"Special delivery! A wild extravagance when there's a perfectly good telephone in the house."
Lois read the note twice; her eyes resting lingeringly upon the signature.
"Wayland Brown Bayless, LL.D., on 'Sunshine and Shadow.' He was giving that same lecture here when I was a girl; it ought to be well mellowed by this time. Either the president of the college or the pastor of Center Church will present him to the audience and the white pitcher of Sugar Creek water that is always provided. Well, it's a perfectly good lecture, and old enough to be respectable: Smiles and sobs stuck in at regular intervals. I approve of the lecture, Phil. I'd almost make Amzi take me, just to see how Bayless, LL.D., looks after all these years. Away back there when I heard him he looked so old I thought he must have been a baby playing in the sand when they carved the Sphinx."
She returned the note to Phil and her eyes reverted to the book.
"What about it, mamma?"
"Oh, about going! Let me see. This is the other Holton boy, so to speak—the provider of American Beauties, as distinguished from the dispenser of quails?"
Phil confirmed this.
"It's Charlie. He's taken me to parties several times. I rather think this note is a feeler. He doesn't know whether he ought to come here—now—" and Phil ended, with the doubt she attributed to Charles Holton manifest in her own uncertainty.
"We went over that the other day, Phil. As those wise aunts of yours introduced you to this person, I shouldn't suggest that you drop his acquaintance on my account. You see"—she raised herself slightly to punch a more comfortable hollow in the pillows—"you see that would merely stir up strife, which is highly undesirable. If you think you can survive Bayless, LL.D.'s, plea for optimism, accept the gentleman's invitation. There's only this—you yourself might be a little uncomfortable, for reasons we needn't mention; you'll have to think of that. I suppose chaperons didn't reach Montgomery with the electric light; girls run around with young men just as they used to."
"I don't care what people say, so far as that is concerned," replied Phil. "Charlie has been kind to me—and the lecture is the only thing that offers just now."
"And besides, just now people are talking about the Sycamore Company and father's connection with it, and I shouldn't want Charlie to feel that I thought he wasn't all straight about that; for I don't suppose he did anything wrong. He doesn't seem like that."
Lois reached for a pot of cold cream and applied the ointment to her lips with the tip of a slim, well-cared-for finger.
"You think maybe he's being persecuted?"
"Oh, I've wondered; that's all."
"I shouldn't worry about that part of it: if you feel like going, tell him you'll go. It will give me a chance to look at him. This is Charles, is it? Then it was Fred who came the other evening to see Amzi;—he's pretty serious but substantial—permissible if not exactly acceptable. You'll have to learn to judge men for yourself. And you'll do it. I'm not a bit afraid for you. And it's rather fortunate than otherwise that you have specimens of the Holton family to work on, particularly with me standing by to throw a word in now and then."
So it came about that when Charles appeared the next evening, fortified with one of the village hacks, Lois went down to inspect him. Amzi had returned to the bank, and Phil was changing her gown.
Charles, having expressed his appreciation of Mrs. Holton's courtesy, found difficulty in concealing the emotions she aroused in him. He had expected to feel uncomfortable in the presence of this lady, of whom her former husband, his uncle, had spoken so bitterly; but she was not at all the sort of person one would suspect of being in league with the Devil—an alliance vouched for in profane terms by Jack Holton. Charles liked new sensations, and it was positively thrilling to stand face to face with this woman who had figured so prominently in his family history.
He placed a chair for her with elaborate care, and bowed her into it. She was a much more smoothly finished product than her daughter. He liked "smart" women, and Mrs. Holton was undeniably "smart." Her languid grace, the faint hints of sachet her raiment exhaled; her abrupt, crisp manner of speaking—in innumerable ways she was delightful and satisfying. She was a woman of the world: as a man of the world he felt that they understood each other without argument. The disparity of their years was not so great as to exclude the hope that little attentions from him would be grateful to her; it was a fair assumption that a woman who had dismissed two husbands would not be averse to the approaches of a presentable young man. He wished to fix himself in her mind as one who breathed naturally the ampler ether of her own world. It would be easier to win Phil with her mother as an ally.
"You did go to Madison? I suppose all good Montgomery boys go to the home college."
"Well, of course that was one of my mistakes. You never quite recover what you lose by going to these little freshwater colleges. You never quite get the jay out of your system."
The obvious reply to this was that in his case it had not mattered, for patently he did not even remotely suggest the state or condition of jayness; but Mrs. Holton ignored the opportunity to appease his vanity.
Phil's "Oh" was ambiguous enough; but her mother's was even more baffling.
"Of course, we all love Madison," he hastened to add; "but I'm around a good deal, here and there over the country, and when I meet Yale and Harvard men I always feel that I have missed something; there is a difference."
"Clothes—neckties?" suggested Mrs. Holton.
"It's a little deeper than that."
"Knack of ordering a dinner?"
"Oh, you're putting me in a corner! I'd never thought it all out; but I've always felt a difference. If I'm wrong, there's nobody I'd rather have set me right than you."
Her laugh was enthralling. She had no intention of committing herself on the relative advantages of big and little colleges.
"Let me see, Mr. Holton, your business is—"
"Oh, I'm a broker in investment securities; that's the way they have me down in the Indianapolis Directory."
"You advise people what to do with their money and that sort of thing? It's very responsible, I should think, and it must be wearing."
Her face reflected the gravity associated with the delicate matter of investments. For a woman whose two matrimonial adventures had left her a stranded dependent she carried this off well, and she could play a part; and he liked people who could carry a part gracefully. She turned so that the firelight fell upon her face and raised a fan to shield her cheek from the heat. Her use of her hands charmed him. He could not recall a more graceful woman in all his acquaintance. He added trim ankles and a discriminating taste in silk hose to his itemized appraisement of her attractions.
"If a poor lone woman should come to you with a confession that she owned, say, fifty to a hundred thousand dollars' worth of Government 3's, what would you advise her to do with them?"
It was as though she spoke of poetry or the moonlit sea. "Fifty or a hundred!" She could as easily have spoken of a chest of Spanish doubloons, or some other monetary unit of romance. He was flattered that she was taking so much pains with him; a woman who was so fair to look upon might amuse herself at his expense as much as she liked. It was delightful trifling. He felt that it was incumbent upon him to respond in kind.
"Oh, I should feel it my duty to double her income—or triple it. Few of us can afford to fool with Governments; but, of course, there are not many first-rate securities that pay high interest. That's where I come in: it's my business to find them for my clients."
"What would you recommend—I mean right now—something that would net seven per cent and be safe for the poor widow we're talking about?"
"Well," he laughed nervously, "I haven't anything better right now than bonds of the Hornbrook Electric Power at a price to net six."
"But—that sounds very conservative. And besides—they say there's not enough water in Hornbrook Creek to furnish power for any great number of mills. The engineer's report was very unsatisfactory—quite so. I looked into that. Should you say that the territory adjacent to the creek is likely to invite—oh, factories, mills, and that sort of thing?"
He colored as her brown eyes met his in one of her flashing glances. She mentioned Hornbrook Creek in her low, caressing voice as though it were only an item of landscape, and the report of the engineers might have been a pirate's round-robin, hidden in an old sea chest from the way she spoke of it. It was inconceivable that she had prepared for this interview. She touched her pompadour lightly with the back of her hand—the smallest of hands—and he was so lost in admiration of the witchery of the gesture that he was disconcerted to find her eyes bent upon him keenly.
"Of course, it's got to be developed—like anything else," he replied.
"But—the fixed charges—and that sort of thing?"
He wished she would not say "that sort of thing." The phrase as she used it swept everything before it like a broom.
"It's a delicate matter, the sale of bonds," she continued. "I suppose if they turn out badly the investors have the bad manners to complain."
"Well, it's up to the broker to satisfy them. My father taught me that," he went on largely. "He promoted a great number of schemes and nobody ever had any kick. You may have heard of the Sycamore troubles—well, I'm personally assuming the responsibility there. I deeply regret, as you may imagine, that there should be all this talk, but I'm going to pull it out. It's only fair to myself to say to you that that's my attitude. There's a lot of spite work back of it; you probably realize that."
He wanted to say that Tom Kirkwood was the malignant agent in the situation, but he shrank from mentioning the lawyer. He wished Phil would come down and terminate an interview that was becoming increasingly disagreeable.
"What do you consider those Sycamore bonds worth, Mr. Holton?"
"Par!" he ejaculated.
"You really think so?"
"My word of honor! There's not a better 'buy' in the American market," he affirmed solemnly.
"You can dispose of them at full face value?" she queried, arching her brows, her eyes full of wonder.
"I'll pay that for any you have, Mrs. Holton," he threw out at a venture, feeling that it was a "safe" play.
"Then I have twenty of them, and I believe I'll sell. You may bring me a check to-morrow. I shall have the bonds here at, say, three o'clock."
She glanced carelessly at the watch on her wrist, and murmured something about Phil's delay. The bond transaction was concluded, so far as she was concerned; she spoke now of the reported illness of the Czar. She had visited St. Petersburg and appeared to be conversant with Russian politics.
It was in Charles's mind that his Uncle Jack would never have dropped a woman who owned twenty bonds that were worth even a dime apiece. He was confident of some trick. Phil's mother had led him into ambush, and was now enjoying his discomfiture. His face reddened with anger. She knew perfectly well that he could not fulfill the commission he had been trapped into undertaking. His pride was stung, and his humiliation was deepened by her perfect tranquillity. Phil's delay had been by connivance, to give time for this encounter. His Uncle Jack had been right: the woman belonged to the Devil's household.
His ordeal had lasted only twenty minutes, though it had seemed an hour. Phil's tardiness was due to the fact that she had returned from a tea just as dinner was announced, and she had gone to the table without changing her gown. She had, of course, no idea of what had occurred when she appeared before them, and met with her habitual cheeriness her mother's chaffing rebuke for her dallying.
"Sorry! But it's only eight, and the lecturer dined with Mrs. King, who never hurries. Hope you two haven't bored each other!"
She thrust out her white-sheathed arm for her mother's help with the buttons. Charles, still smarting, drew on his gloves with an effort at composure. His good looks were emphasized by his evening clothes, and a glimpse he caught of himself in the gilt-framed mirror above the mantel was reassuring. He picked up the wrap Phil had flung on the chair, and laid it over her shoulders, while Lois stood by, her finger-tips resting on the back of a chair. If she lacked in the essential qualities of a lady, he at least could be a gentleman; and when he had donned his overcoat, he bowed over her hand, with his best imitation of the ambassadorial elegance which the Honorable Stewart King (son of Mrs. John Newman King) had brought back to Montgomery from the Belgian Court.
"I'm glad to have had this opportunity, Mrs. Holton."
"Not a word to Phil!" The slightest inclination of her head, a compression of the lips, the lifting of her brows, suggested that the most prodigious secrets had been discussed. She was quite equal to rubbing salt in the wounds she inflicted! He was in no mood for a discussion of sunshine and shadow; the lecture would be a bore, but he would have an hour and a half in which to plan revenge upon Mrs. Holton. As the carriage rattled toward Masonic Hall, Phil talked gayly of the afternoon's tea.
When they reached the hall the lecturer was just walking onto the platform, and Charles saw with elation that Phil and he shared public attention with the orator. As they took their seats there was much craning of necks. Lois's return had set all manner of rumors afloat. It had been said that she had come back to keep Phil out of the clutches of the Holtons; and here was Phil with Charlie Holton. Glances of surprise were exchanged. It was plain that Lois was not interfering with Phil's affairs. Possibly the appearance of the two just now had a special significance. It was tough on Tom Kirkwood, though, that his daughter should be thrown in the way of a son of the House of Holton! The pastor of Center Church introduced the lecturer to an inattentive audience.
* * * * *
At the end there was the usual "visiting," and Phil remained perforce to take her part in it. Phil had enjoyed the lecture; Phil always enjoyed everything! Charles, with her cloak on his arm, made himself agreeable to a visiting girl to whom Phil entrusted him while she obeyed a command from Mrs. King to meet the speaker.
Wayland Brown Bayless was encircled by a number of leading citizens and citizenesses. Judge Walters was in the group, and Captain Joshua Wilson, and Mr. and Mrs. Alec Waterman, and General and Mrs. Wilks, and the wife of Congressman Reynolds—representatives of Montgomery's oldest and best. Phil shook hands with Wayland Brown Bayless and told him she was glad he had quoted Shelley's "Skylark," her favorite poem, whereupon he departed hurriedly to catch a train. It was then that Mrs. King took advantage of the proximity of so many leading citizens and citizenesses, who had just heard pessimism routed and optimism glorified, to address Phil in that resonant tone of authority she brought to all occasions.
"Phil, how's your mother?"
"Mamma's very well, thank you, Mrs. King."
"I wish you would tell Lois to make no engagement for Thursday night—Thursday, remember—as I want her to dine with me;—that means you and Amzi, too. The Sir Edward Gibberts, who made the Nile trip when I did in '72, are on their way home from Japan and are stopping off to see me. Don't forget it's Thursday, Phil."
It was all Montgomery she addressed, not Phil, as Phil and every one in hearing distance understood perfectly. Reduced to terms, what had happened was this: Mrs. John Newman King, the indisputable social censor of Montgomery, whose husband, etc., etc., was "taking up" Lois Holton! Not since that April afternoon when General Wilks, judge of the circuit court, left the bench and personally beat a drum on the court-house steps to summon volunteers to avenge the firing upon Sumter had anything quite touched the dramatic heights of this incident. And Mrs. King's pew in Center Church was Number 2 on the middle aisle!
Phil's blood tingled and her eyes filled. Her Aunt Josephine flung a murderous glance at her, as though she were in any wise responsible for the vagaries of Mrs. John Newman King!
The gloomy station hack was waiting at the door when she emerged with her escort. Charles had exerted himself to interest the visiting girl—and she had promised to call him up the next time she was in Indianapolis, which was some compensation for the banalities of the lecture.
"It's a fine night; let's walk home," said Phil.
Charles discharged the hackman without debate. His had been the only carriage at the door, except Mrs. King's ancient coach, and he felt that Phil had not appreciated his munificence. The remembrance of his encounter with her mother rankled, and as he thought of Fred's rejection of his proposal about the bonds and of Kirkwood's persistent, steady stroke in the traction matter, he was far from convinced by the lessons of the lecture. The sight of Montgomery in its best clothes, showing its delight in optimism, had only aroused his contempt. He had been annoyed by Phil's manifestations of pleasure; she had laughed aloud once at a story, before the rest of the audience caught the point, and he felt that considerable patient labor would be required to smooth out Phil's provincial crudenesses.
Phil's spirits soared. The world was, indeed, a good place, and full of charity and kindness. Wayland Brown Bayless had said so; Mrs. John Newman King had done much to prove it. She walked from the hall in one of her moods of exaltation, her head high.
"I apologize, Phil; I had no idea the old fellow could be such a bore. I heard him once when I was in college and thought he was the real thing—and it was, to the sophomoric taste."
"Oh, he's a perfect dear! Don't you dare apologize! And his stories were perfectly killing—all new to me."
"You deserve better things, Phil, than the entertainments this town affords. You were destined for the wider world; I've always felt that about you."
He had forced a slower pace than the quick step with which Phil had set out. His mind was working busily. Phil was an exceedingly pretty and a very intelligent girl, and it would be a good stroke on his part to marry her. Amzi would undoubtedly do the generous thing by her. He had made his boast to Fred—and why not? There was no surer way of staying Kirkwood's hand than to present himself as the affianced husband of the lawyer's daughter. Phil's mother did not matter, after all. Kirkwood would probably be relieved to find that Phil had been rescued from a woman he had every reason to hate.
"You never looked so well as you did to-night, Phil. I was proud of you. And you won't mind my saying it, but it was fine of you to go with me when—well, you know what I mean."
Phil knew what he meant. She said:—
"Fine, nothing. You were kind to ask me and I had a good time every minute."
"I wasn't sure you'd go. Things have happened queerly—you know what I mean."
Phil knew what he meant.
"Oh, don't be looking for queernesses; we've got to take things as they come along. That's my way of doing; and I'm more than ever convinced that optimism is the true doctrine."
In spite of herself her last words ended a little dolorously. He was quick to seize advantage of this unfamiliar mood.
"I hope you know that any trouble that may come to you is my trouble, too, Phil. Not many girls would have done what you did to-night. No other girl I ever knew or read of would have taken the chance of stirring up gossip as you did in going with me. It was splendid and heroic."
"Pshaw! I don't see anything heroic in going to a lecture you want to hear if a kind friend offers to take you. Let's talk of something else."
"I want to talk about you, Phil."
"Then you'll have to find somebody else to listen; I won't! I like to hear about interesting things. Now don't feel you must tell me I'm a fruitful topic!"
"I'm serious to-night. I haven't been happy lately. I've had a lot of responsibilities thrown on me—things I never knew about have been dumped down on me without any warning. I was tired to death to-night, and I can't tell you what a joy it's been to be with you. I wasn't listening to the lecture; it meant nothing to me. I was thinking of you, Phil."
Phil stopped short. The senior who had proposed to her had employed a similar prelude, and she had no intention of subjecting herself to a second attack.
"You may think of me all you like; but don't tell me; just let me guess. It isn't any fun if you know people think of you. We expect our friends to think of us. That's what we have them for."
She started off more briskly, but he refused to accommodate himself to her pace. The undercurrent of resentment in his soul gathered force. He must justify his boast to his brother, for one thing; and for another, his face smarted from her mother's light, ironic whip.
"Phil!" he began endearingly.
"Oh, come on! We can't stand in the street all night discussing the philosophy of life."
"Since that afternoon at the Run," he continued, as they started forward again, "everything has been different with me, Phil. I never felt until lately that I really wanted to follow my good inclinations: I've done a lot of things I'm sorry for, but that's all over. I felt that day, as we stood together at the top of the bluff, that a new spirit had come into my life. You know I'm a good deal older than you, Phil—just about ten years' difference; but you seem immensely older and wiser. I never knew a woman who knew as much."
She stopped again, and drew away from him.
"Mr. Holton!" she ejaculated mockingly; "please don't try that kind of jollying on me. I don't like it."
This, uttered with sharp peremptoriness, did not soothe him; nor was he in any humor to be thwarted. He had felt that Phil liked him; and a great many girls had been in love with him. If she made his approaches difficult, there was the more reason for believing that his proposal of marriage would not fall upon ungrateful ears. And, besides, Phil was just the sort of perverse, willful young woman to jump at a proposal, the more readily if the suitor was set apart from her by barriers that invited a young romantic imagination.
"I wasn't jollying you," he said, "and you know I wasn't. You've known from the first that I admired you. In fact, it was all over with me the first time I spoke to you—when you took me down so. I liked your spirit; I hate these tame, perfectly conventional girls; they bore me to death."
"Oh, I like that! How dare you say I'm not perfectly conventional!" she laughed.
"You know perfectly well what I mean. You have a mind and will of your own, and I like that in you. You're a perfect wonder, Phil. You're the most fascinating creature in the world!"
"Creature!" she mocked.
"Look here, Phil; I don't want you to pick me up like that. I'm entitled to better treatment. I'm in terrible earnest and I don't mean to be put off in any such way."
"Well, I'm not afraid to walk home alone!" She made a feint at leaving him; then waited for him to catch up with her.
It had been said of Phil that she liked to tease; she had, with a pardonable joy, made the high-school boys dance to her piping, and the admiration of the young collegians was tempered with awe and fear. She felt herself fully equal to any emergencies that might arise with young men. The boys she had known had all been nice fellows, good comrades, with whom she had entered into boyish sports zestfully, until her lengthening skirts had excluded her from participation in town-ball and the spring's delight in marbles. When her chums became seniors in college and appeared at parties in dress-suits, the transformation struck her as funny. They were still the "boys" who had admired the ease with which she threw, and caught, and batted, and whom she had bankrupted in naughty games of chance with marbles. She liked Charles Holton. The difference in their years added to the flattery of his attentions. He was a practiced flirt, and she had made experiments of her own in the gentle art of flirtation. Phil was human.
"If you knew how depressed I am, and how I need a little sympathy and friendliness, you wouldn't act like that. We are good friends, aren't we?"
"I haven't questioned it."
"We understand each other, don't we?"
"In the plain old Hoosier language, yes!"
"And if I tell you out of the depths of my humility that no one in the world means so much to me as you do, you understand, don't you, Phil?"
"Certainly. Your words are admirably chosen and we'll let it go at that."
Her flippancy now invited rather than repelled him. It was his experience that girls like to be made love to; the more reluctant they appear, the better they like it; and as she moved along beside him her beauty, her splendid health, her audacity struck fire in him. It was to-night or never between Phil and him. His to-morrows were uncertain; there was no guessing what Kirkwood might do, and Phil alone could protect and save him.
"Phil, this whole situation here is an impossible one for you. Because I'm older I realize it probably more than you do. First it was my Uncle Jack that came back here and stirred things up, and now—you won't take it unkindly if I say that your mother's return has been most unfortunate—for all of us. A girl like you oughtn't to be exposed to the gossip of a country town. It's not fair to you. I love you, Phil; I want you to marry me, at once, the quicker the better. I want to take you away from all this. Phil—dear!"
His tone thrilled her; she was persuaded of his kindness and generosity. He had not abused her mother or spoken unkindly of his uncle even. He had shown the nicest tact and discretion in his proposal of marriage, hinting at his own difficulties without attempting to play upon her sympathies. She could not laugh it off; she felt no inclination to do so.
"I'm sorry, Charlie; I'm awfully sorry; and I didn't want you to go on; I really didn't mean to let you; I tried to stop you. I respect you and like you; but I don't love you. So that's all there is to it. Now we must hurry home."
They were quite near Amzi's gate, and there was need for urgency. The thought of her mother gave him an angry throb; very likely she was waiting for them.
"You don't mean that, Phil! I can't have it that way."
"I do mean just that. So please don't say any more about it; we won't either of us be happier for talking about it."
"That's not square, Phil. You knew it was bound to come to this. You let me go on believing, hoping—"
"If you think such things of me, I shall be sorry I ever saw you."
"I've offered you a way out for yourself; your happiness is at stake. You must get away from here. Let us get married now—to-night, and leave this place forever, Phil!"
"No!" she cried angrily, frightened now as he stopped and planted himself before her at the edge of Amzi's lawn, where the house loomed darkly against the stars.
He gripped her arms. In all her rough play with boys, none had ever dared to touch her, and she choked with wrath. He had taken her off guard. Her hands, thrust into her muff, were imprisoned there by his grasp of her arms.
"Phil, you can't leave me like this. You've got to say yes. I'll kill myself if you don't."
She tried to wrench herself free, but his anger had slipped its leash and was running away with him. He drew her toward him, and the brute in him roused at her nearness. He threw an arm round her suddenly, and bent to kiss her. Abruptly she flung him back, wrenched her arms free and seized his wrists. Her fear left her on the instant; she was as strong or stronger than he, and she held him away from her easily, breathing deeply, and wondering just how to dispose of him. She laughed mockingly as he struggled, confident in the security of her greater strength. The light from Amzi's gate-lamp fell upon them, and she peered into his face curiously. At other times the spectacle of a gentleman in a silk hat held at ease by a young woman in her best evening bonnet would have been amusing, but Phil was thoroughly angry.
"I didn't think you would be like this. I thought all the time that you were a man; I even thought you were a gentleman!"
He jerked back in an effort to free his arms, a movement that precipitated his hat to the pavement. She gave his wrists a wrench that caused him to cry out in pain. To be held in a vise-like grip by a girl he had tried to kiss was a new and disagreeable experience. His anger rioted uncontrollably. He brought his face closer and sneered:—
"You needn't take such grand airs;—think what your mother is!"
She flung him against the iron fence with a violence that shook it, and her fists beat a fierce tattoo on his face—white-gloved fists, driven by sound, vigorous, young arms; and then as he cowered, with his arms raised to protect himself from her blows, she stepped back, her anger and contempt still unsatisfied.
He lifted his head, guardedly, thinking the attack was over, and with a quick sweep of her arm she struck his face with her open hand, a sharp, tingling slap. As she turned toward the gate, her foot encountered his hat. She kicked it into the street, and then, without looking back, swung the gate open and ran up the path to the house.
MR. WATERMAN'S GREAT OPPORTUNITY
Jack Holton reappeared in Montgomery toward the end of March, showed himself to Main Street in a new suit of clothes, intimated to old friends that he was engaged upon large affairs, and complained bitterly to a group of idlers at the Morton House of the local-option law that had lately been invoked to visit upon Montgomery the curse of perpetual thirst. He then sought Alexander Waterman in that gentleman's office. Waterman he had known well in old times, and he correctly surmised that the lawyer was far from prosperous. Men who married into the Montgomery family didn't prosper, some way! An assumption that they were both victims of daughters of the House of Montgomery may have entered into his choice of Waterman as a likely person to precipitate a row in Sycamore affairs. It was with a purpose that he visited Waterman's office on the Mill Street side of the court-house, over Redmond's undertaking parlors—a suggestive proximity that had not been neglected by local humorists.
"This is your chance, old man, to take up a fight for the people that can't fail to make you solid. What this poor old town needs is a leader. They're all sound asleep, dead ones, who'd turn over and take another nap if Gabriel blew his horn. These fellows are getting ready to put over the neatest little swindle ever practiced on a confiding public. The newspapers are in it—absolutely muzzled. I won't lie to you about my motive in coming to you. I'm sore all over from the knocks I've got. My dear brother Will has kicked me out; actually told me he'd have me arrested if I ever showed up here again. Like a fool I sent word to Kirkwood that I could be of service in getting to the bottom of Sycamore; thought he'd let bygones be bygones when it came to straight business, but, by George, he didn't even answer my letter! Cold as a frozen lobster, and always was! You see I thought it was all on the level—his tinkering with the traction company—but he's in on the shrewdest piece of high finance that was ever put over in Indiana. Talk about my lamented brother Samuel—Sam never started in his class!"
Waterman, with his ponderous swivel-chair tipped back against the Indiana Reports that lined the wall, listened guardedly. It was not wholly flattering to be chosen by a man of Jack Holton's reputation as the repository of confidences; but things had been going badly with Waterman. His passion for speculation had led him to invest funds he held as guardian in pork margins, and a caprice of the powers that play with pork in Chicago had wiped him out. Judge Walters had just been asking impertinent questions about the guardianship money, and when he had gone to the First National Bank for a loan to tide over the judicial inquiry and avert an appeal to his bondsmen, William Holton had "called" a loan of three hundred dollars that the bank had been carrying for two years. This was very annoying, and it made the lawyer more tolerant of Jack Holton than he should otherwise have been.
"We're talking on the dead, are we?"
Waterman grunted his acquiescence.
"Well, Kirkwood and old Amzi have framed it up to pinch the small Sycamore stockholders. Kirkwood stands in with those Eastern fellows who have the big end of it—he's their representative, as everybody knows. And old Amzi is gumshoeing through the woods buying bonds of the yaps who shelled out to Samuel—telling them the company's gone to the bad, and that he's the poor man's friend, anxious to assume their burdens. It's a good story, all right. Of course he has his tip from Kirkwood that the bonds are going to boom or he wouldn't be putting money into 'em. You know Amzi—he's the king of gumshoe artists—and he and Kirkwood are bound to make a big clean-up out of this."
Waterman was interested. He had always disliked Amzi. He felt that the banker had never dealt squarely with him, and in particular the peremptory fashion in which Amzi, seven years earlier, had pushed his pass-book through the window and suggested that he take his account elsewhere had eaten into his soul.
"I knew somebody was picking up those bonds, but I didn't know it was Amzi. One of my clients had five of them, and I'd got him to the point of letting me bring suit for a receiver, but somebody shut him off."
"Your client's bonds are in Kirkwood's pocket, all right enough. By George, can you beat it! And here's another thing. A man hates to talk against his own flesh and blood; and you may think I'm not in a position to strut around virtuously and talk about other people's sins; but I guess I've got some sense of honor left. I've never stolen any money. I did run off with another man's wife, and I got my pay for that. That was in the ardor of youth, Waterman; it was a calamitous mistake. Nobody knows it better than I do. I got my punishment. I don't wish the woman any harm; she's a brazen one, and don't need anybody's sympathy."
Lois Montgomery Holton's brazenness had been brought to Waterman's attention convincingly at home. Josephine, Kate, and Fanny were almost insane over their sister's bold return. Her impudence in settling herself upon Amzi, under their very noses, was discussed every day and all day on Sunday, whenever Lois's sisters could get their heads together. Waterman felt that Jack Holton's direct testimony as to the brazenness of their wicked sister would be grateful to the ears of his wife and sisters-in-law.
"I guess," said Waterman, "that hasn't anything to do with the case. If what you say's true—"
"Oh, it's true, all right enough. You go over to the 'Star' office and ask why they've shut up about Sycamore; ask Judge Walters why certain damage suits against the Sycamore Company haven't been tried; go out among the people who had put the savings of years into the traction company and ask them who's buying their bonds. And then, just for a joke, telegraph the Comptroller at Washington and ask him why he sent out a special agent of the Treasury to look over the First National after the examiner's last visit. I tell you, this town's going to have a big jar in a day or two, and it's just about up to you to get out among the people and tell 'em how they're being worked."
"The people like being worked," replied Waterman, who had been trying to bring the people to a realizing sense of their wrongs in every campaign for twenty years. In a few months they would again be choosing a Representative in Congress for the seat he had long coveted, and it was conceivable that if he should now show himself valiant in their behalf he might avert his usual biennial defeat. It was worth considering.
"The thing to do is to hold a mass meeting and make one of your big speeches, pitching into Walters for refusing to bring those damage suits to trial, and telling the truth about what Kirkwood and Amzi are doing, and then go over to Indianapolis and bring suit for the appointment of a receiver. And, by the way, I'm not as altruistic as I look. I'll take the receivership and you'll be the receiver's attorney, of course. Between us we ought to clear up something handsome, besides rendering a great public service that you can cash in here any way you like."
Only that day Judge Walters had granted the request of Wright and Fitch, the Indianapolis attorneys, for a postponement of the trial of a damage suit against the Sycamore Company in which Waterman represented the plaintiff, and this now assumed new significance in the lawyer's mind. If he got before a mass meeting with a chance to arraign the courts for their subservience to corporations, he was confident that it would redound to his credit at the fall election. His affairs were in such shape that some such miracle as his election to Congress was absolutely necessary to his rehabilitation.
"You don't think the First National's going under, do you? Bill isn't fool enough to let it come to that?"
Holton winked knowingly to whet his auditor's appetite.
"I don't think it; I know it! Kirkwood's a merciless devil, and he's got Bill and my hopeful nephew Charlie where the hair's short. If Sam had lived he'd have taken care of this traction business; Sam was a genius, all right. Sam could sell lemons for peaches, and when people made faces he sugared the lemons and proved they were peaches. Sam was no second-story man; he worked on the ground floor in broad daylight. Good old Sam!"
* * * * *
A Chicago newspaper had given currency to a rumor that the Sycamore line was soon to be put into the hands of a receiver, and while Kirkwood denied this promptly, there were many disquieting stories afloat as to the fate of the road.
The reports of an expert as to the road's physical condition had been reassuring, on the whole, and a thorough audit had placed Kirkwood in possession of all the facts as to the property and its possibilities. Some of the most prominent men in the State had been stockholders in the Sanford Construction Company. Samuel Holton had enrolled in that corporation his particular intimates, who had expected him to "take care of them" as he was in the habit of doing. The list included several former state officials and the benevolent bosses who manipulated the legislature by a perfectly adjusted bi-partisan mechanism. It was with a disagreeable shock that they found that Samuel had departed this life, leaving them to bear the burden of his iniquities.
Tom Kirkwood had assembled these gentlemen in the inner room of Wright and Fitch's offices and laid the incontrovertible figures before them, with an alternative that they return their respective shares of the plunder or answer to an action at law. Kirkwood was an absurd person. It was politely suggested that it would be much to his advantage to allow the Sycamore Company to take its course through the courts, under a receiver friendly to the stockholders of the Sanford Construction Company. Kirkwood was informed that things had always been done that way; but, having no political ambitions or ties, he was little impressed. It seemed to the business politicians weakminded for a man who had "pull" enough to secure employment from one of the most powerful trust companies on the continent to refuse to listen to "reason." It was almost incredible that he should be trying to save the road instead of wrecking it, when there was no money to be made out of saving a trolley line that had been marked for destruction from the day its first tie was laid. Kirkwood smiled coldly upon them and their attorneys when they passed from persuasions to threats. It was difficult to find an effective club to use on a man who was so unreasonable as to threaten them with the long arm of the grand jury. The most minute scrutiny of Kirkwood's private life failed to disclose anything that might be used to frighten him.
It had seemed to Kirkwood that the beneficiaries of the construction company should pay into the Sycamore treasury enough money to repair the losses occasioned by dishonest work. Interest on the Sycamore bonds was due the 1st of April. The November payment had been made with money advanced by half a dozen country banks through negotiations conducted by William Holton. On the day that Jack Holton was persuading Alec Waterman to thrust himself forward as the people's protagonist, Kirkwood was tightening the screws on the construction company. If the sum he demanded was not paid by the 1st of April, he assured Samuel Holton's former allies that criminal proceedings would be instituted. As one of the construction crowd was just then much in the newspapers as a probable nominee for a state office, Kirkwood's determination to force a settlement on his own terms was dismaying. The bi-partisan bosses had figured altogether too much in the newspapers, and it was not pleasant to contemplate the opening of the books of the company to public gaze.
March prepared to go out like a lion in Montgomery that year. While Alec Waterman was pondering his duty to the public as brought to his attention by Jack Holton, Fate seemed to take charge of his affairs. On March 28 the whistle of the Sugar Creek Furniture Company failed to rouse the town. The Sugar Creek Company, one of the industries that Paul Fosdick had promoted, had seemed to escape the dark fate that had pursued his other projects, so that the abruptness with which it shut down gave the local financial seismograph a severe wrench.
The factory had been one of the largest employers of labor in Montgomery, and its suspension was reported to be due to the refusal of the First National to advance money for its next maturing weekly pay-roll. To several of the workingmen who consulted Waterman about their claims, he broached the matter of a mass meeting in the circuit courtroom to discuss the business conditions of Montgomery. Two hundred men and boys were thrown out of work by the failure of the furniture company; rumors as to the relations between the company and the First National caused the stability of the Holton bank to be debated guardedly; and April 1st was fixed definitely in the minds of the Main Street gossips as the date for drastic action in Sycamore matters.
* * * * *
Mr. Amzi Montgomery's frequent absences in Indianapolis had occasioned comment of late. He returned, however, on the evening of the 28th, and before the "Bank Open" side of the battered tin sign was presented to Main Street on the morning of the 29th, a number of citizens had called to ask his opinion of the local financial conditions. He answered their anxious inquiries with his habitual nonchalance, leaning against the counter, with his cigar at an angle that testified to unruffled serenity and perfect peace with the world. Amzi had brought home from the capital a new standing collar, taller than he was in the habit of wearing, and from its deep recesses his countenance appeared more than usually chaste and demure. The collar, a dashing bow tie, and a speckled waistcoat that was the most daring expression of sartorial art available at the capital, gave to Amzi an air of uncommon jauntiness.
"What about this, Amzi? Is the whole town going to smash?" asked Judge Walters.
"Nope. Worst's over. Nothing to worry about."
"I've got to appoint a receiver for the furniture company in a few minutes. I hope I'm not going to have to run the whole town through my court."
"You won't. The Sugar Creek Furniture Company is a year behind time; I thought it would go down last year. Then they bounced Fosdick, and it naturally picked up a little; but it's hard to overcome a bad start, Judge."
"I've politely turned over my court-room for a meeting of the furniture company employees this afternoon. Alec's going to holler; they say he's going to pitch into the traction company and dust off the banks and capital generally."
"Good for Alec! He'll do a good job of it. Shouldn't wonder if he'd lead a mob down Main Street, hanging all the merchants, bankers, and judges of courts."
"That would require more energy than Alec has; his love of the downtrodden is purely vocal."
The county treasurer who followed the judge found Amzi disposed to be facetious over the reports that other failures were likely to follow the embarrassment of the furniture company.
"Worst's over. Just a little flurry. When there's a rotten apple in the barrel, better get it out."
The treasurer jerked his head in the direction of the First National.
Amzi met his gaze, took the cigar from his mouth, and looked at the ash.
"Thunder! It's all right."
"How do you know that!"
"I just guess it; that's all."
"They say," the treasurer whispered, "that Bill has skipped."
"Bill's over there in his bank right now," Amzi replied impatiently.
"How do you make that out?"
"Because I was talking to him on the 'phone ten minutes ago. If he's skipped, it must have been sudden. Tell people not to borrow trouble when they can borrow money. Money's easy on Main Street."
Amzi wobbled his cigar in his mouth the while he smoothed his new waistcoat with both hands. He was feeling good. His house was in order; failures and rumors of failures could not disturb him.
This was Saturday, and their spring needs had brought an unusual number of farm-folk to town. The proximity of interest-paying day made an acute issue of Sycamore Traction. Amzi had by no means gathered up all the bonds held by small investors. Book learning has not diminished the husbandman's traditional incredulity: if Sycamore traction bonds were worth seventy to Amzi Montgomery, they were undoubtedly worth eighty, at least, to the confiding original purchasers. Those who had clung to their bonds were disposed to ridicule those who had sold; and yet no one was wholly comfortable, either way. The collapse of the furniture company might prelude a local panic, and farmers and country merchants collected in groups along Main Street to discuss the situation.
The Saturday half-holiday in the various Montgomery industries added to the crowd that drifted toward the courthouse at two o'clock, drawn by the announcement that Alec Waterman was to discuss many local issues, which the failure of the furniture company had rendered acute. The circuit court-room was packed with farmers, mechanics, and the usual idlers when Waterman without introduction began to speak.
At that moment Amzi Montgomery, in his seersucker coat and with his old straw hat tilted to one side, stood at the door of his bank and observed half a dozen men on the steps of the First National. Amzi, a careful student of his fellow-townsmen, was aware that men and women were passing into the rival bank in larger numbers than usual, even for a Saturday, and that the mellifluous oratory of Alec Waterman had not drawn from the First National corner a score of idlers who evidently felt that the center of interest lay there rather than at the court-house. Amzi planted himself in his favorite chair in the bank window and watched the crowd increase.
By half-past two the town marshal had taken official notice that citizens were gathering about the bank doors, and overflowing from the sidewalk halfway across Main Street, to the interruption of traffic. Women and girls, with bank-books in their hands or nervously fingering checks, conferred in low tones about the security of their deposits. The Citizens' National and the State Trust Company were also receiving attention from their depositors. As three o'clock approached, the Montgomery Bank filled, and the receiving-teller began to assist the paying-teller in cashing checks. Amzi lounged along the lines outside, talking to his customers.
"Going to buy automobiles with your money, boys? Thunder! You in town, Jake?"
He greeted them all affably, ignoring their anxiety.
"Boys, I'll have to get a new shop if business keeps on like this."
A depositor who had drawn his money and was anxiously hiding it in his pocket, dropped a silver dollar that rolled away between the waiting lines.
"Never mind, gentlemen, we sweep out every night," said Amzi. "Now, let's all understand each other," he continued, tilting his hat over his left ear, and flourishing his cigar. "It's all right for you folks to come and get your money. The regular closing time of banks in this town is 3 P.M., Saturdays included. We've got a right to close in fifteen minutes. But just to show there's no hard feeling, I'm going to change the closing hour to-day from 3 P.M. to 3 A.M. Tomorrow's Sunday, and you can tell folks that's got money here that they won't have any trouble getting their change in time to put it in the collection basket to-morrow morning."
A number of depositors, impressed by Amzi's tranquillity, tore up their checks and left the bank. To a woman who asked him what the excitement meant, Amzi explained politely that the town was experiencing what he called a "baby panic."
"As an old friend, Martha, I advise you to leave your money here; if I decide to bust, I'll give you notice."
Along the two lines, that now extended out upon the sidewalk, there was a craning of necks. A demand from one depositor that he repeat to all what he had said to the woman caused Amzi to retire behind the counter. There he stood upon a chair and talked through the screen,
"I don't blame you folks for being nervous. Nobody wants to lose his money. Money is hard to get and harder to keep. But I've never lied across this counter to any man, woman, or child"—and then, as though ashamed of this vulgar assertion of rectitude, he added—"unless they needed to be lied to."
There was laughter at this. The room was packed, and the lines had been broken by the crowd surging in from the street.
"You can all have your money. But I hope you won't spend it foolishly or stick it in the chimney at home where it'll burn up. I ain't going to bust, ladies and gentlemen. This town is all right; it's the best little town in Indiana; sound as Sugar Creek bottom corn. This little sick infant panic we've had to-day will turn over and go to sleep pretty soon. As an old friend and neighbor of you all, I advise you to go home—with your money or without it, just as you like. It's all the same to me."
"How about the First National?" a voice demanded.
Amzi was relighting his cigar. There was a good deal of commotion in the room as many who had been pressing toward the windows withdrew, reassured by the banker's speech.
Amzi, with one foot on a chair, the other on the note-teller's counter, listened while the question about the First National was repeated.
"I'll say to you folks," said Amzi, his voice clearing and rising to a shrill pipe, "that in my judgment the First National Bank can pay all its claims. In fact—in fact, I'm dead sure of it!"
The crowd began to disperse. Most of those who had drawn their money waited to re-deposit it, and Amzi walked out upon the step to view the situation at the First National, to whose doors a great throng clung stubbornly. The marshal and a policeman were busily occupied in an effort to keep a way open for traffic. Observed by only a few idlers, Tom Kirkwood emerged from the First National's directors' room and walked across to where Amzi stood like a guardian angel before the door of Montgomery's Bank. The briefest colloquy followed between Kirkwood and his quondam brother-in-law.
"It's fixed, Amzi."
"Thunder, Tom; I didn't know you'd got back."
"Got in at one, and have been shut up with Holton ever since. He's seen the light, and we've adjusted his end of the Sycamore business; I'm taking part cash and notes with good collateral. The whole construction crowd have settled, except Charlie, and he'll come in—he's got to. The settlement makes the traction company good—it's only a matter now of spending the money we've got back in putting the property in shape."
"That's good, Tom." And Amzi looked toward the courthouse clock. "Bill say anything about me?"
"Yes; he most certainly did. He wants you to go over and take charge of his bank!"
"Thunder! It's sort o' funny, Tom, how things come round."
Kirkwood smiled at Amzi's calmness. He drew from his pocket a folded piece of paper.
"Here's your stock certificate, Amzi. Bill asked me to hand it to you. It's in due form. He wanted me to ask you to be as easy on him as you could. I think what he meant was that he'd like it to look like a bona-fide, voluntary sale. Those ten shares give you the control, and the Sycamore claim wiped out the rest of his holdings. I'm afraid," he added, "there's going to be some trouble. Where's Phil?"
"Probably at the court-house hearing her Uncle Alec talk about the money devils. We ought to let a few banks bust, just to encourage Alec. Thunder! Phil's all right!"
PLEASANT TIMES IN MAIN STREET
Phil, on her way to a tea, reached Main Street shortly before three o'clock. Her forehandedness was due to the fact that her hostess (the wife of the college president) had asked her to perform divers and sundry preliminary offices pertaining to refreshments, and it had occurred to Phil that it would be as well to drop in at the Bartletts' to see whether Rose had sent the cakes she had contracted to bake for the function, as the sophomore who delivered Rose's creations was probably amusing himself at the try-out of baseball material on Mill's Field.
Shopkeepers restlessly pacing the sidewalk before the doors of their neglected stores informed Phil of the meeting at the court-room, and of the panicky rumors. No good reason occurred to Phil for absenting herself from a mass meeting at which her Uncle Alec was to speak. Phil liked meetings. From the crest of a stack of chicken crates near the freight depot she had heard Albert Jeremiah Beveridge speak when that statesman had vouchsafed ten minutes to the people of Montgomery the preceding autumn. She had heard such redoubtable orators as William Jennings Bryan, Charles Warren Fairbanks, and "Tom" Marshall, and when a Socialist had spoken from the court-house steps on a rainy evening, Phil, then in her last year in high school, had been the sole representative of her sex in the audience.
Waterman was laboriously approaching his peroration when she reached the packed court-room. Men were wedged tightly into the space reserved for the court officials and the bar, and a number stood on the clerk's desk. She climbed upon a chair at the back of the room, the better to see and hear. There were other women and girls present—employees of the furniture factory—but it must be confessed that even without their support Phil would not have been embarrassed.
Waterman was in fine fettle, and cheers and applause punctuated his discourse.
"I am not here to arouse class hatred, or to set one man against another. We of Montgomery are all friends and neighbors. Many of you have lived here, just as I have, throughout your lives. It is for us to help each other in a neighborly spirit. Factories may close their doors, banks may fail, and credit be shaken, but so long as we may appeal to each other in the old terms of neighborliness and comradeship, nothing can seriously disturb our peace and prosperity.
"It grieves me, however, to be obliged to confess that there are men among us who have not felt the responsibility imposed upon them as trustees for the less fortunate. I have already touched on the immediate plight of those of you who are thrown out of employment, with your just labor claims unpaid. There are others—and some of them are perhaps in this room—who entrusted their savings to the Sycamore Traction Company, and who are now at the mercy of the malevolent powers that invariably control and manipulate such corporations. I shall not be personal; I have no feelings against any of those men. But I say to you, men and women of Montgomery, that when I heard this morning from the lips of an industrious and frugal German mechanic that a certain financier of this town had bought from him a traction bond that represented twenty years of savings—then my blood boiled with righteous indignation.
"My friends, a curious situation exists here. Why is it—why is it, I repeat, while one of our fellow-citizens pretends to be trying to safeguard by legal means all the local interests involved in that traction company, another person who stands close to him is buying the bonds of laborers and mechanics, widows and orphans, at little more than fifty per cent of their face value? My friends, when you find a corrupt lawyer and a rapacious banker in collusion, what chance have the people against them?"
Apparently the people had no chance whatever, in the opinion of the intent auditors. The applause at this point was long continued, and Waterman, feeling that he had struck the right chord, hurried on.
"Who are these men who have plundered their own people, thrust their hands into the pockets of their fellow-citizens, and filched from them the savings of years? Who are they, I say? My friends, in a community like this, where we are all so closely knit together,—where on the Sabbath day we meet in the church porch after rendering thanks unto God for his mercies,—where in the midweek prayer-meeting we renew and strengthen ourselves for the battle of life,—it is a serious matter to stand in a forum of the people before the tabernacle the law has given us for the defense of our liberties, and impugn the motives of our fellows. I shall not—"
"Name them!" chorused a dozen voices.
Waterman's histrionic sense responded to the demand. With arm uplifted, he deliberated, turning slowly from side to side. He was a master of the niceties of insinuation. Innuendo he had always found more effective than direct statement. He shook his head deprecatingly, reluctant to yield to the clamor for the names of the human vultures he had been arraigning.
"Name them! Tell who they are!"
He indulged these cries with a smile of resignation. They had a right to know; but it was left for him, in his superior wisdom, to pass upon their demands.
"Hit 'em, Alec! Go for 'em!" yelled a man in the front row.
"Why," the orator resumed, "why," he asked, "should I name names that are in every mind in this intelligent audience?" There was absolute quiet as they waited for the names, which he had not the slightest intention of giving.
The carrying power of Phil's voice had been deplored from her earliest youth by her aunts. Her single word, flung across the heads of the auditors, splashed upon the tense silence like a stone dropped suddenly into a quiet pond.
"Put him out!" yelled some one who attributed this impiety to the usual obstreperous boy. A number of young fellows in Phil's neighborhood, who knew the source of the ejaculation, broke into laughter and jeers. Alexander Waterman knew that voice; he had seen Phil across the room, but had assumed that her presence was due to her vulgar curiosity, on which his wife had waxed wroth these many years. In his cogitations Phil was always an unaccountable and irresponsible being: it had not occurred to him that she might resent his veiled charges against her father and Amzi. Waterman, by reason of his long experience as a stump speaker, knew how to deal with interruptions. He caught up instantly the challenge Phil had flung at him.
"Coward?" he repeated. "I should like to ask you, my fellow-citizens, who is the coward in this crisis? Is it I, who face you to-day clothed in my constitutional guaranty of free and untrammeled speech, to speak upon the issues of this grave crisis; or is it the conspirators who meet in dark rooms to plot and plunder?"
Applause and cheers greeted this reply. Men looked at each other and grinned, as much as to say, "Alec knows his business." In Phil's immediate vicinity a number of young men, lost in admiration of her temerity, and not without chivalrous instincts, jeered the orator's reply. In the middle of the room Fred Holton, who had gone to the meeting with some of his farmer neighbors that he met in Main Street, turned at the sound of Phil's voice. Before Waterman, luxuriating in his applause, could resume, Fred was on his feet.
"As this was called as a meeting of citizens, I have a right to be here. We have listened for nearly an hour to a speech that has made nothing any clearer—that has, in fact, gone all round the pump without finding the handle. It's time we knew what it is the speaker wants done; it's time he came to the point and named these men who have robbed their friends and neighbors. Let's have the names right now before we go any further."
"Who's that talking? Put him out!"
The meeting was in disorder, and a dozen men were trying to talk. Waterman, smiling patiently, rapped with the official gavel that Judge Walters wielded when counsel, in the heat of argument, transcended the bounds of propriety.
"It's Fred Holton," bellowed some one.
Waterman smiled in quiet scorn. He had recognized Fred Holton and was ready with his answer. One of his friends who had pushed through the crowd whispered in his ear.
"My friends," he began, in the indulgent tone of a grieved parent, "the gentleman who spoke a moment ago was quite right in remarking that this is a meeting of citizens. No one denies his right to speak or to interrupt other speakers if such be his idea of courtesy. But he will pardon me for suggesting that it is remarkable that he of all men should interrupt our friendly conference here and demand that names be mentioned, when, prompted by a sense of delicacy, I have refrained from mentioning his own name in this unpleasant connection. It's a name that has been identified far too closely with the affairs of this town. I should like to know how a member of the Holton family dare come to this meeting, when the suspension of one of our chief industries and the embarrassments of the Sycamore Traction Company are directly attributable to the family of which this young gentleman is a member. And while we sit here in conference, there are grave rumors afloat that we are threatened with even more serious difficulties. Within a few minutes word has reached me that a run is in progress upon certain of our banks." (There was a commotion throughout the room, and those near the doors were already pushing toward the street.)
"I beg of you, be not hasty; the hour calls for wise counsel—"
The shuffling of feet and overturning of chairs deadened the remainder of his speech.
Phil escaped quickly from the court-house, and seeing the throng in Main Street began a detour to reach Montgomery's Bank. Fred caught up with her and begged her to go home.
"There's going to be a row, Phil, and you'd better keep out of the way."
"If there's a row, that silly Waterman is responsible," Phil replied. "I'm going to the bank to see Amy."
People were flocking to Main Street from all directions, and finding that she persisted in going on, Fred kept close beside her.
"He'll scold you if you do; you'd better go home," Fred urged as they reached Franklin Street, a block south of Main, and saw the packed streets at the First National corner.
They debated a moment; then Phil was seized with an idea.
"Fred, run over to the college and bring all the boys you can find at Mill's Field. Bring them up Main Street singing, and send a flying wedge through the mob;—that will smash it. Beat it, before the boys hear the row and mix in!"
Fred was off for the athletic field before she had finished speaking, and Phil sought the side door of Montgomery's Bank.
The throng at the intersection of Franklin Street and Main faced the First National. When the court-house clock boomed three the clerks inside made an effort to close the doors, and this had provoked a sharp encounter with the waiting depositors on the bank steps. The crowd yelled as it surged in sympathy with the effort to hold the doors open. Some one threw a stone that struck the window in the middle of "National" in the sign, and this caused an outbreak of derisive cheers. An intoxicated man on the steps turned round with difficulty and waved his hat.
"Come on, boys; we'll bust the safe and find out whether they've got any money or not."
Some of those who had gained entrance to the bank came out by the side door, and this served to divert attention to Franklin Street for a moment. There were cries that a woman who had received her money had been robbed, and this increased the uproar.
When Amzi took a last survey from his bank steps at three o'clock, some one yelled, "Hello, Amzi!" A piece of brick flung with an aim worthy of a nobler cause whizzed past his head and struck the door-frame with a sharp thwack and blur of dust. Amzi looked down at the missile with pained surprise and kicked it aside. His clerks besought him to come in out of harm's way; and yet no man in Montgomery had established a better right than he to stand exactly where he stood and view contemporaneous history in the making.
Howls and cat-calls followed the casting of the brick. Amzi lifted his hand to stay the tumult, but in his seersucker coat and straw hat his appearance was calculated to provoke merriment.
"Shoot the hat! Where's your earmuffs?" they jeered.
He could not make himself heard, and even if his voice had been equal to the occasion no one was in humor to listen to him. Bankers were unpopular in Montgomery that afternoon. No one had ever believed before that Amzi was capable of taking unfair advantage of his fellow-men; and yet Waterman's hearers were circulating the report in Main Street that Amzi had been buying Sycamore bonds at an infamously low price.
He flourished his cigar toward the First National, and then pointed it at his own door, but this bit of pantomime only renewed the mirth of the assemblage. It seemed to be the impression that he was trying to advertise his bank, in the fashion of a "demonstrator" in a shop-window. The disorder increased. Some one yelled:—
"What are you paying for Sycamore bonds?"
This was followed by an ominous turning and shifting. Amzi withdrew, closed and locked the bank doors, and showed his scorn of his calumniators by reversing with deliberation the tin card so that it announced "Bank Shut."
Amzi, his dignity ruffled by the reception accorded him, had retired to his private room when a familiar knock sounded on the Franklin Street door and he turned the latch to admit Phil.
"You—! what you doing down here? What right have you to be running the streets on a day like this?" he blurted, his eyes bulging wrathfully.
"Oh, chuck it, Amy! This is the best show we've had since the calliope blew up and killed the elephant in the circus when I was seven years old. I've been to the meeting. The Honorable Alec delivered a noble oration; he told them that everybody, including you and daddy, is crooked; he's the only honest man. It was the supreme and ultimate limite!"
"Want to burn me in effigy? Call me a horned plutocrat?"
"Oh, he didn't mention you, or daddy either, by name; just hinted that you were both trying to rob the Sycamore bondholders."
Amzi put his feet on a chair, settled his hat comfortably on the back of his head, and chewed his cigar meditatively.
"Thunder! You'd better keep away from indignation meetings where Alec's going to speak. You're likely to get shot."
"Not I, sir. I called him a coward, right there in the meeting. A most unladylike proceeding; indeed, it was, Amy.
"When rose the maid upon a chair, Some called her false: none named her fair: Nathless she saw nor sneer nor frown, But 'C-o-w-a-r-d' flung her challenge down."
Amzi ignored her couplets—Phil's impromptu verses always embarrassed him—and demanded the particulars. He chuckled as she described the meeting. He cross-examined her to be sure that she omitted nothing. Her report of his brother-in-law's tirade gave him the greatest delight. As they talked, they heard plainly the commotion in the streets.
"I like the way you take things," said Phil. "The town's gone crazy, and there's a mob in front of your little toy bank, but you're not even peevish."
"Some old schoolmate threw a brick at me awhile ago when I went out for air and that annoyed me," Amzi admitted. "If those fellows out there who haven't any money in any bank, and never will have any, would only go home, I'd do something to relieve the pressure. I hanker for a chance to cross the street, but they won't let me. I called the mayor on the telephone and demanded that he send over the fire department and sprinkle 'em, but he said he couldn't unless I'd turn in an alarm—had the nerve to tell me it would be against the city ordinances! What do you think of that, Phil? Guess the police force is under the bed at home. But I can wait. There's nothing like waiting. Take it from me that you'd better trot along to your tea. You're rather cute in that hat. I suppose it burnt a hole in a ten-dollar-bill."
"No wonder there's a panic! Go out and show yourself, so they can see what a plutocrat looks like. I guess that would cause 'em to break windows all right."
"Ungrateful old man! Main Street will be opened for traffic in a few minutes, thanks to the head under the hat you feign to despise. I sent Fred over to the college to bring the boys down to clean things up. They're about due, methinks."
"Fred in town?"
"Why ask? It's Saturday and he's a farmer."
"Your thinker thinks, Phil. Would that I loved prayer-meeting as much as you love trouble! As trustee of Madison, I wish you'd left the boys at play. That last Washington's Birthday row almost broke up the college."
Phil jumped down from the table suddenly and flung the door open. Above the murmur of the restless shuffling crowd rose the sound of singing.
* * * * *
The sunny afternoon had brought to Mill's Field budding baseballists and candidates for track teams and a gallery of critics of their performances. Fred Holton's name was written high in the athletic records of Madison, and a few words bawled from the bleachers served to assemble all the students in sight.
"There's an ugly mob downtown, boys; and it may do mischief if it hangs together until dark. If we can pry 'em apart, they'll go home and forget it."
Fifty students immediately formed in line. "No clubs or sticks, boys. We'll march down Main Street in good order and see what a peaceful demonstration will do. Forward! March!"
As they crossed the campus at double-quick, students poured out of the library and joined the battalion. Others came tumbling out of the fraternity houses in Buckeye Lane, anxious to join in the lark. Before entering Main Street, Fred gave his last orders, which were accepted without question from an alumnus whom they had all learned to know of late as a sympathetic and stimulating visitor to the Gym, and the adviser for the Thanksgiving football game in which they had scored a victory over the hosts of Purdue.
Two blocks from the bank they re-formed in four lines, extending from curb to curb, and went forward to the strains of "Old Madison":—
"What shall we do for Madison, for Madison, for Madison? What shall we do for Madison, our college and her men?"
To the familiar strains of the college song, Montgomery had frequently wept not without reason, for the young Madisonians had been much given in recent years to ebullitions of college spirit. The timid mayor heard it now, looked out upon the lines of marching students, and pulled down his office blinds to avoid witnessing the inevitable collision between town and gown.
As the students approached, women and timorous men began trying to escape. Fred signaled to the yell leader, who began beating time, and the street rang with the college cheer. They gave it over and over again; they cheered the college and every bank in town, and between cheers Fred moved the lines forward. The mechanics and farmers, who, alarmed for the security of their savings, had formed the nucleus of the crowd, began to disperse before the advance of the students, but the sidewalks filled with those who expected an encounter and wished to view it in safety. Merchants closed and barred their doors against possible invasion. The rougher element, that had attached itself to the throng and given it the semblance of a mob, now organized hastily for a counter-demonstration.
"Smash the college dudes!" bawled a big fellow, throwing himself forward as leader. There was a rush and a sharp struggle. The collegians stood fast. The town phalanx withdrew to Franklin Street, and, considerably increased, rushed again upon the collegians. A lively fist-fight now engaged the vanguard for a minute, to the delight of the spectators. Hard blows were struck on both sides. While this was in progress, Fred withdrew the rear ranks of his army, massed them compactly, and led them in a gallant charge through the shattered line of their comrades, against the enemy. The students wavered at the moment of collision; there was sharp tackling and the line broke, closed again, and swept on, beyond Franklin Street and for half a block further; then effected a quick about-face in readiness for another charge but found the field clear. Some one on the packed sidewalk proposed a cheer for the college, and it was given with a will, and the collegians resumed their cheering. A few missiles flung by the vanquished town men rained upon them, but the war was over. Fred's lines were flung across the intersecting streets like pickets, and, impressed by their quiet order, the belligerent town men began to mingle peacefully with the lingering crowd on the pavements.
Mr. Amzi Montgomery appeared on the steps of his bank, and glanced up and down the street, and at the courthouse clock, like a pigeon emerging from its cote after a shower. Phil, having been warned to remain inside, naturally joined him an instant later. Amzi was saluted with a cheer in recognition of his dignity as treasurer of Madison's board of trustees,—a greeting he acknowledged by puffing his cheeks and guardedly lifting his hat. And all these things pleased Main Street. An attack on the First National had been averted; the students had made amends for many affronts to municipal dignity; and it was in the air that other and equally interesting incidents would add further to the day's entertainment.
The jubilant yell leader, seeing Phil beside Amzi, decided that she, too, was deserving of attention.
"For the girl on the bank steps—all together!"
While this rah-rahing was in progress, Amzi left the steps and started across the street. Now, while Amzi Montgomery had been seen of all men in all years and at all seasons, standing on the steps of his bank in the old straw hat, with his seersucker coat buttoned tightly round his sturdy figure, he had never before been known to descend into Main Street in that garb. The crowd immediately began closing in upon him and Fred detached a squad of his brawniest men to act as the banker's bodyguard.
Amzi moved with great serenity towards the First National Bank, and appeared to be examining the sunburst the hostile stone had stamped upon the plate-glass window. Amzi never hurried, and he appeared to be in no haste now. Main Street was pleased that he deliberated. The longer the entertainment lasted the better. The door of the First National had been closed with little difficulty during the diversion afforded by the arrival of the college men, but the steps and sidewalk were filled. Amzi looked over the crowd musingly, and beckoned to Fred.
"Get me a box to stand on and a piece of soap—laundry soap. I want to—"
He waved his cigar toward the window in vague explanation, and Fred dived into a grocery and came back with the articles demanded. Main Street's curiosity had never been so whetted and teased. If it had been any one but Amzi; but it was so unmistakably Amzi! Amzi placed the box under the window and stood upon it. Then with characteristic nonchalance he removed the wrapper from the cake of soap, while the crowd surged and shuffled, filling the street again in its anxiety to miss nothing. Amzi broke the bar of soap in two, and calmly trimmed half of it to serve as a crayon. As he began to write upon the glass, his guards were hard-pressed to hold back the throng that seemed bent upon pushing the banker through his rival's window. To ease the tension the boys struck up—
"The pirates of the Wabash, A jolly crowd are they."
Amzi wrote slowly, in a large round hand, beginning immediately under the "First National Bank" lettering. The faint tracings of the soap were legible only a few yards away and the yell-leader began reading for the benefit of the crowd. And this was Amzi's announcement:—
I hereby guarantee all deposits in this bank.
Interest on Sycamore Traction bonds will be paid here April 1. Persons from whom I have bought such bonds may redeem same at price I paid for them, without discount.
When he had completed his first sentence, he paused to inspect it. Murmurs of astonishment gave way to shouts of approval, and then the street grew silent as the remainder was read word by word.
"Let her go now, for A. Montgomeree!" cried the yell-leader, and while necks craned and men jostled and pushed, the students cheered. When Amzi had written, "at the price I paid for them," he made a period, and then, after a moment's reflection, drew out his handkerchief and erased it to add—"without discount."
He threw away the soap and began to retrace his steps, but the whole town seemed now to have massed itself in the intersecting streets. The nearest students flung themselves together as an escort, and amid cheers Amzi returned to his own bank, where Phil opened the door and demanded to know what he had been doing to be cheered as only a football hero is cheered when his name is read at commencement.
"Thunder!" said Amzi. "I just wanted to take the gas out of Alec's speech. What are those fools doing now?"
Phil, Fred, and Amzi, with several of the students who had acted as the banker's bodyguard, gathered at the front window. Amzi's announcement that the Sycamore interest would be paid had brought Kirkwood into the minds of many who knew of his efforts to save the company. His name shouted here and there in the street directed attention to his office windows. As a former member of the faculty of Madison, Kirkwood appeared usually on the platform at commencement, and now that he was mentioned the students improvised a cheer for him that Kirkwood's building flung back at Montgomery's Bank. The demonstration continued with increased volume, until finally Kirkwood opened a window and looked down. A shout rose as he appeared. The tears sprang to Phil's eyes as she saw her father's tall figure, his stoop accentuated as he bent under the window. He had really achieved at last! She only vaguely grasped the import of what Amzi had told her in a few abrupt sentences after his return to the bank, but her heart beat fast at the thought that her father shared in the day's honors. He had been of real service to his fellow-townsmen and they were now demanding a speech. He bowed and vanished; but when the cheering was renewed and long continued, he came back, and when silence fell upon the crowd (Phil wondered if they, too, felt the pathos in him that had always touched her, and which just then brought the tears to her eyes!) he spoke slowly and clearly.
"My friends, this is the best town and its people are the best and kindest people in the world. If I have done anything to win your praise I am glad. This community is bound to prosper, for it is founded, not upon industry and thrift alone, but upon faith and honor and helpfulness; and these, my good friends, are the things that endure forever."
"I couldn't hear that," said Amzi to Phil, as her father disappeared into his office amid the loudest cheers of the day, "but I reckon Tom said about the right thing."
"I'm sure he did," replied Phil, drying her eyes, "and it's all true, too!"
THE FORSAKEN GARDEN
It's pleasant, on the whole, to do something worth doing; to make grass grow where it has never grown before; to put the last touch to a canoe-paddle of exactly the right weight and balance; to bring to something approximating one's ideal of a sound sentence the last stubborn, maddening clutter of words in a manuscript that has grown from a pen-scratch on the back of an envelope into a potential book. And Tom Kirkwood was not without his sense of satisfaction. He had without litigation straightened the Sycamore Company's financial tangles. Its physical deficiencies were being remedied and its service brought to standard. He had never in his life felt so conscious of his powers. He was out of debt—having paid back two thousand dollars Amzi had loaned him in the fall, after Phil had raised the red flag of danger in their affairs. The load was off his back; men spoke to him in the street with a new cordiality; the "Evening Star," in an excess of emotion following the taking-over of the First National Bank by Amzi and all the moving incidents connected with the drama of Main Street's greatest day,—the "Evening Star" had without the slightest provocation, declared that the Honorable Thomas Kirkwood was just the man for governor. The Desbrosses Trust & Guaranty Company had not only paid him handsomely, but was entrusting him with the rehabilitation of a traction company in Illinois that was not earning dividends.
He came back to Montgomery to try some cases at the April term of court and sent his trunk to the Morton House.
"It isn't square, daddy," said Phil, breaking in upon him at his office on the day of his arrival. "We were to open the house again when you had finished at Indianapolis. And here you are, not even telling me you were coming."
The office was dingier and dustier than ever. She abused him for not at least giving her a chance to clean it against his coming.
"I have to be off again in a week; it didn't seem worth while to put you to the trouble of opening the house just for that," he replied evasively. His own affairs again occupied his mind, and the sight of Phil gave a keen edge to his curiosity as to her life at Amzi's.
"Your new suit is certainly some clothes, and a glimpse of that four-in-hand makes the world a nobler and better place to live in! If the Indianapolis boulevards can do that for you, it's too bad I didn't know it long ago. I have an idea"—and she paused pensively in the act of dusting a chair—"I'm a good deal worried by the idea that you ought to be mussed!"
He pleaded mockingly for mercy, calling attention to her inconsistency in admiring his raiment while at the same time threatening it with destruction.
"You seem to have been to the dressmaker yourself. How's your bank account, Phil? I suppose your uncle will have to be more careful about overdrafts now that he has a national bank."
"Oh, I'm not broke. And"—suddenly serious—"I must tell you something, daddy. I've been waiting for a chance to ask you if you cared; it didn't seem right not to ask you; and, of course, if you mind, I won't."
He smiled at her earnestness, her unusual indirection. She was immensely grown up; there were new manifestations of her otherwiseness. He noted little sophisticated tricks of manner that reminded him vaguely of some one else.
"Amy says it's all right for me to do it, but that I must ask you; and mamma says that, too."
Her preluding roused apprehensions. What might not have happened in these weeks that Phil had spent with Lois? He observed his daughter with a new intentness. She drew a handkerchief from her sleeve and touched it lightly, with an un-Phil-like gesture to her nose; and an instant later, with an almost imperceptible movement of her head, resettled her hat. She had acquired—quite unconsciously he did not question—a new air. She was his old Phil, but the portrait had been retouched here and there, and was reminiscent in unaccountable ways of some one else very like and very different.
"Yes, Phil, come out with it," he said, finding her eyes upon him in a wide, unseeing gaze—and that, too, he now remembered. She had taken on, as young girls do, the superficial graces and innocent affectations of an older person. Such perfectly natural and pardonable imitation is induced by admiration; and Lois had been a woman of fascinations in old times! He had no reason for believing that she had changed; and it had been clear to him that first day of Lois's return that she had laid strong hold upon Phil's imagination.
"Mamma wants to give me some money: she has already done some nice things for me. She bought this hat and suit; but she wants to do more."
Kirkwood frowned. Lois had no right to come back and steal Phil away from him. He was at once jealous, suspicious. He, too, had assumed that Lois's return had not been voluntary; that she had come back of necessity and flung herself upon Amzi's charity. It would be quite like her to try to tempt Phil with a handful of trinkets.
"It isn't likely that she has much to give you; but before you accept anything of importance you should be sure that it's a proper gift for her to offer, that she can afford to do it."
"There doesn't seem to be any question about that, daddy. What she wants to do is to give me a whole lot of money—enough to make me really rich. She wants to put one hundred thousand dollars in a trusteeship for me."
There was consternation in his quick glance. Nothing in his knowledge of Lois justified a belief that she would ever, by any proper and reputable means, command any such sum.
"You must be mistaken, Phil. You must have got the figures wrong. It's more likely a thousand. You know mathematics was never a strong point with you!"
"It's this way, you see, daddy. She made a lot of money—in lucky investments—mines, real estate, and things like that. She told me a little about it; as though it were a great joke. But she is very clever; she did it all by herself—and no one knows it, except just Amy; and she told me I might tell you, so you'd understand. She even said to say to you—" and Phil paused, knitting her brows. To be repeating as from a stranger a message from her mother to her father was a fresh phase of the unreal situation created by her mother's return. "She said to tell you she came by it honestly; that it wasn't tainted money!"
And Phil laughed nervously, not knowing how her father would take this. He seemed depressed, in the old familiar fashion; and she could not know the reason of it, or that the magnitude of his former wife's resources and her wish to divide with her daughter rallied all manner of suspicions round his jealousy.
"She said that either Amy could manage it for me, or that if you liked she would be perfectly willing to turn it over to you. She was very kind about it, daddy; really she was."
"I'm not questioning that, Phil. It's a little staggering, that's all."
"But, of course," she ran on eagerly, "it wouldn't make any difference between you and me. I know you have done everything for me. Please don't ever think I forget that, daddy. And if you have any feeling about it, please say no. I don't want money, just to be having it. We've always agreed that money isn't the main thing in life."
"It's rather necessary, though, as we've found by experience," he replied, with a rueful smile. "I've done pretty badly, Phil; but things are brighter. I'm able now to begin putting some money away for you myself, and I shall do it, of course, just the same. But as to your mother's offer, you must accept it; it's a large sum, far more than I could ever command. It makes you independent; it changes the future for you, puts things within your reach that have been clear out of the question. And it's very generous on her part to tell you to refer the matter to me. I assume," he added, "that she's keeping enough for herself; there might be some difficulty later on if she didn't do that."
"Oh," said Phil, with an unconscious note of pride that did not escape him, "she has plenty; she's richer, I suppose, than almost anybody around here. She didn't ask me not to tell you anything—she's not like that—so you may as well know that she gave Amy a lot of money to help him set up the new bank. It's so funny that I can't help laughing. The whole family—one's aunts, I mean—think she came back to sponge off of Amy, and they don't know she's going to own almost as much as he does in the new Montgomery National. I get to giggling when I see those women strutting by the house with their chins up, but mamma doesn't pay the least attention. I don't believe she thinks about them at all; she's had the house fixed over—pitched a lot of Amy's old furniture into the alley—and is having the garden done by a landscape gardener she imported from Chicago. And those poor women are fretting themselves to death, thinking it's Amy's money she's spending. Yesterday she ordered a seven thousand dollar automobile by telegraph,—just like that!—and when it anchors in front of Amy's gate there'll be some deaths from heart failure in that neighborhood."