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Chapter 11 BROTHERS

  • William Holton spoke the truth to Amzi when he said that he had had no warnin_f his brother's return. William, with all his apparent prosperity, was no_ithout his troubles, and he took it unkindly that this brother, who fo_ixteen years had kept out of the way, should have chosen so unfortunate _oment for reintroducing himself to his native town. He had not set eyes o_ack since his flight with Lois Kirkwood, though Samuel had visited th_estern coast several times on business errands and had kept in touch wit_im. William had been glad enough to forget Jack's existence, particularly a_he reports that had reached him—even those brought back by the sanguin_amuel—had been far from reassuring as to Jack's status in Seattle.
  • Jack's return meant a recrudescence of wounds which time had seemingly healed, with resulting discomforts that might have far-reaching consequences. Mrs.
  • William had a pride of her own, and it was unjust to her for a man who had s_hocked the moral sensibilities of the town to thrust himself back upon hi_amily, especially when he had chosen to present himself first at the domicil_f the head of a house against which he had so grossly sinned.
  • William took Jack home and put him to bed; and when Charles followed a littl_ater with Mrs. Holton, the prodigal slept the sleep of weary intoxication i_er guest chamber.
  • The next day the town buzzed, and the buzzing was loud enough to make itsel_eard at the desk of the president of the First National Bank. William ha_eft word at home that when Jack came to himself, he was to be dispatched t_he bank forthwith. He meant to deal with this unwelcome pilgrim upon _usiness basis strictly, without any softening domestic influences. The hono_f the Holtons was touched nearly and Jack must be got rid of. Mrs. Holto_elephoned at eleven o'clock that Jack was on his way downtown, and Willia_as prepared for the interview when his brother strolled in with something o_is old jauntiness.
  • The door of the directors' room closed upon them. The word passed along Mai_treet that Jack and William were closeted in the bank. Phil, walking downtow_n an errand, with the happiness of her party still in her eyes, was no_ithout her sense of the situation. At the breakfast-table her father, deepl_reoccupied, had brought himself with an effort to review the happier event_f the party. Knowing what was in his mind Phil mentioned the untowar_isfortune that had cast Jack Holton of all men upon the threshold of he_ncle's house.
  • "It really didn't make any difference, daddy,—that man's coming. Everybod_ried to forget it. And some of the young people didn't know him at all."
  • "No; it didn't matter, Phil. Your Uncle Amzi is a fine gentleman: I neve_ully appreciated his goodness and generosity as much as I did last night."
  • Phil did not know that Amzi had sought Kirkwood in the den where the lawye_ad gone to take counsel with himself, and had blown himself purple in th_ace in his kind efforts to make light of the incident. The two men had neve_een drawn closer together in their lives than in that meeting.
  • "It wasn't Uncle Amy's fault that the William Holtons were asked to the party; I think it was Aunt Kate who started that. And when I heard of it, it was al_ver and the invitations had been sent," Phil said.
  • Kirkwood repeated his assurance that it made no difference in any way. An_hil remembered for a long time a certain light in his gentle, candid eyes a_e said:—
  • "We get over most of our troubles in this world, Phil; and I want you to kno_hat that particular thing doesn't hurt me any more. Only it was a shock; th_an had aged so and his condition and the suddenness of it—But it's all ove_nd it didn't spoil the party; that's the main thing."
  • Phil was immensely relieved, for she knew that her father told the truth.
  • Jack Holton greeted a number of old friends on his way to the bank, but th_resident emeritus of the college cut him. The cold stare he received fro_his old man, who had been president of Madison College for forty years, expressed a contempt that hurt. Mrs. King, in whose yard he had played as _oy, looked over his head, though he was confident she knew him. His nostril_aught no scent of roast veal in the familiar streets. At his brother's hous_is sister-in-law, whom he had never seen, had not appeared when he went dow_or his breakfast.
  • He followed his brother into the directors' room in a defiant humor. They too_ccount of each other with a frank curiosity begotten of their lon_eparation.
  • "You haven't changed much, Will. You've grown a little stouter than fathe_id, but dear old Sam never lost his shape, and you're like him."
  • There was little resemblance between the two men. William's face, clean-shave_ave for a mustache, showed few lines, though his hair had whitened at th_emples. Jack's hair and mustache were well sprinkled with gray, and his crow_as bald. He fingered a paper-weight on the table nervously. A history o_issipation was written legibly in his eyes and he had a disconcerting way o_erking his head.
  • "Damn it all! I guess you're not tickled to death to see me. And I need hardl_ay that if I hadn't been drunk, I wouldn't have turned up at old Amzi's o_he night of that kid's coming-out party. Drunk when I struck town—hadn't bee_eeling well, and fell in with some old friends at Indianapolis and filled up.
  • Hope you'll overlook my little indiscretions. Reckon the town would have foun_ut I was here soon enough and there's nothing like coming right out in th_pen. When they told me at your house you were at Amzi's, I couldn't believ_t and I was just drunk enough to want to investigate."
  • William muttered something that Jack preferred to ignore.
  • "Well, I wasn't so drunk I didn't take in Kirkwood. Old Tom has held his ow_retty well; but he's the type Time don't batter much. I'd thought a good dea_bout what might happen if we ever met—had rather figured on a little pisto_ork; but Lord! it's funny how damned soon we get over these things. Trifles, Will, trifles—bubbles of human experience that vanish in thin air. Damn i_ll! life's a queer business. We put our faith in women and they're a ba_nvestment, damned uncertain and devilish hard to please, and shake you whe_he night falleth and you need a prop to lean on. By the way, your own consor_ucked me this morning; I had to have breakfast alone, with only one o_frica's haughty daughters to break my eggs. I hope madam your wife is well.
  • By the way, has she given any hostages to fortune? Thought I hadn't heard o_t. You've treated me in a hell of a little brotherly fashion, Will. If i_adn't been for Sam, who was a true sport if I know one, I shouldn't hav_nown anything about you, dead or alive."
  • William had listened with an almost imperceptible frown while he minutel_tudied his brother. The items he collected were not calculated to inspir_onfidence or quicken fraternal feeling. Jack, whom he remembered a_astidious in old times, was sadly crumpled. The cuffs of his colored shir_ere frayed; there were spots on his tie, and his clothes looked as thoug_hey had been slept in. The lining of the ulster he had thrown across a chai_ad been patched, and threads hung where his legs had rubbed it. Th_mpressions reflected in William's eyes were increasingly disagreeable ones, as he diagnosed moral, physical, and financial decrepitude. It was nothin_hort of impudence on Jack's part to intrude himself upon the town and upo_is family. It was with a slight sneer that William replied to his brother'_ong speech by ejaculating:—
  • "Well, I like your nerve! You come back drunk just when the community ha_egun to forget you, and wander into the last house in the world where yo_ught to show yourself. Your being drunk doesn't excuse you. Why didn't yo_ell me you were coming?"
  • Jack smiled ironically.
  • "Suppose you climb off your high horse for a little bit. If I have to get _ermit from my only brother to come back to the town where I was born, thing_ave come to a nice pass. Better cut all that out."
  • "You're certainly a past-master at making a mess of things," Willia_ontinued. "Your coming back that way fits neatly into your departure. Yo_eedn't think people have forgotten that you ran off with another man's wife.
  • And your coming back right now, just when the Montgomerys had buried th_atchet, was calculated with the Devil's own mind."
  • "So that's the tune, is it?" said Jack, stretching his arms upon the table an_lasping his fingers to subdue their nervous twitchings.
  • "That's just the tune! This town isn't big enough to hold you and the rest o_s. You've cost me a lot of money first and last. You made it necessary for u_o pull away from Amzi and start all over again, and there was a prejudic_gainst me from the start that I've just about lived down."
  • Jack grinned unpleasantly.
  • "Oh, the bank hasn't been terribly prosperous, then!"
  • William blinked at the thrust. He had given the conversation an unfortunat_urn, and he sought uncomfortably for another line of attack. Jack unwittingl_pened the way for him.
  • "You were the good boy of the family and used to be a pillar in the church. _ave a distinct though melancholy impression that when I took myself hence yo_ere passing the basket in Center Church every Sunday morning. I don't recal_hat I ever _saw_ you do it, but it was a matter of common knowledge in thi_own, Will, that you did that very thing. And being a Christian, just how d_ou square your effusive brotherly welcome with the gospel? The only reaso_od makes sinners is to give 'em a chance to repent. Without repentance wha_o you suppose would become of your churches anyhow?"
  • "I don't see any repentance in you; and I want to know right now what you'v_one with that woman?"
  • Jack blinked, then smiled and gave a laugh expressive of disdain and contempt.
  • "If you please, which woman?"
  • William's frown deepened. The one woman was certainly enough, and his rage wa_ncreased by the leer that accompanied the question.
  • "Oh, I dare say there have been enough of them! I mean the one you took awa_rom here; I mean Lois Kirkwood."
  • "Oh, Lois!" He spoke as though surprised that she should be chosen fo_articular attention, and his lip curled scornfully. "When a man goes wrong, Will, he pays for it. Take it from me that that's one gospel truth that I'v_roved to my entire satisfaction. It's queer, Will, how soon a bonfire burn_ut—the bigger the fire the quicker it goes. I went plum crazy about tha_irl. She'd married the one particular man on earth who was least likely t_ake her happy. He bored her. And I guess her baby bored her, too,—she wasn'_ domestic animal,—no pussy cat to sit by the fire and play with the baby an_ave hubby's slippers toasting when he came home to supper. And I had time t_lay with her; I wasn't so intellectual as Tom, but my nature was a damne_ight more sympathetic. It looked as though we had been made for each other, and I was fooled into thinking so. And I was bored myself—this silly littl_own, with nothing to hold anybody. Lois and I were made for a bigger world—a_east we thought so: and by Jove, it was funny how we fooled each other—it wa_ltogether too damned funny!"
  • "I'm glad you take a humorous view of it," replied William coldly. "No_atisfied with disgracing the family, you come back to rub it in. Where di_ou leave the woman? I suppose you've chucked her—the usual way."
  • Jack threw back his head and laughed.
  • "Well, I like that! You don't know what I had to put up with! She made m_uffer, I can tell you! I don't believe she'd deny herself that she made i_amned uncomfortable for me. She liked to spend money, for one thing, and _ouldn't make it fast enough; and she wanted to mingle with the rich and gay, and our story had followed us, and it's funny, Will, what a lot of old- fashioned, stupid, Thursday-night-prayer-meeting and the-pastor-in-to-te_orality there is left in this fool world! It cut Lois up a good deal, bein_nubbed by people she wanted to stand well with. It gave me a jolt to fin_hat I wasn't all-sufficient for her after all; which hurt some when we'_ecided we could be happy alone together in the woods for the rest of ou_ays. It's a long story, and I'm not going to talk about it. With the money _ook away from here I began monkeying with real estate; it didn't seem tha_nybody out there could lose just then: but I was a bad guesser. In five year_ had played in all my chips, and had to sneak around office buildings tryin_o sell life insurance, which wasn't dignified nor becoming in a member of th_aughty house of Holton."
  • "Sam told me a different story. Why don't you tell the truth if you talk abou_t at all? You gambled and lost your money—that's what happened; and rea_state speculation was only a side line. But Lois had money; I suppose yo_layed that away, too. Sam never seemed quite clear about your relations wit_er."
  • "I guess he didn't! There's a queer woman, Will. The inscrutable ways o_rovidence were not in it with hers. She hated me, but she wouldn't let go o_e; seemed to be her idea that shaking one man was enough and she wouldn't le_e make her a widow a second time. By George, I couldn't shake her—I had t_ive off her!"
  • William shrugged his shoulders and scowled. It was incredible that this coul_e his own brother who spoke thus of the gravest relationships of life. And i_as with a steady sinking of spirit that it was beaten in upon him that thi_an had come back to plant himself at his door. He was busy calculating th_ffect upon himself, his family, and his business of the prodigal's return. H_as shocked, disgusted, alarmed.
  • His wife had told him in the long vigil that followed her return from Amz_ontgomery's house, when she learned that her brother-in-law was sleeping of_is spree in her guest-room, that Jack had to go. She was proud and arrogant, and she had no idea of relinquishing her social pre-eminence—not too easil_on—in the town to which William Holton had brought her to live out her life.
  • One or two of the old families had never received her with any cordiality, clearly by reason of the old scandal. And where there are only seventee_housand people in a town the indifference of two or three, when they happe_o include a woman like Mrs. King, was not to be ignored or borne withou_ancor. William's indignation was intensified as he reviewed Jack'_isclosures from the angle his wife had drawn for him in the midnigh_onference. His curiosity was sharpened, however, as to the subsequen_elationship of Jack and Lois Kirkwood. Seattle is a long way from Montgomer_nd lines of communication few and slight. Samuel, returning from his visit_o the coast, had usually been too full of his own schemes to furnish an_atisfactory details of Jack and his wife. William dropped his plumb-line in _ew spot where he fancied the water would prove shallow.
  • "You lived off her, didn't you, until you had lived up all she had? The gospe_idn't neglect her; she got her share of the punishment."
  • "Look here, Will, you mustn't make me laugh like that! You know I used t_hink I understood human nature, but I never started with that woman. I di_ive at her expense,—I had to,—and she stood for it until I got to hangin_ound the saloons too much. She used to pay my dues in the club, damned if sh_idn't, until I got fired for too much poker in the chamber over the gate. _ust say she was a good sport: as a fair-minded man, I've got to admit that.
  • And she swung the lash over me—never laid it on, but made it sizz—whistle—til_'d duck and sniffle; and she did exactly what she pleased without caring _amn whether I liked it or not! By George, I knew she was a wonder when I too_er off Kirkwood's hands, but she wasn't wonderful in just the way I though_he'd be. That was where the joke came in. And she made people like her; sh_ould do that; and she got on, so that wherever she could go without me sh_as welcome. That was after people got sorry for her because she was hooked u_o me; but most of 'em, I guess, liked her on her own account. A quee_evelopment, Will. For the past five years I've just been a piece o_urniture, to be dusted and moved occasionally like an old rocking-chair tha_ets into a house, nobody knows exactly how, and is shoved around, tryin_orners where it won't be noticed much, until it winds up in the garret. Bu_fter all the corners had been tried,—she didn't have any garret; we live_ostly in hotels and flats,—I was gradually worked out on the second-han_an's wagon, and here I am."
  • "She kept her money, then?" asked William with assumed indifference.
  • "Will," said Jack with a mockingly confidential air, leaning forward on th_able, "after the first two or three years I never knew whether she had a cen_r not, that's the straight of it. Considering that she had thrown away he_eputation like an old shoe just for me, and that we lived along under th_ame roof, that was the most astonishing thing of all. She began by handing m_ut a hundred now and then when I was broke; then it dropped to ten, and the_t got down to a dollar a week,—humiliating, Will, considering that I ha_iven up my interest in the ancient and honorable firm of Montgomery & Holton, Bankers, just for her! But when she shook me for good, I'm damned if sh_idn't give me a clean thousand just as a consolation prize."
  • William was more interested in this phase of the relationship than in anythin_hat had gone before. He was aware of the local belief that Jack had throw_way his wife's share of her father's estate in his real estate speculation_n Seattle and that Amzi supported her dutifully by a regular allowance; i_act, the three sisters had encouraged this impression by characteristi_nsinuations.
  • "What's become of her? Where is she now?"
  • "That's where you've got me stung: how do I know where she is! After sh_lipped me the thousand and bade me a long and chilling farewell, I used t_eep track of her in one way or another. She had a restless streak i_er,—that's why she couldn't stand Tom and the rest of it,—and when it was al_each blossoms and spring with us she liked to take spurts over the world. W_sed to run down to San Francisco for little sprees, and then when that playe_ut she shifted to New York. But I've lost her trail—I don't any more kno_here she is than if I'd never laid eyes on her. She went abroad a couple o_imes and she may be over there now. Say, if Amzi's putting up for her yo_ill lose your main competitor one of these days! She'd bust the biggest ban_n Wall Street, that woman! She's a luxurious little devil, and a wonder fo_ooks. Even the harsh trial of living with me didn't wear her to a frazzle th_ay you might suppose it would. I guess if I hadn't poisoned the wells fo_er, she could have shaken me for most any man she liked. By George, I'll ge_o weeping on your neck in a minute, just thinking about her. I started in t_ell you what a miserable little wretch she is and I'm winding up by braggin_bout her. She's got that in her! But she'll bust Amzi before she winds up.
  • And I hope you appreciate the value of that news. Old Amzi, if he hasn'_hanged, is a fat-head who's content to sit in his little bank and watch th_orld go by. And I guess he's got a nice bunch of brothers-in-law on hi_ands. Poor old Amzi! There was always something amusing about the cuss, eve_hen he was a smug little roly-poly as a boy. But I passed his bank thi_orning and it looked like an undertaker's office. The contrast between tha_ld tomb and your plant pleases me, Will; it soothes my family pride. You ar_n able man and I congratulate you on your success. Sam liked to cut didoes o_hin ice a little too well; but you're a born banker—inherited it from father; and I guess I didn't do you so ill a turn after all when I cut loose with Loi_nd broke up the old partnership. There wasn't enough room in Montgomery & Holton for all of us."
  • Several times William shifted his position uneasily. His brother's flatter_erely paved the way to a demand—he was confident of this; and he had n_ntention of yielding to demands. To begin advances to this melancholy wrec_ould be to establish a precedent for interminable benefactions. It was bette_o deal with the matter at once. A clerk called him out to speak to a custome_nd when he came back, Jack was moodily glaring out upon the little court a_he rear of the bank. William did not seat himself again, but stood by th_able, as though to indicate his intention of terminating the interview.
  • "I can't give you any more time. Just what have you come back for? I'_ntitled to know, and we may as well have it out."
  • "What have I come back for? I've come back to stay, that's what I'm back for!
  • I want a job, that's all, and if you won't give me one, I'd like to know jus_here your brotherly heart expects me to go."
  • "You can't stay here, Jack. You've got to clear out. I don't mean to be har_n you, and I'll give you enough to take you wherever you want to go; but yo_an't camp here; you've got to move on. If you'd come back like a gentleman, it might have been different; but the whole town's upset. I'd just about live_ou down, and here you come back and stir up the whole mess. The way you cam_ack puts us all in the hole; the sympathy of the community was swinging roun_o our side a little, and even the Montgomerys were making it clear that the_ere willing to let bygones be bygones and here you come to spoil it all! An_ou've not only got to go, but you've got to go now, this very day by th_irst train."
  • This was received blinkingly. Jack shook his head as though in pity for hi_rother's harshness.
  • "For a man brought up by a Christian father and mother to point the door to _ong-lost brother is painful, Will. It wounds me deeply. I tell you right no_hat I'm not going away from here until I get good and ready. Do you follo_e?"
  • He rested the tips of his fingers on the table and bent toward his brothe_ith a cold glitter in his eyes. Under the mockery of his phrases a hot ange_urked.
  • "All right," said William. "Stay, then. But you can't hang yourself around m_eck. Understand that right here."
  • "You haven't heard all my story yet—"
  • "I've heard all I'm going to hear. I've heard enough to make me sick. I hop_obody else in this town will ever hear it. It's worse than I had eve_magined—you allowing that woman to support you! And it's nauseating to thin_hat you don't realize the rottenness of it. But you seem to be incapable o_ny decent feeling about anything."
  • "Stop sentimentalizing and listen to me. I didn't come back here to enter upo_ new social career; I came back on business. You remember, Will, that Sa_ame West when you and he were selling bonds in this Sycamore Traction line o_hich I rode proudly home last night. I helped Sam sell a pretty big bunch o_hose bonds out there. Sam could sell anything—Sam was a wonder! and h_lanted a big bunch of those things along the coast—my friends, you know.
  • Sam's dead and gone now and I ain't going to knock him—but Sam was a_xuberant chap and he overcalculated the cost of building the road. That wa_n the construction company, but you and Sam were in that—same old game o_orking both sides of the street. It was just a mistake in figures, of course, but some of those people out there hear the road ain't doing well, and they'r_riends of mine, Will, valued friends, and now that Sam's gone it's up to yo_nd me to take care of 'em—do you follow me?"
  • "If that's what you're up to you've made a big mistake. That road's one of th_ost successful traction lines in the West, and pays its bond interest on th_ot."
  • "Nothing easier; but I happen to know that the last payment was made wit_orrowed money. Of course, only a little temporary accommodation, but just th_ame it wasn't paid out of earnings. And, Will, you ought to be might_areful—you oughtn't to advance bank funds for such a purpose; it's damned ba_usiness; it's downright immoral; that's all! But how about the bonds you_onstruction company got—that nice little margin between a fair profit fo_uilding the road and a big fat steal at the expense of the bondholders? An_ou authorized the sale of bonds at eighty to pay the construction bill, go_inety, and pocketed the difference. Oh, you needn't get white and blink a_e. I know what he did with his share of the boodle—he had to take care of hi_olitical chums he got into other schemes. I know all about Sam—he was alway_orrowing, we will call it, from Peter to pay Paul, and most of it got int_am's pocket. Now here's my position; right here's where I come in. I'm goin_o help you take care of this, but you've got to act white with me. I'm no_oing to be kicked out of town—not unless you go with me. Is that plain?"
  • "You're a fool. I understand nothing except that you're trying to blackmai_e; and it won't go. Why, you ought to know that the thing you accuse Sam o_oing would have landed him and me, too, in the penitentiary. What do yo_uppose the trustee for the bondholders was doing? What do you imagine the Ne_ork investors were thinking about?"
  • "They were asleep, Will," Jack replied, with a gleam of malignant humor. "An_am was awful slick. Sam could sell winter underwear in hell. And I guess yo_ould sell anthracite at a profit down there, too. You talk about the famil_ignity;—by George, I never started with you fellows! Running away wit_nother man's wife is tame business compared with your grafting. And I've go_ little more news for you. The clouds are gathering, you might say, in al_arts of the horizon." He swept the room with a comprehensive gesture. "It'_ust one of those queer twists of the screw of fate that brings us all u_gainst Tom Kirkwood. Tom's smart: he always was, and as straight a man as Go_lmighty ever put on the footstool, and he's prying into Sycamore Traction. _topped off for a day or two in Indianapolis and got on to this. There was _awyer and an officer of the Desbrosses Trust & Guaranty Company out here fro_ew York to talk things over with Kirkwood,—he has some pull down there,—an_hey've employed him. While Sam lived he watched little things like that; filled up the accountants with champagne and took care of the statements, bu_ guess you are not quite as smart as Sam. I guess it's about all you can d_o take care of the bank examiner when he drops in to shake hands."
  • William had listened intently, his arms folded, a smile of derision on hi_ace.
  • "Just how much do you charge for this information?" he demanded coldly.
  • "I'm not going to charge you; I'm going to help you, Will. It's my duty as _rother to warn you and help you out of trouble. Family feeling is strong i_e: I'm not a man to let my own brother go down if I can keep him up. I see i_n your eye that—"
  • William flung round to the door and swung it open.
  • "Get out of here!"
  • "Oh, is that the answer? Then, all right!"
  • He picked up his hat, drew on his coat unhurriedly, walked calmly round th_able and lounged out of the bank.