Agatha Webb, by Anna Katharine Green

xiii

Wattles Goes

Mr. Sutherland was busily engaged with a law paper when his son entered his presence, but at sigh of that son’s face, he dropped the paper with an alacrity which Frederick was too much engaged with his own thoughts to notice.

“Father,” he began without preamble or excuse, “I am in serious and immediate need of nine hundred and fifty dollars. I want it so much that I ask you to make me a check for that amount to-night, conscious though I am that you have every right to deny me this request, and that my debt to you already passes the bound of presumption on my part and indulgence on yours. I cannot tell you why I want it or for what. That belongs to my past life, the consequences of which I have not yet escaped, but I feel bound to state that you will not be the loser by this material proof of confidence in me, as I shall soon be in a position to repay all my debts, among which this will necessarily stand foremost.”

The old gentleman looked startled and nervously fingered the paper he had let fall. “Why do you say you will soon be in a position to repay me? What do you mean by that?”

The flash, which had not yet subsided from the young man’s face, ebbed slowly away as he encountered his father’s eye.

“I mean to work,” he murmured. “I mean to make a man of myself as soon as possible.”

The look which Mr. Sutherland gave him was more inquiring than sympathetic.

“And you need this money for a start?” said he.

Frederick bowed; he seemed to be losing the faculty of speech. The clock over the mantel had told off five of the precious moments.

“I will give it to you,” said his father, and drew out his check-book. But he did not hasten to open it; his eyes still rested on his son.

“Now,” murmured the young man. “There is a train leaving soon. I wish to get it away on that train.”

His father frowned with natural distrust.

“I wish you would confide in me,” said he.

Frederick did not answer. The hands of the clock were moving on.

“I will give it to you; but I should like to know what for.”

“It is impossible for me to tell you,” groaned the young man, starting as he heard a step on the walk without.

“Your need has become strangely imperative,” proceeded the other. “Has Miss Page ——”

Frederick took a step forward and laid his hand on his father’s arm.

“It is not for her,” he whispered. “It goes into other hands.”

Mr. Sutherland, who had turned over the document as his son approached, breathed more easily. Taking up his pen, he dipped it in the ink. Frederick watched him with constantly whitening cheek. The step on the walk had mounted to the front door.

“Nine hundred and fifty?” inquired the father.

“Nine hundred and fifty,” answered the son.

The judge, with a last look, stooped over the book. The hands of the clock pointed to a quarter to ten.

“Father, I have my whole future in which to thank you,” cried Frederick, seizing the check his father held out to him and making rapidly for the door. “I will be back before midnight.” And he flung himself down-stairs just as the front door opened and Wattles stepped in.

“Ah,” exclaimed the latter, as his eye fell on the paper fluttering in the other’s hand, “I expected money, not paper.”

“The paper is good,” answered Frederick, drawing him swiftly out of the house. “It has my father’s signature upon it.”

“Your father’s signature?”

“Yes.”

Wattles gave it a look, then slowly shook his head at Frederick.

“Is it as well done as the one you tried to pass off on Brady?”

Frederick cringed, and for a moment looked as if the struggle was too much for him. Then he rallied and eying Wattles firmly, said:

“You have a right to distrust me, but you are on the wrong track, Wattles. What I did once, I can never do again; and I hope I may live to prove myself a changed man. As for that check, I will soon prove its value in your eyes. Follow me up-stairs to my father.”

His energy — the energy of despair, no doubt seemed to make an impression on the other.

“You might as well proclaim yourself a forger outright, as to force your father to declare this to be his signature,” he observed.

“I know it,” said Frederick.

“Yet you will run that risk?”

“If you oblige me.”

Wattles shrugged his shoulders. He was a magnificent-looking man and towered in that old colonial hall like a youthful giant.

“I bear you no ill will,” said he. “If this represents money, I am satisfied, and I begin to think it does. But listen, Sutherland. Something has happened to you. A week ago you would have put a bullet through my head before you would have been willing to have so compromised yourself. I think I know what that something is. To save yourself from being thought guilty of a big crime you are willing to incur suspicion of a small one. It’s a wise move, my boy, but look out! No tricks with me or my friendship may not hold. Meantime, I cash this check to-morrow.” And he swung away through the night with a grand-opera selection on his lips.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37