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Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Redemption of Kenneth Galt online

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Mrs. Barry. She paused, unable, it seemed, to formulate what she had to
say, so sudden was the meeting, and his heart sank lower, as the thought
came to him that something might have happened to Dora or the child.

“I came to see you,” she began, pushing back the bonnet which had
partially obscured her face. “Your servants told me they didn’t know
where you were.”

“You wanted to see _me?_” he gasped. “Has anything gone wrong?”

“No, it is not _that_,” the woman said, leading the way toward a clump
of cedars on the grass, as if from the sensitive fear of meeting some
one on the walk. “My daughter and the child came home at noon. I saw
from her looks that she was troubled over something, and that Lionel had
been crying, from the marks on his face; but I did not question either
of them. All this afternoon she did not speak of you, but to-night,
after she had put the boy to sleep, she came into my room and sat down
near me. I knew she was in awful struggle over something. She began
telling me, in a slow, halting voice, of all that you had said. She is
my only child, Kenneth Galt, but I don’t understand her any better than
if she were not of my flesh and blood. I never fully understood her
father. I suppose no practical-minded person can comprehend those who
live in the imagination, surrounded by ideals which become real to them.
She began to go over the whole history of her trouble from the very
first, and she never left out a single detail. She summed it all up
in the most marvellous manner. My heart ached for her as it never had
before. She wants to do right, she says, and she knows what would be
right and self-sacrificing on her part, but she says she simply can’t
conquer the offended pride within her. She has had trouble and we are
poor, but there never was born a queen with more pride of womanhood.”

“Yes, yes,” Galt gasped, as he stared at her. “I know; I know.”

“Then I tried to advise her,” Mrs. Barry went on. “At first it was like
talking to a person born deaf, but finally she began to listen, for, as
a last resort, I was holding up the child’s interests. I spoke of what
a glorious thing a trip to Paris would be - to stay there as long as we
liked, and to be able to come home again, for we do love it here, and
I am sure the people would be kind in their view of it. I reminded her
that once, when we asked Lionel what he had rather have than anything
on earth, he had said that, _first_, he wanted a father like other
children, and, _next_, that he wanted to be where he could have
playmates.”

“Oh, I can’t bear it, Mrs. Barry!” Galt groaned. “If there is anything
under high heaven I could do to rectify my mistake, I’d give my life to
do it.”

“I know it, Kenneth, and I am going to say something that may surprise
you. I don’t harbor any ill-feeling toward you. I simply can’t. Living
so close with Dora has lifted me up in spiritual things. I can’t have
anything but pity for the consequences of sin and temptation. What you
did wasn’t a proof that you didn’t love my child. It only proved that
the temptation you had, at the moment of your fall, kept you from
realizing what you would lose. That’s all. I believe you loved her then,
that you did even after you left her, and I am sure that you do now more
than ever; in fact, I made that plain to her. I think she sees it, too,
_in her way_; but it doesn’t help her overcome her pride. I am sorry
for her - more so than I ever imagined I could be for a woman under any
trial. She is pulled many ways by duty, and she is fairly in an agony,
undecided as to - ”

“_Undecided?_ Did you say that?” Galt leaned forward eagerly, his lips
quivering, as he waited breathlessly.

“Yes, she is undecided. You see, things have come to such a focus that
we must leave here. She has just learned that Fred Walton has been
falsely accused by many persons, and she always liked him. He is coming
back home, and she wants to clear his name, and yet she shrinks from
having her private affairs brought in public view again. She said,
herself, that if she could get her own consent to become your wife, then
everybody would understand the truth, and not blame him. Then there is
the child - ”

“Yes, Lionel!” Galt panted. “We must save him, and we can - we can, if
Dora could only - ”

“She knows that full well,” the woman said, passing her gaunt hand over
her withered mouth and swallowing the rising lump in her throat. “If
you only could have - have heard what I did to-night it would have wrung
tears from your eyes. Lionel had waked up, and she had to go to him. He
couldn’t sleep for what was on his mind. Kenneth Galt, that little
angel was simply begging his mother not to let you go away - think of it,
actually pleading for you! He had heard you say you were going, and, in
some way, he fancied Dora could persuade you to stay. He cried till his
little pillow was wet. He told her he loved you, that you had said he
was your little boy, and that he wanted to be with you always. I heard
her pleading with him and arguing, but through it all his little voice
would continue to cry out that it should not be so - that he wanted
_you_, and that _you_ wanted _him_.”

“God bless him!” burst from the lips of the bowed man.

“Finally he dropped to sleep,” Mrs. Barry went on, “and slept, still
sobbing, as children do when wrought up high, and she left him and came
again to me. Poor thing! She was simply undone - conquered! She put her
head in my lap and burst out crying. She sobbed and sobbed a long time,
and then I asked her if she would let _me_ manage it. She knew what I
meant - exactly what I meant, for she became like a lump of clay in my
lap. For a long time she lay like that, hardly breathing. Then I told
her of what a wonderful influence she had been to me in opening my eyes,
old as I am, to the beauty of a higher, spiritual life, and that in
holding back, as she was now doing, and refusing to pardon a repentant
man, even when the happiness of her own child was at stake, she was
going backward instead of forward. She seemed to realize it. She sat up
straight, and the old light of sweetness and gentleness seemed to
dawn in her face. ‘I’ll simply put myself in your hands, mother,’ she
said - ‘in your hands!’

“I broke down and cried in pure joy, Kenneth Galt. Then what do you
think? I heard her go back to her room, and knew that the child had
waked. I am not sure; but I think she waked him purposely, for she never
could bear to have him go to sleep unhappy. I heard her telling him
about the beauty of Paris - about its streets, its boulevards, and its
parks; its buildings; its statuary and pictures, and of the pretty
children who were to be his friends. She laughed like a happy
child - they were always like two children, anyway - when she told him
about crossing the ocean in a great ship, and of the high waves, deep
water, and big fish. But he stopped her with a question. What do you
think it was, Kenneth? He wanted to know if _you_ were going? I knew she
hesitated, her pride closing her lips, even there alone with her child.
She wouldn’t answer his question. Then I heard Lionel say plainly, and
there was a strange sort of stubborness in his little voice: ‘Well, I
don’t want to go; he would not want me to leave him; he said so once;
he said he would never leave _me_, and I wasn’t to leave _him_. Is he
going, mother?’ he kept asking.

“Then I heard her say, ‘Yes, darling, he is going - now you can sleep!’”

“She said that? Did she say that?” Galt cried, his whole despondent
being aflame.

“Yes; it is settled, Kenneth. Perhaps, in time, you and she will be
thoroughly happy together. I don’t know, but I hope so.”

“Thank God!” Galt said, fervently, and, taking the old woman’s hand, he
wrung it in an ecstasy of delight. “I only wanted a chance, Mrs. Barry.
I shall devote my life to all of you, and we can be happy - gloriously
happy over there. She shall be our queen, and Lionel our little prince.
I’ll have this old house kept in order, and some day we’ll come back to
it.”

“Then here is my plan,” Mrs. Barry said. “Meet us in Atlanta the day
after to-morrow, and we shall be ready to sail. I’ll let you know what
hotel we go to. The news will come back from there, but we sha’n’t be
here during the reception of it. Now, I’m glad, for your sake as well
as ours, that it is all going to turn out well. I want to see you happy.
You have suffered enough, and so has she. As for me, I never was so
happy in my life. I want to go to Paris for a while. My husband is
buried there, you know.”




CHAPTER XXVI

|ON the morning of the fourth day after the meeting of Dora and Kenneth
Galt, f old Stafford was stirred to its outskirts by the return of the
most popular young man who had ever lived in the town. Fred Walton got
in an hour or so before noon.

He had sent a telegram to his father announcing his coming, but had
failed to mention the hour of his arrival, and so there was no special
conveyance at the station to meet him, though old Simon, in his Sunday
frock-suit and a fresh collar, with a five-cent shoe-shine and a
ten-cent shave at the barber-shop adjoining the bank, sat in the
counting-room waiting, not sure whether his son would get in during the
morning or by the afternoon train.

He was not long kept in doubt, for the electric trolley-car that whizzed
up from the station was fairly packed with individuals of both sexes and
all classes, who, it seemed, had ridden up chiefly that they might be
among the first to pay tribute to their old favorite and hear him talk.

It was all joyous and reassuring enough to Fred at first, and might have
continued so had the car not stopped at a crossing half-way between the
station and the square, and taken on Wynn Dearing, who, having returned
home, had been visiting a patient near by. The eyes of the two met. Fred
colored high; but with a hard, grave countenance Dearing simply turned
to the conductor, paid his fare, and sat down near a window, through
which he stared stonily all the way to the square.

The heart of the returning exile sank into a veritable slough of
despair. His admirers, packed about him, were stilled for a moment by
the “cut” he had received, and then, not being able to interpret it,
they valiantly passed it over, and showed by their excessive cordiality
that if one of his old companions had been coarse enough to snub him on
that day of all days, they remained true.

But the light and joy of it all was blotted out for the one most
concerned. He sat trying to answer the innumerable questions, trying to
return humorous sallies and references to the gay old days with smiles
that would reflect their good-will, but it was a poor effort at best.
He endeavored, in a miserable maze, to recall the exact words of his
father’s hurried letter ordering him home, and his spirits sank lower
and lower as he made the effort. After all, he told himself, he had
misunderstood Margaret’s message - the message which had raised him to
the very skies of delight. The letter, which he had read hundreds of
times, was in the pocket of his coat, and he could feel its now grim and
satirical pressure against his breast.

“She told me she wanted to see you,” old Simon had written, “and for me
to write you so. She said she was sure when you and her got together you
and her would understand each other perfectly. She was powerful flushed
and excited, and I could hardly make out just what she did or did not
mean. It was the way she _acted_ more than what she actually said in so
many plain words that made me believe she had concluded to let bygones
be bygones. So, if I was you, Fred, and still thought she would be a
proper mate, why, I should lay business aside and make hay for a while.
The sun seems shining up this way for you right now, and so, as I say, I
would come right on before some other cloud rises. Women are changeable,
and she may be no exception to the rule. I can’t quite understand why
she shut off my proposition in your behalf when I went up to see her,
and then come down all in a tilt and hustle the next day, and did what
she did, and talked like she did. I am too much of a business man by
habit, I reckon, to encourage anybody in a deal that ain’t fully closed,
signed, sealed; and delivered; so, you see, all I can say is to come on
and work out your own salvation.”

Now, sure that he had made a grave mistake, and with the heaviest of
hearts, Fred left the car at the postoffice, noting that Wynn Dearing,
with a hard, set face, was striding across the street to his office with
never another look in his direction.

“He is furious because I have come back,” Fred said to himself. “I
promised him I’d stay away, and I have broken my word. General Sylvester
is as much against me as ever, and so is Wynn. It is all up. I’ll never
live it down. These persons who seem glad to see me have nothing at
stake, or they would snub me too. My father has forgiven me, but
that has nothing to do with Margaret. After he wrote as he did, I
hoped - hoped - well, I was a fool! I hoped too much. I’ll go back West
and stay there. I’ll see Wynn Dearing and tell him of my mistake. Surely
that will justify me if my - my presumption ends there.”

As he neared the bank he saw his father standing in the door, backed up
by all his clerks. The gaunt, grizzled visage of the old man, under its
half-sheepish look, was lighted up as it had never been in his son’s
memory, and the faces around him were wreathed in welcoming smiles, but
it was a hand of lead that Fred extended, a smile that was dead lay on
his handsome face.

Dearing, to his surprise, on reaching his office after leaving the car,
found Margaret waiting for him. He stared at her almost fiercely for a
moment; then, as she avoided his eyes and was silent, he broke out:

“You have come down here to see him?”

“Yes, brother,” she answered, simply. “I want to be among the first to
welcome him home. He has suffered enough, and has proved his genuine
nobility. I can’t explain everything just now, for I have no right to;
but you will know all that I know very, very soon.”

“I know this, Madge,” he said, and he sat down before her, looking like
a figure carved in stone, so ghastly pale and rigid was he. “I know
_this_: if you pardon that man for what he has done, I’ll never speak to
you again. I can stand some things, but I can’t stand that. No man can
marry my sister who has stamped _the very heart out of my life, as this
one has!_ Now, perhaps you understand.”

“Oh, brother, you mean that you love - ”

He nodded, and his head sank to his chest.

“Then you must listen to _me!_” Margaret began. “But, no, you will have
to wait - I can’t tell you even now - I can’t explain.”

At this juncture there was a step on the floor of the front room. Some
one was approaching. It was a messenger boy with a telegram.

Dearing took it and tore it open. The letters on the yellow sheet swam
before his eyes, but he read the words:

_Kenneth and I are married; now you will understand everything. We are
all going to New York, then to Paris for a while. With love from mamma,
Lionel, and myself, good-bye. Dora._

Margaret had read the telegram over her brother’s shoulder, and with a
woman’s tact she signed the boy’s book and led him to the outer door.
She stood there alone for several minutes, looking out into the street.
There was no sound in the office. She waited ten minutes, and then, with
a tear of sympathy in her eye, she went back to her brother and put her
arms about his bowed form.

As soon as was practicable, Fred led his father away from the clerks
back to the old man’s office.

“Wynn Dearing refused to speak to me on the car as we came up,” he said.
“Father, I am afraid I misunderstood your letter, and have made an awful
fool of myself by coming. He will think, and his sister will think - ”
But Fred could go no further. He sank into a seat near the desk, and the
banker slowly lowered himself into his revolving chair.

“You say Wynn - you say her brother wouldn’t speak to you,” he faltered.
“Now, I wonder if - I - I wonder - You see, I hardly knew what to think
when she popped in here like she did that day. What she said was all
so jumbled and roundabout that, as I wrote you, it was more the way she
_acted_ that made me draw my conclusions than her exact words on _any_
direct line.”

“Well, how did she _act?_” Fred inquired, despondently.

“Why, if you _will_ know - ” old Simon was growing red in the face. “I
had no idea of telling it even to _you_, but the truth is she up and
kissed me - so she did! She gave me a smack right on the cheek!”

“She _kissed_ you?”

“That’s what she did, by gum! And Toby come in just in time to make
her let go of my neck. So, you see, after I thought it all over, why, I
thought that maybe she regarded me as being a kin to her in some shape
or other, and meant that as a sort o’ hint of what she was willing to
do.”

At this moment a voice was heard in the corridor. It was Wynn Dearing’s,
and he was asking for Fred.

“I wonder if he’s come here to pick a row,” old Simon asked, as his
startled eyes bore down on the face of his son. “If he has, I reckon we
can accommodate him. I ain’t no fighter, but you are my own flesh and
blood, and considering the time you’ve been away, and what you have
accomplished, he hain’t treated you right. Toby” - raising his voice and
going to the door and looking out - “show that fellow back here. Nobody
ain’t hiding in this shebang, I am here to say, and if folks ain’t
satisfied all round - clean all round - why - ”

But Wynn Dearing was brushing past the old man through the narrow
doorway, his face pale, his hand extended to Fred.

“I have done you a great wrong, old man,” he said, in a shaking voice,
“and I have come to beg your pardon.”

“Oh, that’s all right, Wynn,” Fred gasped, in surprise. “I am sure you
have treated me no worse than I deserve.”

“Oh yes, I have, Fred. I have worked against you ever since you left,
and I now find that you are wholly innocent of what I accused you of.
Let me talk it over with your father. Margaret is waiting at my office
to see you. I promised I’d send you to her.”

As if in a dream, Fred hastened out of the bank and went down to
Dearing’s office. No one was in the front, but he found Margaret in the
back room standing at a window, looking out. She turned as he entered
and gave him both her hands.

“Oh, I’m so glad - so glad!” she cried, and he saw tears on her lashes,
and the handkerchief she held in one of her hands was damp. “Oh, Fred,
we have all treated you so badly, so cruelly, so unjustly, when you were
striving so hard! A great mistake was made. If I had known what I now
know when we met in New York, I would never have treated you as I did.
You were thinking of one thing and I of another.”

“I don’t understand,” he said, groping for her meaning, his big, honest
eyes dilating.

“And I can’t explain,” she said. “It really doesn’t matter, anyway. I
don’t want even to think about it - at least to-day, when I am so happy.
But I want you to know one thing: you see, Dora Barry showed me the
letter you wrote her, and I want you to know that I love you. I have
loved you every day, every minute, since you left.”

“You love me - you really care for me?” he said, deep in his throat.

“Yes; but come walk home with me, dear,” she said. “I want you all to
myself. I shall never get my own forgiveness for allowing myself to
misjudge you as I did. Let’s not talk about it, but come on. Wynn may be
back in a moment, and I don’t want any explanations now, anyway. I want
you wholly to myself.”

As they walked down the quiet street side by side he tried to speak, but
the happiness within him had risen to a storm, and he could only stare
at her in silent wonder, as if doubting his own good-fortune.

CONCLUSION

|ONE of the great ocean bound steamships was ready for sailing from the
New York harbor. On the deck, near the stern, somewhat removed from the
others and leaning against the railing, stood a man and a child and a
young woman so beautiful and so richly clad that the eyes of many of
the passengers and their friends, who had massed themselves on the pier
below, were fixed upon her admiringly.

“It is going to be a glorious voyage, darling,” Kenneth Galt said, as
he stroked the golden hair of the child. “The bay is as smooth as glass.
Look how the people are staring at you! You cannot dream how beautiful
you are. Are you happy, Dora?”

She looked down at the water, put her hand against the cheek of the
child, and smiled, a far-off look in her eyes. “Think, oh, think of what
it means to _him!_” Just then Mrs. Barry came from the luxurious suite
of state-rooms Galt had secured.

“Some one has sent a great bunch of flowers,” she said to her daughter.
“They were addressed to you. I asked the florist’s man who sent them. He
said he didn’t know, but that it was a telegraphic order from somewhere.
Go see them; they are simply beautiful. They perfume the whole place.”

Leaving the three together, Dora went to the suite of rooms. In the
one reserved for her, on a table, she found a great mass of damp, fresh
roses. The card accompanying the gift had slipped down between the
stems. She drew it out and read:

“Bon voyage!”

That was all. She sat down at the table, gathered a bunch of the flowers
in her hands, and buried her flushed face in them.

“Oh!” she cried, and then she burst into tears. “Bon voyage! bon voyage!
From you - dear, dear, dear Wynn! I know. I understand. I have known and
understood for years. I shall know and understand - always!”

The signal for leaving had sounded. She felt the ponderous throb of
the ship under her. She dried her eyes and walked out on the deck. Her
husband came to meet her. He took her arm, and they leaned over
the railing and looked down into the multitude of waving hats and
handkerchiefs.

“Who sent the flowers, darling?” Galt asked.

“There was no name attached,” she answered. “Look, Kenneth! Lionel is
trying to climb the railing - don’t let him!”

Galt hurried away to do her bidding, and she gazed down into the water,
which was being churned into white foam.

“Bon voyage!” she said, bitterly. “Bon voyage!”

THE END









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