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man, as we used to say in the South, your ears ought to burn, for your
boss has written me lots of good things about you. I remember he wrote
last winter that his business was growing out of all bounds, owing to
the fresh blood and modern ideas you had put into it.”

Fred flushed modestly as he released the hand of the portly, pink-faced,
side-whiskered old merchant.

“Mr. Whipple is noted for his generosity,” he said, lamely.

“Well, you are the only one of his force he has mentioned to me, at any
rate,” the importer said, persistently, “and I know he means it, for a
man who has ability and can be thoroughly trusted is hard to find these
days.”

The three sat and chatted for an hour, Marston being interrupted now and
then by a telegram or a question asked by some clerk who came from an
adjoining room, where there was a din of clicking typewriting machines.

“Now we’ll have to go,” Whipple said, as he arose. “Fred has got some
letters of instructions to write home, and I’m due in Wall Street at
this very minute.”

“To write letters!” Marston cried. “Well, he needn’t go away to do
that. Do you see that desk at the window? It is for the sole use of our
customers. There is plenty of stationery. Sit down, Mr. Spencer. I’ll
have to leave soon myself. My wife is coming to get me to help her
select some Persian rugs, and you’ll have the whole office to yourself.”

“A good plan, Fred,” Whipple exclaimed; “then we could meet at the Astor
House and take lunch together at one o’clock. I want to see what the old
place is like. My daddy stopped there once before the war.”

“That’s the idea!” the importer chimed in. “Make yourself thoroughly at
home, Mr. Spencer. If you need anything, just tap that bell and the boy
will attend to you.”

When his employer had left, Fred sat down at the desk and began to
write.

“Oh, I forgot,” Marston said, apologetically, as he looked up from the
letter he was writing. “I will call a stenographer, if you’d like to
dictate your correspondence.”

“Oh, thank you,” Fred answered, “it won’t be necessary; I have only a
few lines to write.”

He had completed the task before him, and was waiting for an opportunity
to leave without interrupting the merchant, who was busily writing at
his desk, when an office-boy came and spoke to Marston in an undertone.

“Oh, she’s not alone, then!” the merchant said aloud, as he pushed back
his chair. “Send them up. I am not quite ready yet, and they will have
to wait.”

A moment later a cheery feminine voice - evidently Mrs.
Marston’s - sounded in the corridor outside, where her husband stood
waiting for her.

“Well, I’m glad you came along, too, Miss Margaret,” Fred heard the old
man saying. “You must sit down in my dusty office for a moment.” He made
an effort at lowering his voice, but it was still audible. “There
is only one man there, but he is young and decidedly good-looking.
By-the-way, he is that Mr. Spencer, the phenomenal young business man I
told you about. Come in, and I’ll let you entertain him till I can get
away. I’ve got to run down to the main salesroom.”

“And I’ve got to telephone the cook.” It was evidently Mrs. Marston’s
voice again. “We are going back to lunch. The General has promised to
meet us there. Where is the booth?”

“At the end of the corridor,” Marston was heard directing her. “Now,
come on, young lady. By George, that _is_ a stunning gown! The new
railroad helped pay for that, eh?”

The thin canvas door was pushed open. Fred stood up; his eyes dilated;
his blood ran cold. It was Margaret Dearing to whom the voluble merchant
was casually introducing him.

Margaret started and paled.

“Mr. _Spencer!_” she echoed, then quickly averted her face from the
inattentive glance of her host.

Walton’s eyes went down as he bowed, white and quivering. He could say
nothing.

“Now, I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” Marston said, quite
unconscious that anything unusual had happened, and, gathering up some
sheets of paper from his desk, he hastened away.

“Margaret!” Walton gasped, when they were alone in the awful silence of
the room.

“Mr. Spencer? - _Spencer?_” the young lady groped, as she gazed on him in
helpless wonder.

“God forgive me, I had to change my name!” he panted, as he stood white
as death could have made him under her timid, almost frightened stare.
“I had no other reason than that I wanted to live down my disgrace, and
it looked like it would be impossible otherwise. I was a drowning
man, Margaret, grasping at a straw; a new life opened out to me, and I
entered it with the hope that - ”

“I understand!” the girl gasped, and she drew herself up in pained
haughtiness and twisted her gloved hands tightly in front of her. “But
need we - talk about it?”

“No, I haven’t even _that_ right,” Walton declared, as he looked at
the woman, grown infinitely more beautiful and graceful than even her
girlhood had foreshadowed. “I promised Wynn the night I left that I’d
never insult you by coming in contact with you again, or even addressing
a line to you. I knew we had to part - that I could best serve you by
going away never to return. Your brother was right. He acted only as any
honorable man should in talking to me as he did. I was insane to aspire
to your friendship with that thing hanging over me; but it was the
insanity of love, Margaret - a love that never can die. I ought not to
say it now, but what does it matter? I am not fit for you to wipe your
feet on. I am still a fugitive from justice - a criminal living under an
assumed name.”

He paused, for she had collapsed limply into Marston’s chair, and was
resting her white brow on her bloodless hand.

“Oh, don’t - it is - is killing me!” she cried. “I had thought we might
never meet again. I was beginning to hope that, in time, the memory
of - of it all would be less painful, but it is revived again. Oh, it is
unbearable!” He took a deep, trembling breath, and moved a step nearer
to her.

“But even _you_ will grant that, by continued effort, I may purge my
soul of it - at least, in the eyes of God,” he said. “I don’t mean that
I could ever ask you to receive me openly as an equal after what has
happened, but you will, at least, be glad that I am honestly striving to
lead a better life.”

“Yes, yes,” she said - “oh yes!”

“And I am not _wholly_ living under false colors,” he went on,
anxiously. “I have confessed the worst to my employer, and he is doing
all he can to help me. He trusts me. I don’t like to say these things in
my own behalf, and yet surely you will forgive me for saying that I am,
at least, not living as I used to live.”

“You intend to make - make reparation?” she said, raising an awful glance
to his face.

“Of course. I have sent back all my savings so far - every dollar I could
get together; and before another year is past I hope to send enough, at
least, to - ”

“Money!” she cried, almost in a tone of disgust - and as she spoke she
had a picture of a golden-haired child with a sunny face playing on the
lawn at her home - “money! As if that would count in a matter like - like
_that!_”

“It is all I can do now, Margaret!” he exclaimed, as he shrank under the
unexpected severity of her words.

“I presume so,” she answered, coldly, even sternly, and she fixed an
unreadable stare on his blighted face; “and yet if you could be back
at home, and see what I have seen, perhaps you’d realize that there are
things mere money cannot restore. I can’t blame you wholly - to save my
life, I can’t! The temptation was deliberately put in your track;
you were not born with the power to resist, and so you fell like many
another man has fallen, but you ought to have stayed on at Stafford and
done your duty - your _full_ duty!”

“I couldn’t! I assure you, I _couldn’t_, Margaret!” he went on, almost
piteously, his lips quivering under stress of the vast emotion let
loose within him. “My father would have punished me by law - would have
deprived me of every chance to atone in the way that I am now trying
to atone. But I have no right to talk to you this way. I am breaking
my promise to Wynn. By my own act, I have banished myself from you
forever.”

“Yes, forever!” she admitted, as her proud head went down. “There is
nothing either of us can do. We must try not to meet again, even by
accident. I must join Mrs. Marston now. I hear her in the corridor. You
are very pale, and she might wonder and imagine all sorts of things. I’d
have to introduce you, and I can’t even remember your - your new name. I
will tell no one at home that I have seen you. You may trust that to me.
Your secret is safe. I can’t recall the name of the place you live in. I
sha’n’t try. I never have believed it was _all_ your fault - that is, not
_all_. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye,” he repeated, huskily; and he saw her rise, and, without
extending her hand, or giving him another glance, she moved unsteadily
toward the door.

When she was gone he sat down at the desk and took up his pen, and with
an inanimate hand began to address one of his letters, wondering dumbly
that such mere details as a street and number and a man’s initials could
rise to his memory at such a moment.

That evening, in the big drawing-room at the Marstons’, General
Sylvester sat down by his niece.

“You look tired,” he said. “I think you show it more than usual; being
on one’s feet all day is no little tax on the energy. By-the-way, we are
invited to a big reception for next Wednesday evening at the Langleys’.
It is given to some foreign statesman or other. I have the card
somewhere. You must look your prettiest and wear the dandy gown I
selected.”

“Why, it isn’t for evening wear.” Margaret smiled faintly. “Besides, do
you think we ought to stay as - long as that?”

“As long as that?” he exclaimed. “Are you really thinking of going home?
Of course, it lies with you, dear. As far as I am personally concerned,
it doesn’t matter one way or the other. Say, little girl, are you really
homesick?”

“I think I am, Uncle Tom.” She avoided his eyes, which were so
solicitously bearing down on her from beneath their heavy brows. “I
presume the novelty of this sort of thing soon wears off, and our home
is so soothing and restful.”

“Ah, I smell a rat!” the General said, teasingly. “I forgot about that
lonely bachelor neighbor of ours. We were to look after him, weren’t we?
Well, we’ll go back, and you’ll encourage him a little more, won’t you?”

The girl shuddered, an irrepressible sob struggled up within her, and
her head sank to her tightly clasped hands.

“Oh, how _can_ you say such a thing?” she asked, under her breath. “I
don’t love him. I know I can never do so now, and to think of what you
want is - horrible!” To the old man’s utter bewilderment she rose, placed
her handkerchief to her lips, and left the room.




CHAPTER XI

|KENNETH GALT was now living the life of a recluse in his old home.
The tendency to this sort of existence belongs to rare and exceptional
temperaments. He kept assuring himself that it was to be only for a
time, that when Sylvester returned with his stately niece he would crawl
out of his morbid husk and bask in their genial hospitality. Of course,
he told himself, this gloomy period of solitary self-accusation simply
must not continue. He had taken steps which no living man could retrace
in his decision in regard to Dora’s fate and the fate of her child, and
there was nothing left for him to do but to try to forget his part in
the tragedy. If he now feared that he might never again have complete
peace of mind in regard to the girl’s condition, it was due to his
present unwise proximity to her, and to his queer, almost ecstatic,
pride in his son. Some men are coarse enough to have a contempt for
the rights, social and otherwise, of their own children of illegitimate
birth; but Kenneth Galt, in despising many of the laws of man, gave
little Lionel the credit of being the product of a law he himself had
made, and which, therefore, was worthy of consideration. In some States
the declaration by a pair that they intend to live together constitutes
a legal marriage, and it was with that broad view that Dora, blinded
by faith in the superior knowledge of her lover, had unquestioningly
delivered herself. He shuddered as the conviction struck into him that,
under the same temptation that had swerved him from fidelity to their
pact, _she_ would have remained firm. She was scarcely more than a child
when he deserted her. What, he asked himself, had she developed into?
Dear-ing said she was more beautiful than ever, and as for her advance
in strength of mind and soul, there were her pictures to witness. And as
he looked at them day after day their subtle, creative depth grew upon
him. He had made a fair financial success; but what he had done, he now
told himself, was only what butchers and cobblers had accomplished. What
she was doing, in her exile from her kind, was the work of deathless
inspiration. Dearing had once aptly said that God used Evil as the
fertilizer to the soil of Good, and if so, to carry the analogy further,
Galt, in his craving for the praise of the world, and in his cowardly
shrinking from Right, was the impure soil in which the flower of Dora’s
genius was being nurtured. Yes, there was no denying it. Fate was
playing a sardonic game with him. Dora, cloaked in suffering frailty,
and championed by Truth and Spirit, was pitted against him, the carping,
sourfaced apostle of man’s puny material rights; she would go on, and he
would go on. What would be the goal, and which the ultimate winner? He
had argued that the grave and nothingness comprised the pot of dross
at the end of every life’s rainbow; but was he right? Could that
mysterious, compelling sense of fatherhood; the thrill of boundless
ecstasy, when he held Lionel in his arms; the awful brooding over the
boy’s future; the infinite rebuke of the child’s fathomless eyes - could
such things be mere functions of matter?

He was in his library when these reflections were passing through his
brain, and his attention was attracted by children’s voices somewhere
outside raised to a high pitch of anger. Stepping to a window, he looked
out toward the house of his neighbor, Congressman Weston. He was just in
time to see Weston’s son, Grover, climb over the low paling fence, and,
with a loud and abusive threat, approach Lionel, who was shorter by a
head.

“You said I shouldn’t say it again,” he cried, “but I do! She is not fit
for anybody to go with. My mother wouldn’t notice her, and no other nice
lady would. People _don’t_ - they don’t go near her!”

Galt’s blood was shocked to stillness in his veins, and then, as if by
reactionary process, it began to boil. He saw the erect figure of his
son stand as if stunned for an instant, and then, like a young tiger,
Lionel sprang at the other boy, his little hands balled. Galt heard the
blows as they fell on young Weston’s fat cheeks, and he chuckled and
ground his teeth in blended satisfaction and rage. He sprang through the
open window to the grass, and hurriedly skirted a clump of boxwood just
in time to see Grover Weston recovering from the unexpected onslaught
and beginning to rain blow after blow upon Lionel’s white face. The
contest was close, despite the inequality in ages and sizes; but the
nameless scion of the Gaits, unconscious of his heritage of bravery, was
unconquerable. He was there to fight, justly roused as he was, to his
last breath. For one instant Grover tore himself from Lionel’s bear-like
clutch, and stood glowering in sheer astonishment from his battered and
bruised face.

“You little bastard, I’ll - ” And he suddenly hurled his fist into
Lionel’s face with all his force. It was a staggering blow, but Lionel
met it without a whimper or the loss of a breath. He sprang again at his
assailant, and, catching him around the neck with his strong left arm,
he battered the other boy’s face with blow after blow.

“Hit him - that’s right, hit him, Lionel!” Galt cried out, in utter
forgetfulness of his own incongruous position. “Beat his nasty face to
a pulp while you’ve got him! If you don’t do it now, he’ll down you when
he gets free. Give him his medicine, and give him a full dose. That’s
the thing - trip him up!”

Without sparing an instant to look, but having recognized Galt’s voice,
Lionel bent his wiry body toward accomplishing the trick advised. The
two combatants swung back and forth, still bound together by Lionel’s
clutch, till finally they went down side by side. And then ensued
another struggle as to which should get on top.

“Throw your leg over!” Galt cried out. “Ah, that’s a beauty! Now, beat
him till he takes it back!” Lionel needed no such advice. His little
fists moved like the spokes of a turning wheel. A shrill howl of defeat
rose from the conquered bully, and he uttered a prolonged scream of
genuine alarm. Then emerged from a side door of the Weston house no less
a personage than the Congressman himself, and he ran across the grass,
taking flower-pots and beds of roses at long leaps.

Reaching the fighters, he grasped Lionel by the collar of his blouse and
drew him off of his cowering son. And as he held him, squirming like a
cat, he turned on Galt. “Damn it, man!” he cried, in breathless fury,
“what do you mean by standing here and encouraging this brat to fight my
boy?”

“Why, I only wanted to see fair play, that’s all,” Galt replied, a
dangerous gleam in his eyes. “I happened to hear your big bully of a son
dare the little one to fight him, and he brought it on by insulting
the little fellow’s mother. God bless him, he didn’t need my advice.
He could whip two such whelps as yours, and never half try! He hasn’t a
cowardly bone in his body! He was all there!”

“Well, it seems to me, _you_ are in a pretty business!” Weston retorted,
white with rage.

“I might be even more active than I am, Weston,” Galt said, with cold
significance, “and if you are not satisfied with the part I have taken,
you only have to say the word. You know that well enough.”

The Congressman was taken aback. There was something in the unruffled
tone and meaning stare of his neighbor’s eyes that perplexed and quelled
him. He now turned upon his sniffling offspring.

“You go in the house!” he said, angrily. “You are always picking at
some child under your size. I have noticed it.” Weston was a politician
before anything else, and the thought of turning against him a man who
controlled as many votes as did the president of the greatest railway in
the State was not particularly inviting.

“I didn’t mean to offend you, Galt,” he said, as his boy limped away,
still mopping his eyes with his fists. “I reckon I got hot because
it was my own flesh and blood. Of course, it was natural for you to
sympathize with the smaller of the two.”

“That’s the way _I_ felt about it, Weston,” Galt said, staring coldly at
the speaker. “I have nothing at all to apologize for.”

“Well, I’ll see that Grover behaves himself better in future,” the
Congressman said, still with his political eye open to advantages. “Of
course, it would be natural for a child like mine to pick up remarks
floating about among older people in regard to the mother of - ”

“We’ll let that drop, _too_, Weston!” Galt snarled. His lip quivered
ominously as he glanced significantly at Lionel, who was listening
attentively, the blood from a bruised nose trickling down to his chin
and neck.

“All right, I understand,” the Congressman said; and he moved awkwardly
away, wondering what manner of man the frigid and reticent Galt was,
after all.

“I suppose I’ve got myself in a pretty mess,” Lionel remarked, ruefully,
when Weston had left him and his father together. “My mother has made me
promise time after time not to fight; but, you see, I did.”

“Yes, I see you did,” Galt responded, a lump of queer approval in his
throat.

“I couldn’t help it - I really couldn’t,” Lionel said, with a rueful look
at his hands, which were covered with the blood of his antagonist.
“I must be a bad boy; but oh, I couldn’t let him say my beautiful
mother - my sweet mo - ” He choked up. “I couldn’t - I simply couldn’t! She
is so sweet and good! I couldn’t help it!”

“Of course not, but don’t worry about it,” Galt said, sunken to depths
of shame he had never reached before. “You must try to forget it - forget
the whole thing.”

“I am afraid my mother will find out about it, and, you know, she
mustn’t,” the child said, his great eyes filled with concern. “She would
ask what the boy said, and Granny says she must never be told nasty
things children say to me. Such things make her sad and keep her from
painting. She must not find out about this - this fight.”

“Well, she really need not know,” Galt said, as the heat of his shame
mantled his face and brow.

“But she _will_,” Lionel insisted, gloomily, “for she is sure to see
this blood on me. It is on my neck, and running down under my collar. Do
you suppose I could get it off without soiling my waist?”

Galt unbuttoned the broad white collar, and drew it away from the
child’s neck.

“It hasn’t touched it yet,” he said. “Wait a moment!” And he adroitly,
and yet with oddly quivering fingers, inserted his own handkerchief
between the collar and the trickling blood. “Now come into the house,
and I’ll fix you up. Your clothes are a little rumpled, but when I have
washed the blood off no one need know about your fight.”

“Oh, that would be a _fine_ idea!” Lionel exclaimed, joyfully. He put
his little hand into his father’s, and together they went into the
house. “She won’t know, will she?”

“No, she need not know,” Galt said aloud; but in his thought he added:
“Lionel, you are a little gentleman. You are a living proof that blood
will tell.”

The lonely man’s heart was warmed by an inward glow of pride which was
quickly succeeded by an icy breath of despair that seemed to blow over
him. This, he reflected, was only the introductory part of the vast soul
tragedy he himself had put on the stage of existence. The trials he had
encountered through young manhood were naught to those foreshadowed in
the unsuspecting and trusting face at his side.

“Here is the bath,” he said, as they reached the white-tiled room on the
second floor. “Now go in, and be careful to take off your blouse without
getting it bloody. If we are going to work this thing we must work it
right. Perhaps you’d better strip and bathe all over. It will make you
feel good anyway, after that fierce round of yours. Let me fill the
tub.”

“I think I’d better, maybe,” acquiesced Lionel. “Well, be careful,”
Galt warned him, as he turned on the two streams of water and tested the
blending temperature.

“I really can’t unbutton this collar behind,” Lionel said, with a touch
of manly shame over the confession. “My mother always does it. She has
never let me learn. I am big enough, gracious knows!”

“Wait, let me undress you!” the father said, as he hastily dried his
hands.

“I wish you would, if you’ll be so kind,” Lionel said, in a tone of
reliance, which somehow reached an hitherto untouched fount of feeling
in the breast of his companion.

As the child stood before him, Galt, with throbbing pulse and reverent
fingers, found himself doing the duties of a mother to his offspring.
The flowing necktie and collar were removed; next the blouse and
underbody. Then a vision of inexplicable and awe-inspiring beauty
greeted the senses of the beholder, as the symetrical form, a veritable
poem in flesh and blood, stood bared to his sight. He laid the still
unsoiled garments on a chair, and lifted the boy in his arms to put him
into the water. The warm, smooth cheek touched his own; a tingling throb
of paternity - of starving, yearning fatherhood - shot through him as he
held the boy across his arms like a baby and lowered him slowly to the
water.

“Look out, I’ll duck you!” he said, jestingly, and the boy replied with
a ringing laugh which held no hint of fear.


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