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Business once more!
It ought to be barred. I get enough of it in my daily routine without having it intrude here. Business should do no more than provide the platform and the scenic background for the display of young love, hope and beauty. But here we have to deal with the affairs of a worried and incompetent man half way through his fifties.
Raymond came in one morning, on my summons. His manner was depressed; it was becoming habitually so. I tried to cheer him with indifferent topics,--among them the horse-show, which I saw so unsatisfactorily and which I have described so inadequately. He had already heard about it from Albert, and he felt no relish for the friendliness Johnny McComas had displayed on that occasion.
"Trying to get him, too?" was Raymond's comment.
"Oh, I wouldn't quite say that...."
"I have a letter from his mother. She wants to know about college."
"Well, how are things?"
"Oh, I don't know; poor."
"That Iowa company?"
"Yes--next year; as usual."
"Well, I have news for you."
"Good?" he asked, picking up a little.
"That depends on how you look at it. I have a buyer for your house."
"Don't hurry to thank God. Perhaps you will want to thank the Devil."
Raymond's face fell. "You don't mean that he--on top of everything else--has come forward to--?"
"My friend! my friend! It isn't that at all. 'He' has nothing to do with it. Quite another party."
And it was. A Mr. Gluckstein, a sort of impresario made suddenly rich by a few seasons with fiddlers and prima donnas, was the man. He was willing, he said,--and I paid the news out as evenly and considerately as I could,--he was willing to take the house and assume the mortgage--but he asked a bonus of five thousand dollars for doing it.
"The scoundrel!" groaned Raymond, his face twisted by contemptuous rage. "The impudent scoundrel!"
"Possibly so. But that is his offer--and the only one. And it is his best."
Raymond sat with his eyes on the floor. He was afraid to let me see his face. He hated the house--it was an incubus, a millstone; but--
He visibly despaired. "What shall I do about Albert's college, now?" he muttered presently.
He seemed to have passed at a bound beyond the stage of sale and transfer. The odious property was off his hands--and every hope of a spare dollar had gone with it.
"His mother writes--" began Raymond.
"She tells me--Well, her father died last month, it seems, and she is expecting something out of his estate...."
"Estate? Is there one?"
"Who can say? A man in that business! There might be something; there might be nothing or less. And it might take a year or more to get it."
"And if there is anything?"
"She says she will look after Albert's first year or two. I was about to refuse, but I expect I shall have to listen now."
He was silent. Then he broke out:--
"But there won't be. That old woman with her water-waves and her wrinkles is still hanging on; even if there should be anything, she would be the one to get most of it. I know her--she would snatch it all!"
"Listen, Raymond," I said; "you had better let me help you here."
"I don't want you to. There must be some way to manage."
He fell into thought.
"I doubt if she can do anything, herself. Whatever she did would come through him in the end. You say he likes Albert?" He was silent again. "I don't want to meet either of them--but I would about as soon meet him as her."
I saw that he was nerving himself for another scène à faire. Well, it would be less trying than the first one. If his sense of form, his flair for fatalism, still persisted, ease was out of the question and no surrogate could serve.
Perhaps, after all, there had been nothing between those two. Anyway, in the general eye the marriage had made everything right. She was accepted, certainly. And as certainly he had lived down, if he had ever possessed it, the reputation of a hapless husband.
He wrote to her in a non-committal way--a letter which left loopholes, room for accommodation. Her reply suggested that he call at the bank; she would pass on the word. He told me he would try to do so. I saw the impudent concert-monger was to have his house.
And so, one forenoon, at eleven or so, Raymond, after some self-drivings, reached the bank; by appointment, as he understood. Through the big doors; up the wide, balustraded stairway--it was the first time he had ever been in the place. He was well on the way to the broad, square landing, when some lively clerks or messengers, who had been springing along behind him, all at once slackened their pace and began to skirt the paneled marble walls. A number of prosperous middle-aged and elderly men were coming down together in a compact group. It seemed as if some directors' meeting was in progress--in progress from one office, or one building, to another. In the middle of the group was John W. McComas.
He was absorbed, abstracted. Raymond, like some of the other up-farers, had gained the landing, and like them now stood a little to one side. McComas looked out at him with no particular expression and indeed with no markedness of attention.
"How do you do?" he said indifferently.
"I'm pretty well," said Raymond dispiritedly.
"And that was all!" he reported next day in a high state of indignation. "Don't suppose I shall try it again!"
But a careless Gertrude had failed to inform her husband of the appointment. She had been busy, or he had been away from home....
"Go once more," I counseled, I pleaded.
A note came to him from McComas--a decent, a civil. Come and talk things over--that was its purport. He went.
McComas, as you can guess, was very bland, very expansive, very magnanimous (to his own sense). "I like Albert!" he declared heartily. But he did little to cloak the fact that it was his own money which was to carry the boy through college.
Raymond was in the depths for a month. After Gluckstein had got his deed for the house and Albert had packed his trunk for the East, he felt that now indeed he had lost wife, home and son.
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