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this debt, he instructs us to say, he will discharge from time to time,
as his own resources will permit."

So wrote Messrs. Blair and Jamieson to Miss Charlotte Lee Weyland,
congratulating her, "in conclusion, upon the strange circumstances which
have brought you, after so long an interval, justice and restitution,"
and begging to remain very respectfully hers. To which letter after four
days' interval, they received the following reply:

Messrs. Blair & Jamieson,
Commonwealth Building,
City.

DEAR SIRS: -

Our client, Miss C.L. Weyland, of this city, instructs us to advise
you, in reply to your letter of the 4th inst., directed to her,
that, while thanking you for the expression of intention therein
contained anent the property left by the late Henry G. Surface, and
very cordially appreciating the spirit actuating Mr. Henry G.
Surface, Jr., in the matter, she nevertheless feels herself without
title or claim to said property, and therefore positively declines
to accept it, in whole or in any part.

Respectfully yours,

AMPERSAND, BOLTING AND BYRD.

A more argumentative and insistent letter from Messrs. Blair and
Jamieson was answered with the same brief positiveness by Messrs.
Ampersand, Boiling and Byrd. Thereafter, no more communications were
exchanged by the attorneys. But a day or two after her second refusal,
Sharlee Weyland received another letter about the matter of dispute,
this time a more personal one. The envelope was directed in a small neat
hand which she knew very well; she had first seen it on sheets of yellow
paper in Mrs. Paynter's dining-room. The letter said:

DEAR Miss WEYLAND: - -

Your refusal to allow my father's estate to restore to you, so far
as it can, the money which it took from you, and thus to right, in
part, a grave wrong, is to me a great surprise and disappointment.
I had not thought it possible that you, upon due reflection, could
take a position the one obvious effect of which is to keep a son
permanently under the shadow of his father's dishonor.

Do not, of course, misunderstand me. I have known you too well to
believe for a moment that you can be swayed by ungenerous motives.
I am very sure that you are taking now the part which you believe
most generous. But that view is, I assure you, so far from the real
facts that I can only conclude that you have refused to learn what
these facts are. Both legally and morally the money is yours. No
one else on earth has a shadow of claim to it. I most earnestly beg
that, in fairness to me, you will at least give my attorneys the
chance to convince yours that what I write here is true and
unanswerable.

Should you adhere to your present position, the money will, of
course, be trusteed for your benefit, nor will a penny of it be
touched until it is accepted, if not by you, then by your heirs or
assigns. But I cannot believe that you will continue to find
magnanimity in shirking your just responsibilities, and denying to
me my right to wipe out this stain.

Very truly yours,

HENRY G. SURFACE, Jr.


No answer ever came to this letter, and there the matter rested through
March and into the sultry April.




XXXI

_God moves in a Mysterious Way: how the Finished Miss Avery appears
as the Instrument of Providence; how Sharlee sees her Idol of Many
Years go toppling in the Dust, and how it is her Turn to meditate
in the Still Watches._


The print danced before his outraged eyes; his chest heaved at the
revolting evidence of man's duplicity; and Charles Gardiner West laid
down his morning's _Post_ with a hand that shook.

_Meachy T. Bangor announces his candidacy for the nomination for Mayor,
subject to the Democratic primary._

For West had not a moment's uncertainty as to what this announcement
meant. Meachy T. Bangor spoke, nay invented, the language of the tribe.
He was elect of the elect; what the silent powers that were thought was
his thought; their ways were his ways, their people his people. When
Meachy T. Bangor announced that he was a candidate for the nomination
for Mayor, it meant that the all-powerful machine had already nominated
him for Mayor, and whom the organization nominated it elected. Meachy T.
Bangor! Plonny Neal's young, progressive candidate of the reformer type!

Bitterness flooded West's soul when he thought of Plonny. Had the boss
been grossly deceived or grossly deceiving? Could that honest and
affectionate eye, whose look of frank admiration had been almost
embarrassing, have covered base and deliberate treachery? Was it
possible that he, West, who had always been confident that he could see
as far into a millstone as another, had been a cheap trickster's easy
meat?

Day by day, since the appearance of the reformatory article, West had
waited for some sign of appreciation and understanding from those on the
inside. None had come. Not a soul except himself, and Plonny, had
appeared aware that he, by a masterly compromise, had averted disaster
from the party, and clearly revealed himself as the young man of
destiny. On the contrary, the House spokesmen, apparently utterly blind
to any impending crisis, had, in the closing hours of the session, voted
away some eighty thousand dollars of the hundred thousand rescued by
West from the reformatory, in a multiplication of offices which it was
difficult to regard as absolutely indispensable in a hard times year.
This action, tallying so closely with what his former assistant had
predicted, had bewildered and unsettled West; the continuing silence of
the leaders - "the other leaders," he had found himself saying - had led
him into anxious speculations; and now, in a staggering burst, the
disgraceful truth was revealed to him. They had used him, tricked and
used him like a smooth tool, and having used him, had deliberately
passed him, standing fine and patient in the line, to throw the mantle
over the corrupt and unspeakable Bangor.

By heavens, it was not to be endured. Was it for this that he had left
Blaines College, where a career of honorable usefulness lay before him;
that he had sacrificed personal wishes and ambitions to the insistent
statement that his City and State had need of him; that he had stood ten
months in the line without a murmur; and that at last, confronted with
the necessity of choosing between the wishes of his personal intimates
and the larger good, he had courageously chosen the latter and suffered
in silence the suspicion of having played false with the best friends he
had in the world? Was it for this that he had lost his valuable
assistant, whose place he could never hope to fill? - for this that he
was referred to habitually by an evening contemporary as the Plonny Neal
organ?

He was thoroughly disgusted with newspaper work this morning, disgusted
with the line, disgusted with hopeful efforts to uplift the people. What
did his _Post_ work really amount to? - unremitting toil, the ceaseless
forcing up of immature and insincere opinions, no thanks or
appreciation anywhere, and at the end the designation of the Plonny Neal
organ. What did the uplift amount to? Could progress really ever be
forced a single inch? And why should he wear out his life in the
selfless service of those who, it seemed, acknowledged no obligation to
him? As for public life, if this was a sample, the less he saw of it the
better. He would take anything in the world sooner than a career of
hypocrisy, double-dealing and treachery, of dirty looting in the name of
the public good, of degrading traffic with a crew of liars and
confidence men.

But through all the young man's indignation and resentment there ran an
unsteadying doubt, a miserable doubt of himself. Had his motives in the
reformatory matter been as absolutely spotless as he had charmed himself
into believing?... What manner of man was he? Did he really have any
permanent convictions about anything?... Was it possible, was it
thinkable or conceivable, that he was a complaisant invertebrate whom
the last strong man that had his ear could play upon like a flute?

West passed a most unhappy morning. But at lunch, at the club, it was
his portion to have his buoyant good-humor completely restored to him.
He fell in with ancient boon companions; they made much of him; involved
him in gay talk; smoothed him down, patted him on the head, found his
self-esteem for him, and handed it over in its pristine vigor. Before he
had sat half an hour at the merry table, he could look back at his
profound depression of the morning with smiling wonder. Where in the
world had he gotten his terrible grouch? Not a thing in the world had
happened, except that the mayoralty was not going to be handed to him on
a large silver platter. Was that such a fearful loss after all? On the
contrary, was it not rather a good riddance? Being Mayor, in all human
probability, would be a horrible bore.

It was a mild, azure, zephyrous day; spring at her brightest and best.
West, descending the club steps, sniffed the fragrant air
affectionately, and was hanged if he would go near the office on such an
afternoon. Let the _Post_ readers plod along to-morrow with an editorial
page both skimpy and inferior; anything he gave them would still be too
good for them, middle-class drabs and dullards that they were.

The big red automobile was old now, and needed paint, but it still ran
staunch and true; and Miss Avery had a face, a form, and a sinuous
graceful manner, had veils and hats and sinuous graceful coats, that
would have glorified a far less worthy vehicle. And she drove divinely.
By invitation she took the wheel that afternoon, and with sure, clever
hands whipped the docile leviathan over the hills and far away.

The world knows how fate uses her own instruments in her own way,
frequently selecting far stranger ones than the delightful and wealthy
Miss Avery. Now for more than a year this accomplished girl had been
thinking that if Charles Gardiner West had anything to say to her, it
was high time that he should say it. If she had not set herself to find
out what was hobbling the tongue of the man she wanted, she would have
been less than a woman; and Miss Avery was a good deal more. Hence, when
she had seen West with Sharlee Weyland, and in particular on the last
two or three times she had seen West with Sharlee Weyland, she had
watched his manner toward that lady with profound misgivings, of the
sort which starts every true woman to fighting for her own.

Now Miss Avery had a weapon, in the shape of valuable knowledge, or, at
any rate, a valuable suspicion that had lately reached her: the
suspicion, in short, which had somehow crept abroad as suspicions will,
that West had done a certain thing which another man was supposed to
have done. Therefore, when they turned homeward in the soft dusk, her
man having been brought to exactly the right frame of mind, she struck
with her most languorous voice.

"How is that dear little Charlotte Weyland? It seems to me I haven't
seen her for a year, though it was positively only last week."

"Oh! She seemed very well when I saw her last."

So Mr. West, of the lady he was going to marry. For, though he had never
had just the right opportunity to complete the sweet message he had
begun at the Byrds' one night, his mind was still quite made up on that
point. It was true that the atmosphere of riches which fairly exuded
from the girl now at his side had a very strong appeal for his lower
instincts. But he was not a man to be ridden by his lower instincts. No;
he had set his foot upon the fleshpots; his idealistic nature had
overcome the world.

Miss Avery, sublimely unaware that Mr. West was going to offer marriage
to her rival during the present month, the marriage itself to take place
in October, indolently continued: -

"To my mind she's quite the most attractive dear little thing in town. I
suppose she's quite recovered from her disappointment over
the - hospital, or whatever it was?"

"Oh, I believe so. I never heard her mention it but once."

West's pleasant face had clouded a little. Through her fluttering veil
she noted that fact with distinct satisfaction.

"I never met that interesting young Mr. Surface," said she, sweeping the
car around a curve in the white road and evading five women in a surrey
with polished skill. "But - truly, I have found myself thinking of him
and feeling sorry for him more than once."

"Sorry for him - What about?"

"Oh, haven't you heard, then? It's rather mournful. You see, when
Charlotte Weyland found out that he had written a certain editorial in
the _Post_ - you know more about this part of it than I - "

"But he didn't write it," said West, unhesitatingly. "I wrote it
myself."

"You?"

She looked at him with frank surprise in her eyes; not too much frank
surprise; rather as one who feels much but endeavors to suppress it for
courtesy's sake. "Forgive me - I didn't know. There has been a little
horrid gossip but of course nearly every one has thought that he - "

"I'm sure I'm not responsible for what people think," said West, a
little aggressively, but with a strangely sinking heart. "There has been
not the slightest mystery or attempt at concealment - "

"Oh! Then of course Charlotte knows all about it now?"

"I don't know whether she does or not. When I tried to tell her the
whole story," explained West, "soon after the incident occurred, she was
so agitated about it, the subject seemed so painful to her, that I was
forced to give it up. You can understand my position. Ever since, I have
been waiting for an opportunity to take her quietly and straighten out
the whole matter for her in a calm and rational way. For her part she
has evidently regarded the subject as happily closed. Why under heaven
should I press it upon her - merely to gain the academic satisfaction of
convincing her that the _Post_ acted on information superior and
judgment sounder than her own?"

Miss Avery, now devoting herself to her chauffeur's duties through a
moment of silence, was no match for Mr. West at the game of ethical
debate, and knew it. However, she held a very strong card in her pongee
sleeve, and she knew that too.

"I see - of course. You know I think you have been quite right through it
all. And yet - you won't mind? - I can't help feeling sorry for Mr.
Surface."

"Very well - you most mysterious lady. Go on and tell me why you can't
help feeling sorry for Mr. Surface."

Miss Avery told him. How she knew anything about the private affairs of
Mr. Surface and Miss Weyland, of which it is certain that neither of
them had ever spoken, is a mystery, indeed: but Gossip is Argus and has
a thousand ears to boot. Miss Avery was careful to depict Sharlee's
attitude toward the unfortunate Mr. Surface as just severe enough to
suggest to West that he must act at once, and not so severe as to
suggest to him - conceivably - the desirability, from a selfish point of
view, of not acting at all. It was a task for a diplomat, which is to
say a task for a Miss Avery.

"Rather fine of him, wasn't it, to assume all the blame? - particularly
if it's true, as people say," concluded Miss Avery, "that the man's in
love with her and she cares nothing for him."

"Fine - splendid - but entirely unnecessary," said West.

The little story had disturbed him greatly. He had had no knowledge of
any developments between Sharlee and his former assistant; and now he
was unhappily conscious that he ought to have spoken weeks ago.

"I'm awfully sorry to hear this," he resumed, "for I am much attached to
that boy. Still - if, as you say, everything is all right now - "

"Oh, but I don't know at all that it is," said Miss Avery, hastily.
"That is just the point. The last I heard of it, she had forbidden him
her house."

"That won't do," said Charles Gardiner West, in a burst of generosity.
"I'll clear up that difficulty before I sleep to-night."

And he was as good as his word, or, let us say, almost as good. The next
night but one he called upon Sharlee Weyland with two unalterable
purposes in his mind. One was to tell her the full inside history of the
reformatory article from the beginning. The other was to notify her in
due form that she held his heart in permanent captivity.

To Miss Avery, it made not the slightest difference whether the gifted
and charming editor of the Post sold out his principles for a price
every morning in the month. At his pleasure he might fracture all of the
decalogue that was refinedly fracturable, and so long as he rescued his
social position intact from the ruin, he was her man just the same. But
she had an instinct, surer than reasoned wisdom, that Sharlee Weyland
viewed these matters differently. Therefore she had sent West to make
his little confession, face to face. And therefore West, after an hour
of delightful _tête-à-tête_ in the charming little back parlor,
stiffened himself up, his brow sicklying o'er with the pale cast of
disagreeable thought, and began to make it.

"I've got to tell you something about - a subject that won't be welcome
to you," he plunged in, rather lugubriously. "I mean - the reformatory."

Sharlee's face, which had been merry and sweet, instantly changed and
quieted at that word; interest sprang full-armed in her deep blue eyes.

"Have you? Tell me anything about it you wish."

"You remember that - last editorial in the _Post?_"

"Do you think that I forget so easily?"

West hardly liked that reply. Nor had he ever supposed that he would
find the subject so difficult.

"Well! I was surprised and - hurt to learn - recently - that you had - well,
had been rather severe with Surface, under the impression that - the full
responsibility for that article was his."

Sharlee sat in the same flowered arm-chair she had once occupied to put
this same Surface, then known as little Dr. Queed, in his place. Her
heart warmed to West for his generous impulse to intercede. Still, she
hardly conceived that her treatment of Mr. Surface was any concern of
Mr. West's.

"And so?"

"I must tell you," he said, oddly uneasy under her straightforward look,
"that - that you have made a mistake. The responsibility is mine."

"Ah, you mean that you, as the editor, are willing to take it."

"No," said West - "no"; and then suddenly he felt like a rash suicide,
repentant at the last moment. Already the waters were rushing over his
head; he felt a wild impulse to clutch at the life-belt she had flung
out to him. It is to be remembered to his credit that he conquered it.
"No, - I - I wrote the article myself."

"You?"

Her monosyllable had been Miss Avery's, but there resemblance parted.
Sharlee sat still in her chair, and presently her lashes fluttered and
fell. To West's surprise, a beautiful color swept upward from her throat
to drown in her rough dark hair. "Oh," said she, under her breath, "I'm
glad - so _glad!_"

West heaved a great sigh of relief. It was all over, and she was glad.
Hadn't he known all along that a woman will always forgive everything in
the man she loves? She was glad because he had told her when another man
might have kept silent. And yet her look perplexed him; her words
perplexed him. Undoubtedly she must have something more to say than a
mere expression of vague general gladness over the situation.

"Need I say that I never intended there should be any doubt about the
matter? I meant to explain it all to you long ago, only there never
seemed to be any suitable opportunity."

Sharlee's color died away. In silence she raised her eyes and looked at
him.

"I started to tell you all about it once, at the time, but you know," he
said, with a little nervous laugh, "you seemed to find the subject so
extremely painful then - that I thought I had better wait till you could
look at it more calmly."

Still she said nothing, but only sat still in her chair and looked at
him.

"I shall always regret," continued West, laboriously, "that my - silence,
which I assure you I meant in kindness, should have - Why do you look at
me that way, Miss Weyland?" he said, with a quick change of voice. "I
don't understand you."

Sharlee gave a small start and said: "Was I looking at you in any
particular way?"

"You looked as mournful," said West, with that same little laugh, "as
though you had lost your last friend. Now - "

"No, not my last one," said Sharlee.

"Well, don't look so sad about it," he said, in a voice of affectionate
raillery. "I am quite unhappy enough over it without - "

"I'm afraid I can't help you to feel happier - not to-night. If I look
sad, you see, it is because I feel that way."

"Sad?" he echoed, bewildered. "Why should you be sad now - when it is all
going to be straightened out - when - "

"Well, don't you think it's pretty sad - the part that can't ever be
straightened out?"

Unexpectedly she got up, and walked slowly away, a disconcerting trick
she had; wandered about the room, looking about her something like a
stranger in a picture gallery; touching a bowl of flowers here, there
setting a book to rights; and West, rising too, following her sombrely
with his eyes, had never wanted her so much in all his life.

Presently she returned to him; asked him to sit down again; and, still
standing herself, began speaking in a quiet kind voice which,
nevertheless, rang ominously in his ears from her first word.

"I remember," said Sharlee, "when I was a very little girl, not more
than twelve years old, I think, I first heard about you - about Charles
Gardiner West. You were hardly grown then, but already people were
talking about you. I don't remember now, of course, just what they said,
but it must have been something very splendid, for I remember the sort
of picture I got. I have always liked for men to be very clean and
high-minded - I think because my father was that sort of man. I have put
that above intellect, and abilities, and what would be called
attractions; and so what they said about you made a great impression on
me. You know how very young girls are - how they like to have the figure
of a prince to spin their little romances around ... and so I took you
for mine. You were my knight without fear and without reproach ... Sir
Galahad. When I was sixteen, I used to pass you in the street and wonder
if you didn't hear my heart thumping. You never looked at me; you
hadn't any idea who I was. And that is a big and fine thing, I think - to
be the hero of somebody you don't even know by name ... though of course
not so big and fine as to be the hero of somebody who knows you very
well. And you were that to me, too. When I grew up and came to know you,
I still kept you on that pedestal you never saw. I measured you by the
picture I had carried for so many years, and I was not disappointed. All
that my little girl's fancy had painted you, you seemed to be. I look
back now over the last few years of my life, and so much that I have
liked most - that has been dearest - has centred about you. Yes, more than
once I have been quite sure that I was in love with you. You wonder that
I can show you my heart this way? I couldn't of course,
except - well - that it is all past now. And that is what seems sad to
me.... There never was any prince; my knight is dead; and Sir Galahad I
got out of a book.... Don't you think that that is pretty sad?"

West, who had been looking at her with a kind of frightened fascination,
hastily averted his eyes, for he saw that her own had suddenly filled
with tears. She turned away from him again; a somewhat painful silence
ensued; and presently she broke it, speaking in a peculiarly gentle
voice, and not looking at him.

"I'm glad that you told me - at last. I'll be glad to remember that ...
and I'm always your friend. But don't you think that perhaps we'd better
finish our talk some other time?"

"No," said West. "No."

He pulled himself together, struggling desperately to throw off the
curious benumbing inertia that was settling down upon him. "You are
doing me an injustice. A most tremendous injustice. You have
misunderstood everything from the beginning. I must explain - "

"Don't you think that argument will only make it all so much worse?"

"Nothing could possibly be worse for me than to have you think of me and
speak to me in this way."

Obediently she sat down, her face still and sad; and West, pausing a
moment to marshal his thoughts into convincing form, launched forth upon
his defense.

From the first he felt that he did not make a success of it; was not



Online LibraryHenry Sydnor HarrisonQueed → online text (page 31 of 33)