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Arms and the Woman By Harold MacGrath Characters: 17927

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


In my bedroom the next morning there was a sad and heavy heart. The owner woke up, stared at the ceiling, then at the sun-baked bricks beyond his window. He saw not the glory of the sun and the heavens. To his eyes there was nothing poetic in the flash of the distant church-spires against the billowy cloudbanks. The gray doves, circling about the chimneys, did not inspire him, nor the twittering of the sparrows on the window ledge. There was nothing at all in the world but a long stretch of barren, lonely years. And he wondered how, without her at his side, he ever could traverse them. He was driftwood again. He had built upon sands as usual, and the tide had come in; his castle was flotsam and jetsam. He was drifting, and he didn't care where. He was very sorry for himself, and he had the blue devils the worst kind of way. Finally he crawled out of bed and dressed because it had to be done. He was not particularly painstaking with the procedure. It mattered not what collar became him best, and he picked up a tie at random. A man generally dresses for a certain woman's approval, and when that is no longer to be gained he grows indifferent. The other women do not count.

My breakfast consisted of a cup of coffee; and as the generous nectar warmed my veins my thoughts took a philosophical turn. It is fate who writes the was, the is, and the shall be. We have a proverb for every joy and misfortune. It is the only consolation fate gives us. It is like a conqueror asking the vanquished to witness the looting. All roads lead to Rome, and all proverbs are merely sign posts by which we pursue our destinies. And how was I to get to Rome? I knew not. Hope is better than clairvoyance.

Was Phyllis right when she said that I did not truly love her? I believed not. Should I go on loving her all my life? Undoubtedly I should. As to affinities, I had met mine, but it had proved a one-sided affair.

It was after ten by the clock when I remembered that I was to meet the lawyer, the arbiter of my new fortunes. Money is a balm for most things, and coupled with travel it might lead me to forget.

He was the family lawyer, and he had come all the way North to see that I received my uncle's bequest. He was bent, gray and partially bald. He must have been close to seventy, but for all that there was a youthful twinkle in his eyes as he took my card and looked up into my face.

"So you are John Winthrop?" he said in way of preliminary. You may hand a card case full of your name to a lawyer, and still he will insist upon a verbal admission.

"I have always been led to believe so," I answered smartly, placing my hat beside the chair in which I sat down. "How did you manage to locate me in this big city?"

"Your uncle had seen some of your signed articles in New York papers, and said that in all probability I should find you here. A few inquiries set me on your track." Here he pulled out a lengthy document from his handbag. "I confess, however," he added, "that I am somewhat disappointed in your looks."

"Disappointed in my looks!" was my cry. "What sort of a duffer were you expecting to see?"

He laughed. "Well, your uncle gave me the idea that I should find a good-for-nothing hack-writer, a dweller in some obscure garret."

"If that is the case, what under the sun did he send you up here for?"

The merriment went out of the old man's face and his eyes became grave. "Of that anon. Let me proceed with my business and read the will to you. You will find it rather a remarkable document."

I settled back in my chair in a waiting attitude. To tell the truth, I was somewhat confused by all this preamble. To his son my uncle left the bulk of his property, which amounted to more than a million. I was listless. The head overseer received the munificent sum of $50,000; to the butler, the housekeeper and the cook he gave $10,000 each. I began to grow interested. He was very liberal to his servants. Several other names were read, and my interest assumed the color of anxiety. When the lawyer stopped to unfold the last flap, I spoke.

"And where in the world do I come in?"

"In the sense you understand, you do not come in."

I stared at him in amazement. "I don't come in?" I repeated vaguely.

"Ah," reaching down for my hat, "then I go out, as it were;" as

brilliant as a London yellow fog. "What the devil does all this mean?"

I started to rise.

"Wait!" he commanded. "'To my nephew, John Winthrop, I bequeath the sum of $1,000 to be presented to him in person immediately after this will is probated, and with the understanding that he shall make no further demand upon my son and heir in the future.' That is all," concluded the lawyer, folding the document. "I have the check in my pocket."

"Keep it," said I, rising. A hot flush of indignation swept over me. I understood. It was his revenge. To have a man make sport of you after he is dead and gone, leaving you impotent and with never a chance to retaliate! "Keep it," I said again; "throw it away, or burn it. I understand. He has satisfied a petty revenge. It is an insult not only to me, but to my dead parents. You are, of course, acquainted with the circumstances of my mother's marriage. She married the man she loved, disregarding her brother's wishes."

"I knew your mother," said the lawyer, going to the window and looking out and beyond all that met his gaze.

"To think," I went on, cooling none, "that my mother's brother should die in this manner, nourishing so small and petty a spite! When he did this he knew that I should understand his motive. In the first place, I never dreamed that he would remember me in his will; never entertained the least idea of it. I am independent; I am earning a livelihood, small, but enough and to spare. I'll bid you good morning." I took a step toward the door.

"Young man, sit down," said the old man, coming back to his chair. "I want to talk to you for a few minutes. Your uncle was a peculiarly vindictive man. What he considered a wrong he neither forgot nor forgave. His son pleaded with him not to put in that final clause. He offered even to share with you. Your uncle swore he would leave it all to the stablemen first. This journey was forced upon me, or I should not have taken it. This is my advice to you: Accept the check, in the privacy of your room tear it up, or light a cigar with it; that's about all it's worth. You will feel no little satisfaction in lighting a cigar with it, that is, if you are anything like me. Think of it! a thousand dollars to light your cigar. It is an opportunity not to be missed. When you grow old you will say to your grandchildren: 'Once I lit a cigar with a thousand-dollar check.' The oldest inhabitant will be silenced forever; it may become history. And then, too, if there are spirits, as Scripture says there are, your uncle's will writhe at the performance. I trust that you will forgive me my part in the matter. I have taken a fancy to you, and if you will accept my friendship I shall be happy to accept yours. Your uncle's revenge will not be a marker to the restitution his son will make."

"Restitution?-his son?"

"Yes. To my sincere regret he is an invalid who may or may not live the year out. He has already made a will, in which he leaves all to you. The will is in my safe at home. I return to-night, so I may not see you again in this world of sin and tribulation." The merry twinkle had returned to his eyes. "I am very old."

"It is worth all the trouble to have met you," said I. "You should have made the jolt very easy."

So we shook hands, and he gave me a cigar, around which was wrapped the check. He winked. Then he laughed, and I joined him, though my laughter resembled mirth less than it did the cackle of a hen which was disturbed over the future of her brood.

I left him and went down into the wine room and ordered a stiff brandy and soda. When that disappeared I ordered another. I rattled the ice in the glass. "Ha, ha, ha!" I roared, as the events of the past twenty-four hours recurred to me. There must have been a suicidal accent to my laughter, for the bartender looked at me with some concern. I called for another brandy and shot the soda into it myself. I watched the foam evaporate, "Ha, ha, ha!"

"Hard luck?" the bartender asked sympathetically.

"Yes," said I. I seemed to be speaking to several bartenders who looked at me with several varieties of compassion.

"Have another on me," said the bartender.

I had another, and went out into the street. I walked down Broadway, chuckling to myself. What a glorious farce it all was! My fortune! Phyllis my wife! What if she had accepted me? I laughed aloud, and people turned and stared at me. Oh, yes! I was to travel and write novels and have my pictures in book reviews, and all that! When I arrived at the office I was on the verge of total insanity. I was obliged to ask the paragrapher to wri

te my next day's leader. It was night before I became rational, and once that, the whole world donned cap and bells and began capering for my express benefit. The more I thought of it, the more I laughed. What a whimsical world it was! And was there anything in it so grotesque as my part? I took the check from my pocket and cracked it between my fingers. A cigar was in my mouth. Should I light it with the check? It was for $1,000. After all, it was more than I had ever before held in my hand at once. But what was a paltry thousand, aye a paltry ten thousand, to a man's pride? I bit off the end of my cigar, creased the check into a taper, and struck a match. I watched it burn and burn. I struck another. I held it within an inch of the check, but for the life of me I could not light it.

"The devil take it!" I cried. I flung the cigar out of the window and laid the check on my desk. Courage? Why, it needed the courage of a millionaire to light a cigar with a $1,000 check!

The office boy, who came in then, was salvation. The managing editor wanted to see me. I sprang up with alacrity; anything but the sight of that figure 1 and the three demon eyes of that $1,000 check!

"Winthrop," said the managing editor to me as I entered his office, "you've got to go to London. Hillars has gone under--"

"Not dead!" I cried.

"No, no! He has had to give up work temporarily on account of drink. If it was any other man I'd throw him over in short order. But I feel sorry for Hillars, and I am going to give him another chance. I want you to go over and take care of him if possible. The London work is not new to you. You can handle that and Hillars too. If you can keep him in check--"

I shuddered. The word "check" jarred on my nerves.

"What's the matter?" asked the editor.

"A temporary chill," I said. "Go on."

"Well, if you can manage to keep him in check for a month or so he'll be able to get on his feet again. And it will be like a vacation to you. If anything happens to Hillars you will be expected to remain permanently abroad. Hillars suggested you in his letter. Will you be ready to go next Monday?"

"To-morrow if you like," I answered readily enough. Here was an opportunity not to be missed. To see new scenes and faces is partially to forget old ones.

"Very well. I'll give you some letters which will help you. Our office is in the Strand. Hillars will find you lodgings. He has bachelor quarters in the west end of the town, where congenial spirits congregate. Come in to-morrow and we'll talk it over."

I was much pleased with the turn of events. If I could get away from New York I might forget Phyllis-no, not forget her; I loved her too well ever to forget her; but the prolonged absence would cure me of my malady.

Before going to bed that night I lit a cigar, but not with the check. On sober second thought I calculated that the sum would pay up all my debts and leave me a comfortable margin. A man can well pocket his pride when he pockets a thousand dollars with it. And why not? I was about to start life anew and might as well begin on a philosophical basis. Who knew but my uncle had foreseen the result of his bequest; my rage, my pride, and finally lighting a cigar with his check? It really might make his spirit writhe to better effect if I became benefited. Sober second thought is more or less a profitable investment.

On the morrow everything was arranged for my departure. I was to leave

Saturday morning.

It was a beautiful day, crisp and clear, with a bare ground which rang to the heel. In the afternoon I wandered over to the Park and sat down on a bench, and watched the skaters as they glided to and fro. I caught myself wishing that I was a boy again, with an hour's romp on the sheeny crust in view. Gradually the mantle of peace fell upon me, and there was a sense of rest. I was going to forgive the world the wrong it had done me; perhaps it would feel ashamed of itself and reward me for my patience. So Hillars was "going to pieces." It is strange how we men love another who has shared and spent with us our late patrimonies. Hillars and I had been friends since our youth, and we had lived together till a few years back. Then he went to Washington, from there to Paris, thence to London. He was a better newspaper man than I. I liked to dream too well, while he was always for a little action. Liquor was getting the best of him. I wondered why. It might be a woman. There is always one around somewhere when a man's breath smells of whisky. A good deal of this woman's temperance business is caused by remorse. I was drawing aimless pictures in the frozen gravel, when I became aware that two skaters had stopped in front of me. I glanced up and saw Phyllis and Ethel, their eyes like stars and their cheeks like roses.

"I was wondering if it was you," said Ethel. "Phyllis, where is my cavalier?"

"I believe he has forsaken us," said the voice of the woman I loved.

"Will you not accept part of the bench?" I asked, moving along.

The girls dropped easily beside me.

"I was just wishing I was a boy again and was in for a game of hockey," said I. "I am going to London on Saturday. Our foreign correspondent has had to give up work on account of ill health."

"You haven't--" Phyllis stopped suddenly.

"Oh, no," said I intuitively. "I am growing rusty, and they think I need a vacation." I was glad Ethel was there with her voluble chatter.

"Oh, a foreign correspondent!"' she cried.

"Yes."

"You will have a glorious time. Papa will probably return to B-- when the next administration comes in. It is sure to be Republican." There are a few women who pose as Democrats; I never met one of them. "You know papa was there twenty years ago. I suppose you will be hob-nobbing with dukes and princes."

"It cannot be avoided," I said gravely. "I do not expect to remain long in London. When my work is done perhaps I shall travel and complete my foreign polish."

"Oh, yes!" said Phyllis. "I forgot to tell you, Ethel, that a fortune has been left to Jack, and he need not work but for the love of it."

I laughed, but they thought it a self-conscious laugh. Somehow I was not equal to the task of enlightening them.

"It is jolly to be rich," said Ethel, clicking her skates together. "It's a bother at times, however, to know what to do with the money. I buy so many things I do not need just because I feel compelled to spend my allowance."

"It must be very inconvenient," I observed.

"And now that you are a man of leisure," said Phyllis, "you will write that book you have always been telling me about?"

"Do you wish it?" I asked.

"I do. What I have always found lacking in you is application. You start out to accomplish something, you find an obstacle in your path and you do not surmount it; you do not persevere."

My pulse beat quickly. Was there a double meaning to what she said? I could not tell, for her eyes remained averted.

I sighed. "It would be nice to become a successful author, but when a man is as rich as I am fame tarnishes." I took out an envelope from my pocket.

"What is that?" asked Phyllis.

I turned over the back and showed it to her.

"Figures!" she laughed. "What do they mean?"

"It is what I am going to do with my fortune," said I. I was holding out my vanity at arm's length and laughing at it silently.

"Your air castles will be realized now," said Phyllis.

"I shall build no more," said I. "The last one gave me a very bad fall."

Phyllis looked away again. A vague perfume from her hair wafted past my nostrils, and for a space I was overwhelmed with sadness. Soon I discerned Mr. Holland speeding toward us.

"I shall not see you again," I said, "so I'll bid you good-bye now. If you should chance to come abroad this summer, do not fail to look me up."

"Good luck to you," said Ethel, shaking my hand. "You must bring home a Princess or a Duchess." Then she moved off a way, thoughtfully.

"You must write to me occasionally, Jack," said Phyllis, "if only once a month. I shall always be interested in your career."

The smile faltered as she put out her gloved hand.

"You will make some man happy, Phyllis," I said.

"Good-bye."

"Good-bye."

And then-and then they sped away, and I followed them with dimming gaze till I could see them no more. I trudged home. . . .

I stood on the upper deck. The spires and domes of the city faded on my sight till all merged into a gray smoky patch on the horizon. With a dead cigar clenched between my teeth I watched and watched with a callous air, as though there had been no wrench, as though I had not left behind all I loved in the world. And yet I gazed, the keen salt air singing past my ears, till there was nothing but the sea as far as the eye could scan.

Thus I began the quest of the elusive, which is a little of love, a little of adventure, and a little of all things.

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