Part 12 (1/2)

”Madam,” said Mr. Gusher, again addressing the little woman, ”allow me to have ze pleazure as I shall present to you zis gentleman.” Here Mr.

Gusher introduced Topman, his partner, and gave him a short account of the business she was on.

”Why, my dear, good lady!” said Topman, grasping her hand with a freedom indicating that they had been old friends. ”Your husband and me--why, we were old friends. If there is any man in the world I respect and admire, that man is Captain Price Bottom. If there is any man living I would rather make a fortune for than do anything else, that man is Captain Price Bottom. Yes, madam, not many years ago I used to swear by Captain Price Bottom; and if Captain Price Bottom was here to-day, I will venture to a.s.sert, on the word of a gentleman, there is no man who would sooner swear by your humble servant--”

”I am so real glad! My husband made friends wherever he went,”

interrupted the little woman.

”Glad! glad!” resumed Topman, ”so am I. G.o.d bless him, wherever he goes!

Go back, madam, and get all your neighbors interested in this great enterprise. Tell them the managers are old friends of your husband. Get them to bring in their money, madam, and secure a fortune!” Mr. Topman now showed the little woman the discolored dollars, a matter of great importance, which Mr. Gusher had omitted.

”Our motto is, madam, 'Never invest your money until you have seen your basis.' If you see your basis, and it is satisfactory, then come down with your money and await your fortune. You see the basis, now put your faith in the firm!” concluded Mr. Topman, politely bowing the little woman out. She took her departure for home, fully satisfied that she had a good friend in Mr. Topman, and that she had made a permanent investment.

CHAPTER XXI.

COMING EVENTS CAST THEIR SHADOWS.

The Great Discovery Company had run its race of prosperity. A few months pa.s.sed, and the prospects of those connected with it began to change.

Chapman went about Nyack shaking his head despondingly, and saying that he had been deceived by Hanz Toodleburg, who had deceived them all with his story about Kidd's treasure, and would be the cause of their losing a large amount of money.

”I never would have been caught in such a trap, but I believed Hanz Toodleburg to be an honest man, a very honest man, and I put faith in his word. But I have been deceived. Well, it is not the first time my confidence has been abused in this way,” Chapman would say, holding up his hands, while his face a.s.sumed an expression of injured innocence.

Hanz, on the other hand, protested his innocence. Never in all his life, he said, had he taken a dollar of money not his own, and honestly made.

He was persuaded to do what he had done by the gentlemen whom he supposed engaged in an honest enterprise. In truth, he had never suspected them of a design to get honest people's money in a dishonest way.

”If I toos t' shentlemens a favors, und ta makes t' money, und I makes no money, und t' peoples don't get no money pack, what I cot t' do mit him?” Hanz would say, when accused by the settlers of aiding designing men to get their hard earnings. But all he could say and protest did not relieve him of the suspicion that he was a partic.i.p.ant in getting up the enterprise. In short, there was the old story of his knowledge of where Kidd's treasure was buried lending color of truth to the statements made to his injury by Chapman.

The innocent Dutch settlers would gather at Bright's inn of an evening, smoke their pipes, mutter their discontent at the way things had turned, compare their ”equivalents,” and relate how much saving it had cost them to get the money thrown away on them. If it had not been for Hanz Toodleburg, they said, not a man of them would have believed a word of the story about Mr. Kidd and his money. Indeed, they would insist on laying all their sorrows at Hanz's door.

Chapman had also circulated a report, which had gained belief among the settlers, that the trouble was caused by the devil refusing to surrender the key of the big iron chest; that he had been heard under sounding-rock, making terrible noises, and threatening to destroy every man working in the shaft. Then it was said that the ghost had reappeared and so frightened the men that they had refused to work. Another story was set afloat that the bottom had fallen out of the pit, and the iron chest containing the treasure had sunk beyond recovery. The simple fact was that the cunning fellows never expected to find a dollar.

These strange stories agitated Nyack for several weeks, and under their influence Chapman so managed to divide opinion that Hanz had to bear the greater share of blame for bringing distress on the poor people. One and then another of his neighbors would chide him, and say it was all his fault that they had lost their money and had nothing to show for it but these worthless bits of paper.

To add to Hanz's troubles, Chapman entered his house one day, and openly reproached him for bringing distress on his friends. ”You know you have done wrong, old man,” said he, a.s.suming the air of an injured man. ”You would not have deceived me--no man would--but that I took you for a Christian. And when I take a man for a Christian I put faith in him.

That's why I put faith in you. I believed you honest, you see.”

Chapman's familiar and even rude manner surprised and confounded Hanz.

In vain he protested his innocence, and offered to call the Dominie and Doctor Critchel to testify that he had never in his life wronged any man out of a s.h.i.+lling.

”You sold us something you had not got,” continued Chapman, in an angry tone, ”and in that you committed a fraud. Honest men don't do such things--never! Mr. Toodlebug. I thought you were a friend; but you have deceived me--have deceived us all!”

The plot was now beginning to develop itself, and Hanz for the first time began to see what a singular chain of adverse circ.u.mstances Chapman had drawn around him. Never before in his life had a man openly charged him with doing wrong. Angeline was even more troubled than Hanz, and listened with fear and trembling to the words as they fell from Chapman's lips. What could have worked this change in a person who had so recently expressed such friends.h.i.+p for them? Her pure, unsuspecting soul would not permit her to entertain the belief that her husband could do wrong. She attempted to speak and enquire what this strange and unaccountable scene meant; but her eyes filled with tears, her face became as pale as marble, and her resolution failed her. Her little, happy home had been rudely invaded, and a grasping, avaricious enemy had shown himself where she expected to find a friend.

”I don't want to distress you, Mr. Toodlebug, I don't,” said Chapman, keeping his keen eyes fixed on Hanz. ”I don't want to distress you, I don't. But you must show that you are an honest man. Honesty is the best policy. I've always found it so, at least. You must make this thing all right, if it takes all you have to do it.” When he had said this he put on his hat and rudely took his departure.

”Angeline, mine Angeline,” said Hanz, ”if dish bat man should make me loose mine goot name, den mine life it pees very misherable. What I toes I toes t' oplige t' gentleman. How I toes wish mine t.i.te, mine poor poy t.i.te, vas here.” He sat thoughtfully in his chair for several minutes, then sought consolation for his wounded feelings in a pipe.