Margaret Wade Campbell Deland.

An Old Chester secret online

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"What!" he stammered; "what! You knew that?" . . . His upper lip slowly
lifted, and Doctor Lavendar saw his set teeth. "You _knew_ that some
damned fools thought _that_, of my aunt Lydia? Are you my mother, and
yet you could allow another woman - My God!" he said, softly.

She did not realize what she had done; she began to reassure him
frantically.

"No one shall ever know! No one will ever guess - "

Doctor Lavendar shook his head. "Mary," he warned her, "we must be
known, even as also we know, before we enter the Kingdom of Heaven."

They did not listen to him.

"You mean," John said, "that you won't let it be known that you are - my
mother?"

"No, never! never! It couldn't be known - I promise you."

"Thank you," said John Smith, sardonically, - and Doctor Lavendar held up
protesting hands. But no one looked at him.

"It would only be supposed," Carl said, "that, being childless people,
we would make you our son. Nothing, as your mother says, would need be
known."

"How could you 'make me your son' and not have it known?"

"I mean by law," his father explained.

"There was a 'law' that made me your son twenty-three years ago. That's
the only law that counts. You broke it when I was born. Can I be born
again?"

"Yes," said Doctor Lavendar.

"You deserted me," Johnny said, "and Aunt Lydia took me. Shall I be like
you, and desert her? Little Aunt Lydia!" He gave a furious sob. "I'm not
_your_ sort!" he said. The words were like a blow in Mary's face.

"Doctor Lavendar, tell him - tell him, 'honor thy father and thy
mother'!"

"'Honor'?" her son said. "Did I understand you to use the word
'_honor_'?"

Again Doctor Lavendar raised an admonishing hand. "Careful, John."

"He means," Carl said to his wife, quietly, though his face was
gray - "he means he wants us to acknowledge him. Mary, I'm willing. Are
you?"

Doctor Lavendar lifted his bowed head, and his old eyes were suddenly
eager with hope. Johnny's mother stood looking at her child, her face
twisted with tears.

"_Must_ I, to get him?" she gasped.

"No," Johnny said; "it is quite unnecessary." He smiled, so cruelly that
his father's hands clenched; but Mary only said, in passionate relief,
"Oh, you are good!" And the hope in Doctor Lavendar's eyes flickered
out.

"Nothing will ever be known?" her son repeated, still smiling. "Well,
then, Mrs. Robertson, I thank you for 'nothing.'"

Doctor Lavendar frowned, and Mary recoiled, with a sort of moan. Carl
Robertson cried out:

"Stop! You shall not speak so to your mother! I'm ashamed of you, sir!"

But the mother ran forward and caught at her son's arm. "Oh, but I will
make it known! I will say who you are! I'll say you are mine! I will - I
will - "

"You can't, for I'm not," he said.

She was clinging to him, but he looked over her head, eye to eye with
his father. "How can I be her son, when she let people here in Old
Chester believe that Aunt Lydia - "

"Johnny," said Doctor Lavendar, "it didn't make the slightest difference
to Miss Lydia."

The young man turned upon him. "Doctor Lavendar, these two people didn't
own me, even when a pack of fools believed - " He choked over what the
fools believed. "They let them think _that_ of Aunt Lydia! As for
this - this lady being my 'mother' - What's 'mother' but a word? Aunt
Lydia may not be my mother, but I am her son. Yes - yes - I am."

"You are," Doctor Lavendar agreed.

John turned and looked at his father. "I'm sorry for _him_," he said to
Doctor Lavendar.

"We will acknowledge you to-morrow," Carl Robertson said.

"I won't acknowledge you," his son flung back at him. "All these years
you have hidden behind Aunty. Stay hidden. I won't betray you."

Mary had dropped down into her father's chair; her face was covered by
her hands on the desk. They heard her sob. Her husband bent over her and
put his arms about her.

"Mary," he said, in a whisper, "forgive me; I brought it on you - my poor
Mary!" Then he stood up and looked at his son in suffering silence. "I
don't blame you," he said, simply.

At that, suddenly, John Smith broke. The pain of it all had begun to
penetrate his passionate loyalty. For a moment there was silence, except
for Mary's sobs. Then Johnny said, hoarsely, "Mr. Robertson, I'm - sorry.
But . . . there isn't anything to do about it. I - I guess I'll go home."

"John," said Doctor Lavendar, "your aunt Lydia would want you to be
kind."

Carl Robertson shook his head. "We don't want kindness, Doctor
Lavendar. I guess we don't want anything he can give. Good-by, boy," he
said.

His son, passing him, caught at his hand and wrung it. "Goo'-by," he
said, roughly. There were tears in his eyes.

Then, without a look at his mother, he walked quickly down the room, and
out into the hall. They could hear him putting on his hat and coat. . . .
Carl Robertson pressed his clenched hand against his lips, and turned
his back to the other two. Mary was silent. Doctor Lavendar covered his
eyes for a moment; then, just as Johnny's hand was on the knob of the
front door he called out:

"John, wait a minute, will you? Give me an arm; I'm going to walk home."

The young man, out in the hall, frowned, and set his jaw.

"All right," he called back, briefly. There was no detaining word or cry
from the library while Doctor Lavendar shuffled silently into his
coat, - and a minute later the door of the new Mr. Smith's house closed
upon his grandson and the old minister.

It had begun to rain again, and the driveway was very dark - darker even
than on that September night when Johnny's mother had cringed back from
Miss Lydia's little leading hand and they had hurried along under the
big trees. It was her son who hurried now. . . .

"Not so fast, Johnny," said Doctor Lavendar.

"Excuse me, sir." He fell into step with the old man, but he was tense
with the effort to walk slowly. . . . They were nearly at the gate
before there was any speech between them. Then Johnny said, violently:

"There's no use saying anything to me, Doctor Lavendar! Not a particle
of use!"

"I haven't said anything, John."

"They got you here to - to influence me! I saw through it the minute - she
began. But I never forgive," Johnny said; "I want you to understand
that!" He was hurrying again. The old man pressed a little on his arm.

"I'm sorry to be so slow, Johnny."

"Oh - excuse me, sir; I didn't realize. . . . She threw me away. I've
thrown her away. There's no use talking to me!"

Doctor Lavendar was silent.

"I tell you, I won't have anything to do with them - with her, I mean.
He's not so bad. I - I like him - in spite of - of everything. But she
deserted me when I was born."

"It is certainly cruel to desert a newborn thing," said Doctor Lavendar.

John Smith agreed, furiously - and his upper lip lifted.

"I think," said Doctor Lavendar, "something has been born to-night - " He
was very much out of breath.

"I'm walking too fast again? I beg your pardon, sir," the boy said.

"Suppose we stand still for a minute," said Doctor Lavendar.

They stood still; the rain fell heavily on Doctor Lavendar's shoulders
and dripped from the brim of his old felt hat. "She deserted me," John
said. "There is nothing to be said in excuse. Nothing."

"No, desertion can never be excused," the old man agreed; "and, as you
say, when your body was born, she left it. To-night her soul has been
born. Do you mean to desert it, John?"

"Even a dog doesn't leave her pups!" John said.

("His grandfather over again!" Doctor Lavendar thought.) Yet it was to
that inherited brutality that he made his appeal:

"No; a mother has to be higher than an animal, to desert her young,"
Doctor Lavendar said.

The young man's violent agreement broke off in the middle: - "What do you
mean by that?"

"Shame is a strange thing," said Doctor Lavendar; "it can lift us up to
heaven or push us down to hell; it gives us courage or it makes us
cowards. An animal doesn't know shame."

"You mean that - that woman - ?"

"I mean your mother was ashamed, John - " The young man was silent. "She
tried to get away from shame by getting away from you. Now she knows
that only by staying with you could she really get away from it."

"I will _never_ call her 'mother'!" Johnny burst out.

"Miss Lydia didn't stop to consider what she was going to call you; she
just took care of you. Yet you weren't as helpless as that poor woman
back there in that empty house. Johnny, her little weak soul, just born
to-night, will die unless you take care of it."

The young man stood still, his hands clenched. Doctor Lavendar took off
his soaking wet hat, shook it, put it on again, and waited. There was
only the sound of the rain and the drip-drip from the big trees along
the driveway. Then the boy said:

"You said desertion could not be excused. I am ashamed to be known as
belonging to her!"

"That's just how she felt about you - _so she deserted you_."

Silence, except for John Smith's panting breath. Down the road, through
the lilac bushes, came the twinkle of a lamp in Miss Lydia's window.

"John," said Doctor Lavendar, "go to your mother. If you don't, you will
be doing just what she did. Be kind to her helpless soul, as Miss Lydia
was kind to your helpless body."

Still silence. Then suddenly Mary's son flung Doctor Lavendar's hand
from his arm, and turned back, almost running, to vanish in the shadows
of his grandfather's driveway. But as he ran, he threw over his shoulder
some broken, passionate words that sounded like - "I _won't_ be like
her - "

Doctor Lavendar stood still for a minute; then he drew a great breath of
relief and plodded on slowly into the rainy darkness.


THE END

* * * * *

Transcriber's Notes:

The repeated book title before chapter one was deleted to avoid
redundancy.

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Page 83, "stomache" changed to "stomach" (stomach ache, and)









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Online LibraryMargaret Wade Campbell DelandAn Old Chester secret → online text (page 6 of 6)