The Fortune Hunter by Louis Joseph Vance
II. To Him That Hath
It had been a forlorn hope at best, this attempt of his to escape Kellogg: Duncan acknowledged it when, his packing rudely finished, he started for the door, Robbins reluctantly surrendering the suit-case after exhausting his repertoire of devices to delay the young man. But at that instant the elevator gate clashed in the outer corridor and Kellogg's key rattled in the lock, to an accompanying confusion of voices, all masculine and all very cheerful.
Duncan sighed and motioned Robbins away with his luggage. "No hope now," he told himself. "But--O Lord!"
Incontinently there burst into the room four men: Jim Long, Larry Miller, another whom Duncan did not immediately recognise, and Kellogg himself, bringing with them an atmosphere breezy with jubilation. Before he knew it Duncan was boisterously overwhelmed. He got his breath to find Kellogg pumping his hand.
"Nat," he was saying, "you're the only other man on earth I was wishing could be with me tonight! Now my happiness is complete. Gad, this is lucky!"
"You think so?" countered Duncan, forcing a smile. "Hello, you boys!" He gave a hand to Long and Miller. "How're you all?" He warmed to their friendly faces and unfeigned welcome. "My, but it's good to see you!" There was relief in the fact that Kellogg, after a single glance, forbore to question his return; he was to be counted upon for tact, was Kellogg. Now he strangled surprise by turning to the fourth member of the party.
"Nat," he said, "I want you to meet Mr. Bartlett. Mr. Bartlett, Mr. Duncan."
A wholesome smile dawned on Duncan's face as he encountered the blank blue stare of a young man whose very smooth and very bright red face was admirably set off by semi-evening dress. "Great Scott!" he cried, warmly pressing the lackadaisical hand that drifted into his. "Willy Bartlett--after all these years!"
A sudden animation replaced the vacuous stare of the blue eyes. "Duncan!" he stammered. "I say, this is rippin'!"
"As bad as that?" Duncan essayed an accent almost English and nodded his appreciation of it: something which Bartlett missed completely.
He was very young--a very great deal younger, Duncan thought, than when they had been classmates, what time Duncan shared his rooms with Kellogg: very much younger and suffering exquisitely from over-sophistication. His drawl barely escaped being inimitable; his air did not escape it. "Smitten with my old trouble," Duncan appraised him: "too much money... Heaven knows I hope he never recovers!"
As for Willy, he was momentarily more nearly human than he had seemed from the moment of his first appearance. "You know," he blurted, "this is simply extraordinary. I say, you chaps, Duncan and I haven't met for years--not since he graduated. We belonged to the same frat, y'know, and had a jolly time of it, if he was an upper-class man. No side about him at all, y'know--absolutely none whatever. Whenever I had to go out on a spree, I'd always get Nat to show me round."
"I was pretty good at that," Duncan admitted a trifle ruefully.
But Willy rattled on, heedless. "He knew more pretty gels, y'know... I say, old chap, d'you know as many now?"
Duncan shook his head. "The list has shrunk. I'm a changed man, Willy."
"Ow, I say, you're chawfin'," Willy argued incredulously. "I don't believe that, y'know--hardly. I say, you remember the night you showed me how to play faro bank?"
"I'll never forget it," Duncan told him gravely. "And I remember what a plug we thought my room-mate was because he wouldn't come with us." He nodded significantly toward the amused Kellogg.
"Not him!" cried Willy, expostulant. "Not really? Why it cawn't be!"
"Fact," Duncan assured him. "He was working his way through college, you see, whereas I was working my way through my allowance--and then some. That's why you never met him, Willy: he worked--and got the habit. We loafed--with the same result. That's why he's useful and you're ornamental, and I'm--" He broke off in surprise. "Hello!" he said as Robbins offered a tray to the three on which were slim-stemmed glasses filled with a pale yellow, effervescent liquid. "Why the blond waters of excitement, please?" he inquired, accepting a glass.
From across the room Larry Miller's voice sounded. "Are you ready, gentlemen? We'll drink to him first and then he can drink to his royal little self. To the boy who's getting on in the world! To the junior member of L.J. Bartlett and Company!"
Long applauded loudly: "Hear! Hear!" And even Willy Bartlett chimed in with an unemotional: "Good work!" Mechanically Duncan downed the toast; Kellogg was the only man not drinking it, and from that the meaning was easily to be inferred. With a stride Duncan caught his hand and crushed it in his own.
"Harry," he said a little huskily, "I can't tell you how glad I am! It's the best news I've had in years!"
Kellogg's responsive pressure was answer enough. "It makes it doubly worth while, to win out and have you all so glad!" he said.
"So you've taken him into the firm, eh?" Duncan inquired of Bartlett.
The blue eyes widened stonily. "The governor has. I'm not in the business, y'know. Never had the slightest turn for it, what?" Willy set aside his glass. "I say, I must be moving. No, I cawn't stop, Kellogg, really. I was dressin' at the club and Larry told me about it, so I just dropped round to tell you how jolly glad I am."
"Your father hadn't told you, then?"
"Who, the governor?" Willy looked unutterably bored. "Why, he gave up tryin' to talk business with me long ago. I can't get interested in it, 'pon my word. Of course I knew he thought the deuce and all of you, but I hadn't an idea they were goin' to take you into the firm. What?"
Long and Miller interrupted, proposing adieus which Kellogg vainly contended.
"Why, you're only just here--" he expostulated.
"Cawn't help it, old chap," Willy assured him earnestly. "I must go, anyway. I've a dinner engagement."
"You'll be late, won't you?"
"Doesn't matter in the least; I'm always late. 'Night, Kellogg. Congratulations again."
"We just dropped round to take off our hats to you," Long continued, pumping Kellogg's hand.
"And tell you what a good fellow we think you are," added Miller, following suit.
"You don't know how good you make me feel," Kellogg told them.
Under cover of this diversion Duncan was making one last effort to slip away; but before he could gather together his impedimenta and get to the door Willy Bartlett intercepted him.
"I say, Duncan--"
"Oh, hell!" said Duncan beneath his breath. He paused ungraciously enough.
"We've got to see a bit of one another, now we've met again, y'know. Wish you'd look me up--Half Moon Club'll get me 'most any time. We'll have to arrange to make a regular old-fashioned night of it, just for memory's sake."
Duncan nodded, edging past him. "I've memories enough," he said.
"Right-oh! Any reason at all, y'know, just so we have the night."
"Good enough," assented Duncan vaguely. He suffered his hand to be wrung with warmth. "I'll not forget--good-night." Then he pulled up and groaned, for Willy's insistence had frustrated his design: Kellogg had suddenly become alive to his attitude and hailed him over the heads of Long and Miller.
"Nat, I say! Where the devil are you going?"
"Over to the hotel," said Duncan.
"The deuce you are! What hotel?"
"The one I'm stopping at."
"Not on your life. You're not going just yet--I haven't had half a chance to talk to you. Robbins, take Mr. Duncan's things."
Duncan, set upon by Robbins, who had been hovering round for just that purpose, lifted his shoulders in resignation, turning back into the room as Miller and Long said good-night to him and left at Bartlett's heels, and smiled awry in semi-humorous deprecation of the way in which he let Kellogg out-manoeuvre him. When it came to that, it was hard to refuse Kellogg anything; he had that way with him. Especially if one liked him... And how could anyone help liking him?
Kellogg had him now, holding him fast by either shoulder, at arm's length, and shaking a reproving head at his friend. "You big duffer!" he said. "Did you think for a minute I'd let you throw me down like that?"
Duncan stood passive, faintly amused and touched by the other's show of affection. "No," he said, "I didn't really think so. But it was worth trying on, of course."
"Look here, have you dined?"
'At this suggestion Duncan stiffened and fell back. "No, but--"
Kellogg swept the ground from under his feet. "Robbins," he told the man, "order in dinner for two from the club, and tell 'em to hurry it up."
"Yes, sir," said Robbins, and flew to obey before Duncan could get a chance to countermand his part in the order.
"And now," continued Kellogg, "we've got the whole evening before us in which to chin. Sit down." He led Duncan to an arm-chair and gently but firmly plumped him into its capacious depths. "We'll have a snug little dinner here and--what do you say to taking in a show afterwards?"
"I say no."
"You dassent, my boy. This is the night we celebrate. I'm feeling pretty good to-night."
"You ought to, Harry." Duncan struggled to rouse himself to share in the spirit of gratulation with which Kellogg was bubbling. "I'm mighty glad, old man. It's a great step up for you."
"It's all of that. You could have knocked me over with a feather when Bartlett sprang it on me this morning. Of course, I was expecting something--a boost in salary, or something like that. Bartlett knew that other houses in the Street had made me offers--I've been pretty lucky of late and pulled off one or two rather big deals--but a partnership with L.J. Bartlett--! Think of it, Nat!"
"I'm thinking of it--and it's great."
"It'll keep me mighty busy," Kellogg blundered blindly on; "it means a lot of extra work--but you know I like to work...."
"That's right, you do," agreed Duncan drearily. "It's queer to me--it must be a great thing to like to work."
"You bet it's a great thing; why, I couldn't exist if I couldn't work. You remember that time I laid off for a month in the country--for my health's sake? I'll never forget it: hanging round all the time with my hands empty--everyone else with something to do. I wouldn't go through with it again for a fortune. Never felt so useless and in the way--"
"But," interrupted Duncan, knitting his brows as he grappled with this problem, "you were independent, weren't you? You had money--could pay your board?"
"Of course; nevertheless, I felt in the way."
"I know it is; it wouldn't be you if you didn't love work. It wouldn't be me if I did.... Look here, Harry; suppose you didn't have any money and couldn't pay your board--and had nothing to do. How'd you feel in that case?"
"I don't know. Anyhow, that's rot--"
"No, it isn't rot. I'm trying to make you understand how I feel when--when it's that way with me.... As it generally is." He raised one hand and let it fall with a gesture of despondency so eloquent that it roused Kellogg out of his own preoccupation.
"Why, Nat!" he cried, genuinely sympathetic. "I've been so taken up with myself that I forgot.... I hadn't looked for you till to-morrow."
"You knew, then?"
"I met Atwater at lunch to-day. He told me; said he was sorry, but--"
"Yes. Everybody is always sorry, but--"
Kellogg let his hand fall on Duncan's shoulder. "I'm sorry, too, old man. But don't lose heart. I know it's pretty tough on a fellow--"
"The toughest part of it is that you got the job for me--and I had to fall down."
"Don't think of that. It's not your fault--"
"You're the only man who believes that, Harry."
"Buck up. I'll stumble across some better opening for you before long, and--"
"Stop right there. I'm through--"
"Don't talk that way, Nat. I'll get you in right somewhere."
"You're the best-hearted man alive, Harry--but I'll see you damned first."
"Wait." Kellogg demanded his attention. "Here's this man Burnham--you don't know him, but he's as keen as they make 'em. He's on the track of some wonderful scheme for making illuminating gas from crude oil; if it goes through--if the invention's really practicable--it's bound to work a revolution. He's down in Washington now--left this afternoon to look up the patents. Now he needs me, to get the ear of the Standard Oil people, and I'll get you in there."
"What right've you got to do that?" demanded Duncan. "What the dickens do I know about illuminating gas or crude oil? Burnham'd never thank you for the likes o' me."
"But--thunder!--you can learn. All you need--."
"Now see here, Harry!" Duncan gave him pause with a manner not to be denied. "Once and for all time understand I'm through having you recommend an incompetent--just because we're friends."
"And I'm through living on you while I'm out of a job. That's final."
"But, man--listen to me!--when we were at college--"
"That was another matter."
"How many times did you pay the room-rent when I was strapped? How many times did your money pull me through when I'd have had to quit and forfeit my degree because I couldn't earn enough to keep on?"
"That's different. You earned enough finally to square up. You don't owe me anything."
"I owe you the gratitude for the friendly hand that put me in the way of earning--that kept me going when the going was rank. Besides, the conditions are just reversed now; you'll do just as I did--make good in the world and, when it's convenient, to me. As for living here, you're perfectly welcome."
"I know it--and more," Duncan assented a little wearily. "Don't think I don't appreciate all you've done for me. But I know and you must understand that I can't keep on living on you,--and I won't."
For once baffled, Kellogg stared at him in consternation. Duncan met his gaze steadily, strong in the sincerity of his attitude. At length Kellogg surrendered, accepting defeat. "Well...." He shrugged uncomfortably. "If you insist ..."
"Then that's settled."
"Yes, that's settled."
"Dinner," said Robbins from the doorway, "is served."