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house is pretty well supplied, but this is our best season of the year,
and a good man always comes in handy. You look like you’ve got a good
head on them broad shoulders, and I want to give you a start, so if you
will show up here in the morning with your friend, I’ll put you to work
in the office and stow him away somewhere.”

“You are very, very kind, Mr. Whipple,” Fred said, a gratified flush on
his face; “but you have had no recommendation of me, and - ”

“I don’t _want_ none,” the merchant said, firmly. “You see, I’ve already
heard about you. Long before me and you met you had cast your bread on
the water, and it has already come back. I’ve heard about you. Anybody
these days can bring a scrap of paper with indorsements scribbled on
it, but the best recommendation is the sort that crawls along ahead of
a fellow. Yes, I’ve heard about you, and, to be plain, that’s why I sent
for you. Even if I didn’t have no opening right now, it would pay me to
rub against men that - well, that believe like you do and act like you
have acted.”

“I suppose you mean” - Walton was quite embarrassed now - “I suppose
Mr. Matthews has been speaking of what my friend told him of our
ups-and-downs together; but really I couldn’t let that sort of
thing stand as an indorsement of me, Mr. Whipple. Dick is young and
enthusiastic. It seems that he has never had a close friend before, and
he naturally exaggerates my - ”

“Say, look here,” the merchant broke in, with a smile, “you really
don’t know how funny that sounds. In this day and time, when a man in
my position has to set and listen to folks spout for the hour about how
good and worthy they are, why - well, to see a chap actually denying the
favorable things which have been said behind his back is a downright
curiosity. Why, the very fact that you are _talking_ this way shows
plain enough what you are. Along with what I’ve picked up about you and
the - the general look of you, now that you are at close range - why, if
you was to lay down a whole batch of written recommendations I’d chuck
‘em in that stove. I’m a judge of human faces and of men, and I know you
_mean_ well, and that is all I ask.”

“It is very good of you, Mr. Whipple,” Walton said, his glance on the
floor. “I feel like we could get on together. I know I’d do my best to
please you.”

“Well, then, there is nothing more to be said,” old Whipple answered.
“Bring that boy in to-morrow morning, and we’ll make some sort o’ a
start.”

Fred sat silent. He took a deep breath and raised his eyes to the
genial face in the green light. “I must be frank and open with a man
as generous as you are, Mr. Whipple. If I am to work here we ought to
understand each other thoroughly. There are some things which you must
know about me, or I cannot consent to enter your employment, for it
would be deceiving you.”

“Oh, _that’s_ it!” Whipple said, awkwardly. “Still, you mustn’t feel
that I am requiring any explanations of - of a private nature, for I am
not.”

“You ought to know more than you do know about me, at all events,”
Walton went on. “I’d feel better if nothing at all was hidden from your
knowledge. I haven’t lived right, Mr. Whipple. I went wrong - frightfully
wrong. I got in debt - it is worse than that. I misappropriated a
considerable sum of money belonging to my father. He is a stern, hard
man, and demanded as much of me as he would have done of a stranger. I
left home to escape arrest. You may think I ought to have submitted to
the law. I simply couldn’t, for I felt that my father, when his passion
cooled, would regret his step, and, moreover, I felt that, with my
freedom, I could apply myself and eventually restore the loss.”

“Merciful Father!” Whipple exclaimed, fervently. “Lord have mercy! To
think of a man blessed with a son holding the law over his repentant
head and chasing him from spot to spot over God’s green earth! The child
he brought into the world and saw cooing in the cradle, a little, tiny
sprout of his own flesh and blood, made in the image of the Lord God of
Hosts! My boy,” the old man leaned forward, “shake hands with me. I’ve
often wanted to help young men in my stormy life, but, God knows, I
never felt the desire as strong as I do now. Just in this little talk
I’ve been drawn more closely to you than I ever was to a human being
before. You are the right sort, the genuine thing; if I was to turn you
adrift, I’d never get over it. I had a boy once, and I doted on him.
He died when he was a little toddling fellow, and since then I have
never been consoled. But his loss, and the memory of him, has warmed my
heart to young men wherever I meet them. You must come to me, my boy. I
feel sure we’ll pull together. In fact, I’d want you at hand, for I’d
grieve to see you falter in your noble undertaking. God will bless your
effort as sure as the stars are shining up there in the heavens
to-night.”

“I haven’t told you quite all yet,” Walton added, in a low tone. “To
protect myself, I took another name. My real name is - ”

“Stop! Don’t tell me. That won’t make one bit of difference to me,”
Whipple answered, with a sigh, as if he were thinking more of the young
man’s former revelations than the one just made. “No doubt it is best.
You say you have determined to make good the loss, and if bearing
another name will help you out, then it can’t be wrong. Go ahead, I’ll
be your friend; I’ll stick to you. I’m glad we came together to-night.
It makes me feel better. I’ve seen many sorts of human struggles, but
I never saw one that touched me down deep like yours does. Wait, let me
lock up, and I’ll walk along a piece with you.”

Outside, after he had closed the heavy door, the merchant put his hand
on the arm of his companion, and they moved on down the street together.
Suddenly they paused. Whipple swept his fat hand in a slow gesture
toward the skies.

“My boy,” he said, fervently, “this is a wonderful, wonderful old world.
Life seems hard and harsh at times, but when the soul is right a man can
conquer anything. I have my fight to make; you have yours - stick to it,
and may the Lord be with you! Goodnight.”. .

PART II




CHAPTER I

|OLD Stafford had changed wonderfully L in the six years which passed
after Fred Walton’s flight. The building of President Galt’s trunk-line
to the sea had marked the turning-point in the town’s career. The older
portion of the place remained quite as it was, but new suburbs and new
centres of commerce had sprung up beyond the old incorporated limits.
Where farms, fields, and pastures had once been, now lay even,
well-graded, and electric-lighted streets. No small city in the South
had a better freight-rate to all points, and this had brought about the
establishment of various manufacturing enterprises which had greatly
increased the population. The clang and clatter of new growth was in the
air; speculation in building-sites was rife. The modest price of one day
was the jest of the next. Owning a great deal of the land along the new
railway, General Sylvester was now more wealthy than ever, and the new
interest in life had given him back his youth and health.

As for Kenneth Galt, he had scarcely spent a day in the town of his
birth since his hurried journey to New York to meet the capitalists
whose co-operation had made the road a certainty. His explanation to
Sylvester was that other points on the long line constantly demanded
his attention. His old home was still cared for by Mrs. Wilson as
housekeeper and John Dilk as gardener, and now and then a false
report had emanated from these proud and worshipful menials that the
distinguished owner was coming back to reside there permanently. Indeed,
he had promised General Sylvester to do so time after time, only to make
more delays and more excuses.

“He’s coming this time sure,” the old soldier said to his nephew on the
veranda one day in the early part of the present summer. “I had a letter
from him this morning, in which he promised to come and spend the hot
weather here and take a good long rest. Mrs. Wilson said, also, that he
had written her about renovating his rooms, so I reckon it is settled.
And when he comes you will see that I was right about my prophecy
concerning him and Madge. He’s a woman-hater, they say - won’t have a
thing to do with society; and, quiet and reserved as your sister is, the
two will naturally drift together. I’ll be glad to have him back. That
shady old place, with its early associations, will fairly make him over.
When I spent that week with him in Savannah I naturally expected to find
him at the top of the social heap, but he went nowhere at all, and even
seemed to shun the men who extended courtesies to him. He’s had too big
a load on him; his face shows wrinkles, and his hair is turning at the
temples.”

“Yes, he is a strange chap,” Dearing answered. “I have been thrown with
him in Atlanta several times of late, and while he really seemed glad
to see me, and was cordial enough, in a way, I couldn’t exactly make him
out. As usual, I found him moping over his favorite books, and every
bit as anxious, as of old, to prove that the grave ends everything. That
will ruin any man, Uncle Tom. When a fellow actually gets to fighting
the belief that we are more than sticks and stones he can’t rise very
high in any spiritual sense. Why, Kenneth has even reached the point of
defending some of the lowest things that men do. He and I were walking
away out in the outskirts of the city one night. He had asked me to
go, because he wanted to avoid some clubmen who were bent on having
him preside at a banquet given by the Chamber of Commerce. We were all
alone, and it was dark. He had asked me, I remember, if any news had
come as to the whereabouts of Fred Walton, and I had told him that
nothing at all had been heard except that his father had cut him off
forever. To my astonishment, Kenneth actually sighed. Then I distinctly
heard him muttering to himself: ‘Poor fellow. Poor chap! He’s been
treated like a dog!”’ “Huh, the idea!” Sylvester broke in. “Well, that’s
like Kenneth. He is always ready to take up for somebody or something
that no one else believes in.”

“Well, feeling as I did, and knowing what I do of the case,” Dearing
continued, warmly, “I couldn’t hold my tongue. I didn’t leave a grain
of sand for Fred Walton to stand on, and it made me hot for Galt not to
agree with me. He made some weak remark about men obeying natural laws,
and being cursed with uncontrollable passions, and the like; but
I flatter myself that I silenced him. I gave him a picture of that
beautiful girl’s isolated life with her son and old mother, wholly
ostracized in the only community they had ever known or loved. I saw,
then, that I had touched his sympathies in another direction.

“‘You think,’ he said, ‘that Walton ought, even _now_, to go back and
marry her - _at this late date?_”

“I told him that I had grave doubts as to whether a woman who had
suffered as she had at a man’s hands would ever want to see her betrayer
again, and he answered that he felt sure she wouldn’t. Then he asked
about the boy. You know, he was always fond of children - that is
one redeeming quality he has, and it makes me hope that he isn’t so
heartless as he would have us believe. He listened attentively to all I
said about Lionel, even asking me questions as to how the child looked
and how he amused himself. When I told him that the little fellow was
completely cut off from other children, and that his association only
with his mother and grandmother had made him act and speak more like an
older person than a child, he seemed actually shocked.”

“‘You don’t mean to tell me,’ he said, ‘that the people of old Stafford
would turn against a helpless child because of any fault or mistake of
its parents!’

“I explained to him that it was mostly due to the pride of his mother,
and to the natural fear that such an intelligent boy, and one so
sensitive and observant as he is, might learn of his misfortune and
suffer from it. That conversation raised Kenneth Galt in my estimation,
Uncle Tom. I know now that he has true feeling and sympathy for the
unfortunate, and that his ambition is not all there is to him.”

“I must confess that the child has greatly interested me,” the General
said. “From my window I can see him playing in that narrow yard, always
dressed neatly, and as strong and straight as an Indian in his bearing.
I have never seen him outside the fence. I have stopped to speak to him
once or twice in passing, and have been actually charmed by his face
and manner. I don’t think I ever heard of a case exactly like his.
Of course, there have been thousands of children born like that in
straitlaced communities, but I never heard of one being brought up in
that prison-like way. It surely is wrong, and it will make the truth all
the harder to bear when it does come out, as it must sooner or later.
She is a wonderful woman - I started to say girl, for she seems almost
like a child to me with that sad, young face, and wistful, artistic
beauty. I have met her mother on the street a few times, her old face
thickly veiled, but I have not seen Dora or the child away from the
cottage.”

“As their family doctor,” said Dearing, “I urged Dora to go out herself
for exercise and to take the boy with her. At first she flatly refused.
I frightened her, however, by saying that the constant confinement would
injure Lionel’s health. Since then she has taken him with her in fine
weather when she goes sketching in the woods and swamp back of the
cottage, but she is as shy as a fawn about it. I venture to say that no
one has ever met her on those excursions. I’ve seen mother-love, Uncle
Tom, in all its phases. I’ve met it at the death-beds of scores of
children, but the love between that unfortunate mother and child is the
prettiest thing on earth. No pair of lovers were ever more constant and
affectionate. Lionel is really a sort of psychological oddity in his
way. I have a theory that the mother’s morbid suffering was in some
prenatal way stamped on her offspring.’ He is queerly supersensitive for
one so young, and seems constantly afraid that he won’t be liked. He
is rather fond of me - perhaps it is because I’m the only visitor at
the house; and when I take him in my lap to hold him, I can see that he
enjoys it as if it were an unusual luxury. He closes his eyes sometimes
and smiles, and says he wants to go to sleep that way. Then he will ask
me over and over again if I love _him_. After being told that I do, he
will detect some slight change in my face or voice and cry out, ‘Now,
you don’t like me - do you?’ I am not sentimental, Uncle Tom, but that
little chap’s condition has worried me a lot. I pity him as I’ve never
pitied a human being before.”

“I have often wondered whether Madge has taken notice of him,” General
Sylvester remarked, reflectively. “A woman is hard to read on the
surface, and while Madge never mentions Fred Walton’s name any more than
if he were dead, I’ve been afraid that the mere sight of his child might
keep the old memory alive. Do you know, my son, a woman will condone
exactly that failing in a man more quickly than any other? I suppose
they lay most of the blame on the woman in the case. A high-strung
creature like your sister wouldn’t for a moment consider herself a rival
of a fallen woman, and it may be that the explanation of her never
having shown interest in other men is that - ”

“That she still cares for the rascal?” Dearing broke in, his face
darkening.

“Yes, and that she still clings to some sort of faith in his constancy,”
the General added. “You can’t crush love in a woman’s heart so long as
she believes she is loved by a man who is longing for her and is kept
away by adverse circumstances. You see, if our dear girl attributes
Walton’s predicament to a simple act of _low, impulsive passion_, and
believes that he loved her, and her alone, in a _pure_ way, why - ”

“I see, I see, and I am afraid you may be right,” Dearing said,
bitterly. “And instead of curing her, the scoundrel’s absence is only
making the thing worse. Did you tell her about Kenneth’s coming?”

“Yes, only an hour ago, and it seemed to me that she was rather pleased.
She remarked that she was glad John Dilk had kept up the place so well,
and that the flowers would gratify him. I really fancied that she was
more pleased by the news than she was willing to show, for she changed
the subject by offering to play for me.”

At this juncture a woman came round the house hurriedly, wiping her red,
bare arms, and trying to adjust the damp dress she wore. It was Mrs.
Chumley, the washerwoman. Her tawny hair was disarranged, and her fat,
freckled face flushed with an excitement that was almost pleasurable.

“Oh, here you are, Doctor Wynn!” she panted. “I hain’t been told to
come; in fact, them highfalutin’ neighbors of mine never let a body know
anything they can get out of. But Mrs. Barry is having another of her
falling spells. She was on the side porch brushing little Lionel’s head
when I heard her cry out to Dora for help, and then she struck the floor
of the kitchen with a thump you could have heard up here if you’d been
listening.”

“Well, I’ll run down,” Dearing said to his uncle. “It may not be very
serious. She is subject to such attacks.”




CHAPTER II

|HURRYING down through the grounds, and vaulting over the low boundary
fence, Dearing approached the gate of the Barry cottage just as Dora
came out. Pretty as she had been in girlhood, she was rarely beautiful
as a fully developed woman. And to-day, as ever, Dearing stood before
her in absolute awe of her rare, exquisite, and appealing personality.

“She’s had another attack, Wynn!” Dora said, with a brave effort to
steady her faltering voice. “I really thought she was dying, and I
suppose I screamed. She looked so bad for a few moments! Her face turned
purple, and she lost consciousness. She came to herself a moment ago,
and is still awake. Will you see her?”

He went to the sick woman’s room on tiptoe. Seated in a chair at the
head of the bed, and waving a palm-leaf fan to and fro, to keep the
flies from his grandmother’s face, was Lionel, his great, serious eyes,
so like his mother’s, filled with anxiety. He rose as Dearing entered,
and moved round to the other side of the bed, but he still waved the fan
and stood staring anxiously.

“I thought I was gone that time, Doctor Wynn,” Mrs. Barry said, with a
wan smile, as he took her hand to test her pulse.

“Well, you certainly are far from it now,” he laughed, reassuringly. “I
believe it would take a regiment of soldiers to put you out of business.
That was only a fainting spell brought on by too close confinement to
the house. You must get out more; that’s all you need. Now, take a good
nap and you will be all right.” He nodded and smiled reassuringly at
Dora, who stood at the foot of the bed. She followed him from the room,
seeing that he wished to speak to her.

“She is all right now,” he told her. “She is doing very well. It is only
a sluggish liver, due to lack of exercise. Let her sleep as long as she
will now, and I’ll send you a tonic which will brace her up. There is
nothing really to fear. She has a splendid constitution in all other
respects.”

Dora sank into a chair as if utterly overcome with relief, and he stood
looking at her in blended admiration and sympathy.

Aside from her beauty of face and form, there was a ripeness of
intellect and character in her face, which had come to her from the
years of isolated suffering which she had undergone.

“You are so kind to me, Wynn,” she said, with a faint, sad smile. “You
have always been the best friend we ever had.”

“Why, what are you talking about?” Dearing said, lightly and with a
flush. “Any other jack-leg country doctor would have taken care of you
fully as well.”

“You have done hundreds of thoughtful things,” she cried. “You have left
nothing undone that could possibly help us. Oh, you are _too_ good! You
haven’t allowed my poor mother to pay you one penny for your services
in all these years. She has tried and tried to make you take it till she
has almost given up in despair.”

“I haven’t done anything really worth while, Dora,” he said, lightly.
“You see, you live right at hand, too, and it is no trouble at all to
jump over your fence and mine. I couldn’t take money from a next-door
neighbor under those circumstances. You just wait until you really need
a doctor, and then I’ll send in a bill as long as my arm.”

“You can’t help being good,” Dora said, feelingly, her wonderful violet
eyes filling. “Your great heart simply went out to us in our trouble,
and you have determined to help us in every way possible. Mother thinks
all the world of you, and Lionel actually believes you are some sort of
god.”

“Well, he’s badly fooled, I tell you!” Dearing laughed. “But speaking of
him, I must lecture you good and hard. You are not treating the child at
all right. He oughtn’t to be cooped up here in this little yard like he
is. It is too small. A growing boy like that needs room, and plenty of
it.”

“Oh, you don’t understand!” Dora sighed, while a look of deepest pain
tortured her mobile face. “I couldn’t bear to have him running around
a neighborhood as - as heartless as this one is. He is so observant,
and has such an inquiring mind, and people are so - so cruel, so utterly
unforgiving. But you are trying to change the subject. You think I have
no money with which to pay a doctor’s bill.” She laughed suddenly and
mysteriously as she went on: “I believe I’ll let you into a secret. I’ll
show you something. Come into the parlor.”

She led him, with graceful step and bearing, through the little central
passage of the cottage to the parlor door, and they entered together.
She laughed like a merry child; it was the sweet, rippling laugh he
remembered so well as belonging to his youth and hers, as she pointed
to the easel before a window. On it was a good water-color picture of a
child at play on the grass near a stream, with a pastoral scene sketched
in the background.

“Oh,” he exclaimed, admiringly, “that’s the best you’ve shown me! It is
very, very good.”

“That’s only one of many,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “I wanted
something to occupy my mind after I gave up music, and I began these
studies merely as an experiment. I worked for a year while Lionel was
a baby just to - you know, Wynn - just to forget!” He was silent, being
unable to formulate any reply that was appropriate to the delicate
situation, and she went on simply, and still in the winsome tone which
had always appealed to him so strongly.

“Then - now comes the _best_ part - one day I happened to read the
advertisement of an Atlanta dealer who was in need of such things, and
I forwarded some sketches I had done. They were bad - oh, so bad - and he
wrote that he would not offer them to his customers, but he encouraged
me to keep on. Then I worked harder, and finally I sent him some
pictures of children - little pickaninnies, brown as chestnuts, little
white ragamuffins, babies in old-fashioned, crude, box-cradles like the
mountain people have, and he sold them. Think of that! He actually sold
them! I have not signed any of them. He has written me several times
begging that I should do so, but I have always refused. He has agreed
not to use my name at all, and I believe he has kept his word. The whole
thing has made me - _almost_ happy. Wynn, I saw your face after your
first successful operation, and didn’t understand then what it meant
to you, but I do now. The day that dealer’s letter came, and his money
followed by express, in a big wax-sealed envelope - well, it was the
happiest moment of my life-I sang; I talked to myself; I danced. I
told Baby all about it as I hugged him in my arms. I had, as they say,
discovered myself. Here I was, cut off from intercourse with everybody
in my home town, but God hadn’t wholly forsaken me. He had given me
something to make up for what I’d lost - a way of speaking to the big
outer world.”


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