Scott John Reed
In Her Own Right
“The expected has happened, I see,” said Macloud, laying aside the paper he had been reading, and raising his hand for a servant.
“I thought it was the unexpected that happens,” Hungerford drawled, languidly. “What do you mean?”
“Royster & Axtell have been thrown into bankruptcy. Liabilities of twenty million, assets problematical.”
“You don’t say!” ejaculated Hungerford, sitting up sharply. “Have they caught any of our friends?”
“All who dealt with them, I reckon.”
“Too bad! Too bad! – Well, they didn’t catch me.”
“Oh, no! you’re not caught!” said Macloud. “Your father was wise enough to put your estate into Government threes, with a trustee who had no power to change the investment.”
“And I’m thankful he did,” Hungerford answered. “It saves me all trouble; I need never look at the stock report, don’t you know; Government bonds are always the same. – I suppose it’s a reflection on my ability, but that is of small consequence. I don’t care what people think, so long as I have the income and no trouble. If I had control of my capital, I might have lost all of it with Royster & Axtell, who knows?”
Macloud shook his head.
“It isn’t likely,” he commented, “you wouldn’t have had it to lose.”
Hungerford’s momentarily vague look suddenly became knowing.
“You mean I would have lost it long ago?” he asked. “Oh, I say, old man, you’re a bit hard on me. I may not have much head for business, but I’m not altogether a fool, don’t you know.”
“Glad to know it,” laughed Macloud, as he arose and sauntered away.
Hungerford drew out his cigarettes and thoughtfully lighted one.
“I wonder – did he mean I am or I am not?” he said. “I wonder. I shall have to ask him some time. – Boy! a Scotch and soda.”
Meanwhile, Macloud passed into the Club-house and, mounting the stairs to the second floor, knocked sharply at a door in the north-west corner of the corridor.
“Come in,” called a voice. – “Who is it? – Oh! it’s you, Macloud. Make yourself at home – I’ll be out in a moment.”
There was the noise of splashing water, accompanied by sundry exclamations and snorts, followed by a period of silence; and, then, from the bath room, emerged Croyden clad in robe, slippers and a smile.
“Help yourself,” he said, pointing to the smoking materials. He filled a pipe, lit it carefully, blew a few whiffs to the ceiling and watched them slowly dissipate.
“Well, it’s come,” he remarked: “Royster & Axtell have smashed clean.”
“Not clean,” said Macloud. “It is going to be the most criminal failure this town has ever known.”
“I mean they have busted wide open – and I’m one of the suckers.”
“You are going to have plenty of company, among your friends,” Macloud answered.
“I suppose so – but I hope none of them is hit quite so bad.” He blew another cloud of smoke and watched it fade. “The truth is, Colin, I’m done for.”
“What!” exclaimed Macloud. “You don’t mean you are cleaned out?”
The other nodded. “That’s about it… I’ve a few thousand left – enough to pay laundry bills, and to board on Hash Alley for a few months a year. Oh! I was a sucker, all right! – I was so easy it makes me ashamed to have saved anything from the wreck. I’ve a notion to go and offer it to them, now.”
There were both bitterness and relief in his tones; bitterness over the loss, relief that the worst, at last, had happened.
For a while, there was silence. Croyden turned away and began to dress; Macloud sat looking out on the lawn in front, where a foursome were playing the home hole, and another waiting until they got off the green.
Presently, the latter spoke.
“How did it happen, old man?” he asked – “that is, if you care to tell.”
Croyden laughed shortly. “It isn’t pleasant to relate how one has been such an addle-pated ass – ”
“Then, forgive me. – I didn’t mean to – ”
“Nonsense! I understand – moreover, it will ease my mortification to confide in one who won’t attempt to sympathize. I don’t care for sympathy, I don’t deserve it, and what’s more, I won’t have it.”
“Don’t let that worry you,” Macloud answered. “You won’t be oppressed by any rush of sympathy. No one is who gets pinched in the stock market. We all go in, and – sooner or later, generally sooner – we all get burnt – and we all think every one but ourselves got only what was due him. No, my boy, there is no sympathy running loose for the lamb who has been shorn. And you don’t need to expect it from your friends of the Heights. They believe only in success. The moment you’re fleeced, they fling you aside. They fatten off the carcasses of others – yours and mine and their own brothers. Friendship does not enter into the game. They will eat your bread and salt to-night, and dance on your financial corpse to-morrow. The only respect they have is for money, and clothes, and show; and the more money, and the more show the greater their deference – while they last – and the farther the fall when they fail. The women are as bad as the men, in a smaller way. They will blacken one another’s reputation with an ease and zest that is simply appalling, and laugh in your face while doing it. I’m speaking generally, there are exceptions, of course, but they only prove the rule. Yet, what can you expect, where aristocracy is based on one’s bank account, and the ability to keep the other fellows from laying violent hands on it. It reminds one of the Robbers of the Rhine! Steal everything within reach and give up nothing. Oh! it is a fine system of living! – Your pardon! I forgot myself.”
“It is good to have you forget yourself occasionally,” said Croyden – “especially, when your views chime with mine – recently acquired, I admit. I began to see it about a month ago, when I slowed down on expenditures. I thought I could notice an answering chill in the grill-room.”
“Like enough. You must spend to get on. They have no use for one who doesn’t. You have committed the unpardonable sin: had a fortune and lost it. And they never forgive – unless you make another fortune; then they will welcome you back, and lay plans to take it, also.”
“You paint a pretty picture!” Croyden laughed.
Macloud shrugged his shoulders.
“Tell me of Royster & Axtell,” he said.
“There isn’t a great deal to tell,” Croyden replied, coming around from the dressing table, and drawing on his vest as he came. “It is five years since my father died and left me sole heir to his estate. In round numbers, it aggregated half a million dollars – all in stocks and bonds, except a little place down on the Eastern Shore which he took, some years before he died, in payment of a debt due him. Since my mother’s demise my father had led the life of quiet and retirement in a small city. I went through college, was given a year abroad, took the law course at Harvard, and settled down to the business of getting a practice. Then the pater died, suddenly. Five hundred thousand was a lot of money in that town. Too much to settle there, I thought. I abandoned the law, and came to Northumberland. The governor had been a non-resident member of the Northumberland Club, which made it easy for me to join. I soon found, however, that what had seemed ample wealth in the old town, did not much more than make ends meet, here – provided I kept up my end. I was about the poorest one in the set I affected, so, naturally, I went into the stock market. Royster was the particular broker of the gang and the first year I did very well. – You think it was intended?” (As Macloud smiled.) “Well, I don’t doubt now you’re right. The next year I began to lose. Then Royster put me into that Company of his down in Virginia – the Virginia Improvement Company, you know. He took me down, in a special car, showed me how much he himself had in it, how much would be got out of it, offered to let me in on the ground floor, and made it look so rosy, withal, that I succumbed. Two hundred thousand was buried there. An equal amount I had lent them, at six per cent., shortly after I came to Northumberland – selling the securities that yielded only four per cent. to do it. That accounts for four hundred thousand – gone up the flume. Eighty thousand I lost in stocks. The remainder, about twenty thousand, I still have. By some error I can’t account for, they did not get away with it, too. – Such is the tale of a foolish man,” he ended.
“Will you make any effort to have Royster prosecuted?” Macloud asked.
“No – I’ve been pretty much of a baby, but I’m not going to cry over milk that’s spilt.”
“It’s not all spilt – some of it will be recovered.”
“My dear Macloud, there won’t be enough money recovered to buy me cigarettes for one evening. Royster has hypothecated and rehypothecated securities until no man can trace his own, even if it would help him to do so. You said it would likely prove a disgraceful failure. I am absolutely sure of it.”
Macloud beat a tattoo on the window-ledge.
“What do you think of doing?” he said – “or haven’t you got to it, yet – or don’t you care to tell?”
“I’ve got to it,” replied Croyden; “and I don’t care to tell – anyone but you, Colin. I can’t stay here – ”
“Not on twelve hundred a year, certainly – unless you spend the little principal you have left, and, then, drop off for good.”
“Which would be playing the baby act, sure enough.”
“It would,” he said; “but, sometimes, men don’t look at it that way. They cannot face the loss of caste. They prefer to drop overboard by accident.”
“There isn’t going to be any dropping overboard by accident in mine,” replied Croyden. “What I’ve decided to do is this: I shall disappear. I have no debts, thank God! so no one will care to take the trouble to search for me. I shall go down to Hampton, to the little property that was left me on the Eastern Shore, there to mark time, either until I can endure it, or until I can pick out some other abode. I’ve a bunch of expensive habits to get rid of quickly, and the best place for that, it seems to me, is a small town where they are impossible, as well as unnecessary.”
“Ever lived in a small town?” Macloud inquired.
“None smaller than my old home. I suppose it will be very stupid, after the life here, but beggars can’t be choosers.”
“I’m not so sure it will be very stupid,” said Macloud. “It depends on how much you liked this froth and try, we have here. The want to and can’t – the aping the ways and manners of those who have had wealth for generations, and are well-born, beside. Look at them!” with a fling of his arm, that embraced the Club-house and its environs. – “One generation old in wealth, one generation old in family, and about six months old, some of them scarcely that, in breeding. There are a few families which belong by right of birth – and, thank God! they show it. But they are shouldered aside by the others, and don’t make much of a show. The climbers hate them, but are too much awed by their lineage to crowd them out, entirely. A nice lot of aristocrats! The majority of them are puddlers of the iron mills, and the peasants of Europe, come over so recently the soil is still clinging to their clothes. Down on the Eastern Shore you will find it very different. They ask one, who you are, never how much money you have. Their aristocracy is one of birth and culture. You may be reduced to manual labor for a livelihood, but you belong just the same. You have had a sample of the money-changers and their heartless methods – and it has left a bitter taste in your mouth. I think you will welcome the change. It will be a new life, and, in a measure, a quiet life, but there are compensations to one to whom life holds more than garish living and ostentatious show.”
“You know the people of the Eastern Shore?” asked Croyden.
“No! – but I know the people of the Western Shore, and they come from the same stock – and it’s good stock, mighty good stock! Moreover, you are not burying yourself so deep – Baltimore is just across the Bay, and Philadelphia and New York are but a few hours distant – less distant than this place is, indeed.”
“I looked up the time-tables!” laughed Croyden. “My present knowledge of Hampton is limited to the means and methods of getting away.”
“And getting to it,” appended Macloud. “When do you go?”
“Hum – rather sudden, isn’t it?”
“I’ve seen it coming for a month, so I’ve had time to pay my small accounts, arrange my few affairs, and be prepared to flit on a moment’s notice. I should have gone a week ago, but I indulged myself with a few more days of the old life. Now, I’m off to-morrow night.”
“Shall you go direct to Hampton?”
“Direct to Hampton, via New York,” said Croyden. “There probably won’t anyone care enough even to inquire for me, but I’m not taking the chance.”
Macloud watched him with careful scrutiny. Was it serious or was it assumed? Had this seemingly sudden resolve only the failure of Royster & Axtell behind it, or was there a woman there, as well? Was Elaine Cavendish the real reason? There could be no doubt of Croyden’s devotion to her – and her more than passing regard for him. Was it because he could not, or because he would not – or both? Croyden was practically penniless – she was an only child, rich in her own right, and more than rich in prospect —
“Will you dine with me, this evening?” asked Macloud.
“Sorry, old man, but I’m due at the Cavendishes’ – just a pick-up by telephone. I shall see you, again, shan’t I?”
“I reckon so,” was the answer. “I’m down here for the night. Have breakfast with me in the morning – if I’m not too early a bird, at eight o’clock.”
“Good! for two on the side piazza!” exclaimed Croyden.
“I’ll speak to François,” said Macloud, arising. “So long.”
Croyden slowly straightened his tie and drew on his coat.
“Macloud is a square chap,” he reflected. “I’ve had a lot of so-called friends, here, but he is the only one who still rings true. I may imagine it, but I’m sure the rest are beginning to shy off. Well, I shan’t bother them much longer – they can prepare for a new victim.”
He picked up his hat and went downstairs, making his way out by the front entrance, so as to miss the crowd in the grill-room. He did not want the trouble of speaking or of being spoken to. He saw Macloud, as he passed – out on the piazza beyond the porte-cochere, and he waved his hand to him. Then he signalled the car, that had been sent from Cavencliffe for him, and drove off to the Cavendishes.