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- From Wealth to Poverty - 20/45 -


Mr. Reid quietly handed him the paper, and as he took it, so great was his agitation, his hand trembled like an aspen leaf; but when he had read the paragraph which particularly interested him, it had just the opposite effect upon him to what Mr. Reid expected; for he seemed at once to become another person, and the boy of fifteen was as if transformed by some cabalistic power into a man.

"Let us go at once," he said with decision; and, as the tears gushed from his eyes and streamed down over his cheek he murmured, "Oh, my poor mother! if she hears of this it will break her heart."

CHAPTER XX.

A BASE PLOT, AND WHAT IT LED TO.

"I say, Bill, I have a pretty good lay for you, and I think you can work it without much risk."

The speaker was Chappell, and the person whom he addressed was Lawrence.

We, in the preceding chapter, introduced these worthies into this story, but as we wish our readers to become more thoroughly acquainted with them, will now give them a more formal introduction.

Moses Chappell was the son of highly respectable parents, and had the advantages that are ever associated with a home where there is comparative wealth, culture, and purity. He had a fair education, possessed a fine person and a gracious, polished manner.

When quite a young man he commenced the study of law with a firm in the city, but he became so unsteady in his habits that it took him a year or two longer to get through than the course required. When he became an attorney,--it being immediately after the close of the war,--he, through the influence of his friends, secured the position of claim agent; and as there were a great many soldiers who had claims for extra bounty and for pensions to prosecute, it was not long before he secured a large share of this business.

It was just after he had entered into business on his own responsibility that he became acquainted with Ashton. At that time he was simply looked upon as a rather fast young man, who would take a glass with a friend, and, as the boys would say, "just once in a while get a little 'O be joyful!'" But among this class he passed as a "Jolly good fellow!"

During the last year his degeneracy had been very rapid, and he had become almost a confirmed drunkard, it being well known by the initiated that he indulged in the passion of gambling, by which he lost a great deal of money.

A short time before Ashton's return to Rochester, Chappell's losses were, for him, very large indeed; and as his income failed to meet his liabilities, he took the money which he had collected from the Government for his clients, to meet his gambling debts, and also to make new ventures, with the hope that he would win back all his losses. But, as he expressed it, luck seemed to have turned against him, and he lost in one night, by wild, reckless play, hundreds of dollars that he had drawn for poor, wounded, and disabled men, many of whom had expended quite a sum in instituting their claim, and sadly needed it, because they had undermined their constitutions in the campaigns through which they had passed; some of them having wives and children depending upon them for support. In fact, no one knows what disappointment and misery was caused by the dishonest and reckless conduct of this now abandoned young man.

He, however, though fallen, had not yet reached such a depth of degradation as to be utterly careless of his reputation, or of the suffering and shame he would entail upon his friends if his wrong-doings were discovered, and he well knew that discovery was inevitable if he did not in some manner recover the amount he had lost. "Desperate diseases require desperate remedies;" and his case was desperate indeed, and he was now in such a state of mind that he was willing to resort to anything short of murder to extricate himself.

He was in this state of mind when Ashton again appeared in Rochester, and when he learned the nature of his business he resolved, if possible, to get possession of his money. He had, in the gambling dens of the city, formed the acquaintance of some hard characters, and resolved to use them as his tools in carrying out his purpose.

"Lawrence will do," he said, "and he can associate Dick Eagle with him in the venture. Lawrence is acquainted with Ashton, as they used to meet at old Tom's when on their drinking bouts. I will sound him, and, if I find he is all serene on the matter, Ashton must have become a more wary fly than he used to be if I do not induce him to enter my spider's web."

It was to further this scheme that he hinted to some mutual friends it would be a gracious thing to give Ashton a supper, and as they immediately entered with fervor into the idea, it was agreed upon. When Ashton stipulated, if he accepted, it must be understood he would not be asked to drink anything but water, it looked as if his well-concerted scheme would be entirely frustrated. And then, after thinking the matter over, he hit upon the plan which he adopted, and which, alas, as we have already made known to our readers, he carried to a successful accomplishment.

Lawrence, the young ruffian whom he made his tool, had been associated with him before, in some transactions that would not bear the light of day, and when he unfolded the present scheme to him he found him ready to be his pliant instrument--willing to enter into any scheme, no matter how villainous its nature, if he could be sure of making something by the venture.

"I am pretty certain," said Chappell, "he will have by that time some four or five hundred dollars in his possession; and if you would meet us and persuade him to accompany us into Tom's, I think, old boy, we can induce him to take a glass. If he takes one, you know he is such a fool that we will soon have him gloriously drunk. But to make certain we will fix his liquor, and then by the time he gets to the bridge he will be completely at your mercy."

"Well, the question is, Chappell, what am I to get for the venture? Of course, if there is any hard work to be done you will expect me to do it, while you will play the role of gentleman."

"I am willing to deal fairly with you, Bill."

"But I want to have an understanding. I know you pretty thoroughly, Mose, and I am not going to let you gull me as you have on some former occasions. The question is what am I to get? And if I can't get what's square, I will wash my hands of the whole affair. 'Honor among thieves,' you know, Mose."

Chappell, who winced at the epithet "thieves," shrugged his shoulders, and a look of supreme disgust gleamed for a moment from his eyes, which did not pass unnoticed by Lawrence.

"Come now, Mose, no airs," he said; "if you don't like me just keep away, and I'll not bother you with my company. When you force yourself upon me you must be a little respectful, or, at least, you must not be so open in your manifestations of disgust, as I am somewhat sensitive and may resent it."

"Who was showing any signs of being disgusted? Now, what is the use of making a fool of yourself, Bill, because you know how; and if I were you I would not speak of "putting on airs." When Bill Lawrence talks of being sensitive, he of course means all he says: the idea of 'Billy the Kid' being sensitive is certainly a new wrinkle."

"Well, Chappell, I know I am not as good as I might be; if I were I would cut you dead, though you do wear kid gloves and move in the so-called 'best society,' like many another scoundrel. But this is neither here nor there; let's come to business. Before I enter into this thing I want an understanding; you are not going to come it over me as you have on former occasions."

"Why, Lawrence, I don't want to come it over you. It seems to me you are deuced suspicious, all at once. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll give you one half, to be divided between you and Dick Eagle. And when you remember that I put up the job, and run just as much risk as you do, I think you will conclude that I am quite moderate."

"Yes, 'quite moderate;' you are always 'moderate,' especially when it comes to risks; but you don't come none of your moderate games over me. If I get Dick Eagle to assist me in this job I will have to go halves with him. I couldn't gull him if I were to try, and I don't wish to try. I am not quite so mean as to cheat a comrade who runs equal risks with myself, though some would-be gentlemen of my acquaintance would. If we make anything by this venture it must be equally divided, if it is not more than fifteen cents. If you will not agree to this proposition I will wash my hands of the whole affair."

Chappell--after putting in several demurrers, at last, when he saw that he could make no better terms--consented.

It was arranged that Chappell should, if possible, induce Ashton to drink at the supper; but if he could not accomplish that, he was to accompany him up St. Paul street until he came in front of Tom Conglin's, and then Lawrence was to meet them, and between them they were to induce him to enter and, if possible, entice him to drink. Chappell was, after this, to accompany him as far as the bridge and leave him. And then Lawrence and Eagle were--to put it in their classic language--"to go through him."

The scheme was carried to a successful issue, though not with the ease that was anticipated. The drug was not as effective as they supposed it would be; for though, when they started, Ashton was in such a complete state of intoxication as not to be able to walk without the assistance of Chappell, as they continued on their homeward journey, the further they went the stronger he became. The cold morning air seemed to revive him. Chappell accompanied him to the spot agreed upon, and then left him, though not without making a show of wishing to see him all the way home.

Ashton had not proceeded far on his uneven way before Lawrence, who had gone by another route and got ahead of him and Chappell,


From Wealth to Poverty - 20/45

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