Copyright
Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Redemption of Kenneth Galt online

. (page 15 of 24)
Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Redemption of Kenneth Galt → online text (page 15 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


just me and him - just me and him, you know - to go to places together.
Sometimes it was a ride in the country, or fishing, or to do something
a little boy would like, but I always sort o’ kept the thought before
me that when he’d reached man’s estate, me and him would do some
sure-enough ‘bumming,’ as I used to call it - bumming to New York City,
where we could take in all the sights like two boys. It may sound silly,
but that was one thing I always had to look forward to; but then he took
sick and died, and it was out of the question. Since then I’ve never
counted on the New York trip.”

“It was sad,” Walton said, gently. “It is a pity he couldn’t have been
spared to you.”

“Yes, but he wasn’t,” the merchant sighed. “He wasn’t, and this is what
I started out to say: Of all folks I have ever known since my boy’s
death, you come nearer filling his place than any one else. No” - and
Whipple held up his broad hand - “don’t stop me! I don’t know how it
was, but in our first talk that night you kind o’ got hold of my
heart-strings. I pitied you as I had never pitied a young fellow before
because of the fight you were making. I got interested in it, and
determined to help you win. I prayed for you. You were on my mind the
last thing at night and the first thing in the morning. You’d said you
wanted the money just to pay off the debt you owed your father, and I
would have planked the cash right down many and many a time if I hadn’t
been afraid I’d spoil a thing that seemed to be of God’s own making.
I used to sneak and look at your bank-account. That was mean, but I
couldn’t help it. I saw your savings piling up week after week until
I forced that five hundred on you, and knew you had three thousand in
hand. Then, all at once, it sunk to nothing. Fred, my boy, I went home
that night, hugged the old lady, and cried. You needn’t tell me what
became of that money. It went to your old daddy as fast as the trains
could take it.”

“Yes, I paid him, Mr. Whipple. I am still behind two thousand, with the
interest at the rate he charges his customers.”

“He’s a money-lender then?” Whipple said, lifting his brows.

“Yes, he - ” Fred hesitated a moment, and then finished, “He is a banker,
in a small town in - ”

“Don’t - don’t tell me!” Whipple broke in. “Don’t tell me a thing about
him! I’m human to the core. I don’t know why it is, but for a long time
I have been jealous of his blood claim on you. He throwed you off, and I
want to think that I have some sort of right to you. He never loved you
as a natural father should, or he couldn’t have driven you to the
wall like he did, forcing you to live off among strangers, away from
home-ties and all the associations of your young days. Oh, I know I have
your good-will, my boy! I heard about the way you stood up for me during
the strike my men tried to get up. One of the clerks told me of the
nightmeeting that was held, and how you sprang into their midst like
an infuriated tiger, and of the ringing speech you made about me and my
fair treatment of them, and how they finally begged you not to report
the matter and slunk away like egg-sucking dogs. You never would have
mentioned it, but it got to me - it got to me.”

“Oh, I only did my duty, Mr. Whipple.” Fred’s face was dyed red. “I
thought they were unreasonable, and could not help putting in a word of
protest.”

“You were the only one in the entire bunch that did it, all the same,”
Whipple said, huskily. “Oh, I know they poke fun at me and laugh at
my peculiarities, but I don’t believe you ever did. I am coarse and
awkward - I don’t have to be told that; but I try to be genuine and fair
to all mankind. But I’ve got away off from what I started to say. Fred,
there never was a time when I felt more like one of my periodical sprees
than right now. I have never been to New York, and I can’t get over
wanting to take it in. My wife don’t care to go. She says such trips
tire the very life out of her. She is younger than I am in years,
but she ain’t in spirit. I want you to lay off work for a week and go
bumming with me. Somehow, I feel like if you’ll go, it will be as if my
own boy had lived and grown up and was taking the trip with me. I want
to go by New Orleans and spend a day there, and then on to the East,
through Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia. What do you say, Fred? The
expense is nothing. I want to celebrate. For a week I want to be a new
man, and have a high old time.”

“I should like it very much,” Walton said, “if you really want me to
go.”

“Well, pack your grip, and we’ll be off day after tomorrow. We’ll tell
the boys that we have to see our New York importers and our sugar men in
New Orleans, and they can guess the rest. Now, I’m going up to tell the
old lady that it is settled, and she can sleep or do any other old thing
she likes till, we come back. We’ll have a rip-roaring time, Fred. We’ll
go all the gaits, even if we get put in the lock-up.”




CHAPTER IX

|FRED and his jovial employer spent a ===day and night at New Orleans,
and early the following morning took a fast train for New York.
Ensconced in the luxurious Pullman, which contained few other
passengers, Fred felt that by remaining close in the car as it passed
through Georgia he would run little risk of being recognized by any
acquaintance or friend of the past. Nevertheless, as the train was
leaving Atlanta and speeding toward Stafford, he was literally besieged
with gloomy memories. Every station or familiar landmark along the
way brought back with crushing force occurrences he had completely
forgotten. Once or twice he fancied that Whipple was watching him with
an unusually sympathetic eye, but he put the thought from him. Never
having been told of the fact, how could the old man even suspect that he
was nearing the home of his childhood - the spot of his dreams? He had a
yearning to confide more fully to his kindly companion, but the thought
came to him that such a disclosure just now might throw a damper upon
a journey which he had determined should contain nothing but joy to his
benefactor.

It was six o’clock when Cherry Hill was reached. Only seven rapidly
shortening miles lay between him and his old home. Fred sat at a window,
pretending to read a newspaper. It struck him as highly incongruous that
Whipple should think no more of that particular town than of any of the
others through which they had passed when it means so much - so very
much - to him. The time-table told him that the train stopped only a few
minutes at Stafford, and he was both glad and disappointed - glad that
the short stop would render his detection the more remote, and sad that
he was not to see with his actual eyes the spot dearer to him than any
other. There was a prolonged scream from the locomotive’s whistle at the
extreme end of the train. Could it be that the station was reached? No,
for through the gathering dusk Fred could see that the suburbs of the
town, as indicated by the electric lights in the distance, were still
half a mile away. Perhaps it was to take on water, he thought; but that
couldn’t be the explanation, for the porter of the car had thrown up a
window and was looking out inquiringly.

“What is it?” he inquired of the porter, who had drawn his head back
into the car.

“I don’t know, sir,” the negro answered. “Something must be wrong ahead.
We never slow up till we get to the crossing.” He hurriedly left the
car, and Fred followed. Outside there was a rushing to and fro of
trainmen with flags and lanterns, a jumble of calls in stentorian tones,
the slow clanging of the locomotive’s bell, the exhausting of steam. The
porter ran to the porter of the car ahead, and came back to where Walton
stood waiting on the step.

“Freight-train knocked all to smash in the edge of town,” he explained.
“Nobody hurt, but it is sure to hold us here awhile.”

“We’ll have to stop, then!” Fred exclaimed, fearing a vague something
which seemed to hover, like a threat, in the air about him. At that
moment he gave way to the superstitious feeling that it was the direct
hand of Providence which had delayed him there, of all spots on the long
journey.

“It looks like it now, sir,” the porter answered; and as he left, Walton
turned and saw Whipple close beside him.

“Why, it won’t make any difference to us,” the old man said, in evident
wonder over his protégé’s disappointment. “We’ll be sound asleep in
our berths. I don’t know but what I’d kind o’ like _one_ night’s rest
without so much jostle and motion. We can get a good breakfast in the
dining-car in the morning, and go on our way as smooth as goose-grease.”

“Yes, yes,” Fred said. But the thought had come to him that they might
be delayed till the next morning, and the idea of passing through his
old home in the broad light of day was far from pleasant. What if he
should actually meet his father or some officer of the law whose duty
it would be to arrest him, right when he had begun to hope that he might
ultimately earn his freedom?

Fred went back into the car, followed by the drowsy Whipple, and took
a seat by a window. It was open, and by leaning out he could see the
lights of Stafford. Under the skies he had known as a child, on the
same hillsides, they blazed and beckoned. Suppressing a groan, he told
himself that he would go to bed and try to sleep; but he delayed, held
in his place by some weird charm. At ten o’clock, when Whipple was
stowed away, Fred went out of the car once more. On the sidetrack he met
the conductor.

“How long shall we be here?” Walton inquired.

“Till three o’clock, sir,” the conductor said, as they walked along
toward the locomotive.

“I wonder if I’d have time to walk to town and look around,” Fred said.
“I don’t feel like turning in right now.”

“Plenty, plenty,” the conductor answered. “It is only a mile or so to
the square.”

“Then I’ll go,” Walton said, and he walked away, thankful that the night
was cloudy. On he went down the railway, in the streaming glare of the
locomotive’s headlight, till he reached the first street leading into
Stafford. Ahead, in the light of many lanterns, a throng of trackmen
were at work on the wreck.

How changed was the landscape he had once known so well! Spots which had
been old barren fields, dismantled brick-yards, and stretches of
forest, were now, thanks to the enterprise of Kenneth Galt, filled with
cottages, cotton factories, iron-foundries, and other industries. To the
right, on a common, which used to be the ball-ground where the team, of
which Fred had been the popular captain, had played in his schooldays,
the round-house and machine-shops of the S. R. & M. had risen. New
thoroughfares had been opened, natural elevations graded away, and
uncouth gullies filled.

Taking the darker and quieter streets by choice, Walton strode onward,
headed toward the old part of town, his heart wrung with a pain more
poignant than any he had ever felt. Once, as he was passing through a
cluster of small houses which seemed inhabited by negroes, he saw a few
dusky faces he had known, and recognized some familiar voices coming
from the unlighted porches and open windows. On trudged the wayfarer,
his step slow, his feet heavy. Presently he came to a stone and iron
bridge which spanned a small arm of the river, and, crossing to the
other side, he ascended a slight elevation from which he had a view of
the entire town. It was a lonely, unimproved spot, where a few scrubby
pines grew and some gray primitive bowlders lay half embedded in the
ground. Farther along the brow of the narrow hill stood the old brick
school, which, as a boy, he had attended. A thousand memories flogged
his quickened brain - memories of those lost days, when his gentle mother
had dressed him and sent him off with a kiss and the admonition to be
a good boy. She was dead, she was gone forever, and her prayers in his
behalf had fallen on the deaf ear of Infinite Providence. He had not
been a good boy, and she had prayed in vain. Her grave was there beyond
the town’s lights on another hill, and he who had been the sole hope
of her motherhood was an alien. He stifled a cry of sheer agony. In his
active life in the West he had, in a measure, dulled his senses to much
of the past, but here, in view of all he had lost, it was upon him like
a monster as long and broad as the universe, with a million sinister
claws sunken into his being. There below was the home which might have
been his; there, veiled from his sight by the kindly pall of night,
lived the men and women who might still have been his friends; there,
too, lived the girl, the one girl in all the earth, who - He groaned,
and, throwing himself on the ground, he folded his arms and sobbed. How
long he remained there he hardly knew, but it was late, for the fights
in the houses below were blinking and going out one by one. He was
tempted to steal down the hillside, now that deeper darkness offered
shelter, and wander through the streets he had loved so well - to wander
on till he could see his father’s house. Perhaps he might even pass
Margaret’s home without detection. It would be a risk, an awful risk,
he told himself, for he might be recognized, pursued, and even arrested.
His hungry heart told him to take the chance, his inbred caution warned
him strongly to return to the car without delay, and yet he fingered. He
fancied he could see, as his blurred eyes strove to probe the curtain of
darkness, the very spot his old home stood upon. Yes, he would risk it.
He had been away for years, and he might never return to the old town
again. Providence itself had caused the accident to which he owed the
opportunity.

Down the incline he went, into the quiet street below, and along it to
another which led toward his father’s house. Once he saw a man and woman
approaching, and he stepped behind a high fence in the grounds of an old
mill. He crouched down, and heard their voices as they went by, but they
sounded strange to him. He followed now in their wake, and saw them turn
in another direction. Then he saw a man approaching, but he walked from
side to side of the pavement, as if he were intoxicated, and Walton
avoided him by crossing the street and pursuing his way on the other
side.

At last he was at his old home. The grounds were the same in size, but
the old house had been repainted, and trees which had been small and
slender were now large and dense. There was a heartless alteration in
the appearance of it all. The white paint on the house somehow made it
seem a veritable ghost of its former self; its whole aspect was cold and
forbidding. He opened the gate and entered. He was not afraid, for as
a boy he had gone into the grounds at any hour he liked; he had even
raised an unfastened window in the old dining-room, when he had mislaid
his key, and climbed in long after midnight.

There was a light in his father’s room on the ground floor, but the
blind was drawn down. Fred could not look in from where he stood, so he
crept up close to the wall, and moved noiselessly along against it till
he could peer through the crack between the window-sill and the blind.
He started back, for in the light of the green-shaded lamp he saw his
father seated at a table reading a paper. How strange it seemed to see
him after all those years! And yet the banker had changed very little.
It was the same harsh, imperturbable face. In it lay no sign of concern
over the absence of the son who now loved him with a woman’s tenderness.

“Poor, poor father!” the young man said, in his heart. “I never
understood you. I didn’t know what life meant then as I do now. You are
living according to your lights. It was I who was wrong - wofully wrong.
God help me!”

With a low groan he crept away. Out into the street he went. He must
hurry now, for his time was limited. There must be no mistake about the
train. He must not let his employer suspect this stolen excursion of
his, for it would mar the pleasure of the old man’s journey.

Fred now met and had to avoid few passers-by, and he hurried on to
Margaret’s home, thankful that it lay in the direction of the waiting
train. The great structure was wholly dark, and there was no sign of
life about it. That was her window; he could plainly see it as he stood
at the fence. But what, after all, could it matter to him? Perhaps she
had not occupied the room for years. His heart seemed turned to stone as
the new fear sank into him that she might have married and moved away.
She had loved him once; he was as sure of that as he was of her honesty.
Yes, she had loved him! She had told him so with her arms tightly
clasped about his neck. His shameful conduct had separated them - that
and nothing else. With his head lowered he turned away, wholly
indifferent now as to whether he was seen or not.

Almost before he realized it the wrecked freight-cars were before him;
the track was being rapidly cleared; the headlight of the train that was
to bear him away was streaming on him with insistent fierceness.

“How long will you keep us waiting?” he asked the foreman of the gang,
who, in greased and blackened overalls, stood near an overturned truck.

“Only an hour or so longer. It is past one now,” was the reply.

The Pullman was dimly lighted from the overhead lamps which were turned
low, but the outer door was open, and, passing the porter half asleep in
the smoking-room, Fred went to his berth, drew the curtains aside, and
began to undress.

“Is that you, Fred?” a low, anxious voice inquired, and Whipple thrust
his shaggy head out from his berth.

“Yes, sir. Is there anything I can do for you, Mr. Whipple?”

“No; that is - ” The curtains slowly parted, and the old man came out,
completely dressed, save for the absence of his coat, collar, and
cravat. He looked around cautiously, and seemed relieved to find that
they were the only passengers awake. He sank into a seat opposite Fred’s
berth and sighed. “I’ve been awfully worried,” he said. “You see, my
boy, I missed you. I waited and waited and couldn’t sleep a wink, and
the longer you stayed away the worse I got. You see, I have my clothes
on. I got up, and went out to the wreck, and tried to find you. I don’t
know what got into me. I was worried - worried like rips.”

“I felt restless and - went for a walk,” Walton explained, lamely. “I
didn’t know it was so late; besides, I thought you’d be sound asleep and
not miss me.”

“I reckon I’m old and childish,” Whipple said, with a forced laugh. “The
fact is, Fred, if the truth must be told, I reckon I feel powerful close
to you. I didn’t know the thing had taken such a deep hold on me. I
reckon it is this trip with just you and me off together like two boys.
I’ve got so I think I can detect when you are happy and when you ain’t
over your old trouble, and ever since morning I sort o’ fancied you
looked uneasy and downhearted. Then when you went off, leaving me away
out here all by myself, why, somehow, I was afraid - actually afraid
that - ”

“You were afraid that in my despondency I might injure myself,” Fred
broke in; “but you needn’t ever - ”

“I wasn’t afraid of any such thing!” Whipple threw in, almost
indignantly. “I knew there was no such danger when you had fought the
fight you have for six years hand-running, and got as high up as you
have; but I was a little afraid - well, to be honest - I was afraid you
might have seen somebody on the train who you wanted to avoid on account
of matters long past and buried, and that you thought it might be
advisable to - to keep out of sight, that’s all.”

“It wasn’t that, Mr. Whipple, I assure you,” Walton answered, in a husky
voice, and he sat down opposite his friend and laid his hands firmly on
the old man’s knees. “The time has come, Mr. Whipple, when I must
tell you more about my past life. After I have done so, you will fully
understand how I - ”

“No, no, I won’t listen!” Whipple raised his hands in protest. “I don’t
want to hear a word. It wrings my silly old heart, anyway, to think of
what may lie away back there before you come to me. You seem to be a son
of my own, bom to me in your terrible trouble, and I want to think of
you that way. I thought, at first, that it would be a pretty thing to
let you pay back the debt hanging over you with just your own earnings;
but I don’t think so now. That amount of money would be nothing to me,
and you know it. You’ve seen me donate more than that to causes that
didn’t interest me one-hundredth part as much as this does. My boy, when
we get to New York I’ll draw the money, and you must take it and clear
yourself. I’ll never rest till you do.”

“I can’t do that, Mr. Whipple,” Walton said, in a grateful tone. “When
I left home I told my father the money should be replaced by my own
earnings, and it must be that way.”

“You can’t keep me from raising your salary if I see fit and proper,”
Whipple argued. “You are the best man I ever employed from any
standpoint, and you don’t draw pay enough - not half enough.”

“I can’t let you do it,” Walton said, with a grateful smile. “I am
already paid more than any other man in my position. To give me more
would be charity, and I don’t want that. I want to pay my way out, Mr.
Whipple.”

“Well, you’ll do it,” the old man gave in, fervently.

“If you was to be hampered now, my brave boy, I’d actually lose faith in
God and the hereafter. I honestly believe you’ll get your reward, and
be reinstated in all you ever wanted. Now, good-night. Sleep sound, and
let’s not allow this to spoil our good time. I reckon this trip has sort
o’ turned your thoughts onto bygone days, but we’ll have other things to
think of in New York. Good-night, my son, good-night.”

“Good-night, sir.”

The heavy curtains hid the portly old man, and Walton proceeded to
undress and lie down. But he could not sleep. What human being with a
normal heart could have done so under like circumstances? An hour later
the dull, rumbling movement of the car told him that they were off.
There was no stop at the station, but Walton propped himself upon his
elbow and raised the little window-shade and peered out as they passed
through the switch-yard of the town. On the platform a night-watchman
stood swinging a lantern. In the rapidly shifting glare of light Fred
recognized him. It was Dan Smith, a faithful negro who used to work
about the bank and whom Fred had known from childhood up.

“Poor old Uncle Dan!” the outcast said, bitterly, as the kindly features
were spirited away in the distance.’ “You know why ‘Marse Freddie’
had to leave, don’t you? It was because he was a thief, Uncle Dan. The
little fellow you used to carry on your shoulders and be so proud of
grew up to be a thief - a _thief_, and he is hiding now from you and all
the rest!”




CHAPTER X

|THE two friends had been in New York five days, and in the continual
round of theatres, and in sight-seeing, with occasional call at some
establishment with which Whipple had dealings, they spent the time very
pleasantly. The pain caused by Fred’s secret visit to his old home was,
in a measure, assuaged by his constant effort to be cheerful for the
sake of his benefactor’s enjoyment. He felt that he was succeeding,
and the realization of the fact buoyed him up to further activity in
self-obliteration. On occasion, Whipple acted like a college boy off
on a lark. He passed funny criticisms on the persons they saw on the
streets and in the cars, and at the table of the café where they got
their meals he purposely blundered over the French words on the menu, to
the great mystification of the polite waiter, who found it impossible to
reconcile actual ignorance with the costly clothing Whipple wore and his
extravagant tips and liberal orders.

On the sixth morning of their stay in the metropolis they went down to
pay a promised visit to Lewis Marston, the importer of teas and coffees
from whom Whipple had received many a shipment and had met once or twice
in New Orleans.

“So _this_ is the Mr. Spencer you’ve written me about so often?” Marston
smiled cordially as he was introduced to Fred, and begged them to take
seats in the spacious office of which he was the only occupant. “Young


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Redemption of Kenneth Galt → online text (page 15 of 24)