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Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Redemption of Kenneth Galt online

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Margaret. I cited numbers and numbers of cases where young men had
eventually lived down early mistakes, and finally been reinstated,
to become, in the end, an honor to the land of their birth. He didn’t
think, after the way you acted in New York, that there was any chance
for him at all, but, being anxious to make headway, I told him I was
sure you was too much of a Christian at heart to refuse a request like
his, offered in the spirit it is offered in. He’s sorry for many things
that’s he done, and wants to wipe ‘em out.”

Old Walton’s eyes shifted almost significantly from her face to the
low roof of Mrs. Barry’s cottage, and instinctively Margaret’s glance
followed; then, becoming conscious of the fact, she quickly looked down,
and a tinge of color climbed into her pale cheeks.

“I think we’d better not say any more about that, Mr. Walton,” she said,
more firmly than she had spoken since his arrival. “I am sure your son
understands how I feel.”

“That means a flat no, then,” the banker said, and with a heavy sigh he
slowly stood up. “Well, I’ve plead _his_ case as well as I know how, but
I hain’t yet touched on _mine_. Miss Margaret, you could do me a big,
lasting favor if you’d let this thing go through. I’m a plain man. Folks
hain’t never said I was much of a hand to show affection, and they are
right, I reckon; but the way matters stand now is getting me down, and
if you don’t extend a helping hand I’m afraid I’ll feel bad the rest of
my life. It ain’t just _Fred_ that’s concerned - it’s me - _me!_ As long
as a father can make himself believe he is treating his son justly, he
can hold his head up and meet the eye of the world; but, if the truth
must be told, I reckon I didn’t give Fred a good enough show. I driv’
him off, with threats of the law, and away off in a strange land, under
a new name, he forged ahead. He made friends by the stack, and the old
man - his partner that I told you about - loves him like he was his own;
in fact, he calls him his ‘_adopted son_.’ Think of that! The only
child the Lord ever give me is now claimed by a blamed old cuss that
understood him better than I ever did! He has willed him all he’s got,
and he’s got plenty, too - a sight more than I’ll ever have if I keep
on till the end of the chapter. I want to hold my own, Miss Margaret. I
hain’t never been clean beat yet, and this, somehow, would be the worst
fall I ever had. I just can’t stomach the idea! I want my boy to love
_me_, and lean on _me,_ and not on a fat, pudgy old idiot that never had
a thing to do with his baby days. I want that worse than I ever wanted
anything, and I don’t see how I’m going to get it if you don’t help a
little. If your pride won’t let you do it for _him_, maybe it will for
an old chap like me, that is begging for one more throw of the dice. I
simply want him back, and he won’t come unless you will let bygones be
bygones.” He paused. Something very much like strong emotion was in his
whole dejected attitude as he stood bowed before her. She started to
speak, but stopped, clasping her delicate hands undecidedly in front of
her. She stood silent for a moment, and then she said, softly:

“I see; it is hard on you. It is a pity you have to suffer on account of
it.”

“Promise me this, Miss Margaret.” Old Walton leaned forward eagerly.
“Promise that you will think it over for a day or so. It ain’t a thing,
anyway, to be decided in a second, like buying a hat or a pair of gloves
of such and such a color or material. If you have to go plumb against
the boy, do it after mature deliberation. Won’t you study over it a day
or two?”

“Yes, I can promise that,” Margaret consented. “I’ll stop in at the bank
and see you soon.”

“Well, that’s all a body _could_ ask,” Walton said, gratefully; and,
bowing low, he trudged across the grass to his horse and buggy.




CHAPTER XIX

|WHEN he had disappeared down the street, Margaret sat staring at the
ground, her color still high, her eyes holding a delicate, spiritual
effulgence, her breast rising and falling under stress of fiercely
contending impulses, my Christian duty to forgive,” she argued. “I know
he has repented, and he couldn’t have been wholly to blame. His grosser
nature was tempted. He fell, but he loved _me_ in a different way. He
loves me still, or he wouldn’t want me now. He showed it in New York. He
has suffered enough, and I ought to take him back. But can I? _Can_ I?
How could I forget, with her and his child right under my eyes? Perhaps,
if I went to see her, that might help me decide. I ought to have gone,
anyway. She really has had a hard life.”

With her hand on her breast, as though the thought had given her actual
physical pain, she bowed for a few minutes; then she calmly rose,
fastened the strings of her graceful hat under her pretty chin, and
walked deliberately down to Mrs. Barry’s. Lionel was playing with some
colored building-blocks on the porch, and looked up in vast surprise.

“Where is your mother?” Margaret asked, timidly. “May I see her?”

“She is in the studio,” the child said. “She is making a picture.”

At this moment Dora stepped out into the hall from a room on the right,
and with a look of undisguised and almost perturbed surprise she came
forward.

“Oh, she _is_ beautiful - beautiful!” ran like a dart through the
visitor’s brain. “She is a thousand times more now than she used to
be; she has grown, developed. Such hair, such eyes, such color, such a
perfect figure!”

“I think I heard you asking for me,” Dora said, calmly,
something - perhaps it was the sheer immunity of genius and conscious
purity of purpose - lifting her above the embarrassment of the situation.

“Yes, I came to see you,” Margaret said, bewildered by Dora’s appearance
and the growing sense of her wonderful and forceful personality. “I
ought to have come before, I am well aware; but I hope you won’t turn me
away.”

“Why should I, Margaret?” Even in the unruffled voice of the recluse
there was a mellow hint of oblivion to the social degradation the
outside world had draped her with. “Would you mind coming into my
workroom? It is about as cheerful as our stuffy little parlor.”

“Oh, you stilt paint?” Margaret cried, as she stood in the doorway
and saw the pictures leaning here and there and tacked to the wooden
partition.

“Yes, I had to have some occupation,” Dora responded, quite frankly,
“and I took it up. I think I should have died but for my art.”

“And did you really do all these?” Margaret stared in admiration. “Oh,
they are lovely, lovely!”

“I’m glad you like them,” Dora said, appreciatively. “I am sorry I
happen to have only these. Just last week I sent a box of the best away.
I may as well tell you that I sell them - or, rather, have them sold for
me.”

“Oh, you do, really? How nice! - how very nice!” Margaret sat down almost
in utter bewilderment. The whole thing was like a dream - the wonderful
intellectual poise of the girl-like artist; her beauty; her charm;
the far-away look of almost conscious superiority in the long-lashed,
indescribable eyes. “And you intend to go on with your art?”

“Oh yes, to the end - to the very end of life, and beyond, too, perhaps,”
answered Dora, with a merry, philosophical laugh. “I am working toward
a glorious goal. Far-off Paris beckons me, Margaret, even in my sleep.
Mother and I read of nothing else now, and think of nothing else. We
study French in our poor way, and speak it together. Even Lionel lisps a
word of it now and then. Yes, Paris and my boy mean all to me now. This
has been a prison for our little family, but there the breath of art
animates all life. The people are not narrow; they rank essential purity
above the sordid hypocrisy of mere convention. There my boy might grow
up unconscious of - but you know what I mean.”

“Yes, yes,” Margaret said, a vast womanly sympathy springing up within
her that fairly swept her from the condemnatory position she had so long
held.

“And we hope to manage it very soon now,” the artist continued. “We are
hoarding up my earnings for that, and nothing else. Lionel has the soul
of a poet, artist, or musician, and in Paris he can grow and expand,
and there - there he will not have to face what would inevitably be his
portion if he remained here. His misfortune, if it can be called that,
was not of his making, and God will help me to wipe it out of his
consciousness - to blot it from his fair young soul.”

“Yes, yes,” Margaret said, helplessly, and she rose to go. There was
nothing she could say. Dora, in some unaccountable way, seemed beyond
her mental reach, a glorious, sublimated creature more of spirit than
of matter. The things she had striven for in her solitude had raised her
higher than her surroundings. From a narrow point of view she had
lost, from a higher and broader she had gained; she was the youthful
forerunner of a future army of women who would be judged by the radiance
of their souls rather than by the shadows of their bodies.

Dora seemed to feel her sudden nearness in spirit to her old friend. For
a moment she was silent. There was a clatter of blocks on the floor of
the porch, followed by the soft click-click of the pieces of wood as the
child put them together again from the heap into which they had fallen.

“I have always wanted to have a good, long talk with you about Fred,”
Dora suddenly began, “but I hardly knew how to propose it to you
after - at least, after he went away so suddenly. I felt that I ought
to see you personally, and yet my pride would not let me. He had
his faults, Margaret, but there were many beautiful things in his
character.”

“I know, I know.” Margaret’s heart fairly froze, and she stared coldly
and held herself quite erect. Was it possible that the woman would dare
to intimate that she cared to hear about that shameful intimacy? Had
her ideas of art, her dreams of France and bohemian freedom from
conventional laws, led her into the error of thinking that she, Margaret
Dearing, would for a moment listen to such a confidence?

“Only to-day I received a long letter from him,” Dora went on,
unobservant of the change that had come over her visitor. “Let me get
it. I am sure you will think more kindly of him when you have read
what he writes. His father has been out to see him, and they are quite
reconciled now. It has made Fred very happy. You see, there is no reason
now why he may not come home. I want you to see the letter, for he
mentions you in it, and I am sure, seeing how sweet and kind you are to
me, that - ”

“I don’t care to see it!” Margaret broke in, frigidly. “Please don’t ask
me. I am just going. I only had a few moments. I thank you very much for
showing me your pictures.”

Dora dropped her eyes in surprise, for the gaze of her haughty visitor
was full of undisguised anger.

“I didn’t mean to offend you,” she said, humbly, “and I hope you will
pardon me. I was only trying to do Fred a good turn, and I suppose I did
it awkwardly. It is very good of you to come. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye.” And Margaret swept from the room. As she crossed the porch
and passed the little architect of a church of no mean design, he raised
his eyes and said:

“Look, lady; that is the tower for the big bell (ding-dong!), and this
is the door - ” But she paid no heed to him, as, with a shrug, almost of
disdain, she passed on to the gate.

“He is writing to her; he has been writing to her all these years,” she
said within herself. “Perhaps he has even met her - she may have been to
see him in other places. That is why she’s lived so quietly - it gave her
the chance to go and come as she liked. Perhaps he has put those ideas
of Paris and free-love into her head. When he talked to me in New York
he didn’t mean that - that he cared for me deeply. He meant only that he
wanted me and the rest of us here to overlook what he had done. When he
told his silly old father that he would not come back unless I forgave
him, he meant - he thought - he was trying to apologize - actually
_apologize_ - for having made love to me. I have lowered myself by going
to her. It gave her that sly chance to stab me. She thinks I care. She
thinks that I have been crying my eyes out about him. They have talked
me over time after time. Oh, the shame of it - the utter _shame_ of it!”




CHAPTER XX

|MARGARET DEARING passed a restless, tumultuous night following the
disturbing visit to Dora. In the evening she had joined her uncle at a
game of whist in a nervous, abstracted way; she had played the piano in
a spiritless fashion for her brother, who had come in tired from a long
drive into the country, where he had performed a successful surgical
operation; and then she had gone up to her bedchamber and thrown off the
mask. She kept it off, for there was only the starlight to witness her
white, blank face and piteously staring eyes as she sat at her window
looking out. From the stretch of darkness below only one salient feature
presented itself: it was the steadily burning light in Dora Barry’s
window. In her fancy Margaret saw the beautiful young mother bending
over a table writing - writing to Fred Walton in answer to the last
letter he had written. She rose suddenly, exasperated beyond endurance,
and threw herself on her bed.

She rose late the next morning and breakfasted in the big, sombre
dining-room after the General and Wynn had gone to town. The servant
said something she hardly heard, to the effect that Wynn had received
a letter which called him to Augusta, and that he might be absent for
several days. Breakfast over, Margaret strolled down to a favorite
seat of hers on the lawn. Why was it, she asked herself, with poignant
chagrin, that she welcomed the position as putting her into the full
view of any one chancing to look from Dora Barry’s cottage? Had she been
very subtle in self-analysis and very frank touching her own desires,
she would have admitted the subtle suggestion of her attitude, her
apparent absorption in the magazine that she held in hand; must it not
convey to her watching neighbor a conviction that the conversation of
the afternoon just passed had been of no possible moment to her - that
it had, in fact, caused no ripple in the even current of her satisfied
existence.

Indeed, the pages of the magazine were held so firmly before her
unshifting eyes that she failed to notice that Lionel had crossed over
the fence and was coming toward her holding an envelope in his little
hand. He was dressed in a becoming gray suit, and his yellow, carefully
brushed tresses caught the morning sunlight till they seemed a mass of
delicate golden flames. The grass he daintily trod was wet with dew, and
opalescent jewels seemed to blaze and fall at his feet. Margaret saw him
from the corner of her eye as he timidly paused near her, and yet she did
not at first deign to look up. The grim thought fastened itself on her
distorted imagination that Dora was now watching, if at no other moment,
so she lowered the magazine to her lap, taking studied care to turn down
a leaf before glancing at the child.

“My mother sent this note,” Lionel said, when he caught her eye.

She took the envelope and opened it. It contained two separate
communications. The first was to her from Dora. The other was in Fred
Walton’s well-remembered hand. Dora’s note ran:

_Dear Margaret, - I want you to do poor Fred the simple justice of
reading his letter to me. I saw yesterday that you were angered by my
mentioning him, and I don’t believe you could have been so if you had
the faith in him which he deserves. You may doubt him, for some reason
or other, but I am sure you could do so no longer if you would only read
the tender things he has written about you. Sincerely, Dora Barry._

Margaret read and reread the note. Her prejudice was still playing riot
with her better judgment, and, feeling sure that Dora’s eyes were on
her, she scornfully swept both the communications from her lap to the
grass at her feet and turned to her magazine.

Lionel stared, a pained expression slowly capturing his mobile features
as he stood in rigid indecision for a moment; then, with a sigh, he
stooped down and picked up the sheets of paper which were being blown
about on the grass. The first page of Fred Walton’s letter to Dora was
the last he secured, and, just as he was picking it up, Margaret, almost
against her will, dropped her glance upon it, reading the introductory
line at the top of the sheet.

“My dear old friend,” she saw quite plainly, in Fred’s bold writing,
“You will be surprised to hear from me for the first time after all
these years - ”

“_Old friend - after all these years!_” Those words, so contradictory to
what she expected, remained before Margaret’s sight even after the child
had gathered the sheets in his offended arms and was turning away. What
could they mean? Surely that was not the way a man would begin a letter
to the woman he had betrayed and deserted. There must be some mystery,
and the child was bearing its solution away. Her desire to know more was
too strong to be resisted. Impulsively she cried out:

“Little boy! Lionel! Wait! Bring them back! I dropped them!” He turned,
a look of mystification on his face, and came back doubtfully.

“I haven’t read them yet,” she explained, humbly enough, and she
extended her hand. “Let me have them.”

“I thought you were angry,” he said, staring at her. “I thought you
didn’t want my mother’s letter.”

“I’ll read them,” she promised, tremblingly. “Wait, won’t you? That’s a
good boy.”

He stood beside her, studiously observant of the phenomenon of her
changeableness, while she literally devoured Fred Walton’s letter. It
ran:

My dear old friend, - You will be surprised to hear from me for the first
time after all these years, and I have no valid excuse to offer. You may
or may not have received the letter I wrote you telling you that I was
leaving old Stafford forever. My bad conduct had driven my father to
desperation, and I had grave reasons to believe that he would actually
enforce the law against me. I had made up my mind to turn over a new
leaf and fight it out on new lines at home, when the last straw came to
break my purpose. Dear Dora, her brother Wynn approached me that very
night and told me that her uncle intended positively to disinherit her
if she kept faith in me. What was there for me to do? God knows I was
unworthy of her, and the next morning was to bring things to light which
would make her despise me; so I promised him then and there to go away
and never communicate with her again. No human being ever suffered more
keenly than I did at losing her, but I determined to fight my way to
reformation, and by my own toil to restore to my father the funds I had
misappropriated. After years of strife and hardship I have done it, and
he has fully forgiven me. He has forgiven me and wants me to come home.
_Home!_ Just think of it! To me old Stafford would be a heaven on earth.
I think I could fall face downward in the dear old streets and kiss the
very pavement. But I may not come yet. Somehow I can’t, Dora. I believe
most of the old town will forgive me, but she won’t. I know she won’t.
Her ideas of honor are too high for that. The reason I am so sure is
that I met her by chance in New York not long ago, and she gave me
clearly to understand that I need never expect to regain her respect. I
made my own case out pretty black to her brother, and I suppose he gave
me my full dues in telling her about it. To my astonishment, my father
told me that he had not spoken of my shortage at the bank, and that
nothing had been said about it at home, but her brother told her.
She got the confession straight from me, and there could be no better
authority. I love her still, dear Dora, and more than ever. The very
gulf between her and me has only made her the dearer.

But I mustn’t write so much about myself. My father says you are still
unmarried. He couldn’t tell me whether you had carried your painting
further. I was sure it would do great things for you, and it is not too
late, even yet.

Another thing - I have always felt that I may have hurt your feelings
past forgiveness by advising you as I did in that last letter not to
trust too fully the man whom I mentioned. I now see that I had no right
to go so far. You were hardly more than a child then, but you knew how
to take care of yourself even with a man of the world like him, and I
had no right to warn you. But I was going away, dear Dora, and I was so
miserable about myself that I exaggerated your danger. I have seen
by the papers that he has made a great success in life, and that old
Stafford is very proud of him -

*****

Margaret folded the letter in her lap and sat aflame with joy, staring
with glowing eyes at the vacant air.

“Do you like it? Is it nice, lady?” the child asked.

“Yes, very nice, and I thank you,” she answered. The child said
something, but she did not hear it. The pent-up ecstasy within her was
like physical pain; she could have screamed to give it an outlet. She
felt a womanly yearning to embrace the boy, and would have opened
her arms to him had she not heard steps behind her. Looking over her
shoulder, she saw Kenneth Galt approaching.

“I dropped in at the front to see you,” he said, with a bow. “They told
me you were out here.” His eyes fell on the child, and a strange flare
of inexpressible tenderness lighted his lack-lustre eyes as he drew a
chair forward and sat down.

“Yes, I like it here,” she intoned, and her voice, in her own ears,
sounded far off, and as if it had taken on the timbre of a new and
exalted existence. She half feared that Galt would note it.

“You seem happy,” he said, thoughtfully, “and that is a condition that
is most rare with humankind. I certainly envy a happy individual.”

“Yes, I am very happy,” she said - “more so than I ever was in my life
before.”

“I certainly envy you,” he repeated, gloomily. “I have given up all hope
of even touching the hem of the good dame’s garment.” The boy had gone
to him, and stood with his little hand on his father’s knee, looking
with trustful adoration into the dark, saturnine face above him.
Something in the child’s profile, now that Margaret held the glass of
revelation to her eyes, showed kinship to its paternal prototype, and a
dazzling dart of conviction flashed through her. At that instant she had
a motherly instinct to draw the child from the contaminating touch of
the man who had disowned it. His attitude of denial was a desecration to
the holiness of parenthood, and in her soul she resented it.

“Come to me, Lionel,” she said, gently. “I want you to kiss me. Won’t
you, just once?”

The child stared as if scarcely believing that he had heard aright.

“What did you say, lady?” he asked, as he lingered hesitatingly.

She repeated her words more tenderly than before, and there was a mist
before her sight as he came toward her.

“Do you like me now?” he asked, wonderingly. “Yes, and love you very,
very much,” she answered, huskily.

“But you didn’t ever so long at _first_; you didn’t _yesterday_, when
I asked you to see my church. You didn’t just _this minute_, when I
brought my mother’s letter.”

“But I do now, ever and ever so much,” she said, adopting his tone, and,
taking him into her arms, she pressed him passionately to her breast
and kissed him on his brow, on his cheeks, and on his red lips. Then,
holding him in her arms, and with no word of explanation to Galt, she
rose. “Put your arms close around my neck,” she said, “and hug me tight.
I am going to run over and see your mother.”

The child complied, timidly, a delicate flush of appreciation on his
mobile face. Then she put him down, and, still not looking at Galt, she
said:

“No, you needn’t come, Lionel; I’ll only be there a minute to return the
letter. You may stay here and entertain your - your good friend.”

Galt, who had risen, stood looking after her for a moment, his
countenance dark with the ever-constant despair within him. He felt the
tiny, confident hands of his child as they pressed against his legs, and
looked down into the sweetly smiling, upturned face.


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Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Redemption of Kenneth Galt → online text (page 21 of 24)