Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Redemption of Kenneth Galt online

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stand and take it like a sneaking coward!” he fumed. “I am not a jot
worse than thousands of others who were led astray by passion. I had to
do as I did. I couldn’t give up what I had sought so long, and fought
for so fiercely. She knew it; she admitted there was nothing else to
do. All these years she has not once reproached me, and she has kept her
word - the secret is ours. Wynn says she has advanced, that her solitary
life has only ripened her beauty of mind and body, and she is the mother
of my child - the little fellow I held in my arms the other day, the
outcome of a marriage as sacred under high heaven as any ever solemnized
at an altar.” He groaned as he remembered how he and Dora used to boast
that their superior mental attitude, and the height and glory of their
troth, as compared to the dull code of the vulgar herd, had made them
a law unto themselves. He had sown the seeds of such logic in the rich
soil of her trusting, girlish inexperience. He had led her, as a candle
leads a moth, on to the yawning brink of the abyss; he had closed her
gentle mouth, even as it uttered words of love and fidelity, and then,
by sheer brute force, he had flung her down to darkness and despair.
That was the truth he had not fully allowed himself to face in those
years of gratified ambition which had followed, and it was the truth
that Wynn Dearing, with his maddening manliness, had hurled into his
face to-day. And Dearing had argued that the end was not yet - that the
earthly struggle wasn’t all there was to man - that to eat, procreate,
and live a certain span of years was not the solution of the problem of
existence. How utterly absurd! And yet what was his present ailment? It
was not of the body, as he had well known when Dearing was speaking of
his condition; and since it was not so, what was it? What force known to
science had kindled the raging fires within him, made him desire to
shim his own kind, and hate the success which, like a hellish
will-o’-the-wisp, had once blazed over him. There was nothing to do, of
course, but to continue the fight on his own lines, by the light of the
reason born in him. Of course, a man could be sad and gloomy over an old
love affair if he continued to brood over it - if he continued to allow
it to dominate him. Dora had accepted the inevitable, as any sensible
woman would have done, and it was left for him to go on his way
unmolested - free! General Sylvester wanted him to marry his niece;
she was his social equal, and in time would be as well off in point of
fortune. She was a beautiful, imposing, gracious woman, and would make a
wife any man would be proud of. Yes, his duty to himself was clear, and
dreams like young Dearing indulged in would have to be banished for ever
and ever. Yes, he would marry Margaret Dearing, and he and she would
travel the world over. He was ready to resign the active management of
the big enterprise he had created, and he would be free in every sense.
Yes, he would be free - just as other men were free.

He had stepped down on the grass of the lawn and strolled round
the house. Shouts and peals of childish laughter came from the yard
adjoining his on the left, and on the grass, engaged in a joyous game
of hide-and-seek, twoscore boys and girls ran merrily about. Galt walked
farther down toward the lower boundary of his premises, seeking with his
eyes an object he would not have confessed to himself that he desired to
see - the child Dearing had mentioned. Now he saw the boy, but he was not
within the Dearing grounds; Lionel had crossed over to Galt’s land, and
stood shielded from the view of the merrymakers by a hedge of boxwood.
Galt saw him peering cautiously over the hedge, now stealthily lowering
his head, now eagerly raising it. He was neatly dressed in white, as
when his father had first seen him; there was a jaunty grace about the
flowing necktie and low, broad collar which could have been accounted
for only by the taste of an artistic mother. He held his broad-brimmed
straw hat in his hand, and the breeze swept his tresses back from his
fine brow.

Why he did it Galt could not have explained, especially on top of the
resolutions just formed, but he went down to him. Lionel’s face
was averted, and he was not aware of his father’s approach till his
attention was attracted by Galt’s step on the grass. Then he started,
flushed, and with alarm written in his face he made a movement as if to
run away.

“Surely you are not afraid of _me?_” Galt said, reassuringly, and in a
tone which, for its unwonted gentleness, was a surprise to himself.

“I have no right to be on your land,” the boy faltered, his great,
startled eyes downcast. “Doctor Wynn said I must never leave his place.
But there wasn’t any fence, and I - I saw the children playing over
there, and I wanted to get a little closer.”

“Well, you needn’t be afraid; you have done no wrong,” Galt heard
himself saying, as undefined pangs and twinges shot through him. “You
may come here whenever you wish.”

“Oh, may I? Thank you. You are very good, and I thought you’d be angry.”

“Angry? How absurd! What in the world could cause you to think I could
be angry with a harmless little chap like you?”

“I don’t know; but I did. I was sure at first that you liked me. You
know the day I almost went to sleep in your lap, when the pretty lady
and the old gentleman were at the tea-table? Well, I _did_ think you
liked me then, at first, you know, but when the doctor came and said it
was late for children to be out, you put me down quick, and got red in
the face, and never looked at me again.”

There was a rustic bench near by, and Galt sat down on it. He found
himself unable to formulate a satisfactory reply, and he was going
to let the remark pass unnoticed, but Lionel came forward now more
confidently, and sat on the end of the bench. A thrill akin to that
which he had felt when he discovered the identity of the child passed
over Galt. There was an indescribable something in the boy’s great eyes
so like his mother’s, in the artistic slenderness of his hands, in his
exquisite profile, that dug deep into the soul of the man who sat there
self-convicted of the crime of wilful desertion.

“Yes, I’m sure something was wrong that day,” Lionel said, tentatively.
“I can always ‘tell when mamma is angry at me, and I knew you were, for
you didn’t say good-bye. The others didn’t, either, but I didn’t care
for them. I like Doctor Wynn, and I like you, but that is all, except
Granny and my mother.”

“You like me, and why?” Galt questioned, almost under his breath.

“Oh, I don’t know, but I do. I did when I first saw you looking up at me
in that tree, and then when you held me in your lap. I wanted to go to
sleep there, it felt so good - your arms are so fine and strong. Doctor
Wynn says your father was a great soldier, and that you have his sword
and a picture of him. Oh, I should love to see them! I’d like to be a
soldier. Some day, if I am a good boy, will you let me see the sword?”

“Why, yes, you may come - _now_, if you wish.”

“You are joking, aren’t you?” Lionel asked, in surprise.

“No, I’m in earnest. Come on!”

“Really, do you mean it?”

“Why, of course. Come on!”

They started toward the house side by side. Suddenly Lionel remarked,
timidly, “You haven’t said you like me yet, but I suppose you do, or you
wouldn’t let me go with you in your house.”

“Yes, I like you - of course I do,” Galt answered, lamely and abashed.

“Very, very much, or just a little - which is it?”

“As much as any boy I ever met; there, will that do you, little man?”

“Have you met many? That’s the question,” the boy laughed out,
impulsively, and then his face settled into gravity as he eagerly

“Yes, a great many,” Galt answered, as he wondered over the child’s
peculiar persistency. Dearing had said he was supersensitive. Could
the trait be an unremovable birth-mark of the mother’s unhappiness when
overwhelmed with the sense of utter desertion? If so, then there was
physical proof of the Biblical statement that the sins of fathers were
visited on their children. Galt shuddered and avoided the appealing face
upturned to his. Again he heard the musical voice, so like an echo out
of the dreamy, accusing past, rising to him.

“If you did like me, it looks like you would take my hand. I wish you

“There!” Galt forced a laugh as he took the soft, pulsating little
fingers into his. As flesh touched flesh a thrill as of new life
throbbed and bounded through him, and again he had the yearning to clasp
his son to his breast as a woman would have done. As it was, no lover
could have felt the touch of the hand of his mistress with keener, more
awed delight. At one time, in a talk with Bearing, Galt had argued that
even parental love was merely a physical function, like hunger for food,
but that had been before this perplexing awakening. They had reached the
front steps of the great house. An impulse he could not have analyzed
led Galt to think of lifting the boy from the ground to the floor of
the veranda, and he held out his arms. The child Sprang into them; his
little arm went round the man’s neck, and thus the steps were ascended.
Was it a lingering pressure of affection in Lionel’s arm that kept Galt
from lowering him to the carpet when they had entered the great hall? He
was sure he would put him down as they entered the library, but again
he refrained, for the magnitude and splendor of the room had actually
startled the child.

“Oh!” Lionel exclaimed, his eyes first on the great crystal chandelier,
then on the gilt-framed pier-glass reaching from the floor to the

“Why, what is the matter?” Galt asked, holding him tighter.

“I did not know it was so beautiful, so grand!” Lionel cried. “This room
alone is as large as our whole house. Ah! is that the sword your father
killed men with? And will you please let me see it? Could I hold it,
just once?”

“I am afraid it is too heavy for you,” Galt said, as he reached for the
heavy sabre in its carved brass scabbard and took it down from a hook
under his father’s portrait. “It wasn’t made for little hands like
yours. You’d have to grow a lot before you could use it.”

Lionel stood down on the floor as the sword was put into his hands. He
made a valiant effort to flourish the unwieldy blade as he thrust and
lunged at an imaginary enemy. “Boom! Boom!” he cried, his eyes flashing,
“Boom! t-r-r-r boom!”

“Oh, you’ve killed them - they are as dead as doornails!” Galt laughed,
impulsively. “Now your men will have a pretty time picking all those
corpses up in an ambulance.”

“Is that your father?” the boy leaned on the sabre to ask, as he looked
up at the portrait of the elder Galt.

“Yes. Does he look like me?” Galt answered.

“A little bit, maybe” - the child had his wise-looking head tilted to
one side as he had seen his mother stand in criticising one of
her pictures - “but I don’t like it much. It is full of cracks, and
so - dauby.”

“‘_Dauby_’? Where in the world could you have heard that word?”

“Oh, my mother says it often when she doesn’t like one of her pictures.”

The child was now absorbed in the bronze dragon head supporting the
ivory handle of the sword.

“I see; perhaps you’d like pictures of children better,” Galt said,
and he took up one of the water-color sketches he had shown to Dearing.
“Here, look at this little boy.”

“Oh yes, that’s me! Mamma says it is hard to keep them from all looking
alike. Sometimes I’m a boy - then I’m a girl, and even a baby - but they
are all me. Mamma says I’m her bread and butter. But I don’t like to sit
for them; it is too tiresome to stay still so long. Sometimes she lets
me play in the yard, and watches me through the window; then I don’t
mind it.”

“Do you mean to say” - Galt was grave, and his hands trembled as he
picked up another picture, this time the sketch of a boy riding on a
spring-board supported in the middle by a saw-horse, and fastened at the
end to a crude rail-fence - “do you mean that your mother really painted
this?” And as he spoke Galt recalled Dearing’s evident recognition of
the work, and his prompt reservation in regard to it.

“Yes, and stacks and stacks of others,” the child said, abstractedly,
his little fingers toying with the handle of the sword again. “Is it
sharp enough to cut a man’s head off?”

“Yes, yes.” Galt sat down in a chair, his mind now full of startled
memories - Dora’s wonderful artistic taste, her early love of music,
books on art, and the drawings which she had spoken of timidly, but
never shown him. And this was her work - the pictures he had seen groups
of people admiring, as they hung in the shop-window in Atlanta - and
which he knew was the work of actual creative genius. And it had
come from the spirit he had crushed, exiled from humanity, and left
destitute! His ambition had won its sordid goal through the darkness of
damnation, while hers - unconscious of its own deity - was growing toward
the outer light, like a flower in a dungeon. And this was his child and
hers! Compounded in the winsome personality of the boy was all that
was good and noble of her, all that was bad and despicable of him, and
Dearing would say that it was not going to end with the temporary breath
which had been blown into the little form. The child was to live on and
perpetuate the qualities he had inherited. He was like a little God now,
in the likeness of the child-mother who had borne him, but ‘the time
might come when he would take on to himself the cringing, soul-lashed
features of his father - be guilty of the same crimes against virtue
and eternal justice, and fight the same cruel battle between spirit and
flesh, between the forces of light and darkness. God forbid! “God!” - had
he actually used the word? Was there such a Being? He had sneered at the
thought all his life, but now the bare possibility cowed him.

Lionel, astride the sheathed sword, now half boy, half prancing steed,
came to him. “Whoa! Can’t you stand still, sir? Watch him kick up! Look
out!” as he pirouetted about, “he’ll get you with his hind heels! He
wants to run; something has scared him! Look how he’s trembling!”

Galt laid his hand on the sunny curls, and drew the excited little
horseman to him, gazing into the dreamy, fathomless eyes so accusingly
like Dora’s.

“I think I’d better hold you both,” he said, in an attempt at
playfulness. He had heard sordid business men who had children say that
there was no love like that of a man for an eldest son. This was his
eldest son, if not by the writs of man, by the mandates of something
infinitely higher.

“I wish I had a really-really horse,” Lionel ran on, plaintively.
“Grover Weston has a pony, but mamma says he can have everything because
his father is rich. I don’t like him. He threw my ball back over the
fence the other day and called me names. I don’t know what he meant by
them, but my mother said they were not nice, and told me not to remember
them. I’ve already forgot what he said. It was bas - bast - How funny! I
knew it once.”

Galt’s inner being seemed to shrink and wither. Already the world’s
persecution of the innocent had begun, and the sensitive, poetic,
imaginative child would grow up to a full realization of his social
shame. Nurtured in gentleness and refinement, he was yet to have the
scales which hid his humiliation tom from his sight, and then he would
see; he would understand; he would know who to blame. And he _would_
blame, poignantly and justly. The time might come when this tender sprig
of himself, grown strong, and yet galled by his burden, might face his
father as the cowardly churl who had stamped the unbearable stigma upon
him and her. This child might live to curse him and spit upon him. The
world might forgive in the glow of his power and gold, but the one he
yearned for now, as he had yearned for nothing before, would go over his
infamous past as minutely as an ant over the bark of a rotten tree.

The child had put down the weapon of his honored ancestor, and now stood
with his little hands on the knee of his father, another side of his
personality uppermost.

“I don’t care,” he said, in his charmingly premature way, “if Grover
Weston _doesn’t_ like me, because you say you do. He’s nothing but a
mean, horrid boy, while you are - ”

“I am what, Lionel?” Galt’s voice was stayed by huskiness in his throat,
and he put an unsteady arm round the little form, resisting the yearning
to clasp him tightly.

“Oh, you are everything - everything in the world. Doctor Wynn says you
are very, very rich, and that you love all little boys - that’s why I
jumped that day. I wouldn’t be afraid to jump from a higher tree than
that if you were there to catch me. Oh, I like to have people love me! I
like it better than anything.”

“And yet you _do_ want other things?” Galt said, tentatively.

“Oh yes.” The child, guided by the gentle pressure round him, slid
between his father’s knees, and, putting his arm confidingly about
Galt’s neck, he drew himself to a seat in the man’s lap, and laughed.
“Mamma says I want the whole earth. I want a bicycle; and a gun; and a
pony; and roller-skates; and - ”

“You certainly do want a _few_ things!” Galt tried to jest. “But we
can’t have everything, you know, in this life.”

“Not unless we are rich; and we are very poor at our house; but when the
expressman brings the money for the pictures we are very glad. Then
we have a good dinner. Last time Granny got a dress, and I got several
suits like this one. Mother says some day we may go away off to another
country where I’ll have children to play with. I think that would be
nicer than having toys.”

“Yes, yes,” Galt responded, from the depths of a new and rasping
remorse, as the boy reclined on his arm and stretched out with a
delicious sigh.

“You said you liked me,” the child said, quite seriously, “but you never
have kissed me - not once.”

“But men don’t kiss little boys,” Galt answered, with a start.

“Oh, yes they do; Doctor Wynn has often kissed me, and hugged me, so!”
Lionel put his arms round Galt’s neck, pressed his soft, warm cheek
against the cold, rough one, and kissed it, once, twice, three times.

“And I’ve seen Mr. Weston kiss Grover when he runs to meet him at the

“We’ve known each other such a short time,” Galt apologized, lamely, as
the hot blood coursed through his veins, and the child released him and
lay staring at him from his great, reproachful eyes.

“I don’t care, you’d kiss me if you loved me as - as much as I do you.
Won’t you, just one time? Then I’ll go.”

“Yes, I’ll kiss you - there!” Galt said, as he folded the child in his
arms and pressed his lips to the warm, pink brow.

“I had to make you!” Lionel said, as he stood down on the floor. “That
is the way I do when my mother is angry. I keep begging her to kiss me
till she does; then she laughs and hugs me tighter than ever. Granny
says I know how to manage a woman. Good-bye. I thank you for bringing me
to your house. Now I am sure you like little boys.”

After the child had gone, Galt walked up and down the veranda, his mind
upon problems he had never faced before. He was interrupted by General
Sylvester, who hurried across the lawn to speak to him on his way

“I’ve only a bare minute,” the old gentleman said. “I suppose you know
we are off for New York. You’d better come along and help us have a good

“I am afraid Wynn would hardly prescribe a remedy so strenuous as that
in my case,” Galt returned. “You see, I was tied down there recently,
and got enough of it for a man who is said to need quiet and a change of

“That’s true,” Sylvester admitted. “It was only because we’d like to
have you so much that I mentioned it. But we’ll take you in hand when we
get back. So you be ready, young man.”

When the old gentleman had walked away, with his springy, boyish step,
and the gate-latch had clicked behind him, Galt went back into the
library. He gathered up Dora’s pictures with reverent hands, and took
them up to his bedroom. He arranged them in good positions, and stood
looking at them steadily.

“Yes, she’s in them all,” he said. “Her weeping soul speaks out from
every one. She has done those things in spite of the disgrace and misery
that my cowardice has heaped upon her. What must she think of me - of me,
whom she once placed upon such a pinnacle? Her own purity created the
place for me in her heart which I once held, and from which her contempt
has long since banished me. I’ve lost her. I owe her the world, and can
pay her nothing - absolutely nothing!”

His attention was attracted to the children on Weston’s lawn. They were
loudly laughing, shouting, and singing. He went to the window and looked

“‘King William was King James’s son,’” they sang, as hand in hand they
circled round on the grass. Galt’s eyes rested only momentarily on
the players. He was searching for some one else. Finally he espied the
object of his quest. Lionel - his son, a full-blooded Galt, and, for
aught he knew, the flower of the race - was hidden behind a tree peering
out like a half-starved urchin at a window filled with sweets. He stood
erect and motionless, as if hardly daring to breathe lest he be seen by
his social superiors.

“He is waking!” Galt exclaimed. “He is wondering and pondering. The time
will come when he will understand and remember, perhaps, that I kissed
him with the lips of Judas - I, who should have been his mainstay and
supporter - kissed him as he lay in my arms, conscious of my love and
ignorant of my weakness. No, I can’t help him. Drawn to him as I am by
every fibre of my being, still I must deny him. The man does not live
who, in the same circumstances, could act otherwise. I haven’t the moral
backbone. I simply haven’t.”

Leaving the window, and sinking into a chair, Galt bent forward, locked
his cold hands together, and wrung them as a man might in the agony of


|EVERYTHING is as merry as a marriage bell, and the goose hangs high!”
Stephen Whipple quoted, with a hearty laugh, as he and Fred Walton sat
on the old man’s veranda after breakfast one Sunday morning. “And I’m
a-thinking, my boy, that the suspended fowl is none other than our
fellow citizen, J. B. Thorp. He is as mad as a wet hen. He had us plumb
down, and, like the bully he is, was pounding the blood out of us with
no thought of letting up. Then the rest of the hungry pack of wolves
piled on top, and began to get in their work. I was so crazy I didn’t
know my hat from a hole in the ground. Then your keen young brain turned
the trick, and here we are. Dick has got the dandiest retail store that
ever saw the light in a Western town, and it is literally packed and
jammed with customers.”

“I am certainly glad it turned out as it did,” Fred replied. “It has
been a great thing for Dick.”

The merchant was silent for a moment, and Fred saw him twirling his
heavy thumbs as he often did when embarrassed. Finally, after clearing
his throat and rather awkwardly crossing his legs, he said:

“I’ve got a silly sort of confession to make, Fred. I reckon nobody is,
on the outside, exactly what they are within, and I’ve got my faults
like other fellows. On the outside I’m as strait-laced as a hard-shell
Baptist, but I’ve always hankered after a periodical lark of some sort.
Once in a great while I’ve taken trips just for the pure fun’ of the
thing. During the Centennial at Philadelphia I laid down everything and
went. I stayed a week, put up at a fine hotel, and lived as high as I
knew how. I saw all that there was to see. Then I struck work at one
time and went to the Mardi-gras at New Orleans, and then another time I
hiked off to the Cotton Exposition in Atlanta. I don’t know why I’m that
way, but I am. It is my periodical spree, I reckon. You remember I told
you about my boy - the little fellow that passed away?”

“Yes, I remember,” Walton returned, sympathetically.

“Well, as he was growing up, I used to love, above all things, for

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Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Redemption of Kenneth Galt → online text (page 14 of 24)