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By George Barr McCutcheon
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2015 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
A BIRTHDAY DINNER
"The Little Sons of the Rich" were gathered about the long table in Pettingill's studio. There were nine of them present, besides Brewster. They were all young, more or less enterprising, hopeful, and reasonably sure of better things to come. Most of them bore names that meant something in the story of New York. Indeed, one of them had remarked, "A man is known by the street that's named after him," and as he was a new member, they called him "Subway."
The most popular man in the company was young "Monty" Brewster. He was tall and straight and smooth-shaven. People called him "clean-looking." Older women were interested in him because his father and mother had made a romantic runaway match, which was the talk of the town in the seventies, and had never been forgiven. Worldly women were interested in him because he was the only grandson of Edwin Peter Brewster, who was many times a millionaire, and Monty was fairly certain to be his heir—barring an absent-minded gift to charity. Younger women were interested for a much more obvious and simple reason: they liked him. Men also took to Monty because he was a good sportsman, a man among men, because he had a decent respect for himself and no great aversion to work.
His father and mother had both died while he was still a child, and, as if to make up for his long relentlessness, the grandfather had taken the boy to his own house and had cared for him with what he called affection. After college and some months on the continent, however, Monty had preferred to be independent. Old Mr. Brewster had found him a place in the bank, but beyond this and occasional dinners, Monty asked for and received no favors. It was a question of work, and hard work, and small pay. He lived on his salary because he had to, but he did not resent his grandfather's attitude. He was better satisfied to spend his "weakly salary," as he called it, in his own way than to earn more by dining seven nights a week with an old man who had forgotten he was ever young. It was less wearing, he said.
Among the "Little Sons of the Rich," birthdays were always occasions for feasting. The table was covered with dishes sent up from the French restaurant in the basement. The chairs were pushed back, cigarettes were lighted, men had their knees crossed. Then Pettingill got up.
"Gentlemen," he began, "we are here to celebrate the twenty-fifth birthday of Mr. Montgomery Brewster. I ask you all to join me in drinking to his long life and happiness."
"No heel taps!" some one shouted. "Brewster! Brewster!" all called at once.
"For he's a jolly good fellow,
For he's a jolly good fellow!"
The sudden ringing of an electric bell cut off this flow of sentiment, and so unusual was the interruption that the ten members straightened up as if jerked into position by a string.
"The police!" some one suggested. All faces were turned toward the door. A waiter stood there, uncertain whether to turn the knob or push the bolt.
"Damned nuisance!" said Richard Van Winkle. "I want to hear Brewster's speech."
"Speech! Speech!" echoed everywhere. Men settled into their places.
"Mr. Montgomery Brewster," Pettingill introduced.
Again the bell rang—long and loud.
"Reinforcements. I'll bet there's a patrol in the street," remarked Oliver Harrison.
"If it's only the police, let them in," said Pettingill. "I thought it was a creditor."
The waiter opened the door.
"Some one to see Mr. Brewster, sir," he announced.
"Is she pretty, waiter?" called McCloud.
"He says he is Ellis, from your grandfather's, sir!"
"My compliments to Ellis, and ask him to inform my grandfather that it's after banking hours. I'll see him in the morning," said Mr. Brewster, who had reddened under the jests of his companions.
"Grandpa doesn't want his Monty to stay out after dark," chuckled Subway Smith.
"It was most thoughtful of the old gentleman to have the man call for you with the perambulator," shouted Pettingill above the laughter. "Tell him you've already had your bottle," added McCloud.
"Waiter, tell Ellis I'm too busy to be seen," commanded Brewster, and as Ellis went down in the elevator a roar followed him.
"Now, for Brewster's speech!—Brewster!"
"Gentlemen, you seem to have forgotten for the moment that I am twenty-five years old this day, and that your remarks have been childish and wholly unbecoming the dignity of my age. That I have arrived at a period of discretion is evident from my choice of friends; that I am entitled to your respect is evident from my grandfather's notorious wealth. You have done me the honor to drink my health and to reassure me as to the inoffensiveness of approaching senility. Now I ask you all to rise and drink to 'The Little Sons of the Rich.' May the Lord love us!"
An hour later "Rip" Van Winkle and Subway Smith were singing "Tell Me, Pretty Maiden," to the uncertain accompaniment of Pettingill's violin, when the electric bell again disturbed the company.
"For Heaven's sake!" shouted Harrison, who had been singing "With All Thy Faults I Love Thee Still," to Pettingill's lay figure.
"Come home with me, grandson, come home with me now," suggested Subway Smith.
"Tell Ellis to go to Halifax," commanded Montgomery, and again Ellis took the elevator downward. His usually impassive face now wore a look of anxiety, and twice he started to return to the top floor, shaking his head dubiously. At last he climbed into a hansom and reluctantly left the revelers behind. He knew it was a birthday celebration, and it was only half-past twelve in the morning.
At three o'clock the elevator made another trip to the top floor and Ellis rushed over to the unfriendly doorbell. This time there was stubborn determination in his face. The singing ceased and a roar of laughter followed the hush of a moment or two.
"Come in!" called a hearty voice, and Ellis strode firmly into the studio.
"You are just in time for a 'night-cap,' Ellis," cried Harrison, rushing to the footman's side. Ellis, stolidly facing the young man, lifted his hand.
"No, thank you, sir," he said, respectfully. "Mr. Montgomery, if you'll excuse me for breaking in, I'd like to give you three messages I've brought here to-night."
"You're a faithful old chap," said Subway Smith, thickly. "Hanged if I'd do A.D.T. work till three A.M. for anybody."
"I came at ten, Mr. Montgomery, with a message from Mr. Brewster, wishing you many happy returns of the day, and with a check from him for one thousand dollars. Here's the check, sir. I'll give my messages in the order I received them, sir, if you please. At twelve-thirty o'clock, I came with a message from Dr. Gower, sir, who had been called in—"
"Called in?" gasped Montgomery, turning white.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Brewster had a sudden heart attack at half-past eleven, sir. The doctor sent word by me, sir, that he was at the point of death. My last message—"
"This time I bring a message from Rawles, the butler, asking you to come to Mr.
Brewster's house at once—if you can, sir—I mean, if you will, sir," Ellis interjected apologetically. Then, with his gaze directed steadily over the heads of the subdued "Sons," he added, impressively: "Mr. Brewster is dead, sir."CHAPTER 2
SHADES OF ALADDIN
Montgomery Brewster no longer had "prospects." People could not now point him out with the remark that some day he would come into a million or two. He had "realized," as Oliver Harrison would have put it. Two days after his grandfather's funeral a final will and testament was read, and, as was expected, the old banker atoned for the hardships Robert Brewster and his wife had endured by bequeathing one million dollars to their son Montgomery. It was his without a restriction, without an admonition, without an incumbrance. There was not a suggestion as to how it should be handled by the heir. The business training the old man had given him was synonymous with conditions not expressed in the will. The dead man believed that he had drilled into the youth an unmistakable conception of what was expected of him in life; if he failed in these expectations the misfortune would be his alone to bear; a road had been carved out for him and behind him stretched a long line of guide-posts whose laconic instructions might be ignored but never forgotten. Edwin Peter Brewster evidently made his will with the sensible conviction that it was necessary for him to die before anybody else could possess his money, and that, once dead, it would be folly for him to worry over the way in which beneficiaries might choose to manage their own affairs.
The house in Fifth Avenue went to a sister, together with a million or two, and the residue of the estate found kindly disposed relatives who were willing to keep it from going to the Home for Friendless Fortunes. Old Mr. Brewster left his affairs in order. The will nominated Jerome Buskirk as executor, and he was instructed, in conclusion, to turn over to Montgomery Brewster, the day after the will was probated, securities to the amount of one million dollars, provided for in clause four of the instrument. And so it was that on the 26th of September young Mr. Brewster had an unconditional fortune thrust upon him, weighted only with the suggestion of crepe that clung to it.
Since his grandfather's death he had been staying at the gloomy old Brewster house in Fifth Avenue, paying but two or three hurried visits to the rooms at Mrs. Gray's, where he had made his home. The gloom of death still darkened the Fifth Avenue place, and there was a stillness, a gentle stealthiness about the house that made him long for more cheerful companionship. He wondered dimly if a fortune always carried the suggestion of tube-roses. The richness and strangeness of it all hung about him unpleasantly. He had had no extravagant affection for the grim old dictator who was dead, yet his grandfather was a man and had commanded his respect. It seemed brutal to leave him out of the reckoning—to dance on the grave of the mentor who had treated him well. The attitude of the friends who clapped him on the back, of the newspapers which congratulated him, of the crowd that expected him to rejoice, repelled him. It seemed a tragic comedy, haunted by a severe dead face. He was haunted, too, by memories, and by a sharp regret for his own foolish thoughtlessness. Even the fortune itself weighed upon him at moments with a half-defined melancholy.
Yet the situation was not without its compensations. For several days when Ellis called him at seven, he would answer him and thank fortune that he was not required at the bank that morning. The luxury of another hour of sleep seemed the greatest perquisite of wealth. His morning mail amused him at first, for since the newspapers had published his prosperity to the world he was deluged with letters. Requests for public or private charity were abundant, but most of his correspondents were generous and thought only of his own good. For three days he was in a hopeless state of bewilderment. He was visited by reporters, photographers, and ingenious strangers who benevolently offered to invest his money in enterprises with certified futures. When he was not engaged in declining a gold mine in Colorado, worth five million dollars, marked down to four hundred and fifty, he was avoiding a guileless inventor who offered to sacrifice the secrets of a marvelous device for three hundred dollars, or denying the report that he had been tendered the presidency of the First National Bank.
Oliver Harrison stirred him out early one morning and, while the sleepy millionaire was rubbing his eyes and still dodging the bombshell that a dream anarchist had hurled from the pinnacle of a bedpost, urged him in excited, confidential tones to take time by the forelock and prepare for possible breach of promise suits. Brewster sat on the edge of the bed and listened to diabolical stories of how conscienceless females had fleeced innocent and even godly men of wealth. From the bathroom, between splashes, he retained Harrison by the year, month, day and hour, to stand between him and blackmail.
The directors of the bank met and adopted resolutions lamenting the death of their late president, passed the leadership on to the first vice-president and speedily adjourned. The question of admitting Monty to the directory was brought up and discussed, but it was left for Time to settle.
One of the directors was Col. Prentiss Drew, "the railroad magnate" of the newspapers. He had shown a fondness for young Mr. Brewster, and Monty had been a frequent visitor at his house. Colonel Drew called him "my dear boy," and Monty called him "a bully old chap," though not in his presence. But the existence of Miss Barbara Drew may have had something to do with the feeling between the two men.
As he left the directors' room, on the afternoon of the meeting, Colonel Drew came up to Monty, who had notified the officers of the bank that he was leaving.
"Ah, my dear boy," said the Colonel, shaking the young man's hand warmly, "now you have a chance to show what you can do. You have a fortune and, with judgment, you ought to be able to triple it. If I can help you in any way, come and see me."
Monty thanked him.
"You'll be bored to death by the raft of people who have ways to spend your money," continued the Colonel. "Don't listen to any of them. Take your time. You'll have a new chance to make money every day of your life, so go slowly. I'd have been rich years and years ago if I'd had sense enough to run away from promoters. They'll all try to get a whack at your money. Keep your eye open, Monty. The rich young man is always a tempting morsel." After a moment's reflection, he added, "Won't you come out and dine with us to-morrow night?"CHAPTER 3
MRS. AND MISS GRAY
Mrs. Gray lived in Fortieth Street. For years Montgomery Brewster had regarded her quiet, old-fashioned home as his own. The house had once been her grandfather's, and it was one of the pioneers in that part of the town. It was there she was born; in its quaint old parlor she was married; and all her girlhood, her brief wedded life, and her widowhood were connected with it. Mrs. Gray and Montgomery's mother had been schoolmates and playmates, and their friendship endured. When old Edwin Peter Brewster looked about for a place to house his orphaned grandson, Mrs. Gray begged him to let her care for the little fellow. He was three years older than her Margaret, and the children grew up as brother and sister. Mr. Brewster was generous in providing for the boy. While he was away at college, spending money in a manner that caused the old gentleman to marvel at his own liberality, Mrs. Gray was well paid for the unused but well-kept apartments, and there never was a murmur of complaint from Edwin Peter Brewster. He was hard, but he was not niggardly.
It had been something of a struggle for Mrs. Gray to make both ends meet. The property in Fortieth Street was her only possession. But little money had come to her at her husband's death, and an unfortunate speculation of his had swept away all that had fallen to her from her father, the late Judge Merriweather. For years she kept the old home unencumbered, teaching French and English until Margaret was well in her teens. The girl was sent to one of the good old boarding-schools on the Hudson and came out well prepared to help her mother in the battle to keep the wolf down and appearances up. Margaret was rich in friendships; and pride alone stood between her and the advantages they offered. Good-looking, bright, and cheerful, she knew no natural privations. With a heart as light and joyous as a May morning, she faced adversity as though it was a pleasure, and no one would have suspected that even for a moment her courage wavered.
Excerpted from Brewster's Millions by George Barr McCutcheon. Copyright © 2015 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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