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Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Redemption of Kenneth Galt online

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“I see, and I congratulate you with all my heart,” Dearing said, as he
stood watching the shifting tones in her expressive face. “I understand
you better now. I got in the habit of listening for your piano at night,
when everything was still, and I fancied I could read your various
moods. A long time ago you played too sadly; really it used to get next
to me, and make me worry about you; but of late there has been more
hope and cheerfulness in your music, and it did me a lot of good. I
understand you better now. I have always thought that creative work was
the most satisfying and uplifting occupation possible, and now I am sure
of it.”

“And I am getting better and better prices, too,” Dora said, modestly.
“My agent sends my things everywhere, even to far-off New York and
Boston. I don’t do them so fast now, for I try harder and I think they
are better. Now, you will send me your bill, won’t you?”

“I shall certainly be hoping that somebody will get really sick under
this roof,” he laughed, evasively, “for I’d like to get a whack at your
roll of cash, but so far my dealings have been only with your mother,
and she doesn’t make it interesting. She was good to me when I was a
boy. I used to crawl over the back fence when she was making jelly and
jam in the kitchen, and I collected some fees then that did me more
good than any I have since received. She performed the first surgical
operation on me, too, that I ever had. I was barefoot, and while trying
to hide from some other boys I stuck a rusty nail through my big toe.
She heard me yelling and came to my assistance. She extracted the nail,
washed out my wound, filled it with turpentine - the only household
antiseptic used in that day - and bound it up for me. I have always
believed that she saved me from lockjaw.”

“The opportunity to earn money means more to me than you might think,
Wynn,” she said, her eyes lighting up. “Do you know what my dream of
dreams is? It is to be able to go to Paris, and take Lionel and my
mother. She has always wanted to go, because papa was buried there. Do
you know, I feel that away off in a free, art-loving country like France
I could rear my child to manhood without his ever knowing about his - his
history. It seems to me that God has given me this talent for that
particular purpose. The only trouble is the delay. You see, it may be
years before I can save enough, and then it might be too late.”

“I see, I understand,” Dearing said, gravely; “and you’d never come back
to old Stafford again, I suppose?”

“Oh no,” she answered; “all this would have to be laid aside forever.”

“I shouldn’t like to see you go,” he said. “I have - you see, I have
become attached to Lionel - he and I are great chums. But if you have
decided, and wish it so very much, why not? Look here, Dora, I have
money lying idle in the bank. I have absolutely no need for it, and - ”

“Oh no!” she cried. “It is lovely of you to offer it, but I couldn’t
think of taking it. I couldn’t - I really-couldn’t!”

“Not from your big brother?” he asked, his pleading eyes on her.

“No, not even from you, you dear boy. It is _my_ problem, Wynn, and I
must work it out alone - all alone.”

They had gone back to the porch, and the sight of the extensive grounds
around his house prompted him to say:

“I know now why you don’t realize Lionel’s need for more fresh air. You
have that absorbing occupation, and it keeps you from putting yourself
in the boy’s place, as you might otherwise do.”

“Do you think so?” she asked, quite gravely. “It may be true, Wynn,
and yet what am I to do? I really can’t bear to have him running about,
meeting other children. I could never answer his questions - never,
never! Some one would have to watch him, and mother and I both shrink
from going out in - in public.”

“I was thinking of that, too,” Dearing replied, “and that is why a
certain plan occurred to me. There is that big lot of mine right over
the fence. Nothing could possibly happen to him there. It is quiet, and
there are many things he could amuse himself with. It is really like
a little farm, you know. We have chickens, ducks, turkeys, puppies,
kittens, pigs, and horses, and even a cow and a calf about the barn,
to say nothing of the pigeons that nest in the hay-loft. To a child,
judging by my own memory of boyhood, it would be a regular paradise.”

“You don’t mean that you would allow - that you would - ” There was a
catch in the young mother’s voice; a tinge of anxious pallor crept into
her appealing face. “Oh, Wynn, you are too kind! You are thinking only
of helping me. There is your uncle and your sister - I could not bear to
trust my darling where he might not be - wanted.”

“I know my uncle and sister better than you do,” Dearing said. “Margaret
has never seen Lionel that I know of, but she would love to make him
happy. As for my uncle, he greatly admires the little fellow, and would
be delighted to have him come and romp over the place to his heart’s
content.”

“Oh, how you tempt me!” Dora cried, covering her face with her shapely
hands. “Of all things, I can think of nothing right now that I’d like
better than that. I have been trying to forget Lionel’s confinement in
this little yard and house - trying to convince myself that he is wholly
happy only with mother and me, but it is no use. It is really pitiful to
think of. He has a wonderful imagination, and he sometimes sits here on
the porch and tries to picture to himself what the inside of a big house
like yours is. He thinks you all must be kings and princes like those in
the fairy-tales we read to him. He asked me one day if we’d ever have a
home like yours, and when I told him I didn’t think so, he answered,
‘Then God isn’t so very good, after all, is He?’ I tried to get him to
explain what he meant, but he only shook his head and went to play in
the yard.”

At this moment the boy himself came from his grandmother’s room, along
the passage, and out to them.

“She is still asleep,” he announced, gravely. “I drew the netting over
her face, so that the flies won’t wake her.”

“That’s right - that’s a good boy.” Dearing rested his strong hand on the
golden head and looked down into the child’s face, and then he laughed
as he caught the boy’s arm and taught him how to contract his muscles.

“You’ll be able to protect yourself, young man,” he said. “You have a
splendid arm and fist already. I’d hate to have those knuckles try to
knock a fly off my nose and miss the fly. Say, kid, do you see that big
lot of mine beyond the fence? Well, you are going to play over there
from morning to night: climb the trees, build houses out of that pile of
old bricks. I’m going to have a swing put up for you to the highest limb
of that big oak, and I’ll make you a see-saw and a flying-jinny, and you
may feed my puppies and cats.”

The boy’s eyes danced as he stared eagerly. Dora was looking away, her
handkerchief pressed to her face.

Dearing saw a wave of emotion pass through her, but she remained silent.

“But I couldn’t go over there!” Lionel sighed. “You are very kind, but
my mother always wants me to stay at home.”

“She is going to let you come, because I asked it as a special favor to
me,” Dearing answered. “I’m the doctor, you know, and my orders go on
this ranch.”

Wonderingly, the boy leaned across his mother’s lap, and put his arm
around her neck.

“Is he joking, mother dear?” he inquired, and he held his breath in
visible suspense. “Does he really mean that I may play over there?”

“Would you like it, darling boy?” Dora asked. There was a tremolo in
her voice, and she kept her handkerchief to her eyes. The child started,
looked suspiciously at Dearing, and then, leaning toward his mother,
he firmly uncovered her face. He saw traces of tears, and stood erect.
There was a fierce, angry flare in his eyes, his lower lip quivered, as
he turned upon Dearing and blurted out:

“She is crying! What did you say to her?”

“Oh, I see!” Dearing jested. “You want to have it out with me, do you?
Well, you pick your weapons, old chap, and I’ll be your man. I won’t
take a dare from you or anybody else.”

Dora’s arms enfolded her child and pressed his hot cheek passionately to
hers. “Yes, I was crying, my baby,” she gulped, “but it is because I
am so happy. It is very good of Doctor Wynn to ask you to go. Would you
like it?”

“If you wished me to,” the boy replied, slowly, as he still uneasily
studied her face.

“I should like it very much,” Dora said - “very, very much! You could
have such a splendid time over there.”

“Would you love me just the same - _just exactly_ the same - if I went?”
the boy asked, anxiously.

“Just exactly the same.” Dora laughed as she caught Dearing’s glance,
and remarked to him, in an undertone: “He is such a strange child!
Mother says she has never seen one so peculiarly sensitive and concerned
over trifles. He often comes in from his play for nothing else than to
ask me if I still love him. The slightest change in my manner or tone of
voice always brings out that one question. It is the last thing at night
and the first thing in the morning. If I am at all impatient with him,
when I am absorbed in my work, he will come and sit on the floor at my
feet, and nothing will satisfy him till I have taken him in my arms and
said over and over again that I love him.”

“It is his nature,” Dearing said, as he was turning to leave. “Well,
remember, my boy, that my gate is not locked, and if you don’t come
over in my big lot, I’ll come and ride you there on my back, like a
two-legged horse; and I might get scared and kick up my heels and dump
you over on your head.”




CHAPTER III

|ONE warm, fair afternoon in May, Kenneth Galt, at the earnest
solicitation of General Sylvester, came home. Under big captions the
Stafford papers had proudly given the particulars to the public. The
great man was slightly run down from the enormous duties which had
pressed upon him since the very beginning of his giant enterprise, and
was to take a long and much-needed rest in the town of his birth and
in the quiet old house where he had spent his boyhood. The mayor and
aldermen and a brass-band had met him as he stepped from his private car
at the station, and he was welcomed with spirited music and a short but
ponderous speech on the part of the mayor. Then John Dilk, in a new suit
of clothes and a much-worn silk top-hat, haughtily drove his master and
the doting General through the streets, across the square, and on to the
old Galt mansion.

The crowd which had followed the carriage from the station to the square
gradually dispersed, and the two friends were alone when they alighted
at the gate.

“Do you see those chairs and that table under the oaks on our lawn?”
Sylvester asked, with the bubbling pride of a boy in a victorious ball
game, as they were strolling up the wide moss-grown brick walk.

Galt nodded, and smiled tentatively.

“Madge is going to give us a cup of tea outdoors,” Sylvester explained.
“It was her own idea. It is warm inside, and that is the shadiest,
coolest spot in Stafford. The tea will refresh us. Shall we go now, or
do you want to nose over the old house first?”

“I see Mrs. Wilson looking out from a window,” Galt answered. “I think
I’d better go in for a moment, anyway. The good old soul is in her best
bib and tucker, and might feel hurt.”

“Right you are!” the General said, approvingly. “You haven’t risen
too high, my boy, to think of those dependent on you. Run in and take
possession, and I’ll stir Madge up. A cup of tea of my particular blend
will do you good after your dusty ride.”

His niece was coming across the grass as the old gentleman reached the
tea-table. Her arms were full of fresh-cut roses, which she proceeded
to arrange in an old-fashioned silver punch-bowl in the centre of the
table.

“I suppose you heard the band and cheering?” the old man said, as he
stood watching her and rubbing his thin hands together in suppressed
delight.

“Oh yes,” Margaret laughed; “and from my window I saw you and your
conquering hero drive up in state. Well, did he accept our invitation or
shirk it, as they say he usually does with everything of the sort?”

“On the contrary, he seemed glad to be asked,” returned the General. “In
fact, it looks to me like he’s happy to be home again, though one can
never tell. The active life of great success in any line estranges
men from the simpler things. Just think of it! The fellow has lived in
hotels, clubs, and that private car of his for the last six years. He
has not, if I remember correctly, been once inside his old home since
the night I sent him whizzing like a shot to New York. I do hope it
won’t become irksome to him. He needs rest and quiet badly, as you will
see when he comes over. His face has a few new lines, and his eyes have
a shifting, restless look which they didn’t use to show. Where are you
going to have him sit?” The old man was looking over the cluster of
chairs and cushioned stools.

“Oh, his lordship may take his high and mighty choice!” Margaret
laughed, teasingly. “Perhaps he’ll unbend and sit on the grass like a
school-boy. He is, after all, only flesh and blood, dear uncle, odd as
the fact may seem to you.”

“Well, don’t hurl that sort of thing at _him_,” Sylvester retorted,
rather testily. “After all, a man not much over forty, who succeeds in
an enterprise which belongs to the history of the land, and at the same
time puts money into your pocket and mine in big lumps and rolls, does
deserve consideration. Why, he has made you rich, Madge! He could have
located his terminal shops and round-house at the other end of town just
as well, but he put them on our land and asked no questions about the
price. By George, why _shouldn’t_ we pet him a little when he has been
away all these years, and has come back broken down this way?”

“Oh, well, I don’t think he needs it, that’s all,” the young lady said,
pacifically. “A man like that is neither sugar nor salt. Only _weak_ men
want to be pampered and cajoled. Your railway magnate will take care of
himself.” Her eyes were resting on the figure of a child in a big swing
which Doctor Dearing had hung from the lower branch of a tall oak a few
yards away. It was Dora Barry’s son. He was standing on the board
seat clasping the stout hemp ropes with his little hands and “pumping”
himself into motion by alternately bending and straightening his lithe
body. His beautiful golden hair swung loose in the breeze, there was a
glow of health in his pink cheeks, and he was neatly dressed in white
duck, a flowing necktie, and tan slippers and short stockings which
exposed his perfect calves and trim ankles.

“Oh,” Margaret suddenly exclaimed, “I’m afraid he will fall! Wynn is
always doing such absurd things; the child is not old enough to take
such risks as that with no one to watch him.”

“I agree with you,” the General said, and he went to the swing and
persuaded Lionel to sit down. Then he pushed him forward, and left him
swinging gently.

“Just think of it!” Sylvester said, as he came back to his niece,
who sat now with her glance on the grass. “Time certainly flies. That
specimen of humanity has come into existence and grown to that size
since Kenneth was here. I don’t think he ever knew the poor girl very
well before her misfortune, but he is sorry for her. I remember speaking
to him of her in New York one day, and I could see that he was quite
interested.”

“I think I see him coming now,” Margaret said, biting her lip. It was
the way she had always avoided any conversation which touched upon the
one sore spot of her life, and her uncle refrained, as he had always
done, from carrying the topic further.

“Yes, he is coming,” and Sylvester stood up and waved his handkerchief.
“Come and take the place of honor,” he said, picking up a downy pillow
and laying it in the big chair next to Margaret’s. “I am glad there
never was a fence between your place and ours, for we can mix and mingle
as we did when your father and I were young bloods. I’ve made a mistake
many a night in having my horse put up in his stable after the dumb
brute had brought me home from a dance in the country with more
intelligence than I possessed.”

Galt laughed appreciatively as he bent over the fair hand of his hostess
and received her simple and yet cordial greeting. He had admired her
as a girl, and now in her ripened beauty, added grace, and dignified
bearing he found nothing lacking. As he watched her deftly lighting the
spirit-lamp under the swinging teakettle he recalled, with a certain
sense of delectation, a hint her uncle had given him in a jesting tone
and yet with a serious look.

“I may have you in my family one day, young man,” the General had said,
in some talk over their common business interests, “and in that case
I’ll rule you with a rod of iron.”

After all, it would be nice, Galt reflected to-day, and a step of that
sort might ultimately quiet the dull aching of heart which had been
his for so many years. Few men had ever had to such a marked degree the
pronounced yearning toward paternity as had come to the lonely bachelor
since the chief mistake of his life. His love for children was more like
that of a woman who has tasted and lost the joys of motherhood than that
of a man of the world. He never saw a pretty child without looking at
its father with a sort of envious curiosity. Was the remainder of his
life to be passed without his possessing that for which he yearned more
than for any other earthly thing? He had heard, of course, of the birth
of Dora’s child, but he had so persistently fought off the thought of it
and its attendant remorse that, like many another man so situated, his
sense of responsibility in the matter had become somewhat dulled.

He now ventured, during the General’s jovial chatter, to glance across
the lawn toward the cottage below. It was there in the starlight that
he had seen the brave young girl for the last time. It was there. And
he shuddered under the scourging lash of the words with which she had
prophesied that he would fail to stand by her - fail to rescue her from
the abyss into which he had plunged her. He shuddered again. Hero as he
was in the sight of many, in Dora’s eyes, at least, he could never be
aught but despicable. She had gauged his weakness better than he could
have done it himself. He had made a choice between honor and ambition,
and he had abided by it. Other men had cast such memories to the winds
of oblivion. Why had his clung to him with such damning tenacity? There
was never any satisfactory answer to the question, and now and then a
thought as from infinite space was hurled upon him with the force of
a catapult - it was the conviction that, girl though she had been, Dora
Barry’s equal, in the intellectual and womanly things he admired, was
not to be found among all the women he had known. What was she like now?
What havoc had the tragedy and succeeding time wrought in the fair being
whom he had left stranded and storm-swept on that eventful night? Under
the low roof and in the tiny yard of the cottage just across the way she
and his child, according to Wynn Dearing’s report, had been imprisoned
all those years. What a rebuke to his boundless egotism! He might remain
there for years, and neither of the two would intrude themselves upon
him. Oh yes, he told himself, he was safe enough on that score. She had
kept her vow of secrecy so far, and would do so to the end.

At this juncture there was a rippling scream of childish delight behind
him, and, turning, he saw Lionel, his face flushed, his great eyes full
of excitement, as he eagerly chased a black kitten round and round a bed
of rose-bushes.

“What a beautiful boy!” Galt exclaimed, beside himself in admiration.
“What a perfect figure! Whose child is it?”

The question was addressed to Margaret; but she hesitated, tightened her
lips, and looked down.

“Oh, it is one of our neighbor’s,” the General skilfully interjected,
as he leaned forward and tried ineffectually to give his guest a warning
glance. “Wynn is a great hand at amusing the little ones. He thought
this child needed more exercise and fresh air, and he asked his mother
to let it play here.”

Galt was now watching the boy, and so intently that he only half heard
what the General said and quite failed to notice that his question had
embarrassed his hostess. “Catch it! Run round the other way, little
man!” he cried out, leaning forward with his cup in his hand. “There!
there it goes!” The child paused just an instant, and raised his
appealing, long-lashed eyes to the speaker; as he did so the kitten
bounded like a rabbit across the grass and up a tree a few yards away.

“Now, see what _you_ did!” Lionel cried, disappointedly, as he stood
panting, his silken tresses tossed about his face. “You let him get
away. I’d have had him if you hadn’t spoken. But I don’t care, I can get
him!” And he was off like the wind toward the tree, on a lower bough of
which the kitten was perched, blandly eying his pursuer.

“You are as fond of children as ever,” the General remarked, “and it
proves that your heart is in the right spot. Show me a man who has no
use for little tots, and I’ll show you a man who will cheat you in a
transaction.”

“It certainly is a good quality,” Margaret said, as she proffered sugar
for his tea. “We naturally expect it of women, but it always seems
exceptional in men, especially men who have their time fully occupied.”

Sylvester laughed reminiscently.

“I’ve seen Kenneth stop on the street to chat with a dirty-faced newsboy
when the general superintendent of his road was waving an important
telegram at him; and I’ve seen the boy walk off with a quarter for a
penny paper, too.”

“I seem to be getting my share of compliments, at any rate,” Galt
laughed. “I’d call it flattery if I could accuse your hospitality of
anything not wholly genuine.”

“Uncle Tom certainly means what he says,” Margaret affirmed. Her glance
drifted in the direction the sporting child had taken, and she uttered a
sharp, startled scream.

“Oh, he’ll fall!” she cried.

Following her eyes, the others saw that Lionel, still chasing the
kitten, had climbed the tree to its lower boughs ten or twelve feet
from the ground, and, with the prize still above him, sat in a decidedly
perilous position on a bending branch so intent on reaching the animal
that he was oblivious of his danger.

“Don’t be frightened, I’ll get him down,” Galt assured her, with an
easy laugh, and he sprang up and ran across the grass, saying, under his
breath: “Plucky little scamp! He’ll break his neck!”

“Come down from there!” he called out, a queer recurrence of his own
childhood on him as he viewed the muscular boy and the plump, bare
calves above his short stockings. He was breathing freely now, for he
felt that in case of a fall he could catch the youngster in his arms.

“Oh, do let me get him!” Lionel cried, looking down appealingly, and
speaking with the accent which had always impressed hearers as so quaint
and odd in a child.

“No, you mustn’t go a bit higher!” Galt said, assuming a youthful tone
of comradery that his words might not have any semblance of command.
“You are a dandy climber - almost as good as the cat, but he is lighter
than you are. You’ll break that limb in a minute, and down you will
tumble!”

The boy looked at the bending bough and shrugged his square shoulders.
“I don’t know but what you are right,” he said, with a wry face. “I
declare, I wasn’t looking where I was going. I’m almost afraid to
move now.” Then he burst into a merry laugh as he glanced first at his
would-be rescuer and then up at the cat.

“Why, what is so amusing about it?” Galt questioned, fairly transported
by the boy’s beauty, fearlessness, and vivacity.

“Oh, I don’t know, but it seems funny - you down there, me up here, and
the cat above us both.”

Galt laughed till tears came into his eyes.

“You are certainly a marvel,” he said. “But you must come down. Slide


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Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Redemption of Kenneth Galt → online text (page 11 of 24)