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A KNIGHT-ERRANT OF THEFOOTHILLS (5)

2006-09-07 20:36

    V. When Herbert finally reached the bank that morning he was still in a state of doubt and perplexity. He had parted with his grateful visitor, whose safety in a few hours seemed assured, but without the least further revelation or actual allusion to anything antecedent to his selecting Tappington's room as refuge. More than that, Herbert was convinced from his manner that he had no intention of making a confidant of Mrs. Brooks, and this convinced him that Dornton's previous relations with Tappington were not only utterly inconsistent with that young man's decorous reputation, but were unsuspected by the family. The stranger's familiar knowledge of the room, his mysterious allusions to the "risks" Tappington had taken, and his sudden silence on the discovery of Bly's ignorance of the whole affair all pointed to some secret that, innocent or not, was more or less perilous, not only to the son but to the mother and sister. Of the latter's ignorance he had no doubt——but had he any right to enlighten them? Admitting that Tappington had deceived them with the others, would they thank him for opening their eyes to it? If they had already a suspicion, would they care to know that it was shared by him? Halting between his frankness and his delicacy, the final thought that in his budding relations with the daughter it might seem a cruel bid for her confidence, or a revenge for their distrust of him, inclined him to silence. But an unforeseen occurrence took the matter from his hands. At noon he was told that Mr. Carstone wished to see him in his private room!

    Satisfied that his complicity with Dornton's escape was discovered, the unfortunate Herbert presented himself, pale but self-possessed, before his employer. That brief man of business bade him be seated, and standing himself before the fireplace, looked down curiously, but not unkindly, upon his employee.

    "Mr. Bly, the bank does not usually interfere with the private affairs of its employees, but for certain reasons which I prefer to explain to you later, I must ask you to give me a straightforward answer to one or two questions. I may say that they have nothing to do with your relations to the bank, which are to us perfectly satisfactory."

    More than ever convinced that Mr. Carstone was about to speak of his visitor, Herbert signified his willingness to reply.

    "You have been seen a great deal with Miss Brooks lately——on the street and elsewhere——acting as her escort, and evidently on terms of intimacy. To do you both justice, neither of you seemed to have made it a secret or avoided observation; but I must ask you directly if it is with her mother's permission?"

    Considerably relieved, but wondering what was coming, Herbert answered, with boyish frankness, that it was.

    "Are you——engaged to the young lady?"

    "No, sir."

    "Are you——well, Mr. Bly——briefly, are you what is called 'in love' with her?" asked the banker, with a certain brusque hurrying over of a sentiment evidently incompatible with their present business surroundings.

    Herbert blushed. It was the first time he had heard the question voiced, even by himself. "I am," he said resolutely.

    "And you wish to marry her?"

    "If I dared ask her to accept a young man with no position as yet," stammered Herbert.

    "People don't usually consider a young man in Carstone's Bank of no position," said the banker dryly; "and I wish for your sake THAT were the only impediment. For I am compelled to reveal to you a secret." He paused, and folding his arms, looked fixedly down upon his clerk. "Mr. Bly, Tappington Brooks, the brother of your sweetheart, was a defaulter and embezzler from this bank!"

    Herbert sat dumfounded and motionless.

    "Understand two things," continued Mr. Carstone quickly. "First, that no purer or better women exist than Miss Brooks and her mother. Secondly, that they know nothing of this, and that only myself and one other man are in possession of the secret."

    He slightly changed his position, and went on more deliberately. "Six weeks ago Tappington sat in that chair where you are sitting now, a convicted hypocrite and thief. Luckily for him, although his guilt was plain, and the whole secret of his double life revealed to me, a sum of money advanced in pity by one of his gambling confederates had made his accounts good and saved him from suspicion in the eyes of his fellow-clerks and my partners. At first he tried to fight me on that point; then he blustered and said his mother could have refunded the money; and asked me what was a paltry five thousand dollars! I told him, Mr. Bly, that it might be five years of his youth in state prison; that it might be five years of sorrow and shame for his mother and sister; that it might be an everlasting stain on the name of his dead father——my friend. He talked of killing himself: I told him he was a cowardly fool. He asked me to give him up to the authorities: I told him I intended to take the law in my own hands and give him another chance; and then he broke down. transferred him that very day, without giving him time to communicate with anybody, to our branch office at Portland, with a letter explaining his position to our agent, and the injunction that for six months he should be under strict surveillance. I myself undertook to explain his sudden departure to Mrs. Brooks, and obliged him to write to her from time to time." He paused, and then continued: "So far I believe my plan has been successful: the secret has been kept; he has broken with the evil associates that ruined him here——to the best of my knowledge he has had no communication with them since; even a certain woman here who shared his vicious hidden life has abandoned him."

    "Are you sure?" asked Herbert involuntarily, as he recalled his mysterious visitor.

    "I believe the Vigilance Committee has considered it a public duty to deport her and her confederates beyond the State," returned Carstone dryly.

    Another idea flashed upon Herbert. "And the gambler who advanced the money to save Tappington?" he said breathlessly.

    "Wasn't such a hound as the rest of his kind, if report says true," answered Carstone. "He was well known here as George Dornton-Gentleman George——a man capable of better things. But he was before your time, Mr. Bly——YOU don't know him."

    Herbert didn't deem it a felicitous moment to correct his employer, and Mr. Carstone continued: "I have now told you what I thought it was my duty to tell you. I must leave YOU to judge how far it affects your relations with Miss Brooks."

    Herbert did not hesitate. "I should be very sorry, sir, to seem to undervalue your consideration or disregard your warning; but I am afraid that even if you had been less merciful to Tappington, and he were now a convicted felon, I should change neither my feelings nor my intentions to his sister."

    "And you would still marry her?" said Carstone sternly; "YOU, an employee of the bank, would set the example of allying yourself with one who had robbed it?"

    "I——am afraid I would, sir," said Herbert slowly.

    "Even if it were a question of your remaining here?" said Carstone grimly.

    Poor Herbert already saw himself dismissed and again taking up his weary quest for employment; but, nevertheless, he answered stoutly:"Yes, sir."

    "And nothing will prevent you marrying Miss Brooks?"

    "Nothing——save my inability to support her."

    "Then," said Mr. Carstone, with a peculiar light in his eyes, "it only remains for the bank to mark its opinion of your conduct by INCREASING YOUR SALARY TO ENABLE YOU TO DO SO! Shake hands, Mr. Bly," he said, laughing. "I think you'll do to tie to——and I believe the young lady will be of the same opinion. But not a word to either her or her mother in regard to what you have heard. And now I may tell you something more. I am not without hope of Tappington's future, nor——d——n it!——without some excuse for his fault, sir. He was artificially brought up. When my old friend died, Mrs. Brooks, still a handsome woman, like all her sex wouldn't rest until she had another devotion, and wrapped herself and her children up in the Church. Theology may be all right for grown people, but it's apt to make children artificial; and Tappington was pious before he was fairly good. He drew on a religious credit before he had a moral capital behind it. He was brought up with no knowledge of the world, and when he went into it——it captured him. I don't say there are not saints born into the world occasionally; but for every one you'll find a lot of promiscuous human nature. My old friend Josh Brooks had a heap of it, and it wouldn't be strange if some was left in his children, and burst through their straight-lacing in a queer way. That's all! Good-morning, Mr. Bly. Forget what I've told you for six months, and then I shouldn't wonder if Tappington was on hand to give his sister away.

    。 …… …… ……

    Mr. Carstone's prophecy was but half realized. At the end of six months Herbert Bly's discretion and devotion were duly rewarded by Cherry's hand. But Tappington did NOT give her away. That saintly prodigal passed his period of probation with exemplary rectitude, but, either from a dread of old temptation, or some unexplained reason, he preferred to remain in Portland, and his fastidious nest on Telegraph Hill knew him no more. The key of the little door on the side street passed, naturally, into the keeping of Mrs. Bly. Whether the secret of Tappington's double life was ever revealed to the two women is not known to the chronicler.

    Mrs. Bly is reported to have said that the climate of Oregon was more suited to her brother's delicate constitution than the damp fogs of San Francisco, and that his tastes were always opposed to the mere frivolity of metropolitan society. The only possible reason for supposing that the mother may have become cognizant of her son's youthful errors was in the occasional visits to the house of the handsome George Dornton, who, in the social revolution that followed the brief reign of the Vigilance Committee, characteristically returned as a dashing stockbroker, and the fact that Mrs. Brooks seemed to have discarded her ascetic shawl forever. But as all this was contemporaneous with the absurd rumor, that owing to the loneliness induced by the marriage of her daughter she contemplated a similar change in her own condition, it is deemed unworthy the serious consideration of this veracious chronicle.

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