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CHRISTMAS BUTTONS

By MARTIN J. M'HUGH. [All Rights Rksebved.] I. "You- wish to see me?" asked Ted Verncy, as he entered Mr Copeland's private room. "Yes, on a purely personal matter," replied tho solicitor. " " But please waJl till I finish this letter." Ted seated himself in the most comfortable chair he could find, and, crossing his legs, glanced idly around him at the rows of deed-boxes and shelves of books and papers lining the walls. Once or twice he stared at the bent, absorbed face of Mr Oopeland, with an indolent inward conjecture'as to the nature of the coming business. " Now, then, for our interview," said Mr Copehuid at length. "It concerns the will of vour late grand-uncle." " Ah!" exclaimed Ted. " Has ho left mo- anything? The price of a mourning iring, perhaps?" "You realise that Mr Bartle had not a 1 high opinion of you, Ted ?" said the solicitor, drily. " He had not," admitted the young man, candidly. "At my very last visit he pow-wqwed mo all the time about my numerous faults, winding up by informing me that I needn't distract myself from business by indulging in expectations of anything from him. "H'm," returned Mr Copeland. "Well, he has made you practically his solo legatee." '' By Jove! that was splendid of the poor old fellow !" exclaimed the astonished Ted, when he could speak. "His sole legatee! Why, I needn't worry myself now about the law!" "Mr Bartle has made you practically hia sole legatee," repeated the solicitor, in a very deliberate voice. " That is, he •has bequeathed you his villa at Putney, with all it contains, and also his main investment of ten thousand pounds' worth of the stock of the Bobo Mexican Rubber Syndicate. Tho remainder of his estate | will be absorbed by annuities to his housekeeper, Mrs Simmons, and his man, John j Clancy, and by the upkeep of his villa | for another year and a special bonus during that period to the aforesaid John Clancy." j "I don't enter into absolute possession for a year, then?" said Ted, carelessly. " Never mind! Those shares will keep things going for me." " Well come to that," returned Mr Copeland. "Your legal experience has not, I see, suggested to you that there may bo conditions to bo complied with before you inherit." " Conditions! Are there conditions" said Ted, anxiously. " There are; and they are very strange ones," replied the lawyer, drawing his hand across his grey beard to conceal a smile. " But those conditions, although singular, are explicit. They relate to four big carved ivory buttons which he describes in his testament." "I know them!" laughed Ted. "He wore thorn at hie Christmas dinner party a couple of years ago, when he caught me jolting about them behind his back. A nice guy ho looked wearing those saucerlike atrocities! Ha! ha! isn't the story that he wore them at a Christmas fancy dress ball when a young man, and, proposing then to some beauty, was joyously jilted, and was so glad of that ever afterwards that he thought no end of those buttons ? Well, . 1 suppose ne has left a solemn injunction that I keep them careluily under a glass case for the rest of my lifer" "The condition on which you are to benefit by -Mr Bartle's will," returned Mr Copelana", with a chuckle, "is taat you wear constantly for one year, in private and in public, and without any attempt at concealment, thoso four ivory buttons." "Good iieavens!" gasped tho young man, in blank amazement. "That's some sort of joke on the old tellow's part. You don't seriously say that it is to bo carried out?" " It must be carried out to the letter if vou are to benefit as stated by tho de ccaswi's will/' answeied Mr Copeland, decisively. Ted Yerney got up and ■walked to the window, where ho stood moodily looking down at the traffic in Chancery lane. The lights had not yet been turned on in the office, but the lilac haze of a frosty 1/andon afternoon was veiling the waning day, and the ceaseksc procession of omnibuses, taxi 6, and hansoms gleamed like a stream of brilliant jewels turging alony with the roar of a cataract. "A fellow would be a fool to let go ten thousand poundo and a furnished "house," eaid Ted at last. "But to wear those buttons, as the old aes has stipulated—hang it all! But peihaps the condition could be fulfilled perfunctorily." "I am afraid not. Ted," eaid the solicitor, with a smile. "Mr Bartle was a very astute old gentleman, so he also provided that if you consent to wear the buttons John Clancy must attach himself to your service and see that you do so. The bonus to Clancy is meant to relieve vou of all expense on his behalf, and help you also. You calculated just now on having the shares at once. But they will not be vours until tho year is out, and if von refuse to wear the buttons those ijiares go to charities. Your excellent grand -uncle '' "Was as mad as a March hare when he made such a will!'" interrupted 'led, angrilv. "It could easily be broken.> The old lunatic had no other relations surviving, so that I must be his heir-at-law anyhow." j "Mr Bartlo was absolutely sane, and vou could not upsat his will," said }\r Copeland. "He foresaw your possible intention, and by a final clause provided that if you either refused to carry, out tnat condition respecting the buttons or seek to make trouble you are to receivo only one hundred pounds, the rest going to charities which are duly eel forth." "Dash it! One cannot let it go at that!" fumed the baiHed legatee. "But to wear those atrocious buttons! I shall look like a runaway from Colney Hatch, and be the butt of London." "You prohablv will look somewhat remarkable," agreed Mr Copeland, laughing. "But doubtless most people will merely take you for an advertifeement." "How am I to wear the infernal things?" asked Ted, desperately, after a Ion? inward tussle. ""In any kind of coat; and if you wear sn overcoat—which will be dependent on Clancy's discretion—you must keep it open," nii6wered the lawyer, smiling broadly. " Your sole respite will bo either when you attend church or have to wear evening dress. But the latter will be permitted only twice a week, and then only if vou are an invited guest." "I must think it over," groaned Ted, going towards the door. "That is only reasonable," assented Mr Copeland. "But as your year of probation begins on the day you first don those buttons, I should advise you to start it at once. Call on Mary and me in a day or two. At any rate, be sure to dine with us on Christmas Day, buttons and all, for I shall be entertaining only two or three intimate friends." 11. For some days Ted Verney's mind was the arena of fiercely contending resolutions. This mental conflict so distracted him that he could neither work—which wa6 not abnormal —nor eat his meals, nor enjoy himself in any way—which certainly was. But the benefits of the ]egacy haunted both his waking and sleeping hours; for when Mr Oopeland, who had been his guardian, had completed his trust by ar* tiding him to that eminently respectable firm of solicitors, Messrs Steele and Springer, Ted had found himself with an enviable sum of money to help him along in his career. But he had drawn on his capita] with a light heart, confident of a handsome income when qualified. That golden epoch, now a couple ef years everdue, wae still in uncertain perspective, and his capital had nearly vanished. For Ted, although possessing good abilities, w«6 constitutienallv lazy—a fact which doubtless explained" why Mr Copland had not token lun into his qwxx oOoe.

Nevertheless, Mr Copeland had always been very fond of Ted, and had a firm belief in liis innate worth. So, too, had Mr Copeland's only child, Mary, between whom and the young fellow as,he grew up there had come an attachment which promised to have a steadying effect on the scapegrace. But when Mary, who had plenty of sense, found her admirer more'' careless of his own interests than "he should be she had shown her disapproval in a manner that had chilled his ardor Ted did not take immediate advantage of the invitation to vkit Suxbiton to discuss his but fought out his battle alone. At length, unable to bring it to a decision, he put the matter to the hazard of a tossed penny. The coin decreed that he should be the victim of his Rianduncle's eccentricity. And then, without giving hin»6eff time to retract, he wrote to Mr Copeland. On the following evening he had a visit at his lodgings at Oapham. from the man John Clancy. Feeling rather foolish, ho discussed the matter Driefly with the old ex-valet, finally leaving ail arrangements in his hands. He afterwards summoned his landlady, and asked her to find accommodation for a valet ho had engaged, greatly eurprising her with a hint of altered circumstances, and puzzling her with a confused statement, which she received as a joke, about the conditions to be fulfilled before wealth would be his. On Christmas Eve John Clancy installed himself with Ted Verney, whom he flatteringly greeted as his new master. "Now that we're settled down, I may as well start fulfilling Uncle Hezekiah'e wishes," said Ted, with a wan smile, as John was arranging clothes in his bedroom. "You have, of course, had those infer—or—things made up?" "Yes, sir—on that special style of coat you chose," answered the man. "You tried it on without the buttons, sir, and liked the fit. Will you begin wearing it this evening, sir?" "Certainly—and you will be witness to the fact," replied Ted, with forced cheerfulness. John, producing the coat, deftly put it on his victim, who shut his eyes, involun- : tarily. "There, sir," said the valet, in a reaptectfuJJy (soothing voice, "lit doesn't look at all so baa. Ted opened his eyes and sought his rei flection in a wardrobe mirror. Then he groaned and turned pale. The coat itself, of a dark grey, was well enough—but the buttons! Those four immense, white ivory buttons seemed bigger and more grotesque than even his tortured memory nad pictured them. '•They are—they are—very singular! he faltered. And in the mirror he saw a spasm flit across the usually deferential face of John. " It will be for only one year, sir, said the man, eomfortably. "A year!" repeated Ted, in a voice of anguish. " However shall I. see it through!" " Better not think too much of them, bnt face the business out bravely, sir," counselled John, with what seemeo to the unhappy young man mock sympathy. "You need not go out unless you have to, and you need not wear this coat when you go to church. But if you begin wearing it to-day, sir,- you couldn't do better than to go to some place of amusement this evening, to distract your thoughts and get used to publicity. I must go with you, sir, and that will give you moral support." "Wherever I go like this will be a Elace of amusement!" groaned the unappy young man. He was right; for, on venturing out later, he soon attracted a trail of small boys, who clamored for the open-air conjuring entertainment his appearance suggested. Then, taking refuge in a citybound tram, he was the object of so ranch amused attention from its occupants, and the butt of so much disrespectful wit by its conductor, that, despite John's restraining influence, he flew into a violent temper, and was triumphantly ejected from the car. Then he took a taxi to his club. There, also, he found that his prophecy accurately fulfilled itself. For, although he at once- < ' into a quiet corner and screened him., f behind a newspaper, he quickly became the centre of the most intense personal interest. He was subjected to a storm of chaff, which he had not sufficient self-control to take in the best spirit. Snapping out at last that he did not wish to be responsible for an epidemic of insanity in the club, he jgnominonsly fled, again seeking the shelter of a taxi. The next morning church-going gave him a blessed respite, and for once he lingered among the last of the worshippers. Choosing a quiet hour in the early afternoon, he went for an airing on Clapham Common, but his striking livery soon attracting quite \ formidable mob he fled home in desperation. Remaining there until evening, he again invoked the swift security of a taxi to take him to Surbiton. Arrived at his destination, he had an unpleasant surprise. Not having, in his ill-humor at Fate, notified his acceptance of Mr Copeland's Christmas invitation, he found his advent unexpected. Instead of the quiet gathering of two or three intimate friends, the dinner-party was a large one, and everybody was in evening dress. Ted would have incontinently fled but for the friendly prevention of Mr Copeland and Mary. She, controlling almost irresistible laughter, drew the young man aside, while her father jokingly explained to his astonished guests the secret of the latest-comer's peculiar appearance. By the time dinner was served Ted had become soothed and almost cheered by Mary, whose bright eyes heartened him still more than §cr gentle words. And so, when he seated himself at table, he found himself getting into quite a Christmas mood, ana inclined to look upon his hitherto abhorred livery as the best of practical jokee. That was the spirit in which his fellow-guests took it; but in signalling him out for a toast Mr Copeland mingled seriousness with levity. "Here's to your Christmas buttons, Ted !" he pledged. " May they prove not alone the lightest of penances, but tho greatest hungers of pood fortune to you; so that, when wo all meet again at this table next Christmas, you will look back with pride and (iratituds to the year during which you will have worn those lucky buttons 1" in. Dcepite Mr Copeland's cheerful prophecy, no words could adequately describe the sufferings and humiliations which Mi Hezeldah Bartle's unhappy legatee had to endure while compelled to be the wearer of tho four big ivory buttons. Gttting a,n extension of leave of absenco from his office after Christmas, he then, althongh he went out as little ae possible, attracted so much attention to his abode that his landlady implored him to seek accommodation elsewhere. She was only a poor widow, she reminded him, and could not afford to have her respectable apartments made the laughing-stock of the local, ity. So John, suggesting that it would be better to live nenrer the office, procured a flat in a street off 'the Strand. When Ted was back at his office, his fellow-workers for some days made life almost unbearable for him; and Messrs Steele and Springer would certainly have cancelled his indentures, regardless 'of conseqvences, on his refusal to remove his remaikablo adornments, were ifc not for a timely letter from Mr Copeland. His employers then screened him from the publio gaze, and Sir Springer, for th« sake of further privacy, reluctantly made him his personal secretriry. When Ted had obtained permission to have his luncheon brought to tho office, after several restaurants nad ejected him as an innocent cause of disturbance, his working hours became more bearable. But nt all other time* his life was one of woe. Always pleafsuro-leviag and self-in-dulgent, he "could not at first give up tho gaieties that had hitherto made life so enjoyable. But now, ranging his world adorned by those four big buttons and attended by John Clancy, lie was generally taken for a lunatic with his keeper, with unpleasant results. Even his friends, who knew his storv and on whose mercy he had thrown himself, did not try to spare him. They unanimously thought it better fun to avoid inviting him out at all. When forced by insufferable boredom a few times to enter some place of amusement hia appearance had caused, such an. uproar as to «tqp the ysrfosawnce, and result in his

ejection <&• tarried flight. tfe<3§&£j&£A then mobbed in the rtreeta, aiMiao mor« than once to get police protection. Before loaf he engaged a cab to take him to and from the office, m, gradually ceasing social intercom** with the rest of a too-ohr*rfnl voxld, obtained necessary physical exercise by writ* with John in the early morning, before even the milkman was abroad. Cut off from amusra-ee**, shunned by the serious and gibed a* by the frivolous, poor Ted, refusing to v.- I "walking entertaimnent, grew so chastened steadied that he actually oame to fiud a»st solace in his daily work, am aooa got even interested in it. Bnoouwujed In this phenomenal manifestation by the surprised Mr Springer Ted •ppEea himself to really hard study. To everybody's QstoniaWent, he and the four buttons sat for the final examination, which was passed quite brilliantly. But Ted Veiaey would certainly have found his agonising ordeal too much after a, short experience of it had it not been for the encouragement of Mary Copeland. His only spells of real happiness duringthat penitential year were when he paia an occasional visit to Surbiton, and found that, although Mary alwaya laughed heartily at him, she yet showed him somehow that he had grown worthier in her eyes, and was becoming more to her than he had ever yet been. And, in discovering that, he found that she was so dear to him that any misery for her sake was endurable. To make a harrowing story as short as it ehonld be, the twelfth montb. of his tribulation came at last, and, with unparalleled deliberateness, unwound 24 of its days. \ At a certain hour of that 24th afternoon Ted looked at bis watch and gave an exultant shoot. John Clancy, brushing clothes near by, understood. "The year is up now. air," he 6aid. "You have done with the buttons—and with me, too." "You? Oh, well, I'm nob going to turn you off summarily," said Ted, who now felt all the goodwill passible towards the supervisor of hie past degradation. " Indeed, I should like yon to remain in my employment." "Thank you, sir; hut I'm going to marry Mrs Simmons in the .New Year," replied John, respectfully. "But, of course, Til remain with you, sir, until you have settled your future plans!" " Congratulations," said Ted, heartily. "My future plans?—l haven't thought of them yet." He smiled to himself, as a man well may who has £IO,OOO with which to moke himself comfortable. And, as he now knew that Mary Copeland was to be iha angel of his destiny, he felt sure that his future would contain all earthly bliss. Next evening he hurried out to Surbiton on the wings of love, carrying the ooat and buttons under his arm. " I've won through, and now I'm free once more, and happier than I ever was before!" he said exultingly to Mr Copeland in the hall. " I've brought the badge of victory for all to see!" "Well done, my dear fellow!" said Mr Copeland, heartily, as he led the way into the study. "You have had a bad time, but it is over. Mr Bartle knew what he was about when he subjected you to that BQveie discipline. It has mado another man of you. Why, I feel proud of you now, Ted!" "And so do I," said Mary, who had been fixing a bunch of mistletoe over the door. Ted caught her and kissed her under the magic bough. "That's right!" exclaimed her father, laughingly. "I expect I shall soon be asked to give my formal blessing." " I intended to ask it this very evening," said Ted. "I suppose you want to take Mary a» soon as you can get her, but I do not want to lose my dear girl even then," said Mr Copeland. "So I propose, Ted, that I may as well become the tenant of your Putney villa, and that you two live with me. That arrangement becomes desirable, my boy, as I intend to take yon into my office at once at a good salary." " You are very kind," said Ted, flushing with joy. "I shall be delighted to hve with you and work for you ; but I oouldn t in decency accept much salary with my ten thousand pounds." " Ten thousand ponnds! Have you not been following the rubber markets?" said Mr Copeland, with a start. "You have not recently mentioned those shares—but I thought you knew —and dldnoicaTe— — " Knew what?" asked Ted, quicHy. " That the Bobo Mexican Bubber Syndicate has been going to pieces, the fivepound shares now being quoted at a sbilTed Verney's face showed all shades of expression for a few moments. ! 'So I have been making a living show of myself for a year for the same money I would have got if I had taken that hundred pounds!" he then gasped. " And fow I may not get a buyer for those rotten shares! Confound Uncle Hezekiah !" With that he flung the coat on the ground, and was about to trample into fragments the four big buttons which had caused him so much humiliation when Mary rescued them. "That will do you good, Ted; better not have kept it till you joined my guests," said Mr Copeland, laughing. "But you must not treat those buttons badly, after I all the good fortune they have brought I you! You have still the Putney villa, I and " Ted's anger quickly changed to sunny laughter. " Confound those shares—but bless Uncle Hezekiah after all," he exclaimed, with a fond look at Mary. "Yes, indeed, lam the most fortunate of men I" [The End.]

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https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19141223.2.84

Bibliographic details

CHRISTMAS BUTTONS, Issue 15683, 23 December 1914

Word Count
3,655

CHRISTMAS BUTTONS Issue 15683, 23 December 1914

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