Marie Van Vorst.

Big Tremaine: a novel online

. (page 11 of 21)
Online LibraryMarie Van VorstBig Tremaine: a novel → online text (page 11 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


" Did you know him ? "

"Oh, yes."

" Well," said Tremaine, " he does not seem to have
charmed you as he did most people."

" Since you did not know him," said Isobel, " and he
really was nothing to you, judging by what Mammy
says, you won't mind my saying that I did not ad-
mire him."

She was looking at him as she spoke and a smile
touched his face.



Digitized by



Google



x8o BIG TREMAINE

" Beally ! " he laughed, scarcely knowing what he
said, ^^you knew him well enough to feel that, did
you?*'

They both laughed. From tiie office next came the
little tinkle of Leavitt's belL He had been there all
the time and had purposely left them alone. Isobel rose.

" I am going,'* she said ; ^^ instead of talking to Mr.
Leavitt, Fve talked to you, and I must be riding home."

She extended her hand ; John took it.

" You see, it's my first ride, and I am not so very fit

yet."

Looking him full in the eyes with her frank, fine
glance, she asked :
" Won't you take the nomination ? "
He was not all iron and if, as she said, he wore a
mask, she had lifted it. He took her hand, as though
he were about to touch it with his lips, but did not do
so.

*^ Thank you for caring," he said simply : *^ I mean,
for caring about Virginia. You told me how you love
the State, didn't you ? that day we walked along the
river, and you knew me by my handkerchief."
She said, in a tone so low that he could hardly hear it :
" Not by your handkerchief ; by your eyes."
" You still wear the locket ? Well, you must love
Virginia enough to want the best men to represent her."
" I do ; that's why I want you to go to Congress."
He let her hand falL She saw his face darken. He
took her riding-whip, gave it to her, handed her her
gloves and walked over to the door, which he opened.



Digitized by



Google



BIO TRBMAINE i8i

^^ I am not worth thinkiiig about,'' he said, almost
roughly, '^ and I am not the man to represent Yirgmia.
Ask your father; he will tell you so. Bide home
quietly, and when you get back, rest, and be careful
when you take fences that there are no rabbit holes on
the other side." Then he broke off abruptly, and this
time she did not mind the roughness in his voice, for
he had given her what every woman loves to receive
from one man in particular — a command.



Digitized by



Google



CHAPTER XIX

John finally persuaded his mother to take part m
the worldly life of Bichmond, and one evening he took
her to a dinner at the home of Silas Brandegee, presi-
dent then of the Goal Company.

Brandegee knew nothing of the coldness existing be-
tween the Malvems and the Tremaines and sent Mrs.
Tremaine in on her neighbor's arm while John took in
his hostess. Isobel sat opposite him. The out-of-door
life at the hot springs of Virginia had completely
restored her health. But what use to wear one's most
becoming dress and to look lovely, if the one man in
the world never looks at you ? Mrs. Brandegee was
young and charming, and John devoted himself to her.

It was not the custom at the Brandegees' to separate
after dinner, and the men and women gathered together
in the great hall. Brandegee stood before the fire, his
hands under the tail of his coat, and harangued Tre-
maine.

" Why don't you run for Congress, Tremaine ? " he
asked directly and followed: "I am beginning to
think that you are a quitter — a shaker of responsibili-
ties. You refuse to take a hand in anything that means
a personal effort on your part. It's not fair. You
have come back after an absence of fifteen years and in
an incredibly short time you have made every one talk



Digitized by



Google



BIQ TRBMAINB 183

of you. Now I have lived here all my life and no one
has even asked me to run for mayor."

^' Because of your rigid aversion to politics."

" How do you know that ? " asked Brandegee quickly.

'^ Every one knows the reputation and opinions of the
biggest man south of Washington."

Brandegee smiled, pleased.

" If half of what you say is true, my opinion will
have weight with you. You must run for Congress."

Mrs. Tremaine, who was sitting by Isobel on the
divan, leaned forward, looking at her son. .John
replied curtly :

" In this case your opinion will not afFect me."

His tone was so short that Brandegee shrugged.
Tremaine was living up to his reputation for rudeness.
Brandegee, however, continued courteously :

" I can only present the view of a Virginian who
represents in a measure his community. We need you.
I loved your father. There was no one like him in the
district. I want to see Virginia make her mark in
Congress. You are the man for us."

Mrs. Tremaine's cheeks grew hot ; her eyes fell.

'^ What makes you think I am the man, Brandegee ? "

Emphasizing with his eye-glasses as he spoke, Bran-
degee announced methodically :

" You have won the confidence of every one in the
county ; you are a rich man ; you have a stainless rep-
utation ; you are your father's son, your mother's son
— why, it doesn't seem to need explanation."

John Tremaine's eyes met his mother's and held hers



Digitized by



Google



i84 BIG TRBMAINE

prisoaer. He seemed to say to her : ^^ Now you see the
opinion of me that others hold. What do yon think
about me now ? " He knew that she was suffering, bat
he did not know that she wa« soffering more tor him
than tor herself. Then, very quietly, he turned his
gaze to his neighbor Malvern, who, seated in a com-
fortable leather chair with his legs crossed, was smok-
ing, his &ce hard and set, locking into the fire. Mal-
vern WM especially regretting that his daughter wa«
present to hear these eulogies of John Tremaine.

'^ Don't you take an interest in poUtics?" Mrs. Bran-
degee asked sweetly. And John repUed :

^^An enomlous interest. I beUeve it the one field
for a disinterested American who can forego personal
gain and overcome his prejudices."

Srandegee exclaimed delightedly :

^'Well, now we are beginning to understand each
other ! My dear fellow, we arequite of the same mind.
I am willing to pledge a good sum of money for the
campaign."

Mrs. Tremaine moved where she sat To her the
word ^^ money " meant mily one thing : the theft John
committed when a boy. She heard John say :

^^ I could handle my campaign without much expend-
iture, but I shall not accept the nomination."

Srandegee turned to Mrs. Tremaine.

^^ Oome, my dear friend," he urged, ^^ you must per-
suade John. Don't you want to see a Tremaine in the
House?"

Mrs. Tremaine was not a Yirginian for nothing.



Digitized by



Google



BIG TREMAINE 185

Though her face was quite colorless, she controlled
her emotion. She saw in this moment what her
younger son might become, if he had not committed
that crime, and she understood all that was debarred
from him now. It was a cruel moment for the
proud woman. Before she could speak, Brandegee
continued :

" We are not old Bomans. Tell your son that he must
not tie himself down to a farm. We come to him as
the voice of the people. We need him. Speak to him,
Mrs. Tremaine."

An expression of pity and at the same time of seren-
ity crossed John's face. From his chair, behind his
cigar smoke, Malvern spoke. His voice was rasping :

" Come, Brandegee," he said, a little irritated ; " why
should you seek to turn a man from his chosen career ?
If Tremaine chooses farming and mining as his busi-
ness, why urge him into politics ? "

John's eyes did not turn themselves in the direction
of his neighbor. He was looking at his mother.

" I urge Tremaine," said Mr. Brandegee, " because,
though I am not active politically, I am not devoid of
public spirit and I want to see this State represented.
It is no new thing to find a man lost in his own State.
Now Tremaine has been a big man in Africa ; he must
be a big man here."

Brandegee was now conscious that Mrs. Tremaine
had not spoken. He bowed to her politely and said :

" Give me your aid, my dear lady. Tell John what
is his duty to do."



Digitized by



Google



i86 BIG TREMAINE

Even the attitude of her quiet son seemed to say to
her that he was waiting. As she spoke only Isobel,
who sat beside her, heard the tremor in her voice.

" I think John is quite right," she said. ^^ He has
his mines and the property. They are very absorb-
ing."

It was a weak reply. Even Brandegee felt it. Lea-
vitt, whose sole preoccupation during the conversation
had been for Mrs. Tremaine, now broke in gently :

^^I reckon you will have to take the nomination
yourself, Brandegee, and if you decide to accept it, that
will absorb you."

Brandegee threw out his hands with a gesture of de-
spair.

'^ It is a great loss," he said ; ^^ a very decided mis-
take."

^^ You see," said Tremaine calmly, ^^ I am returning
to South Africa soon. I am not even planning to cast
my fortunes with Virginia."

Brandegee broke into protestations, came up, and
put his hand on John's arm, and then Malvern looked
at his daughter. As he feared would be the case, her
eyes were fastened on John Tremaine. He had thought,
when he brought her to Bichmond that night, that she
was looking wonderfully well and gay. 80 indeed she
had been, with the prospect before her of seeing John
again after six weeks. Now she was as lifeless and as
pale as a candle from which the flame has been struck.
She sat in the comer of the sofa, her hands clasped in
her lap, and after a second looked at them medita-



Digitized by



Google



BIG TRBMAINB 187

tively, with an ezpression too absorbed for a young
girL Her attitude and expression exasperated her
father and intensified his dislike of the man who
stood before the fireplace with his host The other
man had joined the group. Some one began to ask
him about the Beekie diamond mineS| and Malvern,
onoe president of the biggest bank in the district out-
side of Bichmond, once a man of affairs and impor-
tance, now poor and involved, sat apart while his
clerk with a dishonorable record behind him monopo-
lized the principal people of the town. If Brandegee
knew what he knew, if the other men knew, if his
daughter knew — that John Tremaine was a thief!
He crossed the room to where Mrs. Tremaine and
Isobel were sitting, and when he suggested their leav-
ing because she looked tired, she went with him without
demur.

The following day in the living-room Mrs. Tre-
maine came up to him and touched his arm. He had
been silent and moody and now stood before the fire-
place staring at the hearth-rug.

" lift up your eyes, John."

He said with an effort :

<< My eyes are always on the ground. It has made
my fortune and it is my life."

" You would like to go to Congress, would you not ?
I know you would have won the election."

" Yes, I should have liked it."

She daily grew more mat0mal to him. Now she
longed to comfort him, but with the tenderest senti-



Digitized by



Google



z88 BIG TREMAINE

ment she oould not help feeling that it was all Us own
fault. To her surprise he lifted his head and said ab-
ruptly, as though the question was forced out of him :

'^ You really think that it is impossible ? "

It was hard for her to blight him with the answer
she felt in duty bound to make. She murmured :

^^ Of course, as Mr. Brandegee talked, it all seemed
so simple; nothing might be said. Mr. Malvern will
never break his word. It may now be only a question
of conscience, and yet at any moment • . . these
things are never really buried. . . ."

Her face was so troubled that John forgot himself
and said mercifully :

^' Don't think about it any more. It is of no im-
portance. I made my decision long ago, and when
one once makes a decision, the rest is comparatively
easy. After all, the only difficulty is to reach a de-
cision."

As he said these words, the dark shadow lifted from
his face and with what in him was extreme gentleness,
he lifted her hand and held it between his.

^^Of course, you are quite right. A man with a
crime on his record must give up distinctions and
honors. Taking evm*ything into consideration, I am
very fortunate." And he surprised her by reverting
to the past. ^^If you could hear them in Beekie,
mother, you would see what they thought about me
there." He laughed. " Do you know, I think that a
chap would fare very hardly in Beekie who tried to
throw mud at me." He shrugged. " What does any-



Digitized by



Google



BIG TREMAINE i8g

thing matter, really ?" he said, "except what you've
got here." He touched his breast. " If that is empty,
why, the rest is nothing at alL"

Mrs. Tremaine's lips trembled. For a moment she
covered her eyes with her hand.

" It is crueUy hard," she murmured, " cruelly hard,"
then faced him again.

The look on his face now was so bright, so illumi-
nated, that his mother was almost dazzled by its sweet-
ness.

"There are harder things," he said slowly. "Be-
lieve me, the chief annoyance is that it makes you
suflfer. Now you must not let it," he said command-
ingly. "Put it aside. Take it altogether, don't you
think things have turned out pretty well for the
sinner?" He was smiling. "Eemember, it's very
long ago, and all those years you had David to com-
fort you."

Voluntarily John had not before spoken his brother's
name. He had seen the emotion the slightest refer-
ence to him caused her.

"It would have been harder for you," he said
measuredly, " if it had been David."

She drew back from him, smothered a cry, and he
heard her say : " Oh."

He nodded. " So you see it might have been worse.
Now go to bed, mother, and forget about everything
excepting the fact that there are strawberries growing
in the greenhouses, and that you can make strawberry
shortcake for us when we return to Eiverside. And



Digitized by



Google



zgo BIG TREMAINE

don't cry," he added, dropping her hand. ^^ The loss
of a seat in Congress is not worth one tear."

Mrs. Tremaine took the renonciation less peacef ollj
than did her son.

From the moment that John broshed away the idea
of political snccess, he absorbed himself more deeply in
his work at the mine. He had difficulties there. C!on-
stant troubles arose between the Italians, the Hun-
garians, and the negroes ; but he ruled them with a
rod of iron, and was at once feared and respected.

One day his mother asked him, with perceptible hesi-
tation, if it would cost him too much pain if she spoke
to him about his brother's affairs.

" On the contrary, it would interest me very much
indeed."

She had confided to Leavitt that Julia had written
her a very troubling letter. David, in the latter years
of his life, had been unfortunate in his investments, and
now that the estate was settled up, Julia and her chil-
dren found their affairs very much involved. Mrs.
Tremaine had been brooding on these things, not dar-
ing to approach John.

This evening, as they sat together in the glow of the
cedar- wood fire, she spoke, and he said shortly :

^* I saw there was something on your mind. Tell me
about it."

The power of his voice, the ring of command in it,
struck her, and she thought then that it would be diffi-
cult to disobey him. She fortified herself with the



Digitized by



Google



BIG TREMAINE 191

knowledge that John owed everything to his elder
brother, but it was a delicate situation. She said :

"It is hard to talk to you.''

"Why?'*

"Because I know you less than I know any one in
the world, John, even though you are my son."

" You are wrong there," he returned. " If you would
let yourself believe that I am just as I am — as you see
me — ^you would find that you knew me well enough to
speak about David's estate. I suppose there is not
much left of it."

She asked, astonished :

« Why should you think that ? "

" Because," he said, rather bitterly, " there is nothing
in the world that could worry you now, excepting
something in connection with David."

Mrs. l^maine outlined to him the state of affairs
briefly, and with his hands linked between his knees,
leaning over and staring into the fire, he listened to
the story of his brother's financial affairs and remem-
bered how Julia had jilted him for his brother. When
she had finished, he said coldly :

" Let Julia ask me to help her."

EUs mother exclaimed :

" Oh, how can you suggest such humiliation ! "

And he blurted out, turning to Mrs. Tremaine a face
not crimsoned by the firelight alone :

" Why, in God's name, should I not ? "

The words were hardly out of his mouth before the
pained expression of her face brought him to himself.



Digitized by



Google



192 BIG TRBMAINE

He waited a moment before speaking, and then said
lightly :

^^ Don't look so distressed, mother. I am sorry that
I have annoyed you. Tell Julia to come down here
with the boys. I will help her. Send her a wire to-
day.''



Digitized by



Google



CHAPTER XX

Ths friendship between Leavitt and John Tremaine
had deepened. Leavitt had a faculty of seemg in other
people the qualities he himself possessed. The gentle
Southerner peopled the world with admirable human
beings. It was impossible for him not to respond to
John's charm, and, besides, John was the s(m of the
woman whom Leavitt adored.

Ever since his return from Africai John, as it seemed
to Leavitt, had contradicted every known rule and
theory applicable to embezzlers, and men who had
broken their mothers' hearts. Leavitt, who had no
close friend, except Mrs. Tremaine, found himself be-
coming dependent on the mind and companionship of
Tremaine.

Leavitt's house stood not far from the bank of the
river. Age had mellowed the wood in which Federal
bullets had left historic scars. From the windows of his
library he could look out upon the river, and across
through the oaks he could see the roofs of Riverside.
His little homestead was ideal to hiuL It was a sort
of observatory from which he watched a star. There
was to the man who had loved hopelessly all his life a
great consolation in being so near to the woman her-
self. 8q)arated from her by the red banks and the
nvGCy a few acres of field and lawn, he had nevertheless



Digitized by



Google



194 BIG TREMAINB

felt that they lived their lives together. From his win-
dows he watched the changing seasons. The live oaks,
whose leaves never withered and fell, became to him a
Cfymbol of his &ithful devotion, unchanged through the
seasons.

He was sitting with a book before the log fire in his
little study, toward five o'clock in the afternoon, when
his black servant announced :

"Mistah John, Marse Sam."

Leavitt sprang up, pushed his chair — the most com-
fortable one in the room — toward the fire, wrung John's
hand, forced him to take the chaur, drew up a little
table where Pompey always arranged the cigars his
master loved, a few cigarettes, and a briarwood pipe
with a silver band.

" John," he said, " I am perfectly delighted, my dear
fellow. I was just about to walk over to Riverside
myself."

Leavitt wore a colored waistcoat — ^rather a gay reUc
of his gayer days ; a black velvet smoking-jacket, a pair
of gray trousers and a bright red cravat. Above his
collar his keen, well-bred face was as fresh in color as a
young man's. The features were clearly cut, the
cheeks beardless, and his hair, slightly gray at the tem-
ples, was as abundant as in his youth. Tender-hearted,
impulsive, made of the worst stuff in the world for
business success, he was made of the best stuff in the
world for sentiment and for friendship.

" Pompey," he said, " fetch something for Mr. John
to drink. You know what he likes."



Digitized by



Google



BIG TREMAINE 195

^^ Leavitt," said John, ^^ I oame at this time because
my mother has an unexpected visitor. I left her with
Malvern, who has not been at the house in many
months. I want to talk to you on a very deUcate
matter, Leavitt." And Leavitt, who for several weeks
had longed to talk to John on a very delicate matter,
but had not dared to do so, wondered whether John's
matter were the same. ^^You are Mr. Malvern's
lawyer, aren't you ? " John asked.

Leavitt bowed his head, and his face took the im-
portant expression that it assumed whenever he strayed
into the world of business. In these days his excur-
sions into that world were rare. He had almost no
clients ; if possible, fewer than ever. He continued to
be a delightful failure. John, looking at him, smiled.

" You wouldn't let me make you rich, would you,
Sam?"

<< Money," said Leavitt, ^^ is the poorest thing in the
world, my dear fellow."

"So much so," said Tremaine, "that one should
ignore it sufficiently to be willing to accept its advan-
tages and the unmistakable power it gives. The very
way in which certain proud poor people despise it and
attach undue importance to it, gives it a reality that it
loses entirely to a busy, useful, rich man."

Leavitt returned his smile.

" You are a useful, busy rich man, John," he said.
"There's no doubt about that. Your worst enemy
could not deny you that."

" You could be the same if you wished to be, Sam."



Digitized by



Google



196 BIQ TREMAINB

Leavitt shook his head.

^^I have a groove," he said. ^^In a measure, it
expresses me. I am too old to change. I should
not look well out of my niche. Sut you spoke of
Malvern.*'

^^ Yes," said Tremaine. ^^ I came here to talk of
him with you, Sam, as I can speak of him to no one
else."

Leavitt gave him his most professional attention.

^^ He has been uncharitable to you, my dear fellow.
He is one of those unflinching judges."

^^ I was not thinking about his personal relations
with me," said Tremaine ; ^^ nor do I ever blame one
man for his attitude toward another. Our attitude
toward others is something for the most part beyond
our control It is a question of personal relationship —
the most subtle, and one of the most powerful things in
the world."

Leavitt listened to him. To this peaceful gentleman
who had never traveled further than New York and
who rarely had been even that far, John represented
the world, and Leavitt had grown used to give him an
attention which, because of its very interest, had a cer-
tain respect.

^^ I used to think," said John, ^^ that it was impossible
for one person to be drawn to another without a
kindred response, though circumstances might prevent
any exhibition or revelation of the dual ati||raction. I
don't think that now." He looked at Leavitt. "I
am attracted by certain things in Malvern ; we could



Digitized by



Google



BIQ TRBMAINE 297

have been great friends. I have referred before to his
kindness to me when I was a yoong chap. I used to
watch him in the bank, and ladmired him profoundly.
I admire him now. He bears his fallen fortunes like a
thoroughbred. Now/' he continued, flicking the ash
from his cigar, ^' something must be done."

^^ How do you mean ? " asked Leavitt

^^ Something must be intelligently combined so that
Malvern's finances may be put in shape."

Leavitt shook his head, smiling.

^^ I am afraid you cannot play the part of a magician
in this case, John. If he had been a younger man — ^if
it had not been for the question of your mother — Bed-
mond might have insulted you when you made your
first proposition regarding the coal company."

John continued, looking into the fire :

^^ He could not insult me, Sam. Nothing that he
would say would offend me. I know his sense of honor
and in his eyes I have offended against it irretrievably.
Heis in aposition to make me feel my disgrace. Hehas
his reasons ; I don't blame him. In his place, I should
feel exactly as he does. Now let us look at the busi-
ness proposition."

Leavitt cleaned his qre-glasses on his silk handker-
chief and looking penetratingly at his companion
thought to himself : ^' John is doing this for the girl,"
and the question thus turning from business to senti-
ment interested him more than ever.

" I want *you to help me to carry out a plan of
buying some of his land. He must never know — ^he



Digitized by



Google



198 BIG TRBMAINB

need never know — indeed, it would be fatal should he
suspect.'*

Leavitt said, rather excitedly :

^^ He would not think twice of drawing a gun on both
of us ! "

Pompey came in with a tray of drinks, which he put
down by John's side.

" Fill your glass, John," said the lawyer. Pompey
filled one for his master, and then stood beaming on
the two gentlemen.

" Taste good, Marse John ? " he asked anxiously.

"Perfect, Pompey." And Pompey went away
satisfied.

The two friends lifted their glasses and John said:

" Here's to Bedmond Malvern I "


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryMarie Van VorstBig Tremaine: a novel → online text (page 11 of 21)