THE LAST WORD
"I'll tell you about it later, dear," was all that Peggy, pleading, could draw from him.
At midnight Mrs. Dan had remonstrated with her. "You must go home, Peggy dear," she said. "It is disgraceful for you to stay up so late. I went to bed at eight o'clock the night before I was married."
"And fell asleep at four in the morning," smiled Peggy.
"You are quite mistaken, my dear. I did not fall asleep at all. But I won't allow you to stop a minute longer. It puts rings under the eyes and sometimes they're red the morning after."
"Oh, you dear sweet philosopher," cried Peggy; "how wise you are. Do you think I need a beauty sleep?"
"I don't want you to be a sleepy beauty, that's all," retorted Mrs. Dan.
Upon Monty's return from his trying hour with the lawyers, he had been besieged with questions, but he was cleverly evasive. Peggy alone was insistent; she had curbed her curiosity until they were on the way home, and then she implored him to tell her what had happened. The misery he had endured was as nothing to this reckoning with the woman who had the right to expect fair treatment. His duty was clear, but the strain had been heavy and it was not easy to meet it.
"Peggy, something terrible has happened," he faltered, uncertain of his course.
"Tell me everything, Monty, you can trust me to be brave."
"When I asked you to marry me," he continued gravely, "it was with the thought that I could give you everything to-morrow. I looked for a fortune. I never meant that you should marry a pauper."
"I don't understand. You tried to test my love for you?"
"No, child, not that. But I was pledged not to speak of the money I expected, and I wanted you so much before it came."
"And it has failed you?" she answered. "I can't see that it changes things. I expected to marry a pauper, as you call it. Do you think this could make a difference?"
"But you don't understand, Peggy. I haven't a penny in the world."
"You hadn't a penny when I accepted you," she replied. "I am not afraid. I believe in you. And if you love me I shall not give you up."
"Dearest!" and the carriage was at the door before another word was uttered. But Monty called to the coachman to drive just once around the block.
"Good night, my darling," he said when they reached home. "Sleep till eight o'clock if you like. There is nothing now in the way of having the wedding at nine, instead of at seven. In fact, I have a reason for wanting my whole fortune to come to me then. You will be all that I have in the world, child, but I am the happiest man alive."
In his room the strain was relaxed and Brewster faced the bitter reality. Without undressing he threw himself upon the lounge and wondered what the world held for him. It held Peggy at least, he thought, and she was enough. But had he been fair to her? Was he right in exacting a sacrifice? His tired brain whirled in the effort to decide. Only one thing was clear — that he could not give her up. The future grew black at the very thought of it. With her he could make things go, but alone it was another matter. He would take the plunge and he would justify it. His mind went traveling back over the graceless year, and he suddenly realized that he had forfeited the confidence of men who were worth while. His course in profligacy would not be considered the best training for business. The thought nerved him to action. He must make good. Peggy had faith in him. She came to him when everything was against him, and he would slave for her, he would starve, he would do anything to prove that she was not mistaken in him. She at least should know him for a man.
Looking toward the window he saw the black, uneasy night give way to the coming day. Haggard and faint he arose from the couch to watch the approach of the sun that is indifferent to wealth and poverty, to gayety and dejection. From far off in the gray light there came the sound of a five o'clock bell. A little later the shrieks of factory whistles were borne to his ears, muffled by distance but pregnant with the importance of a new day of toil. They were calling him, with all poor men, to the sweat-shop and the forge, to the great mill of life. The new era had begun, dawning bright and clear to disperse the gloom in his soul. Leaning against the casement and wondering where he could earn the first dollar for the Peggy Brewster that was Peggy Gray, he rose to meet it with a fine unflinching fearlessness.
Before seven o'clock he was down stairs and waiting. Joe Bragdon joined him a bit later, followed by Gardner and the minister. The DeMilles appeared without an invitation, but they were not denied. Mrs. Dan sagely shook her head when told that Peggy was still asleep and that the ceremony was off till nine o'clock.
"Monty, are you going away?" asked Dan, drawing him into a corner.
"Just a week in the hills," answered Monty, suddenly remembering the generosity of his attorneys.
"Come in and see me as soon as you return, old man," said DeMille, and Monty knew that a position would be open to him.
To Mrs. Dan fell the honor of helping Peggy dress. By the time she had had coffee and was ready to go down, she was pink with excitement and had quite forgotten the anxiety which had made the night an age.
She had never been prettier than on her wedding morning. Her color was rich, her eyes as clear as stars, her woman's body the picture of grace and health. Monty's heart leaped high with love of her.
"The prettiest girl in New York, by Jove," gasped Dan DeMille, clutching Bragdon by the arm.
"And look at Monty! He's become a new man in the last five minutes," added Joe. Look at the glow in his cheeks! By the eternal, he's beginning to look as he did a year ago."
A clock chimed the hour of nine.
"The man who was here yesterday is in the hall to see Mr. Brewster," said the maid, a few minutes after the minister had uttered the words that gave Peggy a new name. There was a moment of silence, almost of dread.
"You mean the fellow with the beard?" asked Monty, uneasily.
"Yes, sir. He sent in this letter, begging you to read it at once.
"Shall I send him away, Monty?" demanded Bragdon, defiantly. "What does he mean by coming at this time?"
"I'll read the letter first, Joe."
Every eye was on Brewster as he tore open the envelope. His face was expressive. There was wonder in it, then incredulity, then joy. He threw the letter to Bragdon, clasped Peggy in his arms spasmodically, and then, releasing her, dashed for the hall like one bereft of reason.
"It's Nopper Harrison!" he cried, and a moment later the tall visitor was dragged into the circle. "Nopper" was quite overcome by the heartiness of his welcome.
"You are an angel, Nopper, God bless you!" said Monty, with convincing emphasis. "Joe, read that letter aloud and then advertize for the return of those Boston terriers!"
Bragdon's hands trembled and his voice was not sure as he translated the scrawl, "Nopper" Harrison standing behind him for the gleeful purpose of prompting him when the writing was beyond the range of human intelligence.
"Holland House, Sept. 23, 19—
"MR. MONTGOMERY BREWSTER,
"My Dear Boy:
"So you thought I had given you the slip, eh? Didn't think I'd show up here and do my part? Well, I don't blame you; I suppose I've acted like a damned idiot, but so long as it turns out O.K. there's no harm done. The wolf won't gnaw very much of a hole in your door, I reckon. This letter introduces my secretary, Mr. Oliver Harrison. He came to me last June, out in Butte, with the prospectus of a claim he had staked out up in the mountains. What he wanted was backing and he had such a good show to win out that I went into cahoots with him. He's got a mine up there that is dead sure to yield millions. Seems as though he has to give you half of the yield, though. Says you grub-staked him. Good fellow, this Harrison. Needed a secretary and man of affairs, so took him into my office. You can see that he did not take me up into the mountains to murder me, as the papers say this morning. Damned rot. Nobody's business but my own if I concluded to come east without telling everybody in Butte about it.
"I am here and so is the money. Got in last night. Harrison came from Chicago a day ahead of me. I went to office of G. & R. at eight this morning. Found them in a hell of a stew. Thought I'd skipped out or been murdered. Money all gone, everything gone to smash. That's what they thought. Don't blame 'em much. You see it was this way: I concluded to follow out the terms of the will and deliver the goods in person. I got together all of Jim Sedgwick's stuff and did a lot of other fool things, I suppose, and hiked off to New York. You'll find about seven million dollars' worth of stuff to your credit when you endorse the certified checks down at Grant & Ripley's, my boy. It's all here and in the banks.
"It's a mighty decent sort of wedding gift, I reckon.
"The lawyers told me all about you. Told me all about last night, and that you were going to be married this morning. By this time you're comparatively happy with the bride, I guess. I looked over your report and took a few peeps at the receipts. They're all right. I'm satisfied. The money is yours. Then I got to thinking that maybe you wouldn't care to come down at nine o'clock, especially as you are just recovering from the joy of being married, so I settled with the lawyers and they'll settle with you. If you have nothing in particular to do this afternoon about two o'clock, I'd suggest that you come to the hotel and we'll dispose of a few formalities that the law requires of us. And you can give me some lessons in spending money. I've got a little I'd like to miss some morning. As for your ability as a business man, I have this to say: Any man who can spend a million a year and have nothing to show for it, don't need a recommendation from anybody. He's in a class by himself and it's a business that no one else can give him a pointer about. The best test of your real capacity, my boy, is the way you listed your property for taxation. It's a true sign of business sagacity. That would have decided me in your favor if everything else had been against you.
"I'm sorry you've been worried about all this. You have gone through a good deal in a year and you have been roasted from Hades to breakfast by everybody. Now it's your turn to laugh. It will surprise them to read the "extras" to-day. I've done my duty to you in more ways than one. I've got myself interviewed by the newspapers and to-day they'll print the whole truth about Montgomery Brewster and his millions. They've got the Sedgwick will and my story and the old town will boil with excitement. I guess you'll be squared before the world, all right. You'd better stay indoors for awhile though, if you want to have a quiet honeymoon.
"I don't like New York. Never did. Am going back to Butte to-night. Out there we have real sky-scrapers and they are not built of brick. They are two or three miles high and they have gold in 'em. There is real grass in the lowlands and we have valleys that make Central Park look like a half an inch of nothing. Probably you and Mrs. Brewster were going to take a wedding trip, so why not go west with me in my car? We start at 7:45 P.M. and I won't bother you. Then you can take it anywhere you like.
"P.S. I forgot to say there is no such man as Golden. I bought your mines and ranches with my own money. You may buy them back at the same figures. I'd advise you to do it. They'll be worth twice as much in a year. I hope you'll forgive the whims of an old man who has liked you from the start. J."