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Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

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The parsimony of old Simon Walton could not have been better illustrated
than by the fact that not a ray of light showed itself in all the rooms
of the house. It was said of him that, fond of smoking though he was, he
never lighted his pipe without getting a match and tobacco from some one
else. At all events, he was at home. And as he went up the uneven brick
walk, Wynn saw him seated on the front porch without his coat.

He was tall, lank, and raw-boned, and though nearly seventy years of
age, his brown hair and short, scraggy whiskers were devoid of the
slightest touch of gray. He was a man who, though outwardly sound
of body, brain, and limb, was not without certain haunting fears of
dissolution. He had had a slight stroke of paralysis which had left a
numbness in his right side, and he was constantly trying to obey certain
directions Dearing had laid down on the day his clerks had found him
unable to rise from his desk in his bank. Dearing’s skill had put him
on his feet again, and the young doctor had tried diplomatically to show
his patient that the cause of the trouble lay in an overworked brain too
sharply centred on a none too worthy purpose. But in this he had failed.
Old Simon would have believed in any lotion, any surgical operation, or
any medicine prescribed by Dearing, no matter how costly, for that was
in the young man’s line; but he declined to listen to any hint - from
such a source, at least - that his mental watchfulness ought to be
curbed. He had won by his method, and that was ample proof of its
correctness. He had risen from between the plough-handles, he told Wynn
with a satirical laugh, and men who had advised him to think less of the
almighty dollar and more of his God were in their mountain hovels giving
away advice for others to live by. The wise fellows who had said in his
youth that he was “as close as the bark on a tree” and “too mean to
live” were now ready to beg at his feet for money to enable them to
purchase food for their families.

“Well, here you are at last!” he thundered, as Wynn approached through
the gloom. “And it’s high time, I am here to say! It doesn’t take a
man two hours to go to that bank and bring back a simple statement like
that. I want to know to a fraction of a cent, too, just how that thing
stands, and - ”

“Well, you don’t owe _me_ a penny, Mr. Walton.” Dearing laughed. “I only
wish you did.”

“Oh, I thought it was Fred!” old Simon ejaculated, not a little
chagrined by his lack of hospitality. “Me and him have had a little
quarrel over his way of doing things, and I was looking for him to bring
some papers from the bank. He went off with the key an hour ago, and
hasn’t showed up yet. Have you seen anything of him?”

“No; in fact, that’s what I dropped in for. I wanted to speak to him.”

“Then I reckon he’s not at your house calling on Miss Margaret. I
thought he might be there, or gone to take that other girl, the daughter
of that old picture-painter, to meeting. I picked up a note from her
to him the other day, making some appointment or other. I might know he
wasn’t at _your_ house, though, after the talk I had with the General.
Huh! your uncle needn’t be mealy-mouthed with me about what he thinks of
the scamp! In my day and time a fellow of that stripe would be egged out
of the community he lived in. But the blamed fools here in Stafford say
Fred’s pardonable to some extent because I’ve saved up a few cents. Huh!
I’ll show them and I’ll show him a thing or two before I am through!
I’ve given him a good education at a fine, high-priced college, and put
him in the bank in a place of trust, and he is treating it as if it was
a front seat at a circus. Huh! they all laugh and call him the ‘Stafford
Prince’; they say he is a high-roller; that he’s invented a cocktail,
and lets bank-notes go like leaves in a high wind. They needn’t say
it is due to the little I’ve made, either, for there’s yourself, for
instance. You had money and property left you, but it didn’t make a
stark, staring idiot out of you. By gum! I never see you or hear of your
fine operations without wanting to cuff that fellow behind the ear and
kick him out into the street. Came to breakfast this morning with his
eyes all bunged up and swollen. There is one thing about him that is to
his credit, I’ll admit, and that is he won’t lie when you are looking
him smack dab in the face, and when I asked him if he had been playing
poker he acknowledged it. Think of that! A boy of _mine_ - of Simon
Walton’s - playing cards for whopping big stakes when I have toiled and
stinted and saved as I have to gain the little headway I’ve got.”

“Well, I see he is not here,” Dearing said, awkwardly. “Perhaps I can
find him up-town.”

“Don’t hurry; set down,” and the gaunt man stood up and pointed to
another chair. “I clean forgot to be polite, I’m so worked up. Take a
chair - take a chair. I simply want to see what it feels like to sit and
talk to a decent man under thirty.”

“No, I thank you, Mr. Walton, I really can’t stay,” and Dearing laid his
hand gently on the quivering shoulder of the old man. “But I want you to
remember my warning about that little trouble of yours. You must not let
things stir you up like this. You can’t stand it, you know, as well as
some other men can.”

“Show me how to help it - show me how to _want_ to help it!” spluttered
the banker. “I don’t want to keep my temper! I don’t want to hold my
tongue! I wish the law of the land would let me take him, big as he is,
and thrash him on the streets before the very folks that call him, as
some have, an improvement on his stingy old daddy. Once I thought I had
him. Once I thought I’d caught him dickering with bank funds, and I had
started to have him put in limbo when he showed me I was wrong. That’s
the kind of man I am! I put honesty above everything else, and I won’t
hide dishonor, even in my own blood.”

“Well, I’m off,” Wynn Dearing said. “I see I only keep you going on the
very topic I have warned you against. Good-night.”

As the young doctor was approaching the gate he saw a figure in gray,
enveloped, as to head and shoulders, in an old cashmere shawl, emerge
from a clump of plum-trees near the fence. It was Fred Walton’s
stepmother, a tall, thin woman of more than sixty years of age, and even
dim as the starlight was he noticed the hardness of her features as she
clutched the shawl under her chin and eagerly peered out from its folds.

“Oh, we have had a day of it, Dr. Dearing!” she said, familiarly, and
with a dry, forced laugh. “When you came in at the gate just now I made
the same mistake Simon did - I thought it was Fred, and hung back at the
side of the house to hear the row. I reckon the boy has decided he’s
had enough tongue-lashing for one day, and don’t intend to sleep here
to-night. I don’t blame his father one bit,” she ran on, volubly, “and I
have the first one to meet who really does. Fred certainly keeps himself
in the public eye. There is hardly a day that some fresh report don’t
crop out as to his scrapes. And the match-makers! Great goodness! They
have enough to keep ten towns the size of this busy. They are eager to
see now which Fred will tie to for life: your sister, with all her money
and fine old name, or that strip of a girl who paints and teaches for
a bare living. Some say she is daft about him, and that if your uncle
kicks him out he will settle on her. That’s what folks say, you know.
The truth is, I live sort of out of the way, and don’t hear all that is
going the rounds.”

“That is a matter I am not posted on, Mrs. Walton,” Dearing said, as he
opened the gate and politely raised his hat in parting. “I must hurry. I
only wanted to see Fred a minute.”

As he neared the central square of the town the rays of light from the
church where he had that morning attended service streamed across the
green, and he approached the little edifice, ascended the steps to the
vestibule, and cautiously peered in at the worshippers, wondering if by
any chance Fred Walton might be there as Dora Barry’s escort. But no one
of the numerous backs turned toward him resembled Fred’s, and his glance
moved on to the pulpit. The choir was in full view, facing the door, and
beside the keyboard of the organ sat the girl who played it. Was it the
shadows from the gas above her, or was the tense expression in her eyes
and the droop to the sweet young mouth due to some trouble even greater
than any he had yet surmised? He shuddered as he turned away and pursued
his walk toward the square. He would look for Walton at the bank, and
try to divest his mind of the disagreeable duty he had to perform;
but Dora’s face continued to haunt him. The mute appeal of her white,
shapely hands patiently folded in her lap, the suggestion of utter
despair in her whole bearing, clung to him and wrung his manly heart.
She had been his playmate when she was a tiny girl and he an awkward boy
in his teens. He had loved her gentle old father, with his long hair and
high, poetic brow, and had believed for years that Dora had inherited
his genius. The artist had gone back to Paris to study, intending to
send for his wife and child when fortune smiled, as he was sure it
would. But he had died there, and was buried by his fellow-students of
the Latin Quarter. They had written the fact to the wife and orphan, but
that was all. It was his child who was in trouble, and Dearing’s heart
ached with a dull, insistent pain.

There was a light in the bank; he saw its gleam through the
old-fashioned panes of glass in front, but it went out just as he drew
near the door, which he saw was slightly ajar. As he stood wondering, he
heard some one coming. It was Fred Walton; he was smoking, and the flare
of his cigar lighted up his dark, handsome face for a bare instant. He
was tall, well-built, and strong of physique.

“Hello! Is that you, Fred?” Dealing called out. There was a pause.
Walton seemed to shrink back into the darkness for a moment; then he
said:

“Yes. Who is it?”

“It is I, Fred - Wynn Dearing.”

“Oh, it is you!” Walton drew the heavy door to after him as he came
out and locked it. Then they stood together on the sidewalk in the faint
rays from a gaslight on the corner near by.

“Yes, I’ve been looking for you, Fred. I went to your house; your father
told me you might be here. Can’t we go in the bank?”

Fred Walton stared. His face was rigid; beads of sweat stood on his brow
and cheeks; the cigar in his mouth shook.

“It is terribly hot in there,” he said, after a pause. “I was looking
over the books, and - almost fainted. I didn’t think it worth while to
unscrew the rear windows, and not a breath of air is stirring in the
beastly hole.”

“We might walk on to my office; it is always cool. I never bother to
shut the windows, even before a rain.”

“Yes, if - if you wish it, Wynn; that is, if you wish to - to see me.”

“Yes, I want to talk to you, Fred.”

They walked side by side along the pavement. Walton had his hat off, and
was wiping his face with his handkerchief. Once his foot struck against
some object, and he almost fell. Something like an oath of impatience
escaped his lips as he drew himself up and caught the slow, deliberate
step of his companion.

Reaching the door of his office, Dearing unlocked it, pushed it open,
and they entered the little reception-room in the dark. The doctor
struck a match and lighted a lamp on a table, and pointed to a
rocking-chair. “Take a seat, Fred.” A cold smile which gave his face
almost a wry look lay on his firm mouth as he himself sat down near a
table on which lay some books and magazines. He had not removed his eyes
from, his companion, who, hat in hand, was settling heavily into the big
chair. “I’ve got an unpleasant duty before me, Fred - darned unpleasant,
because we’ve been friends all our lives, and - ”

“That’s all right, Wynn, go ahead.”

“It is about you and my sister, Fred.”

“I was afraid it was that, Wynn,” the young man muttered. “The thought
came to me when I heard your voice in the dark just now. Well, nothing
you can say will surprise me. I am prepared for anything - for the
very worst; in fact, I am prepared to have Marga - pardon me, your
sister - send me word that she herself wishes to see no more of me.”

“I have no such message as _that_, Fred, but still it is my duty to lay
the facts before you just as they are; and I am going to do it, with the
hope, old man, that you’ll be reasonable and - help me out.”

In a calm voice, full of sincerity and stern conviction, Dearing then
recounted all that had taken place between him and his uncle, ending
with: “I give you my word, Fred, and the opinion of a physician who
knows the case, that my uncle is not only likely to worry himself into
the grave over the matter, but that he will absolutely, and at once, cut
my sister out of her rightful inheritance.”

“But she - surely she herself will tell General Sylvester that she is
willing to - forget me, and - ”

Dearing, without looking directly at the speaker, shook his head. “It
is only fair to her to say that she is not made that way, Fred. She
believes in you; nothing on earth will change her; she believes you are
the soul of honor, and is ready to throw my uncle’s money into his face.
That’s why I came to you - to _you_. I thought, and Uncle Tom did, too,
that under the circumstances you might, you see, rather than stand
between her and - ”

Dearing went no further. He was interrupted by the look of agony which
had clutched the lineaments of the listener like the throes of death.
Walton’s hands, outspread till the fingers looked like prongs of
hard wood, rose to his face and covered it. Dearing saw a shudder of
restrained emotion rise in the strong frame and quiver through it. A
sound like a sob issued from the bent form. Neither spoke for more than
a minute. The step of a passer-by rang sharply on the still night air.
The tones from Dora Barry’s organ swelled out in the distance and rolled
toward them, followed by the singing of the choir. Suddenly Walton rose,
and leaned on the back of his chair.

“It is all up with me, Wynn!” he groaned, deeply. “After to-night you’ll
never be troubled by me in any shape, form, or fashion. I wish I could
be man enough to make a clean breast of it all to you, but what’s the
use? It wouldn’t do any good or help the matter. You’ll know to-morrow,
as all Stafford will. I’ll say this, though: I am wholly unworthy of
your sister’s confidence and respect. To have paid her such attentions,
situated as I am situated, was an insult. I have committed an offence
known so far to no one but myself, and which can never be pardoned. I
am at the end of my rope, old chap. If I could undo my act by ending my
wretched life, I’d do it to-night. I love your sister as sincerely as
a man ever loved a woman, but I have no earthly right to think of her,
much less to consider myself a suitor for her hand. When she knows
the truth - the whole wretched truth - she herself will turn from me in
disgust, and blush with shame at the thought of ever having encouraged
me. You have the right, as a man and her brother, to kick me for my
presumption. I can’t go into details. I could not bear to see your face
as you hear it, but it will be in every one’s mouth tomorrow.”

“Oh, Fred, surely you - ” Dearing started to say, but, raising his hand,
Walton interrupted him.

“Never mind, Wynn. I have said enough. I have no right to send your
sister even a farewell message, certainly not to tell her what my
feeling for her is at this moment; but it will be best for the General
to rest assured, so you may give him my word that I’ll never cross her
path again. I am going away to-night, never to be seen here any more. I
am not man enough to face this town after my conduct becomes public.
I was weak. I fell - that’s all. I don’t know what will become of me. I
blame no one but myself, certainly not my poor old father. You will not
see me again. Goodbye. I need not wish you well; you will do well.
You were marked by Fate from the start as one of the lucky, _uncursed_
ones.”

The doctor stood up and extended his hand to detain him, but Walton had
turned hastily away. Dearing heard his dragging feet in the corridor and
then on the sidewalk.

“Poor chap! It is something very, very serious,” he mused. “Nothing
but terrible trouble would work a man up like that. I wonder if - ” He
started and shuddered. Mrs. Barry’s pale, troubled face of the morning
came before him, then Dora’s downcast attitude as he had seen her in
the choir only a few moments before. He started, and his blood ran cold
through his veins. Could it be possible - could any man sink low enough
to - ? No; he would not even think of it, else he would regret not having
killed the man as he sat bowed before him. No, it wasn’t that - the human
monster did not live who could pluck and stamp upon that beautiful and
helpless flower of maidenhood. He extinguished the lamp, went out into
the dark street, and closed his door. The congregation was leaving
the church as he reached it. Among the last to go was Dora. He fell
in behind her, but made no effort to catch her up. She had shown no
willingness to talk to him that morning, and he would not disturb her
now. Perhaps the girl was really in love with Walton, and had gleaned
some inkling of the young man’s trouble. Yes, that would explain her
present depression. He walked behind her till she disappeared at the
cottage gate; then he turned and went homeward past Kenneth Galt’s
grounds. He saw a spark of fire moving about under the trees to the
right of the gloomy-looking residence which to-night seemed devoid of
any light, and knew that Galt was there smoking alone, as was his habit
at that hour. Dearing put his hand out to the gate-latch. Perhaps a chat
with his philosophic friend would help clear his brain of the maddening
thoughts which surged about him, but he paused.

“No; Madge will be up waiting for me,” he reflected. “I may as well meet
her and let her know the worst. Poor girl, she’ll have to be brave!”

He moved on to his own gate. There was no one on the veranda, as
was often the case in warm weather, but in a little pagoda-shaped
summer-house on the lawn he descried a white object. It stirred as the
hinges of the gate creaked, and he entered, It was Margaret, and she
came to him like a spirit across the grass.

“I told you I’d wait,” she reminded him, and her voice sounded strange
and even harsh in its guttural tendency. “I thought you’d never come.”

Through all that had passed between him and Fred Walton that night
Dealing’s anger and resentment had been held in check by sympathy for
the man in his desperate plight and despair; but now, as he saw the
evidences of his sister’s agony written all too plainly upon her young
being, his indignation kindled. The scoundrel, the coward, was running
away to keep from facing public opinion, yet was leaving this poor,
crushed girl to suffer in consequence of his conduct!

“You ought not to have waited,” he reproached her, in a tone she had
never heard him use. “Your being here now, looking like this, is an
acknowledgment that you actually _care_ for the cowardly cur - you, who
ought to - ”

“Brother, stop!” The girl clutched his arms. She breathed hard against
his breast as she leaned close to him. “‘The cowardly cur,’ you
say - _you_, who have never abused him before.”

“I wonder now that I let him go with a whole bone in his body,” Dearing
retorted, raspingly. “I didn’t realize what I was doing, or I - ”

“Oh, what _do_ you mean?” Margaret interrupted, giving him a quick,
impatient shake. “You needn’t come here trying to make me believe vile
slander. It is easy enough for lies to get circulated in a town noted
for its tattling busybodies.”

“I’ve had his own deliberate confession,” Dearing answered. “With his
head hanging in shame and his face covered he told me he was forced by
some dishonorable act to leave town, never to return. He didn’t tell me
what he had done; he said he’d rather not go into it, but that it would
all be out to-morrow. Of his own accord he proposed to give you up, and
said I might tell Uncle Tom that he’d never see or write to you again.
Whatever it is, you ought to have sufficient pride to - ”

Dealing stopped short. With a low moan Margaret was reeling toward him,
and, as he caught her to keep her from falling, he saw that she had
fainted. Lifting her up, Dearing bore her into the house and up the
stairs to her room. He laid her on her bed, glad that his uncle and the
servants had not noticed the accident. He sprinkled her face with water.
She opened her eyes as he bent over her in the darkness, and recognized
him.

“You are all right now, Madge, darling,” he said, huskily, as he fondly
kissed her. “Be calm and go to sleep. You must not suffer on account of
this man. He is absolutely unworthy of your regard, and that ought to
settle it, so far as you are concerned.”

Margaret sat up, and put her arms about her brother’s neck.

“I was afraid the other day that something was wrong - that something
terrible was about to happen to him,” she sobbed. “He was awfully
gloomy. He seemed to be on the point of confiding in me every minute,
but couldn’t get it out. You say you have no idea what it is?”

“No; but he says it will be public property to-morrow. Try to forget it.
You must call your pride to your aid. Uncle was right in his objections
to him, and you were wrong. I neglected my duty in not seeing him even
sooner than I did. Now, good-night.”

Leaving her with a kiss on her cold cheek, Dearing, choking down a lump
in his throat, went to his own room. The windows facing the south looked
out on Kenneth Galt’s grounds, and Dearing could still see his friend’s
cigar intermittently glowing as the student, philosopher, and successful
financier strode back and forth.

“Who knows? Kenneth may be right, after all,” Dearing mused, bitterly.
“At such moments as this one wonders if there really can be a God who
is justly ruling the universe. What has poor little Madge done, in her
gentle purity, to merit this crushing blow? It was her very trusting
innocence that brought it upon her.”

It was one of Dealing’s habits to say his prayers at night on retiring,
and when he had disrobed he knelt by his bedside. But somehow the words
failed to come as readily as had been their wont; he was trying to pray
for the relief of his sister, but reason kept telling him that it was
a futile appeal. God had not hindered the approach of the calamity;
why should mere human appeal immediately lift it? So he said his “Amen”
sooner than usual, and with a brain hot over the memory of Walton’s
looks and words, he rolled and tossed on a sleepless bed till far into
the night.




CHAPTER V

|WHEN Fred Walton left Dearing’s office, he went along the street toward
his father’s home. He walked slowly, absolute despair showing itself in
the droop of his powerful body, and in the helpless, animal glare of his
eyes. He had reached a point from which, the street being on a slight
elevation, he could see the old house in which he was born. He paused.
All about him was peace, stillness, and incongruous content. The town
clock, capping the brick stand-pipe of the waterworks, struck nine
solemn strokes, and he could feel the after-vibrations of the mellow
metal as the sound died away. He turned, leaving his home on the left,
and walked on aimlessly till the houses which bordered the way became
more scattered, and then he reached a bridge which spanned a little
river. A full moon was rising. Through the foliage of the near-by trees
it looked like a world of fire away off in space. Its red rays fell on
the swiftly rushing water, throwing on its surface a path of flaming
blood. He went out on the structure, and leaned against the iron
railing. Just beyond the end of the bridge rose a green-clad hill.
It had a high fence around it, and a wide gateway with a white,
crescent-shaped sign above it. It was the Stafford cemetery.

“Yes, I ought to see it once more before I go,” he said. “It will be
the last time - the very last; and surely, though I’ll blush in her dead



Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Redemption of Kenneth Galt → online text (page 3 of 24)