Part 20 (1/2)

”Pardon, madam, pardon. Zis one circ.u.mstance, he is so very disagreeable. My compliment to ze family, an Mr. Gusher, he beg to say as he shall be compel to forego ze pleasure of is marriage zis day wiz your daughter. He is one grand rascal what make me so much trouble. So many friend come to see me to-day.

But ze suberscribed condition of my accommodation shall prevent ze carry out of my obligation wiz your lovely daughter. You shall zee, madam, as I am a man--yes, madam, a gentleman of 'onar. I shall get all my enemies undar my feet. Zen I shall do myself ze 'onar to marry your lovely daughter. Allow me, madam.

I shall subscribe myself your friend.

”PHILO GUSHER.”

”Impudence to the very last,” said Mrs. Chapman; ”he has brought this disgrace upon us, and now insults us in this way.” When Chapman returned he found the parlor doors locked, and was informed by the sheriff's deputy that he must confine himself to the kitchen and one room up stairs.

CHAPTER x.x.xI.

A VERY PERPLEXING SITUATION.

Wall Street was in a great flutter that day. A forgery, a defalcation that to-day would cause but a ripple on the surface, would have at that day sent the street into a tempest of excitement. A sheriff's deputy stood at the door of the office of the great Kidd Discovery Company, and a crowd of anxious and excited people, who had invested their money and now found they had lost it all, and had been made the victims of an aggravating fraud, surrounded the building. Threats and imprecations, enough to have sent a much more respectable house to the bottom of the sea, were heaped on the firm of Topman & Gusher. Nor indeed would it have been safe for any one connected with that enterprising firm to have shown his head in that a.s.sembly just at that time.

”Gentlemen will understand that this consolidated establishment is in a very unconsolidated condition. No further business will be done until its affairs are compromised;” the sheriff's deputy would announce, in a loud voice, as he endeavored to keep the crowd back. ”There's only an empty safe, gentlemen, and some handsome office furniture,” he would e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.e. ”You can't have them, you know.”

Extravagance had indeed swallowed up all the substance and left only these insignificant things for the crowd of anxious creditors to feast their eyes on.

Rumor after rumor rang through Wall Street, each in turn increasing the amount of Topman's forgeries, and adding new names to the list of his victims. Bank ledgers were examined to see if the name of the firm appeared on them, and portly old directors put on their spectacles and congratulated themselves that the concern did not owe them a s.h.i.+lling.

Groups of excited men stood at street corners discussing in animated tones the great event of the street. Everybody knew it must come. n.o.body expected it would come so soon.

The strangest thing of all was that no one knew anything of the antecedents of either member of the firm, or what the great Kidd Discovery Company was really based upon. Enterprising gentlemen had bought and sold the stock, and made and lost money by it. That was all they knew of it. The morning papers had given them an interesting account about Gusher; now some one was needed to tell them all about Topman--where he came from, who he was, and where he was to be found.

There was enough to call him rascal now. Even those who had ridden in his carriage, and enjoyed his dinners, and indeed thought him the best of fellows a few weeks before, were now ready to give him the hardest of kicks.

In truth, the firm was a mystery in Wall Street, and its largest creditors were in the greatest darkness concerning it. Some one has truly said that in a great commercial city men are known only by their enterprises and their successes; that their antecedents become lost in the magnitude and rapidity with which events revolve. This is particularly so with us. The firm of Topman & Gusher had fixed itself in Pearl Street, and gone quietly into business without friends, acquaintances, or endorsers; and in a single year had secured both credit and respectability. And it had done this on what is too frequently mistaken for energy and enterprise--show and pretension.

Upon Chapman's shoulders, however, the crus.h.i.+ng effect of this great disaster fell heaviest. Stripped of all he had, ruined, disgraced, he stood like one amazed at the suddenness of his own fall. He had built his castles on sand, and now found them tumbling down, and crus.h.i.+ng him under the ruin. His avaricious nature had led him, not only to wrong, but to bring distress and ruin on the unsuspecting and simple-minded Dutch settlers. The wheel of fortune was turned now. He had himself been ruined, betrayed, and disgraced by the very men he had put confidence in and made partners of his guilt. He also had set a snare and invented a plot by which he expected to strip honest old Hanz Toodleburg of his property, and now he had been caught in it himself.

His daughter, Mattie, had already disclosed to him the fact that she had overheard the conversation between him and Topman, relative to the manner of entrapping Hanz, and knew the secret of their plot. And she had appealed to him to save her the pain of bearing testimony that would conflict with his, to save an honest old man from poverty. The man of great progressive ideas now found it necessary to invent some way of escaping from what he saw would be worse than ruin and disgrace--a criminal's doom. His name had not appeared in the suit Topman & Gusher brought against Hanz Toodleburg. Oh, no. Chapman was needed as a witness to prove the signing of the papers, and all the circ.u.mstances relating to the sale of the secret of Kidd's treasure. Poverty and misfortune had now stepped in to purify and direct a smitten conscience.

He could not see his daughter further disgraced. Nor could he meet her in a court, giving testimony in conflict with his, and exposing his crime. He could only escape by coming out boldly, and doing justice to the old man he had tried so hard to wrong. It would also be to his advantage to a.s.sume this virtue, for if the case were decided against Hanz he would gain nothing. The creditors would in that case get all the property, whereas, if he confessed his partners.h.i.+p in, and exposed the plot, and defeated the creditors, some benefit might result from it--at some time. The son might still be alive, Chapman said to himself, and if he should form a connection with the family at some future day, (and there was no knowing what might happen,) why it was better to protect Hanz and the property now. He well knew that Mattie had fixed her affection on the young gentleman, and if he should ever return, nothing her mother could say hereafter would prevent their marriage.

CHAPTER x.x.xII.

HARVEST SUNDAY.

October was come again, the poetry of summer had almost departed, and it was a quiet Sunday morning in the country. The bell on the little old church by the hillside, at Nyack, was calling the plodding Dutch settlers to morning service. The hard, hollow sounds of the old bell echoed harshly over the hills, and yet there was something in its familiar sounds, and the quiet pastoral scenes it was a.s.sociated with, that always moved our feelings, and prompted us to give them a pleasant resting place in our love.

Cattle were resting in the fields, and their yokes hung on the gate posts that day. A soft, Indian-summer glow hung with transparent effect over the landscape; and a gentle wind whispered lovingly over the Tappan Zee. Autumn, too, had hung the trees in her brightest colors.

It was Harvest Sunday, a sort of festive resting-day with the Dutch settlers, who had gathered about the little church in great numbers, young and old, all dressed in their simple but neat attire. Others were quietly wending their way thitherward, along the lanes and through the fields. There they gathered about the little old church, a smiling, happy, and contented people, and waited for the Dominie, for it was their custom to meet him at the church door, and after exchanging greetings, follow him like a loving flock into their seats.

The Dominie was to preach his harvest sermon, and his flock was to join him in giving thanks to G.o.d for the bounties He had bestowed upon them.

He had, indeed, blessed them with an abundant harvest that year; and now they had come to thank Him and be joyful. Conspicuous in the group was the little snuffy doctor, Critchel, looking happy among the people whose ills he had administered to for half a century. On Harvest-Sunday he could kiss and caress the bright faced little children he had helped bring into the world as fondly as a young mother. There, too, was the schoolmaster, with his ruddy face and his seedy clothes, ready to do his part in making Harvest-Sunday pa.s.s pleasantly, for indeed the crop was a matter of importance with him. And there was t.i.tus Bright, for the merry little inn-keeper would have considered such a gathering incomplete without him. t.i.tus was not so well thought of by the Dutch settlers since he gave up his little tavern for a big one, and had taken to boarding fine folks from the city.

And now the appearance of Hanz and Angeline, advancing slowly up the road, for Hanz walked with a staff, created a pleasant diversion.