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A BIRTHDAY DINNER
"The Little Sons of the Rich" were gathered about the long table in Pettingill's studio. There were nine of them present, besides Brewster. They were all young, more or less enterprising, hopeful, and reasonably sure of better things to come. Most of them bore names that meant something in the story of New York. Indeed one of them had remarked, "A man is known by the street that's named after him," and as he was a new member, they called him "Subway."
The most popular man in the company was young "Monty" Brewster. He was tall and straight and smooth-shaven. People called him "clean-looking." Older women were interested in him because his father and mother had made a romantic runaway match, which was the talk of the town in the seventies, and had never been forgiven. Worldly women were interested in him because he was the only grandson of Edwin Peter Brewster, who was many times a millionaire, and Monty was fairly certain to be his heir — barring an absent-minded gift to charity. Younger women were interested for a much more obvious and simple reason: they liked him. Men also took to Monty because he was a good sportsman, a man among men, because he had a decent respect for himself and no great aversion to work.
His father and mother had both died while he was still a child, and, as if to make up for his long relentlessness, the grandfather had taken the boy to his own house and had cared for him with what he called affection. After college and some months on the continent, however, Monty had preferred to be independent. Old Mr. Brewster had found him a place in the bank, but beyond this and occasional dinners, Monty asked for and received no favors. It was a question of work, and hard work, and small pay. He lived on his salary because he had to, but he did not resent his grandfather's attitude. He was better satisfied to spend his "weakly salary," as he called it, in his own way than to earn more by dining seven nights a week with an old man who had forgotten he was ever young. It was less wearing, he said.
Among the "Little Sons of the Rich," birthdays were always occasions for feasting. The table was covered with dishes sent up from the French restaurant in the basement. The chairs were pushed back, cigarettes were lighted, men had their knees crossed. Then Pettingill got up.
"Gentlemen," he began, "we are here to celebrate the twenty-fifth birthday of Mr. Montgomery Brewster. I ask you all to join me in drinking to his long life and happiness."
"No heel taps!" some one shouted. "Brewster! Brewster!" all called at once.
"For he's a jolly good fellow,
For he's a jolly good fellow!"
The sudden ringing of an electric bell cut off this flow of sentiment, and so unusual was the interruption that the ten members straightened up as if jerked into position by a string.
"The police!" some one suggested. All faces were turned toward the door. A waiter stood there, uncertain whether to turn the knob or push the bolt.
"Damned nuisance!" said Richard Van Winkle. "I want to hear Brewster's speech."
"Speech! Speech!" echoed everywhere. Men settled into their places.
"Mr. Montgomery Brewster," Pettingill introduced.
Again the bell rang — long and loud. "Reinforcements. I'll bet there's a patrol in the street," remarked Oliver Harrison.
"If it's only the police, let them in," said Pettingill. "I thought it was a creditor." The waiter opened the door.
"Some one to see Mr. Brewster, sir," he announced.
"Is she pretty, waiter?" called McCloud. "He says he is Ellis, from your grandfather's, sir!"
"My compliments to Ellis, and ask him to inform my grandfather that it's after banking hours. I'll see him in the morning," said Mr. Brewster, who had reddened under the jests of his companions.
"Grandpa doesn't want his Monty to stay out after dark," chuckled Subway Smith.
"It was most thoughtful of the old gentleman to have the man call for you with the perambulator," shouted Pettingill above the laughter. "Tell him you've already had your bottle," added McCloud.
"Waiter, tell Ellis I'm too busy to be seen," commanded Brewster, and as Ellis went down in the elevator a roar followed him.
"Now, for Brewster's speech! — Brewster!" Monty rose.
"Gentlemen, you seem to have forgotten for the moment that I am twenty-five years old this day, and that your remarks have been childish and wholly unbecoming the dignity of my age. That I have arrived at a period of discretion is evident from my choice of friends; that I am entitled to your respect is evident from my grandfather's notorious wealth. You have done me the honor to drink my health and to reassure me as to the inoffensiveness of approaching senility. Now I ask you all to rise and drink to 'The Little Sons of the Rich.' May the Lord love us!’“
An hour later "Rip" Van Winkle and Subway Smith were singing "Tell Me, Pretty Maiden," to the uncertain accompaniment of Pettingill's violin, when the electric bell again disturbed the company.
"For Heaven's sake!" shouted Harrison, who had been singing "With All Thy Faults, I Love Thee Still," to Pettingill's lay figure.
"Come home with me, grandson, come home with me now," suggested Subway Smith.
"Tell Ellis to go to Halifax," commanded Montgomery, and again Ellis took the elevator downward. His usually impassive face now wore a look of anxiety, and twice he started to return to the top floor, shaking his head dubiously. At last he climbed into a hansom and reluctantly left the revelers behind. He knew it was a birthday celebration, and it was only half-past twelve in the morning.
At three o'clock the elevator made another trip to the top floor and Ellis rushed over to the unfriendly doorbell. This time there was stubborn determination in his face. The singing ceased and a roar of laughter followed the hush of a moment or two.
"Come in!" called a hearty voice, and Ellis strode firmly into the studio.
"You are just in time for a 'night-cap,' Ellis," cried Harrison, rushing to the footman's side. Ellis, stolidly facing the young man, lifted his hand.
"No, thank you, sir," he said, respectfully. "Mr. Montgomery, if you'll excuse me for breaking in, I'd like to give you three messages I've brought here to-night."
"You're a faithful old chap," said Subway Smith, thickly. "Hanged if I'd do A. D. T. work till three A. M. for anybody."
"I came at ten, Mr. Montgomery, with a message from Mr. Brewster, wishing you many happy returns of the day, and with a check from him for one thousand dollars. Here's the check, sir. I'll give my messages in the order I received them, sir, if you please. At twelve-thirty o'clock, I came with a message from Dr. Gower, sir, who had been called in — "
"Called in?" gasped Montgomery, turning white.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Brewster had a sudden heart attack at half-past eleven, sir. The doctor sent word by me, sir, that he was at the point of death. My last message — "
"This time I bring a message from Rawles, the butler, asking you to come to Mr. Brewster's house at once — if you can, sir, — I mean, if you will, sir," Ellis interjected, apologetically. Then with his gaze directed steadily over the heads of the subdued "Sons" he added, impressively:
"Mr. Brewster is dead, sir."