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THE REDEMPTION OF KENNETH GALT ***




Produced by David Widger from page images generously
provided by the Internet Archive









THE REDEMPTION OF KENNETH GALT

By Will N. Harben

Author of “Gilbert Neal” “Abner Daniel” “The Georgians” “Ann Boyd” etc.

New York and London: Harper Brothers Publishers

M C M I X

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TO

MABELLE




PART I




CHAPTER I

|YOUNG Doctor Dearing sat in the little church at an open window through
which he had a partial view of that portion of old Stafford which
stretched out desultorily toward the east. Immediately in front was a
common fairly well covered with grass and weeds, except at the pawed and
beaten spot where the public hitched its riding-horses, and beyond stood
rows of old-fashioned residences of brick and stone, interspersed with
a few modern frame cottages which, in gaudy paint, thrust themselves
nearer the street than their more stately neighbors.

It was a Sunday morning, and the smile of a balmy spring day lay over
every visible object, filling the ambient air with a translucent message
that no human mind could interpret. It was as though an infinite God
were speaking to eyes and ears too coarsely fashioned to fully see and
hear.

The whole was conducive to the doctor’s feeling of restfulness and
content and good-will to every human being. He liked the young minister
who was seated in the high-backed rosewood chair behind the white
pulpit, holding a massive Bible on his slender knees, a look of
consecration to a sacred cause in his brown eyes. There was an assuring
augury that spoke well for the youth of the town in the spectacle of the
choir - the young men in their best clothes, and the young women in their
flower-like dresses and plumed and ribboned hats.

His gaze was drawn perforce to the face of the young organist, who sat
staring listlessly over the top of her hymn-book. She had a face and
form of rare beauty and grace. Her features were most regular; her skin
clear; her eyes were large, long-lashed, dreamy, and of the color of
violets. Her hair was a living mass of silken bronze.

“She looks tired and worried,” was Dearing’s half-professional comment.
“Perhaps her mother is worse, and she sat up last night. Poor Dora! she
has certainly had a lot to contend with since her father died. I’ll wait
for her after church and ask about her mother.”

The service over, he made his way through the throng down the aisle
toward the door. He was quite popular, and there was many a hand to
shake and many a warm greeting to respond to, but he finally succeeded
in reaching a point in the shaded church-yard which Dora Barry would
pass on her way home, and there he waited.

For some unaccountable reason she was almost the last to leave the
church, and the congregation had well-nigh dispersed when he saw her
coming. He noticed that she kept her glance on the ground, and that her
step was slow and languid; he was all but sure, too, that he heard her
sigh, and he saw her firm round breast heave tremulously as she neared
him.

“Good-morning, Dora,” he said, cheerily; and she started as, for the
first time, she noticed his presence.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, a flush forcing itself into the pallor of her
really exquisite face. “I thought - that is, I didn’t expect to - to see
you here, and, and - ”

“I have been watching you this morning instead of the preacher,” he
said, with a boyish laugh, “and I made up my mind that I’ll have to take
you in hand. You are burning the candle at both ends, and there is a
fire-cracker in the middle. What is the use of being your family doctor
if I let you get down sick, when I can prevent it by raking you over the
coals? How is your mother? You had to be up last night - I can see it by
the streaks under your eyes.”

“No, I wasn’t up,” the girl answered. The color had receded from her
cheeks, and the abstracted expression which he had noticed in the church
began to repossess her wondrous eyes. “She is not quite well yet, but
she did not call me at all through the night. Your last prescription did
her good; it soothed her pain, and she rested better.”

“Well, I’m going to walk home with you and stop in and see her, to make
sure,” he answered, still lightly. “If you don’t look out you will be
down yourself. Two sick persons in a family of two wouldn’t be any
fun.” She made no response; her eyes had a far-off look in their shadowy
depths, and as he walked along beside her he eyed her profile curiously.

“Well, I declare, Dora,” he said, half jestingly, “you don’t seem
overjoyed to have a fellow’s company. Of course, I’m not a ladies’ man,
and - ”

“Forgive me, Wynn.” She looked up anxiously, and her lip trembled as she
suppressed another sigh. “It wasn’t that I didn’t want you to come. You
know better than to accuse me of such a thing. I have always considered
you the best, kindest, and truest friend I have.”

“I was only joking,” he responded, touched by the undoubted sincerity
of her tone and manner; “but, really, I don’t like to see my little
neighbor looking so glum, and I am going to stop in and see how your
mother is. If she needs a trained nurse I’ll get one, or come over and
look after her myself.”

They had reached the cottage where Dora lived. It was small, and stood
in a diminutive but rather pretty flower-garden on a short, little used
street immediately behind Dearing’s home. And when he had opened the
sagging gate in the white paling fence, she preceded him into the low,
vine-grown porch, and narrow, box-like hallway, from which she led him
into the parlor, the room opposite to the chamber of the sick woman.

“Sit down, won’t you?” Dora said, in a weary tone, as she began to
unfasten her hat. “I’ll tell her you are here.”

He took a seat in the bowed window of the plainly furnished room, and
she brought a palm-leaf fan to him. “I’m sure my mother won’t keep you
waiting long.” And with the look of abstraction deepening on her mobile
face, she turned away.

A neat matting made of green and brown straw covered the floor, on which
were placed rugs made of scraps of silk of various colors artistically
blended. A carved rosewood table with a white marble top stood in the
centre of the room, and on it rested a plush-covered photograph-album,
a glass lamp with a fluted and knotched paper shade on a frame of wire,
and a vase of freshly cut flowers. Between the two front windows, which,
like their fellows, were draped in white lace curtains of the cheapest
quality, stood Dora’s piano - a small, square instrument with sloping
octagonal legs and lyre-shaped pedal-support. Against the wall near by
leaned a time-worn easel, on which lay some torn and ragged sketches,
a besmeared palette, and a handful of stubby, paint-filled brushes. The
ceiling overhead was made of planks and painted light blue; the walls
were plastered and whitewashed and ornamented by some really good family
portraits in oil which had been done by Dora’s deceased father, who had
been the town’s only artist. A Seth Thomas clock presided over a crude
mantelpiece which was bare of any other ornament. The deep chimney was
filled with pine-tops and cones, the uneven bricks of the hearth were
whitewashed.

Dearing heard the girl’s returning step in the hallway, and then she
looked in on him.

“She is sitting up,” Dora announced. “She wants you to come to her.”

As he entered the room across the hall Dora turned toward the kitchen
in the rear, and he found himself facing her mother, a thin, gaunt woman
about fifty years of age, who sat in a low rocking-chair near her bed,
the latter orderly arranged under a spotlessly white coverlet and great
snowy pillows.

“This is not a professional visit, Mrs. Barry.” He smiled as he bent to
take her thin, nervous hand, the fingers of which were aimlessly picking
at the fringe on the arm of the chair. “Dora was headed for home, and
so was I. The truth is, I am not half so much worried about you as I am
about her. Your color is coming back fast enough, and you have no fever.
You are all right, but she looks upset and nervous. It may be due to
her highly artistic temperament, which is a thing medicine can’t easily
reach. Do you know if her appetite is good?”

“Really I haven’t noticed about that particularly,” the woman answered,
in a plaintive tone. “You see, since I got down I haven’t been about the
dining-room at all. She has waited on me instead of me on her.”

“Well, you’ll be all right in a day or so,” Dearing said, his brows
drawn thoughtfully, “and then you can take charge of her. She declares,
though, that her health is tip-top.”

The old patient folded her thin, blue-veined hands tightly for a moment,
and twisted them spasmodically together; then suddenly she fixed her
sharp, gray eyes anxiously on the young man’s face, and he saw that she
was deeply moved, for her lower lip was twitching.

“I have always felt that you are the one young man whom I could
trust - absolutely trust,” she said, falteringly. “Physicians are
supposed to keep certain matters to themselves, anyway, but even aside
from that, Wynn, it is hard to keep from speaking to you in a familiar
way, having seen you grow up from babyhood right under my eyes, so I
hope you will forgive me if - ”

“Oh, I wouldn’t have you quit calling me that for the world!” Dearing
flushed deeply and laughed. “I haven’t grown a full beard yet to make me
look older and wiser than I am, as many young sawbones do. I hope I’ll
always be simply Wynn Dearing to you, Mrs. Barry.”

She looked as admiringly and as proudly as a mother might at the strong,
smooth-shaved face, with its merry eyes of brown, firm chin and mouth,
and shock of thick, dark hair, and at the tall, muscular frame and limbs
in the neatly cut suit of brown.

“Yes, I can trust you,” she muttered, her voice growing husky, “and it
seems to me if I don’t confide in some one, I may as well give up.”

“Why, what is the matter, Mrs. Barry?” Dearing inquired, now quite
grave.

“Oh, it is about Dora!” The old woman sighed. “Wynn, I may as well
confess it. My sickness is partly due to worry over her. It is not
because she is unwell either. It is something else. I am afraid she
has some - some secret trouble. You must not show that you suspect
anything - that would never do; but all is not as it should be with her.
Naturally she has as happy a disposition as any girl I ever knew. Her
art pupils adore her, and up to quite recently she used to laugh and
joke with them constantly; but she has altered - strangely altered. I
catch her sitting by herself at times with the saddest, most woebegone
expression on her face. When I try to worm it out of her, she attempts
to laugh it off; but she can’t keep up the pretense, and it is not long
before she begins to droop again. Her room is there, you see; and as
the partition is thin, I often wake up in the dead of night and hear her
cautiously tiptoeing over the floor - first to the window and then back
to her bed, as though she were unable to sleep.”

“That is bad,” Dearing said, sympathetically, as Mrs. Barry paused and,
covering her wrinkled face with her hands, remained silent for a moment.

“I would like to ask you something,” the old woman continued,
hesitatingly - “something of a personal nature. I have no earthly right
to do such a thing, but I thought, you see, that it might help me decide
whether I am right in something I fear. Is it true that - that your uncle
has forbidden Fred Walton to visit your sister Margaret?”

Dearing shrugged his broad shoulders and contracted his heavy brows.
“I may as well tell you that he has, Mrs. Barry. I don’t like to speak
against another young man, and one who has never harmed me in any way;
but I agree with my uncle that Fred is not exactly the kind of man I’d
like to have Madge make an intimate friend of. His general character is
not what it ought to be, and he seems to be going from bad to worse. He
still has plenty of friends and even sympathizers, who think Fred would
reform and settle down to business if his father were not quite so hard
on him. Madge is one of them. She has a sort of girlish faith in the
fellow, and the slightest word against him makes her mad.”

“Well, it is about Fred Walton that I want to speak to you,” Mrs. Barry
resumed, tremulously. “He has been coming to see Dora a good deal for
the last year. He passes by the gate often in the afternoon, and they
take long walks over the hills to the river. Sometimes he accompanies
her when she goes to sketch in the woods. And now and then she slips
out after dark, and won’t say where she has been. You see, I am speaking
very frankly. I _have_ to, Wynn, for I am in great trouble - greater
than I ever thought could come to me at my time of life. My child is an
orphan, and there is no one, you see, to - to protect her. It is hard to
think that any man here at home could be so - so dishonorable, but they
all say he is reckless, and - well, if I must say it - I am afraid she
cares a great deal about him. I may be very wrong, and I hope I am, but
I am deeply troubled, and need not try to hide it.”

“I see how you feel,” Dearing said, his face hardening as he bit his
lip, and a fixed stare came into his eyes, “but I am sure you have
nothing very - very serious to fear. Dora may think she cares for him. He
seems to have a wonderful way with women, young and old. They all stand
by him and make excuses for his daredevil ways.”

“Well, I do hope I am wrong,” Mrs. Barry said, brightening a little. “It
has made me feel better to talk to you. We’ll wait and see. As you say,
it may be only a fancy on Dora’s part, and it may all come out right. I
have said more to you, Wynn, than I could have said to any one else in
the world. That shows how much confidence I place in you.”

“You can trust me, Mrs. Barry,” Dearing said, as he looked at his watch
and rose to go. “I know how to keep my mouth shut.”

As he was leaving, Dora stood motionless at the window of her room,
hidden from his view by the curtains. She watched him as he passed out
of the yard and crossed the narrow street to reach the rear gate to his
own grounds.

“If he knew the truth he’d despise me!” she moaned, as she sank into a
chair and tensely clasped her little hands in her lap. “How can I bear
it? I’m so miserable - so very, very miserable!”

She rose, and went to her bureau, and took up a photograph of Fred
Walton; as she gazed at it her eyes filled and her lip quivered.

“Dear, dear Fred!” she said, fervently, “in spite of all the faults they
say you have, you are the best and truest friend a poor girl ever had.
If I’d only listened to your advice I’d never have been like this. Oh,
what will you think when you hear the truth - the awful, awful truth!”

She threw herself on her bed, and with her face covered she lay trying
to sob, trying to shed tears, but the founts of her agony were dry.




CHAPTER II

|DR. DEARING’S house was an old-fashioned structure built long before
the Civil War. It fronted on the main residential street of the town,
and was of red brick partly covered with clinging ivy. It had a colonial
veranda with the usual tall, fluted columns, which were painted white
and rested on square blocks of masonry. It had been the property of
several generations of Dearings more or less distinguished in the
history of the State, and since the death of the doctor’s father, a
prosperous merchant, slave-holder, and planter, it had been in the
possession of the brother and sister, who, with an aged maternal uncle,
General Sylvester, now occupied it.

As Dearing entered the lower gate of the grounds he saw Kenneth Galt,
his next-door neighbor, crossing the lawn to reach his own house just
beyond a low hedge of well-trimmed boxwood. And hearing the clicking
of the iron gate-latch, Galt paused, turned, and advanced toward his
friend. He was a handsome man, tall, dark, well-built, about thirty-five
years of age, and with a strong, secretive face - the face of a man full
of nervous force and the never-satisfied hunger of ambition.

“You’ve been to church like a good little boy,” he laughed, as he paused
and stood cutting at the grass with his cane.

“Yes, and it is exactly where you ought to have been,” Dearing retorted,
with a smile. “If you would only listen to a few good sermons on the
right line you’d burn up that free-thought library of yours, and quit
thinking you know more than your good old Godfearing ancestors.”

“I simply couldn’t sit and listen to such stuff with a straight face,”
Galt answered. “Goodness knows, I’ve tried it often enough. It really
seems an insult to a fellow’s intelligence. I can’t agree with you that
any man ought to try to think as his forefathers did. You don’t in your
profession, why should a man do it in more vital matters? You don’t
bleed your patients as doctors did fifty years ago, because you know
better. I believe in evolution of mind as well as of matter. We
are constantly advancing. Your old-time preacher, with all his good
intentions, is a stumbling-block to intelligence. You may listen to a
man who tells you your house is burning down over your head and urges
you to save your life, but if you don’t believe him you wouldn’t care to
have him pull you out by the heels on a cold night to convince you. But
you don’t hear what I am saying!” Galt finished, with a short laugh. “I
am sowing my seed on stony ground. I’ve been in to see the General. I
have some important letters about the railroad that he and I are going
to get built one of these days. As a rule, he is more than eager to talk
about it, but he was certainly out of sorts just now. I have never seen
him so upset before. While I was talking to him he kept walking up and
down the room, and not hearing half I was saying. He is not well, is
he?”

“No, he really is not in the best of shape,” Dearing answered, with a
thoughtful shadow on his face; “but I think he will pull through all
right. I see him on the porch now. I’ll walk on, and talk to him.”

As Dearing drew near the house General Sylvester, who was a tall,
slightly bent old man with long gray beard and hair, came down the steps
and walked across the grass to a rustic seat under a tree. He was about
to sit down, but seeing his nephew approaching he remained standing, a
gaunt hand held over his spectacled eyes to ward off the sunlight.

“I have been waiting for you,” he said, in a piping, irritable voice.
“Kenneth was in to talk business, but it seems to me that I’ll never be
interested in such things any more. What’s the use? I didn’t want the
money for myself, anyway. I saw the others coming back from church some
time ago, and couldn’t imagine what delayed you. I’ve had another row
with Madge, and this time it is serious - very, very serious.”

“Oh, _that’s_ the trouble!” Dearing cried, and he attempted to laugh.
“Uncle Tom, in your old age you are just like a school-boy with his
first sweetheart. You are actually flirting with your own niece. You
and she bill and coo like doves, and then get cold as ice or as mad as
Tucker. What’s wrong now?”

“Well, I think a young girl like she is ought to take the sound advice
of a man as old and experienced as I am, and she won’t do it. That’s
all - she won’t do it, sir!”

“Of course she _ought_ to,” Dearing said, still inclined to jest, “but
you are wise enough to know that no woman ever took the advice of a man,
young or old. See here, uncle, I’ll bet you haven’t had your medicine
yet, and the dinner-bell will ring soon and you will have to wait
fifteen minutes before you shall taste a bite. You and I ‘ll quarrel if
you don’t do as I tell you. Madge won’t obey you, but you’ve got to get
down on your marrow-bones and follow my orders.”

“Oh, I’ll take the blasted stuff in time!” the General fumed. “I don’t
want to eat now, anyway. I tell you, I’m too mad to eat.”

“I suppose it is Fred Walton again,” Dearing said, resignedly.

“Who else could it be?” the old man burst out. “She tries to close my
eyes as to her doings with him; but I got it straight that he was out
driving with her last night while you were in the country.”

The face of the doctor clouded over. “You don’t mean to say that - ”

“I mean that he was afraid to drive up to the door like a gentleman, but
met her down-town and took her from there, and when they got back, long
after dark, he left her at Lizzie Sloan’s, to keep us from getting on to
it. You know, folks will talk about a thing like that.”

Dearing’s eyes flashed, and a touch of whiteness crept into his face,
but he said, pacifically: “Oh, there must be some mistake. I hardly
think Madge would - ”

“But there _isn’t_ any mistake, for she admitted it to me not ten
minutes ago, and just as good as told me it was none of my business
besides. Now, listen to me, my boy. I am an old man, but I am still in
the possession of my faculties, and I know what I am talking about. I
was in the bank yesterday, and had a talk with his father. He told me
frankly that he intended to cut the scamp off without a penny. He gave
the fellow a position of trust in the bank, but instead of behaving
himself properly, he started into gambling, speculating in futures, and
every reckless thing he could think of. He turned customers away, scared
off depositors, who don’t like to leave their money in such hands, and
in many ways injured the business. Old Walton was so mad he could hardly
talk to me, and when I told him right out how I felt about my niece
going with him, he said he didn’t blame me; that he wouldn’t let such a
rascal go with a servant of his, much less the acknowledged belle of the
town, and a prospective heiress. Now, Wynn, this is what I have decided
to do. You know that I have made my will, leaving all I have in the
world to her.”

“And it is blamed bully of you, Uncle Tom,” Dearing said, laying his
hand on the old man’s shoulder, which he could feel quivering with a
passion not good for even a younger man. “I am sure, neither of us is
worthy of the great interest you have always taken in us.”

“_You_ are, my boy. I am proud of _you_. You are already a shining light
in your profession, and will make all the money you’ll ever need. But I
always have worried about Madge. I want to provide well for her, and
I haven’t many years to live. Sometimes I think I may snuff out like a
candle without a moment’s notice, so I don’t intend to leave my affairs
in such a shape that Fred Walton will gloat over my demise and throw
away my savings. No, sir. I tell you if your sister does not agree to
give that scamp up inside of the next twenty-four hours, I will set my
effects aside for another purpose.”

“I’ll see her and talk to her, Uncle Tom,” Dearing promised, gravely.
He had never seen the General so highly wrought up, nor heard such an
exasperated ring in his voice. “Now, you go take your medicine. Madge
will be sensible. She loves you, I know she does.”

“Well, remember what I’ve said,” the old soldier threw back as he turned
away.

Dearing waited till he had disappeared through the side entrance of the
house, and then he went up the front steps, crossed the wide veranda,
with its smooth, rain-beaten floor of ancient heart pine, and stood in
the great hall, straw hat in hand, looking about him.

“I’ll see her at once,” he thought. “She must come to her senses. She is
driving uncle to his grave with worry over her silly conduct.”

“Oh, Madge!” he called out. His voice rang and echoed in the great
opening through which the walnut stairs and polished balustrade ascended
to the corridor and sleeping-rooms above, but there was no response.

Still holding his hat, with which he fanned his heated face in an
absent-minded, perturbed sort of way, Dear-ing went through all the
lower rooms - the parlor and library and adjoining study, and even the
dining-room and kitchen. The colored cook, old Aunt Diana, a former
slave of the family, in white apron and turbaned head, informed him that
his sister was in her room.

“I know she is, Marse Wynn, ‘case she sent Lindy down fer some fresh



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