Read CHAPTER III - "NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS" of Every Man for Himself , free online book, by Hopkins Moorhouse, on

At no time had it been Phil Kendrick’s habit to entertain an inflated opinion of his own importance. On occasion he had ridden around the gridiron on the shoulders of idolatrous students; but his modesty had been one of the factors underlying his popularity. Despising conceit in others, he was too prone, perhaps, to take himself to task for those little mistakes which every young man is liable to make from time to time.

It is safe to say, however, that never in all his life had he arraigned himself upon the carpet of his own condemnation so severely as now while paddling across the bay for the second time within the hour. If the McCorquodale incident earlier in the evening had lowered his opinion of his own judgment he was now ready to concede that he had no judgment whatsoever. It was of little use to tell himself that it served her right, or that she had dared him deliberately to do what he had done. That did not alter the fact that if he ever met her again it was not likely that he would, of course, but if he did, somewhere, sometime he had erected a barrier to her good will which would preclude all hope of her friendship. His status in her sight was that of a “miserable fresh Aleck!”

Thus, as a relief to his feelings and in part to keep warm by exertion, did Phil come home through the fog at headlong pace in a high state of discontent, a veritable bear with a sore head. As he lifted the canoe to its place in the boathouse something pricked his finger, and by the light of a match he found a dollar bill pinned to one of the canoe cushions with a tiny brooch. His hire! the only reward he had had any right to expect! The sight of these souvenirs did not tend to restore his peace of mind, and there was little mirth in the short laugh which he bestowed upon them as he thrust them into his pocket; yet it is interesting that he looked upon them as souvenirs, even while deciding to dismiss the whole matter permanently from his thoughts.

The launch was not back yet, he noted. Well, Stinson could go to the devil with it for all he cared! He slammed the boathouse door and strode up the side-street, this mood carrying as far as the picket gate. His hand was on the latch before he realized that the library windows were blurring through the fog with light.

Had the servants all gone crazy to-night? He went around to the front of the house, and with his face between the slats of the verandah railing, peered through the French windows. Muttering astonishment, he climbed over the railing, fitted his latch-key noiselessly and swung open the double glass doors that gave direct entrance to the room. The slight sound of his entry passed unnoticed by the Honorable Milton Waring, who continued to lean over his desk completely absorbed in a litter of papers.

But for the heavy odor of stale cigar smoke it would have been easy to suppose that the fog without had crept into the library. The air was blue. Phil’s glance swept the disordered room. Three empty whisky glasses stood on the library table. The butts of cigars and innumerable cork-tipped cigarettes lay smothered in gray ashes that spilled untidily in sundry ash-trays. There was a char of burned paper in the open grate where a few coals still glowed redly. The desk was covered with packets of folded papers, held together by rubber bands, and loose sheets upon which much figuring had been done with the blue pencil which his uncle favored. A stock certificate or two peeped from a closed account book.

Phil looked again at the bowed figure, struck by a laxity of manner that was foreign to the Honorable Milton Waring. His thick iron-gray hair, usually so carefully brushed, was rumpled on end where his fingers had plowed and held his head while he figured with the other hand. He had removed his collar and tossed it aside impatiently; it lay on the floor behind the chair, leaving the tie still hanging loosely around the neck, the end of it twisted over one shoulder. The door in front of which the intruder stood was outside the older man’s line of vision; but Phil could see a flushed cheek, and there was an air of dejection in his uncle’s attitude quite out of keeping with customary poise.

The subject of these observations reached abruptly for the decanter on the desk and poured himself a stiff drink of Scotch whisky. The neck tinkled a little tattoo against the glass. He swallowed the liquor neat and shook his head in a spasmodic grimace. The sigh with which he settled back in his chair was one of utter weariness.

Phil gave a slight cough to announce his presence.

“Pardon me, Uncle Milt, if I’m intruding, but I didn’t know you were in town Why, what’s wrong?” he ended quickly; for his uncle had sprung from his chair and was clinging to the edge of the desk for support while he stared as if he were gazing at an apparition.

In truth, quite aside from his quiet entry, the young man’s appearance was startling enough. His facial disfigurement achieved a bizarre effect which the condition of his clothes served to heighten. The once jaunty panama hat hung shapelessly about his ears and from beneath it a plaster of blond hair slanted across his forehead rakishly. His collar was a soggy mess, from which depended a dark red string in sorry travesty of a flowing tie. His shirt was soiled with mud, his coat and trousers full of wrinkles.

“For heaven’s sake, boy! What’s happened? Train wreck?” He dropped back into his chair, eyeing his nephew in amazement. “Why aren’t you at Sparrow Lake with your aunt? Get my wire? Eh? They told me you left this morning ” His voice was hoarse and it trailed away as if the situation embarrassed him and he was not quite sure how to handle it. He stared uncertainly, drumming nervously with his fingers.

Phil nodded as he sat down in the nearest chair and stared back. The surprise of finding his uncle there was overridden by the new discovery of his evident diffidence, his flushed face, a lack of that self-contained bearing which always had marked him as a man of large affairs. It was his uncle’s strict rule, he recalled, never to take a second drink; it was an axiom of the Honorable Milton’s that the second drink drew the cork on indiscretion and eventual inebriety. That something had happened which must have disturbed him greatly to make him break this rule was a deduction as simple as the evidence that he had broken it.

“What about you, Uncle Milt?” suggested Kendrick after a brief explanation of his change of plans a recital which carefully avoided mention of McCorquodale or the mysterious woman of the fog. “If I had known that Aunt Dolly was going to be alone I wouldn’t have let Thorpe persuade me to stay over a day.”

“I was called in unexpectedly important business ” He pushed uneasily at the papers on the desk. “Have a cigar, Philip?” He passed the humidor as he spoke, then scratched a match and held it to his nephew’s selection with careful courtesy. He shook his head in smiling disapproval of the swollen eye. “Bad business, young man! Bad business! A fine flower of folly you have there, eh? Don’t grow ’m like that at the Ladies’ Aid meeting at the First Baptist Church, do they?” He settled back in his chair, chortling.

Phil smiled as he tossed aside his hat.

“Blame it on the fog, Uncle Milt. I was foolish enough to trip over something in the dark and take a header down the Canoe Club stairs into the water,” he explained mendaciously. “Me for the woods to-morrow without fail. I guess I got off easy at that, for you can’t see your hand in front of your face out on the bay to-night. Stinson almost ran me down with the launch missed me by a couple of feet and that’s all.”

“Stinson? Stinson, d’you say? Don’t mean our Stinson in our launch? Not our Stinson in our very own launch, Phil’p? You s’prise me greatly. In the dark like that How do you know?” he challenged.

Kendrick smiled at the transparency of this attempt.

“I recognized his voice for one thing. Stinson was speeding the parting guests the three who drank out of the glasses yonder. Pshaw, you know as well as I do that you sent me that wire to clear the way for this little affair to-night, and you’re wishing right now that I was at the bottom of the lake! But it’s all right, Uncle Milt.”

His uncle did not laugh. Instead he eyed the younger man from beneath heavy brows that met in a scowl.

“Sherlock Holmes, eh? When’d you start emulating Sherlock Holmes?” he growled. “Been a meeting here yes business. What of it?”

“Nothing at all, if you say so. Only don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m still a mere kid, Uncle Milt. I’d hate to think there was any other reason why you have never admitted me to your confidence. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps I might well, sort of dig in and help you in some way? You and Aunt Dolly have been mighty good to me and I kind of feel Well, you know what I mean,” he finished diffidently.

The Honorable Milton Waring’s brows unbent. His gaze wandered automatically to the pile of papers on the desk and for a moment he was silent.

“There is nothing you can do, Phil Phill_up_, to help,” he said at last, shaking his head slowly, while the tired lines deepened about his eyes. “I thanks all same.”

Kendrick hunched his chair nearer and laid a hand on the other’s knee.

“You’re in trouble of some kind,” he said earnestly. “Please don’t try to deny it, Uncle Milt. I promised Billy Thorpe I’d join him next week on a fishing trip, but that’s all off if I can be of any use to you. That special course in engineering next fall that’s all off, too, if you need me. It’s my duty to help and it’s your duty to let me. We both owe it to Aunt Dolly, don’t we?”

A look of apprehension sprang into the tired eyes. He waved his hand swiftly towards the empty glasses.

“Your aunt she must know nothing of all this. I warn you now, Phil’p, not a word. No use causing her needless worry. Her social duties, understand, These business affairs ” His voice trailed again and he looked anxiously for his nephew’s acquiescence.

“That goes as a matter of course,” nodded Kendrick. “So far as I am concerned, this little chat with you has never taken place and there’s been nobody here except the servants so far as I am concerned. But is there any danger of anybody What would be the object of anybody spying on this particular little séance?” He paused at the quick consternation which the suggestion aroused.

“What do you mean, Philip?” demanded the Honorable Milton sharply. He sat up more alertly. “Why do you ask such a foolish question? Are you talking at random or?”

“Very much at random,” assured Kendrick hastily. “I was just wondering. Because Well, it would be the only way anybody who happened to be interested would find out about your meeting, wouldn’t it? I don’t intend to talk about it, as I said before. I thought perhaps if it had anything to do with the political situation, for instance, detectives, you know around election time. I don’t pretend to know very much about these things, of course.”

“You are fortunate,” grunted the Honorable Milton, dryly. “Seems to me you are allowing your imagination to run away with you, young man. Advise you to curb it.”

Phil took a long pull at his cigar and studied his uncle keenly as he blew the smoke into the air.

“Do you want to know how I really got this beauty spot this ’flower of folly’ as you called it?” he asked unexpectedly. “I had a little argument with a fellow to-night who insisted that you were he retracted it, of course were a political grafter!”

The smile with which the Honorable Milton Waring had welcomed the promised change of subject faded slowly. He wagged his head in reproof.

“Very foolish of you, Philip to take any notice of that sort of thing. Let ’em talk!” Yet he looked at this nephew of his with a new interest. “Grafter, eh? Didn’t believe it, eh?”

“Anyone who looks up your political record, Uncle Milt, must respect you,” said Phil seriously. “These newspapers that are so fond of handing out roasts seem to overlook the fact that you were the man mainly responsible for kicking out Rives and his crowd and cleaning up the whole rotten administration. It makes me mad. And some of them have got the nerve to hint that the present Government

“Don’t let’s get into any political discussion, Philip,” interrupted his uncle, holding up his hand in protest. “Please. I’m too tired for that. I’m sick of it, d’you hear? Politics! Politics! The same miserable tactics of misrepresentation! The same petty motives that have bedeviled public life for the past Damn them!”

He heaved himself abruptly from his chair and began to pace the room restlessly while Kendrick watched him, surprised by the unexpected vehemence of the outburst. After a turn or two he stopped directly in front of his nephew, and in his eyes was a strange look.

“There are many things, my boy, which you cannot be expected to understand without a lot of explanation,” he said more quietly. “I cannot go into any of these things now. If you ever accept a public office in later life try to look upon it as a sacred trust to be fulfilled according to the dictates of conscience. Then you will begin to understand what is meant by ‘burden of effort’ and ’the heat of the day.’ I want you to believe that even one man against a pack of wolves can put up at least some kind of a fight, even though he knows that sooner or later he is doomed to go down. I have tried conscientiously to do what I thought was my duty. Do you believe that?”

“Certainly,” nodded Kendrick without hesitation.

“Thank you, Philip. No matter what happens I want you to continue to believe that.”

“Look here, Uncle Milt, if anybody is trying to put anything over on you, why not let me in on the scrap?” urged Phil eagerly. “I meant what I said a moment ago. What is it? What’s the matter? Finances? Let me help. I’ll write you a cheque for what I have in the bank and we can raise something on my Parkview property

The Honorable Milton tossed his head in a chuckle of amusement.

“How much have you got?” he smiled.

“About two thousand in the bank, another couple of thousand in negotiable securities oh, about ten thousand, roughly, including the real-estate. We could sell that. I’ll look after it first thing after breakfast.”

“Ten thousand dollars is neither here nor there, Philip,” said his uncle, shaking his head slowly. “I could raise such a sum by the mere request. Perhaps if it were five times the amount Just the same I am grateful for your offer, my boy.”

“Fifty thousand dollars!” murmured Phil. “It’s a lot of money when you haven’t got it.”

The Honorable Milton glanced at the clock on the mantel and gave an exclamation.

“It’s time you and I were in bed. I hear Stinson just coming in. Everything’s all right. I’m going to turn in now.”

At the foot of the stairs he paused to lay a hand on his nephew’s shoulder and there was unwonted gentleness in his manner.

“Good-night, Philip. And thank you for the the ‘flower of folly,’” he said awkwardly.

For a moment Kendrick stood watching the Honorable Milton Waring as he mounted the stairs slowly, a heavy hand upon the banister rail. The gray head was bowed. There was an air of dejection in the whole figure as of one who tastes the bitterness of defeat.