Part 15 (1/2)

This seemed to excite Gusher's vanity. Laying his hand patronizingly on Romer's arm, he looked up in his face with a smile of injured innocence.

”I care nosin for myself; it is wiz mine friend he make me so much trouble.”

”You're to be pitied, sir, very much to be pitied. Of course you are not Pinto, and yet the das.h.i.+ng, handsome fellow will insist in trafficking on your reputation. How very aggravating to a gentleman of your position. It requires a genius to do that well. That's what I admired Pinto for. The fellow had such a number of family histories at his tongue's end, and could apply any one of them so cleverly to his own case. In short, he knew exactly how to suit his customer. But you will remember, Mr. Gusher, the most amusing thing of all was the number of fathers he had. To-day he had a Spanish father, who had been through all the wars of Spain; to-morrow his father was a Frenchman who had smelled powder in all the battles fought by Napoleon. They were generals, too.

There was one bad feature about Louis's fathers. They were all unfortunate gentlemen, who managed to fight on the wrong side, and got their estates confiscated and their families left dest.i.tute.”

Romer paused for a moment, but kept his eyes fixed on Gusher. Still there was no change in his countenance. The young gentlemen who had been so merry but a few minutes before, now put down their gla.s.ses and listened with intense interest to the conversation.

”You shall zee, mine friend, (wiz your permizion I shall call you mine friend,”) replied Gusher, still cool and nonchalant, and again giving Romer's hand a decided shake, ”I have hear zat grand rascal tell ze same story so many times. You shall know zat I meets ze grand rascal on Broadway--a few days ago--”

”You met him in New York, eh?” resumed Romer, affecting great surprise.

”Looking just as fresh and rosy as ever, I suppose, and as ready to give himself up to the business of ornamenting society.” Romer patted Gusher on the shoulder familiarly, and smiled.

”If you should meet him again,” he resumed, playfully, ”and it is more than likely you will--stop him. He does'nt take offence easily. Keep your eye on him. Tell him you are a friend of his, and have a lady with a fortune you would like to introduce him to. That will gain his confidence. Then slip this card into his hand. It contains my address.

Tell him I am an old friend of his, and have some old and important business I would like to settle. Don't let your modesty interfere with your intentions, you know.”

Gusher took the card, and after affecting to read the name placed it in his pocket, without exhibiting the slightest change of countenance. ”You shall zee I shall do myself ze 'onar of being your diplomat,” said he, bowing himself formally out of the room.

”Romer, old fellow, what's up?” enquired one of the young men. ”A spoon, ain't he, Romer?”

”Not so much of a spoon, I take it,” said another. ”Considers himself a planet illuminating the social hemisphere of the Chapman family.”

”You must pardon me, gentlemen,” said Romer, ”for introducing a conversation so strange to you. It refers to a matter which concerns the gentleman and myself, which he perfectly understands, and you may hear more of soon--not now.”

Another, and very different scene from that described above, but which forms an essential part of this history, was being enacted just outside.

While the sound of the music was reverberating over Bowling Green, and mingling curiously with the sea-wail; while the dance went on, and all seemed gay and festive within, two old men, bent with age and poorly clad, were seen in front of Chapman's house, one of them leaning on a staff. They were the two shadowy figures seen on the Battery in the early part of the evening, looking anxiously out in the direction of a s.h.i.+p at anchor in the stream.

Their manner indicated that they were strangers in the city, uncertain of the location they were in. They would move slowly up and down in front of the house, then pause and listen to the music, the tripping of feet, and the sound of merry voices. The shadowy figures seen flitting through the curtains seemed to bewilder them. Then, after consulting together for a few minutes, and as if armed with some new resolution, they would ascend two or three steps, as if intent on seeking admission to the house. Then their resolution would seem to fail them, they would hesitate, and return slowly and reluctantly to the sidewalk.

Then he of the staff stood in the shadow of the street lamp, and as he did so his kindly but wrinkled face, his white, flowing beard and hair, reflected in the dim light, formed a striking picture of age made touching by sorrow. Then his eyes brightened and his lips quivered, and after looking sorrowfully up at the scene before him for several minutes, he motioned his companion to him, laid his trembling hand on his arm, and said:

”Tar pees no shustice in dis. He prings shorrow hinto mine house, unt shust now his house pees full of peeples what rejoices. I gits mine preat mit t' sweet of mine prow, so ven I ties I ties mit mine conscience so clear as I shays t' mine Got, ven I meets mine Got, dar pees no tirt on mine hands. If I only gits some news from mine poor t.i.te, Critchel, some shoy comes t' mine poor heart.” And he shook his head as he said this, and leaned on his staff, and tears coursed down his wrinkled face.

The old man was overcome, and had no power to restrain his emotions. It was several minutes before he regained control of his feelings. Then he raised his head, and wiping his wet, dripping beard, he pointed with the fore-finger of his right hand upward, and resumed: ”Critchel!” said he, in a tone as decided as it was touching, ”Critchel! if tar pees un shust Got, un I knows in mine heart as tar pees un shust Got, He come to mine aid, unt He shows he pees angry mit t' man vat shays he pees mine friend t'tay un prings shorrow into mine house to-morrow.”

”G.o.d will make a just reckoning with us all--depend on that, Hanz,”

replied the other. ”But it will do no good to stand here. We must wait until to-morrow.” And the two old men proceeded up Broadway and were shut from sight in the mist. It will hardly be necessary to tell the reader that one was Hanz Toodleburg, the other Doctor Critchel.

Two days before the sheriff of the county had seriously disturbed the peace of Hanz's little house by walking in and making service of a legal doc.u.ment of immense length--Topman and Gusher vs. Hanz Toodleburg--and in which the names were recapitulated so many times, and in so many different ways, as to bewilder Hanz's mind and send him into a state of deep distress. In short, Topman and Gusher, (Chapman's name was not mentioned, and for reasons which any sharp gentleman of the legal profession will understand,) had entered suit against Hanz, charging him with having made certain contracts he had not fulfilled, of procuring money and certain other property for the sale of secrets he did not possess, and indeed of having deceived and defrauded the plaintiffs, and of committing crimes enough to have sent at least a dozen men to the penitentiary. And all this to the serious damage, as well in reputation as pocket, of the highly enterprising and rapidly advancing firm of Topman and Gusher. And the plaintiffs prayed, as virtuous gentlemen are known to pray in such cases, that the defendant's property might be attached, and such damages decreed as in the discretion of the court justice demanded.

The great Kidd Discovery Company was bearing bitter fruit for Hanz.

Never before had a sheriff darkened his door, for it had been the aim of his life to owe no man a s.h.i.+lling, and never to quarrel with a neighbor. But here he was with law enough for a life-time, and all for doing a kindness for people he thought honest. He saw Chapman's finger at the bottom of the transaction, but the more he pondered over his troubles the more his mind got bewildered. He knew that before a court his simple story would weigh as nothing against the proof they could bring that he had been a.s.sociated in some suspicious way with all the circ.u.mstances which led to the formation of the great Kidd Discovery Company. There, too, was a paper, bearing his own signature, and indeed a confession of guilt.

In the midst of his grief it occurred to Hanz that a man who had invented so many religions must be something of a Christian, so he resolved to see him face to face, and have an honest talk with him. To that end he persuaded Critchel, who was his friend and adviser always, to bear him company into the city. He forgot that there were religions, based on what are called advanced ideas, and invented so plentifully in certain portions of New England, having little of either heart or soul in them, and which are in truth a cheap commodity, used more to advance commercial than spiritual purposes.

There was still another reason why these two old men were found in the city on that night. Nothing had been heard from t.i.te, or indeed the s.h.i.+p on which he sailed, for more than a year, and great anxiety was felt for her safety. A report, however, had reached Nyack that day that one of the Hudson Company's s.h.i.+ps had arrived at New York, and the hope that she might bring some tidings of the s.h.i.+p Pacific quickened his actions.

CHAPTER XXV.