DAN reassured his mother as well as he could. “Only a fit of nerves;—too much music, I guess,” he said; and, returning to his son’s door, found it locked and Henry as unresponsive as the door. The father knocked repeatedly but not loudly, demanding admittance and obtaining the response of a profound silence. Then, as he heard Mrs. Oliphant slowly ascending the stairs to her belated bed, he decided to keep out of her way until he had better composed himself, and, retiring to his own room, discovered that his teeth were chattering.
He removed his cold and sodden garments; but his bed seemed as cold as his clothes; so he got up, put a dressing-gown over his pajamas, and again tried to sleep. The bed still seemed cold—so cold that his teeth still showed the disposition to chatter. However, he told himself that he had “more to worry about than a little chill”; and, between the chill and his more important worries, slept but fitfully. He was warm when the drizzly morning came—too warm—and, again communing with himself on the subject of his physical annoyances, philosophically dismissed the fever as unworthy of his attention. “A little temperature’s perfectly natural after a chill,” he thought. “It’ll pass off, and I’ve got other things to think about this day!”
So, descending early to the dining-room he had a cup of strong coffee, and left the house without having seen anybody except the cook and his chauffeur. The interview with his son was postponed until evening;—Dan felt he would be better fitted to speak with authority after he had beaten the shellbacks and had shown the First National, with the help of the Kohns and some others, that it wouldn’t do to “call” him.
He had a hard day of it; the shells of the shellbacks were tough and seasoned casings, tough as old hickory, and about as penetrable to mere argument. The morning began ominously, and the afternoon came to a close, in the office of Sam Kohn, Junior, in something not far from complete disaster; though Sam insisted, when he and Dan were finally left alone together there, that it was not complete.
“No, sir!” he said. “The way you got a perfect right to look at it, it ain’t near as bad as it might been. Maybe from one angle you can say you come out the little end of the horn, but from another angle, you certainly did come out, you might say. You got to look at it from this angle, Dan: you might been sittin’ there stone cold broke right now. I tell you last night late, when I talked it over with the old man after you’d gone, I was mighty scared it was goin’ to be bankruptcy—but it’s a lot better than that. Ain’t it better’n that, Dan?”
Dan looked up without altering the despondent attitude into which he had fallen, as he sat in one of his friend’s mahogany office chairs. “Yes; I guess it could have been a good deal worse. The only trouble is——” He took a deep and laboured breath, then laughed plaintively. “The only trouble is, while it might have been worse, I wasn’t hardly prepared for its bein’ so bad!”
“But it ain’t so blame bad, Dan.”
“No; I thought when I showed ’em what I had to fall back on they’d see they couldn’t afford to call. I thought I could show ’em it would be so profitable to tide me over and let me renew that they’d see it was the best policy. They ought to have seen it, too!”
Agreeing with this, Sam swore heartily, then he added, “Them old hardshells! The worst about ’em is they got their business training when everything was on the small scale, and they don’t know what a liberal policy means. You take that old Shelby, for instance, he was raised on such a stingy scale he thinks everybody’s a gambler that borrows a nickel on a million-dollar bond! He’s got one foot in the grave and he’s so shrunk it takes two people to see him, but, by golly, he wants to get his hands on everything! They’re a tough bunch, Dan, and I’m glad you got away from ’em alive. Because you still are alive. Anyhow you’re that much!”
Dan shook his head. “Just barely, I guess. If it had been that Broadwood hard luck by itself, I’d have pulled out o’ the hole. If that hadn’t come just at the same time our sales smashed with the Four——”
“That’s exactly the way bad things do come, though,” Sam interrupted, and went on to expound the philosophy of misfortune. “They come together, because that’s what makes ’em bad. It’s the comin’ together of bad things that makes all the trouble there is. If they’d come one at a time a person wouldn’t mind ’em so much. The angle I look at it, if a person goes along all right for a good while it’s only because a whole lot of bad things are holdin’ off on him. That makes ’em bound to come together when they do come. It never rains but it pours, Dan, as it were. That’s why, when such things happen, we got to put up the best umbrella a feller can lay his hands on.”
Dan did not seem to have heard him. “I could stand havin’ to sign over the Four to ’em, Sam,” he said. “I’d like to have kept it in my hands, but I could stand havin’ ’em take it. But when I think I had to sit here and sign over Ornaby——” Suddenly he uttered a broken sound, like a groan; and his whole face became corrugated with a distortion that took more than a moment to conquer. “Why, I’ve just given my life’s blood to Ornaby, and now——”
“Now?” Sam said testily. “Well, what’s the matter with now? Didn’t we force ’em to agree to turn you over some stock in it when they get the organization made? You ain’t out of Ornaby, are you? Not entirely, by no means!”
“It’s not mine,” Dan said. “It’s not mine any longer. Nothin’s mine any longer!”
His friend affected an angry impatience. “Don’t sit there and talk like that to a person that knows something! If you’d had to make the kind of assignment you might had to, you’d be where it would be pretty hard for you to come back. Ain’t you goin’ to try to come back?”
“Don’t you worry about that,” Dan said. “I’m just as sure to come back as I am to go out of that door!” He laughed rather shakily, as he rose to go. “Why, a few years from now—less’n that!—why, by this time next year if I don’t get Ornaby back I’ll make a new Ornaby—I’ll find it somewhere, and this town won’t take long to grow out to it, the way it’s started now. Don’t you ever worry about my comin’ back!”
“That’s the ticket!” his friend cried. “That’s the way you used to talk. You go home and get a good rest—you certainly been through a rough day, and you look like it!—and then you get up to-morrow morning and start to come back!”
“That’s the programme I’ve mapped out, Sammy. I guess you’re right about my gettin’ on home, too. I don’t feel just the freshest in the world.”
“Wait a minute,” the other said. “I want to make certain about one thing. You told me I mustn’t go near your brother, and my tacklin’ him the way I did this morning behind your back—well, I never liked the cold-blooded silk-stocking upstart, but he did show he’s a gentleman. I been afraid——” He hesitated, somewhat confused. “Well, I know how it is in families, when one of a family don’t want help from another of the same family, the last person on earth, and I been kind of afraid you might hold it some against me, my tacklin’ him behind your back like that, after you told me not to.”
“Bless you, no!” Dan said heartily. “You haven’t done me anything except kindness.”
“Well, and I’ve had many’s the favour from you, both business and outside, Dan. That’s why I persuaded the old man the city needs a man like you. You got many’s the long year of good in you yet, Dan.”
“I hope so; I hope so,” Dan said, and held out his hand. “Good-night, and thank you.”
But Sam almost jumped as he took the extended hand. “My goodness, man, you ought to be home in bed! You had too much excitement and you got a high fever. If I had a temperature like that, I wouldn’t be here in my office; I’d be talkin’ to my doctor.”
“Oh, it’ll pass off,” Dan returned cheerfully. “It’s only one of those up-and-down things—chilly a little while and too hot the next little while. Good-night, old man.” And with that, he thanked this boyhood friend again, and descended to the busy street.
After a cloudy day the sky had cleared; a fair sunset was perceptible as a gloomy fire in the heart of the western smoke; and Dan, having long since dismissed his chauffeur, decided to walk home, instead of taking either a trolley car or a taxicab. Before he had gone far, however, he regretted this decision, for his feet had assumed a peculiar independence, and seemed to be unfamiliar parts of him: it was only by concentrating his will upon them that he forced them to continue to be his carriers. “Strange!” he thought. “A man’s own feet behavin’ like that!”
Then he laughed to himself, not grimly, yet somewhat ruefully. Everything he had believed his own seemed to be behaving like that. Ornaby Addition had been as much a part of him as his feet were, but he was making his feet behave; and when he could get his breath, and start in again, he would make Ornaby behave once more. The shellbacks might get Ornaby away from him for a while, but they couldn’t keep it!
When he reached the tall cast-iron Oliphant gateposts, white no longer, but oyster-coloured with the city grime, there was a taxicab waiting in the street before them; and by this time he was so lifelessly tired he wished the cab might carry him into the house, but exerting his will, made his erratic feet serve him that far. He found his brother-in-law in the library with Mrs. Oliphant, who was crying quietly.
George jumped up as Dan came into the room. “Dan, I’m glad you’ve come before I have to go. I’ve got to catch the six-fifteen for New York——”
“No,” Dan said, and he sat heavily in one of the comfortable old easy-chairs. “No. I don’t believe you better leave town just now. They’ve thrown me out of control, but I got ’em to promise they’ll keep you on, George. If there’s somebody there that’s in my interest, maybe when I get on my feet again——” He turned to his mother, looking at her perplexedly: “For heaven’s sake, don’t cry, mother! I’m sorry you’ve heard about it, but don’t you fret: I’ll get back—after I’ve had a few days’ rest, maybe I will. I don’t believe you’d better go to New York just now, George.”
“I’ve got to,” George said. “Dan, I want—I want you to forgive me.”
“For wanting to go to New York?”
“No. For ever introducing you to my sister. Your mother wasn’t at home this afternoon, and at three o’clock Lena left for New York.”
“Yes. Your chauffeur took her to the train. She told him—Dan, she told him to say she wouldn’t be back, and she took Henry with her.”
“Wait a minute!” Dan passed his hand over his forehead, and uttered a confused and plaintive sound of laughter. “Just a minute,” he said apologetically. “There’s a good deal kind of seems to’ve hit me all at once. I guess I’ll have to go kind of slow takin’ it in. You say Lena says she isn’t comin’ back home?”
“She had the kindness to tell the chauffeur to say so,” George replied bitterly.
“Henry went with her.”
“I guess then I better go after him,” Dan said, and he rose; but immediately sank back in his chair. “I don’t know if I’d be able to go on your train, though. I expect maybe I need a good night’s sleep, first. I——”
“Will you leave it to me?” George asked sharply. “Will you just leave it to me?”
“You mean gettin’ them to come home?”
“ ‘Them!’ ” George said. “I’m not sure that you need my sister here any longer. I don’t think you ever needed her very much. But you do want your son, and if you’ll leave it to me, I think I can bring him. Will you, Dan?”
“I guess I’ll have to—just now,” Dan answered, with a repetition of his apologetic laugh. “It’s all seemed to’ve kind of hit me at once, as it were, George. I’m afraid what I need’s a good night’s sleep. I’m afraid I’ll have to leave it to you.”
“I’ll bring him!” McMillan promised. “I’ll have him back here with me four days from now.”