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THE PRODIGAL AT SEA
Harrison's departure left Brewster in sore straits. It forced him to settle down to the actual management of his own affairs. He was not indolent, but this was not the kind of work he cared to encourage. The private accounts he had kept revealed some appalling facts when he went over them carefully one morning at four o'clock, after an all-night session with the ledger. With infinite pains he had managed to rise to something over $450,000 in six months. But to his original million it had been necessary to add $58,550 which he had realized from Lumber and Fuel and some of his other "unfortunate" operations. At least $40,000 would come to him ultimately through the sale of furniture and other belongings, and then there would be something like $20,000 interest to consider. But luck had aided him in getting rid of his money. The bank failure had cost him $113,468.25, and "Nopper" Harrison had helped him to the extent of $60,000. The reckless but determined effort to give a ball had cost $30,000. What he had lost during his illness had been pretty well offset by the unlucky concert tour. The Florida trip, including medical attention, the cottage and living expenses, had entailed the expenditure of $18,500, and his princely dinners and theater parties had footed up $31,000. Taking all the facts into consideration, he felt that he had done rather well as far as he had gone, but the hardest part of the undertaking was yet to come. He was still in possession of an enormous sum which must disappear before September 23d. About $40,000 had already been expended in the yachting project.
He determined to begin at once a systematic campaign of extinction. It had been his intention before sailing to dispose of many household articles, either by sale or gift. As he did not expect to return to New York before the latter part of August, this would minimize the struggles of the last month. But the prospective "profit" to be acquired from keeping his apartment open was not to be overlooked. He could easily count upon a generous sum for salaries and running expenses. Once on the other side of the Atlantic, he hoped that new opportunities for extravagance would present themselves, and he fancied he could leave the final settlement of his affairs for the last month. As the day for sailing approached, the world again seemed bright to this most mercenary of spendthrifts.
A farewell consultation with his attorneys proved encouraging, for to them his chances to win the extraordinary contest seemed of the best. He was in high spirits as he left them, exhilarated by the sensation that the world lay before him. In the elevator he encountered Colonel Prentiss Drew. On both sides the meeting was not without its difficulties. The Colonel had been dazed by the inexplicable situation between Monty and his daughter, whose involutions he found hard to understand. Her summary of the effort she had made to effect a reconciliation, after hearing the story of the bank, was rather vague. She had done her utmost, she said, to be nice to him and make him feel that she appreciated his generosity, but he took it in the most disagreeable fashion. Colonel Drew knew that things were somehow wrong; but he was too strongly an American father to interfere in a matter of the affections. It distressed him, for he had a liking for Monty, and Barbara's "society judgments," as he called them, had no weight with him. When he found himself confronted with Brewster in the elevator, the old warmth revived and the old hope that the quarrel might have an end. His greeting was cheery.
"You have not forgotten, Brewster," he said, as they shook hands, "that you have a dollar or two with us?"
"No," said Monty, "not exactly. And I shall be calling upon you for some of it very soon. I'm off on Thursday for a cruise in the Mediterranean."
"I've heard something of it." They had reached the main floor and Colonel Drew had drawn his companion out of the crowd into the rotunda. "The money is at your disposal at any moment. But aren't you setting a pretty lively pace, my boy? You know I've always liked you, and I knew your grandfather rather well. He was a good old chap, Monty, and he would hate to see you make ducks and drakes of his fortune."
There was something in the Colonel's manner that softened Brewster, much as he hated to take a reproof from Barbara's father. Once again he was tempted to tell the truth, but he pulled himself up in time. "It's a funny old world, Colonel," he said, "and sometimes one's nearest friend is a stranger. I know I seem a fool; but, after all, why isn't it good philosophy to make the most of a holiday and then settle back to work?"
"That is all very well, Monty," and Colonel Drew was entirely serious; "but the work is a hundred times harder after you have played to the limit. You'll find that you are way beyond it. It's no joke getting back into the harness."
"Perhaps you are right, Colonel, but at least I shall have something to look back upon — even if the worst comes." And Monty instinctively straightened his shoulders.
They turned to leave the building, and the Colonel had a moment of weakness.
"Do you know, Monty," he said, "my daughter is awfully cut up about this business. She is plucky and tries not to show it, but after all a girl doesn't get over that sort of thing all in a moment. I am not saying" — it seemed necessary to recede a step — "that it would be an easy matter to patch up. But I like you, Monty, and if any man could do it, you can."
"Colonel, I wish I might," and Brewster found that he did not hesitate. "For your sake I very much wish the situation were as simple as it seems. But there are some things a man can't forget, and — well — Barbara has shown in a dozen ways that she has no faith in me."
"Well, I've got faith in you, and a lot of it. Take care of yourself, and when you get back you can count on me. Good-bye."
On Thursday morning the "Flitter" steamed off down the bay, and the flight of the prodigal grandson was on. No swifter, cleaner, handsomer boat ever sailed out of the harbor of New York, and it was a merry crowd that she carried out to sea. Brewster's guests numbered twenty-five, and they brought with them a liberal supply of maids, valets, and luggage. It was not until many weeks later that he read the vivid descriptions of the weighing of the anchor which were printed in the New York papers, but by that time he was impervious to their ridicule.
On deck, watching the rugged silhouette of the city disappear into the mists, were Dan DeMille and Mrs. Dan, Peggy Gray, "Rip" Van Winkle, Reginald Vanderpool, Joe Bragdon, Dr. Lotless and his sister Isabel, Mr. and Mrs. Valentine — the official chaperon — and their daughter Mary, "Subway" Smith, Paul Pettingill, and some others hardly less distinguished. As Monty looked over the eager crowd, he recognized with a peculiar glow that here were represented his best and truest friendships. The loyalty of these companions had been tested, and he knew that they would stand by him through everything.
There was no little surprise when it was learned that Dan DeMille was really to sail. Many of the idle voyagers ventured the opinion that he would try to desert the boat in mid-ocean if he saw a chance to get back to his club on a west-bound steamer. But DeMille, big, indolent, and indifferent, smiled carelessly, and hoped he wouldn't bother anybody if he "stuck to the ship" until the end.
For a time the sea and the sky and the talk of the crowd were enough for the joy of living. But after a few peaceful days there was a lull, and it was then that Monty gained the nickname of Aladdin, which clung to him. From somewhere, from the hold or the rigging or from under the sea, he brought forth four darkies from the south who strummed guitars and sang ragtime melodies. More than once during the voyage they were useful.
"Peggy," said Brewster one day, when the sky was particularly clear and things were quiet on deck, "on the whole I prefer this to crossing the North River on a ferry. I rather like it, don't you?"
"It seems like a dream," she cried, her eyes bright, her hair blowing in the wind.
"And, Peggy, do you know what I tucked away in a chest down in my cabin? A lot of books that you like — some from the old garret. I've saved them to read on rainy days."
Peggy did not speak, but the blood began to creep into her face and she looked wistfully across the water. Then she smiled.
"I didn't know you could save anything," she said, weakly.
"Come now, Peggy, that is too much."
"I didn't mean to hurt you. But you must not forget, Monty, that there are other years to follow this one. Do you know what I mean?"
"Peggy, dear, please don't lecture me," he begged, so piteously that she could not be serious.
"The class is dismissed for to-day, Monty," she said, airily. "But the professor knows his duty and won't let you off so easily next time."