“I’d like to offer you a little advice, Mr. Bascomb, if you won’t think I’m too forward.”
“What is it?” asked the president, turning briskly upon the young chief engineer.
“Just as long as you both live, Mr. Bascomb, Evarts is likely to bother you, in one way or another. Even if he goes to prison himself he’ll find a way to bother you from the other side of the grated door. Mr. Bascomb, why don’t you yourself disclose this little affair in your past history to the board of directors? Then it would be past any blackmailer’s power to harm you.”
“I could tell the directors in only one way,” Mr. Bascomb answered, his face growing sallow. “That would be to tell my story and hand in my resignation in the same breath. Reade, you don’t realize how much the presidency of the Melliston Company means to me! To resign, or to be kicked out, would end my career in the business world.”
In the near darkness a step sounded on the gravel. Then Mr. Prenter came briskly forward.
“Bascomb,” said the treasurer of the company, “Reade’s advice was good, though wholly unnecessary. There is no need to tell the directors the story of your past misfortune. Most of them know it already.”
The president’s face grew grayish as he listened in torment.
“Moreover,” Mr. Prenter continued, “most of us have known all about the matter since just before you were elected president.”
“And yet you allowed me to be elected!” cried Mr. Bascomb hoarsely.
“Yes; because we looked up your life and your conduct since—–well, ever since you left the past behind and came out into business life again. Our investigation showed that you had been living for years as an honest man. The rest of us on the board are men—–or think we are—–and we voted, informally, not to allow one misstep of yours to outweigh years of the most upright living since.”
“Knowing it all, you elected me to be president of the company!” gasped Mr. Bascomb, as though he could not believe his ears or his senses.
“Now, let us hear no more about it,” urged Mr. Prenter, cordially. “If I listened just now—–if I played the part of the eavesdropper, allow me to explain my conduct by saying that I, too, was present to-night when you talked with Evarts. I heard, and I knew that Reade and his friend heard. I listened, just now, in order that I might make sure that Thomas Reade, engineer, is a man of honor at all times. And now, let no one say a word more.”
Some one else was coming. All on the porch turned and waited to see who it was. Out of the shadows came a hang-dog looking sort of fellow.
“Is Mr. Bascomb here?” asked the newcomer.
“I am Mr. Bascomb,” spoke the president.
“Here’s a note for you,” said the man, handing over an envelope.
Tom stepped inside, got a lantern and lighted it, placing it upon the porch table. With the aid of this illumination Mr. Bascomb read the brief note directed to him.