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till after a while you can’t eat any jam and cake? You wouldn’t like
that, would you?”

“I remember.” Lionel passed his tapering hand over his white throat. “I
can feel them when I swallow.”

“And that is why you have those bad dreams, and jump in your sleep, and
think you are falling,” Dearing added, adroitly. “You know you promised
to let me get them out.”

“Oh, not to-day!” the boy protested, throwing a wistful glance up at the
unclouded sky. “I was going to build a really-really house out of the
bricks at the barn. I have a stove-pipe for a smoke-stack. I’ll show you
both. Come with me! Oh, it’s great!”

“Not to-day. Lionel, listen.” Dearing drew the boy close to him, and
tenderly stroked back his hair from his fine brow. “Mamma, you know, is
terribly nervous about it. _Women_ are that way, aren’t they? Men and
boys, like us, know better. She can hardly sleep at night for thinking
about it - even a little thing like that. We can do it now, and I can
run over and tell her you are sleeping like a kitten in my big bed
up-stairs, and she and Granny will be so glad. It won’t hurt a bit, you
know, for the medicine will make you sleep through it all.” A shadow of
deep disappointment came into Lionel’s expressive eyes. The warm color
of life in his face faded into tense gravity, and they saw him clasp his
little hands and wring them undecidedly.

“And you think to-day is the best time?” he faltered, on the edge of
refusal.

“The very best of all, Lionel,” Dearing said, gently. “You wouldn’t be
afraid of me, would you?”

The child stared dumbly. To Galt’s accusing sense the world had never
held a more desolate sentient being than this incipient repetition of
himself. The child had proved that he knew no physical fear. To what,
then, did he owe this evident clutch of horror? Could it be due to
some psychic warning of approaching danger, or was the sensitive child
telepathically governed by the morbid fears which, at that moment, were
raging in the heart of his father?

“Come, that’s a good, nice boy!” Dearing urged. “I see you are going to
be a brave little man.”

“I’m not afraid it will _hurt_,” Lionel faltered, “but I don’t like to
be put to - to sleep.”

“But it must be so, my boy,” the doctor said. “Come on. Mamma will see
us in a minute and smell a mouse.” For a moment yet the child stood
undecided, his gaze alternately on the two faces before him. Suddenly,
while they waited and his eyes were resting in strange appeal on Galt,
he asked:

“Will you come, too?”

A shock as if from some unknown force went through the man addressed,
but, seeing no alternative, he answered:

“If you wish it, yes, of course.”

“And _you_ think I ought to - to do it?”

“Yes,” Galt nodded, his head rocking like that of an automaton. “The
doctor knows best.”

“Well, then, I’ll go,” the boy sighed, with another wistful look over
the lawn. “I’ll go.”

As they were entering the house, by some strange mandate of fate or
instinct the boy again took his father’s hand, and Galt held it as they
began to ascend the broad, walnut stairs. Argue as he would that the
operation was only a most ordinary thing, to Galt’s morbid state of mind
it assumed the shape of a tragedy staged and enacted by the very imps of
darkness.

On the way up the boy tripped on the stair-carpeting and slipped and
fell face downward. He was unhurt, but Galt raised him in his arms and
bore him up the remainder of the steps into a big, light room off the
corridor.

“Here we are, Doctor Beaman!” Dearing cheerily called out to a slender,
beardless young man, who, with a towel in hand, was bending over some
polished instruments on the bureau. “This is the little chap who never
cries when he is hurt. He is a regular soldier, I tell you!”

“No, I’m not afraid,” the boy said, as he stood alone in the centre
of the room; but still, as his father noted, there was a certain
contradictory rigidity of his features which he had never remarked
before.

Galt told himself that the child’s evident dread, vague as it was, was
also an inheritance; for he recalled how he himself had once taken ether
to have a slight operation performed. He had been a man in years at the
time, and yet the effect on his mind as to what might be the outcome had
been most depressing. That day, as he was doing now, he had looked upon
the drug-induced sleep as a dangerous approach to death; and now, as
then, he gravely feared that the tiny thread of reduced vitality might
be torn asunder. He stood dumb with accusing horror as the two doctors
hastily made their grewsome arrangements, such as securing warm water,
fresh towels and sheets, which, in their very whiteness, suggested a
shroud.

The noise made as they drew a narrow table across the resounding floor
into the best light between the two windows jarred harshly on his tense
nerves. These things were grim enough, but the wan isolation of the
waiting child, as he stood with that war against fear and shame of
fear going on in his great, fathomless eyes, so like those of his
artist-mother - that appealing little figure, nameless, disowned among
men, was stamped on the retina of Galt’s eye for the remainder of his
life.

“Now, take off your waist and collar and necktie,” Dearing said to
Lionel - “that will be enough. We’ll have you all right in a jiffy. You
are not afraid _now_, are you?”

Galt’s heart sank like a plummet, for the child’s lips moved, but no
sound issued. The little fellow turned his face away as he began to
undress. He removed the flowing necktie, but his little fingers could
not unfasten the stiff linen collar.

“Help him, Kenneth,” Dearing said. “My hands are full.”

Galt obeyed, his fingers coming into contact with the cold chin of the
child and the soft flesh of his neck. He felt like snatching the boy
from the damnable spot, as a mother might her young from the claws of
a wild beast. Yet, outwardly calm, he drew the sleeves of the child’s
blouse off and laid it on a chair.

“Now we are ready for you, young man,” Dearing said, lightly. “I see you
are not afraid I’ll hurt you.”

“No, I know it won’t _hurt_,” Lionel said, “but - ”

“Don’t you begin butting me,” Dearing laughed. “You are not a goat like
the one that butted Grover Weston heels over head the other day.”

“If I shouldn’t wake up - I mean if I really _shouldn’t_, you know,”
Lionel finished, with a faint effort to smile at the doctor’s jest,
“won’t you please not tell my mother too quick? She gets frightened so
easily, and, you see, if I didn’t wake up - if I never woke again - ”

“Ah, come off!” Dearing laughed, as he turned to his assistant. “Doctor,
this kid hints that we don’t know our business.”

“But if I didn’t wake, if I _didn’t!_” Lionel insisted, “you’d not scare
her, would you? And - and” - his lower lip quivered - “wouldn’t you tell
her that I wasn’t a bit afraid, and that I didn’t cry, and - wait! wait!
Won’t you tell her that it didn’t hurt a single bit, not even a little
_teensy bit?_”

“Yes, yes,” Dearing said, and, considerably taken aback, he stared at
Galt rather than at the insistent speaker. “I’ll tell her you are the
best boy in the world - the best, the bravest, and the sweetest. And God
knows I’ll mean it,” he finished, in a lower tone to Galt. “I’ve seen
thousands of kids, Kenneth, but this one gets nearer me than all the
rest put together. I swear I am almost tempted to throw the darn job up.
But, you see, it has to be done. Doctor,” turning to his assistant, “put
him on the table, and I’ll tickle his nose and make him laugh. We’ll
make him have the funniest dreams he ever had.”

Doctor Beaman went to the boy and held out his arms, and Lionel was
lifted to the table and stretched out on the crisp sheet which had been
spread over it. Just then, happening to look round, Dearing saw Galt’s
face, and hastily stepped to his side. “My Lord!” he whispered, “I see
this thing is going against you, old man. You are nauseated; you look
faint. Many men are that way - young students sometimes have to give up
surgery for that reason. It is nothing to be ashamed of. You like the
little chap, and your sympathies are worked up, that’s all. But, really,
I don’t think you ought to stay. I become nervous if others are, and I
must have a free hand. Besides, if you were to keel over in a faint
at an important moment I couldn’t look after you. You’d better run
down-stairs and take a whiff of air. I’ll call you when it is over.”

“Is he going? - must he go?” Lionel asked, as he turned his head and saw
Galt moving to the door. “Yes,” Dearing said, “but only down-stairs.”

“Oh,” the child exclaimed, regretfully, and averted his face, “I thought
he could stay!”

Down into the still silence of the great hall Galt went. There was
something heartlessly maddening in the calm, yellow sunlight on the
grass, which he could see through the doorway. The birds in the trees,
as they flitted about with twigs in their mouths and chirped in glee,
seemed mocking voices of despair from the deliberate tyranny of the
universe.

“God have mercy and spare him!” the man cried out from the depths of his
agony. “Spare him, O God, spare him!”

Unconscious of the incongruous prayer which had fallen from his lips, he
turned into the drawing-room, on the left of the hall, and sank into an
easy-chair, covering his face with his stiff hands. Suddenly he heard a
light step on the veranda, and, raising his eyes, he saw Dora standing
in the hall, glancing wildly and excitedly about her. Possessed by the
fear that she might call out, and thus make her presence known at that
most crucial moment, he rose and hastened to her. She did not see him
till he was close at her side, and then she turned and their eyes met.

“Where is Lionel - where is my child?” she panted.

He stood staring at her, unable to formulate a reply, and, brushing past
him with an air of contempt, which he read all too clearly, she turned
to the stairs, and started to ascend.

“Oh, you mustn’t - you really mustn’t!” he called out in protest, and he
put a detaining hand on her arm.

Shrinking from his touch, she stared at him piteously.

“Then they really are doing it!” she cried. “They are up there operating
on my child! I knew it when Doctor Beaman drove up, and Doctor Wynn came
and asked Lionel to play over here.”

Galt made no denial. He stood beside her, swept out of himself by the
sheer power of her astounding beauty, as he now beheld it for the first
time since their parting. In his wildest stretch of fancy as to what
the years might have brought her, he had not dreamed that she had become
such a flower among women. There was a seductive maturity of intellect
in her faultless face. The strange, appealing, and yet unreadable lights
of genius were burning in her dark, mystic eyes. He stood before her
with the smitten humility, the cringing shame, of a subject rebuked by
his queen.

“Yes, I am sure of it!” she moaned, and she lowered her glorious head to
the newel of the stairs and shuddered. “They are cutting my darling,
and I can’t go to him. Doctor Wynn thought he’d spare my feelings - as if
that counted.”

She suddenly looked him squarely in the face, and he shrank before the
calm penetration of her stare. “We’ll never see him alive again,” she
said, in a low, husky voice - “never again on earth!”

“Oh no, don’t say that!” he cried, finding his submerged voice in the
agony produced by her suggestion. “God wouldn’t be so unmerciful - the
child has harmed no one!”

“You speak of God,” she suddenly retorted, standing farther from him and
drawing herself erect. “The word was a joke with you once,” she added,
with a bitter sneer. “And I believed your puny theories, and blindly
followed out the deductions you made with your nose in the earth during
our vain dream of intellectual supremacy. But a change was wrought in
me. Into my wretched darkness Lionel came, and I saw and was convinced.
He was my living, pulsating, immortal link to the Infinite. But he is
not for the earth. He is above it. God allowed Christ to suffer the
pangs of a material existence for the salvation of the world, but He
is too merciful to let my sensitive darling face what he would have to
face. Lionel was sent to lift me, with his tiny hands, from the slough
into which I had fallen, but his mission is over - oh, God, it is
over! How can I bear it - how can I live without him? He is my life,
my _soul!_” She covered her tortured face with her bloodless hands
and remained still, save for the emotion which quivered through her
hysterical frame.

Galt stood gazing at her for a moment, an almost uncontrollable yearning
on him to clasp her in his arms and beg her forgiveness. He might have
done so but for the fear of offending her. He glanced up the stairs. How
still it was above! How like death! In his alarmed fancy he saw the two
doctors standing aghast over the still, senseless form of his child.
They had miscalculated! The physical examination had misled them; ether
should have been the drug employed rather than chloroform!

Uncovering her face, Dora read his thoughts. She uttered a low,
despairing wail, and they stood looking into each other’s eyes. There
was a sound of sudden movement on the floor above. Some one was raising
a window-sash at the top of the stairs.

“I am sweating like an ox!” they heard Dearing say; and - could they
believe their ears? - he was actually laughing, and calling out to
Lionel: “I told you you’d not know when it was done. Now, lie down and
go to sleep. You are as sound as a silver dollar. It may sting just a
little tiny bit when you swallow, but that will be gone by to-morrow. Go
to sleep, and when you wake I’ll have that tricycle ready.”

“Thank God - thank God,” Dora exclaimed, “he is saved!”

She started up the stairs, and in desperation Galt caught her arm. “Wait
one moment, Dora,” he implored, “I have something to say. You must hear
me. I am - ”

“Don’t stop me!” She shook his hand loose from her sleeve, and the
haughty look of contempt he had noticed before rose into her fathomless
eyes as she glanced back at him. “I am going up to him. I won’t waken
him. I’ll be very quiet, but I must be near him.”

Standing at the foot of the stairs, he saw her ascend and disappear
above. How beautiful she was! How rare and exquisite - how infinitely
removed from her kind. And that was Dora - the Dora of all that was good
and pure of his past, the guileless victim of all that was low, sordid,
and unworthy within him!




CHAPTER XVI

|TOBY LASSITER returned from the West one sultry evening at dusk, and
went straight to the house of his employer. He found the banker seated
on the front porch without his coat, and cooling himself with a big
palm-leaf fan. “So you are back?” he said, casting a furtive glance over
his shoulder into the unlighted hall. “Get that chair and pull it up
close. If my wife happens to come out while you are talking, sort o’
switch off to something else - the market reports - anything under high
heavens except what you went off for. She never took to Fred noway, and
anything in his favor or otherwise sets her tongue going. She thinks
he is plumb out of my present calculations, and any hint that he was
getting on his feet would give her tantrums. She is back in the kitchen,
seeing to the supper things. She is as close as the bark of a tree, and
is afraid that nigger woman will lug off supplies. I took her because
she was stingy. I sort o’ admired it at first, but it ain’t as becoming
in a woman as it is in a man. I don’t know why, but it ain’t. Well, fire
away. What did you do?”

“I went straight out to Gate City, Mr. Walton,” the clerk began, in the
tone of a man full of an experience. “I would have written home, but
I didn’t get on to much of importance the first three days, and then I
knew I could get back about as quick as a letter could.”

“Yes, of course,” Walton said. “Well?”

“I found it about the most hustling town I ever struck, Mr. Walton. It
is wide open, I tell you. Of course, it isn’t anything like as big, but
it was as busylooking on the main streets as Atlanta or Nashville. I
thought best not to be seen about the very _centre_, you know, so I took
board in a little hotel in what they call ‘Railroad Town,’ on the east
side, among the machine-shops. I pretended to be looking for a job.”

“You did, eh? You say you did?”

“Yes, sir; and I found that it was a pretty good trick, for it set folks
to chatting about the different enterprises in town. You may think it is
funny,” Toby laughed, impulsively - “I know I did when I finally got the
key to it - but I could hardly start any sort of talk with anybody who
didn’t sooner or later ring in the wonderful rise of a certain fellow by
the name of ‘Spencer,’ who was in this same Whipple’s employ. They all
said he’d come there without a cent - a ragged tramp, in fact; but that
he had taken hold in Whipple’s big store, and forged ahead till he was
the old man’s mainstay and chief manager. They told about all sorts of
deals that this ‘Spencer’ had helped Whipple put through. I got kind
o’ tired of it all, and would every now and then ask if there wasn’t
a young fellow by the name of ‘Walton’ working there; but they said if
there was they had never heard of him, and went on about Spencer. I was
beginning to think there might be something crooked in that fat man’s
tale to you, and at one time I laid awake all night troubled powerfully.
You see, the fellow who called here and paid the three thousand might
have been just using Whipple’s name and reputation to help him work some
scheme.”

“Oh, you thought that!” and Walton drew his brows together and bit his
lip.

“Yes; but not for long, Mr. Walton. The next day I ventured closer in to
the centre of the town, and was looking about on the main street at the
up-to-date improvements on all sides, when I saw a fellow thumping along
the sidewalk that looked so much like our man that I dodged into the
front part of a bar-room and waited till he went by. Then I pointed him
out to a policeman, and asked him who it was.

“‘Why, that,’ said the cop - ‘that is our big grocery king, Stephen
Whipple. He is a self-made man, and as rich as goose-grease. He built us
a fine church, a library out of white marble, and donated the land for a
city park, and done a lot of other things.’”

“Oh, he was all right, then!”

“Yes, sir, as I substantiated later,” Toby ran on, enthusiastically.
“But the best thing is to be told, Mr. Walton. A few minutes after that
who should I see but Fred himself rushing along the street with some
account-books under his arm, as if he was in a great hurry. He was
dressed as fine as a fiddle, and folks all along the street was bowing
to him as if he owned the town. I dodged back into the bar and let him
pass, and when I slipped out a minute later the same policeman nabbed me
and pointed Fred out as he was walking on. ‘That,’ said the policeman,
‘is Mr. Spencer, the old man’s adopted son - the young man he has just
taken into partnership. They are hanging a new sign down at the store
now.’”

“Adopted son!” fell from the-banker’s lips. “Spencer was Fred’s middle
name. Great Lord, Toby, do you reckon it’s true?”

“True as gospel, Mr. Walton. I heard a lot about it on all sides, but I
saw enough with my own eyes to convince me that there was no mistake. I
went out to where the Whipples live one dark, cloudy night, and walked
clean round the house. I could see into the sitting-room, for it was
lighted up bright. Whipple was there, and a gray-haired, kind-looking
old lady that was his wife, I reckon, and Fred. They were all sitting
round a green lamp on a table. From where I stood, of course, I couldn’t
hear a word that was said, but it seemed like Fred was telling some
funny yarn or other, like he used to do here at home, you know, and
both the old folks were laughing. I don’t know when anything ever has
affected me as much as that sight did. I reckon I was homesick myself,
away out there playing the sneak, like I was, and it made me awful blue.
You know, sir, I always _did_ like Fred, and I don’t believe many folks
ever knew how much he missed his mother. And somehow, when I saw him in
an entirely new home like that, away off from old ties, why - well - it
sort o’ got the best of me. Maybe, as I say, it was because I was
homesick, but I never wanted to speak to anybody in all my life as much
as I did to him at that minute.”

The head of the banker went down, his chin rested on his breast, and
he was silent for a few minutes. Then he looked up, threw a cautious,
half-fearful glance back into the house, and rose to his feet.

“Let’s walk down to the gate,” he said, in a low, unsteady voice. “I
want to talk, Toby, and yet I don’t hardly know what a body could say.
I have faced lots of criticism and slurs in my day and time, and never
cared much what was said; but, between me and you, this thing strikes
me down deep. You see, it is pretty tough the way it turned out - this
having other folks give a body’s son a home, and all that, and I hate
to think that folks here in Stafford will get onto it and chatter. I
understand ‘em well enough to know, in advance, what they will say.
I don’t care what they think about me losing money, and the like, for
that’s just business. But the other thing cuts - it cuts deep. I reckon
the boy didn’t get any too much attention at home after I married
the last time, and I reckon, if the truth was known, I was influenced
against him some by his stepmother’s constant nagging about his ways. I
say I _reckon_ I was influenced, for I hardly think I’d have been quite
as tight on the boy if there had been just me and him left at home after
his mother died. My first wife was a good woman, Toby. I never knew how
good and loving she was till she was put away forever. But the town will
talk now good fashion. They will say Fred served me’ right to go off and
get appreciated and loved by folks that was no blood kin, but who simply
took him on merits I was too mean to see. They will have the laugh on
me. They will call me an old hog, and I reckon I deserve it. You know,
yourself, that I come within an inch of clapping handcuffs on him. I’d
actually have done it if you hadn’t shown me that it would go against my
pocket.”

“I think you look at it too seriously, Mr. Walton,” Toby ventured to
say, as the two leaned on the gate and looked down the gas-lighted
street. “You mustn’t forget that Fred has been longing for your
forgiveness all these years. What he did was wrong, it is true, and at
present it may be the chief bar to his content. Besides, me and you are
the only persons who know about his shortage. You have never been a man
to talk of your private affairs, and, for all _this_ town knows or ever
_need_ know, you may have been in touch with Fred all these years. In
fact, they may not know but what the - the _other matter_ was the only
cause of Fred’s leaving.”

“Toby, you are a good un! You’ll do, you’ll do! Of course, the woman
business is bad, but the world somehow don’t condemn it as heavy as some
other things. No, you are right; this blasted town needn’t know about
the trouble between me and him. He won’t want to come back here nohow
till the other matter is arranged some way, and, between me and you, we
can sort o’ spring his big success on the town - kind o’ off-hand, you
know, as if it ain’t nothing to wonder at.”

“A good idea, Mr. Walton!” Toby declared, enthusiastically. “It will set
‘em wild.”

“But we’ll leave the adopted-son part out, Toby.”

“Of course, sir; oh yes, sir; that needn’t go in!”

“We might just tell about his being a partner in the business, or
something along that line.”

“Of course, sir.”

“And I’ll go out there, Toby. It will be like pulling eye-teeth, but
I’ll go. I’ll knuckle, too, I reckon, to that fat chump. I’ll make my
will in the boy’s favor and show it to Whipple, with an itemized list
of my holdings, here and there. He won’t sneer then, I reckon. Besides,


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Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Redemption of Kenneth Galt → online text (page 19 of 24)