- PART III
- CHAPTER X HOWARD'S TEMPTATION
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Howard did not know how long it took him to read this paper. It seemed to him an age, and when it was read he felt as if turning into stone. There was a fire in the grate before which he sat, and something said to him, "Burn it," so distinctly, that he looked over his shoulder to see who was there. "It's the devil," he thought, and his hand went toward the flame, then drew back quickly. He knew now what his uncle had tried so hard to tell them, and remembered how often his eyes had turned in the direction of the private drawer. He had put his confession there, and it had become wedged in and was out of sight, until frequent opening and shutting the drawer had brought it into view. He read the document again, and felt the perspiration oozing out of every pore. The twenty thousand recommended for him made him laugh, as he thought that was the sum he had intended for Amy, and which looked very small for his own needs. "Six times two are twelve," he said, calculating the interest at six per cent. "Twelve hundred a year is not much when one expected as many thousands. I believe I'll burn it!" and again the paper was held so near the fire that a corner of it was scorched.
"I can't do it," he said, drawing it back a second | | 372 time. "It would do no good, either, if they find out in Florida. I don't see, though, how they can, and if they have, Jack would have written, but I can't burn it yet. I must think a while."
He put the paper aside, and, without his overcoat, went out into the cold, sleety rain, which was falling heavily. It chilled him at once, but he did not think of it as he went through the grounds and gardens and fields of the Crompton Place, where everything was in perfect order and bespoke the wealth of the owner. It was a fair heritage, and he could not give it up without a pang. He never knew how many miles he walked back and forth across the fields and through the woods. Nor did he know that he was cold, until he returned to the house with drenched garments and a chill which he felt to his bones. He had taken a heavy cold, and staid in-doors the next morning, shivering before the grate, which he told Peter to heap with coal until it was hot as--. He didn't finish the sentence, but added, "I'm infernally cold,--influenza, I reckon, but I won't have any nostrums brought to me. All I want is a good fire."
Peter heaped up the fire until the room seemed to him like a furnace, and then left the young man alone with his thoughts and his temptation, which was assailing him a second time, stronger than before. He firmly believed the devil was there, urging him to burn the paper, and held several spirited conversations with him, pro and con, the cons finally gaining the victory.
Late in the afternoon Jack's telegram was brought to him. "We'll be home this evening."
"That means seven o'clock, and dinner at half- | | 373 past seven," he said to Peter. "Send Sam with the carriage, and see that there are fires in their rooms."
He had given his orders and then sat down to decide what he would do.
"I know the Old Harry is here with me, but his company is better than none," he said, wishing he had a shawl, he was so cold, with the room at 90 degrees.
The short lay drew to a close. Peter came in and lighted the gas, and put more coal on the grate, and said Sam had gone to the station. Half an hour later Howard heard the whistle of the train, and then the sound of wheels coming up the avenue.
"Now or never! " was whispered in his ear, and his hand, with the paper in it, went toward the fire.
There was a fierce struggle, and Howard felt that he was really fighting with an unseen foe; then his hand came back with the paper in it, safe except for a second scorch on one side.
"By the great eternal, it is never! I swear it!" he said, as his arm dropped beside him and the paper fell to the floor.
There was a sound below of people entering the house. They had come, and he heard Eloise's voice as she passed his door on her way to her room with Amy. Was Jack there too? he was wondering--when Jack came in, gay and breezy, but startled when he met the woe-begone face turned toward him.
"By George! old man," he said, "Peter told me you were shut up with a cold, but I didn't expect this. Why, you look like a ghost, and are sweating like a butcher, and no wonder. The thermometer must be a hundred. What's the matter?"
"Jack," Howard said, "for forty-eight hours I | | 374 have had a hand-to-hand tussle with the devil. He was here bodily, as much as you are, but I beat him, and swore I wouldn't burn the paper. Read it!"
He pointed to it upon the floor at his feet.
"I had it pretty near the fire twice, and singed it some," he continued, as Jack took it up, and, glancing at the first words, exclaimed, "A will I You found one, then?"
"Not a regularly attested will, but answers every purpose," Howard replied, while Jack read on with lightning rapidity, understanding much that was dark before, and guessing in part what it was to Howard to have all his hopes swept away.
"By Jove!" he said, as he finished reading, "there was good in the old man after all. I didn't think so when I heard Jakey's story, and saw where his wife lived and died. We found the marriage certificate."
"You did! " Howard exclaimed, a great gladness that he had not destroyed the paper taking possession of him. "Why didn't you write and tell me? It would have saved me that fight with the devil."
"I don't know why I didn't," Jack replied. "I was awfully busy, and went at once to Palatka to see if Tom Hardy left any family there, and found he was never married. Then I went to Atlanta to find some trace of the Browns and the Hardy plantation. The latter had been sold, the Hardys were all gone, and the Browns, too,--killed in the war, most likely, except one who is a street-car conductor in Boston, and I am going to hunt him up, as I believe he was at the wedding, although he must have been quite young. Yes, I ought to have written, and I'm sorry for you, upon my soul. You look as if you'd had a | | 375 taste of the infernal regions. I'm glad you didn't burn it."
He took Howard's hand and held it, while he told him, very briefly, the circumstances of their finding the certificate, of whose existence Col. Crompton could not have known. "And, Howard," he added, "I've something else to tell you. Eloise is to be my wife. We settled it in the train before I knew she was a great heiress. Can't you congratulate me?" he asked, as Howard did not speak.
"I expected it. You've got everything,--money and girl, too," Howard said at last. "You are a lucky dog, and, whether you believe me or not, I'd rather have the girl than the money. I asked her to marry me. Did she tell you?"
"Of course not," Jack replied, and Howard went on, "Well, I did, and kissed her, too!"
"Did she kiss you? " Jack asked a little sharply, and Howard replied, "No, sir; she was madder than a hatter; you've no cause to be jealous."
"All right," Jack answered, his brow clearing. "All right. I'm more sorry for you now than I was before. I didn't know you really cared for her that way; but, I say, aren't you coming to dinner? The bell has rung twice, and I still in my travelling clothes and you in your dressing-gown."
Howard shook his head. "Don't you see, I am sick with an infernal cold," he said. "Got it tramping in the rain without my overcoat, and that fight I told you of has unstrung me. It was a regular battle. But you go yourself, and perhaps Eloise will come to see me. I shall show her the Colonel's confession, and she can do as she pleases about telling her mother."| | 376
Jack left him and went to the dinner, which had been kept waiting some time, and at which Amy did not appear. She had gone at once to bed, Eloise explained, when she took her seat at the table with Jack. When told of Howard's message, she said, "Of course I'll go to him," and half an hour later she was in his room, and greatly shocked at his white, haggard face, which indicated more than the cold of which he complained. He did not tell her of his temptation. It was not necessary. He congratulated her upon her success, and upon her engagement, of which Jack had told him. Then he gave her the paper he had found, and watched her as she read it, sometimes with flashes of indignation upon her face, and again with tears of pity in her eyes.
"He was a bad man," she said, with great energy, and then added, "A good one, too, in some respects, although I cannot understand the pride Which made him such a coward."
"I can," Howard rejoined. "It's the Crompton pride, stronger than life itself. I know, for I am a Crompton. You, probably, are more Harris than Crompton, and do not feel so deeply."
He did not mean to reflect upon her mother's family, but Eloise's face was very red as she said, "The Harrises and Browns are not people to be proud of, I know, but they were as honest, perhaps, as the Cromptons, and they are mine, and if they all came here to-night I would not disown them."
She looked every inch a Crompton as she spoke, and Howard laughed and said, "Good for you, little cousin; I believe you would, and if Jack finds the conductor in Boston. I dare say you will have him at your wedding. When is it to be?"| | 377
"Just as soon as arrangements can be made," Jack replied, coming in in time to hear the last of Howard's remark, "and, of course, we'll have the street conductor if he will come. I start to-morrow to find him."
He took an early train the next morning for Boston, and two days after he wrote to Eloise: "I believe there are a million street cars in the city and fifty conductors by the name of Brown. Fortunately, however, there is only one Andrew Jackson, or Andy, as they call him, and I found him on one of the suburban trains, rather old to be a conductor, but seemed young for his years. He is your grandmother's cousin, and was present at the double wedding, when Eudora Harris was married by Elder Covil to James Crompton, 'a mighty proud-lookin' chap,' he said, 'who deserted her in less than a month. I remember him well. Pop threatened to shoot him if he ever cotched him, but the wah broke out and pop was killed, and all of us but me, who married a little Yankee girl what brought things to us prisoners in Washington. She's right smart younger than I am, and I've got eight children and five grandchildren, peart and lively as rabbits. And you want me to swear that I seen Eudory married? Wall, I will, for I did, and I'd like to see her girl-- Amy you call her. Mabby Mary Jane an' me will come to visit her when I have a spell off.'
"All this he said in a breath, and when I told him I was to marry Amy's daughter, he called me his cousin, and asked when the wedding was to be. If it had not been for those eight children and five grandchildren, thirteen Browns in all, which I felt sure he would bring with him, I should have prom- | | 378 ised him and Mary Jane an invitation. As it was, I did nothing rash. I got his affidavit, and we parted the best of friends, he urging me to call at his shanty and see Mary Jane and the kids. I had to decline, but told him perhaps I'd bring my wife to see them. What do you say? Expect me to-morrow.
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