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   Chapter 33 No.33

The Good Time Coming By T. S. Arthur Characters: 18851

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05

THE time until six o'clock, the meeting-hour of the Board, was not spent by Mr. Markland in solitary thought. He visited, during that period, three of the principal men interested in the business, and gleaned from them their views in regard to the late startling intelligence. Most of them seemed utterly confounded, and no two had arrived at the same conclusion as to what was best to be done. Nearly all were inclined to credit fully the report of Lyon's having failed to pay the last three instalments on the Company's land, and they denounced him bitterly. These conferences had the effect of extinguishing all hope in the breast of Mr. Markland. Even if the half of what he feared were true, he was hopelessly ruined.

At the hour of meeting, Markland assembled with the New York members of the Company, and two from Boston, who had been summoned on the day previous by telegraph. The last communications received by Mr. Fenwick were again read, and the intelligence they brought discussed with more of passion than judgment. Some proposed deferring all action until further news came; while others were for sending out an agent, with full powers, immediately. To this latter view the majority inclined. "If it be true," suggested Markland, "that the-Government has threatened to seize upon our property if the three instalments were not paid on the first of the present month, every thing may now be in its hands."

"Lyon would hardly let it come to that," said another, "He has in his possession the means of preventing such a catastrophe, by paying over one of the instalments, and thus gaining time."

"Time for what?" was asked. "If he mean to enrich himself at our expense, he can do it best now. He is too shrewd not to understand that; if a question of his integrity arises, his further power to reach our funds is gone."

"But he does not know that we have information of the unpaid instalments."

"And that information may come from one who has an interest in ruining him," said another.

"You may think so, gentlemen," said Mr. Fenwick, coolly, "but I will stake my life on the unwavering faith of my correspondent in all he alleges. Moreover, he is not the man to make a communication of such serious import lightly. He knows the facts, or he would not affirm them. My advice is to send out an agent immediately."

"For what purpose?" was inquired.

"To ascertain the true position of affairs; and if our property have really been seized by the-Government, to take steps for its release."

"More funds will be required," said one of the Company.

"We cannot, of course, send out an agent empty-handed," was replied.

"Depletion must stop, so far as I am concerned," was the firm response of one individual. "I will throw no more good money after bad. If you send out an agent, gentlemen, don't call on me to bear a part of the expense."

"You are not, surely, prepared to abandon every thing at this point," said another.

"I am prepared to wait for further news, before I let one more dollar leave my pocket; and I will wait," was answered.

"And so will I," added another.

Two parties were gradually formed; one in favour of sending out an agent forthwith, and the other decided in their purpose not to risk another dollar until more certain information was received. This was the aspect of affairs when the Board adjourned to meet again on the next evening.

The result of this conference tended in no degree to calm the fears of Mr. Markland. How gladly would he now give up all interest in the splendid enterprise which had so captivated his imagination, if he could do so at the expense of one-half of his fortune!

"If I could save only a small part of the wreck!" he said to himself, as he paced the floor of his room at the hotel. It was far past the hour of midnight, but no sleep weighed upon his eyelids. "Even sufficient," he added, in a sad voice, "to keep in possession our beautiful home. As for myself, I can go back into busy life again. I am yet in the prime of manhood, and can tread safely and successfully the old and yet unforgotten ways to prosperity. Toil will be nothing to me, so the home-nest remain undisturbed, and my beloved ones suffer not through my blindness and folly."

A new thought came into his mind. His investments in the enterprise, now in such jeopardy, reached the sum of nearly one hundred thousand dollars. The greater part of this had been actually paid in. His notes and endorsements made up the balance.

"I will sell out for twenty-five cents in the dollar," said he.

There was a feeble ray of light in his mind, as the thought of selling out his entire interest in the business, at a most desperate sacrifice, grew more and more distinct. One or two members of the Board of Direction had, during the evening's discussion, expressed strong doubts as to the truth of the charge brought against Mr. Lyon. The flooding of the shaft was not, they thought, unlikely, and it might, seriously delay operations; but they were unwilling to believe affairs to be in the hopeless condition some were disposed to think. Here was a straw at which the drowning man caught. He would call upon one of these individuals in the morning, and offer his whole interest at a tempting reduction. Relieved at this thought, Mr. Markland could retire for the night; and he even slept soundly. On awaking in the morning, the conclusion of the previous night was reviewed. There were some natural regrets at the thought of giving up, by a single act, three-fourths of his whole fortune; but, like the mariner whose ship was sinking, there was no time to hesitate on the question of sacrificing the rich cargo.

"Yes-yes," he said within himself, "I will be content with certainty. Suspense like the present is not to be endured."

And so he made preparations to call upon a certain broker in Wall street, who had expressed most confidence in Lyon, and offer to sell him out his whole interest. He had taken breakfast, and was about leaving the hotel, when, in passing the reading-room, it occurred to him to glance over the morning papers. So he stepped in for that purpose.

Almost the first thing that arrested his attention was the announcement of an arrival, and news from Central America. "BURSTING OF A MAGNIFICENT BUBBLE-FLIGHT OF A DEFAULTING AGENT."-were the next words that startled him. He read on:

"The Government of-has seized upon all that immense tract of land, reported to be so rich in mineral wealth, which was granted some two years ago to the-Company. A confidential agent of this company, to whom, it is reported, immense sums of money were intrusted, and who failed to pay over the amounts due on the purchase, has disappeared, and, it is thought, passed over to the Pacific. He is believed to have defrauded the company out of nearly half a million of dollars."

"So dies a splendid scheme," was the editorial remark in the New York paper. "Certain parties in this city are largely interested in the Company, and have made investments of several hundred thousand dollars. More than one of these, it is thought, will be ruined by the catastrophe. Another lesson to the too eager and over-credulous money-seeker! They will not receive a very large share of public sympathy."

Mr. Markland read to the end, and then staggered back into a chair, where he remained for many minutes, before he had the will or strength to rise. He then went forth hastily, and repaired to the office of Mr. Fenwick. Several members of the Company, who had seen the announcement in the morning papers, were there, some pale with consternation, and some strongly excited. The agent had not yet arrived. The clerk in the office could answer no questions satisfactorily. He had not seen Mr. Fenwick since the evening previous.

"Have his letters yet arrived?" was inquired by one.

"He always takes them from the post-office himself," answered the clerk.

"What is his usual hour for coming to his office in the morning?"

"He is generally here by this time-often much earlier."

These interrogations, addressed to the clerk by one of those present, excited doubts and questions in the minds of others.

"It is rather singular that he should be absent at this particular time," said Markland, giving indirect expression to his own intruding suspicions.

"It is very singular," said another. "He is the medium of information from the theatre of our operations, and, above all things, should not be out of the way now."

"Where does he live?" was inquired of the clerk.

"At No.-, Fourteenth street."

"Will you get into a stage and ride up there?"

"If you desire it, gentlemen," replied the young man; "though it is hardly probable that I will find him there at this hour. If you wait a little while longer, he will no doubt be in."

The door opened, and two more of the parties interested in this bursting bubble arrived.

"Where is Fenwick?" was eagerly asked.

"Not to be found," answered one, abruptly, and with a broader meaning in his tones than any words had yet expressed.

"He hasn't disappeared, also!"

Fearful eyes looked into blank faces at this exclamation.

"Gentlemen," said the clerk, with considerable firmness of manner, "language like this must not be used here. It impeaches the character of a man whose life has thus far been above reproach. Whatever is said here, remember, is sa

id in his ears, and he will soon be among you to make his own response."

The manner in which this was uttered repressed, for a time, further remarks reflecting on the integrity of the agent. But, after the lapse of nearly an hour, his continued absence was again referred to, and in more decided language than before.

"Will you do us one favour?" said Mr. Markland, on whose mind suspense was sitting like a nightmare. He spoke to the clerk, who, by this time, was himself growing restless.

"Any thing you desire, if it is in my power," was answered.

"Will you go down to the post-office, and inquire if Mr. Fenwick has received his letters this morning?"

"Certainly, I will." And the clerk went on the errand without a moment's delay.

"Mr. Fenwick received his letters over two hours ago," said the young man, on his return. He looked disappointed and perplexed.

"And you know nothing of him?" was said.

"Nothing, gentlemen, I do assure you. His absence is to me altogether inexplicable."

"Where's Fenwick?" was now asked, in an imperative voice, by a new comer.

"Not been seen this morning," replied Markland.

"Another act in this tragedy! Gone, I suppose, to join his accomplice on the Pacific coast, and share his plunder," said the man, passionately.

"You are using very strong language, sir!" suggested one.

"Not stronger than the case justifies. For my own assurance, I sent out a secret agent, and I have my first letter from him this morning. He arrived just in time to see our splendid schemes dissolve in smoke. Lyon is a swindler, Fenwick an accomplice, and we a parcel of easy fools. The published intelligence we have to-day is no darker than the truth. The bubble burst by the unexpected seizure of our lands, implements, and improvements, by the-Government. It contained nothing but air! Fenwick and Lyon had just played one of their reserved cards-it had something to do with the flooding of a shaft, which would delay results, and require more capital-when the impatient grantors of the land foreclosed every thing. From the hour this catastrophe became certain, Lyon was no more seen. He was fully prepared for the emergency."

In confirmation of this, letters giving the minutest particulars were shown, thus corroborating the worst, and extinguishing the feeblest rays of hope.

All was too true. The brilliant bubble had indeed burst, and not the shadow of a substance remained. When satisfied of this beyond all doubt, Markland, on whose mind suffering had produced a temporary stupor, sought his room at the hotel, and remained there for several days, so hopeless, weak, and undecided, that he seemed almost on the verge of mental imbecility. How could he return home and communicate the dreadful intelligence to his family? How could he say to them, that, for his transgressions, they must go forth from their beautiful Eden?

"No-no!" he exclaimed, wringing his hands in anguish. "I can never tell them this! I can never look into their faces! Never! never!"

The moment had come, and the tempter was at his ear. There was, first, the remote suggestion of self-banishment in some distant land, where the rebuking presence of his injured family could never haunt him. But he felt that a life in this world, apart from them, would be worse than death.

"I am mocked! I am cursed!" he exclaimed, bitterly.

The tempter was stealthily doing his work.

"Oh! what a vain struggle is this life! What a fitful fever! Would that it were over, and I at rest!"

The tempter was leading his thoughts at will.

"How can I meet my wronged family? How can I look my friends in the face? I shall be to the world only a thing of pity or reproach. Can I bear this? No-no-I cannot-I cannot!"

Magnified by the tempter, the consequence looked appalling. He felt that he had not strength to meet it-that all of manhood would be crushed out of him.

"What then?" He spoke the words almost aloud, and held his breath, as if for answer.

"A moment, and all will be over!"

It was the voice of the tempter.

Markland buried his face in his hands, and sat for a long time as motionless as if sleep had obscured his senses; and all that time a fearful debate was going on in his mind. At last he rose up, changed in feeling as well as in aspect. His resolution was taken, and a deep, almost leaden, calmness pervaded his spirit. He had resolved on self-destruction!

With a strange coolness, the self-doomed man now proceeded to select the agent of death. He procured a work on poisons, and studied the effects of different substances, choosing, finally, that which did the fatal work most quickly and with the slightest pain. This substance was then procured. But he could not turn forever from those nearest and dearest, without a parting word.

The day had run almost to a close in these fearful struggles and fatal preparations; and the twilight was falling, when, exhausted and in tears, the wretched man folded, with trembling hands, a letter he had penned to his wife. This done, he threw himself, weak as a child, upon the bed, and, ere conscious that sleep was stealing upon him, fell off into slumber.

Sleep! It is the great restorer. For a brief season the order of life is changed, and the involuntary powers of the mind bear rule in place of the voluntary. The actual, with all its pains and pleasures, is for the time annihilated. The pressure of thought and the fever of emotion are both removed, and the over-taxed spirit is at rest. Into his most loving guardianship the great Creator of man, who gave him reason and volition, and the freedom to guide himself, takes his creature, and, while the image of death is upon him, gathers about him the Everlasting Arms. He suspends, for a time, the diseased voluntary life, that he may, through the involuntary, restore a degree of health, and put the creature he has formed for happiness in a new condition of mental and moral freedom.

Blessed sleep! Who has not felt and acknowledged thy sweet influences? Who has not wondered at thy power in the tranquil waking, after a night that closed around the spirit in what seemed the darkness of coming despair?

Markland slept; and in his sleep, guided by angels, there came to him the spirits of his wife and children, clothed in the beauty of innocence. How lovingly they gathered around him! how sweet were their words in his ears! how exquisite the thrill awakened by each tender kiss! Now he was with them in their luxurious home; and now they were wandering, in charmed intercourse, amid its beautiful surroundings. Change after change went on; new scenes and new characters appeared, and yet the life seemed orderly and natural. Suddenly there came a warning of danger. The sky grew fearfully dark; fierce lightning burned through the air, and the giant tempest swept down upon the earth with resistless fury. Next a flood was upon them. And now he was seized with the instinct of self-preservation, and in a moment had deserted his helpless family, and was fleeing, alone to a place of safety. From thence he saw wife and children borne off by the rush of waters, their white, imploring faces turned to him, and their hands stretched out for succour. Then all his love returned; self was forgotten; he would have died to save them. But it was too late! Even while he looked, they were engulfed and lost.

From such a dream Markland was awakened into conscious life. The shadowy twilight had been succeeded by darkness. He started up, confused and affrighted. Some moments passed before his bewildered thoughts were able to comprehend his real position; and when he did so, he fell back, with a groan, horror-stricken, upon the bed. The white faces and imploring hands of his wife and children were still vividly before him.

"Poor, weak, coward heart!" he at last murmured to himself. "An evil spirit was thy counsellor. I knew not that so mean and base a purpose could find admittance there. What! Beggar and disgrace my wife and children, and then, like a skulking coward, leave them to bear the evil I had not the courage to face! Edward Markland! Can this, indeed, be true of thee?"

And the excited man sprang from the bed. A feeble light came in through the window-panes above the door, and made things dimly visible. He moved about, for a time, with an uncertain air, and then rung for a light. The first object that met his eyes, when the servant brought in a lamp, was a small, unopened package, lying on the table. He knew its contents. What a strong shudder ran through his frame! Seizing it the instant the attendant left the room, he flung it through the open window. Then, sinking on his knees, he thanked God fervently for a timely deliverance.

The fierce struggle with pride was now over. Weak, humbled, and softened in feeling almost to tears, Markland sat alone, through the remainder of that evening, with his thoughts reaching forward into the future, and seeking to discover the paths in which his feet must walk. For himself he cared not now. Ah! if the cherished ones could be saved from the consequences of his folly! If he alone were destined to move in rough and thorny ways! But there was for them no escape. The paths in which he moved they must move. The cup he had made bitter for himself would be bitter for them also.

Wretched man! Into what a great deep of misery had he plunged himself!

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