had fluttered some of the November freshness into Mrs. Van Geist's room, and breathlessly related the facts.
"You demented creature! I should say it must have been."
"Now, don't lecture!"
"But Shepler is one of the richest men in New York."
"Dad already suspects as much."
"And he's kind, he's a big-hearted chap, a man of the world, generous—a—"
"'A woman fancier,' Fidelia Oldaker calls him."
"My dear, if he fancies you—"
"There, you old conservative, I've heard all his good points, and my duty has been written before me in letters of fire. Dad devoted three hours to writing it this morning, so don't, please, say over any of the moral maxims I'm likely to have heard."
"But why are you unwilling?"
"Because—because I'm wild, I fancy—just because I don't like the idea of marrying that man. He's such a big, funny, round head, and positively no neck—his head just rolls around on his big, pillowy shoulders—and then he gets little right at once, tapers right off to a point with those tiny feet."
"It isn't easy to have everything."
"It wouldn't be easy to have him, either."
Mrs. Van Geist fixed her niece with a sudden look of suspicion.
"Has—has that man anything to do with your refusal?"
"No—not a thing—I give you my word, auntie. If he had been what I once dreamed he was no one would be asking me to marry him now, but—do you know what I've decided? Why, that he is a joke—that's all—just a joke. You needn't think of him, Mutterchen—I don't, except to think it was funny that he should have impressed me so—he's simply a joke."
"I could have told you as much long ago."
"Tell me something now. Suppose Fred marries that Wybert woman."
"It will be a sorry day for Fred."
"Of course! Now see how I'm pinned. Dad and the mater both say the same now—they're more severe than I was. Only we were never in such straits for money. It must be had. So this is the gist of it: I ought to marry Rulon Shepler in order to save Fred from a marriage that might get us into all sorts of scandal."
"Well, I would do a lot for Fred. He has faults, but he's always been good to me."
"And so it's a question whether he marries a very certain kind of woman or whether I marry a very different kind of man."
"How do you feel?"
"For one thing Fred sha'n't get into that kind of muss if I can save him from it."
"Then you'll marry Shepler?"
"I'm still uncertain about Mr. Shepler."
"But you say—"
"Yes, I know, but I've reasons for being uncertain. If I told you you'd say they're like the most of a woman's reasons, mere fond, foolish hopes, so I won't tell you."
"Well, dear, work it out by your lonely if you must. I believe you'll do what's best for everybody in the end. And I am glad that your father and Margaret take your view of that woman."
"I was sure she wasn't right—and I knew Mr. Bines was too much of a man to speak of her as he did without positive knowledge. Now please give me some tea and funny little cakes; I'm famished."
"Speaking of Mr. Bines," said Mrs. Van Geist, when the tea had been brought by Sandon, "I read in the paper this morning that he'd taken a party to North Carolina for the quail shooting, Eddie Arledge and his wife and that Mr. and Mrs. Garmer, and of course Florence Akemit. Should you have thought she'd marry so soon after her divorce? They say Bishop Doolittle is frightfully vexed with her."
"Really I hadn't heard. Whom is Florence to marry?"
"Mr. Bines, to be sure! Where have you been? You know she was on his yacht a whole month last summer—the bishop's sister was with her— highly scandalised all the time by the drinking and gaiety, and now every one's looking for the engagement to be announced. Here, what did I do with that Town Topics Cousin Clint left? There it is on the tabouret. Read the paragraph at the top of the page." Avice read:
"An engagement that is rumoured with uncommon persistence will put society on the qui vive when it is definitely announced. The man in the case is the young son of a mining Croesus from Montana, who has inherited the major portion of his father's millions and who began to dazzle upper Broadway about a year since by the reckless prodigality of his ways. His blond innamorata is a recent divorcee of high social standing, noted for her sparkling wit and an unflagging exuberance of spirits. The interest of the gossips, however, centres chiefly in the uncle of the lady, a Right Reverend presiding over a bishopric not a thousand miles from New York, and in the attitude he will assume toward her contemplated remarriage. At the last Episcopal convention this godly and well-learned gentleman was a vehement supporter of the proposed canon to prohibit absolutely the marriage of divorced persons; and though he stoutly championed his bewitching niece through the infelicities that eventuated in South Dakota, on dit that he is highly wrought up over her present intentions, and has signified unmistakably his severest disapproval. However, nous verrons ce que nous verrons."
"But, Mutterchen, that's only one of those absurd, vulgar things that wretched paper is always printing. I could write dozens of them myself. Tom Banning says they keep one man writing them all the time, out of his own imagination, and then they put them in like raisins in a cake."
"But, my dear, I'm quite sure this is authentic. I know from Fidelia Oldaker that the bishop began to cut up about it to Florence, and Florence defied him. That ancient theory that most gossip is without truth was exploded long ago. As a matter of fact most gossip, at least about the people we know, doesn't do half justice to the facts. But, really, I can't see why he fancied Florence Akemit. I should have thought he'd want some one a bit less fluttery."
"I dare say you're right, about the gossip, I mean—" Miss Milbrey remarked when she had finished her tea, and refused the cakes. "I remember, now, one day when we met at her place, and he seemed so much at home there. Of course, it must be so. How stupid of me to doubt it! Now I must run. Good-bye, you old dear, and be good to the cold."
"Let me know what you do."
"Indeed I shall; you shall be the first one to know. My mind is really, you know, almost made up."
A week later Mr. and Mrs. Horace Milbrey announced in the public prints the engagement of their daughter Avice to Mr. Rulon Shepler.
Uncle Peter Bines Comes to Town With His Man
One day in December Peter Bines of Montana City dropped in on the family,—came with his gaunt length of limb, his kind, brown old face with eyes sparkling shrewdly far back under his grizzled brows, with his rough, resonant, musical voice, the spring of youth in his step, and the fresh, confident strength of the big hills in his bearing.
He brought Billy Brue with him, a person whose exact social status some of Percival's friends were never able to fix with any desirable certainty. Thus, Percival had presented the old man, the morning after his arrival, to no less a person than Herbert Delancey Livingston, with whom he had smoked a cigar of unusual excellence in the cafe of the Hightower Hotel.
"If you fancy that weed, Mr. Bines," said Livingston, graciously, to the old man, "I've a spare couple of hundred I'd like to let you have. The things were sent me, but I find them rather stiffish. If your man's about the hotel I'll give him a card to my man, and let him fetch them."
"My man?" queried Uncle Peter, and, sighting Billy Brue at that moment, "why, yes, here's my man, now. Mr. Brue, shake hands with Mr. Livingston. Billy, go up to the address he gives you, and get some of these se-gars. You'll relish 'em as much as I do. Now don't talk to any strangers, don't get run over, and don't lose yourself."
Livingston had surrendered a wavering and uncertain hand to the warm, reassuring clasp of Mr. Brue.
"He ain't much fur style, Billy ain't," Uncle Peter explained when that person had gone upon his errand, "he ain't a mite gaudy, but he's got friendly feelings."
The dazed scion of the Livingstons had thereupon made a conscientious tour of his clubs in a public hansom, solely for the purpose of relating this curious adventure to those best qualified to marvel at it.
The old man's arrival had been quite unexpected. Not only had he sent no word of his coming, but he seemed, indeed, not to know what his reasons had been for doing a thing so unusual.
"Thought I'd just drop in on your all and say 'howdy,'" had been his first avowal, which was lucid as far as it went. Later he involved himself in explanations that were both obscure and conflicting. Once it was that he had felt a sudden great longing for the life of a gay city. Then it was that he would have been content in Montana City, but that he had undertaken the winter in New York out of consideration for Billy Brue.
"Just think of it," he said to Percival, "that poor fellow ain't ever been east of Denver before now. It wa'n't good for him to be holed up out there in them hills all his life. He hadn't got any chance to improve his mind."
"He'd better improve his whiskers first thing he does," suggested Percival. "He'll be gold-bricked if he wears 'em scrambled that way around this place."
But in neither of these explanations did the curious old man impress Percival as being wholly ingenuous.
Then he remarked casually one day that he had lately met Higbee, who was on his way to San Francisco.
"I only had a few minutes with him while they changed engines at Green River, but he told me all about you folks—what a fine time you was havin', yachts and card-parties, and all like that. Higbee said a man had ought to come to New York every now and then, jest to keep from gettin' rusty."
Back of this Percival imagined for a time that he had discovered Uncle Peter's true reason for descending upon them. Higbee would have regaled him with wild tales of the New York dissipations, and Uncle Peter had come promptly on to pull him up. Percival could hear the story as Higbee would word it, with the improving moral incident of his own son snatched as a brand from the "Tenderloin," to live a life of impecunious usefulness in far Chicago. But, when he tried to hold this belief, and to prove it from his observations, he was bound to admit its falsity. For Uncle Peter had shown no inclination to act the part of an evangel from the virtuous West. He had delivered no homilies, no warnings as to the fate of people who incontinently "cut loose." He had evinced not the least sign of any disposition even to criticise.
On the contrary, indeed, he appeared to joy immensely in Percival's way of life. He manifested a willingness and a capacity for unbending in boon companionship that were, both of them, quite amazing to his accomplished grandson. By degrees, and by virtue of being never at all censorious, he familiarised himself with the young man's habits and diversions. He listened delightedly to the tales of his large gambling losses, of the bouts at poker, the fruitless venture in Texas Oil land, the disastrous corner in wheat, engineered by Burman, and the uniformly unsuccessful efforts to "break the bank" in Forty-fourth Street. He never tired of hearing whatever adventures Percival chose to relate; and, finding that he really enjoyed them, the young man came to confide freely in him, and to associate with him without restraint.
Uncle Peter begged to be introduced at the temple of chance, and spent a number of late evenings there with his popular grandson. He also frequently made himself one of the poker coterie, and relished keenly the stock jokes as to his grandson's proneness to lose.
"Your pa," he would say, "never could learn to stay out of a Jack-pot unless he had Jacks or better; he'd come in and draw four cards to an ace any time, and then call it 'hard luck' when he didn't draw out. And he just loved straights open in the middle; said anybody could fill them that's open at both ends; but, after all, I guess that's the only way to have fun at the game. If a man ain't got the sperrit to overplay aces-up when he gets 'em, he might as well be clerkin' in a bank for all the fun he'll have out of the game."
The old man's endurance of late suppers and later hours, and his unsuspected disposition to "cut loose," became twin marvels to Percival. He could not avoid contrasting this behaviour with his past preaching. After a few weeks he was forced to the charitable conclusion that Uncle Peter's faculties were failing. The exposure and hardships of the winter before had undoubtedly impaired his mental powers.
"I can't make him out," he confided to his mother. "He never wants to go home nights; he can drink more than I can without batting an eye, and show up fresher in the morning, and he behaves like a young fellow just out of college. I don't know where he would bring up if he didn't have me to watch over him."
"I think it's just awful—at his time of life, too," said Mrs. Bines.
"I think that's it. He's getting old, and he's come along into his second childhood. A couple of more months at this rate, and I'm afraid I'll have to ring up one of those nice shiny black wagons to take him off to the foolish-house."
"Can't you talk to him, and tell him better?"
"I could. I know it all by heart—all the things to say to a man on the downward path. Heaven knows I've heard them often enough, but I'd feel ashamed to talk that way to Uncle Peter. If he were my son, now, I'd cut off his allowance and send him back to make something of himself, like Sile Higbee with little Hennery; but I'm afraid all I can do is to watch him and see that he doesn't marry one of those little pink-silk chorus girls, or lick a policeman, or anything."
"You're carryin' on the same way yourself," ventured his mother.
"That's different," replied her perspicacious son.
Uncle Peter had refused to live at the Hightower after three days in that splendid and populous caravansary.
"It suits me well enough," he explained to Percival, "but I have to look after Billy Brue, and this ain't any place for Billy. You see Billy ain't city broke yet. Look at him now over there, the way he goes around butting into strangers. He does that way because he's all the time looking down at his new patent-leather shoes—first pair he ever had. He'll be plumb stoop-shouldered if he don't hurry up and get the new kicked off of 'em. I'll have to get him a nice warm box-stall in some place that ain't so much on the band-wagon as this one. The ceilings here are too high fur Billy. And I found him shootin' craps with the bell-boy this mornin'. The boy thinks Billy, bein' from the West, is a stage robber, or somethin' like he reads about in the Cap' Collier libr'ies, and follows him around every chance he gets. And Billy laps up too many of them little striped drinks; and them French-cooked dishes ain't so good fur him, either. He caught on to the bill-of-fare right away. Now he won't order anything but them allas—them dishes that has 'a la' something or other after 'em," he explained, when Percival looked puzzled. "He knows they'll always be something all fussed up with red, white, and blue gravy, and a little paper bouquet stuck into 'em. I never knew Billy was such a fancy eater before."
So Uncle Peter and his charge had established themselves in an old-fashioned but very comfortable hotel down on one of the squares, a dingy monument to the time when life had been less hurried. Uncle Peter had stayed there thirty years before, and he found the place unchanged. The carpets and hangings were a bit faded, but the rooms were generously broad, the chairs, as the old man remarked, were "made to sit in," and the cuisine was held, by a few knowing old epicures who still frequented the place, to be superior even to that of the more pretentious Hightower. The service, it is true, was apt to be slow. Strangers who chanced in to order a meal not infrequently became enraged, and left before their food came, trailing plain short words of extreme dissatisfaction behind them as they went. But the elect knew that these delays betokened the presence of an artistic conscience in the kitchen, and that the food was worth tarrying for. "They know how to make you come back hungry for some more the next day," said Uncle Peter Bines.
From this headquarters the old man went forth to join in the diversions of his grandson. And here he kept a watchful eye upon the uncertain Billy Brue; at least approximately. Between them, his days and nights were occupied to crowding. But Uncle Peter had already put in some hard winters, and was not wanting in fortitude.
Billy Brue was a sore trouble to the old man. "I jest can't keep him off the streets nights," was his chief complaint. By day Billy Brue walked the streets in a decent, orderly trance of bewilderment. He was properly puzzled and amazed by many strange matters. He never could find out what was "going on" to bring so many folks into town. They all hurried somewhere constantly, but he was never able to reach the centre of excitement. Nor did he ever learn how any one could reach those high clothes-lines, strung forty feet above ground between the backs of houses; nor how there could be "so many shows in town, all on one night;" nor why you should get so many good things to eat by merely buying a "slug of whiskey;" nor why a thousand people weren't run over in Broadway each twenty-four hours.
At night, Billy Brue ceased to be the astounded alien, and, as Percival said Dr. Von Herzlich would say, "began to mingle and cooperate with his environment." In the course of this process he fell into adventures, some of them, perhaps, unedifying. But it may be told that his silver watch with the braided leather fob was stolen from him the second night out; also that the following week, in a Twenty-ninth Street saloon, he accepted the hospitality of an affable stranger, who had often been in Montana City. His explanation of subsequent events was entirely satisfactory, at least, from the time that he returned to consciousness of them.
"I only had about thirty dollars in my clothes," he told Percival, "but what made me so darned hot, he took my breastpin, too, made out of the first nugget ever found in the Early Bird mine over Silver Bow way. Gee! when I woke up I couldn't tell where I was. This cop that found me in a hallway, he says I must have been give a dose of Peter. I says, 'All right—I'm here to go against all the games,' I says, 'but pass me when the Peter comes around again,' I says. And he says Peter was knockout drops. Say, honestly, I didn't know my own name till I had a chanst to look me over. The clothes and my hands looked like I'd seen 'em before, somehow—and then I come to myself."
After this adventure, Uncle Peter would caution him of an evening:
"Now, Billy, don't stay out late. If you ain't been gone through by eleven, just hand what you got on you over to the first man you meet—none of 'em'll ask any questions—and then pike fur home. The later at night it gets in New York the harder it is fur strangers to stay alive. You're all right in Wardner or Hellandgone, Billy, but in this here camp you're jest a tender little bed of pansies by the wayside, and these New Yorkers are terrible careless where they step after dark."
Notwithstanding which, Mr. Brue continued to behave uniformly in a manner to make all judicious persons grieve. His place of supreme delight was the Hightower. Its marble splendours, its myriad lights, the throngs of men and women in evening dress, made for him a scene of unfailing fascination. The evenings when he was invited to sit in the cafe with Uncle Peter and Percival made memories long to be cherished.
He spent such an evening there at the end of their first month in New York. Half a dozen of Percival's friends sat at the table with them from time to time. There had been young Beverly Van Arsdel, who, Percival disclosed, was heir to all the Van Arsdel millions, and no end of a swell. And there was big, handsome, Eddie Arledge, whose father had treated him shabbily. These two young gentlemen spoke freely about the inferiority of many things "on this side"—as they denominated this glorious Land of Freedom—of many things from horses to wine. The country was rapidly becoming, they agreed, no place for a gentleman to live. Eddie Arledge confessed that, from motives of economy, he had been beguiled into purchasing an American claret.
"I fancied, you know," he explained to Uncle Peter, "that it might do for an ordinary luncheon claret, but on my sacred honour, the stuff is villainous. Now you'll agree with me, Mr. Bines, I dare say, that a Bordeaux of even recent vintage is vastly superior to the very best so-called American claret."
Whereupon Beverly Van Arsdel having said, "To be sure—fancy an American Burgundy, now! or a Chablis!" Uncle Peter betrayed the first sign of irritation Percival had detected since his coming.
"Well, you see, young men, we're not much on vintages in Montana. Whiskey is mostly our drink—whiskey and spring water—and if our whiskey is strong, it's good enough. When we want to test a new barrel, we inject three drops of it into a jack-rabbit, and if he doesn't lick a bull clog in six seconds, we turn down the goods. That's as far's our education has ever gone in vintages."
It sounded like the old Uncle Peter, but he was afterward so good-natured that Percival concluded the irritation could have been but momentary.
Uncle Peter Bines Threatens to Raise Something
Uncle Peter and Billy Brue left the Hightower at midnight. Billy Brue wanted to walk down to their hotel, on the plea that they might see a fight or a fire "or something." He never ceased to feel cheated when he was obliged to ride in New York. But Uncle Peter insisted on the cab.
"Say, Uncle Peter," he said, as they rode down, "I got a good notion to get me one of them first-part suits—like the minstrels wear in the grand first part, you know—only I'd never be able to git on to the track right without a hostler to harness me and see to all the buckles and cinch the straps right. They're mighty fine, though."
Finding Uncle Peter uncommunicative, he mused during the remainder of the ride, envying the careless ease with which Percival and his friends, and even Uncle Peter, wore the prescribed evening regalia of gentlemen, and yearning for the distinguished effect of its black and white elegance upon himself.
They went to their connecting rooms, and Billy Brue regretfully sought his bed, marvelling how free people in a town like New York could ever bring themselves to waste time in sleep. As he dozed off, he could hear the slow, measured tread of Uncle Peter pacing the floor in the next room.
He was awakened by hearing his name called. Uncle Peter stood in a flood of light at the door of his room. He was fully dressed.
"Is it gittin'-up time?"
The old man came into the room and lighted a gas-jet. He looked at his watch.
"No; only a quarter to four. I ain't been to bed yet."
Billy Brue sat up and rubbed his eyes.
"Rheumatiz again, Uncle Peter?"
"No; I been thinkin', Billy. How do you like the game?"
He began to pace the floor again from one room to the other.
"What game?'! Billy Brue had encountered a number in New York.
"This whole game—livin' in New York."
Mr. Brue became judicial.
"It's a good game as long as you got money to buy chips. I'd hate like darnation to go broke here. All the pay-claims have been located, I guess."
"I doubt it's bein' a good game any time, Billy. I been actin' as kind of a lookout now fur about forty days and forty nights, and the chances is all in favour of the house. You don't even get half your money on the high card when the splits come."
Billy Brue pondered this sentiment. It was not his own.
"The United States of America is all right, Billy."
This was safe ground.
"Sure!" His mind reverted to the evening just past. "Of course there was a couple of Clarences in high collars there to-night that made out like they was throwin' it down; but they ain't the whole thing, not by a long shot."
"Yes, and that young shrimp that was talkin' about 'vintages' and 'trouserings.'" The old man paused in his walk.
"What are 'trouserings,' Billy?"
Mr. Brue had not looked into shop windows day after day without enlarging his knowledge.
"Trouserings," he proclaimed, rather importantly, "is the cloth they make pants out of."
"Oh! is that all? I didn't know but it might be some new kind of duds. And that fellow don't ever get up till eleven o'clock A.M. I don't reckon I would myself if I didn't have anything but trouserings and vintages to worry about. And that Van Arsdel boy!"
"Say!" said Billy, with enthusiasm, "I never thought I'd be even in the same room with one of that family, 'less I prized open the door with a jimmy."
"Well, who's he? My father knew his grandfather when he kep' tavern over on the Raritan River, and his grandmother!—this shrimp's grandmother!—she tended bar."
"Yes, they kep' tavern, and the old lady passed the rum bottle over the bar, and took in the greasy money. This here fellow, now, couldn't make an honest livin' like that, I bet you. He's like a dogbreeder would say—got the pedigree, but not the points."
Mr. Brue emitted a high, throaty giggle.
"But they ain't all like that here, Uncle Peter. Say, you come out with me some night jest in your workin' clothes. I can show you people all right that won't ask to see your union card. Say, on the dead, Uncle Peter, I wish you'd come. There's a lady perfessor in a dime museum right down here on Fourteenth Street that eats fire and juggles the big snakes;—say, she's got a complexion—"
"There's enough like that kind, though," interrupted Uncle Peter. "I could take a double-barrel shotgun up to that hotel and get nine with each barrel around in them hallways; the shot wouldn't have to be rammed, either; 'twouldn't have to scatter so blamed much."
"Oh, well, them society sports—there's got to be some of them—"
"Yes, and the way they make 'em reminds me of what Dal Mutzig tells about the time they started Pasco. 'What you fellows makin' a town here fur?' Dal says he asked 'em, and he says they says, 'Well, why not? The land ain't good fur anything else, is it?' they says. That's the way with these shrimps; they ain't good fur anything else. There's that Arledge, the lad that keeps his mouth hangin' open all the time he's lookin' at you—he'll catch cold in his works, first thing he knows—with his gold monogram on his cigarettes."
"He said he was poor," urged Billy, who had been rather taken with the ease of Arledge's manner.
"Fine, big, handsome fellow, ain't he? Strong as an ox, active, and perfectly healthy, ain't he? Well, he's a pill! But his old man must 'a' been on to him. Here, here's a piece in the paper about that fine big strappin' giant—it's partly what got me to thinkin' to-night, so I couldn't sleep. Just listen to this," and Uncle Peter read:
"E. Wadsworth Arledge, son of the late James Townsend Arledge, of the dry-goods firm of Arledge & Jackson, presented a long affidavit to Justice Dutcher, of the Supreme Court, yesterday, to show why his income of six thousand dollars a year from his father's estate should not be abridged to pay a debt of $489.32. Henry T. Gotleib, a grocer, who obtained a judgment for that amount against him in 1895, and has been unable to collect, asked the Court to enjoin Judge Henley P. Manderson, and the Union Fidelity Trust Company, as executors of the Arledge estate, from paying Mr. Arledge his full income until the debt has been discharged. Gotleib contended that Arledge could sustain the reduction required.
"James T. Arledge died about two years ago, leaving an estate of about $3,000,000. He had disapproved of the marriage of his son and evinced his displeasure in his will. The son had married Flora Florenza, an actress. To the son was given an income of $6,000 a year for life. The rest of the estate went to the testator's widow for life, and then to charity.
"Here is the affidavit of E. Wadsworth Arledge:
"'I have been brought up in idleness, under the idea that I was to inherit a large estate. I have never acquired any business habits so as to fit me to acquire property, or to make me take care of it.
"'I have never been in business, except many years ago, when I was a boy, when I was for a short time employed in one of the stores owned by my father. For many years prior to my father's death I was not employed, but lived on a liberal allowance made to me by him. I am a married man, and in addition to my wife have a family of two children to support from my income.
"'All our friends are persons of wealth and of high social standing, and we are compelled to spend money in entertaining the many friends who entertain us. I am a member of many expensive clubs. I have absolutely no income except the allowance I receive from my father's estate, and the same is barely sufficient to support my family.
"'I have received no technical or scientific education, fitting me for any business or profession, and should I be deprived of any portion of my income, I will be plunged in debt anew.'
"The Court reserved decision."
"You hear that, Billy? The Court reserved decision. Mr. Arledge has to buy so many gold cigarettes and vintages and trouserings, and belong to so many clubs, that he wants the Court to help him chouse a poor grocer out of his money. Say, Billy, that judge could fine me for contempt of court, right now, fur reservin' his decision. You bet Mr. Arledge would 'a' got my decision right hot off the griddle. I'd 'a' told him, 'You're the meanest kind of a crook I ever heard of fur wantin' to lie down on your fat back and whine out of payin' fur the grub you put in your big gander paunch,' I'd tell him, 'and now you march to the lock-up till you can look honest folks in the face,' I'd tell him. Say, Billy, some crooks are worse than others. Take Nate Leverson out there. Nate set up night and day for six years inventin' a process fur sweatin' gold into ore; finally he gets it; how he does it, nobody knows, but he sweat gold eighteen inches into the solid rock. The first few holes he salted he gets rid of all right, then of course they catch him, and Nate's doin' time now. But say, I got respect fur Nate since readin' that piece. There's a good deal of a man about him, or about any common burglar or sneak thief, compared to this duck. They take chances, say nothin' of the hard work they do. This fellow won't take a chance and won't work a day. Billy, that's the meanest specimen of crook I ever run against, bar none, and that crook is produced and tolerated in a place that's said to be the centre of 'culture and refinement and practical achievement.' Billy, he's a pill!"
"That's right," said Billy Brue, promptly throwing the recalcitrant Arledge overboard.
"But it ain't none of my business. What I do spleen again, is havin' a grandson of mine livin' in a community where a man that'll act like that is actually let in their houses by honest folks. Think of a son of Daniel J. Bines treatin' folks like that as if they was his equals. Say, Dan'l had a line of faults, all right—but, by God! he'd a trammed ore fur two twenty-five a day any time in his life rather'n not pay a dollar he owed. And think of this lad making his bed in this kind of a place where men are brought up to them ways; and that name; think of a husky, two-fisted boy like him lettin' himself be called by a measly little gum-drop name like Percival, when he's got a right to be called Pete. And he's right in with 'em. He'd be jest as bad—give him a little time; and Pishy engaged to a damned fortune-hunting Englishman into the bargain. It's all Higbee said it was, only it goes double. Say, Billy, I been thinkin' this over all night."
"'Tis mighty worryin', ain't it, Uncle Peter?"
"And I got it thought out."
"Sure, you must 'a' got it down to cases."
"Billy,' listen now. There's a fellow down in Wall Street. His name is Shepler, Rulon Shepler. He's most the biggest man down there."
"Sure! I heard of him."
"Listen! I'm goin' to bed now. I can sleep since I got my mind made up. But I want to see Shepler in private to-morrow. Don't wake me up in the morning. But get up yourself, and go find his office—look in a directory, then ask a policeman. Shepler's a busy man. You tell the clerk or whoever holds you up that Mr. Peter Bines wants an appointment with Mr. Shepler as soon as he can make it—Mr. Peter Bines, of Montana City. Be there by 9.30 so's to get him soon as he comes. He knows me; tell him I want to see him on business soon as possible, and find out when he can give me time. And don't you say to any one else that I ever seen him or sent you there. Understand? Don't ever say a word to any one. Remember, now, be there at 9.30, and don't let any clerk put you off, and ask him what hour'll be convenient for him. Now get what sleep's comin' to you. It's five o'clock."
At noon Billy Brue returned to the hotel to find Uncle Peter finishing a hearty breakfast.
"I found him all right, Uncle Peter. The lookout acted suspicious, but I saw the main guy himself come out of a door—like I'd seen his picture in the papers, so I just called to him, and said, 'Mr. Peter Bines wants to see you,' like that. He took me right into his office, and I told him what you said, and he'll be ready for you at two o'clock. He knows mines, all right, out our way, don't he?—and he crowded a handful of these tin-foil cigars on to me, and acted real sociable. Told me to drop in any time. Say, he'd run purty high in the yellow stuff all right."
"At two o'clock, you say?"
"And what's his number?"
"Gee, I forgot; I can tell you, though. You go down Broadway to that old church—say, Uncle Peter, there's folks in that buryin'-ground been dead over two hundred years, if you can go by their gravestones. Gee! I didn't s'pose anybody'd been dead that long—then you turn down the gulch right opposite, until you come to the Vandevere Building, a few rods down on the left. Shepler's there. Git into the bucket and go up to the second level, and you'll find him in the left-hand back stope—his name's on the door in gold letters."
"All right. And look here, Billy, keep your head shut about all I said last night about anything. Don't you ever let on to a soul that I ain't stuck on this place and its people—no matter what I do."
"Sure not! What are you going to do, Uncle Peter?"
The old man's jaws were set for some seconds in a way to make Billy Brue suspect he might be suffering from cramp. It seemed, however, that he had merely been thinking intently. Presently he said:
"I'm goin' to raise hell, Billy."
"Sure!" said Mr. Brue—approvingly on general principles. "Sure! Why not?"
Uncle Peter Inspires His Grandson to Worthy Ambitions
On three successive days the old man held lengthy interviews with Shepler in the latter's private office. At the close of the third day's interview, Shepler sent for Relpin, of the brokerage firm of Relpin and Hendricks. A few days after this Uncle Peter said to Percival one morning:
"I want to have a talk with you, son."
"All right, Uncle Peter," was the cheerful answer. He suspected the old man might at last be going to preach a bit, since for a week past he had been rather less expansive. He resolved to listen with good grace to any homilies that might issue. He took his suspicion to be confirmed when Uncle Peter began:
"You folks been cuttin' a pretty wide swath here in New York."
"That's so, Uncle Peter,—wider than we could have cut in Montana City."
"Been spendin' money purty free for a year."
"Yes; you need money here."
"I reckon you can't say about how much, now?"
"Oh, I shouldn't wonder," Percival answered, going over to the escritoire, and taking out some folded sheets and several check-books. "Of course, I haven't it all here, but I have the bulk of it. Let me figure a little."
He began to work with a pencil on a sheet of paper. He was busy almost half an hour, while Uncle Peter smoked in silence.
"It struck me the other night we might have been getting a little near to the limit, so I figured a bit then, too, and I guess this will give you some idea of it. Of course this isn't all mine; it includes ma's and Psyche's. Sis has been a mark for every bridge-player between the Battery and the Bronx, and the way ma has been plunging on her indigent poor is a caution,—she certainly does hold the large golden medal for amateur cross-country philanthropy. Now here's a rough expense account—of course only approximate, except some of the items I happened to have." Uncle Peter took the statement, and studied it carefully.
Paid Hightower Hotel................ $ 42,983.75
Keep of horses, and extra horse and carriage hire....................... 5,628.50
Chartering steam-yacht Viluca three months.............................. 24,000.00
Expenses running yacht.............. 46,850.28
W. U. Telegraph Company............. 32.65
His sharp old eyes ran up and down the column of figures. Something among the items seemed to annoy him.
"Looking at those 'incidentals'? I took those from the check-books. They are pretty heavy."
"It's an outrage!" exclaimed the old man, indignantly, "that there $32.50 to the telegraph company. How's it come you didn't have a Western Union frank this year? I s'posed you had one. They sent me mine."
"Oh, well, they didn't send me one, and I didn't bother to ask for it," the young man answered in a tone of relief. "Of course the expenses have been pretty heavy, coming here strangers as we did. Now, another year—"
"Oh, that ain't anything. Of course you got to spend money. I see one of them high-toned gents that died the other day said a gentleman couldn't possibly get along on less'n two thousand dollars a day and expenses. I'm glad to see you ain't cut under the limit none—you got right into his class jest like you'd always lived here, didn't you? But, now, I been kind of lookin' over the ground since I come here, and it's struck me you ain't been gettin' enough for your money. You've spent free, but the goods ain't been delivered. I'm talkin' about yourself. Both your ma and Pishy has got more out of it than you have. Why, your ma gets her name in the papers as a philanthropist along with that—how do the papers call her?—'the well-known club woman'—that Mrs. Helen Wyot Lamson that always has her name spelled out in full? Your ma is getting public recognition fur her money, and look at Pishy. What's she gone and done while you been laxin' about? Why, she's got engaged to a lord, or just as good. Look at the prospects she's got! She'll enter the aristocracy of England and have a title. But look at you! Really, son, I'm ashamed of you. People over there'll be sayin' 'Lady What's-her-name? Oh, yes! She has got a brother, but he don't amount to shucks—he ain't much more'n a three-spot. He can't do anything but play bank and drink like a fish. He's throwed away his opportunities'—that's what them dukes and counts will be sayin' about you behind your back."
"I understood you didn't think much of sis's choice."
"Well, of course, he wouldn't be much in Montana City, but he's all right in his place, and he seems to be healthy. What knocks me is how he ever got all them freckles. He never come by 'em honestly, I bet. He must 'a' got caught in an explosion of freckles sometime. But that ain't neither here nor there. He has the goods and Pish'll get 'em delivered. She's got something to show fur her dust. But what you got to show? Not a blamed thing but a lot of stubs in a check-book, and a little fat. Now I ain't makin' any kick. I got no right to; but I do hate to see you leadin' this life of idleness and dissipation when you might be makin' something of yourself. Your pa was quite a man. He left his mark out there in that Western country. Now you're here settled in the East among big people, with a barrel of money and fine chances to do something, and you're jest layin' down on the family name. You wouldn't think near so much of your pa if he'd laid down before his time; and your own children will always have to say 'Poor pa—he had a good heart, but he never could amount to anything more'n a threespot; he didn't have any stuff in him,' they'll be sayin'. Now, on the level, you don't want to go through life bein' just known as a good thing and easy money, do you?"
"Why, of course not, Uncle Peter; only I had to look around some at first,—for a year or so."
"Well, if you need to look any more, then your eyes ain't right. That's my say. I ain't askin' you to go West. I don't expect that!"
"But I am tryin' to nag you into doin' something here. People can say what they want to about you," he continued, stubbornly, as one who confesses the most arrant bigotry, "but I know you have got some brains, some ability—I really believe you got a whole lot—and you got the means to take your place right at the top. You can head 'em all in this country or any other. Now what you ought to do, you ought to take your place in the world of finance—put your mind on it night and day—swing out—get action—and set the ball to rolling. Your pa was a big man in the West, and there ain't any reason as I can see of why you can't be just as big a man in proportion here. People can talk all they want to about your bein' just a dub—I won't believe 'em. And there's London. You ain't been ambitious enough. Get a down-hill pull on New York, and then branch out. Be a man of affairs like your pa, and like that fellow Shepler. Let's be somebody. If Montana City was too small fur us, that's no reason why New York should be too big."
Percival had walked the floor in deep attention to the old man's words.
"You've got me right, Uncle Peter," he said at last. "And you're right about what I ought to do. I've often thought I'd go into some of these big operations here. But for one thing I was afraid of what you'd say. And then, I didn't know the game very well. But I see I ought to do something. You're dead right."