CHAPTER I. UNCLE JOHN'S FARM.
"How did I happen to own a farm?" asked Uncle John, interrupting his soup long enough to fix an inquiring glance upon Major Doyle, who sat opposite.
"By virtue of circumstance, my dear sir," replied the Major, composedly. "It's a part of my duty, in attending to those affairs you won't look afther yourself, to lend certain sums of your money to needy and ambitious young men who want a start in life."
"Oh, Uncle! Do you do that?" exclaimed Miss Patricia Doyle, who sat between her uncle and father and kept an active eye upon both.
"So the Major says," answered Uncle John, dryly.
"And it's true," asserted the other. "He's assisted three or four score young men to start in business in the last year, to my certain knowledge, by lending them sums ranging from one to three thousand dollars. And it's the most wasteful and extravagant charity I ever heard of."
"But I'm so glad!" cried Patsy, clapping her hands with a delighted gesture. "It's a splendid way to do goodвЂ”to help young men to get a start in life. Without capital, you know, many a young fellow would never get his foot on the first round of the ladder."
"And many will never get it there in any event," declared the Major, with a shake of his grizzled head. "More than half the rascals that John helps go to the dogs entirely, and hang us up for all they've borrowed."
"I told you to help deserving young men," remarked Uncle John, with a scowl at his brother-in-law.
"And how can I tell whether they're desarving or not?" retorted Major Doyle, fiercely. "Do ye want me to become a sleuth, or engage detectives to track the objects of your erroneous philanthropy? I just have to form a judgment an' take me chances; and whin a poor devil goes wrong I charge your account with the loss."
"But some of them must succeed," ventured Patsy, in a conciliatory tone.
"Some do," said John Merrick; "and that repays me for all my trouble."
"All your throuble, sir?" queried the Major; "you mane all my throubleвЂ”well, and your money. And a heap of throuble that confounded farm has cost me, with one thing and another."
"What of it?" retorted the little round faced millionaire, leaning back in his chair and staring fixedly at the other. "That's what I employ you for."
"Now, now, gentlemen!" cried Patsy, earnestly. "I'll have no business conversation at the table. You know my rules well enough."
"This isn't business," asserted the Major.
"Of course not," agreed Uncle John, mildly. "No one has any business owning a farm. How did it happen. Major?"
The old soldier had already forgotten his grievance. He quarreled persistently with his wealthy employer and brother-in-lawвЂ”whom he fairly adoredвЂ”to prevent the possibility (as he often confided to Patsy) of his falling down and worshiping him. John Merrick was a multi-millionaire, to be sure; but there were palliating circumstances that almost excused him. He had been so busily occupied in industry that he never noticed how his wealth was piling up until he discovered it by accident....