Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Redemption of Kenneth Galt online

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presence, _thief_ as _I_ am, I ought to go.”

He crossed to the other side, and went into the gate of the enclosure.
Threading his way among the monuments, his brow reverently bared to the
solemn moonlight, he came to a square plot surrounded by an ivy-coated
brick wall with a granite coping. It contained several graves bearing
his name, but only one engaged his attention. He sat down on its
footstone, and, with his head still bare, he remained motionless for a
long time.

“She didn’t know the son she used to be so proud of would ever come to
this,” he said, bitterly. “With all her hopes and prayers, she little
knew that I’d be an outcast - actually forced to flee from the law; she
little dreamed it would come to that when she used to talk of the great
and good things I was to do. Poor, dear, little mother! You’d rather
be dead than alive to-night. I wonder if it is _absolutely too late?_
Perhaps, far away, under a new name and among strangers, I may be able
to live differently. And if I could, she would know and be glad. Mother,
listen, dear!” A sob rose in him, and shook him from head to foot. “The
wrong I did was done when my brain was turned by liquor, and I did not
realize my danger till it was too late; I swear here - right here - to
you, dear little mother, that from this moment on I’ll try to be better.
I may fail, but I’ll try. I swear, too, that from this moment on I’ll
bend every energy of my soul and body to the undoing of the thing of
which I am guilty.”

He stood up. Ten solemn strokes of the town clock rang out on the
profound stillness. The air was vibrant with a myriad insect voices from
the marshes along the river. Rays of lamplight shot across the shrubbery
between the shafts and the slabs of stone. They came from a window in
the cottage of the sexton of the cemetery. The lone visitor saw a shaggy
head of hair, a long, ragged beard the color of the clay beneath the
soil, and a rugged face, gashed and seamed by time. The old man was
smoking - placidly smoking. Even a humble digger of graves could be
content, while this young, vigorous soul was steeped in the dregs of
despair. Walton turned away, slowly retraced his steps to the outside,
crossed the river, and, careful to avoid meeting any one, he finally
came again to his father’s house. It was dark.

“I might get in at a window and bring away a few things to wear,” he
reflected. “But no, I must not risk it. He might meet me face to
face and demand the truth. I’d have to tell him. Sharp of sight, and
suspicious as he now is, he would read it in my face, and order my
arrest. Yes, he would do it. He is my father, but he would do it.”

On he went, now headed for the square. Reaching the bank, the thought
occurred to him that, having a key, he would go in and write a note to
his father. A moment later he had locked himself within the stifling
place, and under a flaring gas-jet, and seated on the high office-stool
at a desk, he wrote as follows:

My Dear Father, - Surprised though you’ve never been at my numerous bad
acts, you will be now at what I am about to confess. For more than a
week I have been covering up a shortage in my account which amounts to
more than you can afford to lose without warning. I am five thousand
dollars behind, and am absolutely unable to replace it. I shall make no
excuses. Being your son gave me no right to the money, but taking it
at a time when I believed it would save me in a certain speculation in
futures, I told myself that I had the right, as your son and heir, to
borrow it. That I looked at it that way, and was half intoxicated at the
time the deed was committed, is all that I can say by way of palliation
of my offence.

You once said to me that if I ever did anything of this sort that you
would turn me over to the law exactly as you would any stranger, and
I understand you well enough to know that you will keep your word.
You would do it in your anger, even if you regretted it afterward; so,
father, I am leaving home to-night, never to return. Don’t think I
am taking any more of your money, either, for I am not. I am leaving
without a penny. I don’t know where I shall go, but I am starting out
into the world to try to begin life anew. You have always contended that
my hopes of inheriting your savings was the prime cause of my failure,
and that had I been forced to struggle for myself, as you had to do as
a young man, I should have known the true value of money. I believe you
are right, and to-night, as I am leaving, a certain hope comes to me
that maybe there is enough of your sterling energy in me to make a man
of me _eventually_. Perhaps it won’t count much with you for me to say
that I am going to try to be straight and honorable from now on. You
never have had faith in my promises, but you have never seen me tried as
I shall be tried. I know how much I owe you to a cent, and as fast as I
earn money - if I _can_ earn any - it shall be sent back to you, and, if
I live, I shall wipe out the debt which now stands against me. I wish
I could put my arms round your neck to-night and beg your forgiveness
before I go, but you’d not trust me. In your fury over your loss you’d
not give me the chance I must have to redeem myself, and this is the
only way. But, oh, father, _do, do_ give me this last chance! For the
sake of my mother’s memory, and your name, which I have tarnished, don’t
try to hunt me down like a common thief! I want one more opportunity.
_Do, do_, give it to me! Good-bye.


Folding the sheets on which he had written, Walton put them into an
envelope and placed it on his father’s desk. He was now ready to go, but
paused again.

“I can’t write to Margaret,” he said. “I have promised not to. Her
brother will tell her enough, anyway, to make her ashamed that she ever
knew me; but there is poor Dora - my dear, trusting friend. I must not go
without a line to her.”

He seated himself again, and wrote as follows:

My Dear Little Friend, - You have said several times of late that you
feared I had some burden on my mind because I was not as cheerful as
I used to be. Well, your sharp, kindly eyes were reading a truth I
was trying to conceal. I have got myself into most serious trouble. I
haven’t the heart to go into details over it; I need not, anyway, for
my father will let it out soon enough. Every tongue in old Stafford will
wag and clatter over the final finish of the town’s daredevil to-morrow.
And it will pain you, too, for of all my friends, young as you are,
you were my soundest adviser. You used to say that I’d soon sow my wild
oats, and settle down and make a man of myself. You used to say, too,
that I’d finally win the girl who - but, disgraced as I am, I won’t
mention her name.

I have lost her forever, dear Dora. She may have cared a little for me,
but she won’t when she knows how low I’ve fallen. I am going far away
to try to hew out some sort of a new road. I may fail, as I have always
failed, but if I do, my failure will not be added to the list of my
shortcomings here in Stafford.

Now, dear Dora, forgive me for speaking of something concerning you. For
the last month, though I did not mention it, I have been afraid that all
was not going quite well with you, either. You almost admitted it once
when I caught you crying. You remember, it was the evening I met Kenneth
Galt and you in the wood back of your house - the evening your mother,
you remember, thought you had been out with me, and scolded us both. I
saw plainly that you did not want her to know you had met him, and so I
said nothing; but the thing has troubled me a great deal, I’ll admit. I
really know nothing seriously against the man, but he has queer, almost
too modern, views in regard to love, and I think, dear Dora, that maybe
you have imbibed some of them. Secret association like that cannot be
best for a young girl, and so I feel that I can’t go away without
just this little warning. He is a wealthy man of the world, and his
friendship with a sweet, pure girl like you are ought to be open and
aboveboard. You are rarely beautiful, dear Dora. Your painting shows
that you are a genius. You have a great future before you; don’t spoil
it all by becoming too much interested in this man. It may appeal to
your romantic side to meet him like that, but it can’t - simply _can’t_
be best. Now, you will forgive your “big brother,” won’t you? I may
never come back; I may never even write, but I shall often think
lovingly of you, dear friend. Good-bye.

When he had signed, sealed, and directed the letter, he put a stamp on
it and went out and closed the bank, pushing the key back into the room
through a crack beneath the shutter. He then slowly crossed the deserted
square to the post-office on the corner and deposited the letter. After
this he stood with his strong arms folded, looking about irresolutely.
In front of him lay the town’s single line of horse-cars, which led to
the railway station half a mile distant. One of the cars stood in
front of him. It had made its last slow and jangling trip to meet the
nine-o’clock north-bound train. The track stretched out before him, the
worn bars gleaming like threads of silver in the moonlight. Casting one
other look about him, and heaving a deep sigh, he lowered his head and
started for the station.

“I think this is Jack Thomas’ run,” he reflected. “If it is, he will
take me aboard.”


REACHING the depot in the edge of the town where there were only
three or four cottages, a hotel of the lowest class, and a negro
dive masquerading as a restaurant, at which fried spring chicken, hot
biscuits, and a cup of coffee were advertised on a crude placard for
twenty-five cents, he met few signs of wakefulness. At a switch near a
water-tank with a dripping spout a watchman stood with a dingy lantern.
Walton moved over to him.

“South-bound freight on time?” he asked.

The man looked at him indifferently. “I heard her blow at the crossing,”
he answered. “There! can’t you hear her rumble?”

“Who’s the conductor?”

“Jack Thomas, if he didn’t lay over at Red Hill to spend Sunday with his

“I want to speak to him. Where will his cab stop?” The man had filled
his short pipe, and he took the globe off his lantern to light it. “The
engine will water here at the tank,” he said, gruffly. “The cab will
stop down near the tool-house on account of the length of the train - a
lot of empty fruit-cars going South.”

“All right; thank you.” Walton moved away, and leaned against a stack
of cross-ties near the tool-house. He could now quite clearly hear the
rumble of the coming train. There was a wide stretch of old cotton and
corn fields, now barren and out of use, between him and the train, and
across them presently shot the wavering gleam of the engine’s headlight.
On it came, growing larger and steadier till it had passed him, and with
the harsh creaking of brakes on massive, groaning wheels the locomotive
came to a stop. The side door of the caboose was open. A man holding
a lantern lightly swung himself to the ground, and peered up at a
brake-man on the roof of the car.

“Unwind her, and run to the other end!” he ordered. “You needn’t hang
around my cab all night. I haven’t a drop to drink.”

“All right, Cap,” and, jumping from car to car on the foot-boards
overhead, the brakeman disappeared in the cloud of steam and smoke which
the locomotive was belching forth.

“Hello, Jack!” Walton came forward.

“Hello! Good Lord, Fred, what are you doing down here this time of
night? I thought you fellows had a game on every Sunday. I was just
wishing I had enough boodle ahead to lay over and walk away with some
Stafford coin. I want to get even for the last hold-up you blacklegs
gave me.”

“I’m dead broke, Jack, old man,” Walton said, avoiding the eyes of
his friend. “I want to get to Atlanta before the morning train, and I
wondered - ”

“If I’d take you? Of course I will. I’m sorry to hear you are broke,
though, for we might pass the time with a game. It’s down-grade,” he
laughed, impulsively; “we might turn old No. 12 over to the fireman, and
get the engineer and brakeman to come in and try a round.”

“I wouldn’t trust myself with three railroad men,” Walton tried to jest,
“even if I hadn’t sworn off.”

“What! again? Oh, that _is_ a joke!” Thomas laughed. “You Stafford chaps
say you swear off, then practice night and day, and stick it to the
first galoot that comes along. Oh, I am on!” There was a sound of
rushing water from the tank ahead. In the dim light in the locomotive
they could see the fireman on the tender astride of the swinging pipe.

“I’m glad you will take me along, Jack,” Walton replied. “I want to
get to Atlanta, and haven’t a cent on earth. The truth is, I am in bad

“I’ve heard you sing that song before,” the conductor replied, with an
incredulous smile. He raised his lantern till the yellow light fell on
Walton’s face, and he stared in astonishment. “Why, really, you _do_
look kind o’ bunged up. What’s the matter, old chap?”

“I’m simply down and out, Jack, that’s the sum and substance of it. I am
down and out. When do you start?”

“In a minute. I’ve got to run clean round the train and examine my
door-seals. Climb in. I’ll swing on as we leave the yard. Make yourself
comfortable. Huh! you are done for, eh? That _is_ a joke!”

Climbing the iron step, Walton found himself in the caboose. It was
dimly lighted by a lamp in a curved tin holder on the wall over a
crude desk with pigeonholes. Here the conductor kept a pencil tied to
a string, and some yellow blanks for reports and telegrams. There was a
hard, smooth, backless bench near the door, and a narrow cot with wooden
sides and ends. On an inverted box stood a tin pitcher, a wash-basin,
and a cake of coarse yellow soap. On a hook hung a soiled towel; a pair
of blue overalls, a white shirt, and a tattered raincoat were suspended
at the sport of the wind and motion of the car on other hooks along the

There was a harsh, snarling sound as the hinged water-pipe was drawn up
on its chains; the clanging of a bell; the shriek of the locomotive’s
whistle; a quickening succession of jerks, communicated from bumper
to bumper, and the train was off. Walton was glad to be alone with the
desolate pain that clutched him now with renewed force. He wanted no
human eye to witness his misery. Away off there, beyond the hills,
in its shroud of mystic moonlight, lay the town he now loved with a
yearning which all but tore his heart from his body. He was looking at
the old place for the last time unless, unless - and his blood ran cold
at the thought - unless he was brought back by the officers of the law to
answer for his crime. Yes, that might be his fate, after all. A city so
well policed as Atlanta would prove a poor hiding-place for a penniless
fugitive. A telegram from Stafford would put the authorities on the
alert, and escape would be impossible. And no sentimental reasons would
check prompt action on the part of old Simon Walton. In his rage
over the discovery of the unexpected loss of such a large amount of
ever-needed cash, he would balk at nothing. Of family pride he had
little - certainly not pride strong enough to make him a party to the
concealment of crime, even in his own blood.

“If I have to be the daddy of a thief,” Fred imagined his saying,
“I’d rather be the daddy of one under lock and key, where he could be
controlled like any other sort of maniac.”

Yes, he must make good his escape, the young man reflected; there was
no other way. Escape meant a chance, at least, for reformation and
atonement, and he must reform - he must atone.

The train was rounding a curve. A sudden and deeper pain shot through
him, for on a hill, in a grove not far off, he saw the roof, gables,
windows, and walls of a country house he well knew. It was there, at a
house-party, that he had been thrown for the first time with Margaret
Dearing and had learned to love her. His eyes were blinded by tears he
could not restrain as he tried to descry the exact spot among the trees
where he and she had sat that glorious morning in early autumn.

“God have mercy!” He leaned against the side of the car and groaned.
Even now she knew of his ruin. Her brother had already prepared her for
the news, which would spread through the town like wild-fire. She knew,
and her proud brow was burning under the shame of having trusted a
coward and a knave to the extent of having had her name coupled with
his. He stood in the centre of the car, swayed back and forth by its
ruthless motion. Those merciless wheels, grinding so close beneath,
would end it all. It would be an easy thing to swing himself under
the car door till he was over the rail and then let go - _let go!_ He
shuddered, and turned cold from head to foot.

There was a thumping overhead as some one leaped from the roof of the
car ahead to that of the caboose. There was a scraping of soles and
heels on the tin covering, a step on the iron ladder by the door, and
the conductor lunged into the car.

“Got on by the very skin of my teeth,” he said, with a merry oath. “We
are on the down-grade, and we started quick. But why don’t you take a
seat?” He raised his lantern, and the rays fell full on Walton’s pallid
face. “Say, old man, are you as hard hit as all that?”

“It couldn’t be harder, Jack,” Walton said. “I am at the end of my

“Well, I am sorry - I’m real sorry,” the conductor declared. “I’ll tell
you what to do. It’s a tough ride to Atlanta, along with our stops and
sidings and waits on through trains. There won’t be a soul in the bunk
to-night. Throw off your things and crawl in.”

“But that’s _your_ bed,” Walton protested, thoughtful, even in his
misery, of his friend’s comfort.

“Not for to-night it isn’t,” Thomas affirmed, as he hung up his lantern
and drew a stool to the desk. “I’ve got to be up till daybreak. Crawl
in, I tell you!” Walton sat down on the edge of the cot, a trembling
hand went to his necktie. In the rays of the yellow light he looked as
though he were about to faint.

“Hold on, wait!” Thomas chuckled. “I’ll physic you all right.” He raised
the top of his desk and drew out a flask of whiskey. “It is actually the
smoothest article that ever slid down a human throat,” he laughed, as
he shook the flask and extended it to his guest. “Take a pull at it, and
you will have dreams of Paradise.”

“I don’t care for it right now, Jack,” Walton returned. “I may ask for
it later. Whiskey always keeps me awake.”

“Well, I’ve got to sit up,” the conductor said, “so here’s looking at
you. I’ve got the dandiest thirst that mortal ever owned. You’ve heard
about the feller who told the prohibitionist that he didn’t want to get
rid of his. Well, I’m that way about mine. If a man went round paying
for thirsts, he couldn’t buy mine for all the money in the State.
I’ve got it trained till it walks a chalk-line. I go without a drink
sometimes for days at a time, just so she will get good and ripe and
have a sort of clinging rasp on her. But no joking, old man, I don’t
like your looks. I’ve seen you kind of blue before, but I never saw you
plumb flabbergasted like this. You say you are broke. I don’t happen to
have anything in my pocket right now, but I reckon I could draw a little
pay in advance from our agent in Atlanta, and - ”

“I don’t want to borrow any money, Jack, thank you just the same,”
Walton said. “When I get to Atlanta I’ll look around and see what will
turn up.” And, stifling a groan of despair, he sank back on the cot.

“All right, old man,” the conductor responded. “Now, go to sleep. You
need rest.” He turned the wick of the lamp down and pushed his lantern
into a corner, so that its light would not fall on the face of his
guest. Then he slid the bench to the open door, lighted his pipe, and
fell into a revery.


|THE cot was hard and narrow, and it had sides of unpadded boards. For
hours Fred lay pretending to be asleep, that he might shirk the sheer
torture of conversation with his friend. Through partly closed eyelids
he watched the railroad man as he sat in the doorway looking out at the
rapidly shifting night view. When a station was reached the conductor
would spring up, and with his lantern swinging in his hand he would
descend to the ground and wave his light or call out an order to a
switchman or the man at the brakes. Then the creaking, mechanical
reptile would crawl along and speed away again. Several times the
miserable passenger dozed off into most delectable dreams. In them he
was always with Margaret in some fragrant spot among flowers, by flowing
streams, and in wondrous sunshine. Once he saw General Sylvester and his
grim old father in congenial converse together, while he and Margaret
stood hand in hand near by, and then his beautiful, haughty sweetheart
put her arms about the grizzled neck of the man who had never known
affection and kissed him. But she was fading away, as was the erect
old soldier, and the dreamer found himself before his father at the old
man’s desk in the bank. And now Simon Walton’s face was dark as night.
A ledger lay open before him. “Five thousand dollars of my hard-earned
money!” the old man shrieked. “And you deliberately stole it from my
vault! Thief! Thief! Thief!” Simon’s lips continued to move, but no
sound save a dismal, mechanical rumbling issued. There was a long scream
of the steam-whistle, a thunderous bumping of cars one against another,
the rasping rattle of brake-chains, a glare of yellow light, and Fred
saw Thomas standing over him, his lantern’s rays thrown downward.

“In the yard at last, old chap,” the conductor said, as he took his
lantern apart and blew out the flame, “but don’t you get up. You haven’t
had enough sleep, and it is only five o’clock. You didn’t rest well in
that blamed bunk. You kept rolling and jabbering in your sleep. I’ve got
to run up-town, but the cab will stand right here on the side-track all
day, and you can leave it whenever you like. I’ll be about the general
freight-office till noon, and if you want me, look me up.”

“All right. You are mighty good, Jack,” the wanderer said, appalled and
stupefied by his sudden awakening to the grim reality of his condition.

When the conductor had left, and unable, through sheer mental agony, to
go back to sleep, Walton crawled out of the bunk and stood up. His
legs, arms, and neck were stiff, and twinges of pain darted through his
muscles as he moved. Standing in the open door, he looked out over
the vast stretch of railway tracks. The gray light of dawn shrouded
everything. Over the tops of cars, heaps of old scrap-iron, blinking
vari-colored signal-lights, and bridges which spanned the tracks he saw
the spectre-like outlines of the State Capitol’s drab dome, and farther
to the left the tall office-buildings in the centre of the city.

Just then a man came round the end of the car, and, with a start of
surprise, recognized him. It was a railway mail-carrier who had once
lived at Stafford. “Why, hello, Fred!” he cried, rubbing his eyes, for
he had just risen from his bed. “What are you doing down this way at
break of day?”

Walton hesitated; a tinge of color came into his pale face.

“Ran down for a trip with Jack Thomas,” he answered; “this is his cab.”

“Oh yes - I see. Where _is_ Jack?”

“Had to go up-town.”

“You haven’t had your breakfast yet, I’ll bet. Come on and take a snack
with me. There is a good all-night eating-house up by the Viaduct.”

“Thanks, I’ve got to hang around here for a while.”

“Well, so long!” the man said, with a backward look of perplexity, as he
moved away. “I’ll see you uptown, I reckon.”

Walton stood down on the ground and looked about him; then he saw
something that drove him back into the car. It was a policeman in
uniform a hundred yards away. He seemed to emerge from the cattle-yard
on the left, and was walking along slowly, looking under cars and trying
their sliding doors. He would stoop to the cross-ties and peer carefully
at the trucks, and move on again to repeat the process at each car of
the long train, the engine of which was fired for leaving. Walton sank

Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Redemption of Kenneth Galt → online text (page 4 of 24)