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In one of the handsomest streets in Milwaukee stood a private residence which was quite in harmony with its surroundings. It looked like the home of a man of ample means. It was luxuriously furnished, and at one side was a conservatory. It was apt to attract the attention of strangers, and the question was asked: "Who lives there?"
And the answer would be: "Thomas Browning. He will probably be mayor some day."
Yes, this was the residence of Thomas Browning, formerly Thomas Butler, the man to whom the dead father of Luke Walton had intrusted the sum of ten thousand dollars to carry to his wife and children. How he fulfilled his trust, or, rather, did not fulfill it, we already know. But in Milwaukee, where Mr. Browning had become a leading citizen, it was not known. It was entirely inconsistent with what was believed to be his character. For Mr. Browning was president of one charitable society and treasurer of another. At the annual meetings of these societies he was always called upon to speak, and his allusions to the poverty and privations of those who were cared for by these societies never failed to produce an impression.
It was popularly supposed that he gave away large sums in charity. Indeed, he admitted the fact, but explained the absence of his name from subscription papers by saying: "All my gifts are anonymous. Instead of giving my name, I prefer to put down 'Cash,' so much, or 'A Friend,' such another sum. I don't wish to influence others, but it jars upon me to have my name ostentatiously paraded in the public prints."
Now, in all subscriptions there are donations ascribed to "Cash" and "A Friend," and whenever these occurred, it was generally supposed they represented Mr. Browning. But, to let the reader into a little secret, this was only a shrewd device of Mr. Browning's to have the reputation of a philanthropist at little or no expense, for, as a matter of fact, he never contributed at all to the charities in which he seemed to take such an interest!
In a pleasant room on the second floor sat the pseudo-philanthropist. The room was furnished as a library. At a writing table, poring over what looked like an account book, he looked the picture of comfort and respectability. A few well-chosen engravings adorned the walls. A pleasant light was diffused about the room from a chandelier suspended over the table.
Thomas Browning leaned back in his chair, and a placid smile overspread his naturally harsh features. He looked about him, and his thoughts somehow ran back to a time when he was very differently situated.
"Five years ago to-night," he said, "I was well-nigh desperate. I hadn't a cent to bless myself with, nor was the prospect of getting one particularly bright. How I lived, for a considerable time, I hardly know. I did have a notion at one time, when I was particularly down on my luck, of committing suicide, and so ending the struggle once for all. It would have been a great mistake!" he added after a pause. "I didn't foresee at the time the prosperous years that lay before me. Frederick Walton's money changed my whole life. Ten thousand dollars isn't a fortune, but it proved the basis of one. It enabled me to float the Excelsior Mine. I remember there were a hundred thousand shares at two dollars a share, all based upon a few acres of mining land which I bought for a song. With the ten thousand dollars, I hired an office, printed circulars, distributed glowing accounts of imaginary wealth, etc. It cost considerable for advertising, but I sold seventy thousand shares, and when I had gathered in the money I let the bottom fall out. There was a great fuss, of course, but I figured as the largest loser, being the owner of thirty thousand shares (for which I hadn't paid a cent), and so shared the sympathy extended to losers. It was a nice scheme, and after deducting all expenses, I made a clean seventy-five thousand dollars out of it, which, added to my original capital, made eighty-five thousand. Then I came to Milwaukee and bought this house. From that time my career has been upward and onward. My friends say some day I shall be mayor of the city. Well, stranger things have happened, and who knows but my friends may be right!"
At this moment a servant entered the library.
"Well, Mary, what is it?" asked the philanthropist.
"Please, sir, there's a poor woman at the door, and she would like to see you."
"Ah, yes, she wants relief from the Widows' and Orphans' Society, probably. Well, send her up. I am always at home to the poor."
"What a good man he is!" thought Mary. "It's strange he gives such low wages to the girls that work for him. He says it's because he gives away so much money in charities."
Mary ushered in, a moment later, a woman in a faded dress, with a look of care and sorrow on her thin features.
"Take a seat, madam," said Thomas Browning, urbanely. "Did you wish to see me?"
"Yes, sir. I am in difficulties, and have ventured to call upon you."
"I am glad to see you. I am always ready to see the unfortunate."
"Yes, sir; I know you have the reputation of being a philanthropist.
"No, no," said Mr. Browning, modestly. "Don't mention it. I am fully aware of the flattering estimation which is placed on my poor services, but I really don't deserve it. It is, perhaps, as the President of the Widows' and Orphans' Charitable Society that you wish to speak to me."
"No, sir. It is as President of the Excelsior Mining Company that I wish to make an appeal to you."
"Oh!" ejaculated Browning, with a perceptible change of countenance.
"Of course you remember it, sir. I was a widow, with a small property of five thousand dollars left me by my late husband. It was all I had on which to support myself and two children. The banks paid poor interest, and I was in search of a profitable investment. One of your circulars fell into my hands. The shares were two dollars each, and it was stated that they would probably yield fifty per cent dividends. That would support me handsomely. But I didn't decide to invest until I had written a private letter to you."
She took it from the pocket of her dress, and offered it to Thomas Browning, but that gentleman waved it aside.
She continued: "You indorsed all that the circular contained. You said that within a year you thought he shares would rise to at least ten dollars. So I invested all the money I had. You know what followed. In six months the shares went down to nothing, and I found myself penniless."
"I know it, my good woman," said Thomas Browning. "I know it, to my cost. I myself had sixty thousand dollars invested in the stock. I lost it all."
"But you seem to be a rich man," said the poor woman, looking about her.
"I have made it out of other ventures. But the collapse of the mine was a sad blow to me. As the president, I might have had something from the wreck, but I did not. I suffered with the rest. Now, may I ask what I can do for you?"
"It was on account of your advice that I bought stock. Don't you think you ought to make up to me a part of the loss?"
"Impossible!" said Browning, sharply. "Didn't I tell you I lost much more heavily than you?"
"Then you can do nothing for me?"
"Yes; I can put you on the pension list of the Widows' and Orphans' Society. That will entitle you to receive a dollar a week for three months."
"I am not an object of charity, sir. I wish you good-night."
"Good-night. If you change your mind come to me."
"Very unreasonable, upon my word," soliloquized Thomas Browning.
At eleven o'clock Mr. Browning went to his bedchamber. He lit the gas and was preparing to disrobe, when his sharp ear detected the sound of suppressed breathing, and the point from which it proceeded. He walked quickly to the bed, bent over, and looked underneath. In an instant he had caught a man who had been concealed beneath it.
The intruder was a wretchedly dressed tramp. Browning allowed the man to get upon his feet, and then, facing him, demanded, sternly: "Why are you here? Did you come to rob me?"
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