To one and all St. George gave a warm pressure of the hand and a bright smile. Had he been the master of ceremonies at a state reception he could not have been more self-possessed or more gallant; his troubles were for himself, never for his guests.
“All in a lifetime—but I am not worrying. The Patapsco pulled out once before and it may again. My only regret is that I cannot, at least for a time, have as many of you as I would wish under my mahogany. But don’t let us borrow any trouble; certainly not to-day. Todd, get some glasses and bring me that bottle of Madeira—the one there on the sideboard!” Here he took the precious fluid from Todd’s hand and holding high the crusted bottle said with a dry smile—one his friends knew when his irony was aroused: “That wine, gentlemen, saw the light at a time when a man locked his money in an iron box to keep outside thieves from stealing it; to-day he locks his money in a bank’s vault and locks the thieves in with it. Extraordinary, is it not, how we gentlemen trust each other? Here, Todd, draw the cork! ... Slowly. ... Now hand me the bottle—yes—Clayton, that’s the same wine that you and Kennedy liked so much the night we had Mr. Poe with us. It is really about all there is left of my father’s Black Warrior of 1810. I thought it was all gone, but Todd found two more the other day, one of which I sent to Kennedy. This is the other. Kennedy writes me he is keeping his until we can drink it together. Is everybody’s glass full? Then my old toast if you will permit me: ’Here’s to love and laughter, and every true friend of my true friend my own!’”
Before the groups had dispersed Harry had the facts in his possession—principally from Judge Pancoast, who gave him a full account of the bank’s collapse, some papers having been handed up to him on the bench that morning. Summed up, his uncle was practically ruined—and he, Harry, was the cause of it—the innocent cause, perhaps, but the cause all the same: but for his father’s cruelty and his own debts St. George would never have mortgaged his home. That an additional sum—his uncle’s entire deposit—had been swallowed up in the crash was but part of the same misfortune. Poe’s lines were true, then—never so true as now:
“Some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster Followed fast and followed faster ...”
This, then, was ever after to be his place in life—to bring misery wherever he went.
He caught up his hat and walked through the park beside the judge, hoping for some further details of his uncle’s present plight and future condition, but the only thing his Honor added to what he already knew was his wonderment over the fact that St. George, having no immediate use for the money except to pay his bills, should have raised so large a sum on a mortgage instead of borrowing it from his friends. It was here that Harry’s heart gave a bound:—no one, then, but his uncle, Pawson, and himself knew that he alone was responsible for the catastrophe! That his father should have learned of his share in it did not enter the boy’s head.