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The Lion's Share

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
The first time that Colonel Rupert Winter saw Cary Mercer was under circumstances calculated to fix the incident firmly in his memory. In the year 1903, home from the Philippines on furlough, and preparing to return to a task big enough to attract him in spite of its exile and hardships, he had visited the son of a friend at Harvard. They were walking through the corridors of one of the private dormitories where the boy roomed. Rather grimly the soldier’s eyes were noting marble wainscoting and tiled floors, and contrasting this academic environment with his own at West Point. A caustic comment rose to his lips, but it was not uttered, for he heard the sharp bark of a pistol, followed by a thud, and a crackle as of breaking glass. “Do you fellows amuse yourselves shooting up the dormitory?” said he. The boy halted; he had gone white. “It came from Mercer’s room!” he cried, and ran across the corridor to a door with the usual labeling of two visiting cards. The door was not locked. Entering, they passed into a vestibule, thence through another door which stood open. For many a day after the colonel could see just how the slender young figure looked, the shoulders in a huddle on the study table, one arm swinging nerveless; beside him, on the floor, a revolver and a broken glass bottle. The latter must have made the crackling sound. Some dark red liquid, soaking the open sheets of a newspaper, filled the room with the pungent odor of alcohol. Only the top of the lad’s head showed—a curly, silky, dark brown head; but even before the colonel lifted it he had seen a few thick drops matting the brown curls. He laid the head back gently and his hand slipped to the boy’s wrist. “No use, Ralph,” he said in the subdued tones that the voice takes unconsciously in the presence of death. “And Endy was going to help him,” almost sobbed Ralph. “He told me he would. Oh, why couldn’t he have trusted his friends!” The colonel was looking at the newspaper—“Was it money?” said he; for a glance at the dabbled sheet had brought him the headings of the stock quotations: “Another Sharp Break in Stocks. New Low Records.” It had been money. Later, after what needed to be done was over, after doctors and officers of the law were gone, Colonel Winter heard the wretched story. A young, reckless, fatally attractive Southerner, rich friends, college societies, joyous times; nothing really wicked or vicious, only a surrender to youth and friendship and pleasure, and then the day of reckoning—duns, college warnings, the menace of black disgrace. The young fellow was an orphan, with no near kindred save one brother much older than he. The brother was reputed to be rich, according to Southern standards, and young Mercer, who had just come into a modest patrimony of his own, invested in his brother’s ventures. As to the character of these ventures, whether flimsy or substantial, the colonel’s informants were absolutely ignorant. All they knew of the elder Mercer was that he was often in New York and had “a lot to do with Wall Street.” He wasn’t a broker; no, he was trying to raise money to hang on to some big properties that he had; and the stocks seemed to be going at remarkable rates just now, the bottom dropping out of the market. If a certain stock of the Mercers’—they didn’t know the name—could be kept above twenty-seven he would pull through. Colonel Winter made no comment, but he remembered that when he had studied the morning’s stock-market pages for himself, he had noted “bad slump in the Southern steels,” and “Tidewater on the toboggan slide; off three to four points, declining from twenty-seven and a fraction to twenty-three.”