Read CHAPTER XXX of The Garies and Their Friends, free online book, by Frank J. Webb, on ReadCentral.com.

Many Years After.

Old Father Time is a stealthy worker. In youth we are scarcely able to appreciate his efforts, and oftentimes think him an exceedingly slow and limping old fellow. When we ripen into maturity, and are fighting our own way through the battle of life, we deem him swift enough of foot, and sometimes rather hurried; but when old age comes on, and death and the grave are foretold by trembling limbs and snowy locks, we wonder that our course has been so swiftly run, and chide old Time for a somewhat hasty and precipitate individual.

The reader must imagine that many years have passed away since the events narrated in the preceding chapters transpired, and permit us to re-introduce the characters formerly presented, without any attempt to describe how that long period has been occupied.

First of all, let us resume our acquaintance with Mr. Stevens. To effect this, we must pay that gentleman a visit at his luxurious mansion in Fifth Avenue, the most fashionable street of New York the place where the upper ten thousand of that vast, bustling city most do congregate. As he is an old acquaintance (we won’t say friend), we will disregard ceremony, and walk boldly into the library where that gentleman is sitting.

He is changed yes, sadly changed. Time has been hard at work with him, and, dissatisfied with what his unaided agency could produce, has called in conscience to his aid, and their united efforts have left their marks upon him. He looks old aye, very old. The bald spot on his head has extended its limits until there is only a fringe of thin white hair above the ears. There are deep wrinkles upon his forehead; and the eyes, half obscured by the bushy grey eyebrows, are bloodshot and sunken; the jaws hollow and spectral, and his lower lip drooping and flaccid. He lifts his hand to pour out another glass of liquor from the decanter at his side, when his daughter lays her hand upon it, and looks appealingly in his face.

She has grown to be a tall, elegant woman, slightly thin, and with a careworn and fatigued expression of countenance. There is, however, the same sweetness in her clear blue eyes, and as she moves her head, her fair flaxen curls float about her face as dreamily and deliciously as ever they did of yore. She is still in black, wearing mourning for her mother, who not many months before had been laid in a quiet nook on the estate at Savanah.

“Pray, papa, don’t drink any more,” said she, persuasively “it makes you nervous, and will bring on one of those frightful attacks again.”

“Let me alone,” he remonstrated harshly “let me alone, and take your hand off the glass; the doctor has forbidden laudanum, so I will have brandy instead take off your hand and let me drink, I say.”

Lizzie still kept her hand upon the decanter, and continued gently: “No, no, dear pa you promised me you would only drink two glasses, and you have already taken three it is exceedingly injurious. The doctor insisted upon it that you should decrease the quantity and you are adding to it instead.”

“Devil take the doctor!” exclaimed he roughly, endeavouring to disengage her hold “give me the liquor, I say.”

His daughter did not appear the least alarmed at this violence of manner, nor suffer her grasp upon the neck of the decanter to be relaxed; but all the while spoke soothing words to the angry old man, and endeavoured to persuade him to relinquish his intention of drinking any more.

“You don’t respect your old father,” he cried, in a whining tone “you take advantage of my helplessness, all of you you ill-treat me and deny me the very comforts of life! I’ll tell I’ll tell the doctor,” he continued, as his voice subsided into an almost inaudible tone, and he sank back into the chair in a state of semi-stupor.

Removing the liquor from his reach, his daughter rang the bell, and then walked towards the door of the room.

“Who procured that liquor for my father?” she asked of the servant who entered.

“I did, miss,” answered the man, hesitatingly.

“Let this be the last time you do such a thing,” she rejoined, eyeing him sternly, “unless you wish to be discharged. I thought you all fully understood that on no consideration was my father to have liquor, unless by the physician’s or my order it aggravates his disease and neutralizes all the doctor’s efforts and, unless you wish to be immediately discharged, never repeat the same offence. Now, procure some assistance it is time my father was prepared for bed.”

The man bowed and left the apartment; but soon returned, saying there was a person in the hall who had forced his way into the house, and who positively refused to stir until he saw Mr. Stevens.

“He has been here two or three times,” added the man, “and he is very rough and impudent.”

“This is most singular conduct,” exclaimed Miss Stevens. “Did he give his name?”

“Yes, miss; he calls himself McCloskey.”

At the utterance of this well-known name, Mr. Stevens raised his head, and stared at the speaker with a look of stupid fright, and inquired, “Who here what name is that? speak louder what name?”

“McCloskey,” answered the man, in a louder tone.

What! he he!” cried Mr. Stevens, with a terrified look. “Where where is he?” he continued, endeavouring to rise “where is he?”

“Stop, pa,” interposed his daughter, alarmed at his appearance and manner. “Do stop let me go,” “No no!” said the old man wildly, seizing her by the dress to detain her you must not go that would never do! He might tell her,” he muttered to himself “No, no I’ll go!” and thus speaking, he made another ineffectual attempt to reach the door.

“Dear father! do let me go!” she repeated, imploringly. “You are incapable of seeing any one let me inquire what he wants!” she added, endeavouring to loose his hold upon her dress.

“No you shall not!” he replied, clutching her dress still tighter, and endeavouring to draw her towards him.

“Oh, father!” she asked distractedly, “what can this mean? Here,” said she, addressing the servant, who stood gazing in silent wonder on this singular scene, “help my father into his chair again, and then tell this strange man to wait awhile.”

The exhausted man, having been placed in his chair, motioned to his daughter to close the door behind the servant, who had just retired.

“He wants money,” said he, in a whisper “he wants money! He’ll make beggars of us all and yet I’ll have to give him some. Quick! give me my cheque-book let me give him something before he has a chance to talk to any one quick! quick!”

The distracted girl wrung her hands with grief at what she imagined was a return of her father’s malady, and exclaimed, “Oh! if George only would remain at home it is too much for me to have the care of father whilst he is in such a state.” Then pretending to be in search of the cheque-book, she turned over the pamphlets and papers upon his desk, that she might gain time, and think how it was best to proceed.

Whilst she was thus hesitating, the door of the room was suddenly opened, and a shabbily dressed man, bearing a strong odour of rum about him, forced his way into the apartment, saying, “I will see him. D n it, I don’t care haporth how sick he is let me go, or by the powers I’ll murther some of yes.” The old man’s face was almost blanched with terror when he heard the voice and saw the abrupt entry of the intruder. He sprang from the chair with a great effort, and then, unable to sustain himself, sunk fainting on the floor.

“Oh, you have killed my father you have killed my father! Who are you, and what do you want, that you dare thrust yourself upon him in this manner?” said she, stooping to assist in raising him; “cannot you see he is entirely unfit for any business?”

Mr. Stevens was replaced in his chair, and water thrown in his face to facilitate his recovery.

Meanwhile, McCloskey had poured himself out a glass of brandy and water, which he stood sipping as coolly as if everything in the apartment was in a state of the most perfect composure. The singular terror of her father, and the boldness and assurance of the intruder, were to Miss Stevens something inexplicable she stood looking from one to the other, as though seeking an explanation, and on observing symptoms of a return to consciousness on the part of her parent, she turned to McCloskey, and said, appealingly: “You see how your presence has agitated my father. Pray let me conjure you go. Be your errand what it may, I promise you it shall have the earliest attention. Or,” said she, “tell me what it is; perhaps I can see to it I attend a great deal to father’s business. Pray tell me!”

“No, no!” exclaimed the old man, who had caught the last few words of his daughter. “No, no not a syllable! Here, I’m well I’m well enough. I’ll attend to you. There, there that will do,” he continued, addressing the servant; “leave the room. And you,” he added, turning to his daughter, “do you go too. I am much better now, and can talk to him. Go! go!” he cried, impatiently, as he saw evidences of a disposition to linger, on her part; “if I want you I’ll ring. Go! this person won’t stay long.”

“Not if I get what I came for, miss,” said McCloskey, insolently; “otherwise, there is no knowing how long I may stay.” With a look of apprehension, Lizzie quitted the room, and the murderer and his accomplice were alone together.

Mr. Stevens reached across the table, drew the liquor towards him, and recklessly pouring out a large quantity, drained the glass to the bottom this seemed to nerve him up and give him courage, for he turned to McCloskey and said, with a much bolder air than he had yet shown in addressing him, “So, you’re back again, villain! are you? I thought and hoped you were dead;” and he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes as if to shut out some horrid spectre.

“I’ve been divilish near it, squire, but Providence has preserved me, ye see jist to be a comfort to ye in yer old age. I’ve been shipwrecked, blown up in steamboats, and I’ve had favers and choleray and the divil alone knows what but I’ve been marcifully presarved to ye, and hope ye’ll see a good dale of me this many years to come.”

Mr. Stevens glared at him fiercely for a few seconds, and then rejoined, “You promised me solemnly, five years ago, that you would never trouble me again, and I gave you money enough to have kept you in comfort ay, luxury for the remainder of your life. Where is it all now?”

“That’s more than I can tell you, squire. I only know how it comes. I don’t trouble myself how it goes that’s your look out. If ye are anxious on that score you’d better hire a bookkeeper for me he shall send yer honour a quarterly account, and then it won’t come on ye so sudden when it’s all out another time.”

“Insolent!” muttered Mr. Stevens.

McCloskey gave Mr. Stevens an impudent look, but beyond that took no farther notice of his remark, but proceeded with the utmost coolness to pour out another glass of brandy after which he drew his chair closer to the grate, and placed his dirty feet upon the mantelpiece in close proximity to an alabaster clock.

“You make yourself very much at home,” said Stevens, indignantly.

“Why shouldn’t I?” answered his tormentor, in a tone of the most perfect good humour. “Why shouldn’t I in the house of an ould acquaintance and particular friend just the place to feel at home, eh, Stevens?” then folding his arms and tilting back his chair, he asked, coolly: “You haven’t a cigar, have ye?”

“No,” replied Stevens, surlily; “and if I had, you should not have it. Your insolence is unbearable; you appear,” continued he, with some show of dignity, “to have forgotten who I am, and who you are.”

“Ye’re mistaken there, squire. Divil a bit have I. I’m McCloskey, and you are Slippery George an animal that’s known over the ’varsal world as a Philadelphia lawyer a man that’s chated his hundreds, and if he lives long enough, he’ll chate as many more, savin’ his friend Mr. McCloskey, and him he’ll not be afther chating, because he won’t be able to get a chance, although he’d like to if he could divil a doubt of that.”

“It’s false I never tried to cheat you,” rejoined Stevens, courageously, for the liquor was beginning to have a very inspiriting effect. “It’s a lie I paid you all I agreed upon, and more besides; but you are like a leech never satisfied. You have had from me altogether nearly twenty thousand dollars, and you’ll not get much more now, mind I tell you.”

“The divil I won’t,” rejoined he, angrily; “that is yet to be seen. How would you like to make yer appearance at court some fine morning, on the charge of murther, eh?” Mr. Stevens gave a perceptible shudder, and looked round, whereupon McCloskey said, with a malevolent grin, “Ye see I don’t stick at words, squire; I call things by their names.”

“So I perceive,” answered Stevens. “You were not so bold once.”

“Ha, ha!” laughed McCloskey. “I know that as well as you then I was under the thumb that was before we were sailing in the one boat; now ye see, squire, the boot is on the other leg.” Mr. Stevens remained quiet for a few moments, whilst his ragged visitor continued to leisurely sip his brandy and contemplate the soles of his boots as they were reflected in the mirror above they were a sorry pair of boots, and looked as if there would soon be a general outbreak of his toes so thin and dilapidated did the soles appear.

“Look at thim boots, and me suit ginerally, and see if your conscience won’t accuse ye of ingratitude to the man who made yer fortune or rather lets ye keep it, now ye have it. Isn’t it a shame now for me, the best friend you’ve got in the world, to be tramping the streets widdout a penny in his pocket, and ye livin’ in clover, with gold pieces as plenty as blackberries. It don’t look right, squire, and mustn’t go on any longer.”

“What do you want whatever will satisfy you?” asked Stevens. “If I give you ever so much now, what guarantee have I that you’ll not return in a month or so, and want as much more?”

“I’ll pledge ye me honour,” said McCloskey, grandly.

“Your honour!” rejoined Stevens, “that is no security.”

“Security or no security,” said McCloskey, impatiently, “you’ll have to give me the money it’s not a bit of use now this disputin, bekase ye see I’m bound to have it, and ye are wise enough to know ye’d better give it to me. What if ye have give me thousands upon thousands,” continued he, his former good-humoured expression entirely vanishing; “it’s nothing more than you ought to do for keeping yer secrets for ye and as long as ye have money, ye may expect to share it with me: so make me out a good heavy cheque, and say no more about it.”

“What do you call a heavy cheque?” asked Stevens, in a despairing tone.

“Five or six thousand,” coolly answered his visitor.

“Five or six thousand!” echoed Mr. Stevens, “it is impossible.”

“It had better not be,” said McCloskey, looking angry; “it had better not be I’m determined not to be leading a beggar’s life, and you to be a rolling in wealth.”

“I can’t give it, and won’t give it if it must come to that,” answered Stevens, desperately. “It is you that have the fortune I am only your banker at this rate. I can’t give it to you I haven’t got that much money.”

“You must find it then, and pretty quick at that,” said McCloskey. “I’m not to be fooled with I came here for money, and I must and will have it.”

“I am willing to do what is reasonable,” rejoined Mr. Stevens, in a more subdued tone. “You talk of thousands as most men do of hundreds. I really haven’t got it.”

“Oh, bother such stuff as that,” interrupted McCloskey, incredulously. “I don’t believe a word of it I’ve asked them that know, and every one says you’ve made a mint of money by speculation that since ye sold out in the South and came here to live, there’s no end to the money ye’ve made; so you see it don’t do to be making a poor mouth to me. I’ve come here for a check for five thousand dollars, and shan’t go away without it,” concluded he, in a loud and threatening tone.

During this conversation, Lizzie Stevens had been standing at the door, momentarily expecting a recall to the apartment. She heard the low rumble of their voices, but could not distinguish words. At length, hearing McCloskey’s raised to a higher key, she could no longer restrain her impatience, and gently opening the door, looked into the room. Both their faces were turned in the opposite direction, so that neither noticed the gentle intrusion of Lizzie, who, fearing to leave her father longer alone, ventured into the apartment.

“You need not stand looking at me in that threatening manner. You may do as you please go tell what you like; but remember, when I fall, so do you; I have not forgotten that affair in Philadelphia from which I saved you don’t place me in a situation that will compel me to recur to it to your disadvantage.” “Ah, don’t trouble yerself about that, squire; I don’t that is entirely off my mind; for now Whitticar is dead, where is yer witnesses?”

“Whitticar dead!” repeated Stevens.

“Yes; and what’s more, he’s buried so he’s safe enough, squire; and I shouldn’t be at all surprised if you’d be glad to have me gone too.”

“I would to God you had been, before I put myself in your power.”

“’Twas your own hastiness. When it came to the pinch, I wasn’t equal to the job, so ye couldn’t wait for another time, but out with yer pistol, and does it yerself.” The wretched man shuddered and covered his face, as McCloskey coolly recounted his murder of Mr. Garie, every word of which was too true to be denied.

“And haven’t I suffered,” said he, shaking his bald head mournfully; “haven’t I suffered look at my grey hairs and half-palsied frame, decrepit before I’m old sinking into the tomb with a weight of guilt and sin upon me that will crush me down to the lowest depth of hell. Think you,” he continued, “that because I am surrounded with all that money can buy, that I am happy, or ever shall be, with this secret gnawing at my heart; every piece of gold I count out, I see his hands outstretched over it, and hear him whisper ‘Mine!’ He gives me no peace night or day; he is always by me; I have no rest. And you must come, adding to my torture, and striving to tear from me that for which I bartered conscience, peace, soul, everything that would make life desirable. If there is mercy in you, leave me with what I give you, and come back no more. Life has so little to offer, that rather than bear this continued torment and apprehension I daily suffer, I will cut my throat, and then your game is over.”

Lizzie Stevens stood rooted to the spot whilst her father made the confession that was wrung from him by the agony of the moment.

“Well, well!” said McCloskey, somewhat startled and alarmed at Stevens’s threat of self-destruction “well, I’ll come down a thousand make it four.”

“That I’ll do,” answered the old man, tremblingly; and reaching over, he drew towards him the cheque-book. After writing the order for the sum, he was placing it in the hand of McCloskey, when, hearing a faint moan, he looked towards the door, and saw his daughter fall fainting to the ground.