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- Mr. Bingle - 5/49 -
"Be sure to tell 'em, will you? If I was a swearing man I'd do better than that but I guess it will do for a starter."
"My clients will insist upon re-imbursing you for--" began the lawyer stiffly, but Mr. Bingle snapped his fingers disdainfully, much nearer the gentleman's nose than he intended, no doubt, and with a perfectly astonishing result. The legal representative's hat fell off backwards and he actually trod upon it in his haste to give way before the irate little bookkeeper.
"You tell 'em just what I said, that's all you've got to do," said Mr. Bingle, and then picked up his visitor's hat and pushed the crown into shape with a vicious dig. "Here's your hat. Good day."
He was so boiling mad all the rest of the afternoon that he could not see the figures clearly, and made countless mistakes, necessitating an extra two hours' work on the books before he could even think of going home.
Arriving at the apartment, he found his wife in a state of perturbation, not over his tardiness, but over the extraordinary behaviour of Uncle Joe. The old man had been out most of the day and had come in at five, growling and cursing with more than ordinary vehemence.
"He is in his bedroom, Tom, and I don't know what to make of him. He has had bad news, I think."
"Bad news?" cried Mr. Single. "The very worst news on earth wouldn't seem bad to Uncle Joe after all he has gone through. I'll go in and see him."
"Be careful, dear! I--I--he may be insane. You never can tell what--"
It turned out that the old man had visited his three children during the day, going to each of them as a suppliant and in deep humility. After fifteen years, he broke his resolve and went to them with his only appeal. He wanted to die with his children about him. That was all. He did not ask them to love him, or forgive him. He only asked them to call him father and to let him spend the last weeks of his life within the sound of their voices.
Sitting at the supper table, he grimly related his experiences to the distressed Bingles.
"I went first to Angela's, Tom," he said, scowling at the centre- piece. "Angela married that Mortimer fellow in Sixty-first Street, you know--Clarence Mortimer's son. Ever seen their home? Well, the butler told me to go around to the rear entrance. I gave him my card and told him to take it up to MY DAUGHTER. I had a fellow in a drug-store write my name neatly on some blank cards, Mary. The butler threatened to call the police. He thought I was crazy. But just then old Clarence Mortimer came up the steps. It seems that he is living with his son, having lost all of his money a few years ago. He recognised me at once, and I knew by the way he shook hands with me that he has been leading a dog's life ever since he went broke. He said he'd speak to Angela--and he did. I waited in the hall downstairs. Old Clarence didn't have the courage to come back himself. A footman brought down word that Mrs. Mortimer could not see Mr. Hooper. She was not at home to Mr. Hooper, and--never would be. That was what her servant was obliged to tell me. So I went away. Then I tried Elizabeth. She lives in one of those fifteen thousand dollar a year apartments on Park Avenue. She has three lovely children. They are my grand-children, you know, Tom. I saw them in the automobile as I came out of the building and went my way after Elizabeth Bransone had told me to my face--I managed to get in to see her--had told me that I was a sight, a disgrace, that she couldn't bear to look at me, and that I had better clear out before her husband came in. My own daughter, Tom, my own flesh and blood. She informed me that provision would be made for me, but she made it very plain--damnably plain--that I was never to bother her again. So I went away from Elizabeth's. There was only one of 'em left, and I hated to tackle him worse than either of the girls. But I did. I went down to his office. He refused to see me at first, but evidently thought it best to get the thing out of his system forever, so he changed his mind and told the office boy to let me in. Well, my son Geoffrey is a very important person now. He married a Maybrick, you know, and he is a partner in old Maybrick's firm--steamship agents. Geoffrey looked me over. He did it very thoroughly. I told him I'd come to see if he couldn't do something toward helping me to die a respectable, you might say comfortable death. He cut me off short. Said he would give me a thousand dollars to leave New York and stay away forever. I---"
"I trust you did not accept the money," cried Mr. Bingle in a shocked voice.
"I'm pretty well down and out, Tom, but I'd sooner starve than to take money from him in that way. So I told my son to go to the devil."
"Good for you!" cried Mr. Bingle. "And then what?"
"He is a humorous individual, that pompous son of mine," said old Joseph, with a chuckle. "He said I ought to be ashamed of myself for advising my own son to go to the devil in view of what a similar excursion had done for me. I managed to subdue my temper--it's a bad one, as you know--and put the matter up to him in plain terms. 'I am your father, Geoffrey, when all is said and done. Are you going to kick me out into the world when I've got no more than a month or two to live? Are you going to allow my body to lie in the Potter's field? Are you willing to allow this poor nephew of mine to take care of me, to assume the responsibility of seeing that I get a decent burial in a decent---'"
"Oh, Uncle Joe, you oughtn't even to think of such things," broke in his niece by marriage. "You MUST think of cheerful---"
"You are good for years and years---" began Mr. Bingle.
"Don't interrupt me," said Uncle Joe irascibly. "I guess I know what I'm talking about. I'm good for a couple of months at the outside. I'm seventy years old and I feel two hundred. Why, dammit, old Clarence Mortimer said I LOOK a hundred. To make the story short, Geoffrey said he had arranged to pay you for my keep, no matter how long I lasted, but he thought I was foolish not to take the thousand and go to some quiet little place in the country--and wait. If--if it should happen that I lived longer than the thousand would carry me, he'd see to it that I had more. Only he didn't want me hanging around New York. That was the point, d'you see? He very frankly said that he had always sided with his mother against me, and that was all there was to it, so far as he was concerned. And, see here, Tom, he said you had been down to see him about me. Is that true?"
"Well, I--I thought perhaps--er--I might be able to bring about a reconciliation," floundered Mr. Bingle.
"And you found that in the upper circles it is not considered good form to be reconciled unless it pays, eh? What would be the sense in becoming reconciled to a wreck of a father, who hasn't a dollar in the world, after getting along so nicely for fifteen years without him? No, it isn't done, Tom--it's not the thing. Geoffrey made no bones about admitting that as far as he is concerned, I have been dead for fifteen years. He---"
"Well then," said Mr. Bingle, slamming his fist upon the dining-table so violently that the cutlery bounced, "why the dickens does he object to burying you? If I discovered a relative that had been dead for fifteen years, I'd see to it that he was buried, if only for the good of the community."
"He doesn't object to burying me," explained Uncle Joe. "He implies that he'll do that much for me with pleasure. As a matter of fact, he said that if I'd arrange to have some one notify him when I was literally dead, he would see to it that I was buried. But I told him he needn't bother his head about it, because I was quite sure you would do it even more cheerfully than he and undoubtedly with less secrecy."
"Cheerfully?" gasped the Bingles.
"Cheerfully," repeated Uncle Joe firmly. "And now, can't we talk about something else? I've done my best to make peace with my son and daughters, and now I wash my hands of 'em. I never intended to weaken in my resolve, but I--I just couldn't help it, Tom. I swore I'd never look into their faces again, but, after all, I AM their father, you see, and I suppose I'm getting weak and childish in my old age. I gave in, that's all. I thought they might have some little feeling for me, and--" He did not finish the sentence, and as the Bingles took that instant to blow their noses and to look so intently at the electric chandelier that their eyes smarted, it was perhaps just as well that he ended his ruminations when he did.
All this happened six weeks prior to Christmas Eve, and they were six long, trying weeks for the two Bingles. The old man was sick two- thirds of the time and had to have a physician. He insisted on having the now famous Dr. Fiddler, one of the most expensive practitioners in New York, obstinately refusing to listen to reason. Fiddler had been the Hooper family physician years ago and that was all there was to be said. He WOULD have him. So poor Tom Bingle sent for the great man, who came and prescribed for his old friend and client. After a week the Bingles began to count the number of visits, and grew lean and gaunt-faced over the prospect ahead of them. Fiddler's fee was ten dollars a visit--to a friend, he explained, in accounting for the ridiculously low figure--and he came twice a day for nearly two weeks. The Bingles did not complain. As Mr. Bingle said, they took their medicine, even as Uncle Joe took his--only he thrived on it and they withered. Dr. Fiddler was very nice about it, however. He assured Mr. Bingle that he was in no hurry for his money. Any time before the first of February would be perfectly satisfactory. He was only too glad to have been instrumental in dragging his old friend, Joseph Hooper from the very edge of the grave.
"And if he has a recurrence of the--" he began suavely.
"There's no danger of THAT, is there, Doctor? cried Mr. Bingle, gripping his fingers tightly in his coat pockets.
"Don't hesitate a moment, Mr. Bingle. Send for me. You may depend upon it, I will come on the instant. I think your poor uncle has been very badly--er--treated, Mr. Bingle."
"Do you attend the families of his son and daughters--I mean to say, as their regular--"
"No," said Dr. Fiddler shortly, "I have not that felicity, Mr. Bingle." And Mr. Bingle thought he understood why Dr. Fiddler felt that Uncle Joe had been badly treated.
Later on, Uncle Joe blandly asseverated that it pays to have the best, no matter what it costs. "Why, one of these cheap, rattle-brained doctors would have let me die, sure as fate. Old Fiddler comes high,
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