Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Redemption of Kenneth Galt online

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to a seat on the cot; the man was searching for him. There would be no
escape. Presently a feeling of relief came to him in the reflection that
his fears were ungrounded, for his father, not having read the letter
he had left on his desk, could not yet know of his flight. The old man
never went to the bank earlier than eight in the morning, and it could
not now be later than five. Yes, the officer was looking for some one
else. The fugitive breathed more freely for a few minutes; then another
shock quickly followed the first. It was now plain - horribly plain. His
father, having sent him to the bank for a statement of his account the
evening before, had waited up for him, his impatience and suspicion
growing as the hours passed. Old Simon could not have slept while a
matter of that nature remained unsettled. He had waited, pacing the
floor of his room, till nine; till ten; till eleven; and then, full of
gravest alarm as to the safety of his funds, he had gone down to the
bank to ascertain the cause of the delay. In his mind’s eye, Fred
saw the grim old financier as he stalked muttering through the silent
streets of the slumbering town. He saw him open the big door of the
bank, and heard his disappointed growl as he faced the darkness. Old
Simon, with fumbling hands, found and struck a match; then he groped his
way back to his office and lighted the gas. Fred saw him as he stared
round the room, and, with the gasp of an animal, pounced on the letter
he had written; he saw, as if he had been on the spot, the distorted,
terrified face of the bewildered old miser. Then what had he done? He
had gone quaking and whimpering to the home of the sheriff near by; he
had waked the officer by pounding on the door, and ordered the immediate
pursuit of his son as an absconding thief. The telegram had left
Stafford before midnight; it had passed the fugitive as he slept, and
the policeman now looking under the cars was only one of scores who were
bent upon hunting him down. Yes, it was all over. There was nothing left
now but to be taken back to Stafford, handcuffed as a common felon. He
crept to the car door and looked out. The policeman had paused in his
search, and was coming directly across to him. A feeling of odd and
almost soothing resignation came over the young man; at any rate, he
would not hide like a coward. He was guilty, and he would take his
punishment. So he sank upon the bench at the door and calmly eyed the
officer as he crossed the tracks, playfully swinging the polished club
which was strapped to his wrist.

“Good-morning!” the man said, looking up. “You are not the conductor of
this train, are you?”

“No,” Fred answered, wonderingly; “he’s just gone up-town.”

The policeman swung his club. “Got a match in your pocket? I want to
smoke so bad I can taste it.”

Walton fumbled in his pocket and produced some matches, and, still
wondering, he reached over and put them into the extended hand. The man
in uniform was young, clear of skin and eye, and had a good face - a face
which Walton no longer dreaded, which, indeed, he felt that he could

“Tough job I’m on now, you can bet your life,” the policeman said, as
he struck the match on the iron ladder of the car and applied it to a
half-smoked cigar.

“What sort of job is it?” Walton asked.

“Why, you see,” the man explained, “the railroads of the State have had
no end of trouble with hoboes here lately. The dirty tramps are forever
stealing rides. At this time of year they are as thick as flies on the
trucks, brakes, and bumpers. They fall off when they get to sleep, and
are killed; they break in the cars, and steal the freight; and a gang
of them have been known to throw rocks at the train-crew, and raise
hell generally. So, as a last resort, the roads determined to make cases
against every one that could be caught, and they are sending them up by
the hundreds, and for good long terms, too. They are never able to pay
the fines, you see, and they have to work it out in the coal-mines or
turpentine camps. Now and then a big mistake is made, of course; for
many a good man has been sent up for only trying to reach a place where
he could get honest employment. But the law is no respecter of persons.
Let a man without money to pay his fine be caught stealing a ride
through _this_ town, and nothing in God’s world will save him. The
feathers of a jail-bird stick mighty tight, you know, and after one gets
out he never makes any headway.”

“They are not well treated, either, I have heard,” Walton put in.

“You bet they are not,” the policeman said, looking across the tracks.
“Gee! did you see that? I think I’ve got one now. I saw a fellow peep
out right over there.”

He darted off, club in hand, and Walton saw him disappear between two
cars, and heard his stern voice cry: “Come out of there, young man!
Don’t make me crawl under after you! Come on, the game is up!”

Walton descended to the ground and crossed over to the policeman just as
a young man with a grimy face and tousled hair emerged from behind the
heavy wheels. He did not appear to be more than twenty years of age, and
his clothing, even to his hat and necktie, indicated that he was not an
ordinary tramp. He stared in a bewildered way at the blue coat, brass
buttons, and helmet-shaped hat.

“For God’s sake, don’t send me up, policeman!” he pleaded, in a piteous
tone. “I am out of money, and want to get through by way of New Orleans
to Oklahoma. I am out of work and trying to reach Gate City, where I can
get a job.”

“I’ve got nothing to do with that,” the policeman said, curtly. “I’m put
here to arrest you fellows - that’s my duty, and I’ve caught you in the

“O God, have mercy!” Walton heard the boy muttering to himself. “I can’t
stand it! I’d rather die, and be done with it!”

He looked at the officer again, and his lips seemed to be trying to
frame some further appeal, but, as if realizing the utter futility of
such a course, he simply hung his head and was silent.

Walton, who liked the boy’s looks, suddenly felt a rebellious impulse
rise and struggle within him. It was the quality which, in spite of his
faults, had endeared him to his many friends.

“Look here, old man,” he said to the policeman, “law or no law, duty
or no duty, you can’t take the responsibility of this thing on your
shoulders. I’m a fair judge of men, and I am sure it would be wrong to
send this boy up. You know he is only doing what you or I would do if
hard luck drove us to it. Say, old man, I’m dead broke myself, I haven’t
a dollar in my pocket, and I am out of a job besides; but I’ve got a
good solid gold watch in my pocket, and if you will let him go I’ll give
it to you.”

The officer wavered; he stared, speechless, for a moment, colored high,
then shrugged his shoulders.

“I reckon my duty _does_ allow me to sorter discriminate,” he faltered.
“I haven’t seen the chap actually riding, either. But I won’t take any
bribes - I wouldn’t take one from _you_, anyway. You are about as white
a chap as I’ve run across in many a day, and I’m going to drop the dang
thing. God knows, I don’t want your watch! But, say, don’t get _me_ into
trouble. I’ve got a family to support, and I must hold my job. Get the
fellow out of the freight-yards before the town wakes up. There are cops
on our force who would drag him in by the heels. Car-grease like he’s
got smeared all over him is a dead give-away. Say, young man, take a
fool’s advice: get out on the country roads. You’ll make it all right
among the farms.”

“You won’t take the watch, then?” Fred held the timepiece toward him,
its golden chain swinging.

“No, I don’t want it. But hurry up! Get him out of the yards!”

“Come on, and I’ll show you the way,” Walton said to the boy, when the
officer had gone. And without a word, so overjoyed was he by the sudden
turn in his favor, the begrimed youth dumbly followed his rescuer across
the tracks to a quiet little street bordered by diminutive cottages.

On they trudged through street after street till, just as the first
rays of sunlight were breaking through the clouds, they found the open
country before them. For miles and miles it stretched away to blue hills
in the vague, misty distance.

“I can make out all right now,” the boy said, with a grateful glance at
his rescuer, as they paused. “I don’t want to take you farther out of
your way. God knows, I’ll not forget your kindness till my dying day.
You don’t know what you’ve saved me from. I’d have killed myself rather
than be sent up. I’ve heard what those places are like. If you will tell
me your name and where your home is, I’ll write back to you.”

Walton’s eyes met those of his companion. “Huh!” he said, gloomily,
“I’m as homeless as you are, my boy. The truth is, I don’t know where
to turn, myself, and really the thought of parting with you, for some
reason or other, hurts me. I need a companion worse than I ever did in
my life. Say, will you let me go with you?”

“_Will_ I?” and the grimy face filled with emotion, the big brown eyes
glistened with unshed tears. “God knows, I’d rather have you than any
one else, and I certainly am lonely enough!” The blackened hand went out
and clasped Walton’s, and, face to face, these new friends in adversity
stood and silently vowed fidelity. “What is your name?” Fred asked.

“Dick Warren,” the younger said. “I am from Kentucky - Louisville. I’ve
got no close kin, and no money. I was a telegraph operator in Memphis
till a month ago, but lost my job. Long-distance telephone is killing
my business. I heard of Gate City - they say it is booming. I want to go

“I’ll join you,” Walton said. “I’ve heard of it, too. Those, new towns
are all right.”

“You didn’t tell me your name,” Dick suggested.

“Oh, I forgot; why, it’s Fred - it’s Frederic Spencer.” He had given
the seldom-used part of his Christian name, that of his maternal
grandfather. “Some day I’ll tell you all about myself, but not now - not
now. Are you hungry, Dick?”

The boy nodded slowly. It looked as if he were afraid that an admission
of the whole truth might further discommode his new friend. “A little
bit,” he said, “but I can make out for a while.”

“We’ll try a farm-house farther on,” Walton said, with an appreciative
glance at the weary face before him. “I’ll have to have a cup of coffee
or I’ll drop in my tracks.”

The sun, now above the tree-tops, was beginning to beat fiercely upon
them, and threatening much in the way of heat and sultry temperature
later in the day. The activity of his mind and sympathies in behalf
of his companion had in a measure dulled Walton’s sense of his
own condition, but as he trudged along by his companion the whole
circumstance of his flight and the far-reaching consequences of his act
came upon him anew. The agony within him now seemed to ooze from his
body like a material substance, clogging his utterance and shackling his


|THAT morning, about nine o’clock, old Simon Walton rode down to his
bank in the one-horse buggy of antiquated type which had come into his
possession years before in the foreclosure of a mortgage given by a poor
farmer, and which, with its rusty springs and uncouth appearance, was
quite in keeping with the character of its present owner.

The bookkeepers were busy at their special duties, and scarcely gave
him a glance over their ponderous ledgers as he came in at the front
and walked to his desk in the rear. Hanging up his old slouch hat, and
seating himself in his big revolving chair, his eyes fell on a stack
of letters addressed to him. Rapidly shifting them through his stiff
fingers, his attention was drawn to the only one which bore no stamp or
postmark. He recognized the writing, and as he held it frowningly before
him, his confidential clerk, Toby Lassiter, a colorless and bald young
man of medium height, sparse mutton-chop whiskers, and soft, shrinking
gray eyes, entered with a slip of paper.

“The cotton quotations you wanted, Mr. Walton,” he said, in the discreet
tone he used to the banker on all occasions, lest he might by accident
expose to other ears matters his cautious master wished to be kept

“Oh yes.” Then, as Lassiter was softly slipping away: “But hold on,
Toby! Have you seen Fred this morning?”

“No, sir, he hasn’t been around yet. In fact, Mr. Walton, I wanted to
ask you. Only three of us carry keys to the front door - you and me and
Fred; and when I was opening up this morning I found that somebody had
pushed one of them under the door.”

“Well, I’ve got _mine_,” old Simon said, with a slow, wondering stare.
“Oh, wait! this note is from him; maybe he - ” The banker, with fumbling
fingers, tore open the envelope and began to read. The waiting clerk
heard him utter a gasp. It was followed by a low, subdued groan, and
looking like a corpse momentarily electrified into a semblance of life,
the old man rose to his feet, the half-read confession clutched in his
sinewy fingers.

“He’s gone!” he gasped. “He’s taken five thousand dollars of the bank’s
funds, and made off!”

“Oh, Mr. Walton, do, _do_ be quiet!” Lassiter whispered, warningly, as
he laid his hands on the arms of his employer, and gently urged him to
sit down. The banker obeyed as an automaton might, his wrinkled face
beneath his shaggy eyebrows wildly distorted, his lips parted, showing
his yellow jagged teeth, his breath coming and going in spasmodic gasps.
Every hair on his head seemed to stand dry and harsh by itself as he ran
his prong-like fingers upward through the bushy mass.

“Five thousand - five thousand - five thousand!” he groaned; “the low,
ungrateful thief; and at a time when he knew it would hamper us and
maybe bring on a crash. Look y’ here, Toby, and be quick about it! Run
and get the sheriff - if you can’t find him fetch the deputy! Then see if
the telegraph office is open. I’ll jail that scamp before night! I want
my money! I want my money! He’s no son of mine! I gave him fair warning,
as you know, to let up in his damnable course, and he snapped his
card-flipping fingers in my face. Hurry up! He can’t be far off; we’ll
nab him before the day is over. Run!”

But the clerk lingered. “Mr. Walton,” he began, falteringly, “I
never have refused to obey your orders, but Fred ain’t quite as bad
as - really, you oughtn’t to handle the boy that way. He’s been a good
friend to me, and I’d hate to think I’d stand by and see you take a step
like this, mad as you are, when if you’d only be calm a minute, surely
you’d realize - ”

“Am I the head of this bank or _you?_” old Walton broke in, as he rose
and stood quivering and clinging with both hands to the back of his
unsteady chair. “Go and do as I tell you, or, by the God over our heads,
I’ll send you about your business!”.

“All right, Mr. Walton,” the clerk yielded, “I’ll do it!”

White as death could have made him, Lassiter passed out at a door on
the side of the building and gained the street without being seen by the
workers in the counting-room.

“Poor Fred!” he muttered. “He’s too good at heart to be treated this
way, and he’s not a _real_ thief, either. Folks have told him all his
life that he had a right to more of the old man’s money than he was
getting, and he didn’t think it was stealing.”

On a corner he saw Bill Johnston, the sheriff, a man about forty-five
years of age, who wore great heavy top-boots, a broad-brimmed hat, and
had sharp brown eyes and a waxed and twisted mustache. With considerable
reluctance, Toby went up to him.

“Mr. Walton wants to see you, Bill,” he said. “He’s in his office in the

“Well, I can’t come for ten minutes yet, anyway,” the sheriff said, not
removing his steady gaze from a group of men round a mountain wagon in
a vacant lot across the street, where, on a high hoarding of planks,
glaring new circus bills were posted. “The boys are about to smell out a
keg of wild-cat whiskey in that gang of mossbacks. They may need me any
minute. Tell the old man I’ll be along as soon as I can.”

Lassiter went back to the bank and gained his employer’s presence
without attracting the attention of any of the clerks. He found the
shaggy head prone on the desk, the long arms hanging down at
either side. For a moment Toby thought the banker was a victim of
heart-failure, and stood stricken with horror. But he was reassured by a
low groan from the almost inert human mass.

“Good Lord,” he heard the banker praying, “scourge him! Don’t heed his
cries and promises! He has lied to me, he’ll lie to you!” Therewith
Simon raised his blearing eyes, now fixed and bloodshot in their

“Well?” he growled, impatiently.

“Johnston is coming right away,” Lassiter said, and he approached the
old man and leaned over him. “Mr. Walton, once when you were very mad
with the other bank, you remember, and was about to take action against
them, I got your ear, and showed you that in a suit at court you’d
have to make certain showings of a private nature that would injure our
interests, and you admitted that I was right, and - and decided to let
the matter blow over. You’ve said several times since then that I was
right, and - ”

“Well, what the devil has that got to do with _this?_” Walton thundered.

“I’ll tell you, Mr. Walton - now wait one minute, just one minute,”
Lassiter urged: “you know how excitable depositors are. Don’t you see if
the report goes out that you have actually turned Fred over to the law
for a big defalcation that folks will get the impression that you are in
a shaky condition? The other bank would make it appear ten times as bad
as it is, and we might have a frightful run on us. We are all right,
solid enough, the Lord knows, but money - _ready_ money - is hard to get.
There never has been a time when it would be as hard to stand under a
run as right now. We are getting ahead of the other bank, and they are
as mad as Tucker. They wouldn’t want anything better than a chance like
this to - ”

“You mean? - great God, Toby, you are right! It would ruin us - absolutely
wreck us! I see it - I see it as plain as day!”

There was a sound of heavy steps in the corridor outside.

“It is the sheriff,” Toby whispered, “but I didn’t tell him what you
wanted. Don’t act now, Mr. Walton; for God’s sake, don’t!”

“Tell him to wait a minute,” the banker panted. But it was too late; the
sheriff, with his usual lack of ceremony, was already pushing the door

“Hello, old man!” Johnston said, and he came in with a swinging stride.
“I hope you are not scared about what I owe you; I’ll get it up all
right. Money is owing to me, and - ”

“No, it wasn’t that - it wasn’t that.” Walton’s rigid face was forced
into a smile that fairly distorted it and set the observant officer
wondering. “The truth is, Johnston, I thought I needed your services,
but I find I’m mistaken. That’s all, Johnston, I was mistaken. I’ve
decided to let it pass - to let it pass, you know.”

“All right, old man,” the sheriff replied, as his puzzled glance swept
the two disturbed faces before him. “I don’t care just so you don’t
garnishee my salary for what I owe you.”

Outside, as he joined a group of idlers on the corner, he remarked, with
a broad, knowing smile and a twinkle of the eye: “That old note-shaver
in there thinks he can fool me. He sent Toby Lassiter out just now as
white as a preacher’s Sunday shirt to ask me to see him. I found him
looking like a staring idiot, and was informed that it was a false
alarm. False nothing! I’ll give you boys a tip. I’ll bet that gay and
festive Fred is up to some fresh devilment. You watch out and you’ll
hear something drop, if I am any judge. I saw Fred last night headed for
the railroad. He didn’t see me. I was hiding behind a fence, watching
him. I think he boarded a freight-train; I am not sure.”


|AS was only natural in a town of the size of Stafford, the sudden
departure of Fred Walton, under circumstances no one seemed able
to explain, caused wide and growing comment. A railroad man who had
returned from Atlanta informed an eager cluster of idlers in the big
office of the main hotel of the place that Fred had been seen lurking
about the freight-yards in the city at early daylight, evidently trying
to avoid being seen. The report went out, too - and no less authority
accompanied it than the word of Fred’s stepmother, who, admitting the
fact that she hated the young man, could not be charged with originating
a direct lie - that Fred had gone without “a thread to wear,” except what
he had on when leaving. The town did not need to be told that in that
detail alone lay ample evidence of the gravity of the case, even if
it were not said - on good authority, too - that old Simon Walton,
immediately on discovering the flight, had called in Bill Johnston
to consult with him. Had he taken away _money?_ That was the question
designedly put by Walton’s business rivals, and that was the question
which one and all declared the old man and Toby Lassiter had promptly
denied. No, it was something else; that was quite plain.

Mrs. Barry heard the news at the fence the next afternoon from the
voluble tongue of a poor washerwoman, a Mrs. Chumley, who, since the
downfall of her only daughter, and the handsome girl’s adoption of
a life of prostitution in Augusta, had lived on alone in a cottage
adjoining Mrs. Barry’s, and who, as she cleansed the linen of her
neighbors for a living, besmirched their characters as her only
available solace. She was fond of hinting darkly that if disgrace had
come to her family by _discovery_, it hovered - ready to drop at any
minute - over the heads of people not a bit better, and who were far too
stuck-up for their own safety.

“You certainly ought to be glad the scamp’s gone,” she remarked to
Mrs. Barry, as she leaned her bare, crinkled arms on the fence when she
unctuously told the news. “I never liked to see him hanging round Dora.
A body would see him one day over there at that big fine house with Miss
Margaret, whose high-priced ruffles I’ve got in the tub right now, and
the next bending his head to enter your lowly door. Things as wide apart
as them two naturally are won’t hitch, neighbor, that’s all - they won’t

“Yes, I’m glad he’s gone,” Mrs. Barry admitted, with the indiscretion
most persons had under the plausible eye and guiding tone of the gossip.
“Dora says he had a kind heart, and that she’s sorry for him in all
his ups and downs; but, as you say, no good could come of their being
together so much, at least, and it is better to have it end.”

“The postman left a letter for you-all this morning, didn’t he?” was a
question Mrs. Chumley had evidently been holding in reserve.

“No, there wasn’t anything. Dora went out to the fence to see if he had
any mail, but he didn’t.”

“Huh, that’s strange!” Mrs. Chumley’s purposely averted glance came
back to the wrinkled face of her neighbor, and remained fixed there in
a direct and probing stare. “That’s queer, for I certainly saw him hand
her a letter over the fence as plain as I see that tub of suds. I saw
her reading it, too.”

“You must be mistaken.” Mrs. Barry’s face had changed. There were
splotches of pallor in her gaunt cheeks.

“No, I couldn’t be. I don’t make mistakes in things of that sort - not of
_that_ sort.”

Mrs. Barry was silent. She was forced to admit that if any pair of
earthly eyes could detect a hidden thing those eyes were now eagerly
blinking under the sinister brows before her. As she stared into the
reddish, freckled face, certain long-subdued fears rose within her. She
felt faint, and had a sensation as if all visible objects were whirling
around her. Then she became anchored by something in the gossip’s glance
which, had she has been less afraid, she would have taken as direct
insult. It was as if the washerwoman were saying: “Well, you know I can
sympathize with you. I have been through it all.”

“She came back in the house after the postman had gone on,” Mrs. Barry

Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Redemption of Kenneth Galt → online text (page 5 of 24)