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crisp and invigorating; in the boughs of the trees close by birds were
flitting about and singing merrily. The dew-wet sward, bespangled with
a myriad of sun-born gems, stretched away into the gauzy mist which hung
over the town.

“It is glorious - glorious!” he cried, in ecstasy. “She may refuse, but I
shall never desist till I have won her forgiveness.”

After he had breakfasted in the big dining-room, now no longer solitary,
sombre, or accusing, he went directly down to Mrs. Barry’s cottage.
With a strange, buoyant lightness of step he entered the little gate,
fastened the latch with a calm hand, and went up the steps and rapped on
the closed door, seeing, as he stood waiting, the face of Mrs. Chumley,
as the washerwoman peered curiously over the fence at him from her
wood-pile, where she was wielding a gapped and dull-edged axe. The door
was opened by Mrs. Barry, who could not disguise her surprise.

“I have come to see your daughter, Mrs. Barry,” he said, humbly, as
he stood uncovered before her. “I hope she will receive me; I have
something important to say.”

“She’s not here. But don’t stand there,” the old woman said; “somebody
might see you and wonder. Come into the parlor.”

She led the way, and he followed.

“No, she is not here,” she repeated, when they were in the simply
furnished room. “She and Lionel went very early to the swamp over the
hill near the river. She had some sketching to do, and he wished to go
along. You say you want to see her. Of course, you understand that such
a request is unexpected, to say the least, and, as I am her mother - ”
The speaker seemed at a loss for words to express her meaning, and
paused helplessly.

“I am glad of this opportunity to see you first,” Galt said, humbly.
“Mrs. Barry, I’ve come to beg her, on my knees if need be, to be my
wife. Perhaps you may understand; I hope you do.”

“Oh!” And the old woman sank into a rocking-chair and stared up at him.
“Oh!” she exclaimed again, her wrinkled hand pressed against her
thin breast. “You mean that, do you, Kenneth Galt? Well, I have never
mentioned it to her, but I thought it might come. I read faces fairly
well, and I saw, even at a distance, the spiritual despair in yours.
Knowing what you were responsible for, I felt that your solitary life
in your lonely house would bring results, for good or bad. At first I
thought you might resume - might make dishonorable proposals; but when I
saw you and Lionel together so often I began to count on other things - I
began to _pray_ for other things. You don’t look like a mean man,
Kenneth Galt; and I can’t find it in my heart to reproach you. Besides,
it is pitiful to think about, considering the child’s future; but she
may have you now right where you had her once.”

“You mean - you mean!” he exclaimed, aghast, as he bent over her chair
and stared into her calm face. “You mean that - ”

“I mean that it may be too late,” she interrupted him.

“Too late?” He sank into a chair in front of her, and, pale and
quivering in every limb, swung his hat between his knees.

“Yes; she is my daughter, but she is above me in a thousand ways. She
suffered untold agonies after you desert - after you left Stafford, and
all through her trouble; but when the baby came, and we were all shut up
here away from human sight, the choicest blessings from on high seemed
to fall on her. With her close work in her studio, and her devotion
to the child, she grew into something more of heaven than of earth. I
suppose there is such a thing as rising too high to love, in a _human_
sort of way, and I tremble when I think of how she may now take your
proposal. I want her to be sensible and think of the boy’s interests,
but the idea of helping him in _just that way_ may be - be repulsive to
her. She’s done without your aid all these years, you see, Kenneth Galt.
She has leaned on a Higher Power than any earthly one, and has already
received her reward. You knew her as she was once, but not as she is
now. She was hardly more than a child then. Her father used to say she
would be a great genius, and I think she really is. Her isolation
from mankind has done her more good in one way than harm. It has put
something into her work that couldn’t have got there any other way.
Only yesterday a letter came from a high authority on art - But I have no
right to speak of her private affairs. If she sees fit to tell you about
it she may. That’s another matter. She has never been ashamed, as this
town, no doubt, thinks she is. She looked on what passed between you and
her before the trouble as a true marriage in the sight of God. It wasn’t
the way persons generally look at such matters, but she wasn’t a common,
ordinary person, and she didn’t think the man she loved was - that is, I
mean she thought you looked at it _exactly as she did_. She took you
at your word. If what I say pains you, I’m sorry. I must be blunt to
express what is in me, for I have long ago justified her. If she had
been worldly minded, back there when she was glorying in the secret
between you and her, she would have had worldly caution and forethought.
You may get forgiveness even from her, Kenneth Galt, in time, but there
can be nothing quite as unforgivable in the sight of God, it seems to
me, as taking advantage of _just that sort of faith_.”

The light of hope had died out of Galt’s parchment-like face. He dropped
his horrified gaze to the floor.

“I see,” he groaned. “I am too late!” and sat as if stunned. “I was
never up to her level. It was only her girlish fancy that told her I
was.”

“Oh, I don’t know!” Mrs. Barry said, almost sympathetically. “Now that
you feel as you do, her old trust might come back. There is one thing
that has touched her, I’ll tell you that much, for certain, and that has
been your love for Lionel. One day I caught her shedding tears over it
as she stood concealed by the window-curtain watching you play with him
in the swing. If anything ever brings her back to you, it will be that
one thing. He loves you, too; he is always talking of you, and, if I am
any judge, she rather likes to hear it. It may be that - it may not; I
never can be sure I am reading her right.”

He rose. “I am going to find her now,” he said. “At any rate, she shall
know how I feel. She may spurn me, but from this day on I shall devote
my life to her interests and those of our child.”




CHAPTER XXIV

|INTO the wood, a wild, unbrageous tract of land lying back of the
cottage, he strode, full of ponderous fears as to the outcome of his
undertaking, and yet vaguely buoyed up by the natural beauty on all
sides. Soon the town lay behind him; only the low hum of its traffic,
the occasional clanging of a locomotive’s bell, the whistle of an engine
at a factory, the clatter of a dray followed him. The reverent, almost
peaceful thought was borne in upon him that the meandering, little-used
path he was pursuing had been traversed many times by Dora. In that
secluded and picturesque spot she had breathed in the inspiration which
had lifted her far above those by whom she had been misunderstood and
traduced. Along that path she and his child, perchance, had plucked
flowers through the years in which he had shunned them - denied them
before the world, whose good opinion he had coveted to his moral
undoing.

Half a mile from the cottage the path began to descend to the river
valley, a vast swampy tangle of dense undergrowth. Here in the marshes,
impassable during the overflow of winter and spring, but now dank, cool,
and seductive, were many nooks of indescribable beauty. Here moss-grown
willows bowed over seeping, crystal pools and silently trickling water.
There were the armies of cattails, the solitary clumps of broom-sedge,
the banks of delicate ferns, and the pond-lilies which had formed the
background of her pictures. There she had found the wild rose-bushes,
the papaw, the sumac, and the mazes of grape and muscadine vines into
the reproduction of which she had poured her crushed and yet awakening
soul.

Presently he came upon her seated on a mossy bank, her closed
sketch-book on her knee. She was not working, but, with the end of her
pencil at her parted lips, she sat watching Lionel, whom he could see
plucking flowers and colored leaves not far away.

“Now, don’t go any farther, darling boy!” he heard her call out, in
tones the mellow sweetness of which shot through him like a delectable
pain. “You might wander away, and then mother’s boy would be lost.”

Sheltered from her view by hanging vines and the lowering branches of
a beech-tree, Galt peered out at her. How could he have been so
blinded? - so densely unappreciative of her? Where in all his experience
had he known a creature so beautiful in soul, mind, and body? And yet
he had thrown her down and trampled on her and left her covered with
the mire and slime of his own making. He smothered a groan of blended
self-contempt and despair. Her mother had doubted his ever regaining
her regard, and Mrs. Barry knew her best. The girl had been at his mercy
once, and he had not hesitated to strike; now she had the upper hand.
What would she do? How would she receive his proposal? - what would she
say? Would her soulful eyes blaze under the fires of just retaliation?
Would her magnetic voice ring with the contempt she must so long have
felt?

[Illustration: 0008]

Noiselessly treading the dank, green moss which lay between him and
her, he was close to her before she was aware of his presence. Then she
glanced up and saw him; there was a fluttering, shrinking look in her
long-lashed eyes, in which he read the hurried hope that the meeting
was purely accidental; to his horror, he also read in the simple act of
reaching for her hat, which lay by her side, that she intended to avoid
any sort of intercourse with him.

With the agony of this fear sounding in his voice, he cried,
imploringly: “Please don’t run away! I have been to your house to see
you; your mother told me you were here.”

“But she _wouldn’t_,” Dora said, pale and surprised. “She knows that I
don’t want to - to meet _any one_ here. It isn’t fair, Kenneth - you know
it isn’t! It is taking a mean, low advantage of me, after all that
has happened. It is cowardly, and I won’t stand it. You will leave me
instantly, or _I_ shall go!”

“God forgive me, you are right, Dora!” he cried, in dismay. “But there
is something I must say, and even your mother thought I might venture to
see you.”

“If it is to offer me money for my boy, as you did in the contemptible
letter I burned unanswered, soon after his birth, you will be wasting
time,” she said, wrathful, in her cold, unrelenting beauty. “I can’t
accept money, even for him, which was earned as the price of his
mother’s public disgrace. He is mine, and he shall be mine to the end.
I can work for him till he is old enough to work for me. We don’t need
you - neither of us do, Kenneth.”

“I have made you angry,” he said, quivering from head to foot, his
anguished eyes fixed on hers. “Listen, Dora. Last night I planned to
kill myself to get out of the agony into which my awakened love for you
and my new love for Lionel has drawn me. I was ready to do it, for to
that moment I had no fear of God or eternity; but a change came over me.
Hope dawned; I don’t know why, but it did, and I made a determination to
spend the remainder of my life in your service, and in that of my child,
for he is mine as much as he is yours.

“Then my new hope seemed to fairly set the world on fire. It was showered
down from heaven like the forgiveness of God upon a blinded creature
buried in the mire of sin. Ever since I sold my honor the night my
ambition conquered me, I have been a cursed, isolated soul. It must have
been the hand of God that led me back here to Stafford. I love Lionel
with all my heart, and I know now, in spite of my contradictory conduct,
that I have loved you all this time. Last night Wynn Dearing told
me that it is your wish to go to Paris - you, your mother, and the
child - and the thought came to me that if you would be my wife we could
go and remain there a few years, and return here to spend the rest of
our lives, and thus regain the happiness we’ve lost. Oh, don’t turn from
me, Dora! You must, oh, you must give me a chance! God knows it is my
duty, and you must not stand between me and that. I can wait for the
return of your respect, even if it is for years. But give me a chance!”

She had turned her face from him, and he could not tell what effect his
appeal had had upon her; but he saw that her soft, white fingers were
clinched tightly on her knee. Suddenly she looked him squarely in the
face.

“Oh, you make it so _hard_ for me!” she said, gently. “I knew you were
not a happy man. I saw the shadow of spiritual death in your countenance
the day I met you at Dearing’s. Yes, the child is yours, as well as he
is mine. God has made him a part of you, as he is a part of me. And he
loves you, Kenneth, he loves you - and admires you above all men. Young
as he is, it would actually pain him to be separated from you. And you
are asking me to be your wife!” She shrugged her shoulders, her proud
lip quivered, and she looked away. “You are asking me, and _now!_”

“Yes, Dora, to be my wife before the world, as you have been in God’s
sight all these years. I am willing to crawl in the dust at your feet.
You are far above me. You were that when I blindly deserted you, and I
can never be worthy of your forgiveness, but I would die for a chance to
serve you.”

“How sad it all is!” she sighed, her glance on the ground. “What a mere
blown-about straw I have been! What a grim thing for a proud woman to
decide! You deserted me once to save a paltry sum of money - a worldly
ambition; you want me back to _save your soul_ - that expresses it,
Kenneth. But I can’t consent. I am simply human - and a woman. My pride
won’t let me - the pride that every woman has who holds herself erect.
You sold yourself once, and you are now asking me to do the same. Your
price was a successful railroad and the plaudits of a few people - the
price paid to me would be the future welfare of my child. I am expected
to salve the wounds of a torn and mangled womanhood with the realization
that I am providing for my boy. There is no pain keener than the fear
that one’s offspring may suffer what we ourselves have been through, and
I’d give my soul to see Lionel happy in the time to come, but I can’t
bring it about in the way you ask. I simply can’t! I loved you, Kenneth,
before that unspeakable cloud fell between us, but I was only a girl
then, and during all the years that have passed since I have given
you no place at all in my heart. We are, in fact, meeting to-day as
strangers.”

“I know. I know it is true so far as it touches _you_,” he said, with a
deep sigh, “for your love died with your respect for me, but my love
has never died, Dora. I smothered it for a time, in my mad ambition, but
there was no act of yours to weaken it, and so it lived and grew till it
has overpowered me. I love you now, strange as it may sound to you, ten
thousand times more than I ever did. You may turn from me with a shudder
and as a thing to be loathed; but I shall never cease to watch over you
and strive to protect you.”

“I can’t say any more,” she said, as she tied the tape round her
portfolio and gathered up her pencils. “I don’t want to pain you; but
I can’t do what you ask, even - even for Lionel’s sake. He and I and
his granny _may_ go to Paris some day, but we don’t want you with us,
Kenneth. I want to leave absolutely _everything_ behind. You must be
dead to us; there is no other way - no other possible way.”

He turned his fixed gaze away, that she might not see the look of agony
which had overspread his face. She sat still and silent for several
minutes; then he saw her draw herself up excitedly, look about
anxiously, and rise to her feet.

“Oh, where is Lionel?” she cried. “He was there in the bushes when you
came. Oh, he may have wandered off and be lost! There are some very
dangerous places along the river-bank!”

“I see him! Don’t be alarmed!” Galt said, indicating a spot beyond a
clump of bushes. “He’s all right; I’ll bring him to you.”

“Thank you,” she said, coldly, and she sank back rigidly on the grass.

He returned a moment later with Lionel in his arms. She could see, as
she swept them with a hurried glance, that Galt was pressing the child
close against his breast with a look of despair in his white face.
Reaching Dora, Galt was lowering the child to the ground when Lionel
clung tightly round his neck, pressing his little hand against his
cheek.

“What is the matter?” Lionel asked, anxiously. “Mamma, he can’t talk. He
tries, but he can’t; he is trembling all over; he is about to cry. What
is the matter with him?”

Reaching up, and without a word, Dora took the child into her arms, and,
holding him across her lap as if he had been an infant, she bent over
his face to kiss him. Presently she looked up at Galt, and her proud lip
trembled as she said:

“Oh, Kenneth, fate is handling us strangely. I spoke harshly just now,
for I can see that you are suffering. I wish I could be less human.
After all my dreams, I am of the earth, earthy. I am no higher than a
worm of this soil, after all the heights I thought I had climbed. But
I can’t help myself. I could never forget. I might try throughout
eternity, but I’d never, never forget - forget that I offered myself
wholly, body and soul, and that you refused to - to take me when I was
in trouble. It may be sinful to look at it so, but I simply can’t see it
otherwise. You must really go now. Good-bye!”

“Good-bye,” he echoed, in his throat. “I am going away to-morrow, and I
promise never to intrude myself upon either of you again.”

“‘Good-bye?’ - you said ‘good-bye!’” Lionel suddenly sat up in his
mother’s lap and stared from his great, startled eyes, his beautiful
mouth puckered up and quivering.

“Yes, I have to go away,” Galt faltered, his glance averted. “I only
came to spend a short time at Stafford.”

“But you told me you never would go away from me,” the child persisted.
“Don’t you remember the day I fell and hurt my knee, and you washed it
and put the medicine on it? Don’t you remember you kissed me, and hugged
me, and wanted me to kiss you, and said if I’d promise to be your little
boy you would always stay with me? How can I be your little boy if - if
you go off?”

The eyes of the mother and father met in the strangest stare that ever
passed between two mortal creatures.

“I can always love you if I can’t be with you,” Galt faltered, conscious
of the emptiness of his words. “I can always love you and think what
a plucky little boy you are, and - and - ” His voice trailed away into
nothingness. A sob rose in his throat and choked him.

“But I want you to _stay!_” The child was crying now, with his chubby
hands to his eyes. Suddenly Dora, with a desperate movement, pressed him
to her breast.

“You must not play on his feelings that way!” she cried, fiercely,
casting a significant glance toward the town. “Go, please!”

He bowed low, a look of death on his face. She pressed the head of the
sobbing child to her breast, and firmly held it there with her beautiful
white hand. “Good-bye,” she said, with the dignity and calmness of an
offended queen. “Good-bye - forever!”

He turned and moved away. A few paces from her, before the trees had
obscured her from his sight, he looked back and saw her with Lionel in
her arms. Her exquisite face was pressed consolingly against the golden
head. She was whispering to the child and rocking back and forth, as if
he were a babe on her breast.




CHAPTER XXV

|ON his left, farther away from the town, and about a mile distant,
stood a small mountain. Dark-red as to soil, bristling with sandstone
bowlders, sparcely grown with pines and thorny locust-trees, and gashed
by rain-washed gullies, it rose majestically against the cloud-flecked
blue of infinite space beyond.

Hardly knowing why he did so, Galt turned his face toward it and strode
on, vaguely conscious that he was battling against the soul-calamity
which had beset him as a dumb beast might fight for its physical life.
Around the sloping base of the mountain lay old worn-out fields, now
given over to the riotous possession of anything which would take
root upon its soil. There was no path leading to the seldom visited
elevation, but with his eyes constantly on the solitary finger of earth
he climbed over the old rail-fence encompassing the land, and forged
his way through the dense undergrowth, now ploughing his feet through
a matting of heather and dewberry-vines, or plunging unexpectedly into
some weed-hidden spring or fresh-water stream. Between him and the
mountain ran a creek, and he suddenly found himself at a spot on the
banks of it, where, as a boy, home on his vacations, he used to fish.
But it had changed, he told himself, as everything else had changed - he
was a man now, but _such_ a man!

Crossing the creek on a foot-log formed from the fallen corpse of a
giant oak he had once known, he walked onward. The land was now sloping
sharply upward, and his way was less impeded. The air was becoming more
rarefied, the view on either side and behind him was unfolding more
rapidly in the hazy distance. The sun, which had been beating on him
mercilessly, was now behind a drifting cloud, and the cool breezes of a
higher altitude fanned his flushed face.

Finally he reached a flat, jutting bowlder near the top, and, exhausted
from the inconsiderate tax on his muscles, he sank down panting. There
lay old Stafford nearest at hand, and beyond stretched out the new
town under its web of smoke, the besmudged handwriting of mercantile
progress. His brain had fostered the idea, and made it practicable.
Reaching out southward, in the sunlight, like two threads of silver,
lay the great steel highway which his foresight and ambition had brought
into existence. His fancy pictured with lightning flashes the growing
villages and towns, as he had seen them on the opening day when he,
like an emperor of a conquered territory, had been escorted over it. The
moment had given him the thrill of gratified avarice and the empty glory
of conquest, but the eyes of the eager throngs which had gazed upon him
in wonder and envy that day saw nothing of the cancer which even
then was eating into the vitals of his higher nature. Then - But why
contemplate it? The juggernaut of relentless Right had ground him under
its wheels.

He locked his arms over his knees, lowered his head, and groaned in
sheer despair. If Dora had only given him a bare chance! But she hadn’t,
and now, loved as woman never was loved before, desired in spirit and
body as woman never was desired by man, she had coldly, firmly put him
from her. The sight of her as she sat holding his child in her arms,
and spurning him as was her right to spurn him, would haunt him into and
through the Eternity which had now become such a hopeless reality.

Suddenly raising his eyes to the relentless blue above, he tried to
frame a prayer.

“O God, have mercy!” he cried. “Show me, a sinner, a way out of the
darkness of my damnation. Give them to me, that I may atone by my
conduct to them throughout my life. Soften her heart, O God, and open
her eyes to the depths of my woe! I have suffered, I will suffer on to
the end, but give me my wife and child!”

Noon came and passed, but he had no thought of thirst or of hunger. He
remained there on the rock and watched the sun go down, and saw the soft
veil of coming darkness thicken over the earth. Now old Stafford lay
in darkness, save for the dazzling circles of light where the arc-lamps
swung across the streets and were grouped like a constellation in the
square. He waited till the town clock had struck nine; then, still
without sense of fatigue or hunger, he went down, now with considerable
difficulty, owing to the darkness of the incline.

He managed to reach his front gate without meeting any one, and was
entering when he saw the figure of a woman emerge from the veranda and
come slowly down the walk. Could it be one of the servants? he asked
himself. But his answer was the recognition of the woman herself. It was


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