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Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

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room. The old gentleman retired earlier than this as a rule, and Galt
told himself that his being up now was due to the almost child-like joy
over the encouraging condition of their joint enterprise. He saw the old
soldier’s shadow as it flitted across the window, and knew that he was
walking about, as was his habit under stress of excitement.

“Poor old man!” Galt, now in his own grounds, leaned against the wall
of a rustic summer-house. A thought had struck him like a blow from the
dark. What would Sylvester say when he was told the truth? Galt saw the
look of sheer, helpless incredulity on the high-bred, war-scarred face
as the revelation was made, and watched it glow and flame into that
of anger, contempt, and bitter disappointment. The mere confession of
wrong-doing he might accept as frankly as it was offered, but that the
young man should allow such a mishap to drag his own proud name into
the mire and wreck the greatest enterprise that had ever blessed a
down-trodden community - well, he couldn’t have believed such a thing
possible.

Heavily laden now with the fires of a purer passion burning low under
the shadow of his impending ruin, Kenneth Galt dragged himself slowly
along the walk toward his house. He was turning the corner to enter at
the front when he saw a carriage and pair at the gate. The moon had gone
under a thin cloud and the view was vague, but surely they were his
own horses, and the man on the driver’s seat certainly looked like
John Dilk. Wonderingly, Galt went down to the gate. The negro was fast
asleep; his massive head had fallen forward, and the hands which held
the reins were inert. The gate rattled as Galt touched the iron latch,
and the man woke and looked about him.

“Oh, is dat you, Marse Kenneth?” he asked, sleepily. “Yes,” Galt
answered, rather sharply. “What are you doing with the horses out at
this time of night?”

“Oh! oh! Le’ me see, suh!” The negro’s wits were evidently scattered.
“I sw’ar I dunno, Marse Kenneth. Bless my soul, you jump on me so sudden
dat I can’t, ter save my life, tell you - Oh yes, now I know, suh! Why,
ain’t you seed de Gineral since you got home, Marse Kenneth?”

“Why, no. Does he want me?”

“Yasser, yasser, he sho’ do,” the negro answered, now thoroughly
himself. “He been searchin’ fer you high and low, Marse Kenneth. He went
all thoo yo’ house. He got some’n ‘portant ter tell you. He ordered me
ter hurry an’ get out de team, an’ have it raidy fer you’n him. He just
run in his house er minute ago. Dar he is comin’ now. He’s dat excited
an’ worried about not findin’ you he can’t hardly hold in.”

General Sylvester, as he stepped from the veranda, recognized Galt,
and hurried toward him, pulling out his watch and looking at it in the
doubtful light.

“Great heavens!” he cried, “we haven’t a minute to lose. You’ve only got
twenty minutes to catch the 11.10 North-bound train! Run up and get your
bag! I saw it there, still unpacked, and you needn’t waste a minute.
I’ve glorious, glorious news from New York - a wire from Alberts, Wise
& Co. They have got the right men for our deal, and with dead loads of
money. They are ripe for the thing, and the brokers wire that if you can
be there day after to-morrow morning you can close it. They say if you
are not there then that the money may be diverted to other deals, and
they advise all possible haste. So hurry. You must not miss the train.
Everything depends on it. Run, get the bag! John, _you_ get it! Quick!”

“No, I’ll - I’ll do it!” Galt gasped. “Wait, I’ll be down in - in a
minute!”

“Then hurry. We can talk on the way to the station. My boy, we are
simply going to land it! The blessings of the widows and orphans, whose
property is going to bound up in value, will be on your plucky young
head. Hurry up!”

Galt moved away, as weak in action as a machine run by a spring of such
delicacy that it could be broken by the breath of an insect or the fall
of an atom. It struck him as ridiculous that he should be going for
his bag if he did not intend to use it; and to confess even now that he
couldn’t make the trip would seem queer and cowardly, for he ought to
have explained at once. Ascending the stairs, he reached his room. He
turned up the gas, and his image in the big pier-glass between the two
end windows looked like that of a dead man energized by electricity.
There lay the bag by the bed, the black letters “K. G.,” on the
end, blandly staring at him. Galt looked at it, and then back to his
reflection in the mirror.

“My God!” he cried out, suddenly, “if I go to-night I’ll be deserting
her forever, and she will have read me rightly! She would keep the
secret; no human power could wrench it from her. She would keep it; and
I - I, who have led her to her ruin, would be deserting her as only a
coward could! I am beneath contempt. And yet what am I to do? I am what
I am - what the damnable forces within me and my ancestors have made me.
Napoleon loved, and put aside and cast down for his ambition, and have I
not the same right for mine? I am not an emperor, but my ambition,
such as it is, is as sweet to me as his was to him. As she says - as the
gentle wilting flower says - I’d be miserable, _even with her_, under the
wreckage of all these hopes. She knows me; child though she is, she is
my superior in many things. She knows that the loss of this thing - now
that I’ve tasted the maddening cup of success, now that the poison of
fame and public approval is rioting in my blood - would damn me forever!
Accidents of this sort have ruined _weak_ men. _Strong_ men have lived
to smile back upon such happenings as the inevitable consequence of
the meeting of flame and powder, and have gone to their graves without
remorse. I’ve known such men. I’ve heard them say that no matter how
heavily nature may scourge the conscience of man for theft, for murder,
for any other misdeed, it yet deals lightly with this particular
offence. And why? Because there can be no charge of deliberation in an
act to which passionate youth is led by the very sunshine and music of
heaven. And yet I’ll lose her. Great God, _I’ll actually lose her!_ I
can never look into her sweet face again, or kiss the dear lips ever
whispering their vows of undying faith until hell opened her eyes to - to
my frailty. No, no, I can’t desert her; I can’t - I simply can’t! I
_want_ her! I _want_ her. With all my soul, I _want_ her!” There was a
step in the hall below, and General Sylvester’s excited old voice rose
and rang querulously through the still space below:

“In the name of Heaven, what’s the matter?” he cried. “Come on! You may
miss the train as it is! _Come on!_”

“One second, General!” Galt cried out. “Wait!” He had not yet decided,
he told himself, and yet his cold hand had clutched the handle of his
bag. He lifted it up, swung it by his side, and, stepping out into the
corridor, peered over the balustrade down the stairs.

“We can’t wait, man!” the General shouted from the walk outside.
“Hurry!”

“All right, I’m ready!” and Galt strode rapidly down the stairs, sliding
his hand on the walnut railing.

“Why, what is the matter with you?” Sylvester peered at him anxiously
in the moonlight as he emerged from the doorway. “You look white and
worried. You’ve done too much in Atlanta, with all those receptions and
banquets. Let’s call a halt on the social end of the business till we
have clinched the thing good and tight. Put this New York deal through,
and we can dance and sing and cut the pigeon-wing as much as we please.
But you will pull it through, my boy, my prince of promoters, with that
wonderful say-little air you have. You are the man to make that crowd
of Yankees think we are granting _them_ favors instead of _asking_ for
them. If you don’t miss connection and get there on time, you will win
as sure as you are a foot high.”

The General was pushing him into the carriage, and John Dilk, with whip
poised in the air, and a tight, wide-awake grip on the reins showed
readiness for his best speed record.

“Now, John,” Sylvester cried, “miss that train, and I’ll break every
bone in your black hide!”

The negro laughed good-naturedly. It was exactly the sort of command he
loved to get from the old man who had done him a hundred services.

“You watch me, Marse Gineral,” he said, with a chuckle; “but you better
keep yo’ mouf closed. Ef you don’t, dis hoss in de lead will fill it wid
clay. He’s de beatenes’ animal ter fling mud I ever driv.”

On they sped, cutting the warm, still air into a sharp, steady current
against them. The General babbled on enthusiastically, but Galt failed
to catch half he was saying. To all outward appearances, he was being
hurtled on to triumph; in reality, he was leaving the just-filled grave
of his manhood. Before his humiliated sight stood a wonderful face
written full of knowledge of himself - a knowledge more penetrating than
that of the world-wise men who bowed before his prowess; a face, the
beauty and tenderness of which were ever to remain stamped on his
memory; a face wrung by a storm of agony, contempt, and - martyrdom!
And he was striking it! The pleading eyes, scornful nose, quivering,
drooping mouth were receiving the brunt of all his physical force! He
knew the cost, and was going to abide by it. A believer in the eternal
existence of the human soul might have paused, but Galt had always
contended that nothing lay beyond a man’s short material life. And that
being his view, how could he suffer material glories like these to slip
through his fingers for the sake of a mere principle - a transient dream
of the senses? Yes, yes; and yet the pain, the crushing agony, the
maddened thing within him which all but tempted him to clutch the
chattering old tempter at his side by the neck and hurl him to the
earth!

And yet he nodded and said he was glad that the General had been so
thoughtful as to telephone the station-agent to secure the drawing-room
on the Pullman.

“We must not do things by halves,” the old soldier crowed. “The man who
is to have his own private car as the president of the great S. R. and
M. must not be seen, even by a negro porter, crawling into an upper
berth. Your plan of living high in order to be on a high level is fine
business policy. You haven’t spared expense in Atlanta; you mustn’t
in New York, either. Dine ‘em, wine ‘em; throw wads of cash at the
servants - do anything! They know who the Gaits of Charleston and
Savannah were before the War: let ‘em see that the old blood is still
alive.”

They had been at the station only a minute when the train arrived. John
Dilk brushed by the porter at the step of the long sleeper, and proudly
bore his master’s bag into the drawing-room. There was a hurried shaking
of hands between Galt and the General, and the train smoothly rolled
away.

Alone in the luxurious compartment, Galt sank down. The obsequious
porter stood awaiting orders, but the passenger scarcely saw him or
heard what he was saying. Galt was now fairly stupefied by the magnitude
of his crime. It flashed upon him as actually an incredible thing - his
leaving Dora with so much to bear!

He had taught her that their love, like that of their favorite English
novelist, had lifted them above mere conventional rules and ceremonies,
and rendered them a law unto themselves. But the awakening had come. She
had seen him in the garish light with which Truth had pierced his outer
crust and revealed his quaking, cringing soul. She would despise him,
the very murmuring of the ponderous wheels beneath him told him that,
and from now on he must avoid her. To offer her financial aid in her
coming trial would only be adding insult to injury, knowing her as
he knew her; so even that must be omitted - even that, while he was
accepting the price of her misery.




CHAPTER XIV

|THE morning sun beat fiercely down on Fred Walton and his new friend as
they trudged along the dusty road. The pangs of hunger had seized them,
and no way seemed open to obtain food short of begging it at one of the
farmhouses which they were passing, and that Fred shrank from doing.

“If I could have stopped in Atlanta long enough to have sold my watch
we could have paid our way for awhile,” he told his companion, “but I
thought we ought to be on the move.”

“Yes, of course,” the younger agreed, with a slow, doubtful look into
the other’s face. “Will you tell me - I give you my word you can trust
me,” he went on - “if you have any reason, except for my sake, in getting
away from the city?”

“Yes, I have, Dick,” Walton replied. “I may as well admit it. I am in a
pretty tight place. Things are done by telegraph these days, and I don’t
feel entirely safe, even here in the country.”

“Ah, I’m sorry, Fred!” the boy declared. “You have been so good to me
that it doesn’t look right for anybody to be running you down like a
common - ”

“Thief!” Walton supplied the word in a tone of bitterness. “That’s
exactly what some would call it. But you mustn’t be afraid of me, Dick.
I went wrong, and lost a good home and many friends by it. I’ve lost
something else, too, Dick - _some one_ else whom I once had as my own,
but who is now out of my life forever.”

“You mean - you mean - a sweetheart?” ventured the boy, as he put out a
sympathetic hand and touched the arm of his companion.

Walton nodded. He had averted his eyes, that his companion might not see
the tears which blurred his sight, but no word escaped his lips.

“I’m sorry,” Dick Warren said, simply, and his hand tenderly clung to
the dust-coated sleeve - “I’m sorry, Fred.”

“I wish you knew her, Dick,” Walton went on, reminiscently. “If you did,
I reckon you’d pity your pal. Here I am, a tramp, an outcast in dirty
clothing, and no money in my pocket. If you’d ever seen her, you’d never
dream that such a girl could have actually cared for a man like me. I’ve
got her photograph in my pocket. It is in an envelope. I have not looked
at it once since I left her. I may never again on earth.”

“But why?” the boy asked, wonderingly. “It seems like it would be
company for you, now that you and she are - parted.”

“She gave it to me in trust and confidence,” Walton answered, his dull
gaze still averted. “She wouldn’t want me to have it now. I shall keep
it - I simply can’t give it up; but I shall not insult her purity by
looking at it. I must harden myself, and forget - forget thousands of
things. You may see it if you wish.” Walton drew the envelope from his
pocket and extended it to his companion. “I’ll walk ahead, and when
you’ve looked at it put it back in the envelope.”

“All right; thank you, Fred.” The boy fell back a few steps, and with
his eyes straight in front of him Walton trudged on stolidly. The boy
gazed at the picture steadily for several minutes, and then caught up
with his companion and returned the envelope. He was silent for a moment
then he said, with a slight huskiness in his young voice:

“Would you like for me to say anything about her, Fred?”

“Yes, I think I should,” Walton responded, slowly, as he thrust the
envelope back into his pocket. “Yes, Dick, I’d like to hear what you
think of her.”

“She is so sweet and gentle looking - so good - so very, very pretty! Oh,
Fred, I understand now how you feel! I don’t think I ever saw a face
that I liked better. It may be because she is your - ”

“_Was!_” Walton broke in. “Don’t forget that, Dick.”

“I think a girl like that, with a _face_ like that, would forgive almost
anything in the man she loved,” the boy went on, in a valiant effort at
consolation.

“If she still loved him, perhaps; but she could no longer love him,”
Walton sighed. “She belongs to a proud family, Dick, not one member of
which was ever guilty of such conduct as mine. She would shudder at the
sight of me, she would blush with shame for having cared for me. That’s
why I came away. If I had not loved her, I’d have stayed and faced
my punishment.” After this talk the two trudged on through the garish
sunshine without exchanging a word for several miles. It was noon. They
had come to the gate of a farmhouse which bore the look of prosperity,
and they paused in the shade of a tree.

“We can’t go farther without eating,” the boy said. “You don’t like to
beg, but I don’t care; I’ve done it hundreds of times, and don’t feel
ashamed of it. I’m going to put on a bold front and tackle the kitchen
in the rear.”

“Don’t ask for anything _for me_,” Walton said. “I’m not very hungry. I
can get along for some time yet.”

“Wait till I find out how it smells around that kitchen,”

Dick laughed. “I’m nearly dead.” The boy had opened the gate, and was
walking briskly toward the house, which stood back about a hundred yards
from the road. Walton saw him meet a great lazy-looking dog near the
steps and pat the animal on the head. Then the dog and boy went
round the building toward the kitchen. A moment later Walton saw Dick
returning, a flush on his face and empty handed. The dog paused near the
front steps, wagging a cordial if not, indeed, a regretful tail.

“The dirty red-faced scamp ordered me to move on!” Dick cried, angrily.
“He says the country is overrun with tramps, who won’t work and who
expect to live on the toil of honest men.”

“Did he say that?” and Walton’s eyes flashed. “I’d like to prove to him
that I’m no - But what’s the use?”

“Look, he’s coming!” the boy said, eagerly. “Maybe he’s changed his
mind. A woman was listening to what he said. Perhaps she’s told him
to call us back.” The fat, middle-aged farmer, bald, perspiring, and
without hat or coat, strode down to them, and languidly opened the gate.

“Say, I just want to tell you fellows _one more thing_,” he panted, as
he wiped his bearded chin with his pudgy hand, “and that is this: We may
look like a lot of galoots just out of an asylum along this here road,
but most of us have a grain of sense. Back here a piece a neighbor of
mine sent two able-bodied men like you two about their business a month
ago, and that night his barn was fired. Now, if you fellows try any game
of that sort on me, I’ll - ”

“Dry up!” Walton cried, as he suddenly faced him. “I wasn’t begging of
you. I only let this boy go up to you because he is nearly starved. You
can’t insult me - I won’t have it! I am not a tramp. As proof of it, I
have a good solid gold watch here that I am willing to sell you or any
one else at any fair price you may put on it.”

“Huh! let me see it.” The farmer’s eyes gleamed avariciously as Walton
took the watch from his pocket and extended it to him.

The man tested the weight of the timepiece by tossing it lightly in his
palm, and then he pried the case open with the stiff nail of his thumb,
and, with a critical eye, examined the works.

“Full-jewelled and good make,” he said; and then he gave it back. “I’m a
trader,” he went on. “I make money buying and selling any old thing from
a pickaxe to a piano, from a pet cat to a blooded horse; but I hain’t in
_your_ market.”

“You say you ‘hain’t’?” Dick Warren mocked him, in fresh anger.

“No, I hain’t,” the obtuse farmer repeated. “I did a fool thing like
that when I was a boy. I bought a bay mare from a man who rid up to my
daddy’s barn without a saddle, blanket, or bridle - had just a heavy hemp
rope round her neck. I bit, and chuckled all that day as I rid about,
showing the gals how bright I’d been. Then the sheriff of the county
hove in sight, and - well, my daddy had to pay out a hundred-dollar
lawyer’s fee to prove that I wasn’t of age, never had had any sense, and
couldn’t have knowed the mare was stolen property. So, you see, when a
fellow comes hiking along here without a nickel to buy a loaf of
bread, and lookin’ like he’s been wading through swamps and sleeping in
haystacks, and has a gold ticker that is good enough fer the vest-pocket
of Jay Gould, why, I feel like pullin’ down the left-hand corner of
my right eye an’ axin’ him ef he hain’t got a striped suit under his
outside one, hot as the weather is.”

“You blamed old - ” Dick Warren began, threateningly, as he bristled up
to the farmer, his fists drawn; but Walton put out his hand and stopped
him.

“He’s right, Dick,” he said, and there was a pained look about his
sensitive mouth. “The circumstances are dead against us.”

“Yes, I reckon they are, gents,” grinned the man at the gate. “Anyways,
I don’t think you will find a buyer fer that timepiece. Good-day. There
ain’t nothing in all this palaver fer _me_,” and his eye twinkled as he
finished. “My wife’s got dinner waitin’ for me: a good fat hen, baked
to a turn, with rich corn-meal stuffin’, an’ hot biscuits, coffee,
string-beans, and fried ham - the country-cured sort that you’ve read
about!”




CHAPTER XV

|I SWEAR, I’d enjoy firing _his_ barn!” Dick fumed, as the two friends
walked on through the beating sun. “I don’t think I can stand much more
of it, Fred. I’m all gone inside. The lining of my stomach has folded
over.” They were passing the corner of a field where, in the distance,
they could see two men at work digging ditches to drain the boggy land,
and they paused again to rest under the shade of a tree.

“I guess they will stop soon and go home to a square meal,” Dick said,
bitterly; and then his roving glance fixed itself on a spot in the
corner of the snake-fence near by.

“By George!” he exclaimed, exultantly, “we are in luck! Gee, what a
pick-up!”

“What is it, now?” Walton asked. But the boy was bounding away toward
the fence. “You wait and see - gee, what luck!”

Walton stood and watched him as he climbed over the fence, dived into
the thick underbrush, and reappeared with a covered tin pail in his
hands. As he came back he unfastened the lid and laughed loud and long.
“Full to the brim!” he chuckled. “Meat, bread, pie, and a bottle of
fresh milk. We can leg it along the road a piece and sit down to it, or
stow it away as we walk. My dinner-bell’s rung, old man.”

“Put it back, Dick! Go put it back!” Fred said, firmly, his eyes
averted.

The boy stared, a blended expression of surprise and keen disappointment
capturing his features.

“Do you really mean it, Fred?” he asked, his lip falling, the pail
hanging motionless at his side.

“Yes, it is not ours,” the other said. “Put it back before they see you,
and then I’ll - I’ll try to explain what I mean.”

The boy swore under his breath, and for a moment he stood gloweringly
sullen, but at the third command of his companion he retreated to the
fence and dropped the pail into its place. Then he came back, his head
hanging, his face still dark with disappointment.

“Huh!” he grunted, and started on without waiting to see if Fred was
ready to go. Walton followed, and presently caught up with him.

“I’m not a preacher, Dick,” he began, with a forced laugh, which was
intended as an opening wedge to the boy’s displeasure, “I’m not one bit
better than you are. I’ve stolen a farmer’s watermelons by the light of
the moon, and climbed his June apple-trees, and filled my pocket with
his prize fruit, and heartily enjoyed it; but somehow I feel differently
now. Dick. I’m older than you are, and reckless living has got me down
and stamped all hope out of me. I’m fighting for my life. I’m swimming
in a strange, swift stream, and my strength is almost gone, but I have
grasped at a straw; it may hold me up, it may not; but I hope it will.
That straw is the determination to live right - absolutely right - from
now on, no matter what it costs. I’ve done great wrong, and I’m sick
with the very thought of it. I want to try to do what is right, and if
I could influence you to feel as I feel about these things, I’d like it
mightily; it would strengthen me in my course. Two can succeed better,
even at a thing like that, than one.”

“But I’m _starving!_” the boy whimpered. “The world wasn’t made for
anybody to starve in. The birds up there in the trees don’t starve, and
God gave them as good right to live as you or me. Huh! when that beefy



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