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A fortnight later Montgomery Brewster had a new home. In strict obedience to his chief's command, "Nopper" Harrison had leased until the September following one of the most expensive apartments to l found in New York City. The rental was $23,000, and the shrewd financial representative had saved $1,000 for his employer by paying the sum in advance. But when he reported this bit of economy to Mr. Brewster he was surprised that it brought forth a frown. "I never saw a man who had less sense about money," muttered "Nopper" to himself. "Why, he spends it like a Chicago millionaire trying to get into New York society. If it were not for the rest of us he'd be a pauper in six months."
Paul Pettingill, to his own intense surprise and, it must be said, consternation, was engaged to redecorate certain rooms according to a plan suggested by the tenant. The rising young artist, in a great flurry of excitement, agreed to do the work for $500, and then blushed like a schoolgirl when he was informed by the practical Brewster that the paints and material for one room alone would cost twice as much.
"Petty, you have no more idea of business than a goat," criticized Montgomery, and Paul lowered his head in humble confession. "That man who calcimines your studio could figure on a piece of work with more intelligence than you reveal. I'll pay $2,500. It's only a fair price, and I can't afford anything cheap in this place."
"At this rate you won't be able to afford anything," said Pettingill to himself.
And so it was that Pettingill and a corps of decorators soon turned the rooms into a confusion of scaffoldings and paint buckets, out of which in the end emerged something very distinguished. No one had ever thought Pettingill deficient in ideas, and this was his opportunity. The only drawback was the time limit which Brewster so remorselessly fixed. Without that he felt that he could have done something splendid in the way of decorative panels — something that would make even the glory of Puvis de Chavannes turn pallid. With it he was obliged to curb his turbulent ideas, and he decided that a rich simplicity was the proper note. The result was gorgeous, but not too gorgeous, — it had depth and distinction.
Elated and eager, he assisted Brewster in selecting furniture and hangings for each room, but he did not know that his employer was making conditional purchases of everything. Mr. Brewster had agreements with all the dealers to the effect that they were to buy everything back at a fair price, if he desired to give up his establishment within a year. He adhered to this rule in all cases that called for the purchase outright of substantial necessities. The bump of calculativeness in Monty Brewster's head was growing to abnormal proportions.
In retaining his rooms at Mrs. Gray's, he gave the flimsy but pathetic excuse that he wanted a place in which he might find occasional seasons of peace and quiet. When Mrs. Gray protested against this useless bit of extravagance, his grief was so obviously genuine that her heart was touched, and there was a deep, fervent joy in her soul. She loved this fair-faced boy, and tears of happiness came to her eyes when she was given this new proof of his loyalty and devotion. His rooms were kept for him just as if he had expected to occupy them every day and every night, notwithstanding the luxurious apartments he was to maintain elsewhere. The Oliver Optic books still lay in the attic, all tattered and torn, but to Margaret the embodiment of prospective riches, promises of sweet hours to come. She knew Monty well enough to feel that he would not forget the dark little attic of old for all the splendors that might come with the new dispensation.
There was no little surprise when he sent out invitations for a large dinner. His grandfather had been dead less than a month, and society was somewhat scandalized by the plain symptoms of disrespect he was showing. No one had expected him to observe a prolonged season of mourning, but that he should disregard the formalities completely was rather shocking. Some of the older people, who had not long to live and who had heirs-apparent, openly denounced his heartlessness. It was not very gratifying to think of what might be in store for them if all memories were as short as Brewster's. Old Mrs. Ketchell changed her will, and two nephews were cut off entirely; a very modest and impecunious grandson of Joseph Garrity also was to sustain a severe change of fortune in the near future, if the cards spoke correctly. Judge Van Woort, who was not expected to live through the night, got better immediately after hearing some one in the sick-room whisper that Montgomery Brewster was to give a big dinner. Naturally, the heirs-to-be, condemned young Brewster in no uncertain terms.
Nevertheless, the dinner to be given by the grandson of old Edwin Peter Brewster was the talk of the town, and not one of the sixty invited guests could have been persuaded to miss it. Reports as to its magnificence were abroad long before the night set for the dinner. One of them had it that it was to cost $3,000 a plate. From that figure the legendary price receded to a mark as low as $500. Montgomery would have been only too glad to pay $3,000 or more, but some mysterious force conveyed to his mind a perfect portrait of Swearengen Jones in the act of putting down a large black mark against him, and he forbore.
"I wish I knew whether I had to abide by the New York or the Montana standard of extravagance," Brewster said to himself. "I wonder if he ever sees the New York papers."
Late each night the last of the grand old Brewster family went to his bedroom where, after dismissing his man, he settled down at his desk, with a pencil and a pad of paper.
Lighting the candles, which were more easily managed, he found, than lamps, and much more costly, he thoughtfully and religiously calculated his expenses for the day. "Nopper" Harrison and Elon Gardner had the receipts for all moneys spent, and Joe Bragdon was keeping an official report, but the "chief," as they called him, could not go to sleep until he was satisfied in his own mind that he was keeping up the average. For the first two weeks it had been easy — in fact, he seemed to have quite a comfortable lead in the race. He had spent almost $100,000 in the fortnight, but he realized. that the greater part of it had gone into the yearly and not the daily expense-account. He kept a "profit and loss" entry in his little private ledger, but it was not like any other account of the kind in the world. What the ordinary merchant would have charged to "loss" he jotted down on the "profit" side, and he was continually looking for opportunities to swell the total.
Rawles, who had been his grandfather's butler since the day after he landed in New York, came over to the grandson's establishment, greatly to the wrath and confusion of the latter's Aunt Emmeline. The chef came from Paris and his name was Detuit. Ellis, the footman, also found a much better berth with Monty than he had had in the house on the avenue. Aunt Emmeline never forgave her nephew for these base and disturbing acts of treachery, as she called them.
One of Monty's most extraordinary financial feats grew out of the purchase of a $14,000 automobile. He blandly admitted to "Nopper" Harrison and the two secretaries that he intended to use it to practice with only, and that as soon as he learned how to run an "auto" as it should be run he expected to buy a good, sensible, durable machine for $7,000.
His staff officers frequently put their heads together to devise ways and means of curbing Monty's reckless extravagance. They were worried.
"He's like a sailor in port," protested Harrison. "Money is no object if he wants a thing, and — damn it — he seems to want everything he sees."
"It won't last long," Gardner said, reassuringly. "Like his namesake, Monte Cristo, the world is his just now and he wants to enjoy it."
"He wants to get rid of it, it seems to me."
Whenever they reproached Brewster about the matter he disarmed them by saying, "Now that I've got money I mean to give my friends a good time. Just what you'd do if you were in my place. What's money for, anyway?" "But this $3,000-a-plate dinner — "
"I'm going to give a dozen of them, and even then I can't pay my just debts. For years I've been entertained at people's houses and have been taken cruising on their yachts. They have always been bully to me, and what have I ever done for them? Nothing. Now that I can afford it, I am going to return some of those favors and square myself. Doesn't it sound reasonable?"
And so preparations for Monty's dinner went on. In addition to what he called his "efficient corps of gentlemanly aids" he had secured the services of Mrs. Dan DeMille as "social mentor and utility chaperon." Mrs. DeMille was known in the papers as the leader of the fast younger married set. She was one of the cleverest and best-looking young women in town, and her husband was of those who did not have to be "invited too." Mr. DeMille lived at the club and visited his home. Some one said that he was so slow and his wife so fast that when she invited him to dinner he was usually two or three days late. Altogether Mrs. DeMille was a decided acquisition to Brewster's campaign committee. It required just her touch to make his parties fun instead of funny.
It was on October 18th that the dinner was given. With the skill of a general Mrs. Dan had seated the guests in such a way that from the beginning things went off with zest. Colonel Drew took in Mrs. Valentine and his content was assured; Mr. Van Winkle and the beautiful Miss Valentine were side by side and no one could say he looked unhappy; Mr. Cromwell went in with Mrs. Savage; and the same delicate tact — in some cases it was almost indelicate — was displayed in the disposition of other guests.
Somehow they had come with the expectation of being bored. Curiosity prompted them to accept, but it did not prevent the subsequent inevitable lassitude. Socially Monty Brewster had yet to make himself felt. He and his dinners were something to talk about, but they were accepted hesitatingly, haltingly. People wondered how he had secured the cooperation of Mrs. Dan, but then Mrs. Dan always did go in for a new toy. To her was inevitably attributed whatever success the dinner achieved. And it was no small measure. Yet there was nothing startling about the affair. Monty had decided to begin conservatively. He did the conventional thing, but he did it well. He added a touch or two of luxury, the faintest aroma of splendor. Pettingill had designed the curiously wayward table, with its comfortable atmosphere of companionship, and arranged its decoration of great lavender orchids and lacy butterfly festoons of white ones touched with yellow. He had wanted to use dahlias in their many rich shades from pale yellow to orange and deep red, but Monty held out for orchids. It was the artist, too, who had found in a rare and happy moment the massive gold candelabra — ancient things of a more luxurious age — and their opalescent shades. Against his advice the service, too, was of gold, — "rank vulgarity," he called it, with its rich meaningless ornamentation. But here Monty was obdurate. He insisted that he liked the color and that porcelain had no character. Mrs. Dan only prevented a quarrel by suggesting that several courses should be served upon Sèvres.
Pettingill's scheme for lighting the room was particularly happy. For the benefit of his walls and the four lovely Monets which Monty had purchased at his instigation, he had designed a ceiling screen of heavy rich glass in tones of white that grew into yellow and dull green. It served to conceal the lights in the daytime, and at night the glare of electricity was immensely softened and made harmonious by passing through it. It gave a note of quiet to the picture, which caused even these men and women, who had been here and there and seen many things, to draw in their breath sharply. Altogether the effect manifestly made an impression.
Such an environment had its influence upon the company. It went far toward making the dinner a success. From far in the distance came the softened strains of Hungarian music, and never had the little band played the "Valse Amoureuse" and the "Valse Bleue" with the spirit it put into them that night. Yet the soft clamor in the dining-room insistently ignored the emotion of the music. Monty, bored as he was between the two most important dowagers at the feast, wondered dimly what invisible part it played in making things go. He had a vagrant fancy, that without it there would have been no zest for talk, no noisy competition to overcome, no hurdles to leap. As it was, the talk certainly went well, and Mrs.' Dan inspected the result of her work from time to time with smiling satisfaction. From across the table she heard Colonel Drew's voice, — "Brewster evidently objects to a long siege. He is planning to carry us by assault."
Mrs. Dan turned to "Subway" Smith, who was at her right — the latest addition to her menagerie. "What is this friend of yours?" she asked. "I have never seen such complex simplicity. This new plaything has no real charm for him. He is breaking it to find out what it is made of. And something will happen when he discovers the sawdust."
"Oh, don't worry about him," said "Subway," easily; "Monty's at least a good sportsman. He won't complain, whatever happens. He'll accept the reckoning and pay the piper."
It was only toward the end of the evening that Monty found his reward in a moment with Barbara Drew. He stood before her, squaring his shoulders belligerently to keep away intruders, and she smiled up at him in that bewildering fashion of hers. But it was only for an instant, and then came a terrifying din from the dining-room, followed by the clamor of crashing glass. The guests tried for a moment to be courteously oblivious, but the noise was so startling that such politeness became farcical. The host, with a little laugh, went down the hall. It was the beautiful screen near the ceiling that had fallen. A thousand pieces of shattered glass covered the place. The table was a sickening heap of crushed orchids and sputtering candles. Frightened servants rushed into the room from one side just as Brewster entered from the other. Stupefaction halted them. After the first pulseless moment of horror, exclamations of dismay went up on all sides. For Monty Brewster the first sensation of regret was followed by a diabolical sense of joy.
"Thank the Lord!" he said softly in the hush.
The look of surprise he encountered in the faces of his guests brought him up with a jerk.
"That it didn't happen while we were dining," he added with serene thankfulness. And his nonchalance scored for him in the idle game he was playing.