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MR. ARNOT'S SYSTEM WORKS BADLY
Mr. Arnot was so disturbed by his wife's visit that he found it impossible to return to the routine of business, and, instead of maintaining the cold, lofty bearing of a man whose imperious will awed and controlled all within its sphere, he fumed up and down his office like one who had been caught in the toils himself. In the morning it had seemed that there could not have been a fairer opportunity to vindicate his iron system, and make it irresistible. The offending subject in his business realm should receive due punishment, and all the rest be taught that they were governed by inexorable laws, which would be executed with the certainty and precision with which the wheels moved in a great factory under the steady impulse of the motor power. But the whole matter now bade fair to end in a tangled snarl, whose final issue no one could foretell.
He was sensitive to public opinion, and had supposed that his course would be upheld and applauded, and he be commended as a conservator of public morals. He now feared, however, that he would be portrayed as harsh, grasping, and unfeeling. It did not trouble him that he was so, but that he would be made to appear so.
But his wife's words in reference to the withdrawal of her large property from his business was a far more serious consideration. He had learned how resolute and unswerving she could be in matters of conscience, and he knew that she was not in the habit of making idle threats in moments of irritation. If, just at this time, when he was widely extending his business, she should demand a separate investment of her means, it would embarrass and cripple him in no slight degree. If this should be one of the results of his master-stroke, he would have reason to curse his brilliant policy all his days. He would now be only too glad to get rid of the Haldane affair on any terms, for thus far it had proved only a source of annoyance and mortification. He was somewhat consoled, however, when his confidential clerk returned and intimated that the examination before the justice had been brief; that Haldane had eagerly stated his case to the justice, but when that dignitary remarked that it was a clear case of embezzlement, and that he would have to commit the prisoner unless some one went security for his future appearance, the young fellow had grown sullen and answered, "Send me to jail then; I have no friends in this accursed city."
To men of the law and of sense the case was as clear as daylight.
But Mr. Arnot was not by any means through with his disagreeable experiences. He had been a manufacturer sufficiently long to know that when a piece of machinery is set in motion, not merely the wheels nearest to one will move, but also others that for the moment may be out of sight. He who proposes to have a decided influence upon a fellow-creature's destiny should remember our complicated relations, for he cannot lay his strong grasp upon one life without becoming entangled in the interests of many others.
Mr. Arnot was finding this out to his cost, for he had hardly composed himself to his writing again before there was a rustle of a lady's garments in the outer office, and a hasty step across the threshold of his private sanctum. Looking up, he saw, to his dismay, the pale, frightened face of Mrs. Haldane.
"Where is Egbert?--where is my son?" she asked abruptly.
At that moment Mr. Arnot admitted to himself that he had never been asked so embarrassing a question in all his life. Before him was his wife's friend, a lady of the highest social rank, and she was so unmistakably a lady that he could treat her with only the utmost deference. He saw with alarm himself the mother's nervous and trembling apprehension, for there was scarcely anything under heaven that he would not rather face than a scene with a hysterical woman. If this was to be the climax of his policy he would rather have lost the thousand dollars than have had it occur. Rising from his seat, he said awkwardly:
"Really, madam, I did not expect you here this morning."
"I was on my way to New York, and decided to stop and give my son a surprise. But this paper--this dreadful report--what does it mean?"
"I am sorry to say, madam, it is all too true," replied Mr. Arnot uneasily. "Please take a chair, or perhaps it would be better for you to go at once to our house and see Mrs. Arnot," he added, now glad to escape the interview on any terms.
"What is too true?" she gasped.
"I think you had better see Mrs. Arnot; she will explain," said the unhappy man, who felt that his system was tumbling in chaos about his ears. "Let me assist you to your carriage."
"Do you think I can endure the suspense of another moment? In mercy speak--tell me the worst!"
"Well," said Mr. Arnot, with a shiver like that of one about to plunge into a cold bath, "I suppose you will learn sooner or later that your son has committed a very wrong act. But," he added hastily, on seeing Mrs. Haldane's increasing pallor, "there are extenuating circumstances--at least, I shall act as if there were."
"But what has he done--where is he?" cried the mother in agony. Then she added in a frightened whisper, "But the matter can be hushed up--there need be no publicity--oh, that would kill me! Please take steps--"
"Mr. Arnot," said a young man just entering, and speaking in a piping, penetrating voice," I represent the 'Evening Spy.' I wish to obtain from you for publication the particulars of this disgraceful affair" Then, seeing Mrs. Haldane, who had dropped her veil, and was trembling violently, he added, "I hope I am not intruding; I--"
"Yes, sir, you are intruding," said Mr. Arnot harshly.
"Then, perhaps, sir, you will be so kind as to step outside for a moment. I can take down your words rapidly, and--"
"Step outside yourself, sir. I have nothing whatever to say to you."
"I beg you to reconsider that decision, sir. Of course, a full account of the affair must appear in this evening's 'Spy.' It will be your own fault if it is not true in all respects. It is said that you have acted harshly in the matter--that it was young Haldane's first offence, and--"
"Leave my office!" thundered Mr. Arnot.
The lynx-eyed reporter, while speaking thus rapidly, had been scrutinizing the veiled and trembling lady, and he was scarcely disappointed that she now rose hastily, and threw back her veil as she said eagerly:
"Why must the whole affair be published? You say truly that his offence, whatever it is, is his first. Surely the editor of your paper will not be so cruel as to blast a young man forever with disgrace!"
"Mrs. Haldane, I presume," said the reporter, tracing a few hieroglyphics in his note-book.
"Yes," continued the lady, speaking from the impulse of her heart, rather than from any correct knowledge of the world, "and I will pay willingly any amount to have the whole matter quietly dropped. I could not endure anything of this kind, for I have no husband to shelter me, and the boy has no father to protect him."
Mr. Arnot groaned in spirit that he had not considered this case in any of its aspects save those which related to his business. He had formed the habit of regarding all other considerations as unworthy of attention, but here, certainly, was a most disagreeable exception.
"You touch my feelings deeply," said the reporter, in a tone that never for a second lost its professional cadence, "but I much regret that your hopes cannot be realized. Your son's act could scarcely be kept a secret after the fact--known to all--that he has been openly dragged to prison through the streets," and the gatherer of news and sensations kept an eye on each of his victims as he made this statement. A cabalistic sign in his note-book indicated the visible wincing of the enraged and half-distracted manufacturer, whose system was like an engine off the track, hissing and helpless; and a few other equally obscure marks suggested to the initiated the lady's words as she half shrieked:
"My son dragged through the streets to prison! By whom--who could do so dreadful?"--and she sank shudderingly into a chair, and covered her face with her hands, as if to shut out a harrowing vision.
"I regret to say, madam, that it was by a policeman," added the reporter.
"And thither a policeman shall drag you, if you do not instantly vacate these premises!" said Mr. Arnot, hoarse with rage.
"Thank you for your courtesy," answered the reporter, shutting his book with a snap like that of a steel trap. "I have now about all the points I wish to get here. I understand that Mr. Patrick M'Cabe is no longer under any obligations to you, and from him I can learn additional particulars. Good-morning."
"Yes, go to that unsullied source of truth, whom I have just discharged for lying and disobedience. Go to perdition, also, if you please; but take yourself out of my office," said Mr. Arnot recklessly, for he was growing desperate from the unexpected complications of the case. Then he summoned one of his clerks, and said in a tone of authority, "Take this lady to my residence, and leave her in the care of Mrs. Arnot."
Mrs. Haldane rose unsteadily, and tottered toward the door.
"No," said she bitterly; "I may faint in the street, but I will not go to your house."
"Then assist the lady to her carriage;" and Mr. Arnot turned the key of his private office with muttered imprecations upon the whole wretched affair.
"Whither shall I tell the man to drive?" asked the clerk, after Mrs. Haldane had sunk back exhausted on the seat.
The lady put her hand to her brow, and tried to collect her distracted thoughts, and, after a moment's hesitation, said:
"To the prison."
The carriage containing Mrs. Haldane stopped at last before the gloomy massive building, the upper part of which was used as a court-room and offices for city and county officials, while in the basement were constructed the cells of the prison. It required a desperate effort on the part of the timid and delicate lady, who for years had almost been a recluse from the world, to summon courage to alight and approach a place that to her abounded in many and indefinite horrors. She was too preoccupied to observe that another carriage had drawn up to the entrance, and the first intimation that she had of Mrs. Arnot's presence occurred when that lady took her hand in the shadow of the porch, and said:
"Mrs. Haldane, I am greatly surprised to see you here; but you can rely upon me as a true friend throughout this trial. I shall do all in my power to--"
After the first violent start caused by her disturbed nervous condition, Mrs. Haldane asked, in a reproachful and almost passionate tone:
"Why did you not prevent--" and then she hesitated, as if she could not bring herself to utter the concluding words.
"I could not; I did not know; but since I heard I have been doing everything in my power."
"It was your husband who--"
"Yes," replied Mrs. Arnot, sadly, completing in thought her friend's unfinished sentence. "But I had no part in the act, and no knowledge of it until a short time since. I am now doing all I can to procure your son's speedy release. My husband's action has been perfectly legal, and we, who would temper justice with mercy, must do so in a legal way. Permit me to introduce you to my friend, Mr. Melville. He can both advise us and carry out such arrangements as are necessary;" and Mrs. Haldane saw that Mrs. Arnot was accompanied by a gentleman, whom in her distress she had not hitherto noticed.
The janitor now opened the door, and ushered them into a very plain apartment, used both as an office and reception-room. Mrs. Haldane was so overcome by her emotion that her friend led her to a chair, and continued her reassuring words in a low voice designed for her ears alone:
"Mr. Melville is a lawyer, and knows how to manage these matters. You may trust him implicitly. I will give security for your son's future appearance, should it be necessary, and I am quite satisfied it will not be, as my husband has promised me that he will not prosecute if the money is refunded."
"I would have paid ten times the amount--anything rather than have suffered this public disgrace," sobbed the poor woman, who, true to her instincts and life-long habit of thought, dwelt more upon the consequent shame of her son's act than its moral character.
"Mr. Melville says he will give bail in his own name for me," resumed Mrs. Arnot, "as, of course, I do not wish to appear to be acting in opposition to my husband. Indeed, I am not, for he is willing that some such an arrangement should be made. He has very many in his employ, and feels that he must be governed by rigid rules. Mr. Melville assures me that he can speedily effect Egbert's release. Perhaps it will save you pain to go at once to our house and meet your son there."
"No," replied the mother, rising, "I wish to see him at once. I do appreciate your kindness, but I cannot go to the place which shelters your husband. I can never forgive him. Nor can I go to a hotel. I would rather stay in this prison until I can hide myself and my miserable son in our own home. Oh, how dark and dreadful are God's ways! To think that the boy that I had brought up in the Church, as it were, should show such unnatural depravity!" Then, stepping to the door, she said to the under-sheriff in waiting, "Please take me to my son at once, if possible."
"Would you like me to go with you?" asked Mrs. Arnot, gently.
"Yes, yes! for I may faint on the way. Oh, how differently this day is turning out from what I expected! I was in hopes that Egbert could meet me in a little trip to New York, and I find him in prison!"
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