Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Redemption of Kenneth Galt online

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carefully toward the trunk of the tree and catch hold of it firmly.
You’ll tear your clothes, but it is better that than - ”

“I know an easier way!” the child cried. “I’ll jump, and you catch me.”

“But I can’t!” Galt answered. “You’d crush me to the ground, small as
you are!”

“No, I wouldn’t!” Lionel laughed, with thorough confidence. “Doctor Wynn
caught me the other day when I jumped from the roof of the wagon-shed,
and you are stronger than he is. You are taller, anyway. Look, I am

Fascinated by the child’s voice and manner, and unable to protest
quickly enough, Galt braced himself, fearing that the swaying child
would fall. “One, two, _three!_ Lionel counted, and the little
white-clothed figure left the bough, shot through the sunlight, and
alighted in Galt’s outstretched arms. There was a scream from Margaret,
the General stood up, a startled look on his gashed and seamed face. The
child’s arms went round Galt’s neck; his soft, warm cheek was pressed
against his, and, scarcely knowing why he did it, Galt embraced him in
a veritable qualm of relief. He put the boy down, but took his hands in
his and held them. He admired and loved children, but he had never been
so drawn to one before.

“He’s all right!” he called out, reassuringly, to the others. “He didn’t
get a scratch, but it’s a wonder he wasn’t lamed for life. He jumped
before I could stop him.”

Looking into the child’s sensitive face, Galt noted, with surprise
and concern, that it was clouded over. “What’s the matter?” he asked,
anxiously. “Did you hurt yourself? Did it jar you too much?”

“No, but I’m afraid you are angry with me,” the boy answered. “Are you?”

“Well, not exactly, but, you see, my boy - ” Galt checked himself, for
the corners of the little fellow’s mouth were drawn down and his eyes
were filling.

“You _are_ angry, and you don’t like me a bit.” A sob rose in the breast
of the child and struggled outward. He drew his little hands from Galt’s
detaining clasp and looked down. “I am very sorry; I’ll never, never
do it again. I was bad. You told me not to jump, but I did. I am always
disobeying somebody. When Doctor Wynn told me a great, smart, rich man
was coming who had built a railroad, miles and miles through the woods
and under mountains and over rivers, I told him I’d be good and make you
think I was a nice boy, so that you’d like me; but now, you see, I went
and made you angry at the very start.”

“Well, what if I tell you this, you dear little chap,” and Galt paused
and took him into his arms again; “what if I tell you that it was
because I liked you very, very much that I tried to stop you? You see,
I was afraid you’d get hurt, and I liked you so much that I wanted to
prevent it. Will that satisfy you?”

“Oh!” Galt felt the little, warm arm steal round his neck confidently.
“Then you really _do_ like me, after all.” Galt laughed; he could hardly
understand the emotion that welled up in him - he laughed that he might
hide it even from himself. “I’ll tell you _this_ much,” he said: “I
like _nearly all_ little boys, but on my honor I never liked a boy, on a
short acquaintance, in my life, so much as I do you. There, now, come on
and get a cup of tea!”

With Lionel in his arms, he went back to the table and sat down, keeping
him in his lap. There was a sensitive shadow on Margaret’s features and
a certain awkward look of sympathy for her on her uncle’s strong face,
but Galt failed to remark them.

“Does your mamma let you drink tea?” Margaret asked, gently. .

“No, I thank you,” the child answered. “She says it’s too strong a
stim - stim - ”

“Stimulant.” Galt supplied the word with a hearty laugh of amusement. “I
declare, for a child, you have the largest vocabulary - if you know what
that is - that I ever ran across. By-the-way” - and he drew the boy’s
head down against his breast and ran his hand through the soft, scented
tresses - “you haven’t told me your name yet. What is it?”

“Lionel,” replied the boy.

“Well, that is pretty enough so far as it goes, but what else?”

“What do you mean by ‘what else’?” The child had hold of Galt’s
disengaged hand, and was toying with it as if admiring its strength and
size, and he paused to look up into the dark face bending over him.

“Why, I mean, what is your _full_ name?” Galt said, smiling into the
rather grave faces about him.

“Lionel - just Lionel, that’s all,” the child said, and he raised Galt’s
hand in both of his own and pressed it. “Most people have two names,
but I’ve never had but one. I don’t know why. Do you? I asked my mother
about it one day when Mrs. Chumley was talking mean to her about me, and
mamma went off to her room and cried. Grandmother told me never to speak
of it to her again. My mother has two names - Dora Barry.”

Kenneth Galt felt as though his soul had suddenly died within him. The
bonny head of his own child lay on his breast, its throbbing warmth
striking through to his pulseless heart. Margaret sat rigid and
speechless, and General Sylvester, in his desire to shield her, began
chattering irrelevantly.

The long shadows of the descending sun crawled across the grass toward
the hill in the east. The golden head remained where it lay, the tiny
and yet vigorous fingers twined themselves about the larger inanimate
ones. The eyelids over the boy’s big, dreamy orbs wavered and drooped.
He was tired and sleepy. He heaved a long, fragrant sigh and nestled
more snugly into the arms that held him. A great, voiceless yearning
born of the long-buried paternal instinct fired the dry tinder - the
driftwood of years of misguided loneliness - in the man’s being. A great
light seemed to burst and blaze above him. He sat with his gaze on the
old man’s face, but in fancy he felt himself kissing the parted lips of
that marvel of creation - Dora’s child and his.


|SIX years had wrought a wonderful change in Gate City. It had increased
in size and importance. Stephen Whipple was still the only wholesale
grocer of the place, and Fred Walton had become his chief assistant. He
was known to be the old man’s special favorite, and was living on the
footing of a son in the Whipple household.

On the day that Kenneth Galt had returned to Stafford, Fred and his
employer were seated in the old man’s private office. Whipple had opened
his heart to him in regard to a certain financial development which had
gone against his interests. The old grocer’s pride had been wounded as
it had never been wounded before. Since the starting of the business he
had been specially proud of the fact that he had been able to supply
the retail dealers of Gate City with the groceries consumed by their
customers as cheaply as any of the far-off markets could do, even with
the freight cost added.

But in competing with his rivals for the patronage of the town, an
ambitious retail dealer - a certain J. B. Thorp - to cut at Whipple, who
had refused him further credit, owing to Thorp’s unwillingness to
meet his bills when due, began to advertise that the reason he could
undersell his rivals was that he didn’t stop at home to buy his
supplies. This had evoked a sharp retort in “a card” in the town papers
from the offended Whipple, and it had brought out further and more
sarcastic allusions from Thorp. He said that it was as plain as the nose
on anybody’s face that a man could not have waxed so rich as the money
king of Gate City had done except at the expense of the public, and he
scored a commercial triumph by giving therewith a list of his retail
prices for that day, which, on staple wares at least, were really as low
as Whipple’s salesmen could give their customers at wholesale.

The publicity of the whole thing had a bad effect on the old man’s
clientèle. The shrewd retailer chuckled with gratified revenge as he
saw the public fairly streaming his way. The stores which were being
supplied by Whipple were absolutely inactive. The clerks stood on the
sidewalk ruefully regarding the human current, and, by way of amusement,
laying wagers on the outgoings of Thorp’s loaded delivery wagons, each
of which now bore an American flag, with a motto in big black letters:
“Live and Let Live! Down with the Money God of Gate City!”

Whipple’s salesmen made their usual rounds among his patrons, only to
meet with utter stagnation on every hand, and returned with long faces
to report few if any sales. Consumers, quick to secure even an ephemeral
advantage, were easily convinced that Thorp was working for their
interests, and they stood by him.

“Oh, I reckon we can make shift some way, my boy,” the old man sighed;
“for our business out of town is widening and growing; but in all my
life I never was hit under the belt as bad as this, for I did want to
hold my own here at home. And to think that I am done, and done good, by
that measly Thorp, simply because we pinned down on him and forced him
to pay up. It hurts like salt rubbed in a sore to be treated this way,
after all I’ve done for the town. The boys say our best customers are
paying more money than we ask right now in the Eastern markets in the
effort to counteract Thorp’s trickery. Do you know, I’d draw my check
this minute for ten thousand round dollars and pay it to anybody who
will show me a way to crush that sneaking scamp. Put the boys on their
mettle, Fred; tell ‘em I said fresh ideas are better than stale ones,
and the man that helps me out of this tight hole will be well paid for
his trouble.”

“I was hoping that it would die out in a few days,” said Walton, “but
it has only grown worse. Thorp has got the upper hand, and the more we
fight him the bigger advertisement he gets out of it. Johnston and Wells
say they can’t possibly make the payment they promised this month, owing
to the big slump in their sales.”

“Well, I didn’t expect it!” Whipple groaned, his head resting on his
fat hand. “And the trouble is, the thing may drive many of our customers
clean to the wall. Thorp would sell groceries for no profit at all for
twelve months to swamp the others. The public are getting low prices,
the Lord knows, but it means the ruin of regular trade and the
desperation of good, energetic business men. Look here, Fred, we must
down that rascal, I tell you. Start the boys to thinking. Surely among
us we can turn up some plan or other.”

“I’ll do what I can, Mr. Whipple,” Walton promised, as he stood up and
opened the door for the old man, who had desperately snatched his hat
from its hook on the wall and was ponderously striding out.

When he had left the store, Fred called Dick Warren to him from his high
stool in the counting-room. With his increased years and regular life
Dick had vastly improved in appearance. He hadn’t risen so rapidly as
his friend, but he was a capable bookkeeper, a fine salesman, and a
steady, accurate worker, who earned a good salary.

“This thing has hit the old man hard, Dick,” Walton said.

“Anybody can see it by the way he walks with his head down like
that,” Dick returned. “The house can stand it, of course, with all its
out-of-town support, but Gate City trade was the old man’s pet, and I’ll
be blamed if it doesn’t look like he’ll never get any more of it. It
actually gives a store a black eye to have any of our brands on sale.
Jim Wilson said just now that he’d take a keg of our soda if we’d scrape
our name off of it. I gave him a piece of my mind, but he said we were
looking to our interests and he was looking to his. I had no idea the
people of this town could be such blasted fools!” and, considerably
disgruntled, Dick went back to his post.

Several days passed. The situation was no better. Thorp had induced one
of the railroads to build a sidetrack from the main line to a platform
in the rear of his store, and Eastern goods were being unloaded in
wholesale quantities right on the premises. He was also advertising for
a vacant house in which to accommodate the overflow of his business.
The only available one on the street belonged to Whipple, and that, of
course, he couldn’t rent at any price.

Among those most concerned, though rather indirectly, was the Rev. Luke
Matthews. He was seeing his rich patron in a new light, for, now that he
was in trouble, old Whipple had less time to devote to the uplifting of
humanity, either spiritually or materially, and he often denied himself
to the minister’s frequent calls.

“Just wait till I get my head above water,” Whipple said once, when
Matthews clutched his arm and essayed to speak of a matter concerning
the church. “I reckon I’m worldly minded, Brother Matthews, but a man
has to be tainted that way to fight worldly matters. Right now I am as
full of Old Nick as I ever was in my worst days. I know it; I feel it;
but, by gum! I am not ashamed. Day and night prayers wouldn’t move a
rascally skunk like Thorp. He was my friend as long as he could suck my
blood, and now he is my worst enemy because I wouldn’t let him.”

As the weeks passed, matters only grew worse for the wholesale store.
Its town customers dropped off till local business amounted to nothing
at all. One morning the merchant walked the full length of the main
street. He went up one side to the court-house at the far end, and then
slowly returned on the other side. On the way he met Matthews, who told
him something he had not heard, and he walked on, now more slowly than
ever. As he was passing through the counting-room on his way to his
private office he paused between the stools on which Fred and Dick were
seated. His face was ashen in color, his lower lip was quivering like
that of a weeping child.

“What do you think is in the wind now, boys?” he gulped, as he placed an
unsteady hand on Fred’s shoulder.

“I have no idea,” Fred answered.

“All the balance have combined,” Whipple groaned.

“Who? - what? - how combined?” Fred asked, wondering if his old friend was
not actually losing his reason.

“Why, all the other retailers have formed a pool to beat Thorp, and in
doing it they have knifed me. They have formed a combine to buy their
stuff in St. Louis and New York in order to get car-load rates. They had
a caucus last night in the rear end of Thompson & White’s shebang, and
the last one signed up. They don’t buy a thing from us - the man who
spends a nickel at this house loses his membership. They are a lot of
sneaking curs, to pull me down and stamp on me just because that scamp’s
upset business, but they done it. The thing will spread all over the
State, and I’ll be laughed at as a doddering old idiot. Folks like
nothing better than to see a successful man get it in the neck.

“As I passed along the street just now they slunk away from their doors,
so I couldn’t see ‘em laugh. They call _themselves_ ‘wholesale men’
now, and say they are going to oust me and Thorp both - make us count
cross-ties out of town. I’ve had insults in my time, but being yoked
with that skunk is a dose I can’t swallow. I’m beat, and beat bad. If
there was a loophole to crawl out at - if I could take one single step to
defend myself - I’d give away half I’ve accumulated to be able to do it.
My money paid for two-thirds of the Belgian-block pavement around
the park; I gave more than half that was subscribed to the girls’
school-building, and paid, entire, for the wall round the graveyard, to
say nothing of what I put in the fire company, and new engines at the
gas-works. I done those things, boys, for the town they live in, and yet
they can drag my name in the mire and throw mud and slime on me.”

He turned suddenly and left them, striding on to his desk in the
adjoining room.

“Poor old fellow!” Dick said. “Nothing on earth could have cut his pride

“If he could only hit back in some substantial way,” Walton reflected,
aloud. “Think of some plan, Dick.”

“Think of nothing!” the younger man said, gloomily. “Of all things on
earth, I never could have dreamt of those fellows combining that way.”

A moment later a postman came in with a bundle of letters and handed
them to Fred.

“Looks like they are getting you fellows in the nine hole at last,” he
said, with a laugh. “Every grocer on the street is putting out a big
sign. One of them has got a picture of the old man with a handkerchief
to his eyes standing in a store without a single customer, while all the
crowd is headed for another place.”

“Oh, we’ll have to wait and see,” Fred retorted, angrily. “I must give
these letters to Mr. Whipple.”

As he went in the old man’s office, he found the grocer pacing up and
down, his hat in his hand, his brow dark with passion. He waved the
letters from him.

“Open ‘em yourself,” he said. “I’m going home. I feel like a candidate
on election night who didn’t get a vote in his own precinct. I don’t
intend to stay down here where everybody can pick at me. I heard what
that whelp said to you and Dick. They are all gloating over me like
buzzards over a dead ox. When you come up to supper, bring the night
mail with you.”

He strode from the room, and Fred heard his despondent step on the
resounding floor all the way to the rear door of the long house.

Fred worked over his books and out-of-town orders till near sunset; then
he took down his coat and hat.

“It might work,” he mused. “At any rate, there can be no harm in asking
him about it.” He went out, and, turning into a quiet side-street, he
walked up to the comfortable home of his employer, which stood on a
slight elevation among the best houses of the place.

It occupied a small lot, as did its neighbors, and there were no grass
or flowers about it. It was built of yellow bricks, and had a porch in
front, against which, on a lattice, some vines were growing.

As he entered the gate an elderly woman approached the front door and
stood waiting for him. It was Stephen Whipple’s wife, a gaunt woman in
a simple black dress without ornament, and wearing her iron-gray hair
brushed smoothly over her brow.

“You are earlier than usual,” she said. “I hope you have good news. I
don’t think he can stand it much longer. I have never seen him so
much troubled in my life. His pride is cut to the quick. He has always
thought he could cope with trickery in any form, and being helpless
this way under the taunts of those men is fairly killing him. If he was
thoroughly at himself he might hold his own, but he is getting old, and
being mad this way really keeps him from using his best judgment.”

“No, nothing has turned up yet,” Fred told her; “but I thought I’d speak
to him before supper.”

“Well, he’ll be glad to see you, anyway,” the woman said, plaintively.
“He thinks a lot of you, Fred - in fact, we both do. He has often said he
blesses the day you came to him. He is lying down on the lounge in your
room. Some of the neighbors were in just now chattering about the thing,
and he slipped up there to keep from hearing what was said.”

Fred found his employer stretched out at full length on a lounge in the
big, light room which he had occupied for over two years.

“Oh,” Whipple said, “it’s you! Well, has anything turned up - I mean - but
I know nothing has. Nothing can succeed against a gang of plotting,
ungrateful dogs like they are. I’ve boosted ‘em up through every panic
and hard spell that come, keeping some of ‘em afloat when they didn’t
have a dollar in their pockets, and now they not only knife me, but they
make a public joke of it.”

“Mr. Whipple, I’ve been trying to think of some way to - ”

“Oh, you _have?_ Well, spit it out! - spit it out!” And the merchant
suddenly threw his feet around and sat up, clutching the edge of the
lounge with his big hands, while he stared anxiously from dilating eyes
that were all but bloodshot.

“Of course, I hesitate to - ” Fred began modestly, but was interrupted by

“Hesitate! - hesitate the devil! It is always that way with you, although
you’ve got the safest, soundest judgment of any young man in the West.
You hesitated to tell me you thought San Antonio would be a good place
to put an agent, and it has proved the biggest opening we ever had. You
hesitated before advising me against that Eastern salt company that
had been sucking my blood for years before you came and smelt out their
thievery. You hesitated to - but, darn it, quit hesitating! This is no
time to hesitate; we are in a dirty fight, and twenty yellow dogs are on
top of us gnawing the meat from our bones.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking over it all, Mr. Whipple - ” Fred was slightly
flushed - “and there is only one way I can see to make any move at all;
but that really does seem to _me_ to offer _some_ chance of - ”

“Move? What is it? For God’s sake, what is it?”

“Why, you know you own the large retail store building which was vacated
when Stimpson Brothers gave up, and you have not found a suitable
tenant, there being no one but Thorp who wants it. It is in the very
heart of the retail section, and the best-furnished building in town,
with the best show-windows, and - ”

“Yes, yes; but what of that?” Whipple burst out, impatiently. “I don’t
care a snap for the rent of a mere house when I am being literally
choked to death by a mob of devils.”

“It wasn’t that,” Walton said; “but there are hundreds of your personal
friends in town who would gladly buy their home supplies from you if you
would only accommodate them. There are many first-class wholesale houses
which conduct retail stores in the towns they are in, and, you know,
none of them ever had a better reason for doing it than you now have. It
wouldn’t hurt your trade out of town a bit, for your customers are not
concerned in this fight; and a big, first-class, up-to-date retail store
in the centre of town, supplied from our stock, would - ”

Whipple sprang up. His eyes were dancing with delight. He leaned over
Walton and put his hands on his shoulders.

“Great God, why didn’t _I_ think of that?” he chuckled. “My boy, you are
a dandy! - you are a wheel-horse! It will work like a charm. The thing
advertises itself. We’ll make ‘em quake in their socks. They will laugh
on the other sides of their faces now. And the beauty of it is, we can
flaunt the thing on the public ten days before they can receive their
first shipment; we’ll bill the town in the morning, and cover the front
of the new store with black letters. Whoopee! whoopee!” And in his heavy
boots old Whipple actually executed a clumsy clog-dance. “And we’ll
let Dick manage it,” he went on, as he paused panting. “That sort of
promotion would be a feather in his cap. As for you, you’ve got to pilot
the _big_ ship, my boy. A head like yours needs big things to deal with.
Lord, I see Thorp’s face now, and, as for that other gang of cutthroats,
they will actually die of dry rot!”

Whipple gave another whoop, and shuffled his feet thunderously.

“What is the matter up there?” It was Mrs. Whipple’s astonished voice
from below.

“Matter nothing!” her husband replied, as he leaned over the balustrade
in the corridor and looked down. “Put the best supper you can rake up on
the table. Kill the fatted calf, and don the royal purple! Me and this
boy is going to celebrate. He has saved the ship! Get out a bottle of
that grape wine, and let joy be unconfined. We’re in the fight to stay
now, and we’re going to have a feast - a regular war-feast!”


|ABOUT ten days after the happenings recorded in the foregoing chapter
old Simon Walton sat alone in his office. A typewriter was clicking in
the counting-room adjoining, its sound deadened by the closed door
and thin partition through which it passed. With noiseless tread Toby
Lassiter, now older, more careworn, more machine-like than ever, entered
and laid a bulky express envelope before his employer.

“What is this?” the banker asked, as he examined the heavy wax seals and
reached for his paper-knife.

“I don’t know, sir; it came just now,” and Toby silently withdrew.

Walton clipped the twine, pried under the seals, and tore open the thick
paper. It contained money. Six five-hundred-dollar bills were drawn out
and laid on the desk. Wondering what it meant, the old man looked into

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Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Redemption of Kenneth Galt → online text (page 12 of 24)