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Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

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amusement showed itself now in his voice rather than in the visage which
he managed to keep unruffled. “But you say things had sorter taken a
twist around?”

“Yes; he was brave enough, and bearing up mighty well till me and him
took a trip, as much for pleasure as anything else, to New York, and we
passed through this very town, and - ”

“So you passed through here?” Walton interrupted, and then to himself
he added: “I knew it. I knew Fred was hanging about Atlanta and sending
money to that woman. Huh, his fat agent is certainly giving the snap
away!”

“Yes, we passed through here one night, and, as our train was delayed
below town by a wreck ahead of us, Fred got out and walked around. He
was gone till after midnight, and when he came back to the Pullman where
I was I noticed that he was powerfully upset, and begun to suspect that
maybe this was his old home. He started to tell me about it then, but
I stopped him, and it was not till we had been to New York and got back
home that he finally told me your name and where you lived. As I said,
he has not been the same since then, and, to be honest with you, Mr.
Walton, I don’t know of anything in the world that will restore his
peace of mind, except - ”

“Except having me send for him,” Simon suddenly let himself go, “and
kill the fatted bull-yearling, and put a dinky-dinky cap on his brow,
and give him a key to the vault, and start in, hit or miss, exactly
where me and him left off!”

“You are hard on him, Mr. Walton,” Whipple gasped, fairly staggered by
the unexpected retort - “much harder, I must say, than I had hoped
to find you. He declared that you wasn’t the sort that would forgive
easily, but, having been a father once myself, I didn’t believe you
would, after hearing about your boy’s life since he left you, refuse
to - ”

“See here!” Walton interrupted, laying down his pencil and staring at
the visitor from eyes which fairly snapped with blended triumph and
rage, “you’ve held the floor long enough; now step aside and let me
take it. I don’t know as I ever had the luck to run across just such
a specimen as you are. You’ve evidently had very little to do with
_business_ men. You seem to have as little common sense as a mountain
school-teacher or a young preacher on his first circuit. Here you come
with a long, roundabout, hatched-up tale that is so thin and full of
holes that a body could throw a straw hat through it. I’d have you
understand that this here house is a _bank_. My own granddaddy would
have to be identified, if he was alive, before he could cash a check
at that front window, and yet here you come - pitapat, pitapat, as
unconcerned as a house-cat looking for a place to lie down - back into
my private quarters, and propose something that may, or may not, involve
every dollar I own on the top-side of the earth. You do all that without
even taking the trouble to hint at who you are or where you hail from,
and - ”

“I’m not afraid to give you my name!” the merchant gasped, taken
wholly off his guard by the withering attack. “It is Stephen Whipple,
sir - W-h-i-double p-l-e, Whipple!” he spelled, and he leaned forward
and pointed a stiff finger at Walton’s pad. “Write it down. It might get
away from you.”

“Are you plumb sure it ain’t _Jenkins?_” the banker grinned,
significantly.

“No; nor Jones, nor Smith, nor Brown. It’s Whipple - Stephen Whipple. Put
it down on your paper. Huh, I’m not ashamed of it!”

“All right, there you are, in big letters.” Walton laughed, still
victoriously, as he pencilled the name on the pad. “Now, one other
formality, please - your postoffice address?”

“My post-office - ” Whipple hesitated. His astounded gaze went down; he
was all of a quiver, even to his bushy eyebrows.

“Why, it’s this way - this way - ” he stammered, and, raising his helpless
eyes to the banker’s taunting ones, he came to a dead halt.

“I think it _must_ be,” Walton chuckled. “In fact, it mighty nigh always
is that way when a feller gits in a corner. But surely, out of all the
places in the United States, you could think of _some_ town, railroad
station, or cross-roads store. A word as uncommon as _Whipple_ would be
hard for _me_ to think of in a pinch. It seemed to come handy to you.
Maybe you’ve used it before, or had some dead friend by that name.”

“You are not fair, sir!” The merchant was becoming exasperated by the
human riddle before him. “I told you I had come against your son’s
knowledge or wish. He has kept his whereabouts from you up to now, and I
have no moral right to let it out. I reckon he is afraid you will hound
him down before he has a chance to pay back what he owes you. The Lord
knows, he has plenty of reason for being cautious, for, if I am any
judge, you are as hard and unforgiving as a stone wall.”

“I haven’t seen any reason to forgive him, or bother one way or another
about it,” old Simon hurled into the flushed face before him. “I don’t
see any difference between the way me and him stand now and six years
ago. I reckon he thinks I’m on my last legs, and that the three thousand
he got by some hook or crook - or _from_ some crook - would be well
invested as a gum-stickum plaster to put over my eyes before I am
put under ground. After he had staked that much, he thought some
oily-tongued friend of his might come and reconnoitre and report
favorable. Well, you’ve reconnoitred, Mr. - Mr. Whipstock, and you can
go back to Atlanta and tell him it is no go You may tell him I am much
obliged to you all - whoever your gang is - for the three thousand on
account. I may be making a mistake now by shooting off my mouth so
quick, for if I had worked my cards right I might have secured another
payment by dropping a tear or two; but it is worth something to say what
I’ve said in the way I’ve said it.”

“So you don’t believe what I have told you?” Whipple gasped, in
astonishment.

“Not a blessed word - not a syllable,” Walton laughed, and he threw
himself back in his chair in sheer enjoyment of his visitor’s
discomfiture.

“You don’t believe he is in my employment - you don’t believe he earned
the money by faithful work which he sent you - you don’t believe - ”
Whipple paused, at the end of his resources.

“No, I don’t believe even _that_,” Walton jested. “But I’ll tell you one
thing, and I mean it. I don’t intend to have you coming around bothering
me with this matter any more at all. It is strictly my affair, anyway.
That boy was a bad egg when he was here, and from the looks of you and
your game I can’t see that he has improved a dang bit. I don’t say I’d
arrest him, neither; half the debt has been paid, if it _was_ paid for a
sneaking reason, and he can rove where he will. He is a good riddance I
used to bother about what might become of him, but I don’t now.”

“Say, look me in the eye!” Whipple suddenly demanded, and with a
fierceness that almost sent a shock of surprise through the banker.
“You’ve not believed what I have told you, it seems, because you thought
I was after your dirty money. Hard cash is the only thing you _can_
believe in, I see, and so I am going to use some of it to convince you.
You have no faith in your son - the only child God gave you, and who is
now honoring your gray hairs as they don’t deserve to be honored, but,
thank Heaven! I believe in him from head to foot. Before I left Atlanta,
this morning, I prepared myself for some sort of emergency like this.”

Whipple took out a long envelope and threw it on the desk under the
banker’s eyes. “That contains three thousand dollars - six bills of five
hundred each. Take them! Your boy’s debt is paid in full. I may have
spoiled his chances with _you_ by coming here against his knowledge, but
he shall not lose by it. If I live to get back home I shall provide for
him in my will. I may look like a faker, but I flatter myself - from all
I have heard of you - that I am worth more to-day in the financial world
than you could be if you could live another twenty-five years. Good-day,
sir.”




CHAPTER XIV

|TAKING up his satchel, the merchant strode heavily from the room.
Doubting if he had heard aright, Walton tore open the envelope and
took out the bills. He spread them on the desk; he fumbled them with
quivering fingers; he took out a big magnifying glass and essayed to
examine them one by one, but his excitement and perturbation rendered
it impossible. Dropping his hand on his call-bell, he gave a sharp ring,
and Toby Lassiter came in quickly. Brushing the money toward his clerk,
Walton said:

“See if they are counterfeit. By gum!”

The clerk examined them with the glass while Walton watched him with
staring eyes.

“They seem to me to be all right, Mr. Walton,” Toby said, wonderingly,
as he laid the bills down.

“I reckon they are - my Lord, I reckon they are!” the banker said, in his
throat. “Credit it on my private account, Toby. Credit me with three - my
Lord, I didn’t think - I had no idea that the dang fellow - no, I’ll
attend to the money. Toby, you run out and see where he goes. He may
make for a hotel, or he may - but hurry!”

Twenty minutes later Toby came back and found Walton still at his desk,
the money before him; his face had taken on an ashen tinge, the eye he
raised had a lacklustre expression.

“Well?” he said, eagerly.

“I missed him for the first few minutes,” the clerk said. “He was on the
way to the train. I took the belt-line down. He was on the car ahead. I
was just in time to see him board the Atlanta special.”

“So he’s gone?”

“Yes, he’s gone, Mr. Walton.”

The old man stared helplessly for a minute into the puzzled face of his
clerk, and then he drew the pad to him on which he had written the name
of his caller.

“Me ‘n’ him had a tiff,” he said. “We had a sort o’ tiff - I reckon you
might call it that - after he had told me a long cock-and-bull tale about
Fred reforming, and I laughed at him. I reckon I was rough. Then he
threw this money at me all in a chunk to settle off the boy’s account,
and said it might talk plainer than _he_ had. Toby, it don’t look
_exactly_ like a fake. Fakes ain’t worked that way. You see, it was all
up between me and him, and there wasn’t a thing he could gain by it, and
yet he yanked out this wad and threw it at me like so much waste paper.
He refused to say where he lives, but here’s his name. Fred wrote that
the fellow he was with was a merchant, and a big one at that. I wonder
if there is any way of finding out just who and what the dang fool is?”

“You say you didn’t get his address?” Toby inquired, as he helplessly
stroked his colorless face and sparse mustache.

“No.” The banker uttered something like a moan of self-disgust. “He
intimated that he kept it back to keep me from running the boy down.
I reckon I made a big fool of myself in the presence of a man that may
have unlimited capital for all I know. That’s where my judgment slipped
a cog for once, I reckon. I set in to believe he was out after my money,
and went a little mite over the limit. He didn’t _look_ rich, covered
with dust like he was, but he _may_ be - he may be all Fred has claimed.
Can you think of any way, Toby, to get a report on him?”

“I might take Bradstreet’s by States,” the clerk suggested, “and run
through all the towns and cities far and near.”

“It would take a month to go through that big book,” Walton said,
dejectedly, “and I want to know to-day, right off. If - if I’ve made
a break as big as that, and - and gone and insulted a man who has
befriended my boy, and one who, in fact, says he intends to provide for
him liberally, why, it would be nothing but good business to make what
amend lies in my power. If the boy really _has_ built himself up, and
made good connections, and the like, why, you see, Toby, I ought not to
be the _first_ - the very _first_ - to - to damage his interests. What I
said, in my rough way, you see, might have a tendency to sort o’ make
this Whipple - if he is all right - think twice before helping out the son
of a man who rode as high a horse as I was astride of just now. I must
have a report on him, I tell you.”

“I’ll go through the book, Mr. Walton,” the clerk said. “It wouldn’t
take so awful long. I would only have to run through the W’s, you know,
and needn’t look in the _little_ places. If he is in the wholesale line,
he must be in a town of over ten thousand.”

“That’s a fact, that’s a fact,” Walton agreed. “I reckon he didn’t think
of that when he gave me his name, though I acknowledge I kinder gouged
it out of him when he was good and hot. Go bring the book here and set
at my desk. I’ll not let the rest bother you. My Lord! my Lord! What a
mess!”

All that afternoon the clerk bent over the huge volume with its
closely printed columns on very thin paper. The closing hour came. The
typewriters and clerks went home and the front door was shut, but still
Toby read, patiently running the point of his pencil down column after
column. Night came on, and less than half of the book still remained to
be scanned.

“Go home to supper and come back,” Walton said, a strange light burning
in his shrewd eyes. “I’ll meet you here. I want this thing settled. I
don’t believe I could sleep with the doubt on my mind as to whether that
man was fooling me or not. It is a big thing - a powerful big thing. If
Fred has made himself of enough importance to have a man like that come
a long distance in his behalf, why, you see, I ought to know about it,
that’s all - I ought to know about it.”

“Yes, you ought to know, Mr. Walton,” Lassiter said, as he laid a
blotter between the pages and reached for his hat. They went out
together and walked side by side to the corner, where the clerk had to
turn off.

“You sort o’ believed in Fred all along, Toby,” the banker said,
tentatively - “that is, you used to talk him up to some extent.”

“I thought he was in earnest about what he wrote in that last good-bye
letter, Mr. Walton. It made a deep impression on me. It sounded
perfectly straight. And awhile back, when his _other_ letter came,
bringing all that cash, I was more sure than ever. Even when you said
you believed it was a trick, somehow I couldn’t exactly look at it that
way.”

“Well, see if you can locate this Whipple,” Walton said, and, turning
off, he trudged heavily homeward through the gathering shadows.

He was on his way back to the bank about nine o’clock when he saw Toby
coming toward him. The clerk was walking rapidly, swinging his long arms
to and fro like pendulums.

“Well, well?” Walton exclaimed, as they met face to face on the sidewalk
in the flare of a gas-light.

“I have found him!” Toby chuckled. “There is no mistake. Stephen Whipple
is a whopping big wholesale grocer at Gate City, Oklahoma. He’s rated at
over a million, with credit at the top notch.”

“You don’t say!” A negro laborer with a bag of flour on his shoulder was
passing close by, and Walton laid his hand wamingly on the arm of his
clerk and drew him slowly along.

“You don’t say!” he repeated, under his breath, as he clutched Toby’s
thin arm, “and I talked to him like a dog - like a hound-dog. I did that,
when he could buy and sell me over and over. I sneered at him, and just
as good as called him a thief, when he was right then befriending the
son I’d cast off. Say, Toby, you’ve got a sight more sense than I have;
what do you think I ought to do about it?”

“I really don’t know, Mr. Walton,” Toby replied, awkwardly. “Maybe it
would be a good idea for you to go out there. From the way Fred wrote,
it stands to reason he’d be glad to see you, anyway, and - ”

“I couldn’t do that, Toby,” Walton said, under his breath. “After the
stand I took and have held all these years, I couldn’t go running after
him. I could do _some_ things, but I couldn’t do that. Besides, you
see, Whipple would know we’d looked up his standing, and think I’d come
because he was rich. But, say, I have an idea, Toby. Don’t you think you
could get on the train and go out there and take a look around?”

“Why, yes, if you advise it, Mr. Walton.”

“And you could go and hang about, in a quiet, know-nothing way, without
letting Fred see you, I reckon?”

“Easy enough, Mr. Walton, in a bustling place like that.”

“Well, then, I’ll tell you what you do. Pack your grip to-night,
and take the eight-thirty train in the morning. Put up at some
out-of-the-way hotel, and lie low and pick up what information you can.
Don’t go about Whipple’s place of business; if Fred saw you, it would
spoil it all. I’ll defray your expenses. You deserve a trip, anyway.
Of course, even if the boy has made such a good, comfortable nest for
himself out there, that woman business is still hanging over him, and he
wouldn’t feel exactly like facing Stafford folks right now. But I reckon
he’s been doing an honest man’s part by her along with his rise. He’s
been providing for her and the child pretty well, I’ll be bound. And in
case he _does_ come back, even on a visit, we’ll help him smooth over
the matter as far as is in our power. He ain’t the first young chap
that’s let his blood get the upper hand. Some of the great men of
history have made like slips along at the start. Yes, we’ll try to
manage that some way. We might even get her and her mother to move
off somewhere. I don’t know - I only say it _might_ be done. Folks in
a plight of that sort will do most anything when they are paid, and it
looks like Fred won’t go a-begging. Now, good-bye, Toby. You’ve got a
job of detective work before you, but I believe you’ll be smart enough
to put it through.”

“I’ll do my best, Mr. Walton,” the clerk said. “Goodbye.”




CHAPTER XV

|IT was a delightfully cool and crisp morning for midsummer, and Doctor
Dearing was on the lawn between his house and Galt’s, when he noticed
that the railroad president had come out into his own grounds for a
smoke. The two exchanged greetings through cordial signals, and Galt
crossed over and joined his friend.

“What news from New York?” he asked, as he flicked the ashes from his
cigar.

“They will be here to-morrow,” Dearing replied. “Madge has been homesick
for fully two weeks; but Uncle Tom made her stay longer, hoping that
she would become more interested in what was going on. They have had all
sorts of attentions paid them, but he writes me that he has never been
worried so much in his life over her. He says she enjoyed the first two
weeks thoroughly, but lately she has been actually depressed. He tried
everything imaginable, but home was what she wanted and would have.”

“And so they are coming?” Galt said, reflectively.

“Yes, they are on the way now. After all, what better could one ask for
than a snug retreat like this in hot weather? Madge is fond of home.
She doesn’t care for giddy social things among a lot of money-spending
Yankees, and I admire her taste.”

“Yes, so do I,” Galt answered, and he smoked steadily, his eyes bent on
the ground. .

“I have an unpleasant job on hand,” Dearing remarked. “I have delayed
it several times, but I have decided to do it to-day and have it over
with.”

“What is it?” Galt asked.

“It is a slight operation I have to perform on little Lionel.”

“Operation? Lionel?” Galt started, and then checked himself and stared
blankly. “I didn’t know there was anything at all wrong with him.”

“Oh, it is only a slight and common thing with children,” Dearing
explained. “Enlarged tonsils and adenoidal growth which must be removed.
Outwardly the little chap is as sound as a dollar, and, so far, his
wonderful strength has fought the thing off; but for a child so nervous
as he is, and high strung and imaginative, it might, later on affect him
seriously. Neglected cases have brought on permanent deafness and lung
trouble. It is inherited, as a rule; you, _yourself_, had something of
that sort, I think you told me.”

“Yes, yes,” Galt replied. Deep down within him something seemed to
clutch his vitals. In the ear of his naked soul an accusing voice was
sounding: “Inherited! Inherited!” The word rang out like a threat from
the Infinite - from the vast mystery of life which had of late been so
tenaciously closing around him. Even the pain Lionel was to undergo was
the outcome of another’s sin.

“Oh, it is a very simple operation,” Dearing went on, “and in any
ordinary case I shouldn’t give it a second thought; but, by George, I
have become attached to that little chap. He is the pluckiest little man
I ever knew. I had an exhibition of his grit one day that was ahead of
anything I ever saw in a child. He had fallen, and his upper teeth had
cut a deep gash in his tongue. They sent for me, and I saw that I’d have
to take a stitch in it to close the ugly gap. It was a ticklish job, and
I hardly saw how I could do it, for I didn’t want to use an anaesthetic.
But I talked to him just as I would to a man, and he promised me he
wouldn’t cry. He didn’t. I give you my word, old man, he didn’t whimper
as the needle went through, and even while I was tying the thread; but
I could see from his big, strained eyes that it hurt him like rips.
A child with grit like that, Kenneth, is bound to make a stir in the
world. I have noticed that you like him too, and I am glad you do. The
truth is, darn you, you are taking my place! I’m jealous; he thinks you
are a regular king. He is always talking about you.”

“When do you think you will do the - the operation?” Galt faltered, as he
averted his shrinking glance from Dearing’s face.

“Why, I want to do it right off. It is like this: his mother knows it
has to be done, and has agreed to leave it entirely to me; but she is
very nervous over it. She has a vein of morbid superstition running
through her. She fancies that some disaster is bound, sooner or later,
to happen to him - in fact, as she has often put it to me, she hardly
believes that a just God would allow such a sensitive and ambitious
child to grow up to a full comprehension of his humiliation.

“I see - I see what you mean,” Galt managed to say, and his soul seemed
to writhe anew as he stood trying to make his words sound casual.

“So I thought,” the doctor went on, “that I’d like, if possible, to
get it over without her knowledge, or without her mother knowing of it.
Nervous people standing around, half frightened out of their wits, at
such a time, unsteady my hand and upset me generally. Now, as I have
everything in readiness up-stairs, I think, when Lionel comes over this
morning, as I’ve asked him to do, I’ll talk him into it. Young Doctor
Beaman, my new assistant, is up-stairs sterilizing my instruments, and
he will give the chloroform. You see, it would be a pleasant surprise
and a relief to those doting women to suddenly find out that the thing
they have made such a fuss about is over and no harm done.” Galt made no
reply. He had seen a trim little figure darting across the lower end of
the lawn, and saw a flash of golden tresses in the sunlight, and knew
that Lionel was coming - and to what? Galt suppressed an inward groan.
The unsuspecting child was bounding along, joyous and full of life, to
the grim, inexplicable snare which had been set for him. Young as he
was, he was to be asked to be firm and brave, that his little form might
take on the semblance of death and submit to the knife, a thing at the
thought of which even strong men had quailed. And what might, after all,
be the as yet unrevealed outcome? One case in every ten thousand, at
least, failed to survive the artificial sleep, owing to this or that
overlooked internal defect. Would this child of malignant misfortune be
that one?

Lionel drew near, sweeping the two men with merry eyes of welcome.
There was an instant’s hesitation as to which to greet first, and then
instinct seemed to swerve him toward Galt, his hand outstretched. With
a queer throb of appreciation, the father took it and felt it pulsate in
his clasp.

“Come here, Lionel, my boy,” Dearing said, with affected lightness of
manner. “You remember what I said one day about those ugly lumps down
there in your little throat which are going to get bigger and bigger,


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