A PLEA BY AN INGENIOUS ATTORNEY, BUT THE COURT RESERVES ITS DECISION.
BAINBRIDGE went next day to see Ottilie, notwithstanding the prohibition that had been laid upon him. lie found her at home, in one of the luxurious rooms where he had already passed so many pleasant hours.
“ It is an unpropitious place,” he said, glancing around, “ but I have come again to try and persuade you to leave it, as I promised.”
He poured out a new flood of affectionate entreaty, and Ottilie renewed her objections. But she had passed a night of mental conflict, which had weakened her physical forces. How could she effectively resist wdien so betrayed by her own situation, and sustained only by the drear sense of duty ?
The young man, in his impetuosity, was unconscious of himself, of all his qualms, scruples, and cynicisms of the past. He reminded her, in his persistence, of a teasing child, who will not take no for an answer.
“ Oh, waver ! Oh, be weak at least! ” he urged, after an array of other arguments. “ Firmness is not becoming in a woman. She should vacillate; she should be irresolute, and yield. Come, let us be engaged ! ”
“ You can break it off, you know,” he offered immediately after as a happy solution, “ in case you do not like me.”
He had taken her hand. “ This is the finger for the ring,” he went on, singling out the slender member in question. “ I have in mind a diamond, which has long twinkled to me in a rather knowing way in a certain window. You must let me bring it. We must have you photographed in your wedding dress, to look at in future years. You will be so lovely in your bridal attire.”
These apparently trivial utterances, which were tossed off, with a multitude of others, in the heat of his eloquence, affected Ottilie, from her feminine point of view, with a potency beyond their actual importance.
She saw the ceremony, her new dignity as a wife, the long perspective of happy years by his side. He combated every position but that of consideration for himself, by which alone she was deterred.
“ We should have to live in a kind of Bohemian way, of course, at first,” he pursued, going on to arrange all these details, although she had not yet consented. “ We should take some sort of a flat, and have rugs and a divan and some photographs in it. We could give tea, you know, and see some of those people we met at Mrs. Stoneglass’s, if you wanted company. If you did not, that would suit me exactly. I want only you. Nothing would suit me better than to fly to a desert island with you this minute.”
Ottilie was astonished at her own marvelous powers of negation. To be so importuned to do what her whole being called out for, what appeared to her the most delightful thing in the world, was ever woman so deliciously beset ? She rallied, however, for a final resistance. It was such a defense as that of gunners who resist with clubbed muskets when the enemy is already in the works in overwhelming force.
“ No,” she began, with an effort at a precise air, “ go your journey, dear. By the time you have returned ” —
But the caressing little epithet which had escaped her lips inadvertently set him on fire. He was no longer to be controlled. He threw an arm about her waist.
“ Say you love me,” he cried impetuously, “ since you do ! Let us have no more of this.”
“ I love you, dear Russell,” she replied, and yielded to his embrace with an exquisite consenting.
“ I could not hold out. It was beyond mortal endurance. I want to be yours, and I want you for mine,” she said, later. This had an appearance of delightful candor, but, considering that she had once wildly debated whether she should write to him that she could not live without him, it hardly seemed to Ottilie candor at all. “ But you are not to give me any ring, and it is not an engagement yet. I must wait.”
“ How long ? ”
“ Ah ! who can say ? After my cousin’s wedding. If nothing happens then, I will fix a date in the future; and then if there is nothing, — but I do not wish to talk about it. I do not wish to explain. Something must be cleared away. Perhaps I may yet have to give you up. Perhaps all must come to an end between us, hard as it is to think of.”
“ Perhaps stuff and nonsense! I want to hear nothing of such absurd suppositions.”
“ I could bear it better now than before, since I know that you love me.
I so longed and prayed for your love. You do not know what happiness it is for me to tell you this. The memory of what has passed would sustain me, even if we should never see each other again.”
“ Well, it would n’t me, I can tell you ; ” and he repudiated fiercely any such fantastic idea of comfort.
She was really inflexible now, in this last position she had taken. Nothing could shake her. Bainbridge had to be content with the assurance of her affection ; that, after all, was the important thing. The important thing ? It was the ineffable thing,— the thing for gods and men to wonder at.
Others no doubt had loved and been loved, in their time, but nobody could assure him that it had been in a manner wholly like this. Once, when they two were sitting together, Ottilie bent forward impulsively, and kissed him on the forehead. Then she blushed deeply. The timid boldness of this caress from such a source gave him an exquisite pleasure. To have won with his own small deserts that pure and beautiful affection, in no sense to have bought or compelled it, — was it not a reward for many trials ? Was not this alone something to have lived for ?
His heart at this time bubbled over with kindness towards all the world. It was fortunate for beggars or other of the wretched who came in his way. He would have liked to share his beatitude with the whole human race. “ Ah, it is happiness that is good for us,” he cried, “ and not betrayal and defeat.” But he found his nervous system at an extreme and excitable tension. A word, a tender passage in a book, a sweet chord of music, affected him unduly. “It is too much,” he declared to Ottilie. “ Very shortly I shall not be worth the powder to blow me up.” They had but a few brief days before Bainbridge would be obliged to take his departure. Fortunately, the bustle for Angelica’s wedding allowed them to be much together unobserved. It may be supposed that they indulged in their fair share of the usual lovers’ babble. The old questions— When did you like me ? Why did you like me ? Where did you like me first? — were asked. They exchanged now with pleasure all the fine shades of their respective doubts, hopes, and fears, which they had been so long engaged in carefully concealing from each other. There was now, also, the case of a former flame, Madeline Scarrett, to be analyzed and cleared up. Ottilie withdrew her hand from the narrator’s while this was being done.
“ You are,” he declared to her (as he had often declared to himself) “ what I only fancied her to be. She was a cold and heartless woman, as incapable of warmth of feeling as of intelligent appreciation. Not that she had much to appreciate, you know.”
“ Could you go back to her ? Could you ever like her again ? ” Ottilie asked, with a charming irrelevance.
“ Yes, I think of going back at once. Her husband is dead, as you know, and she is a rich widow.”
But Ottilie was too content now to be discomfited by his banter. Inwardly, she looked upon this Madeline Scarrett with a lively wonder and indignation, as a sort of monstrosity, to have sacrificed what she had. She must be a person of a brain with a missing lobe, — a person without the most ordinary perception of the relative merit of things.
Some minor flirtations of the young man’s were also to be gone over and cleared away. He humorously ascribed whatever slight sentimental fancies of this kind he might have indulged in to some unaccountable hallucination, to his lack of knowledge of women, and particularly to his lack of acquaintance with her. This having been done, Ottilie gave him back her hand, and beamed upon him once more with the full measure of her approbation.
It was presently her turn. Her manner was much less bold-faced now, although Bainbridge aimed to conduct the inquiry with a discretion befitting so delicate a subject. Two or three young men, in their day and generation, she admitted, had been very pleasant. In fact, there had almost always been some one — not that there was any one you could really count. A boy sweetheart had given her a carnelian ring, which she had worn for some time. “ Then there was a young man, the winter I passed at Cincinnati,” she said. “ He was very young. He wrote me original poetry. He represented me as such a remarkaable person, that really — If he had only made me a little less extraordinary. But I do not think I cared just then for the very poetical kind. I was sorry, of course, that he should want to go on that way.”
Bainbridge called the latter Petrarch, and her a stoical Laura, turning a deaf ear to his sighs. “ Well, we all have to go through our experiences,” he said. “ The poor poets, alas ! have always got more kicks than half-pence. It is lucky for me that I could not string rhymes. I should have been capable of writing Iliads and Odysseys about you; and then you would have had nothing to do with me.”
He well conceived that there should have been others by whom she was admired as she was by him. But she was not old in love-making. She had had no experience which had touched in any but the most superficial way her girlish fancy.
Faces are, no doubt, transfigured to the eye of affection, and it might have been difficult for the mere calm outsider to discover all the perfections attributed to that of Ottilie by her lover. He instructed her in her charms with such a prodigal praise that she was buoyed up with a kind of divine self-possession. If half were true that he said, if it were indeed true that every least motion, tone, and look of hers could give him pleasure, she might well afford to dispense with other critics, and comport herself before the general public with a sweet dignity. He analyzed exhaustively, in the opportunities now open to him, each one of her features. As he could not make poems, he would have made a series of memoirs upon her unusual eyes ; her slightly retroussé nose ; her long dark lashes, which curved so fascinatingly upwards ; her brows, which he had once thought severe. He had thought so when he first saw her, — the day when, waiting Rodman Harvey’s convenience, he stared at her as she sat abstracted in her hackney coach. They recalled that day together. “ If you but knew how horrid I thought you then! ” she said.
Nor was this praise of physical perfection confined to one side. Ottilie insisted that her lover’s eyelashes were even longer than her own. She found an exceeding comeliness in his looks.
“ Oh, no,” he said, disclaiming this, as if this were a gross and quite needless invention. “ I have never set up for anything of that sort. It is too late for it to be discovered at this time of day.”
“ Yes, I tell you,” she persisted. “You are a very handsome young man. You are a very prepossessing person.”
In speculating about the flattering sensation of being loved, as it was his way to speculate a little about everything, he said, “ It makes a great difference from what source the affection comes. It is not all equally flattering, though it be equally devoted. It must be a discriminating person. It must be a person who is a judge.”
“ So you think me a judge ? ” she queried, delighted.
“ Oh, yes, you are a judge. You are quite capable of forming your little opinions.”
In this mutual glamour, intoxicated with each other’s intensely genuine flattery, they rested as it were upon a height from which the world of ordinary sensation and experience was stretched out below them, commonplace, arid, and map-like.
“ I ought not to let you go on so. It cannot last; it is too lovely,” said Ottilie, feeling her apprehensions recurring. “ Still, for the little while you are here, perhaps it may not be wrong.” She did not know when the smiling prospect would change, and she might have to lament the altered gods and the sea black with ruffling storms.
The final appeal of Bainbridge to be allowed to leave her as his engaged wife met with no more success than all those preceding. He set out, therefore, upon his long jaunt by rail with the affair in this condition. She was a friend simply. He was to wait indefinitely the mysterious period which she put to the realization of his wishes.
He most ardently desired a prosperous result for his mission. And as he jogged interminably onward, looking out of the window at the fleeting country, making brief halts at commonplace towns, dozing or half dozing in his sleeping car at night, he was lost for the most part in sweet reveries of Ottilie.
He wrote to her from the way stations. His love seemed to be changing his whole view of life, of morals, of religion. He viewed the cynical, jovial persons for whom he had lately professed admiration differently. How were they really turning out? He began a new inquiry into character, and examined the sources which had made the most admirable one he knew of what it was. He called himself weather-cock. “Am I turning conservative ? Shall I deny all my negations ? Is the truth or falsity of things shaken, then, by my liking for her ? ” he soliloquized. But again he said, “ Perhaps what is good enough for her is good enough for me. Let us stand or fall together.”
Sudden dreads of the contingencies of life swept across his mind. Was it possible that this affection of theirs could be imperiled, could be wiped out forever, by the agency of a broken rail or a bit of defective boiler flue ? No, it must go on. It must not be compassed by the span of a few brief years ; there must be a never-ending future for its beatific continuance. As he had been formerly one of the most careless of travelers, he became now one of the most painstaking and finical. When a man is loved, when he has such a happiness awaiting him, it adds a new value to existence. He is valuable freight and by no means to be carelessly handled. As to turning out refractory tenants from shanty-town, it is probable that he would now have given it a very different order of consideration.
“ THE TOILS ARE LAID AND THE STAKES ARE SET.”
When Kingbolt of Kingboltsville had been absent from town and free from the goad of opposition and notoriety for some time, he began to have his furtive moments of retrospect. Was it, after all, the most desirable thing to marry ? The men of his age were not marrying. Old Robert Rink was still driving his coach and enjoying life as a bachelor at sixty.
“ Marriage may have its hampering aspects, even under the best of circumstances,” reflected Kingbolt. “ This thing of giving up your independence, and taking a companion to tote round with you, whose tastes and wishes are more likely than not to conflict with your own, is matter for serious consideration.”
However, he was now committed. It was satisfactory to know, at any rate, that he was to have a partner who would gratify his sense of pride and self-importance better than any other he had ever seen. On the whole, he could not say that he was sorry.
A certain stimulus continued to be furnished, too, by the thinly disguised opposition of his family. “ They are always nagging, in their pusillanimous way,” he said, “ at somebody or something which pleases me.”
A mysterious episode, too, of the last days preceding the wedding was the receipt of an anonymous letter. It alleged some connection between Rodman Harvey and the death of his father. The cause had been proceedings of Harvey’s which would not bear honest looking into.
“ Bah ! ” said Kingbolt, tossing it contemptuously away. “There are always plenty of infernal meddlers trying to break up any match that promises to go off well. It is a pretty time of day to come along with such a story now. I think I should have learned something of it in the course of a life-time if it had been true.”
He had heard, it is true, an account of some worriment by which his father’s death had been accelerated, but the idea of connecting Rodman Harvey with it was preposterous. Shortly after, his dismissed protégé, St. Hill, had the impudence to call upon him. He broached this very subject. He suggested that a public scandal might be impending, and thought that by proper means, a bribe to himself, it might be averted. Kingbolt taxed him fiercely with writing the letter himself, and put him out-of-doors. The young Croesus made as little of the story as it deserved ; but what with this and the remaining annoyances he would have been glad if the wedding were fairly over.
He gave, about these times, a farewell dinner to his bachelor friends, which was signalized by much jovial speech-making. He gave a breakfast to his ushers and best man, at which they were all presented with handsome scarf-pins. He sent Angelica a pair of diamond earrings and a magnificent bridal veil. After the latest mode, the wedding ceremony was to take place in the evening, at seven. The bridesmaids, six in number, were to walk up the aisle unattended. They were to be costumed alike, somewhat in the style of the French Directory, with baskets of flowers. The bride and groom were to meet at the chancel rail. Dr. Miltimore would marry them by a combination service of his own, for which he had obtained much repute. Angelica was, naturally, an authority in the arrangement of these details. The participants were once assembled at her house for rehearsal, and again at the church, that there might be no awkwardness. This last occasion was upon the Tuesday preceding the Thursday for the wedding. It was evening. The gas was lighted, the organ pealed out its grand march, the procession was formed, and the effect of the ceremony was realized so far as might be without the flutter of the fifteen hundred guests, and the bright toilettes to be expected in the pews.
Rodman Harvey himself appeared at this last rehearsal, but could remain through only a part of it. He was obliged to present himself, according to promise, at the annual meeting of the Civic Reform Association. He was to make his report as first director, and also as treasurer, of the association. He had come on from Washington the same day, and looked fatigued. He told some confidants that the night sessions at the Capitol and his persistent committee work did not agree with him. He had had some severer attacks of vertigo than common. As fortune must have it, too, it was in the papers, on the very afternoon of his arrival, that the invalid Secretary of the Treasury had at last handed in his long-expected resignation. It would probably have been better for Rodman Harvey, had the occasion for his absence been any less pressing, to be actually on the ground at the President’s call. He would go back, however, at the first moment. His nomination might even be received by telegraph. The news was the talk of all the clubs and hotel lobbies, and his name was put at the head of the list for the successorship. In excusing himself to his daughter, who was provoked that he must go, he affected a humorous tone, saying, — “ I am of such little importance in the show that my mistakes will never call for criticism.”
The Fifth Avenue Hotel, chosen for the meeting of the Civic Reform Association, was bustling this evening, like numerous similar caravansaries in the neighborhood, with the life that made it a rendezvous. Knots of well-dressed loungers looked from the portico at the rolling cabs, the theatre-goers, the shameless women flaunting by, and so across to the dim obscurity of the lights and benches among the trees in the park. The green weather-doors behind them closed after each in-goer with a thud, as if keeping, for purposes of their own, an audible tally.
Within was a great scuffling of feet over the tessellated pavement. Acquaintances presented others. There was a great talking of politics, trade, and gossip, and a placing of fingers in the palms of hands and on the sleeves and lapels of coats, as an aid to the illustration of ideas. Young men about town, without a club, came hither. Insatiate dealers in stocks engaged in further transactions, or studied the tape of the telegraphic indicator, coiled up in its basket. McKinley, salesman for Harvey & Co., had come in search of a country customer, to whom he was going to “ show the town,” — expecting in consequence a larger order on the morrow. Guests of the house sat and smoked on the benches at the sides of the lobby; or stood conferring near the elevator, with door keys in their hands; or wrote letters in a room at the rear, hung with files of newspapers from all parts of the country, and scattered with advertisements, even to the blottingsheets on the table.
One of the green weather-doors was brusquely thrown back by Mr. Sprowle Onderdonk. It nearly knocked off his feet Mr. Fletcher St. Hill, who had been awaiting his arrival.
“ You should look out for yourself,” said Sprowle Onderdonk carelessly, as his coadjutor picked up his hat with a certain air of meekness. Fletcher St. Hill was hardly the important figure that he had been a year since. It seemed, from the talk, that he was now looking forward to a fee, which was to be more or less liberal according to the success of the enterprise they had undertaken.
“ Has Harvey come yet ? ” asked Sprowle Onderdonk.
“ Not yet. I have been keeping a sharp lookout for him.”
“ And the others ? ”
“ Mr. Hackley has already gone up to the meeting. McFadd is here, — in the best coat he ever had on in his life. I got it for him, — I hope you will remember that. He will pass for a very respectable personage. He is keeping out of sight just now, till we are ready for him.”
“ And what success have you finally had with old Gammage ? ”
“ I have tried in every way to get him over to our side and bring him along, but nothing will stir him. He is not drinking now, and is obstinate as a mule. That man Bainbridge—where his interest comes in I don’t see — has influenced him against us. You recollect the devil of a time I had to find him again, after he was got away from us. He has never been of any use since. Still, we have his affidavit, and that will serve our turn. He says he is sorry he gave it, but that does n’t alter the fact.”
“ Well,” commented Sprowle Onderdonk, “his affidavit will do for the present. On the whole, I think we are in luck. General Burlington is in Barbadoes. It will be two weeks before he can be communicated with. Not that we need be afraid of anything he might have to say; he can only testify in one way ; but an absent witness is better for our purpose, just now, than a possibly unwilling one. We can be as bold as we like. Yes, I think we can call it a very pretty case.”
“ I ought — I want to offer a final caution about those letters of mine in your hands,” suggested St. Hill, with a nervous air. “ You are not to use the letters themselves, nor draw attention to me. I have too many other difficulties just at present, and really ought not to be in this business at all. You are at most to sketch the treasonable situation disclosed as a preamble to your more telling charges, and without names. And you are to stand by me in any consequences that may arise, supposing Harvey to defeat us, after all, and select me as a victim for having taken part against him.”
“ Oh, of course we are not going to get you into trouble,” returned his interlocutor in his bluff way, with a mixture of contempt in the tone.
Upon this Fletcher St. Hill appeared reassured.
Rodman Harvey, too, entered the lobby smartly, holding a morocco-bound account book under his arm. If the green weather-doors, keeping their tally, had any sense of impending evil, they may be supposed to have rocked back and forth upon themselves in a crooning way. The merchant prince walked with his quick, nervous step, and, casting a keen glance or two right and left, passed up the stairs to the parlors secured for the meeting.
The two whose talk we have noted, when they had seen him pass, followed at their convenience. St. Hill first went in search of the ex-bank messenger, Peter McFadd, where he was in waiting, and took him along.
The Civic Reform Association stood ready to do excellent work in the future, as it had in the past. A large number of the most reputable citizens saw the necessity for such an organization in the actual condition of the city’s misgovernment and the oppression of the taxpayers. There being no particular crisis at present, its annual meeting did not call forth so large an attendance as at some previous times. Still, there was present a select assembly of persons of the highest respectability. ExGovernor Antram occupied the chair. Among the younger element of the association, to which Sprowle Onderdonk, too, thought it desirable to belong, were found to-night some purely fashionable club men, who came for the first time. They had been brought by Sprowle Onderdonk, on the promise of “ fun,” as a claque for his own support. Dr. Wyburd, who went everywhere, was present as usual.
The meeting was called to order, and routine business disposed of. The reporters, at the table prepared for them, took a few notes, with a languid air. They had no appearance of expecting to find anything interesting. It came at length to a question of the reëlection of Rodman Harvey to the position he had held for another year. He had made a report, which had been accepted in the usual form.
At this point Sprowle Onderdonk took the floor. His figure seemed larger than usual. He had a portentous, leonine air. His club men pressed close behind him, in expectation. His very first words contained the thunderbolt.
“ I object to the re-nomination of this man ! ” he cried. “ I protest against Rodman Harvey’s being allowed henceforth to have any part or lot among us. I protest in the name of common honesty and decency. I will state my reasons why.”
A tremendous excitement arose in the assembly. For a moment it looked on with astonishment at this audacious disturber of the ruling harmony. Though he was an attorney and a person of considerable social weight, it was not recollected that he had before taken any notable part in its deliberations.
“ I charge,” he went on, before he could be interrupted, “ that he was a traitor to his country in the hour of her worst need. If that might be passed by, I charge, furthermore, directly and unequivocally, that he is a — forger. I hold in my hands the proof of what I say.”
“ Hear ! hear ! ” cried his supporters, the club men, standing by him as per agreement. A part of the audience thought that he must have been drinking more than was for his good, and were for ejecting him from the room. A larger part, with that secret delight in the calamities of others which is a perverse human trait, or perhaps having long entertained malice against the merchant prince, were willing to hear all that was likely to be said. The newspaper reporters had pricked up their ears and become vastly more animated. The chairman was obliged to pound vigorously with his gavel, for the restoration of order.
“ That young man shall be held to a strict accountability for his words ! ” Rodman Harvey exclaimed, above the hubbub. He was seen pointing a bony forefinger, with an intense directness, across the room.
“It is what I demand. It is what I expect,” thundered the assailant of character. “ By the leave of this honorable association, I charge that he is not a proper person to be trusted with its funds. It is high time that fraud and hypocrisy in high places were exposed ; it is time the whited sepulchres were opened. We have sat here and listened to his glib talk on the potency of moral ideas, his cant as to the works of regeneration, which are to make our city a pattern to the world. But moral reforms are not propagated from such sources as this. Moral regeneration is not the work of felons, — admitted, though as yet unpunished.”
“ This is a most scandalous proceediug,” cried the editor Stoneglass, rising indignantly to his feet, “and I call, Mr. Chairman, for its suppression ! It is no place, here, for the Indulgence of vituperation and private malice. If there be any charges, worthy of the name, against our respected treasurer, against one who, as we all know, may now at any moment be called to manage the finances of the nation, let them be put in writing and brought before a proper committee.”
“ Let it go on ; I desire it to go on ! ” insisted Harvey, in a voice now high and shrill. “ I have been assailed in my private as well as in my public integrity. These preposterous accusations must be given to this assembly here and now.”
This readiness looked like innocence. The merchant prince had, indeed, if innocent, too critical interests at stake, to allow charges of any seeming Importance to hang over him.
Sprowle Onderdonk drew some papers from his breast pocket, and unfolded them with a deliberate air. “ I have to display,” he said, “a picture of baseness, hidden till now with consummate duplicity. I shall show that it began in treason to our country, and ended in the more vulgar, if less heinous, crime of forgery. I shall show that the latter was used and relied upon to save the criminal from the ruin into which he was precipitated by the miscarriage of the former.”
The rumor had got out that something extraordinary was in progress at the meeting of the Civic Reform Association, and the room began to fill up from below.
The impeacher of Rodman Harvey began his case with the letters to the elder Fletcher St. Hill, of which we have seen the contents. He gave dates, names, everything, explicitly and in full. Sprowle Onderdonk had no idea of making anything less than the best possible of his case, through weak consideration for the feelings of a tool in his employ.
Fletcher St. Hill was in despair. He tried by gestures to attract the attention of the reader; then approached and touched him on the arm, but was rudely repulsed. He fancied that the eye of Rodman Harvey blazed at him with wrath, —as indeed it did, now that his part in the conspiracy was disclosed. He left the hall quaking with an apprehension that proved but too well founded.
The merchant prince hastily sum moned a person in whom he had confidence. There was no longer any motive for refraining from visiting upon this detractor his richly deserved punishment. “ I have in my desk,” he said, “ a fully prepared case against this man for a swindling operation upon a former employee of mine. There is also a collection of testimony to other doings, which will send him to the penitentiary.
I am not feeling well, and may not be at the office to-morrow, but place the papers in the hands of the district attorney at once ! ”
“ Rodman Harvey was ready,” the accuser might have been heard continuing, “ to throw his fortune and personal weight into the scale on the side of the Confederacy, for his own supposed advantage. He extended such credits to the South, up to the last moment, as no loyal man would have dreamed of. Caught in his own wiles, justly punished for his treasonable designs, he was on the brink of insolvency. Let me show by what means he extricated himself.”
“ This is infamous, infamous,” muttered the merchant prince. He stood, leaning one hand upon the back of a chair, and was seen to shake his head in a strange way from side to side. This was perhaps taken by those who saw it for a gesture of energetic denial, but it was in fact an impatient, irrational effort to dissipate the gathering fogs of his old enemy, vertigo. Surely, surely, it should leave him untroubled in a time like this.
“ There came a day when he had a vast indebtedness to meet, after the admitted failure of all his natural resources,” Sprowle Onderdonk went on. “ The balance against him at the Antarctic Bank was overwhelming. In the morning he confessed his inability to meet it, and begged an extension, which could not be granted. But before the close of business hours he had met it. Among the deposits made by him in this interval were three certain pieces of commercial paper, to a large aggregate amount, which were fraudulent. Let me here explain,” the speaker interpolated at this point, “ that I personally intend no invoking of the outraged law, no prosecutions, in this case, — if indeed the law can yet he invoked, after so long a delay. I leave that to those whose department it is. My personal motive is no more than to protect this body and society at large against the further depredations of the man. My belief is, though it may now be too late to trace them fully, that his forgeries at this date were on a large scale, and that it was thus he saved his credit. I advise that the books of the Antarctic Bank, and of other institutions and firms with which he had dealings, be carefully examined for evidence. I am able at present to cite but three specimens, yet these will be more than sufficient.
“ The pieces of commercial paper in question,” the accuser resumed, “ were of the nature of acceptances. We may suppose that his intention was to take them up before they matured and should have been forwarded to their ostensible maker. They purported to have been signed by a certain Colonel Kingbolt, of the Eureka Tool Works at Kingboltsville. The fraud, however, was almost immediately discovered, and was confessed by Rodman Harvey, when taxed with it at the bank.”
At this, a very great sensation arose n the assembly. The names and incidents had struck particularly the alert ears of the ubiquitous Dr. Wyburd.
“ What do I hear ? ” he said, — “ the Eureka Tool Works ? —a forgery upon Colonel Kingbolt?— Rodman Harvey? — the Antarctic Bank? Will extraordinary things never cease to happen within my cognizance? It is the last part of the story of which I so long ago heard the first.”
He edged his way sedulously nearer to the front, as one who had a special right to be there, owing to acquaintance with the case.
“This is false,—so wholly false!” ejaculated the merchant prince in a husky voice, speaking with difficulty.
His is friends thought he was acting very strangely.
“ I present in evidence,” continued Sprowle Onderdonk imperturbably, “ the sworn statement of the note-teller of the bank at the date, one James Gammage, who still lives in this city and can be summoned. He certifies that the acceptances as described came into his hands. Something unusual in the signatures attracted attention. He conferred with the cashier, Ambrose Hackley, who agreed with him in finding the signatures peculiar. He dispatched a telegram of inquiry to the Eureka Tool Works, giving no names, but only such particulars as were necessary to identify the acceptances. A reply was received, declaring any acceptances of the dates and amounts given to be forgeries. He thereupon notified General Burlington, the president of the bank. General Burlington summoned Rodman Harvey. The latter, as the witness was informed at the time, and believes, confessed to the fraudulent making by him of the pretended commercial paper. No criminal proceedings were instituted. He states that he was afterwards reprimanded, as having exceeded his authority in sending the telegram of inquiry without previous consultation with the president. I offer next the affidavit of Peter McFadd, messenger of the Antarctic Bank at the time. Mr. McFadd is a very respectable person, and is here present.”
Upon this, McFadd contrived to stand forth prominently, in his good coat, with the object of drawing upon himself and his respectability the attention of the house.
“Mr. McFadd testifies to having had opportunity to read a telegram of inquiry addressed to the Eureka Tool Works, and also a reply to it, of the character described in the former affidavit. He swears that he was sent as a messenger to summon Rodman Harvey to the office of the president of the bank, an I that Rodman Harvey exhibited, both on arriving and departing, such an agitation as he should suppose that of a guilty man to be. He testifies that he was employed later to return to Harvey certain papers, which he, the deponent, understood to have been tampered with and irregularly fabricated. When it became a question of such restoration, he learned that one of the papers which it was intended to restore was missing. After considerable search it was not found, but given up as lost. He says that it is his distinct recollection that Rodman Harvey was considered, in the bank, to have committed some serious irregularity which was in some way passed over, for prudential reasons.
The merchant prince, having now recovered his equanimity, perhaps at the slightness of the case against him, interrupted with a remark of the same kind that had been drawn forth from Sprowle Onderdonk himself.
“ I hardly know whether it is worth while,” he said, “ to call the attention of this assembly to the paltry character of such testimony. The affidavit of James Gammage, once a respectable man, but for years a besotted victim of drink, can no doubt be had at any time on any subject, by whoever will take the trouble to dictate it. The ex-bank messenger McFadd is of little better habits. He lost his place for cause, if I remember rightly, and later he was one of a number of squatters ejected from property of mine, which was to be put to a better use.”
“ We expect to have our witnesses aspersed,” vociferated Sprowle Onderdonk. “ But let us see if as much can be done with the next one. I now present the sworn affidavit of Ambrose Hackley, ex-cashier. He desires to corroborate the statement of James Gammage, which he has read. He recalls, furthermore, having received and, under instructions, replied to a number of letters from Kingboltsville, pressing for particulars of the forgeries. Under instructions, he returned only evasive and uninforming answers. His recollection is that the matter was purposely and deliberately hushed up by the aid of the president of the bank. He does not desire to impugn the character of General Burlington. He does not attribute his action to collusion with the criminal, but to a wish to avoid a public scandal and excitement at a peculiarly critical time in financial affairs. Mr. Hackley is here, and ready to furnish any further particulars that may be desired. General Burlington is, unfortunately, absent at Barbadoes, but he will also be heard from on this matter.”
Mr. Ambrose Hackley now stood forward in his turn, in a conspicuous way. The former sycophant had braced himself for the ordeal of meeting his patron’s eye, but not with entire success. An emanation of confessed meanness pervaded his whole face and figure.
“ Do you say this, Hackley ? ” demanded the merchant prince, almost breathless, and pale and trembling with a new excitement. “ Will you let such a statement, such a wicked and libelous distortion, go out upon your authority, no matter what our recent relations may have been ? ”
“ It is as I have always understood it,” asserted the sycophant, assuming an extra air of bravado.
“Do you not know,—do you not know well ? ” — the merchant prince began to question him, shaking a quivering finger, and his naturally limited voice rising almost to a shriek.
But Sprowle Onderdonk, went on like fate, bearing down these interruptions by bis sonorous tones.
“ Ambrose Hackley deposes,” he said, “ to having found, in a waste-basket, one of the fraudulent acceptances in question, some time after it had been given up for lost. At first through inadvertence, later through unwillingness to revive the memory of an unpleasant occasion, and later still as a matter of curiosity, he kept this paper in his own hands. He has it still in his possession.”
With this, Sprowle Onderdonk appeared to have ended his tirade. The assembly buzzed loudly as he concluded, and Rodman Harvey gathered himself with a laborious effort for his reply.
“ It must be produced,” he began,— “that paper. It will speak for itself. It will be seen — General Burlington will say — Can this association for one moment suppose — But it will be more convenient to proceed in regular order.”
In regular order, — ah yes, that is it; a defense should proceed in consecutive order. Ah, this leaden heaviness ! The speaker endeavored to brush it away from before his eyes. The first point to be met, the first consideration — let us see ? The merchant prince succumbs for a moment to a feeling as of nightmare. In it he sees a vision of error, hatched in secret, following him through the years ; gathering malevolent powers in the darkness; expanding at last and leaping upon him, colossal, terrible, in his moment of physical weakness. It is all easily explained — but ah, when the head is so thick, so thick— He resumed : —
“The libel of treason is very old. It was used against me before, when I was a strong supporter of the government, and was sending troops to the front at my own expense. These letters must be looked to. I know not what may have been added to them. Now, as to the second part ” —
Surely this was but a short defense, if it were intended to be all that was to be devoted to the first part. The merchant prince rested more heavily on the back of his chair, and breathed in a stertorous way. He stared around him deliberately. He had an air as if he had been speaking for hours.
“ For forty years ” — he began again. “ I will say — It is in—famous. The old house of Rodman Harvey & Co. has never —been — assailed.”
He pulled at his plain watch-chain, then strongly at his neckcloth. Ah, this was not a condition of mind and body to meet the crafty, well-concocted plot of enemies ! All at once he sank, collapsed, into his chair, and from here, before outstretched hands could save him, in an inert, disorderly mass to the floor. Dr. Wyburd’s presence at the front was unexpectedly useful. He pronounced that the victim had a severe stroke of paralysis. It is thus that this evil, finding men still eager, sleepless, indefatigable in affairs even after it has touched them with a premonitory finger, finally lays a heavy hand upon them.
It thus appeared that a man might rise from a modest origin, gather in an enormous fortune, marry into a station much above his own, devise a plan for leaving his wealth, by limited entail, so as to found an enduring patrician family ; it appeared that he might rear a daughter as beautiful and haughty as a young goddess Diana, who was going to marry a young Phoebus Apollo of her own sort; and yet that the entire structure might topple to ruin through an original flaw in its corner-stone.
It appeared that such a man might rise to the highest honors and emoluments in the metropolis ; represent its most solid district in Congress ; be the friend and intimate of the President of the nation, and next in succession to the most important office in his gift, and yet be subject to attack and defeat by a most despicable cause.
For defeated Rodman Harvey was, cut to pieces, routed beyond hope of repair. Irrespective of their merits his enemies had proved their charges as it were on his body, as in the days of mediaeval trial by mortal combat. There would be no necessity now for a weighing of the evidence by President and Senate before making a cabinet appointment. The case could be decided upon medical grounds alone. Rodman Harvey would never again be fit for human employment.
When he was brought to his home in that melancholy condition, with his helpers and sympathizers around him, his wife met the cortége with signs of consternation and woe. She invariably saw herself, however, in the foreground of every prospect.
“ Oh, had I not trouble enough,” she bemoaned, “ that this must come upon me ! ”
But then, to do her justice, she set to work with zest to perform all such services as lay within the range of her limited capacity. Ottilie, too, was present, and wrung her hands over this sad arrival in dismay. She had the circumstances of the attack in a guarded way from the friendly editor, Stoneglass. He endeavored to make the basis of it less serious than it was, but her swift imagination dew far on beyond him. It was this that she had dreaded. The hints and forebodings of evil which had gained such a hold in her breast had come to pass. She read the accounts in the newspapers, in which, after the way of newspapers, the most striking thing possible was made of it. The inexperienced girl could not conceive an effrontery that could make such charges in such an assembly, unless they had been true. She thought none of the family could ever hold up their heads again. She looked tearfully at Angelica, at Selkirk, at her aunt, at Calista, and not least at herself. Her hopes of happiness were shattered. Bainbridge was absolutely lost to her.
“ Oh, my prophetic soul ! ” she cried.
“He will hear of it where he is, before his return. Now he will know. Now he will understand my justifications. Alas, there is little danger, when he should endeavor by every legitimate means to rise, that he will try to overcome them now ! ”
The enemies of the merchant prince in the press had it all their own way for a considerable time. Stoneglass, indeed, endeavored to make light of the story ; but making light of it on general principles was not sufficient against an array of iacts and figures, and in the absence of any responsible word of refutation. Harvey seemed to have fallen thundersmitten, as if upon the exposure of his real character. None but a guilty man, it was argued, would have been so affected. It was clearly a case of divine interposition. The ram’s-horn blasts of judgment had blown upon this falselyenjoyed reputation, and it had gone down.
Kingbolt of Kingboltsville learned of the scandal of the Civic Reform Association from his morning paper. He was buried in dazed reflection over it at his apartments, when he was summoned in hot haste to the hotel where his mother and sisters were staying. They had come down to attend his wedding on the morrow. They, too, had just read the news in their morning paper, and were in an extreme state of excitement. They beset him strenuously to put off the wedding. They begged him to proceed no further at all in the business, unless investigation should yield a clear refutal of the charges ; and this they did not deem possible. They assured him that the family name and interest were at stake. It would seem to them something monstrous that he should consent to ally himself with one who, besides his dishonesty, had been in any way a cause of hastening his father’s death.
Kingbolt endeavored to repudiate this counsel in his usual gruff way with them, but it had its effect, after all. He would admit that the case was devilish annoying; and there had been annoyances and to spare already. He promised nothing, but said he was going to see Angelica. He saw Angelica, but she had no elucidation for him. She only felt indignantly that it was a shameful libel. The house was in a turmoil. The wedding must be postponed a few days, pending Rodman Harvey’s condition. He lay comatose, his pulse extremely high and vanishing by turns. It was thought that he might die at any moment. The invitations were accordingly countermanded. Kingbolt could not forbear saying, even to Angelica, that the matter was extremely annoying.
During the few days of this postponement. he read more newspaper accounts, talked more with his family, and consulted, confidentially, with some disinterested friends, at the clubs and elsewhere. These last admitted to him, confidentially, that the case looked to them also devilish awkward. He went to Kingboltsville, and wandered about there. “ It was not altogether ' good form,’ you know, of Angelica to throw over Sprowle the way she did, in the first place,” he reflected, among other things, — “ though of course I should be the last person in the world to complain of that. The Sprowles are a very vindictive faction, and they have shown a striking specimen of their power. It is not pleasant to think of being pursued all one’s life long by such people. Of course they will include Angelica and me whenever occasion offers. They have a reputation for never letting up. But the scandal itself is more important. Everybody seems to think that I ought to be particularly shocked by it, on account of the way I am involved, even if nobody else should be.”
After having suffered himself to be torn for what seemed an eternity by conflicting emotions, Kingbolt of Kingboltsville decided that he was a person of sufficient importance to take a bold step. He decided, too, that he might as well take it at once. He sat down and wrote the following note : —
MY DEAR ANGELICA, — I think the wedding had better be still further, or indefinitely, postponed. Perhaps, under the circumstances, we ought not to marry at all. Of course I do not mind what has taken place on ray own account, but it would be an unpleasant beginning for us. The abandonment of the wedding need not attract great attention. It can be accounted for by your father’s condition. In fact, I feel that after what has occurred it will really be impossible for me to consider our engagement as binding. A personal meeting between us will not be necessary. In any event I should hardly have time for it, as I sail for Europe tomorrow.
This note was mailed, and the composer took the next day’s steamer as he had announced.
Angelica was thrown, by its receipt, into a state that may be imagined. There were signs now of an even greater calamity in the house than that which had befallen its owner. Mrs. Rodman Harvey, overwhelmed by all these genuine evils, after dealing so long with purely fictitious ones, could offer but little comfort. Angelica, humbled by the whim of a nature as ruthless and even more willful than her own, had hysterical fits, weepings, and communings with her broken pride, and finally went off to pay a long visit, the real situation of affairs being kept from the public.
In the disaster that had befallen his father, the elder son, Selkirk, seemed to find at last something like a profession in life. He developed a surprising talent for the new order of ministrations that now arose. No hand so deft as his, no volition so ready, in attendance upon the helpless bulk that had once been a merchant prince. Selkirk lifted his father affectionately in and out, and supported his tottering steps in the hall, He would commit to no other the duty of driving out the patient in a peculiar springless carriage, which was arranged for the purpose of giving him exercise. He neglected for these cares those of his commercial station down town. His father knew of this, and, when his feeble means of communication with the outer world had advanced so far as to make it possible, protested against it. His ambition was not yet quenched, moribund as he lay. It was a source of grief to him that his elder son and heir should be recreant to his, even though he put his time to such a service.
The younger son, Rodman, Jr., on the other hand, took advantage of the state of things to leave his college and start for the West, on a trip chiefiy connected with match games of base-ball and similar athletic matters.
Ill news travels far as well as fast. The attack upon Rodman Harvey went out, like all metropolitan news of moment, into the country. It came to Bainbridge in a chance copy of a Chicago journal, to which the district where he found himself was to a certain extent tributary for its news. The story had lost nothing by the distance it had traveled, and it was made appetizing by dashing alliterative display-lines, of some such tenor as this : Knickerbocker Knaveries. Another New York Nabob Shown Up.
Bainbridge’s heart sank with apprehension as he read; but it was for Ottilie, not himself. He ran to the nearest telegraph office, and sent a message.
Had Ottilie been called upon as nurse in the first few days of the calamity, it it is to be feared she would have proved of but slight use. She was too full of tremors and distraction. She had, as well, a certain awe of the poor atrophied figure that lay before her. By degrees, however, intelligence revived in it. Its eyes could at last be seen to follow persons with a wistful look around the room. By degrees, also, Ottilie’s awe was dispelled, and succeeded by a profound pity.
One day, after somewhat more than a week had passed, as she sat alone by the bedside of her uncle, the dead-lock upon his faculty of speech was removed. In other respects he was little less inert than before. His mind went at once to his interrupted defense on the day of his overthrow at the Civic Reform Association. He began to talk of it. Ottilie would have gone for somebody else, but be prevented it. He directed her to bring pencil and paper, and note down what be said. He apparently felt that his present capacity might be of but short duration, and the event proved that he was right. His newly recovered voice died away presently to a faint articulation, in which condition it permanently remained.
Selkirk came in before the statement was complete. They two went with it to Judge Chippendale, to Hastings, to the friendly editor Stoneglass, and others. The alleged forged acceptance in the hands of ex-cashier Ambrose Hackley was carefully examined, testimony taken at home, and General Burlington communicated with in the West Indies. A cheery reply was received from this latter. Though a rival and political opponent of Rodman Harvey, he professed himself a man of honor, above distorting a merely equivocal situation to his own advantage or the injury of even an enemy. A committee of the Civic Reform Association was called, and a report soon prepared, which put an entirely new aspect upon the affair, both for the association and the public.
Nothing of all this had yet taken place, however, and Ottilie was still sitting in the deepest shadow and dejection, when a telegram from Bainbridge was received from the far West, couched in these terms: —
“ Have read accounts. Is that all ? I love you. Have succeeded beyond expectations here. Start to-morrow by through express.”
Was that all? He presumed to make light of disgrace. He loved her still ? What a person! He must be lost to all moral considerations, to all respect for public sentiment, to treat it so. She knew what she had to do, all the same, — to refuse him as before, and be firm. But he was coming back. He loved her still. How noble, how generous, he was ! It would be her comfort to think of it in all after time.
OTTILIE HARVEY CLEARS UP A PAINFUL SITUATION.
When Russell Bainbridge returned to town, he hastened with all dispatch to the Harvey mansion. A curious spectacle met his gaze at the threshold. An old, old man, in a dressing-robe, was being supported by paid attendants for a slow promenade, A stalwart man held him up by each shoulder. At one side walked Ottilie, holding a book and bunch of keys ; at the other, her cousin Selkirk. It was Rodman Harvey. To this complexion had he come at last. He was borne along his splendid hall like some strange fetich. His feet swung in and out mechanically, falling upon the pavement with a dull thud. There was no virtue in his splendid surroundings, no magic in the memory of the sway that had once been his, to break the benumbing spell upon his faculties. His eyes alone lived, resembling jewels in some unwieldy, disproportionate setting.
He recognized Bainbridge, and a faint mumbling escaped his lips, Ottilie bent to catch it, with the ear of sympathy, Bainbridge remarked with a pang that she was pale and thin and showed the trace of her anxieties.
“ Uncle Rodman says, ‘ How do you do ? ’ ” she said. “ He will shake hands with you.” There was something very sweet in this. It was as if she were interpreting the lisping accents of a child.
Bainbridge, with a certain awe, took three palsied fingers of his patron’s hand in his own. Tears started from the eyes of the merchant prince, and dribbled down his cheeks. They were sedulously wiped away by his attendants.
“ Why was he so affected at sight of me?” asked Bainbridge, when this interview had ended, and he was enabled to withdraw with Ottilie into one of the reception-rooms adjoining.
“ I do not think he was unusually so,” she explained. “ He remembers you, and that alone suffices to excite him. He is often so. He has no control over his faculties.”
Bainbridge listened with a sympathetic air, for a time, to further details of the sad case. A pause ensued.
“ Well, I have returned, and you know very well what for,”broke out the young man, when he could no longer refrain from entering upon the subject with which he was overflowing. “ They do have very fair railroads, and travel tolerably fast, in that model West of yours; but to me they seemed only to crawl. I thought I should never get here. You knew that I would come back and renew my supplication at the earliest possible opportunity, did you not ? You understood perfectly well that this sensational incident could make no sort of difference with me? ”
“ No,” returned Ottilie. “ I thought it would. I was not sure that you would come back.” She directed at him an anxious, inquiring gaze.
He took both her hands in his, and swung them a little back and forth affectionately as he addressed her. “ Never let me hear you talk in that way again ! ” he said. “ Poor old Ottilie ! You have been so troubled with all this. We must put an end to it. I have come back to marry you, and at once. I trust there are no new bugbears in the way, since you see you cannot frighten me with the old one. Come; I am going to have your aunt’s consent, if that be a necessary preliminary.”
“ Stay,” said Ottilie, detaining him, as he made a feint of going on the instant. “ And you really mean to say that you are not afraid of taking a share of this stigma, with which the town, perhaps the whole country, is ringing ? ” There was something benign and at the same time mysterious in the smile with which her words were accompanied.
“No, I do not seem to mind it. You used to charge me with a moral insensibility. Perhaps this is a case of it. Moral insensibility may have its advantages, after all.”
“ But Mr. Kingbolt has thought the matter so serious that he has broken off the match with Angelica.”
“ I always had my opinion of that fellow,” said Bainbridge, receiving this news with a manifestation of disgust. “ It is hard on Angelica,” he continued, reflectively ; “ but, between ourselves, there are persons who require a certain mixture of adversity to bring them to a little consideration for the rest of the world, and she is possibly one of them. Still, even adversity does not always work.”
“ Hush ! ” exclaimed Ottilie. “ She is extremely unhappy. I am sure we ought to have nothing but sympathy for her.”
“ Well, sympathy let it be, then. As to the scandal itself, it is written that the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children, but I have never heard that those of the uncles were. That would be a little too much. If they were, though, I will say that I should not mind shouldering some trifling responsibility of that kind, on your account. How am I to show that I love you ? There are no ordeals, no tests.”
Ottilie had never known him more magnanimous, confident, tender, irresist ible.
“ Well,” she began, all at once changing her manner, and beaming upon him with a ravishing brightness, “ since you are quite sure that you do not care, since you are pleased to make light of this odium upon our family name, it does not exist; that is to say, it is not going to. It is all a mistake.”
“ A mistake ? ”
“ Yes. Had my uncle not been so suddenly stricken, it would have been explained away on the spot. The evidence of what I tell you is in the hands of Judge Chippendale, a committee of the Civic Reform Association, and others, and will shortly be issued. It is a complete vindication. Oh, you cannot know what a weight it has raised from my life ! A dread, nourished by circumstances recurring with a kind of fatality, had grown upon me for months. I used to dream the most terrible things. I saw my uncle a member of one of those chain-gangs of convicts we looked down upon that day from the Terrace. I awoke, and found myself crying and begging them to let him go.”
“ Poor child, poor child! We ought to have talked it over together. I feared to give your suspicious exaggerated importance even by appearing to understand them.”
Bainbridge had the details of the attack upon the merchant prince well in his head. He had pored over them carefully in his newspaper, seeking flaws in the evidence from a legal point of view. He was well prepared to appreciate the points of the defense.
“My uncle Rodman,” said Ottilie in substance, “ looks at many things in his past life differently now. He has confessed to me that he fears that he was at one time too inconsiderate of all but pecuniary advantage. He adjusted himself to the world as he found it, giving no thought to reform it or resist objectionable tendencies. As to the sentiment of patriotism, he says that it had never been aroused to prominence in his breast by any threat of danger to the country. His attitude towards slavery, now so heinous, was that of what was called the “ conservative ” element of the time. He says that, however it may appear in the letters, which have possibly been added to, he did not really foresee the bloody conflict that arose. He thinks that he could never have been drawn actually to side against the government.”
“It is hardly what one would call a striking defense, from the modern point of view,” said Bainbridge. “ Still, your uncle amply compensated for any temporizing conduct at first by his later vigor.”
“ Fortunately, the rest is more satisfactory,” said Ottilie. “ Let me tell you, as it has been explained to me, the baseless character of the allegation of forgery. Uncle Rodman was upon the brink of ruin that day, as they claim. He had been refused an extension at the Antarctic Bank, and sat in his office, expecting failure, and unable to raise hand or foot to avert it. In his wellnigh distracted condition, he scribbled upon paper before him imaginary notes, bills, and acceptances. 'Thus and so much,’ he said to himself, as he has told me, ‘ such and such a name or names as indorsers, would save me.’ It must have been like those visions of water conjured up in the desert by travelers perishing of thirst. There was no imitation of signatures, no other handwriting than his own, — no regular aspect to the papers at all. Some of them were but half written, others covered with scrawled flourishes or multiplications. But some of these got into the bank with commercial paper that was really genuine.”
“ I begin to see,” said Bainbridge. “ A dangerous error, and also, I imagine, an extremely infrequent one.”
“ Dangerous indeed it proved,” Ottilie went on, “in a peculiar way. One would have thought that they would have been at once thrown out, as showing on their face what they were; but it was not so. Now it so happened that this day was one of the most remarkable in a peculiarly frenzied time. Under the influence of the imminent prospect of war, the prices for all commodities were advancing almost from moment to moment. Small dealers everywhere were desirous to buy, to realize the further rise themselves. Orders by mail, by telegraph, and personal visit poured in at an unheard-of rate. The actual sales and money receipts at my uncle’s store on that day have never been equaled, before or since. He was aroused from his lethargy to new hopes of safety. With the almost miraculous resources thus obtained, and some new exertions which he was encouraged to make outside, before the close of banking hours his credit was substantially saved. The greater part of the sum demanded was paid in. Little is done calmly on such occasions, as you may imagine. Messengers, buyers, and salesmen were rushing wildly in and out, demanding the proprietor’s attention. How it happened that the pretended acceptances became mingled with the others, and went into the bank for deposit and collection, cannot now he explained, but by some fatality they did. Two of them bore the name of the great manufacturer, Colonel Kingbolt, of Kingboltsville, which was then almost like a household word. This was the germ of the calamitous consequences we have witnessed.”
“ But why—but how?” asked Bainbridge.
“ That is what I am going to tell you,” hurried on the fair narrator. “ The president sent for uncle Rodman. As everything is important in a bank, it seems that he thought it his duty to do so. They had a little chat together, and all was amicably explained. My uncle insisted on sending back the bank messenger to bring the waste-basket from the store, to show just how the scribbling had been done, and how insignificant it was. Thus there was no appearance of forgery, and furthermore, as my uncle’s bank account did not need the amount, no motive for it. The petty circumstance would never have been heard of again except for two causes. An over-zealous employee, new in the service of the bank, had telegraphed to Kingboltsville. Secondly, when the pretended acceptances should have been returned to uncle Rodman, one was missing. It was not seen again until it turned up in the hands of his enemy Hackley, who had retained it all these years for his own purposes. It was plainly seen by Judge Chippendale and the committee, when they inspected this one the other day, and compared it with specimens of Colonel Kingbolt’s writing, that it was in uncle Rodman’s hand, without alteration or disguise, and that there was but the faintest resemblance between the two. The committee had considerable difficulty in getting it from Mr. Hackley, who knew the weakness of his cause, but he dared not refuse.”
“ Artfully planned on the part of Mr. Sprowle Onderdonk,” commented the listener, when the story was finished. “ I would not have given him credit for ability to make so much of so little. And boldly planned ! They could not have expected to do any permanent harm with it. It must have been meant only as a bombshell in the enemy’s camp, on the eve of the marriage of his daughter and his probable appointment to the cabinet. They were favored by the state of his bodily health. The Sprowles have well repaid the affront offered them. It seems a case where revenge has been possible, in modern times, after all.”
“ Upon the conclusion of that day, with all its exciting experiences, my uncle fell ill of a fever,” pursued Ottilie. “ Thus you see that it is an occasion marked in his memory in numerous ways. He scored up his sufferings to the account of the South. It was this that led to his bitterness.”
The young girl paused, then resumed, but in a lingering way. “ I do not know whether I ought to tell you this,” she said, " but—I tell you everything, and it will go no further. Uncle Rodman admits to me that while he sat helpless at his desk he had a terrible temptation. Had other means not intervened, he is not sure but he might have done what he has been charged with. He says, ‘ They might have made me a forger.'”
“' There, but for the grace of God, goes John Knox reformer,'" broke in Bainbridge. “ You know the quotation. We all know something of the feeling.”
“ He could not bear the thought of going down to ruin from such a cause. It was a certain dallying with this temptation that accounted for his peculiar agitation, upon having a startling suspicion of the crime cast upon him shortly after. He half felt it to be just, though he had never come to the actual point of yielding, nor committed any tangible wrong. It was this that added the keenest edge to his hatred of his Southern debtors. Their betrayal had driven him, with his exceptionally strict ideas of commercial accuracy and uprightness, to such a pass. Had he succumbed, the fault, with the rest, would have been theirs. It was this, too, that accounted for his interest in the class of cases of which I have told you, which I, in my too ready apprehensiveness, took for a manifestation of remorse and guilt.”
“ He is not wholly bad, then,” said Bainbridge, summing up.
“I cannot think he is bad. He has been over-ambitious, rigid, in certain peculiar ideas, and warped on one side by the strong sense of injury. I am sure there must be many worse.”
“ Well, since it is out of the way, and there is no need of our standing by it, it did have a somewhat ugly look. Let us rejoice at a happy deliverance ! But for your sake, dear Ottilie, since it made you uneasy, not mine. I would have gladly put up with fifty times as much. I cannot dwell upon gloomy subjects today. Let us return to our marriage. Let me tell you of my success in Colorado. My friend, the absconding debtor, came down at once on seeing me, without putting me to the trouble of legal proceedings. He was able to pay, and did so, with what excuses for his past conduct he could trump up. I, overjoyed to get my money, was not too particular in my scrutiny of them. The sum is a modest one, but it will do to begin life upon. Come, now, dear child ! come, dear little mistress of all the arts and sciences, a date for the wedding, — a very speedy one ! ”
How sweet it was to have him lavish these epithets of affection upon her! Such things are said a thousand times, it may be, but ah, those earliest times !
“ We need no long engagement,” he went on. “Our whole acquaintance has been a kind of engagement. It seems to me that we know each other very well.”
“ My family will be very much surprised.”
“ Families always are, you know, but they get used to it.”
“ There are so many things to be done.”
“ Don’t do them ! Let them wait! ”
“ Well, in a year.” This by way of trying him.
Bainbridge opened his eyes in amazement. “ I like that! ” he said. “ A fortnight! ”
“ Oh, oh! Three months, at least,” insisted Ottilie, amazed in her turn. This ultimatum was, however, after sufficient pleading on the part of the lover, cut down to six weeks.
“ My uncle will perhaps object,” she urged later. “ He may consider me a necessity as his nurse.”
“ That is one of the very reasons,” said the lover. “ You are fagged out. You will break down. You can come back if you are really wanted. And, another thing, I am not quite sure that I feel sufficient confidence in my own surpassing merits to leave you too long. It has been the greatest wonder to me that some one of the young millionaires about have not snapped you up before now. They have eyes in their heads, I suppose, and I am sure they have tried. There is no telling, even now, whether they may not make their inducements too strong. Human nature has its limits.”
“ You are very trusting,” said Ottilie, “ I must say. No, they have not snapped me up. They have not tried, — except of course that ridiculous Stillsby, and — my cousin Selkirk.”
“ Your cousin Selkirk ? ” cried Bainbridge, in consternation,
“ Oh, yes ; but I heroically refused him. I tell nobody else ; only you. I shall have no secrets left presently. It was only the other day. It came about, perhaps, through the intimacy into which we have been thrown by our care for his father. He had never made love to me before, unless it be making love to explain to me his technical collections, and take me out to drive once or twice. He declared, in his backward, hesitating way, that I was one of the reasons why he had not married. He complimented me by saying that I was different from other girls, — though how I am so different, I really don’t know. He would esteem my advice and help in the management of his property. I told him that I could not think of marrying so near a relative on any account; nor would I, though some do, you know. That alone was a sufficient excuse. We had a talk of considerable length. Selkirk is amiable and easily influenced, and yet not without strength in a certain way, too. I left him well disposed towards me. I am sure that it was only a fleeting fancy, and he will think no more of it.”
Bainbridge was lost in admiration at this incident, as if it had been an extraordinary sacrifice for him. He made as if to draw her towards him.
“ But you want somebody whom you can put upon a pedestal,” she demurred, drawing back from his embrace. “ No mere ordinary woman will do for you.”
“ I have put you there long since, Ottilie, darling,” he said, rendered more ardent by her tantalizing way. “ You see before you the most abject of idolaters.”
“ Take care ! ” she said; “ it is better not to touch idols, the gilding may rub off.” But then she resigned herself deliciously, saying, “ After all, one feels rather topply on one’s pedestal, at first.”
“ I wish I could make you understand how utterly without personal needs I have become,” said Bainbridge, " how good I want to be to you. I wish there were some way of letting you enjoy all that I have, alone, while I but look on. The important tiling is ” —
“ Whether she will stick to a fellow ; whether she will pull through thick and thin with him,’ ” she interrupted, recalling in delightful mimicry some of his sage talk of the past summer, almost as a resource for not weeping with happiness. “ Well, she will.” She laid a soft, round cheek against his.
It was a pleasant sight to see, that of the fair young girl seated by the chair of the poor invalid. It was a pleasant sound to hear her fresh young voice raised in contrast with his mumbled tones. She amused, as it were, a child, — such an old, heart-weary, pathetic, tragical child! Bainbridge could not conceal his enthusiasm over her. Mrs. Rodman Harvey looked at him with interest on account of it, contrasting him with Kingbolt.
She said to Ottilie, “ Here, child, let me look at you ! Have we indeed had such a paragon in the house all this time, without knowing it ? ”
He went out and paid some calls with Ottilie, among other places, at the Hastings’. The visit so strongly recalled to the young man the last evening they had spent there, that he was scarcely lucid in talk with Mrs. Hastings. His thoughts wandered continually to his betrothed. She sat across the room in some fresh, simple toilette that became her admirably, and tapped her parasol from time to time, against her small boot as she conversed.
“ She is mine,” he said to himself in a kind of wonder. She is mine.”
The roar of the streets now seemed to him, as he came up town, a triumphal march. The sky from his office window seemed of a more delicate azure, the sunshine of a finer quality, in the part of the town where Ottilie was, just as a city is indicated at night by the glow above it in the heavens.
He chanced to fall in, about these times, with Mrs. Elphinstone Swan. She already began to wear her widow’s weeds with a certain coquettish air. “ Are you never going to speak to me again ? ” she said. “ I should still value your friendship. You did not quite understand me.” She made other efforts, succeeding this, to draw him back to ber, but without avail. Whether actuated by repentance or a new inspiration of coquetry, they hardly caused in him even a bitter reflection. That passion was utterly dead.
It was again full spring, and the creamy white blossoms of the magnolia shrubs again bloomed as if in the courts of paradise. Bainbridge remarked, in his visits to the Harvey mansion, that that which had been planted before the corner-stone, so singularly marked with the fossil print, had now a much less mission than formerly to fulfil. The antediluvian bird-track, if bird-track it were, was disappearing, little by little, through the continued flaking of the stone, till it was well-nigh obliterated. The superstitious might now have been at liberty to believe that the omen had finally exhausted itself, and would be of no further avail.
The mind in the helpless frame of the merchant prince still gave evidence of its old vigor. In the pale white light that shines from a near approach to another world he saw many subjects as he had never seen them before. He remitted some debts, and among others that so long hanging over the Hasbrouck family. Ottilie had the pleasure of being the first to convey to her friends the delightful intelligence. He established the trusty Klauser in the partnership.
Miss Emily Rawson was married presently to the Rev. Edwin Swan. She turned her superfluous energy into channels of benevolence, and all the good works in the parish had reason to be glad of her acquisition. At about the same time came news of the frauds in the great Eureka Tool Works of Kingboltsville. It seemed that Judge Bryan, the principal trustee, was a defaulter, and young Kingbolt was hurrying home from Europe in alarm. People said, unsympathetically, that if the heir had ever taken the pains to look after his own affairs this would never have happened.
The ambitions of the merchant prince appeared as keen as ever, but he had been disappointed in the unaspiring traits of his children. He was called away presently to his long rest. The eminent bodies of various sorts with which he had been connected passed resolutions of respect to his memory, and transmitted copies to the bereaved relatives. A stately tomb, with a polished granite column, rose above his remains at Greenwood.
When at length his last will and testament was opened, it was found to devise, after ample provision for his family, a large share of his property, in the usual way, to charities and institutions of learning. It also made a provision, amounting to a handsome fortune, “ in affectionate remembrance of her devotion, and many amiable qualities,” to his “ beloved niece Ottilie Harvey,” now the wife of Russell Bainbridge.
The opportunities of her new position, thus suddenly opened, scintillated before the vision of this charming young legatee like a shower of sparks.
William Henry Bishop.