Read CHAPTER III. of The Pace That Kills A Chronicle , free online book, by Edgar Saltus, on ReadCentral.com.

In a city like New York it is not an easy task, nor is it always a profitable one, to besiege a young person that is fortressed in her father’s house.  And when the house has a cousin for sentinel, and that cousin is jealous, the difficulty is increased.  But, time and tact aiding, what obstacle may not be removed?

Roland understood all this very thoroughly, and on the day succeeding his return from Tuxedo he examined the directory, strolled into Wall Street, and there, at the shingle of Dunellen, Metuchen, & Such, sent in a card to the senior member of the firm.

The Hon. Paul Dunellen ­Honest Paul, to the world in which he moved ­was a man who in his prime must have been of glad and gallant appearance; but latterly he had shrunk:  his back had bent almost into a hump, he held his head lower than his shoulders, but with uplifted chin ­a habit which gave him the appearance of being constantly occupied in peering at something which he could not quite discern, an appearance that was heightened by his eyes, which were restless, and by his brows, which were tormented and bushy.  He had an ample mouth:  when he spoke, the furrows in his cheeks moved with it.  His nose was prominent; all his features, even to his ears, were larger than the average mould.  When Roland was admitted to the room in which he sat, the first impression which he got from him was that of massiveness in decay.

“Mr. Mistrial, I am glad to see you.  I knew your father, and I had the honor of knowing your grandfather as well.  Will you not take a seat?” The old man had half risen, and in this greeting made manifest something of that courtesy which we are learning to forget.

“You are very kind,” Roland answered.  “It is because of my father that I venture to call.  If I interrupt you, though” ­and Roland, apparently hesitant, occupied himself in a study of his host ­“if I do,” he continued, “I beg you will allow me to come again.”

To this suggestion Mr. Dunellen refused to listen; but during the moments that followed, as Roland succinctly one after the other enumerated the facts in the case of his lost inheritance, the lawyer did listen; and he listened, moreover, with that air of concentrated attention which is the surest encouragement to him who has aught to say.  And when Roland had completed the tale of his grievance, he nodded, and stroked his chin.

“The matter is perfectly clear,” he announced, “though I can’t say as much for the law.  Undue influence is evident.  The trouble will be to invalidate a gift made during the lifetime of the donor; but ­” And Mr. Dunellen made a gesture as who should say, It is for that that courts were established.  “Yet, tell me, why is it that you have done nothing about it before?”

To this Roland made no immediate reply.  He lowered his eyes.  “Paralysis is written in your face,” he mused.  Then aloud and rather sadly:  “The fairest patrimony is an honored name,” he said.  “It is for me to guard my father’s reputation.  It is only recently, stress of circumstances aiding, I have thought that without publicity some compromise might possibly be effected.”  He looked up again, and as he looked he assured himself that the old man would not outlast the year.

“Well, Mr. Mistrial, you must let me quote the speech a lord made to a commoner, ‘You are not a noble, sir, but you are worthy of being one.’” And Mr. Dunellen reaching out caught Roland’s hand and shook it in his own.  “I enter thoroughly into your delicacy the more readily because I do not encounter it every day ­no, nor every month.  It does me good ­on my word it does.  Now, if a compromise can, as you suggest, be effected, and you care to leave the matter in my hands, I will do my best to serve you.  It may take some little time, we must seem neither zealous nor impatient, and meanwhile ­h’m ­I understood you to say something about your circumstances.  Now if I can be of any ­”

This offer Roland interrupted.  “You are truly very kind, sir,” he broke in, “and I thank you with all my heart.  All the more so even because I must refuse.  I have been badly brought up, I know; you see, I never expected that it would be necessary for me to earn my own living; yet if it is, I cannot begin too soon:  but what would the end be if I began by borrowing money?”

As Roland delivered this fine speech he was the image of Honesty arrayed in a Piccadilly coat.  He rose from his seat.  “I am detaining you, I am sure.  Let me get the papers together and bring them to you to-morrow.”

“Do so, by all means,” Mr. Dunellen answered, rising too.  “Do so, by all means.  But wait:  to-morrow I may be absent.  Could you not send them to my house this evening, or better still, bring them yourself?  It would give me pleasure to have my daughter meet a man who is the moral portrait of his grandfather.”

“Your daughter!” Roland exclaimed.  “It is not possible that she is the Miss Dunellen whom I saw the other day at Tuxedo.”

“With Mrs. Metuchen?  Why, of course it is.”  And the lawyer looked as surprised as his client.  “This is indeed a coincidence.  But you will come, will you not?”

“I shall consider it a privilege to do so,” Roland, with a charming affectation of modesty, replied; and presently, when he found himself in the street again, he saw, stretching out into beckoning vistas, a high-road paved with promises of prompt success.

And that evening, when the papers had been delivered, and Mr. Dunellen, leaving the guest to his daughter’s care, had gone with them to his study, Roland could not help but feel that on that high-road his footing was assured; for, on entering the drawing-room, Justine had greeted him as one awaited and welcome, and now that her father had gone she motioned him to a seat at her side.

“Tell me,” she said, “what is it you do to people?  There is Mrs. Metuchen, who pretends to abominate young men, and openly admires you.  To-day you captured my father; by to-morrow you will be friends with Guy.”

“With Guy?” Mechanically Roland repeated the phrase.  Then at once into the very core of memory entered the lancinating pang of a nerve exposed.  During the second that followed, in that tumult of visions that visits him who awakes from a swoon, there came to him the effort made in Tuxedo to recall in what manner the name of Dunellen was familiar to his ears; but that instantly departed, and in its stead came a face one blur of tears, and behind it a stripling livid with hate.  Could that be Guy?  If it were, then indeed would the high-road narrow into an alley, with a dead wall at the end.  Yet of the inward distress he gave no outward sign.  About his thin lips a smile still played, and as he repeated the phrase he looked, as he always did, confident and self-possessed.

“Yes, I am sure you will like each other,” the girl answered; “all the more so perhaps because no two people could be less alike.  Guy, you see, is ­”

But whatever description she may have intended to give remained unexpressed.  A portiere had been drawn, and some one was entering the room.  Roland, whose back was toward the door, turned obliquely and looked.

“Why, there he is!” he heard Justine exclaim; and in the man that stood there he saw the stripling he had just evoked.  Into the palms of his hands a moisture came, yet as Justine proceeded with some form of introduction he rose to his feet.  “So you are the cousin,” he mused; and then, with a bow in which he put the completest indifference, he resumed his seat.

“We were just talking of you,” Justine continued.  “Why didn’t you come in last night?”

“It is snowing,” the cousin remarked, inconsequently, and sat himself down.

“Dr. Thorold, you know;” and Justine, turning to Mistrial, began to relate one of those little anecdotes which are serviceable when conversation drags.

As she ran on, Roland, apparently attentive, marked that one of Thorold’s feet was moving uneasily, and divined rather than saw that the fingers of his hand were clinched.  “He is working himself up,” he reflected.  “Well, let him; it will make it the easier for me.”  And as he told himself this he turned on Thorold a glance which he was prepared to instantly divert.  But the physician was not looking; he sat bolt-upright, his eyes lowered, and about his mouth and forehead the creases of a scowl.

Dr. Thorold was of that class of man that women always like and never adore.  He was thoughtful of others, and considerate.  Physically he was well-favored, and pleasant to the eye.  He was sometimes dull, but rarely selfish; by taste and training he was a scholar ­gifted at that; and yet through some accident of nature he lacked that one fibre which differentiates the hero from the herd.  In the way we live to-day the need of heroes is so slight that the absence of that fibre is of no moment at all ­a circumstance which may account for the fact that Justine admired him very much, trusted him entirely, and had she been his sister instead of his cousin could not have appreciated him more.

And now, as Roland eyed him for one moment, through some of those indetectable currents that bring trivialities to the mind that is most deeply engrossed he noticed that though the physician was in dress the shoes he wore were not veneered.  Then at once he entered into a perfect understanding of the circumstances in which he was placed.  Though he lost the game even as the cards were being dealt, at least he would lose it well.  “I’ll teach him a lesson,” he decided; and presently, as Justine ceased speaking, he assumed his gayest air.

“Yes, yes,” he exclaimed, and gave a twist to his light mustache.  He had caught her ultimate words, and with them a cue.

“Yes, I remember in Népal ­”

And thereupon he carried his listener through a series of scenes and adventures which he made graphic by sheer dexterity in the use of words.  His speech, colored and fluent, was of exactly that order which must be heard, not read.  It was his intonation which gave it its charm, the manner in which he eluded a detail that might have wearied; the expression his face took on at the situations which he saw before describing, and which he made his auditor expect; and also the surety of his skill in transition ­the art with which he would pass from one idea to another, connect them both with a gesture, and complete the subject with a smile.  The raconteur is usually a bore.  When he is not, he is a wizard.  And as Roland passed from one peak of the Himalayas to another, over one of the two that listened he exerted a palpable spell.  At last, the end of his tether reached, he turned to the cousin, and, without a hesitation intervening, asked of him, as though the question were one of really personal interest, “Dr. Thorold, have you ever been in the East?”

Thorold, thrown off his guard, glared for an instant, the scowl still manifest; then he stood up.  “No, sir; I have not,” he answered; and each of the monosyllables of his reply he seemed to propel with tongue and teeth.  “Good-night, Justine.”  And with a nod that was rather small for two to divide, took himself from the room.

He reached the portiere before Justine fully grasped the discourtesy of his conduct.  She stared after him wonderingly, her lips half parted, her clear eyes dilated and amazed, the color mounted to her cheeks, and she made as though to leave her seat.

But this Roland thought it wise to prevent.  “Miss Dunellen,” he murmured, “I am afraid Dr. Thorold was bored.  It is my fault.  I had no right ­”

“Bored!  How could he have been?  I am sure I don’t see ­”

“Yes, you do, my dear,” thought Roland; “you think he was jealous, and you are wrong; but it is good for us that you should.”  And in memory of the little compliment her speech had unintentionally conveyed he gave another twist to his mustache.

The outer door closed with a jar that reached him where he sat.  “Thank God!” he muttered; and divining that if he now went away the girl would regret his departure, after another word or two, and despite the protestation of her manner, he bade her good-night.

It is one of the charms of our lovely climate that the temperature can fall twenty degrees in as many minutes.  When Roland entered the Dunellen house he left spring in the street; when he came out again there was snow.  Across the way a lamp flickered, beneath it a man was standing, from beyond came a faint noise of passing wheels, but the chance of rescue by cab or hansom was too remote for anyone but a foreigner to entertain.  Roland had omitted to provide himself with any protection against a storm, yet that omission affected him but little.  He had too many things to think of to be anxious about his hat; and, his hands in his pocket, his head lowered, he descended the steps, prepared to let the snow do its worst.

As he reached the pavement the man at the lamp-post crossed the street.

“Mistrial,” he called, for Roland was hurrying on ­“Mistrial, I want a word with you.”

In a moment he was at his side, and simultaneously Roland recognized the cousin.  He was buttoned up in a loose coat faced with fur, and over his head he held an umbrella.  He seemed a little out of breath.

“If,” he began at once, “if I hear that you ever presume to so much as speak to Miss Dunellen again, I will break every bone in your body.”

The voice in which he made this threat was gruff and aggressive.  As he delivered it, he closed his umbrella and swung it like a club.

A nous deux, maintenant,” mused Roland.

“And not only that ­if you ever dare to enter that house again I will expose you.”

“Oh, will you, though?” answered Roland.  The tone he assumed was affectedly civil.  “Well now, my fat friend, let me tell you this:  I intend to enter that house, as you call it, to-morrow at precisely five o’clock.  Let me pick you up on the way, and we can go together.”

“Roland Mistrial, as sure as there is a God in heaven I will have you in the Tombs.”

“See here, put up your umbrella.  You are not in a condition to expose yourself ­let alone anyone else.  You are daft, Thorold ­that is what is the matter with you.  If you persist in chattering Tombs at me in a snow-storm I will answer Bloomingdale to you.  You frightened me once, I admit; but I am ten years older now, and ten years less easily scared.  Besides, what drivel you talk!  You haven’t that much to go on.”

As Roland spoke his accent changed from affected suavity to open scorn.  “Now stop your bluster,” he continued, “and listen to me.  Because you happen to find me in there, you think I have intentions on the heiress ­”

“It’s a lie!  She ­”

“There, don’t be abusive.  I know you want her for yourself, and I hope you get her.  But please don’t think that I mean to stand in your way.”

“I should say not.”

“In the first place, I went there on business.”

“What business, I would like to know?”

“So you shall.  I took some papers for Mr. Dunellen to examine ­papers relative to my father’s estate.  To-morrow I return to learn his opinion.  Next week I go abroad again.  When I leave I promise you shall find your cousin still heart-whole and fancy-free.”

As Roland delivered this little stab he paused a moment to note the effect.  But apparently it had passed unnoticed ­Thorold seemingly was engrossed in the statements that preceded it.  The scowl was still on his face, but it was a scowl into which perplexity had entered, and which in entering had modified the aggressiveness that had first been there.  At the moment his eyes wandered, and Roland, who was watching him, felt that he had scored a point.

“You say you are going abroad?” he said, at last.

“Yes; I have to join my wife.”

At this announcement Thorold looked up at him and then down at the umbrella.  Presently, with an abrupt gesture, he unfurled it and raised it above his head.  As he did so, Roland smiled.  For that night at least the danger had gone.  Of the morrow, however, he was unassured.

“Suppose we walk along,” he said, encouragingly; and before Thorold knew it, he was sharing that umbrella with his foe.  “Yes,” he continued, “my poor father left his affairs in a muddle, but Mr. Dunellen says he thinks he can straighten them out.  You can understand that if any inkling of this thing were to reach him he would return the papers at once.  You can understand that, can’t you?  After all, you must know that I have suffered.”

“Suffered!” Thorold cried.  “What’s that to me?  It made my mother insane.”

“God knows I nearly lost my reason too.  I can understand how you feel toward me:  it is only what I deserve.  Yet though you cannot forget, at least it can do you no good to rake this matter up.”

“It is because of ­” and for a second the cousin halted in his speech.

Voila!” mused Roland. “Je te vois venir.

“However, if you are going abroad ­”

“Most certainly I am.  I never expect to see Miss Dunellen again.”

“In that case I will say nothing.”

They had reached Fifth Avenue, and for a moment both loitered on the curb.  Thorold seemed to have something to add, but he must have had difficulty in expressing it, for he nodded as though to reiterate the promise.

“I can rely upon you then, can I?” Roland asked.

“Keep out of my way, sir, and I will try, as I have tried, to forget.”

A ’bus was passing, he hailed it, and disappeared.

Roland watched the conveyance, and shook the snow-flakes from his coat. 
“Try, and be damned,” he muttered.  “I haven’t done with you yet.”

The disdain of a revenge at hand is accounted the uniquest possible vengeance.  And it is quite possible that had Roland’s monetary affairs been in a better condition, on a sound and solid basis, let us say, he would willingly have put that paradox into action.  But on leaving Tuxedo he happened to be extremely hungry ­hungry, first and foremost, for the possession of that wealth which in this admirably conducted country of ours lifts a man above the law, and, an adroit combination of scoundrelism and incompetence aiding, sometimes lands him high among the executives of state.  By political ambition, however, it is only just to say he was uninspired.  In certain assemblies he had taken the trouble to assert that our government is one at which Abyssinia might sneer, but the rôle of reformer was not one which he had any inclination to attempt.  Several of his progenitors figured, and prominently too, in abridgments of history; and, if posterity were not satisfied with that, he had a very clear idea as to what posterity might do.  In so far as he was personally concerned, the prominence alluded to was a thing which he accepted as a matter of course:  it was an integral part of himself; he would have missed it as he would have missed a leg or the point of his nose; but otherwise it left his pulse unstirred.  No, his hunger was not for preferment or place.  It was for the ten million which the Hon. Paul Dunellen had gathered together, and which the laws of gravitation would prevent him from carrying away when he died.  That was the nature of Roland Mistrial’s hunger, and as incidental thereto was the thirst to adjust an outstanding account.

Whatever the nature of that account may have been, in a more ordinary case it might have become outlawed through sheer lapse of time.  But during that lapse of time Roland had been in exile because of it; and though even now he might have been willing to let it drift back into the past where it belonged, yet when the representative of it not only loomed between him and the millions, but was even attempting to gather them in for himself, the possibility of retaliation was too complete to suffer disdain.  The injury, it is true, was one of his own doing.  But, curiously enough, when a man injures another the more wanton that injury is the less it incites to repentance.  In certain dispositions it becomes a source of malignant hate.  Deserve a man’s gratitude, and he may forgive you; but let him do you a wrong, and you have an enemy for life.  Such is the human heart ­or such at least was Roland Mistrial’s.

And now, as the conveyance rumbled off into the night, he shook the snow-flakes from his coat.

“Try, and be damned,” he repeated; “I haven’t done with you yet.”