Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Redemption of Kenneth Galt online

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the envelope. There was a letter, and it covered several pages of paper.
A glance at the writing caused him a dull thrill of surprise. There was
no address from which it was written, and it bore no date. It ran as

My dear Father, - I am sure you will be surprised to hear from me. I
would have written before this if it could have done either of us any
good. As I wrote you when I left, I had determined to turn over a new
leaf, if such a thing were possible. It was an awful fight against big

Finally, however, I happened to meet - and it was when I had almost given
up - a rich man with a good heart who befriended me, and offered me a
position in his big wholesale store. I had a struggle with myself as to
what I ought to do in regard to revealing my past life, but I finally
decided to tell him the truth, and I am glad to say he overlooked it all
and became my friend and benefactor. I never knew it, when I was a wild,
headstrong boy, bent on ruining myself and you, but I now realize that
every growing soul needs some sort of incentive to endeavor, and I have
found two which have helped me a lot. The first was to refund by honest
earnings what I took from you, the next to prove my worthiness of the
trust my employer placed in me when all hope was lost. I see now that I
never could have overcome my bad habits if I had stayed on in Stafford.
It was getting out into the world and learning what it means to fight
adversity, with no one to lean on, that helped me. When I think over
what you, yourself, had to go through with to get your start in life,
and remember that I was deliberately throwing away the hard-won rewards
of your efforts, the blood of shame fairly boils in my veins.

I am sending herewith three thousand dollars, which are my savings up to
date. I had got together only twenty-five hundred, but when my employer,
at my suggestion, succeeded in putting a certain deal through the other
day which he considered advantageous to his interests, he insisted on
adding five hundred dollars to the amount which I had told him was going
to you. I am sending the money by express instead of by draft on
any bank, for I would still prefer for you not to know where I am at
present. When I have made the last payment on my debt (if you will let
me call it that), I may feel differently, but until I am able to clear
it all up I shall still hide from you and everybody who knew me in the
past. I do hope you will read these lines kindly. I have wronged you
(terribly wronged you), dear father, but I am trying now to live
right, and surely you will be glad to know that, even at this late day.
Concealing my whereabouts may anger you, I am well aware of that; but
the good man for whom I am working thinks it is best - for a while, at
any rate. Of course, if I could have a talk with you, I’d know
better how you look at the matter, but being so far away leaves me
no alternative than to let things remain as they are. Good-bye, dear
father. It has taken six years to get together the money I am sending,
but if I live and keep my health I feel reasonably sure that I can send
the balance, including the interest, within the next two years, for I am
doing much better than I was.

When he had finished reading the letter, Simon Walton laid it on the
desk before him and sat in deep thought for several minutes. Then, with
no visible trace of emotion on his wrinkled face, he took the money in
his hands, laid it on the letter, and rose and went to the door opening
into the counting-room. He stood looking at the workers for several
minutes, and then, happening to catch the glance of Toby, who was
dictating to a stenographer, he signalled him to approach. Handing him
the letter and the bills, he said, curtly:

“Credit the money on my private account, then read that letter carefully
and bring it back to me. Don’t let anybody see it. It’s private.”

“Very well, sir,” said the clerk. “I was just dictating a note to Morton
& Co., telling them that we can’t possibly extend - ”

“Never mind about that _now_,” Walton ordered, sharply. “Do as I tell
you!” And he turned back into his office, where he sat slowly nodding
his great, shaggy head, as was his habit when making up his mind over
any matter of importance.

“Huh!” he said, suddenly and with a sneer, “that’s it! I can see through
a millstone if it has a big enough hole in it. Huh, yes, that’s it! I’d
bet a yearling calf to a pound of butter that I am onto the game, and it
is one, too, that would take in nine men out of ten.” He tapped his brow
with his pencil and smiled craftily. “Deep scheme; good scheme; bang-up
idea! Might have pulled the wool over my eyes _once_. But a burnt child
dreads the fire, and I’ve certainly been burnt.”

The door creaked. Toby Lassiter, with the letter quivering in his
excited hand, approached. His lethargic face was filled with emotion;
his mild eyes were glowing ecstatically.

“I always thought - I mean I always _hoped_, Mr. Walton - that it would
turn out this way.” He started to say more, but checked himself as his
glance fell on the parchment-like face craftily upturned to his.

“Yes, I know, Toby!” Simon snarled, as he took the letter and put it
into his desk drawer. “You always thought the scamp had sprouting wings,
and now you are sure they are full size. That is why you have never
risen higher in life, Toby. Your eyes are too easily closed. Leave it to
you, and we’d never foreclose a mortgage on a widow with a full stocking
hid away under her hearth. Believing in heaven on earth has held many a
man back from prosperity.”

“Then you don’t think - you don’t actually believe that Fred - ”

“Set down in that chair, Toby. Me and you are the only folks in Stafford
that know how that boy buncoed me, and I reckon it’s only natural for me
to be willing to talk about it when there is anything to say. I endured
several years of that fellow’s devilment, and I’m not calculated to be
fooled as easily as others might who never had him on their hands. You
see,” the banker went on, as his clerk lowered his thin person timidly
into a chair and leaned forward - “you will note that he writes that he’s
got a good, substantial job with a rich man, who, while he knows all
about the boy’s devilment here at Stafford, has completely overlooked
it. Huh! we all know the world is full of men of capital who are ready
to take in a runaway thief and hand over three thousand cool plunks to
him just to show good-will and the like! To begin with, Toby, _that_
is an underhanded slap at me; it is saying, in a roundabout way, that
a plumb stranger is giving a son of mine a chance that he never had at
home. But the tale, from start to finish, is a lie out of whole cloth,
as I have good and private reason to know.”

“Do you think so, Mr. Walton?” Lassiter’s fallen countenance sank even

“Of course I think so, or I wouldn’t be sitting here telling you about
it. I haven’t been idle on this thing, Toby, though I never let anybody
know what I was up to. You see, I am an old man now, and in law I never
had but one heir to my effects, outside of my present wife, and it
struck me as pretty queer for that heir, disinherited on paper or not,
to keep absolutely out of sight and sound all these years when as big a
plum as I am supposed to be is still aboveground. You see, the scamp
has got what some folks would call a ‘natural expectancy,’ even on the
chance of breaking any will I might make, and you can bet there are
plenty of men slick enough to speculate on such chances, slim as they
might look to me or you. So you see, Toby, knowing all that, I kept a
sharp lookout for developments. I decided first of all to keep a watch
on the young woman he left high and dry and in such a miserable
plight. I used to sort o’ saunter by her mammy’s house once in a while.
Sometimes I’d catch a glimpse of the girl by accident, but she kept as
well hid as any mole that ever burrowed in the ground. Sometimes I’d
see her - when she was to be seen at all - daubing away at some picture
or other on a peaked frame, and I must say that every time I’d see her
looking so neat and pretty, with her fine head of hair flowing over her
brow in that easy, fluffy sort of way, and them big, deep, babyish eyes
of hers - well, to come to the point, I began to think that it wasn’t
quite natural for _any_ fellow to go clean off and leave such a
creature behind for good and all. You see, she’s too good-looking, too
attractive, for any man to drop once he was favored, and - well, it made
me suspicious, to say the least. Then I begun to notice the child, who
was always hemmed up in that little pen of a yard, and never allowed
to stick his head out or have any playmates. I saw that he was always
rigged up as fine as a fiddle, looking as if he’d just come out of a
bandbox; and as I knew, from personal knowledge, that the old lady had
no income to speak of, except the rent on her barren little farm, I used
to wonder where the cash was coming from. Now and then I’d see Watts &
Co.’s delivery wagon leaving groceries at the back door, and I found out
through them, on the sly, that the grub bills was always paid. Then what
do you think I did? I did some bang-up, fine detective work, if I _do_
say it. I nosed around until I found out, through a clerk in the express
office here, that packages of money were coming pretty regularly to the
sly little lassie from somebody in Atlanta who called himself ‘F. B.
Jenkins.’ Whoever it was, was using the express to hide his tracks,
instead of sending bank-checks, which might come to my attention, as
Fred well knew.”

“So you think, Mr. Walton - you think - ”

“I think Fred’s letter is a lie out of whole cloth,” old Simon blurted
out. “I don’t think he is at work; I don’t think it was ever _in_ him
to work in any capacity; but I _do_ believe he has set out to make good
that shortage for a deep-laid reason. Some sharper or money-shark may be
backing him, or he may have had a temporary streak of luck at poker or
cotton futures, and has decided to invest something in me, as too big
a fish to remain unhooked. I don’t swallow one word of his mealymouthed
tale. I’d bet my last dollar he’s this F. B. Jenkins, and that he has
been hanging around Atlanta all these years, keeping himself out of
sight, and, like as not, coming here now and then under cover of night
to see that woman. That’s why she has kept so close at home. They have
guarded the child, too, so that he wouldn’t let the cat out of the bag.
Toby, if I wanted to - if I just _wanted_ to - I could put a watch on that
cottage and nab our man in less than a month. I say, if I just _wanted_

“Then you wouldn’t arrest him, Mr. Walton?” Lassiter breathed, in

“Well, not now, at any rate,” Walton said, grimly. “We are too solid in
every way now for such a thing to do us any great financial damage, but
I don’t fancy the idea of stirring up the stench again. He has put in a
pretty big amount to start with, and he won’t lie idle after that. Mark
my words, we’ll hear from Atlanta, and it will be apt to come through
the fellow that calls himself F. B. Jenkins.”


|OH, here you are, you old agnostic!” Wynn Dearing called out jovially
to Galt, one afternoon when he found the railroad president walking to
and fro on the veranda of the latter’s home. “If you say so, we’ll go in
the house, and I’ll make that examination here and save you the trouble
of coming down to my pigpen of an office.”

“You could do it here, then?” said Galt, a weary look on his pale face.

“Easy enough; I’ve got my stethoscope in this satchel. I’ve just been
across the street to see a negro with a whiskey liver. He is a goner, I
guess, but I have more hopes of you. Your trouble may be found in those
cigar boxes your railroad friends are sending you. If it is that, I’ll
cut you down to one a day, and smoke the rest myself.”

They had gone into the big library, the walls of which were hung with
family portraits in oil, and lined with long, low cases filled with
Galt’s favorite books.

“Take the big chair,” Dearing said, “and open your shirt in front.”

Galt tossed his half-smoked cigar through an open window and complied.
The examination was made, and questions in regard to diet and habits
were asked and answered. Dearing said nothing as he put his instrument
into the satchel and closed it. He stood over his patient, eying him

“It looks to me like you are fundamentally as sound as a dollar,” he
said, his fine brow furrowed, “but your case puzzles me a lot. To be
frank, you are entirely too thin, your cheeks are sunken, your skin is
dry, and your eye dull. You are very nervous, and are growing gray
hairs as fast as crab-grass. Somehow, I don’t think you need any sort of
medicine. Now, if you were not absolutely the luckiest man in Georgia,
I’d think you had something to worry about. Worry has killed more men
than all the plagues on earth; but that can’t be your trouble, for every
good thing in life has come your way. You had a great ambition a few
years ago, but you gratified it; surely you don’t want to own any more

“No, one is enough,” Galt answered, with a faint, forced smile. “I can’t
say that I am worrying over that.”

“Well, the condition of the minds of patients,” said Dearing, “is the
biggest thing doctors have to tackle. We can hold our own with a disease
of the body, because we can see it and, at least, experiment with it for
good or bad; but when the seat of the thing is in a man’s soul, and he
won’t uncover it, but keeps fooling himself and his doctor by looking
for it under his hide or in his blood or bones, why, we are at a
standstill. I had a patient once who certainly had me at my wit’s end.
He was sound as you are physically, but he was restless, dissatisfied,
morbid, lonely, and utterly miserable. I exhausted every resource
on him. I sent him to specialists all over America, but they were as
helpless as I was. Finally, in sheer desperation, I took the bull by
the horns and asked him if he had anything on his mind of a disagreeable
nature. He hung his head, and I knew then that something was wrong. I
pumped him adroitly, assuring him that all private matters were held in
confidence by a physician, and he finally made a clean breast of it.
He was a rich man, but every dollar he owned had been accumulated from
money stolen from another man, and a man who had failed in life and died
in abject poverty.”

“Ah, I see!” Galt sat more erect, his eyes fixed on Dearing’s face.
“That was his trouble; and what did he do about it?”

“Died hugging the rotten thing to his breast,” the doctor said; “and
that is the way with most of them. He couldn’t face the music - he
couldn’t confess to the puny little world around him that he wasn’t what
it had always thought him. Perhaps he had gone too far to believe in the
cure that God has made possible for every poor devil in toils of that
sort. That’s the trouble. Spirituality has to be practised to be a
reality. Faith cures of all sorts have their place in the world, for a
sick soul will certainly make a sick body.”

“So you believe in rubbish of that sort,” Galt said, contemptuously.

“To the extent I have indicated, yes,” Dearing replied. “I think I could
demonstrate scientifically that health of body and faith in something
higher than mere matter go hand in hand. Tell a weak man that his
body is sound, and he will gain strength; convince a man that he is
hopelessly old, and he will no longer be buoyed up by the hope of
life. Show him his grave, and he will begin to measure himself for it.
Therefore - and here is where I am going to hit you, you old atheist,”
Dearing continued, half jestingly - “let a man constantly argue
to himself that life ends here on earth, and he will wither away
physically, as he already has spiritually; for what would be the
incentive to live if death ends all? I meet all sorts of men and women,
and the healthiest old codgers I run across are the old chaps who
believe they are sanctified. They may be as close as the bark of a tree,
absolutely proof against any sort of charitable impulse, but the belief
of their immortality keeps them pink and rosy to their graves; half of
them die only because they want a change of residence, and expect to own
a corner lot on the golden streets of the New Jerusalem. The preachers
teach us that we’ve got to go through a lot of red-tape to be saved, but
I believe the time will come when immortality will be demonstrated as
plainly as the fact that decayed matter will reproduce life in a plant.”

“Oh, life is too short to argue on these things,” Galt said, wearily.
“You have always seen the thing one way, and I another. I am in good
company. The greatest minds of the world have believed as I do. I can’t
say that I _want_ to live forever.”

“Well, I do - I do,” returned Dearing. “There was a time, thanks to my
early association with you, by-the-way, when I doubted; but I always had
a frightful pang at the thought that the wonderful mystery of life must
continue to be a closed book to me. I fought it, Kenneth, old man - I
fought that thought day and night, because my soul was so enamoured
with the great secret that I could not give it up; and now - well, on
my honor, the faith in it has become my very existence. Without that
prospect I’d stop right here. I’d not care to move an inch. I’d as
soon cut your throat as to treat you as a friend. But I didn’t come to
preach. What is that you’ve got stacked up on the table - drawings for
another trunk-line?”

“No.” Galt rose languidly and smiled. “I’ll show you something very
pretty. You know I am fond of good pictures, and I flatter myself that
I have discovered a genius. There is an art dealer, F. B. Jenkins, in
Atlanta, whom I know pretty well, and he called me in the other day to
show me some water-color pictures by a young girl, who, it seems, is too
modest to allow her name to be used. Then, too, I think he regards her
as his find, and doesn’t want other dealers to know about her. I bought

Galt opened a big portfolio, and began taking out the pictures one by
one. “Where has any one ever seen a child more lifelike than that one?
Why, it is actually walking away from the paper; and look at that one on
the fence, and this boy with the top and string!”

“Why, good gracious!” Dearing cried out, impulsively, as he stood
transfixed by surprise, “I know who did that work - I - ” But he checked
himself suddenly.

“_You_ know who did it?” Galt said, facing him in surprise. “What do you
mean, Wynn. Do you really know anything about it?”

“I spoke without thinking,” Dearing said, awkwardly. “You know, a
physician sometimes runs across matters which he is obliged to regard as
confidential, and, since the - the lady doesn’t want to be known, I
could not feel free to mention her name; besides, you know, I _might_ be

Dearing turned from the pictures and moved toward the door.

“I am satisfied that you could tell more about it if you would,” Galt
said. “I really would like to know, for I have never run across pictures
I liked so well. And to think they are done by some young woman who may
not know how good her work really is!”

“I know nothing - absolutely nothing,” Wynn said, with a non-committal
smile. “But, if I did, I wouldn’t trust it to you or any other man, so
there you are. Why haven’t you been over? Uncle Tom and Madge look for
you every afternoon to join them at tea. You’d better come soon; they
are off for New York in a few days.”

“New York!” Galt exclaimed, in surprise.

“Yes; you know they go up there every summer for a ten days’ stay,
visiting the Marstons. Old Marston was a colonel under my uncle in the
war. He went to New York after peace was declared and invested all he
had left. He is now a big tea-and-coffee importer, and worth a lot of
money. Mrs. Marston likes Madge, and gives her a big time once a year.
It is always a picnic for uncle and her. They start off like jolly
school-children. They have the time of their lives from the moment they
leave till they get back all tired out and coated with dust. Now, you
look after your health, Kenneth. Lie around this quiet old house and
take a good rest. Keep those bookcases with their lying contents closed,
and read sound, hopeful literature, and I’ll see that you stay above
ground for a good many years to come.”

“If I could only get _you_ to read those books, instead of the
namby-pamby stuff issued by the Sunday-schools for the edification of
children who still believe in Santa Claus, you’d be a wiser man,” Galt
said, good-naturedly, as he accompanied Dearing to the door. “But, then,
I’d not have the fun of arguing with you.”

“I could put up as good an argument, even on your own side, as you can,”
Dearing said, half seriously. “I could give one illustration which would
prove to men like you, at least, that the whole world is topsy-turvy,
and the Creator, if there is such a thing, more heartless than any man

“You could? Well, that’s interesting - coming from you, at least.”

“It was this,” Dearing went on, now quite serious, as he stood facing
Galt, swinging his satchel in his hand: “As I came in just now I saw
about thirty children - little boys and girls - over on Lewis Weston’s
lawn. They were all rigged out in their Sunday clothes and playing
games, just as you and I did on the same spot when we were kids. It was
little Grover Weston’s birthday, and his daddy, being our Congressman,
the undersized ‘four hundred’ were doing honors to the occasion.
Even from where I stood I could see the toys, wagons, tricycles, and
hobby-horses which had been presented to the little Georgia lord, and he
was strutting about thoroughly enjoying the limelight that was on him.
That was _one_ side of the picture. The other side was this: Down at
the lower end of our place stood a solitary little figure. Not one among
them all could hold a candle to him in looks or brightness of mind. You
know who I mean; it was the little chap you took a fancy to the other
day when he jumped into your arms from that tree. There he stood, his
bat and ball idle at his feet, watching every movement of the gay little
crowd across the way. I couldn’t know what his thoughts were, but, as I
stood looking at him, I wondered what I should have thought at his age.
Was his growing and supersensitive mind already struggling with the
question of inequality? I remember that I, at his age, felt a slight
keenly, and if _I_ did, with my many advantages as a child, what must he
feel? There is an argument for you, Kenneth. The next time you want to
prove the utter heartlessness and aimlessness of God and His universe,
just paint that picture.”

Galt made no response. His blood seemed to turn cold in his veins as the
grimly accusing words fell from his friend’s lips.

“But that is not the way I’m going to let the story end, in my fancy,
at least,” Dearing continued, after a pause. “Kenneth, old chap, I see
a silver lining peeping out from beneath even that poor child’s cloud. I
see the hidden hand of God following the father who deserted his duty
to flee to some far-off hiding-place. I see that man hungering for
spiritual rest; I see his very crime humbling and sweetening his soul
and causing him to long for what he has left behind him. I see the
fortune that avarice is piling up in his father’s coffers being
turned to good account. In short, I see that boy and his beautiful
child-mother, who never had a fault but that of blindly trusting, taken
away somewhere to ultimate happiness.”

“You think - you think - ” Galt stammered, unable to formulate an adequate

“I think the man does not live who could have been loved and trusted by
Dora Barry and ever forget her. The man does not live who could be the
father of _such_ a child by _such_ a mother - such as she has grown to be
since her great misfortune - and not fight for her and her child with his
last breath.”


|WHEN Dearing had gone blithely down the street, Galt strode up and down
the veranda, hot and cold, by turns, with fury and remorse.

“To think that any man could lecture me like that, while I have had to

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