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Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

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“They _all_ like me now,” Lionel said. “She was the only one that
didn’t, but she says she does _now_. She kissed me. Did you see her? Oh,
she’s so pretty! She is - no, she isn’t, but she is _nearly_ as pretty as
my mother.”

Galt sat down and drew the boy first to a seat on his knee and then into
his arms.

“She knows the truth,” he said to himself, in a tone of desperate
indifference to fate. “Something in that letter told her.”




CHAPTER XXI

|AS she passed through the gate at the end of the lawn, Margaret looked
back and saw the child and its father seated together.

“Yes, he is the one,” she mused. “He of all men! And yet I might have
known it; he has adored the child since the moment he first saw it there
on the lawn.”

Dora saw her coming from her easel near the window of her studio, and
stood in the hall awaiting her. Her face was aglow with expectation.

Without any word of greeting Margaret simply ran to her and threw her
arms about her neck. “Oh, you are _so_ good, _so_ noble!” she cried.
“I see it all now, and I have been wofully wrong. Oh, Dora, I could
not have treated you as I have all these miserable years if I had not
thought - I actually thought - ”

“I know now what you thought,” Dora broke in, a pained expression
clutching her lips, as she drew Margaret into the studio. “I don’t
know why I did not think of it sooner, but I didn’t. Away back when
my trouble was blackest I heard that Fred’s name had been coupled with
mine. I denied it then, and thought that was the end of it. After that,
you see,” she went on, with a shudder of repugnance to the topic, “I
buried myself here so completely that no outside gossip reached my ears.
I had to guard my own secret, and I was afraid that even the slightest
agitation of the matter might disclose the truth. I - I would have died
rather than have had it known - all of it, I mean.”

“And yet you sent me this letter?” Margaret laid it on a table and stood
staring gratefully into the beautiful face. “You sent it, although you
knew that it might - at least - lead me to - to wonder who - ”

“Yes, I had to do it,” the young artist interrupted, her glance averted.
“I could not bear to have you think Fred was anything but noble and true
and good. Margaret, I cried for joy over the fine news in his letter. I
couldn’t believe you had snubbed the poor boy in New York for nothing.
I was puzzled for a while, and then the horrible truth dawned on me.
I hope he will never learn that he was so terribly misjudged. It would
hurt him more than all else that has happened to him. They said he was
bad, Margaret - wild, and a gambler, and all that; but to me he was like
a sweet, thoughtful brother. If I’d only listened to his advice, I’d
never have been situated like this; but I didn’t. I thought I was very
wise then. I have Lionel now, of course. He seemed to come to me like an
angel of light out of a black sky of infinite pain. But if God will only
show me a way to save him from future trouble, I - I - ”

“There, I have made you cry!” Margaret exclaimed, regretfully. “I am so
sorry!”

“I don’t give way often.” Dora brushed the tears from her eyes. “It
is only when I think of what may come to my little darling. Perhaps we
shall get to Paris before he is old enough to understand, and then all
this will fade from his childish memory.”

“Yes, yes, you must go to Paris,” Margaret said. “I have more money than
I need. Dora, surely you would not refuse to let me - ”

“Oh, no, no, no!” Dora cried out. “I couldn’t think of it. What is done
must be done by _me_, by _my_ brain, and by _my_ hands. God will surely
let me atone in that way for my mistake. It is what I have prayed for
night and day all these years, and the reward surely can’t be far off.”
She forced a wan smile to her rigid face, and added: “Then, like the
Arabs, some night we’ll fold our tents and silently steal away from old
Stafford. Only the grocer-boy and the postman will know, at first, and
then the last chapter of our life here will be written. It seems sad,
doesn’t it? - but it is sweet, so very, very sweet and soothing.”

Margaret was crying. Without a word, she kissed Dora and went out. But
she did not return home at once. She kept on down the little street
on which the cottage stood till she came to another which led to the
square.

She passed the stores, bowing to an acquaintance in a doorway or in a
passing carriage, and went on to Walton’s bank.

“Is Mr. Walton in?” she asked Toby Lassiter, at the cashier’s window in
the green wire grating.

“He has just this minute stepped out,” Toby answered. “He will be right
in. Won’t you go to his office and wait?”

“Thank you, yes,” she answered, and went back to the musty little room,
taking a chair near the old man’s desk.

Without a moment’s delay, Toby grabbed his hat and went out in the
street. He found the banker lounging around Pete Longley’s grocery
store, where he had an attentive audience. Toby knew better than to
interrupt the old man when he was talking, so he waited for Walton to
finish his remarks, which, judging by the steady gleam of the banker’s
eye, had some underlying motive; and, considering the fact that Pete
was a noted gossip, Toby decided that his employer was simply and
deliberately setting afloat certain reports that would be on every lip
before nightfall.

“Oh yes,” Toby heard him saying, “I never was a man to let my right hand
know what my left was doing in any deal whatsoever, and so, all this
time, I have kept my own counsel in regard to where Fred was at, and
why - why I sent him out there. He invested some of the scads that is
coming to him in that big boom town and turned his money over as fast as
a dog can trot. Boys, I’m actually ashamed to tell you fellows how rich
he really is. I reckon you’d get an idea of how he’s fixed if I was
to say he has made more since he left here than I’ve raked and scraped
together all my life.”

“You don’t say!” Pete Longley exclaimed. “Well, that certainly is fine.
I reckon he did it through his popularity. I never knew a chap that had
as many friends.”

“Well, he’ll be back to shake hands with you all very soon now,” Walton
said, gratified at the way his fuse had ignited. “I’ve been out to see
him a time or two, but he has always been too busy to come this way;
but he’ll get here - he’ll lay everything down and head this way some day
before long.”

Just then Walton caught sight of the breathless Toby at his elbow; he
stepped out to the edge of the sidewalk, and bent down to hear what his
clerk had to say.

“She’s waiting for you in your office, Mr. Walton,” Toby panted.

“Who? - not - ”

“Yes, sir; I told her to sit down and I’d fetch you in.”

“Oh, Lord, I reckon I’ll get it in the neck, Toby!” Walton’s face was a
veritable mask of gravity and concern. “I reckon she’s come to give the
boy his walking-papers. I have thought it over till my head swims. No
woman of her station and pride would ever let a man come back to her
while a thing like that is hanging over him. If the woman and the child
was dead and under ground, it might be different. She’s come too quick
to bear good news - a woman would tussle over a thing like that for a
good month, and then ask for more time. No, the jig is up! I deserve it
for the string of lies I was wrapping round that gang to make my case as
good as possible.”

He moved slowly into the bank, hung up his hat in the little hallway
deliberately, and quite after the manner in which he went to meet
business proposals, with his rough face grimly set against rejections
and compromises. She was going to cast him down, but he’d show her that
he was game. She had practically closed the matter during his interview
with her, and had only delayed longer at his earnest request. No, she
shouldn’t chuckle over his defeat. He didn’t know but what he’d throw
out a hint that Fred wasn’t really so very “rampageous” in the matter,
after all.

“Oh, how do you do?” he said, as he went in. She started to hold out
her hand, but, not looking for such a movement, he failed to see it, and
lunged toward his desk, where he sat and took up a pen.

“Well, I reckon,” he began, awkwardly, “you’ve’ come to see me about - to
say whether or not - that is, you remember, I said if you finally
decided - ”

“I _have_ decided, Mr. Walton.” She rose and came and stood over him.
Her voice was quivering; there was a blaze of burning joy in her face
and eyes, but he did not see it.

“Oh, you _have!_ Well, it’s for you to say whether you thought best or
not. I reckon I went just a _little_ mite beyond my authority up
there, in my effort to conduct Fred’s affairs for him, without, you
understand - without his _free_ consent. I only thought, maybe, if you
would signify your willingness to overlook certain rather shady things,
Fred might take it as a sort o’ - sort o’ all-round sign from _this_
end - a sort of index of public opinion bearing on his particular case,
and - ”

“Yes, I have decided, Mr. Walton,” Margaret broke in. “I have come to
ask you to write to him. Tell him, please, that I’d like to see him.
I feel sure that when he gets home he and I will fully understand each
other.”

“Good gracious, Miss Margaret, you don’t mean - ” Simon stood up to his
full height, his old eyes blinking in astonishment.

“Yes, I do, Mr. Walton. I want to see him and talk to him. I don’t know
how to say it to _you_, but I am sure Fred will understand. Tell him
that I - that I kissed you for his sake, there!”

And before Simon could avoid it she had thrown her arms around his
neck and actually pressed her lips to his grizzled cheek. To add to his
confusion, Toby hastily entered the room just as she was releasing her
dumfounded captive.

“Oh!” Toby gasped, his face ablaze with embarrassment, “I didn’t mean
to; but the General is at the door in his carriage, and asked if you
were in here. Of course, Miss Margaret, I hadn’t the least idea but - ”

“Well, don’t let it get out, for all you do, Toby,” Margaret laughed,
merrily. “Don’t forget, Mr. Walton; by to-night’s mail, sure!”

And the next instant she had floated out of the room, leaving the
red-face banker under the perplexed stare of his apologetic clerk.

“She oughtn’t to have done that!” Walton growled, as he brushed the
shoulders of his coat where her gloved hands had rested and stroked his
tingling cheek. “She had no business going as far as that. Women are
such dad-dratted galoots when they get wound up in any matter. She seems
willing for him to come. I’m not able to understand it, and I don’t
intend to try. They won’t be long getting hitched if she goes at him in
a whirlwind like that. Good Lord, I wouldn’t have my wife know what she
done just now for any man’s pile! She’d make a scandal out of it, or
break her neck trying.”

“Well, it’s safe in my hands, Mr. Walton,” Toby said, with unconscious
humor. “_I’ll_ never tell it.”

“_You’ll_ never tell it? Who the devil asked you to hide it?” Walton
stormed. “But I reckon she meant it to sort o’ seal what she’d made up
her mind to agree to, and she really is swallowing a pill, Toby, from
any point of view. But it will make the boy powerful happy, and he
will be on the wing as soon as he gets my report. Huh! I see his old
stepdaddy’s face now. He may try to keep him; but, shucks! I’ve got the
old duck where the feathers are short. I’ve started a bang-up report in
the boy’s favor, Toby, and you can sort o’ kick the ball along whenever
it comes your way. We needn’t mention that nasty business to him,
neither; if Margaret can let bygones be bygones, surely the rest of us
can.”




CHAPTER XXII

|UNDER a growing weight of uneasiness, combined with a sense of utter
discontent with himself, Galt put Lionel down when he had half listened
to his accusing prattle for an hour, and sought the shadowy solitude of
his great house.

Yes, Margaret Dealing knew, he told himself. That was plain from her
change of manner. She knew the truth at last, and was now heaping upon
him the silent, womanly contempt which he so eminently deserved.

He sat at his open window and watched the shadows fall and sullenly
creep across the lawn as the sunbeams receded, and the twilight of
a close, sultry evening came on. He went down to supper when he was
called, but he ate little and his loneliness seemed more oppressive
there in the open gas-light, under the gaze of the observant and
solicitous attendants. Taking a cigar, he went outside and began to walk
up and down on the grass, now grimly fighting against the fate which,
like some grim sea-monster, was clutching him with a million penetrating
tentacles, and coiling round him as might some insidious reptile bent
upon retributive torture. How had he dared to question the predominance
of spirit over matter when this piteous appeal for the peace of his soul
was oozing from the very fibre of his being?

Presently he saw Wynn Dearing emerge from the front door of his home,
carrying a traveller’s bag. Dearing rested the bag on the walk at his
feet and stood looking down the street. Then, with his arms folded, he
began to walk nervously to and fro.

“He is going away,” Galt speculated. “He looks excited. I wonder if
Margaret could have told him of her discovery?”

Galt stood still, held to the ground by the sheer horror of the thought.
Of all possible happenings, he had most dreaded his best friend’s
discovery of that particular thing. The young doctor had turned toward
him and was approaching. He now held his head down and had clasped his
hands tensely behind him. Suddenly, when quite near, he raised his eyes
and recognized Galt.

“Hello, Kenneth!” he said. “I didn’t know you were at home. Otherwise, I
should have run in and said good-bye.”

“You are going somewhere, then?” Galt said.

“To Augusta for a few days,” Dearing replied. “I got a letter offering
me a chance to do an important operation. I shall be glad to get away,
even for so short a time as that. I almost wish, old man, that I could
stay away forever. I used to love this town, but I hate it now. I hate
anything that is heartless and totally blinded by money and power to all
sense of justice and common decency.”

“Why, what’s gone wrong?” Galt inquired.

“Wrong? The place is rotten to the core!” Dearing burst out. “Kenneth,
a thing is going to be countenanced by the citizens of this town that
would stain the character of the Dark Ages. Haven’t you heard the news
that has set every tongue to wagging like a thousand bell-clappers?”

“No, I haven’t heard anything out of the ordinary. You see, I am keeping
so close here at home that - ”

“Well, old man, the lowest, poorest excuse for a man that old Stafford
ever produced is coming back,” Dear-ing broke it, furiously. “Fred
Walton, I mean. I didn’t think he’d have the effrontery to show his face
here again, but he has decided to do it.”

“Oh!” Galt exclaimed. But that was all he said, for Dearing went on,
angrily:

“Yes, and the dastardly thing - the most outrageous fact about it all - is
that every soul in the place is ready to receive him with open arms.
He has made lots of money; he is rich; he has reformed, they say, and,
idiots that they are, they have forgiven him. I have heard his return
spoken of by a score of our very best citizens, and not one of them has
even mentioned the crime that lies at his door - the crime that stands
out to-day in a more damning light than it ever did. The brave, patient,
suffering little woman - who is as high above him intellectually,
morally, and every other way as the stars are above the earth - and that
glorious child are to have another slap from his dirty, egotistical
paw. He put her into prison and made her an exile with his nameless
offspring, and yet he comes back like a royal prince. ‘Wild oats,’ they
call his vile conduct, and they are ready to wipe it off his record.
That is modern mankind for you, and, Kenneth, this one circumstance has
come nearer to shaking my faith than anything that ever happened to me.
If God can allow an insult like that to come to Dora Barry now, after
all she has borne so sweetly, silently, and bravely, He can be no God of
mine. I’ll be through with the creeds, I tell you. I’ll join your gang
of scoffers and trot along wherever your black philosophy leads. Even my
uncle has no protest to make, nor my sister, who I thought had given the
scamp up in disgust. By George, she even looks happy over it! I don’t
want to meet him face to face. I don’t know that I could control myself.
She has given me no right to act as her defender; if she had,
Kenneth, I’d take up her cause if it ended my career here forever!”

“You? You?” Galt gasped.

“Yes, I. Listen, old man. You are my best friend, and I feel like
telling some one. I feel that it would be a sort of tribute of respect
to her worthiness. I presume you, like all the rest, think that I never
have had any preference for any particular woman, but I have had, and I
am not ashamed of it.

“When I was a boy of thirteen or so, and Dora was about eight, we used
to play together. Even at that age I had an eye for beauty, and she was
the prettiest child that ever lived. We called ourselves sweethearts.
Her old father used to get us to sit for him in his studio, and he would
talk to us as only such a beautiful soul could to children. He used
to sigh and say that she would be a pauper, and that I would grow up a
prince, for an artist could not leave his daughter money, and my
father was said to be well-to-do. Even at that early age I denied the
possibility of such a thing making any difference between her and me,
and when she grew up into such beautiful girlhood, and was studying art
under her father, I determined to make something of myself, aside from
the inheritance which was to come to me. So I went in for medicine and
surgery, and she kept to art, saying that she would earn a living for
her parents when they became old. But he died away off in Paris, whither
his dreams led him, while I was at college, and when I came home I found
that she had grown away from me. It was a great blow, for I had been
constantly thinking of her. To me she was the very glory of her sex,
and it was mostly her influence that made me what I am. I have seen many
women since then, but never her equal from any point of view. I went
with her occasionally after that, but it was more to become accustomed
to her loss than in the hope of winning her regard. Then the awful,
unmentionable thing came out. You know what I mean. That man had won her
confidence, won her heart - how, God only knows, but he had - and dealt
her a back-handed blow, and left her helpless, miserable. I tried then,
harder than ever, to tear her image out of my heart, but I couldn’t. My
professional duties called me into the saddened home to which no other
soul was admitted. I saw that even in her blighted womanhood she was
fulfilling every promise given by her youth. Instead of sinking lower,
she was blooming like a flower under snow. I suppose I shall go through
the rest of my life with her personality woven into the very warp and
woof of my being. But knowing her has strengthened and broadened me. She
is beautiful, pure, and spiritual - God’s denial of the social law held
over her. Only shallow men judge women by physical mistakes made in the
unselfish purity of over-confidence. She will never call on me for
the aid I’d gladly give, and I can’t insult her strange widowhood by
offering it. She has her heart set on going to Paris to live and study,
as her father did. She thinks she can bury herself there before Lionel
is old enough to realize his condition, and that he may never know the
truth. It is a beautiful dream, but it can never be realized.”

A horse and buggy stopped at the gate, and Doctor Beaman, who was
driving, leaned over and called out, excitedly: “I’m fifteen minutes
late, Wynn; you may miss the train. Hurry! hurry!”

“That’s a fact; I must go. Good-bye, old man.” Galt held on to Dearing’s
hand firmly, almost desperately.

“Wait, I have something to say,” he began - “something that simply must
be said.”

“Good gracious, Wynn, hurry, hurry!” Doctor Beaman was heard calling
out, impatiently. “You don’t want to lie over in Atlanta. I’ll have to
go in a gallop, and _then_ may miss your train! Hurry!”

“Wait, just a moment,” Galt implored.

“Oh, I know you are sympathetic.” Dealing, misunderstanding, ran for
his bag, with the wordless Galt shambling along at his side. “I couldn’t
have told you all that if you hadn’t taken such a liking for the poor
little kid. Good-bye, good-bye, only don’t join the gang of fools that
will laud that scamp to the skies when he comes - that is all I ask.”

“But you _must_ listen!” Galt cried out. “I must tell you now that - ”
But Dearing had darted away. The gate closed after him, and Galt saw him
climbing into the buggy even while it was in motion.

“Well, he’ll know it soon enough,” the lonely man thought. “The facts
will come out now. Walton will hear the report when he gets back, and
Dora will declare him innocent.”

Galt went into the dimly lighted hallway of his house and ascended the
stairs. There was nothing to do now, he told himself. The world that had
admired him, the men and women who had entrusted him with the investment
of their savings in his various schemes, would stare and doubt their
senses. They would shun him - one and all they would shun him as they
would some loathsome thing; he had used their money well, but their
profit had been made by a man who had known no honor.

He entered his room, turned up the light, and critically examined his
ghastly image in the mirror on his bureau. What a gashed and blearing
mask to all that lay behind it! How could it go on? How could he bear
with it another day? Even if he could lay it aside in sleep to-night,
the heartless dawn would reveal it all the more relentlessly. Suddenly
out of the turmoil of his emotions a grim resolve rose and fastened
itself on him. His suicide would be his confession - his belated
exoneration of the man who so long had borne the stigma in his stead. In
a small drawer in the bureau lay a revolver. It was loaded in all of its
six chambers, and as he took the weapon out he almost fondled it in his
clammy hand. In the morning his servants would find his body, and
the truth would be out. He would close the door and windows that the
revolver’s report might be smothered. But he started; there was the
child, his helpless child, to whom he had given life - and _such_ a life!

“Lionel, Lionel!” he said, aloud. “My son, my son, my beautiful brave
boy, who loves me in spite of what I have done against him! Will he
grow up and understand? Will he pardon his misguided father, or blush
for shame at the thought of him?”

With the revolver still in his hand, he sank into a chair near a window
and gazed out into the star-filled sky. Suddenly he started. Whence had
come the thought? He could not tell, but a new and dazzling conviction
was on him like light streaming through the gates of Paradise. Kill
himself? How absurd the thought! He might dash his bleeding, lifeless
body to the earth, but he, himself, would remain a deathless witness
to the act. Nothing in the shape of matter, no force known to science,
could possibly put out of existence the yearning for atonement within
him. Nothing so divine as that could die. Such a thing was from the
Eternity that had created Eternity. He threw the revolver on his bed,
and drew a deep, delectable breath. His now entranced vision seemed to
extend further out into the world-filled void above him. He stood up,
panting from the sheer ravage his new hope had wrought upon him.

“Eternity! Eternity!” he whispered, in reverential awe. “Now I
see - the scales have fallen from my sight. I see! Thank God, I see! I
understand!”



CHAPTER XXIII

|WHEN Kenneth Galt waked the next morning it was with the new sense of
having slept long and restfully for the first time in years. The sun
was streaming into his windows from the golden east; the cool air seemed


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