Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Redemption of Kenneth Galt online

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In the water the child lay with his face smilingly upturned.

“Ugh!” he exclaimed, “it feels good. This tub is big enough to swim
in - a little bit, anyway. Will you show me how to swim some day?”

“Yes, my son - yes, Lionel, some day, perhaps.”

“In _deep_ water - in a really-really stream that fish swim in?”

“Yes, Lionel.”

“Oh, that would be so nice! Couldn’t we catch fish, too?”

“I think so - yes, of course, some day, perhaps.”

But would those delights, conceived for the first time to-day, ever be
realized? Galt asked himself, as keen pangs from some unknown source
darted through him. Sick unto death of the vapid adulation of narrow men
and women, would he ever experience the transcendental joy of intimate
and daily companionship with this human wonder, such as other fathers
enjoyed with their sons?

No, the question was already answered. The bliss - the queer,
Heaven-tending bliss of the present moment - was merely stolen. Was it
likely that any son at all would ever come to him - a son which he could
father in the broadest, holiest sense? No; and he started and fell to
quivering superstitiously. Even if he were married and another son was
given to him in lawful wedlock, could he dare - in the face of Infinite
Justice - dare to put _that_ child forward, acknowledge _that_ child as
his own, while _deserting, ignoring, denying_ Lionel?

“Great God!” his quaking soul cried out in sheer anguish. “Lionel,
my son; my boy, made in the image of her and me, he who trusts and so
innocently loves me! And yet it must be. Fate has ordained it. I have
his faith and love now, but later he may turn on me like an avenging

“My mother soaps me all over before I get out. Must I do it?” the child
asked, as his merry, haunting eyes smiled up through their long, wet

“It won’t be necessary this time,” Galt said. “The blood is entirely
washed off. Get out and let me dry you with this big towel.”

“Ugh! it is cold.” The boy shuddered, as he stood out on the rug and
allowed himself to be enveloped from head to foot in the big Turkish
towel. He was soon dry, and as he stood, his soft skin flushed as
delicately pink as the inside of a sea-shell, Galt, making many an
awkward mistake, proceeded to dress him.

“Now let me brush your hair; at least, I know how to do that, young
man,” the father said, “but I think it ought to be wet more.”

“Oh no; it is too wet now!” the child declared, as he shook his locks,
the ends of which had been under water. “My mother combs it dry.”

“There, how will that do, Miss Particular?” Galt asked as he led the
child to a large mirror.

“I don’t know; it looks funny, somehow” - Lionel made a grimace at his
image in the glass - “but it will have to do. I’d better hurry home. They
might miss me, and find out about the fight. I like you for that.”

“For what?” Galt followed him to the door, and as they started across
the grass toward the cottage he felt Lionel timidly reaching out for his
hand. He had evidently not heard Galt’s half-whispered question.

“What was it you said you liked me for?” his father repeated, taking the
little hand and holding it tenderly.

“Oh, because you wanted me to whip him. He’s rich and has everything,
and Granny says his father is a great man. I suppose if you liked Grover
the best you would have told _him_ how to fight.”

“You are smaller than he,” Galt said, lamely.

“Then it _wasn’t_ because you like me?” Galt felt the little hand
stiffen, as if some impulse of dormant confidence in the tiny palm had
forsaken it.

“Yes, it was because I like you,” Galt said, warmly, and, obeying a
desire he refused to combat, he raised the boy in his arms and held him
tight against his breast. “If he had hurt you, Lionel, I don’t know what
I should have done.”

“Then I’m glad I made him bellow,” the boy said, with a little laugh, as
he got down to the ground. “Something had to be done, you know, after he
said that about my mother.”

Yes, something had to be done, Kenneth Galt told his tortured inner
self, as he stood and watched the boy trip lightly homeward - some one
had to fight and struggle and smart as a consequence of the wrong that
had been done, and the duty had fallen on a little child. Through the
slow, weary years of perhaps a long life the fight just beginning would
go on, and the chief cause of it must shirk it all. Galt groaned,
and clinched his hands, and turned back to his desolate home. He had
contended that there was no such thing as spirit, and yet this remorse
raging like a tempest within him certainly had naught to do with matter.
He had argued that man, bom of the flesh, could gratify all animal
desires and suffer no ill effects except those excited by physical fear;
but there was nothing to fear in this case. Dora’s lips were sealed;
no one else knew the truth, or ever would know, and yet the very skies
above seemed turning to adamant and closing in around him.


|DORA BARRY sat at her easel absorbed in the painting of a picture,
though the afternoon light was fading from her canvas in a way that made
the work difficult, when her mother came to the door and glanced in.

“I have kept a lookout for fully an hour,” she announced, “but I haven’t
once seen Lionel. I am getting old and silly, I suppose, but I can’t
keep from worrying.”

Dora got up quickly, her face full of alarm, and the two went to the
window of the dining-room and stood looking out for a moment.

“There! Isn’t that - I see him!” Mrs. Barry cried out in relief. “Why,
he is with Kenneth Galt! He has him in his arms. There! - don’t you
see? - just beyond the row of cedars. Thank Heaven! we had our scare for

But Dora, wide-eyed and astonished, was silent; her face was very grave.
Her mother ran eagerly to the door to meet the child, but Dora remained
as if rooted to the spot, her gaze fixed on the receding form of Galt.

“Why did he have him?” she whispered to herself. “What can it mean? He
was treating him kindly, and gently, too. I could see it in his face. It
was glowing as it used to glow when he was true to himself and to me. It
looked like Lionel’s arm was round his neck. What can it mean?”

When the child had come in, Dora sat down and drew him into her lap
and held him fondly to her breast. “Mother was frightened,” she said,
cooingly, her lips on his brow. “She missed her little boy, and was
afraid something had happened to him.”

“Oh, I’m all right, mother,” Lionel said. “I can take care of myself;
you must never be afraid.”

“But how did you happen to be with Mr. Galt?” Mrs. Barry asked. “I
didn’t know you knew him.”

“Why, why - ” but Lionel went no further. He had never lied, and the
plan his sense of honor had laid for him was difficult to execute. His
grandmother repeated her question in more positive tones, but, with eyes
downcast, he refused to answer.

“Let him alone, mother,” Dora said, her face rigid. “It doesn’t make any

“It doesn’t, eh?” the old woman exclaimed, in surprise. “Well, I think
you both are acting queerly. There is no reason why Lionel should not
tell us when and how he met Mr. Galt. I can see by his face that he is
keeping something back.”

But Dora was holding the child’s head against her throbbing breast, and
she threw an almost commanding glance at her mother.

“Let him alone now,” she said, firmly, and with such a sharp tone of
finality that her mother stared at her in surprise and left the room.

That evening Dora prepared the child for bed. As she undressed him she
scanned each piece of his clothing most carefully. She found a green
smudge made from strong pressure against the turf in a most unexpected
place, high up on the child’s back; she discovered the imprint of soiled
fingers on the broad white collar, and remarked the inconsistency of
this with Lionel’s immaculately clean hands; the necktie had been loose
and awkwardly retied; and, most conspicuous of all, was the uncouth way
the golden hair was dressed. She noted all these things without comment;
but when the white bed-covers were turned down, and Lionel had said his
prayers and crawled in, Dora lowered the lamp and reclined beside him.
Outwardly she was calm. To the child’s observation, no new thing had
happened in her even life, and yet her whole being was aflame, her soul
panting in suspense.

“Mother’s little boy never has told her a story in all his life,” she
began, as soothingly as if she were crooning him to sleep. “Isn’t that
nice? _Some_ little boys tell fibs to their mothers, but _my_ boy has
always told the truth, and mother is so glad.”

Lionel lay still. She kissed him softly and waited. At any other time
his little arms and lips would have responded, and she marked well the
change to-night. Lionel did not move or speak, but simply lay with his
old-young gaze gravely fixed on the ceiling where the lamp-chimney had
focussed a ring of light.

“You would tell _your_ mother everything that ever happened to you,
wouldn’t you, darling?” she said, shyly pressing her cheek against his.
She felt him nod impulsively, but second thought seemed to seal his
lips. His was a tender age at which to begin the defence of a wronged
parent by pretext and concealment, but the burden was on his shoulders,
and little Lionel was manfully doing his best.

“There are two kinds of stories, and they are both bad,” Dora went on,
desperate over the delay of the divulgence which she thought could mean
so little to the child and yet so very much to her. “It is bad to tell
a lie, and it is bad to keep back anything at all from your mother,
because she is more to you than all the rest of the world. She is your
_mother_; she works for you; she loves you; she would die for you; and
if anybody - no matter who it is - were to want you to keep a secret from
her, it would be wrong - very, very wrong. It would make your mother very
unhappy; it would make her cry long after you were asleep to know that
her little son was keeping anything from her.”

She felt the little white-robed figure quiver. He raised himself on his
elbow and slowly sat up; his young face, in the dim light, was full of

“Is that so, mother?” he asked.

“Yes, darling,” she answered. “There can be no secrets at all between a
mother and her boy. She must tell _him_ everything, and he must not
keep a thing back from _her_. How did you happen to meet - Mr. Galt
this afternoon?”

“_That’s_ what you want to know?”

“Yes, dear - that’s all. Surely, there can be no reason why your own
dear mother should not know a little thing like that. Surely he - Mr.
Galt - couldn’t have told you not to tell me?”

The child was still for a moment. He folded his little arms over his
knee, clinched his hands, and sat avoiding her insistent eyes.

“Wait!” he said, finally. “I want to go to Granny.”

“You want to go to Granny, and leave your mother?” she asked, deeply
perplexed. .

“Just a minute,” he said, as he crawled over her and got down on the
floor. “I’ll be back. I’ll be right back, mother, dear.”

“It is something you will tell her, but can’t tell me!” Dora cried out,
in half-assumed reproach. “Why, _Lionel?_”

“I’ll be back,” he said, evasively. “There is no hurry.” And she heard
the patter of his bare feet along the corridor to his grandmother’s

Mrs. Barry always retired early, and she was now in her bed, but very
wide awake. Something in the incident had set her to thinking on new
lines. “Can it be? Can it be?” she kept asking herself, in great
excitement. “Why didn’t I think of it?”

“Granny!” she heard Lionel call out from the dark, doorway.

“Yes, dear, what is it?” she asked.

“I want to come to your bed a minute - just a minute.”

“All right, come on, darling; don’t stumble over anything.”

She heard him groping through the dark, and then felt his little hands
on her wrinkled face.

“Granny,” he said, a tremor in his voice, “you told me if anybody ever
said anything mean about my mother, that I must not let her know about
it - never at all.”

“Yes, darling, that would be a nice, brave little man, for you wouldn’t
want to make her sad, would you?”

“Well, I had a terrible fight with Grover Weston over in Mr. Galt’s
yard. Grover said a nasty, mean thing about her. You told me not to let
her know anything like that, and so did Mr. Galt, but mamma is begging
me so hard.”

“Oh!” The old woman lifted the boy over her into the bed, and put her
arms about him tenderly. “You can tell Granny about it, and then if she
thinks best perhaps you may tell your mother.”

He complied, and the wondering old woman, as she lay with the child
in her arms, heard the whole beautiful story in every detail, even to
Galt’s display of affection, and as she listened cold tears welled up in
her old eyes and trickled down the furrows of her cheeks to her pillow.
When it was over, she led the child back to his mother.

“Don’t ask him any more about it. Wait,” she said, in an undertone, and
with a significant gesture in the direction of her room. “Don’t spoil a
beautiful thing. God bless him! he is right - young as he is, he is
right! The very angels of heaven are closing his sweet lips to-night.
Don’t bother him.”

When Lionel was asleep Dora anxiously crept into her mother’s room. A
lamp was now burning on a table, but Dora blew it out, and went and sat
on the edge of her mother’s bed.

“I know your secret now,” Mrs. Barry faltered, with a suppressed sob in
her pillow. “All these years I have wondered over your great trouble,
and why you were not more open with me about it, but Lionel has made it
clear. I understand now.”

“Did Kenneth Galt tell my child that - ” Dora cried out, in a rasping
undertone. “Did he dare to - ”

“No, no, not that!” the old woman corrected. “He simply betrayed himself
in his conduct toward the boy. Listen! Lionel need never suspect
that you know what he did, but you must be told the truth. It is too
beautiful for you to miss.”

She told the whole story as it had come from the child’s lips, together
with other things she had culled as to happenings between him and his
father on former occasions.

“Let them both alone,” she added, fervently, as she concluded. “The
little fellow, nameless and cast out as he is, has of himself won the
love God gave him the right to. It is his. Let him keep it, and I
pray Heaven that it may drag that haughty spirit down into the mire of
repentance. I’ve thought it all over. I remember the date well. I know
now why he deserted you; he couldn’t face public exposure just at that
particular time. His temptation was great, and he fell. I believe he
loved you _then_, and that he does _yet_.”

“_Does yet!_” Dora sneered, and she put a protesting hand out to
her mother’s as it lay on the coverlet. “Don’t say that. He couldn’t
now - after all this time.”

“But he _does_, he does - a thousand times more than he did, too,” the
old woman insisted. “He hasn’t married; he is leading a lonely,
morbid life. He-is longing for you - though he may still dread public
opinion - and is adoring the child. He may resist longer, but in the end
he will succumb and crawl to your feet and beg for forgiveness. Watch my
prophecy. He’ll do it! - he’ll do it!”

“You don’t know, mother,” Dora sighed, and she stood up and moved away
in the darkness. “You don’t know.”

Dora went back to her room and stood looking down at her sleeping child.
Suddenly her eyes filled and her breast heaved high.

“Mother’s little champion!” she cried, and she knelt down by the bed,
covered her face, and wept.


|THE July sun beat fiercely on the tin slate roofs of the houses forming
square of Stafford. It was noon, business was at a standstill. The
clerks and typewriters in Walton’s bank yawning and fanning themselves
heat. The only occupied individual in the building was the banker
himself, who was crouched over his desk in his little office making
calculations on a pad of paper with a pencil. Toby Lassiter was at
the window of the receiving-teller when an old man came in at the
folding-screen door and asked if he might see Mr. Walton personally. It
was Stephen Whipple, and he carried a travelling-bag in his hand; he was
covered with dust, and marked in the creases of his face by drifts of
fine cinders.

“I’ll see, sir, if you’ll wait a minute,” Toby answered, with his best
window-manners; then he went to his employer, and returned to pilot the
caller back to the office.

“Stranded on a trip and wants a check cashed without identification,”
was Toby’s mental comment as he led the way. “Well, he’s come to the
wrong man, as he will mighty soon find out.”

Whipple gave a searching glance at the man who was rising from the desk
with impatiently lifted brows. He put his bag down at his feet, but
failed to extend his hand, as Walton evidently expected him to do.

“Take a seat, sir, take a seat,” and the banker motioned to a chair near
the desk.

“Thanks.” The Westerner kicked his bag along toward the chair, and
sat down rather clumsily. He took out an enormous handkerchief, also
considerably begrimed, and mopped his perspiring face.

“You’ve got a hot town, sir,” Whipple said, introductively.

“Some say so, and some say not,” Walton replied, succinctly. “Well,
sir,” he continued, “is there anything I can do for you? The reason I
make so bold as to ask is because my clerk said you wanted to see me

“Yes, it is of a sort of personal nature; at least, I reckon, you might
call it that,” and the merchant reached down and caught the handle of
his bag for no obvious reason than that he wanted to move it to a point
equidistant between his two splaying feet. Then he looked up, and there
was a decided flush of embarrassment in his face, which extended down
to the soiled collar on his pudgy neck. The banker, ever quick at
the reading of countenances, came to the conclusion that some sort of
unbusiness-like request in regard to needed funds was forthcoming, and
he was already framing his refusal.

“Well, sir - well, sir?” he said.

“The truth of the matter is that it is of _such_ a personal nature that
it is purty hard to know how to get started at it,” Whipple finally got
out. “Of course, I am a stranger to you, and I’ve come, too, without any
letters of introduction or papers of identification, and - is there any
danger of anybody listening?”

“None whatever - none on earth!” Walton sniffed, impatiently. “You can
talk at the top of your voice if you want to; the walls are thick;
besides, I don’t have secrets, and I don’t know as I am in the market
for any.”

“No, of course not, Mr. Walton.” The flush in the visitor’s face was
dying out and giving place to an expression of rather anxious rigidity.
“Well, I am glad we won’t be overheard, at any rate, for I want to talk
to you in behalf of your son.”

“Oh, that’s it, huh? I see! I see!” And Walton swept the form before
him with eyes in which the lights of anger were slowly but positively
kindling. “It is about him, is it? Well, wait till I send this letter to
the mail. I’ll be back, sir. I’ll be back.”

“All right, Mr. Walton. There’s no hurry.”

With the letter in his hand the banker rose as if from the sheer heat of
the growing anger within him and went out. Standing in the door of
the main counting-room he caught Lassiter’s eye and signalled him to
approach. Giving him the letter, Walton said: “Mail that, and then come
back and keep a peeled eye on that fat chap at my desk. Do you remember
what I said when that three thousand dollars came from nowhere in
particular by express awhile back, along with the mealy-mouthed yarn
from Fred about changing his ways, and all that gush?”

“Yes, sir, I think so,” answered the startled Toby. “You said you
thought - ”

“That it was a deep-laid plan amongst him and some other sharpers to
hoodwink me; and I told you, Toby, that I’d be willing to bet money that
it wouldn’t be many days before somebody would hike along this way to
talk it over - some go-between, you understand. Well, he’s in there now,
setting humped over his satchel like a spider watching a fly. He thinks
I’m the fly. I want to know what he’s got to say. I want to see his
hand, you know, and I come out here to take a whiff of air and steady
myself so I wouldn’t blurt out what I thought too quick and drive him
away. Keep your eye on him after he leaves me, Toby, and see which way
he goes. He looks to me like some shyster lawyer who has taken up the
matter and thinks he is smart enough to fool me. Somebody has invested
three thousand in this scheme, and the deal is to be clinched this
morning. Huh! I’ll sorter tote ‘im along, Toby, and see if I can get
onto his game,” and, with a sly and yet nervous wink, Walton turned

“Yes, sir; all right now, sir,” he said, breezily, as he returned to
his desk and lowered himself into his chair. “We’ve got this room all to
ourselves, and are as snug as a bug in a rug, as the fellow said. Now,
fire ahead.”

“Of course, it must be a sort o’ disagreeable subject for you to talk
about,” Whipple began, awkwardly, “and I’ll admit to you, Mr. Walton,
that I thought over it a powerful long time before I finally made up my
mind to come.”

“Oh yes, of course,” Walton said, pulling his whiskers with his long
hand - “of course, you naturally would.”

“Especially as Fred had no idea of what I had in view,” the Westerner
said. “You see, I had to act wholly on my own responsibility.”

“Yes, I see - I see, sir.” It was only by an effort that Walton kept a
sarcastic ring of irritation out of his voice, and he stroked into
the roots of his beard a smile of contempt at such puerile attempts to

“And that’s what makes the whole thing so hard on me,” the merchant
went on. “You see, I took it on myself to act for Fred in, I might say,
actual opposition to his wishes and judgment.”

Whipple then proceeded to give a full and accurate account of his first
introduction to Fred and all that had happened to him since, withholding
only his own name and the name of the town he was from. And while he
talked, pausing to wipe his wet brow at times, or to clear his shaky
voice, the banker watched him as a cat might a mouse. He held a pencil
in his long, steady fingers, and kept the point of it on a pad of paper,
raising his shrewd glance and lowering it as suited his fancy. Had he
been an artist, old Simon might have sketched what to his understanding
was the most subtly designing face he had ever seen. Here was a man, he
told himself, who resorted even to the emotional methods of a ranting
revivalist to gain his nefarious aims. It was a wonderful conception,
but it wofully missed its mark, for it was being applied to a man who
had no emotions. It was being applied to a man, too, who was as eagerly
on the lookout for new tricks as a biologist for a new species of
insect. What a weakling the fellow was, for a man of that age, and what
fun it would be to suddenly undeceive him - let him know the manner of
man he was attempting, in such a shallow way, to bunco!

“Yes, I decided not to wait longer,” Whipple concluded, with a sigh. “I
didn’t intend to act till the remaining three thousand was paid; but, as
I say, I - ”

“It is only two, according to my calculations.” Walton thought he had
tripped him up, and smiled knowingly.

“Fred said he felt that another thousand, at least, was due as interest
at the rate you usually get.”

“Oh, I see; he’s certainly liberal.” Walton smiled at his joke, and bent
his head over his pad to hide it.

“As I say,” the merchant resumed, “I intended to wait till the debt was
entirely paid, but things took a sudden turn that I didn’t expect. I
offered to advance the money to Fred, but he wouldn’t take it.”

“Oh, he wouldn’t take it!” Walton said, with a hurried regret that Toby
was not present to enjoy the feast of stupidity being spread before
him. “I see; he didn’t want it. That’s a little bit like him.” Simon’s

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Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Redemption of Kenneth Galt → online text (page 17 of 24)