MoboReader> Literature > The Rise of Roscoe Paine

   Chapter 3 No.3

The Rise of Roscoe Paine By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 22863

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


It is a dreadful thing to hate one's own father; to hate him and be unable to forgive him even though he is dead, although he paid for his sin with his life. Death is said to pay all debts, but there are some it cannot pay. To my father I owed my present ambitionless, idle, good-for-nothing life, my mother's illness, years of disgrace, the loss of a name-everything.

Paine was my mother's maiden name; she was christened Comfort Paine. My own Christian name is Roscoe and my middle name is Paine. My other name, the name I was born with, the name that Mother took when she married, we dropped when the disgrace came upon us. It was honored and respected once; now when it was repeated people coupled it with shame and crime and dishonor and broken trust.

As a boy I remember myself as a spoiled youngster who took the luxuries of this world for granted. I attended an expensive and select private school, idled my way through that somehow, and entered college, a happy-go-lucky young fellow with money in my pocket. For two-thirds of my Freshman year-which was all I experienced of University life-I enjoyed myself as much as possible, and studied as little. Then came the telegram. I remember the looks of the messenger who brought it, the cap he wore, and the grin on his young Irish face when the fellow sitting next me at the battered black oak table in the back room of Kelly's asked him to have a beer. I remember the song we were singing, the crowd of us, how it began again and then stopped short when the others saw the look on my face. The telegram contained but four words: "Come home at once." It was signed with the name of my father's lawyer.

I presume I shall never forget even the smallest incident of that night journey in the train and the home-coming. The lawyer's meeting me at the station in the early morning; his taking care that I should not see the newspapers, and his breaking the news to me. Not of the illness or death which I had feared and dreaded, but of something worse-disgrace. My father was an embezzler, a thief. He had absconded, had run away, like the coward he was, taking with him what was left of his stealings. The banking house of which he had been the head was insolvent. The police were on his track. And, worse and most disgraceful of all, he had not fled alone. There was a woman with him, a woman whose escapades had furnished the papers with sensations for years.

I had never been well acquainted with my father. We had never been friends and companions, like other fathers and sons I knew. I remember him as a harsh, red-faced man, whom, as a boy, I avoided as much as possible. As I grew older I never went to him for advice; he was to me a sort of walking pocket-book, and not much else. Mother has often told me that she remembers him as something quite different, and I suppose it must be true, otherwise she would not have married him; but to me he was a source of supply coupled with a bad temper, that was all. That I was not utterly impossible, that, going my own gait as I did, I was not a complete young blackguard, I know now was due entirely to Mother. She and I were as close friends as I would permit her to be. Father had neglected us for years, though how much he had neglected and ill-treated her I did not know until she told me, afterward. She was in delicate health even then, but, when the blow fell, it was she and not I who bore up bravely and it was her pluck and nerve, not mine, which pulled us through that dreadful time.

And it was dreadful. The stories and pictures in the papers! The rumors, always contradicted, that the embezzler had been caught! The misrepresentation and lies and scandal! The loss of those whom we had supposed were friends! Mother bore them all, wore a calm, brave face in public, and only when alone with me gave way, and then but at rare intervals. She clung to me as her only comfort and hope. I was sullen and wrathful and resentful, an unlicked cub, I suspect, whose complaints were selfish ones concerning the giving up of my college life and its pleasures, and the sacrifice of social position and wealth.

Mother had-or so we thought at the time-a sum in her own name which would enable us to live; although not as we had lived by a great deal. We took an apartment in an unfashionable quarter of the city, and thanks to the lawyer-who proved himself a real and true friend-I was given a minor position in a small bank. Oddly enough, considering my former life, I liked the work, it interested me, and during the next few years I was made, by successive promotions, bookkeeper, teller, and, at last, assistant cashier. No news came from the absconder. The police had lost track of him, and it seemed probable that he would never be heard of again. But over Mother and myself hung always the dread that he might be found and all the dreadful business revived once more. Mother never mentioned it, nor did I, but the dread was there.

Then came the first breakdown in Mother's health which necessitated her removal to the country. Luther and Dorinda Rogers were distant relatives of our friend, the lawyer. They owned the little house by the shore at Denboro and the lawyer had visited them occasionally on shooting and fishing trips. They were in need of money, for, as Dorinda said: "We've got two mouths in this family and only one pair of hands. One of the mouths is so big that the hands can't fill it, let alone the mouth that belongs to THEM." Mother-as Mrs. Paine, a widow-went there first as a boarder, intending to remain but a few months. Dorinda took to her at once, being attracted in the beginning, I think, by the name. "They call you Comfort Paine," she said, "and you are a comfort to everybody else's pain. Yet you ain't out of pain a minute scurcely, yourself. I never see anything like it. If 'twan't wicked I'd say that name was give you by the Old Scratch himself, as a sort of divilish joke. But anybody can see that the Old Scratch never had anything in common with you, even a hand in the christenin'."

Dorinda was very kind, and Lute was a never-ending joy in his peculiar way. Mother would have been almost happy in the little Denboro home, if I had been with her. But she was never really happy when we were separated, a condition of mind which grew more acute as her health declined. I came down from the city once every month and those Sundays were great occasions. The Denboro people know me as Roscoe Paine.

For a time Mother seemed to be holding her own. In answer to my questions she always declared that she was ever so much better. But Doctor Quimby, the town physician, looked serious.

"She must be kept absolutely quiet," he said. "She must not be troubled in any way. Worry or mental distress is what I fear most. Any sudden bad news or shock might-well, goodness knows what effect it might have. She must not be worried. Ros-" after one has visited Denboro five times in succession he is generally called by his Christian name-"Ros, if you've got any worries you keep 'em to yourself."

I had worries, plenty of them. Our little fortune, saved, as we thought, from the wreck, suffered a severe shrinkage. A considerable portion of it, as the lawyers discovered, was involved and belonged to the creditors. I said nothing to Mother about this: she supposed that we had a sufficient income for our needs, even without my salary. Without telling her I gave up our city apartment, stored our furniture, and took a room in a boarding-house. I was learning the banking business, was trusted with more and more responsibility, and believed my future was secure. Then came the final blow.

I saw the news in the paper when I went out to lunch. "Embezzler and His Companion Caught in Rio Janeiro. He Commits Suicide When Notified of His Arrest." These headlines stared at me as I opened the paper at the restaurant table. My father had shot himself when the police came. I read it with scarcely more than a vague feeling of pity for him. It was of Mother that I thought. The news must be kept from her. If she should hear of it! What should I do? I went first of all to the lawyer's office: he was out of town for the day. I wandered up and down the streets for an hour. Then I went back to the bank. There I found a telegram from Doctor Quimby: "Mrs. Paine very ill. Come on first train." I knew what it meant. Mother had heard the news; the shock which the doctor dreaded had had its effect.

I reached Denboro the next morning. Lute met me at the station. From his disjointed and lengthy story I gathered that Mother had been "feelin' fust-rate for her" until the noon before. "I come back from the post-office," said Lute, "and I was cal'latin' to read the newspaper, but Dorindy had some everlastin' chore or other for me to do-I believe she thinks 'em up in her sleep-and I left the paper on the dinin'-room table and went out to the barn. Dorindy she come along to boss me, as usual. When we went back to the house there was Mrs. Comfort on the dinin'-room floor-dead, we was afraid at fust. The paper was alongside of her, so we judge she was just a-goin' to read it when she was took. The doctor says it's a paralysis or appleplexy or somethin'. We carried her into the bedroom, but she ain't spoke sence."

She did not speak for weeks and when she did it was to ask for me. She called my name over and over again and, if I left her, even for a moment, she grew so much worse that the doctor forbade my going back to the city. I obtained a leave of absence from the bank for three months. By that time she was herself, so far as her reason was concerned, but very weak and unable to bear the least hint of disturbance or worry. She must not be moved, so Doctor Quimby said, and he held out no immediate hope of her recovering the use of her limbs. "She will be confined to her bed for a long time," said the doctor, "and she is easy only when you are here. If you should go away I am afraid she might die." I did not go away. I gave up my position in the bank and remained in Denboro.

At the end of the year I bought the Rogers house and land, moved a portion of our furniture down there, sold the rest, and resigned myself to a period of idleness in the country. Dorinda I hired as housekeeper, and when Dorinda accepted the engagement she threw in Lute, so to speak, for good measure.

And here I have been ever since. At first I looked upon my stay in Denboro as a sort of enforced vacation, which was to be, of course, only temporary. But time went on and Mother's condition continued unchanged. She needed me and I could not leave her. I fished and, shot and sailed and loafed, losing ambition and self-respect, aware that the majority of the village people considered me too lazy to earn a living, and caring little for their opinion. At first I had kept up a hit or miss correspondence with one or two of my associates in the bank, but after a while I dropped even this connection with the world. I was ashamed to have my former acquaintances know what I had become, and they, apparently, were quite willing to forget me. I expected to live and die in Denboro, and I faced the prospect with indifference.

The summer people, cottagers and boarders, I avoided altogether and my only friend, and I did not consider him that, was George Taylor, the Denboro bank cashier. He was fond of salt-water and out-door sports and we, occasional

ly enjoyed them together.

Thanks to the lawyer, our names had been scarcely mentioned in the papers at the time of my father's death. No one in the village knew our identity or our story. And, because I knew that Mother would worry if she were told, I kept from her the fact that our little income was but half of what it had been. Our wants were few, and if my clothes were no longer made by the best tailors, if they were ready-made and out-of-date and lacked pressing, they were whole, at all events, because Dorinda was a tip-top mender. In fact, I had forgotten they were out-of-date until the sight of the immaculately garbed young chap in the automobile brought the comparison between us to my mind.

But now, as I sat on the wash-bench, thinking of all this, I looked down at my baggy trousers and faded waistcoat with disgust. One of the surest signs of the loss of self-respect is a disregard of one's personal appearance. I looked like a hayseed-not the independent countryman who wears old clothes on week days from choice and is proudly conscious of a Sunday suit in the closet-but that other variety, the post-office and billiard-room idler who has reached the point of utter indifference, is too shiftless to care. Captain Jed was not so far wrong, after all-Lute Rogers and I were birds of a feather in more ways than one.

No wonder that girl in the auto had looked at me as if I were something too contemptible for notice. Yet I hated her for that look. I had behaved like a boor, of course. Because I was a failure, a country loafer with no prospect of ever being anything else, because I could not ride in automobiles and others could-these were no good reasons for insulting strangers more fortunate than I. Yet I did hate that girl. Just then I hated all creation, especially that portion of it which amounted to anything.

I took the letter from my pocket and read it again. "I should like to see you . . . on a matter of business." What business could "Yours truly, James W. Colton" have with me? And Captain Jed also had talked business. I supposed that I had given up business long ago and for good; now, all at once, it seemed to be hunting me. Well, all the hunting should be on its side.

At another time I might have treated the great Colton's "summons to court" as a joke. I might, like Mother, have regarded the curtness of the command and its general tone of taking my prompt obedience for granted as an expression of the Wall Street magnate's habit of mind, and nothing more. He was used to having people jump when he snapped his fingers. But now it made me angry. I sympathized with Dean and Alvin Baker. The possession of money did not necessarily imply omnipotence. This was Cape Cod, not New York. His Majesty might, as Captain Jed put it, have blown his Imperial nose, but I, for one, wouldn't "lay in a supply of handkerchiefs"-not yet.

I heard a rustle in the bushes and, turning my head, saw Lute coming along the path. He was walking fast-fast for him, that is-and seemed to be excited. His excitement, however, did not cause him to forget prudence. He looked carefully about to be sure his wife was not in sight, before he spoke.

"Dorindy ain't been here sence I've been gone, has she?" was his first question.

"I guess not," said I. "She has been in the house since I got back. But I don't know how long you've been gone."

"Only a few minutes. I-I just stepped over 'cross the Lane for a jiffy, that's all. Say, by time; them Coltons must have money!"

"That's a habit of millionaires, I believe."

"Hey? What do you mean by that? If they didn't have money they couldn't be millionaires, could they? How'd you like to be a millionaire, Ros?"

"I don't know. I never tried."

"By time! I'D like to try a spell. I've been over lookin' 'round their place. You never see such a place! Why, their front doorstep's big as this yard, pretty nigh."

"Does it have to be raked?" I asked.

"Raked! Whoever heard of rakin' a doorstep?"

"Give it up! But it does seem to me that I have heard of raking a yard. I think Dorinda mentioned that, didn't she?"

Lute looked at me: then he hurried over and picked up the rake which was lying near the barn, a pile-a very small pile-of chips and leaves beside it.

"When did she mention it?" he asked.

"A week ago, I think, was the first time. She has referred to it occasionally since. She was mentioning it to you when I went up town this morning. I heard her."

Lute looked relieved. "Oh, THEN!" he said. "I thought you meant lately. Well, I'm rakin' it, ain't I? Say, Ros," he added, eagerly, "did you go to the post-office when you was uptown? Was there a letter there for you?"

"What makes you think there was?"

"Asa Peters' boy, the bow-legged one, told me. The chauffeur, the feller that pilots the automobiles, asked him where the post-office was and he see the address on the envelope. He said the letter was for you. I told him he was lyin'-"

"What in the world did you tell him that for?" I interrupted. I had known Lute a long time, but he sometimes surprised me, even yet.

"'Cause he is, nine times out of ten," replied Lute, promptly. "You never see such a young-one for dodgin' the truth. Why, one time he told his grandmother, Asa's ma, I mean, that-"

"What did he say about the letter?"

"Said 'twas for you. And the chauffeur said Mr. Colton told him to mail it right off. 'Twan't for you, was it, Ros?"

"Yes."

"It WAS! Well, by time! What did a man like Mr. Colton write to you about?"

Among his other lackings Lute was conspicuously short of tact. This was no time for him to ask me such a question, especially to emphasize the "you."

"Why shouldn't he write to me?" I asked, tartly.

"But-but HIM-writin' to YOU!"

"Humph! Even a god stoops once in a while. Read your mythology, Lute."

"Hey? Say, look here, what are you swearin' about?"

"Swearing? Oh, that's all right. The god I referred to was a heathen one."

"Well, it's a good thing Dorindy didn't hear you; she's down on swearin', heathen or any other kind. But what did Mr. Colton write to you for?"

"He says he wants to see me."

"See you? What for?"

"Don't know. Perhaps he wants to borrow money."

"Borrow-! I believe you're crazy!"

"No, I'm tolerably sane. There! there! don't look at me like that. Here's his letter. Read it, if you want to."

Lute's fingers were so eager to grasp that letter that they were all thumbs. He dropped it on the grass, picked it up with as much care as if it was a diamond, and holding it a foot from his nose-he had broken his spectacles and was afraid to ask Dorinda for the money to have them repaired-he spelt it out to the last word.

"Well, by time!" he exclaimed, when he had finished. "He wants to see you at his house this forenoon! And-and-why, the forenoon's all but gone now! What are you settin' here for?"

"Well, I thought I should enjoy watching you rake the yard. It is a pleasure deferred so far."

"Watchin' me-! Roscoe Paine, you are out of your head! Ain't you goin' to see him?"

"No."

"You AIN'T!"

"No."

"Ros Paine, have you jined in with them darn fools uptown?"

"Who's swearing now? What fools do you mean?"

"Darn ain't swearin'. Dorindy herself says that once in a while. I mean Alvin Baker, and Jed Dean and the rest of 'em. They was goin' on about Mr. Colton last night; said THEY wan't goin' to run at his beck and call. I told 'em, says I, 'You ain't had the chance. You'll run fast enough when you do.'"

"Did you say that to Captain Jed?"

"No-o. I said it to Alvin, but old Jed's just as bad. He's down on anybody that's got more'n he has. But Ros, you ain't foolish enough to side with Jed Dean. Just think! Here's Mr. Colton, richer'n King Solomon and all his glory. He's got servants and butlers and bonds and cowpons and horses and teams and automobiles and-"

I rose from the wash bench.

"I know what he's got, Lute," I interrupted. "And I know what he hasn't got."

"What? Is there anything he ain't got?"

"He hasn't got me-not yet. If he wants to see me he may. I expect to be at home for the next day or two."

"You don't mean you expect a millionaire like him to come cruisin' after YOU! Well, by time! I think I see him!"

"When you do, let me know," I said. "I should like to be prepared."

"Well,-by-time!" said Lute, by way of summing up. I ate dinner with Dorinda. Her husband did not join us. Dorinda paid a visit to the back yard and, seeing how little raking had been done, announced that until the job was finished there would be "no dinner for some folks." So she and I ate and Lute raked, under protest, and vowing that he was so faint and holler he cal'lated to collapse 'most any time.

After the meal was finished I went down to the boathouse. The boathouse was a little building on the beach at the foot of the bluff below the house. It was a favorite resort of mine and I spent many hours there. My eighteen foot motor launch, the Comfort, the one expensive luxury I allowed myself and which I had bought second-hand two years before, was jacked up in the middle of the floor. The engine, which I had taken apart to clean, was in pieces beside it. On the walls hung my two shot guns and my fishing rod. Outside, on the beach, was my flat-bottomed skiff, which I used for rowing about the bay, her oars under the thwarts. In the boathouse was a comfortable armchair and a small shelf of books, novels for the most part. A cheap clock and a broken-down couch, the latter a discard from the original outfit of the cottage, made up the list of furniture.

My idea in coming to the boathouse was to continue my work with the engine. I tried it for a half hour or so and then gave it up. It did not interest me then. I shut the door at the side of the building, that by which I had entered-the big double doors in front I had not opened at all-and, taking a book from the shelf, stretched myself on the couch to read.

The book I had chosen was one belonging to the Denboro Ladies' Library; Miss Almena Doane, the librarian, had recommended it highly, as a "real interesting story, with lots of uplifting thoughts in it." The thoughts might be uplifting to Almena, but they did not elevate my spirits. As for the story-well, the hero was a young gentleman who was poor but tremendously clever and handsome, and the heroine had eyes "as dark and deep as starlit pools." The poor but beautiful person met the pool-eyed one at a concert, where he sat, "his whole soul transfigured by the music," and she had been "fascinated in spite of herself" by the look on his face. I read as far as that and dropped the book in disgust.

After that I must have fallen asleep. What awakened me was a knock on the door. It was Lute, of course. Probably mother wanted me for something or other, and Dorinda had sent her husband to hunt me up.

The knock was repeated.

"Come in," I said, sleepily.

The door opened and in came, not Lute, but a tall, portly man, with a yachting cap on the back of his gray head, and a cigar in his mouth. He looked at me as I lay on the couch and I lay on the couch and looked at him.

"Afternoon," he said, curtly. "Is your name Paine?"

I nodded. I was waking rapidly, but I was too astonished to speak.

"Roscoe Paine?"

"Yes."

"Well, mine's Colton. I sent you a letter this morning. Did you get it?"

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares