Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
THE PRODIGAL'S RETURN
After what seemed an age to Monty, the "Flitter," in tow of the freighter "Glencoe," arrived at Southampton. The captain of the freight boat was a thrifty Scotchman whose ship was traveling with a light cargo and he was not, therefore, averse to taking on a tow. But the thought of salvage had caused him to ask a high price for the service and Monty, after a futile attempt at bargaining, had agreed. The price was fifty thousand dollars, and the young man believed more than ever that everything was ruled by a wise Providence, which had not deserted him. His guests were heartsick when they heard the figure, but were as happy as Monty at the prospect of reaching land again.
The "Glencoe" made several stops before Southampton was finally reached on the 28th of August, but when the English coast was sighted everyone was too eager to go ashore to begrudge the extra day. Dan DeMille asked the entire party to become his guests for a week's shooting trip in Scotland, but Monty vetoed the plan in the most decided manner.
"We sail for New York on the fastest boat," said Monty, and hurried off to learn the sailings and book his party. The first boat was to sail on the 30th and he could only secure accommodations for twelve of his guests. The rest were obliged to follow a week later. This was readily agreed to and Bragdon was left to see to the necessary repairs on the "Flitter" and arrange for her homeward voyage. Monty gave Bragdon fifteen thousand dollars for this purpose and extracted a solemn promise that the entire amount would be used.
"But it won't cost half of this," protested Bragdon "You will have to give these people a good time during the week and — well — you have promised that I shall never see another penny of it. Some day you'll know why I do this," and Monty felt easier when his friend agreed to abide by his wishes.
He discharged the "Flitter's" crew, with five months' pay and the reward promised on the night of Peggy's rescue, which was productive of touching emotions. Captain Perry and his officers never forgot the farewell of the prodigal, nor could they hide the regret that marked their weather-beaten faces.
Plans to dispose of his household goods and the balance of his cash in the short time that would be left after he arrived in New York occupied Monty's attention, and most men would have given up the scheme as hopeless. But he did not despair. He was still game, and he prepared for the final plunge with grim determination.
"There should have been a clause in Jones's conditions about 'weather permitting,' " he said to himself. "A shipwrecked mariner should not be expected to spend a million dollars."
The division of the party for the two sailings was tactfully arranged by Mrs. DeMille. The Valentines chaperoned the "second table" as "Subway" Smith called those who were to take the later boat, and she herself looked after the first lot. Peggy Gray and Monty Brewster were in the DeMille party. The three days in England were marked by unparalleled extravagance on Monty's part. One of the local hotels was subsidized for a week, although the party only stayed for luncheon, and the Cecil in London was a gainer by several thousand dollars for the brief stop there. It was a careworn little band that took Monty's special train for Southampton and embarked two days later. The "rest cure" that followed was welcome to all of them and Brewster was especially glad that his race was almost run.
Swiftly and steadily the liner cut down the leagues that separated her from New York. Fair weather and fair cheer marked her course and the soft, balmy nights were like seasons of fairyland. Monty was cherishing in his heart the hope inspired by Peggy's action on the night of the storm. Somehow it brought a small ray of light to his clouded understanding and he found joy in keeping the flame alive religiously if somewhat doubtfully. His eyes followed her constantly, searching for the encouragement that the very blindness of love had hidden from him, forever tormenting himself with fears and hopes and fears again. Her happiness and vivacity puzzled him — he was often annoyed, he was now and then seriously mystified.
Four days out from New York, then three days, then two days, and then Brewster began to feel the beginning of the final whirlwind in profligacy clouding him oppressively, ominously, unkindly. Down in his state room he drew new estimates, new calculations, and tried to balance the old ones so that they appeared in the light most favorable to his designs. Going over the statistics carefully, he estimated that the cruise, including the repairs and the return of the yacht to New York, would cost him $210,000 in round figures. One hundred and thirty-three days marked the length of the voyage when reckoned by time and, as near as he could get at it, the expense had averaged $1,580 a day. According to the contract, he was to pay for the yacht, exclusive of the cuisine and personal service. And he had found it simple enough to spend the remaining $1,080. There were days, of course, when fully $5,000 disappeared, and there were others on which he spent much less than $1,000, but the average was secure. Taking everything into consideration, Brewster found that his fortune had dwindled to a few paltry thousands in addition to the proceeds which would come to him from the sale of his furniture. On the whole he was satisfied.
The landing in New York and the separation which followed were not entirely merry. Every discomfort was forgotten and the travelers only knew that the most wonderful cruise since that of the ark had come to an end. There was not one who would not have been glad to begin it again the next day.
Immediately after the landing Brewster and Gardner were busy with the details of settlement. After clearing up all of the obligations arising from the cruise, they felt the appropriateness of a season of reflection. It was a difficult moment — a moment when undelivered reproofs were in the air. But Gardner seemed much the more melancholy of the two.
Piles of newspapers lay scattered about the floor of the room in which they sat. Every one of them contained sensational stories of the prodigal's trip, with pictures, incidents and predictions. Monty was pained, humiliated and resentful, but he was honest enough to admit the justification of much that was said of him. He read bits of it here and there and then threw the papers aside hopelessly. In a few weeks they would tell another story, and quite as emphatically.
"The worst of it, Monty, is that you are the next thing to being a poor man," groaned Gardner. "I've done my best to economize for you here at home, as you'll see by these figures, but nothing could possibly balance the extravagances of this voyage. They are simply appalling."
With the condemnation of his friends ringing in his troubled brain, with the sneers of acquaintances to distress his pride, with the jibes of the comic papers to torture him remorselessly, Brewster was fast becoming the most miserable man in New York. Friends of former days gave him the cut direct, clubmen ignored him or scorned him openly, women chilled him with the iciness of unspoken reproof, and all the world was hung with shadows. The doggedness of despair kept him up, but the strain that pulled down on him was so relentless that the struggle was losing its equality. He had not expected such a home-coming.
Compared with his former self, Monty was now almost a physical wreck, haggard, thin and defiant, a shadow of the once debonair young New Yorker, an object of pity and scorn. Ashamed and despairing, he had almost lacked the courage to face Mrs. Gray. The consolation he once gained through her he now denied himself and his suffering, peculiar as it was, was very real. In absolute recklessness he gave dinner after dinner, party after party, all on a most lavish scale, many of his guests laughing at him openly while they enjoyed his hospitality. The real friends remonstrated, pleaded, did everything within their power to check his awful rush to poverty, but without success; he was not to be stopped.
At last the furniture began to go, then the plate, then all the priceless bric-à-brac. Piece by piece it disappeared until the apartments were empty and he had squandered almost all of the $40,350 arising from the sales. The servants were paid off, the apartments relinquished, and he was beginning to know what it meant to be "on his uppers." At the banks he ascertained that the interest on his moneys amounted to $19,140.86. A week before the 23d of September, the whole million was gone, including the amounts won in Lumber and Fuel and other luckless enterprises. He still had about $17,000 of his interest money in the banks, but he had a billion pangs in his heart — the interest on, his improvidence.
He found some delight in the discovery that the servants had robbed him of not less than $3,500 worth of his belongings, including the Christmas presents that he in honor could not have sold. His only encouragement came from Grant and Ripley, the lawyers. They inspired confidence in his lagging brain by urging him on to the end, promising brightness thereafter. Swearengen Jones was as mute as the mountains in which he lived. There was no word from him, there was no assurance that he would approve of what had been done to obliterate Edwin Peter Brewster's legacy.
Dan DeMille and his wife implored Monty to come with them to the mountains before his substance was gone completely. The former offered him money, employment, rest and security if he would abandon the course he was pursuing. Up in Fortieth Street Peggy Gray was grieving her heart out and he knew it. Two or three of those whom he had considered friends refused to recognize him in the street in this last trying week, and it did not even interest him to learn that Miss Barbara Drew was to become a duchess before the winter was gone. Yet he found some satisfaction in the report that one Hampton of Chicago had long since been dropped out of the race.
One day he implored the faithful Bragdon to steal the Boston terriers. He could not and would not sell them and he dared not give them away. Bragdon dejectedly appropriated the dogs and Brewster announced that some day he would offer a reward for their return and "no questions asked."
He took a suite of rooms in a small hotel and was feverishly planning the overthrow of the last torturing thousands. Bragdon lived with him and the "Little Sons of the Rich" stood loyally ready to help him when he uttered the first cry of want. But even this establishment had to be abandoned at last. The old rooms in Fortieth Street were still open to him and though he quailed at the thought of making them a refuge, he faced the ordeal in the spirit of a martyr.